The other end of the paintbrush

river landscape with haiku

“summer solstice” is 11×14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper and digitally edited. An earlier version of the haiku first appeared in Modern Haiku. A birthday card version is available. © Annette Makino 2016

Humboldt County is famous for two things: its magical old-growth redwood forests and perhaps equally magical marijuana. But there is a lesser-known feature that makes this area unique: it has more working artists per capita than any other part of California.

Each year in June, some 150 Humboldt artists open their studio doors to the public as part of North Coast Open Studios. Earlier this month, it was my pleasure to be part of the “Seven in Samoa” group that hosted visitors the first weekend. The following weekend, I got to tour nine studios.

In visiting other artists, I was inspired and moved by much of their art. But it was just as interesting to talk with these working artists and learn about what goes on at the other end of the paintbrush. I discovered we are grappling with some of the same issues.

A common theme of our conversations was the tension between making art that purely expresses our creativity versus making art that we know will sell. For instance, one artist is currently drawn to images of melancholy women, but knows there is a much bigger market for her playful pieces of cats.

Another sells a lot of art postcards with inspiring quotes, but her passion project is a scrapbook of sketches and thoughts about silent meditation retreats, though she knows the market for such a book is very limited.

Artist paints at table under Makino Studios banner

Annette Makino demonstrates her tools and techniques at the Samoa Women’s Club in Samoa, CA as part of North Coast Open Studios in June 2017.

For my part, I sometimes find myself painting simply because it’s time for a new card catalog. Instead of “What do I really want to express about my core being?,” the “helpful” and persistent voice inside my head asks a much less inspiring question, “What would make for a good birthday card?”

Another common theme of my Open Studios conversations was the competing demands on our time: we need to spend time managing and marketing our business, but that cuts into the time to actually create. And it’s hard for me to compartmentalize: when I know I have orders to fill or an event to publicize, I can’t get into the open, spacious frame of mind I need to paint.

Finally, an underlying issue that emerged from talking with other artists was, what does success mean to me as a working artist? Is it measured by sales? Reputation? Appreciation from buyers? Personal satisfaction from the joy of creating? While it’s surely some combination of all of these, it’s challenging to find the right balance, especially in a culture that confuses money with worth.

Overall, I came away from Open Studios without clearcut answers, yet comforted to know that I am not alone: even the most successful artists struggle with these dilemmas. It was inspiring to meet so many passionate, committed people who have chosen to walk this sometimes difficult path. We may never get rich from our art (though I’m not opposed to that!), but we are certainly rich in spirit.

summer solstice . . .
the skipping stone
all the way across

Makino Studios News

Seven in Samoa: The Eureka Times-Standard ran this story about the group of artists that showcased our work together as part of North Coast Open Studios.

Summer vacation: Happy solstice! I’ll be on vacation from this Saturday, June 24 until Sunday, July 2. While I am swimming and painting at the Klamath River (depicted in the above image), my Makino Studios Etsy shop will be closed for the week and I will not be filling store orders.

Westhaven Wild Blackberry Festival: Rabia O’Loren will be selling a selection of my cards and prints at this festival on Sunday, July 30, 10-4 at the Westhaven Volunteer Fire Department.

North Country Fair: Mark your calendar for this two-day festival celebrating the fall equinox, taking place September 16-17 on the Arcata Plaza!

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  1. Peter Newton
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Hi Annette, I too am a working artist and have been full-time for nearly 25 years. I especially like your comment about how we live in a world that often confuses money with worth. At some point, a working artist has to decide what is enough. Is it enough to work 8 hours a day and sell everything you make that day? Or is it too much? Is it better to work less? sell less? Early on, I tended to err on the side of caution in my business model. I went the wholesale route which means I am on a merry-go-round from which there is no easy exit. But I don’t have to market my work much at all–outside wholeslae trade shows once or twice a year. I have found that while I spend my days creating (not a painter but a glassworker) I am also creating the kind of life I want to have. Sometimes, I take long stretches of time away and sometimes I’m crazy busy 70 hours a week. As I say to people who ask why I chose this profession after having gotten two degrees (in English) I say: “It beats a real job.”
    Best of luck to you. At least you’re in the land of paradise out there in beautiful CA.–Peter

    • Posted June 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Hi Peter, It’s great to get your perspective, especially given your 25 years of experience. I also mainly sell wholesale to stores, but as I am my own sales rep, I am always thinking about the marketability of my designs.

      I agree, this creative path may have its own unique challenges, but it is infinitely better than working a “straight job.” This way we get to spend our time, skills and energy to further our own mission and goals instead of someone else’s! And sometimes take leisurely walks on the beach or in the redwoods during the work day. . .

  2. Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this! First, I had no idea that Humboldt had so many working artists. That was new to me!

    And secondly, I completely resonated with the idea that success means something different to everyone. And that we all are just trying to figure it out.

    So often, we look at others and think they have so much more going on than we do. But when you dig deeper into it, everyone is just trying to put together their own puzzle.

    Thanks for the post! :)

    • Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Thanks Maria! I’m also thinking that how we each define success may evolve over time: at the beginning of an artist’s career it may be more about sales and recognition, and later, when they’ve got enough validation, it may be more about personal expression and fulfillment. A puzzle that changes over the years…

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