The Realities of a Fine Art Career–Stephen Quiller

A Talk with Stephen Quiller

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

Portrait of Hidden Falls #3 by Stephen Quiller, 36 x 24, water media.
Portrait of Hidden Falls #3 by Stephen Quiller,
36 x 24, water media.

What did you find most surprising about being a full-time painter?
I have heard many times that artists can only paint when they are inspired. To work full time as a painter I find I must be disciplined and go to the studio or paint out in the landscape every day. I have found that rather than running out of ideas, the more I paint, the more that inspiration comes. There are not enough hours in the day.

What did you find most difficult about starting a full-time professional career?
There are two things I found most difficult when starting my career. The first is confrontation with rejection. Entering shows, talking to galleries, submitting articles, and teaching workshops are very important to the advancement of the life of an artist. We want the public to see and feel what we do so we are putting our heart out there. But it may take a while for positive results to happen. The second thing and it is connected to the first is marketing. Most of us want to live in the studio and by nature are not comfortable talking about and promoting our work. However it is very important to learn the marketing end in order to live a life in art.

Do you recommend keeping another source of income while launching a professional career?
The first four years out of college I taught art in the secondary schools. I painted at night and on weekends and all summer. I also opened a summer gallery in the mountains of Colorado. By the fourth summer I was selling as much as my teaching salary so I began painting full time in 1972. Looking back the teaching experience was incredibly important. It taught me how to present in front of the public, to organize my thoughts and have lesson plans. Today I teach a few selected workshops throughout the world.

Do you believe gallery representation is still the best way to go?
I have been fortunate to have my own gallery. This has been key as I have developed many collectors over the last 45 years. However I have my wife and other gallery personnel that are there so I can be out painting. I also show at the Mission Gallery in Taos, NM and have exhibited there since 1984. That has been important as well. It is important to find the right gallery to represent your work. They need to be excited about your painting in order for the work to move.

What are the hidden pressures of fine art that most of us are not aware of?
The most important thing when starting a career is to realize that some months there can be very little income and some months can do well. The artist must keep the overhead to a minimum. The passion for painting must come first and the development of lifestyle later.

How prepared were you for the business side of fine art?
The business side is foreign to most painters. However collecting mailing lists, sending press releases, keeping receipts and records, learning to frame etc. is most important. Today with the digital age everything is changing. I photograph every painting, with title, image size and medium and have a record of all of my work. One click and a collector on the east coast can see a new painting. A website is critical. I have my own gallery so I can sell my work from my website. If you show in galleries your website can still guide the viewer to the gallery.

How would you describe your normal work day?
I begin each day with meditation. This helps me to be centered and move through the day. I then do my business things first. I answer emails and make calls. Then my head is clear and I can paint without lingering business thoughts and I can paint from mid- morning and afternoon. In late afternoon during the winter I go on a cross-country ski. Many of my ideas come from this time.

Portrait of Hidden Falls #3 by Stephen Quiller, 36 x 24, water media.
Transparency of Shadows by Stephen Quiller, 23 x 33 1/2, water media.

With all the other obligations of a professional, do you have enough time to paint?
I teach three painting workshops during the summer where I live. I keep cutting back my travel and do around three selected workshops in parts of the U.S. or other countries. I find that these few experiences are important to meet people, visit galleries and museums and see some other places. This helps me come back to my studio energized and with some new ideas. But there is never enough painting time!

Did you have a career plan with specific goals when you started?
Even when I was a teenager I had a vision to be a painter and live in the mountains. I did not have a plan. It is easier to look back than see forward. But I think the vision is important. Somehow if the vision is strong enough, eventually it will reveal itself.

What is the best advise you could offer an aspiring fine artist?
I have met many artists who live where they feel the market is. That is where the galleries are as well as the collectors. But if you are a mountain painter and live in the city the work will not have the integrity. My advice is to find a place where your heart is and then find your market. Because living and breathing the place will make all of the difference in your painting.

Artist Stephen Quiller.

Steven Quiller has been a full-time professional painter since 1972. Stephen has written six books and has painted throughout the world. However, he is best known for his paintings of his beloved southern Colorado mountain country. Along with his many awards and memberships, Stephen is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society. For more information about Stephen, visit his website.

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