I have been starring in a film of my own life over the past ten days or so. We’ve documented one of my linocuts from drawing to finished edition, the goal being to relax and inform others with a slow film about printmaking, rather than an educational video about specifics. The result is a film that’s as much about the passing of time as it is about technique. We’ve deliberately kept things as silent as we can, bar a couple of snatches from Jane Eyre and Miss Marple before I got into the swing of switching off during takes. I had to shut up too; I never realised how much non-sensical muttering I do until I didn’t.
We both knew it would be tricky. I am viciously impatient of anything that gets between me and my print. Plus, used to being alone in the studio, I’m inclined to trip over (kick) cables, cameramen and tripods.
Thankfully Mr B specialises in working unobtrusively and never expected me to pretend to do anything just for the camera. The worst he did was to make me wait while he set up shots and ask me to hit a specific mark from time to time. We finished with him imagining that I barely conceded to any of his directions and me knowing that the Pope will be in touch shortly to celebrate my saintly abundance of patience and good will.
Watching the film was as close to an out of body experience that I ever wish to experience and certainly the death of my vanity. There’s no posing for the camera when deep in concentration. In many respects it was an encouraging trade-off. I found it very easy to forget how I looked in terms of appearance because I was so interested by what I could do in terms of print. That said, I gradually found myself thinking that something was missing; that the me on film should be referring to a colour plan, or at least a to-do list, instead of just staring into the middle distance with unbrushed hair. It seemed such an inadequate approach.
We set out to make a film to highlight the time, focus and creativity involved in printmaking and I think we’ve done it. For my part, I’m pleased that watching it has made me pause and appreciate how lucky I am that the colour plans and to-do list are reliably spooling away, hidden inside my head, desipte the unbrushed hair. For everyone else, I hope it says a lot about what goes into making a print and a little about my methods. As for Doris, I can only apologise. She’s a starlet out of control.
This week on the Ask an Artist podcast we discuss writing rather than filming, but you should listen anyhow. The epic print film can be seen on my YouTube channel at Laura Boswell Printmaker for your viewing pleasure. Choc ices optional.
Can you remember your worst teacher? I don’t mean the one who couldn’t keep the class quiet, or the one who bored you to tears, or even the one, like my husband’s, who found himself during the summer holidays and returned to school with a kaftan and a passion for mystic religion replacing his previous one for mathematics. I mean the one who messed up your confidence with a few chosen words.
Advertisers love us to get all warm and fuzzy remembering our best teachers. Hopefully you have at least one, I was fortunate in having a couple, and of course they are a wonderful thing. Where would I be without Dr. Sullivan’s engaging ability to make sense of written English or Miss Fountain’s generosity with the art supply cupboard and her blind eye? But these are never the teachers I get to hear about in my classes. Students never say ‘I’m here, keen and confident thanks to Mr Woolford’s encouragement in applied woodwork’. Rather they say saddening things like ‘I can’t draw’ or ‘I’m so sorry, I’m hopeless with design’ or even ‘I’m not sure I can do this’.
Nine times out of ten there’s a teacher at the back of it and I sympathise, I really do. To this day I would almost rather starve than speak French. Madame Wharton did for me. Elegant Parisienne trapped inside the nightmare of an English boarding school facing badly dressed and clumsy girls, she took out her frustrations on us and left me unable to mutter une seul mot.
These days my job as a teacher sometimes involves unpicking this kind of damage done long ago. It’s not easy and it takes time, but the good news is that there’s always the same outcome: the teacher’s words are never accurate, never the truth.
I’ve yet to meet one student who comes to a class and really can’t do it; who is actually unable, given the right help, to design or draw something interesting and worthwhile. I don’t believe they exist, but plenty of my students arrive convinced they are that very person.
I don’t aspire to be one of the memorable teachers, the people who come to me are too grown up and independent to need that. But I do hope to occasionally be the one who gets to release the iron grip of a bad teacher. It’s just so damn satisfying to prove their idiot words wrong and see the student blossom.
This week on Ask an Artist podcast we discuss teaching, its benefits and pressures and how to decide whether to add teaching to your list of skills as a working artist.
Pricing work; nightmare eh? I dare say there are artists out there thrilled by putting a price to their work, but I have yet to meet one who actively enjoys it, especially at the start of their career. I know I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the years thanks to pricing.
I think that’s because pricing is a bit of an iceberg situation. There’s the financial bit bobbing about on the surface for everyone to see. Reasonably clear facts and figures; what the work costs to make, where you sit in the art world, what the market will bear and so on. Stuff you can discuss rationally and more or less pin down with a pen and paper.
Below the water lurks the larger, less rational challenge of finding the nerve needed to fix a price and stand by it. The confidence and self-belief essential to actually get out there and face the public as a new artist with newly priced work. This was about ninety percent of the difficulty for me, tying it neatly to the iceberg metaphor now I have googled to check the proportions.
There’s no easy formula for that ninety percent, only time. One thing I found did help was to be sure that my prices suited me on my terms. I did the practical stuff: the research and maths needed to be sensible, but only finalised my figures when I was happy and comfortable with the decision reached. It sounds silly, but this checking in with my feelings as well as doing the maths helped enormously with my confidence, tiny as it was at the beginning. And it’s confidence that sells. It helped me to smile and stand by my prices without apology or justification. It was a terrifying charade to begin with; I have a transparent Celtic skin that was no help at all, but my belief in my prices did. Over time selling got easier. It does all get easier, pricing included.
Pricing is a serious business, emotionally as well as mathematically. As any ship’s captain will tell you; it’s a good idea to consider the whole iceberg, not just the bit above the water.
We’ll be navigating all things pricing this week on the Ask an Artist podcast, released every Friday at 10am GMT.
‘You’re so lucky to be an artist, free to do just what you want.’ It’s a common enough remark, one most artists probably encounter as did I this week. Thinking about it, I quite like how this one sentence is both a manifesto for artistic success and a misunderstanding of how hard that success is to achieve.
Doing just what you want is, by and large, exactly what an artist needs to do to succeed, but let’s not confuse that with an easy ride. The ‘doing just what you want’ in question is not the soft focus dream of late mornings sipping coffee barefoot in a pretty studio. It’s the hard graft of developing a personal viewpoint and using experience, practice, talent and time to turn that vision into a consistent flow of well-considered work.
In this week’s Ask an Artist podcast you’ll hear gallery owner Nick Bentley return to discuss artist/gallery relationships and what galleries look for in their artists. Turns out that education, background and age are cheeringly unimportant. It is the body of work that matters, and that work must show passion, consistency and individuality. It is only by the artist doing just what they want and going their own way that this kind of work is made. But this is the freedom of hard work and focus, not the freedom of a fantasy bohemian lifestyle.
I don’t say this to put anyone off wanting to be an artist. It is a brilliant job and sometimes it does indeed involve sipping coffee in a pretty studio (though bare feet are never a good idea in real studios). But it’s not a job for the fainthearted. Doing just what you want is a great freedom, but holding your nerve and using that freedom to pay the bills – that’s not an easy life.