29 March 2006

A Cloudless Day

Finally, the sun is coming out and with a bit of luck, it'll stay out. For the last couple of days, it's been cloudy and (shock, horror) raining. I know for most areas of the US, this would be normal in spring, but here, in the Mojave Desert, it's normally cloudless with a deep blue sky. So, having a grey overcast day is really different. And not welcome in my book. Supposedly, the rain has moved on.

The reason that I've mentioned the weather is that it's a good analogy to my own mood. I have periods of cloudiness that last for days and then becomes clear and wonderful. (I'm not talking about deep, dark depressions -- just the blahs.) This is pretty normal, I've been told, for artists. Partly it's due to the creative process and partly it's due to the financial aspects of being an artist.

With the creative process, there are times when work comes easily and then there are the struggles. Sometimes paintings almost paint themselves and at others, well,... let's just say it's more productive to bake brownies than try to paint. The key is to try to remain in the middle and just work steadily. Lately with my new plan, I've done that and I've finished some fine botanical watercolors such as this daylily.

As to the financial situation, that is where my clouds are coming from. Like most artists, I don't have a steady income. I'll go to a show and maybe I'll sell nothing or maybe I'll come home with $1000. I have potential clients that talk and talk about commissions and then just disappear. Then out of the blue, I'll get 2 large commissions in one day. But the problem is bills come monthly and have specific due dates. While I've learned to save most of my income to cover my bills, it still gets scary. Like it is right now -- I have mainly bills and few sales, in part because I'm retooling my eBay store and in part because everyone is feeling a financial squeeze.

What's interesting is that the solution to both problems is just to get to work and try to forget the problems. If the problems are still important after a hard day's work, then I'll deal with them then. And now, there's a peony that needs to be painted!

27 March 2006


Sorry for not writing much lately, but last week hubby came home and we worked on the taxes. While most people have a dozen or so receipts, between his trucking expenses and my art income, we literally have a paper grocery bag full of receipts. When we sort them into a 12-month expanding file, it's totally full of his stuff and mine gets it's own expando-file. It took us 3 days of sorting and listing expenses, but we finally got all the totals for things like diesel fuel and postage.

And while I would love to say it's all done, now the 'fun' part comes. Since his truck involves depreciation and a home office, we send our receipt totals off to our accountant who actually does the form filling out. He also gives us the bad news.

Yes, we will owe taxes this year. We always owe taxes. We are both self-employed, so that means we pay about 30% of our income in taxes and social security taxes. I have a guess at what we owe, but I'll wait until the accountant calls with the results. And then we get to try to figure out how to pay them. (The $5000+ in repair bills ate up most of the money I set aside for taxes.)

Now that I have this headache taken care of, I need to get back to work to earn money to pay the taxes!

21 March 2006

Where to Sell My Artwork

As I wrote yesterday, I have a new plan -- one that I hope leads to more financial reward. What I am doing now is working to some degree, but I would like to make double what I am making now. So the question comes down to where to sell my artwork so that I get maximum returns.

Artists have a number of options when it comes to selling artwork. Here's the main ones:
  1. art galleries
  2. art agents
  3. art shows
  4. online venues

Art Galleries: These have been the traditional venue for selling artwork for the last few centuries. The basic procedure is for an artist to send slides of her artwork to a gallery. The gallery looks at the slides and either rejects the artist or asks the artist to bring in actual samples. The lucky artist then takes some originals into the gallery and then the gallery determines if the art is acceptable. If it is, the gallery will usually ask for 4-10 framed pieces, which will be left on consignment. When a piece sells, the gallery sends the artist a check. The good points is that I don't have to take my artwork around -- just ship it to the gallery -- and normally a gallery will get a premium price for the artwork. (A piece I sell on eBay for $60 will become $240+ in a gallery.) Then there are the bad points:

  • galleries take a 50% commission
  • all framing and shipping are the artist's responsibility
  • a good gallery receives 20-50 submissions per day, so it's hard to get into the gallery
  • galleries are notorious for not paying in a timely manner, losing artwork, or just closing their doors leaving the artwork to the bankrupcy court to figure out
  • many galleries want an exclusive arrangement, so I can't sell my art anywhere near the gallery
  • a number of galleries are now charging to even look at slides
  • many galleries no longer want to take on emerging artists, so they only accept established (semi-famous) artists
  • quite a few galleries have closed or are in financial hot water these last 5 years
  • galleries prefer for an artist to do one medium in one style so to have a "body of work"

