I begin each morning thinking, “Today I will paint a beautiful pastoral picture and sell it”, or “Today, I will get a call for a commission of fine art, with generous payment in cash.” I look forward to painting but I also look forward to selling my work and paying some bills.
After a few chores and some coffee later I ponder the lack of commissions or visits to my basement studio. About midday I began to suspect that I may not become the next Norman Rockwell. This daily pattern reinforces my reliance on the old day job.
Then at church I get a commission! That is the value of relationships and the personal touch in networking. A young woman came up to me and said, “I can’t afford your work but I would pay you what I can if you will do some art for me.
I nearly swoon on the spot. Word of mouth has finally paid off. The projects I publish on facebook and my blog is finally hitting pay-dirt.
Just what does she want me to paint for her? I’ve done some Children’s portraits in charcoal which sell for $200.00; they turn out well. Maybe she wants a painting of the old house? I have painted several recently and was paid upwards to $400.00. I have had some exposure because I’ve donated a few paintings to charity that was auctioned for a very inflated price; perhaps she wants a duplicate of one of those paintings.
“Well,” I say diplomatically, “I am sure I can work within your budget.” Inwardly I am thinking; just name your price- it’s a done deal; after all I can eat a little profit in exchange for word of mouth publicity.
“My daughter’s birthday is next week and I would like a favor, I will pay what I can.”
I think, “Great a portrait of a child, I love it.” Portraits are easy for me; I can down the size and still have a respectable profit. Maybe I’ll charge her a mere $150.00, and let her pay over time since we go to the same church and all.
“You see,” she continues, “we are having a pirate themed party.
I break out in a cold sweat. Just where is she going with this? Does she want a mural in the den of the battle of Trafalgar? If she does I will really have to up my hourly rates.
“I was wondering if you could paint a couple of pirate treasure chest for me.”
“Sure.” I say, showing my most enthusiastic and sincere face. A still life and would be very interesting. I am already composing a mental picture of the finished project of a pirate chest in the gloom of a ship’s hold, strings of pearls dangling from the gold filled lid, saber propped on one side, a pistol on the other and maybe a pirate flag draped in the background. I am calculating a price of $400.00, less a discount for a friend from church which she can pay over time.
“I can make it any size you want” I say, “Would this go over her bead? If so I can add colors from her room like the curtains or bedspread then it will fit the décor.” I try to accommodate my clients, and think of everything.
“Oh no, I do not want a painting. I want you to paint these to look like pirate treasure chest,” her hand indicated something behind her.
I notice two Styrofoam coolers sitting on the floor. My dignity as an artist is mortally wounded.
“Just paint these two ice coolers. You know brown and gray with the wood grain, iron straps and the hinges, just make them look like treasure chest. We are going to put the kids goodie bags in them.”
“I could pay you twenty dollars.” She offers tentatively.
I stagger. To think my artist career has come to this, but the thought of my kid’s stomach grumbling urges me on. “Oh well. I guess I could fix them up really nice for $20.00 each. I have done some stage props, this is kind of like that and I happen to charge twenty an hour.”
“Oh no! I couldn’t pay more than twenty, total. The pirate actors and magician are costing me a fortune.” She was firm, I could see.
“OK.” I said, picking up the two Styrofoam chests. “I’ll see what I can do.”
In my basement studio where I paint landscapes and portraits dreaming they will be treasured by collectors for years, I painted the two Styrofoam coolers to look like pirate treasure chest. I spent hours on them giving them a coat of primer, followed by paint in a faux wood technique; I painted pirate ships on the top and front. I added rope handles on the sides and cardboard hinges at the back. They only took ten hours. I made two dollars an hour. No doubt the child will remember her pirate birthday party her whole life.
I delivered the two chests. She gave me a beaten up twenty. Going to my car I pondered all those unpaid bills and how far this will go with my creditors, but deciding that since it is senior discount Tuesday at the liquor store a bottle of red wine might substitute for being debt free.