I’m working on tiny bunnies today. I’ve made tiny crocheted collars for them. I’m using a 1 mm hook and wanted to show the approximate size of the finished product prior to attaching them to the bunnies.
“A kind fairy, in my absence, had surely dropped the required suggestion on my pillow; for as I lay down it came quietly and naturally to my mind: Those who want situations advertise; you must advertise…” (Jane Eyre, Ch. 10)
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. I think I’ve read and re-read it a dozen times. There were times when I knew I was going to have a very long wait at a governmental office or at an airport, and if I had nothing else I was reading at the time, I would grab my worn copy off the shelf and stuff it in my bag to keep me occupied while I waited. I’ve seen several adaptations. Each of them use this above quote in different ways. Sometimes it’s Jane’s friend Helen who tells her that they must advertise, and in other versions, it happens a little more like it does in the book. Regardless of how it’s portrayed on screen, the fact that Jane looked at her current situation (teaching at Lowood School) and knew she didn’t want to be there anymore. She had no family or friends upon whom she could depend to help her find a suitable position either. She could only depend upon herself to find that suitable situation and to do that, she would have to advertise.
Now, remember, this book was published in 1847. Women had very few options when it came to employment. Teacher. Governess. Prostitute. And even those jobs that were not related to sex work were not always well thought of. Jane was a teacher, so she had a somewhat respectable means of supporting herself, but she was a no-body without a means of formal introduction to a potential employer. This meant that she was going to have to do something that wasn’t normal or lady-like: she was going to advertise for a position herself.
I kind of feel like I’m walking around in this passage of the book. I’m a no-body, from no-where, whose artwork means nothing to anyone. The difference between myself and Jane is that I have a very supportive husband (we just celebrated our 9th anniversary yesterday) and amazing friends that have been incredibly supportive of me. I also have organizations like Työbileet and Zonta International (which has helped me with tools and supplies for the teaching of art workshops here in Finland).
I’m so grateful and happy that I have the ability to teach art workshops. Having the tools and materials I need, and the ability to find more materials at low cost (Second hand shops, recycled and up-cycled materials, and Flying Tiger), makes me a much more marketable for the teaching of art workshops in a wide variety of subjects and mediums.
My challenge right now is: where do I advertise? Remember, I’m an English speaker, who has a loose grasp of conversation and art instruction in Finnish. I understand much more Finnish than I can speak, thanks to all plethora of compound words in the Finnish language. But still, I’m not fluent. By any stretch of the imagination! I want to teach art! I just need to advertise. Where?
I’ve done some research, looking at traditional types of print advertising in newspapers like Suur-Jyväskylän Lehti, but I’m not sure that the teaching portion of my business is quite ready for that. Part of the reason is the type of advertisement I would like is not within my budget. Hmmm…I don’t trust those free classified ad sites as far as I can throw them. They just seem a little hinky. This leaves me with not a whole lot of options. As I see it, the following are my best bets at present
It’s not the greatest option, but it’s free, and I am part of several groups dedicated to foreigners within Finland. English is the language used by the participants. I have advertised, i.e., created posts, about courses that I have offered through other educational institutions. The benefit of advertising for myself and the workshops I can teach, is that I’m in control. The cons are, I’m in control and I’m still pretty limited in my advertising reach. Part of me really hopes that there is some word of mouth that happens that can help me!
If you’re here and reading, then I’ve made contact with you! Hey! Would you like to have some private art instruction? Are you looking for someone who can set-up and instruct an open studio for a public event? Would you perhaps be in need of someone to teach a group of children art at an event? Contact me through the contact form and we can meet up and talk about it!
If you’re here, more than likely, you read about this blog post on Instagram. Again. I’m available for teaching art to children and adults! Contact me!
You know that kind I’m talking about, the kind that go on the bulletin boards at coffee shops, art supply stores, on university campuses, libraries, etc. I keep reminding myself, ‘I have to advertise.‘ I can’t just start at the top, right? I’ll just need to make some really attractive flyers to get people to look at them for long enough to me to get my name and that I teach art into their heads!
