Monday, January 22, 2007

Making Art, Making a Living

A few years ago I moved to Provincetown to build a local Artisan Cooperative and then help it to survive and thrive. Today, it is a member run retail store with a combination of voting members, who work the store and pay a fee of $ 100 a month in order to earn as much as 90% commissions from the sale of their work, and consignors, who are paid 50% of the retail price of what they sell. The result is a fantastic array of local Cape Cod artisans displaying and selling their art work in a ocean front tourist community. You walk into the cooperative and know immediately that this is a place where "made by hand" is true and real. You will find jewelers, painters, stained and fused glass makers, basket makers, metal workers, fiber and fabric artists, photographers, print makers, potters, clothing and accessory designers, and perhaps even my favorite jb's work of window collages and designer fleece scarfs.

Building this cooperative took somebody else's initial vision, handed to me in the form of time and modest start up money, and my own style of researching how successful coops run, recruiting and wooing local artisans to fork over $100 and 20 hours a month for a venue and community to showcase their art, and in the end, training 15 talented and feisty folks in making art and making a living.

For this concept to work, the coop had to function as a democracy. And democracies are messy. Allowing me the privilege of servicing as their "Director" for the first two years, members met once a month as a group, where they juried new applications, learned about sales and marketing skills, learned formulas on how to price one's work , and (begrudgingly) sat through communication training (by yours truly) on how to deal with conflict and talk to eachother without heat. They agreed on and wrote up Membership Rules and Guidelines, they voted on officers and set up five committees--Membership and Jurying, Display, Promotion, Quality Control, and Finance --each of which had the final say in how their areas would be conducted. They shared lunch, they decorated, they had demonstrations about how a certain craft was done, and they learned how to understand pricing and budgets and customer service and sales.

In short, the Co-op became a community. It is that sense of community, sometimes even beyond the real or hopeful income potential, that seemed to matter most. The co-op members were always making suggestions to other members about their shared creative ideas, what was selling and why, where they could find the best glue or the best stock or the best web designer. Community. It's like love: it all starts at the same place.

I left the coop now approaching two years ago. It's had some up and down times, but if you find yourself in Provincetown on Cape Cod, on the east coast of Massachusetts, in Whalers Wharf, past the rotunda to the ocean's edge, you will still find some of the most orignal and 100% hand made art and crafts anywhere.

Here comes my first transition in this post.When I starting blogging, even before I found a community of writers, I was drawn to Artists and Illustrators. Now everyday I marvel at the work Ces and Andrea and Carla and Rramone and Joy Elizabeth and Melissa and Cherrypie and WW and HE and Jessie and Hildegarde, and so many others. Like the Provincetown Artisan Cooperative, I see an evolving community--this time, not just artists, but writers and photo historians and other talented imaginative people who support eachother and cheer for their collective success.

So it is in this vein that I offer the following advice to anyone beginning or continuing the path of making art and making a living.

1. Figure out a way to earn your first $ 75. Your outlook on yourself as a "commercial" artist will change once you experience the satisfaction of selling your work. For many, including myself, that $ 75 might feel like $ 75 hundred.

2. Don't let lack of confidence underprice your work. There are pretty good formulas you can use to come with your initial pricing. If you need a hand with this, let me know and I'll shoot you an idea or two.

3. Your creative self is not an indulgence. It is not optional. When you relegate it to last on your life lists of chores and responsibilities, coming dead last after emptying the kitty litter box or cleaning the garage, you are denying your very core its right to exist, to express, to create, to share. You are messing around with your happiness if you do this.

4. Find a local buddy. My inclusion in a weekly writing group has made an incredible difference in the space and place writing now has in my life. jb may be more likely to complete the 3-5 clothing prototypes she dreams about if she has another fashion designer working along side her. The creative process is a lonely road. It helps to have a small fan club rooting you on and/or holding you accountable.

5. Get comfortable with sales and marketing and don't apologize for it. When it comes to promoting and selling your work, don't apron wring! There are a few principles that can really help in this area--but the most obvious and the most difficult is to push through and let your work get "out there" even when you want to crawl under a rock. This might hooking up with retail stores, or gallery shows, or online Esty or E-Bay, or the local high school, or self publishing or a local craft fair, but start somewhere. Make your first $ 75. Then keep going.

A Case in Point: My Pal CES

OK: here's an example of making art, making a living in action. Yours truly has been granted the distinct honor of serving as the unofficial art agent for an artist you may already be familiar with (smile). Her paintings speak for themselves. If you haven't seen Ces' body of work in a while, take a look at C.P.Adorio

Soooooo. Listen up! If you have an interest in one of Ces' paintings living and breathing in your own home, this could be the time. They are currently available at pre-gallery prices. Ces has asked that any of her blog friends also receive a 15 % discount, so all this combined makes this the deal of the century. This is not to mention the sheer joy and neverending glee of owning and viewing a Ces painting every day.

