Howard Friedland and Susan Blackwood are two well established, and highly respected, professional painters working in the fine arts . Although their professional names differ, they’re married and share the same house and studio. That fact intrigues me because it is certainly not the norm among us artists. How do they make it work? Our chosen profession, by nature, is a pretty solitary one. How do they handle critiques, dissimilar tastes, differing work schedules, administrative responsibilities, finances, and household chores? It’s all here, and more, in this very interesting interview. So let’s hear, in their words, how they make it all work.
How did you meet and how long have you been married? In 1997, Howard was living in Taos, New Mexico. Susan was living in Bozeman, Montana. Howard’s neighbors asked him to watch their house while they were away in Australia filming a movie for the summer. They offered their house for visitors, so he invited other painters to come to Taos to paint with him. He invited his painter friend, Karen Vance, to visit for 5 days of painting. Karen brought her sister, Susan, to join the group. Howard says: “There was an immediate attraction”. Over the next 5 days of painting together, their easels got “closer and closer together.” Susan was scheduled to teach a workshop in Europe for several weeks, shortly after she returned home. Howard joined her in England and they traveled to Provence, France and Venice, Italy to paint for a few weeks. Their art romance was now in full swing. Howard moved to Bozeman in February of 1998 and he proposed on Valentines Day. We got married in April of 1998. Eighteen years married in April 2016.
Each of you had established professional careers as artists before marriage; has married life brought unexpected changes to your personal careers? Yes, we each had careers; every artist knows that there are ups and downs in one’s career. At the point that we met, our individual careers were kind of stagnant. However, as soon as we got together we could see that by having each other to bounce ideas off of and set goals together, we could see both of our careers start to take off. We were able to look at where we were and project what we wanted our careers to be like in one year, five years and ten years in the future. It is absolutely miraculous what happens if you just project your specific goals and commit to them. Write them down on paper and forget about them. Look at the paper in a few years and you will be blown away at how many goals have been achieved! The support that we give each other day-to-day is the key to whatever success we have achieved individually and collectively.
How do you manage the everyday chores of the household? We have a full staff of servants just like Downton Abby! No…. just kidding! We share the chores so both of us cook, clean our house, do laundry and shovel snow. Howard makes the lunches and Susan cooks dinner. We each try to keep our side of the studio in shape. Susan does the bookwork and Howard makes panels, refinishes frames and does the odd handyman work that every homeowner needs to do now and again. We both keep our own individual websites updated and create newsletters and mailings together.
The artist’s life tends to be a solitary one, is that true for you, and if so, what measures have you taken to maintain that? We both share a large studio but are not always in it at the same time. If Howard is painting, Susan might be on the phone or doing computer work. If Susan is painting, Howard may be in the shop mounting canvas or working on a frame. There are times when we are painting in the studio at the same time, so fortunately we both enjoy the same music when we paint. We are usually together in the house. We enjoy each other’s company, so that is never a problem because our house in big enough for us to get off by ourselves if we want to.
Do your painting philosophies differ, if so, in what way? We approach the same fundamental understanding and love for representational painting in slightly different ways. We tend to like the work of the same painters both alive as well as deceased, although there are times when we differ. We like to challenge ourselves, so we both enjoy painting a very wide variety of subject matter including animals, still life, landscapes, cityscapes, interiors etc. Generally though, Susan tends to have a more feminine flair for subjects and paints in a more realistic style, which includes figurative and portrait work. Howard seems to be more impressionistic and has a more masculine feel to his work and primarily paints landscape.
Do you have separate studios? We both share a large studio but aren’t necessarily in it at the same time.
How do you handle critiques; do you wait until asked or do you express your opinions regardless? How do you resolve any differences? Critiques are always welcome, but better received when asked for. The artist, of course, has the final say to take the suggestion or not. Many times the suggestion falls flat on the floor until a few days or weeks later, then the light bulb comes on and the suggestion is appreciated and incorporated. The benefit of having a second pair of respected eyes is always available.
