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Sunday, August 24

dinner with friends

I have made good friends on the art show circuit. Soul mate friends. Casual friends. The early morning set up chaos is interrupted often with hugs and jovial reunions as if we hadn't seen each other 2 shows ago. And the question invariable turns to what was your last show and how was it? The "how was it" question translates to  "did you make any money"? Times are tough in art show land and we spend a lot of down time exploring options

Do I "dumb down" my line and make a lot of widgets? Widgets are low priced times like magnets with your art work on them. Do I cut down on shows and wholesale or consign to shops? Boy, that's a topic for its own blog.

So, last night, after the first night of the Elmwood Avenue FOTA, we went out to dinner with 2 couples and caught up and did the "how did you do?" dance. One couple has a line of sophisticated, artful designs of wildflowers. They sell everything from large, framed prints to tiny magnets. They do every well, but even they are starting to reconsider the art show option. The other artist sells beautiful copper plate prints of whimsical people and fairies and animals. She is a fine artist and is discouraged. I have been transitioning from a book artist (people just don't journal anymore) and I am focusing on mixed media collage. With mixed results.

I love art shows. I love everything (almost) about them: the early morning, focused mayhem, the customers, the sense of doing something from your heart. I even love festival food. Usually. I feed off the compliments of the people who come into my booth and comment on my work, even if they don't buy it. Art is a solitary profession. You spend hours every day, alone, in a studio with no one to ask "this look OK?". You put it all out there, a chunk of your soul, for people to judge. Not for sissies. And when you get positive feedback from people, it starts to fill you back up.

But now I wonder if this way of life is going to sputter and die as the baby boomers who populate the majority of the little white tents give up. Not many young people are choosing this life.

This morning I will head back out there, put on a happy face and try not to think of the bills I have t pay or the vacation I may not be able to take after all. Because last night I felt the joy of what following your heart means. I hugged and laughed with beautiful people that I would not know if I didn't take part in this crazy business. Our dinner took two hours but it felt like minutes. Then we stood on the sidewalk and continued to laugh and talk, even though we were all exhausted from the long day.

How did I do yesterday? If you're talking money...not great. If you're talking riches, I killed it :)

Wednesday, June 4

I may be doing something right

I got an email from a friend this morning. She had been tracked down by a women who had received one of my collage prints as a gift.The print had been tossed by the maintenance people at her office (it was on top of a stack of papers or something) and she was trying to find the artist to get another one. She said she loved it and was getting ready to hang it.

Apparently she found out that it had been purchased in Buffalo, so she contacted Artists in Buffalo asking if anyone recognized the work and my buddy, Anne, said oh yes she did.

And so it was that the woman found me and I was able to send her a new print.

So, OK, this is not exactly a sequel to the Holy Grail story or anything, but it was important to me to know that my collage work was so loved by someone that she would go to the trouble to track me down .  It reaffirms, just as the season is starting, that I am on the right track, transitioning from book maker to collage artist. It tells me that maybe I am kinda good at it. It energizes me and makes me want to do better.

The truth will be down by the end of the month. A market and 2 art shows in June. 

Fingers crossed. No, too hard too work that way. 

I am doing what I love. No need to ask for luck, I have it.

Wednesday, May 21

gray skies

My uncle taught me about the beauty of gray days.

 He was an artist who painted on nights and weekends,  taught Spanish to Long Island teenagers during the week. He moved to New York when it became too difficult to be a closeted gay man in Buffalo. I missed him so much when he moved and nobody would explain why he gave up a job he loved to move 400 miles down the highway to do the same job somewhere else. He came home for a couple of weeks in the Summer and every Christmas the holiday officially started when he got off the plane carrying bags from Bloomingdales and Macy's.

I loved him because he "got" me. He wanted me to be a writer and he would critique my fumbling attempts with tact. He taught me about art and theater and both of those things became large in my life.  When I got married and we moved into our first little house, he helped me paint orange crates with red enamel for shelving and bought us a beautiful black, gray and white Raya rug to make us feel like millionaires. He was an art collector and shared his excess with all of us. When I shared a growing fascination with Magritte, he swelled with pride.

Finally, he retired and made plans to move home. He rented an apartment in a complex near Mom's house and they spent their days reminiscing about growing up in a neighborhood of immigrants and ne'er do wells, bringing us to tears with their funny stories. He and Mom dragged out the family recipes and tried to recreate my Grandmother's flan or rice pudding. They went to auctions and flea markets. We all blossomed under this new fresh air and light.

But it wasn't long before he got sick, his 4 pack a day habit turning his move home to a farewell instead of a long 3rd act. It was devastating.

