Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What does it mean to be an Artist?

I’ve been thinking a lot about art lately.  I’ve  taken on the monumental task of organizing our local craft fair.  The catch is that there are a lot of “new” rules this year and with change comes resistance.   Some of the resistance is just that the tables are more expensive this year than last, others are upset that they must now follow the Guidelines laid out by the Health Authority for safe preparation and sale of foods.  The things that catches me is the concept of “handmade”  this is a craft fair and the criteria state that items have to be crafted in some significant way.  Nothing with the stamp “made in china”. While sometimes this is easy – those cute little hand blown glass beads are definitely hand crafted, and somebody spent a lot of time crocheting little hats for babies. Whereas those Pashmina imports from India were screened out as not locally handcrafted.   But the line gets blurry  - does gluing a little metal hello kitty charms onto hair clips count as a craft?  or cutting elastic bands in short lengths and tying a knot in the end?  How about machine embroidery – where you buy a program for a Snoopy image and then let the machine do its thing on hand towels?  Are my little packages of seasoning blends hand crafted? 

Which takes me into a whole other realm – the business of art. Or craft.  I spoke to a woman who makes her living on her art once – she talked about her paintings, her prints, he workshops, and then the rise in cute little crafty things on webpages such as and maybe it was better to be selling cute little crafts rather than trying to break into the realms of art collectors and galleries.  She thought my spice packets were brilliant in their own way.  Maybe I need to spend some time and put something up on Etsy.

I have another artistic friend who is a photographer – who used to spend hours and hours in her dark room but can no longer find the chemicals for her work as film is slowly becoming obsolete.   She now makes more money making handmade soap than the delicate art of the dark room.  She suggested I watch a documentary called “Exit through the Giftshop”.  
Artist stands with his paintings 'The Queen' (R) and 'Kate Moss' at the Opera Gallery on October 3, 2011 in London, England. (I doubt he had permission to use their images - given that he's already lost a court case to RUN DMC for the use of their image)

I did.  As a straight documentary, this film is a snoozefest, an artist's love note to himself written in spray paint on a public wall.  But on another level it blew my mind.   It is about a French immigrant who started filming graffiti artists, and eventually met some very famous ones, who encouraged him to try making art.  So he did…. But not in the fashion that I would consider art – is it handmade – certainly… but not by our Parisian filmmaker.  The fellow instead jumps in with two feet, hires out of work artist and graphic designers – having them do the actual creating of his ideas on an enormous scale.   The not so brilliant ideas he pawns off on these designers are largely imitations of other renowned graffiti  artists, crossed with the use of famous artistic and historic images, many of which are copyrighted, altering them in slight ways.  The documentary then follows him as he holds an “art show” in an abandoned CBS builidng.   Marketing his self-financed debut  with mixture of an overheated and hyped street art market and his misuse of endorsements from a few legendary graffiti artists.  Then comes the part that kills me -  this fellow who didn’t actually do any of the creation of the installations himself, who didn’t seem to have one original idea in his head sells this so called artwork made largely of copyrighted material for  five-figure sums.  

Art collectors and people with lots and lots of money gobble up this “art” so his debut art show is a soldout affair that brings in sums I’ve never even dreamed of.  Over a million dollars in a matter of weeks….

So is this guy brilliant, or just lucky?  Does promotion of Art give it value?  How do you value art?  What really is handcrafted? and what does this say about my own art?  How do I price my art?  And what does it mean to be an artist?  

But if you want some famous art- you too can own a pair of spray painted, Nike sneakers for $1000 (  

or you can get some not so famous art in the form  of my labour of love – Wynken, Blynken and Nod -  $15.99 which should be up on the Friesen’s Press bookstore website within the week.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pricing and a Book Critic.

The book – the book … the BOOK>  Wynken, Blynken and Nod.  I signed off on the final proof and will be able to order copies for distribution within the month.  It will be available on the publisher’s website as well as shortly after that.  If you want a copy – let me know. My final step in all of this is a MSRP.  The price. 


Pricing is hard for me. In order to price your art realistically, you must understand and respect how the art business works and how people shop and buy. You must step back and objectively evaluate the significance and quality of your art in relation to all other art. You must also objectively assess your art world accomplishments and determine how they position you in relation to all other artists.  The more aware you are of the big picture, of what other artists are creating, how it's being priced and marketed, and who's buying what for how much and why, the better prepared you are to price your art sensibly. 

 So with all that in mind…. How the heck do we decide what to charge? Pricing just feels like a big, black void, and one with a lot of pressure: charge too much, and they’ll run away; charge too little, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot – undervaluing your work – and some folks might not buy it because you’ve now convinced them via the price tag that it’s not worth much.   Gah!

