Cedar Lee February 24th, 2014
Every now and again, you’ll find me waxing nostalgic and/or marveling at the course of past events in my life that have led me to the current moment. Please humor me in these moments, as I am truly blown away by the trajectory my life has taken, and I feel I’ll burst if I don’t share the feeling. I have built something real, as a result of continually, passionately committing myself to my art–something so simple, yet so difficult and often fraught with challenges and doubt.
While searching for an obscure file in my business records, I just happened across the archives of old newsletters sent out to friends and family during the first, floundering months after I made the terrifying decision to pursue an art career full-time.
Remembering back to that time, the fear was palpable. I felt utterly clueless, yet stubbornly determined to find my way. At the time, I sent out a sporadic email newsletter to only a handful of about 40 people–family, friends and acquaintances.
Keep in mind, this was in the years before everyone was online–Facebook had only just been invented and nobody had heard of it yet. Twitter was still 2 years away from being a thing. Most people didn’t use the Internet for much more than email, and a lot of older people didn’t yet have computers! This was in the tail end of the era of artists having to promote their work mostly via slides–remember those things? Yes, hundreds of dollars of my tiny marketing budget at that time went towards ordering photo slides, to be sent to galleries and other institutions!
I’d like to share one of my newsletters with you. I wrote this when I was 24 years old, about 5 months out of college. I was painting in a tiny spare room in my suburban home. I had sold paintings before, but certainly not as a source of regular income.
Artist Cedar Lee at age 24
Reading it, I am stricken by my young earnestness and my extreme work ethic. I didn’t know what exactly what I was supposed to do, but man, was I hellbent on DOING. If I read something similar to this written by a beginning artist today, I would think to myself, “This young woman is going places. There is absolutely no question.” And today, with hundreds of paintings now sold, thousands of people following my work, other artists coming to me for advice, and a myriad of experiences under my belt–exhibiting my art, marketing, working with galleries, all the ins-an-outs of creating an art business, I have indeed gone places.
And I’m still going! I have current developments in the works for the coming years that fill my stomach with butterflies and have my gears turning day and night.
Professional artists are required to have a tough skin, a high level of self-discipline, and an irrational spirit of persistence and optimism. It’s hard. The flip side of that is that we get to watch our lives transform in magical ways before our eyes. I am overcome with gratitude for the journeys I’ve been on in such a relatively short time, the lessons I’ve learned, and all the beautiful people who have made unimaginable things possible.
Without further ado, the newsletter, from November 2005:
My last update was exactly 2 months ago. Since then an interesting thing has happened: I have spent so much energy trying to make my name bigger that it actually has begun to grow on its own.
Last month I looked around my home and my studio and realized that I literally had stacks of paintings sitting around in random corners never being looked at! Some of them were things I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone to look at (as any artist knows, there tend to be a lot of—let’s say bi-products—along the journey of creating new art) but a few of them were actually not bad. So I gave myself a new rule: I was to have 5 paintings, at the very minimum, displayed in some public place at all times henceforth. After all, the purpose of art, without getting into some big abstract debate, is to be experienced by viewers, so without viewers, I can’t truly be an artist.
Glorious Sunset. 40″ x 46″, Acrylic on Canvas, © 2005 Cedar Le
I promptly made a list of my top 10 choices for where I’d like to display a painting. Some of the places I already knew, but most were gleaned from a “Best of Baltimore” list I found online. (Think “Best Bagel in Baltimore,” “Best Chai Latte in Baltimore,” etc.) I was thinking casual hangout spots that get a lot of traffic, especially people who might tend to appreciate art. I figured coffee shops and small downtown cafés can sometimes be cultural hot-spots, so with my list in hand, I drove downtown to scope out some places in person.
On that day I went to 3 places: 2 cafés and a coffee shop. One of the cafés was frankly kind of snooty and didn’t seem interested. I gave them my card, paid for my tiny $6 bowl of puréed soup, and left. The coffee shop guy informed me that the woman in charge of artwork wasn’t in, but he told me when I could call and speak with her. When I spoke with her, she sounded interested but so far nothing has come of it. Anyway—the third place I went to, the Blue Moon Café in Fells Point, (“Best Breakfast in Baltimore”) was such a roaring success that I still have not bothered to go to the other 7 places on my list.
By a stroke of luck, the owner, Sarah, just happened to be in, and I just happened to show up right at closing time when they had no customers and were free to talk to me. I showed Sarah a few photographs as examples of my work and asked if she might be interested in displaying a painting or two. She responded with such enthusiasm that it caught me off guard. She said “Why don’t you just have a whole show here and fill up all the wall space? Come by anytime to hang your work!”
