"So where do you find your inspiration?" I think that might be the question we hear the most often in our booth. When you have a booth full of landscapes and wildlife, I have always joked that it looks like a version of "Travelrama" a game we played with our kids when they were little. Actually for eight months of the year we are traveling in our van across the country and all that time both of us are taking pictures. We are also talking with each other A LOT about what we see, what conversations we have with people in the booth and what we think will get us excited once we get back into the studio. If we had the luxury of just staying home and making new work then it would be easy but we have limitations. Each year we only have the ability to produce maybe 5 new pieces due to the laborious process of screenprinting. So there is always the struggle to decide what to make that both satisfies us artistically and still is something someone wants to put in their home. We each bring different ideas to the table and then we talk through them during the year. Sometimes a certain image we see though sparks something and we know automatically that it is the direction we want to go. This year we have really been drawn to the incredible cloud formations we have been seeing so we know that this will be playing a role in our new work. The other thing that has us both excited is this feel of the open road. We hear from so many people that our work encourages them to get out and go on a road trip and we really like that. Things will continue to evolve throughout the year and who knows what we will end up with?
It's a new year and as we work on new pieces we also are in the middle of our most stressful time of the year for artists who sell on the road. It's application time when we begin to determine where our fortunes will take us in 2015. Will we get to return once again to the shows that we visited for the first time last year and were successful for us? Will our favorites want us back again? We apply to shows knowing that our fate is determined by what shows we get accepted to and which ones decide to accept other artists for this year. Last year we were so fortunate to get into shows where we had applied for many years and we know our chances are slim to get to return. So now we wait to hear the news and we already know we will not be returning to some favorites.
When we visit any show and people look at our work and we hear them say, "well maybe next year" and we know they don't understand that for us there may not be a next year. That has now happened with a show in Texas that we waited 8 years to get into. It is so hard to be accepted because every artist wants to participate and last year was our year. It was so wonderful, truly everything everyone said it would be. Then this year we received our "decline" letter and we were brought back to earth. For those artists who get to participate in consecutive years, it is a real blessing and maybe sometime it will happen for us. We did get invited back though to several fantastic shows this year and we are very excited to know that we will be returning without worrying already. Not everyone gets that reassurance.
So for today we wait to see what happens, who will say yes this year and who will decide that this is the year for work that is different than ours. If we aren't coming back to your city it is not always our call. We are looking at lots of new venues as well this year so it might just be a really exciting 2015.
Buying original art these days must be so confusing. It has become so difficult to know if what you want to purchase is truly original or a reproduction anymore. Names that once meant one thing now mean another. Digital photographs can now be stretched on to canvas, add a little paint and suddenly they are sold as original paintings. How does anyone trust what they are buying? As artists how do we also convey the importance of buying original when there is so much noise and confusion out there? We watch not only artists but galleries convey so much misinformation to the public that it is no wonder that so many people now decide not to invest in real art anymore.
For us we have finally had to make a serious decision about our work. As fine art printmakers in a medium that is not seen in the public much anymore we now need to change our branding entirely. We have spent years explaining to people what a Serigraph is. The term always stood for a fine art piece of silkscreen printmaking. Yet recently it has become the process du jour for painters to take their work to large commercial print shops to have their reproductions made. The work is scanned at the print shop, color separations are made on a computer and the work is reproduced on large presses which are operated by machine. The artists only involvement is to oversee the final outcome. These pieces are REPRODUCTIONS. They are nothing like our work in any way. Galleries which sell serigraphs are selling reproductions of a painters work for fees in excess of our prices.
So we need to go back to the basics. We have decided to remove the term Serigraph from our work. We are printmakers who create hand cut and hand pulled SILKSCREEN PRINTS. We do them in a tiny little space in our garage. All original, all by ourselves.
There are times when you wonder if there is just not a better way to go about this. When you are standing outside somewhere and people come to see you and the magic is just not there. The work you have to share is the same but it doesn't seem to get received in the same way. You begin to question if you should have brought something different this time. Did we set up the booth wrong? So they want metal at this show and not two dimensional wall art? The glass booth is selling why aren't we? The questions begin to eat at you almost from the start. How can you do one show on one weekend and everyone loves your work and the next weekend not sell a thing?
Standing in public and having to talk about the work you made with your own two hands is overwhelming at times. What do people really think? Do they realize that when they see you that each and every sale is important? That this is not a hobby to fill the hours between your "real" job somewhere? So many times when people look at the work and then ask if they can buy something on your website I often wonder, do you really want to buy something or are you politely telling us that you want to leave now. For every artist at the art shows that we do, the time that an artist wants to sell their work is NOW. Now when they have just spent money on gas, hotels, food, and booth fees. The promise of a sale in the future may be made with the best of intentions but it won't easily get us home to pay our bills.
