Man, That Was Dumb


This post definitely falls under the category of Random Thoughts. While getting dressed the other morning, I happened to think of something I did a few years ago that I won't do any more. It just popped into my head and I began saying to my wife, " Remember when ?. . . . Man, that was dumb". She told me that little tale would make a good blog post. So here it is. 

I was fresh off of studying in New York and it was kind of my first professional move. I got a painting accepted into one of the big salon show competitions. I felt honored and thought of it as a big deal. A friend of mine from New York also had a couple paintings accepted and was going to come down for the show and stay with me. We were both excited. I felt very good about the painting I was showing and hoped it might raise my profile with collectors, or win a top prize, or sell, or all of the above! After I delivered the painting to the gallery for the show I got an email asking if I would like to participate in some advertising for the salon show. Again, I felt honored and thought well, they must think of my painting as one of the best to want to use it to promote the show. They were asking me to participate in a half page ad with three other artists. So four paintings would be featured in this ad in a major art magazine. Only thing is, the gallery wasn't paying for it, the artists were. $250 each. $250 was (and is) a lot of money to me. But, I was in go-for-it mode.  My wife and I thought it might help sell the painting, so it was a worthwhile investment. The magazine came out and it was a huge disappointment. The image of my painting was tiny and very dark. It looked awful. But, the disappointment of seeing the magazine is not why paying for the ad was dumb.

It was dumb because I looked at it as an investment. I may as well have laid $250 in the grass and run over it with a lawn mower. After all the time and work that goes into creating a painting, the cost of supplies, the cost of a frame, the gallery's 50% take, does it really make sense to be out another $250 before ever selling the painting? In the hope of selling the painting? I say NO! 

BUT Danny, you might say, it could have worked! Someone could have seen that tiny, crappy image in the magazine and called the gallery to buy the painting. Yes. True. But, I'd still be out $250. Do I want to offer a $250 discount on every painting? It just don't make no damn sense.

More philosophically, why are the artists paying the advertising costs for galleries? Especially an ad like the one described above where the images of the paintings are so small and the quality so low? An ad of that type is purely designed to advertise the gallery itself and the show at large. As one of probably 300 artists represented in this show, I had no business paying part of the advertising costs to promote that show. I, and probably over a thousand other artists already paid a fee, per painting, for the privilege of even being considered to be included in the show. Someone may make a compelling argument as to why an artist might split some advertising costs with the gallery. But, I don't get it. And I won't do it again. 

Paying for the ad was also dumb from an advertising strategy point of view. As I've learned from a friend who happens to be a marketing expert, buying advertising once doesn't work. Advertising works mostly from repetition. For a collector to take notice of my work and begin buying my work based on more visibility through magazine ads, I'd have to commit to at least a year, probably more, of buying ads. 

In Conclusion

I apologize if this post sounds a little rant-y. That is not my intention. I just want to report on a mistake I made in the past, so  that some young buck (or doe) in that same position might think twice about laying down the cash. We have entered a very difficult and financially risky profession. That is why we have to be extra careful with how we spend our money. It's easy,in the beginning of our career, to get swept up in the dream that one thing like a magazine ad can expose our work to millions. And, that once the masses get a load of this incredible painting they're seeing in the magazine, money will rain down from the rafters and we'll be carried off the court on the shoulders of our teammates after hitting a three point buzzer-beater to win the championship. Don't buy it, my friends. Spend that $250 on paint or frames or canvas or stretcher bars or brushes or whiskey. If a gallery wants you to participate financially in an ad because of all the exposure and sales you'll receive, let them prove it. With their money. You're already paying them half of your sales. 

By the way, my gallery has never asked me to pay money towards an ad of any kind, and I love them. Oh, and the painting ended up selling months later in my gallery (Cordair) and was honored in the salon with a "Top 30" distinction. 








Be the Early Bird (Updated)

As an artist, productivity is often on my mind. As in, How can I get more paintings done? or When can I devote regular time to my  blog, or do more plein air painting, or, or, or . . . etc? But, mostly, since I want to earn the bulk of my income from selling paintings, it's "how can I get more paintings done?"

Well, after having a conversation with an artist friend who is very productive despite having a family with young children, I have done ONE thing to significantly change my level of productivity. He told me that on his studio days he's working at 6 am. I've often heard that some of the most productive people are early risers, and, of course, it makes since. It's something I've just told myself is not for me. I'm a night owl. I love those late hours when everyone is in bed and I can really buckle down and get things done. Except, I don't. I have every intention of getting things done. But, I don't. And, I finally had to admit to that to myself. What I'm really doing during that time is pouring over that night's box score and stats from the Ranger game, cruising political websites, watching the latest Arrow or Justified episode, doodling in my sketchbook, . . . etc.  I enjoy that time, but it's not productive. And, I'm tired in the morning. 

The ONE Thing

SO. I've begun getting up early to be sitting at the easel by 5:30 am Monday thru Friday. That gives me an extra 10 hours of painting time per week. At  7:30 I begin getting ready for my day at Gemini, where I teach and get about 20 hrs of studio time. A consequence of getting up by 5:30 am is that I have to get to bed much earlier. So now I'm in bed by 10:30 pm. I lose those great night time hours, but as I said before, they weren't productive anyway. This change in schedule has forced me to be more deliberate overall with the use of my time. I've found myself thinking ahead much more, because I want that work time to be maximized. Paraphrasing Ben Franklin, "Don't put off till tomorrow what can be done today." Before going to bed I make sure my palette is clean and on the taboret, and that my egg cooking skillet is clean and in position on the stove top. 

Further Inspiration . . . 

One person I admire quite a bit in the world is Alex Epstein. He's the founder of the Center for Industrial Progress and the man behind the mic on the podcast "Power Hour" . On the May 9th episode of Power Hour Alex talked about what he's learned about productivity over the years and how he applied those practices to his latest challenge of writing his forthcoming book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels from cover to cover in four months. If you listen to one episode of Power Hour, listen to the May 9th episode!

  Update . . . 

So, since I wrote this original post, a couple of things have changed ( to say the least). First, the school year has ended so I'm no longer required to be somewhere between the hours of 9 and 6. Second - and this is a big one - my daughter was born! Those two things have dramatically changed my schedule. But, anticipating this, I sat down and wrote out a schedule for myself. I know, Duh, right? Well, I've never done that before, and I know I'm not the only one. At least, I've never written myself a schedule and stuck with it. But this time is different. I'm committed, I'm doing it, and I love it. Here's the schedule I wrote out for myself:

7:00 - 9:00 -- Paint

9:00 - 10:00 -- Breakfast/Shower

10:00 - 1:00 -- Paint

1:00 - 2:00 -- Lunch

2:00 - 4:00 -- Read/Answer emails/Write/Sketch/Think

4:00 -- Workout/Shower

5:00 -- Cook Dinner

That's what I wrote out. In practice, it's been modified. I get up between 6:30 and 6:45, make coffee and set up my palette. I grab a couple of Lara bars (Peanut Butter Cookie ONLY) and a fresh mug of coffee and get it on - skipping the 9 to 10 breakfast and shower. Yes, I'm in the clothes I slept in for most of the day. So I start painting at 7, not breaking until around 10:30 or 11 when my wife pokes her head in the studio with my daughter to say Hi. I hug and smooch my daughter for a bit and continue painting till 1. Then lunch till 2, and back in the studio till 4. 

With my newborn daughter, my 10 yr old stepson and my wife all being home right now, it is a challenge to stick to my schedule. I won't say I've been able to totally do it every day, but pretty darn close. The distractions are many, and we all have them. That's why we have to wake up every day resolved to stick to our guns and get things done. 



The Art Movie You Need to See - The Incurable

Photo by Dutch Rall

Photo by Dutch Rall

In the summer of 2006, a movie was made about my hand. Ok, not just about my hand, but mostly. In true arthouse movie form there was a lot of pretty stuff shot, some quiet, contemplative dialogue, and then . . .  at long last . . . My Hand.  

Joking aside, Dutch Rall made a truly beautiful movie that I feel lucky to have been a part of. It's called, The Incurable,  and it is finally available to rent or buy here. It's the story of a reclusive artist who slowly makes his way back to the world and back to making art, and of an aspiring artist who finds the courage to go her own way. The movie stars Miriana Andreeva and Art Peden. Do yourself a favor and see this movie!

A few months before I moved to New York, I was home on a Sunday when I got a phone call from my good friend Michael Sloan. He was running a drawing group at the Austin Visual Arts Association at the time. He told me there was a couple that showed up during the session that day who were looking for a competent artist to participate in a movie they were making. Since he didn't have time in his schedule, and since I was unemployed with all the time in the world, he suggested they drive over to my apartment and see me. I agreed. I put some pants on, made some fresh guacamole and waited for my guests.  

