Category Archives: The Business of Being an Artist

The Pros and Cons of Having My Studio at Home vs. a Commercial Space

It’s been a year since we moved into this new house and combined our living space with the workspace.  In 2015 I moved my studio mostly out of our home, which was a small condo in Fairview back then, to a corner space inside the 4th Avenue Market Place building.  I used to love working at home. It was easy to get to work, since the studio was just in the spare bedroom. But, I didn’t have enough space, and clients were less than impressed to see me working in a room less than 160 square feet large. Moving to the commercial space was okay, but I had a landlord and I was always worried rent would go up, or the building would sell, and I would have to move out. It was a great space with a view of the Port of Anchorage.  Although the heat was not consistent, too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, and the ventilation system didn’t function properly in a room that had huge windows that didn’t open.  There was also a lot of activity on 4th Avenue I was not too fond of. Converting the studio into a pop-up gallery for special events like First Fridays, holidays, or Fur Rondy and the Iditarod was really great! I met a lot of new people, and those events more than paid for the lease.

Old Studio on 4th Ave decked out for an event

Moving my studio into the house has been great! I get to work at home again, so I don’t have to pack a lunch, and commute on my bike in all types of weather. I can still have patrons visit the studio, and I finally have a garage where I can build painting supports, frames and sculptures. The downside is I have to find venues for First Friday art shows, and I’m not on 4th Avenue during Fur Rondy and Iditarod. But working and living in one place means I don’t have tools in two different locations, the kitchen is just upstairs and I don’t have to be worried about running power tools on the sidewalk downtown. I control the temperature of my workspace, the windows open, and I have a garage.  I have never had a private garage space in my life, since moving out of my parents’ house. When we return from an event, we can just park the truck inside, instead of having to drive to the studio to unload everything, before driving home.

New studio in our home

There were many pros to the downtown studio. I miss the view of Denali, and the Inlet.  It was very close to everything downtown, which was usually fun. I am not part of the downtown gallery scene anymore. Even though my studio was not really a gallery, it was fun to transform it temporarily into one. Now, when people come over to pickup/shop for art it’s at my home. We haven’t had a big open-to-the-public party like we used to at the downtown studio yet, and I’m not sure if we ever will. Instead, we prefer to schedule studio visits. Patrons can enjoy a home-brew while looking at my newest art. I almost always have home-brewed beer available in the garage, which is connected to my studio with just one door! Even-though I did lose something when I left downtown, the gains outweigh the losses.  This is better for me, and hopefully for you.

Summer Plans

Is it just us, or is summer crazy for everyone? I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, and running around with my head cut off. Most of the time crunch has to do with going out to our cabin in McCarthy, which is very time consuming, but so worth the 300-mile trip one-way! Because the drive takes so long, we try to make it worth our time by spending at least a week out there. When we’re back in Anchorage, we’re catching up on painting commissions, mailing orders, doing art shows, and managing to do some house chores and hang out with our friends in between. The unrelenting summer heatwave with endless sunlight also contributes to the hyper-activity. I guess we have all winter to rest.

So, what are our summer plans? Well, Maria’s mom really loves visiting us in McCarthy, but she’s fed up with staying in our small cabin with us, so she commissioned us to build her a log cabin on our property. I’m really excited about building another log cabin, but Maria says she already built one, and is not that stoked about doing it again, because she forgot how hard it is! This project will take up most of our time, and we hope to have it completed this summer.

The foundation for the mother-in-law cabin, and some of the D logs that we have to peel for it

Other than that, we will spend most of our time working on the art business. I have two art shows happening this summer that are kicking off tomorrow on First Friday, June 3. One is my regular show at Midnight Sun Brewing that I have every year, and the second one is at a new-to-me venue, Dos Manos Gallery. I have been selling my art there for several years, but this is my first time being the featured artist in the gallery room! We hung the art there today, and I’m really happy with how it looks! I hope you check out both of my art shows, and bring your friends!

My art show at Dos Manos Gallery

We will also be vendors at two events. The first one is the Eagle River Beer & Music Festival on Saturday, June 4th. I love having a booth at beer festivals, because that’s where I find fans of my beer art! We will also be participating in the Beer, Beards and Art Market at Anchorage Brewing Co. on June 18th, 4-9pm.

Besides work, and building a cabin, we’re flying to Sitka to celebrate Maria’s birthday. She likes going to places in Alaska for her birthday that she’s never been to. Of course, Salmonfest is not-to-be-missed, and then Maria’s cousin from Germany is coming to visit with her two sons, so we’ll get to do some Alaska tourist activities with them, which are always amazing!

I hope to see you at some of these events this summer, and if I don’t, I wish you a safe and fun summer! What are your plans this summer?

