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Interview #1: Bruce Marion, Painter & Illustrator


Classically trained as a fine artist, Bruce Marion has enjoyed a productive and recognized career as a painter and illustrator, with his work showcased in international publications and honored in juried shows. Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Marion began his art career at an early age, studying privately with a cadre of local artists, and sold his first piece in a juried professional show when just nine years old. He holds a BFA from the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where studied under world-renowned artist Pat Nagel, and Lorser Feitelson, the father of Post-Surrealism.  He has taught at the Otis Parsons Institute of Art, as well as privately.

Marion had his first one-man show at the Limited Edition Gallery in Beverly Hills, and has also enjoyed solo shows at Allan Jeffries Gallery in L.A., Coastal Gallery in Half Moon Bay, and Jill Thayer Gallery in Bakersfield. His work has been honored with the Judges Choice Award from the San Francisco Society of Illustrators, and also has been included in a show at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

Marion's work is represented by galleries throughout California and the Southwest, and his paintings are published and distributed world-wide by Editions Limited. 

He lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife and daughter, and is a runner and martial artist.

A.C.T.: What prompted you to start your professional art career?

I have always been an artist. My kindergarten teacher told my parents I was talented. My dad was a very good artist, although he didn’t go into it professionally. He encouraged me and taught me. I remember him showing me how to do 2-point perspective when I was little. I would draw dinosaurs attacking a perfect “2-point perspective” city.

My work first showed publicly in our local shoe store when I was 6 or 7. My parents would bring in my drawings and the owner would put them up on the walls. When we came in to shop, the owner would point me out and tell everyone in there that I was the artist. I was terribly embarrassed at the time.

When I was 9, unbeknown to me, my mom took a charcoal drawing I had done of a bearded man, framed it, and put it into a juried “adult” art show. It was accepted and later sold. The collector called my house to speak with the artist, and was flabbergasted to find out that it was the nine year old son and not my dad that had done it.

At 15 I started selling kids furniture that I designed, built, and hand painted at a weekend outdoor arts and craft show in Los Angeles. I couldn’t drive yet, so my dad would drop me off at 9:00 a.m. and pick me up at 5:00 p.m. I was quite the little entrepreneur.

A year after I graduated from Art Center, I had my first show in a gallery in Beverly Hills. It was very exciting. I think I sold one or two small pieces. That was my start.

A.C.T.: What is your artistic direction?

I create highly textured and layered abstract acrylic paintings.

I use circles as a metaphor for the connections between us and the people in our lives. There is a flow of how people move in and out of our lives...sometimes we may be close, and then drift apart for a while, and then come back together again...almost like the tide.

Being an illustrator for many years and creating artwork for games, puzzles, book covers, and editorial work for magazines, I obviously painted in a more realistic style. In developing my own work 10 years ago, I became fascinated with abstraction. The world is really made up of abstraction... shapes, colors and textures. Our brain analyzes it and makes it into “something”...a car, or a face, or a toaster. I have just begun to reintroduce the figure into my work, using it in a very subtle way that balances it within an abstract environment.

A.C.T.: What is your business model?

Strictly speaking, I am a Limited Liability Company. Boy, that sounds really official!

My business model is to create art and build multiple income streams from it. I show in galleries; I participate in a 3 month long show called the Celebration of Fine Art; I have an international publisher that sells posters and Giclee of my work.

I want to continue to build my name and get my work out into more galleries and also develop more licensing opportunities.

A.C.T.: What is your “life’s work” as an artist?

To express myself creatively and to bring beauty and joy into peoples lives.

I also like to share what I have learned with others and see them succeed.

A.C.T.: What peak moments have you had?

When I decided to shift my career from being an illustrator to a fine artist, my wife and I decided to create a home show in the area where I had previously lived and was fairly well known. Some friends of mine graciously offered up their beautiful home that overlooked the ocean on the California coast. The show was a tremendous success in sales, and I also had offers from two galleries that wanted to represent me. I was flying high out of that...I was so excited. That was a definitely a peak moment.

