Painter and sculptor Squire Broel is a firm believer in slow art—the kind that takes time, nuance, and celebrates the spirit of the creative process.
Influenced by the traditions and methods of other Northwest artists, Broel was the bronze coloration specialist at the Walla Walla Foundry until he left to start his own gallery, Broel Studios, full time.
He talked to us about unique art-business models he’s come across and created, and how making projects on spec can work (but only if you're working for yourself).
You have been inspired by Cayuse Vinyard’s business model and are now working to apply it to a visual artist’s business model. Will you tell us about that and why it is unique?
The genius behind Cayuse Vineyards is Christophe Baron. He’s built a strong community around his winemaking and a very specific terroir in the Walla Walla Valley. His model of offering wine-futures or “en primeur” is a way of bringing a community along with him as the wines develop from inception until their eventual release.
A bond is created between winemaker and wine-buyer based on respect and trust (with a hint of uncertainty.) I hadn’t ever encountered that type of business model within the contemporary art world, so I decided to build a project based on that concept.
For my Circle of Fifty project people who love art or who are simply curious about the creative process participate by making a purchase commitment upfront—without knowing exactly what the end product will be.
Participants have special access to learn about my process and inspirations in anticipation of the eventual unveiling of the finished art pieces. In turn, I’m able to explore more freely because of the baseline financial security that the project creates.
Moreover, I feel a greater sense of confidence and encouragement from knowing a group of invested supporters believes that deeply in me and my creative vision.
Most of your work is done “on spec” or as a speculation or gamble. How does this impact how you approach your work and your business model?
For nearly 30 years I’ve developed my career by making artwork I’ve felt compelled to make. It’s a huge gamble in terms of the personal financial outlay and the fact that you’re not necessarily making something for a specific person or marketplace. In the earlier days I’d grapple with pressures to make things that I wasn’t really passionate about, but were more “sellable.”
I was routinely unsatisfied and unfulfilled with those outcomes and I felt that it was apparent in the work. I made the critical decision to be true to my vision first and then I’d try to find support for it through galleries, collectors, curators or interior designers.
It’s an intensely relational model. It requires a desire to truly get to know people. It’s now simply part of my overarching creative practice. It’s a full and satisfying approach.
You have described your inspiration and artistic process as heavily influenced by spending extended periods of time with what surrounds you. What do you do when you have a client who hires you with a timeline in place? How do you honor your process while still delivering the work?
Ah, great question. It’s a delicate balance and it requires clarity in scope and management of expectations. It’s critical that a clear understanding exists in order to achieve an outcome where both parties are satisfied.
Switching between the creative and analytical sides of the brain isn’t always second nature for me. I’m committed to my process and have a creative reservoir that I’m able to draw from. Spending time with existing work in my studio helps me to better understand its historical arc and the sources that inform it.
When a timeline imposes what might otherwise seem like strict parameters, I lean into the knowledge I’ve gained from the consistent nature of my practice.
Often burgeoning artists, specifically art students, leave their studies with a limited, or sometimes non-existent, understanding of how to balance their craft with the commerce that can sustain them. You seem to have a profound understanding of the balance between those two elements. What advice would you give to artists at the beginning of their careers?
There is definitely a learning curve. As a student I thought that I’d be making objects and a gallery would simply sell them. From my perspective it looked pretty easy. Being an artist is hard work.
Being an art dealer is hard work. In reality the whole contemporary art world is an immensely complex and insular environment. Realizing that reality sure helped me adjust my expectations. I have an innate curiosity about business and have cultivated an interest in entrepreneurial thinking. I’ve found some good mentors—both inside and outside of the art world—who have helped me better understand business dealings.
I’d highly encourage early-career artists to seek out some mentors who have business knowledge. Take some business classes if you can. Be curious about business. Learn about customer service.
In addition to that I strongly encourage every artist to think about how they personally define their own success. I often need to remind myself that I define my success differently than what’s embraced by popular culture. Know what your success looks like and then work diligently to keep that top-of-mind.
Even with a tried and true system of creating and selling your work, it can’t be easy going every day. What do you do when you hit rough patches or hard spots? Rough patches?
Uhhh, yes. Uncertainty is often the norm. Anxiety is real. There are certainly times when I feel somewhat depressed about the whole concept of “art” as a business. I have a few positive go-to hacks that help me through those difficult moments. Sometimes I pack it all in for the day and simply go for a walk; I try to reorient myself to the scale of the world by being in nature.
I also try to remember that I’m only one small part in a much larger ecosystem and while the work I do may not affect vast numbers of people, it does make an impact. I work to recall positive moments and conversations I’ve with people about my work. On a practical note, I try to break tasks down into simple bits that feel manageable. I try to manufacture moments of success.
Other times I’ll try to put the me-oriented stuff out of my mind by treating a friend to an affogato. Simple positive things that break the downward spiral make a difference: change the scenery or get into conversations about something unrelated to work.
Asking for help is also brilliant, yet often not the default go-to (though it should be)!