How I Built an Art Network in My Hometown

12 Dec 2011

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, 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).

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 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.
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.
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!

--Patricia

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.

 

 

 

 

 


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Comments

on 2 May 2012 7:25 PM

Leah by Patricia Watwood, pencil on toned paper, 18 x 14, 2011. I have just finished two big projects