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2015 and what’s ahead for Jen Dixon in 2016

Greetings! I have gone from being an almost obsessive (personal blog) blogger to a most infrequent long-form typist. This deterioration is the result of a few things: Twitter, depression, and a few major life changes. Dust has, inevitably, settled and you’ll be seeing more regular updates here both in the blog and in the portfolio pages.

2015 was perhaps the best and worst year for me professionally. I’ll explain. I sold a lot of work, both large and small, thanks to a great increase in exposure and hard work via social media avenues. I ended a relationship with one gallery, began (and ended) a relationship with another, had a very successful large, three-week, solo exhibition, followed closely by a well-trafficked Open Studios, great sales and conversations at the unique Cruel and Curious exhibition, and two additional exhibitions including a run (which is still going till the end of this month) at the National Trust in Boscastle.

“How tremendously successful and wonderful,” you might be thinking. And it has been. But… 2015 killed my creativity and led to deep professional depression. I barely painted or made anything creative in 2015 because the focus was on the business end of art, almost exclusively. I didn’t update my portfolio. Or Saatchi. Or get my sales site (minimally) launched until December. I was busy with dates, times, spreadsheets, appointments, sales, space planning, installations, tear-downs, contracts and left the art creation in the cold. I have vowed to myself that 2016 will be different. Here’s how.

Firstly, reclaim the title ARTIST. That’s what I am, and while the business of being an artist is woven into my chosen career, it is not to dominate as it did last year. I was terrible at achieving professional balance in 2015 – and I understand the psychological reasons, which is for my personal blog, not here – so, I am changing the way I operate this year. I am an artist. I need to make art.

Secondly, manage my exterior engagements and opportunities better. I intentionally have not sought another solo exhibition for 2016. I do not need to do one every year – that’s madness. I am doing Open Studios again [28 May – 5 June], but although the work involved is deceptively great for such an event, it is not all-consuming in the same way a solo exhibition is. I am interested in being a part of Cruel and Curious again, but that happens later in the year, so I feel I’m spreading the ‘public engagement’ load.

Thirdly, I am the best salesperson for my art. I have been included in two, very good galleries in Cornwall and have sold one – inexpensive – work through them. That’s after each had a selection of my paintings for – combined – a year and a half. Unacceptable. In the same amount of time, I sold thousands of pounds worth of my paintings, drawings and prints around the world. Direct sales is the way forward, as no one wants to sell like I want to sell. This is my living. I sell to pay rent, go to the dentist, eat, and buy materials to make more art. I don’t buy myself perfume, handbags, or go out to restaurants. I make art for living, and no one will ever sell my art with that in mind but me. So, no galleries this year; I can’t afford them.

Lastly, share the knowledge. I have a huge amount of teaching experience and have had two art book manuscripts started for years. Years. That changes now. I’ll get one written this year, possibly published. I’m also looking into becoming an online tutor with a specific site, and will have packaged, downloadable lessons on my own site as well. Private tuition will still happen in my studio, but growing my student base through online avenues and publications is the way forward.

In summary, 2015 was great and terrible, but that was largely down to me making it so. 2016 is building on all the tough stuff learned and moving very positively forward. Let’s go!

On preying on the vanity of artists

Having a nice looking website and a contact page means I get enquiries from businesses set up to make money off of artists. They are a plague out there and appear in other creative pursuits – say, writing – where they take on guises such as self/vanity publication and fee-charging anthologies. Let me make it clear: these people are not out there to help you develop your career; they are businesses. Businesses like to make money. Vanity* is the greatest motivator out there. It’s the basic desire to be recognised, revered, appreciated – known. We all fall prey to it from time to time and in varying degrees, but the key is to avoid businesses taking advantage of your desperation.

Sure, we all want to be in books, catalogues, on websites, in galleries, but what it takes to get into them is hard work. You must promote yourself. You need to do the legwork. Sure, I enter a few judged competitions (for a fee) here and there – and my business manager cringes every time I do – but the inspiration for this blog post came to my email inbox this morning. Let me share…

“Message: I’ve seen your work in your website and i [sic] found it very impressive.
I invite you to submit your work in “____” art book, volume ___. The book is distributed to major galleries and museums [_link to a list redacted_] and is sold in major wholesalers worldwide. If you have any questions, please contact me.”

I had a look. First, check for a fee. No fee? Be very, very suspicious. No one does a good deed like this for free. Find the catch. I did. So here is the response I wrote – but ultimately didn’t send, instead opting to write about it all here where someone might benefit from what I’m saying:

“Many thanks for your enquiry and interest in my work, however, I feel the burden of subsidising the book by requiring the artists themselves to purchase two copies of the volume – at an eyebrow-raising €170 total – is not an expense I’m willing to bear. While I understand there is no fee to enter, this in itself compounds the problem of unrealistic, naive expectations in non-professional artists of varying work quality looking for vanity publication.
If there is a change in your business model, feel free to contact me again at that time.”

You read that right. No fee, but – if chosen for inclusion – you must buy two books at a combined cost of €170. You can pay them €150 extra to have a second page in the book. This is vanity publishing disguised as ‘exposure’ for the artist. Sure, your work gets a page in a book. Sure it – according the the website’s word – goes to perhaps hundreds** of galleries, but if you pay to be in something, where is the quality control? A quick flick through the archived editions of the book show exactly what I expected to see: some quality works surrounded by – in my opinion – lots of amateur work. If that’s my assessment, what might a gallery owner think? In publishing, unsolicited manuscripts go into a ‘slush’ pile. This is where you may find a diamond in the rough, but mostly, the pile is garbage. I’m sure plenty of these books are appreciated by galleries – who doesn’t look through a shiny new catalogue when it arrives – but all the same, I fail to see the value***.

Respect yourself, your work, and do what it takes to get noticed. Paying the vanity businesses to include you in their ‘exposure’ projects will not benefit you. If anything, it may make you look desperate, and although many professional artists struggle, desperate is not a good look. Stay pro. Stay driven. If you’re good enough, you’ll make it. If not, at least you won’t have wasted money with the ‘exposure’ businesses.

* And sex too. Being ‘known’ is desirable… sexy. People fantasise about this stuff.
** The site says the print run is 6000. It says the book goes to galleries and wholesalers. If the average book (volumes are online digitally) is 400+ pages, that’s nearly 1000 of the 6000 run going to artists by requirement. They of course, let you buy more. Also, shipping is an additional €25 on top. Ouch.
*** The site does have a list of artists; this could be seen as valuable, but the artists have no links to websites or contact information.

Exciting news

Truly exciting news from this afternoon… I shook hands on securing a large (probably at least 20′ x 40′ room), three week, solo exhibition of my work in spring 2015. They were very impressed with my art as well as the range of pieces I offer. (I typically sell a range between £50 and £2000, up to £6000+.) I’m looking forward to bringing a big showing of my abstract work to the area.

There is a special Sunday afternoon party planned (wine and nibbles, casual) and perhaps several appearances (possibly workshops) by me over the exhibition weeks. I’ll have more details after the contract is signed.

I am one very smiley artist this afternoon.

Spreadsheets – I’m converted

I’ve recently relaunched the shop portion of this site. Data won’t populate its own fields by wishful thinking on my part, so I’ve had to come to terms with spreadsheets. Now, my business manager/best friend is a complete wizard at these things, but I knew I needed to grow a pair and face my fear of rows and columns once and for all.

I manage the day to day bits of my site – built it, update it, etc. – and if I want to have more time in the studio, I need to automate my admin processes as much as possible. Spreadsheets can help me do this, specifically .csv format documents for importing products into my store.

I have a mega-badass-spreadsheet-of-doom that I’ve been building (with help from the wizard guy) to properly, finally, inventory all of my artworks. This bad mammajamma is big and getting bigger, and includes the following columns: SKU, TITLE, STATUS, LOCATION, SUBLOCATION, JDA SHOP, YEAR, MEDIA, MEDIA EXTRA INFO, FINISHING, EDITION, SUPPORT DIMENSIONS, EXTERNAL DIMENSIONS, PRICE, PRESENTATION, COMMENTS.

That’s a lot of information, but all necessary for me to do business. There’s more data that could be useful, such as WEIGHT, but enough is enough for now. In fact, it might be useful to add BUYER to the columns, but that could also go into a customer database with a SKU item reference. Oh, gosh- I’m actually thinking about creating more spreadsheets! Send help!

I kid. The mega spreadsheet has been worth all the hours going into it. I even carry an updated copy of it on my iPad mini, right there with my digital portfolio. I have all the information at my fingertips. Very professional for meeting potential buyers or galleries, and keeps me from saying, “um, erm, can I get the information to you in an email later?”

Using the spreadsheet of doom to populate a smaller spreadsheet for shop import is easy. That requires a slightly different data structure specific to WooCommerce (my shop software) and those columns are (but not limited to): NAME, SKU, MANAGE STOCK, STOCK STATUS, STOCK, BACKORDER, PRICE, SALE PRICE, SHORT DESCRIPTION, DESCRIPTION, FEATURED, CATEGORIES, IMAGE. Those are what’s called Importable Attributes and there are about another dozen I could use if needed. I save this spreadsheet as a .csv file, go to my shop software, import, and it magically ticks boxes and fills in information. It imports as many product rows as I throw at it in seconds and saves me hours of hand inputting data.

The reason I’m telling you all about this is simple: You need this level of organisation in your art business too if you want to make the best use of your time. Sure, it initially takes you away from slinging paint for hours/days/weeks, but having a master database/spreadsheet of your work is priceless and flexible. I now have not only my business cards on me at all times (a habit I started a couple years ago), but I also can tell you anything about any sketch, print, or painting I have created in the past five years or so. Wanna know how serious I am about making it in this crazy business? Let me show you a spreadsheet and you’ll get a good idea… 😉

Mount happens

I’ve been mount cutting and wrapping work for an upcoming summer/moving sale on this site. I’m putting the final touches on the shop section, and it’s down to the un-fun part where I figure out all the shipping tables and install the secure payment gateway. I’m hoping to have the shop area live today, but if the tweaks take longer, I’ll launch by the end of the weekend. And there will be crazy good prices, so if you’ve wanted to buy one of my smaller works in a mount (ready to frame in standard sizes), then you’ll not want to miss this chance to begin collecting my work.

Here’s what I mounted this morning: (there will be far more than this in the sale)
Mounting works like mad

I have a strange relationship with cutting mounts… I’m not great at math (I went to art school partly to avoid “real subjects”) and cutting mounts is a labour intensive process. My art on mount board is tricky to prepare for framing as each piece needs held in place by strips of board inside the mount itself. So that means, each mounted mount work is three layers of board. Sounds confusing, but it makes sense, I promise. Anyway, so that creates quite a process, but it’s worth it. As you can see, that final presentation step makes all the difference. It gives the professional polish the work deserves.