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Hide not thy light beneath a basket

BY SAM CALDWELL
All you have to do is luck into the right lottery number or have a wealthy uncle bequeath you a Picasso. Otherwise, you may have to give up on the idea of overnight wealth and settle for plodding along.
But wait! There’s more! There are a number of ways artists (and I include photographers, graphic artists, writers and videographers in this category) can move their careers ahead to get rich and famous. Well, realistically, gaining either fame or fortune ain’t too shabby. And a bit of fame can shorten that pathway to the other.
Gathering fame, or at least some recognition as a fine artist, can take a lot of time and perspiration. I was asked how long it had taken to paint a certain picture and have it published as an art print for the Operation Game Thief program.
“About three days,” I replied, “and thirty years.”
There are a number of ways — apart from plugging along for 30 years — that can lead to success. Time and perspiration will still be involved, but these seven steps can help you shed that basket and shine your light on an appreciative world.
1. Promote your work. Of course, this step is at the heart of the process, but it demands a special focus. If you don’t have friends in the public relations business, make an effort to add a few friends. Check out the press clubs in your region. Let your local journals and TV outlets know you not only exist, but have an interesting story to tell. You may be surprised at the warmth of your welcome — editors are always looking for a story.
2. Donate. Every worthwhile cause in your state has to raise money, and art can be a primary tool. An example of your work in a live or silent auction gets your name out there. Conservation groups can be an excellent way to advance your cause while also helping them raise funds.
3. Partner with your state wildlife organizations. Perhaps a game warden association will publish a great photo or painting, and in return, provide you with an artist’s proof for your own use. Several of my art prints stemmed from partnerships with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Operation Game Thief and the Coastal Conservation Association.
4. Speak up. If you’re shy and bashful, you might want to consider a different profession. One of the primary ways you can gain some notoriety is to do demonstrations of your work. It is also therapeutic: When you have to stand up, speak up and show your wares in public, you’ll find out early on what you don’t know and need to learn. Sure, you’ll have to let people know you’re available, but schools and amateur organizations are always looking for an interesting presentation. Let a local journal know of the event, and maybe you’ll have a reporter present.
5. Compete in art exhibits and competitions. Enter OWAA’s Excellence in Craft contests. Join an art gallery, locally and nationally. Submit digital examples of your art to every magazine on the outdoor shelf, and then do it all over again two months later. Look for exhibitions and contests where you can show your wares. When you win, remember step 1.
6. Get a website. This is a critical way to maintain your public profile. It’s neither that expensive nor complex nowadays, and important to do it yourself. Make sure you have a way to easily keep your home page fresh and interesting. It’s expensive if you don’t have a website because you’ll miss the chance for increased exposure.
7. And finally, persevere. I have known a number of artists / photographers / writers who, in my less than humble opinion, were talented and capable of excellent careers. But, for whatever reason, they kept their lights hidden beneath a basket. ◊
A member since 1991, Sam Caldwell is primarily a self-unemployed artist, but also serves as editor, writer, artist and photographer for the Texas Coastal Conservation Association’s Currents newsletter. He was named by the Texas Commission for the Arts as a Texas State artist for 2004. His art can be visited at www.samcaldwell.com.

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