I’m pleased to announce that I’m starting a new series of artist interviews on Red Dot Blog. I’ve been writing articles on Red Dot since 2008, most of them aimed to help you improve your art business and generate more sales. With this series, I want to share insights into the lives and businesses of artists who are focussed on making a living through the sale of their artwork.
I would like to begin this series with an artist I have represented at Xanadu Gallery for over 10 years, Dineen Serpa (Dineen uses the artist’s name Linza to show and sell her work). Dineen creates contemporary, abstract work on plexiglass mounted on stainless steel and on wood panels. My clients love the strong colors, tight designs and craftsmanship of Dineen’s work.
My interview with Dineen was conducted over email and I began by asking her about her background.
Jason: How did you get your start in art?
Dineen: I’ve been painting since Jr. High.
J: Are there artists in your family?
D: Yes, mainly photographers, but “makers” in general. My grandfather painted. I have some of his pieces. My mom paints a little. None of them professionally.
J: Did your family encourage your art?
D: Yes. I was well rounded, though. We were taught the value of education and knowing how to do things.
J: How much art related education do you have?
D: More than average in High school, associate degrees at two colleges, one in fine art, one in graphic design. Working around other artists before, during and after my Phoenix art group experience, as well as just working at art supply stores and learning about materials taught me a lot more than school, really though.
J: When did you sell your first artwork?
D: My first pieces were sold to a consultant in North Carolina, who I’d worked with at Phoenix Art Group in 2003. Xanadu was my first artist-to-independent -gallery consignment situation, I think it was 2006.
J:When did you decide to pursue your art as a career?
D: Some friends encouraged me to try out at PAG (Phoenix Art Group). I’ve always had a large community of artistic friends.
J: Are you a full-time artist?
J: What other jobs have you held?
D: Retail, food service. Regular stuff. I worked as a copper and bronze fabricator at Cosanti Bronze Foundry in Paradise Valley for two months. It was hard work, but you need a second job just to pay the bills.
J: What do you feel has been the greatest challenge in turning your art into a business?
D: The consignment retail model. It is difficult to put large amounts of money into materials and hope they sell in your area, let alone if you have to ship them away from you. Custom furniture and clothing lines are similar, in that they create a “line” of creative new designs seasonally, but once the retailer is interested in selling them, they purchase an amount they expect to sell. This allows the designers to put capital into materials to fill the orders that come later. With consignment, every piece that is not a custom commission, is a risk the artist takes whether something will sell, and then waiting to hear yay or nay. This is especially hard in a market like Phoenix that completely dries up for 6 months of the year.
J: What do you feel have been the biggest factors in your success as an artist?
D: My professionalism and quality of art. Those things do take time to educate potential clients about. Especially when marketing on line–A potential collector can’t know how a transaction will be handled by an artist she wants to buy from until the order is placed and the piece arrives. You also can’t see the craftsmanship and artistic detail on your phone or monitor. But I’ve found that building those relationships is worth the time and effort, because I may be first to their mind when they are ready to purchase again. There are clients I would love to clone several times over because the relationship is so professional, respectful and realistic.
J: How did you develop your current style?
D: Over time, playing with new materials and taking criticism from clients and other artists.
J: What inspires you to create?
D: Talking to and seeing my artist friends. Working with the local wood and steel fabricators that help me create the different hanging devices and substrates. Paying attention to clothing fashion, street art and architecture. Plus always traveling.
J: What are you working on right now?
D: Stocking up my galleries for the busy season in Arizona, with popular series as well as new things. I just had a show in Rochester at a gallery that had moved to a new location.
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
D: It really depends on the season, but when it’s busy, about 45 hours. During the summer, I’m sending out emails and making phone calls to new galleries and consultants, more than painting as much.
J: Do you have a daily routine?
D: I workout in the mornings or go hiking, then get breakfast, then start working around 9-11am. I’ll work till 3pm. If I have a deadline, I’ll start working again at 6-8pm. I’ve turned into a social media junkie though. I follow a lot of artists’ FB pages that work in ceramics and fiber as well as painting. They give me ideas about color and texture that I wouldn’t have thought of.
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
D: During the busy season, I’ll do 12-20 large and medium sized pieces like the Geometries and 25-50 small pieces for my Sedona gallery per month. Toward the end of the spring, there is a Houston consultant that will want a few large pieces for commercial commissions as well. Summers are the lower end of those spectrums.
Odds and Ends
J: How has the art market changed during the course of your career?
D: Art is very much linked to the economy in general and the housing market specifically.
The stalwart galleries, like Xanadu and Renee Taylor, in Sedona have kept me alive along with two consultants with similar business models. You guys are doing something right. Which is funny, because consignment used to be so scary to me(for the reasons mentioned above).
I used to be more involved with art consultant firms that paid for work out-right, but the extremely low prices paid for art seemed to be expressions of a booming economy– several layers of middle men, each taking their piece of the final price, between me and the final purchaser. That is fine when I had quite a few of them. But when the housing market dried up, so did the many firms. I only stuck with the ones that paid the amounts that the galleries do, but tended to be consignment only as galleries are.
I also used to do a lot more publishing and licensing. That market also changed. It used to be like a book deal– submit the created thing, get an advance on future sales, then after any sales over that advance, I’d get royalties. I still do but they are much smaller now. The model changed to this: create the thing, license the image under contract(can’t sell anything like it for the duration of the contract) with no advance and they payout only after a whole 1000 piece batch of print-on-demand pieces are sold, which can take up to two years after the initial image is created. It wasn’t worth the wait, so I haven’t published any new work in 4 years.
J: Where would you like to see your career go in the future? What would you like to accomplish?
D: I’d like to have galleries in places that round out my year financially–some with busy summer seasons. I’m looking at Denver because I have ties there. San Francisco would be great too. It would be cool to do an artist-in-residence program in Europe too. A friend just did one of those for ceramics in Italy. To work along side artists from all over the world. I had a tiny bit of that in 2010 when our mountain guide in Ecuador picked up a Quechua folk artist hitchhiker, right after we had bought one of his masks and we discussed painting.
J: What do you enjoy doing outside of your art?
D: Gardening, rock climbing, hiking, traveling, eating good food, going to heavy metal and punk rock concerts.
J: What advice would you give to an artist who is just starting out in the business?
D: I have a pretty profane phrase I’ll clean up for you, that I say to artists who want to do it full time. Stand up for yourself when it comes to business. Don’t be too precious with your work to take criticism or share knowledge. But don’t take one gallery owner’s opinion for the whole world’s. If your quality is good and the body of work is cohesive, another gallery will sell it all day long. Make sure you are making a profit(this includes paying your taxes). You can’t do it full time if you aren’t saving for slow times. There’s room out there for all of us to succeed, but you do have to do the work and then hustle a bit. I should do a bit more of that last one myself.
You can see more of Dineen’s work on xanadugallery.com (remember, she shows under the name Linza, so don’t let that confuse you.)