Monday, January 26, 2009

PONDER: The Daily Painting Problem

When Duane Keiser smacked the artworld upside the head with his daily paintings, it opened the door for many of us have a new channel through which to sell our works. Not that tiny or fast paintings were new, but his notoriety fostered the market in which we could sell them.

Great news. Like a lot, a LOT of people, I thought this would be a great way to step up cash flow and exposure, and (for me) transition into a full-time painting career. And in truth, it did work out that way. However, for those considering the DP (or PAD) route, here are a few of the hurdles you'll probably encounter. They're not complete roadbloacks. Just some things to consider.

1. Just because you paint it, doesn't mean they'll come. The 4 keys to success as far as I can tell are (in this order) a lot of traffic, good quality work, uniqueness, frequent work. If you don't have a way to expose your work, find one - a co-op, other blogs, ebay, something, anything. Start your mailing list from day one.

2. How are you going to make a decent painting in a day? The paintings in galleries and museums aren't DP type works, so if you're gallery- or museum-bound, don't destroy your career by distributing a bunch of crap on a canvas. Sacrifice something: size and complexity are the most obvious choices. I learned to paint a lot faster, and developed my alla prima style just for this. It still looks like me, and actually I learned a whole lot by doing it. Also I do a lot of paintings that are over several days, but not a whole day at a time, subscribing to the "paint daily" philosophy more than the "finish it daily" philosophy.

3. eBay sucks. It really does. Especially for new members, where they hold your fees for 3 weeks. The people who use eBay are looking for bargains, not investments. OTOH, you can think of the exposure as a marketing expense. OTOH, if you get all of 10 hits, selling your day's work for 9.99 is stupid. You can sell right from your blog, but you have to have traffic for that. You can build your own auctions if you have a lot of traffic, a la Julian Merrow Smith (who's a wonderful painter, btw, and a pretty good marketer to boot).

4. DP can take over your life. If you're a representational painter, a small painting is still an exhausting mental challenge, and if that's all you do every day, you have no large works to send to galleries and competitions. That's it. That's your life. OTOH, the exposure might get you commissions.

5. When you make smaller paintings, make them work. These still represent me, so I don't want them to suck. Also, I have other work to do, so I'll use a small painting of oranges to explore how orange works in the light. If I need to work on a pink thing, or a particular texture, I'll design a small painting around that texture. So I've got a standalone work, and a problem puzzled out - 2 birds, one paintbrush.

6. There's a LOT of competition. I mean a LOT. You may very well end up with a stack of small paintings that did nothing but enrich your soul for a year before they start to find clients who want to buy them.

7. Traditional galleries do a lot of this work for you. Sure, they don't necessarily want 3 x 5 " paintings of single cloves of garlic that you intend to sell for $100. They want bigger stuff. And they want a better price point. But if you're in a gallery, presumably they're going to try to sell your work for you, letting you avoid mail lists, blog posts, competition, evil eBay, hoofing it to the post office, etc.

8. You may not look very serious if you do this. I don't know about this point - but I've had some pretty reputable artists make the point so I thought I'd mention it. Certainly you'd want to present yourself in a good way, and certainly you'd want to avoid looking like you were running a garage sale. But my personal opinion is that artists are making a thing which can be sold, not monks vowing poverty to gain entrance into heaven. Sometimes it feels like successful artists say things to keep new artists down. There, I said it. But if those people have any influence, or if gallery owners are in agreement, then it's true.

I'm very grateful to be a full time artist, and I've grown to love the smaller works and the discipline of painting every day. IMO, it's a very viable path for new artists to get their sealegs, and not-so-new artists to manage their own cash flow. Perhaps it will change the gallery model eventually. And it's created exposure for some really fine talents like Julian Merrow-Smith, Carol Marine, Neil Hollingsworth, and Karen Jurick, and on and on. But it would have been easier to win the lottery, or get picked up by the Forum Gallery, I suppose.

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  1. Interesting post today. I've only recently started the DP approach and have discovered many benefits in technique and problem solving as you mentioned. I chuckled about evil eBay as that mirrors some of my experience. Thanks for pointing out that it is a competitive market and some people are not as open and generous as others. As for the way my galleries regard me when I say that I've sold on eBay with repeat customers, it reassures them to a point that my work is marketable. But if I were approaching a top tier gallery I'm not so sure I would mention eBay.

  2. So glad I happened to come upon your blog. I enjoy it immensely and check in daily. Very informative. Thanks

  3. Best critique I've read of DP. The only thing I'd add is that its easy for a DP artist to concentrate on building skills or imitating other artists rather than finding his or her own unique voice. Skills are important but don't forget to follow the path wherever it leads.

  4. Lisa, thanks for such a frank critique of DP. Food for thought.

  5. Really great thoughts on the pros and cons of daily painting. Very encouraging and I loved what you said about ebay! so true - and their fees are getting worse. I lost customers when they did away with accepting personal checks.
    The Figurative Realm of Mary Bullock

  6. Thanks for the well written and thought out piece. It is good to know what others are going through doing daily painting. It's a world unto itself.

  7. I tried this and it was a bust, complete waste of time. I like doing small paintings, I have done them for years. However the market is so over saturated that it's very foolish to think one can make even a few dollars.
    EBay is the worst, you will be competing with people who will sell for $10.

  8. Interesting post. I think you about covered all there is to say about daily painting.

  9. Thanks for a thoughtful critique of the daily painting rage. A friend and I are committing to 100 paintings in 100 days as much for the exercise and challenge as anything. If we sell something, well, all the better.