Monday, February 27, 2006

Saving It Up For Later

Lavender Road, 2005. Oil on Panel, 8x10

When I started painting again a few years back, I was so happy. I felt like I had this special little thing going on and everything was really new and exciting. Unfortunately, for a good six months or so, I also felt resentment. I second guessed my decision to focus on my family and I felt sad for having given up almost 15 years of time. Time I could have had to develop my skills, to develop a career and a reputation. I struggled with this until I finally realized that almost everyday in my new world, I was using things that I had learned during the time that I wasn't painting. Having three natural childbirths gave me so much self confidence and a new feeling of empowerment that I had not previously had. I had done one of the most difficult thing that a woman can do; everything else seemed easy in comparison. From raising children, I have also learned to be more patient, to let things develop without rushing them or forcing an issue. Multi-tasking has been one of the most valuable daily skills that I have honed to a high art. If you can get up, shower, dress, check emails, feed pets, get four kids up, dressed, fed, teeth brushed, hair combed, backpacks organized, lunches made, permission slips or papers signed, bundled up and out the door to the bus in an hour and fifteen minutes every morning, then getting 12 paintings together for a show, over the period of at least a month, is a virtual cakewalk. By working as a volunteer for an arts organization for several years in various positions, I really learned some valuable skills. Mostly organizational, but I also learned that I could be a leader and that I was actually pretty good at it. Working with the gallery there was the most helpful, I now have a better understanding of what galleries need from the artist, I know to make sure paintings are clearly labeled (you have no idea how many artists would just bring in work with no identifying information!), and how important it is to meet deadlines. I also learned how difficult it is to sell art! I completely understand the need for the 50-50 split that is now common in most galleries.

Over the years I also matured (supposedly) and was able to develop a healthier perspective about myself. I found that I could do any number of things and excel. This puts me in a great position in a negotiation with a potential gallery. I am not so desperate to have representation or be in an exhibition that I will accept a contract that takes advantage of me. I can and have refused to sign contracts that have been to my detriment.

So, I gave up my resentments and regrets. I finally understood that all I had done and experienced had added deeper insight and a perspective to my work. Duh! It all seems so obvious now, but when you're in it it doesn't always seem so clear. All the tangible skills I had learned helped me bypass most of the bullshit that I would have had to wade through if I were in my twenties and just starting out. I am fairly certain that I would not have handled things too well at that point!

I am now thankful for my "lost" time.


Anonymous said...

It sounds as though you have a terrific range of skills. I think not coming from a place of desperation is one of the most important ingredients in success, and that's something I'm trying to come back from. I went through a long period when I didn't have work, and I came to seriously undervalue what I did. I'm charging hourly for design time right now, and it causes me tremendous anxiety every time I send in an invoice! I have to keep telling myself my work is worth it, but boy, it's hard. Thanks for the painting per post thing-- what a pleasure!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Martha, That's one of the reasons so many artists are taken advantage of, they are so desperate to show! Have you considered charge by square foot? That might take away the feeling of putting a value on you and your time and instead put value on what you are painting.

Anonymous said...

Tracy, I do actually charge by the square foot for my murals, which is helpful. Right now, though, I'm charging hourly for my design time, since it is so open ended. I think the designer is using the maquettes a little like paint chips-- hmmm. 'I like the images, but lets just change the palette a little'. Which pretty much means repainting. Also, this project works out to over 1800 square feet, which comes out to just an enormaous amount of money. So the nerves still apply!

Katherine S. Crawford said...

Brava, Tracy! I am taking this to heart. Thank you so very much for sharing it with me.

~ Katie