A Conversation with Artist Martha Rich

Martha Rich in front of her latest mural at 1016 Buttonwood, btw 10th & 11th, in PA

I first saw, and fell in love with, Martha Rich’s wonderful work in the early 2000’s. Since then, I have had the good fortune to become friends with Rich and exhibit her work. She even contributed to my “Launching Your Art Career: A Practical Guide for Artists” book. She is talented, energetic and incredibly generous. But most of all she’s an absolute individual. Rich has carved her own path in the art world and it’s been a pleasure having a ringside seat.

Over the course of almost two decades Martha Rich has built an impressive resume. She has participated in dozens of exhibitions, her commercial art has been used in music videos, advertising campaigns and countless publications, and she’s won multiple awards for her work. She is also a dynamic speaker who shares her experience and knowledge at various conferences and with students at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and both Drexel University and Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia. Martha’s most recent mural can be seen at 1016 Buttonwood in Philadelphia and you can purchase merchandise featuring her artwork at BlueQ. I can personally recommend their shoulder totes. They are the perfect size to hold both a purse and laptop, or one naughty cat.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Martha about her exciting and unconventional path to success and what advice she would offer young artists.

Your journey to becoming a full time working artist was unusual. Can you share a little bit of your story?

I decided to become an artist after 15 years in the corporate world doing middle jobs in cubicles wearing pantyhose, getting divorced and then taking art classes at night. Two of my teachers (Rob Clayton and Christian Clayton) in that night class told me I should be an artist. So I quit the corporate job, took off the pantyhose and went back to school at 35.

What advice would you offer someone who really wants to make a big change and pursue an art career, but feels nervous or doesn’t know how to take that first step?

That is hard. I tend to only make big changes when something bad happened to me (divorce, being laid off etc.) that forced me out of my comfort zone. That being said, I would say start small. Take a night class. Or just a workshop. Or do an online course. Pay attention to how you feel. Do you like it? I remember taking that night class and being sooooo excited to get there each week. I did way more work than the class called for and it gave me a sense of joy. I knew it was what I wanted to do. Everyone’s path is different but what is consistent with people who succeed is that feeling of having to do it no matter what. If you are expecting overnight success it probably won’t work for you.

I really admire how you managed to carve your own path, and do so much as an artist. You do commercial work, show your art in galleries and create site-specific murals. You’ve licensed your work and also sell it yourself online. How have you managed to develop such a broad career and was it intentional?

It definitely was not intentional. It happened slowly and by chance, but the chances happened because I was always putting my work out there in different formats. When I was first starting out and freelancing was slow, I made up projects that were fun for me and kept me making things. Those self-driven projects are what propelled my career in the direction it has gone, that and all the new technology that was and is happening.

Artists are expected to do so much and wear so many hats these days. For any young artist struggling to manage their time while making art and building a career, what do you think are the three most important things to focus on?

Most important for me are:
1. Always be making work and always try new things.
2. Build your community and surround yourself with hard-working, driven people.
3. Don’t compare your path to other people’s paths.

You are well known as someone who is extremely supportive of other artists and arts professionals. Knowing you, I know that generosity is simply part of your nature. But many young artists feel competitive with each other and are reticent to share resources. Can you share any anecdotes about how being supportive and generous with others, even when it didn’t benefit you directly, has actually helped advance your career.

Hmmm this is tough to quantify. I just get pleasure seeing young artists, or any artist, go on to have exciting careers. It just makes sense to help them out. We have to support each other. It’s a tough world out there. You need other people to get you through the downs. I can’t tell you how many times my friends convinced me not to quit! Being on an island alone ain’t fun.

Is there anything you know to be true now about being an artist and building a career that you wish you’d known when you first started out? 

Don’t use credit cards if you can’t pay them off at the end of the month. Ha!

Good advice! Want more Martha? Check out her website at martharich.com and follow her @martharich63 on Instagram for the latest news. 

Left: Martha Rich, No Further Discussions, 2017, mixed media on paper, 14 x 11 in
Right: Bram the cat making himself comfortable in mommy’s BlueQ shoulder tote with Martha Rich design

A conversation about community with artist Dani Dodge

Anyone who subscribes to my email list, has read my book, taken one of my classes, or even had a casual conversation with me knows that I firmly believe community is an artist’s best resource for discovering, and accessing, information and opportunities. And during this uncertain time in the art world the more artists and arts professionals cooperate and support each other, the better for everyone. That’s why I get so excited when I see artists who are serious about their own work and careers and also actively cultivating and supporting their community. Dani Dodge is one of those artists.

