I had ordered a canvas online because I saw a crazy good deal and because I’m still hesitant about stretching my own as it adds another layer before starting a painting. The canvas, in its shipping box, was on our doorstep when I brought my 5 year old home from school one day.
“That’s a BIG box.” He said with excitement.
“Yes, it’s a canvas.” I said quickly trying to minimize the time he spent building a wonderful fantasy about what was inside (it totally looked like the largest Lego set known to man could be in there) and therefore be disappointed when it wasn’t for him.
“A canvas?” He said.
‘Yes, for my next painting.” I said.
“Can I have the painting?” He asked, still trying to get something out of this box.
“Yes. If you like it, you can have it.” I said. It was out of my mouth so fast, my first instinct, before I even had time to think about it. I’ve always been quick to give away my art.
I have done two commissions this year. Both were paintings for friends. As I painted, I thought about our friendships, I thought about who they were as people, what their lives were like, what I hoped for them. The paintings morphed and changed because of that. I had moments of doubt, I had moments of joy, at times I was intensely sentimental.
As I worked on the first commission, I was overcome with gratitude towards my college friend who had commissioned it. We had agreed on a price but the more I painted, the more I felt deeply that I had already been paid. She had been infinitely encouraging as I was getting back into painting. The first to say a supportive word. Those comments had special meaning to me because she knew me in college, when I was discovering myself as an artist. She knew me as I hoped I would be and she believed in me. The more that I thought of this, the more I wanted the painting to be a thank you gift instead of being paid.
The second commission sprang out of a visit to a friend's house. The evening was falling and the sky was amazing, calm, and absolutely endless. I wanted to paint that sky, I wanted to paint the incredible oak tree that her house was built around. I wanted to make something beautiful for her that would capture what I was seeing of her life. She had offered to pay me for it but I insisted it would be a gift. It made me happy to make something for her and that was all the payment I needed.
A few weeks ago I went to the Seattle Art Fair. It was massive. So many different types of art from so many galleries from different cities, all in one spot. The artwork ranged wildly in style and format.
As I wandered the exhibition hall, I was trying to place myself in this world. Where did I fit in? Was there a place for me in the art world that seemed natural? A gallery that was sure to eat up my work? To be honest, I didn’t find a home there, but I think that might be partly because of where I am, in this moment, as an artist. I’m still defining who I am and what I am doing. I don’t have a brand, “This is what Vanessa’s work looks like.” It’s more like, “Oh, I can see that Vanessa made that.” I have to say, I’m not bothered by that. In fact, I’m kind of excited. I feel like I am growing and exploring and as great as it would be to see a clear path ahead, there is a thrill in it being wide open.
After the Seattle Art Fair, I had this crazy thought, what if I tried to sell my art? Eureka! Has that been DONE before? Did I just invent that? Just kidding. In all seriousness, the idea of selling my art has never been something I considered. There are probably many reasons for this and some may have to do with confidence but more present is that I just love giving stuff away. If anyone even hints interest I’m ready to offer a piece up.
But through this project, and wondering what’s next for me art-wise and career-wise, I’ve been entertaining the idea of selling my art. So I decided to work on a piece with the intention of selling it. An experiment. Not about the money, about seeing if that changes my process, and also about being willing to put myself out there and see what happens.
I had an idea of what I wanted to create. I’ve been playing with images of my favorite tree. Trying to solve a riddle, how to capture a three dimensional beauty into a two dimensional piece of art. I started off by simplifying the sketch. I began, begrudgingly, to edit the tree, like an art-arborist, removing limbs, playing with spacing and I came upon a representation that I really liked (see figure 2.)
I happened to have 4 six-inch canvases at home that I had purchased for a different project but didn’t end up using. I began to play with the idea of using them to add dimension and relationship that a single canvas wouldn’t have. How would the pieces play off of each other? I deconstructed the larger sketch into 4 six-inch parts and I painted them on the canvases.
I like the paintings but not like I LOVED the sketches. I wanted to do them as ink drawings. This is what I decided my “for sale” piece was going to be. I could picture it professionally framed and I thought it would make a bold statement.
Once I solidified this plan, I immediately fretted over what I would price it at and whether or not I would include the framing costs. I tried to push all the selling logistics out of my mind and focus on the piece. As soon as I started working on it, I got excited, it was turning out beautiful and my mind naturally gravitated toward thinking of donating it for my son's school auction. I am just wired for gifting. I had to remind myself, sell, sell, sell!
Originally I thought I would do the drawings on a single 16x20 piece of paper the way I had sketched them but I realized if I did that there would be no border for framing. I decided to do each drawing on its own piece of paper. I wanted each six-inch block to speak for itself. I wanted the pieces to be interesting from a composition perspective on their own as well as put together.
When I was finished with each drawing I would prop it up in front of me while I worked on the next. I really liked them.
When I finished them all, I put them together. It accomplished exactly what I had wanted it to. It was large, interesting, and the break-up of the drawing added a dimensional element that I had been looking for. There was only one problem. Putting them together, I missed them as individuals. I achieved what I had set out to do, I made them stand on their own and now I wanted to let them.
I was very torn about what to do. Keep them separate? Or frame them together as I had intended? I went back and forth many times so I surveyed a few people to get feedback. My father suggested that I make an additional set and do them both ways. So I did. Then I made a third set. Then I did a few more singles just to test out different ideas.
While I had been creating the drawings, I wasn’t aware of having any tentative thoughts about selling. But I think hesitation about selling the pieces was actually what was driving my uncertainty about which format to present them in. Because even after I had sets (and more) to do both presentations, I still wavered. I wasn’t in an artistic conundrum after-all, it was discomfort with the idea of quantifying the value of my work and then broadcasting that to the world.
The idea for these drawings was to create something so masterful that it would be worth selling. I was questioning whether the piece, no matter how it was presented, was good enough. But this is an old question, a little kid question. Am I good enough? When it comes down to it, there isn't really one answer to this question. Whether or not something is interesting and beautiful is subjective. Who knows who my drawings might appeal to? The point of the experiment is to put it out there and see. I don't need to have the answers to test it out, that's the point of the test.
This feels like a broader life lesson, how many times have I thought I needed all the answers to move forward only to discover I could only get the answers BY moving forward. There are very few things in life that you truly only get one shot at. Your ego may want it to be perfect but success is much more likely if you just keep trying.
The humorous thing about any agonizing I might do over these decisions is that I love these pieces and don’t particularly want to part with them. As I think about a price, I am pricing them high enough that I won’t mind giving them up. Of course, that being said, if anyone tells me how much they love them, I might just give them away. Because that’s just how I am.
I’m still working on the exact logistics of selling and framing them. Once I have that set, I’ll update this post with details and final photos.