This has been pacing around in the back of my mind for some time. I watch several dozen YouTubers on a regular basis and I know how hard it is to break through the algorithm. If I do use YouTube, it would be something that I direct people to from other platforms like this website, Facebook or Instagram. I’m not super-comfortable being on camera, so I would have to really think about what I was uploading and why.
I still can’t believe that I have so many problems marketing and promoting myself as an artist and as an art teacher. What makes this even worse is that I have a BFA in graphic design. I love design and I love illustration. I just cannot seem to advertise myself, my art and my accomplishments with any degree of comfort. Sometimes I just want to post a sign like the one below:
I don’t think this would go over very well as a good advertising for myself or my artwork. Oh well. I suppose I have to get all of the bad advertising ideas out before I can come up with some better ones!
(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.
Participating in Meet the Maker March is forcing me to think about some areas of my own entrepreneurial plans that aren’t as solid as I once thought they were. In the past, this type of realization might cause me to panic, but it’s not. In fact, there’s no panic at all, merely some annoyance at the fact that I have areas within my plan that have not completely gelled. Perhaps a little annoyance at the fact that I have to come up with some kind of answer or solution for them as well, but I kind of figure that is part and parcel of being a one-horse small art business!
During the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I fit (I wrote a blog post about it) in an amongst other groups of artists, creators and makers. Where do I fit mentally? Creatively? Where does my artwork fit in the incredibly large, and ever-growing sea of artists, creators and makers who are trying to sell their art and/or craft? That last one, regarding where my artwork fits, from the standpoint of marketability, as a generator of that modicum of income I would like to be able to achieve…that is the point in which I don’t feel as though I have everything quite figured out yet. There are still areas that are more or less ‘un-gelled’.
In the post that I wrote previously, I talked mostly about wanting/needing to fit in with creative people, to find that community in which I could feel as though I was creatively and emotionally supported. What I’m talking about here is how do I categorize myself and my artwork for in the entrepreneurial arena?
If you’ve not familiar with exactly how large this creator-maker-artistic sales arena is, it is huge, like, Godzilla-sized huge, and sometimes just as pants-sh!tingly terrifying to contemplate as an insignificant little one-horse shop, like I am. I stand in awe of the creators and makers out there who are busting their butts as they hustle and work hard every day just to keep up with the ebbs and flows of this market. I admire them, while at the same time, I know I cannot be like them.
I had an exchange with another maker recently regarding the element of time and how it’s used as a creator. Specifically, the amount of time that is spent creating the artwork that we each sell. This maker said that they had worked to cut down on the amount of time devoted to the creation of their work, so that they could create work at a price point low. When I really thought about it, I seem to create and sell in almost diametrical opposition.
All artists and creators, after a certain amount of experience, can gauge how long it will take them to accomplish a task required by their craft or art form. How long to rough cut the wood for a set of chairs. How long to prep the loom for a weaving. How long and what ingredients are required to bake and decorate a wedding cake. How many Berol Prismacolour pencils in peacock green will be needed to finish the background of that illustration. How long it will take to crochet a queen-size blanket. For me, how much felt to do I need and how long will it take me to knock together a 6 cm doll? What can I essentially ‘batch’? Like covering the bases or braiding the yarns that go around the edges. I’ve got a pretty good sense of time when it comes to these sorts of tasks and batching does make them go faster. But reducing the amount of time that I spend on the creation of a piece of art so that I may lower a potential selling price never enters my mind.
Time for me is an essential component of the price of the artwork. Yeah. There are parts that I can make go more quickly, but then there are other parts of creation that just take time. If you have seen my artwork, I do a lot of embroidery work in and on all of my pieces, even those that are papier maché. To reduce the amount of time spent on my artwork would require me to fundamentally alter the artwork in a manner that I do not find creatively satisfying in the least. I could make strictly papier maché dolls and completely forgo any surface decoration, either in pencil, paint or embroidery. I could make tiny dolls with clothing that has no embellishment. No embroidery. No crochet work. No bases for display. I could do that. But I don’t want to.