If you may need to pay in monthly installments (affectionately termed Lay-a-Way by the less articulate among us), that can be arranged. And since the artist-in-question (Ces) has asked her dear friend kj (me) to spare her the pain of having to deal with all this, you can contact me directly for information or--squeal, wow, yay--if you want to talk about owning one of Ces' available paintings. Just leave a note on my blog and we'll figure the rest out.

Making art, making a living. It's reachable. In this case I get to represent a talented friend simply by being a grateful friend. More deep love, except this time, if you're also a friend or fan of Ces' work anyway, you and I get a life long present in the process......


  1. Very nicely put,kj.Would you allow me to quote from this in our printmakers newsletter, please?
    And I bet some bloggers will jump at the chance to purchase a Ces painting.

  2. you bet, dianhmow. feel free to use whatever you'd like. i am honored you asked.


  3. by the way, don't i have the best avatar on the blogs?


  4. I love your story about the artists' coop - loved it the first time, and even more now that I read it in print. It must have been so exciting to build it from the small foundation you were given. As far as your list - I think numbers 3 and 4 seem most relevant to me right now. I have been in a very low place for several weeks, and I know it's because I am not able to carve out enough time to work on my art. It's frustrating and disheartening. I get going on something and then I have to stop because of other obligations that I can't blow off (like my paying job... I never put the kitty litter box ahead of a painting:>) It's kind of how a dog must feel chained in a yard and only being able to run so far before being yanked back rather roughly by the neck. I'm sure many people feel this way... those of us who work at one thing for a living, but derive our true pleasure from the creative process during our free time. That's where number 4 comes in... I think the idea of a local buddy is so important... something I don't have, but something I think I need to find. So thanks for your inspiring post. I'm feeling better already!

  5. Glad you're back Kj!

    What you did for that coop was wonderful. You provided much needed direction and a common purpose for people who just needed that gentle push to start going.

    As always, your post inspires. I once set-up a small business with a partner as part of the requirements for my MBA degree and it was successful (to our surprise!) and I loved doing it. I got out of it after I started work but have plans of going back to doing it. Maybe sooner rather than later now.

  6. Why aren't you running for President?

    I loved your pep talk/advice/rally thingamabob...awesome. I think that I might even start drawing again...after I take out the garbage and vacuum..

  7. you are like an artist's angel, kj.
    :) what would we do without people like you?

  8. I love this post!! I'm gonna print it out and put it in my day planner. :) And this is pure gold, my friend:
    "Your creative self is not an indulgence. It is not optional. When you relegate it to last on your life lists of chores and responsibilities, coming dead last after emptying the kitty litter box or cleaning the garage, you are denying your very core its right to exist, to express, to create, to share. You are messing around with your happiness if you do this."

    Our litter box really needs a change, but I'd much rather take a moment to write or do some research ... thank you for the gentle nudge away from the turds and toward what I love to do. xo

  9. You did an amazing and tough job putting all that together :) Great advice and Ces is very talented!

  10. KJ, Thank you very much for this educational post and then some more for being my agent. I admit I am one of those painters who do it for leisure but I think like any other leisure activity I get involved with, I overdo it. So anyway, I think it is very nice of you to do this. As Jessie said, you are an artist’s guardian angel. Thank you again. You are a dearest friend.

    I know I make fun when I say that I can't paint because I have to do the laundry but I really think doing the laundry is also important :-) and I don't mind cleaning the rabbit's cage. I want to hug a clean rabbit.

  11. very interesting...u r a smart n sensible babe KJ!


  12. carla, thank you so much for your honest post. no doubt many of us relate totally.find yourself that local buddy or art community. i found mine through my weekly writing group, and it's made a huge difference. and btw, you are an excellent artist...

    menchie, i didn't know you had an mba. congrats on that. i've had a few businesses: counseling & consulting, a restaurant (awwgrww), public relations, disability management. each one was an act of love, and there is nothing like the autonomy. unfortunately, the hassles are just as strong!

    he, i would love to see your drawings. i do know you sure can write!

    jessie, an artist's angel? awww, that is sweet. maybe you are saying that because i am your not-so-secret guardian angel...

    melissa, you've inspired me since the first day i met you!

    tammy, thank you. yes, i love ces' work too.

    ces, yes, doing the laundry is also important. but it shouldn't be a distraction from your incredible gift. the universe wants you to soar, ces.

    keshi, a smart and sensible babe? hmmmm, keshi, you must be quite charming. i like all of these words? btw, i have never seen so many comments on one blog as yours has. i don't know if i can keep up!
    thanks for visiting me.

  13. Another awesome post kj! you are the best writer! I have never been to provincetown but I sure would like to and see this very cool coop! I'm so glad that you found a fellow artist that is manageable! You are the perfect person for this task. I love ces's work and your avatar is the best on the blog circuit!!! I hope you can revisit my blog and read my artist profile as it brings up some of your more salient points.