Moonlit Daisies. 20″ x 16″, Acrylic on Canvas, © 2005 Cedar Lee. One of the paintings that piqued the cafe owner’s interest.
So I hung 13 paintings in the Blue Moon Café. After 3 days, I got the news that one of my paintings had sold…I will collect payment from the buyer when the show comes down! Considering I didn’t really expect to sell anything at a café show, this was a happy surprise. A couple days after that I was informed that a painting I had displayed in a juried exhibition at Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda also sold! Yesss! Two paintings sold to complete strangers in one week.
Meanwhile, I decided to try printing some brochures as a marketing ploy. (You’ve probably received one in the mail if you’re on my mailing list…if you haven’t gotten one and you want one let me know!) The design I came up with has some examples of my work, a short bio and artist’s statement, and contact info for my studio.
Art By Cedar brochures from 2005-06
I had 500 copies printed, but in retrospect, I should have gotten 1,000, which didn’t cost much more, but I had no idea how quickly they would go. The first hundred or so went out in the mail immediately to family and friends. I have been keeping a bundle of them in my purse everywhere I go and another stack in the glove box of my car so I’m always prepared. I have been giving them to just about everybody. I am amazed at what a response these brochures are getting. If I pull one out and offer it to someone, other people nearby say “oh, can I have one?” and in this manner I’ve gotten rid of all but a small stack of them. But before I started giving them out so liberally, I did my first real mass mailing: I sent my brochure to about 50 galleries, a lot of them local.
I have heard that for every 50 galleries an artist contacts, there might be one response. That seems accurate to me because so far only one has responded. I got a phone call from Hands of Time Art Gallery in Savage, MD from the director’s assistant. She said they got my brochure and then visited my website, and that the director liked my work and wanted to see some paintings in person. So I made an appointment and brought a few paintings to show them. They think they can sell my work, and they are giving me a solo show which will be at the end of January and beginning of February. They haven’t yet decided on exact dates, but the show will be up for 4 weeks. Cool, huh?
At the opening for Hands of Time Gallery solo show, early 2006, with painting Birds at Sunrise
So now I am in the position of not having enough artwork, when just recently I had so much artwork I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I have to produce a few more paintings in the next couple weeks that will go into my gallery show, as well as putting better braces on some of my larger canvas frames and adding hanging wires, etc. so everything is ready to sell! I feel about the same way I did when I had the same amount of time to put together my senior thesis gallery show. Aaahhh!
Anyway, it is the good kind of stress. This show has the potential to be very profitable for me, and even if it’s not, it’s great exposure. I am thinking I’m going to need to find some kind of truck or large vehicle pretty soon. Transporting large paintings is becoming more and more of a hassle because my tiny sports car can only carry 2 or 3 large paintings at a time, and can’t fit the largest of them at all!
Along with all this excitement came the re-design of my online art gallery at www.ArtByCedar.com …Instead of all my paintings jumbled randomly onto a very long and chaotic page, the gallery is now divided into separate smaller galleries by theme, and is now much more pleasing to view. To make this big improvement, I enlisted the help of my talented brother Micah in exchange for a custom piece of artwork I am going to make for him. When the new gallery was up and running, I shared it with my online artists’ communities at WetCanvas.com and ArtScuttleButt.com and within a couple hours had more than 70 new visitors to my site that had never been there before!
Embarrassing screenshot of what the Art By Cedar website looked like in March 2005!
My Google ranking continues to climb. (Do a Google search for “Cedar Lee” and “art” or “paintings” and see if you can find me!) I seem to be competing with the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland, OH for Google ranking. I contacted the owner of the theater with a conniving proposal that was my dad’s idea, and it turns out he may be interested in giving me a direct link from the theater’s main web page in exchange for a small piece of original artwork.
On top of all this, I have done a few small commissions here and there that have come to me from random directions. Today I am working on a beautiful wedding portrait.
Back to 2014. If you’re curious, go to Google right now and do a search for “Cedar Lee artist” or “Cedar Lee art” and see what comes up today. What you’ll see is the powerful result of actions set into motion about a decade ago.
This is fun, and it’s also a powerful and joyous reminder for myself: when in doubt, take action!
My cup runneth over. Sincerely, thank you to everyone who purchases my artwork, everyone who reads my updates with interest, everyone who takes the time to write to me, whether I’ve had time to respond or not, and everyone who shares my work with others who might like it! Thank you to all the people who have shown my work in your galleries and other exhibition spaces, to the fellow artists who have inspired me and taught me, to all the friends and strangers over the years who have told me I inspired them or they love my work.
And thank you if you’ve read this far into my gushy, rambling spewing of amazement and gratitude.