We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Blair Vaughn-Gruler. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Blair below.
Alright, Blair thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Have you been able to earn a full-time living from your creative work? If so, can you walk us through your journey and how you made it happen? Was it like that from day one? If not, what were some of the major steps and milestones and do you think you could have sped up the process somehow knowing what you know now?
It’s been a life long process to step into the confidence and commitment required to become a full time painter. I had tremendous support as an artist from a very young age, starting with the opportunity to attend an elementary school that focused on the arts every day. I had mentors in fine arts at every level as I pursued educational opportunities all the way through my MFA in visual art, and I always kept painting and learning.
That said, I still had my share of doubts, and being able to say I was a professional artist seemed like an unattainable goal. I worked in the retail and community mental health fields, and started a number of businesses along the way. I often thought I should have gone to law school instead, or could still go. I spent way too much time thinking about what else I could or should be doing.
The turning point came in receiving the MFA at age 55. I finally stepped into my power and began to find my place in the continuum of art history. That is what made all the difference in my confidence, which was the key.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
I’m a contemporary fine art painter and I make what are called non-objective paintings, which means they are more objects made of paint than pictures or illusions.
After I completed a 2 year commercial art program in illustration (equivalent to an associates degree), I rejected pursuing a job designing greeting cards and instead moved to New Mexico, a la Georgia O’Keefe. I painted during the day and waitressed at night, until I realized I needed to return to school to begin to understand what I was doing with the paint.
A couple years later I received my BFA in painting from Northern Michigan University. I married and raised 2 sons, while always managing to keep an active painting studio on the side. I also had other jobs which I enjoyed and was good at, but it was the painting that always was my creative and intellectual mainstay. I showed in galleries and exhibitions around the country, read a lot of art history and kept waiting for things to “take off.”
Finally, after a hiatus of several years, during which my husband and I moved back to the southwest from Michigan, I began to paint in earnest again. It quickly became apparent that while art history had moved on, I had not. This is when I decided I needed to finally get my MFA.
I chose a research based program at Vermont College of Fine Art which was a low residency program, meaning I could continue to live and work in Arizona while traveling to Vermont twice a year. There were 2 tracks: research and studio, both of which you would do from your home base, with residencies at the college campus in between semesters. During the residencies each student mounted an exhibition, received critiques and attended lectures and planning meetings with faculty.
The result of the research projects, plus working with amazing artist-mentors on my studio projects, allowed me to finally peel back the layers of the onion, so to speak, and discover why I do what I do. This has set me on task to accomplish my personal artistic and creative mission, and to make the work I need to make.
And (not really) suddenly, the work resonates with viewers and collectors and I have become what I have been moving towards my entire life. I believe it’s a combination of perseverance, education and ultimately confidence in my own work that has brought me to where I am today.
Have you ever had to pivot?
In 2008, we were living in Arizona and as the economy fell apart, so did our livelihood. I was half way through my grad school program and we were on the verge of losing our house. So we moved to Santa Fe and opened a gallery. My husband (and our friends and family) are also artists, so we had resources and inventory to fill a gallery (and also had prior experience owning retail businesses). We opened the space on a total shoestring, during an economic downturn. It was a leap of faith, but it worked because we believed in ourselves and were committed to the vision.
Had I not had the confidence and art language from grad school I never would have had the confidence to do this. But it was a huge success, and helped bring both my husband’s and my own art careers into fruition.
It was a huge pivot and a big risk, but it paid off.
How did you build your audience on social media?
I am skeptical of social media and I worry it’s not the best way to build an art practice. Relying on “likes” isn’t always going to lead towards quality work. As a matter of fact, even letting actual art sales direct future work isn’t always a great idea.
I advocate for using mentors, education, art history and an awareness of your personal drive to create as a better north star for the trajectory of your work.
- Website: http://gvgcontemporary.com/artists/blair-vaughn-gruler/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jblairvg/
Jane Rosemont Blair Vaughn-Gruler