That last comment makes me sound like a petulant three-year-old! “I don’t wanna!” accompanying by little clenched fists and stampy little feet. Here’s the thing that I realized as it regards where my artwork fits in this sea of artists, creators and makers: I have my own visions of my own artwork and create using those visions and with the aid of the influences of my personal past and the larger world I was formed it (I’m a Gen X-er). I think part of my difficulty is that I’m trying to force my work into a category in which it does not belong. I am first and foremost, an artist. I love being an artist. I revel in wallowing and mucking-about in my own personal artwork creation on a daily basis. I strive to be uniquely myself in my actions and products as an artist. I have constructed my entire life around being able to create artwork. I have made specific decisions regarding this. I have had to forego some parts of what some might think of as a more normalized life, in favor of giving myself the ability to let art take precedence before anything else. It is one of my strongest internal driving forces.
I suppose what it all boils down to for all of those potential buyers of art an craft work is whether they would prefer an apple or an orange. It’s just a matter of preference. Sometimes the price point is a major factor in their choice, sometimes it isn’t. I know who I am, and I feel like this Meet the Maker challenge is helping me get those weird un-gelled areas figured out for myself and this can only be a good thing for me as an artist and as an entrepreneur.
This post got a little strange, so thank you for reading! Here are some links to things that have been rattling-around in my brain for the past week or so, each making their own contributions to the verbosity of the above post:
Todd Rundgren: ‘Day Job‘
Pixies: Debaser (Which I cannot listen to at anything less than ear-splitting levels)
I wrote yesterday about participating in this years Meet the Makers challenge on Instagram. Yesterdays prompt was ‘Time’. Time seems to be something I always feel in short supply of as an artist. I feel extremely fortunate to not suffer from artist block. Time for me is short, but I have more ideas than I can possibly create in my head and in my sketch and notebooks.
I mentioned in my Instagram post that I have been told “You have a lot of time on your hands!” in the past by some people looking at, or experiencing my artwork for the first time. I said that I kind of smile and shrug it off in my post, but it goes deeper than that. I smile and shrug it off to the face of the person or people who are saying this to me because I don’t think that they have any kind of ill intent towards me or my artwork. I don’t think they are trying to demean me in any way, as if by saying the aforementioned phrase, the true meaning is, “Wow. You have nothing real or worthwhile in your life. No husband. No kids. No real job. No house to take care of. No one and no thing that demands your immediate attention all of the time. Oh. And cats don’t count. They just make you sadder and more pathetic.” Yes. I know. I kind of go off on a bit of a tangent with the reading between the lines. There are reasons why I do this, even if it is just internally: I’m a woman and I’ve been ‘Queen Bee’d’ since I was a kid; I had a caregiver that is the absolute monarch of passive-aggressiveness, meaning, I learned from The Master of the craft from an early age, and I’m weirdly sensitive, even though I seem like I just smile and shrug it off, while at the same time I’m screaming like a banshee in my head.
That all being said, last year, I wondered how much time I was actually spending creating my artwork. How much time did it actually take to create one of the Creative Experiment dolls? I decided to gather some data and crunch some numbers and see what I could learn.
I recorded my start and end times during periods of work, as well as what exactly I was doing during that specific time. I conducted five separate tests; four with completely original doll designs, and one in which I duplicated a doll form, but created different appliqué and embroidery work on. Upon completion of each doll, I went through my recorded data and came up with how many hours it took me to complete the piece.
I then gave myself three separate hourly wages; $20, $10 and $7.25 per hour. As a public school art teacher, I was earning around $22.50 per hour. I chose $20 (17.98€) per hour as my top-end, because of the length of time I have been a practicing artist, as well as my possessing a bachelors degree in art. The $10 (8.99€) per hour, was a kind of middle of the road kind of hourly wage that I have been paid in past employment situations. $7.25 (6.52€) per hour is the US minimum wage. I also used an arbitrary set price for the given doll of $100 (89.90€), and then worked out how much I would be earning per hour, if the doll sold at that price.
I did not figure the price of materials and tools in the creative process. Nor did I include utility usage (water and electricity), or the square footage of my workspace within the residential apartment in which I live. The element of time was my sole concern for this experiment.
