Monday, April 8, 2019

Waste Not, Want Not

"Winter Song", 9x12" mixed media on paper.

I paint a lot.

Seems like I’m even more prolific lately, since I’ve decided to stop wasting the sheets of paper I use to lift paint on my wood panels. I’ve been taking these paint covered sheets, and making more art with them. They are my experiments. I feel absolutely no pressure to make them good, since they would have been tossed anyway. I just work away at them until I feel like they’re done, then they go into the pile.

"Winter Song", framed and on display.
The first time I put these out to sell was at my open studio a couple years ago. I priced them according to my usual pricing formula… but then I figured since they all had to be framed before they could be hung I would put them on sale. Make them a bit more affordable.I had quite a few new, young collectors show up that year. They all took home paintings done on watercolour paper. Go figure.

I’m going to be taking my pile of current works on paper to Arts on the Credit in April. Will they sell? I have no idea. I have this vague notion (with absolutely no proof that this is true) that most people want something they can take home and hang up immediately. That’s why I paint on inch and a half deep panels with the sides nicely finished. I like the sleek, contemporary look, and it goes with the style of decor that is in right now. But I have to admit, I like the look of a simply framed piece of art. A white matte, a black or white frame, either on it’s own or in a grouping. They look so elegant… if it wasn’t so expensive for me to frame the 50 or so paintings on paper I have in my pile right now, I’d do them all and have my booth filled with them. But I think most people can visualize how they would look framed… and appreciate that I don’t have to factor the cost of framing into the price. 

April has rolled around again, and the 100 Day Project is making the rounds on social media. I did this project last year… kind of half-assed, I admit, but I was busy and just didn’t have time to create every day. I do think it’s a great project though. I was going to take a pass this year, knowing it would be the same kind of spotty participation (especially with an art fair happening within the first 30 days). How can I possibly carve out the time for something this massive?

"Brush Fire", framed and on display.
So I started seeing the posts going up last Monday… oh they are soooooo wonderful. I love seeing the progress on all my friend’s projects. It makes me want to participate. Makes me want to go paint and try new things. I guess I can do something. It’s not like I don’t already do something 5 of 7 days of the week… some days I’m in my studio for hours working on some little thing or other. Oh what the hell…. I just talked myself into it. I’ll start tagging my daily Instagram posts and see how it adds up. The one thing I love about doing a large project is seeing how things change over time. I’m only half way through my 100 squares, and I’ve seen an enormous change. It’s pretty amazing actually. Now I just have to decide what I want to do…

Anyway…. Back to the paper. When this art show is over I’m going to be posting these pieces up on my website. I’ve been busily photographing, sleeving and pricing… they will be ready to go up as soon as I see what I’ve got left in my inventory. I’ve already started by posting a few of my more recent ones. Since paper is light I’m including shipping in the price to make them a bit more attractive. Now I guess I just wait and see….

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What kind of vehicle best fits the needs of an artist?

The Winter's Spring", 12x24" mixed media on wood panel.
I will have this with me at Arts on the Credit in April.
See my website for details.
I drive an old truck. It’s been a good truck… but it’s 16 years old and has over 25,000 km on it, and honestly, it’s turning into a bit of a money pit. Every time it goes in for service there’s something new wrong with it, costing us another pile of cash. Such is the way of an old vehicle. 

Before I started driving the truck, I drove a Saturn sedan. I loved my Saturn. Decent gas milage for the time, and a surprising amount of cargo space. I was driving my Saturn when I bought my the display gear I use for shows. Before I bought it I got out my measuring tape and made sure everything would fit in my car without issue. It was a comfortable fit. No problems. 

When my car died I took over driving my husband’s truck. He didn’t need it for work… we live close enough he started riding his bike back and forth. We even invested in one of those fat tire winter bikes so we could share the vehicle. The display racks didn’t fit in the truck bed, but we could open the back cab window and slide them through. Not an ideal solution, but it worked, and I only did a couple shows a year that required me to use them, so we managed. (We also own a small Mazda hatchback that my son drives. I can fit a lot of paintings into that car, but my display gear doesn’t fit. So I really didn’t have many options).

We have now decided it’s time to get a new (to us) vehicle. We did some research on the SUV category, narrowed down the choices to 6, and started shopping.

I’m not going to get into how I was completely invisible to the mostly male sales force at the dealerships. They just assumed the decision would be made by my husband. It wasn’t until I got out the tape measure and started crawling around in the back that they figured maybe I should be part of the conversation. The first company to figure out that women have some buying power these days and starts treating them like they exist will make a fortune. Just saying. 


I thought I would share my thoughts on fitting display gear into a compact SUV, because when I was searching online for info, there was nothing available. Most websites don’t list dimensions of the cargo bed, it’s listed by volume. How do you know if your gear will fit? I know some people who go the trailer route, and someone who puts a lot of the big stuff on a roof rack. That’s an option… but I want to be able to get everything packed and unpacked on my own, as Mr. M isn’t always around to help.

So… I have display grid walls that are 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide. They make them taller, and shorter, but given the size of the average canopy used in a outdoor art fair, it seemed to make sense when I bought them. Given they could fit in my average sized car, it didn’t occur to me I would ever have an issue. But cars have gotten smaller, and even SUVs are not as big as they used to be. While that might be awesome when trying to park the thing (have parking spots gotten smaller too? It feels like it…), it’s a pain trying to fit in large gear.

Of the 6 models we checked out, we have narrowed it down to 3. I loved driving the Honda CRX, but because of the way the back seats split, there is no way I could fit the racks in. The narrower of the two sides is on the passenger side… only about 18” wide. I'd have to put both sides down, and then if I'm lucky enough to have help, where would they sit? The front seat had to be as far forward as it would go, not leaving any space for someone with... you know... legs. The Hyundai Santa Fe and the Ford Edge felt more like driving a truck than the others we tested, so while they felt ok and were spacious, we struck them both off the list. I’m not a huge fan of driving a truck. I’m not that tall, and it makes me feel like I’m steering a tank.

My top pick: pretty sure it’s the Hyundai Tucson. Nice to drive… it feels like driving a car, not a big vehicle. Gets great milage, the reliability rating is the highest in its class, and I could both back into a tight spot and parallel park easily. The back seats have the wider section of the split on the passenger side, so I can put the front seat all the way up, and the racks easily fit. Bonus, I can fit in a passenger at the same time. 

The Mazda CX5 is also really nice to drive. The gas milage is a bit better than the Tucson, but the reliability rating is not as high. The base model has the backseat split the same as the Honda, so we thought this would eliminate it from our choices, even though I liked it a lot. We discovered that the next level trim package has a centre console in the back seat that gives more flexibility. Given that we were looking for a used car, if we can find one that has that option it will still be a possibility. 

Lastly, the Toyota RAV4 is my final option. My husband didn’t like it as much, as it is a bit bigger than the other two, but there is enough cargo space that I can fit the racks in with still enough room to sit in the front passenger seat. Parking is still easy… the backup camera seems to be a standard feature now, thank goodness. I backed into a very tight spot I wouldn’t have even attempted without the camera. I didn’t try parallel parking it… that would be necessary if we were to buy it, as a lot of downtown galleries use street parking for loading and unloading. As much as I hate doing it, I have to sometimes. 

I considered selling my current display gear and replacing it with 5 foot high racks… this would give us more flexibility and allow us to get whatever we wanted. It’s still an option, but I’d rather not go through the hassle of doing that if I don’t have to. And given what I’ve seen at the art fairs I’ve done, the 6 footers are pretty standard. 

I hope this helps out anyone looking for information. I think putting dimensions on the vehicle websites would make things so much easier… surely it’s not just artists that have specific needs for transport. But I don’t imagine asking for it would change anything… a couple dealers couldn’t even dig up a tape measure when I asked. And they had no clue what the dimensions were. All I can suggest is that if you are going shopping for a car, don’t forget your tape measure. It’ll save you a lot of hassle later on. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Going Home

"Going Home", 24x24" mixed media on canvas. Available.
I finally photographed a piece where the interference paint shows up. I guess I have to wait for just the right light. 

My husband is in the midst of planning his annual fishing trip with his brother. They're from Newfoundland and he will often tie the trip in with a visit to his parents. They usually go somewhere "near home"... they've been to Labrador, various spots in NF, and Northern Quebec, which is kind of a half-way point between us in Ontario, his brother in Labrador, and his parents in NF.

Many Newfoundlanders refer to their place of birth as "home", and when they go visit they are "going home", even if that is not where they have lived for 30/40/50 years. They leave because they have to... there are no opportunities, no jobs, no way to live. They create a community with friends and family wherever they are, and go back to visit, but that place in their heart they feel as home never changes.

