Our Road Trip to Nowhere

I spent a lot of time thinking up names for our business blog.  In the end I settled on A Paradox:  Art-Life-Business.  Perhaps poorly stated, it was meant to show that for an artist, there really is no separation of our art making, our personal life and the inevitable struggle to make a living from our art, so we can keep making more art.  It’s difficult to be creative when you’re bogged down in worries.  This past week is a perfect example of how wrapped up our personal lives are with our business.

Wednesday morning we left home for Reston, VA to participate in the Northern Virginia Art Fair, one of the A-list shows in America.  We’ve been juried into it a number of times, most recently the past two years.  Sales are usually solid at this high quality show, and last year was very good.  Just after passing Louisville, Kentucky our van broke down. As we approached a weigh station (we have a box van to transport our sculpture and therefore are regulated by the federal department of transportation) we suspected trouble—at first it was only a slight noise coming from under the hood.  Robin parked, went inside and the officer gave him a printout of local tow truck operators, and he recommended the nearest one.  It was a quick diagnosis,  the vacuum pump seized up, shredding the serpentine belt, causing the loss of our power brakes and power steering.  The driver recommended two shops in the area that could possibly work on it right away.  One declined but the other said they could get to it the following morning.  After a night in a hotel, the van wasn’t ready to go until 2PM on Thursday.  Had we not run into trouble, we would be nearly finished setting up our booth at the show.  What to do?

Had it been a dozen or so years earlier, we would have driven on east to arrive by 1 AM, get a few short hours of sleep, be on the street by 6 AM setting up in a rush before the show opened at 10 AM.  But we’ve learned that we don’t have that kind of stamina anymore.  Heck, anymore we can’t even entertain or go out two nights in a row!  I know I wouldn’t have had the energy or presence of mind to smile at potential buyers and carry on a sensible discussion about our work.  That’s difficult enough for me under the best of circumstances.  Having grown up nearly always alone, my verbal communication skills are extremely poor.

So we made the decision to cancel our participation in the show.  We sacrificed our $750 corner booth fee.  The Hyatt at the show charged us for the first night ($120) as their policy is a three-day cancellation period before this show.  The tow was $228  and the repair bill was $891.  Losing potential for sales, is a real hardship.  The only good that came of it is that we got home to spend a few more days with our beloved Bull Mastiff, Harley.  Read about that gut-wrencher on my personal blog, http://www.HeadingforAndromeda.wordpress.com

Studio Progress

If you’ve followed our pursuits in the past year,  you know about the fast transition we made to the making of boats and books this year.  We have a working process of experimenting with materials and techniques on our art for the wall, and then these new ideas are incorporated into the boats.  With Robin  taking time once again to experiment on hammering, embossing and patina work lately, I can see already such grand statement pieces utilizing the approach in this new 12″ square.  These are hot!

Embossed & hammered copper w/chemical patina

Embossed & hammered copper w/chemical patina

Embossing2

Embossed and hammered copper w/chemical patina

Different Bodies of Work

Most visual artists work in series, that is producing a number of pieces done in the same medium with a common theme. It’s a logical way to explore and experiment within certain parameters.  Robin and I don’t like being confined  so we’ve explored a lot of mediums and materials.  Each has its own characteristics and associated methods, but we like to mix it up.  I get bored easily and consequently am often working on multiple series, each in a different medium, during the same time period.  It may have to do with attention deficit disorder, but it also has to do with the fact that I express different ideas in different mediums.  It also has to do with the fact that I have to pay the bills as well as grow my potential.  It amounts to a balancing act.  Different series for different markets is the same as an artist “getting a day job”, only better, much better for a variety of reasons.

Jewelry For the Wall is a collection that I’ve produced continuously over the past 14 years.  All of the pieces are basically paint on wood, with the addition of a few other materials used for surface ornamentation and texture.  The common threads are the materials, with a dependence on color, texture and geometric shapes, punctuated with rhythms and flowing line.  They serve as meditative icons as much as ornamentation. These images are where I bring together my scientific and spiritual interest in the cosmos and our place in it.  Our place in the cosmos is married to our approach to the environment.  We are more than a species living on the Earth and dominating it.  We are part of the whole living entity known as Earth.  An example of one from this series shown below is “Lunar Dance”.

