I first met Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman in spring 2014 when she scheduled a one-on-one consultation with me. She was open, energetic and full of great ideas. She’d done some group shows and understood the basics of the business of art. I could immediately tell from her work and our conversation that she had the talent, passion and determination to create a life and career for herself as an artist. But less than four years later I’m completely blown away by how much she’s accomplished. She’s had three solo exhibitions, been included in dozens of group shows and she can’t paint fast enough to keep up with the demand for her wonderful work!
I went into this interview with no idea how she’d answer my questions but knowing anything she was willing to share would be valuable to other artists. I now have a clear understanding of how she’s managed to make so much happen for herself – hard work and determination! I’m also flattered and happy to hear she found my advice helpful (I promise I did not ask her to plug me!). And I have to say, I agree with all her thoughtful and generous advice and encouragement. I’m so happy to share my interview with Deirdre with you all. I hope you find it helpful and inspiring. (See below the interview for complete information and links to upcoming exhibitions and projects.)
You made a mid-stream career change. Can you tell us about that? What were you doing and why did you decide to make the change?
I worked for fourteen years in event design and event planning for mainly corporate clients – American Express, Estee Lauder, Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures and Conde Nast, among others. The opening gala for the Japanese American Museum was a highlight of that career for me. What I loved about designing events was transporting guests into other worlds. My goal was such that as soon as you walked in, you were suddenly transported somewhere completely different. I had a lot of fun and found a lot of fulfillment in creating those make-believe worlds.
However, my working environment was generally extremely high-stress. I’d often only have a few weeks to put together a very large-scale, 2000-person event. I was working around the clock. I have always had high standards for my work, and accomplishing my vision under that amount of pressure became taxing. But it still took several more years before I was ready to make a change.
When I decided to make a change, my husband and I had moved to Canada to be closer to his work. The house we rented was owned by a woman who had made a mid-career shift to art. I was very inspired and moved by her work. Since childhood, art had always been my first love. I had previously resisted art as a profession because it had been my mother’s and I wanted to forge my own path. I knew it was now time to dedicate myself to becoming the artist I envisioned I could be. I began working as hard as I could towards honing my craft.
What were some of the challenges you found in making that transition and how did you tackle them initially?
Getting my art to a place where I felt it was ready to be seen was a long process. I took every opportunity I could to study with the best teachers I could find. I tried to incorporate and filter as much of their knowledge as possible into my own developing technique. I worked very hard to perfect my technique and color palette, and trusted that my “style” would subsequently emerge. Finding my voice as an artist and discovering what I wanted to say was a long process, but very rewarding. With time, I really came to trust myself.
One of the most difficult transitions to tackle for me was the marketing side of the art world. Coming from event design, I had a romantic notion that as an artist I would be able to hole myself up in a cave and just create. I wasn’t fully prepared for the amount of forward-facing work I was going to need to do with galleries, collectors, and especially social media. I’m a naturally shy person (even though it never appears to others that I am), so this part truly intimidated me at first. The thought of “sales” seemed overwhelming. I never practiced an “elevator pitch;” it just didn’t seem natural to me. I decided to change my mindset… and just talk passionately about what I was doing. One of the best ways, I got comfortable talking about my work was by being in a critique group. A bunch of artist friends of mine formed a very casual crit group. We’d bring lots of beer and chips and chat on and on about our work and what we were trying “say” as artists. It really helped. I became more articulate about my own work; and formed a clearer way to project my art to others.
Over the course of seven years you’ve gone from your very first group show to consistently showing and selling your work, including your recent wildly successful and almost completely sold out solo exhibition at La Luz de Jesus Gallery. That’s pretty impressive. What are the things you’ve done that have been the most beneficial to getting you there?
Firstly, talking with you! I think if anyone is interested in the art business, they should be picking up your book, “Practical Advice for Artists.” It’s a total must-read! Particularly for tackling the business side of the art world that doesn’t come naturally to so many creatives.
Also, making a calendar and trying your best to keep to it is super helpful. I never seem to keep ALL of my personal deadlines, but I try, and somehow that keeps me on track. I am also the princess of To Do lists. When you keep an actual list of everything that needs to be done, it seems to get done. I put everything – no matter how small – on my to do list. I’ve done this for years and it really works.
