Artist, teacher and writer, Katherine Tyrrell is the next Expert Judge to join the panel for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020. She shares her wealth of knowledge, passion for and expertise on the business of art on her hugely popular blog pages. Here, she tells us about her recent trip to New York and offers some practical advice for artists entering Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020.
Above image: The Major Oak, Mark Frith, Graphite on pre-stretched Fabriano paper, 150 x 120 cm
Clare: When I got in touch with you earlier in the year to invite you to the Expert Judges panel, you were heading off to the United States to give a lecture about the business of art. How did the lecture go? What were the highlights of your trip?
Katherine: My lecture, at the Annual Conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists in Pittsburgh, was about ‘The Business of Botanical Art’. The lecture was extremely well received, possibly because business tends to be an area where many artists often feel they lack the skills they need. Plus, it’s not a topic which often gets talked about when botanical artists get together! I had people coming up to me for the rest of the day thanking me for the insights I provided and for the resources I was offering.
Botanical artists love international get-togethers and another highlight for me was getting to see in person the 16th triennial International Exhibition of Botanical Art by artists from all over the world at the Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University, also in Pittsburgh. Online catalogues are not the same!
However, I confess the real highlight of my trip was my stay in New York beforehand. I’d never visited before and absolutely loved it – once I’d sorted out how the streets and subway worked!
I also got to tick off an item from my art bucket list on my first day when I got to see The Dinner Party – the first epic feminist installation artwork – by Judy Chicago in a dedicated room on the fourth floor of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It was even more iconic and amazing than I was expecting. I took masses of photos of all the various place settings for the various icons of female history and then posted them to my Facebook Page when I got home, only to then find out that I was not alone in wanting to see the work in person!
I also visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art twice. I spent a day there and then managed to grab a few more hours in-between flights on the way back at the expense of two rather expensive taxi rides but it was very definitely worth it. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface so now have a great reason to go back!
Clare: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing artists today?
Katherine: If you enjoy painting as a hobby with an occasional sale, that’s fine. However if you want to paint all the time and have a career as an artist, the last decade has redrawn the ways in which the art business works. It’s emphatically never going back to the way it used to be. The impact the internet has had on retail generally and how art is sold in particular has been massive. One major impact has been on the business viability of art galleries and hence representation of artists art sales. Also the rise of the art fairs has had a consequential drain on footfall in the galleries that remain. All of this has had huge implications for how artists sell art and how artists develop their careers.
The recession bankrupted many art galleries, mainly because they ran on the cashflow from sales and had no contingency cash for when the sales started to dry up. Those who had rather better business models and some contingency plans in place are still around but an awful lot have gone forever. Many gallerists sensibly chose to reduce their risk exposure by ridding themselves of buildings but continued to operate as independent dealers, plus social media sites, but minus a permanent location.
Hence artists can no longer assume that all they have to do is impress a few galleries and then carry on painting while the galleries make the sales and send them cheques. There are fewer galleries and they have less visitors. Many people who buy art now buy online which means it’s absolutely essential that artists know how to market and sell their art online. Artists need to get a website/social media and develop both business and tech skills more than ever before. Winning an art competition raises your profile briefly but the important thing is to follow through and maximise the return for the longer term and only the artist can do that.
My art business info website was created in response to a realisation of how many artists needed help with various aspects of the business side of art, not least the need to think about developing a portfolio of income streams. Access to the resources on it is completely free, there are no pay barriers, take what you need to learn more and develop your skills.
Clare: Who are your favourite artists? Which artists have had the biggest impact on you?
Katherine: I’m quite eclectic in terms of artists I like. I guess my favourites are all artists who excel at one or more of the basics of drawing, colour and composition.
Many of my favourite artists are all colourists – particularly those who work with broken and optical colour mixes. I loved how they taught me how to see in colour and how to mix colours on the support through the marks I use – particularly hatching.