I knew that the $20 per hour wage would make my artwork completely unmarketable. No one would buy one of my dolls for $431.60 (21 hours, 58 minutes to complete doll).Perhaps if I were a better known artist, or had the stamp of approval from a gallery, museum or show space, there could be a possibility of selling my work for that price, but the gallery, museum or show space is going to take a chunk of that money. Many artists like myself have difficulty even getting a foot in the door for spaces like this, because we are (as one gallery owner told me years ago), “You are not a proven seller. I can’t risk the floor space on you.” I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing (that’s a topic for another blog post entirely!) but it’s the way that it is for many artists.
The $10 per hour wage was not an attainable price point either. That $431.60 doll, goes down to $251.80 (226.36€) at the aforementioned hourly wage. Still, much too high for many, many people to readily afford. There have been times in the past in which I have broken down the price of a doll into payments for a buyer who really wanted a piece, but that is few and far between. To be honest, I do that for people that are past customers or who I really trust, because I’ve gotten burned on propositions like this in the past. Really, really burned.
The $7.25 minimum wage in the US brings the price further down to $156.45 (140.64€). For a set few people, perhaps the types of people who regularly buy artwork from local or regional artists at galleries and shows could purchase them. But if they don’t like style of my work, or are part of the ‘niche’ that gets my work, likes my work and wants to own my work, the chances of them putting money down for my work, even at this lowest price, is relatively slim.
When I set an arbitrary price of $100 on this piece, my hourly wage is $4.63 (4.16€) per hour. And remember, I’ve not even factored in the tools, materials, rent and utilities involved in creating the piece of artwork. There is also the personal and professional efficacy (knowledge, experience and ability) involved in the creation of the piece. Nor is there any accounting for the creativity and personal artistic expression accounted for in this calculation.
Now, all of this being said, I do not feel that the world owes me. That the world must buy my artwork. No. Not at all. Nothing is guaranteed like that in life. It would be super-nice if I could occasionally sell my artwork at prices that better reflect my personal investment of time, efficacy, energy, creativity and craftsmanship into the artwork itself. For those reading this, I would hope that the next time you look at the price tag of a piece of artwork in a gallery, or at an arts sale, that you stop and think before rolling your eyes at the high price. Know that there is a lot of furious, dedicated work going on prior to you setting eyes on it. When you buy that artwork, you are buying a part of a persons life. A specific length of time, a period in the evolution of their own unique creative vision, that has come and gone and left the artwork as a mile-marker. If you love the work and can afford it, buy it! If you can’t buy it, but still love it, please tell the artist how much you love it and appreciate their time and energy being spent in the pursuit of making the world more unique and beautiful. Please do not say, “Wow. You have a lot of time on your hands!“
I decided to join in this year for the Meet the Maker challenge on Instagram. One of the business/entrepreneurial areas I’ve been working on is trying to participate in challenges (or shows, etc.) with other creators. I know that this is an online challenge only, but I thought that it might help me to get over my fears regarding showing my artwork to people that I don’t know. I am on Instagram, and post there almost daily, so it sounds like my fears about finding other creators and showing them my work is something that I’ve already done. But it’s not.
I did a little looking around online to see what kinds of photos current and former participants in the challenge have posted. A great deal of the photos were incredibly awesome. They have great lighting. The work looks amazing. They are composed well. The makers in the photos look so young and pretty and happy. I had the instant, knee-jerk emotional reaction of, “Oh hell. I don’t belong here. These makers are way far out ahead of me with their businesses. I do not belong here.” I was having some severe flashbacks to high school and the cliques and the rigid hierarchy of who was at the top of the social structure, and who was on the bottom. Side note: I was at the bottom.
I still have decided to participate in the challenge, even with my personal insecurities pecking-away at my innards. I know that this month of daily photo challenges is going to be incredibly mentally and emotionally uncomfortable for me at times, but am choosing to do it, because I think that I have some things to learn about myself and how I want/need to interact with creative people other than myself.
Over the past week, I’ve been struck by a sense of longing for something, some kind of situation that I couldn’t readily put my finger on. The Meet the Maker challenge (and a walk with my husband) helped me put this undefined longing into words.
I have a few artists that I communicate with online. These are the artists that I feel as if we have ideas and ways of thinking and creating in common. Some, but not all, work with materials similar to mine. I am so thankful for these artists! They’re lovely people! Lately, I’ve wanted to replicate this kind of interaction, only live and in-person. I’ve looked for a group of doll makers that I could connect with, share ideas and techniques with, etc. I’ve been looking for groups online, in and outside of Finland, hoping that I can find my ‘tribe’ and have been disappointed that I haven’t found anywhere in which I felt as though I belonged. Many of the places are classes or workshops, and I just don’t have 300€ to spend on this kind of activity right now. It began to look pretty bleak and rather depressing for me and any hopes of finding creative people to meet, talk and work with.
My husband pointed out that I seemed to only be looking for people who make dolls, or are doll-adjacent in the their creative endeavors. He was right. I was. I’ve tried joining more traditional doll clubs and societies in the past (United States), but it never seemed to work out. Many of the clubs members wanted to make their dolls using other artists patterns, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make my own dolls. I always felt like the odd person out. So, why was I trying to re-create a situation like this again? It makes no sense.
I tried to remember a time in my past where I felt as though I was part of a larger creative, arts-oriented group of people, and that was when I was teaching elementary art in a fine arts program with almost one-hundred other visual and performing arts teachers. Within that large group, I had close friends and colleagues, each who created a different kind of artwork utilizing a wide variety of art mediums. We each made different types of art, while at the same time taught elementary art. I didn’t need make the same kind of art with them to benefit from their personal art creation. I could learn from each and every one of them, new and interesting ways of seeing the world and creating my personal artwork — and this, all in addition to learning new methods and techniques for teaching art in the classroom as well. I realized that this was the longing that I had; just being around other artists. The medium isn’t the important thing for me, it’s the creativity of thought and the sharing of methods and techniques I missed.
This brings me to the Meet the Maker March 2020. I have no preconceived expectations of ‘finding my tribe’ of creators and artists with whom I can form friendships with. I don’t expect to be published on the Meet the Maker March 2020 website either. Why? Because, realistically, I’m still not sure that I belong in this group, HOWEVER, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? There are things I can learn from the makers in this challenge. Many things. And who knows? Maybe there are some participants who feel like I do? Maybe they will read this and know that it’s okay not to fit everywhere, and that sometimes, it takes time to find your tribe.
So, I will keep on, keepin’ on with this challenge and learn all I can from it.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.
Many years ago, when I was in university studying art, I took a series of illustration courses that I loved. I remember getting the syllabus and list of required tools and supplies and among the board, pencils, markers, etc., was listed “Library Card”. I thought this was kind of odd. The instructor explained that a great deal of the illustrators job is doing research for their work. A good illustrator needed to know where and how to find visual references that can aide them in creating the illustrations that they will be paid to create. It had never occurred to me that an illustrator would have to do research for their work. I was very young, and not at all even remotely experienced as an illustrator or graphic designer. Needless to say, I learned a great deal during my four years in art school. The least of which was ‘get a library card so you can do research’.
There is a distinct similarity between my recent entrepreneurial endeavors and that first day of illustration class, however, no one has handed me a list of required tools, supplies and materials to help me with my business. No, that is not true. I have had immense amounts of help from Työbileet and their fantastic staff. It’s because of them, and what they’ve taught me that I can recognize the challenges and potential problems getting my business up and running, while at the same time, making sure that I’m designing a business that is a reflection of who I am as a person and how I want to be as an artist and art teacher in the greater world.
I have a notebook that I map out my website posts in. I jot down notes about what I want to write about, when I want to post new artwork for sale, and ideas about where I want to take the website in the future, as a vehicle for my business as an artist and art teacher. Keeping this notebook and jotting down these notes has helped me to have some good aha moments regarding a project I’m working on for my business. Some of these aha moments have been arrived at after I’ve done some online research into questions like, ‘Is anyone else doing this?‘ and ‘Is there a market for this?‘ Even more important for me, “What is the context in which I wish to present this work?”
There are other things in the notebook that are kind of at odd ends. Questions that I haven’t been able to answer, but which require additional research to help me make the right decisions for myself and my business.
Showing My Artwork:
I want to be showing my artwork more, both locally and regionally. My artwork doesn’t neatly fit into any one specific category. I make dolls, but they aren’t toys. I work in three dimensional mixed media, utilizing textile and fiber art. Some of the most logical venues, after some inquiry are just not open to me (Read: “They are in no way, shape, or form interested in showing or selling my work.”)
Part of me would think that language would be a barrier to finding these places and making the types of contacts, but it’s not. I read Finnish a lot better than I speak it, so I found many places to show artwork, but…it’s not the kind of place that would show my personal artwork.
I’m not in any way throwing up my hands and saying, “FINE!” I just need to keep looking and keep asking, and looking and asking. Hopefully without becoming an annoying bit of baggage in the bargain. And the benefit of all the looking and asking is, my Finnish will hopefully get better!
Teaching Art and Doll Making:
Recently, I was offered the opportunity to teach two art workshops at a local educational venue. I worked with the super cool staff and created two courses that we felt would be attractive to their students. Neither class received enough students, so each of the art workshops had to be cancelled. I was bummed-out about it, as I was so looking forward to teaching the workshops.
I’m an art teacher and I’ve got loads, heaps and bucket-fulls of lessons that I can teach. Since moving here, I’ve been concentrating on designing and creating art workshops and seminars for teenagers and adults. It’s been a lot of fun for me, because I love researching, designing and implementing art curriculum. I feel like I have so much to offer, but no place in which to offer it to anyone, which can be kind of depressing.
While thinking about what I could have done to make the art workshops that got cancelled more attractive to potential students, the thought struck me that I was trying to make myself fit into an educational institutions preconceived idea of what an art workshop or seminar is. I was making myself dependent upon a larger institution granting me an opportunity to teach art, instead of giving myself the go-ahead to teach art on my own, outside of that larger, more established institution. That sounds weird, doesn’t it?
When looked at from a different angle, I can teach art workshops and seminars to whomever I wish — well, to whomever wants to have me teach them, and I can decide on things like pricing for the workshop, and the venue, and the materials and techniques taught. That sudden revelation made it clear that I have other options. I just need to sort them out and see what I can make of them.
While it would still be super-nice to teach in one of these established educational institutions, I’m not going to sit on a log and cry and whine and moan because they’re not offering to have me teach in them. I will need to find my own way on this front, and that’s a good thing in the long run.
Let me first say, I don’t want to sell my artwork on Etsy. I’ve tried it in the past and it did not work for me. I think I made five sales total, and three of them were to people I knew. Etsy can be a great venue for lot of creators. It’s a ready made market place for crying-out-loud! What’s not to love about that?
Etsy’s not for me. I feel as if my artwork is lost on the platform. My work would just be one more handmade doll in a veritable sea of handmade dolls. I also don’t feel like my work belongs there because it’s not what sells on Etsy. I struggle to put it into the correct words, but my dolls, my artwork, they exist in this weird outer ether of not quite being Art (with that all-important capital A) and not quite “Craft” (in parenthesis, and with a capital C), and for these reasons, I don’t feel my work is right for Etsy.
I’d been trying to ignore the idea of putting my work on Etsy for quite a while, hoping that it would just go away and leave me alone. I decided to do some research in the hopes that I could make a decision that was good for me and my artwork and I found this site online. It’s worth the read and it did help me to make up my mind about Etsy for the foreseeable future.
Wow. I don’t belong in an Art gallery or on Etsy. So, where do I belong? Well, for right now, I belong on my own website, showing my own artwork and selling my own artwork. This feels right, so I won’t be changing it any time soon.
So as you can see, out of the three odd-ends, two are still more or less still at odd ends, with the third being fairly settled for the time being. There’s still a lot more work to do regarding teaching and showing my work, and while it would be so fantastically amazing if suddenly I got a teaching job or a local/regional gallery or association of artists would say, “Come! Be with us! Show your work here! Come to our meetings! There will be coffee and cake!” (“Tulkaa! Ole kanssamme! Näytä työsi täällä! Tule kokouksiin! Tulee kahvia ja kakkua!“) Because in any meeting in Finland, there is coffee, sometimes cake, or buns, or cookies, but always coffee. But it’s not a perfect world, and that’s just not going to happen, and that’s okay.
