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There is often additional information on the recording that is not in this written interview. Inspire yourself and listen while you make art.

Eric Armusik Pushes the Boundaries of Art Making and Art Marketing

My primary goal in these interviews is to inspire you with living examples of artists who make a living making art and who consider it a “real job.” Your art and art career may be on a different path, but there is always something to learn from the experiences of your colleagues.

Contemporary figurative fine artist Eric Armusik creates original oil paintings that are museum quality 21st Century realism masterpieces in the manner of the painter Caravaggio and his followers. Eric’s romantic, classical paintings fill the gaps between 17th Century Italian Baroque artists and his own original thematic interpretations of religion, mythology, history and his own life. Each original oil painting draws from his experiences as a representational fine artist, portrait painter, husband and a father and his art historical background. Eric has a BFA and Art History minor from Penn State University and studied Baroque art in Italy. His art is featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, American Artist, Victorian Homes, and Poets and Artists.

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

It was quite evident at an early age that I was destined to be an artist - much to the chagrin of my parents. Both were college graduates and desired that I pursue a college degree, but they were concerned that a degree in art would not be a lucrative pursuit. I’ve never been good with people giving me advice, especially when they have no understanding of my tenacity. I had no interest in any other field, and quite honestly, it would have been a waste of my talent.

A.C.T.: What makes an artist professional?

What makes an artist a professional is the unstoppable desire for success.  You have to look at yourself as a professional and act the way a successful professional acts. I view my career as a thriving business, I am successful because I chose to be and I refuse to subscribe to failure. I’ve seen far too many people acting like they need to “pay their dues” or they aren’t worthy to be successful - or worse, that there is no merit in success.  This belief system impedes artists who have an inability to see beyond their own self-imposed limitations.

A.C.T.: What is your artistic direction? What is your "life's work" as an artist - what legacy do you want to leave?

© Armusik "The Madness of Nero"My work is romantic realism - a sub-genre to contemporary figurative art.  I think it is fantastic that a number of artists today are painting in the realism tradition again.  Where I differ is that my work isn’t just concerned with painting what I see as a means to an end.  I want to paint what the characters in my paintings are feeling.  I want each painting to ooze with emotion and leave the viewer captivated by the moment.  I want the drama to overwhelm you as much as the figures in these paintings.  “Your work has so much emotion to it,” tends to be a common comment.  For me it is a testament to my honesty as a romantic.  I believe in themes people find foolish today – love, redemption, beauty, aesthetics, etc.  I experience these things in my personal life and I wish to keep an honest approach to my art – and that remains unique.  

The evolution of my work happened over time.  Art school did a lot to downplay my desires to be a traditional artist.  After a few years of shedding the age old problem, that plagues many artists stuck in the post-modernism prison, “what should I paint?” I began to listen to my heart.

My wife Rebekah and I spent many hours discussing my work and she always encouraged me to paint what I know and to paint with my heart. Once I shed the fear of painting for myself, I began to catch my creative stride. It was in this moment that I began to create with absolute honesty.  I think a lot of artists are afraid to believe that they have a unique message to sell.  Once you delve into yourself and do what you understand, people will respect you for it.  

What I hope to leave as a legacy is an ambitious body of work with a very high value for my children and their children. I believe that being in a class of my own, I will continue to be a major player in this movement of contemporary realism. I don’t aspire to simply paint a figure; I paint a moment, a human experience, and an emotional dialogue that transcends culture, religion and time.

A.C.T.: What is your art business direction and what are your business goals?

My business goals are simple: I desire to consistently increase the value of my work and to build upon each success by putting in more effective time.

Because of my recent success with my new body of work, I’m looking into ways to sell reproductions, as well as working with other ventures where my work can appear. I have also begun working on an upcoming instructional DVD and expanding my art classes.  

My future goals are to secure good representation on the east and west coasts.  I’ve sold well by myself up until now and I’ve worked with a number of galleries. I understand that as a businessman, my job will not change as someone who promotes my own work.  I look at the gallery as an associate that will help me expand on my clientele.  

I’m looking forward to my retrospective but I’m not the kind of person that ever stops working enough to “smell the roses.”  Someone would have to arrange that for me!

A.C.T.: How do you manage your time, money and energy?

I am a workaholic. The last few years I’ve had to temper that work ethic with more effective ways of spending my time to streamline my process and weigh my options to lessen my workload. I am always observing and rethinking.

Right now I’m evaluating the benefits of having people build my panels for me, or simply picking and choosing what channels I want to market my artwork through in the real world or the internet.

