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A.C.T. Featured Artists: How Professional Artists Overcome Obstacles

A mentor once told me that in every obstacle you could find the seeds of opportunity.

I was skeptical. (Okay, I thought this was untrue and, at best, a ploy to get me to persist with my new business.)

Obstacles are bad because they block progress, so how can they produce anything good?

That very thought made me realize that my thinking was the first obstacle.

I had simply accepted that I was stuck and felt bad. I had not investigated obstacles to even look for opportunities, the way I always did when I started something new. So I began to look at obstacles as the end of the first path and an indication that it was time to look for a new one.

When you encounter obstacles in your thinking and beliefs, only you can change your mind.

When you encounter external obstacles, you cannot change them. You can only change your response and your actions when outside obstructions arise. Think like water – route around, over or under the obstacles – and keep on moving.

Easy? Not always, but worth the effort and the struggle in between obstacle and opportunity, because once in a while you get way more than you had even hoped for with plan A.

Here’s how mid-career and established artists in the A.C.T. community think and act around obstacles:

Realist Painter Eric Armusik Realist Painter, Eric Armusik
“Obstacles are everywhere in this profession. The sooner you get a thick skin the better.  You will fail, but you have to get back up and forge ahead.  It is a law of averages.  Over time, if you continue to fight, and you are vigilant, you will succeed.  You will deal with rejections from juried shows, art galleries, and commissions.  The key is to not take rejection personally.  MOST times it has NOTHING to do with your art or your abilities.

There are so many people in this profession all fighting for the same results.  You have to keep honing your abilities at what you do, stay focused, stay professional and continue to work at it everyday.  In the end you WILL succeed."



Female Form Sculptor Fabienne BismuthFemale Form Sculptor Fabienne Bismuth

"On the artistic side, the worst obstacle is self-doubt. Each year I go visit my family in Europe and for one month I don't sculpt. I come back thinking I can't create anymore. I handle that by pushing forward, going to my studio and working. You cannot forget creativity - it's part of you!

"On the business side, finance is my biggest obstacle. My medium is costly, so if I don't sell, I can't cast in bronze; if I don't have new pieces, I don't sell. I recently began offering a discounted price for people who order a bronze from me before it's cast, by looking at the plaster or clay piece. It's hard, but some of my collectors are starting to see the value in that."



Painter, Murlaist, Digital Artist Peter BraginoPainter, Muralist, Digital Artist Peter Bragino

"In my early career as an artist, it was easy to blame this person or that situation for what was holding me back. There are obstacles for sure but I find that they're mainly within us. In the right mindset, challenges are beneficial and being in the moment, even during a challenge, can be enlightening.

"Any obstacle that's been in my way throughout the years I've tackled with study, persistence, and patience. I've also handled them by support through books like The Artist's Way, friends who were working artists/models of success and coaches/mentors like Aletta."


Painter Keviin CorcoranPainter Kevin Corcoran

"My biggest obstacle is creating time for myself and my art. I have two beautiful daughters whom I provide for who are my first priority (not obstacles because they are my joy). I balance time with my daughters with the need to put in the time to pursue the career, juggling all the other responsibilities that life provides. I handle the time crunch by making productive use of the time I have to dedicate to art."


Fine Art Nature Photographer, Conservationist Connie BransilverFine Art Nature Photographer, Conservationist Connie Bransilver

"I've encountered zillions of hurdles but for the most part, I just ignore them.  The only one that stings is the charge that photography is not art, after I have worked so hard to make magic."



Artist-Entrepreneur, Painter, Ceramaicist Edd CoxArtist-Entrepreneur, Painter, Ceramicist Edd Cox

"In 1981, I leased a fifth floor space near the waterfront in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle that quickly filled up with artist studios and became the Art Building of Seattle.  When a mega project got underway below the building, with a 56' diameter tunnel, this great building that was so suitable for artists would not withstand the construction. Within 60 days, 120 artists had to leave the artist's perfect studio building for a landscape of limited studio space opportunities and much higher rents than what I had charged.

"The Department of Transportation offered financial assistance of up to $50,000 for relocation. When I found another street level space two blocks away, I gave thought for 60 days and decided to undertake the renovation of the space into artist's work studios and an exhibition gallery.

