Stephen Kishel of Muncie, Indiana wrote, “I started welding when I was 7. With the help of a mentor I became serious about art when I was 16. At 17 I had a one-man show and traveled to Europe. When I returned I took 3 years of college and then worked in the family plastic business. I decided to get back to my sculpture. My wife has been very supportive. In the last 2 years I’ve been selling about $1500 per month. Currently I’m displaying my metal sculptures in 2 galleries and 4 restaurants. I usually create 2 new works per week, and I have created as many as 8 in one week working part time. Currently I have about 45 sculptures on display. Do you think if I expand to 20 outlets, I can support my family with my art?”
No reason why not, Stephen. You have the work habits, and you already have galleries that will show and sell your work. It’s just a matter of going for the “hook-hours.” That’s a commercial fisherman’s term for the number of hooks you have in the water and the number of hours you trawl. High hook-hours practically always lead to a decent catch.
Many artists thrive with a lot fewer outlets than you have in mind. I’d go more for galleries than restaurants. A good stable of galleries is the key to stability. Think of your galleries as places to park your work. It’s like a Retirement Savings Plan. Galleries are investments that diversify the exposure, even out the fluctuating seasons and raise your fortune. Treat them all as special people. Keep them interested, informed and supplied.
The only possible problem with all this could be the quality of your work. As volume goes up quality must not go down. If you’re cut out for it you may notice the secret miracle that’s hard for some people to believe: When you push volume your imagination is stimulated, your facility increases, and your quality goes up. This also means you will have the hook-hours in the studio too.
PS: “Art and business may be strange bedfellows, but an artist must make room in her bed for both.” (Eric Maisel)
Esoterica: The “Acceptance Ratio” is the yearly percentage of consigned works of art that are sold out of galleries from your supplied inventory. This can vary from 100% to about 20%. The quality of your work, the state of the economy and pricing are all factors. Incremental price-raising can retard or speed up acceptance. I think my high-end acceptance record was a painting that was in 11 galleries over 13 years before it finally found a discriminating connoisseur.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Do you really think galleries are the #1 selling place for art? Unless one is in a “artsy town”, where people actually flock to see and buy art, I notice that most galleries are “dead.” After 20 years, I find that ANYPLACE with walls and wealthy people are more probable venues to sell art. For example; corporation foyers, churches, libraries and cafes. However, I do like some of the galleries, which actually serve as a co-op, and the artist pays a monthly rent. There is either low or no consignment.
I am in four galleries, and feel more comfortable putting on a show in my living-room!
(RG note) 10% of the galleries do 90% of the business. So yes, many are essentially dead. The idea is to pick the live ones. “Arty towns,” in my experience, often harbor more arty folks than arty buyers. And co-ops are great for as long as artists cooperate.
(Name withheld by request)
One thing you forgot to mention in the hook-hours equation is the fact that some galleries are pretty near useless. As a case in point I have two galleries that are next door to each other. One is excellent. They make friends with everyone that comes in. They don’t show work that competes with mine and they pay regularly and always fairly. The other one makes a mistake once in a while and happens to sell something, but they are often surly and condescending to customers. They have a fraction of the traffic of the other one. They are always complaining about “the economy.” To top it off they try to educate people on what they ought to buy. I only have them because they are supposedly old friends. They tie up my paintings, drag down my acceptance ratio, and it is all I can do to get my work out of there and into galleries that know what they’re doing.
How to make money?
Sharla Mica Laurin
I have trouble giving my work to galleries because the standard 50% commission seems so high. I feel I put much more care and effort into each painting than any gallery will give back. I have to start making $$ with my art soon and am leaning more towards print work, publishing, etc., but in truth, I know little about these matters too. What is your opinion on the best way to make $$ with painting? Of course, it will differ from person to person and is highly dependent on style, but generally speaking, what can you advise?
(RG note) The short answer is that you need good art and you need someone who thinks it’s good art — other than your mom. It’s also good to have more than one person who thinks it’s good art. If they happen to be in a position to sell it for you, you’re laughing. That’s the short answer. The long answer is the same only it’s longer. I’ll give you my long answer in an upcoming letter. Thanks for the suggestion.
Niche or noose?