Are your careers kept distinct and separate, or do you combine incomes? Many people know us as a couple; however, we each had established careers before we met. Sometimes, either Susan or Howard will be invited to participate individually in an event or workshop without the other, and that is fine with us. There is no competition between us. When one of us makes a sale or wins an award, the other one feels the victory also. Certain aspects of our careers are approached jointly, such as finances. Yes, book keeping is SOOOO much easier when we combine our incomes.
How have you influenced one another’s work? Susan – Howard’s juicy loose strokes are delicious temptations, they inspire me. I have always loved impressionistic, expressive paintings. I fell in love with his paintings before I even knew him. I was a loose watercolorist and now continuing my impressionistic quest in oils.
Howard – Susan definitely has a great eye for perspective and accuracy when it comes to drawing. She will often find the slightest flaw and point it out for me to adjust and correct. Her suggestions are always welcome even if not always followed.
What’s a typical workday look like? Susan – On an ideal day, I begin painting early in the morning, then do office work or non- painting work in the afternoons and often on into the evenings.
Howard – They seem to all be workdays and none are very typical! We all have to wear so many hats as artists. On any given day I could be mounting canvases, packing up and shipping paintings to a gallery, working on my website, returning e-mails, packing for painting trips or writing an article. In a perfect world I would get up very early, paint until noon, have lunch, and do all the other stuff after that; unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way.
What do you consider the ideal studio environment?
- Good light, both day and night. (North windows for day painting, with color balanced fluorescents for night painting)
- Lots of space with good storage capacity.
- A great reference library with books of the great painters past and present.
- Enough room to have workshops and classes
- A peaceful environment with great music to inspire us.
When did you open Jade Street Gallery and what motivated you to do so? How has this changed what you were doing previously? In the past, we’ve never posted our prices or sold our work from our website. We didn’t feel comfortable competing with our brick and mortar galleries who are doing their best to sell our paintings. Recently, however, we’ve seen that it is a different world and it’s important to stay current; more and more folks are “logging on” to make their art purchases. We decided to put our prices on the web because we feel that it is necessary to use any and every means to get our work out to the market of art buyers. On our new Jade Street Gallery site, it is an online gallery. We only show work that is currently in our studio’s inventory. Any of our work presently being shown at our other galleries will not be on the Jade Street Gallery site, that way we are not competing with them.
What do you hope to accomplish through this new endeavor, and does it work in harmony with galleries that already represent you? See response above. Also, paintings consigned to galleries and shows can be seen on our individual artist’s website. www.susanblackwood and www.howardfriedland.com where we have links that direct the viewer to the gallery’s web page that feature that painting.
What are your most successful marketing tools? Keeping a list of our collectors with their e-mail and other contact information is very important. These folks have a proven record of liking what we do and are willing to pay for it. We also use a program called Working Artist that is a database with lots of good information about where our work is, if it has sold, who has purchased it, what awards it has received, an image of the work, plus lots of other features. Anything that is free on social media helps get our names and images to the public…Facebook, Instagram or other social media sources. There are a ton of shows and plein air events that help us get our names and work out there, especially so if we can win an award. Being in a good gallery certainly helps, especially if they will host a show and purchase ads in the art magazines. Magazines have done articles on our studio and our paintings. Recently we filmed our first teaching videos for Bella Muse Productions. They are in production now and are available on line at pre-release prices. www.bellamuseproductions.com These videos will be an excellent marketing tool for our workshops and painting sales.
Why or why not post painting prices on the internet? As much as we artists hate to think of it this way, paintings are a commodity! With anything people are considering purchasing, price is a big factor, especially higher priced items such as original art. For folks to make an informed decision, their budget is often a factor. The average person thinks that original art is out of their reach. They may fall in love with a particular piece but they may worry that the price will be too high for them to afford and they are afraid to ask the price. Some painters have developed enough of a reputation to not need to wear the hat of the salesman. For the rest of us who need to make regular sales to keep living the dream, we have to make it as simple as possible to let people know that they actually can own the painting that is so special to them. Having our prices on the web gives them the information they need to make an informed decision.
