For those who started to follow my art blog, I apologize for my extended absence. Short story, I started to move in November of 2010 and finished…ahh…well…this month. Life can be challenging from time to time, which brings me to today's topic.
Now I am not a doomsday-er, nor will I cry about the degradation of America, but this morning while fueling up the car, which has become a traumatic experience in itself, I noticed one of my tires was a little flat on the bottom. Closer inspection revealed the culprit responsible…a screw…obsessed with the old practice of hitch-hiking. Obviously, I have managed to magnetize the rims of both my car and my wife's car because this has become a monthly occurrence for both me and my wife.
At this point I could expound the fact that I feel thoughtless and or careless persons responsible for the large amount of tire damaging debris strewn about on our roads and highways should be sought out and displayed in some compromising fashion in our public squares, however this is about air, or in my case the lack of it.
Having just spent a large portion of my life's savings on a half tank of gas, I become obsessed with the conservation of the precious liquid, a goal to be obtained by making my tire a little rounder until I can remove the hitch-hiker. For this I need air.
Air is free, however to get it compressed has become a costly endeavor that everyone feels they must be compensated fairly for. That cost varies from place to place, but everyone seems to agree that to compress enough air to fill one tire costs $1.00 to be dispensed as quarters, or in some cases (if you are lucky) you can find discounted air for only 75 cents. Either way the discovery of a quarter requirement prompts a frenzied effort to rummage through the car in places your hands don't normally go in search of the elusive coinage. For that hard earned and sometimes sticky 75 cents a miniature compressor will huff and puff loudly for exactly enough time to fill your tire…if you are a practiced member of a Nascar pit crew…if not it gasps just long enough to fill your tire half way.
Although I am convinced that with a little mild exercise I can generate more compressed air than mini compressor can, I feel that it is worth 75 cents to not taste anything on my tires (I live in Amish country). I proceed with an Olympic version of automotive interior gymnastics that included, much to my daughters entertainment, a front passenger seat head stand, to obtain the proper number of quarters. Proceeding to the far corner of the parking lot, right next to R2D2 Vacuum machine is the air compressor…with no hose.
Undaunted, I drive to the next "service station" at a pace slightly faster than an Amish wagon and find another compressor. With high anxiety and sweaty palms I insert my sticky lint covered quarters, leap into action racing to the car tire pulling my air hose and...…silence. I enter the "service station" and find a kindly looking old gent behind the register. I ask, "Can you turn on the compressor, I paid 75 cents and it won't..." "Nope" he interrupted, while simultaneously reaching in the drawer to give me my quarters back. It was such a rehearsed motion as to bely that this was, and would always be, a reoccurring scenario.
Now my search for air has been elevated to a noble quest for the god given right to obtain a much needed service. Adopting a horrible British accent, I muse to my daughter about the possibility of opening a chain of much needed air stations throughout the nation. I head off to the daycare stop to be followed by a stop at "service station" number 3.
I find yet another mini compressor and apprehensively insert my quarters. The mini machine instantly springs to life when the last quarter fell into the change box. It was obvious because the noise it made was a few decibels shy of a scrap yard operating at maximum capacity. I grabbed the hose and sprinted towards the car with great speed only to be nearly yanked out of my undershorts. The hose would not deploy from the recoil, windy uppy thingy, choosing instead to remain frozen at about 4 feet long. The sight of me with both my feet on the wall, and my body horizontal like someone repelling down the side of the quickie mart, muttering obscenities with a British accent, attempting to free the frozen hose attracted far to much attention so I opted to dejectedly wander into the store to speak with an attendant.
I stood patiently in a long line and when it was my turn I explained to the smiling middle eastern attendant the drama surrounding the air hose and my precious 75 cents. At the conclusion of my harrowing story she was still smiling the same smile, but it was accompanied by a blank stare. She had to retrieve another attendant who deftly reached into the register when I was half way through my story (we have seen this act before) to return my 75 cents. As I emerged into the sunshine I am greeted by the din of the mini compressor, still rattling away!