I dedicate at least 14-18 hours a day to something art related and still it doesn’t feel like I ever have enough time. While preparing for my solo show in the fall 2009 and then a large commission in the winter of 2009-10, my working hours were typically 18-21 hours a day.  I consistently slept a mere three hours a night in order to get everything finished.  This is very hard on the body and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but I struggled to accomplish a lot and when I put my mind to something I don’t intend to fail.  

I have a wife and three small children and a large 1865 Victorian home that needs constant attention. Because my children are young it isn’t always easy to barricade myself in a studio because I am an active father. I reserve much of my marketing for during the day when it is easier to put the phone or computer down than to put away a palette and harmful solvents.  After my children are asleep I do the bulk of my painting, most times as late as 3 or 4:00 AM.  The kids are up a few hours later and the day starts again.

Armusik "St. Sebastian"By the time I took the commission “Stations of the Cross,” I was so worn down I would fall asleep randomly during the day and even at my easel.   The commission would have normally been 1.5-2 years worth of work.  I had 3 months. Composing 15 paintings in a classical style would be hard enough but painting them in that style seemed an impossible feat. In the end I succeeded.  I learned more about myself during that time than all of my years painting.

I never met my client in person.  She is from Seattle and I am from Pennsylvania.  She found me on the internet and we began talks in July about her book on yoga meditation on the Stations of the Cross.  Afterwards the paintings would be permanently hung in a church in Seattle.  As a traditional and practicing Catholic, I had an inherent understanding of the subject matter. Also in my favor was that my focus as an artist was on traditional art.  I didn’t want to do something that I felt would be hokey or would misrepresent my faith and I believed that I had the ability to do it tastefully. After a few months of negotiations, we signed the contracts in late October.  The compressed timeline presented a big problem.  An 11” x 14” painting normally took me 3 weeks.  In order for me to do all the work required - sketching, hiring models etc. - I would have about 4-5 days to finish each panel!  The confident artist in me suggested that I go for it.  I love a challenge and my wife was immensely supportive of this decision.  

I met my model for Jesus in a pizza parlor in Jim Thorpe, PA and asked him to pose. I made sketches on paper, post its, napkins and photographed them with my iPhone and emailed them to my client for approval. I bought several costumes and had friends and acquaintances pose for me. I used Photoshop to arrange the characters, which cut down my time and allowed for the client to make revisions easily via email.  I did dictation for all my comments while on the road and recorded conversations on my hands free unit so that when home, I was painting.  I did all the underpaintings in acrylic to save weeks on drying time and finished them in oil and glazes.  I even took the paintings with me on the road if I was waiting during an appointment.  I was literally painting them on the steering wheel of my SUV.  I learned to use every last second of the day to get the artwork finished.   

Since then I’ve received a large number of interviews and press for that work. The biggest reward is the knowledge that, though I really put myself in an exhausting place all that time, these paintings will mean so much for thousands of people who will pray to them or merely appreciate them for generations.

A.C.T.: What peak moments have you had as an artist? What makes it the best job in the world?

I don’t ever intend to peak as an artist or a person.  Each accomplishment is a means to an end.  I haven’t gone as far as I can go.

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

I think the best thing you can do with success is to give back.  There are no easy roads to success – you earn it.  I enjoy the opportunity to teach my young students the things I’ve worked hard to understand to give them the chances I didn’t have.  Their success is a something I can feel great pride in.  I’ve helped many students get into very selective college art programs and find direction in their career path. I’ve helped mid-career artists understand their materials more, so they can grow individually and find greater success in their careers.  That to me is success and I am humbled to be a credible resource sought out by many, to help facilitate their future.    

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

Obstacles are everywhere in this profession.  You have to understand that early on.  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 have to keep pushing and pushing until people have heard your name so much you become a staple in your regional or worldwide art community.  You will deal with rejections from juried shows, art galleries, and commissions.  The key is to not take it 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.  

I’ve worked hard over the last 15 years and now that tenacity has come to fruition.  You have to realize early on that you have to promote your work.  You can’t keep it on the walls in your studio.  No millionaire is going to be passing by looking to discover you.  You have to market you work and tell people why you are important.  Your accomplishments will back this up over time and you will defeat what I feel is the largest obstacle in all artist’s careers – yourself.

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

This is a big pet peeve. I will never understand the logic or value of an artist showing up to an opening in their studio clothes.  What message does that send? This lack of professional protocol is inexcusable and will essentially perpetuate a rather poor view of the artist.  I’ve lived around it enough to see it first-hand. I do not create cheap work, therefore, I feel it is incumbent on me to dress accordingly. You can be the most intelligent, ambitious and talented artist around but if you are a filthy mess, no one will take you seriously. I find that attitude rather immature and quite frankly, you reap what you sow. If you want success, dress like it.  Act like it.  Conduct yourself professionally and adopt a sense of propriety, this is essential.  Successful people like to be around other successful people.  I don’t take advice or associate with people who blame others or society for their failure.  We all have the ability to make or break ourselves.  A good first impression quickly establishes you in people’s minds.

