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December 2007

The Chair Project

Small_jpeg Sparrow CLubs USA is a wonderful organization that's very active in Central Oregon.  Every year, they have a major fundraiser in the spring called Chairs for Charity, where local artists and local students take old but still useful chairs and turn them into works of art.  The chairs are placed in downtown businesses, and the public is invited to tour the "exhibit," placing bids on their favorite chair. Last year, the top chairs went for over $300, so it's a worthwhile event.   All the proceeds go to help Sparrow Kids in the area. 

I've had the wonderful opportunity to learn about some of these special kids, particularly Michael, who has brain cancer and wanted the opportunity to graduate from High School with the full deal - cap and gown, music, diploma and best friends.  Sparrow Clubs helped make that happen for Michael, and they make similar life affirming dreams happen for other kids as well.  Learning of these inspiring stories helps keep the minor disappointments and regrets of everyday life in perspective.

This past summer I was "tapped" as a potential "Chair Artist."  I jumped at the chance.  I selected a sturdy, well-loved Murphy Chair Company "School-Marm" chair for my project, and although I've had this chair since July, I haven't actually painted on it yet.   Here it is, freshly sanded and waiting on my work table for inspiration to strike.  It had better strike pretty quickly, though, since the chair is due to be donated in February. 

I'm calling this the Chair Project, and I've decided that if I have to post my progress on this blog I'll be "helped along" with the task if I don't write about it regularly.  So if you don't see any updates, send me a zinger of a comment and that'll keep me on track.

Now, if inspiration would just strike....

The Best Creative Marketing Ideas of 2007

Here are the Top Three most effective marketing ideas that I discovered in 2007

Coming in at #3:  Creating the Artist Mystique
In February of 2007, I joined with three other artists in renovating the top floor of an Historic, three story building in the downtown area of our town.  We called it The Loft, and had working studios.
From this, we generated loads of press.  Local Arts and Current Affairs magazine writers, always looking for a good story, slanted it toward the Chelsea meets Small Town America.  Because we also had a growing interest from downtown merchants in establishing an Art Walk monthly event, where wine, food, music, drama and the arts were presented to the buying public, there was tremendous enthusiasm.  Our open studios were packed with people enjoying an experience and purchasing art from the artists.  Or just talking to the artists.  Sadly, politics and the weather intervened, and the Art Walk will re-emerge next year as something entirely different.  Sadly, too, the artists of The Loft could no longer afford their spaces and we have all gone our separate ways.

  This idea takes a concerted group effort for it to succeed, and for this reason alone it is listed as number three.  However, as a method for promoting, generating buzz, creating name recognition, and making sales, it was one of the most effective methods I've found.

Idea #2:  Finding Alternative Exhibition Spaces

     My contemporary work had been represented by Shelley Hall Gallery before the Gallery Director closed her doors to concentrate on her art appraisal business as well as her own art career.  When it was first proposed that I hang the consigned work in a contemporary furniture store -- even one in the most exclusive retail location in a neighboring city -- I was somewhat skeptical.  However, it has developed into a perfect match.  The clients who frequent this store  - Furnish - are looking for cutting edge contemporary furniture and my artwork is the perfect compliment.  Allowing prospective clients to see the work hanging above the furniture, as it would be in their homes, has made it easier for them to see how it could compliment their own decor.  In fact, two of my biggest sales have come out of this situation. 

   One word of caution: if you find an alternative space, expect to handle your own consignment forms, communication, hanging and rotating the work, and be willing to be flexible.

And Marketing Idea #1  Advertise in the Right Place
For several months I ran a small advertisement in the local Arts and Entertainment magazine.  It was affordable, but over the long haul I paid $225 for what amounted to ego gratification and little else.  It wasn't the fault of the ad, which was well crafted, nor was it the fault of the magazine.  It was my fault for failing to realize that this magazine's core readership consisted of people in the business, other artists, musicians, business owners and the like.  Sure, there was coverage of the monthly art walks and pictures of the movers and shakers who attended.  There was perhaps some name recognition generated.  But sales?  It drove a few curious people to the gallery, but that's about it. 

  Jpeg_3  Then I had an opportunity to split the cost of an ad with my gallery, and place it in a very high end, slick magazine catering to a very wealthy lifestyle. It's the kind of magazine that sits around on the coffee table for months, or can be picked up in the waiting areas of accountants, designers, lawyers offices... This ad cost me $221.  Two months after we placed this ad, a collector from another resort area saw the painting and called about it. He not only bought that painting, but two others. This $221 investment netted a sale of $3000.

