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Aletta de Wal
Artist Advisor & Art Marketing Strategist

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3-D Artist

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Huguette May
2-D Artist

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Huguette May

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Huguette May Creates Representational Drawings Full of Metaphor´╗┐

Welcome to our series of interviews with artists and art professionals to inspire you with living examples of people who make a living making art and who consider it a Real Job.

These artists combine talent with good business skills. They create excellent work, make a difference and balance a successful art career with a robust personal life. Isn’t that what you want too?

There's a lot you can learn from reading their stories. Sit back with a cuppa' and learn while you relax. (Scroll down for the list of other artists who have been featured.)


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 art career may be on a different path, but there is always something to learn from the experiences of your colleagues.

Huguette May Photo
© 2010 Huguette May
Huguette works in series, creating representational still life drawings of subjects that not only engage viewers with their tactile detail, but also convey imagery meant to evoke metaphoric associations. She received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts / Tufts University, Boston in 2006 at age 55. She has just completed her signature series of 12 oversized charcoal drawings of rope she calls the Hawser Series. Her drawings have been juried several times into Studio Visit Magazine, A Contemporary Exhibition in Print, one of which was featured on the cover of Volume Six. Huguette's work is represented in several corporate collections. 
She is a member of the Navio Artist's Collective in New Bedford, MA. 


A.C.T.: What prompted you to start your professional art career?
I knew I wanted to be an artist and nothing else from a very early age, 8 or 9, but I grew up in a suburb of Ohio with no living role models either professional or amateur. What I did have for a time was Saturday children's art classes at the Toledo Museum of Art. I can still smell the gallon-sized jars of opened tempera paints that made me feel woozy. Being at that museum gave me the invaluable opportunity to see a wide range of world-class art face to face. To my child's eyes there were paintings that looked beyond this world, yet I knew that somewhere, somehow, humans - artists - had made those works. That experience was the germinating seed.

A.C.T.: What makes an artist professional?
In addition to producing work of consistent quality, I think a professional artist nurtures two essential attributes: The first involves attitude, the second, action.

For attitude, it's necessary to have a firm belief in one's own worth as an artist - arriving from conviction that the work we produce has value in its own right. Artists must come to terms with the notion that the world isn't going to proffer us respect just because we say we're artists! First, learn to respect yourself, your work: the value of your place in society. Without that confidence and conviction, it's tough to convince art world professionals to take us, or our work seriously. If you're shaky on confidence, figure out why and see what you need to do to fix it. For example, if your work isn't holding people's attention (for the right reasons) - what can you do about it? We need realistic feedback and assessment of our work from a variety of well-regarded professionals to help us gain confidence.  

Which brings us to action. Practically everything an artist does will either reflect professionalism - or not. Professionalism is conveyed in a few key ways: presentation of oneself, presentation of one's work, and evidence of deep commitment. Every aspect should be organized, well thought through - impeccable.

Fine artwork should be shown and handled as if it's our dearest asset - because it is - while being mindful that what we create is neither "us" nor merely a "commodity." If we have a rock-solid professional attitude, it follows that we'll want to present ourselves in the best possible light. Though this may sound trite, I really believe that projecting a professional demeanor can help us become successful.

In addition, we need to establish and commit to a code of business ethics. Treat everyone you meet as if you will be doing business with him or her the next day - because you just may! When we decide we want to market our artwork in any systematic way - we've just become a business with all that entails. If you're in business - honor yourself and your work by projecting the highest standards of professionalism you can muster whether your work is selling yet or not. Professional artists have learned to manage the duality of being both creators and advocates of their work with few if any internal conflicts over it. (I personally prefer the term) "advocate" over "marketer," It's more encompassing and includes marketing.

A.C.T.: What is your artistic direction? What legacy do you want to leave?
In 1999, I went to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with a personal imperative: to discover my most compelling creative themes and explore how I could make strong art around those themes. I also felt a keen need to study art history, understand contemporary art and soak up all the art world stuff I had missed by not being able to attend a professional art school when I was in my twenties. I completely immersed myself.

In 2005, while half way through the Masters program at the Museum School, I decided to focus exclusively on drawing semi-abstract observational still-lives in charcoal. Within that I would emphasize the beauty of form, light and surface texture. Over many years I had explored a wide variety of media and felt a need to pare my working methods back to essentials.

