Windy Day, Detail, 48 x 36" (with frame) /121.92 x 91.44 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2006
People who know me might laugh when they hear me say this, but I really have a hard time asking anybody for help, for anything.
Just this past week, for instance, at my other job, I was forced to realise that my backlog had grown to unmanageable proportions. Blame it on my bad time management or what you will, but blaming wasn’t going to get the tasks done. I was embarrassed to ask the others on my team to help out, because I was hyper aware that they had tasks of their own, too.
In the end, I asked for help, and hey, presto! The tasks were done in a day, when they had been sitting on my to-do list for weeks.
So I admit—I’m like that as an artist, too. But I guess now I’m having to recognise, formally, that asking for help with your practice isn’t a bad thing.
My art practice is a very solitary, introspective one. Mostly.
Aunt Enna, 48 x 24" / 121.92 x 60.96 cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
For good or ill, 99.9% of the way I create involves a team of one. I do my own dreaming, researching, drafting, drawing, painting, and I daresay if I could frame my own stuff, I would. I love being alone in my little studio and I very much resent interruptions. I mean that’s one of the main reasons I went and got the jillapartment in the first place.
But I’d be a big, fat liar if I ever said I never had any help while ‘arting’.
Again, just this past week—I had to take pictures of my work for my upcoming online show. I knew I was no good at taking pictures, but I had to at least try, right? I spent practically an entire day, and then some, on it. I might’ve been satisfied with the way my shots turned out, but it occurred to me how there was no way anybody was going to see the originals this time around.
As much as I really, really didn’t want to bother her in the middle of her preparations for her wedding, I finally asked my sister for help. And just like my teammates back at the office, she only took a couple of hours to shoot all the pieces for my show.
I actually can’t count how many times my sister has helped me out with my practice. She’s designed the invitations to my shows or posed for me or asked her friends to pose for me and to come to see my work.
My mom’s helped me out more times than I could ever hope to remember. She’s driven me to my framers (and 99.9% of the time she’s the only one who knows the way) and even hefted my heavy, framed-under-glass work across the street to a gallery two flights up.
And there have been others, fellow artists, even, who have also helped me out by volunteering to pose, taking care of my invites or giving me advice, technical or otherwise.
So I guess my practice isn’t really all that solitary.
Pole Star, 24 x 48” / 60.96 x 121.92 cm (with frame), Acrylic and Watercolour Pencil on Paper, 2017
It’s horrible for me to have to admit, but there are really a lot of things I can’t do on my own. I mean come on, do I crush the bugs, plants or minerals for the pigments of the paints I use, or do I weave my own canvas, right? It’s actually very humbling and it makes me grateful, really, for being on the receiving end of so much assistance I honestly don’t deserve.
I guess it’s just I really don’t want to bother people. Like I don’t want anybody going out of their way for me, especially after I had recently come to the conclusion that I didn’t want to have to ask anybody (except God) for anything. I didn’t want to be the person who was forever dependent and couldn’t do anything for herself. (Meanwhile, mom and dad just got me a new electric oven and a cartload of my favourite food, lol.)
It makes me feel weak, or inadequate, I guess, having to ask for help. But I guess, again, that having to ask for help, or knowing when it’s time to, has to happen once in a while to teach us that we’re only finite beings, after all.
We don’t have all the answers, or superpowers, and that sometimes, if we did happen to have them at some point in our lives, it just might go to our heads and we get cocky or whatever.
Of course I might be just saying this because I am, in fact, weak and I keep needing help from people. If I was the super artist I needed to be to be as independent as I wanted I might not be saying all this, in the first place.
But I guess what I am saying is that there’s no shame in asking for help when we really need it—and we very likely might even be saving ourselves (and the people we’re accountable to) an infinity of trouble.
So to wrap up, here are a few things artists might ask for help with.
Morning Waking Dream, 22 x 18" / 55.88 x 45.72 cm, Acrylic on Paper, 2014
This is on top of the usual things artists might have done for them, like framing or having stretchers built for your canvas.
I thought a list like this might be helpful if you were planning a show, or in getting the assistance you needed with your own practice. Because let’s face it, everybody needs help sometimes (even Spider-Man ^___^).
• Writing. The art classes I was taking last year placed non-stop emphasis on how crucial it was to be able to write and talk about your work. There are a lot of artists back here where I’m from who make work at a level I can only dream of, but may not be as good with words as they are with line or colour.
I find it rather unjust in the sense that, hey, their work is awesome, right? It’s not their fault they aren’t literary or verbal types—their work speaks for them which is how it should be, and they ought to be recognised for that rather than their writing skills. So I think it’s only fair that artists like these get the help they need articulating what they need to for their practice.
• Photography. This, I can personally attest to and freely admit I need help with. With the world pretty much online, these days, great photos of what you’re selling—art or otherwise—are indispensable.
Take note, however, that if you’re going to get help for taking pictures of your work, some photographers specialise in art photography. Just because someone takes great photos at events, or of people, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll know how to shoot a painting.
• Marketing and PR. Creating art is one thing; selling it is something else, again. Lucky you if you have marketing as well as ‘arting’ genes, but if you don’t, it’s okay to get help with promoting your work or selling it. You can either have someone else do it for you (i.e. a dealer or a gallery) or get someone to teach you how to do it.
• Accounting. Nobody can say Mozart wasn’t one heckuvan artist, and yet, if the 80’s movie was to be believed, ‘Money just slips through his fingers. It’s ridiculous.’ If you market your work, you make money, and the more money you make, the more likely you might need help managing your finances, taxes and so on.
• Technical Advice. Maybe you’re wondering what camera or lighting you should use when you shoot your work, or what a good sealant, or fixative is. It’s totally okay to ask for help or advice for stuff like this.
• Moral Support. Things can get tough for artists, sometimes, especially when there are deadlines looming or ‘the current situation’ just isn’t conducive to creating art. Arguably, having someone be there for you could be the single most important form of assistance—even more than money—an artist can receive.
Under the Moon - Friends, approx 12 x 9" / 30.48 x 22.86 cm, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Paper, ca 2005
Being a member of an artist’s community or a support group can be super helpful, which is something I discovered in my art classes at Praxis, last year. It was a real revelation to me, being around other artists, like when I got advice from them I knew it was from people doing and going through the same thing I was.
Similarly, getting an art coach or a mentor is also something you might want to look into, particularly if groups aren’t your thing or you need someone you can be accountable to in keeping your practice on track.
Art has been likened to a battle, or a burden—the good news is we don’t have to fight, or bear it alone, even if you’re a lone wolf in the studio like me ^__^
I know I’ll never, ever be able to thank them enough—my mom, my sister and all, all, all the people who have ever helped me in one way or another throughout my career. All I can do really is to try and pay it forward, so if there’s anything I can do to help you, just reach out and I’ll see what I can do.
* Interested in any of the pieces in this post?
Drop me a line to let me know
and I'll let you know if it's still available,
or how soon I can make something similar just for you.
I don't purport to know everything. Yet if the little I do know can be of any help, you are more than welcome to it.