Category Archives: art

what you think it’s worth/what you can afford

edited to add: After many discussions with friends and strangers, I have gone back to pricing my work. While I sold two pieces within weeks of changing to “pay what you can afford,” most people have indicated a preference that the price be listed with the paintings. Still, the old post may be an interesting read…

A day or two before an opening reception for my paintings it occurred to me the people I had been so enthusiastically inviting might think I wanted them to buy something. Sales hadn’t even entered my mind. Selling my paintings, even that phrase, disturbs the pleasure I find in making them. It’s not that I think they have no worth. And, it’s certainly not that I think there is no literal expense in the time and materials I invest in each piece. What mucks it up for me is the head games that come with the process of “pricing.”

Too high a price could be read as egotistical or self-important. Too low a price could present a vision of insecurity or self-doubt. A very high price frequently makes the viewer feel the piece is more valuable while a very low price might strike someone else as a great deal.

The only time pricing was ever not an annoyance for me was when I simply considered the numbers themselves with little consideration for the dollar value. That was kind of fun.

When I sell a painting, or when someone even mentions they are thinking about buying one, I know what “feeling honored” really means. However, painting with the intention of selling makes a painting unsuccessful for me. I’m not able to enjoy it no matter how it turns out. It’s a complicated experience. I love when my paintings are purchased. I do like making money. And, most of all, I love knowing someone finds something in one of my paintings that makes them want to keep it or share it. But I can’t make a painting “so it will sell” without taking away the pleasure of painting.

As the start-up manager for Ten Thousand Villages-Houston, there were many aspects of sales we considered. We had some weighty conversations about the decisions about pricing. The point of fair trade is, of course, ensuring that workers are paid fairly—a livable wage—as well as making sure the working conditions are safe and reasonable. The location of the production sites mattered, of course, in what constituted a living wage. Fair trade does not mean paying a livable wage that would allow for an American way of life if the country is Kenya or India, for example. One valuable lesson I learned during those days is how the system of “pay what you think it’s worth” frequently brought in more cash than posting a set price for items.

I can’t stand setting a price for my paintings. I hate getting caught up in trying to guess what a person might or might not take from the price I select. I can’t know how people will perceive things. When I think I have some kind of control over other people’s perceptions, I lose touch with my deeper self. I like knowing I can’t know how people’s minds work. When I remember it’s not up to me (how the prices are received) I could simply select a price that feels right to me and post it. Or, I could do what I’m going to do, and that is: choose to set no price at all.

My paintings are all for sale (unless otherwise noted with “not for sale” or “sold”). They are all for sale at whatever price you feel they are worth combined with what you can afford.

Even typing out those last two sentences caused me to breathe a big, deep sigh as if I had been holding in tightness for a long time.

I’m going to keep painting. I’m going to keep asking people to come see my paintings when they are displayed in public. But, I’m not going to “try to sell” them in any way that involves predetermining prices. I want people who want my paintings to get to have them. How unbelievably cool is that? Someone might want a painting of mine to be in their home*? Wow.

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* I think it bears repeating that this awe I feel isn’t because I think my paintings are not worthy of appreciation. I like many of my paintings a lot. I think I’ve got talent in some some measurable and some immeasurable ways. But, no matter how much I like them personally, it still blows my mind that someone else might be touched by them in some way. Again, not because I think they aren’t deserving, but just because that is SO AMAZINGLY COOL!

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kickstarter (funded!) project update

Periodically, I send updates to the folks who backed my kickstarter project. I’ve been feeling out of sorts when it comes to my social activities online lately. I’m wondering if writing some blog posts (instead of aimlessly refreshing twitter, reading blogs, or checking Facebook) might bring me back into a good groove. So, instead of posting this “for backers only” via kickstarter, here’s an update for anyone who visits this blog about how the “Three New Paintings” project is going.

I have three paintings actively in progress, though (as the backers know) it’s unlikely I’ll have three finished in time for July’s show — I was too ambitious and didn’t think through how long things take and how short June 1 to June 30 is.

One is, so far, exclusively oil pastels. It’s 10×10 which is smaller than I’ve used in a while. With this one, I’m finding the line between “a picture” and “a painting.” It’s a nice picture right now, but there are several sections (most of it) that are almost entirely uninteresting. I’ll work on that tonight to see about turning it into a painting (where each area feels complete).

The second is 20×24. I started this before the smaller one, but it is of a related image. This is the first time that I’m making paintings that are different views or portrayals of a similar image. With this, I’ve added some layers of very thin (lots of medium) paints over a large part of the painting but am still using only oil pastels on much of it.

The last is the largest (I forget the dimensions) and it’s one I started almost a month ago. I stumbled into the idea of what I thought of as making layers, but is apparently called “glazing.” An old friend of mine (I babysat for her children in the 90s) sent me a message describing her passionate position on glazing — using thin layers of paint, allowing the layers to dry in between, showing the luminescence and depth of the previous layers.

the painting where I stumbled into “layering”

my feet :-) and the mixing I did when I painted a bit this afternoon

just about finished (for this afternoon’s layers). also, the shade or sunlight (?) make this look much bluer than it actually is

finished (for today) — this shows the colors more accurately

I can already tell that blogging won’t be the solution to my dissonance about online life. I’ve already been simply “not online” a lot more than is usual for me (it didn’t seem to be helping) but I suppose I’ll go do more of that for a while. Thank you for visiting and reading my stuff here. :-)

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too valuable for caution

$119 worth of paint (most of the $ paid for the 5 tubes on the left)

When I squeezed the first little bit out of my new Old Holland paint, I was careful. “Just a touch of this fancy new paint,” I thought, “It’ll probably go a lot farther than the paint I usually use.”