 But a book should be easy – never mind that it took me almost three years to paint the collection of illustrations, or that I’ll likely need to sell over 400 copies just to break even on the editing/printing design work.   There are lots of books out there – a quick look at amazon should put me in the ball park – even if I can’t compete with publishers such as “scholastic”.  


I started looking at some of my favourite children’s books…..

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Jerry Pinkney

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt,

The Pirate Cruncher by Jonny Duddle,

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett,


And then I looked at Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin  which describes how  Farmer Brown's cows have gotten a hold of a typewriter, and now equipped with the means with which they can express themselves, the cows demand electric blankets forthwith. Farmer Brown demurs (by throwing a small fit) so the cows join up with the chickens in demanding blankets for the chickens as well.  They do this by leaving a note on the barn door “no milk, no eggs.” Farmer Brown is so tired of not having any eggs or milk because of the animals being on strike, he decides to give in to their requests, only to have the ducks demand a diving board for the pond.  

We love this story – my kids love the repetitiveness of the words “Click clack – MOO.  Click Clack –MOO.”  And I chuckle every time I read “Duck was a neutral party so de delivered the ultimatum.”
So as I’m looking at prices – I got distracted by the comments readers leave about the books they read.   Turns out not everyone finds this book as charming as we do.  One reviewer (Jory Hansen) rants about how the author takes “her readers for fools” objecting to talking/typing cows,  and goes on to say that in purchasing this book “you've got to be downright stupid, and even that's a stretch. I would most definitely not recommend this book to any parent, unless for some reason you want your children to grow up believing in talking cows and cow strikes that result in milk shortages and whatnot. “  Clearly this reviewer has never heard of the term FICTION.  I hesitate to think what he/she would think of shoes sailing through the night sky and fishing for stars under the benevolent gaze of the laughing/singing moon.

 Another reviewer felt the book was unacceptable union propaganda, and suggested that Farmer Brown  should have turned the ungrateful, inefficient and pampered cows into hamburger and drumsticks and replaced them with more appreciative, hardworking, and efficient cows and chickens.
At this point I gave up on humanity in general and figured people would either purchase my book or they won’t and  quit worrying about it.

Let me know if you want me to pre-order you a copy.

Many people, other than the authors, contribute to the making of a book, from the first person who had the bright idea of alphabetic writing through the inventor of movable type to the lumberjacks who felled the trees that were pulped for its printing. It is not customary to acknowledge the trees themselves, though their commitment is total. ~Forsyth and Rada, Machine Learning

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Back in the Cube Farm

The Seasons have turned once again.  A year has passed since I left work to look after my second little peanut.   It’s been a year filled with joys and family.  But now after a summer of warmth and chaos the rains are returning and I’ve dropped my kids off into the care of another so that I can return to the cubicle where I earn the money to pay the daycare I wouldn’t need if I were not working. It’s a vicious cycle. 

The leaves are turning; the moisture is creeping further out of the hollows where it retreats in the summer.  My DH has moved to our new home, and I am left to mop up until I can join him. 

 I hit the ground running each morning, in a frantic flight to make sure the kids are clean enough that no one will start asking questions and dressed sufficiently for the weather, to pack lunches and stuff breakfast into distracted eaters.   I grab a stack of clean diapers, throw them in the day pack along with some spare clothes and hope that daycare is forgiving if I’ve forgotten something.   I drive across town and drop them off before planting myself in a small beige square where I spend the best of the waking hours. 

I take a big breath when I go and pick up the kids as the scramble begins again with food prep, and clean up, baths and bedtime routines.  I let escape a silent prayer each night that THIS will be the night they sleep through the night (it hasn’t happened yet)…. And I hope they fall asleep soon enough to give me a few moments silence in which to collect my own thoughts – but they rarely do.

I was optimistic when we moved during the summer months.  I kept with me my paints, and paper, fabric and sewing machine.  But so far I’ve not managed to do much in the way of art or craft.   I have however committed myself to the annual craft fair.  The goal is to have copies of my book available for any and all who wish a copy.  This along with my spice packets, calendars filled with my art and the usual art cards and prints.  I hope it will go well.   But in thinking about this fair I’ve decided I want to get back in to seed packets.  I’ve been inspired by photos of vintage seeds …  I think I’ll stick with the easy to grow – sunflowers, poppies, sweet peas and nasturtiums, Hyacinth Bean, Gourds, Pumpkins, radishes, and zinnias…. Compared with perennials, trees, evergreens and the rest, seeds are a real bargain. For less than the price of one potted perennial, you have potentially hundreds of plants rattling around in a packet.  Besides I’m really excited about painting vegetables these days.  Expanding beyond the blue tones I’ve been working with for the past two years of illustrating Wynken, Blynken and Nod. 

But if you are a fan of the Blue – I’m taking pre-orders for the book!