Friday, April 24, 2009

The artist as a directionless slacker... pt. 1

Don't ask me why, but I watched a holiday movie a year or two back where the main character was an artist-type. I think I secretly like bad, cheesy television because it makes me feel like I have taste. I don't like it for the quality, but for the fact that it makes me feel like I can identify bad quality. Backwards, I know.

But the way the artist-type character was depicted made me realize that the screenwriter's perception of the artist (and more so the person who wants to make a living from their art, and not more traditionally stable occupations) was that of a directionless slacker. All the other characters, except for the reluctant love interest, thought of the artist as one who could not figure out what they wanted to do with their life. Is that how the world sees us? Perhaps the writer(s) lived the situation before writing it into a movie. I don't really think that was the intended message of the movie: If everyone around the artist-type can just suffer watching all that wasted potential long enough, a straight-laced business type will eventually come along and take the artist off our hands.

As I look around these days, I think that business type has arrived. Not in the form of a significant other who takes the edge off the drifting artist, but in the form of the Artisan Entrepreneur. So, it's not in the form of some outside force or influence, but part of the artist-types themselves.

Artists are creative thinkers, and creative thinking is not always valued in the traditional workplace. So the artist-type doesn't always fit well in some traditional workplaces. They are square pegs trying to fit in round holes. If they want to be happy in their job, they often have to either find a (usually) lower paying job that requires little more than showing up and doing what you are told, or they have to find work in one of the accepted artist-type positions (see Graphic Artist, Copy Writer, Illustrator, etc.). The former type of job is more easily found, but worries the artist-type's circle of friends that the artist-type will never reach their full potential. The latter type of job exists occasionally in the traditional corporate world, but are more readily available in the creative corporate world of design firms and the like.

Seems there were always freelancers (Copy Writers, Illustrators, Designers) who liked the freedom of setting your own hours, having some input in what you create, etc. An early version of today's artisan entrepreneur. If you go that route, you're bound to learn more than a little bit about running a business.

Seems there have long been quite a few artists who could make their living by creating great art, and commanding high prices for it. But it also seems that route has often required someone else with business sense to manage and guide that career. Another route where the artist is bound to develop a business sense over the years.

But the Artisan Entrepreneur differs a little. They may have been the freelancer, and they may still be one. They may also have done the work-a-day job, and may still be doing that, too. For one reason or another, they are trying to move on from that. They may want more control over what they produce. It's a direction which does not guarantee success (not that the others mentioned do either), and in many cases that I have seen, you start out without really knowing the ropes.

I've done the freelance thing, and I have done the design firm thing, and I have done the in-house corporate design department thing. I've also done the day job that pays the bills. All of those jobs taught me something about business, which positioned me to make decisions in my latest iteration as working artist. I think all Artisan Entrepreneurs draw on their past work experience to some extent. But they also have to use their creative way of thinking to further their business, and they often do so in unexpected ways (that's the entrepreneur part). They also use their imagination and a pretty strong belief in their own ability to make a go of it.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I just can't do all this... Wait a minute... Yes I can... Stop talking to yourself...

Sometimes I have to ask myself if I seek out a schedule that is overloaded. Like I can not stand to be idle. Like I attract the hectic and challenging situations in which I find myself.

"Well, you do, you know"
, says myself.

9 years of freelancing (and the years prior of full-time employment) conditioned me to be able to work 20 hour days. I don't recommend it, but after a while of burning the midnight oil, I believe your body gets accustomed to the lack of sleep. And once you are conditioned to be awake, it seems you will be, whether you need to be or not.

Since stopping the freelance work and doing the art thing full-time, the hours got slightly better and the stress level went down. As my art business has ramped up over the last two years, and as I opened another shop to supply folks with the findings I use in my rings and video tutorials, the hours necessary to stay on track in both businesses increased, and the stress level spikes a bit every once in a while.

Most of the stress comes from making people wait for their purchase, and more often than not I put it on myself. To not let myself get stressed about a delay in an order seems like I am not giving that customer's order proper attention. Folks are great about being understanding and most times exceedingly patient.

From time to time (see Day to Day, or daily basis), I say to myself, "I just can't do all this". Though I have known for a while that if I tell myself such things that I am ensuring that I won't be able to do it all, I still do. It's only recently that I have begun to catch myself and to say, "I can do all this". Yes, I talk to myself. A lot. It's not like I buy myself 2 cups of coffee so that the 2 me's can each have one while we sit down and have a real conversation at the coffee shop. Yet.

