Monday, February 27, 2017

Q & A Monday: How to Become a Professional Artist

I have been getting several emails from people asking me various forms of this question: How do you become a professional artist (aka make a living as an artist)?

I don't have all the answers on this question, I have been a "professional" artist for only 5 years now. All I can do is share how I did it.  Compared to some people my journey has been more difficult (those who had spousal or independent financial support) and for some more easy (those who have no resources to pursue it full time). Everyone's situation is different obviously.

This first thing I would say is you have to consider, why do you want to become an artist? Is your desire strong enough? What obstacles stand in your way? How quickly do you want to achieve this? What resources do you have? What are you willing to sacrifice and how much suffering can you endure?

Here is my story:

#1 - Strong Enough Desire

When I was 27 I made the decision that I would go to art school.  I won't go into all of the details, but basically 10 years after high school I was sick of feeling meaningless, working jobs that I hated and  in an unsatisfying marriage. At the crossroads my Mother posed a question to me that changed my life. She asked, "Kelli, if you could do anything, all things being possible, what would you do?".  The answer had been inside of me for so long, but I had no clue that it was a real possibility. I responded in tears, somewhat dumbfounded by my own words, "I would be an artist."   This felt like the only real TRUTH for me.  I had contemplated other careers, other paths, but the falsity of them kept me from pursuing them. Just to name a few that I considered in my search for becoming a mature intelligent adult (lol) : social worker, architect, interior designer, fashion designer, graphic designer, cosmetic business (yuck). Jobs I actually had over those 10 years: cleaning hotel rooms, gas station attendant, telemarketer, sales, JC Penney, waiting tables at Denny' get the picture.

So, I would say that my desire was strong enough that I was willing to sacrifice what I had to in order to achieve it.  This is really important because it can be a tough road especially if you are "flying without a net".  Here's the thing, the desire precedes the confidence.

#2 - Find Out What Kind of Art You Want to Create & Put Your Plan Into Action

So here's how I did it. I still rambled around the country travelling for my then husband's work for another year. I started taking art classes wherever I could on his dime. I knew nothing about being an artist and I quickly realized how bad I was compared to others, but it made me feel better doing it. I loved learning about it and I had hope I could get better.  I finally got enough drawings together to submit to an art school. I had discovered by that point that I wanted to do representational art and that I loved studying figure drawing and anything done from life. For years I had copied photographs and when I started drawing and painting from life I realized this was much more interesting to me. So I picked a school as best as I could based on that.

#3 - Obstacles, Resources, Timeline

I started art school in the Fall of 2007 and all this time I thought at least I had my ex-husbands stable income as a safety net. However, it only took 2 months for me to realize I had to end that relationship if I was ever going to have the life I really wanted. So now, I was broke and attending a $20,000+ a year art school. Everyone was worried for me (rightfully so).  I knew it was right and somehow I'd figure it out.  The other thing I realized is that if I was going to get any better I would have to study full-time for 4 years without working a job. Luckily, I had about $10,000 (not much) in the bank from my split with my ex from a house we had flipped.  I would have to make this stretch as far as possible.  I rented a room for $250 a month from a single mother in town. I sold my car and my parents bought me a used Honda which I would drive back from OK to CT the following summer and they sent me the $250 every month to pay my rent. (Thanks Mom & Dad!)  I had no other bills or utilities besides food, art supplies and museum visits.  I was able to get some funding from the state for school as well as an increased scholarship, but I still ended up having to take out student loans close to $100,000  in order to finish. (Trust me, not the best decision!).  I didn't really know what was possible, all I knew was that I was willing to give it my ALL or I would regret it. On the one hand nothing felt more right and on the other hand I felt like my life was completely out of control.I was faced with all of my psychological baggage from childhood, ending the marriage and every insecurity I had was magnified it seemed 10 x's because of fear. I went to see the school therapist once a week (which was free thanks to my recommendation to the school that they hire one)  to find my way and eventually realized how capable and strong I was.

I lived with that budget for 5 years. It was not pleasant. Technically, I was considered at poverty level income wise. I did not have my own bathroom for 4 years. I didn't have my own studio. I did not have health insurance (until the affordable care act). In the meantime, I had found two loves. One in painting and one in my now boyfriend who I met at art school. He always pushed me and believed in me, although he was in the same boat as me and could not support me financially. He constantly encouraged me to NEVER GET A FULL TIME JOB! He had experienced for years how hard it was to have a full time job and try to get good at making art.

