27 April 2006

Honesty, Artists, and the Buying Public

The other day, I spent some time looking around eBay at my 'competition'. I didn't learn much that would help me get out of the slow-sales on eBay slump I'm in, but I did see quite a number of listings that were misleading to one degree or another.

Here's several examples:
  • The title said "original oil painting" but the description, in line 143(!) said it was a print.
  • A 'hand painted' portrait which is actually done by printing a photo onto canvas and then adding a few details with a brush. (The lister forgot to remove the page number from the magazine that the photo was taken from.)
  • A woodblock print which was available in several sizes, so what one was actually buying was a print of a print.
  • An artist who listed California as his location, but then the artwork would be shipped from Singapore.
  • The title said, "original, genuine marble sculpture", which wold imply a one of a kind piece, but you could buy up to 10 copies of it since it was actually made out of bonded marble dust which had been poured into a mold.

So why do artists do this? It comes down to money. One of the problems with eBay is that most buyers want everything for $19.95 or less. But think about it -- a canvas that's 16x20 will cost $12 wholesale in large lots, there's paints and brushes, and then the time to paint it. If the artist is to make any money, then the key is to do the work in the fastest amount of time. So, if he can do one good painting, take a photo of it, have the photo printed onto other canvases, he's cut his time for each saleable canvas in half or fourths or how ever many copies he has printed.

I don't have too much of an issue with this (okay, I do, but we'll talk about it some other day), but what really annoys me is these people try to hide what they are doing from their buyers. In the process, it ruins the whole thing for all artists. For example, if Sally buys a painting that was listed as an 'original' in the title and then discovers is a print-on-canvas, she will be upset. And she will probably never buy another piece of art online again. (I can't blame her!)

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that my word is my bond. I try to make my descriptions as clear as I can. I would rather have a buyer email me after they get the item and say how pleasantly surprised they were, rather than to complain I had misled them.

22 April 2006

Honesty Among Artists

Sorry for not writing, but hubby was home for the week and we were having way too much fun working on his truck. He got all ready to go on Thursday, when he tried to start his truck and it wouldn't start. So, Friday we spent all day getting a new started (150+ miles to get it) and the 12-pt socket set to remove 2 bolts that held the starter on. (Yes, 12-pt sockets, not the normal hex head sockets.) We got it put on this morning and he's on his way. Overall, we saved about $200, but I'm not sure my fingernails will ever get clean.

Anyway, one of the things we were talking about while he was home has to do with honesty and artists. Basically one can't trust a lot of what artists say, especially when it comes to business. I know, most people like to feel successful and important, so there's a tendency for exaggeration. In artists, this is raised to an artform! And I'm sick of it!!!

Here's a typical example:

One artist writes on an artist message board that she is having problems with selling tasteful nudes on eBay. She's asking for advice on how to increase her sales. A few artists reply with some simple suggestions. And then Bill (not his real name) replies that he has no problem selling nudes on eBay, has sold 18 in the last 2 weeks, most of his sell for 4-5 times the initial listing price, and they normally get 3-5 bids each. Now this sounds fantastic and, since I have some nudes from years ago, I start looking at his listings to see what he is doing right. Then I look at his completed auctions for the last 30 days. In the last 3 weeks, he has sold 11 (not 18), most sold for $9.95 which was their initial bid price (not 4-5 times), and only 3 got more than 1 bid (none got more than 3). So, what he wrote to the first artist was not even close to the truth. And what is even more pathetic is that it was so easy to catch Bill in his lies!

While I could just brush this type of behaviour aside as typical of human nature, it really hurts me and all other artists. There are a lot of possible venues to sell my art or ways to advertise, and all these take time and money to do. I personally would like to be able to focus my time and money on those methods that others have found useful. But then the honesty problem pops up. Where can I turn for an honest answer to a serious question? If I ask a legitimate question, can I actually trust the answers I get? A few artists will tell another artist the honest truth (display ads in horse magazines is an expensive waste of money), but these are few and far between. And then one has to sort thru all the lies to find the one truthful reply.

And if one thinks this situation is bad or annoying, tomorrow I'll write about some of the cons artists use to mislead buyers.

15 April 2006

Emily's Birthday!!!

(Be warned: This entry has nothing to do with art -- it's about one of my cats.)

Today, 15 April, is Emily's birthday. Yah!!!

Emily is one of my cats. She's a long-haired Persian cross and we adopted her from an animal shelter 16 years ago. And as somewhat fitting her age, she's also known as "The Cranky Old Lady" because she hates my other cats. Even when two of my cats were 5 weeks old, she hissed and spat and acted like they were an imminent threat to her life. So much for maternal instinct!

She and I have been thru a lot. She nearly died from FUS twice, while on special cat food from the vet. This was when she was 3 and 5 years old.

