Thursday, December 01, 2016

Money Money Money and Incidentally, What Is Wrong With the New York Times

A couple days ago I announced on facebook that I'd made a little store to sell multiples of my artwork. I have sweet small framed prints of tiny paintings on there, and at first they were priced at $100 each. My friend wrote that she'd been waiting for me to make affordable art and was excited to buy one, and lots of people I adore shared the link. And then that night I found myself waking up all night thinking, "$100?!?! That's way too much! But, but..."

There is a cognitive dissonance around money that goes with being an artist. Here's the thing. As an artist, in my experience, one learns to live in two monetary worlds. There's the amount of money I actually have and can spend, and then there's the amounts of money that art sells for. 

When I first was approached by a good gallery I went around to a bunch of galleries to ask them how they priced work on paper. They were all hedgy with me, because of course it's a sensitive question and no one likes to talk about the value of someone else's work, but one kind person said that I should set the price an 18'x22" drawing at about $1500 x my name value. That seemed amazing to me, so I told my good gallery that my big drawings were $1500. In time, they came to sell for about $2500, and I felt that as a triumph. I know, in gallery terms, that that is not much. I know artists who sell large work for $20,000. Work on paper is relatively cheap, and $2500 for a piece that likely takes me a couple months to make and $500 to frame isn't exactly cost effective, but still. That's always seemed like a ton of money to me. 

When I started the online gallery I talked about it with a bunch of art people who I respect, and I showed them the little prints I made and told them about the $100 price point, and everyone except my husband said they seemed really cheap. He was very skeptical that anyone would have $100 to spend on art, but I wrote it off. Which is weird. 

$100 is really expensive to me. But in the art world, it's cheap. It's almost "something-is-wrong-with-this-or-it's-student-work" cheap. I felt like I'd be devaluing the work if I went below $100. A few people I talked to confirmed that impression. $100 meant value. I kept the price there.

I loved the idea of having an online gallery because it seemed so democratic. I have had great experiences with brick and mortar galleries. Becky Kerlin from Gallery Joe is a peach among peaches. A good gallery like hers takes a 50% commission, and if they are good, you never think about that again, because they find opportunities for you and sell your work and show your work and present it to the public with incredible care and devotion. It's amazing, and it's absolutely worth it. But it was fun to think about opening my own online gallery: I decided that I'd donate a substantial chunk of the profits to causes I care about. 

And then, the night after I made the store, I kept waking up. I had the voices of the art world people ringing in my head, saying I'd priced it too low, and then I had the face of my friend, who I knew, like me, could not afford to spend $100 on art. 

So today, in between teaching classes, before I rushed off to a faculty meeting, I dropped my prices to a disgracefully low level. Because once I finally did get some sleep, I remembered another crucial thing a gallery does: they cultivate a group of people who can afford to buy art. Gallerists are the people who connect me to the magical universe of people for whom $100 is not a deal-breaker. 

It is for me. $100 is new running shoes, or my kid's winter wardrobe. I wouldn't pay that to get art that I love, not because I wouldn't, but because I can't. But I have bought art for less than $50. And I'm very happy, now, to be making something I can sell to people who, like me, live in that world. When I changed the prices in my store this morning this little box popped up asking me if I wanted to mark the 60% price drop as "on sale." No. These prints are not on sale they are for sale, to people like me.

So is this bad economics? Will I devalue my art by underpricing it? I don't know. But maybe it's a little bit worth it to me to push back at that dissonance, and to get that art on my friend's wall.

The whole time I was thinking about this pricing problem I kept flashing to the NY Times Style section, which I hate-read with religious regularity every Sunday. There's one particular page I can't keep my eyes off, which always features somewhat cute things priced for people whose money is cluttering up their living rooms. Like this.  Isn't not thinking that there's something insane about flatware that costs over a thousand dollars the very thing that made the NYTimes lose touch with the common man? There's some analogue here to the way they missed the call on the election, and it's not unrelated to the way I priced my work higher than anything that makes any sense in the world I actually live in. I apologize. Friends, buy my work if you want it!  This fire sale is going to last for a while.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Philadelphia civic pride and frogs about the election

I'm particularly Philly proud this month because my work is in two group shows in two of my favorite civic buildings. 

You can see my work in A City of Artists, Celebrating the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours Philadelphia Art in City Hall gallery in room 116 on the first floor of City Hall. The exhibition was organized by the wonderful people at CFEVA and runs through December 2, 2016. The show celebrated the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours, which run annually in October, and which brought some lovely people to my studio last weekend.

A tiny book with images from my paintings will also be on view in another Philadelphia civic building in November: I'm in the Philadelphia Center for the Book's Little Lexicons exhibition at the Philadelphia Free Library's Central branch. The exhibition will be up from November 4th to January 13, 2017, and I couldn't be more thrilled. The Philadelphia Library is one of my favorite places in Philadelphia, and I am a regular. I especially love their Print and Picture collection and the exhibitions up in the Rare Books Collection. If you are from Philadelphia and you haven't been up there, you should go, stat. (Because Grip!)