A.C.T.: Who are your role models and mentors? What was the best advice they gave you?

I like people who embody success.  My list of inspiring role models in business are:

Gordon Ramsey. The man embodies success and a desire to achieve through a merciless upholding of standards. I put those same pressures on myself.  Second best isn’t an option for him and it isn’t for me.

Gene Simmons. Whatever you think of the man personally Gene is a success because he loves what he does.  He is an entrepreneur and a hard driving business man.  The best line I heard from him is that he doesn’t think about going on a vacation.  Life and work are his vacation.  I feel the same about my work, though I’d love a nice get away once in a while.

Steve Jobs. Aside from being an avid Apple user for 25 years, I love Steve’s innovation and the desire to do something unique no matter who told him it couldn’t be done.  Even though Apple is now finally becoming the success I believe is deserved, there has always been an anti-corporate approach to Steve’s outlook.  He doesn’t follow trends – he sets them.  I’ve had to deal with 15 years of people telling me realism isn’t a popular style to paint in.  Look at where the market is headed today.  You have to believe what you are doing is right and go with it.  Steve embodies this.

Donald Trump. You can make fun of his hair or his personal life, but Donald is an entrepreneur. He’s accomplished what so many have not in the real estate business because he believed in himself and his ideas.  We have a lot in common with this as artists.  We answer to ourselves – not a committee.  We make or break ourselves.  The confidence and professional attitude that Donald practices as a professional make him the success that he is.

A.C.T.: What is your art marketing strategy? What promotional materials and actions do you use most often?

I promote online and offline.  I do a lot of press for my work especially during a show or something community related. I promote via postcards, posters, flyers etc.  I also put out a monthly newsletter with email contacts I’ve made.  Social networking has really opened things up.  Connecting with other artists has been a great way to share ideas, support each other in our successes and failures and make connections worldwide.  It is an asset for all artists to participate in the hubs if you want to grow your business.

© Armusik "St. Jerome"I don’t promote causes with my work.  Too many of my peers use art like propaganda.  I support things I believe in through charity auctions of my work or by using proceeds from the sales of my work to benefit causes.  

A.C.T.: What changes have you experienced in the art market and how have you navigated them? What lessons have you learned?

When I went to school in the early 90's I was told not to waste my time painting as a classical realist.  That was where the art world was then.  Only a handful of artists like Odd Nerdrum dared to do it.  After I came home from studying for a semester in Italy my artistic mold was cast.  I couldn’t shake it.  I had to follow my heart.  The negativity of art school and later the years of bias I faced in competitions, grants and other artistic opportunities, made it hard for me to continue on trying to please everyone with my art.  Then in 2001, a fellow artist, Dahn Hiuni who was a grad student during my time in school, came for dinner.  Though his passion took him towards Performance Art, he was kind enough to give me one of the most important critiques of my career.  He told me to be honest.  Stop painting for everyone else and paint for myself.  He knew my sincerity as a person and he drove me to embrace it as an artist.  I’ve never been the same.  More artists would benefit from doing just this.  Today realism is a worldwide revolution again.  More academies have started, more artists are learning and passing down traditional techniques and museums and galleries are showing and selling this work.  I’ve learned in this short time to trust my instinct and to weather the storm.

A.C.T.: What legal measures do you take to protect your work?

My brother-in-law is my attorney.  He handles any and all legal matters and contracts.  I take a lot of precautions to insure my work and its future.

A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to artists who want to succeed in any economy?

Be in control of your career.  Diversify.  The market changes, needs change and you need to spread yourself out enough so that you have multiple sources of income. I teach, I sell my original creations, do commissions, and make deals for royalties.  If any one thing fails you have other sources to promote.  Always be aware of technology and stay in touch with other artists.  Share ideas.  It helps everyone.  I would suggest all emerging and mid career artists get online and start talking with other artists.  Look, listen and learn what can benefit your business model best.

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

The Artist Career Training community, the opportunities and information that you share with artists is very important. Sadly, for a lot of years in this profession I’ve seen artists very reluctant to share how they’ve been able to achieve some of the success they’ve accomplished.  This has been exploded by networking online and because of the information Artist Career Training offers artists. We are becoming more engaged, more sharing, and more passionate about success and our business as professional artists.  I’ve been reading and utilizing these newsletters for years.  Thank you for all you do for the art community Aletta.