I’m a playwright, with some measure of professional success. It’s interesting that today’s letter focuses on hook hours (which is a great term, by the way) and, by implication, explores the issue of creation as commodity. I’m in a situation right now in which I’ve been taken to task, in a way, by the artistic director of a theatre company for having “too many irons in the fire,” for putting too many hooks into the water, in other words, he’s afraid I’m coming across as writing for the money as opposed to responding to some kind of genuine creative impulse. In the first place, I’m just trying to make a living doing what I’ve been called to do, what fuels my life and makes me happy. To do that, I too have to make the sale. But there’s a real difference, I believe, between the work of a sculptor or painter and the work of other creative artists – dramatic writers, composers, poets, short story writers, people whose works can’t be sold through a gallery. A visual artist can do as you suggest, essentially park a project in a gallery, and wait for the “discriminating connoisseur” to come along. With a play or short story or screenplay you can’t do that. So how do you avoid coming across as a Fuller Brush Salesman – desperate to make a sale / get your work in front of the public / move your career forward, offering brush after brush (play after play after story after story). As a writer, it seems to me to be a good idea to first of all keep the process going, create as much as you can while challenging yourself to explore new ways of working, themes, characters, styles, etc. As such, you could easily develop a filing cabinet full of commodity, of all kinds of different pieces so when the lightning strike actually occurs, you’re ready to take advantage of it. So where’s the balance? How do non-visual creative artists cast their hooks without coming across as dilettantes, or hucksters, or both? Does the answer lie in focusing on your own hook hours, on working on projects that are creatively satisfying AND marketable? But which comes first? In my experience the projects I’ve had the most success with are the ones I’m driven to do, that I NEED to do. But I’m INTERESTED in a lot of projects, some of which I have more interest in from outside producers than I have DRIVE to write them. Is there something about finding a niche in there as well? Neil Simon found his niche and has had a deeply profitable career for however many years. As did Agatha Christie; Margaret Atwood; Robertson Davies; JK Rowling. They started from something they loved, felt driven to do, but when does “niche” become trap? Or rut? Or dead horse? Is the bottom line just being, for lack of a better phrase, true to your muse, and just accepting that there is no clear way to ending the struggle?
Elsha Leventis, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Stephen Kishel might be interested in something a metal sculptor in Toronto did recently. He designed and sculpted a new sign for City TV — for FREE. He delivered it and left it on the sidewalk. He didn’t charge for the piece but he got a lot of news coverage, and a special by the TV station on him on his work.
Linda Saccoccio, NY, NY, USA
Regarding “The Assertive Eye” letter, I had come to that exact revelation in my own process in the past two weeks. I had been working this way for a number of years to greater of lesser degrees, but these past weeks have made clear to me how real this process is and that I must not doubt it even slightly. I realized the depth of trust I am coming to now and it is the only way. It keeps the process open and spontaneous. It also encourages the inclination to just keep moving, like your description in today’s letter about riding a bike. It is so true, movement forward is a necessity, and once you let hesitation in or self-consciousness/doubt in then you lose the positive activity of painting and the magic. In the state of trust and movement the painting paints itself, the artist just stays clear and receptive. Every color, line or aspect I add seems to lead naturally to the next.
Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
The first response in the last “clickback” titled “Just Go and Shoot” by photographer Bruce Meisterman (in “The Assertive Eye” letter) got me thinking about spontaneity. So students are asking if intent gets in the way of spontaneity. Interesting. In this generation that expects instant gratification, has spontaneity come to mean only random surprises? Some definitions of spontaneous are: proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint: controlled or directed internally: SELF-ACTING: developing without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment: not apparently contrived or manipulated: NATURAL. What I found interesting in the definition was where the energy or action comes from and the implied importance of perception. Spontaneity is not apparently influenced or pre-conceived. Spontaneity is purely internal. “Without external influences” implies that spontaneity is unique for each individual. It seems the search for spontaneity is the search for self. Spontaneity = naturalness. This is why artists value seeing the world in a childlike manner. It is discovery without preconceptions. It is pure joy. And it is not random. To “shoot with intent” probably means to reach for what is uniquely and purely our own. Intent is a tool, not an obstacle, to seek spontaneity.
Anne Barga, Los Osos, California, USA
Can you recommend a good bookkeeping system that will work well for a painter? I often get confused because our product is different than others. I need a hands-on, plug-in-the-numbers formula so I can get organized and do more marketing and actually comprehend what everything means.
(RG note) You might take a look at Gallery Soft. They have software designed especially for art galleries and artists. Systems for bookkeeping, client contact, inventory control, commissions, etc. They have a website at www.gallerysoft.com The cost is about $250.
The following are a few more of the 90 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced last Tuesday. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany with Robert Genn” contest.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.