by Lesley Samms
How can you make a living as an artist?
During August I have found myself reading the story of Michael O’Leary and Ryanair. Not, you understand, because I have a deep interest in the Irish airline industry but because I was intrigued to read about the journey from the birth of an idea to a global phenomenon – and it was the only book left in the house which I hadn’t already read! (Always best to be honest!)
So what did I discover. Well the underlying ‘non revelation’ was that for anyone/thing to become successful you have to work hard at it – really hard; long hours – you have to have an initial idea, a certain amount of skill, passion, tenacity and dogged determination and then you need a little bit of fairy dust; a bit of good fortune.
Building a career and making a living as an artist reflects this time-trodden path and some will make it to the top while others struggle on. There is no magic formula, but you can definitely help yourself up the ladder.
Over the forthcoming editions of ingénu/e, I will interview artists who are at different stages of their respective journeys and listen to their stories. One of the key ways I have seen artists improve their prospects of success over the years is efficient real time networking (not on the internet) – joining appropriate and like-minded groups and organisations.
One such group is the Society of Women Artists. Founded as the Society of Female Artists, this unique group has held an annual exhibition in London of the work of women artists ever since 1857.
Here, in their own words, several SWA members give us a unique insight into their lives and own personal journeys as artists.
Sue Jelley PSWA, President of the Society of Women Artists
I am a Londoner brought up and educated in Bristol. I come from a fairly creative family who were in the fashion business; as well as a great great grandfather who was a ‘wigmaker and parfumier in Paris’, my grandfather was an opera singer. I attended the Bristol College of Commerce for two years and worked in industry for 10 years before having a family.
Subsequently I studied at the West Surrey College of Art under James Hockey who established the College in 1922. I worked in a private studio for ten years with the Hackney family before working with the portraitist Ken Paine PS for several years. I travelled and worked with him in Paris as I am a member of the French Pastel Society.
I have a studio at home, which is situated at the top of a hill where I have just rolling countryside for company. It is incredibly peaceful – I have music and 24 hour news for company if I need it!
Ken Paine has been the greatest influence on my work. I also like Kyffyn Williams RA and Anthony Eyton RA. I admire many contemporary women artists and am very excited about several of our younger members of the SWA.
I am very proud to be the President of the SWA. I enjoy working with a wonderful council as well as with my fellow directors. I am particularly pleased that this year we not only had record visitors but record sales too.
As a Society we shall always nurture and encourage our members in an ever changing world as well as maintaining the ethos and integrity of such a long established Society. We are very interested in promoting young new artists as well as encouraging mostly professional non-members to show with us annually.
Vikky Furse SWA has been a full member since 2009
Born in Bath, I was always drawing as a child. Aged ‘eleven and three-quarters’ the teacher tore up an exhibition painting of mine as I wouldn’t finish it her way: my first victory – right or wrong! At boarding school I was always slipping out of lessons to paint in the art room.
The headmistress’s husband was the first working artist I met. He was a busy professional watercolour painter with a light, accurate touch who loved flowers and landscapes. He gave me my first sight of an artist’s studio.
After graduating from art school I scratched an artistic living in London before moving to a very creative community in the Balearics, and then for a few years in the States learning new skills including the American way: “yes you can!”.
Artists tend to work in isolation: being a member of an art group is a great first place to learn, get critiqued and make mistakes among friends. I’m a founding member of the Ashford Visual Artists (AVA), a peer-selected body of around 40 artists who live in the borough. We get together and plan exhibitions and other events.
I became a member of the Society of Women Artists in 2009. I was subsequently invited onto the council and again found myself part of a team of artists working together, this time towards annual London exhibitions at the Mall Galleries. I could use the skills I’d developed along the way, and learn about a much larger picture.
Being selected and on the Council of the SWA has given me extra confidence as an artist.
My advice for younger and emerging artists is: become a member of Artists Newsletter and scan it regularly for opportunities, apply for everything that’s relevant to your work or you think you can do.
Above all be positive!
Amanda Averillo ASWA is an associate member of the SWA
I have been making and selling my paintings and prints professionally for the past fifteen years. I loved printmaking when I was at art college and made the decision to buy myself a good etching press when I moved to Kent from London fourteen years ago. The idea was to combine teaching printmaking techniques to others with creating and exhibiting my own art work.
I had exhibited in The Society of Women Artists annual exhibition three years previously and earlier this year, 2014, the President Sue Jelly telephoned me to ask if I wanted to submit six works this year which would make me eligible to be considered to become an Associate Member. The fact Sue had called me personally was encouragement enough and so I did submit six artworks and was subsequently voted in.
At the exhibition this year at the Mall Galleries four of my pictures were displayed which was thrilling and I met family and friends at the Private View. It was packed with visitors and the SWA’s Patron, Princess Michael of Kent, gave out awards and prizes.
For me it is an honour for my work to be recognised by the society and it has given me much encouragement in my ambitions an an artist.
Information on how to exhibit and become a Member of the Society of Women Artists appears on their website www.society-women-artists.org.uk
Lesley Samms is Managing Director of Pure Arts Group and Director of STRARTA.
Lesley is co-author of What’s the Story – an anthology of artists’ stories; it is packed with inspiring stories of those that have made a career out of making art, together with exquisite images. Featured artists include Brenda Hartill, Anita Klein, Frank Kiely, Amanda Averillo and Will Taylor.
ISBN 9781906451677 £16.99