Quentin Eckman started creating art the day he managed to hold a crayon in his hand. It simply came that naturally to him. But his professional career didn’t begin until 1969 when he was hired as an intern to learn technical illustration.
By 1979 Quentin began earning a full-time income as an artist, both as an illustrator and a graphic artist, and has continued to hold that full-time status ever since.
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He came across jewelry-making quite accidentally, when an art director offered to teach him the skills in exchange for studio space.
After learning both stone cutting and silver work, he fell in love with a new art form, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today we’re lucky enough to get an inside look both at Quentin’s art-making process AND some of his methods for marketing art online.
Alyice: You’ve been an artist for over 40 years. . . can you tell us how the art industry has changed over the years?
Quentin: There have been tremendous changes, especially in commercial art. Back in the stone age (prior to computers) we created everything by hand.
There were computers but they weren’t capable (or at least not powerful enough) for producing art and of course there were no art programs available. Our line work was done with rapidograph inking pens and color illustrations were done with paint brushes or air brushed.
Computers have made a huge difference; both in the creation of art and as a means to market.
I remember a client I had in the late 1980’s mentioning that the book covers I was painting for him had taken on a different look since I had started creating them on my computer. He asked me if I felt like it was changing the way I worked. I told him that it certainly had.
Computers allowed me to try things I would never have attempted to do by hand. I love working with my hands but computers enhance my work. I use my computer constantly for layouts, concepts and for creating photo mockups. Photo mockups give customers a visual reference of what a custom order will look like when it’s finished.
Alyice: When you first started your business, online venues for marketing your business did not exist, how has social networking and blogs transformed your business?
Quentin: Before online marketing was available I was limited to mostly local business. The only way I could work as an independent artist was to take on a great deal of freelance work. While still a creative outlet, it’s not as satisfying as bringing your own creations to life.
Marketing online provides to opportunity to reach customers (clients) anywhere in the world.
The tough part is getting noticed online. There are a number of ways to do that but that can be pretty pricey. I’ve tried pay per click advertising and purchased feature ads but have never had the budget to achieve much notice.
My most successful campaign has been through my blog and social networking. Though still in the infant stage, I’ve seen steady growth.
Alyice: Now that you’ve been networking online with a fair amount of success, can you share any tips or caveats for using online venues successfully?
Quentin: I’m still learning about what works, or at least what works for me. I try to blog at least once a week, but at the same time, I like to have something interesting to offer when I do blog. And I read blogs by others and comment if I have something worth saying or at least something that might amuse the reader.
I also create Etsy Treasuries and ArtFire Collections from time to time and in return I find my art being featured on a semi-regular basis. I’ve just started using Etsy Circle so the jury is still out, but I think this may have great potential.
I’m still not sure how to make Twitter work best for me and I have mixed feelings about Facebook. I like the look and feel but the methods seem a little intrusive.
Alyice: When making your jewelry and art, you prefer to hand cut your own gemstones. Why is this?
Quentin: I love cutting stones, it’s a very cathartic experience for me. I can get lost in the process. That being said, there are benefits for both artistic and cost reasons.
The stones in rough form are far less expensive than buying finished cabochons. The risk in buying rough stones is that you’ll buy something that ends up not being worth cutting.
I sometimes buy cut slabs even though it’s more expensive but doing so you have a very good idea what you’ll end up with. From an artistic standpoint it provides a great deal of control.
I think most artists agree that the closer you are to the basic elements of the work the more free you are to create. Once I have a cut slab, mine or one I’ve purchased, I examine the material for flaws, cracks, crazes, voids, etc. There is no point in cutting a stone that’s not usable, no matter how beautiful it might appear.
Next I determine which areas can best be cut into the most beautiful cabochons I can get from the slab. After I’ve marked the slab, I cut it into rough shapes with a trim saw using a diamond blade.
Finally the shaping process begins, on a diamond lapidary machine. Grinding the stones is a multi-staged process whether grinding all the way to finish or tumbling after the first few grinding stages. In the end the stones must be smooth and as highly polished as the material will allow.
Alyice: Aside from creating stunning jewelry pieces, you also create beautiful sculptures using copper and Cholla Cactus wood. How did the idea for creating this series come about?
Quentin: I had the thought for many years about using cholla wood for art.
The idea for the first of these pieces, “The Gathering” butterfly sculpture, actually came from the memory I had of a visit to the eucalyptus groves near Pismo Beach, CA. Each year hundreds of thousands of Monarch butterflies gather there during their migration. It’s truly awesome to see.
I wanted to create a piece that relates the feeling I had when I saw those butterflies, the feeling of soft, peaceful motion. I think the piece was successful.
I’m still very pleased with it. But of course when it was finished I thought, “OK, so far, so good. What’s next?” I’m always ready for the next project, always wanting to see what I can do with the medium.
Alyice: Why Cholla Cactus wood?
Quentin: I just really love the look of it, it’s almost as if it is woven. It has a wonderful grain when sanded and it has a delicate look but is pretty tough.
Aside from just liking the look, I think it’s pretty unique, and I have ready access to it here in the Arizona desert. The live plant itself is quite nasty while it’s growing. It’s got a tough skin and is covered with very sharp needles. But when the plant dies, the needles and skin fall away leaving a skeleton of woven looking wood.
I first break away any weak material, then sandblast the wood to remove any decay (or punky wood) to expose the grain. Next I hand sand the wood to make it smooth.
Still. . . another artist, whose opinion I respect, suggested that I use another wood. That is something I’m considering for future pieces. I think it’s one of the best things about creating art, planning what’s next.
Alyice: What’s been your greatest success as an artist?
Quentin: That’s a tough question! I guess it depends on how you measure success. I’ve won some prizes in art shows but I don’t necessarily consider those works my greatest successes.
I’m pretty pleased with the sculptures I’ve made as of late but I like to think my greatest success is yet to come. I don’t know what it will be, but I’m pretty sure when it’s finished I’ll have something better in mind for the next project.