What I try to remember these days, more than any thing else, is that none of what I deal with is truly a problem. I am so fortunate to have a business with stress to worry about. I truly believe that if I was still freelancing, or even full-time at a design firm, I would be facing down-sizing or a complete lack of projects. It is by pure good fortune that I am in the position I am in right now. Sure, I have to consider every day that I might sell no art, but I really believe that with the reach of the web, I can continue to find customers. I just have to make sure that my reproductions are affordable and continue to do things that put my name and my work out there.

I gave up long ago trying to understand why people connect with my ideas and images, and now just count it as a blessing that my art continues to connect. That's really all I can hope for business-wise, as that is what supports my art business. It is a job, with stress and problems, but if you have a job without stress and problems, you don't have a job.

So, on any given day, one might find me down on the capacity I have to do it all, or one might find me thinking I have it all under control. I just have to remember that I need to just be happy that I am being found by you and many others. And to hope that I am not talking to myself when you find me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Dog... for the White House and for me!

Every once in a while, I can get another dog done. The list of requested breeds is long, but Portuguese Water Dog is near the top. This breed is a lot better known than it was even a few months ago, which I expect will means lots more options for PWD-themed merchandise.

I personally look at that as a good. We own a Wire Fox Terrier, and you don't find that one very often on the dog keychain rack.

This one is in the Etsy store.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Value You Can't See

As a self-managed working artist, one has to make many daily decisions based on the value of things. One have to ask one's self is one thing worth doing over another thing. Can I possibly make my money back on this advertising? The questions may be phrased differently, but the choice for me often comes down to: "What has the most value to what I hope to achieve?"

It can be difficult to make these decisions, because the face value of something can be far lower than its hidden value. I find that it's easier for me to be more confident when making these decisions if I keep in mind that everything I do to add value to my art business builds on what I have already done. More importantly, I really can't accurately judge what will be the value of any action, judgment or dollar spent.

Case in point, a .20¢ listing fee on Etsy. The face value is .20¢ that buys you a 4-month listing on Etsy. At one time, a hidden value of the .20¢ was 5-10 minutes of exposure on the front page of your category. That exposure is not as likely to happen now, but it does not mean that there isn't some exposure value in listing or renewing a listing. Renewing listings made it possible for me to establish a presence on Etsy. But, Etsy was far less populated then, and it takes a lot more renewing to make a splash now. It may not worth it for some, but it always will be for me because of the way I see the value of the .20¢.

There is at least .60¢ in listing fees that I have spent on Etsy that have had immeasurable value.

The first .20¢ was about 2 years ago. I listed one of my dog series. That listing was seen by a publishing company. In fact, one of the largest fine art reproduction companies around. As a teenager, working in a frame shop, I can remember looking through this company's catalog. That listing led to a licensing agreement with said publishing company. That agreement has led to my work being seen on major retail websites, in catalogs and the like. That agreement has allowed me to continue making art on my terms, the art I want to make, while putting my work in front of a larger audience that I could never hope to reach on my own. That agreement allows me to spend my days working as an artist.

The second .20¢, and the third .20¢ were spent within days of each other. I was contacted through Etsy by two major catalog companies directly to have my work sold in their pages. Without my publishing agreement, I probably would not have been able to even consider these opportunities. Running my Etsy shops fills my days as it is. It would be murder to try to fill catalog orders as well. Or maybe it wouldn't. Me judging situations again, but I am pretty sure it would be more work than I can handle.

I can go on, as I am sure a lot of us could if we sat and thought about it, about little things we have done that blossomed into much larger things. Sure, everything business decision I made before I relisted the dog, or the By Order of the Managment Sign, or the Tin Toy Box Art led to my being found by the right person in the right place at the right time. I probably didn't even consider to what those particular relistings might lead. It's part of my daily routine, something I don't really consider beyond, "Well, these 3 pieces will look nice together", etc.

The point is, in the midst of the myriad of decisions I make each day, some expensive, some not, it has sometimes been the littlest, least expensive decisions/actions that have nudged my work into to just the right spot to be seen by someone who can help me to continue making my living as an artist.

I always hope that each .20¢ I spend to list or renew will come back to me as a sale. But it's exciting to think that I never know what I am gonna get.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

And all the obstacles will disappear...

I have to say, again, that these last few weeks in our current home are dragging. I knew they would. Maybe I should have told myself they would fly by. Maybe by "knowing" that they would drag, I am making them drag. I fully believe it is our perceptions that define situations more so than the reality of those situations.

I think this is a test to see how well I can live in the present, rather than that magical future several weeks away. I keep telling myself, once we get into the new house, I'll have help in the Etsy shops. I'll be able to stay on top of so many things that I can't right now. I am so telling myself that once this thing happens, everything will be right in my world.

