What Is Your Compelling Artist Story?

“They” say that stories help sell anything.
bulldog reading

Deep Thought

What’s your most compelling story?
What is it about you, your art, or your life that most engages people?
What, if you pitched it to a magazine, would the editor want to publish?
Try it out in us. Just leave a comment.

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22 thoughts on “What Is Your Compelling Artist Story?”

  1. Stephen Pryce-Lea

    It takes a particular type of person to be able to teach and when it comes to teaching students of all age groups and differing abilities, well that take real patience and skill. I would like to introduce to you an amazing awe inspiring artist, mother and special needs tutor, Pamela Junes, Pammy to anyone who knows her and since she will consider you her friend for reading this, then Pammy it is.
    Pammy is not one to brag in fact she describes her life as quite ordinary, fortunately I know better than to take Pammy’s frankly, down to earth approach to life as gospel and I was determined to find out more, not only that, I wanted to share Pammy’s story with the world because let’s be honest here. When it comes to finding selfless pillars of the community, they are in rather short supply and I hope you will agree with me when I say Pammy certainly is the cream of the crop.
    As a past student of Pammy’s I have witnessed her transform a room of well frankly a mixed bunch of students from young children to ageing pensioners from a chatty rabble to a dedicated group of artists in a matter of seconds, not because she rules like the Iron lady herself but because in her shy, appealing way Pammy takes control of her classes, as soon as she begins to instruct. In fact so taken with Pammy’s style of tutoring that a devoted silence fills the large converted chapel space almost as if we are at prayer.
    Pammy’s Gallery and Art studio, is in fact a wonder to behold in it self and on first sight walking in through the large old wooden double doors you cannot help to be in awe of such magnificence, not least because of the high draped ceilings and feeling of serenity that this space offers but also because of the array of artwork, painted directly on the the walls, hung on canvas or displayed around the room. Such a collection that has taken a lifetime of dedication to create and solely for the purpose of sharing her talents with others, helping them find the peace, she has become so at home with.
    More than that, this is Pammy’s life, devoted and dedicated to her passion, Pammy simply loves to teach and if you are ever lucky enough to attend of of her many classes at Chapel Arts and Crafts, Berriew then you will know why. Expressive and emotional in her teaching Pammy is an instant hit with everyone. No wonder she is in demand, teaching special needs twice weekly and visiting local day centre’s for the elderly in near by Welshpool and Newtown and that’s not counting the extra classes and demonstrations she holds for the community here at the chapel.
    I asked Pammy of her plans and what she was hoping to achieve for the future and I wanted to find out if I could help in any way. Pammy explained that in many way’s the chapel provides everything she needs and that is when she begin to well up and tears began to show, as I began to fell uneasy and wondered what had upset her so, I sheepishly enquired as to what was bothering her so, and her response moved me to tears.
    Pammy told me she found this place by sheer chance and good fortune, after a difficult troubled marriage, she needed an escape route to find away out of the abuse from a aggressive realtionship. “Don’t worry she said this was over 15 years ago and long in the past” My mother and I found this place she added and scraped the money together to pay for the fuel to drive up here. On finding the place we were taken back by the scale and size of the chapel itself and even before we saw the adjoining living space I was sold” It has been a struggle she said and it’s not over yet my family want me to leave well my youngest son and daughter want an easier live for me, but she sobbed I am not ready to leave just yet! In fact I have told my eldest that I want to be carried out of here in a box she giggled at this bold yet cutting statement.
    I wanted to know more and so as Pammy made us a cup of welsh tea, I settled in the comfy armchair I had been offered and listened to the rest of this gripping tale. As it began to unwind I could not help but notice Pammy vulnerability, miles from anywhere living in a frankly less than perfect living space with next to no heating and basic amenities. She explained that some modernisation had been done to keep out the howling winds that whip around the external corners of the chapel, perched high on a mountain ridge, overlooking the severn valley and beyond to shropshire.
    Alone and fighting to stay here, it really is not surprising that Pammy struggles to get the visitors she and the chapel so desperately need. Even though the location is picturesque and the setting serene, finding the chapel can be difficult, as it well off the beaten track. I try to reassure Pammy at this point and tell her that everything that has been done to date is a credit to her and her family and she must not give up hope just yet.
    This appeared to lift Pammy’s mood and she refocused on telling her story, but before she did she suggested we take her dog and life companion “Pippy” for a short walk so I can really appreciate the view and get a look at the chapel in all it’s glory. I did not really understand what Pammy meant by that but simply agreed to accompany her down the lane as she put it.