The blasted machine was mocking me. In an act of pure genius and desperation I decide to back my car onto the sidewalk within a foot of the compressor. By wedging myself between the car and the wall and pulling with all my might I stretched the hose far enough to reach the air valve and as I start to fill the tire, the compressor shuts off. Before I can utter a single word a shadow falls over me and I glance up to see the 2nd smiling attendant carrying an out of order sign. She asks if I would like to try my money again and I sheepishly say, "yes".
So I got my air and you are probably asking, "What was the point of all this?" and "What does this have to do with art?" Here it is, there was a time in the not too distant past when a "service station" came with a polite, uniform clad, Happy Days cast off, who would happily wash your windows, and under the glow of a smiling green dinosaur would also check your oil and put air in your tires for free, when you purchased gas.
That ideal has been warped into accepted practices which can not even maintain a basic paid service that should always be available when you make a purchase. Service practiced as a trade or a craft is a rarity, and I know when I find exemplary service in a business that a great product accompanies it. I also know from personal experience that I will extol the virtues of such a business to anyone with ears.
As you go about the business of art, what can you do to offer a by-gone style of service to clients who purchase artwork from you? I think if you practice the "trade or craft" of service along with the sale of your art, it will set you apart from others and aid in the success of your career.
For about the last 8 to 10 months I have been involved with a variety of social networking platforms. On Facebook alone I have connected with almost 800 artists and I spend a pretty good chunk of time interacting with them.
Over the last two weeks there have been little games where everyone changes their avatar. Last week was retro-week … post an old picture of yourself and this week is doppleganger (or something like that) … post the celebrity's picture that you have been told you look like.
It's all been fun but I have to say, I could not make a visual connection with some of the people I usually look for. They had essentially changed their brand…altered their identity. It dawned on me that in the business world this is not a sound practice.
Establishing a brand or identity is critical in any good marketing campaign. For branding to be successful it must remain consistent. Changing your avatar today may seem like a lot of fun, but is it a sound business practice? If a potential client, who has been following your posts, decides that today was the day to contact you, will they be able to find you? Maybe not … you have in effect changed your storefront sign.
It is important to remember that everything you post on the social networks either works towards establishing and solidifying your brand or confusing and degrading it. Before you post anything ask yourself this question, "How will a prospective or existing customer view this post?" Consideration for something as simple as your avatar can be crucial.
A good example of an effective avatar is used by Michele Mikala Ross, an artist on Facebook. Click to see. Michele has included her picture and several examples of her work arranged in a square. Michele's avatar functions as a cyber business card, it is recognizable and it represents her brand every time she posts.
Other activities and posts can also impact your brand negatively. I am amazed at the number of people who have the time to play the never ending array of applications on Facebook. Is this practice sending the unintentional message of…they have so much free time they may not need or want my business?
I get a barrage of announcements to keep me informed of the players' every move, John and Jane Doe have successfully completed level 150 after only 700 hours of tending their farm. They have raised a huge flock of pigs and would like you to adopt 1. Huh? What does one do with a virtual pig? Just today I was invited to "Suck a lollipop!" What? I am not sure how my wife would view me sucking a beautiful woman's virtual lollipop…
It may all seem harmless but how will your customers react to your activities and posts? Will your latest comments win a prospective client or cause them to go elsewhere? Facebook and other Social networking platforms are basically a cyber stage and you are performing on it for a huge audience of potential and existing customers.
Even if you are just communicating with your immediate friends, a comment on your topic by one of your friends is posted to their friends' pages (who may not be included in your group). A long running thread may touch many more people than you originally intended. An entire book called Six Pixels of Separation has been written on this subject.
Imagine that every time you sit at your computer you are actually attending a business networking luncheon. Chances are if you would hesitate to make a statement in that environment you should hesitate to type it on your computer keyboard.
Social networking platforms can provide you with friendship, fun and hours of entertainment. At the same time they can be a very effective tool for building your business and increasing sales as long as you remember … current customers and future prospects may be watching.
