I received an email request from a young student of art named Rosie today, and my reply became something I thought I'd like to share. Here's her email to me, and my reply:
Hello, I am year 11 student at the Kings Academy, and I am currently
studying gcse art there and the topic I'm doing is based on close ups. When I came across some of your work it inspired me to base my work on
animals. I would like it if you found the time to help me, my question
to you is, what inspired you? Why did you choose to base your work on
what you did? Thank you for your time, I really appreciate you took your
time to read this.
I'm glad you found my work inspiring!
I consider myself one of the lucky people who can find inspiration in
almost anything. In fact I frequently wish I could live several lives
just to have enough time to paint everything I've ever thought about
painting. My current and recent subject matter evolved as a result of a
lot of things, but mostly from some specific advice of an experienced
artist mentor, and a lucky client purchase.
The artist Sara Eyestone
gives the advice in a 'business of art' workshop: to work in a series.
She says pick a subject/genre and a consistent dimensional size (ie: 2/3
ratio rectangle, or a square, etc) and create at least 20 paintings in
this similar theme. This way, when you have an exhibit, it will all look
great hung in the same room of a gallery, or at an art fair. And since
the dimensions are the same, you can choose the best 12 and print a
Well, I hadn't yet really chosen my subject for a series when a large
(24x24) longhorn painting sold to a client at an art fair. I told him
about another cow painting the same size that I had at a gallery in a
nearby town. He went to see it that same weekend, and bought it. (These
were the first cow paintings I had ever done!)
Well, then I thought, "I'll have to paint more cows!" And I've been
painting cows for the past 3 years or more. Being a practical sort of
business-person as well as an artist, I do find that my subject matter
is driven by what sells. But I do believe that choosing a specific
subject or genre and creating a unified body of work creates an appeal
with clients, looks much better at shows and fairs, and can also
indicate a seriousness of purpose as a dedicated artist that more
serious collectors will appreciate.
I haven't limited my subjects to just animals; I also do portraits
and landscapes. I do like to work in series whenever I can, especially
when working small (you can see a lot of my 'mini-series' of small
paintings throughout by blog posts
of the past 2 years) I've done seagulls, sunsets, ranch roads,
Renaissance portraits, small watercolor road sketches, etc... and of
course, the 5x7 cows and other animals - over 200 now!
I believe what specifically led to the small cow 'portraits' was the
continued sales of cow paintings, and the knowledge that smaller, less
expensive paintings are what sell better. I had first tried a couple of
6x8 cow paintings, but to work that small with the entire body didn't
appeal to me, so, being a portrait artist by nature, I settled in to
doing some 4x6's of just the 'portrait' area of the cow - head and
chest. These migrated to 5x7's and stuck! At some art fairs I would
paint new ones at my easel to pass the time, and would sell them almost
before they were finished! Nothing like instant sales to inspire more
A funny thing happens when you commit to one subject for such a
length of time and through so many paintings. What began as a business
decision because of good sales, became slowly over time a real
fascination with the cow. I've learned more about cows (like what breeds
are what) since I've been painting them than I ever knew before. And
there's something about them, their curiosity, their various
personalities (Longhorns will ignore you; large herds of Brahmans are
skittish; small mixed herds are the best because they're friendly and
curious.) And since I take all my own reference photos, my experience of
'being there' watching, observing and learning has been able to add
something to my experience of painting them over these years.
Well, maybe this is more than you needed, but I hope it helps! Good luck with your art!