We recently completed a run of four shows and there was one show in the run that simply confounded us. The entire weekend all we heard was the dreaded "Do you have a card?". This is every artists common complaint. We have just traveled all the way to your town to show you our work. We don't know if we will ever have another opportunity to come again (since all shows are juried each year) and you want to know if you can buy it later online. Here it is for you to look at in person, to talk to us in person and yet the entire weekend all anyone wanted to know was if they could look at it online. They loved the work, at least that what they said. It just drives you crazy.
Then we move a few hundred miles away and the next show people seemingly have the same response to the work but suddenly they can't wait to see you to take something home! It all begins to feel like an endless job interview or an audition for a part. They love me! They hate me! We never should have brought this, no next time we should only show that....
In the end all we can do is continue making the art that reflects the world we love and see around us and hope for the best. And continue smiling...
Whenever we do art shows we are always hearing about the best shows across the country that every artist wants to be doing. In the last few years we have been so fortunate because we have been invited to participate when we have applied to these shows. Recently though we found ourselves in a situation I don't think we ever thought we would have to deal with and neither did our fellow artists. When we decide we want to participate in any art show it is an daunting effort. We start at least 6 months in advance. We send in our application along with thousands of other artists along with our application fee of between $30-60.Then we wait a few months to find out if we are one of the select few to be selected. In this case, one of the 300 for this particular show. The show I am describing is a show we have never gotten into in the past but we had heard such wonderful things, "best show ever", "unbelievable sales", "great venue'". So we were pretty excited to hear the results when we were accepted and we immediately paid our booth fee as soon as we could to insure we would get a good location at the show. The first thing we noticed was the fees were higher than in years past but we wanted to do the show so off went our $500. This was in the fall for a March show. Then in February the rumbling started. We were busy with making art and other shows but we heard the talk and we started getting concerned. This prominent show with their 300 hand selected top rated artists had decided just weeks before the show to add an additional 150 artists and expand the size of show to double the physical size to close to 2 acres with a large stage with live music, a children's area and other events. All with a $15 daily gate fee. No notice, no word to the artists, nothing.
Somehow, the show directors didn't think any of this would matter to the artists. That expanding a show so it was too big to walk around, with too many artists wouldn't somehow affect the artists who had signed a binding contract to participate in an art show with 300 artists. The last few weeks have created a hell storm of controversy in the art community. Discussions over artists rights, the needs of an art show to make money over the experience of the patron and the artist. It has been exhausting. In the end they were forced to offer refunds to the 300 who wanted them. As of they are scrambling to fill the holes made by these cancellations and still find artists for the extra 150 with only 10 days to go before the show, calling artists who never even applied. It has created bad blood between artists who stayed and those who chose to leave. The show has yet to repay any of the refunds to the artists and we are starting to worry if they will.
So what did we do? We had no presence there, no client base. So we asked for a refund and we will stay home and do our local show that weekend. We got scared frankly. I wish our fellow artists who remained the best of luck but this show should not continue past this Spring show. Their business decisions fly in the face of what it was created for. To provide an environment for people who love art to buy it from people who make art in a comfortable and equitable space.
It's been awhile since I have posted anything and frankly I have struggled to figure out what to write about. These long months of winter when we spend time mostly in the studio are fairly solitary and so the creative juices may be flowing but most of the time the feelings and thoughts we have are probably better kept to ourselves. It is hard to know if the new directions are the right ones when you feel like you are working in a bubble so we sometimes decide to do local shows here in Arizona that under normal circumstances we might night choose not to do. The demographics aren't favorable. there is a lack of enough traffic flow and the crowd is probably not looking for fine art as much as decor. We do the shows to test the waters to see if our new work gets a response and also to try to make some money during a slow part of our year.
Recently at one of these shows I had a wonderful conversation with someone that got me thinking about why people come to art shows and what they hope to find when they are looking to buy something. Let's face it, we are facing a change in the art business. Artists are lamenting that young people are not buying art and that the frequent art buyer now complains that their walls are too full or they are downsizing. Well, in my discussion with this lovely "snowbird" she spoke about the many estate sales in her community and the fact that so many elderly have children who just sell all their artwork when they die without caring about the joy they had in collecting it. Which began our conversation about how we can include our families in what we buy when we purchase fine art.
