The eagle eyed among you may have noticed that I’ve been fairly quiet for a while. Unfortunately I’ve not been at the peak of health and wellness for some time, but I am very happy to report that I am now much improved.
And there’s more. One truly unexpected result of my illness is that in recovery I have become the extremely fortunate beneficiary of opportunity and I intend to grasp it with both hands. I am taking the exciting step of making painting my full time pursuit. It will come as little surprise that I consider this something of a dream come true. I am utterly thrilled. I have no idea where it will lead, but rest assured I will be doing everything in my power to ensure it is the most positive move of my life.
My wife and I are in the process of building our shared studio at home, dedicating one room of our house to our new venture. We have spent too long sidelining our passions to accommodate the expected routines of the day to day. Not any more. We all of us get but one shot at life and I very much doubt that it yields much satisfaction if dreams remain forever unpursued. It’s a risk, of course. Success is far from guaranteed. But without taking that risk, failure is an absolute certainty.
So, what does this mean for my practice? Well, in very basic terms, lots more painting! That’s the main aim. Also I hope more exposure, promotion and exhibitions, but critically… I think I’m going to have to ask for money in exchange for pictures! Shock horror! Don’t panic though. I still intend to maintain my free pictures project. I would hope that with extra time to paint I will be able to produce the same number of freebies as I always have and then add paintings for sale on top of that. We’ll see how it works, but rest assured your chances of getting something for nothing should not be diminished.
Initially I have decided to adopt the same basic pricing structure as I laid out to cover commissions (explanation detailed here and below). Naturally it may be subject to change depending on how things go, but for now it is an entirely transparent and, I’d like to think, fair pricing system based on a simple formula.
As always I would love to hear your opinions on this new adventure. It is one of the most exciting things I have ever done and, I hope, the beginning of an entirely new way of life.
Sale of the century
Since introducing the concept in February 2015, giving my paintings away for free has become a cornerstone of my practice. I have found it more defining than I had expected. For those unfamiliar, many of the paintings illustrated on my website have been made available for free. Anyone may request one by simply emailing me. You can tell which are, or have been allocated as freebies because they are annotated (FREE PAINTING) directly beneath the the title and description. Many have already been claimed so I can offer no guarantees of satisfaction and my only caveat is that recipients cover any costs incurred in getting their paintings where they want them (postage being the most common). If paintings can be easily delivered or collected for nothing, all the better. I always prefer to meet the recipients whenever possible.
Initially it was the case that I gave every single one of my paintings away. At that time painting was what I called an ‘involved hobby’. I had to fit it in around full time work and family life and as such sales did not enter into the equation. It was reward enough that the work was getting out there, however, in August 2016 I began painting full time, making far more work and started selling my paintings as well as giving them away.
But I remain committed to maintaining the free painting project. It has become so critical to my practice that to abandon it would be to remove a huge part of my ethos and much of what I believe differentiates my approach from the majority of the art world. My hope is that this project will benefit both myself and the recipients. Everyone likes a freebie and in a small way perhaps this gives people the opportunity to own something they might not otherwise have expected to. I benefit in that now and again my paintings are going out there and ‘doing’ something more than simply being another item dropped into the world of commerce.
The other side of the coin
Like many, many artists I aim to sell my paintings. It isn’t easy because, in terms of the basics of retail, necessity and purchase, art is a vague and nebulous thing. It is not a necessity like food. It is often a retail item, but whilst most people could tell you the price of a pint of milk, only a tiny percentage of the population are even vaguely aware of the market value of one piece of art versus the next. Artists are asking you to buy something you definitely don’t need, for what is usually a relatively high price based on the intrinsic value of the materials and can therefore very often seemed plucked out of the air. And more often than not all this is based on the intended buyer’s own entirely subjective aesthetic preference. Sounds a tough sell at the best of times!
I would like to be able to make this a little easier if I can. I can’t make my paintings essential to your life. They aren’t and never will be. I can’t change your aesthetics either. You’ll either like them, or you won’t. I can try to convince you, but honestly I’d prefer you trust your own judgement. I don’t want to try to talk you into something you don’t want to do. That doesn’t really help either of us.
So, the part I can affect is the pricing. Having worked in the art world for more than a decade I have some insight into how high end art is priced. There are various factors to be considered depending on the piece in question but the fact is that plucking a number out of the air does happen to a certain extent, and a four digit number is a pretty big one to invent in most anyone’s book.
My solution to this is to price my paintings based on an entirely transparent and easily calculable formula. So, let’s talk turkey. How much for a painting? It’s pretty straightforward:
Existing painting (one I have made by my own choice):
5 pence per square centimetre of surface area + transport costs = total price.
Production costs + 5 pence per square centimetre of surface area + transport costs = total commission price.
To better define these factors:
5 pence per square centimetre
Exactly that. For every square centimetre of surface area of the painting (height x width) I charge 5 pence (£0.05). I feel this is a relatively modest price. To put it into real terms a painting 25 x 20cm works out as 500cm2, so £25. A painting 100 x 150 = 15,000cm2 , so £750. In the case of a commission the client may decide the size (based on commercially available stretcher bars or wooden boards), so they’re in complete control of this cost.
Whatever it costs to get the painting where the client wants it. Sometimes nothing if collected in person. Otherwise postage or courier or airmail or delivery or whatever.
Production costs (applicable to commissions only)
Materials such as the stretcher, canvas, drawing pins, paint (if I need to buy in specifically) or anything else required for which I will incur a cost.
All costs are of course agreed in advance and in the case of commissions an up front deposit to cover materials may be required.
So there you go. I think that’s pretty clear, fair and eliminates a bit of the commercial art world’s smoke and a few of its mirrors, which is no bad thing in my book.
The ‘X’ has numerous uses and associations; negative, positive, historical, contemporary. It is arguably the most basic written signifier, being simultaneously an illiterate’s substitute signature, an indication of error, a confirmation of political leaning, a kiss and of course a letter of the alphabet to list but a very few. It is also one of the simplest and most natural forms of mark making. I have observed it personally as the immediate precursor to a child’s use of written language, long before contextual or communicative connotations come into play.
Ordinarily I would avoid any charged or symbolic subject, but the ‘X’ has such a wide and inconsistent relevance that I don’t believe my use can possibly be pinned down to any one specific meaning. The aspect I’m most interested in is the natural, instinctive way the marks are made, not the way in which they may subsequently be hijacked.
I have pressed it into employment as a vehicle through which to indulge in mark making. If what I have observed is universal and not unique to my daughter, then we are all deeply familiar with drawing or writing an ‘X’ from a very early age. It is the most basic abstract combination of 2 marks and I believe that my familiarity with making those marks in that formation, born of continued use over decades, allows me to release some of the tension associated with ‘drawing’ and embrace the freedom that comes with writing.
It is true that the tension cannot be broken immediately. As familiar as these marks are, biro in hand, swapping ballpoint for brush changes the scale and the emphasis. Initial experiments on a 2-stroke painting (illustrated above) did not prove entirely satisfactory. It takes time for the freedom to build (or the tension to seep away) and so my solution has been to paint the ‘X’ multiple times – 10 or more, over and over so that no single stroke can be held responsible for the final form:
Repetition loosens the movement and cumulative value defines the end result, thus I need not be precious about any one mark in particular. I am freed to dab away at the canvas and allow the natural beauty of the paint to appear through loose and perfunctory marks.
Universally accepted beauty is naturally occurring. Sunsets, waterfalls, flowers. Paint is not naturally occurring, at least not in the commercial form we’re familiar with, but its defining state and characteristic – liquid and colour, are both phenomena that have existed longer than we’ve been around to perceive them. Paint is liquid colour and it is beautiful.
It is beautiful long before we get our hands on it. If in employment we allow it to exhibit its natural attributes we stand a good chance of retaining at least some of that beauty. It only becomes ugly when we try to force it to do what we want, not what it wants. The more we treat it as a tool, the more of its quality we risk chipping away.
Paint’s primary use is commercial – its purpose is to change the colour and texture of objects and spaces in order to improve the way they look. Its liquid state makes this possible. Its colour and texture makes it desirable. It is instant beauty in a tin.
The best painters are able to use these things. They come to an agreement with their medium such that they may achieve some of what they want whilst allowing it to do just what it will. And it will. Paint will sometimes move in the directions we ask. Directions it might never have naturally moved. It may go more or less where we want it to go, but it’ll do just what it likes when it gets there. All we can hope is that the places and directions in which we push it are conducive to its behaviour.
When we decide to make a painting we take a risk. We choose a substance of significant inherent, existing beauty and try to improve it still. Like the man who throws up in the hat of Bear Strangler McGee we’re either mighty brave or mighty stupid.