Michael Holter is a busy man. We last saw each other a few weeks ago at the Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Francisco, and as I write this, he is packing his bags for a painting trip to the other side of the world: China. I reached out to Michael recently to ask him to share with us what a typical day is like for him, and what advice he has for other artists.
Cherie Dawn Haas: With so many exciting things happening at once, what’s a typical day like for you?
Michael Holter: My days vary a lot . . . some days I spend most of my time working on the business aspects of being a practicing artist—answering and sending emails, doing social media, working through workshop contracts, shipping paintings, etc. Eric Rhoads recommends an artist should plan to spend 20 percent of the time marketing their work. Often it feels like much more than that.
Other days I have more time for painting and other creative work. On those days I tend to start painting as soon as I can . . . often soon after I have some quiet time and coffee.
The days leading up to a workshop are consumed with preparation for my talks and demonstrations and with packing.
As I write this, I am packing for a two-week painting trip to China and taking care of last minute details such as checking to make sure paintings that are away at shows will come back at the right time for me to receive them. Also visas, materials, and clothes for different environments need to be packed and readied.
CDH: What’s your favorite aspect of being a professional artist?
MH: I have always been blessed to be involved in creative work, so when I was teaching high school art, or working as a chief creative officer at an agency, I was fulfilling part of the creative hunger that every artist has. I find fulfillment in creating. In the last 10 years I have been able to progress with the craft of painting and achieve more than when I was dividing my time.
As a workshop instructor, one of my favorite things is when someone has an “ah-ha” moment and reacts with enthusiasm to a technique or thought that enhances their art.
But nothing is quite as fun as getting lost in a painting and discovering that you have created something very unique, never to be done again . . .
CDH: Is it what you expected it would be like?
MH: My expectations of what it is like to be a professional artist are usually pretty realistic. I know that parts of this life involve a lot of non-artistic work. But the rewards that I get in my soul when a painting works well, and when others respond to it make the challenges worth the effort. Early on, in my twenties, I began placing my art in front of people at art shows in the upper Midwest. It was a great way to experience success, failure, frustration, and all sorts of other emotions at one time. So my expectations have been tempered in reality. I am more and more amazed by the wonderful community of artists that I meet at workshops, juried shows, and art events like the Plein Air Convention. And, of course, the wonderful collectors who are willing to exchange hard-earned income for something that I have so much fun creating.
CDH: What advice do you have for artists who are considering “quitting their day job” and going full-time?
MH: Have a plan, preferably a written business plan that will give you direction when things get out of hand. Be realistic. Often in business, a company works from a unique selling proposition or some other phrase that they use to build a brand around. Artists often do that as well without knowing what it is called — because every artist brings a unique set of skills and talent to creating the work, presenting themselves, and making a name (brand).
I knew that, with my teaching and education background, I could be successful at presenting workshops, so initially I spent considerable effort seeking opportunities to teach. I had a goal of so many workshops a year to supplement and stabilize the ups and downs of selling paintings. I entered juried shows across the country and won many awards plus signature memberships in more than 10 societies, including the National Watercolor Society and the American Impressionist Society, in order to build credibility for the workshops and jurying opportunities.
It may take multiple strategies to get where you want to be. But have some strategies — don’t be hit-and-miss with your art career. It may be you can join a co-op gallery, get into the art show business, hit the plein air competition circuit; whatever you choose, stick with it but make sure that you have realistic, attainable goals and then re-evaluate to keep moving toward higher goals.
CDH: Anything else you’d like to add?
MH: I believe it is a good idea to enter juried competitions to discover what others are doing and what the top-level artists are doing to win the awards. Shows and awards aren’t everything, but you can get a good sense of whether or not you have the right stuff. It might be that your work has a really great appeal and you can create a following (sales) and never get into a juried show and that is OK too. I had sold hundreds of paintings before I ever entered a juried show and won an award.
And present your work on social media. When other artists you admire respond to your work, it is another way to validate the effort you are putting out.
Michael Holter currently has a one-person show at the Art Centre of Plano, Texas, recently was the juror and workshop presenter for the Louisiana Watercolor Society, is organizing workshops for Charlotte, North Carolina (Nancy Couick Studios, July 2019), and throughout the western US. He has a video workshop titled “7 Steps to Watercolor Landscapes.”
Listen to Michael Holter and Eric Rhoads talk about art on this episode of the PleinAir Podcast:
Upcoming travel and art events with Streamline Publishing:
- June 8-15, 2019: Publisher’s Invitational: Paint Adirondacks
- September 22-29, 2019: Fall Color Week: Ghost Ranch
- October 11-19, 2019: Fine Art Connoisseur Art Trip to France
- November 10-13, 2019: Figurative Art Convention & Expo
- May 2-6, 2020: The 9th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo