Apparently, in art, you can sell just about anything. If you had a roundish brown pad of a thing, you could sell it. It would be best to charge a lot for it. Who would pay only $1.79 for a roundish brown pad? People would know what it was. This thought, triggered by some of the remarkable live comments that followed after my last letter, reminded me of when I was much younger and living on a tiny Norwegian island.
Our home on Spjaeroy was a classic Bergmanesque cabin overgrown by an unruly garden. A path led down through designer rocks to a small landing and a rowboat that took us across a narrow channel to a larger island called Vesteroy that had a general store. One day when I was tying up over there an old fellow in thick trousers, rumpled jacket and tie noticed my paintbox in the bottom of my boat.
“Are you a real artist or one of those impostrous ones?” he asked.
“One of the impostrous,” I said, trying to fit into the Nordic-sarcastic-sardonic tradition.
He told me if I’d come with him he’d show me a “view really worth painting.” We struck off along the rocks and up a long track to a cow-field that terminated on a cliff with crashing waves below. Our little island of Spjaeroy stood like a blue planet in a firmament of silver. I opened my paintbox, looked over the munching cows, and sat down in the lush grass.
“Don’t sit on one of them round pads. Smart men don’t sit on round pads,” he said, disappearing back down the track.
It was an 8″ x 10″ mahogany panel I did that day — a bit rough but what I used to call “spirited.” After, when I returned from the general store, the old fellow was at the boat looking at the painting on top of my box.
“Need any fish?” he asked, unfolding some bloody paper and disclosing five herring and a mackerel. “Your little painting for my fish,” he said. He had the look of a man doing another man a favour.
Rowing back to Spjaeroy with fish on board, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had chosen a great and provident profession. I vowed that no matter how corrupted or commercial I was to become as an artist, I would always put the simple love of painting before all.
PS: “It would be asking too much to want to sell only to connoisseurs — that way starvation lies.” (Claude Monet)
Esoterica: The next time I saw the old fellow, he asked if I had any more paintings for him. He said he had sold mine to his nephew who was a “big advokat in Oslo.” I knew an advokat was a Norwegian lawyer, and I wondered what kind of a pad an advokat might sit on. Recently I’ve been also wondering if the painting might sometime appear on eBay where I might buy back that day for five herrings and a mackerel.
Two chocolate fountains
by Steve Kuzma, Ventnor City, NJ, USA
That is just so funny! Thanks, I needed that. I just had a 60-foot mural painted over that took a year to create — so much for the wisdom and appreciation of businessmen. At least you can say your painting was greatly appreciated. In my case it’s hard when you’ve lost your gallery, a studio, 2 cars and much of the place you live after two hurricanes in a row.
When my wife and I were married I traded paintings for two chocolate fountains and a professional videographer. They were so pleased it brought out their best. For traded art for much needed health care, we are blessed indeed!
This isn’t pork barreling
by Karen Robinson, Devon/Cornwall border, UK
Grayson Perry — the Turner prize winning transvestite potter — is doing a series of lectures for the BBC at the moment and he describes art as being, among other things a “realizable asset.” He says banks have vaults with spaces for silver, wine, art and gold – otherwise known as SWAG. In your dreams, in my case! I have only recently attempted to sell my work. My first sale was to a local farmer who was not the chatty type. She said “like the plate” (it was a still life which I would describe as a bit laboured to be honest). “How much?” I named a price. She said, “pig okay?” I was a bit non-plussed but eventually the mystery was resolved. She went home with the “plate” and I went home with a carrier bag of pork pieces.
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The art of giving art
by Tom Wilmott, London, England
Your exchange with the chap on the shore makes for an idyllic vision of what it could (should?) be to be an artist and what value ought to be attributed to a piece of art.
Two things you say strike me as pertinent to my recent approach to making work. The issue of distribution I have recently addressed by giving away works for free, primarily to my nearest and dearest, but also to others who show an interest. I’ve never sold work to any significant level. Pocket money from time to time, but never even close enough to drop the day job, so dishing it out for nothing is far more beneficial than detrimental to my practice.
The second point you make that resonates is your final sentence. Putting the love of painting ahead of other things I heartily endorse. That has very recently become my only approach to working and this far it has been exceptionally fulfilling.
Coincidentally, I began writing short explanations regarding this. I’ve published them on my site, along with my freebies and whilst I have no doubt you receive a million and one emails similar to this after every letter you send, I give you the link all the same, just in case it’s of interest.
Going with the flow
by Joanie Anderson, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I have been painting for 18 years, living now in Arizona. One day an Indian appeared on my watercolor paper, (acrylic) and he sold immediately. Thus began my series of semi-abstract Indians. They just come to me when I am playing my Indian music; it truly is like magic. I have many collectors who just collect my Indians. I also do giclee prints on canvas only.
However, come this next year I will be moving back to the Midwest, closer to family (Indiana). I had my first lesson in watercolor, doing landscapes and flowers in Indiana. My current medium is now acrylic, fluid, and I suppose I will have to get back into the landscape series. I love trees. I think I was a tree in my previous life. The smell, the shapes, the many faces I see in them.
Reps and fees
by Sarah Louise Hannah, Helena, MT, USA
Suppose that you were a local artist in a small town who painted and sold exquisite art work via word of mouth because you didn’t believe you fit in the larger realm of a more worldly arena. In your peaceful little community, every man with a dog (and woman with a cat) is mightily thankful they hired you to immortalize their particular breed of Man’s and/or Woman’s Best Friend and they compensated you what you charged and, sometimes, a little extra, like a free breakfast at the Arm N’ A Leg Café on Main Street, or a haircut at Fred’s Barber Shop, or an oil change (at the garage) at Otto’s Auto.
Yet, doggone it, because there are only so many pets, kids, and grandkids in Cripple Creek, you’re struggling to make ends meet.
What if someone with marketing skills, and an eye for art, steps up to the plate and says, “Hey, I’d like to rep you. No upfront fees, just a fair percentage when your showings yield new customers. All you have to do, you learn, is when you get a call, ask, “How’d you hear about me?” If they say, “I saw your exhibit on display at the Fall Art Walk in Punxsutawney,” then you know it was That Someone who finagled the link to paint the portrait, to trade for the money, and whew, a good night’s sleep with no falling-off-cliff nightmares.
Now, what would you say would be a fair percentage to pay that Up-To-The-Plate-Marketing Mastermind who simply wanted to help you expand your horizons? And, oops, there’s the phone. Can you believe it? The City of the famous Groundhog Day movie would like a bid for a mural in their city park. Holy Cow! Shazam!! Paint My Pistol Pink!!!
(RG note) Thanks, Sarah. In that case your agent is not actually handling your work, you are. A “finder’s fee” for this sort of thing is often 30%. Do not vary your final prices up or down for his benefit. Just give him the kickback after you collect. If your friend is actually standing around your work at the Punxsutawney Fair and you’re not there, you could pay him up to 50%. Sweethearts like this need to be rewarded.
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Freebie for opal miner
by Nancy Codd, Ottawa, ON, Canada
That was a great story. I once did a painting with only green and black, which was all I had. I did a very rough painting of a broken down hut, a tree and a broken fence. A family friend dropped by and was startled by my painting sitting on the floor. He asked if he could buy it — it represented his shack in the mining country where he mined for opals (Australia). Naturally I gave it to him.
by Valerie Vanorden, Kalamazoo, MI, USA
Sounds like quite the fish story, Robert. Reminds me of a story about a little boy and his lunch in Jesus’ day. S’pose the story from the fisherman’s viewpoint is interesting? “Honey, guess what I just traded tonight’s supper for?… “a painting”…
Trip down memory lane
by Mary Jeanne Mailloux, Oakville, ON, Canada
This letter was a lovely trip down memory lane for me. I think I got a butter dish (an old fashioned covered cottage type) for one of my first watercolours. I painted it while I was a guest at my friend’s parents’ cottage on Balm Beach. It was of the view from the picture window if I recall correctly. Another one which garnered me a woven mat was painted while I watched my 10 year old charge fish on a pond north of Toronto. While I enjoyed painting these pieces, I did so for my own pleasure and was doubly pleased when others wanted them enough to pay something for them. These little exchanges were also very empowering for they were also with people of a certain age and discrimination. They (the exchanges) went a long way to dispel the guilty pleasure of creating with my brush.
I don’t have any copies but I know who have these pieces and I could see them if I put some effort to the task.
oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Renuka Pillai of Laguna Woods, CA, USA who wrote, “You will probably have to go back to that Norwegian Island. The painting will most probably be hanging, hopefully, on the same wall where that gentleman who gave you the fish lived. (Probably on the same nail he struck to hang it up.)”
And also Jeanne Long of Minneapolis, MN, USA who wrote, “This letter delightfully led me to tears of enjoyment, fueled by at least recognition, if not the living sense of being one with that quiet knowledge that you are not selling out, but are truly doing what you love. How rare for anyone to do something for the simple joy of it! How encouraging that you are someone who has found this gem of experience on this planet.”
And also Shaun Mayberry of Winnipeg MB, Canada who wrote, “Your letter reminded me of the following quote I read from Aphorisms for artists by Walter Darby Bannard: ‘If you are lucky, people will buy your art for the wrong reasons.’ ”
Enjoy the past comments below for Art distribution…