Arctic Comic Con 2022

Have you ever watched Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest?  You know how they are sitting at the Comic Con, signing photographs, before they leave the planet with the aliens? I wonder what it would be like to be the aliens who took off with famous actors.  I never thought I would attend a Comic Con, but always thought they kinda looked like fun.  This weekend was my first ever, and I was lucky enough to go to Arctic Comic Con as a vendor. I knew that Tom Arnold was going to be there, but  I didn’t expect to see Bai Ling, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Wallis Day, and Keith Coogan.  The event was postponed a couple times due to the pandemic, and a lot of people had been waiting for it, and had extra time to work on their costumes. 

Before the event picked up, there was a VIP time period and very few people were there. I decided I would go and say hi to the stars.  I didn’t talk to everyone, but I did talk about hockey with Tom Arnold and told Keith Coogan I have been quoting his most famous line from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter is Dead, “The dishes are done, man!”  every time I finish doing the dishes.  I asked what their plans were for getting out and seeing Alaska.  I was surprised to find out they had not made any plans, they didn’t have a car rented, and they were flying out right after the convention.  One of my patrons, Sig Larsen, was in attendance. He said he was rallying the troops to go to Whittier, but didn’t have a car. I made a lot more sales than I expected, so I had to make more prints, pack cards and frame pieces for my booth, so I couldn’t offer to take anyone anywhere, but I bet Keith Coogan and Wallis Day would have gone with me to Girdwood and back, if I had offered. 

What was awesome about Comic Con, other than bringing my product direct to market, was the welcoming attitude and friendly atmosphere that this particular culture presents.  You could tell a complete stranger you liked their costume, shirt, shoes, or whatever bling they were toting, and get an enthusiastic “thank you!”.  I talked to people until my voice was worn out and then I had a beer and kept on going.  I was amazed at the creativity of the costumes, but I didn’t recognize about 40% of the anime references.  If you can tell me what comic character looks like Princess Jasmine on the top and Aladdin on the bottom, with a samurai sword, I would be very happy to know.

By the end of the second day my brain had turned to mush, and my inventory was low.  I traded a print of Mando drinking a beer with baby Yoda (yes I know his name is Grogu) for a copy of Richard Griffith’s, Bubba Ship 1 A Redneck Adventure. Then, Keith Coogan came over and brought me a free signed plate and took a selfie with us.  I was thinking of buying one, but I just didn’t know what I would do with a signed plate. Well, it looks great in my glass display case that I just got for the studio, and I will always remember that he is a good guy.  Maria gave them a print of Pac-Man drinking beer, because Keith’s wife was wearing a Pac-Man dress and shoes. She said it would look great in their arcade room. 

Cheers to doing something different, meeting new friends, and getting product to market!  I’ll go to Comic Con again next time.  

My Workspace is Finally Ready for Studio Visits!

Our neighbors just listed their house for sale today, which reminded me of our journey exactly a year ago of buying and moving into this house with my studio on the first floor.  We looked at over 30 houses and there was always something wrong with the room I was planning to work in, or we just didn’t make the best offer over asking price.  Lack of access for large paintings was the main problem.  Anchorage is full of split entry homes, just like the one I grew up in.  Now I live in one again, and it’s frankly comforting, yet a little bit odd at the same time.  When we first moved in, the whole studio room was four different shades of orange.  My first studio improvement project, aside from moving all my stuff in, was to return the walls to a regular shade of white.  Next, we got a new large-format printer and rolled it into place. This house has great access to the studio directly from the garage!

Then we were busy with the Christmas rush, after wrapping up the last of my public art projects, and the Arctic Valley Ski Map design. In February, I upgraded my computer set-up, and finally got a Wacom tablet hooked back up. I thought the iPad would replace the Wacom tablet, but I find that it is best to have both working, and bouncing projects back and forth between platforms.  Maria started asking when I would be ready to work on the studio to make it more presentable. There were still bins of paintings from the old studio, and heaps of frames, and studio stuff piled up. I was reluctant to start, but when she found a great deal on used cabinets and countertops from Alaska Denali Winery, I got to work.  Carefully removing cabinetry is a skill on its own. Maria was budgeting most of April on the studio re-vamp, but it only took most of a week.  I also found a new (to me) desk, and I am glad to say I no longer am using a plastic folding table for my CPU workstation.  A year after moving into our house, my work space is finally set up!

I spent four days last month brewing beer, and I love to share it with both clients and friends.  We can have small studio get-togethers now that the place is presentable.  The studio is my favorite place in the house.  I love it so much, and I am so grateful to be working and living in a place that is all our own.  I can’t wait for you to stop over to see what I have been up to and share a glass of my home-brewed: West Coast IPA, Dark Ale, Hazy IPA, or a bottle pour of the world-famous Drippy Hippy ginger honey beer.  Let me know when you can make it over.

