The Art of Gambling
Life is full of gambles, and being an artist has to be one of the biggest. Sometimes you have to bluff, call and raise the stakes and see where you get. October was one of those months. This is a story about the art of gambling.
The biggest gamble was taking on a silkscreen job without the luxury of a professional print ship setup. I created a makeshift dark room, exposure room and sourced materials from across the US on a shoestring budget. While relying on some rusty screenprint skills that have largely been laying dormant for a few years, I made a bunch of amateur mistakes along the way. Luckily, the biggest loss was time, but I still had some on my side, so it just led to a hum of frustration along the entire process.
I pulled through though, and was able to parlay an unexpected production job into an opportunity to buy the press, setups, and inks for future projects. Whether this is ‘betting on yourself’, ‘letting it ride’ or just wholly stupid, never look down at an opportunity. With the job successfully finished, I took the profits and invested them further in myself – buying up materials for a new series of prints and longtime projects. The goal? A holiday event with sellable items to end the year with a bang.
The next couple of weeks were an absolute blur. I barely left the studio, ate or did much than obsess, plan and work on my goals. Every day a new package of materials would arrive. Boxes of beach towels, pens, inks, paper and packaging started piling up in the middle of my studio. I created comprehensive lists I hung throughout the studio listing every step of every project I now had to do. Although oddly obsessive, the lists were absolutely necessary to pulling off this entire project. Not only would not accomplishing things be a huge failure, there was actual money to be lost. Not only in lost sales, but having money tied up in materials. The pressure was on.
I progressed through the list, step by step. Some days lots of progress was made, others were stymied by increasing scale, teaching classes or a simply slow period of work. I kept on the list, and constantly felt a day or two ahead of things. More and more materials arrived, more and more items were checked off my list. The gamble seemed to be paying off.
Most of the projects are reasonable in scope – some drawings, prints, even t-shirts. Easy to digest morsels of sellable art that I find interesting or fun. Another project, my retooled Kansas City Magic Shrinks, could become the big breadwinner. Other projects, which appeal to my own artistic interests, may not go over so well.
Another project is the the intersection of my love of infomercials, Catholic relics, gross consumerism, and the ongoing Republican grift. When describing the project to my sister on the phone, I told her I’m making 30 of these, but only need to sell six to break even. I then told her I expect to sell one. There was a silence on here end of the line. I followed up with ‘I’m just spending money that I made from this job’. There was relief on her end, consternation at the small half truth from my end. ‘Just’ does a lot of heavy lifting sometimes. I always apologize for using it in my classes. In this case, there’s a bit more money involved than just the profits from one job.
Everybody always thinks being an artist is easy and a life without worry or consequence. Obviously, this is completely wrong. Nobody ever considers just how much goes into producing a show. Press releases need to be written, webpages made and updated. Show images need to be created, emails and press have to be sent. Plans for crowds, time expended, and watching the monetary runway burn away are all very real realities. The other end of it all is never knowing what will happen. Will anybody ever reply? Does the press care? Will people show up?
Ultimately, this is the gamble. There are no guarantees. Even the best laid plans can be derailed by weather, timing or bad luck. I always believe the artist should only have to worry about creating the art, the rest is out of their hands. This may be a stupid way to look at things, but in the end, its the art that is important. Sales are important, and can make or break things in so many different ways over time.
Letting it Ride
Largely, the past three years have been pretty shit years. I haven’t had a real painting show since November 2019. Unleashing a couple months of absolutely intense work feels great. The prospects of getting a wild return on those efforts remains to be seen. There’s always times in the process where your mind wanders to what may be. Scraps of paper are scribbled on. Little notes of numbers, high and low estimates of sales, start to flesh out the vague realities of what can or may or won’t happen. Sometimes, in a moment of weakness, in the quiet hours past 2am, searches for flights to faraway lands happens. Jackpots are dreams, and the hope is that sometimes they do come true.
I’m hoping November and December line up the way I’m hoping they do. I’m gambling on it. My official Kansas City holiday art show opens on November 26th. If you’re in Kansas City, you should check it out.
This month I spent a lot of time revisiting Neil Diamonds’s 12 Songs and Home Before Dark albums. They both hold up tremendously: