My hands are sore and currently covered in tape like a boxer. This isn’t the result of some terrible print related disaster, just a consequence of having to get used to cutting much harder wood. I have a commission, such a lovely one, to fill a health centre on the Isle of Wight with fourteen huge watercolour woodblocks. I’ve had to adopt a semi industrial approach as they each measure over a metre wide and my artist’s lime ply (the usual stuff I cut) simply isn’t big enough. I’m using sheets of carpenter’s birch ply and boy is it hard.
My hands will toughen up. They already look like hands out of a schlock horror movie: ‘Hands of Satan’s Bride’ perhaps. A bit harder won’t make much difference. Birch ply is a good material for the job: cheap, available in large sizes and delivered to my door by a slightly confused, but energetic man in overalls who said kindly that it takes all sorts and that he expected I knew what I was doing. Good job he didn’t stay to watch me balance precariously on a swivel chair trying to make accurate cuts with a razor sharp chisel on the far side of the width.
The aim of the commission is to bring space, light and air into the building. It’s a great health centre, but a little austere and short on windows. I’ve come up with fourteen wide airy views of the Island from the obvious, the Needles, Alum Bay and Osborne House to the industrial, East and West Cowes, with a funfair, windmill and a couple of monuments thrown in. The sea features a lot, not really surprising, but in different ways: waves crashing onto the shore at Gurnard, slopping swells at Cowes, choppy bay at Alum and great calm stretches at Tennyson Down. It’s been a real learning curve for me, bedded down as I am in the rural landscape, but I am loving it. Give it a couple of weeks and maybe my hands will too.
So many things in the business of being an artist are left unsaid, rules hidden and guidance lacking. Somehow we all have to find our way through the minefields of pricing, exhibiting, finding a niche, marketing and so on. Most of us blunder through somehow, learning as we go and frankly it’s often the ability to fall repeatedly and still get up and soldier on that makes for a successful artist/maker.
There are times when I think that business has it right with the idea of qualifications, work place training, mentoring schemes and networking meetings: at least you know where you are in the world of the accountant (This view doesn’t tend to make me many friends among my peers, but I do think there are times when you just have to embrace your inner pinstripes). To this end I think we should clutch at every chance we get to take advice and to hear what some of those unspoken rules are.
Last night I attended a meeting at Oxford hosted by the Oxfordshire Crafts Guild to listen to Sarah Wiseman give a talk on how to submit work to a gallery. She owns the excellent and widely respected Sarah Wiseman Gallery in Oxford and she gave advice so helpful and clear that I asked if I could make a few notes for fellow artists.
You’ll find her dos and don’ts on my website in the resources section along with a few bits from my experience of working as an artist. Enjoy…
Recently I have become computerised. About three weeks ago I became the proud owner of a ‘system’. This is a proper system, not my ‘write it on a bit of paper and hope I find it again’ system of picture management. I now know what I’ve got, what size it is, if it is framed, mounted or just paper, if it is with a gallery, due home from a gallery, or, best of all, sold. I know what greetings cards are selling and which are not, what needs invoicing, who’s paid and who hasn’t. In short, I have all the answers.
The reason for this is nothing to do with me really. I like computers, I really do, but I am small child to their efficiency. It all goes well as long as I get exactly what I want exactly when I want it. Ten seconds with no gratification and I am thumping on the keys and shouting unreasonably. I’ve been known to cry and I do put sticky finger prints and toast crumbs all over my laptop’s nice black coat. No, this is to do with my brother-in-law for whom computers are more like intellectual friends: good company to an all night session of thrashing out complex algorithms. He decided that he would write a programme which would ensure that I would have more time to make lush puddings for the writer of that programme. A win,win for us both. So far he’s had homemade vanilla ice cream with a rum baba strong enough for a bona fide hangover. This weekend it’s the turn of Anton Mosimann’s killer bread and butter pudding.
To be slightly earnest about this, I have had to take things in hand a bit. It’s part of the big new plan to take myself seriously. No longer just a dabbler in a shed, I am a woman running a business. Admittedly a business which can involve some pretty strange stuff, but a small business nevertheless and having proper delivery notes, invoices and accountability does all make sense and the right impression on galleries, the tax man and my clients. I do know how extraordinarily lucky I am to have a relation with a fondness for programming and a weakness for patisserie, but it really had to be done one way or another and best to do it now when things are still small and beautiful rather than big and out of hand.