BY ANNE BELOV
April 13, 2016
When I first got out of graduate school and headed off into what passes for the real world, I had many ideas about what success would look like. I remember thinking, having a color postcard from a real gallery…that’s what success is. But as the shows and the years passed and the piles of color postcards started piling up, I realized that a color postcard with your art and a gallery name on it is just one small step in a really long journey.
My journey starts way back when (just you never mind how way back it started) and on the other side of the country. I loved to draw and I loved to read. I took a variety of art classes from many places, all through grade school and into high school. I majored in painting in college, moved across the country, and went on to get an MFA in painting.
But I soon learned that success would not, did not come instantly to me, not by any stretch of the imagination. My first gallery shows did not result in any sales. But I kept going, working in restaurants, retail, and at a coffee roaster, painting all the while, and dreaming of the day when I could do nothing but paint. It took me eight years after completing graduate school before I could quit my “day job” but I finally did and 28 years later, I haven’t had another one.
Breaking Fast: Reading Terminal Market (c) Anne Belov Oil on Linen
Here’s the interesting, or maybe frustrating thing about working and making your living from creative pursuits. There are no guarantees. Not a one. By 2007 I was showing at five galleries all around Western Washington and Oregon and making a decent living. I thought life (and my income) would keep getting better and I could look forward to, if not retirement, (because artists don’t retire,) at least a comfortable old age that did not involve living in a dumpster.
They say the gods laugh when humans make plans.
The economic collapse of 2008 did not last one year. For me, it has lasted seven years. I went from being represented by five galleries to being represented by one, with the expected hit to my income.
But here is another thing about creative people. We are problem solvers and infinitely curious. While I did make many attempts to find more representation for my paintings, so many artists were in the same boat, looking for new galleries as their galleries closed or jettisoned many of their artists. My search did not go well. I only found a new Seattle gallery to represent me this last fall.
I decided to take this as an opportunity to experiment and expand my horizons. About eight months before the economy went to hell in a hand basket, I became obsessed with pandas.
What do pandas have do do with painting?
Why are you drawing silly cartoons about pandas?
Aren’t you supposed to be a serious painter?
I didn’t have an answer to those questions, I only knew I felt compelled to make these drawings, which became cartoons, which became stories about…you guessed it …pandas. Cartoons on scraps of paper evolved into better drawings of pandas in a sketch book, and those became cartoons posted on a blog, which eventually got collected into a self published book. Stories got longer. One book became six.
You might think these cartoons have nothing to do with my painting, but in that you would be mistaken. The more that I immersed myself in panda narrative, the more the tools that I acquired in building my skills as a painter – composition, value, ways to show movement, facial expressions – came into play in my cartoons and illustrations.
Even when I am “playing” it is hard for me not to become serious about a pursuit. I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in the fall of 2009 and began to learn what I could from them about literature for children and the business of publishing. I knew somehow pandas would be involved. Last year I applied to and was accepted in a mentorship program organized by the Nevada chapter of SCBWI, to work on a graphic novel about a panda detective and a missing Impressionist painting. (See? I didn’t sleep through ALL my art history classes!) The program lasts six months, and during that time my story grew from a rough outline to what will become a middle grade graphic novel, with the help of my brilliant mentor.
And now, my mentor is my literary agent. Is that cool, or what?
But here’s what I’ve learned in my years of supporting myself as an artist. This is not the top accomplishment, but just a step along the way. It’s an ongoing process and there will be downs as well as ups. This partnership will work for, well, as long as it works, and as long as I keep working as hard as I can in this new – for me – medium. Right now, I am once again, sitting on top of the world.
But as we all should know by now, it ain’t over till the panda sings.
Anne Belov paints, writes, and draws pandas from her home on Whidbey Island. Her paintings can be found at The Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island, and at The Fountainhead Gallery in Seattle. She is the ringleader of The Froggwell Biennale which takes place this year on August 5th, 6th, and 7th at Froggwell Garden. You can find her books at Moonraker Books in Langley as well as at her website, Your Brain On Pandas. Her graphic novel The Pandyland Mysteries: The Case of the Picturesque Panda will be available sooner or later. She is represented in all things literary by Gordon Warnock at Fuse Literary.