Jason AbbottKicking off a new year of programs at its monthly meeting on Jan. 20, the Fluvanna Art Association welcomed artist Jason Abbott, who focused on the business of art.

Somewhat shy, Abbott broke out of his shell by using humor.

“Public speaking is worse than death,” he said. “So if you’re at a funeral, you’re better off in the box than giving the eulogy.” The members laughed at his opening, immediately warming to him and setting the stage for a frank discussion about his career in the often-competitive art world.

He began by talking about his yearning to become a commercial artist. He got sidetracked by other career obligations suggested by outside forces, he said, and ignored his inner artist.

“I remember while I was in the Navy, and we would go on shore leave, my buddies wanted to drink beer, play pool and chase girls while I went to the art museums, and I often visited the Jones Art Gallery, featuring artist Louis Jones,” Abbott said. Jones is one of the artists that inspires Abbott with his colorful landscapes and unique angles.

But after losing his job and finding himself nearly destitute with a family to feed, Abbott was forced to meet head-on his early desire to be an artist. He told the members it was a challenge, particularly for someone who was told most of his adult life to get a paying job, even if it was at a big box store, since art was not a stable profession. He finally broke away from his conventional constraints.

“I realized I was in the wrong environment,” he said. This taught him he could no longer make excuses, he said, so he stopped drifting and began to follow his desired career path.

An autodidactic, Abbott taught himself how to paint and with a couple of mentors teaching him some of the nuances, color theory and blending, he learned quickly and became successful.

“I started with pastels but a friend encouraged me to do oils,” he said, adding that oils, egg tempera and acrylics top the list of best-selling artists. He was taught by one of his mentors to mix paint. “I used to use blue straight out of the tube and was told to use orange to take down the intensity.” He suggested to the members to learn to mix their greens, as he said this was the key to successful landscape painting. “Being a former systems analyst helped me to break down the components of a subject.” This skill along with learning about chiaroscuro, or strong contrast between light and dark, strengthened his skills. Abbott suggested blending colors with gray, which helps the eyes rest and the colors pop. Otherwise everything screams for attention, he said.

As for subjects, he prefers landscapes.

“Add a focal point to landscapes, a personal human touch, like a patio with chairs and a table, potted plants or a beach scene with chairs and umbrellas,” he said. He has done portraits but says there are so many factors to be considered when doing a portrait, including anatomy and the psychology of the person. He added that birds and flowers are among the most popular subjects. 

“Art students sneer at what they consider to be commercial art but it is a product or a craft and it is how the audience perceives it. You have to connect with a buyer,” he said. “Think about it, would you hang a particular piece of work in your house?”
One of those who inspired him early in his art career was artist and author Jack White, who wrote Mystery of Making It. White’s writing focuses on the realities and myths about art which motivated Abbott to move forward with his decision to become an artist.

“It is a lot of work; you achieve a skill, settle into it, then become bored,” he said. That is when most artists move to the next level, challenging themselves and experimenting. Abbott believes most artists’ work is tuned more to their audiences’ tastes rather than the over-dramatized principle of art teachers who encourage emotion painting and inner angst.
“The public doesn’t want that,” Abbott said, claiming this is the failing of most mainstream art taught in schools where students who are artistic never shine, become demoralized and give up their desire for art. Quoting Shakespeare, he said, “Man poor man, how ignorant you are of the thing you do best.”

Abbot said that illustrators are some of the best artists. If an artist wants to create art and make money doing what they love, it’s not about angst and inner turmoil but marketing. Abbott used his skills as a salesman to sell his work and get it where it could be seen by the public. Despite his shy nature, Abbott had strong marketing skills and pointed out it isn’t enough to paint but to target the audience who will be interested in buying the work. He did this in a kiosk in a mall and added the best way for people to buy an artist’s work is to get out among people at outdoor art shows or anywhere they have access to people who may see the work.

“If you want to make a living, use the guerilla marketing approach,” he said. “When you’re desperate, you drive past your fears and think outside the box. When you become desperate and broke, you are like the atheist in the foxhole.”

Galleries have always been the traditional paths for artists to exhibit and sell their work, but he said they are falling by the wayside. Abbott suggested selling on E-Bay as well as You Tube by talking about the work. He emphasized above all the need to have a business plan and goals to follow.

“Be aware of your subconscious, watch out for self-sabotage,” he said. “We are prone to distractions and jealousy there will always be someone better than you.” Above all be creative and believe in yourself, he said.