And then she used up a couple more lives when her liver shut down at age 7. She stopped eating and then became jaundiced. I took her to a vet who then said she had fatty liver disease and that I should put her down because it was hopeless. (The vet also suggested that if I didn't want to put her down that I should have her vacinated for several cat diseases.) I told the vet I wasn't going to accept that prognosis. So, I called and took her to 4 more vets -- all with the same diagnosis and prognosis. Finally, I took her to the local university vet hospital where they said there was about a 10% chance of her living, but it would be a good teaching case so they would go ahead and treat her. Treatment included putting a feeding tube in her stomach and instructing me to squirt this special food into it. At that time I had another cat who would eat anything. He absolutely refused to touch this special food, so I had my doubts about it. I tried following their plan, but it wasn't working. Emily continued to lose weight (got down to 4lb 8 oz) and seemed more lethargic. I was desperate. I found a magazine on natural cat care with an ad for a homeopathic vet who did phone consultations. I called him and we started to working together. He had me force feed her by mouth raw turkey and also sent me some homeopathic medicine. After a few days, I saw improvement. I then took her back to the vet school to have the stomach tube removed. At first they refused, but finally after a heated exchange with the director, the tube was removed. One vet said I just killed her. Well, I continued to force feed and after a while (about 2 weeks), she would eat it off my finger. Then off my hand. And finally after about a month, she would eat off a plate.

Today, 9 years after this episode, she's healthy and happy. (Okay, she'd be happier if I sent The Boys to North Dakota, but other than that,...) Her latest bloodwork was perfect. She has no arthritis, no bad teeth, and a magnificent coat. People can't believe she's 16!

But Emily taught me several important things:
  1. Cats thrive on a raw meat diet. Since this liver stuff, Emily has had nothing but raw meat (mixed with vitamins and vegies). So much for the idea that raw meat will kill a cat.
  2. Many vets are more interested in their ideas and income than in helping the pet. When I took Emily back to the vet school after 6 months, the vet couldn't believe it was Emily, but the moment I said anything about raw meat, she refused to listen to anything and said I was going to kill her. I would have thought the vet would have been interested in what I was feeding her. (Silly me!)
  3. Homeopathic medicine does work. I know that it can't rationally work, but after seeing what it did for Emily (and later instances with my boys), I know it works. It's also a lot easier on the animal -- one doesn't need a drug to counteract another drug's side effects.
  4. And most importantly, one needs to love those around you while they are still here.

So, today, she's gets a real treat for supper -- grilled salmon! (I'd feed it to her raw, but I'm planning on having the rest of the fish myself.)

13 April 2006

From 3-4am

I know, I know -- it's been a few days since I've written an entry but I've been busy. Maybe it's the impending tax deadline (yes, we owe a bunch) or it's the fact that I'm doing more flowers (a comfort zone for me) or maybe it's all the commissions I now have (about 12!), but I've been working a lot more lately. And so, I haven't had a lot of extra time to do this blog, update my website, clean the house, or even read.

Working more does mean I'm getting stuff done. For example, I just finished up 2 nice alpaca and people portraits for a client.

This 11x14 pencil drawing was an interesting challenge to get the overall look right. The boy's jacket was so dark (dark navy blue) that it could dominate the entire drawing. The alpaca was pure white. And the photo was taken outside in bright sun, which is why the boy is squinting. I ended up lightening the jacket a touch and darkening the alpaca a bit. Overall I'm pleased with it, but I do wish the boy had had a more normal expression on his face.

Because of the size of this portrait (16x20), I took a temporary photo of it with my cell phone, so it's not the best photo. (I'll take a good photo of it with my camera before I send it. Now if someone wants to donate a digital camera to me, I'll be grateful!) The main challenge with this portrait was the composition -- all those little alpacas in the background! Not only did the alpacas need to be arranged in a natural manner, their colors had to not compete with the boy and cria he is holding. The other challenge was the size. While 16x20 is wonderful for a portrait which includes the shoulders and hands, it's a bit small for a portrait which includes the entire body. The head is only 3-4 inches high -- tiny details with large chunks of chalk are difficult to get right. As with the first portrait, I do wish the boy wasn't squinting in this one either.

Presently, I'm working on a pair of small portraits (one done, one to go), and then there's only be about 10 left. I really don't understand where all these commissions came from all of a sudden, but it's nice to have work to do.

The one problem is that I need to keep doing florals and botanicals for eBay and the Montrose Art Walk. And I also want to do some new relief prints. Maybe I could do them from 3-4 am? (Why waste that time just sleep?!)

10 April 2006

Spring Flowers

Things are going well and not so well. A lot depends on what I'm talking about.

First the bad. I still haven't heard the bad news from the account about our taxes. Hubby has a cold and as a truck driver, this means he keeps driving, so I'm worried about him. Things are beyond slow on eBay -- nobody even looking! And we are suppose to get rain tomorrow and I haven't fixed the couple of shingles on my roof from the last round of storms.

On the other hand, the artwork is going well. I've been working on a portrait of a young boy and some alpacas and it's coming out well. I finished another pastel bouquet, like the roses, but of carnations. I made wonderful progress on a botanical watercolor of black-eyed susans. And tomorrow I start on an oil painting of a hummingbird.

