This weekend, I had my first experience with attempting to market my art. I was a participant in the Skyline Art Crawl. When I first eagerly and naively agreed to give it a shot – and when I was then admitted as an artist and signed my name in $70 blood – I had no idea about the amount of money, time, and emotion that was going to go into this.
As I realized that I had to come up with an affordable and professional way to display my art, and to pay for the means to make my existing art ready to purchase, I started lowering my expectations for what the show would be like. I did this as a means for protecting myself and my relationship to my art, because I was afraid that if I thought everyone would love me then having an average time would damage my relationship with my art. I think that was the best decision I made.
Facing a commercial audience of strangers with wildly varying levels of interest in my (or anyone’s) art was a challenge. Having people express interest in someone else’s art while seeing mine and not connecting with it was like having a child whose friends all win awards that your own child doesn’t get. It was just kind of ridiculous jealousy. Like, one artist, my neighbor all weekend, did phenomenal artwork with gun powder that nobody knew was possible. She deserved sales and attention. She was a sweetheart, personable and friendly and warm. But my yearning for the same sort of attention never went away.
At the same time (I typed “bed” the first time, clearly I am ready for bed) I made a lot of great connections with a lot of the artists there. And I have never felt closer to my work, or taken more ownership of it. I also decided what directions I do want to go, and which directions I absolutely do not want to go. I know that I have absolutely no interest in doing anything “commercial” with my art. I will continue to draw the things that I want to draw, for my own health and happiness. I was told by a few people what I “should” draw and nothing makes me want to draw something less than unsolicited advice. I make art because art moves me, and I refuse to allow that to ever change. If that means I will never work on commission, fine. If that means that my art will never make more than a couple hundred bucks, I will not lose any sleep over that. My art will change as I change, and it will grow as I learn and experiment. I am not the same artist I was seven years ago, or last year, and I will not be the same artist next year, or ten years from now.
The difficult part about putting all my work on display relates to the amount of passion and “self” that I put into my work. This definitely ties into having no desire to go commercial with my work. And, you know, dropping my art major to a minor, haha. I’ve always resisted being told what to do with my work, no matter who tries to tell me. And like, this is a little unrelated but I don’t want to forget to write it, even some other artists there agreed that some of the people who came through the crawl were “kind of cheap” and didn’t want to spend money on anybody. One lady told me she thought that was a Minnesota thing, to be reserved with your money – and she was from L.A., so I suppose she knows.
This was when I was pretty calm in the afternoon with Brooke there, and I had had a number of good sales and good conversation with people that cared about me. I did a silver umbrella underneath, which I then covered up, so the whole thing has a lovely rich silver sparkle. The magenta was colored over white, so it’s lovely and opaque.
So not only did this match the tablecloth that I had on my table PERFECTLY (which was creepy – I realized this AFTER doing it), Margaret told me it looked like an octopus, which I would have gotten from my neighbor’s octopus drawing haha. I tried to go really slow with this because I needed something besides the crawl to focus on, because it was really stressing me out in a number of instances. So I worked with a brush (weird) and left those light half-circles as negative space, which was a lot of fun to do. One older guy watched me start this and stood over me for a good five minutes just watching me, and it was great because he was silent and I was silent. Then he came back about a half hour later with his wife and he was like “Oh 🙂 It’s really coming along!”
This weekend, I agreed to be a live demonstrator and work on my artwork while the crawl was going on. This ended up allowing me to channel my admittedly tumultuous emotions into artwork. This is always how I work – I told one of my coworkers that stopped by that I could tell you every emotion and consequentially each event that occurred and led to each of the pieces I was selling.
With this particular piece, I was deliberately trying to speak to myself through my work. The words are pretty transparent in that I was really struggling with worrying about how I was doing when I knew that the crawl was going as I expected it to, if not better considering that I almost broke even and made money when I went in knowing full well that there was a chance I could make nothing.
I feel a stronger connection to my art now, and I feel even more driven to keep searching for the places where my art fits. I made some really special sales to three different strangers who really connected with my art. Two of these strangers fell in love with the same piece, “Breathe In.” The original was priced at a heartbreaking $200. I never felt worse about my prices than when someone passionately wanted that picture and couldn’t afford it. Both these strangers came back over and over again looking at the prints. I ended up dropping the prices for both of them, and I feel absolutely no guilt for doing so, no matter what any wise and experienced art seller would ever try to tell me. One of my buyers was a precious thirteen-year-old girl. She borrowed money from her aunt and uncle, who both said they know that of any of their nieces she was most likely to pay them back. She wanted my print so desperately that she asked for money for it. I know how hard that is, though it was probably easier at her age than it is now. I asked her how easy it would have been for her to get a frame for it, and when she hesitated, I pulled down the original “Breathe In” and swapped in the print into the frame for her. Later on, her aunt came by with the emerging artist and told me how starstruck that thirteen-year-old was by my kindness and by that silly piece. The other instance with “Breathe In” was pretty similar. It was a woman who came with her young son and her teenage (niece?) and also came back multiple times to look at “Breathe In.” I gave her an 8×10 print for $10 though it began at $45, and again, I have no regrets. I told her that I wanted people to have my art who passionately wanted it. If this is how I always sell my work from now on, I will never be unhappy about it. The last stranger who bought something bought something after standing with me for at least 15 minutes. She wanted to know the history behind every single piece I was selling. She fell in love with my digital work – she was the first person to make me feel like my digital work can be valued, too. She was an empathetic listener, which I rarely run into.
And now the movie I’m watching is almost over, and it’s about time to crawl into bed and black out for the night. Here’s to finding myself in my art all over again, and making a little bit of money and a lot of wonderful memories of passionate people.