I have a wonderful lifelong friend who has stopped buying for herself and begun buying art for her children. They are in their twenties and she is not giving them the artwork yet but keeping it in her home. You see like her I think so many young people don't buy artwork not because they don't appreciate it but because 1) they can't afford it and 2) they are still very transient in their lives. So if we all bought art as investments in the art collections of our children, meaning with their input and participation, would the work continue through the family as a treasured piece to cherish and preserve? When my father died, he didn't have much and the only thing I really wanted was a painting that I looked at in our house my whole life that I knew he loved. I can still remember conversations with him about this painting and what it meant to him so having it means that I still have a piece of him somehow. We have some Korean silk paintings that Steve's father brought back from Korea for the same reason. If we talk about art with our children, even as adults then perhaps they will understand it's value when we are gone. So my friend Leslie buys the artwork with their input and displays in in their house and once her kids are established in their own place the work will go with them.
Our work appeals to so many young couples who love the work but can't really afford it and I wish their families knew that buying them fine art would be such a nice gift. For many people what they put in their homes is just decoration. If it lasts a few years and ends up in a garage sale may not matter.Yet if we treat that time when we are out looking at artwork together as a special time to share how the works makes us feel with our family maybe the work can become something more. So much time has been spent in creating so much of the work at the art shows we are at, and the moments that are shared between the creator and the buyer who takes a piece home can be very special. From our standpoint, we hear stories about how an image reminds someone of a special time or place, a memory of someone special. Talking with someone about what it meant for us to make that piece of art starts a bond between us, a bond that many times lasts for years. Sharing that experience with your children at whatever age they are will help continue the tradition of supporting the arts and preserving the appreciation of the tradition of handcrafted work.
There was a time not so very long ago when we were all very excited about a new website called Etsy that had just been started. It was going to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of the creative soul. The early days featured handmade soaps, quilts,clothing,artwork and jewelry in very small quantities.For the brave who were willing to add their work online it felt like you were sharing your creations with your friends. People ate it up. Suddenly owning something handmade or original took on a special quality. Heck even Oprah thought it was cool. Small independent artisans found a home to share their work on a national level and sales took off. For some of us though we were pretty skeptical of the whole thing and we waited a bit to see what it was all going to be but for many an entire new industry was born.
Then 2008 happened and suddenly people discovered that you could put anything on Etsy and sell it. For the artisans who actually really made their work an alarm went up. Surely Etsy was going to police this right? As the years went on the foreign distributors flooded the site and it began to look less and less like the handmade channel it started out to be. Sites like Regretsy popped up to draw attention to the mess it had become.
Still so many of us hung in there sharing our work, mostly because it was an affordable way to share out work. About a year ago we began to slowly move away from the site leaving only greeting cards and a few older pieces on there. I guess we just didn't want to believe that the site was worth letting go of since we had always managed to find new customers along the way. Then the notice arrived today.
It was really a simple message but it said so much. Basically Etsy let us know that starting now they don't care how goods arrive on their site. Nope, you can have someone else make your stuff. You can get it in any country you want, doesn't matter. Essentially handmade is all over. So for us Etsy is all over. We struggle every day to explain to people that everything we make is made by hand. Every stencil is cut by hand. Every color is printed by hand. Handmade means a lot to us.
It should mean something to the people who visit Etsy and we hope they will come to our website to find us. Or maybe Etsy will change their minds.
Unlike a painter, each of the pieces in our booth takes at least a month to create and will take years to sell out. So many times at a show Steve and I will look at the booth of a fellow artist as he/she sells a large painting that we know may have taken as little as a week to create and wonder if we should rethink the medium of printmaking. One unlikely benefit for us however is that we spend a lot of time with our work. They take on a special connection as we spend every week explaining their meaning each week on the road. Many of the pieces come from photographs that we take during our travels or they could come from a composite of images that Steve has collected over time. However, every once in awhile there are certain pictures that have a special meaning to us. They come from a place of deeper meaning and they reflect a part of our lives that is marked in time. Recently we sold out of a such a piece of special significance and it seemed like a good time to share the life cycle of one of these pieces so I give you: The Life of "The Cherry Thief".
Anyone who has ever had to move during a traumatic time in their lives can attest there are always sights and sounds that connect us to those times. It can be the music that we listened to, the food we had to eat, the sight of the buildings around us. No matter how old we get we can still close our eyes and see, hear, or smell the very thing that reminds us of that time. Leaving the desert Southwest and moving to Seattle was probably one of those times for our children.
