Greg Creason’s Gallery and Art Supply is located in a wonderful old building only a stone’s throw from Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Over the last ten years Greg has established himself as a popular artist with a very loyal clientele here in New Orleans. He has also befriended many local artists by providing a much needed art supply and art printing business in the heart of the French Quarter.
When I first met Greg, I was amazed at how well he can shift from creating art to selling to potential customers who saunter into the gallery. Not many artists that I know of (successful or otherwise) can maintain this type of focus. But Greg seems to thrive in this environment.
EM: So I understand that you are not originally from New Orleans. Tell us where you started out.
Greg: No, I’m originally from Flint, Michigan. Born and raised in Flint. Went to high school there and graduated in 1982. Then I went to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. Then to California, then to New Orleans.
EM: What part of California did you live in?
Greg: San Jose during the “dotcom era”. Then I came up here.
EM: What made you decide to become a professional artist?
Greg: I graduated with an illustration degree and high hopes of getting into the industry as an editorial artist. I went to Chicago to discover that Chicago was offering more product illustration type of work. And that wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
After that, I didn’t really start working for another artist until I got out to California. Out there I worked for Thomas Kinkade for years doing all different kinds of jobs. I started in the Highlighting Department.
When I started with Kinkade there were 60 people working there. By the time I left, it had climbed up to 3000, probably the first time for an artist to achieve what he had achieved. I was able to do many jobs there, from quality control to returned merchandise inspections. As such, I spent a lot of time with merchandisers around the country.
When I was in the Stretching Department, a department of 85 people working in three shifts, we produced anywhere from 1500 to 2500 canvases a day. It was an extensive workload. I’d started out as a temporary person and ended up in management. Then I finally got up into a position where I was traveling around promoting Thomas Kinkade’s artwork in galleries throughout the country. It helped me understand how to work with people in galleries. I’m naturally more of an introvert, and this brought me out of my shell.
After that I was able to go from Thomas Kinkade all of the way down to the line workers, out to the galleries, and all of the way to the customers. I even dealt with frame and canvas manufacturers. Kinkade changed the industry in lots of ways.
EM: What mediums do you work in?
Greg: Oils, acrylics and encaustics. I’d worked in oils for a long time, but when we opened up our art supply store it allowed me to experiment with other types of mediums. I started painting with acrylics and found that I really enjoyed them a lot. They give me a lot of freedom. I use a lot of water in my work.
I also started using encaustics, which is a beeswax process invented 2500 years ago by the Egyptians. I dabble in other kinds of different processes, but those are the three primary mediums.
EM: Whose work inspires you the most?
Greg: You know my wife asked me that the other day. And I don’t really have any one particular person that I follow that stands out or I get excited about. It is hard for me to answer.
EM: How do you differentiate your art from everyone else’s?
Greg: I don’t try to keep up with what other people are doing. I’m aware of what other people are doing, but I really try to stay focused on what excites me. My wife calls me ‘eclectic’ when it comes to art because I get sidetracked very easily and lose interest in a style or process I’m doing at the moment. I understand you’re supposed to stick with one style if you want to be recognized by people as an artist and advance in your career. But I’m more interested in the process of doing the work than I am about the subject matter. I haven’t found something that’s excited me longer than 12 to 15 pieces.
I did a series of abstracts for about three years. My style was growing and changing during that period and after a while I just lost interest. The new style that I’m working on now that I call, “People, Places, and Things” gives me broader subject matter. It’s challenging and more interesting to me.
EM: What did you find was the most challenging part of moving to New Orleans? Did you have a hard time getting established here? How long have you been here?
Greg: I have been working as an artist here for almost ten years. When we moved here, I began working as an Electrician. My wife encouraged me to open up a gallery. I was real skeptical, but it was a great time then to get in on Royal Street! As everybody knows, it is very difficult to get on Royal Street. From what I understand, you usually have to know somebody to get on Royal Street.
I took an opportunity to go into the gallery with one other person and that person wasn’t able to hold on. The first spot was at 831 Royal Street and then we moved down to 532 Royal Street, where there was a lot more foot traffic. Then I started bringing on more artists. I think I had up to 15 artists in my gallery at one time.
