The Realities of a Fine Art Career–David Neil Mack

A Moment with David Neil Mack

The Eighth in an Artist Daily Exclusive Series:
The Realities of Fine Art as a Career

 Lost Horizons,  transparent watercolor by David Neil Mack
Lost Horizons by David Neil Mack, watercolor painting.

What did you find most surprising about being a full-time painter?
Suddenly you are faced with making decisions about what you’re doing–just to avoid spinning your wheels. Many of my paintings take time. Utilizing time well is crucial.

What did you find most difficult about starting a full-time professional career?
In a word “logistics.” Credentials are important! Getting a working plan to achieve your goal and sticking to it is essential.

Do you recommend keeping another source of income while launching a professional career?
Probably the best answer to the question is both yes and no. I was discharged from the Army with a small nest egg and I was determined to devote my life to fine art. I had a one man show at the Toledo Museum of Art that was very successful. At the same time I met my soul mate Janie, who liked my art work and had faith in me. One year later we were married. My agent and framer procured several commissions and sold many of my paintings for very good prices. Within a five year period, I had four paintings accepted in the AWS annual, winning two awards. When the economy turned south, I was forced to supplement my fine art with illustration and design work. However, this enabled us to buy our first home.

Do you believe gallery representation is still the best way to go?
If you can find a good one–one that believes in your work. I strive to find one within a comfortable driving distance. When we moved to our new home to be near the kids all the paintings came with us. I am now looking at galleries in the Cincinnati area.

What are the hidden pressures of fine art that most of us are not aware of?
Fine art by its nature is amorphous. You can only be true to yourself. Paintings are not purchased by a group. It’s hard to predict what will appeal to a buyer but it only takes one. Unfortunately, in general, galleries are not of this mindset. The quest is to find one that is on the same page with you.

How prepared were you for the business side of fine art–record keeping, gallery contacts etc.?
Most artists are polar opposites to businessmen. All of it is an anathema to their nature. My involvement was simple. I kept all the receipts etc. in a box for my wife Janie.

What do you wish you had known about the art business before you started?
How crucial it is to keep records of clients and first rate images of all artwork in duplicate form. A would-be agent took a pack of my slides to New York. When he returned them two were missing–lost forever. One was “Children of the Vestibule,” my father’s favorite. It was the first painting I had accepted by the American Watercolor Society.

 St. Bernadette,  transparent watercolor by David Neil Mack

St. Bernadette by David Neil Mack, watercolor painting.

How much of your time is devoted to the business of art?
Recently most of my time has been devoted to my beloved wife, Janie. She died on Good Friday 2014. She was the proverbial “Florence Nightingale,” a classic nurse dressed in reassuring white with a deep love for her profession! Our family’s “bucket list” of hope and joy filled her six years as a survivor of cancer. Any other consideration, agenda, or routine took a back seat to this end.

Are you able to maintain normal working hours–six to nine hours per day?
Once I get rolling, absolutely. When I’m in the groove–“Time is Not.” However, I do try to get exercise at least three or four times a week. I feel I have a God given talent and an obligation to not squander it.

What is the best advice you could offer an aspiring fine artist?
Purchase the very best tools of the trade. Take care of them and use them almost as an extension of yourself. Learn to relax. Tense muscles are counterproductive to good work. Enter competitions. Expect rejection. Even the very best hitters in baseball get a hit one out of three times. Masterpieces are rare–maybe one or two per life time. The only saving grace for the artist is it’s always going to be the next one.

 David Mack

David Neil Mack was born in Toledo, Ohio and received a BFA from Bowling Green State University. He now lives and works near Cincinnati, in Milford, Ohio. Since 1969, David has exhibited in national and international watercolor exhibitions across the United States. David is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society. Also, he is an elected member of the Watercolor USA Honor Society and the Rocky Mountain Watercolor Society. Throughout the years, his work has received numerous Best of Show awards in addition to Medals and special recognitions. Among these are the NEWS Winsor Newton Award, Gold Silver and Bronze medals from the OWS and the TAA Roulet Medal. For more information, visit David’s website.


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About Paul Sullivan

After a long career in advertising art, Paul Sullivan is now a full-time watercolor artist. A graduate of the University of Toledo and the Toledo Museum School of Design, Paul has a BA in Fine Art. He is a Silver Signature Member of the Arizona Watercolor Association and a Signature Member of both the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Watercolor Society of Alabama. Paul's work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and in China. Visit his website → View all posts by Paul Sullivan →