My clay sculpture and most of my drawing over the years is about my immediate experience in life.  They are definitely a projection of my personal state of mind at the time.  Shown here is “Cavewoman” from my body vessels series.

Robin favors “working with God” as he describes how the magic of patina on metal is achieved.  His patina work has the impact of a Rothko, the mood of an Inness.  He creates actual paintings without any paint or dyes.  His work is extraordinary and unique.  Shown here is “Remember Me”

Robin and I collaborate on another body of work made primarily from enamel on copper, patina on metals and paint on wood.  Unlike that of earlier periods, much of modern architecture is experienced as a series of planes with varying color and texture and that is what inspires Twitch!.  They are compartmentalized as is architecture and they are also objects of beauty, made to enhance  the living and working space created by the patron.  Twitch! is our day-job.  We are proud of the work and know it is a good value for the patron, but if economics weren’t ruling our existence right now, we’d be spending that time on our other work.  Shown below a Twitch! piece titled Frank’s Right (not a mis-spell but a play on words)

We are now collaborating on new work that is a natural outgrowth from these other series to create new pieces using more elegant materials and innovative surfaces, and exploring free-standing sculpture as well.   We will be showing this work for the first time at the American Craft Council retail show in Baltimore in February, followed we hope by the Palm Beach Fine Craft show.  Images will be available before the end of the year.

Lunar Dance

“Lunar Dance”

 

Cavewoman

Cavewoman

Franks Right

“Frank’s Right”

Remember Me

“Remember Me”

In the Moment

A lot of things haven’t turned out as we expected this year, which shows how ineffectual expectations are.  But we are in a better place now than any other time this year. The year began on another roller coaster–such is the life of artists.  We’re used to that.  But I was particularly burnt out on most everything.  A number of issues came together to turn us in another direction to market our work.

As a result, for the first time in 20 years we’ve been home all spring and summer without wheeling all over the country for art fairs.  The result has been comforting and restful, though a financial hardship.  We’re sorely in need of a vacation without connection to the outside world and the worries of marketing.  But being home has at least been without the horrendous stress of getting to and from the shows, the stress and danger of set-up and tear-down and the stress of being without our heavenly creatures.

So now that I’m getting the past tucked away and not focusing on the possible nightmare scenarios of the future, I’m coming back to the  center, in the moment.  The creative flow is back.  For a while now it has been momentary and with herky jerky contact, a result of high stress levels and not enough decompression.  It’s a matter of regaining conscious awareness of choosing to do what we do best and having faith that we’ll be carried by the universe to what ever purpose we can serve.

The new work is awesome already and getting better everyday.  We are extending the journey of marrying textures, materials and color. By experimenting with both new materials and new methods with already familiar materials, we are refining the textures.  Deconstruction of the surface to produce more layering has become much more important than in the past.

As a result, we’re looking forward to a schedule of shows beginning with the Memphis Riverarts later this month.  After our break, and armed with new ideas, I’m looking forward once again to shows.  As Robin said just the other day, the art fairs are instant gratification.  And they are–from the moment set-up ends until tear down begins on the last afternoon.  That in-between-time of the actual show is, or at least used to be wonderful….Talking to interesting patrons, selling art, seeing fabulous homes, visiting with artists, seeing some wonderful art and craft and alas eating wonderful food in little bistros.  It was a good time, and it will be again.  Here we come Memphis, Bonita Springs, Miami, Baltimore, St. Paul…….