And last but not at all least, my latest frog painting, What We Must Do, is in a show curated by the brilliant Susan Coote in Episcopal Academy's Crawford Gallery called Messages and American Dreams, which is up until November 16th, 2016. I'm delighted that Susan included this piece it: she's an amazing curator, and these frogs are all about the election, so it's wonderful to have them in this show.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Two new paintings: Visions and What we Must Do

I just put two new paintings on the website. The first one, Visions, is one that I started last fall before a brain injury and resultant vision problems stopped me working for a long time. There was a break in the middle of making this painting, but that worked out well. It's a complicated painting. The piece is about envisioning and vision, how we see ourselves and how we see painting.

The main text, which starts in the banner on the left, says, "If we presume it comes from what we need..." 

It continues across the top of the painting, "Maybe we should come to terms."

What I'm talking about here is my sense that there are vast areas of aesthetic pleasure and exploration that are left out of most art making. It's the same sensibility that motivates a lot of lowbrow work, but in my case I'm intent upon reconciling my sense of what is important in my daily life with what I value in painting. I'm trying to integrate my visual and psychological pleasures; my tendency to be an aesthetic omnivore and my desire to create a narrative complexity that honors lived experience.

These flowers are saying "It's us against the world" and "But, but...I like the world!" The first flower replies: "Oh Yeah."

(I hardly ever draw myself in paintings, except as a frog or bug.)

There are three big eyes in the painting. Each one is different. This one says, "The looked-at eye, imagined, adored. " The one on the left below is labeled, "The neutral, seeing eye, perceiving, confused." and the one on the right is the biological eye.

The turtle is making a proclamation. It says, "Perhaps there's more to be gained from a reconstruction of the natural than from the pseudo scientific narrative of modernity, which, let's face it, leaves everything out." The blue creature behind the turtle is a glyptodon, which is a wonderful prehistoric armadillo-like creature the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

I've made several small experimental drawings and paintings that I haven't put on the website, but I do post them, and pictures of work in progress, on instagram. You can follow me @ the_drawist. There are several new little paintings and drawings on instagram that began as test pieces: I've been trying out some new materials, thinking about making more pieces that lean more towards painting than drawing. 

The piece below, which is called, What We Must Do is almost entirely a painting. Only the eye of the large frog is drawn in ink. It's on a panel, and although I liked making it, I doubt I'll give up my pens any time soon.

(I mentioned above that I rarely do self portraits that are not frogs or bugs. In this piece I'm the frog on the bottom right.)

You can see details of my pieces on my website, and if you have any questions, ask away...

Friday, January 22, 2016

2015 Went Out With a Bang..On the Head

Samantha Simpson, Pumpkinhead and the Egg (detail), Watercolor, 2015 

My website shows hardly any work for 2015 and unfortunately there is a very good reason for that.  I spent the summer making a book, and there are a few paintings I haven't put up there yet, but the big problem was that I sustained a major brain injury. I concussed myself, badly, doing nothing very impressive. I was sweeping up some crap off the floor and when I stood up I hit my head hard on a counter. And that started a serious four month process of healing from my third concussion.

My first concussion was in college. Bike accident: passed out, woke up, wore a neck brace for a while, done. My second was five years ago: banged my head on some scaffolding, felt sick for about a week. This one was far, far worse. I damaged my brain. I severely knocked off my vision and sense of balance. There is a pretty good article online here that talks about someone else who had a major concussion with vestibular issues: my experience was like his in many ways, but it was also better and worse. I healed much faster than him because I did vestibular therapy, which works really well. My experience was worse than his because I also had severe vision problems. I couldn't read, much less drive. Looking at anything too difficult (text, a phone, a pattern, knitting) blew out my vision almost immediately. It would double and stick that way. The combination of the vision and the vestibular issues made it difficult for me to do very specific visual tasks. My eyes didn't track well together, so I couldn't handle stripes, patterns, looking back and forth or near and far quickly, or looking at too much fine detail. I'd get a migrane, then dizziness, then my vision would blur out, then the world would start tilting and I'd have to high tail it to a dark room. Vestibular issues mean that you offload your balance problems to your visual cortex, so that you can't handle too much visual stimulus without falling over, so I was very very dizzy a lot, and I hung out in dark closets like some crazy art professor Quasimodo when I was teaching in order to reset my brain between classes. I did manage to do a few sad paintings of bruised pumpkin heads, but that's about it. It was a pretty miserable fall. (You might notice that the image above is blurry. Yeah.)

But on Tuesday I got kicked out of vision therapy. I can read, I can work on screens, I'm cleared to drive and I can do my art (Stripey! With lots of detail! And patterns!) so I'm hard at work, and so happy about it. I'm back at work on a painting I started this summer, and it's great to be at it again. 

Saturday, January 02, 2016


This year I was in Philadelphia for New Years, which meant I had the great pleasure of photographing the mummers! It is one of my favorite ways to start the new year. Enjoy.

I will post new work soon, I hope. I had an injury that messed up my vision for a while, but I'm almost done recovering and can't wait to get back in the studio.