    Steeping outside the chapel and into the warm spring breeze, Pammy mentioned that the light her was so intense and for an artist that’s a must, it really helps you focus on your work a type of clarity, she explained. I could see what she was referring to as there are no buildings or city smog to obstruct the view in fact it’s almost as if your halfway to heaven I said at this Pammy exclaimed “Do you know I think I am, and my simple request is to share my piece of heaven with the world” taking a deep breath and a sigh almost simultaneously we set off.
    As we walked Pammy explained that she cared for her mother her, as her mother gradually slipped away refusing treatment for the cancer that had taken over her body. She explained that her mother was a strong, independent women with a career in nursing and she had simply come to terms with the fact it was her time to die. Pammy had to come to terms with this alone, and whilst her mother had regular care visitors and family Pammy never really dealt with the loss of her mother until she felt her presence one day in the chapel. Pammy said “I always believed that the chapel was a special place and for the first few years I would tell my eldest son Stephen that my father, his grandfather had come here to watch over me” “Now” she said “My mother is doing the same, I have never felt them her together but some how I know they are at peace” This single explanation made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle and as I rubbed the goosebumps from my arm Pammy asked if I was feeling cold “No” I replied I am fine and we continued to talk the short walk allowing Pippy to do her duty and as we turned on our heels I got to see exactly what Pammy had mentioned earlier. The Chapel in it’s full glory! This really is a sight to behold the spanse of sky that sit above the chapel, the wondrous highway to the heavens that Pammy had referred to, the glorious setting in which the chapel was built some 200 years ago is enough to make anyone weep.
    Right then and there I was determined to do all I could to help Pammy in her quest! Pammy does not ask for much in life and lives very simply. Everything she has, she explained has come from goodwill, hand me downs from friends and family, support from the neighbours comes in all forms from items of furniture to company and the occasional home cooked meal. Her closest neighbour also has the foresight to provide Pammy with logs for her one log burning stove that heats the tiny chapel living space. This is contentment indeed and Pammy does not want this to change. Telling me about the winter just past, she is happy to of come through it relatively unscathed, if not a little brow beaten but not from the weather but from the concern of her family who want in their wisdom to make things easier for her.
    However there is good news on the horizon, she explains as my eldest is returning from his life abroad, at least for the summer and perhaps if fate allows even longer? She smiles a warm glow that only comes from a mother’s love for her first born and as she talks about her son’s own journey over the last four years, I can see that the return of the prodical son is very important to her.
    “Moving on” Pammy said “My son has suggested we attempt to raise some support for the chapel and to raise the profile for community art projects in the area”. A valiant attempt I thought at helping out his mother but how were you both planning to do this I enquired. “Oh” she said “You don’t know my son” “If you knew my son you would not asking me that question” and laughed out loud a warm reasuring laugh that could not help but make me smile.
    This intrigued me further as I began to realise that this interview was becoming much more than just an elderly women fighting to keep her community Chapel alive this was indeed a story of courage and bravery against all odds in the less than prosperous cottage industry that was Pammy’s life and only source of income.
    So I enquired as to Pammy’s quest, what was this big idea that her son was drumming up to call to action people in the community to help support such a worthy cause and how could I help. Pammy explained that her son was due home in a few weeks and that he had been in Europe, Poland In fact far from the madding crowds as isolated as anyone could be and here he found himself, a little like me finding this place she said, just he had to go a lot further to do it and I don’t like to fly she exclaimed.
    The thought of her son re-uniting with his mother after some form of mission in Poland, gave me a warm earthy feeling inside and that’s when Pammy said that her son had said he feels re-born well at this point I was itching to start writing I knew this was exactly how we were going to put this place on the map and I could hardly contain my excitement. Pammy was quite right the vibe and aura from the chapel is intoxicating and I was beginning to feel the love she had for the place wash over my body and deep in to my soul. I knew I was not ever going to be able to forget this place and my idea for an article that escalated into a life changing experience.
    As I put my tea cup and saucer on the side table, gathered my things together and made my way to leave Pammy asked me to speak to her son, to ask him about the plans for the summer and how we were going to engage the community in Pammy’s quest to heat the chapel, so that local artists, day centre residents, children and special needs can have access and comfort in the chapel during their therapeutic visit.
    I agreed and took his contact details, keen to speak with Stephen and offer my support in what little way I could. Leaving I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth, pride and togetherness that I have never experienced before, I knew that I had to start writing immediately and as I walked to the car I removed my recorder that had saved our conversation and began adding my own feelings to this recording that was going to play an important role in helping Pammy and her prodigal son in their Quest to save the community chapel from closure.
    Read more about Pammy’s quest http://chapelartscrafts.blogspot.com/p/pammy-quest.html