PS: I do have a card for the local library, so…I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
I recently re-posted this meme to my Instagram account. It’s true for many artists. I know this is funny, but it’s that deep, cutting kind of humor, in that it’s deeply rooted in the emotional pain an artist can feel regarding their work, their efficacy as an artist and their abilities to make a living at being a practicing artist. This type of humor can also be even more emotionally devastating when, like me, the artist creates artwork as a form of therapy, which I know is not unique at all, it simply complicates my relationship to the artwork I create, my personal sense of self-worth and how each of those relate to making money with art.
At various times in my past, I’ve been confronted by someone who didn’t understand why I would make art, a lot of art, and not sell it. The implication being, that if I was putting so much time, thought at energy into creating art, that I most certainly would be selling it. What other reason could there be to spend so much time creating art? I feel like this is a very American, culture of consumption manner of thinking. Everything is transactional, and amassing the greatest amount of money is the only end goal of any expenditure of time, thought and energy.
Yes. I have created artwork for myself alone, in the past, with no intentions of ever attempting to make money. That was not the reason the artwork was created. I was creating the art to get through the day, or the week, or the month. The creating of the artwork was what was keeping me mentally and emotionally intact. The art is my anchor to keep me from disintegrating into everything and everyone around me.
Do some people think that because I’ve already been ‘paid‘ for the artwork with my own sanity, that I should give my artwork away or at a cost so low that I cannot make a decent living at it?
It’s an odd situation to contemplate. It’s weird and complicated. The artwork created keeps me mentally and emotionally intact. The created artwork accumulates, and accumulates. The artwork is now physically getting in the way. The artwork is now staring at me and I’m staring at it (quite literally. I make dolls). I need to do something with it, so, the artwork is offered for sale.
Now, here’s where it all gets even weirder. All of the artwork I created for myself, to help keep me sane, doesn’t sell. When it doesn’t sell, it’s mentally and emotionally painful, not devastatingly painful, more of the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ kind of painful. Remember, my artwork is who and what I am on the inside. My thoughts and emotions, how I see and understand the world around me, etc., etc., and so forth. I came to art because I’ve never felt accepted. I was too weird, too loud, too obnoxious, etc., etc., yadda, yadda. So for me, when my artwork doesn’t sell, my knee-jerk reaction is to think, “Oh. I’m being excluded again. I’m being rejected again. My insides and my outsides are hideous. Lack of sales proves that. I’m worthless.” Then, off to make more art!
This is so messed-up.
I know this.
The meme is right. I do stare at my work until I hate it, but I’m not just hating my artwork. I’m hating myself.
I don’t know if there is any way of necessarily fixing any of this. I know that my artwork isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially the Creative Experiment doll series. I know that what I create and offer for sale is very niche and that the niche I’m in isn’t populated with an over-abundance of people with lots and lots of extra cash on hand to buy artwork with. I’m not boo-hooing and belly-aching about it. It’s just how things are for right now. For me, it’s more important to know where my feelings are coming from and how they affect my current and future actions.
Situations are always fluid and change is a constant. The way that I feel today will change, and I will adapt to whatever new circumstances I encounter in the future. Remember, art keeps me sane.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week.
Henri Rollins has helped to keep me grounded and not feel so alone as an artist for many, many years. L.A. Money Train is one of my favorite cuts off of Get Some, Go Again.
A week or so ago, I was thinking, “Huh. I’ve not gotten sick so far this winter. Weird.” I must have jinxed myself, because I got sick last week. Nothing horrible. A little fever, a horrid headache for the first 24 hours, and a stuffy nose with sinus pressure. It’s now at the tail end, after the better part of a week, with just a super-annoying cough that is just killing my throat. These elderflower lozenges (.99€ for two boxes at Lidl, in the check-out lanes) have been helping a lot