I had taken numerous undergraduate and graduate three-dimensional courses, but half way through the MFA program, I reconnected with an old friend - drawing. I joined Erica Daborn's drawing class and quickly felt I'd returned "home." For the first time I was expected to work large. It was a revelation! In Erica's class I also had an epiphany when I made my first rope drawing. Here, finally, was a subject that would allow me to work symbolically and metaphorically with the complex personal themes that had surfaced as I'd gone through school. Those themes centered on our human strengths and frailties - both physical and psychological. At the time I was unaware that rope would become a signature subject for my art; I only knew it was the right subject then.
With just a year left before graduation, I switched my focus entirely from sculpture to drawing. My thesis show consisted of four very large 10' x 10' drawings of rope from various sources - supplanting the small sculptures on related themes I had originally planned.
Huguette May on Red Stool
© 2010 Huguette May
A few months prior to graduation, while exhibiting some rope drawings as a guest artist during the 2005 New Bedford (MA) Open Studios, I discovered and was given the Korean War era hawser rope that preoccupied my work for the next four and a half years. I have always worked in series, but I had no idea at the time that I was embarking on a several-year odyssey! I only intuited that that piece of rope held much potential - a potential I yearned to explore.
The twelve Hawser Series drawings now represent a signature body of work that speaks to themes I care about. I simply want to continue doing what I'm currently doing - drawing in series in black and white - but moving on from rope to new motifs that I hope will also function as strong metaphors for the human mind/body issues I'm always thinking about. The new motifs will center on structures from nature, continuing with large-scale drawings in the 50"x38" range, but also venturing into some smaller pieces to give collectors a broader price range from which to chose. I have finally found my direction as an artist. The more of this work I leave behind, the stronger my legacy will be . . . 

A.C.T.: What is your art business direction and what are your business goals?
My trajectory has thus far taken this route:
  • Goal 1: Obtain my MFA - 6 years. Together with my art it would help me to be taken seriously as a career artist. Though the artwork itself is the ultimate criteria for judgment, having a recent MFA is an asset in my background and has been instrumental in giving me a deep sense of self-confidence. In my case, it was necessary for understanding myself as an artist.
  • Goal 2: Build a solid, independent body of work outside of school - 4 to 5 years. My MFA thesis show was an important beginning that happily lead directly to creating the 12-piece Hawser Series. I took the time needed to make the work that I really wanted to make.
  • Goal 3: Set up a studio outside of the house where I could interact with other artists and find a creative community to help quell feelings of isolation. I did this just before graduating and still find this important.
  • Goal 4: Learn how art is marketed - 2 to 5 years and ongoing. With my creative project underway - I still felt clueless about interfacing with a large and multifaceted art world. I did some online research and in 2008 decided to get a quick overview of art marketing by taking an online art business teleconference, through which I discovered an art marketing coach who felt like the right fit. Aletta de Wal was a guest presenter. I loved her point of view and how she presented herself. I had a good vibe about Aletta and how we might get on as instructor/pupil. Over just a few days, the teleconference functioned not only as a great informational resource, it was also an ideal and direct means for evaluating a range of art marketing experts and related art professionals.
I was recently juried into the Navio Artist's Cooperative, a newly established gallery in the heart of old New Bedford, an active arts & tourist area. Two energetic, business-savvy artists, Seth Rainville and Charlie Barmonde, run Navio. Both have established a strong following of collectors in the technically demanding and competitive field of functional ceramics. I am thrilled to be a member, which means I will always have something of mine on exhibition there and will be able to plan on yearly exhibitions. This is an ideal situation - to always have somewhere to take my work that understands both the needs of artists and the realities of marketing art to collectors. My business goal now is to make enough art to keep this gallery supplied with new work and to help plan exciting exhibitions like "Cordage," the one I just participated in during May.  I also plan to apply to the Drawing Center in New York, which may help me obtain exposure to New York curators.

Although I've made art my whole life, including professionally, I currently view myself as an "emerging" artist. I don't market or count the art I made in art school or prior to that - not because it isn't good, but because it is too different from what I want to be known for. The most important thing is to produce and exhibit consistently. I have evolved artistically to a new, much more satisfying place, but now I have to be willing to build an audience and collector base essentially from scratch which won't happen overnight. I will have help, but I will also do everything I can to help my help! To that end, I maintain a website just for my work and am starting to write about my experiences as a practicing artist.  I'm starting (yet again) so late - I expect if I ever have a retrospective, it will occur after my wake, if at all!

A.C.T.: Please describe a typical day, and a typical month so readers can understand how you manage your time, money and energy.

A Typical Weekday:

Morning:
Up about 8:30, breakfast with my three cats
Pilates at local "Y" (two mornings a week)
Write & answer e-mail (daily)
Light household chores or go to appointments (on alternate workout days.)
Back home for lunch or grab something to bring to studio. Make coffee for travel thermos - jump into car - drive 40 minutes to New Bedford.

Afternoon:
Daily, arrive at Hatch St. Studio in New Bedford between 1- 2 p.m. Work at easel in studio typically until 6:30 p.m. - give or take an hour. Sometimes squeeze in shopping or visit Navio coming in or leaving New Bedford, arrive home for 7:30 p.m., eat dinner, watch my favorite TV shows, read in bed between 12 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Typical Weekend:

Catch up on housework, computer stuff for business - writing e-mail. If I've taken photos, picture processing in Photoshop and Lightroom, cook; occasionally visit museums, galleries or open studios with husband. Work on art in home studio. (I need to clock more time at the easel - an important new goal.)

Typical Month:

More of the same, except I like having a regular time and place to review and discuss my business progress with Aletta and company.

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

Peak art moments:


~ The day in late fall, 2004 when I realized rope would make an outstanding metaphor for works on conundrums of human mind and relationships.

~ Completing the first Hawser rope drawing then my sister wanting to buy it as soon as she saw the jpeg in an e-mail. She bought it and it now hangs in her home.

Peak business and art moment:
The day in 2008 a couple came to my studio during the New Bedford Open Studios and bought two original Hawser Series drawings.

Peak business moment:
Being asked to join the Navio Collective Gallery in the spring of 2010
Huguette May with Rope
© 2010 Huguette May
A.C.T.: How do you define success and how do you celebrate it?
I feel that success is achieving the goals we set for ourselves. So - to feel successful, one needs have goals that are clear and a plan to achieve them. I think humans flounder without goals.

In 2008, when the only public exposure for my originals was during the New Bedford Open Studios, one of my goals was never to sell one of my original Hawser rope drawings for less than $5,000. I had decided that I wouldn't part with one of those immensely time-consuming and personal works for less. In case someone ever asked, I needed to feel certain in my own mind that I could let one of them go without feeling my stomach knot up - and without hesitating or waffling over its cost - which would be unprofessional. I had also previously done research to make sure the amount was "in the ballpark" for comparable work. A young couple inquired about my work on display at the 2008 Open Studios and I ended up selling two originals to them at $5,000 each - amidst the recession, no less! That felt like success!

A more recent goal was finding gallery representation I could truly feel confidence in. Though I felt the time was right, I thought it would either take a long time and involve tons of research - or maybe might never happen at all. But it turned out - I got lucky.  I had shown beautiful large digital prints of some of my Hawser drawings at ArtWorks! Community Arts Center in New Bedford in June & July of 2009 for an exhibition called Home Design: Art & Inspiration. For that show, I had to take a whole day to install my own work with almost no tools on hand - and nothing sold. But because two interior designers curated it, everything looked very good. Unbeknownst to me, the Navio Collective Gallery was just about to open half-a-block down and across the street. One of the owners, Charlie, who crafts inventive, nautically themed ceramics, saw those prints at ArtWorks! That November, Charlie invited me to exhibit my original Hawser Series drawings with him at Navio for the spring of 2010.

That exhibition became "Cordage" which resulted in my being invited to join the Navio Collective. During the process of preparing for "Cordage," I got to know Seth and Charlie and many other fine people and came to trust that membership in the Navio Collective was a good fit for me at this time. In every respect, I feel that exhibition was a "success." Though no originals sold, I received good reviews, much exposure, new friendships, and membership in a highly selective artist's collective. Two large prints sold to a professional art consultant for her own home. I feel very optimistic that more successes will follow.

I celebrated by having snapshots taken of myself with friends who came to see the show during the Opening. It was a commemorative-worthy event for me. In the next months I will be formulating new business goals based on these developments, but I already have my art goals in mind.

A.C.T.: What obstacles have you encountered in your art business and how have you handled them?
I feel like my life theme has been all about 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.

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. My father was a carpenter and pattern maker for the Detroit auto industry, my mother a homemaker. They were French Canadian immigrants from small villages who made or built practically everything themselves. They were both very bright, but lacked much schooling. I was expected to marry - and that was it. As the fourth of five children, there was no money for college or art school and little encouragement for my artistic aspirations. At the same time, I also had chronic health problems that affected my energy and slowed me down for much of my adult life.