If artists work well with colour than I don’t mind what the style of art is. I’m as happy at looking at squares of colour by Joseph Albers in an auction in Christies as I am at viewing the impressionists in any gallery anywhere. Seeing paintings I’d not seen in person before by Childe Hassam, Monet, Degas, Sorolla and Singer Sargent at the Met was absolutely wonderful.
I also love any artist who has had a decent education in draughtsmanship (whether taught or self-taught) and draws really well. I cannot abide 2D artwork which looks 2D because the artist doesn’t understand about how to create volume and tonal values – and all the aspects which you essentially learn through drawing from life rather than painting. I am in total awe of fine art printmakers who create artwork only using line and tone which you can’t erase.
I love the purity of line in a drawing by Holbein or Ingres or even Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the innovative mark-making of Van Gogh! I am also a fan of those who can bracelet hatch when drawing the shape and form of anything natural and I learned this skill by studying drawings from the past. After which people always used to comment that I drew as if creating a sculpture which I think is a compliment!
Clare: How important do you think awards and competitions are for artists today?
Katherine: Very important. In the last 15 years, I’ve seen many examples of artists whose careers have been absolutely transformed through winning a major art award or art competition. Important prizes have enormous scope to raise the profile of an artist and fast track them to a successful and enduring career as an artist. However, for the most part, those who have made the most of their competition success are those who had got their act together, in terms of presenting their profile and art online prior to winning an award and who knew and understood how the art business works and how to make the most of their moment of fame afterwards. Plus using the prize money to good effect is also important. I asked one well known elderly artist who had just won a major cash prize what he was going to do with it and was amazed to learn that it was going to go towards his plans for a new weatherproof and secure store for all his artwork in his garden so he could reclaim his studio space and continue to paint big!
Clare: What will you be looking for in the entries submitted to the competition this year?
Katherine: The aspects I much appreciate are:
Artists who value being original. I am not a fan of those who seek to copy the
subjects and styles of artists who have achieved some sort of popularity. Being
influenced by an artist is fine and dandy (I learned the value and impact of cross
hatching using related colours from Degas) – but copying an artist for a competition entry is not clever.
Great composition which applies to any approach to art. I like those who know how to lead your eye through a drawing or painting.
Artists who understand colour and know how to use it well.
Clare: Do you have any advice for artists out there thinking about entering the Jackson’s Painting Prize this year?
– Be yourself and be unique. Paint what interests YOU.
– Submit your very best work – there’s no point in entering your second best
– Get your website sorted out and bang up to date before the awards are announced!
Clare: What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Katherine: My major new project is to try and develop a useful resource about commissions for artists. In part because I get asked a lot to recommend artists for specific commissions. The commission business can generate a steady stream of income for artists – without deductions for galleries or dealers unless the commission comes through them. Benjamin Sullivan told me how he’d had a steady stream of commissions for over a decade from getting his portraits selected for the BP Portrait Award for 11 consecutive years before he won the first prize in 2017 (see Interview with Benjamin Sullivan, Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017 – plus his portraits 2006-2016). There are sometimes advantages in not winning first prize – such as when it means you can continue to enter a competition again! As a result I’m planning:
1. A new section on commissions on my art business website
https://www.artbusinessinfo.com/. This will provide facts and tips for all artists –
with links to more information and advice, from the perspectives of those who
commission artwork and those who regularly produce commissions. I’m also hoping to publish some blog posts with artists asking them how they approach the commissions process.
2. A specific commissions resource on my botanical art and artists website
https://www.botanicalartandartists.com/. The latter aims to stimulate demand for botanical art via commissioning to balance out the enormous explosion on the supply side in the last 30 years. It will also be about developing a code of conduct for commissions from the perspective of both the client and the artist so we have a baseline for good practice and shared expectations from both perspectives. My previous initiative to share checklists, advice and information about access to courses has had a very positive impact on the information available to those wanting to pay for instruction – and how fast some courses now get booked up as a result – and I now want to do something similar for commissions.
Find out more and enter here Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020