 

How Twitch Began

The last 2 years of my mom’s life were bizarre.  After her death in 2006, I was so distracted with the events that lead up to it that it became increasingly difficult to concentrate in the studio or to think of anything other than her and the family. Along with that sudden inability to focus on my creative life, I was finding it increasingly difficult to get juried into the most profitable art fairs.   We had never been into networking and we found out late in the game just how the politics of art fairs work. Robin was still able to get into many of those coveted shows, but the sales suddenly became sparse.  For example, 5 of Robin’s 8 shows in 2009 were zeroes.  Concurrently, I had a series of mishaps, involving a sprained ankle, then shoulder surgery, then a broken elbow and sprained wrist, followed by 2 dislocated fingers.  In the middle of this the stock market collapsed and then by the summer of 2009  Robin’s work was even more difficult to sell.  Our stocks had lost much of their value so I didn’t want to cash in our retirement funds to live on until the economy recovered which we were certain would happen shortly.   Without income we had to do something. We had zero debt of any kind so we didn’t have difficulty getting a mortgage on our home.  Under all of these circumstances it’s no wonder we made several poor decisions.

We decided to forego the unpredictability of getting in juried art fairs and instead opt for making garden sculpture to show in other venues where we wouldn’t have to deal with the politics.  We hired a studio assistant, invested in lots of new tools and began designing new work in a new material for us–concrete.  The designs were very Asian inspired, with a contemporary twist.  Not a single piece ever got finished……yet.

I ended up panicking and selling our stocks for fear the market would go even lower, so we took a considerable loss.  Then we wasted $9000 hiring an art rep from California.  We made it very clear on the phone and in writing what we wanted her to do for us, but she ignored that and cashed our checks each month.  We were forced to give up that venture and let our studio assistant go.

While sitting in the heat at the Ann Arbor Original show in 2011 showing Robin’s metal work to a non-existent audience, I suggested to him that we collaborate on a whole new body of work and I showed him some sketches.  He liked the idea I suggested, which was to use his minimal designs, my lush color and textures on wood. The idea was to create a body of work that we could sell at the art fairs that was lighter weight and so easier for us to exhibit and that would be in a more affordable price range. We decided to name this new collaboration TWITCH! –definition, a rapid movement.  Robin took a workshop and then began experimenting with enameling which he added to our designs.  The red orb on this piece is the enamel on copper.  red spirals 2

These designs are all about meditation, balance and tranquility, which we need in our life and nevermore than at that time.

What became problematic was that the expenses for doing the shows continued to increase, attendance went way down at virtually all shows, the public purchased a whole lot less because of their fears of the economy and in order to compete we had to keep our prices so low that we needed to do production work to be viable.  And therein lies a big problem, because Robin and I have never really had the temperament for large-scale production work, preferring to work in one-of-a-kind originals.  If we were staying at home to market our work we could lower our prices. Having always depended on the art fairs for sales, it’s hard to make that switch.

We are in the process of finding the right professionals to advise us on branding and marketing.  In reality this has come about just as it should have.  We were both late bloomers and we’re primed to make the best work of our lives.

The Dead End Tour

The Dead End Tour begins January 1, 2014.

Robin and I have supported ourselves these past 20 years from the sales of our creations at art fairs around the nation.  Since the recession began in 2008, it’s become apparent that the art fairs aren’t going to recover anytime soon.  The writing is on the wall.  Just as we have re-invented ourselves several times before, we know that it is time to find a new way of marketing our work. You’ve just not had a really exhausting year until you’ve made work in the studio,   photographed each piece, made price tags and inventory sheets, written patrons, driven cross-country in the cab of a loud box van, set-up your booth in the elements, and then sat in the wind or hot sun for several days, all the while shelling out money for fuel, motels, restaurant food and don’t forget the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on the booth fee, and then waited for someone to get motivated to buy one of your objects.   And then do it again 15 more times that year.   My shoulder is too old for that.  And more often than not these days, we make just barely enough to keep us going.  That’s over for us.

We know what we need in order to be successful at this time.  It’s not fresh ideas–we’ve got plenty.  It’s not even an improved economy–that’s just not happening in the very near future.  We need new ways of reaching our patrons.  And we need the means to afford professional advice and assistance.  Every business large or small requires these things to be successful.  So very much of our precious time and energy that should go into our design and studio work is instead stolen away on tasks that could and should be accomplished by others.

The Dead-End Tour begins now–it is our last few outdoor art fairs.  We are searching out new ways of reaching our patrons.  We’ve already seeing big changes.  Join us on our journey to re-invent ourselves.