"This venture [did not go through but] has been so educational. When I talk about the project with other business people, they ask 'What have you got?' and 'What do you need?' and I have to answer them in about two minutes. I was talking with a restaurant owner in his 'office' - the entrance - so I pulled out my iPad of images together with a blueprint so he could see what I described. Being able to tell my story in a dynamic way, clearly and simply helps people align with my vision."


Abstract Artist, Priority Box Project Franck de las MercedesAbstract Artist, Priority Box Project Franck de las Mercedes

"The biggest obstacle is being able to stay afloat when you make a living from your art alone. When I started out I had to paint things I did not necessarily want to paint. Sometimes the best thing to do is to change your prices and increase your output. I also take portrait commissions and paint figuratively. The idea is to have options that allow me to work creatively even when it is not my direct work."


Watercolor Artist, Patrice FederspielWatercolor Artist, Patrice Federspiel

"I tend not to dwell on obstacles and just keep moving forward. Over the years, there have been plenty of small hurdles to overcome... shops that carried my art closing; more competition being brought in with similar art placed next to mine, creating potential for confusion for the buying public.

"In each instance I remind myself that this is a small thing, no matter how large it looms in my mind, and I set out to do whatever is needed to overcome it."


Painter Pat FiorelloPainter Pat Fiorello

"I sometimes encounter resistance from galleries who do not want to carry watercolors or works on paper. I spent time educating collectors and galleries but because of marketplace realities, I expanded into oils so I have both options available now. I enjoy both mediums so I do both, and keep the subject matter consistent with my style and also give me more price points.

"Getting caught up in 'limiting' thinking about the economy is something to watch out for. Know the external economy is a reality, but don't let it discourage you. Things will come back. People are still buying art. Just keep moving forward."

Glass Artist, B.J. KatzGlass Artist, B.J. Katz

"In general, I handle obstacles with patience, steady actions and persistence.  Persistence and optimism are strong character traits of mine and I would not be where I am today without them.  I always take a long-term view of all situations.      
"Rejection is part of being an artist - don't take it personally or get discouraged, especially in the early stages of your art career. Keep putting yourself out there. Art being a matter of taste, there is no right or wrong. Rejection simply means that the other person has different taste, desires or experience. Remember that each 'no' is a step on the way to a 'yes.'"


Mixed Media Collage Artist, Vickie MartinMixed Media Collage Artist, Vickie Martin

"I started doing festivals about the time the economy sank - so while the sales haven't been that big, I have spent the time learning and perfecting my body of work.

"Sometimes my obstacles are of my own doing.  Having a full time job can be an obstacle when I really feel a creative urge and I'm unable to act on it because I have to go to my day job!"



Representational Drawings, Huguette MayRepresentational Drawings, Huguette May

"A big obstacle was a life-long ignorance of all business practices. Growing up I had virtually no experience with money - it was a taboo subject in our house - or exposure to the workings of any kind of business. As the fourth of five children, there was no money for college or art school and little encouragement for my artistic aspirations.

"My life theme has been knocking down obstacles! My approach to problem solving is conducting research for the best all-around solution then implementing that solution the best I can. I can't bring myself to just 'jump in' to things I deem important. I'm a rationalist with an ingrained yen for self-determination."


Painter Lori McNeePainter Lori McNee

"Just like any successful business person, I have faced challenges and obstacles over the years. I have learned how to make 'stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.'

  • Rejection is a common occurrence and usually unavoidable for any artist. Learning to deal with rejection is important and a necessary step in the pursuit of success.
  • Jealousy and a sense of competition from others has been a challenge for me throughout my art career - I have learned to 'kill 'em with kindnesses' and to keep my eye on the mark. As artists, we are really only in competition with ourselves - we must strive to grow and better our craft.
  • The weak economy has made the past few years extremely challenging for artists. However through history, great innovations have been built during times of want. Today is no different.

"The biggest obstacle that I have had to face - an ugly divorce - hit me both professionally and personally. As a rule, I do not publicly share my personal life, but I want you all to know that I have had to work really hard to overcome many of life's obstacles and they seem to arise on a regular basis! I like to remember that, 'Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort.'"

Plein Air Painter Lee McVeyPlein Air Painter Lee McVey

"One of my biggest obstacles is sometimes having 'eyes bigger than my stomach.' I find it hard to say no to opportunities so it's easy to take on more than I can comfortably handle. I work well with some pressure and deadlines, but sometimes it can be overwhelming.