Everyone has unexpected circumstances that hamper production and we are no exception. We exhaust all possible means to deliver prints by their due date and no excuse is a good one for failing…except this one.
Recently we had to endure the emotional trauma of being visited by a nighttime intruder…a burglar…a vandal…a masked marauder. As if this is not enough the culprit over stayed his welcome and took up residence. Did I mention the scoundrel had beady eyes and and a great dentist?
Our facility is comprised of several buildings which used to be Clemente's bus depot and restaurant in the 1950's and 60's. Our sprawling 2500 square foot estate consists of the Clemente's house, which was moved 200 yards from the highway, several bus washes and a maintenance garage. The compound is very close to a small patch of woods, so we are no strangers to encounters with the local fauna.
Deer, groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, vultures, crows and the occasional fer-rel cat are residents of our patch of suburbia. Except for the occasional snake, all have remained at a comfortable viewing distance…outdoors.
Creature encounters indoors have been limited to jousting with stink bugs using the business end of a ball point pen. Oh… there are the mice which I catch using all the skill and cunning of a 17th century fur trapper. Of course I have the modern advantage of the "sticky" trap. Sticky traps are convenient if you place them in the middle of the floor. Placing them where mice actually travel entails re-enacting a scene in which Curley mistakes fly paper for an ordinary sheet of writing paper. Ah-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo.
All this brings me to the saga of the great Procyon lotor roundup of 2010, an event that will undoubtedly be recorded in the annals of Qoro history as epic. It all started with what seemed to be an innocent act of vandalism.
About a week ago, the area we store framing material, packaging materials and also coat our prints in, was invaded overnight by an anonymous critter. The initial appearance lead me to believe that a squirrel tried to mail an overnight package. Bits of foam, bubble wrap and cardboard were strewn about on the floor. A tentative inspection of the area lead me to believe that the offending culprit had departed.
Two days later I opened the shop door to reveal an area that was obviously the target of one or two concussion grenades. Debris was everywhere and worse than that was the sound of scratching scurrying feet and an alarmed chattering that could only belong to the voice box of one, ahrah-koon-em. The dreaded varmint that stars in Alogonquin tales of mythological mischief. I practically slammed the door on my own nose while back pedaling at a rate that sprinters would envy.
Now I am not exactly a neophyte when it comes to removing medium sized critters from human dwellings. As a gullible and clumsy teenager I was charged with the task of removing a skunk from our barn. Advice from a local farmer and stand up comic entailed accosting the striped intruder with the jet spray from a garden hose. Ironically, skunks or at least this particular skunk detested being sprayed and ran about frantically in an attempt to avoid the water. Caution, while trying to wrangle a frenzied skunk out of an open barn door using the watering technique it is important to pay close attention to your hose. A kink in the line that unexpectedly interrupts the flow of water may result in permanent harm to your olfactory senses.
More recently I had employed the straw broom method for removal of a possum from my garage. Basically this method uses the same technique that one would use to gently sweep a hairy ten pound sack of baking potatoes from under your bed. It is important to note that other cleaning implements are not as effective. I have yet to read an informative article on how to remove a possum from a shop vac hose.
Even with the vast amount of experience I possess in the area of unwanted critter removal I was not prepared to match wits with an animal capable of removing my eyebrows. (No matter what pencil you use, drawn in eyebrows always give you that "surprised" look.) I decided to wait for reinforcements, preferably someone who had never heard the horrific tales about the cornering of hairy wild animals.
As luck would have it our framer Rodney Pratt arrived on the scene. With two of us searching my chances of being the primary focus of a critter attack was cut by 50 percent so we proceeded to the storage area. Of course the flashlight I was using to inspect some of the darker areas behaved as a typical flashlight does in important circumstances and dimmed itself to an indiscernible orange glow. I became very preoccupied with shaking the light. (The unspoken rule when dealing with a finicky flashlight is to shake it, resulting in a temporary brightening which diminishes the moment you aim the flashlight at a target. Then repeat as necessary) In my case it was necessary to repeat the procedure until Rodney located the secret hide-out of the midnight marauder.
I was alerted to the discovery when Rodney executed the perfect back pedaling maneuver accompanied by the word…HELLLLOOO! The word is obviously the appropriate word for this circumstance because Rodney's attire was not accessorized by any large furry broaches. "What is it", I whispered. "Ears, eyes, brown", Rodney replied.
By gingerly moving several packing boxes and aiming the now fully charged flashlight into the area we could provoke the little masked monster to peer around at us. The eyes, ears and brown were all assembled to create a furry, fat and fully disinterested raccoon. Instead of attacking it seemed to expend an inordinate amount of energy on staying awake. Our first response was to open the garage door, in case the now snoring rodent decided to leave.
Everything I have read about raccoons states that they are indigenous to America. Don't you believe it, raccoons can not understand a single word of plain English. Every attempt to reason with the animal brought responses that included blank stares, grooming, scratching or returning to sleep. Even when the entire English language was reduced to the single word, shoooo! the response was the same.
Maybe the presentation of the entire conversation through a door opened 4 inches wide was the problem. Since Kathy had now joined in the great raccoon removal project you would think that the sight of a totem pole constructed entirely of 3 sets of human eyes, noses and mouths would have at least evoked a snicker. Had the raccoon made a sudden movement the ensuing mayhem would have resembled a clip from an old black and white keystone cops movie, but judging by the comatose nature of sleeping beauty, movement would only be encouraged by the application of several thousand watts.
We retreated from the shop to peruse the world wide web under the topic "raccoon removal". The SPCA and other such organizations do not participate in raccoon removal festivities. Those who do advertise such a service require a fee slightly less than the purchase of a new luxury car. So despite all of the warnings against "Do it yourself" endeavors, we opted for that choice. Our secret weapon, the home remedy of…mothballs!
Now I envisioned some sort of mothball projection device that would allow me launch those little round balls at high velocity to pelt the raccoon and drive it away, but the article claimed that raccoons had an aversion to the mothball scent and merely sprinkling them around would suffice. Our plan…wait until the raccoon went bar hopping, clean most of the packing boxes from the room, sprinkle a liberal amount of mothballs in the area and return the following day to find the area clear of all fuzzy inhabitants.
The first thing to greet us when we returned the following day was the light smell of mothballs wafting through the air at the front of our shop. Ahh… brings back the fond memories of exploring Grandma's attic as a kid. As we progressed through the shop the odor increased in strength until I was pretty certain that an entire platoon of grannies were bivouacked in our shop. When we opened the door to our shop, I actually saw a cloud of paradichlorobenzene gas accompany the breeze into our studio. Peering through a stream of tears with our shirts pulled up over our noses we saw our furry friend contentedly sleeping in a box full of bubble wrap a mere foot outside the door. For one brief instant I thought it had to be dead but the gentle rhythm of breathing was apparent. This raccoon was not only deaf but nasally challenged as well.
With the bitter taste of mothball failure still lingering on our tongues we decided enough is enough. We had to take action immediately to get those mothballs out of the area. Aside from the high probability of asphyxiation, the raccoon was the only thing standing (sleeping) in the way of accomplishing our dire task.
Everything we had read about our quarry, the raccoon not the mothballs, suggested that cornering the animal could provoke a less than desirable response, but no one completely defined what a racoon's idea of cornering is. Armed with this knowledge or lack there of, we formed a new more aggressive plan. First employ the element of surprise…kick over the box. Second poke at him until he was convinced that running out the open back door was a good idea. The poking implement of choice was a ten foot long section of stretcher bar.
We executed the plan with all the practiced expertise of a polished Marine drill team and the surprised raccoon ran…to a corner. No… all is not lost because behind a 5 gallon bucket of paint, our toothy mammal had installed his own version of a pet door. Brandishing our favorite raccoon poking implements we persuaded our fuzzy friend that the great outdoors offered a much better environment for napping and he exited. He did try to offer a little carpentry advice as we constructed a more secure wall but the constant poking disgusted him and he left in a huff.