  2. My name is Debra Keirce, an award winning fine artist. I fill the small spaces on your bare naked walls. I paint small works and miniature fine art that invite you to look closer. You may want to view my 2″ to 10″ pieces through a magnifying glass, to see all the minute details. I would like to share my work and my process with readers of the Art Biz blog.
    In 1983, I escaped Detroit with a degree in biochemical engineering and worked at east coast pharmaceutical companies for 15 years. That’s probably why I enjoy my anal retentive painting style so much! You can take the artist out of corporate engineering, but you can’t get the engineer out of my art! I have always embraced a lucrative business painting commissions, but in 2010 I decided to focus full time on entering art shows and getting gallery representation. I’m happy to say I was very successful at achieving both of those goals, and now have my sights on bigger horizons.
    Please review my video from my Northern Virginia studio and information at my website, DebKArt.com. Also, here is the link to an interview ArtList.com published about me recently: http://www.theartlist.com/aom_11_12.html.
    Thank you in advance for your consideration.
    Have an artful day, Deb

  3. Known for her detailed and boldly colored landscapes and wildlife studies, Janet Glatz has carried her unique style forward in a new series , Man and Sea, a group of twelve paintings resounding with the message, “Be mindful of our wonderful world with all its challenges and gifts, and take action.” From “Gone by 2050,” depicting a South Seas Island diminished by rising sea levels, to “Reef Renewal,” which highlights the initiative to save our coral reefs, the series is a compelling wake-up call.

  4. Alyson, your question brings up one of my own.
    How personal is it okay to get in telling your story? For someone who has had bad things happen to them, as a child, for instance, would it make readers uncomfortable to hear about such things as they applied to one’s art or is it far safer to leave that out.
    My “history” is a big part of who I am and why I create, but I struggle with how much to reveal.

    1. That is a good question. I struggle with that as well. I am driven to paint from memories and experiences
      from my childhood, some of which are painful or disturbing. It is always a struggle deciding how much to reveal.

  5. It was like that Facebook movie, yeah. Downtown Pal Alto late 90’s, the cafes, the red brick and silocon valley hipsters hanging out, glancing over at their shiny BMWs nervously courting the short parking meter cops while fondling cellphones clipped on belt loops.
    I walked into orientation, my cheeks red with the brisk walk, and puffed my name to the pretty girl at the reception table. Smiling, she handed me a 20 lb. binder with my name printed on the outside.
    I clutched the tome like a precious egg and milled about with the others. We smiled nervously at each other. Our awkwardness was relieved when the pretty girl handed out nylon duffle bags with the dot coms name embroidered on it. Our first swag.
    We filed up the narrow 1 person width stairwell in the old historical building to the orientation room and settled into those new ergonomic mesh chairs and made pleasing noises at the expensiveness of it all. The CEO came in and with big smile, welcomed us.
    Our dewey eyes tracked his every move and we were amazing. We were so high. Dutifully we opened our binders to page 1.

