Two years ago, I set out on an ambitious project. I was going to do a small, five-by-seven-inch or six-by-nine-inch painting a day, depicting scenes from my hometown of Nashville.
Sounds good, fun, and interesting, right? It should create buzz for my art and my hometown, right?
It was a failure.
And it’s my fault.
It failed on 3 levels:
- I didn’t do it daily as intended. I only did about 30 paintings.
- I ran out of steam and gave up at the end of March.
- I never sold any prints or originals.
And that’s not the worst part. The worst part was that I wound up not painting for about a year and a half. I got so burned out I nearly gave up on painting altogether!
And while that really sucked, I learned some important things about myself in the process.
- I don’t like painting on such a small scale. It bothers me. I like to paint big. By big I mean no smaller than two or three feet on a side. Four feet is kind of my comfort zone. I like to move my whole body when I paint. To not move around stifles me.
- I got bored with the subject matter. I love Nashville. Don’t get me wrong. But painting buildings all the time just got old.
- I did it for money. I thought if I sold the originals for $100 each, I could make a decent income that I could supplement with freelance projects and other paintings. Sure, it’s possible. Steven Magsig does it and makes a decent living off that alone. Why can’t I?
I hope you can see where I went wrong. I think the first problem is that I wasn’t doing what I love, which is big paintings that excite me. A close second, perhaps even more important than the first, is I was thinking in terms of money more than anything.
Sure, it would be nice to make $36,500 a year on just little paintings that can be done each morning. Magsig comes close, obviously, but he’s been doing it for decades. He paid his dues already. Long before eBay came around. It was something he’d already been doing and he found a way to make money off it. I guess that’s like Hugh McCloud figuring out a way to make money off his habit of drawing cartoons on the backs of business cards. To think I’d sell 100% of what I painted was probably a faulty assumption, anyway.
But my heart wasn’t in it, and I did it for the wrong reason.
I suppose the lesson is to paint what I love, but be mindful of the market at the same time. In other words, painting shouldn’t be a chore, and I need to find the people who want to buy my art. They’re out there. Painting should never be a chore. (That said, a true professional shows up even when he doesn’t feel like it.)
Have you failed at something you thought couldn’t fail? If so, what did you learn from it?