In 1997, I was promoted and transferred in my job to Seattle from a small independent office in Flagstaff, AZ. My children had been living on 3 acres in the mountains with farm animals, a massive garden, and wide open skies. They were 9 and 11. For the first year we had rented a house in the middle of the suburbs of Seattle, surrounded by lots of houses. The first month it poured rain every day. There were lots of other kids around but they were still in school and so in the beginning our children were anything but happy. There was one glimmer of hope. The house had a tiny yard with fruit trees! My son was fascinated. Are there going to really be cherries in our backyard? Oh yes, we assured him, give it time but there would be cherries. It became his mission to watch the trees. Everyday the same question, the same response. As the cherries ripened his excitement grew. The other trees showed the promise of fruit but the cherries... Well, you all can guess the outcome of the story as the pesky crows had also been watching the trees as well and the day the cherries were ready, Nic woke up to see the cherries all gone.
"The Cherry Thief "was created to memorialize the moment and made it's debut later that year. At the time Steve only did a few shows in the summer locally so he only sold a few pieces in the beginning. This piece turned out to be significant because it also was the first bird piece and began a series of successful wildlife pieces to come. Over the years as more wildlife work came along "The Cherry Thief" always stayed popular. It seemed to spark a feeling in people about a similar experience they might have had with crows. Ironically in recent years we began to see images of crows with cherries in various art forms at the many shows we do. We have even had people ask us if all the artists are doing the same thing for a reason.
We get asked a lot about how long it takes for a piece to sell out and it really varies. These days we make very small editions and so it will not take as long as it did with "The Cherry Thief" where we made 40. This piece sold slowly but steadily until this past year and then it went a little crazy. We were asked last year to be included in an exhibition at the Portland International Airport on Printmaking. "The Cherry Thief" was there and we got calls constantly about it, selling quite a few of them. Like a lot of our pieces, there are times they just take off and everyone wants them. For that we are grateful.
So it is ironic that a few weeks ago we closed the chapter on "The Cherry Thief". We still have one framed one and my heart says we should keep it. We left Seattle to move back to Arizona this year and closed that chapter too. Maybe we should sent the artwork to Nic. Then he will always remember the day the crow stole his cherries.
(Steve is trying his hand at the blog this time so here goes)
Well, twelve art festivals and thousands of miles later one thing remains the same...I have know idea what to expect from one show to the next. While most shows have been pretty consistent, I still get amazed when I hear people in our booth say "the economy must really be hurting you guys..." and the next person comes in and buys several pieces at a time and always asking if we have anything larger!? The last few shows, it seemed to be the norm as a couple of our neighbors were selling very large canvas' and sculptures
for $2,500. to $15,000....all weekend long.
We don't have anything in those price ranges, for a couple of reasons. One being that we don't have really large pieces and everything is printed in limited editions....multiple originals for lack of a better description. I actually had a lady in Texas who wanted to buy the entire edition of a new piece so no one else would have it! While we have never had that happen, we would have considered it but, in the end her husband talked her out of it, common sense prevailed .
As, a print maker I suppose I could create larger pieces but that would require a major investment in frames, fabric, and larger substrates to print on....not mention a larger studio and work surface. The other ideas, were a triptych or simply work on a Mono print. Not impossible, just something to think about this winter. ..
We do a lot of shows with many artists that we see all year long. Some artists sell small inexpensive items and they have to sell a lot of things to make a lot of money but then we have friends that only have to sell one or two things and can have a $10-20,000 show. For us we are really in the middle. We sell original artwork but its not in the thousands of dollars so we don't attract the high dollar customer that can come in and essentially buy our whole booth. What we do have are moments of joy at selling young couples their first piece of original art. It has happened so often that a few years ago we decided to start a payment plan so that more young people could start buying original works of art instead of reproductions. The payment plan has led us to some wonderful encounters with people and recently we were fortunate to be able to be part of a great surprise.
The wife of one of these couples who had bought from us before and loved the work called me to ask if she could buy one of our newest pieces for her husband and together we arranged a plan not only for paying for the piece but to bring it to the art show where they come to see us each year that was a few months away. When the day came she arrived with her husband and he walked into our booth and asked if we still had this new piece and I said " Yes, we do" and showed it to him already wrapped up. He said, "Oh too bad somebody bought it, someday..." and I said" Okay, "Today, its yours". He said " Oh yeah, right". To which we all said. "Really, it's yours". His look was priceless. He had no idea and was just thrilled.
To be able to be part of the surprise and to know that we could help Tracy make this possible made us very happy and really makes us feel so luck y to do what we get to do in our lives now.
Bonnie Harmston works side by side with her husband Steve and travels the art show circuit with him.