Art Agents: Art agents work a lot like galleries, but instead of having a store/gallery, the agent takes the artist's portfolio to potential clients. Like a gallery, higher prices is one advantage, as is the fact the agent makes no money until he/she sells your artwork. Having someone who believes in your artwork show your work to serious art buyers can be profitable to both parties. Again there are bad points:

  • the agent takes a commission of 20% or so
  • finding an agent is difficult, finding a good agent is extremely difficult
  • since agents usually are not local, one must trust the agent with several pieces with no way to check on the agent except by phone

Art Shows: These I think about as a do-it-yourself temporary art gallery. The procedure works like this. The artist gets an application and fills it out, sending in the slides/photos of the artwork and their booth along with a check for $25-45. If accepted into the show, the booth fee ($100-1200) must be mailed in. 2 days before the show, the artst begins packing. The day before the show, the artist travels to the venue and sets up. Then the artist sits at the show, being pleasent to the attendees. On the night of the last day, the artist packs up and drives home. The day after the show, the artist unpacks and recovers. The main advantage of art shows is the artist gets most of the money for each piece. It also is "interesting" to meet the public and see their reaction to one's artwork. And then there are the negative parts:

  • shows do no refund the jurying fee (application fee), so applying to 5 shows and being rejected can cost $150 without anything to show for it
  • why one's application is rejected may have to do with politics, the quality of the slides, the physical size of the paintings, etc, and the artist will never know why she was rejected
  • booth fees range from $100 for a one day show to $1200 for a 3 day show with $300 being avaerge for a 2-day show and booth fees are going up
  • many shows are now beginning to take a 10-20% commission
  • weather can make or break an outdoor show
  • in popular areas, such as Palm Springs, there are 1-2 art shows each weekend, so the public now suffers from art show fatigue
  • one's fine oil paintings can be in a booth next to someone selling custom dog collars, because many shows are allowing more and more "fine crafts" into the mix, but they don't discriminate between "fine craft" and not-so-fine craft
  • some promotes require certain types of displays and/or tents
  • it's very tiring to sit and be friendly to everyone, especially when they make rude comments
  • travelling to a show for 3-4 days can easily cost $1000 for hotels, food, booth fee, pet sitters, and gas and take 5-7 days from start to finish

Online Venues: The newest way to sell art is online. Whether it's a private website, an online art gallery, or an auction site, there's two main problems:

  • before you can sell anything, one has to get people who are interested in buying art to visit the site
  • both the artist and the buyer have to trust each other

So, there are the options. Is there one that is better than another? No, because each have significant problems as well as serious advantages. It comes down to figuring out what one is willing to risk and also what works for one's art. (How I sell my botanical watercolors has little relationship on how I can sell my sculptures.) Because I do a variety of art, my solution is to combine the last 3 options and sell each type of art by a specific method. It's not ideal, but no one ever said this was going to be easy!

20 March 2006

A New Week and a New Attitude

After feeling depressed for the last couple of weeks, things have finally turned the corner and I'm back to perky. Well, maybe not perky, but a whole lot better than I was even a few days ago. Other than just my own disgust at feeling depressed, I can credit 4 things for this turn around:
  1. Response to my newsletter. Yesterday, I sent out my monthly newsletter and I received a few wonderful emails in return. I know this sounds corny, but these encouraging emails make me feel loved. Or at least that my artwork is appreciated.
  2. Working on a drawing. For the last few days, I've "forced" myself to work on a couple of drawings. I say forced because I really didn't want to do. See, there's a direct relationship between how many days I haven't worked and how hard it is to actually get back to working regularly. I took a few days off and so it was hard to get back to work. I know it sounds strange, as I like to draw, but then depression in general isn't rational.
  3. Devising a new marketing plan. I'll explain this in more detail over this coming week, but the general idea is that I wasn't happy with my sales, so I've decided to try something else. Over the next month or so, I'll be working mainly on traditional botanical watercolors and some floral still lifes. This artwork will be sold on eBay, taken to the Montrose Art Walk, or offered to interior decorators. Once I get this going (i.e., I've am producing 2-3 pieces a week), then I'll branch out and start doing some general still lifes and then animal art. I don't know if my plan will work, but it's worth a try. (No, this doesn't mean I will stop doing portraits or alpaca art -- they are in the FULL plan too!)
  4. Working on my house. There's a number of things I want or need to do in our house or on our land, such as build in bookcases in the study or clear out some dead shrubs. My problem is that I look at the big picture and it seems daunting. So, I'm going to try to break down the projects to small steps, such as order the paint additive for the study. (The additive supposedly increases the insulation property of paint.) I can find an hour a day and work on something -- over time, the hours add up to a finished project!

