Taking Your Art to the Next Level

The caricature of the artist as an aloof, temperamental person who struggles to function with mere humans and their world is almost as stale as the familiar beret that adorns cartoon characters who are either an artist, French or both. To be a successful artist now, one is expected to know how to present themselves professionally to a wide range of people. This expectation, however, does not come with a road map of how this is achieved and many artists may find that although they are excelling in the creation of their work, they may be falling behind in their presentation of themselves and their portfolio.

Ellen Orseck, who is best known at the Glasscock School for her popular watercolor and acrylic courses, is addressing this problem in “Professional Practices for Artists” this fall. Join us to learn the best practices for artists who wish to propel their work into the professional sphere. This interactive workshop style course will cover a wide-range of topics meant to build resources to better manage an artist’s career from setting up a studio space to cultivating professional gallery relationships. We recently had the opportunity to ask Ms. Orseck about the course and her personal path to becoming a professional artist.

How long have you been an artist?
When I was three years old, I painted on my furniture, my parents’ walls and inside every drawer of our Baltimore home. So you can actually say that I have been an artist for 60 years, making marks, seeing the world differently and drawing, constantly drawing. When I am supposed to be listening, paying attention or doing anything else, I am really drawing.

When did you decide to take your art to a professional level? Was it a conscious decision or did it just happen along your path?
Frankly, there was no defining moment when a light bulb went on and I said, “Okay, I’m going to be an artist.” I was always thinking about how I could make this or that or what tools do I need to get this to work. I grew up with parents who always made things: Dad did woodworking and Mom was making jewelry. There was a period of time when I stopped making art, after I fell two stories from a mural scaffolding while painting a mural for the National Endowment for the Arts.  And so for a time, I felt I wasn’t supposed to be making art – just interacting with it. After going back to school for a masters in museum studies, I became a curator (Dallas Museum of Art, Holocaust Museum Houston), an editor of an art magazine (Southwest Art) and a critic. After I married my current husband Paul, the itch to make art returned with a force. Studies followed at the Glassell School and then NYU in Venice and NYC and I have been committed to a studio art practice balanced with teaching since 2000.

Have you always had a studio? What are the requirements you look for in a studio space?
My first studio outside of my Washington D.C. home was at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1975. I took the space while I was getting a masters in museum studies at George Washington University. The University commissioned me to paint murals around the campus.  When I moved to Texas, I had a small space in my home, but when the work grew larger and larger, I turned to artist Michelle O’Michael, and asked if I could rent space, a small corner of her studio in the Houston Foundry. Every so often, I would ask Michelle for a few more square feet until I took over her space; she found another larger space. Currently, my studio is at Winter Street Studio in the warehouse district of Houston.

The most important requirements for studio space for me are good light, ease of getting in and out (especially when you are hauling large materials), safety, proximately to other resources (supplies, hardware, coffee), access to water supply, power and internet connections, bug and rodent free. Each art form will have different requirements for space – a photographer and a sculptor will have different needs than a painter. Some artists like to be completely isolated, others like to have other artists around. I can be a bit of a hermit when I am working, but enjoy company now and again.

Ellen Orseck at Work by Janet Roe

Ellen Orseck at Work, photo by Janet Roe

How did you begin your relationship with Nicole Longnecker Gallery?
My relationship with Nicole Longnecker Gallery began before I knew there was a relationship. Nicole saw my work at Wade Wilson Gallery and liked the work and wanted to see more. Wade had gallery space in Houston and Santa Fe. When he closed the Houston location, Nicole approached me about representation. It’s been a great professional relationship because of Nicole’s vision and her ability to see the value of art in the lives of everyone. It’s certainly more than a business for her, even though she has business training and experience. I see art the same way – this can’t be just about making money when you are dealing with the interpretation of human perception, feelings and emotions. (Prior to Wade Wilson Art, I was represented by Bering and James Gallery. They ended the gallery when the couple that ran it got a divorce.)

What do you think is the biggest hurdle for practicing artists to present themselves professionally?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for artists to present themselves professionally is that they hurry the process. A relationship with a gallery is one that blossoms over time, when a gallerist is introduced to the artwork through an exhibition, a patron, another artist or even a studio visit. It doesn’t happen by bringing artwork to a gallery and throwing it on the floor without an appointment.

Can you provide a sneak peek of some of the conversations and exercises you will cover in the course?
The class will offer emerging artists many tools for managing their careers as well as the challenge and goal of organizing an exhibition of their work and even publishing a catalog.

What is your best advice for an emerging artist who is going down the path towards professional practice?
The best advice for emerging artists comes from one of my mentors from NYU. My professor Keith Mayerson, who was recently showcased at the Whitney Biennial in New York, used to say, “Don’t kick any babies.” What does that mean? He was trying to tell artists, that you never know who will eventually be your most important patron, or the museum director of the museum you wish would accept your work. In essence, he was saying be kind and open to everyone because you never know who you are interacting with and what impact that person might have on your life, your work or even your career. The other piece of advice, which comes from many fellow artists, is just to keep working, keep making that thing you love to do.


If you want to take your art to the next level, or feel that your professional skills could use a little polishing, enroll in “Professional Practices for Artists” this fall and excel beyond the wildest dreams of the moody, beret wearing caricature. Ms. Orseck is also teaching “Photorealism in Acrylics” and “Watercolor for All” this fall.

Top image credit: Orseck Oil Paints by William H. Miller

Laura Bailey


Laura Bailey, Marketing Coordinator

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