At twenty I married and had my son at 23. In my mid-thirties, my health improved. I studied art piecemeal wherever and whenever I could. I learned and absorbed a tremendous amount of art technique, either self-taught through books or, when possible, by taking classes. We moved every 5 or 10 years but in the mid-1990's we settled in Massachusetts and I was finally able to attend a professional art school full time from beginning to end - a long overdue dream come true. I wanted solid art-world recognized credentials and the experiences I had missed as a young person. I wanted the time and place to explore my artistic identity. I doubt anyone has ever been happier to attend art school than I was! Surrounded by people who were like me every day was shear bliss! It turned out that my maturity was a major asset. I worked hard, re-evaluated my art life to then and caught up on contemporary art philosophy and practice. It was a wonderful time of intense personal growth.

A.C.T.: What opportunities has a professional approach to your career brought you that you might otherwise not have had?
Apart from working with Aletta in Artist Career Training, the best overall career decision I made after finishing the Museum School was establishing my "art home" in New Bedford - rather than taking the more conventional route: commuting into the city, working in a cramped high-rent studio, vying with a burgeoning artist population for representation in the same handful of name galleries. I wasn't interested in being where the "action" was or becoming "known" right out of school. I was interested in taking the time to further evolve my art within a supportive community - preferably in proximity to other professional artists. I felt then - and continue believing - that it isn't necessary to live or work in big cities to establish or maintain an art career.
May Studio Red Stool
© 2010 Huguette May
A professional approach to my career has produced excellent opportunities right in New Bedford, beginning with the decision to keep my studio doors open for every yearly New Bedford Open Studios weekend. Within three years I became known in the area and beyond as the "rope" artist.
  • Because an in-house art consultant saw my work at New Bedford Open Studios in 2007, a major corporation bought three pieces of mine for their new building in Fall River, MA.
  • I have been invited into three separate invitational shows, each one more prestigious than the previous.  A professional approach has kept me prepared to quickly respond to requests for up-to-date digitally transmitted pictures and written pieces needed for these opportunities.
  • A man phoned after an Open Studios weekend. He wanted to meet and discuss representing my work at a big art fair held annually in the Hamptons. We met and at first this seemed like a perfect opportunity to have my work seen by an audience who could afford my originals. Before we even met I had researched the art fair and it looked fine. Next I researched the dealer wanting to represent me. Meanwhile, I did not sign anything or make oral agreements to participate. The whole thing played out over about five months - the dealer was out of the country for three of those. Ultimately, I ended up declining that dubious opportunity. Though a fine gentleman, he was just not experienced enough, and had only an online brochure site representing art that did not relate at all to what I do. Most everything surrounding this opportunity felt somehow off-kilter. Once I figured out exactly why - a discussion with Aletta was most helpful - the decision not to go became clear.
Caveat to artists new to markets: Protect your work, your career, and your peace of mind. If your gut says something's amiss - listen to it and take the time to find out if an opportunity is actually right for your art, your career and for you at this time. I wasn't willing to hand even part of my career over to someone with such limited art marketing experience and who had virtually no experience marketing living artists.

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

Role Models:                
Best Advice:

When I was fourteen, my very earliest professional artist instructor made sure I learned how to identify, locate and use the best quality art materials, pencils, paper, etc. I still recall how he taught me to hold a pencil correctly for drawing and many other basics of art I've used ever since. He taught me to value my work enough to use good quality materials. He showed me it was dignified to be a professional artist. I was VERY lucky to have had this teacher as an early model.

A.C.T.: What is your art marketing strategy? What promotional materials and actions do you use most often? How do you incorporate social networks?
My strategy has been to build one step at a time - in other words, select a task, do it to completion, then move on to the next - or do things in coordinated pairs or groups that support each other.

I have business cards with me whenever I'm out. I give them away at every opportunity along with at least one big postcard. People love getting both. My business card has a picture of my work on one side and my info on the other. My name - Huguette - is unusual to most people and easy to misspell, so it's the perfect excuse to pull out a card and show someone what it looks like printed so they can more easily pronounce and remember it.

I've been present for every New Bedford Open Studios since 2005. People can see my work and chat with me. It's a great social and feedback opportunity and, until recently, has been the main time the public has been able to speak with me and see my work. I always meet new people and now many familiar faces come back to see what's new. I keep a book out for visitors to write down their name and e-mail. Next time I'm putting a fishbowl out so people can drop in their cards. I will always have a new postcard for every show and give away remainders throughout the year.

I'm currently researching the production of a catalog or some form of book for the Hawser Series. I want it to function as a keepsake, gift for collectors and item for purchase in the gallery. I want it to have production values that will insure it has a long shelf life. I believe very strongly in the power of well-printed pieces to help my work become known in my absence. I view it as an investment in my future and also as a way to celebrate the completion of a major body of work. I also want to do a limited edition portfolio of those pieces. I will continue having my new work professionally scanned and printed so I can market high quality digital prints well into the future.

