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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!

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.

In seeking representation

My first promotional mail shot is landing on gallery director desks around Cornwall today. I’ve had two, nice email responses so far, both admiring my work but having no room on their rosters for an additional artist on their walls. This isn’t disheartening, as the responses came before lunchtime, meaning that the handwritten envelopes did their jobs in grabbing attention. That’s my free tip: hand address envelopes. Back when I worked as a pre-press technician for a giant printing company (direct mail/junk mail), it was well known that handwriting fonts often got the greatest open rate for campaigns. If your career is important to you, make the contents of your envelope professional, but hand write that mailing address. It works. (Note to self: install a tip jar on this blog…)

I’ve also contacted – with separate, unique correspondence – a gallery I’ve been casually courting for over a year. (They’ve got some big names in there. I want to be one of them.) They like my work, and have said they’d like to see my studio, but it’s been awhile since we’ve been in touch. If nothing else, I’m sure I must stand out in my determination.

Since mid-February, I’ve been ramping up my promotional/professional activities and it’s been paying off. I’ve sold more prints, have sold my most expensive painting to date, and am getting some good social media responses. Knowing about and how to use these tools means squat unless you actually use them, and I can tell you now, I’m not even warmed up. 😉

New work going up on Art Finder

Back a month or two ago, I put some of my paintings up on an online gallery/sales site called Art Finder. I got some buzz, was featured in one of their email newsletters, and have been favourited quite a few times for my work. It was nice, but I wasn’t optimistic in thinking anything might sell through (yet another) online art site… That changed last night! I’m pleased to report that I sold one of my favourite small paintings of 2013, Feel Something. It’s now on its way to a wall in London.

In light of this sale, I’m adding more works to my Art Finder portfolio. Although I have to give them a 30+% cut of my sales, it’s better to move my work than to have boxes of wonderful art gathering dust. All in all, I’m a happy bunny.

[Update: I am no longer on Artfinder.]