By year 3 in art school, I felt that my work was good enough to show in the Christmas student art show sale. This was tough, because my work would get rejected a lot from the juried student shows and I was getting a lot of kickback for being too traditional and antiquated. The Christmas show was not juried. It was student run and I volunteered to hang and man the show as much as I could. I framed up as many paintings as I could and priced them cheap! My 8"x10"s were $150 back then. My optimism outweighed my fear of rejection.   So, those were my first sales. I think I made about $1,000 and I was giddy! Meanwhile students were murmuring that I was a sell out, just painting pretty landscapes and still lifes that people wanted to buy.   Well, I had no desire to paint masturbating robots, so I knew I was painting what I wanted to paint not what other people wanted me to paint.


In my 4th year, I began entering lots of local art association shows. Being in Connecticut there was a plethora of art groups and art shows up and down the coast. So, I would say you have to consider what kind of selling opportunities are available to you. If they are not available locally, you may have to rely on selling online to get you started.  You can use Etsy, Ebay, Instagram, Facebook or Daily Paintworks.  I'm sure there are people out there who will tell you don't do that.  It will hurt your long term career.  You have to decide what is best for you.  I think its kind of funny when people act like these choices are so set in stone and they will permanently damage your "career". You can always change course.

So my 4th & 5th year in Connecticut, I sold and showed paintings in local art shows keeping my prices cheap and still living cheap. I painted every day, I dedicated myself to getting better.
One formula I think you must have to succeed in this is :  
Persistence + Patience + Faith + Daily Action + Role Models 

After I graduated in 2011, I contemplated getting a part time job at a local art museum. They called me to say that I had the job in which my gut response was, "I'm sorry. I have changed my mind."  The thought of doing that didn't even seem right to me. Luckily, I started getting some teaching positions at these art associations. Some would approach me after seeing my work in the shows and a lot of them I would approach.  In doing this I was just modelling other artists I had met along the way as a way of making ends meet.  Until last year (my 8th year painting),  teaching was about 50% of my income at least.

After 5 years in Connecticut, I was homesick and I was still unable to afford an apartment to rent there. I didn't want to live out of someone else's bedroom anymore so I decided to move back to Oklahoma.  This posed a new set of problems and I would have to rebuild what I started in Connecticut. Oklahoma did not have near the art resources of New England.  So, I started applying for both national and regional shows like Oil Painters of America and American Women Artists.  I also started submitting my work to galleries nationwide and getting into a few (if you want some help on submitting to galleries go to and I show you how to do it). I had to double my prices since the galleries took 50% commission.  At least, I could afford to rent a 1 bedroom apartment of my own in Oklahoma and it felt good to be back home again.

The financial stress of starting over in Oklahoma was overwhelming for a few months. I had pre-arranged 1 art demo two days after I arrived and 2 art classes to start as soon as I got here, one of which did not take because of low enrollment.  I sought out every art organization in the area and went to meet them to try to arrange classes. I did free demos, I did demos for groups of 4 people. You must be willing to start small without letting it demoralize you.  It wasn't long and I had several repeat students taking lessons and some have been students and patrons ever since.  These people have helped make it possible for me to continue. I went into the local gallery, The Howell Gallery, that I wanted to be in and asked them to represent my work. I had sent them 2 gallery submissions which were never responded to, but when I approached them in person they said yes.  They are still one of my strongest sellers and just all around good people to work with. 
Be sure to not take silence as rejection, keep trying and follow up. 

Since then I have been in and out of galleries over the last 5 years.  I have been accepted and rejected in numerous shows. I have had lots of paintings sell and many that have gone in the trash or given as gifts to family members. I still pay $750 a month for my education. I still drive a used car with no payments. I still don't have a "studio". I work out of a spare bedroom in my home that I share with my boyfriend.  I still have doubts. I still have to hustle.  I still fall prey to comparison and self pity.  I still paint full time.  I still love teaching. I am still trying to get better.  I still see no other option for me besides painting.  I'm still not to six figures or featured as the star of the show in magazines or galleries, but every year my sales and teaching income have increased by 10-20%.   Most importantly, I believe in the non-monetary rewards of doing this work every day. Starting out in a recession in 2008, I count myself very fortunate to be able to make a living as an artist. Competition is stiff.  It seems like more and more I hear people want to become artists. Every day I discover a new artist. I can feel like a needle in a haystack. I keep painting knowing that there may even be a day when I cannot do this, so I love every minute I get and I accept what good fortune comes my way. 
New Available Paintings:
Copper and Pear
oil on panel

Yellow Rose Rhapsody
oil on linen

After the Dance
oil on linen

P.S.  I strongly recommend knowing your personality type as well as you can. It can help you to see what obstacles you will be good at handling and what self-sabotage may come your way. We are all different. Becoming a professional artist has it's own challenges that you may decide you don't want to deal with. If it sucks the joy out of painting for you, I would suggest that you keep doing it as a hobby and find other ways of making a living.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Q & A Monday

Hi Everyone,

First of all I did not announce the winner of the Mini + Calendar Giveaway on January 1st!!! 
So I apologize for that, but I was doing lots of paintings in my studio so I hope you will forgive me.

