John Salminen Interview

Posted April 20 2015

A Moment with John Salminen

Reprint from: Artist Daily Series:
The Realities of a Fine Art Career

Summit Avenue by John Salminen, watercolor painting.
What did you find most surprising about being a full-time painter?
To be truly considered a professional artist, it's necessary to produce a consistent volume of work. I thought this could be difficult for me but the reality is the more I paint, the more I want to paint. Because of a personal rule never to exhibit a painting more than once, I must constantly produce new work. By sticking to a regular painting schedule, I find I'm able to accomplish this.

 

What did you find most difficult about starting a full-time professional career?
I love the act of painting. Having the opportunity to paint full-time is rewarding rather than difficult. Taking time away from painting to handle business and clerical needs was, and is, challenging.

Do you recommend keeping another source of income while launching a professional career?
It was important for me to have a second source of income until my art generated enough money to live on. One advantage of having an outside source of income was that it enabled me to take creative risks and thereby grow and develop.

Do you believe gallery representation is still the best way to go?
I currently have representation with the Stremmel Gallery in Reno, Nevada. It's a great gallery-one that has a substantial collector base, is willing to advertise and promote my work and does not try to dictate what subjects I paint. This allows me to concentrate on painting rather than marketing.

What are the hidden pressures of fine art that most of us are not aware of?
The greatest challenge was to find a subject matter and style that was personally satisfying to me as an artist and also appealed to collectors. If my work were to become too esoteric it would be enjoyable for me but would lose its ability to communicate with a wider audience.

How prepared were you for the business side of fine art?
Like most artists, I was ill-prepared to be a businessman. It was a steep learning curve and one that I continue to struggle with. The record-keeping is time-consuming and I would rather spend that time in my studio painting. I'm very fortunate to have a wife who is willing and able to assist me with record-keeping and communication.

What do you wish you had known about the art business before you started?
I wish I had kept better visual records of my early work and better track of sales. If I were ever to do a retrospective it could be difficult for me to locate paintings from my formative years.

How much of your time is devoted to the business of art?
My wife handles many of the business demands. Without this, I would estimate that approximately twenty to forty percent of my time would be devoted to non-studio demands.

With all of the other obligations of a professional, do you feel that you have enough time to paint?
Yes, but I give it a high priority to make that happen.

 

Evening Cable Car by John Salminen, watercolor painting.
How would you describe your normal work day?
When I am not traveling around the country teaching workshops or internationally on art-related trips, I maintain a regular studio schedule. I need the routine to facilitate consistent production. I'm an early riser and am in the studio by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. I paint until mid-afternoon other than a break for breakfast and time to watch the morning news. Late afternoon is usually devoted to errands-to the post office, UPS, the framer or the printer-and I often return to the studio for an hour or two in the evening.

 

Did you have a career plan with specific goals when you started?
When I first became serious about painting, I did not have long-range goals but for the last ten years that I taught school full time, I also painted full time...evenings, weekends and holidays...in anticipation of retirement. My goal was to obtain signature status in the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society before I retired. Membership in these two organizations was something the artists I most admired had in common and I felt that to have credibility within the profession, I needed these endorsements. This objective motivated me to produce a volume of high quality work, worthy of membership.

What is the best advice you could offer an aspiring fine artist?
Paint more and develop the skills to honestly evaluate your work, both your successes and your failures. Always challenge yourself and never rest on your laurels. The wonderful thing about painting is that you will never totally master it. My instructor, Cheng Khee Chee said, "You always strive to make the perfect painting and you hope you never do." It is this challenge that keeps you coming back to the studio and growing as an artist.