As I'm doing my usual Friday morning catch-up, it occurs to me that you might be interested in knowing a few things about me. You see me posting my art work fairly regularly on Facebook and my Pepper Portraits blog, but did you know that besides being a completely committed artist, I hold two part time jobs? Winning a few awards and getting published, does not guarantee a regular pay check. Nope, I go months sometimes without a sale. I'm married to a wonderful guy who pays most of the bills, but by no means makes enough money for me to do art 24-7. I have to at least cover groceries and vet bills, which with 2 older dogs and three cats, adds up, believe you me! So I continue to work as a vet assistant in a small animal veterinary practice. I've been working with vets since 2011- started in my 40's and still doing doggy yoga as I near 60. I feel like a thirty year old with no time to get old! My other job is a gallery portrait artist- picture framer -Girl Friday for a lovely little gallery, in a haunted brick building, in the small river town of Milford Ohio. There I teach portrait classes, frame picture, assist hanging shows and whatever else they might need of me.
Ha ha, Just kidding! My recent post of the "finished" commission was about two more full days and a lot of erasing away from being finished. My client was happy with first edition, but not completely. She asked me to make the bangs more "blonde" and soften the bags under the eyes. And if I didn't mention it before, she asked me to change her teeth a bit from the photograph. She never liked them. So this is what doing commissions is all about! And this is why contracts are a good idea. Changes take time. In this case though, I couldn't charge her for my extra efforts. The changes were too subtle. And the teeth were part of the initial agreement. Unfortunately, working this small, forced me to erase back almost all of the cheeks and face in order to lighten the bangs and find the correct over all values. Once completed, this little graphite drawing took as much time and effort as a full color 8x10"! It was very difficult, but worth the tricks learned. At one point I was terrified that I would have to start all over again. But, the Fabiano Artistico 150 wt Hot Pressed paper, which was recommended by an amazing artist friend of mine Alan Woollett, turned out to be quite forgiving. So here is the really, not kidding, for sure, finished 7.5x 8.5 graphite commission of a small girl.
This little portrait (7 x 8.5") was created from a 3.5 x 5" vintage photo. I don't normally consent to doing such a small human portrait, especially from a client provided reference. I prefer to photograph the subject myself. It allows me to see the subject clearer. What is her attitude about things? Does she have a sense of humor? From the many photos I take, I will be able to make compositional choices that allow me to say something specific about the subject. With one client reference I have nothing but a 2 dimensional image. There is no way to know the subject. Hence I meticulously copy, as best I can, the photo. This kind of interpretation leaves very little, if any room for creativity. I depend on the medium and the character of my technique to make the difference. Though, I carefully warn the client that to work this small makes it difficult to nail likeness, that all it takes is one tick of the pencil to completely change an expression, does she hear me? Once the piece is finished and a photo sent off for approval, I sweat it out. Did I communicate well; did I capture whatever it is the client sees as likeness or will I have to start over again? Weighing challenge against risk, did I quote the proper price? One could say, that each time I do a commissioned piece I learn something new. That is invaluable right? I've been doing portraits for 15 years. It should be effortless by now, (smiley face with tongue in cheek and wink.) Good thing I have another commission to get to!
This portrait commission was completed this week. Baby Brother, 16x14" colored pencils on rag mat board, client reference. Someday I'll go into the process of creating newborn coloring. It was painfully difficult. All the blending and shadow! The little fingers make this piece come alive, don't you think?
Can we talk? Where are my clients this year? Now that I am so much better and should command higher prices, I see fewer inquiries. I am currently running a sale which reduces my base price by $65.00. This is drawing more browsers to my website, but so far no takers. The recession has changed many things. People don't see the value in original art work. Potential clients grasp every dollar as if it is their last. I understand this better than anyone. (Another story for another time.) I'm less and less willing to go through my pricing and commission process. The attitude is that I can work miracles out of bad photos in last minute conditions. And that I should do it cheaper and cheaper! Where is the respect? Would you ask your plumber to work for minimum wage? Reproduction art is cheaper. I have no problem with selling art prints, if they will sell. The sad part is that the viewer will not have the same experience with reproduction art as they will with the original. In the original, if you look closely, you will see tick marks, brush strokes, eraser marks, wipe downs- the back and forth of the creator's process. Though the print might catch the marks, it can't record the grit, the digs, the sweat left behind by hours of work. A good reproduction print on heavy rag paper, using light fast inks, is a beautiful thing in itself. It is in essence the cleaned up version of the original. But to own the original! Now that is like owning a piece of magic. For enclosed in that border of wood, encased under the sheet of glass, is a piece of human experience perhaps even genius. So much more than a print!
Working in a gallery and frame shop I see clients who are more than happy to drop hundreds of dollars on framing, but walk right by the original art. Even our top sellers, who show at multiple galleries are complaining about the lack of sales. What gives? I am itching to use my abilities, but find myself working on my own stuff. It's fun, but I can't live off it.
Last year I wrote an article about my 10 steps. I created a paintng and documented the highs and lows. It is something that is consistent in my process. Knowing this makes it easier for me to commit to the more ambitious pieces as well as increases the likelihood I will finish. No matter how bad it gets I know that persistence will pay off. The results speak for themselves. Sometimes they even work. The main thing is to KEEP GOING.
I jumped through all the hoops to get Blue Crab into the mail and off to Brea CA to the 21st Annual CPSA International Exhibition. Turns out, even with careful planning, I cut it close. Note to self: Big difference in postage price between 3-day and Ground, which is estimated to take 6 days. As I'm paying for shipping to and from destination, any additional postage is doubled. If my piece does not make it in the window given by the show's time table, it is disqualified. I chose cheap vs late. Let's hope my gamble pays off. Stay tuned and wish Blue Crab luck.
Its pretty incredible to find an article about oneself in the newspaper. What a charge and an honor! I'm hoping the exposure will send new clients my way via Row House Gallery! http://local.cincinnati.com/share/story/205971