The Artist Life

The Realities of a Fine Art CareerMary Qian

The Realities of a Fine Art CareerMary Qian

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A Short Visit with Mary Qian

The Fifth in an Artist Daily Exclusive Series:
The Realities of Fine Art as a Career

In the Rain by Mary Qian, oil painting.

What did you find most surprising about being a full-time painter?

The most surprising thing for me is how busy I am. I am continually juggling the time to learn, to experiment, to paint and to do the necessary business work of being a full-time, professional artist.

What did you find most difficult about starting a full-time professional career?
The most difficult thing was to have enough time and resources to be a full-time professional artist. It is very important to not feel pressured to make money however, this is difficult. You must either save enough money for at least five years expenses or have supportive family members. Fortunately, I was able to save ahead to cover my expenses.

Do you recommend keeping another source of income while launching a professional career?
I think it could help as long as the job didn’t take up too much of your time. A job would would solve the financial worry. However, I didn’t plan to do that. I am a slow painter and I needed to have enough time to develop my skills, and produce my work.

Do you believe gallery representation is still the best way to go?
For me gallery representation is definitely the way to go. In fact, it is the best way I know of at this point.

What are the hidden pressures of fine art that most of us are not aware of?
Biggest pressure for me is improving my skills. I had thought that the improvement of my artistic skills would happen much easier when painting full-time, almost as an automatic effect. However, sometimes it is hard to improve when trying to produce work within a limited amount of time. I continue to search for enough time and opportunity to keep learning. This is extremely important.

Traveler by Mary Qian, oil painting.

How prepared were you for the business side of fine art–record keeping, gallery contacts etc.?
I am really not a business minded person, so I just try to keep things as simple as I can. It is definitely important to be an organized person. I have to thank my galleries. They have been very patient and a great help to me.

What do you wish you had known about the art business before you started?
There were many things I didn’t know when I started and I am finding out more little by little. Looking back, I wish that I had kept some of my early work. As artists, we are continually learning throughout our careers. With this learning comes the changes and improvements in our work. It is a never ending process. In the future, I hope to keep one or two of my paintings representing definite periods of change–or improvement .

How much of your time is devoted to the business of art?
Almost all my time is devoted to painting. I have worked hard to keep it that way. However, out of necessity a much smaller but still important amount of time is spent on the business of art.

How would you describe your normal work day?
My most common days are from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I rely on natural lighting so, my days are pretty much constructed around good available light. Most of the time I’m working with a model. Usually the model will pose for 25 minutes and then we take a five minute break. We usually take a half hour lunch and we’re ready for the afternoon. This is the work habit I learned from painting at the Palette Chisel. My fun time is having friends over to paint along with me or to model–or painting outdoors, which is something I don’t do as often as I would like. It is a simple but busy life.

With all the other obligations of a professional, do you have enough time to paint?
I strive to free most of my time for painting. Yet, there never seems to be enough time. I would like to have more time to experiment and learn. This is difficult when I am trying to finish a work in a certain amount of time.

Are you able to maintain normal working hours–six to nine hours per day?
For the most part, yes. One of the reasons for this is that I rely on natural light. This pretty much dictates my day.

What is the best advice you could offer an aspiring fine artist?
Learn as much as you can before you start as a full time painter. Also, make sure it is what you want the most–not just the results of painting but also the painting process. Make sure the painting experience can make you happier than any other material comfort.

Mary Qian is a native of Shanghai, China and now lives and works in Chicago. She came to the United States in 1994 to study at Brigham Young University, graduating in 1998 with a BFA in fine art and illustration. Mary worked in the video game industry until 2008 when she began painting full-time. She has worked and studied with the Palette Chisel Academy of Fine Art and now serves on the board of directors. Her paintings have received numerous awards, among them the 2010 Oil Painters of America Golden Medal. For more information, visit Mary’s website.

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