Over the last few days, between editing my interview with artist Natalie Osborne and tackling some urgent projects at the office (from home) and negotiating what childcare looks like as quarantine rounds month six, I keep coming back to her comments about Art as work:
“That painting kicked my butt! That painting beat me up! That one was hard.”
If you follow Natalie’s Instagram, you know that her pieces have a signature look. Her bold, graphic portraits have a cohesive style that is instantly recognizable in any interior. In fact, I love seeing her work photographed in people’s homes (on this wallpaper!), styled in varying interior styles, each with that familiar face looking back.
My conversation with Natalie Osborne is one of my favorites, not because she gives away any artist’s secrets to effortless creation, but because she breaks down the time, energy, and financial commitment that goes into being a successful full-time artist. As a Creative, it’s a relief to hear that the struggle so many of us have in finding our voices may just mean we need to commit more fully: To take our Art as seriously as we take our work.
Berry from Trial by Inspiration: I’ve found that as more and more artists share their work on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, the more everything starts to look the same, and it’s hard to find unique voices in all the “trendy” visuals. Your work is so bold and distinctive, how did you develop your style?
Natalie Osborne @natalieodecor: As I am painting one piece, I always have the visual of the next painting in my mind. I can’t wait to finish the painting so I can start the next one. I think my style came along from painting only what I have visualized mentally. That’s half of the work, being able to see what you are going to paint before you paint it. Some of the ideas come out successfully, and some fail. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, based on that process.
TBI: What inspires you about portraiture? Do you have a muse?
N: After I step back and look at all of my work, I see my mother in each portrait. There are so many beautiful photographs of her permanently in my mind. But I think I paint portraits because of my favorite paintings in art history. When you walk through a museum and see portraits, you see these small paintings of women. Those portraits show the woman’s face and some design or print representing her dress or jacket. As a young girl, I thought, “this must be how you make a painting.” So that childhood idea has stuck with me.
TBI: How does marketing your work play into your process? Does promoting on Instagram come naturally, or have you had to develop it? Is it challenging to remain authentic to your aesthetic on a platform that is driven by “likes” and “followers”?
N: As a painter, marketing on Instagram plays into the process very naturally. I take a picture of the painting with my phone, and I examine the picture until I know what needs to be changed or if the painting is finished. I then stage the work in a picture to list the painting for sale in my online shop. So the images are already in my phone, and all I have to do is post them to Instagram to let people know that paintings are available. It doesn’t matter how many likes a painting gets as long as people know that the painting is available. The link to buy the painting is on my Instagram page, so it’s a very easy process of selling the paintings.
TBI: Listening to your interview on Black Faves Podcast, I learned that you’re an artist full-time. Do you have any tips for other artists wanting to quit their day jobs? Has COVID and quarantine culture changed what it’s like working for yourself?
N: Yes, I quit my job in 2017 to focus on selling my Art full time. I was able to do this by making sure I had two consecutive days to create work for sale. I listed my availability as Wednesday through Sunday for my job, and I used Monday and Tuesday to create and sell my paintings online. Any spending money I had went towards supplies for creating paintings to sell. To this day, my profits fund the costs of operating the business.
My tip for artists wanting to quit their day jobs and sell Art full time: Before you quit, put money aside to pay up a year of rent. The cost of month to month rent will devour your ability to grow your art business. Then set up your Etsy shop and your Instagram. Use your Instagram to show the Art you have for sale and nothing else. Look at it as your business profile. Only post what is available and make sure to include a link to your shop in your Instagram bio. You are usually your only financial investor, so price your work in a way where the profits can sustain you AND be used to finance new pieces to sell.
And also, never ship work that hasn’t been paid for. People will present “opportunities.” Never ship a painting that hasn’t been purchased.
Quarantine culture has taken the art fairs out, and that was a big way to build capital fast and market myself, but when you’re a full-time artist, you’re already in quarantine. You create, sell, market, from home, or your studio. So that part hasn’t changed.
TBI: In your work, are you more rewarded by your creative process or the end product?
N: I do not feel rewarded by the creative process, lol. I don’t know how people feel zen and relaxed when they paint. People think painting is fun. It’s work. And if you want it to be really good, then it’s hard work. Realizing an image that only exists in your mind presents a struggle: How do you get that onto a canvas, and will you be satisfied if the result doesn’t match the vision? Can you step back and see it for what it is instead of what you want it to be?
I enjoy the finished piece. But sometimes I say, “That painting kicked my butt! That painting beat me up! That one was hard.”
TBI: Do you have any tips on how to get unstuck creatively, when you can’t find your muse?
N: When I get stuck creatively, I look at pieces I made years ago. I think what would a new version of this piece look like now that my process has developed. I look to my past to see how I could do something better, now that I know better.
TBI: As a full-time artist, how do you balance your personal time with your creative time?
N: Personal time? Being a full-time artist doesn’t include much personal time. To be able to have a personal life, a full-time artist would benefit from being signed by a gallery or an institution that handles the pictures, selling, framing, shipping, emails, customer requests, and supplies. If you don’t have a dealer or a gallery, you can pick times to close your shop and take a vacation by not answering emails and DMs, and not having anything for sale for a few days.
TBI: This year the Black Lives Matter movement has (finally) sparked a national conversation about systematic racism in this country and brought to light the segregation that exists in so many different facets of our daily lives, including Art. Has the message of Amplifying Black Voices and sharing Black creative work on social media impacted your business? When does it feel performative vs. authentic? If this question is leaving something out, do you have anything else you want to discuss?
N: Police brutality is soul-crushing. Watching it continue for generations has pushed me to a level of fear for myself and others, which has isolated me. I’m almost agoraphobic. It’s like I’m hunkering down. Like my life is underground. I am trying to hold on to sanity. This problem is insane.
It is very strange to me that the recent collective idea to combat police brutality is to highlight black creatives.
Maybe it’s because people don’t know what to do to support black Americans in this horrific time. I will say this, if you feel like black Americans are your fellow Americans and police brutality is devastating the country, just say that.
The people who talk bad about the unrest and how horrible people are who smash windows will talk about it without pause. And those are usually the people I have never heard say anything about the horrors of police brutality.
To support your fellow Americans, you don’t have to buy yourself a trinket from a black-owned shop. You can say, “Police brutality is unconstitutional, these killings violate the rights of American citizens, and it is a crime against humanity.”
Thank you for your powerful and inspiring words Natalie. I feel honored that you shared your thoughts on the creative process, the business of being an Artist, and your experience with me and my audience. You can follow and fangirl her work here and purchase paintings and prints on her Etsy.
and let’s all say it together: “Police brutality is unconstitutional, these killings violate the rights of American citizens, and it is a crime against humanity.”
Paintings and photos provided by Natalie Osborne 2020