Friday, February 12, 2010

A thank you to my supportive family.

In honor of Valentines Day, I feel inclined to write a few words in praise of my spouse and child.  I find myself at age 40, living in a beautiful place with all of my essential needs met, working for myself doing what I love.  If not for Mike and Anouk, my life would be very different.  No doubt, I would be working either in social services or in some other administrative position, doing artwork as a hobby. 

Mike and I became friends initially due to our shared interest in art.  We used to schedule art nights every week, inviting our friends, but often finding that only the two of us made it.  We would go to the Seattle Art Museum and galleries, stopping for drinks along the way, discussing our difficult relationships (with other people.)  We both rented art studios in the same building and would go on supply runs together.

Now, Mike has little time for his artistic pursuits.  His camera has not been touched in years and he no longer makes books.  But he has thrown his creative energy full force into the garden and associated buildings, and he teaches glass art at his high school. 

When I had Anouk, I lamented the loss of my personal time.  For a couple of years, I had no free time, and I felt my identity as an artist had disappeared.  Little by little, she became more independent, and I found time to make art whenever I could.  I learned to do things I could manage with her next to me or on my back, and worked on mosaic when Mike was home.  Mike has always supported my choice to stay home with her, and to start and pursue a business, even though he has to work 3 extra hours per day for us to break even.

The beginning of a new career.
A few years ago, I realized I really was a working artist, and it was actually because of Anouk.  I had to become resourceful to find a way to earn money, create art, and be available as a mother.  So, this Valentines Day, I will celebrate the two of them for forcing me to get my act together in more ways than I can describe.

The vulnerability of putting work in galleries

This is an example of art that doesn't look nice in peoples' homes.

I have been selling my work for almost 20 years, beginning with naive oil pastel paintings, then ceramic figurines and wire jewelry, handmade cards, and eventually, the work I do now.

As an artist, you dream of galleries coming to you, begging to represent you and your brilliant work. But, for most of us, it is a very different experience. We venture out into the art world without maps, having no idea where to go or how to talk about our work. I still don't have a map, but I thought I would write about a few lessons I've learned.

The first time I approached a gallery (unannounced), I brought a few examples of my weird oil pastels of stylized naked women, sometimes depicting my young feminist idealogy. The owner bluntly informed me that my work was not a good fit for the gallery. She said, "Our clients like to buy things that will look nice in their homes." I quickly shuffled out with my invisible tail between my legs. However, I sucked up my pride, went to another shop (not gallery) and found the owner happy to accept my linocut-printed cards on consignment. The lesson: Don't expect to be accepted by the first gallery you approach. Prepare for rejection and know that your work may fit in certain venues, but not others.

A couple of years later, I had apprenticed with a ceramic artist, and had a box of ceramic figurines. I was still heavily influenced by the women's movement, but these were more celebratory. Having moved to Albuquerque, I took them to the local women's bookstore, where the owner took them all and gave me a sound lecture about pricing. She pointed out that, by pricing my work so low, I was not only paying myself poorly, but also underpricing other artists. We put fair prices on the work, and they all sold. The lesson: Compare your prices to others in your market. We all need a fair wage.

Around that same time, I was making wire and bead jewelry. I took my collection to a really cool gift shop in Madrid, NM (one of my favorite places.) The owner was very kind to discuss pricing with me, and she accepted my work on commission, and it sold well. I continued to supply her with jewelry until I moved back to WA 8 months later. After a while, I couldn't reach the shop or owner. A friend went to the shop for me to find that it had closed. I was never paid for the items I left there. The lesson: Be cautious about leaving your work where you can't monitor the sales. Make sure you have a written contract with items and prices listed for your records.

For many years after that, I only sold at a cooperative gallery in Seattle and at independent shows that I arranged at cafes. If you are just starting out, this is a very good option for getting your work seen. Look for cafes and restaurants that have rotating art shows and ask for an appointment with the curator. Take photos of your work and remember that your art is going to represent the business while it is hanging. Choose businesses that are more likely to accept your work. Don't take edgy art to a conservative tea shop, for instance. The disadvantage is that you are responsible for all promotion and sales. But most cafes don't take a commission, so it gives the artist a great way to sell art at low risk. Some will even allow you to hold an opening party, which is a great opportunity to network.

