I’m in the midst of working through something, mentally and emotionally. I’ve been working on this for a long while. This was a significant contributing factor to my taking some time off from showing at art walks & art fairs a couple times a month (though getting to a point of running in the red month after month (probably due to the down economy) was the most significant factor), which I paused in March of this year. It’s the effect of commercialism/capitalism on my creative output.
I don’t believe in capitalism. I hate money. I don’t like business. Accounting rules are literally insane. Marketing makes me nauseous. Sales, inasmuch as I can do it honestly, is moderately acceptable, at best.
I’m concerned with the questions of ‘why’. The ‘why’ of my art, of my writing, of my publishing, of my life – none of it has to do with money. I’m not interested in wealth. I don’t want those concerns to alter or infect the ‘whys’ of my creative work, or my life in general. When I need to address a question of ‘why’ I created this book or that work of art, I don’t ever want the answer to be something like “to make money.”
This has been easier to maintain with my books, possibly because they’ve never been “profitable” in any financial sense. They’ve always been works of love, the ideas behind them and the effort going into them based on expressing myself and writing the books I wanted to write rather than the books I thought were going to sell. For a long time, this was true of my art, as well. Then I began doing the art walks every month. Twice a month, at times. Investing as much or more time in selling my art than I was in creating it.
The mini-paintings were literally a money grab. The reason I bought small canvases (mostly 4×4″, but up to 8×10″) to paint was so that I could have items for sale under $20 at the art walks, where people often balked at paying realistic/appropriate prices for art. One problem with this was that, after a while, I would get down to a day or two before an art walk and -in a panic- paint half a dozen mini-paintings at once, almost entirely at random, just so I would have something that might sell. Another was that they became an overwhelming percentage of sales. In 2008, where I only did art walks for four months, they made up 28% of my unit sales and about 3.6% of my revenue from art. In 2009 where I showed probably 18+ times, they were 66% of unit sales and 25% of my art revenue. If I exclude the sale of the original artwork created for my book covers (and sold explicitly to people who wanted to support the publication of my books), for 2010, which I only showed at 3 art walks before pausing, mini-paintings make up 100% of my art sales. (Actually, looking at my spreadsheet, I also sold a crocheted mobius strip for $5 and a crocheted zombie to a fan of my books at Comicon, and I consider my crocheted creations to be sculptural artwork. If I account for those works, the mini-paintings only make up 71% of unit sales and 52% of revenue for 2010.)
So, even when I first began to create the mini-paintings, I was already uneasy about the significantly commercial nature of their existence. Certainly they were each an original work of handmade art, created with my own style and ideas. Just as certainly, I was creating them for the express purpose of making sales at art walks. When they began to make up a larger and larger proportion of both my creative efforts and my actual sales, it made me very uneasy. The point of showing at the art walks wasn’t really supposed to be about finding something that would sell and making that, over and over again, just for the sake of sales. The point was supposed to be that I already create art and the only way to sell it is if people know it’s available. I believe (though I’d have to go to my other computer and dig around in Quickbooks for a while to give accurate numbers) that I made more sales online via Twitter/Plurk/facebook in 2008 and 2009 than I did at art walks (not in volume, but in revenue). My art walk sales were mostly, then, works I’d created from a drive to have something to sell, rather than from a drive to express myself or to create what I wanted to create. Which makes me a bit sick.
My wife and I have been working on our financial situation fairly diligently for the last ~3 years (we’ll have been married 3 years on 12/1), and I’ve been working on structuring my “business model” for Modern Evil Press so that I’m not running further in the red the more books I write (see: selling paintings to pay for the cost of publishing, specifically the original cover art (and possibly interior illustrations, in future) for the book in question), and this year we reached a point where we’re slightly better than breaking even both personally and in terms of the business. I’ve got us on track, barring unexpected negative changes (apocalypse, housefire, expensive car repairs, pregnancy and the like), to have all our debt (was close to $45k when we married) paid off except Mandy’s student loans (another $40k) by mid-2013. That’s without Modern Evil Press earning another dollar. That’s without selling any more art. If I could make money from my art and books, we could get there faster, but it isn’t necessary.
This is what what I’ve been working on, mentally and emotionally. This is how I’ve been trying to get my mind right; to deeply realize that making money from my creative output isn’t necessary. With a model similar to what I did with the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut, going electronic-only (eBooks & audiobooks) until/unless sales (generally: the original cover art) cover the cost of going to press, I can write as many (or as few) books as I’d like. With the amount of canvas & paint & yarn I currently have stockpiled (from excellent sales at local stores), I’ll have a debt account or two paid off before I need to go shopping for real (expensive) art supplies again – so I’ll be able to afford it, even if none of the art I create between now and then sells. I need to fully return to a point of creating from inspiration rather than from profit motive.
I’ll accept profits, if and when they appear, but that isn’t -and shouldn’t be- why I work.