Creating a desperation for art

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Lori Nourse paints a mural for a Reno client at her Carson City home on Wednesday.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Lori Nourse paints a mural for a Reno client at her Carson City home on Wednesday.

When Jack Shrawder is peddling the art of selling to artists, he invokes the mystical consciousness that has made "The Secret" fly off bookshelves.

You don't have to be a starving artist, he said. Instead, if you think success, so it will be.

"The other way to look at it is, 'I'm a special case,'" he said to about 30 artists at a recent seminar in Carson City. "I can be economically and personally successful. I'll keep getting better and I want to tell people about it.'"

And, boy, do these artists want it to be.

These lessons may be particularly essential in Carson City. Business Week magazine, in a February article in its real estate section, named Carson City as one of its top metro areas with the highest concentrations of artistic establishments, such as museums, dance companies, theater troupes and college arts programs. Creativity leads to growth, the article said.

Shrawder, owner of Pentronics Publishing, a home-based print studio at South Lake Tahoe, is often out gabbed by the more loquacious artists attending one of his marketing workshops at the Brewery Arts Center.

Shrawder has his own mark of success: In the last 18 years he's made $1.25 million selling a faculty training program through his own marketing creation. Now he teaches marketing to artists.

Shrawder has a pragmatic approach to what can seem like an insecure career path: Sell yourself, then you'll sell your art.

"People buy from people they like," he said. "That's one fundamental truth. The customer who feels more rapport, more comfortability with an artist - they'll get the sale."

And why shouldn't artists succeed financially? Shrawder asked. After all, the economy allows prosperity in other areas - such as designer homes, electronic goods and high fashion - there must be dollars out there for art.

Not often in Carson City, the artists moaned. What followed was a tirade against the tastes of many in the capital city who won't buy anything without a 20-percent-off sticker affixed to it. We shouldn't have to discount, the artists said.

Lori Nourse, a Carson City mural artist, summed up her thoughts: "When my water heater broke I had to pay the repair man $112 an hour. When I heard that cost, it changed how I thought about charging for my own work. Now I ask myself, how long did it take me to do that painting?"

Another artist responded: "But you're desperate for a water heater. No one's desperate for your art."

That's the word that sells. Your client can be desperate for your art, Shrawder said, and that's the cornerstone of artistic marketing.

If there was a sudden absence of art, the people would be desperate, he said.

But, until that dearth occurs, the capital city's artists have a lot of competition: art over the Internet, the latest contemporary piece in a cardboard box from Costco, Santa Fe's legion of Western designers.

Some make it work - at work.

The canvas mural that Nourse is working on this week is for a therapy business in Reno. She had the task of depicting several themes: abundance, prosperity and sacred space.

Perhaps what she portrays with acrylic faux finishing glaze will reflect in her own life.

So far, it hasn't been so bad.

Thanks to the security of her husband's career, he works in sales and marketing, Nourse, a 49-year-old mother of two, has been able to pursue this calling for the last 10 years. Even after some success, selling is difficult for her.

"I don't have a knack for selling," she said while working on the mural in her home. "I'm an artist, I want to do that. You have to force me to sell. But to make a living there is a certain amount of selling you have to do."

Nourse's mom, a professional photographer, encouraged her to go into a practical career. Nourse dropped out of college, and her fine arts program, after her first year because "I didn't see a career in art and I didn't want to study anything else."

She's spent $10,000 over about 12 years training in the faux finishing method. In 2001, her busiest year, she earned $45,000 through commissioned murals ($120 an hour) and wall finishing (starting at $3 per square foot).

Scot Jones, a correctional officer at Northern Nevada Correctional Center, is just starting out in his art career. He's a 34-year-old father of two, with no real art training and with little free time.

"With running a family and having a full-time job, it's hard to build up a volume of work to show people," he said.

He's sold some pastel landscapes to friends. He has two commissions, one for a still life, another for a fantasy scene. He charges from $80-$120, based on the number of hours spent on the piece. He also does digital art.

Shrawder got him into the mindset of mass selling.

"That's my major goal in the next five years, to make a living with artwork and make enough to take care of my family," Jones said.

For him, that's about $50,000 a year.

Top 10

Business Week's top 10 emerging arts communities:

1. Los Angeles

2. Santa Fe, N.M.

3. Carson City

4. New York City

5. Kingston, N.Y.

6. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif.

7. Nashville, Tenn.

8. Boulder, Colo.

9. San Francisco

10. Nassau-Suffolk County, N.Y.

To read the article visit:

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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