Creativity, Commercialism, ?

It isn’t that I want to be intentionally anti-Commercial, that I want to produce art so-much-for-art’s-sake that it has no chance of being sold. Rather, I want to avoid creating art for the sake of money; I don’t want to be creating simply to sell it, because I need the money (which I do; don’t get me wrong about that), but to be creating what I am inspired to, to follow my heart, mind, & dreams – and then hope that others share my heart enough to want it hanging on their walls.  (And then maybe enough that they’ll pay money to put it there.)

It’s difficult.  Partially because I do need the money, so the commercial aspect, the idea that I’m making art I’m going to try to sell in order to buy groceries, is constantly in mind.  When I get in the neighborhood of thoughts like ‘what can I paint that will sell?’ and ‘what sort of art do people want?’ I tend to get stuck.  Like writer’s block, but for artists.  Well, like writer’s block for writers whose block stems from not wanting to “sell out,” anyway.

I have no interest in freelancing, or in getting a job as an illustrator, designer, journalist, pro-blogger, or any other such thing.  I don’t want to write the same book over and over again (ie: formulaic fiction, or process-wise, most non-fiction).  I don’t want to paint/create the same image over and over again.  I know, yes, verily I know, that these are core ways writers and artists are able to “establish” themselves and their “style” and to build a career.  To build a base of buyers who want to read another one like the last one you wrote, who are comfortable with your art because although each swirly tree is different, they can at least count on you to still be painting swirly trees the next time they need something for their walls.  And buyers would be nice.  Repeat buyers would be even better (and I have a few), but I nearly never want to be painting the same thing I’ve painted before.

((Technically, my not-very-publicly stated policy on the subject of re-creating an original work is that the base price multiplier for each successive recreation doubles.  I have a formula (an occasionally altered one, but fairly consistent for the last few years) which accounts for a work’s size and quality to determine price.  It is intentionally tweaked to give quirky prices.  I like them.  But imagine for recreations that formula is multiplied by 2n (where n is the number of times I’ve been asked to reproduce the image).  If created in quick succession, at the same size and quality, prices would quickly rise, say from $60 for the original to $120 for the second, $240 for the 3rd, $480 for the 4th, $960 for the 5th, $1920 for the 6th, $3840 for the 7th, and very quickly someone asking for the 8th copy is paying 128 times the cost of just buying something different instead.  Luckily, people don’t often ask me to paint something I’ve done before – and when they do, I simply tell them how much it would cost & see if they want it that much.))

But it is hard even to paint something new, if all I can think about is wanting to avoid painting something that won’t sell, because the bills just keep coming, even when I have a couple of dry sales months.  I’ve even been stalling a little, lately, in working on my next novel, which is intentionally an experiment in writing a formulaic (or at least recognizable) zombie novel – because although I’ve come up with a story I want to tell (and in my research of what makes a formulaic zombie novel fit, I’ve discovered that my novel won’t be as formulaic as I’d hoped… which is part of the problem), both writing a novel in reaction to people’s negative reaction to my last one (which is what motivated this experiment in the first place) and knowing before I start that my experiment will be a failure (ie: my novel will fail to be a cookie-cutter zombie novel, or to follow the ‘rules’ of commercial fiction) give me pause in pursuing it.  Even though it’s a story I want to tell, a book I want to write.

I am having trouble both because I don’t want to write commercial fiction and because I fear my attempt to do so will be ridiculously far from that blasted mark.  How can I be properly creative with this dark and complicated cloud of commerce always hovering over everything I do?

list of things i ought to try to get done before tomorrow’s art walk

Updated, 2:52PM, completed items crossed out: (Think I can get the car loaded in half an hour?)

Finish painting going in circles

Maybe try finishing the two or three mini-paintings I have half-done

Sign & put wire &c. on all finished paintings

Mark T-shirts somehow with size

Take book reviews less personally, somehow

Print price cards for new art & shirts

Load the car; try to be ready to go by 3:30PM

Paintings I need to photograph &/or put online, painted since the last time I posted anything new to

  • ‘lost memories’, Dec08, 12×24″, acrylic on canvas, NFS
  • ‘Untitled’ (collaborative/2009), Jan09, 16×20″, acrylic on canvas, $60
  • ‘interrupted flow’ (triptych), Apr09, ~58×20″, acrylic on canvas, $220
  • ‘going in circles’, Apr09, 30×24″, acrylic on canvas, $166

Also photograph & put online these new Mini-Paintings:

  • ‘scowl’, Jan09, 4×4″, $10
  • ‘G is for Grass’, Jan09, 4×4″, $10
  • ‘Never Enough’-or- ‘good’, Feb09, 8×10″, SOLD
  • ‘purple tree’, Mar09, 10×8″, $20
  • ‘fluidity’, Mar09, 10×8″, $20
  • ‘spiral compass’, Mar09, 4×4″, $10
  • ‘darkness, growth’, Mar09, 4×4″, $10
  • ‘love rainbow’, Mar09, 5×7″, $15
  • blue w/filagree (untitled), Mar09, 5×7″, $15
  • purple spirals, blue edge w/red grass (untitled), Mar09, 4×4″, $10

Wonder why I don’t seem to have painted any full size paintings in Feb/Mar

Oh, and sleep. Between now and then, I should sleep.

Productivity, Profitability

Still having trouble with staying focused. I feel like I’m not productive enough, almost daily. Things are getting done; the podcasts are all running on time, I’m doing two or more Art Walks/Fairs/Detours a month & I’ve painted a dozen new paintings since the first of the year. I’m even blogging semi-regularly, which you already know, reading this. But I could be doing more.

Yesterday I only did three or four hours of audio work, and even though I know I worked on other things, it feels like I didn’t get anything done, since it’s harder to tally the hours and to quantify what’s work and what isn’t. Does Twitter count? Reading publishing & other blogs? Blogging? It’s all part of connecting with people, with building an audience and building myself as a “brand” and educating myself about what’s going on, what’s working, and driving ideas forward. So in a way, yes. Then there’s the oft-repeated idea that everything an author does and experiences is a sort of reasearch for future books; this is somewhat true, but feels like a sort of excuse.

In addition to feeling that perhaps I’m not being productive enough, I also think a lot about my not being profitable enough. Even with the reduced up-front costs of doing business the way I am, not a single one of my books has even reached break-even, yet. The art, comparably, has been doing great – not bringing in enough to live on, but if not for the cost of going to Tools of Change in New York (ie: if not for a big, extra publishing expense), I’d already be profitable this year on art sales alone, with only bluer skies on the horizon. The margins on the art, even with prices basically cut in half & then frozen since 2004, are great – not just in money, but in time. It takes me hundreds of hours to produce a book, and somehow it’s harder to sell a copy of the book for $14 (or less) than it is to sell a painting (that took me less than 10 hours to create) for $150.  Lately I’ve been creating a lot of “Mini Paintings”: 8×10″ for $20, 5×7″ for $15, and 4×4″ for $10, right now.  Most of them are done in under 1 hour of work (though admittedly, some have taken up to 3), and they earn me as much as or more than a book does, usually without having to try to sell them at all.

Obviously, the art sales can only scale to the limits of my creativity & time to produce original works – I’m not sure what the upper limit is, but perhaps dozens a month. Certainly not hundreds.  Whereas the book sales can scale without proportional extra work on my part – Lightning Source prints however many copies people order, whether it’s dozens a month or thousands.  If/when I “hit it big” the books will quickly win in this regard.  Not to mention I can sell a book more than once, and without doing prints (something I am currently opposed to), I can only sell an original work of art once.  So it takes orders of magnitude more work to produce a book, but I can keep selling it over and over again forever, instead of just once.

If only my sales numbers were orders of magnitude better.  Did I mention not a single one of my books has yet earned back the costs associated with its production, yet?  That’s with $0 value associated with my time, no less.  Which is to say: if I were more productive (of books), I’d perhaps only be digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole.  Being more productive of art is good, but when I really need to figure out is how to be more productive of profitability.  I need to produce more book sales.  That’s a hard one.  The podcasting thing is meant to be helping with that – it certainly puts my writing in front of a lot more minds than everything else I’ve been doing, even if it is for free, right now.  Something approaching five hundred times as many people have downloaded Dragons’ Truth from than have purchased a copy of the paperback (not counting sales to family) – that’s a huge multiplier.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it hasn’t translated directly into interest in my other podiobooks or in sales of my paperbacks or eBooks.  Gotta keep it up, though.  Gotta keep working on it.  Gotta get back to work, right now – I’m supposed to be editing together next week’s episodes of Forget What You Can’t Remember, right now.  Gotta go.

Working on art, 3/6/9

Okay, a few quick shots, because twitpic isn’t working.  I may add to this after the initial posting. Depends on how busy I am between now and when I leave for tonight’s Art Walk.

I’ve been staring at this deep, deep, dark violet (8×10″) canvas I painted for a couple of months.  Then, last night, I knew what to paint and here it is:

Then I started on a few others – a red 5×7″, a brown 4×4″, and another 4×4″ which I started by painting the face of solid black (I’ve since painted the edges forest green), and then there’s the 8×10″ off-green thing I’ve been looking at as long as that purple one.

And then I went to bed.  Today I put another coat of red on the red one and then painted this on the green 8×10″:

I like painting the foreground as background, and painting the background over it.  It’s like a study in negative space, and I like the effect.

Update 1:

This is what I did with the brown 4×4″ painting:

I tried to show part of the edge, here – these 4×4″ canvases have a 1.25″ depth, so I enjoy doing interesting things that play beyond the front face.  here I just did simple extended purple corners, showing how the implied diamond just keeps on keepin’ on.