Imagine a little wheel. A squeaky one that rattles as it goes round and round and round. Imagine the wheel with its little rungs and spokes and bolts that hold it tight to the ground from the center of the spokes. Imagine the wheel from the inside, imagine the view of the rungs as they circle infront of you, under you, behind you, over you, infront of you, under you, behind you, over you. Over and over. Rattle. Squeak. Run. Run. Run. *Cue ‘Run Lola Run’ Soundtrack here*
At one point in your life, I’m sure you’ve felt like you’ve been on that wheel. Running forward, running faster, but where exactly are you going? Towards exhaustion and collapse, I would imagine.
For the past several months I have felt that this has been my view, from inside the wheel as I run faster and faster. But where am I going?
It is because of that feeling of running and getting nowhere, that I finally decided to book myself in for a little meeting at the Cultural Enterprise Office in Edinburgh. Earlier in the year I had attended a seminar – not sure that’s the word for it – for mid-career artists. It was a day of listening, learning, and trying to find new ways of seeing new options for your creative career, as well as hearing inspirational stories, hearing behind-the-scenes advice from gallery curators and so on. And it was free! With tea and coffee and snacks. I’m such a sucker for free coffee and snacks.
Although I had taken notes and had personally followed up on some things learned, I still felt like I was working very hard, but not necessarily very smart. And so I booked myself in for this meeting. And wow. I needed that.
I am happy that people like my artwork. I am happy that I can scrape together something of a living doing what I love. I’ve worked very hard to get here, trying to develop good relationships with boutique shop owners and gallery owners as well as listening to the specific needs for clients that commission work from me. I have worked hard over the years to come to grips with my way of artmaking, refining the skills needed to get those blasted Gocco screens to work, reducing failure rate to only 1 out of every 10 not working out. I’ve found two trustworthy suppliers, one in the states and one in Japan. All of this has taken time to learn, to find out, to research, to experiment.
My work is created in several stages. First, I wander around with camera and sketchbook, view and snap photos of angles, up streets, down streets, try to get the general feeling of the place. When I decide on the image I want to use, I draw it using steady lines, calm breathing and a carbon loaded pencil. It isn’t just a quick drawing. Every line is considered. Retraced three times, changed, erased, re-drawn. Traced over again. I then create my screen from this drawing.
Then there is the actually printing. I go out, select my fabric, bring home, cut and iron the pieces. I usually prepare 20 to 30 pieces of fabric, knowing that from the batch, only about ten artworks can be made from those. So, I put aside a big chunk of time and print on white fabrics and colour fabric that I think will work well together. After the pieces dry, I then sit down to cut and sew and recreate the scene all over again.
So. Why is it that when I consider how to price my originals, why do I only count the time I spend sewing the bits together????!!! I have been doing this for years and only just realised my big, gaping, massive mistake. When previously I thought ‘Oh, well, it doesn’t really take me that long to get an image and oh, it only really takes me half a day to draw it out, sometimes a full day and oh, the printing, well, I don’t think that takes too long so really, it’s just when I sit down and piece the work together, I mean, yes, I should just count that time and so I’ll ask for some ridiculously small amount of money to cover that.’ Or something like that.
And this isn’t even counting the time it takes me to drive around the galleries and shops to deliver pieces, something I do once a month. Or packaging up the work. Or even going to the fabric shop to buy supplies. None of this has been counted.
But these are hours worked. These are minutes spent that add up to the end product of a framed finished work, printed with care and stitched with love. All of this goes into a 5″ x 7″ Edinburgh Skyline or whatever my kick is at the moment.
At this meeting I attended, calculations were made and the dawning realisation hit me. I don’t spend half a day on one original artwork. I spend a day and a half making that original artwork. Sometimes more. Sometimes slightly less. But that is my time, that is my experience, that is my energy.
So, what I’m trying to say here, is that things need to change. Running on that wheel is not helping and one way in which I need to work smarter is to reconsider the pricing of my work. I am also going to explore new ways of creating prints that span a broader price range, so that if an original is desired but isn’t necessarily affordable, there are other options.
Now. How to move forward with this. That’s the new thing I need to consider.