I have yet to take full advantage of social networks. There's only so much time! I have a Face Book page, but don't use it very often. I'm also a member of Linked-In. I'm mostly interested in communicating through writing a blog. Now that more interesting things are happening with my career, I have an incentive to learn and begin using an e-newsletter for sharing news. 

A.C.T.: What changes have you experienced in the art market and how have you navigated them? What lessons have you learned?
Some artists still price their work to sell for less outside of big cities. That is self-defeating. The intrinsic value of a work of art doesn't change because of its geographic location. What I've learned is to do your research - easily accomplished on the Internet - and price according to work of comparable skill level, originality, size and career development. Weigh these factors against your current work and career level. Find a number of artists across various regions of the country for comparison, not just one or two. Pricing will always be challenging, but this route will help you establish prices within a realistic range. My Hawser Series needed to be all large works and the same size - making the originals expensive and harder to sell. My new series will include a number of smaller originals as well as some large pieces. For me, it will actually be a challenge to make some smaller works. But if I want more originals sold, I need to go there.

A.C.T.: What legal measures do you take to protect your work? Have you had to take legal action?
I haven't had to take any legal actions and hope I never to. I put a copyright © symbol and year after my signature tucked discretely within every drawing. Signed this way before scanning, my name can't be easily removed from a reproduction. I learned that strategy from an illustration instructor long before digital reproduction existed. Illustrators would commonly sign their names somewhere well within the actual art so publishers couldn't crop their credits off when the illustration went to print. When my prints are made, that © symbol remains embedded within each one.

I have a worldwide copyright notice at the bottom of every web page. I need to look at my website again, though, and see if there are other ways I can strengthen the copyright message without compromising the clean look, for example, by adding metadata and adding the © notice with each piece.

I have formally registered most of the Hawser Series with the U.S. Copyright Office and plan to do it again for the completed series as a whole. The simple to do online registration is inexpensive. I also make sure there is a notice on sales receipts of originals or prints stating that I retain the worldwide copyright for that image. https://eco.copyright.gov/eService_enu

A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to artists who want to succeed in any economy?
I consider myself an emerging artist of mid to late career age. (59 in July, 2010.) It's a conceptually awkward place to be. I'm still unsure what impact, if any, it will have on my career. My strategy for dealing is just to proceed as if age is immaterial, continue making the best art I can, and take advantage of the emotional and practical maturity I've attained. Regardless of an artist's age, it's the art that matters. Next, see that your art reaches a good audience - find your niche. Make that your mission. Show the world your intent is serious by maintaining a presence and projecting professionalism at all times. Finally, I can't overemphasize the value of taking the time to do research before making important decisions. Strengthen your position; research everything!

Note: Louise Bourgeois, who just passed away at 98, only became well known after a retrospective in her early 70's - so there's at least one other example besides Grandma Moses of late life success!  Louise Bourgeois always knew what her art was about and had accomplished a large body of work over her entire lifetime. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/arts/design/01bourgeois.html

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 ongoing programs have given me the structure and sound guidance to put together all the vital pieces necessary for advancing my professional career. I didn't have to spend time researching how to specifically prepare each part and I completed projects month by month at a comfortable pace. Having an exceptional mentor like Aletta and other artists with whom to share my "homework" is an excellent incentive to keep developing.

The Artist Career Training program is remarkably thorough - yet always allows for individual difference. I began with very little business experience - just a desire to learn. I needed a program like this one to help me scope out and prepare for my career goals because I didn't really have the time to learn by trial and error.

Aletta helped me formulate a plan for my career tailored to my temperament and the kind of art I make. She supplies a very well thought-out framework that is kept up to date and, importantly, a support system of other artists working on similar issues. You work in your own time frame, identify and set your own goals, and never have to work in a vacuum. You have company through access to members of the Artist Career Training community online and in the monthly teleconferences - which I always looked forward to. I really wanted to work out my career goals with access to solid counsel and was amazed and delighted when I discovered Artist Career Training already existed with exactly what I needed for a very reasonable rate!

Learning through Artist Career Training is a commitment that has grown my confidence in areas where I was formerly weak. I wanted to understand how to intelligently conduct business as a serious professional artist. Aletta addressed that need perfectly within a virtual context that is both personal and collaborative. It has been a tremendous resource for helping me work out answers to questions unique to my situation. For me the decision to study the business of art marketing with Artist Career Training was clear. In the Artist Career Training mastermind group I will continue building on what I've learned. I would recommend Artist Career Training for any artist ready to focus on their own art marketing strategy.

You can see portfolios of Huguette's current work and learn more about her career at