No more plastic storage bins! Everything is organized in new (to us) cabinets.
Several oil paintings are displayed on a rack by JQA Designs
My main work station for painting.

2021 Year Review and Looking Ahead to 2022

I think at the beginning of the year it’s important and helpful to sit down and reflect about what you accomplished during the previous year, and to set goals for the new year. At least for someone who is a self-employed artist, this is extremely grounding and inspiring.

So, let’s see what we accomplished in 2021 with our art business.

The year began with yet another art show during a pandemic. The occupancy limit at the venue — Midnight Sun Brewing Co., was 25%. As you can imagine, that art show could have gone better, but we still managed to do okay on sales considering the limitations.

Many people decided to spruce up their work and living spaces during the lockdown, so I was busy painting commissioned pieces in 2021. I also completed three large canvas pieces for the new library and community center in Willow.

Painting took a bit longer after I broke my hand while skiing at Alyeska Resort. Luckily, it was my left hand. Everything healed well, but I didn’t meet my deductible, so I had to pay around $2,600 for medical bills. Big thumbs down!

We traveled to Cordova, and spent a lot of time at our cabin in McCarthy. The most notable things that happened in McCarthy were having my cousin Cameron come up from California for the summer to be the caretaker at the museum, hiring my favorite musician, Michael Kirkpatrick to play a house concert at our cabin, and building a 15ft sculpture for Burning Dude!

The most significant accomplishment this year was finally buying a house, which involved moving our studio out of the 4th Avenue Market Place, into the house.

We also created a wholesale program.

We had two art shows at Turnagain Brewing, two art shows at Midnight Sun Brewing, and one art show at Middle Way Cafe, which is still happening now, and will end on Feb. 5th.

Goals for 2022

2022 started off with my art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. that I have every January and June, but I found out yesterday that the venue chose to close for the rest of the week, due to C-19 precautions. So, that’s how that art show is going.

I don’t have any public art projects lined up for the first time in five years.

The first goal is to maintain a healthy environment mentally and physically by taking enough time for myself so I don’t feel overworked, continuing to workout, and prioritizing dedicated work time in the studio.

The second goal is to expand our product line by coming up with new product ideas to sell wholesale and at our Etsy shop.

The third goal is to build a Quonset hut in McCarthy for storage of our tractor, snow machine and many other things that need to be stored in a dry, covered place. My mechanic gave me his dad’s old Quonset hut, which had been laying behind his log cabin on Big Lake for about 50 years. We dug out all the parts, discarded the damaged and corroded ones, and brought the rest to our property in McCarthy. Now we just need to assemble everything.

Goal #4 is to continue brewing delicious beers and making new beer paintings.

Goal #5 is to reach out to new venues to schedule art shows.

Goal #6 is to paint new paintings. I have a list of ideas for paintings, but I rarely have time to paint them, because I’ve spent most of my time painting commissions, and working on public art projects.

We’ll revisit this list at the end of the year, and see how things went. Overall, we’re really grateful for being able to work for ourselves, and for our new home. I hope you all have a great 2022, no matter what the world will throw in your path!

Commissioned Paintings for the Holidays 2021

Each year people commission paintings from me for holiday gifts, and I’ve always completed them on time. As I’ve said before, my favorite part about commissions is the stories behind each painting. I also love being involved in the surprise, and try very hard not to ruin it. So, now that everyone has received the paintings, I can finally show them to you. This year I completed nine oil paintings during the holiday season in time for Christmas, or anniversaries. Each one is super unique, and meaningful to my patrons, and the recipients. Thank you to all who commissioned paintings this year, and in the past!

Memorable moments from a trip to Greece, 18″ x 36″, oil on panel
14″ x 11″, oil on panel
10″ x 8″, oil on panel
10″ x 8″, oil on panel
Fatbiking in Newfoundland, Canada, 10″ x 8″, oil on panel
20″ x 30″, oil on canvas

Sketches for Paintings, so Everyone Is on the Same Page

I’m one of few artists who accepts commissions, and completes them in an agreed-upon timeline. Some of my fellow artists have many valid reasons for not doing commissions, and one of them is fear that the client won’t like the painting. One of the ways I avoid this from happening is by making sure the patron is familiar with my style. I’m not a photographic painter, so if you want an exact likeness of your great-grandfather in oil paint, I’ll refer you to someone else. If you want a colorful, textural painting that captures the vibe of the scene, then I’m glad to work with you. An important step in the commissioning process that I never skip is providing sketches to my clients for approval. I will not start painting until a sketch is approved. Sometimes the first sketch is a go, and other times I go back to the drawing board and make changes until the client gives me the go-ahead. This way everyone is on the same page. Here are three examples of sketches, and the final product. As you can see, a sketch is used to show the patron where each object will be placed, and the proportions.

I’m working on two sketches today for commissioned paintings, so I’m going to get back to that now. Until next time!

