Carol Marine is one of the best-selling and least known artists in Eugene. A painter of small, colorful landscapes and still lifes, Marine works out of a home studio, sells her work exclusively online, and moved here only four years ago from Texas.
Her current production is the result of years of experimentation that began with studying art in college – something of a mistake, she says now – and selling large paintings in conventional art galleries, which also didn’t work that well for her.
But now, by combining her own approach to art – creating small, colorful and realistic paintings – with self-marketing through the web, she’s managed to turn art into a stable career.
Born in Montana and raised in Texas, though her voice betrays not the slightest bit of twang, Marine, who is now 36, wanted to be an artist for as long as she can remember. “Art was the one thing I was always good at,” she said. “And when I did it, I lost all sense of time.”
She studied art at the University of Texas at Austin, where she discovered – this was the late 1990s – that the version of art taught at universities had little to do with the paintings she wanted to make. The art her professors wanted was conceptual, brittle, rooted in political theory and personal crisis. Marine just wanted to make wonderful paintings.
“The reason I’m giving you Cs is that I want to hear about some kind of childhood trauma when you talk about your art,” one professor told her. “You need to make some kind of political statement.”
Marine survived her art education, though, and now – looking back – credits the university with at least teaching her to work thoughtfully in a studio for long stretches at a time.
After she graduated in 2000, she realized how little she knew about being a professional artist. She had never seen a painting demonstration in class. She hadn’t heard a lecture on value or composition in painting. “We would just have these long group critiques,” she said.
Worse, she hadn’t had any classes on the business of art. “They would laugh at you if you said you wanted to make a living at art,” she recalls of her teachers. “”That meant you were a sellout.”
Marine married her husband, David, before graduating in 2000. Once done with school, she told him she was going to get a job to support her painting. He said no. “I really believe in you,” he told her. “Someday, you’ll be supporting me. So just go paint.”
With spousal support of a kind that many artists only dream of, she began painting every day, turning out large canvases that took her weeks to finish – the sort of thing she had learned to do in school. Months and years went by, and she was only barely selling her work. One day she realized: “I’m following my dream. And it sucks, big time.”
She decided to go to beauty school.
David told her to give art one more shot. She turned out 10 paintings in six months – and found a gallery in Austin.
That wasn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, though. Soon, she had her work in seven galleries – and, in her best year, made only $15,000, before expenses.
About that time she and her husband adopted an infant. Carol stayed home to take care of the baby, but found herself with free time each day while their son napped. She began painting – small paintings, just a few inches on a side. A size of painting she could complete during a single nap.
She discovered that her art progressed much faster by producing many small paintings than by doing a few large ones.
“In the six months of doing these paintings, I learned more than I had in the five years before that,” she said. “I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ So I really let loose. And now it’s been eight years I’ve been doing this.”
“This” means not just creating a blizzard of small paintings – landscapes and still lifes, primarily – but marketing them well online.
Carol caught the early wave of the online daily painting movement, and she and her husband created their own membership artists’ website, DailyPaintworks.com, that now has 1,400 members. Participating artists pay a flat fee of $12.95 a month for listing works and a 3 percent commission on auction sales.
The downside to finding her artistic metier? Too much enthusiasm.
Marine is a bit of a workaholic. “I felt like I needed to be in the studio painting eight hours a day, five days a week,” she said. “I got so burned out that the thought of a paintbrush made me cry. I finally promised myself I would never ever paint when I didn’t feel like it.”
She’s given up galleries, and now sells her work exclusively online, through auctions and straight sales at her Daily Paintworks website, CarolMarine.com.
“I pulled out of all my galleries three or four years ago,” she says. “I was having to hassle them for money, and I was making three or four times as much online.”
Online art sales, she believes, can only grow as the art-buying public becomes more comfortable with that marketplace. “Small paintings will always sell better online, and larger ones will sell better in galleries,” she says. “People want to see something in person if they’re going to pay big money for it. My opinion anyway.
The Marines moved to Eugene, where David had previously lived, after their home in Texas – along with the brand-new studio David had just built for her – was burned to the ground in a wildfire in 2011. No one was injured, but virtually everything they owned, including her paintings, was gone in a moment.
“I’d lived in Seattle for a year in high school and fell in love with the Northwest,” she says. “We didn’t want to live in a small town or a big city. Eugene has been a great fit for us.”