Monday, September 28, 2015

STUDIO SPACE: Dawna Boehmer

Location: Hamilton, Ohio

How did you get your start as a professional artist?
I started out by displaying my figure paintings at art shows....mostly ones held outdoors. I would do a show and then wait and wait and wait for someone to call with a portrait commission. After doing Summerfair I thought it would be fun to have something to actually sell in my booth. So I got my start as an illustrator with one good idea. I had noticed that anything Cincinnati related seemed to sell really well – that's how I came up with the idea of doing The ABC's of Cincinnati.

I kept the idea to myself and played around with it in my head for a year before I dared to start putting ideas down on paper and tell my husband about it. At the time I didn't know anything about how to paint whimsically, how to Photoshop or how to package or sell prints. It took me two months to work out the ABC's, take reference photos, and do the painting. Rather reluctantly my husband agreed that I could spend the money to have 2000 posters printed. Years later he told me that secretly he thought I might be able to sell 50 of them!

Two weeks after having the posters printed I found out that the Cincinnati Bengals had trademarked Who Dey....which I had used for the letter 'W.” Somehow I screwed up the courage to contact their legal department. They said that I could sell the 2000 posters if I made a small donation to the Marvin Lewis fund.....and they sent me a bill for $1000 (some “small donation.”) My business was almost sunk before it even got started.

Not really knowing how to sell the poster, I dropped one off at the Enquirer's art department along with the story about trademark infringement. Unbeknownst to me it was featured on the front page of the arts section. The phone started ringing at 7am on a Monday morning and by the end of the week I had sold $7000 worth of posters. At the time I wasn't even set up to take credit cards. With that money I purchased a 24” wide Canon printer, formed an LLC, and started printing giclee's of my artwork.

Tough Lessons I have learned:
1) Silly rabbit – you aren't going to sell $7000 worth of posters every week....and sometimes not even every year.
2) Not every good idea is a  good idea in another city. The ABC's of Cincinnati and Richmond, Virginia sell well....but Columbus, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. - not so much......and I've lost money at every out-of-town show I've done.
3) It's very easy to become a hermit when your studio is in your home.
4) I suck at marketing.

Describe your work:
People tell me that my paintings are very colorful and that they make them happy. Somehow my sense of humor always comes critic called me a sarcastic Norman Rockwell. I like to tell stories using oil paint....and I can't paint small. 36X48” is my preferred canvas size.

Tell us about your workspace:
We moved into a 4-bedroom house and at least 1/2 of it is used for my business. The dining room became my office, one bedroom holds my paintings while another is the printing room. The basement holds my painting studio, 6x4 foot drawing board with enlarger, shelving to hold prints and an area for packaging. The indoor and outdoor booths are stored in the basement and garage.

What are your favorite materials digital and traditional?
I prefer to paint in oils on canvas; Archival oils by Chroma usually dry overnight.  I use Photoshop to work on composition and to do color corrections before printing. Notice the standing palette that I built and how I extended the easel to hold a large mahl stick. I seldom use brushes larger than a size 10, so I need to hold my hand very steady to paint in all the detail. 

What’s your typical workday/work session like?
I don't have any work hours set in stone and I'm not a morning person. I usually spend the mornings in my pj's.'s working on ideas, then I paint from about 12-7, and do computer work and research later. On the weekends I do about 10 art shows a year. For me art is 24/7 and there is practically no separation between my personal and business lives.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated as you work?
I've always felt that I was a lousy employee....I'm really only happy and productive when I'm working on my own ideas. My problem isn't motivation, but more direction. I tend to want to try everything. That's why I can weave, sew, dye, quilt, shibori, bead, make jewelry, design clothing and do woodworking. I also have an experimental airplane that we're building in the garage. Obviously I like to work with my hands.

What is your dream job?
All my life I've wanted to sell something that I produced. I started making things and selling them in grade always embarrassed my parents because they didn't want the neighbors to think that we were poor. You couldn't pay me enough to take a job where I had to wear old clothes and spend all day in a basement painting.....and yet that's what I do. Seeing my ideas take form on the canvas is my dream job....or maybe making costumes for a Star Wars film.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
For some reason I'm uncomfortable sketching...but  I can paint. I keep tons of reference photos in files and on the computer. I tear photos out of magazines to use as ideas for poses and clothing. If someone has an interesting look I'll stop them on the street and ask if we can do a photo me, I've met some real characters that way. One of these days I'll get my face slapped for staring at someone too long.

Who are your artistic influences?
Well, obviously Norman Rockwell as well as William Bouguereau. Present day painters....Terry Strickland, Echo Chernik, Kelly Vivanco – there are just too many to name.  

What was the best advice you got in your career so far?
The best advise I've gotten...and one that I constantly have to keep to paint what you love. Sometimes I get trapped in that paint what will sell mode.....and I'm never happy when I do that. And somehow my paintings are never quite as good when I do that.


1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Lots of good stuff coming out of that basement.