“Let me mix in a lot of the bloopy stuff (one of the mediums meant to mix with oil paints). That’ll make the paint last longer.”

My body felt tight. My hand and arm felt tentative as I moved the brush. My usual free and quick motions, so fluid and mindfully mindless, were caught up in the expense of buying the higher quality paints. The money I used came from the successful kickstarter project I ran in May (thank you, backers!), so it wasn’t money out of my bank account. But, also it was money out of my bank account, no matter the source. Money for groceries has been a concern in recent memory, so I’m pretty careful about every dollar I spend.

I squeezed out some more paint. I needed the blue to be greener. Then I needed it to be glossier. Then I needed it to be lighter. Now slicker. Now smoother and back into blue a little bit more. My brush started moving faster and with more flow and direction. I began feeling the painting.

Still, I felt caution. I took a tub that I had saved from an earlier painting and figured I could use that (white) instead of “wasting” new paint from the new tube. I did this for a bit until I discovered bits of the gummy film that forms on oil paint as it dries. This painting was meant to be smooth, clear, clean. The textures I have worked with in paintings before didn’t have a home in this one. I removed the scummy bits as much as I could and then I had to let go of a lot of wasted paint. The very expensive paint, the mediums, the large quantity of paint was all ruined. I considered saving it (again) for a painting where texture wouldn’t need to be smooth, but dried bits of old paint aren’t something I imagine myself wanting to incorporate to any painting in the future.

Finally, I decided I needed to use the paints. Really use the paints as I wanted to. Use the paint as the painting and the brushes and the wind and sun and REM’s music told me to. It was pretty messy. It was a little frustrating but in an exhilarating way (the painting would get *this* close to feeling as if the layer was finished, I’d see a section I wanted to tweak, and the whole thing would start shifting). At one point I added a color with a grey tone and the whole thing began turning muddy. Bringing it back to clear colors was tough, though it’s almost there. I had to stop because I was running out of time and I’m sure the best thing for the colors will be to take a break, clean everything, and start fresh with the clarity I need.

When I begin again in a couple days, I’ll start free. I’ll know that being paralyzed by the need for caution will block my painting. Something this worthwhile deserves all the wet and sloppy, error-laden, gooey, gloppy, bold and surprising messes I need to make.

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rejection as motivation

Today I was rejected. It felt like I was, though it was more my paintings that were rejected than me as a person. But, they’re intertwined with my being, so the rejection feels very personal. For the first time in these 2-3 years that I’ve been occasionally showing my paintings out in public, a location said, “We’re booked… mumble mumble indefinitely…” and the rest of the message basically said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

For about an hour, I paced around in a daze. I considered whether maybe all of these pictures I’ve been making are really totally pieces of garbage and that I’m a sham. Just saying my pictures are worth sharing doesn’t make it so. I was sad and lonely and hurt and everything else in my life seemed suddenly dark and hopeless. I wasn’t even able to shake it enough to lick my wounds. I only bled.

As I make more paintings, I’m finding the ideas I consider more sophisticated and interesting (t0 me). Lately, due to limited supplies I’ve explored what I’m calling “underpainting.” I haven’t googled it to find out if that’s a real thing because it is to me. Twice now I began a picture and it wouldn’t go in a direction that felt right so I took it in a dramatically different direction. Both now show a texture of what was before and I don’t know how that will be perceived by someone who only views the final painting (I am curious to find out).

At the same time that I was painting over previous attempts at paintings, I began one that I have intended from the start to have 2-6 layers. I started with two in mind, but now have three. (I added the 6 there because I don’t know at all where it will actually go, even though I have a feeling about how it will end.) That I had two parallel actions (painting over paintings) going on for different reasons feels good. There’s an interesting flow that has come from an unexpected place.

This is the painting, showing the second layer that I did today. Neither are stand-alone paintings, and I don’t know if either will be apparent at all when I add the next layer after this latest level dries:

I began this a couple months ago but wasn’t able to work on it for a few weeks because I needed red and white paint but couldn’t afford it. I ran a kickstarter project and it got funded (thank you, backers!) so this weekend I bought the paints I needed (and two extraordinarily satisfying brushes).

When I find a particularly sensitive or vulnerable place in me that I didn’t know about (the rejection of my request to show my paintings hurt much more than I thought such a rejection might) I tend to move quickly to building callouses in that area. I’m exposing myself by showing this in-progress painting. This exposure will make me feel stronger.

I still feel self-doubt, sadness, and disappointment that my paintings weren’t accepted. But now I’m into the callous-building phase of my hurt. I’m taking the rejection and using it as fuel to energize me. I now realize I’ll get rejected again (it hadn’t really occurred to me it would happen in the first place). I’m not excited by that prospect, but I do know each rejection will help me know that being rejected doesn’t change anything about me or my paintings. Their judgment means nothing more than “not a good fit.” Now, I’ll keep painting and start searching for places where my paintings (and I) will fit.

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setting up at Starbucks

My parents were coming through town from their summer place (they visit a few times off-season to “rough it” a bit) and were there to help me. What a difference it made, having extra hands and eyes to try to get things hung straight and balanced. (Plus, the all-expenses-paid sushi extravaganza after wasn’t too bad…)

I’ll be in town for First Friday tomorrow (May 4). If you would like to check out my paintings and talk with me about them in person, please feel free to email me and I’d be happy to meet you there.

As I was setting up, I taught my father how to take pictures with my phone and he took a lot. Here are some of them:

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Also, I’ve set up a kickstarter project in an attempt to raise funds to buy more paints, pastels, birch panel, and other supplies to make more paintings. I’ve now sold two (yay!) and with shows coming up (shows?) I need to keep making more. If you would like to know more, or make a pledge, you can do that here.

Thanks for all the blog-based support. It helps. :-)

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