I made a website. I am very pleased with it. It's taken me weeks, in a slow, creaking-together-in-my-head sort of way, coming back to the graphics every so often and poking them a bit, trying to work out what on earth to do with the background gradient, having small ideas for the galleries. Then last week I sat down with the code and cranked the whole thing out in three days. This involved getting no sleep at all on Thursday.
For months I've been saying things along the lines of, "I cannot wait until earthskyart.com is online, and I have shiny new gallery software and do not have to create new html pages every time I want to add an artwork!" The observant among you will notice that earthskyart.com is online, and the gallery pages are still all hand-coded. The thing is that I spent ages looking at gallery software. Gallery is not customisable enough; none of the Lightboxes or Lightwindows are suitable. I looked at Drupal and Silverstripe, but Drupal isn't optimised for galleries and Silverstripe uses Lightwindow. I need a gallery that has the ability to display multiple images on a page, and as much blurb as I like. I don't want to be restricted to a single image per artwork and one-line caption.
It would be awesome to not have to create new pages for each artwork, but if I want a page on each artwork, I may just have to suck it up. The conclusion I've come to is that my needs are specific enough that unless I can afford to commission my own CMS, I am better off doing the cut-and-paste donkey work. (Although thanks to the magical wisdom of Denny, I am being initiated in the mysteries of SSIs, which will help a lot.) But having a gallery that auto-generates "next" and "previous" buttons on each page and lets you tunnel through the pages as well as click through from the gallery would be awesome. I did encounter http://www.zenphoto.org/ on Saturday, which might be worth investigating. Now that it's online there is nothing to stop me tinkering with it, in theory - although in practice, I simply do not have time and will just have to make do.
But I have a website, and now it's done and not perfect, but Denny has said to me several times that I am spending more time than I can afford on this, and if I were budgeting to pay someone else I would be much less inclined towards perfectionism. And it's good enough to send to people. And I have shiny, shiny new business cards with the url on. Look!
I also have shiny shiny greetings cards, but I didn't sleep on Thursday night and therefore forgot to pick them up from the post office depot on Friday, so I didn't have them with me for the Angel Art Market today.
Which was, of course, what all this was in aid of.
Well, I did my first art fair. I can add it to my CV. Apart from that, the day really was of no benefit whatsoever. It cost me an awful lot of work, £26 in cab fares, not to mention money spent on promotional materials (although those will keep), and it gained me nothing. I didn't sell anything. This wasn't really surprising, because no-one else sold anything either. It appeared to be normal, in fact, not to sell anything. No-one took any of my business cards, except for the other artists, who were very impressed by my ability to sell any paintings whatsoever through the magical medium of the internet. I possibly have a website job creating an art portfolio for one of the other artists, if she emails me, which is unlikely. In short, the only thing I got out of it was networking with artists who are less successful than me.
It was very strange. I'd always assumed that the world of art fairs and art markets was prestigious and high-powered, and I'm beginning to understand that actually people spend all weekend sitting by a stall and if they sell one thing they're lucky. It's a slow, low-profit margin world for people with too much time on their hands and independent sources of income. This is not how I'm used to doing things. Possibly I need to try other fairs - the annual events rather than the regular ones. But they're expensive. £400 is not unusual for a day's stall hire. I just can't afford that.
I can't decide whether to give it another go or not. The paintings are all still at Denny's, because the cab from his place to Angel was much cheaper than a cab from mine to Angel. So if I was going to do it again, doing it before I take the paintings home would seem sensible. Also, it's possible to do it both days of the weekend and leave your stall up over night, which halves the amount of setting up/taking down work you have to do (and the amount of cabfare you have to pay) for how much exposure you get. So if I was going to do it again, I'd do it in the next month, for both days of the weekend. I reckon it's worth one more try, but to be honest I do not see much mileage in this avenue. Which is a shame.
There's an annual art and design fair this October - with very expensive stalls - also by Candid Arts, so I'm going to call first thing in the morning and see if I can work it. I can't afford to hire a stall, but if I could volunteer (as I did today) then I might have more luck there. Apparently it's busier. And all the promotional work I've already done will continue to be useful, so it hasn't been a total loss.
It's odd, though. I haven't sold a painting all year, apart from one small thing through Etsy - my art's been in the Pembury for nine months with no interest. I don't have anywhere new to exhibit my paintings yet and I'm probably going to have to spend a couple of days going round cafes and restaurants and galleries in town seeing if anywhere is interested. I need a print portfolio really, and that's not going to be cheap to put together. But in general, I am most optimistic about selling things online. I have a list of places to sign up to, now, in addition to Etsy - Pinkdoodle, Dawanda, All Trade Art, Artist Rising, Red Bubble, Artist Portfolio, Visual for Business, Sexy Art Gallery. I have ideas for erotic art projects (and a couple of promising commercial leads), and I'm planning a Wheel of the Year pagan greetings card/prints set with cards for each of the eight festivals which I can then try and sell through the pagan community. I'm going to be looking up interior designers and sending them my portfolio and trying to get contracts doing series of paintings for commercial premises, because there is REAL money in that and I'm not proud when it comes to making bland or trendy art, it's still more fun than temping. So, you know, I have lots of options and ideas and I've not given up hope.
But ... I've been working harder this last month than I have in a very long time. I haven't stopped since I moved. I've been juggling two careers and not dropping any of the balls; I've been crossing things off my long-term to do list; I'm motivated and disciplined and productive. But ... I'm very, very poor. I'm not eating properly, partly because my appetite's been fucked ever since I switched contraceptive pill in May, but mostly because I'm living on £20 a week after rent and half of that goes on Oyster. My rent was late last month because the standing order bounced first time round, and I couldn't afford the £40 fine for that any more than I could afford the £60 parking ticket we got when I moved. I'm holding it together - just - and Denny is very patiently loaning me cash when I need it and paying for me to go out and eat and drink the rest of the time, but god, I'm sick of being poor, and I've spent the last week working on my art website, which of course was unpaid work, and I was really hoping that it would pay off and I'd sell something today, if only so I could cover my own expenses. Selling a big painting would have made this month a lot easier; selling a little one would have made the day seem less of a waste. As it is, I'm exhausted and out of pocket with nothing to show for it but "experience". I'm not gutted - I knew this was likely - and I'm trying to look forward and be optimistic and stuff. I'm not demoralised. But I'm very, very tired, and it would be lovely if the myth I was brought up with were true, that if you work hard enough money will sort itself out. I am working harder than I ever have, far harder than I did at uni, and I am much, much poorer.
At some point soon, I will put the art down for a few months, get my design portfolio online and put my nose to the freelance grindstone. Soon, my credit will run out and I will have to stop chasing rainbows and get on with earning hard cash. But I have so many ideas for my art, so much enthusiasm and ambition, so much energy and inspiration. I am desperate, desperate to have some serious painting time soon. I do not want art to be a hobby. I don't want to squeeze it in around the edges. I want to be able to work at it, really work at it, get up in the morning and do it all day. And maybe, just maybe, if I have a solid online presence and a strong portfolio and I do art fairs and shows, maybe I will sell something, and then I will be able to justify painting more things to sell.
I'm not quite ready to give up. I can live on pasta for a little longer yet. But not much longer.