Not 15 minutes later Dutch and Jeni Rall rapped at the door of my East Austin studio apartment, which was in a building that looked like it was probably a Best Western motel about 20 years earlier.  Dutch and Jeni are the kind of people you like immediately, and I did. They told me a little about their project, though I realized after they left that they didn't tell me what the movie was about. I just knew that they needed someone to do figure drawings. So I showed them some of my work, we bonded over our mutual love for Jeff Buckley (I must have had him playing in the background), and that was that. I was hired. I think as much as they were impressed with my work, they were equally desperate to find someone quickly who could handle the job and would work for cheap. They were making a movie on less than a shoestring budget and needed to get it done quickly. I was their man.

Before they left I offered them some of my fresh guacamole, but they politely declined. I was slightly insulted, but I guess guacamole is not something you accept from a dude you just met in a somewhat seedy apartment. Though we did just share a moment over Jeff Buckley. Anyway.

A few days later I met them in the Texas Hill Country town of Wimberley to do the drawings. We filmed on the property of an artist who made large scale sculptures. Unfortunately, I don't recall her name. But I remember being impressed with the work. It was fun. Art (who played the recluse artist) and I took turns wearing a denim shirt as Dutch filmed my hand drawing, then filmed Art sitting at the easel pretending to draw. The figure drawings you see in the movie were all done live as Miriana posed and Dutch filmed.  

"You Can't Polish a Turd, Beavis."

When Butthead tells Beavis that "You can't polish a turd," What he means is that great drawing is the indispensable foundation to any great work of art. Before struggling with paint, art students need to focus on building strong drawing skills. Learn to see spatial relationships, points, tilts, shapes, and translate them to paper. Learn to model form based on the relationship of the light source to your subject  . . . etc. Be relentless in your pursuit to acheive great drawing skill. 

Ted & Tony, Welcome to my studio

 Ted (L) and Tony (R), hosts of "Suggested Donation"

 Ted (L) and Tony (R), hosts of "Suggested Donation"

I've been listening to podcasts almost exclusively in the studio lately. So I was excited to hear that Edward "Ted" Minoff and Tony Curanaj have to started a podcast called "Suggested Donation". And, it's excellent. I had the privilege of being a student of both of these guys during my time at Grand Central Academy. They're great guys and great artists. Give it a listen. You can stream it from the website (link above) or, do what I did, subscribe  for free through the Podcasts app on your iPhone. 

So far the guys have interviewed artists Graydon Parrish and Patricia Watwood, two superstars in the current renaissance of classic representational art. According to the website, they will be branching out and talking to artists and skilled craftsman from a broad range of disciplines, including chefs and bicycle makers. 

To Which Gallery Should I Send This Painting?

Short answer: To the one who acts like they want it. 

Many artists have their work represented by multiple galleries. I currently have work in two different galleries. This is a good thing, but sometimes it can be difficult to decide where to send a painting. Sometimes a gallery is  having a particular show that they want you to participate in. In that case, the decision is easy. You make a painting for that show, and send it to that gallery. But, as is often the case for me, I make a painting I want to make, and then have to decide to which gallery it goes.

There are logistic considerations. One gallery I have to ship to, one I don't. In regards to the painting in question, packing and shipping cost is especially important. This painting is on the large side. Advantage: local gallery.

I also think about which gallery has an audience that might respond to the subject matter of the painting. For example, I'd send my Cowboy paintings to my gallery in Colorado, and my Clam Chowder paintings to my gallery in New England. For this painting, I think both galleries would have an interested audience. 

Next, which gallery do I need to feed at this time? Meaning, how long has it been since I last sent them a painting? The gallery I have to ship to is hungry. But, they are also the gallery I have to ship to.  Again, I'd like to avoid that upfront cost. 

What to do, what to do?


Well, I've made up my mind. It came down to this: One gallery reached out to me to say they like the painting, and hope I send it to them. And, one gallery didn't. So, I'm going to ship the painting. I will pay the cost of packing and shipping, and suffer the anxiety of placing my painting in the care of a pimply-faced teenager at Fed-Ex. Why? Because, sometimes I spend months working on a painting, and it's kind of nice to feel that my gallery appreciates that. Frankly, most galleries have no idea what goes in to making paintings, and don't care. It's just a commodity to them, a piece of inventory. 

As long as artists need galleries (and I think we still do), we have to deal with galleries who are enthusiastic about our work. Take a look at the roster of artists on some gallery websites. They're endless. I counted 140 artists on the roster of one gallery where I used to show. With that many artitsts, it's easy to get lost. And, can you really expect that gallery to give attention to 140 different artists? True, it's our job to distinguish ourselves, but there's only so much wall space. 

So, to have a gallery express excitement about my work means something. It, hopefully, means that they will do more to expose my work. They will be proud to associate the work with their gallery. Bottom line, they will probably put more energy into selling the painting. And, that's what it all comes down to: Selling the painting.