How I Built an Art Network in My Hometown

3 Apr 2012

Patricia Watwood is a skilled oil painter and incredibly deserving of a lot of praise for the art career she has built for herself. She's also quite willing to share her approach to building a network for her art, as she attests below. Enjoy!

The Honorable Clarence Harmon, Mayor of St. Louis by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 24 x 18, oval, 2002. Collection of St. Louis City Hall.
The Honorable Clarence Harmon, Mayor of St. Louis
by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 24 x 18, 2002.
Collection of St. Louis City Hall.

Someone recently asked me what I did to get recognized and become part of the art scene in my hometown of St. Louis, but the truth is that when I lived in St. Louis I wasn't part of the art community. In fact, I was not involved in fine art oil painting at all during that time of my life.

I left St. Louis right after high school and have been based in New York for the past 15 years. It was only about five years ago that I started to realize that St. Louis could be a wonderful "second base" to balance out my New York art community. (Plus it would allow me to combine work trips with visits to Grandma's house with my kids!) 

It all started with a few portrait painting commissions. My mother worked with the former mayor on education policy and when the time came for his official oil painting portrait, she said, "I know a talented portrait artist you could consider--and she's a native of St. Louis!"  (Thanks, Mom!) I submitted a portfolio and subsequently won the commission.

Building on that success, I did two commissions for Saint Louis University. This experience with portraiture taught me that business is built on two priceless intangibles: word of mouth and personal relationships. So, being in the right place at the right time and developing one-on-one connections whenever I went back to St. Louis or corresponded with interested individuals over the phone or email was the key. It's a slow process, but I found that this kind of networking is the most common way to receive new painting commissions. 

Dr. Kenneth R. Smith, Jr. by Patricia Watwood, 2010, oil on canvas, 40 x 40. Collection of Saint Louis University.
Dr. Kenneth R. Smith, Jr. by Patricia Watwood,
2010, oil on canvas, 40 x 40.
Collection of Saint Louis University.

Two years ago, I decided to have a showcase in St. Louis and do an event to draw people in and get the word out about my paintings. I sent invitations to my family's extended network of friends and anyone else we knew in the community with an interest in art. I then converted my mom's living room into an art gallery, bribed my mom to bake a bunch of delicious cakes, and we hosted a party. I put together a slideshow presentation about the process of commissioning a portrait, and set that up to play on loop in a corner of the "gallery." I also gave a short talk about my art background, the New York art community I'm involved with, and the importance of portraiture.

From this event, I made a good contact with a museum director in the community. The executive assistant to the President of Saint Louis University also came to see the showcase, and she recommended my work to the director at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art. Happily, they eventually invited me to have an exhibit at the museum in order to bring the world of contemporary realist painting to the St. Louis audience.

So work to develop key relationships in your circle of art, and over time this can lead to new opportunities. And remember that friends and family can be your greatest allies in spreading the word about your work. And if your mom's an awesome baker--put her to work!

--Patricia

***

I find Patricia's story so inspiring because it seems like the road she took was quite natural and made sense with who she is and wants to be as an artist. To hear how other artists have made their careers come together their way, and for tips and instruction in painting that will assure you have the means to match any commission you come across, the entire year of American Artist issues from 2010 is available now on CD. It can give you the know-how to jumpstart your career right away wherever you are!

P.S. What are your experiences building your own artistic network? What strategies have you used? Leave a comment and let us know.

 


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Comments

jaydub wrote
on 4 Apr 2012 7:47 AM

Hi Courtney, The story give me no new information to speak of. When you have someone who knows how to get through layers of cliques, jealousies,and extreme favoritism's. And not only become successfully self sustaining, but does not lose their faith in humanity. Please publish that story.   Me and my wife are working every angle in art marketing.. My wife in particular on line /offline, and you lose your optimism and hopes very quickly. I gave up posting on your site because i was always getting ignored. I am working FB, and am posting on as many sites as i can,. and i am getting many replies daily . I have made online sales, and have had four interviews with  on line art magazines. This process is far more complicated and slower for me and mari. We are not yet starving artists, but when you have to pay $450.00 a year to join groups of amateur wanna be artists. Who have sufficient monies coming in and obviously are looking for extra cash selling  6" x6" mini  paintings that are done in between supper and the seven o clock telly shows. It is shown us just how difficult it is to advance based solely on your arts. If it was just a matter of showing up and being cordial with the grand poohbahs of the local art world. No problem, but here we have to go through the pecking orders, and this is now 4 years running, and at juried showings we see the same people getting awarded year in year out. WE had spent $500.00 last showing at a very well known gallery for two months. And made no sales. The first night all the big shots came and and they ignored me completely and gave mari the perfunctory gestures. If you don't play the games , you don't sell..you dont get the commisions. However if you spend the time and spirit in working the pecking orders, you lose time and the drive to be artistically honest. I aman artist and i create art irregardless of anything else.

videomom wrote
on 4 Apr 2012 10:23 AM

Dear Courtney,

I read all of your posts and just had to respond to this one. I'm on a similar course as Patricia Watwood just not as far along on the journey. I have been painting portraits for the last three years for friends and family. I find it very rewarding to create a painting that someone seems to love and appreciate, and the best part is the painting doesn't sit in my paint rack for years. I have a website of my work at www.anncartersart.com. Ann Carter  

rasche wrote
on 4 Apr 2012 11:56 AM

Thank you for the inspiring article, Courtney. My experience has also been that building relationships is the most important factor in my success, although my journey has been different. I have been painting for 20 years, and became a mom 4 years ago. My perspective about life completely changed when my son was born. Now I am completely fascinated with the bond between moms and children and that has become one of the focuses of my paintings. http://jessiesfineart.com

on 8 Apr 2012 6:09 AM

Does the USA have a tradition of Open House events? Here in a small market town in the UK we had an artist move in who had started an Open House event in her previous town and she gave it a go here last year. Just under 30 artists and makers showed in just over 20 houses. It was an enormous success, and the spin offs were, to me, surprising. Firstly I never knew how many artists and makers lived around me - and clearly neither did the other residents. Secondly the group, now known as Belper Artiusts and Makers (BAM),  has been recognised by events organisers so we now get regularly asked to participate in events as a group - and twice have had an event specially for us. This year we have 24 venues - including an architect's practice and a bus station cafe, and 42 individuals showing textile art, sculpture, portaits and other paintings, photography, installation art, jewellery, pottery, wood turning and more. It has helped raise our profiles - and it's enormous fun. Last year nearly one hundred people came through my (very small) house and I got to talk individually to all of them about my work.