But then our landlord raised the rent on us and it was just not affordable. We were paying about $10,000 a month. It was just not practical. So we moved to our current location and we also opened the art supply store because we found a need. I had printers for myself, for giclees and stuff, and I found that other artists were looking to do that as well. So that also turned into a business.
EM: So you have a printing business, an art supply store, and a gallery?
Greg: It’s a lot for one person. And I’m trying to produce videos on my website about how I got started, how I became a gallery owner, and how you can do both.
EM: Are you happier here in New Orleans than the other places you’ve lived? Do you ever get homesick?
Greg: I have a personal pact that I made to myself the day I left Michigan. I promised myself that I would never go backwards. The world is too big. I stay in one spot for about ten years and then I am ready to go somewhere else. Life is not long enough to experience everything, but I’m going to try to experience as best I can. When I moved to New Orleans, I immediately felt that there was more acceptance here for art and artists than most other places where I had lived. It’s exciting to live in a place where you are accepted as an artist.
It’s much harder to be an artist in California where I lived because it is more conservative. I’m not talking about Los Angeles. I was in the Carmel and Monterey area, which is very conservative. You usually need a long sheet of accomplishments and references to get on the map over there. And I just didn’t have that.
So coming here allowed me to develop all of that. It has been exciting for me because, in the process of doing this, I have gotten to the level of artwork that I’m doing right now. Opening up the gallery forced me to push myself.
EM: How do you deal with negative criticism?
Greg: Art is not for everybody. A lot of people come in and say, “I’m not an artist and I don’t know anything about art.”
And I usually say to them, “Well you like what you like. That’s all that matters. There is no rhyme or reason to what you like and why you don’t like it. It’s whatever appeals to you.”
That kind of determined how I started painting for myself. I don’t paint for anybody else. I paint for myself. I find that important. A lot of artists have found a niche that works for them, but then find themselves getting a pigeon-holed and unable to branch out and try new things.
EM: How do you come up with a way to price your art?
Greg: Basically you can start high and go down, but you can’t go up. So a lot of times I throw a number out there and it is usually a starting point. Over time, I have been able to establish a certain level. But I usually put like a 30% buffer on everything to cover the basics. Something I can afford and everyone can live with.
For other artists who I represent, we do a 50/50 split. They know that going in and that is what determines price.
Currently I am basing prices on my work by the square inch for more uniformity in our pricing structure. But again, it varies. The key thing in negotiating your artwork is not to have huge price differences. I have a client base out there and want integrity as far as pricing goes.
EM: If you had to pick one favorite of all of your work done, what would it be? Could you even do it?
Greg: No, because I like the reactions that I get from people on the pieces I do. Don’t get me wrong, I do get excited about the work I’ve done. There are some pieces that I favor. But nothing is more exciting than finding something that pushes you to the next level.
Sometimes I struggle with a painting and fight with the paint. Or it just doesn’t go the way I want it to go and the image I’m working with doesn’t cooperate. In those situations my interest level fades. Everybody else is like, “Oh! That’s beautiful!” But to me, I can see all of the flaws. I’m always trying to find a way to push myself up a notch. What helps is constantly keeping your eyes open. I get exposed to a lot of different artists a lot of other people who come in here off of Jackson Square. This is a fun environment and it helps influence my artwork.
EM: What painting from your “People, Please, and Things” series has excited you the most?
Greg: The eagle that I painted probably got the biggest reaction from people. I did a little boost on Facebook and it got over 1,000 likes and 184 shares. There is a little story to it that I put with it, which basically says that the eagle represents us as a very young country, still alert and sharp. As a people we are ready for anything. However, the flag is backwards, which represents how we are a little backwards, and the stars are kind of fading away. Still, it’s about our spirit as a country.
You can see more of Greg’s work at his gallery in the French Quarter at 831 Chartres St. in New Orleans, Louisiana. His website is www.creasonsfineartgallery.com.