Actually, my latest plan is working well. The plan is to start with botanical watercolors and then slowly spread out to other things, such as still lifes and animal art. (Botanical watercolors are my comfort paintings -- I know I can do them well, so they are what I revert to when I'm anxious about stuff.) The idea is to do sets of each, so right now I'm working on:
  • a set of 12 botanical watercolors of garden perennials
  • a set of 6 pastel/watercolor works of bouquets
  • a set of 5 (or 6) small oil paintings of hummingbirds and flowers

As you will notice, they all involve flowers. The reasoning behind this is that people find my jumping from one thing to another upsetting, or so the theory goes. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it's worth a shot. It does help me organize my thoughts and it's somewhat comforting for me to know exactly what I will be doing today, tomorrow, and even next week. Besides, all these sets will work just fine for my upcoming shows in Montrose. (Last year, they really liked the flowers, so ...)

Now, I just have to figure out how to get people to actually buy my artwork!

03 April 2006

eBay Update

Well, yesterday was interesting. I'm not sure that's exactly the word, but it'll have to do since the coffee is still brewing.

I had one item on eBay end -- a botanical watercolor of an iris. It really was stunning. I listed it for $40 and guess what? One bid, so it went for $40. Now I understand botanical watercolors aren't a hot property (thanks to all the 'prints' out there), but still... What I don't understand is there 4 people watching it. The guy that won it wasn't one of the 4. So, what happened to the these 4 people who took the steps to add it to their watchlists? I don't understand it -- if I put something on my watchlist, I either bid on it or I remove it.

I have another botanical watercolor up, a daylily, and it's getting very few views. I did put it up for 10 days, so it's got time to attract viewers. Fingers crossed on this one.

And finally, I did put up the roses in a vase yesterday. I settled on $62.50 -- $10 per hour plus $2.50 for the paper and pastel. (Sure, I know exactly how much pastel I use on each piece. And the Easter bunny will be bringing me a BMW.) I thought about going higher, but I decided I would rather sell it than not. The good news is that someone is already watching it, but as with the iris, I'm not sure that's a positive sign or not. If anyone wants to bid on it, here's the link:

Roses in Vase Auction

Remember, bid early, bid often!

01 April 2006

Pricing on eBay

And now, I'm facing one of my favorite dilemmas -- how to price artwork on eBay. I have enough of a problem to price it for shows and galleries, but eBay is a whole different problem. Put it too high, and I waste the listing fee. Put it too low, and I get mad because it went for so little. It's a real headache.

Maybe if I talk it out, I'll figure it out?! It's worth a shot.

Okay, here's the piece I want to list:

It's pastel and watercolor, 12x16 inches,on watercolor paper. There's lots of neat textures and I think it looks fine. (And it really should look terrific matted and framed.) It is a bit different from the traditional botanical watercolors I have on auction at the moment, but I plan on doing two series of paintings at once -- and this is the first of the second series.

Anyway, it took me 3 days of work, off and on, to do. I have no idea how many hours that would be, because I was working on other things as this one dried between layers, but I would guess 6 hours minimum. The paper is about $1.50 per sheet. In a gallery, I'd easily put a $300 price on it (and I'd get $150 of it), but we are talking eBay here.

So, one can price things on a per hour rate plus cost. 6 hours at $15 per hour plus the paper comes to $91.50. At $10/hr it's $61.50. (Hey, I can go pick lettuce in a field at that rate!) And an alternative way to price things would be to compared it to other sold pieces on eBay. First, there's few pastels on eBay. And second, the prices are all over the place -- $10 to $127.53.

Part of the problem is that eBay isn't a hot marketplace anymore. Maybe it's the economy or maybe it's everyone has all the stuff they need, but eBay is slow. It used to be that one could list something very cheap (like $24.95) and then rely on multiple bids to get it up in the $70's. Now only the big names on eBay can do this anymore as most auctions end with only one or two bids, if that. So, the opening price must be fairly realistic because one can't count on a bidding war to drive the prices up. (Or put it really cheap and hope that it goes high, but be willing to part with it for cheap.)

But if one puts the opening price at a realistic price, like $100, there's a good chance (about 90% I'd guess), that this piece wouldn't sell. People want a bargain. They don't seem to understand that artists have bills to pay too and we can't afford to give our work away. Anyway, at $100, I'd probably still have the piece and $2-3 worth of eBay fees. (And that's if I don't upgrade the listing to 'featured' for $20 more.)

Throw into this mix the problem I created for myself. I only list things once at auction and then it goes to my store. This is because I've seen artists list the same pieces over and over again, usually for less and less money, so if I was a bidder, I'd just wait until it was relisted for less. So, I have one shot at auction to sell this piece before it moves into my store. And while my store is doing okay, it's still 50-50 that this piece will be sold there as I'll probably offer it for $150-200 there.

So, what to price this piece at? Would it sell at $60? at $90? Or would it be better to list it at $45 and hope I get multiple bids? I still don't know!

And now I have a really bad headache!!!