The winner for January's Miniature Painting and Calendar Giveaway is: Shelley Koopman! Congratulations Shelley and thank you so much for following my work and blog since 2015. I wish you much success this year and Happy Painting. Here is your prize:

2.5"x3.5" mini oil painting "Pomegranate and Grapes"

So much has happened in the last month in my studio that I could write about, but today is Q & A Monday.  I have been getting lots of questions via Instagram, Facebook and Email so I thought I would start answering them in this blog in case others have the same questions.  Feel free to email me your questions and one Monday a month I will post my answers here. 

Q: Karen from Kansas writes: Do you use regular oil paints? I'm wondering what kind of varnish you use to get your wonderful finish?

A: Yes I use regular oil paints!

A:The varnish I use is made by Gamblin called  GamVar.  I use a cheap throw away chip brush to varnish with. Usually it takes two coats. The varnish is typically shinier on a panel vs. linen.  I encourage you to watch Gamblin's demonstration on varnishing here:

Q: Eric from North Carolina writes:
When you are working on one of ur gallery paintings (not demo or study), do you work it over a few days? Or do you finish it all in one session?

A:  Every painting seems to have it's own timeline and can depend on many factors: size, difficulty of subject  or my lack of clarity in concept. In general, most of my gallery paintings take 2-3 sessions to complete. I usually have 2 paintings going at once so that I can alternate between the two. Once I run out of steam on one I can have a fresh start on another.  It happens every once in a while that I can just see how to paint that subject that day, clarity of concept - that "in the zone" feeling and I can finish a larger piece in 1 day whereas other days it might take me 2 days to solve the problems of a 9"x12".

A painting that I finished 1 day alla prima where I had clarity of concept, time to complete 8 hours:
                                          "Rhapsody in Pink", 24" x 12", oil on linen, Sold

A smaller painting that took 2 days to complete. I like to go with the flow, so if I can tell that something is just instinctively coming together I will finish it alla prima like above and others I can tell that I am searching in the painting trying to see what I can get from more layers and time observing and adjusting.
"Pewter and Peaches", 14"x11", oil on panel, $1500

Q: Cheri from California writes: What colors do you usually use and where do you find the shorter backdrops?

A:  There are all sorts of ways to make a "shadow box".  I use a simple trifold project board in black since I typically do darker backgrounds.  You can cut this to any height that you want with a box knife.  If I don't want a black background I can drape different colors of fabrics over the back. Other ideas might be wallpaper samples taped to the back, or buying colored matboards and scoring them to make them trifold. Sometimes I pin up a drape on the back wall and just use part of the light blocker to cast a shadow onto the still life. If you have a tall still life, you want a tall blocker uncut or if you have a wide still life you can put two or three together to make a wider one.  One side of the light blocker is to cast a shadow onto a portion of the composition while the other side is used to control too much reflected light from washing out your shadows.

Thanks everyone for your support and following my work. Hope this helps!
P.S.  I am so delighted that I will be teaching a Painting Workshop at the fabulous Genius Loci Country Inn in Umbria, Italy this August! Please let me know if you are interested and want more information.


Monday, December 12, 2016

How to Paint Mini's Video Now Available!

I'm still loving the experience I had painting ALL those minis!  It was so much fun and let me tell you that people really love receiving these too!  What a great gift to give if you are an artist to your friends and family this holiday season. You have just enough time to paint some before Christmas.


If you would like to watch me paint my most popular mini, Sunflowers, I have a new video tutorial for $15.

 It is available at Open Studio Online:  , a really great place to get fantastic lessons affordably with some great artists. Listen, I am always on the lookout for instructional videos online from some of my favorite artists and I have to say I have been surprised by some that I have purchase for $30 and they give you 20-30 minutes of home video.  Sadly, I've felt like that was overpriced regardless of the name attached. At Open Studio Online you can get 30+ minutes of video with written tutorial for $15 and under. You can also get 2+ hours of video, written lesson and reference images for $30. They even have lessons for $5 and under! So please check it out, it's totally new!

