Women Artists in Today’s Plein Air Community > What does it mean to be a woman in plein air? Brienne Brown shares her experiences in this article excerpt from Plein Air Magazine (April/May 2020).

Roughly half of today’s visual artists are female, but women remain grossly under-represented in museums, galleries, teaching positions, and at award ceremony podiums. To highlight this issue, the National Museum of Women in the Arts revived its #5WomenArtists social media campaign, challenging users to name five female artists off the top of their heads, as part of its annual celebration of Women’s History Month in March of 2020.

Most found it impossible. Why? Artist and professor Joan Semmel has an idea. “If there are no great celebrated women artists, that’s because the powers that be have not been celebrating them, not because they are not there.”

I was fortunate recently to talk to seven prominent artists — Suzie Baker, Jane Hunt, Shelby Keefe, Brienne Brown, Brenda Boylan, Lyn Boyer, and Kim VanDerHoek. They spoke freely about the unique rewards and challenges of being a woman in plein air, and offered their best advice for all who want to see greater equality in the arts.

See the full article in Plein Air Magazine, April/May 2020 – the following is our conversation with Brienne Brown.

Kelly Kane: A question often asked of working women in any field, but rarely of men, relates to the balance of work and home life — and the guilt that often accompanies that juggling act. But because you all identified it as your number one concern, let’s start there.

Brienne Brown: When I decided to pursue an art career, I had no idea what that really entailed. I just knew I had to keep creating and painting for my own happiness. I learned early on that I’m a better mom and wife when I have filled my bucket. Still, I sometimes feel like I’m going crazy. Fortunately, I’ve picked up several tips along the way that help me stay sane while keeping up with my art career and raising young kids.

1. When I plan my week, I start by penciling in the important “can’t miss” events — school dates, painting events, deadlines. Then I schedule my painting time — while the kids are at school or at night when they’re sleeping, during nap time (though that ends pretty quickly), or times when my husband is home. I treat this time as sacred, only changing it for emergencies, such as a sick kid, which seems to happen all too often. I then add in the business goals I have for the week — making an ad, social media posts, newsletters. Am I perfect at this? No. But it helps to start with a plan and then adapt when needed. This way I can focus on my family 100 percent when I am with them.

2. I do not do this alone. I ask for help from family and friends when I need it. I also hire help when I need it. When my older boys were younger and both home, I hired a young lady in my neighborhood to watch them two times a week for four hours. I learned a valuable lesson during that time: inspiration comes when you get to work. There were plenty of days I was exhausted and didn’t want to paint, but I knew it was important and this was the only time I had to do it. This experience helped form my work ethic and habits. Painting and improving your skills takes work, so treat it like work.

3. I have a hard time painting while watching my kids, especially as I paint with watercolor and can’t leave a wash in the middle. But there are some things I can do, such as sketching and planning paintings, writing newsletter drafts, posting on social media, or gathering source material. This way, when I have the time to paint, I am as efficient as possible.

I will not lie … it’s exhausting, and I don’t do all this every week. But when I do, I feel great.

The guilt you mention is very real. But there are a couple of things that help me feel better and even empowered about my decision to pursue an art career while also nurturing a young family.

• Meeting other professional artists with young kids has been hugely beneficial. It helps to share experiences, get tips, and learn from one another.

• Pursuing my passion is good for my kids. They are still the most important part of my life and they know this, but they also know what else is important to me. They get to watch me pursue my passion, which teaches them they can do the same.

Women artists - Brienne Brown watercolor
Brienne Brown, “Good Morning Bailey’s,” 2019, watercolor, 14 x 18 in., Available from artist, Plein air

A recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Research showed that while boys are socialized to see competition as fun, girls are conditioned from a young age to work together to reach their goals: “This reluctance to compete can have an impact on women’s career trajectories and eventual earning power.” How have you learned to embrace the competitive spirit needed to build a successful art career?

I played team sports growing up, but I find the competitive nature of the art world harder to deal with. I don’t mean competing with other artists, although there is some of that; mostly I mean competing with myself. When I get rejected, it’s hard not to take it personally, and I have no teammates to commiserate with; it’s all on me.

Having artist friends can definitely help. I have also come to realize that rejection, after the first sting, can inspire me to work harder, whereas constant success could breed complacency. Besides, whining never helps us to improve our work; it just makes us feel worse.

Is there anything that can be done to educate collectors about the value of work created by female artists, so that work of equal quality is equally compensated?

I think the answer lies in continuing to compete and upping our game. I don’t think separating ourselves with different awards or events is the answer (though these can be fun). If we want to prove our work is equal, we just have to keep pushing.

Now that you’ve achieved a level of success, what are you doing to pay it forward and use the platforms you have to lend support to other artists?

While teaching workshops, I get to meet so many great artists of all skill levels. I love providing advice, tips, and encouragement as they identify their goals and plan for how best to pursue them. Local demonstrations and art shows have also been a great way to meet local artists and lend support in my community. In addition, I have started an online mentor program, which has been rewarding for me and my students.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received for making it in this field?

Years ago, when I first decided to try selling my work, I asked the advice of a friend who had a successful art career. I had my pad of paper and pen ready to jot down the list of steps to take. But all he said was, “Just paint and the rest will come.” I was so disappointed; I wanted a list that I could check off. Since then, I’ve realized just how right he was.

Brienne’s bonus tip for women artists especially: “If you do go out alone, tell someone where you are going and about how long you intend to stay. Pack an extra battery charger for your phone, so you can stay in touch.”


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