Sunday, July 5, 2015

You Should Draw A…

“You need to draw a picture of a giraffe." 

"You’d sell a million of those, you know. There are a lot of giraffe lovers out there. If you drew a picture of a giraffe, I’d buy a copy.”

“If you drew a picture of a hot air balloon, I’d buy a copy.”

 “If you drew a picture of the dry cleaning industry…”

Ark - Sue Ellen Brown
“… of a lighthouse...”
“… of a pick-up truck...”
“… of a runner...”
“… of a turtle...”

“If you drew a picture of a 1964 Mustang convertible, I’d buy a copy.”
… … …

I know, and I would love to do that for you. I truly would. Here’s why it’s probably not going to happen, at least not within the reasonable time frame that you expect it to:

No, it’s not because I’m some artistic purist who only follows the dictates of his own muse. In fact, I’m quite happy to listen to your suggestions. I’ll even write them down for future consideration. Chances are, your picture is already on the list.

Yes, I have a running list of  (wait, let’s check, just to be sure) twenty-three major drawing projects in progress at the moment, with a couple dozen more under consideration at any given time.

That doesn't count the six drawings I’ve completed and checked off the list already this year, after a mammoth effort that has nearly doubled my annual output of new composite designs. Nor does it include more than thirty line drawings I’ve completed for contract clients since January.

Am I complaining about being overworked? (Artists are good at that, you know. We’re a lazy bunch by nature. Ask anybody.) Nope, not this time. You see, I love what I do. My job (loosely defined, I’ll admit) is to show up at my studio whenever I feel like it, think funny thoughts, and put them onto paper. That’s pretty much it.

The economics of art 
are pretty straightforward.

The hard part comes when I have to decide which funny thoughts make the grade to become a new picture, and which new idea warrants the weeks of research and planning and practice (I get a little rusty between projects) that it will take to build a concept into a working sketch, and finally into one of my standard composite drawings. This process takes time – figure one hour of focused endeavor for every item in a drawing – time that is not spent on traveling to and from art shows, talking with customers, taking orders over the phone, or packaging and delivering prints to the post office.

Time, in other words, that is not spent making money.

The economics of art are pretty straightforward: If you don't get paid to make pictures today, you don’t get to make any more pictures tomorrow.

So, in order to insure that I will be able to enjoy creating silly, pun-filled drawings for another year, I have to pick my projects very carefully.

Every year I try to finish at least three new pieces: One for the market (things that people have requested – your “You Should Draw…” list), one for the experience (something that will stretch my technical ability), and one for me, simply because the idea makes me giggle. The plan is that at least one of these will capture a big enough slice of the art market to justify its own existence, and hopefully pave the way for the next round of creative activity – provided that it can also repair the damage left by the two or three really fun projects that didn't manage to pay for themselves last year.

Which doesn’t always happen.

So, let’s say that your lighthouse idea is a great one. (And it is, I can assure you. There lots of lighthouse fans out there.) Let’s further assume that I have been able to come up with enough light-related puns and seashore type stuff to pile up into the shape of a lighthouse. (I haven’t yet, since I always get tripped up conceptually somewhere between light switch and light beer.) Let’s even convince ourselves that the particular light house design I have chosen to build looks enough like the structures at Cape Lookout or Hatteras or Bodie Island (as opposed to the ones at Roanoke River or Frying Pan Shoals) to convince the casual observer that this is in fact a picture of a lighthouse, and not a beach cottage.

After all of that comes together, experience tells me that it will take at least a month to design and draw this new picture for you. That’s a month’s worth of rent and groceries, clothes and car repair and garden supplies and movie tickets that won't be paid for if all of my time is spent on this luminous project. Oh, and unless you were keen on purchasing the original drawing ahead of time, I’m also going to have to come up with the couple of thousand dollars it will take to turn this new artwork into the $20 fine art print you have assured me that you want to buy.

(Of course if you ARE interested in commissioning this bright idea for its full retail value, give me a call. I’ll push everything else onto the back burner and jump right on it – just as soon as your deposit check clears the bank. Really. Call me.)

So, unless I have the bills paid well in advance (a welcome, but not too common occurrence), the main thing that will motivate me to get up and flip through my standing file of Works in Progress, or launch into an entirely new project is the promise of a significant short-term payoff, involving at least enough money to keep me and the Missus fed and housed for a few weeks, and keep our printer happy.

If any of those things don't work out, chances are your very good idea for a new picture will stay right where it is: on the To Do list.

Don't worry. I’ll get around to it one day. One of these days when I’m not on the road, and not packing up orders, and not writing my next blog entry, I’ll settle myself down and get right to work on drawing your picture.

You just wait and see.

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