Starting at $25 and Up, HERE:
Christmas Lilies Demo, 14"x11", starting on a 3 day auction for $25!
Don't forget to join as a member of my blog.
I will be giving away another 2017 Kelli Folsom Art Calendar & Paintini on JAN 1ST!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winner of Mini & Calendar Giveaway!!!

This months winner of one of my Mini's & Calendars is
Darla McDowell! 
Merry Christmas to everyone and thank you so much for your ongoing support. Here's to wrapping up the end of the year with more art inspiration.
Don't forget to join the blog as a member  for a chance to win a MINI + CALENDAR PACKAGE on January 1st 2017!
Still Life 2017 Wall Calendar - 6.5 x 8.5 - $20
just cli just click the donation button above and be sure to include your shipping information

Sunrise Desktop Calendar is available for $15
4"x8" - just click the donation button above and be sure to include your shipping information


Monday, November 21, 2016

It's That Time of Year

🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶  "When the world falls in love, every song you hear seems to say, Merry Christmas may your new year dreams come true! " 🎶🎶🎶

Even at this time when our country seems to be in uproar and divided, this time of year always makes me so happy and grateful for everything I have and I get swept up in the Christmas spirit.  There are so many out there who don't have a fraction of what I have. Like the people in Malawi or Burundi who make the equivalent of 75 cents to $1 a day!  I put 75 cents in my pocket sometimes to remind myself of this when I get caught up in worry about money or get jealous of those who have more than I do.  These three quarters remind me that there are people out there who are worried that they may not even eat that day when I complain about fighting the crowd at the grocery store or how I don't have time to shop.  I hate to be preachy, but really we have so much to be thankful for here in America.  There are those who are suffering in our country too and things can always be improved here as well, but it's important for me to have a greater world view and remind myself of these extremes that exist in the world so that I can do and give my fair share without complaint.  It's tough not to slip back into whiney grumbling so that's why it works for me to have those 3 quarters in my pocket from time to time.  I can't save Malawi, but I can do my work with a smile and use my gifts the best I can each day. 

November seems to be the month of minis for me. These are always a joyous experience because every little painting gives a little bit of light into someone's life. It makes us all feel good and brings us back to the present moment and gratitude when we can appreciate the simple beauty of life that is all around us.  A couple of weeks ago I did about 50 little still lifes, 2.5 "x 3.5", and the outpouring of love from that was tremendous.  This week I have started doing some little mini Christmas scenes, while listening to Christmas music of course!  These 5 are going to my gallery here in Oklahoma City and of course 1 for my Mom.  I'm also sharing some of my favorite Christmas minis (5"x7")  from last year.

Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Christmas Minis - 2.5x3.5" and 3"x3"

Christmas Shopping - 8"x10"

Frosted Window Panes - 5"x7"

Pretty Packages - 5"x7"
If you like my blog and want to join, please do! I will be giving away a FREE Kelli Folsom Art Calendar + A Mini on Dec 1st and January 1st!
Kelli Folsom Art Calender 2017
$20 (free U.S. Shipping)
click the donate button on top right and include your shipping address

Kelli Folsom Sunrise Calender 2017
Folding Desktop 4" x 8"
$15 (free U.S. Shipping)
click the donate button on top right and include your shipping address


Monday, November 14, 2016

It's Your Thing....Do What You Want To Do!

I'm always trying to figure out am I doing the right things to be a successful artist? What is my end result goal anyhow? Countless hours are spent journaling, planning, goal setting, searching for answers online.  I'm always afraid that maybe.... just maybe I'm not doing this thing the way I should be and often times I am doing things that go against marketing and career planning advice that I've read and even received from admired colleagues.  Sometimes the self-doubt and questions pile up so high and spin me around in circles resulting in being thrown off the merry-go-round and getting some good grass stains, scrapes and bruises.  I'm constantly wrestling with my own self awareness, what individual hang ups and personality traits might be holding me back: like my need for variety and sometimes lack of focus, my not sticking to one genre, or wondering if my work will ever be good enough to be at the top (yikes).  

What I do know for sure is that when I follow my instincts and don't worry about the rules of success or how I'm viewed by others, I always oddly find success.  Perhaps not success in terms of my name is in every magazine or winning some huge award, but success in the joy of creating what I wanted and sharing that with others. 

This month I decided to indulge my need to get away from the hard core discipline and focus, the seriousness of it all, and just have fun! I've always had fun painting minis because they are quick and spontaneous. I like the speed and rush of doing a whole bunch of little studies in one day. I just set up one after the other, don't think about how good they are or not and just paint on automatic. It's funny how taking the pressure of greatness or perfection off frees you up to just experiment, explore and in the end you usually find something really good that you can carry into larger works.  Sometimes, too I think you discover what people really like. For example, it was clear that in these 50 "Paintini's" the paintings with sunflowers or blue & white pottery were the crowd pleasers. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to abandon my higher ideals of artistic merit and start churning out sunflowers and blue and white paintings, but when one has to pay the bills that knowledge doesn't hurt!  

In the end, following my instincts brought me great joy, not to mention a boost for the bank account! Personally connecting with other artists and art collectors who snatched up these little "Paintini's" was so much fun and they expressed their gratitude again and again for me offering something affordable to give themselves and friends. In my mind, other artists and art collectors are like an extended family. We share that one thing, the love of art, in common. We can bind together, no matter how many differences we may have,  on that one common ground!

For November & December I will be giving away to
a Blog Member
(there is a join button on the right hand side)
1 Kelli Folsom Art Calendar for 2017 and 1 Paintini!
The drawing will take place Dec 1st and Jan 1st and announced here on the blog.

For now I am done with the Paintini's, but you can get a Kelli Folsom Art Calendar for $20 (includes shipping in U.S.) Just click the Donate button on top right and enter $20. Please make sure to give me your shipping address in the information.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Power of Line

Since I was a child I have been in love with drawing, both with the looking and doing of it. I don't know why this mysterious dream of line has gripped me for so long. It is in my bones, my cells. A good line can make me light up with excitement and aspiration of connecting reality, imagination, intuition and intellect all into a simple element called line. This fall I began teaching a drawing course for incoming freshmen at a local university. The experience has been one of frustration in part trying to get the students to understand the importance of drawing let alone the fascination and love for it. I am grateful for this experience because it has woke me up yet again from my drawing slumber. It can be difficult to invest one's time in an art world where much of what is sold, marketed and praised are mostly paintings, but I hope that like me after contemplating the below drawings or drawings of your choice we will spend more time with this nurturing Mother of art, drawing. It is hard to put into words why these images touch me so deeply, but I will try to do them justice.
Portrait of Madame d'Haussonville by Ingres
I am in awe of the restraint Ingres had in the drawing of the dress and various background elements so that the strongest emphasis is on the portrait and especially on that haunting gaze.  How with the simplest of line in the gown has he suggested the bulging, pinching, folds and specific anatomical qualities of the elbow, shoulder,forearm and graceful fold of the fingers? In a time when we are obsessed with the microscopic "real" this drawing feels more realistic and alive to me. because of it's omissions and subordination to the crucial. It also shows the humble servant, the artist, holding back on the egoistic need of proving his immense skill in order to honor the subject and the viewer.


 Peter Paul Rubens: Don Diego Messia (1627)

This simple portrait by Rubens may not arrest my attention as quickly as some of his dynamic baroque drawings, but upon longer retrospection with it the very nature of it's understated qualities reveals to me even more what a master of line he was.  I am struck again by the restraint, the putting in only the most important elements in their hierarchical order. The pinpoint focus of the eyes created with the sharpest clarity, the robust thick curls made with variations of thick and heavy; thinner and lighter lines to suggest the light highlighted on their cylindrical forms and the shadow and gravitational pull close to the scalp. I love how he is able then to show us through his line variation the difference between that hair and the thinner, wiry strands of the mustache.  The ghostlike lines of the collar shows the intelligence of the artist who doesn't put everything in with the same treatment therefore equalizing all.


 John Singer Sargent - Study for El Jaleo

Perhaps one of the first "moving pictures" this quick sketch just oozes with raw delicious line. I love in a few minutes or even maybe a few seconds Sargent wrangles on the page all of the essential qualities of this action. He could not use the same quiet line as in the above Ingres drawing to capture this. Through his line we sense the swift swirling, bouncing dress and the arms pushing up and out of the whirling atmosphere as strong thrusting solid forms.  This drawing makes us all want to run out and scribble away speedily hoping to capture the same effect. I will insert a small warning, however, that it was his disciplined study that gave him the capability to have this freedom in this sketch. Every line is knowledge and understanding of how certain lines produce different effects.

The journey is for the sensitive, humble,  patient and  relentless romantic.