An interview with… Mary Herbert, Animal Artist

So this week, I interviewed Mary Herbert,
a UK-based artist who does exactly what I hope to do,
create realistic animal portraits for a living.

One of Mary’s commissioned portraits

She had a few great tips for me and others as new artists starting out.

Mary Herbert
Mary is an artist, tutor and photographer who is based in Wales.
She trained as an artist at university and has been a portrait artist for over 20 years.
She specialises in using pastel to create her art – a medium I have yet to succeed with. 

Hi Mary, Thank you for answering some of my questions.
I guess what I really wanted to know was the practicals!

Sorry for the brevity of my replies, I’m afraid it’s a rather frantic time of year for me right now!

How many paintings do you do monthly to get by?

It varies hugely depending on what commissions I have, how complex they are, whether I have exhibitions and what size work I’m doing.

Mary specialises in horse portraits

How else do you generate an income?

Charge a professional fee, be professional, be consistent, work hard, have high standards.

My income comes from selling paintings and prints, tutoring art and occasional article writing.

How do you advertise your painting?

Most of my work comes via word of mouth.  To reach new audiences I enter exhibitions, work with publishers who promote my name, hold stands at events, use websites, youtube and facebook.

How did you make the transition from whatever you did before to being an artist?

I have always worked as an artist, I’ve combined it with various full and part time jobs over the years but have painted full time for the past five.

Any tips of the trade to new artists?

Avoid offering your work very cheap or free, as I’ve seen many new artists do.  Not only does it undermine the whole ‘industry’, a customer base of bargain hunters is never going to support you on a living wage.

The art market is extremely poor at the moment.  Use this time to develop your skills and your portfolio so you’re ready if/when it recovers.  Build a network of useful contacts, find a mentor.  Avoid offering your work very cheap or free, as I’ve seen many new artists do.  Not only does it undermine the whole ‘industry’, a customer base of bargain hunters is never going to support you on a living wage.

When setting your rates remember the (non-painting) marketing and running of your business will take up around a quarter of your time, up to half of it with a new venture.  Charge a professional fee, be professional, be consistent, work hard, have high standards.

The quality is really inspiring me to keep practising.

Thank you!

Find Mary’s website at: http://www.portra.co.uk/

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An interview with Kathy Gustafson, animal artist

Kathy Gustafson
Kathy is an Alaskan-born artist, with more than 30 years experience in the industry. She works with a variety of media, including acrylics, pastels, watercolors, collage, relief printing, and papercutting. She also creates welded metal sculpture.
Kathy mainly creates paintings of animals. 
 
 

Hi Kathy, Thank you for agreeing to answer my questions!

How did you first find out you could paint?

I was encouraged to do art as a child, so I just always drew, colored, and painted for my own enjoyment. Along the way I found that I had a talent for creating art work with animals as the subject — most likely because I loved (and still love) animals.They held my attention and I enjoyed learning everything I could about them.

After my school years, I took some of my drawings to the county fair, and won some ribbons. This encouraged me to enter some art fairs, and begin selling my work. Since I was self-taught, I had a lot to learn about matting and framing, and presenting my work. Fortunately there was an art group in town which I joined, and learned a lot from the members — many of whom became my good friends. When I started out, I only did graphite drawings. This helped me with my understanding of values, and how small details effect the composition. Later, I started using pastels, and spent several years doing pastel paintings. Now, I also do acrylic / mixed media paintings, as I find it challenges me and I learn new things with every painting I do.

 I learn new things with every painting I do.

What is your favourite painting you have ever done?

I can’t say I have a favorite — usually my latest painting that I do from the heart is my favorite for a while, until I do another one, and so it goes. When I say ‘a painting from the heart’ it is one that I have been thinking about for a while, and the concept and subject really capture my attention. When I finally get around to doing those paintings, they always seem to be special.

Image
     “Hidden Treasure” by Kathy Gustafson

What do you find yourself thinking about as you paint? Does it relax you?

I get totally immersed in what I am doing when I paint. I lose track of time and just exist in the moment, thinking about what is happening on the canvas and responding to it with my next stroke. It is relaxing, and yet can be exhausting as well. I can be really tired after a day in the studio!

I lose track of time and just exist in the moment

What is your pet hate about other peoples paintings?

I think I would have to say, it is when the artist has blatantly copied another artists work. I think they should come up with their own compositions and style and not just copy. This does not mean students who are just learning and are heavily influenced by their teacher, but even they should not exhibit and try to sell work that is an exact copy of another artist’s work.

What are the colours you could not do without?

I make use of many natural colors such as the siennas, umbers, and ochres. I also like Payne’s gray alone and in mixes for giving me darker values that still have color in them. Brighter colors such as blues, reds and yellows are nice for contrast with the animals I paint. And, it is always fun to experiment with new colors that I may not have tried before. I don’t have a set palette of colors that I always use like some artists do.

It is always fun to experiment with new colors that I may not have tried before.

What job did you have before you took to painting full time?
How did you make the transition between the two?

I did not work at a “paid” job — my main job for many years was raising my four children, including homeschooling off and on for several years. I was, during that time, also teaching art at a private school in exchange for tuition credit for my kids, and a member of a co-op gallery, where I shared work days and exhibited my art. As they grew up I had more time to spend on my art, and have slowly transitioned to being a full-time artist. I still teach art lessons, both at my studio and in the community. I have done art fairs and juried shows over the years to build my resume and reach different audiences for my work. I also accept commission work (usually pet portraits).

Any tips of the trade to new artists starting out?

First, I would encourage new artists to focus on developing their own style, one that a viewer can pick out in a room full of paintings. Then think about who is your main audience — who wants to buy your work, who really connects with what you are creating? Think of ways to reach those people. For example, I if like to paint dog portraits, I could arrange to have a booth at a dog show, and be there to talk to people who attend, with great examples of my art to show them.

It is also good to look for ways to create multiple income streams if it is your goal to make a living with your art. So you may also teach art classes, make and sell note cards with your art on them, do a booth at an art fair, and look for a gallery to represent your work in your own community or in other cities. The other thing that is helpful is the internet. Once you have a web presence of any kind (website, blog, virtual portfolio etc. ) you can have it on your business cards and give people another way to connect with your art.

How did you get your name heard?

Becoming known for your art is a long-haul job, and you have to keep at it your whole career.

Becoming known for your art is a long-haul job, and you have to keep at it your whole career. The internet has changed things in many ways, but you still need to be active in showing your work, networking with other artists, and being involved in your community. I live in a smaller community myself, so if you are involved in public events, teaching, and exhibiting, people do find our about you and your art. (But I still meet people who never heard of me, or talk to people I have known for years that don’t know I am an artist!)

What is a quirky fact about yourself that not many people know?

I don’t know if it is quirky, but I like to train dogs and do agility with them.
Some people think that is a little weird. 🙂

Thank you! 

Find Kathys blog at: http://kathygustafson.wordpress.com/