Archives for category: business of art


This is a photo of my studio. It is a place of refuge for me.  And sometimes it’s my livelihood.  I know a handful of other artists who love art with the same passion and commitment as myself.  All of us have other means of financial support other than our art.  We have to.  It’s expensive to be an artist.  There is studio rent, paint, canvases, brushes, professional photography of our work, material costs for prints, shipping materials, website overhead, and finally, the brutal 50/50 split with galleries.  If I ask for $1,200 for a painting, I will only see $600 of that and I typically have to wait for 2 months for a gallery to deliver a check.  The canvas, paint, photography, and wiring and framing hardware cost approximately $200.  That leaves me with $400 at the end of it.  My studio rent is $350 per month.  And let me just say that in Fairbanks, there aren’t that many people who are willing to spend $1,200 on a painting.  Especially when they can buy a “print” (it’s really just a poster, people!) for $250 or so.

So what’s an artist to do?  Hustle. Beg. Bargain. Cajole. And hope that someone likes your work enough to buy or commission a work.

Why It’s Philanthropy:  Philanthropy is the effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations.  I in no way think that art can replace a meal, or a home, or assistance to battered women.  There are millions and millions of suffering human beings on this planet, and I say we should ALWAYS lend a hand to those in need.

However (I say this in a small quiet voice) perhaps art feeds our starving souls? Perhaps it reminds us (all of us) that even though we suffer, there is still something beautiful, joyful even, about the triumph of the human spirit.  I know that so much of what our culture deems “fine art” can be disturbing, alienating, and downright irritating.  But there are many of us who paint or draw or carve out of an authentic place.  A place that isn’t shocking or edgy, it isn’t revolutionary or avant garde, and it won’t piss off a church and it doesn’t make a political statement.  Speaking for myself here, I want only to remind myself, and in turn others, that when we create, when we add color and form to the void, we do something that is inherently and unerringly human.  We put it on the walls of our home or on the desktops of our computers, or we sent it to friends in the mail…and we do it because for a very small moment in our day, that pronoun, the “it” of art, reminds us that we are beautiful.  And the human experience, although painful and dark, is survivable.  It matters.  Something matters.  You matter.

When we think of philanthropy, most of us think of the non-profit organization, the tax-deductible status.  What I want people to consider here is the idea that perhaps when we buy a piece of art, we buy a kind of insurance for ourselves.  We insure that the artist will work for one more hour, or one more day.  That the artist will add one more beautiful thing to the world.  Most of you probably have no idea just how much you matter to an artist.  In 2004 I lost my studio and nearly my soul because I couldn’t sell that ONE painting.  I had a dry spell, and if someone had bought even a single painting, I would have been able to keep going.

So here are some things for the art buying public to remember:

1.  Every time you buy art (especially originals) you keep an artist working a little longer.  And that artist is making the world a more tolerable place to live (this is only true if you actually like looking at the artwork of said artist).

2.  Artists ALWAYS need work.  We need commissions and sales and shows.  We need money.  But we’re not buying crack with it and we’re not buying Lear Jets.  We’re buying paint and paying our rent so that we can keep panting.

3. The painting is too expensive? Offer what you can afford.  I might ask $4500 for a painting, but if I’m having a rough month, $1000 sounds GREAT.   Hell, some days $500 sounds like a fair deal.

4.  Buy right out of the artist’s studio.  When you buy out of a gallery, the artist only sees 50% of whatever you paid.  Galleries need support too, but if we’re talking philanthropy…go straight to the artist’s studio.  Trust me, a good artist (and one who wants to keep working) will welcome you and she will give you a glass of wine and tell you how much she likes your shoes.

So get out there and buy some art.  It’s good for humanity.  It’s good for your soul.  And come on, a painting will last you a lifetime, and your support could be the very thing that allows an artist to work long enough to matter in the art world, which means your painting will be worth big bucks someday.

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One burning question…question of the year:

How does an artist go from being a part time artist to being a full time artist?

How does one even answer that question?  What kinds of data do I need?  Here are some potential survey questions:

1.  How many hours per week do you spend engaged in the creative process?

2.  How many hours do you spend on administrative and marketing activities?

3.  What is your primary source of income? Actual paintings? Prints? Other? (some percentages would be nice)

4. What is your outgoing versus incoming cash flow look like?

5.  How many shows do you do per year?

6.  What was the precipitating factor that allowed you to make the transition from part time artist to full time artist?

I’m sitting here in my office, trying desperately to prepare to teach class, and my heart just isn’t in it.  I want to be in my studio.  In the light.  With my hands and my clothes covered in paint.  I need a mentor.  A SUCCESSFUL mentor.  Someone who has managed to do what I want to do.  Not an artist who is supported by his or her family, and not one whose spouse provides the support.  Can I do this? Is it possible?

