Interview with Professional Artist Nancy Reyner
Artist Nancy Reyner built a successful art career selling paintings, teaching online art classes, writing art instruction books and teaching in-person workshops. She offers valuable insights into her art career in this interview.
Nancy Reyner Bio
Painter, author and instructor, Nancy Reyner has been painting for over 30 years, using a variety of media, including oil, acrylic and gold leaf. Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, Nancy received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, an MFA from Columbia University, and now lives in Santa Fe, NM. She is the author of several books on painting, including the best-seller “Acrylic Revolution”, has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever”, and worked as technical consultant for Golden Paints.
Please tell us about your work?
I paint exotic landscapes shimmering in gold, using materials that excite me, like gold leaf and unusual acrylic mediums. The paintings sell mostly through agents and galleries. I have a website, however, it is used mostly for selling my books, videos and courses. Having an online presence has also enabled me to receive requests from galleries to handle my work, even though most painting sales happen offline. I have published four painting technique books through publisher North Light Books, and I get royalty income from these. My income also comes from teaching and coaching other artists, an activity which I’ve enjoyed for the past 30 years.
What is your art background?
I’ve been making art ever since I bought my first set of oil pastels with allowance money when I was nine. My mother gave me paints early on, and sent me to art classes. I’ve continued over the years to take all kinds of art and creativity classes – from pantomime and puppetry to creating art installations, photography, and life drawing. I love learning new things. I received a super boost for my painting career by receiving a position as technical demonstrator for Golden Artist Colors, a well known high quality paint company specializing in acrylic paints. I was trained and paid to travel around the western part of the US demonstrating new products and inventions in the painting field. I was able to work close hand with the chemists in Golden’s technical department, experimenting with early product development.
I have a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and MFA from Columbia University. Continuing to explore new things I am now making instructional videos on painting, and even started an online painting course!
You seem like you were born to be an artist, have
you always had clarity on that path or did you
contemplate other careers as well?
In high school, I loved science and dreamed of becoming a scientist who invents things. It was a tough decision, but I ended up choosing art because I wanted to also express my creativity . Once I started on the art path I realized I could still invent and be “scientific”. Paint is creative, but also much of it is “science” or more like chemistry. I like learning about the science behind the paint, and read technical books such as those from Ralph Mayer. Often I will get an idea using my motto “I wonder what would happen if….” and take out a dozen small canvases, and try out one new idea twelve different ways, sort of like scientific experiments. So happy I am finding that I was able to combine my love for science into painting. On another note, I did not think I would be able to make a living as an artist, so took on many jobs along the way. Jobs like print production, graphic design, faux finishing commissions, theater set design, etc. All those jobs, especially teaching – my favorite job of all, ended up gifting me with techniques and ideas that later became helpful when I was able to paint full time.
How important were the BFA and MFA to your
skills as an artist?
The degrees helped validate me as an artist, but were not the major factor in giving me my art skills. The degrees gave me communication skills so I was able to get teaching jobs, be part of art boards, manage art centers and other ways of being involved in a non-painting way with artists’ communities. The degrees helped me somewhat make the art I make. But it was painting as much as I could, making it a priority, for many many (and I mean many) years, that allowed me to strengthen my skills and develop my art style. I have noticed that many artists, whose work is on a very high level, may feel insecure about themselves and their work if they do not have an art degree. So I think college art degrees do help with self-esteem and projecting professionalism to the non-art world. Often, paintings of other artists, that I find truly brilliant, inventive and high quality are created by those that did not attend art school, but instead took many short term workshops focused on the skills they wanted to master and other preferences.
You do workshops, have online courses, write
books and sell your art, is it necessary to have that
diversity to make a career of art?
I do have a diverse range of earning money in the arts, but not all with painting as you had mentioned. This variety is something I enjoy very much. It’s nice to get out of the studio once in awhile where I work alone in silence. The most significant factor for having a broad range of activities, is that it takes the pressure off selling my art. I like when paintings sell, but don’t have to push them or do any heavy selling to pay my bills. Instead my other income pays the bills, and the painting sales just add. Each revenue source (courses, books, painting sales) brings in different amounts at different times. So one isn’t more lucrative than others. But altogether it makes a nice package for me in terms of variety and income. By not having financial pressure attached to my painting sales, it means I can continue to change my art whenever I wish, and am not bound to any gallery to continue making a certain type of art just because it sells. In other words, taking the pressure off painting sales, allows my painting to stay fresh, and allows me to continue to create and change as I grow and change.
How do you normally sell your paintings?
Sales are made through my agents and galleries. I recently created a gallery space in my studio. It is not open to the public, but I will show my work there by appointment, and have some very light traffic coming through from clients, friends and students. I have chosen to not be represented by a local gallery so that I am able to sell direct from my studio.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in
becoming a professional artist?
Create the art you want, and allow it to keep changing until your work grows into something unique to you. This could take anywhere from 5 to 10 years or longer. Knowing this is a long process, take your time, be patient, keep your day job to keep the pressure off the work for the long growth period. When you feel you are ready to start selling your work, maintain a creative attitude for the business side. The art world changes dramatically every year, and galleries may not be the best venue for your particular work to reach your particular audience at that time. There are many alternative ways to have your work seen, appreciated and sold. Let the work dictate where and how you will show and sell it.