I'm not like that. Of course I've never lived outside of Ontario for any length of time, so I suppose I may if I did. I've moved around a bit... my parents moved from Quebec to Ontario when I was quite young, during a time of political instability. Many of my aunts and uncles also left, being anglophones in a francophone world. We settled in Mississauga, where I live now. I lived in Waterloo for a few years during school, Toronto a few years after, and spent a year out near London where I moved for a job. But that's pretty much it. I've never lived further away from my parents than I can drive. 

The place my husband comes from changes in small increments. It's not a large place, and there isn't a lot of industry, so the changes that do happen are noticeable from visit to visit. If you lived there, I imagine it wouldn't be terribly disruptive when something new gets built or changed. 

Here is a different thing altogether. I'm basically on the west border of Toronto and Mississauga. Toronto is a big, booming city with something changing all the time. Mississauga seems hell bent on making sure there is housing on every available spot, infrastructure be damned. For example, Lakeshore Road is a major thoroughfare, one of 3 ways to get over the Credit River in the south end of the city. Over the past few years there have been a few large condo developments in the adjacent areas, and no changes to the roads. Traffic is an absolute nightmare. I used to love to go through the areas along Lakeshore, now I avoid it like the plague. 

The home of my childhood no longer exists. I know, because I'm still here. I remember the horse farm that was up by the highway, which I don't think has been there for 20 years. It's one of those shopping super-center things now. I remember learning to drive on gravel roads, and going to the drive-in which felt like it was out in the country (it's still there, but now it's a major road with subdivisions all around it). The "city-center" was once a mall out in the middle of nowhere. When they declared it "downtown" we all laughed. Now it's all high-rises and traffic. Not the place I remember as home. 

So home has to be wherever I am. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why do we turn a hobby into a side hustle?

"Remembering Saint-Siméon", 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. 

I read an interesting article this week, about the trend of monetizing hobbies. It was an interesting read, and got me thinking about why I have been trying for years to get a business going from my painting.

It wasn't at all about money.  I've had a full time job since I was 20 years old, doing something I enjoyed and was good at. I got paid well enough to be comfortable, so it's not like I needed extra for things like food (for someone entering the work force today it would be an entirely different story. Even those working in the same field as me don't get paid enough to cover rent in Toronto, let alone eat).

As the years rolled along though, I found that money wasn't the same as job satisfaction, and as I got more experience doing what I was doing, I hit a point where I got bored. The challenge was gone.

Boredom is a tough one for me... I love to learn and have never been good at being content with the status quo. When the company I worked for wouldn't let me move to a different area to learn something new, I thought about going elsewhere, but it is the biggest player in the game with the most complex work there was to be done. Changing jobs didn't seem like the way to go. Instead I threw myself into my "hobby", and decided to put in the hours it took to get good at it.

I've always loved painting. I have a degree in fine art and I've made stuff off and on since I was in high school. I never seriously considered it a career... I didn't have any money during school, so I lived on a shoe string, and though I wouldn't say it was awful, it wasn't exactly how I would choose to live. Poverty isn't fun. And as I didn't know any artist that actually made a living from their art (except those that taught), I didn't think it was a realistic possibility.

Hard to know when you're good enough at something to be considered "good", isn't it? At first, my goal was just to paint something I liked. Then I thought I'd be good enough when I could consistently paint something I liked. Then when I could get into an outdoor show. Then a juried show. Then win some sort of award. I've accomplished all these things, but I still feel like I have a lot to learn. My work could be better. But still, when someone loves one of my pieces enough to part with their hard earned money... that gives me a kind of satisfaction I don't get from getting into a show. I feel like I've made a connection with someone. Selling my paintings became a kind of validation for me.

These days I paint like someone obsessed. I think about the painting I'm working on when I'm at work, or driving, or in the shower, or out on a walk. I see the world as a painter, looking for the colour in the shadows on the snow, or framing what I'm looking at as a compositional problem to solve. I note colour combinations that speak to me, I look for interesting textures. I've always got 3 or more pieces on the go. And my house is becoming cluttered. I've got paintings stuffed in closets and under beds, but I still keep making more. I can't stop. I've started painting over some of my less successful, older pieces, but I've still got too many.

I enjoy doing the art fairs. I'd probably enjoy it more if I sold more, because the packing stuff up to move is my least favourite part. I like going to galleries and chatting with people about the work. I love getting feedback about my own work. I love seeing photos of my paintings in my collector's homes. I feel joy when one of my friends, who have been following my work for years, call to say they want one particular piece because it speaks to them. It makes me feel like I'm bringing joy into someone else's life, and that makes me happy.

So while I wouldn't recommend everyone turn their hobby into a side gig, but I do see value in pursuing what you love, and becoming the best you can at it. Do what you want and don't worry about if it will sell. Lots of great work is not very marketable, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. Have a day job if you have to, but don't give up the thing that makes your heart sing. There is value in You being You.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Do you like this?

"Meandering Muse", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available. 

I've been considering abandoning this blog. Not just migrating to my proper website, like I did a couple years ago, but not posting altogether.

There are a few reasons for this. My readership numbers are way down. There was a time I'd get a few hundred views per post, and usually a few comments. Not a lot, if you consider what some bloggers get, but I felt like I had a dedicated audience that came back every week to see what I had to say. These days it seems like if I get 30 views its a really good week. It's not that I don't think those 30 people are valuable (of course I do), but some weeks I feel like i'm stretched pretty thin, and spending an hour or two writing about art doesn't seem to be a great use of my time.

I'm spending more and more time on social media. It's not like I have to... if I just went on, posted and logged off I could shave it down to a few minutes a day. But I do enjoy the interaction. I get comments there, I see the same names liking and commenting on my posts, and I feel more like I'm building connections than I do here. And when those people come out to a show, they don't hesitate to introduce themselves because we've already been interacting. It's really pretty fun. But it does take time.

Then there's the pressure I put on myself to have a new painting to post every single week. That's actually why I started... I knew in order to get anywhere I had to have a decent sized inventory, but I was having motivational problems. I know I work well under a deadline... it's part of what makes me good at my day job. So I figured having a goal of one painting per week would make it more likely that I would get my ass in the studio and work. It worked. But now I find that I am ALWAYS working. If I'm not at work, I'm working at home. I'm painting, or editing my videos, updating my website, working on my marketing.... I have very little downtime. I went to an event a couple weeks ago and had a hard time carrying on a conversation with normal people (by "normal" I mean people not involved in the art or packaging worlds). I know I don't do a lot of social stuff, but I didn't realize I was that out of practice.

The one point in favour of me keeping this going is that it is a record of my progress. I've been posting pretty much once a week since 2012. That's a pretty thorough record. I've got photos of the shows I've done, a record of each painting and what was happening at the time it was created, trips and life events distilled down to the essentials. It's kinda fun going back and reading these posts. And I can see how far I've come, both in skill and creativity.

I'm not sure yet what conclusion I will come to. I do know that writing my weekly post is a habit now that I may continue, just because. I guess I'll just play it by ear for a bit, and see how things go. If you have an opinion on the subject, drop a comment here and let me know.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Beyond Winter

"Beyond Winter", 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. #51 in my 100 Square Project.
I've got a bunch of panels prepped for a Facebook live painting session. It will be in a couple weeks. Stay tuned.

Canada has been in the deep freeze. This past week has been colder than I remember ever being... I think we hit some kind of record low one day with the windchill a nasty minus forty something. It was worse in other areas. My brother-in-law is in Labrador. A balmy -50° out there. Yikes. On the positive side, the sun has been shining. It's been blindingly bright out there. That was something we all needed after months and months of grey.

A couple days I just couldn't warm up. I'd sit at my desk at work wearing a sweater with a t-shirt underneath, and a blanket shawl wrapped around me. The woman who sits one desk over had on gloves and a hat. Inside. Even in my own home it felt like the furnace was working overtime.

I'm lucky enough to have a gas fireplace in my studio. When I turn it on the whole floor warms up. I spent a lot of time down there this past week. I filmed most of it, and have been posting the videos to my social media channels. (If I had realized video got such a great reaction, I would have done it ages ago.)

 This video is the final session I filmed... I was working on the painting I've posted at the top of the post. I did work on it a bit more... mainly to fix up any compositional problems. I removed the dark clump on the left side and changed the spacing between the trees. I think it works now.

The initial motivation for this painting was to get a few colours I rarely use to play nicely together. But this cold has me dreaming of spring, and finding the beautiful greens and lavenders while mixing my paints made me think of meadows of blooming wild flowers. The form really came about all on it's own. If you've watched the snippits I've posted online, you can see how I turn the panel until I see something that wants to be brought forward. This is how all my paintings come together.