When approaching new galleries for representation, is that as a team or individually? That depends upon the situation. Typically we are both asked; sometimes one is asked. When a gallery finds out that the spouse is also an artist, then typically we both are invited to join the gallery. If we are approaching a gallery, then we both inquire. It all depends on the type of gallery and what their needs are.
If a prospective collector expresses interest in your work, what would you say to them? Howard – First, I compliment them on their good taste! LOL !! Just kidding. I’d ask them where they saw my work. If it was at a gallery, I’d want to be sure to keep that gallery in the loop. Good galleries are sometimes hard to find and it is very important to keep your relationship honest and up front. If the painting is consigned to a gallery I will refer them back to the gallery to discuss purchasing the painting. If I have the painting in my studio and they saw it on my website, but originally found out about me through a gallery, I will notify the gallery of the situation and offer some compensation. Most of the time the gallery understands that we have various ways to sell our work and since the work is not in their inventory, they don’t begrudge me the sale.
Susan – We also tell the prospective collector about the painting, where, when, why, emotions, etc. Ask if they would like a photo of it in a frame. Give them the outside measurements of the frame. Ask them to tell us why they like it and where they might put the painting.
When selecting subjects to paint, please explain your individual motivations? Susan – Typically I am drawn to the light, a story, and an emotional feeling of the subject. I paint all subjects from, people, children, animals, landscapes, buildings, cityscapes, interiors and still life, etc. Some subjects just demand that I paint them… I feel like the painting already exists in the future… somehow, it comes back to me into the present…. taps me on my shoulder nudging me to create it…. I call it a “Daisy Loop” of time.
Howard -When I am out “rubbernecking”, searching for a composition to paint, I sometimes can’t connect with anything and I just have to pull several objects together to arrive at a good composition. I also take lots of photos and never know until I look at them in my studio if any will capture my imagination. Sometimes however, I will see something that I know is going to make a winning painting. It may take a while before I get around to painting it, but there is a strong intuitive pull that is undeniable. Susan calls it a “Daisy Loop”. It is a certain excitement that really speaks to me. It says, “PAY ATTENTION”!
Each of you seem to do a significant amount of plein air painting; how do you use the material gleaned when creating studio works? We live in Montana so most of our plein air is done in Spring, Summer and Fall. We both love to travel around the country and overseas to do paint-outs and teach, that is where we do most of our on location work. It is the best way to share ideas and learn from our peers and students. It’s important to get out and see what others are doing. Rarely do we get great finished paintings at these events but the experience of painting from life helps one’s understanding and adds a felling of authenticity to one’s work. Using an “on-the-spot” color study and photos combined with the memory of what it was like to actually be there can create another dimension to the painting.
Most of the time, we paint plein air as studies of life. We try to complete them in 2 to 3 hours as an impression of the moment. Sometimes, we will take one of these and enlarge it into a larger painting. The best part of plein air is what is stored permanently in our brains for future paintings: How does the light look, what is the color, etc.
Every Thursday night we have a live portrait model group at our studio– painting Alla Prima – not necessarily for sale, but definitely to fine tune our figurative observations.
How important is it for you to belong to art organizations and to enter art competitions? Howard – Belonging to art groups or vying for recognition in competitions is not everyone’s cup of tea. After all, art isn’t really a competition. For me, belonging to OPA, AIS, the Plein Air Convention, Facebook and various online showcases give me a sense of community and a yardstick to measure my development as an artist. As artists, we all crave recognition and approval on some level whether we want to admit it or not. It keeps us marching on to do our best. Even the rejections, heck, especially the rejections, causes us to look at what we are producing and makes us strive to learn and improve. So, I value being able to look at the work of painters whom I admire in order to see how I measure up. The input that I get by belonging to these good art groups also provides me with opportunities to get my work out to a larger public and even sell some work.
Susan – In addition, many times the shows will push me to think outside of my normal subject matter. I may choose to paint something different or use a technique that may not necessarily be an easy gallery sale. I love these challenges.
We are so appreciative to you, Howard and Susan, for your openness in this interview. This has been very informative and interesting. Sincere thanks, Howard Friedland and Susan Blackwood.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE