Tuesday 21 July 2015

Things I'm doing this summer

It's finally the summer holidays. 

A huge, generous sigh of relief...the dreamy feeling of relaxing, resting and going to the coast.

A decadent feeling of being unhurried, of spending time with family and friends, of a friends summer wedding, of barbeques, picnics and walks in the woods.  Of sipping cool white wine under the stars on a warm evening, lying in bed reading a book and listening to the summer birds in the sky outside my open window....

Summer...long days, warm days, sunshine and flowers, bare toes in the sand, cool waves and sea swimming...

And art.

In the past I have struggled a bit with summer holidays.  My work seems to come to an abrupt end as I slam headlong into the six week break, but this year, I invested the Ultimate Business Survival Guide for the School Holidays - a course of podcasts and fabulous advice, from The Girls Mean Business, and for the first time ever, I feel that I will be able to keep my little art business ticking over whereas in the past, I haven't - I've let it drift and believed that I couldn't both work and look after my family!  I strongly urge you to bob along to Claire's website if you are a small creative business owner with young children - it's priceless and the supportive information will make you feel like you aren't the only one tearing your hair out as you struggle to keep all the balls in the air.

I wanted to share an interview that I did recently for the wonderful Yay Retro.  I often visit this website to drool over their amazing vintage and retro wares that they have on sale, and to read their excellent blog, and so needless to say I was over the moon when they got in touch and asked if I'd be interested in having a chat!  You can find me in the 'Our Friends' section on their blog, and read the interview right here.

I will pop back at intervals over the summer, to keep you posted about what I'm up to.  I also have something majorly exciting unfolding at the moment which I will be able to share with you in the coming weeks.

I'm planning on taking a watercolour sketch book away with me on holiday this summer, and will share snaps of what I'm creating on my Instagram - I really like visual diaries, and have dabbled in the past but spurred on by some great pictures I've found on Pinterest, I've decided to have a proper go at making my own this year.  I'll be using a Fabriano art journal, taking my travel set of Sennelier watercolours with me, and a pencil case of fine line pens and pencils.  

Have a wonderful Summer! (or winter, if you're one of my southern hemisphere readers)

Friday 10 July 2015

Things you might not know about being an artist - part 2

As a creative person who works for herself, running her own business, I have the lovely job of painting for a living.  As much as I love this side of things, I have also had to embrace the more businessy side of things, which includes organising my accounts, filing stuff, emailing people, and pricing.

Pricing.  Ah yes, that little chestnut which can cause so much grief and panic for the creative person, bring up all manner of insecurities and fears.

I have been using a basic formula for a few years now which seems to work well for me.  It's jolly simple and includes these elements:

Cost of materials used - such as paint, canvas, framing(including supporting costs and any overheads)
Time - how long it has taken to create the work
Profit - which speaks for itself

Usually, profit is the last thing I figure in, because lets face it and be totally honest - we're in business to make money - its not a hobby, its not a bit of a laugh - we're earning money to pay for our kids swimming classes, new clothes, a bill, to put food on the table so the profit is the essential bit on the top, the amount we get after we've covered our outgoings.
Most of us run a creative business because we love it, and if we didn't, we'd combust or something equally awful.  It's not always an easy career choice, it can be antisocial, sales can fluctuate with the seasons and it can be a giant ballache at times when your mojo goes on holiday.

We also want to contribute to the family income, we want to have something to do alongside being a Mum, a partner, a wife and so on (or, not wanting to exclude anyone - Hubster or Dad if you're a chap who happens to be reading this post).  We want something for us, but we ultimately want a bit of financial independence doing something we love.

So, with these three basic elements covered I then check out the competition.  By this I mean that I look at what my contemporaries are producing, and I also see what they are currently charging.

The reason I do this is because I don't want to price myself out of the market, I don't want to undersell myself, and I also don't want to undercut others as this devalues what EVERYONE is doing.  It's not good business etiquette and you're not doing your reputation any favours in the long run if you do this.  Familiarising myself with what other artists are doing helps to keep me on track.

There's a whole heap of other stuff involved in pricing too - such as marketing your work and actually getting the stuff to sell (which I'll save for another post) but for now I've covered the basics.

I'm going to bring up the subject of discounts in this post too, because I feel it's relevant.

Sometimes I offer a percentage off certain ranges of my art.  These have been carefully calculated and are not usually done on a whim.  I have still factored in all of the three elements above, and have decided that yes, I can still cover costs and earn a profit at this particular time - it's also a nice gesture to offer my loyal customers, or gives new ones an incentive to buy something from me.  However, I couldn't afford to run my business like this all of the time, I'd be running at a loss.  So, I sometimes feel a little put out when I get emails from people asking for discount.  In the past, I've agreed to it, but now I don't.  I personally wouldn't wander into a shop and ask for a discount on an item I liked.  I'd see what it cost and accept that that was the price, and if I wanted it badly enough I'd pay it (or save up until I could afford to buy it).

I wonder if the people who ask artists for discount actually understand what goes into creating an original, or a run of limited edition prints?  It's not been mass produced in a factory in China, it's something that has been produced over time with a lot of thought and love.  It's emotive, it creates a connection within the person who sees it.  The need for a piece of art can be impulsive or calculated (based on whether it will match the furnishings in the living room).  When you buy art from an artist, you are essentially buying a little piece of that person - before they created it, it didn't exist.  You're getting a glimpse of the insides of someone's imagination.  What is produced by brush, pen, stitch, clay or any other medium is a rare and unique piece of work.  When you stop to think about it, it's pretty amazing isn't it? 

Some artists I have spoken to in the past have broken down their pricing and discover they are earning way below the minimum wage when calculating their costs on an hourly basis.  They've been shocked by this and it is shocking...you wouldn't expect anyone else to work for less that that, so why would anyone expect an artist to do so? 

I think it would be lovely if there were more support for artists and creatives.  People such as our Education Secretary don't exactly help when they suggest that choosing art is a future of limited career choices- what belittling rubbish!  Imagine a world without art, without colour...imagine a world without the possibility of illustration, photography, paintings, ceramics, greetings cards, wallpaper, textile and pattern design...oh the list is endless!  Lets be honest, it would be a dull old place without it, wouldn't it?


Friday 3 July 2015

What you might not know about being an artist

I used to think that artists were very glamorous, bohemian sorts who wafted through their days, painting leisurely, then meeting like minded souls for drinks where they would indulge in deep conversation about their work in crowded corners of fashionable coffee bars.

It seemed to me to be a utopia of all things I dreamed of; from the paint splashed artists smock one would naturally wear, to the inspired aura one would naturally exude.  Their lives, to my young imagination, were a carousel of parties, laughter and a constant outpouring of creativity in messy studios...

...lets fast forward to the reality.

Being an artist is a fabulous job, don't doubt if for a minute.  And if you harbour any desire or inclination to be one, and you've got a bit of talent or raw passion from which to start with then I urge you to study hard in your art classes at school and college, draw relentlessly and spend lots of time developing your own sweet style.  To live in a world where you get to paint for a living, to earn an income from what you do (whilst sitting in your pajamas if you fancy) is rewarding on so many levels.  I will never forget the buzz of the first sale, of my first international customer, of people actually liking what I did enough to buy it.  This is stuff dreams are made of, right?


And no.

There was a conversation that unfolded yesterday with an artist friend of mine, and it led me to write this post for you today.  I wanted to lay bare the bones of this work, to tell you the hidden truths that we all live with, the difficult bits and what we do to overcome them.

There are times when you sit down, and an idea comes to mind and you sketch bits out and out of nowhere this fantastic feeling suffuses your very bones with delight - yes, this is it, you're onto a sure fire winner, you can feel it, you just know....and then you're off!  Paints are squirted generously onto the pallette, the canvas, board or paper is struck with colour, your vision comes to life and its the best feeling in the world because when art flows, it really flows and there's nothing like it.

Then there are those times where it doesn't.

And you sit and you stare at the blank paper in front of you, and your mind whirrs relentlessly with chores and other mundane stuff you have to do, and there is this massive black hole where your imagination used to be that has seemingly gone on a vacation without telling you.  There's nothing there.  Nothing at all.

You scribble a bit in your sketch book...it looks terrible, its bloody awful.  You start again on another page, no - its not happening.  Then the frustration kicks in; the irritation is followed by anger sometimes and its not unusual at this stage to shove everything in a drawer and eat a packet of Jaffa Cakes instead.
You feel like you will NEVER be able to create another piece of work ever again!  What will you do? How will you earn any money if you have nothing to paint?  This feeling has reduced me to actual tears in the past, and no doubt will do again.  You feel like giving up, you're clearly no good - what's the bloody point?!

Each painting, each piece of work, is a journey.  It is fraught with emotion and feeling.  An artist pours their entire heart and soul into a work, and the finished piece is infused with joy, love and happiness that the artist felt when they created it. 

There are however, those pieces that lie unfinished at the back of a cupboard, something that started off well but suddenly felt like it was going wrong, so you leave it to come back to at a later date.  I have done this before and sometimes this solution works fine.  You come back to it with fresh eyes, see clearly what needs doing to make amends and so continue on the journey and finish your painting.  Sometimes not even time can help, I have pictures half finished from years ago that for some reason I just haven't been able to part with.  I know in my heart I will never finish them yet they are still here as reminders of something that didn't work out.  I sometimes look at them and in all honesty I still don't have all the answers as to why.  It's more of a feeling rather than a clear knowing.

When your mojo leaves town, when you feel like your number is up and its time to put away your artist's smock, I'd like to reassure you that it isn't.  You will notice over time that there are seasons to your art.  You will have fallow times and ripe, juicy times.  There is a time to create and a time to be quiet and percolate ideas.  It is part of the process, there is no forcing of this tender subject, and you will have to learn to roll with it.  You will learn to handle the emotions it brings, you will learn to understand that the quiet parts are just as essential as the furious creative parts.  You will know that it will make you angry at times and euphorically happy.  You will learn that it's not just you, it's all of us.

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