Don’t ignore online marketing and brand development. Design a website; get on social media; that process will continue to help you define what you want to say as an artist.
Lastly, try to submit to galleries (that are taking submissions) and/or contests. This is one of the best ways to get noticed. You’ll get a lot of rejections, but that is okay… just keep at it. You only need one “yes.” Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” That has really been the key for me, not to give up. Staying driven is all-important.
Do you have any additional advice for artists who are just starting out or struggling?
Set your intention. Be really, really clear about your aims. Follow your instincts to ask yourself what you want most. Then commit to it. Don’t be frightened of your inner voice. You CAN reach for the moon. You don’t even have to share your biggest goals with anyone. You can keep them to yourself. Once you have taken your goals to heart, never let them go. Just keep going until you hear “yes.”
If you get rejected, try and ask yourself why. Triple-check your submission materials for errors. Seek the opinion of people you trust. Investigate the artists that your dream gallery is saying yes to, and try and see what path got them there. Seek out their CV and see what experience they have that you may need to acquire.
Conversely, if you are offered an opportunity that you don’t think is right for you, recommend another artist. Passing opportunities around will strengthen your bonds of fellowship, which I have found is a great strength of the art community.
How many hours a week do you dedicate to making art vs. things like running the studio and submitting to galleries?
The ratio of work I give to making art vs. management-type tasks is about 2:1. I like to paint 6 hours a day (but that can jump to as much as 10 in the final push before a show), which works out to about 40 hours weekly. I estimate I put another 20 hours into the business side of things.
I understand you’ll be venturing into curating in the coming year. What inspired you to take on that challenge?
Curating has been a goal of mine. I am very driven to give recognition and exposure to the many talented artists that I see around me, especially women who haven’t always had as many opportunities as their male counterparts. I think my event experience also translates here. I see the value in creating cohesive experiences. A great art exhibition functions like a great event, visitors are transported into another dimension. I really look forward to curation as a new horizon of challenge and growth.
My curation projects this year are at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica and at Art! Vancouver, western Canada’s main international art fair. For Annenberg, Kathy Taslitz and I submitted a proposal. Honestly, I had no idea we had a solid shot. I’m over the moon that our proposal “Life in This Ocean,” featuring all female artists, was selected.
What else you have coming up in 2018?
My first show will be the collaboration between Sloan Fine Art and Phylogeny Contemporary in Seattle opening in early April. Art! Vancouver will follow at the end of April. I’ll then be looking forward to a summer where I can dedicate myself to my next body of work. As I come up on the end of the year, I’ll be focused on the Annenberg Community Beach House show. Some other possibilities are on the horizon, but I’m trying to keep my schedule relatively freed up to focus on top priorities, and lots of painting.
And finally, speaking of the new year, do you make resolutions? And if yes, can you share yours for 2018?
I do make resolutions. Big goals take time to develop, so I like to try to think in terms of many steps. Typically, I set goals in January for the following year instead of the year ahead. At the beginning of 2017, I set a goal to curate in 2018. During 2017, I worked to sow the seeds that would make that possible. I’m very excited that it’s come to fruition. One of the main goals I’m setting for 2019 is a museum show. I don’t know if I’ll reach it quite yet, but it’s my most major goal.
Another resolution I’m making is to take a little more time to “play.” I have been percolating some ideas for quite awhile that I haven’t had the time to fully explore. Since my process is so painstaking, I know that I’ll need significant experimentation time to work out new concepts. I’m a little like a mad scientist when it comes to my art, and I need some time in the lab. For the past few years, I’ve been working deadline to deadline. I’ve felt blessed to have the opportunities I’ve had, but a fast-paced work schedule prevents certain things like experimentation. I’m very happy with where my work is at, but I want to give myself more time in that “childish” mindset of play to discover some of the new ideas I have brewing in my head.
To see more of Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman’s work, visit her website. And don’t miss her upcoming projects:
“Life in This Ocean”
Co-curated by Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman and Kathy Taslitz
With works by Lena Rushing, Donna Bates, Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman and Kathy Taslitz
Annenberg Community Beach House – Santa Monica, CA
September 13th, 2018 – January 7, 2019