  6. A new chapter is about to unfold for me. I am the creator of not only my art, but also my life. You can be too! Follow steps of other creative and successful people you know and you can get there one goal at a time one day at a time.
    I am writing this for my readers, but also for myself. Transitions are hard. Moving forward takes work.
    In 1987 I arrived in Palo Alto California with a brand new college degree in my hand: a Bachelor of Fine Art from Carnegie Mellon University. I owned my car and I had only $2000 in cash to get me started.
    Within two weeks I had a job at Nordstrom (selling clothes) and a lease on a tiny studio apartment. I also had my vision. I wanted to live the California dream. Young and naive I dove actively into my new life.
    It was not easy. Life never is. The challenges were many. Each rough spot promoting growth and a stronger vision.
    Within a few short years, I was working as an independent Graphic Designer balancing contracts with companies such as Cisco Systems and Ink Development Corporation. Cisco survived. Ink Development Corporation ideas were bought by other start-ups but the organization itself did not survive.
    I had figured out how to promote myself and earn enough money to not only survive but thrive. I purchased my first condominium. I was independent and a homeowner at 25!
    Two years later I married. Life ensued.
    Experiencing married life, a move to a new state (Oregon), and obtaining another degree, in Communication, occupied the rest of my 20’s.
    At 32 I had my first child at 34 my second. We’ve raised 3 dogs, 3 cats, several fish, a few frogs, and even a hamster named Bruce! We’ve lived in way too many homes and apartments to count. Life has been full. There have been so many blessings.
    Two years ago we moved our life from Napa, California where we raised our children, to beautiful sunny Southern California. My husband followed a new job. My children took on the adventure of excellent college preparatory boarding schools. I entered graduate school for a second time.
    This week I will graduate with a Mater of Fine Art in Studio Practice from Claremont Graduate University. I am back to the beginning of this post:
    New chapters in life unfold.
    Transitions are hard.
    Moving forward takes work.
    I know of only one way to create the life I want to live. I need to set goals. Measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive goals (thanks Kesha Bruce for the reminder, http://www.keshabrucestudio.com/).
    How do I do this? I have a trusty yellow pad I take with me everywhere on it is a long and ever evolving TO DO list. When half gets crossed off I rewrite the list. Some items get do not survive.
    The big goal is to find success as an artist. For me that means getting paid for the work that I do and the art that I make. More on that in the coming months (I plan to work with Alyson, wink wink).
    For now the time sensitive, measurable, attainable and realistic goal is:
    To find an artists studio in Long Beach within a 6 mile radius of my home, by September 1, 2013 that is at least 500 square feet, with either operable windows or a strong filtration system for under 900 dollars a month, including utilities. Preferably on street level, in a retail zone, with parking and some street exposure so that I can sell my work directly to consumers and teach small workshops in my space. It might have to change as I do more research, but the numbers are a starting place.
    That’s my story. One TO DO list at a time. Doing a little every single day to reach my BIG goals. Sustain a life and a living as an artist. To create the life I live.

  7. I think the story you pitch very much depends on the audience – I can talk about being a work-from-home mom to Ladies Home Journal, and the challenges involved in keeping my kids engaged in the arts while I was also working in the studio. If I’m pitching to Artists Magazine, I will talk process – how being a daily painter has given me more opportunities than not to fail, and that by embracing those failures, I’ve ultimately become a better artist. And if I’m pitching to an animal publication, then I’ll talk about my pet portraiture and the stories behind each of the 1500 faces I’ve been lucky enough to paint in the last 7 years.
    The key is very much giving the audience a reason to read further, building a shared connection with them, and telling your story in an approachable style.

    1. Thanks, that’s eye-opening. 🙂 Although changing your story for every situation involves more time and work, I’m sure that it’ll work way better than telling multiple audiences the exact same thing, from the same perspective.
      Thanks again! 🙂

  8. Just like you would tweak a resume for each job you are applying for, a pitch has to be honed too. We all know one size fits all does not truly fit all – and for me, I think that resonating deeply with a smaller group/niche is far more beneficial than being in the peripheral vision of 1000s of others. And part of that resonating happens when we allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable, not so shiney perfect, and human, just like our audience.