PS. Since we did this interview, Eric has continued to stretch the boundaries of creative art marketing:

Life the past 30 days has been a mixture of excitement, empowerment, stress, frustration and fatigue.  What has come of it has been nothing but bliss.  I'm not even the same person I was when I interviewed with you only 6 weeks ago.  And as I sit here typing out this response at 2:51 AM, knowing I will have to get up with the kids at 6 AM, as usual, I know that I am a great success and it all came from hard work and believing in myself.  I've done some pretty amazing feats in my career but this Fire Sale was the first time, like a heroic character, I pointed to the sky and said "I will achieve all of it."  Only 45 minutes ago I received word from a client in Australia that 2 of the last 4 paintings are now sold to her.  Tomorrow morning a huge story is breaking in the Morning Call newspaper.  Everyone I run into has seen the footage of either my fire sale video or the news story done two weeks ago for Channel 69 news.   What an amazing time in my quickly moving career.  I am truly grateful for all of it.

The story.
A month ago, I was cleaning my studio up so I could get things ready for summer classes.  Funny enough it was only a day after we spoke, I wanted to show my wife Rebekah what I had done and in that time I took out all of the paintings and hung them on the walls.  Most of the work was from 1994-2000 and were large canvas pieces I hadn't shown in over 10 years.  I looked upon the work as lower standard work and it reminded me of a time when I wasn't sure of myself yet. Upon entering the studio Rebekah told me, "I could care less if you set fire to all of these."  Now, you have to understand my beautiful and talented wife.  She is the most amazing person I know and my biggest supporter all these years.  If I had listened to her earlier I would have made great strides in my career, earlier.  She also says it how it is.  I joke that she has a 0 and 10 scale, not a 0 to 10 scale.  She likes something or she hates it.  If she loves my work then it is good and I trust that more than anything in this world because she is right.  The next day while doing paperwork, I imagined burning my work.  I started to laugh to myself and I even belly laughed.  The idea was so twisted it was funny.  I called Rebekah in and told her my idea.  I would take the paintings I had in my studio and film a video telling everyone I would hold a Fire Sale of my paintings where I would price the work at an accessible level so a good segment of the population could afford to buy it.  What ever didn't sell in 30 days I would set on fire.  Two days later I hired a film crew and we put the video out.  I had nothing to lose.  If nothing sells I just burn it.  If it does sell, then I have some extra money to invest in my career and Rebekah's.  Then Rebekah upped the stakes. She asked me “What is the risk here? You have a bunch of old work you don't care about.  You need to include work you do care to save.”  Reluctantly, I included work I loved and thought was my best only a few years earlier.  Now I cared and the whole venture started to stress me out.  All in all, I had 20 paintings from 1994-2004 minus the one I actually burned in the video to show that I was serious.  

Then the launch. 
I put the video out to everyone on social media sites, art hubs, newsletters, contacted the press etc. First the responses were surprised and some good.  Then they started to get really nasty. People called me evil, malevolent, violent, disgusting.  If I were lesser of a man it would have devastated me.  I sold a few paintings the first days but the negativity started to make doubt creep in.  I even had one man tell me I was throwing my career!  I don't know exactly how an artist does that but I wasn't having any of it.  Not everyone could do this (Ed. Note: or should do this at home.) This was my genius of an idea and I quickly found out that the motivations from my critics were based on jealousy.  How sad and disrespectful.  Then the news did a story and it all bubbled up again.  Weeks earlier I started to work on my goals more, meditating, focusing my attention towards success and with the help of Rebekah I fought back hard.  I made it my life's goal to sell all of this work and to prove all of them wrong.  For the last two weeks I've been a machine, working tirelessly on completing this Fire Sale and within 32 hours I plan to sell the last two paintings. (Ed. Note: All the paintings sold.) Just like a lot of times in my life I was able to use the negative to motivate me to become the person and the artist I want to be.  I have many projects I've set in motion for the fall.  I have one I'll be announcing on Wednesday called the Marathon Portrait.  In Sept. I'll be doing a continuous 48 hour painting session where I'll be painting a portrait every 2 hours.  What I've learned:

You have to focus on yourself.  Be the person you want to be.  Don't act like someone else.  Don't even follow their rules because they aren't you.  Carve out your own niche. You can fight and win or you can listen to everyone else and give up, like they have. You are capable of anything you set your mind to.

Even if everyone disagrees with you and you see the success in your mind you HAVE to do it. Most of all: I found out that there are a lot of people out there that respect me for what I do and many stuck up for me in this venture so I say thank you.  


Eric Armusik,