Getting accepted into the Celebration of Fine Art and being successful in that show has been very exciting.

Signing with my publisher, Editions Limited, was something I had really wanted for some time... having it happen was totally exciting.

Having one of my pieces shown at the Bakersfield Museum of Fine Art was a peak.

The incredible comments I get back from my collectors are always peaks.

A.C.T.: How do you define success and how do you celebrate it?

Success to me is about many levels.

Great relationships with my wife, family and friends are very important to me. The incredible feeling I get when I create a piece of art, hitting sales goals, contributing back to the community, being able to support my family financially, always learning new things, being a better person...these are all components of success to me. Making my parents proud is important.

I celebrate by going to a movie, or maybe a “yahoo!!” and high five with my wife. I love going out to lunch. Two years ago, we went to Jamaica...that was a great celebration.

A.C.T.: What is your art marketing strategy and what makes it successful?

My strategy is related to having multiple sources of income and includes these tactics:

  • Create the best artwork I possibly can and continue to evolve as an artist and a business person.
  • Be in the best shows and galleries that promote and sell me well.
  • High class home show of my new work for my collectors.
  • Create excellent promotional materials....brochures, postcards, website and continue to build my name and artwork to be internationally recognized.
  • Publish a book of my work.
  • Create new licensing opportunities.

A.C.T.: What obstacles have you encountered in your art business and how have you handled them?

I have had many obstacles in my career, and I have learned to look at them as growth opportunities. I ask myself, “What have I learned from this experience, or how can I do it better next time?” Sometimes it’s just not the right time for something to happen...practice patience.

I have been disappointed when things have not worked out with a gallery and they no longer want to represent me. I have learned that this happens to all artists and you just need to move on to the next.  I was turned down by 12 publishers when I first sent a promo package of my work. I was initially turned down by the Celebration of Fine Art - it is now one of my most successful shows.

I learned that a “no” is only for that moment and has nothing to do with what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next month. Our job is to stay on our path and not get derailed by what other people say or don’t say we can do.

Overcoming my own personal feelings of not being good enough, or that I don’t deserve success has been constant work. The challenge of creating when the artwork is not flowing, dealing with lean financial times, being open and non-defensive about my wife’s input into my artwork. She helps me tremendously with direction and color (like a music producer for a band).

A.C.T.: What opportunities has a professional approach to your career brought you that you might otherwise not have had?

I have a great income and meet great people who are creative and successful (artist and collectors).

I feel like I belong to a community and am in wonderful galleries.

The opportunity to find out “what you are made of” and to learn to overcome obstacles (don't quit!) has been tremendous.

A.C.T.: Who are your role models and mentors?

Picasso, Matisse, De Kooning, Warhol, Jackson Pollack, David Hockney, Bill Gates (business and philanthropy), Robert Kiosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad), my parents, my wife Lee, Julia Cameron (Author of Artists Way), my brother Allan, Aletta de Wal (Artist career Training Artist Advisor) and the A.C.T. community of artists in A.C.T. 301: Mastering Your Art Business.

A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to other artists at all levels?

Keep a vision of who you want to be and where you want to go with your life and be open to it happening in unexpected ways. Don't be locked in to “how” you think it should happen or you may miss it.

Continue to learn about life, business and art.

Find role models and see how they did it.

Read about successful people.

A.C.T.: How has your involvement in the A.C.T. program and community of professional artists furthered your career?

Learning and becoming more skilled at what we do, both artistically and from a business standpoint, is the most important thing you can do to build a successful art career.

The A.C.T. program has been an incredible place to learn new ideas, expand my vision, and share ideas and approaches with other established artists.

I thank Aletta de Wal for her incredible enthusiasm and teaching abilities and for creating this wonderful place for us to keep learning. My career and income continue to expand and Artist Career Training has most certainly been a contributing factor to that.

I also just love the other artists that I have met through A.C.T. and that we are sharing our journeys together.