I don't have a regular work schedule such as every day from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. I work in spurts, going for hours or days working and working; then I will have times when I don't work at all for several days. I perceive this as an obstacle, but it has been my pattern for years, and actually, for the most part, it works well for me."

Portrait Artist, Conservationist, Nicholas PetrucciPortrait Artist, Conservationist, Nicholas Petrucci

"If you can't go over an obstacle, go around it.  I have always told other artists to ignore non-constructive criticism particularly from unqualified or uninformed critics.  If you believe in yourself, others will as well."


Liturgical Sculptor Karen SchmidtLiturgical Sculptor Karen Schmidt

  • Lack of skill: My first commission came as I was just starting to sculpt, so from the beginning I have felt the drive to develop my skills through lessons, books, workshops, and private study. I have never lost that habit of continuing to be a student of art.
  • Lack of Business Knowledge: Regarding the non-sculpting part of my art business, I had to start from scratch. An education in Photoshop, bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, and simply staying organized has been a challenge I've had to overcome in recent years. Advice from Aletta, fellow artists, consultants, and my business manager is essential.
  • Lack of Confidence: I think most professional artists struggle with this at times throughout their careers, especially when we are breaking through to a new level because we have not done that before. It's something you have to sit through and often produces something wonderful in the art.
  • Personal baggage: I've had to face my fears of disappointing others and of taking risks with my business. Books on this topic have helped me, and community and support from my peers in the art world.
  • Outgrowing my small studio space: In 2011, I took a big step and moved out of my small studio workshop in my home and leased a 1300 square foot studio.
  • The tough economy: I have had commissions take longer to solidify and fund. I see this as an opportunity to work on my creativity and business strategy.  I've rented my old studio space to graduate students to earn money to cover the cost of my new studio; I'm exploring less expensive mediums, like ceramic clay, to develop more affordable artwork; I'm investing in a business manager and A.C.T. consulting, which will enhance my marketing materials, strategy and implementation.

Figurative Painter Julie SnyderFigurative Painter Julie Snyder

"Time management is my biggest obstacle. I always underestimate the amount of effort.  There are so many distractions that I have to be quite ruthless at times to get things done. When I'm on a deadline I have to put on blinders and every other aspect of life gets relegated.

"The most successful action, really, truly, was to have a full-time, live-in housekeeper. Those days are over (nothing to do with the economy) but it's because my kids are older and I 'need less help' around the house (apparently). There's not a day goes by that I look around and wish...

"Other problems are minor; model doesn't show up, too many deadlines, figuring out what work to assign to what show. They are not really problems - more like situations that need fast action. I like to have back up plans but I have been known to go out into the streets to find someone to model.  

"When things are aligned, the obstacles are not much of a problem."


Fire Bowl Artist John T. UngerFire Bowl Artist, John T. Unger

"The biggest problem right now is finding the source materials to recycle. There are only a couple of scrap dealers in a radius of 200 miles willing to sell me the propane tanks for the firebowls, and only one who is reliable. So when a size is out of stock I have to take it off the web site and promote it only through the newsletter. The supplier for the bases has decided to go out of business altogether. I am changing to a new freight supplier who is global and that will make it easier to ship overseas once we learn their system.

"For a lot of these problems you can find a new business partner but eventually you are going to have to solve that problem again - and that's a little frustrating. I think, 'Oh, I'm done.' And then I find out 'Not so much.'"


Metal Sculptor Bilhenry WalkerMetal Sculptor Bilhenry Walker

"My earliest obstacle was not having been professionally trained in art school. Much of what I have learned has been through trial and error and whatever I could glean from professionals working outside the art establishment. To my credit, I am a quick study and am easily mentored.
"Being rejected from shows and loosing out on commission opportunities is normal fare for the art business. The answer for me has been to keep on churning out applications and taking my chances along with every one else.
"My background in sales has been of immeasurable help in keeping the highs and lows in perspective."

Which perspectives do you think are most important and what would you add from your experiences of dealing with obstacles?  Please post your comments here or on Facebook and Twitter.   

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Reader Comments (1)

Wonderful post, Aletta. From my perspective, obstacles are like someone saying "I dare you!" I take them as opportunities to dig deeper for more personal strength and perseverance. Often, when something goes wrong with a particular plan, there is a better opportunity hiding beneath the surface.

July 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Glatz

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