Metal Working Sculptor
How did you first become interested in Sculpting?
I was interested in all the classic building toys as a kid. Everything from lego to blocks and erector sets. I got my first set of tools in first grade, and still have a few of them. I have always gotten a lot of enjoyment from building things. I think I made my first actual sculpture out of small square sheets of plastic and glue in 6th or 7th grade.
At what point did you first realize that you could make a career out of your art?
I graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1983 and worked for a few years in photography and graphic design in Boston. I was not sure if I could leave a job with a regular paycheck and make a living as an artist, but decided it was what I wanted to do most with my life. I have always been a hard worker and good with tools, so I just jumped into the art world full time and went for it. I had no idea if this would work, but you only go around once in life.
What kind of education or training helped you develop your skill set?
I have a BFA degree in Design and took courses in design, photography, typography, sculpture, silkscreening, jewelry making, illustration etc. I studied electronics in the Coast Guard and learned how to do wiring and basic electrical work. I also took wood and metal shop classes in high school which gave me the knowledge and skills to get started. I made an electric guitar completely from scratch in high school wood shop class. There was something about being able to make something that cool and complex yourself, that has always stuck with me. It is an extremely satisfying and rewarding experience.
How did you really break into the artistic industry?
Hard work and perseverance. I started out selling works to high end furniture stores in Los Angeles. Then I got into a couple of galleries. You really have to be good at marketing to get your work out there, or hire someone else who is good at it to do that sort of thing for you. I actually had some great success with sending out postcards of my work to businesses. One company bought about 4 pieces for their offices, and the woman who bought them also has become a repeat collector for around 20 years now. She and her husband must have about a dozen of my sculptures in their home. Today you can also get a lot of business through a good website and online marketing. After a while all the best projects will come to you.
What skills as a sculptor do you think have really made you a success in the industry?
My skills with tools and welding have helped a lot. I would have to say that my best asset is my creative brain. I always have tons of ideas for sculptures and other artworks. My skills in photography, design, and computers have helped a lot as well.
Can you give us a description of what you do with your art to create such an amazing product? What inspiration do you use to create your works?
My work goes off in a lot of completely different directions. Inspirations can come from just about anywhere. I have gotten inspired by sea creatures, scuba diving, animals, cartoons, dinosaurs, science, television, toys, machines, cars, plants, flowers, insects, fashion, music, nature, architecture, rocks, found objects, comic books etc. The key thing is to have a keen eye and an open mind. You have to let your mind look at things in a fresh and childlike way, without a lot of preconceived notions about the item. Of course, having a great idea is one thing. It’s what you do with that idea that makes all the difference.
Can you describe what you think have been the most important ways that you have built your business and marketed yourself in the industry?
It is a combination of going to art openings, sending out postcards, working with galleries and museums, participating in charity events with art auctions, exhibiting at art fairs, advertising, sending out press releases on your best new sculptures, hanging out with other artists, moving to an artist community, and having a website. Social media like Facebook, Youtube, and having your own blog can help a lot too. I cannot tell you how valuable just going to art gallery openings can be. You need to be seen at these events, meet new people, get known by the gallery curators etc. Become a regular at art events and parties. Go out of your way to meet a few new people. Always keep some business cards in your pocket. It seems that almost any time I go out to these events, I get asked to exhibit my work in some sort of show.
Thus far where have most of your clientele come from?
It used to be that I got most of my new clients from art galleries. Now I would say that most of my best commissions come from my website www.brucegray.com and from word of mouth. I get lots of collectors who are doctors, lawyers, or work in the movie, music, or television industries.
What are you favorite things about being an artist?
The freedom to show the world what goes on in my creative mind. For me it’s the best way to express myself. I love that every new day has the potential to be the day that the great new commission comes in.
Could you give us a 9-5 of your average work day?
I don’t work regular hours. I tend to start work around 9 and often work until midnight or much later. I am often surprised to see how late it has gotten, which is a good thing. There is nothing worse than a job where you check the clock every 15 minutes all day long. I have to spend a certain amount of time every day dealing with emails. Some days, if there is an email wanting an interview or detailed information about sculptures I can spend the entire day on the computer. When I go into sculpture building mode, there is lots of welding and plasma cutting involved. I often have several projects in the works at any given time. This is because there are always issues of paints or clearcoat drying, or waiting for a needed part or supplies to come in the mail etc. Then there are days I spend just with marketing. This is not fun like making art, but if you don’t market your work, who will? Since I do so much metal work, there is a lot of grinding and heavy lifting. Sometimes I have to break up that sort of work with things like abstract painting or something that doesn’t take such a toll on my body. After completing a certain genre of sculpture I tend to do something completely different next. This keeps my mind fresh and enthusiastic.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice starting out in the field of sculpting, what would it be?
It’s great to get good advice, but an artist taking advice from someone who is not an artist can be counterproductive and can lead you astray. For example, when I first started, I took a couple of classes with the Small Business Administration. The advice they gave me was not suitable for beginning artists. They told me to spend my very limited money on an accountant, create a balance sheet, and put together a business loan proposal to get a significant loan from a bank, then hire a few people. This was a complete waste of time and money, especially when the bank told me that without owning a property there was no way in the world they would lend me money. My solution was using credit cards. The small businessman’s business loan. You have to be careful with over extending yourself, but there is no way I could have grown my business without being able to purchase some equipment on credit. They can also tide you over in the down cycle of the rollercoaster ride that is being an artist.
Any final words of wisdom for aspiring sculptors?
Buy some Bruce Gray sculptures. They are a great investment and sure to increase in value.
Hang out with other sculptors. My close sculptor friends and I exchange TONS of information on everything like great tools, equipment, unscrupulous art dealers, suppliers, techniques, shippers, exhibitions to participate in, openings to go to, parties, etc. Make sure you are always the one trying to help out your other sculptor friends, and they will go out of their way to help you. Don’t be the guy who always wants help, but never offers his in return. Go out of your way to help emerging artists and art students who ask questions. I always answer emails. Never show up at an artists studio without making an appointment first. There are too many times we are in the middle of the perfect weld or whatever and can get quite agitated by that sort of disrespectful behavior. This is also very much frowned upon by art galleries. Make sure to call them and make an appointment first, and be familiar with their gallery too, by having attended at least one opening.