How's that for setting myself up for a let down? Certain things will have the potential to be much better. The shops ought to be better managed with two people putting their efforts toward that goal. Makes sense. But there will also be a 4-year old interjecting herself into the process, and if I don't just accept that as part of the new way of life, I'm bound to be disappointed each time it happens.

One thing I know will be different: I will have more time to create new art. Okay... I don't know that. And really, I know from experience that every time in the past when I have thought that a change being made would lead to more creative time, it has not panned out. But I am hopeful anyway.

Hopeful is good, right? As long as I don't base my happiness on any of these positive changes I expect to happen actually happening. It's hard not to do that, but I have to be okay with the positive changes not taking place, too.

One of the things I learned over the last two years was not to judge situations. If you judge a situation as bad, it will be bad. If you judge it to be an obstacle to what you really want, it will be an obstacle. Saying I have learned it and actually practicing it all the time are two different things. Many times I have lamented our current living situation. Too small, too noisy. No room for a home studio. Etc., etc. But there have been many good things about it as well.

I have seen that living situation as the biggest obstacle to taking the next step, to taking my business to the next level. But I have also seen it as the very thing that has made taking that next step possible. It has been both, depending on how I felt each day.

Now, after 3 years of waiting, this situation that I struggle not to judge each day will finally change. If I can just make it through the next few weeks. I'd like to imagine that the new situation will be so great that I won't feel compelled to judge it on a daily basis, that when we sign those papers, get those keys and set foot in our new home, all obstacles to what we want from life will disappear. But that's judging the situation. Instead, I need to accept that no matter what the situation, even if it seems an interminably long wait or new living arrangements that don't live up to my lofty expectations, that is exactly where we are supposed to be. And all the obstacles will disappear.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Leaving the nest for a bigger nest...

Way back in the day, before Pottery Barn Kids and such, when my wife and I were outfitting my young son's bedroom in a robot and space theme, we had a hard time finding robot-themed artwork. So I made some, and then I made a whole lot more. It's exciting to me that in the interim, more ways to find other robot/space art have appeared and grown. There is a lot of great robot-themed stuff out there.

Now, as we prepare to leave the tiny abode we have been in for the last 3 years, one of the things we are looking forward to is a bedroom for each kid. So we need some new artwork. I leave those decisions to my wife, and it just so happens that when I told her I had decided I wanted to do some new bird collage prints, she told me she had decided that our youngest daughter's room would feature bird art.

Our kids have lived for quite some time now within pinching and kicking distance of each other. It is my hope that these close quarters created a closeness that my kids might not have had if they had spent that same amount of time in the, "everyone with their own space" arrangement of a newer, larger home. I know that I am looking forward to everybody being able to separate when needed. I think most of the chaos in our home comes from the kids not being able to get away from each other.

So...why birds? I've already created a lot of bird art, and there is plenty of great bird art out there. Why am I suddenly drawn to birds again?

Well, here's what I think is happening. I really do think ideas find me, rather than I come up with them in a vacuum. Sometimes it's a response to what's happening in my life, sometimes it has to do with my affection for something.

If I look at what is going on in my life: We are leaving our little house, our nest if you will, for bigger digs. My girls will sleep in a room by themselves for the first time in their lives. They are growing up, and we are pushing them out of the nest they have known for so long. It's just a tiny push, but it's a push just the same. One girl, the younger, is excited to have her own room. The other, our middle kid, is excited too, but a little nervous about being by herself at night.

My oldest kid, my son, is a bird in this scenario, too. But not a tiny little scared though excited one like the girls. See, the day we close on the new house, I have to get over there and put up a fence and get a start on all things we want to do before we move in. It's a finely orchestrated plan that requires me to work quickly, with as little delay as possible. That same day at 4:00pm, my son's Scout Troop is supposed to go on a mountain backpacking trip 3 or 4 hours away. It is a trip he needs to go on to stay on track with advancement and attendance requirements.

He's not yet been camping by himself. I'm a leader in his Troop, so I usually attend outings. I try to stay out of his way on trips, because I know that the kid who goes on these trips by himself has a different experience than the kid whose parent tags along. I know that, eventually, he will have to go on trips without me.

So it looks like life may be trying to tell me that it's time to start pushing my son out of the nest. It certainly is setting up the scenario where I will have to decide whether or not to do it, while limiting my options for deciding against it. I would have a hard time deciding not to go, if it weren't for everything that we will have on our plate. It will still be hard to let him go.

So there you go. The whole bird thing, retro-fitted into my increasingly grown-up life. Someone asked me once why I thought people are so drawn to birds. Her theory was that we wish we could fly. My theory is that I wish they wouldn't.