Cabin Life

What is a typical day like at our cabin in McCarthy these days?  The last three days I have been installing hardwood flooring.  A project like that pretty much takes all day, and when you finally get to a good stopping point, you simply quit for the day, and maybe you can do a few other chores like cooking and cleaning.  I finished the floor yesterday just in time, only a few hours before the rain started.  Last night it rained heavily, and I was so happy that my load of flooring was all in its rightful place, instead of stored on the trailer under a tarp. 

On days I am not working on a big project, I enjoy coffee time while reading e-mails and doing my daily Duolingo lessons.  Then I do about 40 minutes of yoga, followed by a five mile run around the neighborhood.  Then I have breakfast, and finally get around to doing some work for the art business.  Today I had to work on a graphics project, send off a bio to a publisher for a book I illustrated, and write this blog post.  I will probably go to Art Lab (my studio) for a bit and mix up some oil paint, and get started on a 11”x14” commissioned painting for a client.  At 4pm I will Zoom in for my hour-long Russian language lesson.  Then I’ll probably have a beer on the deck, grill some salmon for dinner, and then pick lingonberries.  After dinner we may play pingpong, or I might go visit my neighbor whose parents are arriving tonight.  Maybe Maria and I will play a game of Yahtzee, or sit around the campfire and listen to some tunes. 

Cabin life is good!  I burn wood in the wood stove, and wash my clothes with rainwater.  The fresh glacier air is crisp this time of year.  I love taking life a little more simply than I do when I’m in the city.  I guess that is what cabins are good for.      

“The First Thing You’re Going to Paint is the Walls!”

As you may have read in the previous post, we bought a house, and combined our living and working space, so we moved out of the studio on 4th Ave. As you can imagine, I haven’t been able to get much work done, because I’ve been spending all my time moving, shopping for furniture, and spending three relaxing days in Cordova to celebrate Maria’s birthday. One of our friends came over to check out the new house, and when she saw my studio downstairs, she said, “The first thing you’re going to paint is the walls!” The previous owner had quite a festive taste, and painted the large room downstairs in three different shades of orange. So, yesterday I began the long process of covering up the orange paint. I worked on one painting right when I moved in, because it had to be done by a deadline, and the light in that room was really screwed up because of the bright orange. I felt like the greens in the painting turned out weird, because the room was playing tricks on my eyes. So, before I do any more painting, I’m covering the walls with pure white primer. I’m on the second coat, and I think it will take three coats!!! So, if you need me, you know where I’ll be for the next few days — painting the walls in my new studio.

If you think this is bad, check out the next photo.
It looks brighter IRL!

By the way, our condo is on the market. Click here to check out the listing.

We Bought a House and Moved out of the 4th Avenue Market Place Studio!

Moving everything from the studio to the new house, including large paintings. Good thing it wasn’t raining!

When we moved into my studio space at the 4th Avenue Marketplace, we were ecstatic to be downtown, and to have extra work space!  I loved the view, and I loved working there.  Having people come by for open studio events during First Fridays, Fur Rondy, and the Iditarod was always a great experience, and we usually made enough money during those events to cover our lease payments. Making the move to 4th Ave really cemented that I am a professional artist.  However, I missed working at home. Packing a lunch was a drag, the bicycle commute across downtown was annoying (especially in winter), and the local street people seemed to always be present to greet me at the door to the building (when they were awake).  I always seemed to have left this tool here, or that tool there, right when I needed it, and I was making another traffic-heavy bike trip back to one of the two locations.    

I am happy to say that last weekend we moved out of the studio, and I am setting up my new studio on the first floor of our new house! It is a huge mess right now! I need permanent storage for tools, supplies, and paintings. I hope to be back to work by Monday, taking a week to move the condo and studio to our new house, and to get the condo ready for sale!  The house is “not perfect,” as my father told me, but to us it is so amazing!  It is quiet at night, there is more space for living and for the studio, and best of all, it has an oversized two car garage!  No more carrying the table saw down stairs to work in blizzards for me!  I can park my truck inside when it is cold out! Not to mention, the obvious home-brewing improvement!  I brought my big smoker grill home from my parents’ house, and I’m going to smoke a brisket when I have everything set up. When brew day rolls around in the new garage, I’ll brew a big batch for a big housewarming celebration.  

Until then there is a lot of work… Anybody want a cute little apartment-style condo in West Fairview? It would make a great Airbnb rental!

Cheers to making life better!  May your day be brighter today than yesterday, and tomorrow be even better than that!    

Sad the downtown studio is closed?  You can still meet me for a beer at Midnight Sun Brewing. My art is there until the end of June!  I will be having more out-of-the studio shows, so keep following Real Art Is Better on this blog, or on social media and we will keep you informed where and when we will be having in-person events!