Intuitive painting has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years. When I was in school we had to plan everything. We had to have an idea to start with (usually where I blocked... my ideas never really seemed good enough to put in the effort to make it real), then do a series of thumbnails, block out the composition, then refine everything until it worked. I learned a lot about composition and whatever, surely necessary things to a visual artist, but my paintings were always a bit of a disappointment. It wasn't until I learned to let go of expectation that I could really enjoy the process and create something truly unique.

I really don't know why intuitive painting gets such a bad rap from educational institutions. Some of the greats did it. Joan Mitchell comes to mind. The trick is to not give up on the painting too soon. Keep going, keep changing things, until you reach a place where it speaks to you. It's not always easy, and you can go through a lot of paint, but the results will be truly your own.

And for a little while maybe we can forget about how cold it is.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Value of Art

"In the Stillness", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available on my website.  

I did all the art-related paperwork for my taxes this week. 2018 was my best year ever, and I still made less than your average student, working part-time in a minimum wage job. And people ask why I still work full-time. Sheesh.

To me, art and culture is something that is inherently valuable. I can't imagine a world without it. Can you? Picture going through your life without music. Or with only utilitarian clothes, all the same. Imagine a world without any kind of man-made visual stimulation at all... no paintings, no photography, no illustrations.

Fun, right?

So why is it that as a society, we don't value the work that artists do?

Wonder why the cost of concert tickets has gotten so high? It's because musicians can't make a living with recorded music any more. People don't buy it. They stream on YouTube, where most of the artists get nothing, or Spotify, where they get a fraction of a cent per play. Performing live is the only way they make any money, and they need money to live (and I live with a musician, this is not me making assumptions, this is a reality). Lots of smaller venues that "feature" live music don't actually pay the musicians anymore either... the bands need to set someone up by the door to charge admission (if that's permitted... otherwise they play for "exposure"), and it helps if they have merchandise to sell. When you're splitting that few hundred bucks between the 5 band members, it doesn't go very far.

Visual art isn't any better... big companies raking in millions in profits per year steal designs from artists that dare to post their work online. They don't think anything of it. If it's online, it must be free for anyone to use, right? But try doing that with a design owned by someone with enough money to sue you (think Disney). It wouldn't go well.

A thing that has emerged in the visual art world is the pay-to-play model. In the traditional art world, you found an art gallery that liked your work, they had a client list, held events, handled the sales, and took a commission. Usually, its around 50%.. does that surprise you? I know many people who where shocked when i told them the average commission for a gallery was half of what the purchaser pays. I get it and don't begrudge them their commission... they are paying rent, hydro, wages for their staff, advertising, etc. It's a business. In this new model, the artist coughs up a "hanging fee"; sometimes its a nominal $30-$50 per piece, sometimes it's considerably more. Some venues charge a commission on top of that, should the piece sell. Many venues offer the ability to have a "solo show", which amounts to renting the gallery for a certain time period. In a city like Toronto it can be quite expensive. I get it... the rents are insanely high so in order to stay open the gallery has to have some guaranteed income. It's a model that has developed out of need. But for the artists that are trying to do this for a living, it can put the entire gallery thing out of reach.

I often wonder how visual artists that make work that may be difficult to sell (like installation or film) manage to make a living. I know there are grants available, but I also am aware that often artists that don't have a saleable product have a hard time "qualifying" as a professional artist to Revenue Canada. I read an article this week that explains how the different branches of government actually work against each other, making the situation for artists even worse. I was angry by the time I got to the end. It makes no sense, and I now understand now that not valuing the arts is built right into the system we live within.

What's the solution for this? I have no idea. But I think it starts with transparency, and letting people in on the industry's secrets.  Only when the system of funding is fixed can the arts really thrive in Canada. At the moment, it seems to be totally out of whack. 

I understand that if I want to live off my art, I have to think like an entrepreneur, think of it like a business, and that means doing the work that sells, and abandoning the stuff that doesn't. Since art is such a personal thing, that can be a difficult decision to make. I use painting as a kind of stress/anxiety management tool, and I know I would continue to paint even if I never sold another piece. I would just have to reevaluate how long I kept something around and I would paint over things a lot more regularly. at the moment I'm managing to sell enough to cover my expenses and give myself a bit to try some new things, and that will have to do for now.