Snake Oil

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’ve been working for some time on a series of illustrations to be produced as prints. It’s an avenue that I’ve been exploring as a way out of the drudgery of ‘jobbing’ illustration. This is how I’ve been feeling for more than a year, now. Working for those who either lack the imagination to extrapolate from a simple sketch or who see artists’ skills as merely a way to realise their own ideas has palled. None of this is their fault, since they’re paying for a start and I’ve colluded in this state of affairs myself [I’ve willingly bought the snake oil salesman’s promises] but it is a strong indication that I’m really in the wrong end of the business.  

Producing my own art for my own products is also fun, which is the bit that has been missing, of late. All art has to have a LARGE amount of the artist invested in it, if it is to be any good. If it doesn’t, it enters the world still-born; a lifeless conjoined monster of conflicting personas, likely to be shunned. You can’t, as many people seem to believe, micro-manage an artist’s work and expect it to shine. This is absolutely the very worst aspect of being an illustrator. I suspect that the same applies for designers and advertising creatives, copywriters or any ‘applied artist’.
 
So, this way if the idea fails, then it will have failed on my terms -because of my imagination, my drawing skill, my own efforts. So be it. If the idea succeeds, then I’ll reap the benefit -on levels much more important than the mere accrual of money. For me, illustration has been like a bottle of balm sold by the credible-sounding man in the white suit -just buy this and all your art troubles will be over! Become an illustrator and be an artist who actually gets paid! Strangle that snake oil salesman who lives inside your head -he’s full of empty bottles and unkeepable promises. Here’s my advice to any young artist thinking of becoming an illustrator: Think very very carefully -do you really want to make your much-loved hobby into your job? Perhaps, before embarking on your career, read ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ by Michael E. Gerber, then at least you might approach it with a plan in mind.
 
This wasn’t meant to depress -I’m excited about my art these days -but only art that is truly, or even largely, mine. I get more joy out of a small sale from my little still life studies than I ever did from a big illustration project because I know that a beautiful, personal connection has been made and that the love invested in the small painting generated love in return. As Paul McCartney wrote; In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Not Quite All Washed-up Yet…

I received a communiqué [well -a comment] from somebody who asked why I’d stopped posting to this blog recently. ‘Tis true -I have only posted seven times in the whole of this year.

To Anonymous.
The reasons for my lethargy were that I thought no-one was reading this stuff, for a start; so that’s one reason! It’s truly gratifying when I discover that someone is listening to my outpourings -especially when the comments are as cheering as yours. Thank you.

More importantly though, I’ve been through some challenging times, shall we say, along with many. First, a sudden and dramatic fall-off in editorial illustration work forced me to rethink how I should be directing my efforts; and really about how I should be living my life. What’s true is that I had become increasingly dissatisfied with life as a jobbing illustrator and there are several strands to this: The constant but fruitless promotional efforts [I had a database of well over a thousand two hundred names that sat in my computer ever accusing me of not contacting them].
The work that I really enjoyed ; illustrating for the Irish Times Business on Friday section was cut and I was left with one last editor who had the authority and desire to buy in my illustrations. However, the editorial approach was too heavy-handed for me and I gave it up. The only ‘work’ I enjoyed doing was sketching and posting them up on Creative Ireland!
The reality is; the problem has been mostly me. I don’t like being told what to draw or paint. Sure, most people who dislike their jobs just turn up at their workplaces and do their daily duties but the whole point of striving to be an artist is that you mustn’t compromise your soul and that’s what I was doing. I’ve been involved in too many projects where some cardboard-brained pillock has taken over and ruined a good idea. Furthermore, I’m brutal at negotiations and almost always short-change myself. The one piece of advice that I can offer to those wishing to make a profession of their art is: Don’t make your hobby into your job as I did. A good artist is an amateur in the real sense of the word. If money comes in as a result of my artistic endeavours, that’s great -it’ll allow me more latitude for art.
The upshot of all this navel-gazing is that I started teaching painting in my studio. That’s my day job. I turn up to work four times a week on two days and earn my wages. You can take a gander at my Art Classes Ireland site, if you like. In fact, teaching ticks many of the boxes for me:
  • Time. I work 12 hours a week -the rest of the week is mine, to do as I please. That includes the following: Painting my own compositions; taking on an illustration project from decent and respectful clients; staring out the window of a favourite café; playing the fiddle; doing raised-leg farts; organising paintings for exhibitions; thinking; farting while jumping up in the air and clicking my heels; catching up on my neglected blog[s]; meeting colleagues in cafés -and jointly staring out of the windows.
  • I meet great people -my students come to me because they like my work, so they want to be here.
  • I now know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing on two days of the week -that hasn’t happened for the last fifteen years. I’m the last person who should be left to organise my own week!
  • Choice. At long last I feel that it’s an easier prospect to reject offers of work by clients who I know won’t suit me.