Celebrating what you have accomplished

Alyson B. Stanfield, in her Art Biz Coach Newsletter, urges all artists to celebrate the accomplishments they have achieved throughout the year.  I know for myself, it's so easy to focus only on the mis-steps and goof-ups, that I forget that I did accomplish some worthwhile goals this year.

While I did lose one gallery, I gained a friend, another gallery, and an alternative exhibition space.

While I did get rejected by the National Association of Women Artists (duh - you have to be REALLY good for that one) as well as several juried shows, I had my first one-person show, my first three-person show with two artists far more accomplished than I, and my first National Juried Show.

I started mentoring and teaching.

I started blogging.

I created a second web site to further professionalize my two distinct styles.

I created a mailing list and started a quarterly direct mail postcard campaign. Well, at least one mailing so far, with only one "request" to be taken off the mailing list.  They were polite about it, though, so that's a positive.

In 2006, I sold 5 paintings and earned $1950, with a top retail price of $1600.  In 2007, I sold 19 paintings,  and earned $5135, with a top retail price of $3000.

I was invited into the home of a collector and asked to paint three more paintings to go with the six of mine that he already owns.  And I've experienced the great compliment of having collectors come to my openings specifically to see new work and to support my efforts. 

Sure, I could focus (and often do) on the unanswered submissions, the polite "you do beautiful work but it doesn't meet our needs" letters,  the brief "hot" spells and then weeks going into months of "no interest."  But there's always next year to really wallow in the depression, so for today, I choose to celebrate what went right. 

I hope that you do, too, and celebrate not only this holiday season, but your own beautiful successes.

2007 @ Sue Favinger Smith
6" x 6", oil on panel

 I have been fascinated by the Daily Painters phenomena that is sweeping the Internet."Postcard from Provence" and  "Postcard from Puniho" are just two that I enjoy, while there are many others that you can find on the web.

This piece is a mini 6 inches by 6 inches, oil on panel, and is not framed.  $50.00

One Key to Creating Compelling Art

      I am a great fan of Annie Dillard.  And I've started reading Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, by Kathleen Dean Moore.  Moore is the winner of a 1996 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, as well as being a professor of philosophy at Oregon State University in Corvallis.  Like the poets I admire, the writings of these gifted women connect with some deep, inner spiritual recognition that mirrors, for me, the intent of the artists working in Abstract Expressionism some fifty years ago.

      Stephen Polcari, in his book Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience, says "Abstract Expressionism creates a narrative...of the journey of mankind and the powers that determine its experience...the force of universal spiritual truth" (368).  When I think of the paintings that have knocked me over with their impact, those that linger long in my emotional memory, there is one constant that seems to emerge: I connected in some way, unconscious, mythic, expansive, with a representation of a universal human experience that I recognized, that had meaning for me. 

      And while this Ancient Artist is standing there, in a state of rapture over the painting in front of her, her faithful companion who is just now getting initiated into the wonders of the art world, stands patiently to one side stifling a yawn.  How can that be?  Can he not see what I am seeing? 

    Of course, ten minutes later he finds himself amazed by something I see as pedestrian.  And thus constitutes the difficulty when the Ancient Artist tries to define compelling art.  There is always that second unasked question: compelling to whom?

    The true magic in Dillard, and Moore, and the Abstract Expressionists such as Rothko, Stills, even De Kooning, it that their work connects with those for whom it was meant to connect.  As William Baziotes is quoted, in Polcari's book:

 "It is the greatness of spirit in a painting that compels us to return to it, time after time.  We go back...not for new discoveries but for the renewal of a great experience...Some mysterious force, some strange energy occurs as soon as brush touches canvas...Therefore, when I look at contemporary painting, I must judge it by the one criteria I have.  It is a level of painting where the interest is not only in the physical aspect of paint, but also in the drama and poetry of the soul of man" (368).

    If you believe in what you are communicating, if you dig deep into the honesty of the human experience, if you take the risk to reveal something of your own inner experience, you will by default create compelling art. 


American Life in Poetry

My friend, Tamara, who is a poet herself, knows that I am often inspired through poetry.  She told me about this wonderful new project by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004 - 2006.


"American Life in Poetry provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry: America Life in Poetry seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. There are no costs for reprinting the columns; we do require that you register your publication here and that the text of the column be reproduced without alteration. "   American Life In Poetry © 2007 The Poetry Foundation   Contact:   Privacy Policy

I am including a link under Inspiration. 

