Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Art Of The Deal: A Rant

Warning:  The following touches the third rail of the art business. 

Just the other day I was in need of the services of a lawyer.  Nothing major, mind you, just the run of the mill, everyday stuff that manslaughter sometimes on occasion you might need a lawyer for.  I stumbled upon this person on the internet and went over for the free initial consultation.  As I sat down in his plush leather chair beside his football field sized mahogany desk, I said, "Look, I know you want my business, right?  So before we go any farther, I want at least two more free consults, and I want you to drop your fee by ten percent." 

One thing I noticed right off-- Lawyers may have gone to college and learned some big words, but they know a lot of four letter ones, too.

So, as I was driving away after getting kicked out leaving his office, the engine in my car started making weird sounds.  I pulled in to the first mechanic I could find.  After he checked my engine thoroughly, he informed me I need new lifters (whatever they are) and the bill, plus labor would be at least seven hundred dollars.  "Listen," I said to the guy.  "I'll pay the price for the parts, but I know you work for yourself, so waddya say we drop your hourly rate by fifteen percent?"

It seems lawyers and mechanics know a lot of the same words.

So, anyway, I wanted to buy an expensive piece of jewelry as a Christmas gift for my beloved partner Ellen, so I limped my car over to a big department store.  Bullseye, or something, I think it was.  When the cashier was done ringing me up she said, "That's $26.52"  I looked at her and said, "Well, what will you take for it?  How about $19.50?" 

She just gave me one of those cashier-type blank stares and repeated, "That's $26.52"

"C'mon, " I whispered to her, "You know and I know that even at $19.50 you still make a profit.  So what do you say?  We got a deal?"

Who knew big retail department stores could issue restraining orders?

When I got home, I found an email from a potential customer who wanted to buy a couple of my paintings!  Except she wanted free shipping and a discount of 15%.  I can't say I was in the mood to accommodate her request.

Why is it perfectly normal to haggle with artists selling their product when you wouldn't do that to a lawyer or a doctor or a big department store?  The folks buying art are trying to get a deal, I understand that, but meanwhile us artists are trying to make enough money to buy either a new tube of paint-- or heating oil.

Were I to accept the deal the aforementioned customer proposed, I not only would have sold one painting for less than what I was asking, but literally thrown in the second one for free.  I am no business expert, but I know two things that don't last long in this world:  Dogs that chase cars, and businesses that give away their products for free.  But you would have gained a collector, I can hear you say.  Sure, and she would expect more discounts and freebies for the next painting she bought from me.  Call me a hopeless romantic, but I want my customers to believe they got a great painting for a fair price, not that they got screwed for paying what I asked.

Look, I'm not blaming this customer.  She said she gets deals from other artists and galleries all the time.  So obviously the fault, dear Brutus, lies not with the stars, but with ourselves.  We have conditioned our prospective customers to automatically assume we'll immediately negotiate our prices.  We brought this on, and my trying to singlehandedly stem the tide is a fools crusade.  We all feel that the term "starving artist" is pejorative, but it's also mostly true.  I just wish we hadn't gone the Monty Hall route long ago.  Our art should be the grand prize, not the game piece. 

After all, nobody wants to get zonked!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leo And Me

This falls under the category of "Who Knew?"  I came across a news article claiming that some art aficionado has found animals that Leonardo DaVinci hid in his painting Mona Lisa.  If you haven't heard of this story and want all the gory details, you can check out this link

The gist of this story is that an artist from New York by the name of Ron Piccirillo thinks that Leonardo painted a menagerie of animals leering over Mona's shoulder.  He's identified a lion, an ape and a buffalo in the background of the famous painting.  I personally didn't know that there are buffalo in France, where Leo painted this, but I'll admit I wasn't there in 1500-something when this was done, so how would I know?  Anyway, to see these creatures one has to turn the painting on it's side, as shown above.  Why wouldn't DaVinci have painted them right side up?  What-- you expect the obvious from a guy that wrote backwards?

Now, far be it from me to judge if Mr. Piccirillo is right or wrong on this matter, but I have a hunch that he thinks that if you play the painting backward, it will say, "Paul is dead..."  But anyway, you know what?  I have done the same thing in one of my paintings.

Below is a painting I did several years ago of an iconic lighthouse here in Maine called the Portland Head Light.  It's located in Cape Elizabeth in southern Maine.  I believe it's a state law that anyone who paints in Maine must do at least one painting of this lighthouse.  So, I've fulfilled my duty as a Maine citizen.  But I digress... 

I invite you to look at the rocks. 

I was quite surprised when the owner of this painting told me that she really got a kick out of how I painted a lion cub in the rocks.  I had no idea what she was talking about, so I went back and looked at a photo of this painting, and lo and behold-- out of the lights and shadows of the rocks there is what seems to be a lion cub lying down.  Look again-- his head is made up from the rocks in light, and his body is the shadow area.  See him?  Trust me when I tell you that I had no intention of putting that in there.  But here's the thing:  if I had known that the image was there, I would have painted it out.  Why?  Because every time I see a photo of this painting, I don't see the Portland Head Light, I see that damn lion cub!  Once you see it, you can't unsee it!  I've learned from this, and now I really go over my paintings to make sure I don't have any images in there that I don't mean for you to see.

So that's what grabbed me about the discovery about the Mona Lisa-- I wasn't the only one who has goofed like that.  I can't speak for Mr. DaVinci, but I really don't think he meant to do it either.  One other thing I thought of when I read about this "amazing breakthrough" in the Mona Lisa mystery--

I guess great minds think alike...


Monday, December 12, 2011

Santa's Little Helper

Hey Santa,

Kev here.  How's the Holidays treating you?  I don't have a doubt you and the elves are busier than, than-- well... Elves at Christmas!  I want to thank you for the gift you gave me last year.  With heating oil prices so high, that lump of coal sure came in handy!  If it's not too late, may I make a couple of suggestions for some wonderful gifts this year?

I know last year my letter to you was a little on the self-serving side.  It was full of gimme, gimme, gimme-- you know, give me the brushes that Sargent used, the paints that Rockwell used, the models that Vargas used.  Stuff like that.  But, Santa I've changed my tune.  This year my wish is for others to receive a great gift--


And may I add- preferably mine...

I'm sure that there are plenty of people who would love to have you slip a painting up their stocking this year.  And why not?  Art makes a great gift.  It's hand made, it's personal, and it leaves people feeling good just looking at it.  Yeah, even Koons' stuff.  I mean, wouldn't the sucker collector who actually paid money for basketballs in water have preferred you give it to him?  You don't have to be an elf to know I'm right about that one, right?

If you think about it, Santa, giving my paintings as gifts wouldn't even take up much room in the sleigh.  I don't paint that big, after all.  Hell, I'm not like the guy I saw on-line who painted this humongous painting-- I swear it was thirty feet tall and twenty feet wide.  Then he put a ten foot frame around it!  I think it was of a nude on a Victorian couch.  Anyway, my stuff would fit in your sack with no problem.  And look how happy the elves would be to lighten their load a little.  I'm not trying to put anybody out of work, mind you.  I'm sure the elves at the Chia Pet division would like a breather this year, don't you think?

So in closing Santa, I'm just saying to keep in mind that you can give non-elf made gifts too.  I mean, I always thought of myself as one of your elves in a way;  I make things that can be used as gifts, and that can be cherished for ever.  Or at least until the next garage sale.  So- Think Art! 

And think of us artists as Santa's little helpers!

See you in a couple weeks!

The best Good Boy ever,



Monday, December 5, 2011

Fun With Props

I like to think that on the whole, usually I am a very decisive person.  You know--most of the time I make up my mind relatively quickly, generally speaking.  When I make up my mind, I will almost always go with it, seven, maybe eight out of ten times- 'cause that's how I roll.

The painting at the top of the page is an example of that.

I have always liked wood piles.  Here in Maine, we burn wood for fuel, not fun.  I've split and stacked countless cords of wood.  Seeing a long pile of wood stacked beside someone's barn or garage always makes me think of the smell of a wood stove, the smoke gently wafting out of a brick chimney.  The bracing cold air of Winter.  Ice.  Snowdrifts.  Having my mailbox repeatedly crushed by some half-asleep plow driver hyped up on his 85th cup of coffee. 

But I digress...

What I like about woodpiles is the way the new split wood reflects sunlight.  New wood has a kind of golden glow about it.  I've long wanted to do a painting of a wood pile, but I never had just the right amount of inspiration.  To those of us who paint, wanting to is a long way from needing to paint a scene.  So anyway, last week I was out in my garage when I noticed what I thought was a neat sight with the way the sunlight coming through the window lit up the woodpile with a warm glow.  I also liked the way the cool light from the North window off-set the warm light.  That's it! I thought, I have to paint it.  You know, because I'm decisive like that.

I sketched the scene, really just thinking about the play of color temperatures, and light against dark, and then I set my drawing aside for a few days to finish up another project.  In the ensuing days, I thought about my sketch.  "What if I had a person doing something, instead of just showing sunlight on a woodpile?"...  "And what if he was, like, an old guy?"... "Yeah, with one of those old-man plaid shirt coat things and rubber boots?"  I was digging it.  Except I didn't have an old man on hand, nor an old man plaid shirt-jacket.  Thank goodness, I did have rubber boots.  I called my beautiful partner Ellen when she was out shopping for my Christmas gift at the recycling center, and asked her if she would stop at a yard sale or something and see if she could get an old plaid shirt.  As usual, she got just what I needed.

The next day, there I was, posing out in my garage.

Now, that was all well and good to get the drawing done,

But, I really wanted to capture that light.  I had to wait a few days until we got a sunny day, but when we did I hauled my gear back into the garage and set up.

By the way, for those who claim I have a stick up my ass-- here's your proof.

I din't have an old man to paint, but I did have me.  I kind of modeled the guy on an elderly gentleman who lives near me.  I kinda wish I went and asked him to pose, but he's ninety years old and I didn't think he would be up to it.  So, I whitened my hair, and made my ears big, and voila!  and old duff.  The rest of the way was just trying to get the colors right.  I even set up my old-man props in my studio for the final touches. 

I do enjoy doing stuff like this, it makes for a fun day at the office.  The best part about this painting is now I have an old man plaid jacket-shirt thing to go with my rubber boots!

I'll fit the part soon enough...