Artists #Making It Work: Liz Robb

Liz Robb

Liz Robb

It’s often said that artists cannot make a living from their artwork alone. Parents of aspiring fine artists stress about it in their souls.

Liz Robb is a young fiber artist who is beginning to prove that worry to be unnecessary, especially for her parents. I interviewed Liz in the fall of 2014 soon after she completed her MFA and moved to San Francisco. At the time she was just beginning; figuring out how to make it as a successful fiber artist. A short 18 months later she’s building quite a name for herself.

Since we’ve last connected, Liz has exhibited at numerous shows throughout the west as well as at the International Textile Art Biennial in Belgium. She completed a two-month artistic residency at the Icelandic Textile Center in Blönduós, Iceland, has received numerous awards, and has had her art published in several design magazines.

Liz' Rope Curvature on display

Liz’ Rope Curvature on display

Lucky me, I ran into Liz this past weekend where she was showcasing her textural wonders at the StARTup Art Fair in San Francisco. The setting was unique. 40-some contemporary, independent artists displayed their work in individual hotel rooms of a 1950’s motor lodge turned boutique “California beach house” style hotel. No kidding!

At the show and on her website I found Liz’ most recent body of work to be focused and distinctive, with an obvious influence of her time in Iceland.

Whether you’re an aspiring artist or the parent of someone who dreams of being one, make sure to read my interview with Liz. Her words offer clear insight into the creative process and what artists feel as they develop their career paths.

Clearly, Liz’ days of Lyft and Uber driving to supplement her art career are receding in her rear-view mirror.

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No Starving Artists Here

Vincent Van Gogh as a starving artist (The Bedroom 1888)

Vincent Van Gogh as a starving artist (The Bedroom 1888)

One of my pet peeves centers on the common misbelief that most artists are starving artists. I say Bah Humbug to that notion!

The reality is that artists can live – and thrive – if they’re got the right tools. Colleges and universities across the country have received the message that artists need to learn about the business of their passions, and are incorporating the appropriate courses into their curricula. Makes sense to me.

Accounting, intellectual property, and marketing are just some of the key tools necessary to create and sell your art successfully. The details include understanding how to best price your work, what your copyright and licensing rights are, and how to promote yourself.

My local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, recently addressed the subject in “Artists Learn How Financial Side of Business Works.” It delivers some good tips and a variety of viewpoints on the subject.

If art is your passion, make sure you take these words to heart: you will benefit greatly from learning about and understanding how to manage the business side of your creativity.
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Defining Art and Design

stacking bowlsPiqued by the inquiry of a high school parent, I’ve been muddling over this question in my mind for a while now; what is the difference between art and design?

A few weeks ago I posed the question to Gabe Tippery; the Academic Advisor for Ohio State University’s Department of Design. His response seemed simple yet right on target. To paraphrase his words; given a blank piece of paper, an artist will create something that comes from within them, something they feel the need to express. Designers, on the other hand, mostly need a problem to solve in order to put pen to paper.

Gabe isn’t the only one with this mindset. In researching the question I found numerous opinions on the subject that support his theory. To define it in a bit more detail:

Field of Corn, Dublin, OH

Field of Corn, Dublin, OH

Artists are driven to share their thoughts and ideas, period. They’re inspired and motivated to express themselves without boundaries imposed by others. My husband and I call it “art for art’s sake.”

On the other side of the spectrum are our problem-solving designers. They begin with boundaries, and a need for their creativity to spur others into action. They incentivize people to purchase a product, use a service, feel a particular feeling about a space, or learn new information.

Many colleges and universities will divide their art programs into a fine arts division and a design division. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take courses across the divide. In fact, learned skills from both can only help build your comprehensive understanding of the creative environment. A good designer cannot be void of artistic talent, and a fine artist’s creativity will come through along whatever career path he or she travels.

For me, I definitely live in both worlds. How about you?

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Leaving Your Heart In San Francisco

SFAI rooftop gathering

SFAI rooftop gathering

Around the corner from the compact hairpin turns of Lombard Street sits the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), one of the countries renowned art colleges. Tucked into the neighborhood known as Russian Hill, this compact campus has been a beacon of “creativity and critical thinking” since its formation in 1871. The college’s four artistic founders wanted an environment in which they could motivate and stimulate each other’s artistic development. That interactive and open philosophy drives the studies and feel of the college to this day.

 Focused on contemporary fine arts and cross-disciplinary study, you’ll find no commercial design courses here. The idea is to create working artists, engaged with and influenced by the world around them.

Freshmen dive into studio work from day one, taking two studio courses their first semester, and three their second. The Contemporary Practice Class fulfills the typical “foundations” role by exploring multiple mediums and genres, and introducing students to the urban environment around them – the city of San Francisco. Here, they tap into the city’s culture, its organizations and non-profits, and begin engaging with the world.

The college is divided into two schools, but students engage with and take courses in each. The School of Interdisciplinary Studies offers BA’s in Contemporary Art History and Urban Studies. The School of Studio

Photography lab

Photography lab

Practice offers BFA’s in Design and Technology, Film, New Genres, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. As at other art colleges, liberal arts courses are structured to enhance artistic understanding and exploration. Studio Practice majors can take 11 electives during their four years on campus. They spend 70% of their time engaged in studio coursework, 30% in academic coursework.

With many open-ended assignments, self-motivation is a necessity. Each department has technical staff available for those needing a better understanding – or wanting to push themselves further. Additional campus resources include: free, nightly public lectures given by practicing artists, artistic thinkers, and curators; health insurance; and an almost endless amount of space for displaying your artwork.

Since the curriculum here is explorative in structure and study, it’s not surprising that graduates of the program are entrepreneurial. Many go on to start their own art galleries, or continue their artistic exploration in a residency program. SFAI statistics claim that 95% of alumni maintain a creative practice five years after graduation. That’s a strong number.

Hallway gallery space

Hallway gallery space

Colleen Mulvey, Associate Director of Admissions, was my campus tour guide. As with all SFAI admissions counselors, she holds an MFA from the college. Putting someone who’s walked-the-walk in the position of explaining the school is not always done, and quite frankly is frustratingly missing in some institutions. Not here; throughout the tour she continually brought our conversations back to SFAI’s core: the study and exploration of contemporary art in a truly open and engaging environment. If this philosophy sounds intriguing to you, I hope you’ll check the school out. Admission is based primarily on your GPA and portfolio. Contact the college with any questions. They offer free portfolio reviews as well.

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Good News For Fine Arts Majors

Boston College

Boston College

OK, here’s the truth: moms and dads worry about their children studying fine arts in college. It’s true. Questions surrounding what type of jobs they’ll obtain after graduation intertwine with concerns about future incomes and lifestyles.

But good news is here.

The Wall Street Journal recently touted opportunities for fine artists in “A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Than You Think.” Specifically, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce studied the satisfaction felt by fine arts graduates, noting that they’re not necessarily starving anymore, and are actually quite content with their chosen career paths.

The article goes on to mention the job opportunities available to fine artists, stating “almost 83% worked the majority of their time in some arts occupation, such as art teaching or in a nonprofit arts organization.” I believe the list of opportunities is even broader. The skills acquired while studying art – in time management, communication, collaboration, and problem solving – result in marketable combinations that large and small businesses clamor for, especially when combined with creativity.

Whether your journey after graduation is one of a working artist or along a different path, the skills you’ll gain majoring in fine arts will remain useful and valuable throughout your life.

Good news and a sigh of relief for mom and dad.

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