(Photo by Collin Richie: Jill Hackney)
Annual income: Up to $60,000
In the late 1990s, painter Jill Hackney was sharing studio space in downtown Baton Rouge with her friend and fellow artist George Marks. The two had been classmates at LSU, both earning bachelor’s degrees in drawing and painting a few years earlier. They took their work as artists seriously and were founding members of Studio 801, then a cooperative located on North Boulevard where artists worked and held exhibitions three times a year.
To support herself during that period, Hackney worked as a photographer and as an art teacher, neither of which satisfied her ambitions. She got a break in 1998 when local art dealer Ann Connelly asked to represent her.
Hackney recalls that Marks, who had already been signed by Connelly, gave her a piece of advice.
“George told me, ‘If you say yes, you have to be ready to produce, because a gallery is going to be depending on you for your product,’” Hackney says.
Hackney shifted her routine from painting on the side to treating her art as a full-time job. Seventeen years later, she continues to be represented by Connelly as well as galleries in Houston, St. Louis, Palm Desert, California, and Three Oaks, Michigan. She has been featured in numerous exhibitions and is considered one of most sought-after and highly technical painters in south Louisiana, Connelly says.
“When you make a decision to be a career artist, it’s got to be a full-time job,” Hackney says. “Sometimes the feeling for creating art doesn’t come, but if this is your job, you have to push through it and have self-discipline, just like it is in any other career.”
A married mother of two boys, ages 16 and 11, Hackney works out of a freestanding 750-square-foot studio at home. She spends about five-and-a-half hours every weekday painting. Sometimes that means starting a new work, but more often it means perfecting a painting that’s underway. For the last several years, Hackney has worked in a style using short vertical strokes exclusively. It’s a time-consuming process, and she’s lucky if she can finish one piece per month.
“I’m in a constant process of painting,” she says. “I’m never quite sure how long a particular piece will take, but I know what it’s going to end up feeling like in the end.”
Hackney’s pieces routinely fetch four-figure payments. Good art is pricey and is seen as investment that grows in value. It helps no one if art is priced too low, she says.
Hackney sells her work directly to customers, but primarily, sales take place through art galleries. Either way the price is the same. Galleries typically take half, but Hackney says being represented is a good exchange. Galleries offer broad exposure, and they’re used to dealing with shipping, marketing and administrative functions.
“You give up a lot working through galleries,” she says. “But I like to have someone else deal with clients. I want to do the painting.”
Hackney and her family left Baton Rouge between 2001 and 2011, and she says she noticed a big change in the arts scene when they returned.
“This is a great time for the arts in Baton Rouge. From the time I left to the time I came back, to see the energy now is incredible,” says Hackney. “There’s much more awareness now.”
Awareness, she says, can lead to a local economy where patrons take an investment in art seriously.
“I think we’re on the verge of something,” Hackney says. “But we still need to help grow the business of the arts for individual artists.”