art career

When doubts creep in

“plain brown bulb” is 8x10, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper and digitally edited. It is available as a  birthday card reading “happy birthday to the one and only you.”  © Annette Makino 2016

“plain brown bulb” is 8x10, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper and digitally edited. It is available as a birthday card reading “happy birthday to the one and only you.” © Annette Makino 2016

A woman I recently met at a dinner party told me that she has one of my cards on her altar, right next to a card featuring the Dalai Lama. (The card is shown below.) I am honored and touched that my art means so much to her.

Her story comes at an opportune time, as I must confess I’ve been having one of my periodic phases of doubt about my art business.

I sold more than 12,000 cards last year, plus 500-plus calendars and many paintings and prints. Yet I still wonder: is this art gig worthwhile? Yes, it’s incredibly rewarding to create art that touches people. But as chief cook and brush washer at Makino Studios, I also do an awful lot of accounting, order fulfillment, and marketing, among other uninspiring tasks.

again these doubts
a fresh crop of mushrooms
sprouts on the porch

My inner critic has a few more pointed questions, such as: Is your art really any good? Is it truly original? At a time when our country and environment are in peril, is this the best use of your energy? Does the world really need more pretty pictures and poetry?

I’m not in it for the money— just ask my tax accountant! But with freedom from financial pressure comes the work of deciding your values and priorities. When you can spend your days doing (almost) anything you want, that leaves you with some big choices to make. 

In some ways, it sounds pretty appealing to just lie on the couch nibbling chocolate all day. But as the late Mary Oliver asked, “Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

Say I manage to shoo away the inner critic and affirm that creating art and haiku is my top priority. It’s not so simple to define or measure the success of my work. Is it the satisfaction of creative expression? Positive responses from customers and fans? Increasing sales, haiku publications and awards? Feeling I am making a difference in the world? 

Thinking about it, I realize that all of those elements are happening to one degree or another—and they are all intertwined. If these are my markers of success, then never mind the profit/loss statement: I believe my art biz is flourishing and my time is well-spent. Or at least until the next crop of doubts pops up…

plain brown bulb
the mystery
of becoming

“through sun and cloud” is 5x7, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper. It is available as a  greeting card . © Annette Makino 2013

“through sun and cloud” is 5x7, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper. It is available as a greeting card. © Annette Makino 2013

Makino Studios News

15% off greeting cards: In January I raised my card prices for the first time since starting my business in 2011. Single cards now retail for $4.50 each. But you can use promo code 6CARDS at checkout to receive 15% off any six or more single cards. 

Custom Paintings: You can order a custom piece to honor a life passage like a birthday, wedding, or birth. I will talk with you to understand what is unique about this person in your life, and then create an original painting for the situation, with or without a haiku, as you prefer. Sizes and prices are variable.

Studio visits: I don’t have any public events planned right now, but you can visit my studio by appointment; just email or call me at the contacts below. I look forward to connecting!

The truth about being an artist


I have been having trouble with frogs. Not actual frogs, which I kind of like, in their funny, damp way, but with trying to capture them on paper. To get the image I wanted for the piece shown here, in a long, frustrating process lasting two days, I painted a frog on a lily pad twenty-three times.

Still, each of my paintings fell short in some way. In many there was a problem with the neck, as my 12-year-old, an avid frog-catcher, helpfully pointed out. Others were out of proportion—froggy arms too long for the body, or feet too small. And in a couple, the ink ran in the all-important eyes, ruining the whole piece.

I wasn’t going for anatomical precision—that’s why God invented cameras—but I was still looking for that elusive “aha!” that tells me I’m done.

Exhausted by frogs, I put them away for a couple of weeks, letting the images percolate in my brain. And when I finally got up the gumption to tackle the piece again, I allowed myself to sketch it in pencil first, contrary to traditional Japanese technique.

Aha! Got it.

From the outside, being an artist may seem like a dream job. To have a career that is all about expressing your creativity, to enjoy the freedom of pursuing your passion however you choose, to share your talent with the admiring public, to leave your mark on the world in the most personal of ways . . .

A few of my failed frogs

A few of my failed frogs

There is truth to all of that, and I do appreciate the opportunity I have to walk this path. But the dirty little secret about being an artist is that it is also hard. Really hard.

First there is the overwhelming problem of trying to make a living as an artist, which deserves a whole separate discussion. Then there is the fact that—as rewarding as it is to create a successful painting—on any given morning, it is far easier to check email, Facebook, and Twitter, do laundry, or even (shudder) clean the bathroom, than sit down in the studio and paint.

It takes focused concentration and a mind uncluttered by the demands of a to-do list or a tight schedule. That's a tall order right there.

More fundamentally, although my creative vision is usually clear, my technical skills lag behind. In that gap lies self-doubt and frustration—not to mention a whole lot of wasted ink and paper. I’ve been involved with art and graphic design since childhood, yet some part of me still questions whether I can really call myself an artist. If so, would it really take me twenty-three tries to paint a simple frog? And must the whole process involve so much hair pulling?

And yet . . . I know that it's only by reaching beyond our comfort levels and throwing ourselves into the difficult and unknown that we leave open the possibility of grace. In the case of this particular painting, grace takes the form of a meditating frog, distracted by its many wandering thoughts, peeking an eye open.

Is this goofy painting to be part of my legacy to humanity? Well, so be it. Ribbit.

“in meditation” is 5" x 7", painted with sumi ink and gansai paint (Japanese watercolors) on paper. It is also available as a print or greeting card.

Makino Studios News

North Country Fair: Humboldt folks, please stop by and say hello at my booth at the 40th annual North Country Fair in Arcata, California this coming weekend, September 21-22, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. The Makino Studios booth will be near the Hot Knots corner on G Street.

Seabeck Haiku Gathering: I will be presenting examples of my haiga (art with haiku) at this fun haiku retreat taking place in Seabeck, Washington October 10-13.

Hello, Oregon: As of this month, the independent bookstore Soundpeace in Ashland is the first retailer in Oregon to carry a selection of my cards.