Existential questions from the perfect storm of open studio + kitchen renovation + a rare client commission.
Last weekend was my open studio — two days in which I turn the entire downstairs into our home into an art gallery and open it to the public as part of Silicon Valley Open Studios, a three-weekend-long, multi-city art-tour that’s been going on in my part of the world for thirty-one years now.
Had I known I was going to be in the middle of a kitchen renovation back when I signed up, I never would have done open studios this year, but the registration deadline was December 31st, and last year I did pretty well — I sold a big painting and a couple of small paintings, plus several cards and prints — and a lot of the work I put in last year would carry over to this year, so I figured, what the heck.
Then once I’d registered, after I realized it was going to be a living hell to pull it off, it was too late to pull out. 50,000 directories were printed with my name and address listed on maps. I was on the SVOS website.
I might as well go through with it.
I sold a couple books, some cards, a print, and a small painting, plus someone who attends my Create & Incubate Retreat saw a pic of the ultra minis I was working on at the open studio that I shared on Facebook and bought six that were at the show, plus a signed copy of my book, so I’m counting those toward the total, too.
Maybe 40 people came through, mostly from seeing the signs posted around the neighborhood, so it was nice to meet neighbors. And it was neat to see my art up in one place.
It also got us to clean up the chaos from the kitchen renovation right quick!
Those were the pros.
I also came to a lot of realizations. Not all of which were pretty.
The sad reality: after expenses, I made about $35.
I can lay partial blame for this on the kitchen renovation, which ate my brain, and sucked the life out of any promotional efforts beyond the posts I shared on FB.
I never emailed my local friends and family. I never dug up last year’s attendees to email or sent postcards.
But there’s also a massive disconnect in my approach overall, which I’m processing right now.
Ultimately, though it sounds harsh, it sort of comes down to this:
Do I even want to sell my art or not?
I mean, of course I do, but how much energy am I willing to devote to it?
I know I don’t want that to be my MAIN gig — I got clear on this when my friend Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist asked me a great question few years ago:
“What do you want to be known for? Being a great artist? Or being the person who changes people’s lives by getting them creating?”
No-brainer: the latter.
That’s not to say that selling my art can’t be a side gig, but I understand all too well that selling doesn’t happen on its own. It is not a case of “If you build it, they will come.”
Selling art takes work. And I’m honestly not really interested in working on selling my art right now.
If I had a series of new artworks that I wanted to show, that would be one thing — putting energy into creating a show in order to share that series would make sense.
But to bust my butt to put up mostly old art to hustle to ostensibly try and sell it, not even expecting that I will sell it (because that’s the god’s honest truth: I didn’t actually expect to sell anything at open studios this year!) — what’s the point?
There is none in this case.
Which has brought me to the question, what do I want to be creating?
Why am I creating this stuff that’s ostensibly for sale, but rarely sells (because I’m not putting energy into marketing and selling it)?
Ultimately, WHY am I creating?
Not in the sense of stop creating, but literally, WHAT does it give me? What do I want to create if I take commerce not just partially, but completely out of the picture, and it’s literally PURELY FOR ME?
Because this past weekend made me realize that the boundary line has not been very clear in my mind. Yes, I create “for me,” but there has always been the caveat that maybe I could sell it, or should sell it.
Why don’t I just create what I feel like creating because I feel like creating it?
And what IS that?
Maybe it’s not 2″x2″ canvases. Or 6″x6″ canvas boards.
Maybe it’s painting on a big sheet of canvas stretched on the back wall of my studio (after the contents of my kitchen are moved out of the boxes currently living there, and back INTO the kitchen!)
Maybe it’s working on a 20″x20″ board that will ultimately go in my living room, underneath or above the other 20″x20″ painting (to replace the one that sold last year), taking my time with it, just playing and having fun.
(And maybe that current 20″x20″ painting will get painted over!)
Maybe it’s more altered book pages.
Maybe it’s getting back to my sewing machine and just playing around with fabric scraps.
Let’s put a pin in that. Let’s call that Chapter 1.
Meanwhile, at exactly the same time as all of this, I’ve been working on this rare art commission, which has reminded me why I no longer take art direction, and why I basically don’t take commissions anymore.
Here’s what happened.
I don’t normally do commissions anymore, but the director of a Jewish charitable organization, which made a big difference in my life several years back when I was in dire need, called me a few month ago to see if I might have some Judaic art she might purchase to use to give as awards to honor three award recipients at an upcoming gala, or if not, if I might create some art for this purpose.
I don’t have any Judaic art in my inventory, so the only option was to create some…
This woman, the Director, personally changed my life, and I am so profoundly grateful. I told her I don’t normally do commissions, but if she was okay with the fact that I don’t accept art direction, I would be happy to create artwork for the honorees.
We discussed parameters, price, etc., and came to an agreement.
The plan was that I would create multiple pieces, 6″x6″, from which the client would choose three. That way I wouldn’t have to create to any particular specifications (I wouldn’t have to be art directed), but she would feel some sense of control.
Weeks passed. Life threw monkey wrenches at me (as it has its way of doing), and suddenly the gala was a few weeks away!
I had to get started on the art!
I work fast and loose, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Wrong. This is where I was reminded of WHY I don’t do commissions anymore.
It is VERY different to create something purely from the place of “Gee, what happens if I make squiggles here?” — my normal mode of operation now — than it is to have to create something specific to please a client.
In this case, I had to make JUDAIC SHAPES.
I’m used to making SQUIGGLES. Not any particular shapes AT ALL. So this was VERY DIFFERENT.
And although I am perfectly capable of making particular shapes (I did that quite capably for fifteen years, thank you very much), the fluidity and whimsy that characterizes my work these days is very hard to capture and maintain when I have to make particular shapes, instead of just making random squiggles!
I ended up making several squiggly pieces (which my gremlins snarled were “UTTER CRAP!!!”, and a few more detailed pieces that ended up taking WAY MORE TIME to produce than I had planned, which made me cranky… as the whole idea of this thing was that these pieces would be “quick and easy” for me to crank out.
Ha. Best laid plans…
Anyway, I snapped pics of the several pieces to send to my client, and she shared them with her staff, who loved them. (!) (Take THAT, gremlins!)
Then she shared them with the Board of Directors, who apparently had some issues…
And she finally spoke with me last night.
(Apparently she’s had a stomach ache all day thinking about how to talk to me…)
The Board was wondering if I might incorporate the feeling of the LOGO of the organization into the artwork, so could I (she asked) create some new pieces that do that? Not graphic design, of course, but just embody the flavor of the symbolism that the logo represents… ?
Of course, dear reader/listener, you realize that this is precisely a request for graphic design.
It is also a request for precisely what I explicitly said I do not do anymore, which is to take art direction.
I had to think about how to respond to this, while I looked up their website to remind myself what their logo even looked like…
Meanwhile, my inner strong self was screaming “NO! NO! NO! YOU DO NOT TAKE ART DIRECTION! AND YOU DO NOT HAVE TIME, EVEN IF YOU DID TAKE ART DIRECTION!!! THE GALA IS ON SUNDAY!!!”
But my old nice-girl self would have acquiesced and let myself get walked all over…
So what would it be? Would I be nice? Or would I hold firm and risk being thought of as a “bitch”?
I took a long pause.
And I said, “Okay, there are two things going on here. First of all, time. I really don’t have time to create a whole new set of pieces.
“And second of all [which really should have been first of all, but hey, good for me for saying it at all!], I don’t normally do commissions — as I told you when we first spoke about this originally, I agreed to do this because this organization made such a huge difference in my life, and because YOU asked me directly — I probably wouldn’t have agreed if it were anyone else, but you are so special to me. YOU changed my life. And as I said when we spoke — you may remember — I really don’t take art direction on commissions.”
“Yes, I do remember,” she said, with a sigh.
She did not push me. She did not argue with me. she just accepted it!
She told me the three pieces they were going to go with, and that was it!
We worked out the rest of the details, and she thanked me, and we said goodbye.
Lightning did not strike!
I SET A LIMIT AND LIGHTNING DID NOT STRIKE!
May I serve as a model for you, if you also have problems setting limits.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
All of this has been making me think about art and commerce and my relationship to it, and what I want my relationship to it to be. It’s very sticky and slippery.
That is Chapter Two. Let’s put a pin in that.
Meanwhile, as I looked at my artwork on display throughout the “popup gallery” that was my open studio this past weekend, it was very clear to me which of my paintings feel like they are part of a larger, cohesive “body of work,” and which feel like they’re “flailing.” Like they don’t really fit.
I got very clear at this open studio that I am tired of having a scattered collection of random work.
I really like some of my paintings, but it’s not even so much about which paintings I like, and which I don’t like, it’s more about which ones feel like they belong to a family. The ones that don’t — it’s not that they’re bad, it’s that they don’t represent who I am as an artist, or who I am anymore.
Whether or not I participate in Silicon Valley Open Studios next year, those pieces that do not fit are either:
a) going away (as in being given away in the next hauling session), or
b) being re-used as “under canvases” for new paintings.
So I’m not going to have to buy new canvases for a really long time!
But then, I may not even be painting on canvases for awhile, because I’m still figuring out what I want to create! If I’m detaching creating from commerce, or the need for commerce — at least for now — then canvas and board may not be in my immediate future. Unless it’s for specific location in my home, or for a gift for a particular person in my life.
All of this is what I’m processing right now.
Art + Commerce
Art + Commerce + Boundaries
And, for lack of a better term, Authentic Voice + Working in Series
(For more on that, btw, you might want to check out a conversation that Cory Huff and I had with artist Lisa Call on the podcast we used to co-host, Creative Insurgents. It’s all about working in series, and why you should.
Honestly, I used to be pretty resistant to the idea. Now I embrace it.)
All right. These the are the questions I’m processing. I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps my addressing the questions here will help you to come up with your own answers.
Be well, and go get creating.
This week’s Something Cool is Artwork Tracker app, .
I know not everyone who listens is a visual artist, but if you are, and if you want to keep track of your artwork, especially if you are an iPhone or iPad user, this app is the BOMB!
I found out about it from my Creative Sandbox Community (Creative Sandbox members rock!), and I am loving it!
(Quick reminder: the price will be going up on Creative Sandbox membership after I come up for air from the kitchen renovation, so there will never be a better time to join. Get in now and you’ll lock in your membership for life at the current rate of just $39/month or $390/year, even after the price increases to $49/month and $490/year.)
Of course, now that my relationship with art + commerce is in flux, it’s sort of ironic that I’m sharing this app today, but it’s still a very cool app.
There are a number of tools you can use to help you keep track of your artworks — from Evernote, to online databases — but what I love about Artwork Tracker is that it lets me use my phone to snap a picture of a piece, type in a title, dimensions, price, the date it was created, any notes, even how much time I spent on it if I want, and materials cost if I want — all of that right on my phone.
If you like to use your computer, this is not the tool for you. But I hate having to dig through my hard drive to find images. I just want to be able to do everything on mobile, and for $7.99, this little app lets me do it all.
You can also keep track of clients, and also submissions to galleries and competitions, too. Plus you can back up your data to Dropbox, or Google Drive, or your hard drive. You can also export and import your data by typing a URL into a browser, then clicking different links to download different file formats (CSV or Artwork Tracker ADBI format).
It’s not a super robust program, but for a single fee of $7.99, and mobile functionality, it had what I was looking for.
Hear ye, hear ye! This is to serve as official notice that all links to anything for sale, be it books or courses, are likely to be affiliate links. What this means is that if you click through said links and make a purchase, although it won’t affect the price that you pay, a few coins will jangle into my coffers, enabling me to buy a packet of hard gluten-free biscuits to feed myself and my husband for another day, or perhaps a pen with which to create some artwork. Or perhaps they will contribute toward paying a fraction of my web hosting bill, so that this blog and podcast can continue to exist. Thank you kindly for your attention.
Thanks for Listening!
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