I’ve repeated this to my artist friends many times – “If you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody else will.” If I had a dollar (inflation – it used to be a nickel) for every time I heard, “Artist, eh. That’s a fun hobby,” I’d be rich, well maybe not rich, but I’d have a couple extra grand in the bank anyway.
It was the second day of a 100% humidity 98 degree weekend in Rhode Island at a very high-end art fair when total sales for the weekend calculated $0.00. Not only was my ego shot, but my smile was waning. It was hot for the shoppers who were wearing bathing suits and slurping on ice cold drinks, but the vendors– who were standing on the concrete all day in the hot sun, after schlepping their wares from across state lines to spend their Friday evening setting up their tent and sleeping in campgrounds an hour away hoping to get a hot shower so they could wipe the grime off before having to put on a smile and make sales (none of which come naturally for most artists)– had little reprieve from the heat. Yeah. It’s a HOBBY, alright. I can think of better hobbies.
Anyway, it’s all part of what artists do to get eyes on their work in order to sell it and make a living. Is it fun? It can be depending on the people, the amount of sales, and the weather. It mostly depends on the weather. Rain and hot sun will keep shoppers away. Unfortunately, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to the weather forecast. It’s important to know what is, in fact, in my control and choose to find the positive in each experience. I’ve met some people who may not be interested in purchasing a piece from my booth, but have contacted me afterwards and commissioned me to paint something for their home.
Along side of me at all of these sales events I could always depend on my husband for support. He would help by setting up and tearing down my booth, which was no easy feat. It was a two-person job and required a master’s degree in computer science with a photographic memory to remember how to set this bugger up! Inevitably, I’d end up slicing off a piece of my finger getting the poles adjusted to the right height. Each time I’d be challenged with remembering which step came first in the process. But Pat would remember and remind me and together we had it down to a science (no pun intended). He also was very proud of my work. I could always count on him to brag so I could remain humble. Okay, he is my husband, so he’s prejudiced, and I love him for it. Besides keeping my spirits boosted and helping with set-up and tear down, he also helped with the cashing out process, kept an eagle eye out for my artwork so I could take a bathroom break, and used his sense of humor to make me laugh during the slow traffic times and at the many colorful characters that frequent each of these events.
If I didn’t have a sense of humor during the low sales shows I don’t know what else would get me through. Honestly, my ego would get involved and then I’d have to do a lot of self talk to keep me from throwing in the towel. Many times I wondered whether it was all worth it. I never blamed the economy, weather, or the cycle of the moon. I would shrug and realize my art had not found the right person. I was always grateful for the experience (even for the $0.00 show) and would not only try harder next time, but think smarter. For example, these shows always have judges and give ribbons for “best of show” “Judges Award,” etc. When I realized how people were influenced by the judges’ ribbons I came up with the idea to take my ribbons I had received from past shows and put them up in my tent so that people could be influenced. As soon as I did that I heard people say things like, “Look at that tent. She has ribbons. She must be good!” Soon they would be looking at my art and complimenting or even better, buying it. I had a great day that day for sales so perhaps it worked.
My grandfather was an entrepreneur and used to say, “It takes money to make money.” He got THAT right! Without even getting into the cost of art supplies, by the time I’d pay my framer, my printer, ink for my own printer for producing note cards, note card stock, envelopes, clear plastic bags, booth rental space, a protective tent that wouldn’t blow over and was rain-proof, a camera, website fees, blah, blah, blah, I would hope I’d generate sales revenue to not only cover my costs, but actually make something for the time it took to create one of these paintings. To say I’m not in it for the money is an understatement, but my intention is to make an honest living as an artist, not a hobbyist. If I took a loss every year, I’d be considered a hobbyist, and that’s not why I took endless hours of training. I take myself seriously, but man, it sure helps to have a good sense of humor.
There is one time, though, I vividly recall when I didn’t have a sense of humor. It was the 10th hour of a very long day painting children’s faces at a first annual outdoor festival in a charming NY town not far from my house. My artwork hung in a salon nearby and the owner was promoting it for me while I worked outside with the face paints. A woman who had just spent a large chunk of change on getting her nails and hair done who was dripping in gold, had a “rock” on her finger the size of Montana and carried a Coach handbag (or was it a Louis Vuitton?) while fingering her keys to her BMW came up to me and said, “Are you the artist whose work is in the salon?” Immediately I recognized this as a potential customer and proudly responded, “Yes, I am.” She looked me up and down, turned up her nose, and said, “Well, you have nice work, but I surely can’t afford you.” REALLY????? I believed my prices to be fair and if you compared them to market value in the area they were on par. At this point in the day I had had enough of the screaming, snotty-noses, wind, bugs, dust, and noise. I had one thread left and this woman was dancing on it! Without skipping a beat (and I don’t know where this came from because usually I don’t think this fast) I turned back to her, looked her in the eye and said, “It’s not that you can’t afford me, it’s just that you don’t VALUE my original art.” She left speechless. And I still had my integrity.
So, hobby or no hobby, humor or no humor, being an artist has its ups and downs just like any other job. But I never go to the doctor and tell him or her “What a rewarding hobby you have taking care of your patients.” Next time you go to an art show I ask you to remember the feelings of the vendors who take pride in their work. The last thing they need to hear is, “My grandson is an artist.” Oh? Who is your grandson, I might know him? “Oh, he’s five.”