Faith in the Wilderness–How One Oil Painting Artist Stays Committed

Faith in the Wilderness by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 2010.
Faith in the Wilderness by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 2010.

Perhaps sometime over the last couple of years, you looked at your most recent drawing or oil painting and thought “Why am I doing this?” The economic recession has caused all of us to rethink our commitments and has given many artists reason to doubt that “making it” as a professional is a realistic goal. For most of us, sales and money in your pocket make you feel like a “real” artist, and give (maybe false) validation of one’s accomplishments at the easel. 

When you don’t sell anything you start to question everything about your profession. Maybe you, too, have considered throwing in the towel and becoming a hairdresser like I have! Do you know that song lyric, “No one said it would be easy…but I never thought it would be this hard…?” I've definitely had moments when I can relate.  

So, why keep doing it?  Why keep getting up every morning, juggling all those balls, schlepping to the studio and fighting that “Lucha Aeterna”? Well, because I love painting–all the oil painting techniques I know and just the sheer experience of painting. Even when no one pays me to do it.

This painting is called Faith in the Wilderness and in many ways it is an autobiographical allegory about my motives for painting. The graffiti says “We walk by faith, not by sight.” The model is the unattainable beauty of “perfect” painting. The landscape is the urban jungle that is the world that I inhabit every day. Faith is what I need to traverse the distance between the hope and the reality of being an oil painting artist. The wilderness is many faceted—uncertain prospects, an uncharted course, the complex art world, or even just the passage across that expanse of cheek between the nose and ear that always seem almost impossible to paint, no matter how many times I've done it. 

So, I pick up my palette and keep traveling. Leave a comment and tell me how you keep going with your work.


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Oil Painting Blog
Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.

13 thoughts on “Faith in the Wilderness–How One Oil Painting Artist Stays Committed

  1. I’ve actually had harder personal economic conditions in the past, when I was a younger artist and needed my art sales to pay the monthly bills. We’ve weathered this recent crisis very well by paying off all our debt load well before the crisis occurred, and I’ve had enough sales to keep me motivated through it even though I don’t have to rely on them to survive economically any more. I now paint because it’s something I really want to do on a daily basis.

  2. Honestly what keeps me going is the network of artists such as yourself that I have found in the online community. Being an artist is such a solitary profession, and the ability to read other artists thoughts, views, issues, bloopers, suggestions, hopes and dreams at the click of the mouse keeps me going….keep it up and thanks!

  3. I have only fairly recently returned to painting so I never sold work when the economy was good and I know no different than the market as it is now. Perhaps it’s also because I’m still learning so much at a frantic pace but the sheer joy of seeing each new work take life is what keeps me going. I evaluate my work in increments of about every quarter to every six months and continue to see enormous growth and I like the direction in which my work is headed. That’s plenty to keep my fire fueled and I can tell you, the furnace is white hot!

  4. I struggle with taking the time for painting because of other responsibilities but I started teaching art a couple of years ago and now I have students from age 8 to near 80 and I find them to be an inspiration. It forces me to take the time to study, plan and at least draw or paint samples for the classes. And their enthusiasm rubs off on me. Also, I am so awed by creation. I have over 90,000 “reference” photos, thanks to the economy of digital, and when I need more inspiration, I know where to find them.

  5. This is a great, and timely subject. Personally, I not only struggle with the rigors of working out of a home studio amid the mayhem of 3 children, and of trying to sell my work in these uncertain economic times, but I also find my choices of medium and style are constantly being questioned by galleries and other artists. Colored pencil is a harder sell for gallery owners, and my level of realism is always underfire! “Switch to oils!” and “Loosen up!” are opinions I frequently have to push against in an attempt to simply do “me”. My inner voice has to be louder than the outer critics. Not always an easy feat. I keep fighting the brave fight because, really, I have no choice. I’ll tighten my belt to let my soul soar!

  6. It’s a struggle to “get better” for me too. I just keep plugging along, trying to learn something from each painting I do. Thanks for sharing that you are struggling with it too…makes me feel like I am not alone. 🙂

  7. Exactly so – great post.

    I work full-time but stubbornly keep up the painting as I have time. My reason is the same as yours – love of painting, faith that there is a reason to create beauty in this world, faithh that God gives talent to be used, even though there may not be the financial payoff hoped for.

  8. Patricia—

    It is good to hear from you—your thoughts, your doubts and your courage. I have read your blogs in the past. In fact, I was so impressed with your dedication and talent that only a few days ago I was wondering how you have been doing.

    Once again you have produced a truly meaningful article and a striking painting.

    All of us who take our work seriously, have felt the same haunting questions and doubts that you have written about so candidly. As artists, we are bound to identify ourselves with our work—at least to some degree. This can be a precarious relationship. It is not safe or healthy to judge ourselves and our work by its success in the marketplace.

    As you put it so well, “Faith is what I need to traverse the distance between …hope and reality…” First we must believe in ourselves and our ideas. Only then can we have sustaining faith in our work. There are times when this takes a lot of courage.

    Wishing you all the best—

  9. I was lucky enough to lean on my husband during the recent slump and it also allowed me to rethink my directions. I left the galleries with mixed emotions. Some were supportive, but some were disorganized and not always honest. Commissions have picked up and are paying my personal bills. (I have horses). I am always amazed and thankful when I get a call or email while riding or mucking stalls! Due to the nature of living with many animals it is logistically challenging to attend festivals and I’m a lousy salesperson anyway! I do much better letting my work speak for itself and conversing online from my farm home studio. For better or worse I have been pegged as an animal portrait artist as well as a landscape painter and am trying to push out those walls for my own satisfaction and growth. My background from art school and fashion and product illustration will come in handy to branch out to painting people again.

  10. I have medical issues, and a lot of times, money ans energies are spent trying to be better. Energy and resources that I ‘d rather spend on making arr. I am also a primarily colored pencil artist, trying to shift to paints. I just take things a day at a time. It is my love for making art that sustains me. I don’t want to think of the day when I could no longer make art.