After working in mosaic for a few years, I heard about a gallery in Seaside that specializes in mosaic. My husband was leading a field trip there, so he took one of my mosaics to the gallery. This was my first time putting work in a real gallery, and the owner was kind enough to alter my mosaic to make it gallery-ready. She removed the eye-hooks I had screwed into the top and replaced them with d-rings on the back. Then she painted over the mess of grout I had left on the back. The piece sold fairly quickly, and I received a check in the mail. The lesson: Always use d-rings and woven wire for 2-D artwork. Make sure it looks neat and tidy on all sides (even the back.)
-Be prepared to set your pricing. It helps to go in with a price in mind, and negotiate from there. Most galleries take 50%, so know how little you are willing to accept. If you know you can sell something for more than you will get from the gallery, it may not be worth it. On the other hand, selling at a gallery looks good on a resume, you reach a new audience, the gallery promotes you and takes care of taxes, and your work will look much nicer than it will on the wall of a cafe.
-Be professional. (Do as I say; not as I do.) I tend to talk too much out of nervousness, openly express my insecurities, and sometimes realize my work isn't ready to hang. Just recently, on one of those days where I was one step behind all day, I took work to a gallery without any d-rings attached. I had my screw-gun with me and ran (literally) to a hardware store, the second one I had gone to that didn't carry d-rings. I bought some drawer-pulls that resembled d-rings and tried to attach them back at the gallery. They broke. I did all of this with the gallery owner tending her customers around me. I am still working through my shame.

I hope some budding artist stumbles across this and learns from my mistakes. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Weak point.

We made it through most of winter using homegrown, frozen food as the basis of our meals, along with purchased staples like oil, grains, milk, salt, etc. It hasn't been awful, though I can tell Mike is not always thrilled with dinner.

Despite the many signs of spring (sprouts, buds, frogs, longer days) we all seem to be exhausted lately, and craving comfort foods. I've been increasingly uninspired by the available ingredients. Anouk refuses to eat most of what I make, so I've resorted to buying whatever it takes to feed her. (She subsists on blueberry bagels, tofu, cereal and milk, pasta, and "fresh" fruit & veggies.) I baked and prepped a pumpkin last week, only to let it sit in the fridge. Today I'll throw it to the animals before it goes completely bad. And there is one pumpkin left in the pantry (not to mention many containers of pumpkin in the freezer that I've been ignoring.)

Last weekend, Mike went to town to get a few staples, but came home with loads of groceries from Costco, including frozen sweet potato fries, chicken nuggets, sun chips, ground turkey, fruit, apple juice, and lots of albacore tuna. I have to admit, it has been a relief to have something different and easy to make, as much as I cringe thinking about the many issues surrounding each of these items. I think we needed a little diversion.

Yesterday, I reorganized the garage freezer, and was delighted to find a bag of cauliflower and one of swiss chard. Our only vegetables since December have been string beans and zucchini, so it was like finding treasure. Hopefully, we will get back on the slow food track when we deplete this stash of groceries, but right now, I am longing for a thriving garden offering us one juicy crop after another.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


For a few years, I've been asked to participate in Arts Day at the WA State Capitol. On Feb. 2nd each year, arts advocates gather at the capitol to meet with legislators and make a case for including the arts in the State budget. In the past, I felt too shy and busy to join in, so I politely declined. This year, I recognized that I have been trying to get in on some of that funding, and that it is valuable for our community, and that the arts are seriously in jeopardy during these difficult financial times. So, I agreed to go.

Getting there was not easy. I had to get up extra early to be ready, take care of the homestead, and get Anouk to school, and I knew it wasn't possible to make it there for the 8:30am orientation. I made it to Olympia at about 8:40, but there was not a parking spot to be found. When I did find one, there was a meter that required change. I dropped in all of my change, and stole all of Anouk's change, and I was still a nickel short. While I desperately searched for one, the machine ate my money.

I had to pee so bad I was nearly in tears. But I continued to drive in search of a spot. I found one with a meter that accepted credit cards, only to realize that I had left my wallet on the counter at home! So, I would not be able to run errands or get food after the meeting, and I was already hungry. And my bladder was about to burst.