So I apologize for any delay in the delivery of your prints, but as you can see it was unavoidable. By the way, Does anyone have a good home remedy for removing the fine scent of mothballs?
Treetop Bandit, by Susan Yoder
Over the 2009 holiday, I took a moment to tune in to the 32nd Kennedy Center Honors on TV. The reason? I wanted to see Mel Brooks. I was not disappointed with the review of his contributions to American culture and enjoyed a leisurely stroll down memory lane snickering at the snippets of some of my all time favorite movies.
I was also curious about Bruce Springsteen. I love most rock and roll from the 70's and even some from the 80's, but I have to say, Bruce never made it into my rather substantial and now defunct collection of 8-track tapes and albums. I know, I know, most die hard fans of the "Boss" will unite in a chorus of…"You do not appreciate Bruce's music because you have never seen him live."
Well I never took the time to see him live … because I was never really enamoured with his music … until December 29th. As I sat watching the Kennedy Center Honors the story behind Bruce's music was revealed by a parade of celebrities. The most poignant moment came when Ron Kovic, a disabled war veteran, spoke about his relationship with Bruce and the song that was written about him.
Apparently, Bruce draws inspiration and writes music from his life experiences and he is particularly passionate about Vietnam War Veterans and the treatment they received upon their return from the war. The stories struck an emotional chord and suddenly the songs "Shut out the light" and "Born in the USA" took on a new meaning for me. With goosebumps on my arms and a lump in my throat, I had an epiphany.
The story caused me to connect to the songs on a personal level which in turn increased the chance that I will purchase the music.
As artists, the practice of telling the story behind the artwork should be as important as signing the painting. The story increases the chance that an individual will relate to the artwork on a personal level. The story behind a particular painting may cause a prospective client to take a second or even a third look. The story may be the one critical item that motivates a client to purchase the work.
Although identifying a particular place or region is good, the "story" should evoke a response on an emotional level. This may require some serious introspection. Many of us can not define exactly why we are driven to create let alone why we were inspired to paint a particular subject. Dig deep, peel back some layers and really identify your inspiration.
I will give you an example. I was inspired to paint a gnarled old apple tree in an abandoned orchard. I was first attracted to the twisted trunk, intertwining branches, and the varying textures of the bark. It was just a really interesting tree.
Digging deeper…the tree reminded me of a group of similar abandoned apple trees encountered in my youth. On a hunting trip with my father in the mountains, we stopped to snack on some apples. They were crisp and cold from the chilly fall air and I can still taste how they were both sweet and tart at the same time. While we stood there munching on our fresh picked apples, shotguns leaning against the tree, a ruffed grouse (our intended quarry) that had been hiding in the branches over our head decided this was an ideal time to exit the premises.
Anyone familiar with the sound of a panicked grouse taking flight will tell you that the sudden thunderous noise the wings make against their chest is enough to provoke the soiling of one's undergarments. After our heartbeats had slowed to the speed of someone jettisoned from an airplane we became hysterical, laughing at the memory of our facial expressions during the event. It was one of those father/son moments that will live on forever.
The story makes the painting of an interesting apple tree more like the painting of a memory. The client who purchased this work also has a story to tell, "Hey, you know why the artist painted this? Well…"
Almost 3 decades ago on a sunny September weekend I participated in my first outdoor art festival. I carefully set up my booth and proceeded to park my keister under a shady tree to read a novel. All Saturday, and Sunday too, the crowds filtered past my booth throwing an occasional glance towards my work while I sat engrossed in my book. From time to time I would peer over the top of the book to check on the activity at the next booth.
Just my luck! My amateur work was juxtaposed with a very seasoned artist whose work sold for 40 times what I was asking for mine. His booth was teaming with activity…and sales.
Late Sunday afternoon as I was breaking down my show with lightening speed (easy to accomplish with empty pockets) that artist took a moment to walk over and offer me some advice. "Leave your book at home son, and pay attention to your customers."