  9. This is a question I have been pondering recently. I’ve only been painting for a few years. I’ve always attached the story behind a piece to it. Many folks have said how much they like that.
    Then I came across the concept of letting the art speak for itself. That quizzled me and made me wonder about my practice of attaching the stories. Then there’s also the possibility that seeing my story might inhibit the viewer’s imagination and trigger his or her inner editor.
    Here is a good example of that dynamic: http://rondini.ca/image/full_library_of_works/lost_in_the_land . When he first saw it the person who purchased it asked me about the dolphins in the sky. I hadn’t painted any dolphins. Once he mentioned it I saw them quite clearly. If he knew the story, maybe he would have discounted his own perception. And now, having read this, the reader will be drawn to look for the dolphins, and thereby might have his or her own perceptions limited.
    But some of the stories are really important to the piece. This one for example: http://rondini.ca/image/watercolours/on_the_edge_ld_k_ao . That image is really representative of what was happening at the time in my life. The story on my website elaborates.
    It’s a tough question. I’m not coming any closer to finding my own answer yet. Some of the things I’ve read here have added some grist to the mill in my mind, so that’s a good thing.

  10. I started painting (again) in 2010. I always told myself that I was not good at painting, I should draw. My first abstracts were not good but then a happy accident gave me a painting that got of plenty of good blog attention. The idea that I might sell 5 or 6 paintings was was thrilling. I started getting commissions and selling lots of paintings (over 150 in 18 months). As my paintings improved so did my sales and my satisfaction in the making of each piece. My husband’s favorite painting was done at one of the happiest times in my life and I titled it “Hatching a charmed life”.
    Recently I found a book I made as a small child saying that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I guess that means at 44 I am finally grown up.I still feel so lucky to get paid to play.

  11. The whole story is long at this point, but, this was what art writer Lisa Derrick said about my last solo show. I think sums up my artwork, and that chapter in my life, which is still ongoing in a way (2 years in remission but many problems being sorted out)…..
    Arabella Proffer’s painting draws upon punk rock, Elizabethan fashion, gothic divas, religious icons, and the decline of European aristocracy. In this current series, “Ephemeral Antidotes,” Proffer combines imaginary women with traditional medieval “cures,” utilizing bold color and fairy tale-like language that belies the underlying darkness.
    This series of surreal portraits is a reaction and attempt to resolve the artist’s 2010 diagnosis with a rare and aggressive cancer, which required the removal of part of her leg. She writes:
    “After having a section of my leg removed, I began researching medicine from the Middle Ages through the 18th century; this series was a good way for me to work out my anger and be even more thankful that what I’m going through is nothing compared to old remedies and techniques. My art and interests were in the way society lived in the past, but with emphasis on the defiant, glamorous, and eccentric — not daily strife. You could have been rich, important, or beautiful, but if sick, you would still receive brutal or worthless treatment.”

  12. I love painting and oils are my muse. I started painting after an expat assignment to
    China and a passion was born. Then we got sent to USA. I’m a Brit so I can’t sell or make any money yet. I’ve started a blog www. Fromarttoeternity.com. Please look at it and like/ follow if you do. It would mean so much to me and my confidence. I don’t want my creativity stifled but its hard when your adoptive country makes you feel like an alien from Mars

  13. We are our history but as another poster said not everything that inspires who we are and our work is appropriate for sharing (possibly because it might depress the heck out of the observer, reader, listener. I, too, think about this a lot and for now, unless I am actually speaking I tend to gloss over the depressing bits.
    My second concern is interest. How much interest is really there. I suspect not so much as many of us might think. I know that while I am interested in others, I don’t want to read a whole novel all the time or all at once and often not even all that much. I want to know more after we make a connection, of course, so not everything at once.

  14. I agree with you, Patricia, about the length of our stories. Some of those that have been shared are so long that I wouldn’t bother to read beyond the first sentence or two.
    My thought is that our stories have to be compelling from the git go or they won’t be read at all, especially if long. But, if I’m really interested in an artist, then I might be willing to invest the time to read more in depth about him/her.

