|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.
Someone recently asked me what I did to get recognized and become part of the art scene in my hometown of St. Louis, and how those connections led to my having a solo exhibit at Saint Louis University Museum
of Art. When I lived in St. Louis I wasn't part of the art community. In fact, I was not
involved in fine art at all during that time of my life. (I was actually involved in theatre in high
school and college).
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 Gramma'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
for his official portrait came, she suggested, "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.
In St. Louis, I cultivated my reputation as the "painter from New York" to stand out from the other portrait artists in the community. This allowed me to become better known in St. Louis, both for portraiture and for my studio paintings.
Then 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 out 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.
|Dr. Patricia Monteleone, Dean, by Patricia
Watwood, 2008, oil on canvas, 40 x 30. Collection
of Saint Louis University Medical School.
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.
Two key things developed from this event. One is that I made a good contact with
the Director of the Sheldon Art Gallery (a museum), who attended the party. Second, the executive assistant to the
President of Saint Louis University came to see the showcase, and she
recommended my work to the director at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art.
Father Biondi, the President of the University, is a devoted
supporter of the arts with a strong interest in figurative work, and has built
an exciting collection for the University. And, happily, they eventually invited me to have an exhibit at the
museum. The Museum was pleased to
present an artist with St. Louis roots, and 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!
P.S. Have you had similar experiences building your own artistic network? What strategies have you used? Leave a comment and let us know.
For more painting instruction from Patricia, check out her latest DVD, Figure Painting: Realistic Skin Tone.