Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Me and the 'M' Word

These are just Ones but they still make me nervous....
Exactly a year ago I wrote a pre-Fest post that I never finished and never published....

It was all about the 'M' word -- 'money' -- and how I just can't seem to wrap my head around it.

I joke that I'm allergic to money. I know people who are killing themselves to earn it, and others who are asshats because of it. Money makes me anxious, it keeps me awake at night. I hate thinking about it; it ties my stomach up in knots....

Yes, I get that money "makes the world go 'round" and all that. I may be silly but I do understand why it exists. And I do understand how ridiculous it is to pretend it's not important.

But dang. I wish it wasn't so necessary....

Now that the Fest season is looming again the 'M' word is uppermost on my mind. I'm forced to once again acknowledge that dollar sign, make tentative eye contact with it, awkwardly renew our strange little relationship and dance the uncomfortable dance of commerce. Because I have a business (if you can even call it that) Fest's seven busy weekends are essentially all about the Making of Money; there's no getting around it. And if I'm smart I'll figure out a way for the two of us to get the heck along. Learn those dance steps already. Take it to the next level....

Ideas for this year's products have been fleshed out, and now they need printing, packaging, framing. Sums are adding up quickly and I already have costs to recoup, more bills to pay.... I must sell my work in order to pay those bills. And then sell it some more so I can hopefully live frugally again for another year so I can do it all over again.

Fest -- aka The Minnesota Renaissance Festival -- is my primary gig now. I used to do other shows, but doing so took its toll, and now that I'm the age I am I find that all the travel and set-up drains me almost as much as the Meet-and-Greet. And although I can apparently act like an extrovert when necessary, the recovery time needed afterward is phenomenal, and I eventually discovered that Fest was about as much spotlight as I could take; the remainder of the year gave me barely enough time to bounce back.

But I couldn't give up art shows completely. Fest was my first, it's where I began. And I found that being somewhere where folks can find me, see me, meet me, talk with me, is somehow tremendously important to my sales (boom: my Catch22). I'd have thought just the opposite, frankly -- that I'd be my own worst enemy -- but my records show that I have far better sales when I'm in attendance and actively engaged than when I'm not. So it helps a LOT to 'gird my loins,' step out of my comfort zone, and make the most of every Fest moment, and I do what I can.

Even though Fest is seasonal and occurs for only seven weekends in the fall, it keeps my boat afloat from one year to the next. But just barely. And only if conditions are right. Throw in some bad weather (or a host of other unforeseen predicaments/situations) and the final numbers can be disastrous. It doesn't take much. Even an afternoon of Too Many Chatty Friends Crowding Out Too Few Buying Customers can send me over the money cliff....

I know I could do better. I'm just not sure how, exactly. I don't want to be That Artist who goes for everyone's wallet. I've been around artists like that, who can't bother to be nice until you show them the color of your cash.... I want those who visit my Fest shop to walk away with a good memory, even if they don't buy anything.

Well-meaning folks tell me that I need to 'take my business seriously' (I do, don't I??) and they offer me suggestions: Illustrate their e-story/children's book/graphic novel 'for the exposure.' Draw more birds of prey with 'something dead in their talons.' Create cartoony caricatures of impossibly-proportioned female superheroes, or draw manga/anime vampires, or otherwise fill-in-the-blank. Others tell me to suck it up already and sell my work as tattoo flash. Or design calendars, license my characters, do a Mary Engelbreit and create an arty empire!

The list goes on....

And I listen. I really do. All are sound ideas even if some of them give me the heebie-jeebies. Few of them interest me, though -- I want to draw what I want to draw.... Plus, the logistics of making their suggestions happen is all so weird and complicated to me. Tattoo flash? Calendar printing? Licensing?? None of those things just happen. They require something that I don't have. Money, for one thing. Connections, for another. And for the rest I really wouldn't know where to start.

Not only that but the seven weekends of Fest already feel like Big (Scary) Business to me. In addition to being around-the-clock work, they also mean having to step out of my comfort zone so dang far that I have to retreat to the rabbit hole immediately afterward. Plus, I get as much attention there as I could ever want in my entire life.

So it's my own fault that I'm not as successful as maybe I could be.

Imagining my art on Hot Topic t-shirts or in the pages of Faerie Magazine is both fun and frightening. And even the happy little fantasy of it in my head feels like too much attention. That Mary Engelbreit-like empire sounds terrifying, too. I can't help but equate it with being rich and famous, which to me is one of the Seven Levels of Hell.

I know I should be 'in it to win it.' Or if winning isn't my thing, I should at least run with intent. I have a business, after all; maximizing my profits should be my goal, right? But the money part isn't what's important to me about being an artist. Creating things that make people smile is. I just wish brightening a person's day could also pay an artist's bills....

It frequently frustrates me to be that person who can't seem to figure this art thing out, especially since I've been doing it forever and am still just as clueless. And it doesn't help that I'm surrounded by a host of creative folks who are winning the game. I know they're savvy and work HARD, yet in comparison they make it look like boom, boom, boom -- success! What does that tell me? That for all my decades of trying to do this thing, I still suck so badly at it that maybe I should just throw in the towel.

But I can't throw in the towel. I might not be a businessperson, but I am an artist. I love what I do! Especially when it brightens someone's day. When that happens, the feeling is inde-freakin'-scribable. It's as if my heart blew a gentle kiss and it came back full circle like a solid-gold boomerang at full speed to knock the wind out of me and fill me up again x 10. WHOOSH. I just want to do it all again -- wash, rinse, repeat.

That process -- idea, creation, share, surprise, smile -- defines my work and why I do it. Add money into the equation and it tips the scales negatively. Something doesn't work out right. Does that make sense? I can't explain it.... It's like I'm happiest when I'm creating art in secret, to be gifted to an unsuspecting soul who just needs a pick-me-up. I don't even need to see them receive it! I don't even need to know who they are. Just creating that art with the intention of sharing it is healing for me somehow; it fills my well, and I do it as much for myself as I do it with others in mind. Going on then to imagine that my creation will be just what that person needs when they need it most is satisfying to me. Almost like payment.


But in the Real World it's not at all like payment. And payment is important.

Maybe I just need the right someone who can take what I do and make it work for me, financially as well as spiritually. Maybe I just need a big-ass dose of Art Management, or a semester of Biz101, or simply some sense knocked into me.

Or perhaps I'm just an artist who fears success. Ouch.


I find that rereading this post kind of makes me like myself. Go figure.

And that's a surprise that I needed today.

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