Saturday, 12 July 2008

Admin and all that

I think when I decided to become a full time artist towards the beginning of last year, I had some sort of idealistic image of wafting into the studio (or, in those days, the corner of the study!) and producing masterpiece after masterpiece, without interruption.

The reality is pretty far from that, and I am very grateful for the business background I acquired during the previous 16 years of running my own interior and furniture design company.

Art needs to sell, and in the beginning, until one is able to reach the level where it is in such demand that it is sold before it is painted, (and if even Van Gogh never got to that point in his lifetime, there is no guarantee that it will ever happen! ) it takes a lot of effort. But the aspect that has surprised me is the degree of organisation that is required.

There are several galleries which organise open exhibitions on a regular basis, often with themes which are announced in advance, so that pictures can be prepared specifically for them. But one has to build relationships with the gallery owners, and keep in touch with them, in order to keep up with what is happening when and where.

Some offer solo exhibitions as well, which requires the preparation of a large body of new work, often in a limited time frame. There are a lot of logistics to consider, sometimes the galleries help with them, but often it is left to the artist to handle invitations (design, printing and posting, which means building up a mailing list of interested people) hanging the pictures (having arranged framing if necessary), catering, press releases etc.

Talking to the press at the opening of a recent exhibition

There is the internet, often these are international sales, and all the work sold in this way has to be carefully packaged, quotes need to be obtained for various modes of shipping, and foreign payment facilities need to be sorted out. There are commissions received via various sources. And I have found it necessary to create a catalogue of all my work on my computer, with photographs saved in 3 different sizes (high res, medium for my blog and tiny for e-mails and the website.)

And then there is the issue of pricing. Do I value my work too highly, or do I undervalue it compared to what clients perceive its worth to be? And as I get better known, do I get stuck in a rut of familiar prices, or do I keep escalating them, and by how much? How do I cope with the fact that different galleries require different commissions and hanging fees, and if I sell in foreign currency with different exchange rates, how do I deal with that?

With regard to this side of the art world, I am lucky to be married to an Excel boffin, who has set up a wonderful database for me. All I do is decide how much I want for a painting, and punch in the commission structure of the particular gallery or website that is selling it. Then it calculates the selling price for me, and converts it into US$, Euros and pounds. The main thing, when painting frantically and meeting tight deadlines is remembering to photograph and catalogue all works before dispatching them.
For me, my lack of any sense of time is the biggest handicap. When I am on a creative roll, I lose all track of the time, and often have the flimsiest idea of the date! But delivery dates and collection dates come and go relentlessly, and need to be kept track of. This gets complicated when there is work in several galleries simultaneously.

Creating art is a right brain activity, while the admin and organisation is a left brain function. I have found it necessary to develop the ability to switch between the two on a regular basis, but for me it works better if I dedicate a block of time to creating, and then a block to admin. I do not paint as well if I am interrupted by the real world frequently while trying to remain in my creative "zone".

empty easel and blank canvas, a sure sign that at the time these were taken, I was involved in running around sorting out admin, between creative bursts!

Sadly, not all galleries are as efficient as they should be, and I have also found that I need to keep tabs on who has what, and if it has been sold, did they remember to pay me for it. Because I am a fairly prolific painter, I have a big portfolio to keep track of, and in the beginning I found out the hard way that no-one is going to do it but me!

So the next time you see an artist and think dreamily that it must be wonderful living on cloud nine all the time, think again! Cloud nine often drops one back to earth with a bump. Still, I have not regretted the decision for a moment, and feel really blessed and privileged to be able to follow my heart like this.

Now, where did I put my camera?

1 comment:

Megan Coyle said...

It is pretty crazy how difficult it is to be a professional artist. There are so many things that need to be taken into consideration--like how the whole profession is like being an entrepreneur. I've realized that universities should teach art business classes for art majors, since, well, you never know what you're in for until you're in the real world.

As for collages fading--the problem is that paper is such a delicate material that it will fade some day. Varnishes help protect the paper from fading too soon, although it helps if you varnish the collage and also keep it stored in a dark or dimly lit room.