I do hope this really keeps my attitude on the right track. I don't like it when I'm depressed -- I find it annoying and time consuming. And quite honestly, there's a part of me that believes it is a choice to be depressed, so I get disgusted at myself.

And now, I need to get working on a watercolor of a rose.

18 March 2006

A Long Struggle

Okay, I was depressed. I'll admit although I'm not too proud of it. Between the hassles with my husband's truck, having everyone tell me what I should or should not be doing, and facing the taxes, I got depressed. I felt like I was in a long struggle with little chance to win and the only thing I got back for my effort was criticism. So, I spent a couple of days doing nothing but reading a Tom Clancy novel (Executive Orders) and that helped get my mind of everything and give me some perspective.

One thing I did was to get out my pencils and work on some drawings. I actually finished the portrait I was doing both for my portfolio and for a demonstration for my web site. (If you'd like to see how a pencil portrait is done, step by step, visit http://www.lmhornberger.com/drdemo.htm ) I also worked on some on a couple of other pencil commissions, but as my head wasn'[t in the best of shapes, I didn't try to get too far with them. As to why drawing helps I think it has to do with the concentration it takes. I work on one small area at a time, with just a pencil point to fill in the area. It really becomes a form of meditation.

Another thing I did was to get out of the house and take some photos. While I love my house, I need to remember that I should get out and see new things. I know some people are happy with routine, but not me. I like variety and new challenges, so finding new subjects for my paintings is wonderful. Now, I'm anxious to get working on some new subjects, such as goats.

These two things helped me pull myself up by the bootstraps, so to speak, and I'm feeling better. I'm not totally back to my perky self, but then again, I'm not sitting around reading novels and eating donuts all day either!

13 March 2006


I'm not in the best of moods today. Okay, I'm down right grumpy because I'm in one of my frustration periods. These are times (several days to several weeks long) where everything becomes a hassle. Simple things turn into frustrations. Here are my top 3:
  1. eBay/PayPal payment Someone bought something from my eBay store. The person marked it as payment sent, but after 15 days, I have yet to receive the money. It's probably sitting in the person's account as 'unclaimed' (PayPal's wording for their system didn't process it correctly), but I can't get the person to cancel and resend the money. I'll try one more time to contact the person (6 emails so far) and then I'll file a non-paying bidder complaint. If the person would just check their PayPal account, the problem could be solved/avoided in 2 minutes.
  2. hubby's truck Over the weekend hubby's truck started to have the same problems with the fuel system. So, we had someone drain and remove the one fuel tank. Lo and behold they found a flat cap in the tank which may have been intermittently blocking the fuel intake. (This will be declared THE problem if the truck works fine for the next week.) Remember about 2 weeks ago when I complained about a $1200 repair bill? Part of that bill was draining and removing the tank to look for foreign objects. Obviously, they didn't look hard at all. If they had done the job correctly, that would have saved us $800 and a whole lot of stress.
  3. alpaca art After talking to the alpaca farm who handles my alpaca art, I have a very uneasy feeling that they are throwing in the towel, but they won't say that. They've done 2 small shows and sold a fair amount, but not as much as they wanted. (They might have sold more if they advertised, contacted the alpaca owners, or even put the artwork up on their website.) Until they say 'yes' or 'no', I'm left in limbo with regards to selling alpaca art on my own.

Why can't people just act responsibly? do their job correctly? or give definite answers?

Oh well, if I get back to work, things won't seem so bad. I'll sort of forget about these 'annoyances' and maybe when I think about them again, they will be solved.

09 March 2006

Too Much Chaos

Yes, I'm back. I disappeared for a few days because hubby's truck had more problems, because one of my cats was sick, because I had to kill a squirrel, because.... The list could go on. At some point, I just shut down, withdraw, and read my book. This is my way of protecting myself.

Right now, the problems, which overwhelmed me, seem to have either resolved themselves or reached a point where the solution is clear. This brings at least some peace to me as I have a clue as to what will happen. It's the not knowing what might happen which ties my stomach in knots. So, now I'm beginning to get back to work.

04 March 2006

Time to Relax

I hadn't realized how stressed I was from hubby's truck problems until yesterday afternoon, when my stomach started to hurt. See, when I get anxious, I hold my breath, which then leads to stomach pain. Not the best way to handle stress but at least I know when I'm really upset by something.