Art, music, and poetry are separate, yet equal, threads in the larger weaving of our lives, offering the color, strength, hope, imagination, awareness, humor,  and pleasure so necessary to the human experience.

106_0684Evening News
oil on linen on panel
@sue Smith

How do you see yourself?

    You've gotta hear this one.

    So there was this artist, right? 

    And he comes into the gallery wanting the owner to carry his work.  By chance, she happens to be there and, not entirely sure of his mission, greets him cordially.  He launches into his pitch about how he was willing to place his  (fill in the blank)     in her gallery and give her 20% for the sales.  She politely explains that the person who reviews the artwork was not in that gallery.  He seems not to have heard and continues to describe his work, which clearly does not fit with the other fine art displayed all around him. He even has some in his car and wants to bring it in. He can spread it all over the floor so she can really see it.  Again, she explains that he must submit his inquiry through the on-line submission portal, and that every submission was reviewed and the artists contacted, often with referrals if the work was good but not meeting their needs.

    Now, this artist must have been told that the key to getting what you wanted was through persistence.  He launches into a description of where his work is "selling well" and includes a gallery that is placed one block away from the owner's first, and most active, gallery.  As the owner knows this competing gallery very well, she is not impressed. And, apparently he has no clue that she has another gallery.  When she explains that she knows   (Fill in the blank) , the owner of that gallery, the artist quickly brushes aside the new-found nuggett of information.  After all, he is on a mission and has no interest whatever in the interests of the person he is talking to.  He says, "Oh, you have another gallery.  I didn't know that.  Maybe this stuff would go good in that gallery.   

       She politely explains that she would not carry an artist whose work was in a gallery so close to hers.             

    "Why?" he demands.

    Because, she explains carefully, in case he has trouble understanding her words, she asks her artists to be exclusive to her gallery, at least within a reasonable geographical area.  He tells her that her business decision makes no sense to him.  Wanting to help him understand, she attempts to explain that she forms partnerships with her artists and promotes them actively.

    "Promote?" he exclaims.  "Well, I've never been promoted before.  Why would you do that?"

    She is now attempting to usher him toward the door.    He is not finished.

      "That makes no business sense to me," he argues loudly, irrespectful of the several art patrons in the gallery. "How can you run a gallery that way ?  I can't believe you wouldn't want all the art in this place that you can get."

    Getting the courage to approach a gallery: admirable

    Seeing someone crash and burn: hilarious

Did you Eat your Spinach This Week?

    Every time I open Art in America, and see which artists have won museum shows, or Art Business News to see who ArtExpo anointed as the best new artists, and then realize that my art doesn't look anything like those images, I know I need some spinach.  In that moment of envy ( yes, the Ancient Artist is human, after all) I feel myself spinning off into different directions...should I start politicizing my art, does it need to startle the viewer in order to get noticed?  Maybe I should paint like Milton Avery, or Jasper Johns, or move to New York and paint soda cans like Warhol ...I see artists working in similar styles advertised on the pages of Art in America.  Or... maybe I need to get more graphic like those in Art Business News, more illustrative.  How about sculpture, there seems to be growing in popularity, look at that giant porcelain head...Moments like these really test my strength, and I can use all the "spinach" help I can get.

    I think that one of the toughest challenges for artists, whether they be Ancient or not, is to maintain a steadfast vision of their own artistic strengths in the face of apathy.  Is there room for experimentation?  Absolutely.  I cannot grow as an artist if I don't push myself every day.  But is there room to run off in all directions?  Maybe if I was twenty again.  Which I'm not.  (Well, I guess it it could be all in the way you count birthdays, starting to move backward when you reach 40...)  This is where the "drawing upon your strengths" part comes in -- in this case, knowing what you love to paint and painting it, regardless of the apathy that creeps in from time to time.  Knowing you have developed the necessary resiliency to experience your moment of envy, and then turn it into admiration and inspiration. 

    What are the resources -- the "spinach" in your life -- that sustain you?

    Find them.  Be they mantras, or family, or a few passionate friends, a supportive gallery director, an admiring journalist, even if she only writes for a small weekly circular, the face in the mirror when you get up every morning.  Remind yourself that while the world is naturally apathetic, you have learned that there are pockets of encouragement just waiting to be found.

     Have you found them?

    Have you eaten your spinach today?