Dani Dodge’s solo show “Personal Territories” is at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History through August 5th Photo: Kristine Schomaker

Dani Dodge is a Los Angeles-based installation artist who creates immersive, interactive environments that incorporate video, paint, sculpture and sometimes performance. She has been exhibiting her work for over a decade. She’s also an active advocate for community. Dodge, David Spanbock and Kio Griffith and a handful of other artists created BLAM, a collective that had galleries in Los Angeles and New York. After BLAM’s Los Angeles location lost its lease, Durden and Ray invited her to join their collective of artist/curators who work together to create exhibition opportunities at their downtown Los Angeles space, as well as in concert with gallery spaces around the world. Dodge also founded and moderates the Facebook group Los Angeles Art Opportunities, which is how I first discovered her. Dodge originally created the Facebook group as a platform for artists and curators to share notices about opportunities in Los Angeles and beyond. It has since grown to over 6,000 members, is public to view and includes opportunities relevant to artists well beyond Southern California. I recently had the opportunity to ask Dodge about Los Angeles Art Opportunities, and her experience building and maintaining a community-based resource for other artists.

I’m so impressed with the community you’ve created via your Facebook Group Los Angeles Art Opportunities. Can you share when and how the group came to be?

I moved from San Diego to Los Angeles about five years ago to become a part of the art scene in the City of Angels. Within a few months I realized there was no central source of opportunities for artists. In San Diego, there had been one, which I believe had been sponsored by the city at first.

As a former journalist I feel strongly that the free flow of information helps a community grow in strength and understanding. I wanted Los Angeles to be recognized as the world leader it is in art. If all the possible opportunities could be shared, then artists would find the ones most appropriate for them, and Los Angeles artists would be seen more around the world.

So I started Los Angeles Art Opportunities and invited 100 of my Facebook friends to join. It has grown from there to more than 6,000 artists today.

Is it open to any artist or arts professional? And what are your rules and guidelines for participation?

Only visual artists who live in the greater Los Angeles area, which I roughly define as Ventura to San Diego and out to Palm Springs, can join the group. I also allow people who can provide opportunities to Los Angeles area artists to join. But the listings are public and anyone in the world can see the postings. They just can’t post or comment.

The reason I limit membership is because the goal is creating community specifically among Los Angeles area artists.

Unlike most Facebook groups, I check the profile of every person who applies to make sure they live in the larger Los Angeles area or can provide opportunities to SoCal artists. I also message each one to make sure they understand the rules of the group: no self-promotion, just sharing opportunities that can help us all grow as a community. Only about one-quarter to one-third of the people who apply are allowed to become members.

I also strive to make it a place of civility. The group includes a wide variety of artists from different backgrounds: from artists still in college to artists represented by large galleries to museum curators.

So if someone posts about a job or a call for art, I strongly discourage people from getting snarky because they don’t consider the pay high enough or the fee too high. Or I just remove them from membership. I want everyone to feel welcome. I want Los Angeles Art Opportunities to be a place where people are comfortable posting all kinds of opportunities, because there are all kinds of artists in the world, and LA.

What has surprised you about how the group has developed?

The biggest surprise was how it took off and the generosity of  the members. When I started I created three posts a day. While I still search out opportunities and post them, I can count on the members of the group to post at least a few opportunities per day and often more than a dozen!

With the Facebook group and your involvement with Durden and Ray, it’s clear that you put a high value on collaboration and community. Can you share any examples of how your own career has benefitted from that attitude?

That is an interesting question, and I never really thought about it that way. I put a high value on collaboration and community because I believe that it is important to contribute to your community. My community is the Los Angeles art world. I’m a former journalist, so it comes as second nature to search out opportunities that will benefit others. So, for me, it was just natural.

As a result of Los Angeles Art Opportunities, many artists have gotten jobs. They have gotten into important shows. It has helped people find each other. The experience has been super gratifying. It has allowed me to get to know many people I may not have otherwise met.

Being part of a collective has been a way for me to find other artists interested in mutually supporting each other and also interested in making the Los Angeles art world a stronger place. The art world is changing rapidly. Many galleries are closing. It is important for artists to step up and create opportunities to show our own work as well as that of other artists in the community who should be seen. Through our exchanges, Durden and Ray also brings the work of international artists to our Los Angeles gallery. These are unique opportunities for those artists, and it is also exciting to see our community expand.

I always like to ask artists, is there anything you know now that you wished you’d known when you first started out? Or what’s one piece of advice you’d give artists who are just starting out and/or struggling now?

I wish I’d known that I should just be myself and bring to life whatever weird idea ruminated in my brain. In my early years of art I was tentative; afraid to let people see too much. But it was only when I allowed myself to create the work that was in my soul that I was able to feel truly whole.

Also, take advantage of social media.