It seems like a pretty rudimentary point, one that would need to be delivered to a youngster at his first show, but not one overlooked by seasoned professionals.
I can say from experience many artists still use the time spent at a show to do anything but relate to the show attendees. After All, the art can speak for itself, right?
A successful show, one that generates sales, is directly proportionate to how much the attendees relate to your artwork. If you sit idly by and ignore the attendees you are letting potential clients and possibly future collectors walk away without an opportunity to talk to the only person who can help them to relate to the work on a more personal level.
Just a brief introduction as "the artist" may be enough to prompt someone to stop and take a second look. Suddenly, the attendee has met the artist who just happens to be a real live human being. A short conversation may reveal some commonalities. Once the customer can relate to you as a person they will have an easier time relating to the artwork.
Turning the conversation to the artwork can cause that same attendee to take a third look. Tell the stories behind the work and point out items that are not obvious at first glance.
If you have not been able to prompt a sale then be sure to have something for the customer to take home with them. A brochure or tear sheet is preferable but anything with your imagery and information on it is good.
Many artists are not comfortable talking with the public, so if you are "slightly" uncomfortable try taking a public speaking class. A class is probably available at a local community college and this minimal investment can reap huge rewards later. Contrary to popular belief these courses offer more than the recommendation to imagine everyone in their underwear.
If you are "really" uncomfortable or just plain terrified then have a friend who can speak on your behalf work the show with you. Interacting with the show attendees is so important I would even recommend hiring a show manager.
However you choose to do it, interacting with show attendees will yield increased sales and future collectors.
I was involved in a discussion the other day with a gallery owner who was lamenting an ethically questionable practice of some of their artists. It seems that the artists hold open houses and sell their original art at a 40% discount, exactly the amount of the gallery's commission.
Now I won't pretend to be in a position to tell any artist how to sell their work or for what price, but this is definitely a poor business practice.
The first and most glaring point is that the artists are acting as a cheap clearing house for their own artwork. Selling for substantially less than the prices advertised by the gallery is devaluing their work in the marketplace.
The second point is that they are placing undue stress on a valuable partnership. The gallery is a point of sale for artwork in the community. A gallery arranges an artist's work on its limited wall-space, wall-space that they have to pay rent or a mortgage on. Then the gallery pays more in advertising to invite the general public to come in and see the work. An effective gallery will also employ sales tactics to close the sale of work and build a data base of collectors for future sales. Without the gallery the artist would have to invest the same time and money with no guarantee of a return.
I fully understand that any sales in this economy are important so I have two suggestions for those who do choose to sell from their studio or home. 1) Do not discount so deeply. If a patron is not willing to realize that 10 to 20 percent off the retail price is a bargain then this is probably not a relationship worth nurturing. 2) Send a portion of the proceeds to the gallery that currently represents you. If you are represented by more than one gallery pick either the one that brought you the client in the first place or the one in closest proximity to your studio or home.
If suggestion number two sounds ludicrous to you, imagine you are a gallery. Two artists that you represent have studio sales. One sends an unexpected check … the other does not. Which one will you remember as the next customer walks through the front door to make a purchase?
The other day as I was driving along listening to plain old FM radio a commercial struck me as, I don't know…odd. A local jeweler was babbling about a new method for picking out an engagement ring, a revolutionary method that was to make every other jewelery shopping experience obsolete. Rather than sorting through the stale old rings that countless other customers had tried on like pairs of shoes, prototypes of rings are available for the customer to try on and once a decision is reached the jeweler would make a "fresh" ring just for the bride to be.
As I was trying to envision what olfactory delights might waft off of a fresh made diamond ring it occurred to me that maybe "fresh" was a concept that could be used to market artwork. With print on demand programs consumers no longer have to settle for the stale old prints warehoused under the artist's bed for decades. I can envision the verbiage now…"Order now and receive a fresh new print, a print that has not been ogled by countless pairs of eyes, a print that still emits the wonderful scent of…ink?"