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Candle Holder

St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order. There is a story about how he made a bothersome devil and/or demon monkey-ape ‘be still’ and hold his candle while he worked.

(I realized, last night that I had forgotten to post my regular Tuesday journal blog post on my website. It honestly slipped my mind. I had plans for Monday that got postponed until Tuesday, so I was doing some of the things on Tuesday that I had planned for Monday…so, I guess I felt like I had two Mondays? The weather here in Finland isn’t doing me any favors at the moment either, as it’s cold, damp and overcast, with the daily temperatures in the positives. This means it’s time for some barometric pressure headaches. They suck. Right now, it feels like someone is pinching and pulling the bridge of my nose, while simultaneously pounding nails into various points from my temples to the back of my head. My eyes hurt every time I move them. Bleh. Hopefully the ibuprofin will kick in soon. Anyway, on with the post!)

I’ve had competing urges over the years. One is to categorize myself and my artwork, and the second is to scrunch-up my face and declare that wish to remain outside of any type of categorization. The problem with this is that I already have self-categorized my artwork, and what the rest of the world (art world, craft world, people who are completely outside those worlds, etc.) thinks of my artwork is much more complicated. Where these two conflicting categorizations prove the most difficult for me is when it comes to the marketing of my artwork.

I am an artist. I identify myself first and foremost as an artist. This is something that has not changed much over the years, with the exception of adding ‘art teacher’ to it. I am an artist and art teacher. This is correct. I feels right. They are essential parts of who I am as a human being. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and so forth and so on, ad infinitum. You have heard all of this from me before. A lot.

I had a bit of an epiphany several days ago after some conversations with my husband (Berin Kinsman) regarding the problems I feel as though I am having in marketing myself as an artist (with artwork to sell) and an art teacher (with workshops to teach). Part of the reason for the conversations was a prompt from Meet the Maker, ‘Love to Make’ from day eight of the challenge. I had taken some pictures of pieces that I had created that were in many ways very different. They were all examples of the element of experimentation that is an integral component in my love of making the artwork that I create.

I love to experiment. My curiosity drives this love of experimentation. I think it also is a big part of why I’m such a magpie, using all kinds of different materials that I either pick out of the recycling or find at second hand shops. There are some tools, materials and supplies that I purchase ‘new’. I just bought some felt at Eurokangas earlier in the week, as well as some lovely decorated papers. The fact that I can do this does not prevent me from buying a shirt at a second shop and taking it apart for the fabric and buttons or saving the foil wrapping of chocolate bars and mailing circulars to use in my artwork.

Part of the difficulty of working with materials that are kind of finite. I can’t just go to the corner shop and pick up the lavender yarn that I found at a second hand shop a few weeks ago. Sometimes that materials, especially the fibers and threads, at second hand stores are from the stashes of people who purchased them twenty years ago or more. My chances of finding more of the insanely lovely yellow thread (on a wooden spool!) that was of Finnish manufacture, around the early 1960’s, is almost zero. Once these materials are used up. There simply is no more of it. Each of the dolls I create is made more one-of-a-kind because of the supplies that I use.

The other part, the mental one, is that I tend to create my work in groups. I get an idea. I start creating a pattern, and choose my colors. The materials are gathered. I sit down and start making. Before I know it, I’ve created dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of pieces working within a theme, and with some of those finite supplies described above. I usually have a a technique I want to try, or am trying to figure out how to make the materials and supplies I have do the thing I want them to do. Most of the time, the materials and supplies start asserting their own will, and compromises are struck between what I want to do and what they will do. I continue working. I refine ideas. I change around the sequence of construction. I add elements. I subtract elements. I note changes I want to make in subsequent pieces. I keep making the art over and over and over again until I feel as though I’ve exhausted the possibilities within the work itself.

In other words, I get bored. I make a thing until I get bored with it, and am seduced by a new idea or thought that I feel like I could form into something interesting. The ‘interesting’ should be construed as learning a new technique, or solving some kind of challenge in using a type of material I have and really want to use in some way. This means I will furiously make a thing until I don’t want to anymore. Then I’m done with it and am on to something else. It’s rather dog and butterfly of me. I’m completely focused and working on a series of pieces. Eyes and nose down. Ignoring everything else, until…I’m not. Once that new idea is seen, I’m off chasing it. And I’m done making the previous art work.

While Berin and I were talking, he pointed out that he, as a writer, works to create products expressly to sell. I create artwork because I have to. The thought of selling it, comes second. It’s not the reason for the creation. While this allows me a great deal of creative freedom, it makes successfully marketing my work to potential buyers much more difficult. As an art teacher, this ability to change the lessons, materials, ages taught, etc., work from a marketing standpoint, because what I am selling is my ability as a teacher of art first, and what the participant in the workshop will learn and make a very close second. Being flexible and well-versed in teaching methodologies as well as tools, technique and materials usage, is what a good art teacher should be.

As an artist, and an artist that is essentially a great big nobody from nowhere in the larger art world, my ever-changing series or groups of artwork, can be off-putting to a potential buyer. I cannot be depended upon to create a specific type or style of artwork for any set length of time.

I had been mulling over ways in which I thought perhaps I could alter the Little Ladies to make them sell better. Alterations that would make these tiny dolls more attractive to a wider-variety of potential customers. I found myself internally hesitating at each of these ideas. I felt that these alterations would make my artwork more derivative and less referential. I would be doing something that I felt had already been done, and done better by others as well. The purpose of these Little Ladies is tied so tightly to my own childhood and the toys I had and loved. Most importantly, as an adult, revisiting these things from my childhood, I am able to create what I wanted to be able to create when I was little. I wanted to alter those toys and dolls I had to better fit what I needed them to be within my tiny, little-kid Katie world that is decades past.

I feel as though it comes from a place of privilege that I can say, “Oh. I won’t compromise my artistic principles or my artistic vision!” I can honestly say, if I weren’t married, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss making alterations to my work that would make it more marketable to a greater number of people. Not everyone has the luxury of not selling the work that they create. Every piece created is a monetary investment in a future that hopefully sees its purchase. These are those artists and craftspeople who hustle. And I admire their abilities, because they’ve got things figured out that I am still stumbling through.

Now that I know that I’m kind of working at marketing my work is a rather challenging manner (the cart before the horse?) I need to be creative and figure out how to make it work for me. The artwork comes first, with no thought of who would buy it or how it can be used. And the marketing aspects coming second.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.