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Aletta de Wal
Artist Advisor & Art Marketing Strategist







Fabienne Bismuth
3-D Artist






Huguette May
2-D Artist





Read Their Stories:

Aletta de Wal
Fabienne Bismuth
Huguette May

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


The Upside of an Artist's Fall From a Ladder:
The 100 Foot Mural Redux

Gary Smith is a talented and prolific painter and teacher. Over 2000 energetic, expressive portraits are of interest even to viewers who do not know the person in them. Teaching drawing and painting in Toronto, Canada and in Europe is a great pleasure for Gary and his students. The John A. Libby Fine Art Gallery in Toronto and others in the surrounding area represent him and Gary's work has also been commissioned.

In my latest conversation with Gary, he declared that falling off a ladder and ripping some ligaments was not necessarily a bad thing for a painter who depends on the use of his hands!

Gary Smith painting a 100 x 15 foot mural in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. 2007"In 2007 I painted a 100 x 15 foot mural on a retainer wall 250 feet above the ocean in St. John's Newfoundland. The primer I used was as thick as marshmallow and the paint was extreme weather latex so it would weather the full battery of the ocean's storms perfectly. I had not considered that the mountain might overcome the mural. Water from inside the cliff had worked its way through the concrete until there were bubbles of water held back only by the strong paint.  

©Gary Smith. Detail "SS Neptune in the Ice," Mural in St. John's, Nfld. 2007"This meant I had to scrape down and repaint the mural. Scrapping took less than a day so I eagerly climbed the ladder and began to paint the city's fire of 1892. I needed to stretch a bit to reach one section so I stepped sideways on a hut that covered a pump.  The wood was rotten and down I went.

"As soon as I caught my breath and the stars stopped, I checked myself thoroughly. Everything was good except that the left end of my collarbone was at least an inch higher than it is supposed to be.  Like fifty percent of artists I am left-handed.

"You may not believe this, but honestly, my very next thought was, 'Good! I have always thought I should practice with my non-dominant hand, ... just in case.'

©Gary Smith. Detail Mural in St. John's, Nfld. 2012
"For the next three days, under the fortification of heavy-duty painkillers, I repainted the entire mural with my unpracticed right hand! Most of the details still showed and, since I was repainting anyway, my plan was to make the mural much bolder in colour and contrast so as to be more visible to passing ships. Not a bad result from an accident!

"Once the mural was restored, I went down to the boathouse and did an 8' x10" painting by palette knife, again with my right hand. The painting sold the next day for $300, so I now felt more confident to continue to use my right hand instead of sacrificing the rest of my painting plans during the trip.

©Gary Smith. "Petty Harbour" 8" x 10" Oil on White Russian Birch Panel, 2012
"The following day I attended a local BBQ where local special musicians played, including some with home made instruments called an 'Ugly Stick.' That was a new one for me.   While they played, I drew free charcoal portraits that they really liked and kept. To me those drawings were like beginners' but these strangers had no idea of how I usually draw so there was not really any pressure.

©Gary Smith. "Ugly Stick" at BBQ in St.John's, Nfld. 2012.
"What lessons did I learn from the fall?

"The first lesson is my relief about trusting my skills.  I can see now that I, and most likely any artist, could switch hands fairly easily if necessary.  To tell the truth, there is quite a likable essence in the drawings and paintings using my 'wrong' hand.  The reason is that I could not jump into an automatic mode. The pace, the awareness and the pleasure were all enhanced even if the academic aspects were all but lost.

©Gary Smith painting with non-dominant hand. Mural in St. John's, Nfld. 2012.
"The second lesson is connected to Aletta de Wal.  I am lucky enough to have read a pre-publication review copy of her book 'My Real Job is Being an Artist.' One of the most urgent and significant goals that I have been working on from Aletta's advice is to build a team.  My injury spurred me on to work with others in two projects.

"Before I left for Newfoundland, I invited a young art graduate, Valerie Severino to work with me on murals. She is talented, such a good team player and a pleasure to work with. Together we won the commission to do a local mural that we designed together and which incorporated her wonderful drawings of children.

"You can imagine how fortunate that was for me because the commission must now be implemented while my left hand is still in recovery. Because I teamed up with Valerie, we can still deliver because she will be the main artist executing the mural we designed together.   
"Recently I saw the most inspiring exhibition of my life at the Art Gallery of Ontario by the artist Zhang Huan. It was obvious that he could not have done all the work by himself. The large volume of work was completed in a short time and included skill sets that he did not have. That really helped me understand better what Aletta had meant in her book about how to build a team.

"As a result of this breakthrough, I applied for a Public Art project worth almost $149,000 that I would not have ever considered before. When I read the 'Call for Interest' an idea came to me immediately to combine the essence of my recent paintings with the sculpture and architect background of an old friend.  This has expanded my horizons immensely. My thanks go to Aletta and I hope you will all wish me luck in winning that public art project."

What stories can you tell about turning adversity into opportunity?

Related Articles:
Creative Art Marketing: Urban Flash Mob Painting with Gary Smith in Toronto, Canada

A Juror's Inside Story  

Gary Smith, Painter



"I help artists make a better living from their art and still have a life."

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