Today, social media is a place that artists can connect outside of gallery openings. Many artists contribute to the community of artists on Facebook both in Los Angeles and outside of it. The work they do creating and monitoring posts makes the art world a bit smaller and a bit more manageable for each of us. For example, Kio Griffith created Los Angeles Contemporary Art Scene as a place to spread appreciation and support for other artists’ work and events. Jason Ostro started the Los Angeles (LA) Art Show list to help artists get the word out about their shows. BAILA, Black Artists in Los Angeles, is a visual artist networking group. Nationally, Megan Geckler founded and monitors the Arts Grants and Residencies Club out of Los Angeles, while Melissa Staiger manages Art Opportunities, Jobs, and Advice out of Brooklyn.

I encourage artists to look at their communities and ask themselves, how can I contribute? Maybe it’s a Facebook group. Maybe something else. Giving to the community is one of the best ways to become part of the community.

Well said! And I encourage you to explore Dani Dodge’s work. Her solo show, “Personal Territories” is on exhibit at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, MOAH:CEDAR location, through August 5, 2017. She has an upcoming solo show, “Weight of Expectation” at the A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn October 12 through November 12, 2017. She will also have a residency at Shoebox Projects in January/February 2018 that will conclude with the solo show, “Moment of Impact,” on February 18, 2018. If you can’t view Dodge’s work in person, visit her website and Facebook page, sign up for her newsletter and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. And don’t forget, wherever you are, to pop over to the Los Angeles Art Opportunities Facebook group and check it out. Then take a minute to consider how you can expand and support your local and global community, both online and in person. 

Photo of Dani Dodge by Mark Dodge Medlin

La Luz de Jesus Coaster Show – Deadline August 1

It’s that time again! The super fun La Luz de Jesus Gallery Coaster Show. The deadline to submit is August 1st and if you don’t follow the instructions exactly, you won’t be considered. So if you’re interested, please read the submissions guidelines carefully and then get started making some awesome coaster art! Click here (and scroll down on the page past the first entry) to view works from last year’s show.

Open call for exhibition proposals

Independent curators, emerging artists and arts professionals are invited to submit exhibition proposals to be considered for the two gallery spaces at The Clemente, the Abrazo and the LES Gallery, from July 2018 to June 2019. Deadline is September 15th so there’s plenty of time to come up with a fantastic idea and create a proposal. Click here for more info.

 

Practical Financial Advice for Artists!

If you’re following this blog you know I’m a big fan of practical, straight forward advice and information which is why I’m a big fan of Hannah Cole‘s. Hannah is an artist,  a tax professional  and an all around cool, down to earth person. She shares her knowledge freely and blogs about finances and taxes for artists on ArtFCity.

In a recent blog post Hanna offered A Personal Finance Cheat Sheet designed to help anyone start getting a handle on their finances – or at least get an idea of what those steps would be. In her follow up post, The Personal Finance Attitude Adjustment, she addresses getting in the right frame of mind to tackle financial issues. No matter where you’re at financially, there’s a lot of value in the information she provides in these posts. But I think Rthey are particularly helpful, in fact a must read, for anyone who is struggling.

Struggling with your artist statement?

I always try to check out any resources I come across that I think might be helpful. A lot of artists tell me they struggle with writing an artist statement. So I just took Delve’s new course “Crafting a Powerful Artist Statement” and it was terrific. They’ve come up with a super clear and easy to follow process. It’s not too long, reasonably priced and 25% off through June 10th. I highly recommend it! You can check it out here.

An Inspiring Article About Creating Your Own Opportunities

I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunities. So much so I dedicate an entire lesson to the topic on the Launching Your Art Career Boot Camp course. I just read an inspiring article about a writer who set out to create her own opportunities and with a little creative thinking and willingness to put herself out there did just that! Sure, she’s a writer, not a fine artist. But the concept is the same. What people do you know, what places do you frequent and what are the specific circumstances in your life that could help you get your work out in the world where people can see, enjoy and possibly buy it!

Need Help Getting Ready for Taxes?

It’s that time of year. Tax time! Unfortunately, trying to properly prepare and file your taxes can be particularly confusing and complicated for artists. And while I can’t help you in this area, I can recommend some terrific resources from artist and tax professional Hannah Cole:

The Ultimate, Honest Guide to Understanding Artist Taxes Online Course – Hannah has partnered with the  fabulous folks at Delve to offer this straight forward, thorough course explaining the ins and outs of taxes as they relate, specifically, to artists. I took the course myself and found it extremely informative!

The Nitty Gritty: How to Prepare for Filing Your Taxes Blog Post- In this long and helpful blog post on ArtFCity, Hannah offers thorough step by step instructions.

The Sunlight Tax Website – You’ll find a variety of helpful resources, information and a blog on Hannah’s Sunlight Tax website. You can also learn more about hiring her services.