Before that happened, though, while we were unpacking his boxes one October afternoon, he taught me one more thing. I looked outside and sighed and complained about the dark, gray Fall sky and wished for sunshine. He stopped and walked me to the big glass sliders that led to his deck and told me to look, really look. To look at how vibrant the leaves were against the gray. How the light, diffused, brought the world into sharp focus. How the branches looked like pen and ink.

So, this morning, when I pulled the drapes open, I saw a dark gray sky and noticed how my neighbors gingerbread house looked so colorful with that backdrop and how the new tender green of the trees almost glowed with life and I thought of him, 20  years gone now, and how we never know what we leave behind, how our lives touch others.

I thought the best gifts he brought were in the Bloomies bags at Christmas, but it turns out his most important gift was presented on a gray Fall day, surrounded by cartons and chaos, one hand on my shoulder, the other pointing to the beautiful gray sky above.

Wednesday, April 16

dose of reality

I will be blogging more soon, but just to grease the gears a bit I am going to confess.

I watch reality TV. Not the Springer/Maury type, the Housewife and Judge type. Singing competitions. I will add documentaries to the mix just to make me sound smarter, although it is true I am a documentary addict.

The men in my house are amused by this. It does not fit into their perception of me as a relatively intelligent, creative, snarky person. I am supposed to disdain such frivolity for the  manipulative BS it is. And I do, I do. But I watch anyway. They roll their eyes at each other when I settle into my big chair to watch Judge Judy. There was a time when this addiction embarrassed me but now I flaunt it and refuse to be forced to switch to Nova. 

Then I read one of those articles about how certain types of people share the same traits. Creative people, it said, are voyeurs. I read the same thing once about writers. Voyeurs all. Yes! I am not addicted to tacky TV, I am an artist!

Truth be told, my voyeuristic tendencies have always been known to me. I love nighttime with its lighted windows offering glimpses into other lives. At restaurants, I try not to stare as I ponder what the dynamics are and where they were before they came in, where they will go when they leave. A few weeks ago, a table full of older West Side Italian guys had  me mesmerized as I listened to them discharge all the cares of the world over endless cups of coffee in a few sentences each, punctuated by dismissive gestures and sarcasm, their accents bringing My Dad and Uncle to my mind with sweet sadness.

I have been known to peek into medicine cabinets, but I broke myself of that habit because it seemed creepy, even though I understand my own motives.

So, today, watching People's Court, I am curious about why a person would pierce themselves a certain way, what made you choose that outfit for TV. Two women suing each other, one with artfully applied makeup, lots of jewelry, expensive bag on the table beside her. The other has a bad haircut, little makeup, a shirt that screams cheap. They both intrigue me although I find myself rooting for the simpler woman. I picture them getting ready for this, in their real world outside this fake courtroom. This is how my mind works.

When the home buying shows are one, I am most likely to be not as fascinated by the homes as I am by the buyers being interviewed in their old house. Do you really keep you kid's toys there? Look at all the knives in that kitchen. Do none of these people put nice linens on the bed when a camera crew is coming? I have those same curtains! Macy's, on sale.

So, do not judge me, indulge me. It is a harmless addiction. It amuses me and it is free. And leave your curtains open at night. I'm interested in what you hang on your walls :)

Saturday, March 1

springing ahead

I am not going to complain about this interminable Winter. I choose to live in a 4 season climate. Four extreme, identifiable, sometimes glorious, sometimes hellish seasons. Winter is just one of four. Snow is part of it. We deal with it. Shortly after it falls, the plows come barreling, sparks flying from the blade, and the streets are clear. One develops a technique for climbing up a snow bank and down to your car door and back so you can open it and a slow awkward slide and turn to get in. Easy peasy. Spring is wet and green and the air is sweet and soft. Summers are perfect. Sunny. Not too hot, only a few humid days, beaches close by. Fall. Ah, Fall. A riot of color, leaves underfoot, the tiniest tang of chill in the mornings, air that is clear and sharp. So, remembering this, I can handle this infernal, worse than ever Winter. Which doesn't keep me from counting the days until Spring (20)

Deciding to move more into art with my collage work is a new "season" for me. Like Spring, there is a freshness to it, growth. There is also uncertainty, but the promise of something new softens the anxiety of it, makes it feel more like anticipation.

I received my first rejection of the year after several seasons of 100% acceptance. It is a show I've been accepted to before so there are probably more factors involved than just the work, I chose a more popular weekend with no 2nd choice for another. I will believe that to be the reason.