So, today, I'm taking the day off from my normal stuff -- I'm putting the portraits aside, forgetting about marketing, and getting out some oil paints. I still want to do something useful, but I need a break from concentrating and trying to meet someone else's expectations. If I work on an oil for myself, I don't have any pressure on me, except to produce something I'm pleased with. Often when I'm upset, I like to work on a stone sculpture -- the slow, methodical tapping is very therapeutic -- but it's a bit chilly and I don't want to drag all the tools out for one day. Besides, I would like to get a few small paintings done so that I can either sell them on eBay or at art shows.

Or maybe I'll work on a woodblock print?
Or maybe I'll paint the study's walls?
Or maybe I'll just sit around and read? (Presently, I'm reading The Mote in God's Eye.)
Or maybe......

03 March 2006

Working in More Chaos!

I think I jinxed myself the other day. I was so proudly saying how I've figured out how to work in chaos, so the Universe slap me upside the head with more chaos! This will teach me to keep my mouth shut.

The latest bit of chaos is hubby's truck again. Despite all the repairs he had over the last 2 months, the same problem occurred again -- namely it would run out of fuel even with full tanks. So, he spent most of yesterday in a repair shop and they think (no guarantee here) that they found the problem and fixed it. I have my fingers crossed since it was another $1200 repair bill. And we just can't afford any more bills like this! (Heck, we can't really afford that bill either, but if I don't buy the digital camera and printer I had planned on and I move some money from PayPal to my checking account, we'll make it. Donations are still welcome!)

One thing that has helped me thru this latest mess is the number of commissions I have. I know I don't have time to sit around and mope about this latest mess -- I have to get working on these commissions! I may not be terribly thrilled about much (too worried about money right now), but once I get working, I will forget about the money part so that I can do a good job on the artwork.

And just to create a bit more chaos for myself, I've decided to move all my auction photos to a free website. This will allow me to accurately assess my website statistics, without the huge eBay bubble of requests. Without the auction traffic crowding out everything else, I'll get a better idea of what marketing is working and what isn't. Also, since I'll be transferring things, I can resize the photos, add a copyright line over the photo, and clean out some duplicate photos on my website. This whole project would be easier if I didn't have an eBay store, since I'll have to go in an revise every listing individually. But I plan on doing a few each day, so over a week or so, it will get done.

Well, I should get to work. My to-do list is a bit longer than usual today and I would like to do some fun painting this afternoon, if I can fit it in.

01 March 2006

Working in Chaos

Finally, February is over. I've never liked the month and this year it ended with a number of messes. Not only was it cold and rainy and I was sort of sick, but hubby had more truck and D-O-G troubles, my car insurance company changed my policy, and we now have squirrels digging tunnels under the retaining wall. None of these are major problems, but when grouped together they do sometimes seem overwhleming to me. Yes, I know life is messy, but I usually assume that everyone else's is much nicer.

It's the underlying assumption, namely that an artist must have no external problems to freely create, which can paralyze an artist. If I were to wait until everything was calm and well-ordered with the bills all paid and everything 'happy' before I did my art, I would get nothing done. There's always something to worry about or distract me. At one point, I did only work when I felt like it, which meant I really didn't get a lot done, but now, I try to work no matter what else is going on. (I may bitch about all the non-art stuff to do, but I still do the art.) A number of artists I know are caught in this "I only work when I'm inspired" thinking and they always wonder how I get so much done. Maybe because I work when I'm less than inspired?

What really changed the situation for me was money. I know, artists are suppose to passionately create with no concern for money, but hey, I'm addicted to 3 meals a day and a roof over my head! A couple of years ago, my husband's truck blew the engine. It cost us about $25,000, which we had to put on credit cards. While we were struggling to avoid bankrupcy, it dawned on me that I couldn't be selfish and only work when I felt like it. We just couldn't afford that attitude, so I started to try to work everyday, no matter what. After some time, I could see the amount of work I was getting done and the small, but significant amount of money I was bringing in was really helping. From that time on, I have tried to work some each day. Presently, I've set up a goal of 3 hours per day of actually doing art and for most days, I easily reach my goal.

Now, this doesn't mean I don't take a day or more off, here and there. Like the other day, when I thought I was getting sick, I figured I would lose less time overall by resting for one day than getting really sick and losing a week. And on days when I just don't feel like working on a portrait, I set them asside and work on a still life or sculpture or even a woodblock print. (This is one huge advantage of doing multiple media!)

Anyway, despite being less than 100% yesterday, I did manage to finish off a portrait. For some reason, I don't get many commissions for people in pastel -- lots of pets, but not people -- so when I do have one, they make me nervous. But I really think this one came out quite well!