Every week that we set up the booth in a new city we look at each other and say the same thing. Will this show bring us visitors that know what a serigraph is? It will make a difference each week in what the show will mean for us by how many times we have to explain the process of making a hand printed screen-print but more importantly it will make a difference in how often we will have to defend the purchase of original printmaking. The increase into the marketplace of giclees has muddied the waters of the original printmaking world and it seems that it has become a real challenge to find a creative way to explain why someone would want a numbered "original" print that is not a reproduction.
If someone knows and understands the work that goes into making a hand cut and hand printed screen print then the reaction is usually quite wonderful and we know that they understand that they are buying a piece of art that will last a lifetime. In the meantime we continue to open up our binder of photos of the steps of the process and start the explanation again.
Recently while talking with a fellow artist we shared this dilemma and he shared an analogy that I think we may continue using for awhile. The next time someone asks us where the "original" is and why the numbered pieces cost so much more than a reproduction I will share that a reproduction is like when you buy your first pieces of furniture in college. You may go to Target or Ikea and the furniture could be made of particle board with maybe some laminate cover on it but that's okay, you aren't planning to keep the furniture for long and it will serve its purpose for it's time just fine. But the fine hand crafted mahogany desk or bed that you decide to buy that you plan to have forever and to ultimately pass on to your children some day? Well, that's a serigraph.
Original artwork is meant to hold on to and to cherish. Buy it for the feeling it gives you from the very first time you saw it and keep it until you are ready to pass it on to someone who will love it as much as you did. Invest in the real thing and if you have to do it in baby steps, that's okay because in the long run it will hopefully last you a lifetime.
"Why do we do it? We must be able to sell this art some other way than by driving so far and for so long?" This conversation popped up more than once this last month on the longest trip we have taken to date. We spent 6,200 miles, slept in 16 different beds in 9 states over a one month period. We saw some beautiful parts of the country and we had days of nothingness as well. Mostly we drove, and drove and listened to the radio (thank goodness for XM Radio). This trip we managed to camp twice and discovered that the state of Texas has some really beautiful campgrounds. Our art show record was quite interesting. We went back to a small but really good show in Southern Utah, then to a new and beautiful show outside of Houston where we won a big award but due to the weather had less than spectacular results, and we ended in wonderful San Antonio where the people loved our colorful artwork. Could we sell this art some other way? Maybe. Would we enjoy doing it this much and get to know our customers the way that we do? Don't think so.
I have been a salesperson for as long as I can remember. I have sold at the highest levels of the corporate world where strategy means everything and the art of the negotiation is key. I wore the suit, flew on planes across the country, had lengthy "strategy" meetings and in the end when I was successful I couldn't tell you a thing about my clients real life. It was just not a key component to the sale in many instances and it didn't mean I wasn't good at what I did.
Today I get to sell to people with no account plans, no forecasting but what I do get is an opportunity to share some wonderful stories and at the end of the day I feel like we truly do know something about each other when the sale is done. Some days the stories take on a very special significance and recently in Scottsdale that happened again for us. We used to live in Arizona when we were just starting out and some of the first pieces of art Steve ever sold were there to friends and acquaintances of his then mentor, a man who encouraged him to seriously pursue art as career. The pieces were sold for next to nothing since Steve was just happy to see someone wanted to have his artwork at all. Where these pieces ended up 25 years later we would never know, or would we?
On Saturday a lovely couple came into our booth to look at our work. They loved the style of the work and remarked to each other how much it would blend with the pieces that they had been lucky to have found at an estate sale awhile back. The pieces that they had purchased had just been sitting in the house and not getting much attention but the colorful buffalo really caught their eye and after some time they were able to negotiate a price they could afford and bought it along with two smaller pieces. They had no idea who made the work but they loved the colors. Now they found themselves in our booth and it suddenly felt the same way it had when they were at the estate sale. The booth was fairly crowded but Ashley's mom walked over to a stack of greeting cards we had and when she turned over a box to see the price they were all stunned to see their buffalo looking back at them! They had found the artist of the mystery artwork from the estate sale! No wonder they liked this work so much and they all agreed to come back the next day.
On Sunday they returned and we all proceeded to talk about the estate sale. I shared with them the story of our start there and how the work probably ended up there and I walked them over to show them that the Lonesome Bull of which only one remains is now the most expensive thing we have. The story brought back memories of Steve in his early years trying to start out doing this. The time we all spent together as they picked out two new pieces became a really special time for everyone. Their collection has grown, we have added new friends, and we now know that life has brought us full circle. Priceless.....
It was a risk but with the uncertainly of the jobs market we decided at the beginning of the year to see if we could make it this year working together as a team full-time as HarmstonArts. We both have always had other jobs in addition to this and my corporate life had been a big part of our income. So what did we learn this year? First and foremost that after more than thirty years of knowing each other we really could stand to be around each other 24 hours a day. We learned that we were really happy doing this full-time, knowing that our successes and our failures were ours alone both to cherish and to resolve. We learned that what we were offering in the marketplace was not for everyone and that there simply were parts of the country that we were better off leaving off our list in 2012.
Best of all this year we found out that there are people from our distant past who decided to go to an awful lot of trouble to find us. We were reacquainted with childhood friends, cherished coworkers, dearly loved family members. We had moments when we were able to make a sale to someone that included a connection that surpassed much more than an exchange of art for money and for that we will always feel blessed. Finding confirmation that what we put on the walls could mean as much to someone else as it meant when it was created is the reason that all artists decide to put themselves in such a vulnerable position and this year we were fortunate to have some very special moments.
We also learned rejection when we had times when no one seemed to like what we had to share. Was it the images, was it the prices? We probably won't ever know but it definitely was a sign this year that the economy has hit the independent artist hard. How do you explain the change in customer's perception of worth in the art world? Does original art mean very much in a world of bargains? As we struggle with our all original artwork we will continue to appreciate the many clients that have supported us and what we do.
The economy has made many people artists these days and there are so many people looking to quickly put something out there for people to buy. We also search for other ways to create new items to sell so I certainly can't fault the industriousness in anyone. Yet will people stop appreciating original artwork that takes months to make?
Time will tell but for now we will continue on the road ...together
We are always asked if someone can come and see "our studio" and while so many of our artist friends have spacious studios we actually work in a corner of our garage. We nevertheless do occasionally have customers come by to visit and pick up pieces of art and now we have decided to actually open the garage up for the public to come and see Steve in action for the first time. We are pulling out all of the artwork we have collected over the years that we just can't bring due to the confines of the truck and a 10 x 10 booth space so that people can see the pastels and mixed media pieces as well. What will our neighbors think? Do they even realize what we do for a living? It will be interesting to see who will come to see us and whether this open studio tour is successful or not...
People always tell us how lucky we are to live this life and I guess in many ways they are right but for most of our days this is pretty hard work. During the active art show months the times when we are home when Steve is not in the studio printing, we spend long hours matting and framing new pieces and packing up more unframed pieces. We make more greeting card sets, go through the inventory to decide what pieces will work at what show and try to determine just how many panels to bring to set up the booth given the space we have been given for each show. We have to clean the tent, especially if the last show was at a dusty location and in addition I am always shipping out packages from that trips activity. This all usually takes place in a matter of days before we turn around and pack up the truck and head out again for parts unknown.
Most of the time we leave ourselves no free time to stop and just relax and have fun along the way. We may stop for an hour or two to stretch our legs but usually not for much longer than that because we have to get home to restock or get across the country for the next show.
Recently we changed that though and we took a detour and went to the Oregon coast for a few days between two of our favorite shows in Oregon. After living 14 years in the Northwest we had never done that and it was wonderful to just drive along the shore and take in the scenery and all it's splendor. We forget sometimes that just stopping to enjoy a simple roadside meal is oh so special. Along the way we discover two very special stops that everyone should visit someday.
The drive along the coast and turn around the bend and see the Pelican Brewing Company in Pacific City Oregon has to be close to Nirvana for any beer lover. It is definitely the most beautiful brew pub I have ever seen and even if you don't like beer it is a beautiful place to stop and watch the ocean for lunch.
We had rented a little place right on the ocean but on the last day we decided to drive up the coast and just stop when it felt right. I had read about an old hotel that had been converted in Wheeler, OR but I wasn't sure if we would go there and yet the minute we saw it we knew. The hotel , The Old Wheeler Hotel has been many things including a brothel during the height of the lumber industry boom and for the last three years it has been lovingly restored to it's glory into an 8 room B&B. The town is very small but it feels very warm and inviting. The hotel faces the river and there is a tiny restaurant around the corner run by a master chef who came there from Nantucket. It is very informal, the waitress even hugged Steve goodbye. The stay was short and magical, We should do it more often...
People are always asking where the ideas come for new pieces and many come from photographs, often that we take as we are driving across the country to different shows.
Keep your eyes on the lookout for a new piece that will look very similar to this photo. It is an old house that struck Steve for the shadows of the trees on the building. It will be more graphic and will be the first true architectural piece ever done.
When you travel to an art show and you spend time setting up the booth and talking to everyone about the work that you do sometimes you can get lost in the day to day activity of just doing your job. Make no mistake, its a great job,particularly when people respond favorably to the work and when sales are brisk. There is however another part of the art show that is particularly special. Every now and again a show will recognize you for the quality of your work among your peers and when that happens it is a very special moment. It has always been a challenge for all the artists at any show to find some way to distinguish the level of their work from their peers at a show and today with the influx of booths full of imports and artists who have decided to take shortcuts in their artistic approaches, well some days it is next to impossible.
The screenprints that Steve makes take months to do and we have made a conscious decision not to ever make reproductions of any kind. We have other artist friends who also make things that take enormous amounts of time and energy to produce. For many art patrons, this can get lost in all the booths ,displays, and the price tags . In Park City this month we were joined by other artists by being rewarded with a Best in Show acknowledgement in our category. It means we are invited back next year and for us it means the hard work is validated by the Kimball Art Museum team. That always feels good and keeps you up for the next show when you need to explain the process one more time...
We were at the art show for four very long days, from noon until 11 every night. There were going to be lots of people there and compared to the past year we expected to do well at the show. Yet sometimes there are moments that make you so happy to be doing this for a living. To have it happen several times in one show is exceptional . Late on the first night we met them. They were the vision of hope,love, and the promise of a very bright future. They were infectious. They said they were getting married in the fall and loved our art but had never been able to buy art yet on their own. Over the course of the next few days they kept coming back, they brought their family to look at the piece they wanted, the family even came alone to look. Then on Saturday night very late they came back together hand in hand and with no one around sat down in our booth, heads together and made what for them was a big decision. They bought their first piece of art together and in the process reminded us of how we felt in those early days together when we also made those same first important decisions together as a couple.
We have gone around and around about the use of ETSY in our business. For the large art that we sell we have found that it really has not been a great tool for us. With Printmaking now making a comeback, we are seeing a lot of people trying to sell small one color simple wild graphics that sell for $10-20 and we just can't find a market there for detailed multi-layered fine artwork in the same space.
However we have an assortment of greeting cards that we used to screen-print years ago that we have in boxes that are we don't display anymore and other small pieces that aren't on the website so we will now be putting these on the ETSY site instead. We also are considering making our holiday cards again so I have added those back to the site to see if there is any interest. If we see people like them we may just go back into the card business again...
Bonnie Harmston works side by side with her husband Steve and travels the art show circuit with him.