The reality is that people just aren't buying handmade books like they used to when I started doing this 16 years ago. It's all online now. Even I blog here instead of in a book. It is time to move on.

So I dropped a few more apps in the mail today, burned some CD's of images. Realized I have a lot of growing to do in this new art.

Good thing it's Spring.

Sunday, January 19

ennui go

The dictionary describes ennui thusly:"Listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom"

I like this word, There is something whimsical about the spelling of it, the sound of it. I mean, who makes a word like this?  But I don't like feeling it. And I was feeling it.

Not sure why, but I do think it happens this time of year pretty regularly. It's probably a combination of let down after a busy show season and the holidays and the gray/black/white landscape that never changes. My instinct is to hunker down into my hoodie and read beach novels. But we know that cannot happen. It is app season, for one thing, and there is much work to do.

Yesterday I had a lovely exchange with a man who ordered a special collage to go into an antique frame he bought at a flea market. He brought the frame to me at the Mayday show in November and I told him I wouldn't be able to get to it until after the holidays. He is a very sweet guy. Warm and funny and energetic. The frame is a beauty and I will confess that I thought it far too special for my little collage.

I brought the frame to my wholesaler and he priced the cost to frame it. I called the man, told him the price for the frame and shipping and what I would charge for the artwork, He said it all sounded fine except for the price.

He thought it was too low and he insisted on paying both of us more. Yep, read that sentence again.

This does not happen. He said he believed people should be paid properly for their work. I stammered a bit but I knew that this is really what he wanted to do. Wait till I tell the framer. He won't believe it either.

It is hard to price artwork. You can't really charge for time. Art is not hourly labor. You can't charge for supplies or painters would be selling their work for 20 bucks. Charge for talent? What is the going rate? So, we try to determine worth at a fair price and often fall short. It is an industry hazard. You need to be really gutsy to charge more for something than you would be able to pay yourself. Most artists, contrary to public opinion, are really not wealthy people. There are some who "rake it in". I am not one of them and I don't know many who are. One of the first pieces of advice I got when I started in this business was to not set prices based on my own pocketbook. Which is a good thing because I would be giving things away.

The response to my prices is all over the place. Some say it is expensive (while holding a 20 dollar bag of kettle corn), many compliment me on how reasonable the prices are. I ponder and debate pricing constantly. It was such a boost to be told I was worth more than I dared to think.

So, my nice man in Rochester seems to have popped this bubble of ennui that was holding me down. For a while there it was a chore to climb the stairs into my attic studio. I felt like I had sand bags on my ankles. Then I would get there, sit in my swivel chair, turn on the TV and maybe get in 20 minutes of work before I found a reason to go back downstairs.

Now it feels as if the sun came out. It is not the money. It is the affirmation that came from being told I was worth more than I thought. This small gesture of appreciation has wiped out the feeling of gloom I had after my last 2, disastrous, holiday shows. I have been encouraged to follow my instinct and focus more on collage work. It's all good after all.

I'm looking forward to a productive day in the attic tomorrow.

Maybe the cure for ennui is promise, described in the dictionary as:

" Indication of something favorable to come; expectation"

Wednesday, January 1

I hate this but I am going to do it anyway

Assessing the year about to pass. I hate it. I think I hate it mostly because of the endless parade, on TV and in print, of people who died this year. And the resolutions. Ack! The endless resolutions to be thinner, richer, kinder, smarter come the new year.

But my business is seasonal which makes my life seasonal. From January to March I have time to be still, to think and reassess. April to August is Summer show time.  September we travel. From October to late December there is a mini-show boom where I try to recoup the money I spent traveling and gather some money for Christmas. Then it rewinds and begins again.

I have been bitching about the application process for art shows every Winter since I started blogging. I will not bore you again. But this year, along with the usual grumpiness comes an awareness that I need to walk away from some favorite shows and risk rejection by trying new ones.

It isn't easy to walk away from shows you have done for a long time. There is something sweet about "coming home" to a venue every year. You know the drill, you know the people. You know where to eat, where the restrooms are, where the best parking is. New shows are exciting but they You don't know what will sell at a new show or even if the customer base of this show will like you.

This year I am dropping one show for sure and another probably. I will apply to two new shows that will most likely reject me and one that has accepted me in the past but I declined in favor of a local show.

I'm reassessing my work, too, and getting deeper into collage, making books my sideline instead of my go-to.

All of this makes me a bit uneasy. Which is good, I think. Better to live on the edge than in a rut, right?

The deadline for the show I am dropping is Monday. It will be hard to let that date whoosh by. I can do this. Onward. Upward, Sideways, whatever.

This life ain't for sissies.