Asking the Big Question with Pennylane Shen

September 29, 2016

Are you aiming for a professional career capturing the landscape on your canvas? Do you feel most alive when creating work that you want to talk to your audience about, educating them about what the work means? Does the idea of working towards improving your technique with regular, focused practice sound like a dream way to spend your evenings and weekends? There are an infinite number of paths an artist can take, and each journey is as individual as the artist themself.

If you’ve ever wondered what the road to achieving your artistic goals might look like, Pennylane Shen can help you discover your path to success. The Vancouver-based Artist Consultant assists and advises artists in navigating the fine art industry through her classes and seminars, and with strategies custom-tailored to the individual, developed through one-on-one consultations.

Pennylane helps artists get a clear look at where their ideas and aesthetic fit in the art world, and understand what they need to do within their process to improve the overall quality of their work so it meets a standard that will move them toward their goals.

Hiring an experienced eye and having this outside perspective makes the job of looking inward more effective. Feeling ready to do that may still feel like a giant leap. “Artists are often looking at their work so closely that when they get stuck, they feel isolated. They haven’t talked about their work in a long time, or seen it from a distance. And so, to ask someone to come in and critique your work – that’s tough. Even just signing up for a consultation and being open to that idea is a huge step. It’s really the biggest step.”

Once you’ve taken that leap, you’re on the road but there is still a challenging journey ahead. “I find when I ask people, ‘What are your goals?’, often the answer is, ‘Become a famous artist, make tons of money.’ Look – who doesn’t want that?!”, she laughs. “And I know the goal is to become, maybe not famous, but successful in a way that isn’t just hanging on but that is thriving as a self-sustaining artist. So I’m not going to come in and say, ‘look, do these things, and then next month we’re going to be millionaires!’ It’s not some get-rich-quick scheme that I have, or some secret. There’s no secret to it. You have to do the work and take that leap of faith.”

Pennylane Shen with Jay Senetchko in his Vancouver studio.

Her enthusiastic yet direct delivery is often what artists need to hear to move forward. She gives an honest assessment of how realistic her client’s goals are, considering where they currently are, and helps them adjust where necessary to take a more direct route. She may also challenge them to explore an avenue they hadn’t considered, offering ideas on how to change course when she sees an opportunity to take a different path.

“At the end of the day, I can present the tools, exercises and suggested strategies for achieving your goals, but it is up to the artist to take it to the next step and stick with it. I think I’m able to see the potential in a person – something I feel very grateful to be able to share. It is a foresight for what ‘could be’ in an artist and their practice. My job is to find the clearest path to get there.”

Working with you to answer the big questions, she also offers suggestions as to how you can improve your work. “We always talk about how to make the work better – conceptually, aesthetically, and technically better. Sometimes the future isn’t to ‘become a rich and famous artist’. But, can we make this better? Yes, absolutely.”

Giving some serious consideration to your art practice can provide you with important insights into who you are as an artist now and where you are in your journey towards who you may become.

Take the first step by answering Pennylane’s pre-consultation questions from her website,, for yourself:

1. Write a brief description of your artwork or practice (e.g. figurative painting, abstract mixed-media collage)

This simple exercise can be surprisingly difficult! When we step back to look at our body of work, we may find our love of so many genres, subject matter, or media means that none has received our full attention. Use this question to see if you’ve already developed a focus, or if you may need to hone in on one or two aspects, allowing them to shine.

2. Write a brief summary of the strongest and weakest aspects of your work.

What stands out for you? Colour, concept, composition? Do you see room for technical improvement? Or is your technique solid but you notice the work is lacking a clear voice? You can dig even deeper by attending a portfolio review at your local college or university, receiving feedback to help you strengthen the weaker areas and appreciate where you’re already excelling.

3. Create a short list of artists you admire (contemporary, living and working).

Picasso, Monet, O’Keeffe. These are great names but do you know any artists that are working today that you admire? If not, start creating your community! Interact with your fellow artists on social media, creating online friendships that may blossom into real life connections. Visit the opening of a local exhibit, an artist talk or demonstration, and engage with your fellow attendees. Immersing yourself in the art world offers the chance to give and receive inspiration and support.

4. What are your short term goals (within a year):

Think big! Write it all down. Now step back and review this with a critical eye. What is possible within that year? What needs to be moved further into the future? What are you ready for now? Putting your goals in writing offers some distance from the dream, allowing you to see where you’re being ‘pie in the sky’, appropriately ambitious, or holding yourself back.

Pennylane will be at several Opus locations throughout BC in the coming months as part of our Visiting Artist Series. She also offers seminars through Vancouver’s Thrive Studio, teaches at Langara College, and offers one-on-one consultations. Dates and details can be found on Pennylane’s website.