I kept driving around, until I found 2-hour parking quite a long walk from the Capitol. And I made it to the orientation before it was over, and there were donuts to appease my hunger.

There were 4 of us presenting to Kathy Haige,a legislator for my district. Stephanie Johnson, Arts organizer for the City of Olympia, introduced us, making the whole process feel easy and comfortable. She began by acknowledging how crappy a position the legislators are in right now, having to cut EVERYTHING, and that it is difficult to make a case for arts funding right now.

I spoke about how thriving arts contribute to a healthy local economy, using the example of cities like Port Townsend. People will drive there from far away because it is a fun, interesting place to visit. Those people stay in hotels, eat out, and buy stuff. If planning for Grays Harbor County incorporated more focus on the arts, I think we could harness the tourist factor to bring more money to the cities along the route to Ocean Shores, and a big part of that is art. I also talked about art in schools, using examples from Mike's glass arts program to make my point.

Sara Utter, a printmaker from Shelton, also talked about how artists are valid members of the work force, adding funds to the local economy through studio rental and sales of their work.

Luckily for us, Kathy Haige turns out to be a strong advocate for the arts, with ideas of her own for integrating art into school curriculum. So, we left with a spring in our step, stopping to admire a painting that Ms. Haige did in the stairwell of her building, turning a gash in the plaster into a mountain range.

I drove home regretting that I had not agreed to participate in this effort before, and feeling committed to being a more active citizen from now on. Getting there may have been hard, but sharing my experience with a legislator was easy. I thought about how much opportunity we all have to influence government by calling and writing to our officials, but most of us (me included) spend our energy complaining to our friends instead. I am grateful to the Arts Commission and to Stephanie for organizing this event and holding our hands through the process. I feel more proactive and more aware of how government works, on a practical level. And I encourage everyone to find ways to engage with government, rather than simply railing against it.

More raccoon devastation.

This is just a brief update on the homestead:

The loss of our roosters has resulted in the end of egg production here on the farm. We were down to only one egg per day from our six remaining chickens, but we haven't had an egg now in a little over two weeks. It is possible that this is part of the natural cycle, and that longer days will soon bring a return of eggs. However, roosters encourage the eggs, so we are working with our friend Paul (from Barnyard Gardens, of course) to locate a new king for the flock.

We have had a Muscovy duck-hen for a few years. Muscovies are unusual looking ducks that can fly, and are not related to other species of domestic ducks. We did have a flock at one time, but all were killed years ago during a cold spell (the coons are especially resourceful when temps drop), except for Mrs. Duck. Last Feb., she became very broody, laying eggs in the coop, refusing to leave them for many days, and defending them aggressively from me. Of course, I had to remove them because I knew they were not fertile, and didn't want a nest of rotting eggs in the coop. So, when friends let us know they had extra Muscovy drakes available, we took one. He was introduced to Mrs. Duck on Valentines Day last year, and they bonded quickly. Mr. and Mrs. Duck have been inseparable for nearly a year.

Poor Mr. Duck has one bad wing, so he cannot fly. Most of the time, Mrs. Duck would sleep with him in the coop, but sometimes, she flew away when I closed the coop, refusing to be confined. She would perch on the barn roof overnight, and I hoped she knew how to evade the blood-thirsty raccoons. I would find her every morning, at the coop door, eagerly waiting for me to let Mr. Duck out.

Sadly, last week, I found her body, ripped apart in the chicken yard. You would think I would be accustomed to this, and I am probably much less sensitive than when we started, but it is very depressing. The worst is seeing poor, gimpy Mr. Duck waddling around all by himself. He looks lost and lonely.

Muscovies have a reputation for being delicious. Apparently, the meat is not greasy and gamey like other ducks. So, Mike has plans to execute Mr. Duck sometime soon. I have a very hard time with the idea of eating him, but I am torn. I do not want to get a new duck hen. We have tried to keep ducks too many times, without success. And keeping unproductive animals on our farm is making less and less sense. (I am even thinking about the wisdom of keeping our goats.) I may adjust to the idea. Mr. Duck has always viewed me as the enemy. He hisses at me and tries to peck my head when I enter the coop. And a part of me is curious about that tasty Muscovy meat, I must admit. We'll see.