Am I really just at the point where I need to take the leap?  And what ever happened to that saying that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears?”  Where the hell is my teacher?

09posterbig

The folks over at AlaskaOne have now released this fabulous poster for their 2009 fund raising drive.  They (Tammy Tragis-McCook and Michael Letzring specifically) have been lots of fun to work with.  Here’s what the AlaskaOne website has to say:

A distinguished panel of artists and experts selected the painting titled My Funny Valentines by North Pole artist Madara Hill for the 2009 AlaskaOne poster.

Inspired by the Alaska landscape, Madara mixes wax, ink, powdered pigments, text or fabric with more conventional media while still using traditional Alaskan subjects. Madara uses vivid color to showcase this majestic trio of musk ox emblazoned across a whimsical field of color.

This enchanting oil and encaustic on canvas was chosen from over 60 submissions from artists throughout the state.

It’s rather odd to read about my work outside of myself.  But gratifying.  Now lets see if we can translate all this notariety into something permanent…
To see the full press release go HERE.

zoe-in-progress Here is a photo of the progress I made today on Zoe’s portrait.  There are some problems with the right eye that I’m having a hard time solving.  And some issues with the shape of the face that I hope won’t be too hard to fix.  There are a few other problems but let’s not nitpick.  Overall I’m pretty satisfied with how it’s coming along.

On another note I’m pleased to announce that (drumroll….) I received a call last night informing me that I won the 2009 Alaska One Poster Contest.  It comes with quite a bit of exposure.  I think fame and fortune will come easy to me and rest assured I won’t forget about the little people.  My close friends and family are welcome to free rides on the Lear Jet they provide, but the rest of you will have to talk to my bodyguards if you want to even get near me. That’s just the way these things go…

Seriously, this could be a harbinger (the good kind not the ominous kind) of things to come.  If I play my cards right I can leverage this in my favor.  Some pretty recognizable names have  graced the face of the Alaska One posters:  Claire Fejes, David Rosenthal, Bill Brody, Karin Franzen, Randall Compton, Byron Birdsall,  Barbara LaValle, Ree Nancarrow, Todd Sherman, David Mollett, and Jon Van Zyle to name just a few.  These are big deal Alaskan artists and one day I might be like that guy in Office Space; I’ll casually rest an elbow on my cubicle wall with a cup of coffee in my hand and say something like: “Sooooo…I’m kind of a big deal around here.”  I can’t wait.

Oh, and don’t even ask which painting won because it’s all very top secret until the grand unveiling.  They’re keeping the painting in a vault at the Pentagon until March.  I’ve taken a vow of silence.

The infrequency of my finn4studio visits is usually cause for a great deal of stress.  But I was reminded by a wiser, more experienced soul in this business that I should be spending this time working on marketing issues.  She suggested that I begin creating a portfolio to be mailed out to other galleries in Alaska.  I know that I need to get my work into places other than Fairbanks galleries.    Problem is, I don’t have any work to send them.  Nonetheless, getting those things together is probably wise.  Let’s see….  notes to self:

1.  Bio flyer with picture of me (Suzanne should take that one–I’m delegating.  I’ll have to write the bio, and that’s always a bit of a pain)

2. Brochure with photos of best (most Alaskan?) work

3.  Website with work only

4.  Have prints of my work made (?)  This one costs money, so I might have to put that one on hold.  But it sure seems like a no brainer to have some made.  I might not be able to send galleries new work but at least I can send them prints.

The big prelude to all of this is to organize all of the photos of my work and create 2 files, one for large photos and the other for small ones.  Also, a list of titles, dates, dimensions, and materials seems wise as well.  That’s a huge flipping job.  Humongous.   Ginormous.  I’ve been very disorganized…

Also, I should make a list of contests, group shows, and grants that come around yearly and make sure that I’m doing what I can for those venues.  For instance the AlaskaOne poster contest deadline is January 2nd.  I’ve forgotten about it every year due to the proximity of Christmas.  Let’s not have that happen again, hmmmm?

What am I leaving out?