  15. Pitches are different than stories – a pitch is a condensed version, it should be catchy and make the reader/listener want to know more. When you are pitching a magazine idea or trying to sell an editor on why they should choose you, keep it short and memorable – otherwise, they will tune out (they have 100s to sift through) and limited time. And the memorable bit is the part about connecting your details to their market/interests.
    Your story isn’t going to change, it’s not about making details up or skewing reality to make it synch with the audience. It’s about understanding/anticipating the audience’s needs and delivering with pizzazz and panache.
    Grit and challenges are always ok to share – it’s the angle that’s important. You can’t wallow or be a martyr or cast blame (I’ve heard some stories that are all that and more) – you have to inspire. To share and say I persevered and tell the listener that they can too.
    I just wanted to clarify, because there is a big difference between a pitch and a story, although they are very much related. 🙂

  16. The best part of my art life is, I have been able to heat and eat from my art effort. I learned the BUSINESS part of art life early. I did it on purpose. I learned how to invent ways to travel on OPM. I paid my house off by getting a newspaper story. I lived within my means. I always had a an art gig to keep money coming in. I got to be a NON-starving artist on purpose. I am a happy art maker, been around long enough to enjoy the art life and be independent of the traditional art system. I coach artists on how to be like me. I don’t charge any money. My stuff works. I say all of this when I want to get any press etc. It works. I got the press clippings to prove it.
    Bob Ragland-NSA

  17. Janet Vanderhoof

    It was only after having my son Blake, who was born with Down’s Syndrome that I woke up to what I really wanted to do with my life. Prior to my son being born I was a salesperson for a lumber wholesale company. It was a fast pace dynamic company of which I was the number one salesperson consecutively for many months. I broke records, and was one of the first in our company to sell over $6 million dollars worth of lumber.
    I have three boys and knew I had to quit work when Blake was born, he needed quite a bit of attention. I was 35 years old and really didn’t know myself. I was identified as a mother, a wife and a salesperson. Creativity and knowing who I was never entered my mind. I had always wanted to create art since I was young, yet my mother frowned on it. She was too familiar with having to provide for herself and her family since my father died when I was 10.
    Well after my son Blake was born, I crashed. I felt defeated and alone. I didn’t have much support and my husband didn’t understand what I was going through. I had no identity. All that I knew I was was shattered. I was severely depressed and lost. Fear took over. The only light I had was to pursue my dream to become an artist. I remember asking a friend of mine if it was too late for me to become an artist. I thought all artists had to start really young. And would I have enough talent to even think of being able to become one. My friend suggested going to a junior college. I started taking classes during the day, with the young adults. It felt very strange but at the same time, I knew so much more about the world and had already graduated from college as a Speech Therapist, that it was easier than I thought. I grasped on quickly, took most of the classes provided with straight A’s also received a scholarship for the most growth and talent. I decided not to go through the academia route, but took private lessons and workshops from great artists for the next four years.
    What I realized was that Blake my beautiful son had been a gift to me. He had opened me and made me see my dreams. He had taken off the shell the armor that prevented me knowing my inner self. Also, art had healed me. Creating literally healed the hole in my heart. There is so much more that surrounds my journey of becoming an artist, for you see it isn’t about one thing, but the journey of becoming a whole human being.

  18. Mouth agape, the antique car enthusiast…
    stared through the open passenger door of the fully restored 1948 Dodge Coupe.
    “So…you carved that dash board out of oak?”
    ”No, I painted it.”
    He looked confused.
    “You mean… you painted the oak?”
    “Um… it’s not oak. It’s paint.”
    The confused look intensified…
    “Well…it looks just like oak. If it’s not oak, what kind of WOOD is it?”
    There were about a dozen other car enthusiasts…
    waiting with questions and I feared this back and forth might last all afternoon so I pulled out my keys and used one to tap on the dash.
    It clanked like a cast-iron fry-pan. The lovely sound of early American Detroit steel. It finally sunk in. He turned a little pale.
    “Whoa! It’s metal! How the hell did you do that?!”
    I told him that I used a method I’d developed out of years of research and practice.
    I’m Norman Petersen. I fell in love with decorative painting back in the early 90′s and since then I’ve learned and applied dozens of “faux” finishes including marble, tile, semiprecious stone, authentic Venetian plaster, stenciling, sponge and rag effects and of course, painted wood grain faux finishes.
    In recent years I’ve focused on applying these skills to mural work, furniture and accessory decoration, fine art and custom auto paint.

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