To finish; currently I feel about as happy as I could be. I’m painting for myself. I’m not so pressured that I snap at my family. Sure, I don’t have much money but I have abundant other riches. I’m awash in a sea of love rather than swamped in the corrosive bilge-water of commerce.

Thanks for asking. How are you?

Bearding Michael O’Doherty

I’ve just read Marketing Magazine and saw the reference to Michael O’Doherty’s Sunday Times interview. I didn’t read the original article unfortunately. O’Doherty is quoted as saying that the one thing he’d change in Irish tax system is the artists’ exemption. “Seriously”, he’s quoted a saying, “why is it that someone who writes a crap book doesn’t have to pay tax, simply because they have a beard, whereas a team of well-groomed people who produce a brilliant magazine, do?”.
I do suppose that the man was joking [although it does start with the word ‘seriously’] or else that quote would win the Double Take accolade for being, witless, peevish and ignorant all at once. I do understand that people who pay tax regularly may feel aggrieved that a whole section of the workforce seems to be treated favourably [including myself; I’m a registered artist under the exemption scheme although I do pay tax on some work]. O’Doherty’s glib comments aside, it’s worth examining the system as it stands. First, the scheme for the much greater part, covers people whose income would not rise to the level where it would be taxed, anyway. [There was talk of capping the scheme: Here’s a quote from Visual Artists Ireland’s report on how the scheme has been adjusted: “The scheme therefore does not represent a cap of €250,000 on the artists exemption scheme but rather a cap on the percentage of total income that can be exempted from tax which applies to those who earn over €250,000. High earning artists whose total income is comprised of up to 50% of creative earnings and 50% of non creative earnings (from performing or merchandising for example) will not be effected by the new proposals no matter how much they earn. This is a significant difference to the implementation of a straight cap that was initially reported.” The likes of U2 are always thrown into the ring as an example of how this system is unfair but anyone working at that level of income has the motivation and resources to move their taxable status anywhere around the world.]
Art should be different from commerce; it shouldn’t follow the same rules -ie. produce at best cost -then sell for best price. Each artistic endeavour is only ready when it’s ready. Inordinate amounts of time and effort and research may go into a single production which couldn’t be charged for with at any reasonable hope that costs may be recouped. Paintings stay on easels for months or even years being re-worked, sculptures remain unfinished, plays undergo constant rewrites, all because it’s about a process which culminates in a finished unique work. It’s all about the endeavour and not about the pay-off which for the large part will never come. If the bearded artist’s book is crap, there’s a good chance it won’t sell; however, if the bearded artist’s book is brilliant, there’s still a good chance it won’t sell. In most cases, Beardy has to continue working in the day job -and pay tax.
Artists, live in the hope that one day, the fruits of their creativity will be appreciated enough to provide an income, or even just appreciated. The Irish tax system allows artists some hope of remaining as artists. Now imagine Michael O’Doherty of VIP, producing magazines month after month for years on his own before his magazine is recognised for its brilliance, merely because he felt inspired, thought it was important and he needed to put it out? Then, after a period of modest success, it falls out of favour with the public who have moved onto something else, with no other reason than the public is fickle. Most artists produce work for long periods of their lives without ever earning a living from it.
Further to all that, this visionary system attracts foreign talent that combines with our own, hopefully creating an environment that increases the cultural capital and therefore, the international profile of this country. We have to compete, culturally, with countries that plundered many of their treasures from defeated peoples during imperial wars. In comparison, I prefer the way we’re doing it. Under this system, Irish-born artists gain by having outside influences arriving at their doorstep, rather than having to leave these shores to seek them out. The fact that there are a few extraordinary and lucky characters that have risen to stratospheric levels of income is just the price we have to pay for this generally excellent scheme. And you may even find that they pay a certain amount of tax anyway.
All this is true, provided that art means something to you, of course. If all you really appreciate is superficial splendour and the trappings of financial success, then I could see your point.
Personally, I find that since the cabal of recent governments and business have made such a hames of the economy during the credit bubble, we need authenticity and creativity more and more. It’s through art that we can transcend the dreary repetition of day-to-day living and through creativity that we can control something in our lives. In other words, art is vital.
Being shown the gracious interiors of celebrities’ cribs and the revelry of the well-heeled month after month was always a somewhat vapid proposition and now seems somehow matted with irony and just a little embarrassing.
Finally; what’s wrong with beards anyway?

Turas go Chill Rialaig arís


I’ve been kindly invited to take a residency at the Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat in beautiful west Kerry. It’ll be this time next year but I’m already looking forward to it. It has to be one of the remotest spots in Ireland, with a hamlet of ancient cottages clinging to the side of a cliff, refurbished by Noelle Campbell-Sharpe and the Cill Rialaig Board [The hamlet, that is; not the side of the cliff]. I spent a splendid week down there in December 2002 with some other members of the IGI painting and exploring new artistic techniques -for keeping warm! Note to self: Remember to bring camera, flute [for sessions] and woolly socks [for flute]. The photograph was taken by illustrator Brian Gallagher [also taking a residency].