Blue Motif, Rockport, Massachusetts.
I think I will reminisce a little tonight. Hopefully it will be informative. I was speaking to a woman tonight who is selling lots of very inexpensive paintings. Her business model is to make small pictures and keep her costs low enough that everybody can afford to buy her art, and everybody does. I used to do that, I said. I don't think she knew that.
In 1983 I opened my first tiny art gallery in Rockport. Rockport was an old art colony on the water north of Boston. There were many artist owned galleries there and had been for many years. I would suppose their were about thirty then, and many more artists lived in town but didn't have commercial galleries. I split the rent on a tiny shop with a glassblower and her boyfriend. They made those little glass animals, what they did was actually called lampworking.
Laura in the play "The Glass Menagerie" collected them. My partners had done years of traveling from outdoor show to outdoor show in a big van and were hippie-gypsy's. When they turned on that big oxygen fed torch it made a lot of noise and lots of people came to watch and buy.
That meant traffic flow. we were on a very busy tourist street, about 10,000 people a day were visiting Bearskin Neck on a summer weekend. We saw a whole lot of em. I had the back half of the tiny shop. I painted it and built myself a little workbench-artists station into a nook in the wall. My whole operation was perhaps six feet square. I had a couple of sets of track lights and a stool to sit on. I could open my French easel up in my little work area and sit and paint all day as the people came and went. Often I would paint outside in the morning and watch the shop from after lunch till ten or eleven at night. As long as there were people on the street we were open, sometimes after midnight.
I made nothing but 8 by10's. I bought boxes of these little mass produced frames with horrid little linen liners chopped at the corners. About a quarter of the frames were damaged right out of the box, but they were so cheap it seemed worth it. I think one of my favorites was an 11 dollar unit. There were no mass produced closed corner frames then. I could hang quite a few on the walls of my tiny space.
I sold my paintings for 85 to 125 dollars a piece. Money bought a little more then, but that is still really, really cheap. I sold them like crazy. I think I sold about 130 that year. I didn't make very much compared to what most folks expect to live on, but I lived real cheap. I had a 300 dollar a month apartment next to the shop and I fixed my shoes with duct tape. I had no car, and could walk to the grocery store or hardware store.
The gallery was set up using the glassblowers tax number and she signed the lease naming us Earth and Fire galleries. I guess she thought that was appropriate for a business that used a torch on sand. I thought it was tacky, but since we didn't have a sign, it wasn't well known that that was our name. It was dated even then.
There was a payphone in the gallery, hanging on the wall. I guess the landlord had had problems with tenants running up phone bills and leaving. We seldom used it, and if someone wanted to buy a painting with a credit card, we had a grinder affair that impressed the information from their credit card onto a little stack of carbon paper and duplicate receipts. Once I had that done, I would run to a friends shop down the street and use their phone to call in the sale and get an approval number from the nice folks at MasterCard. I took the receipts to the bank myself, it wasn't till years later that the electronic gizmos that batch out your sales automatically to the bank appeared.
I remember sweating out whether I should charge 95 dollars or 115 dollars for a painting, and then changing the price tag the next day, afraid I was asking too much. People wanted them cheaper still of course. They would make lowball offers and always want a better deal. Usually I went for the cash. I always needed groceries or paint.
We had as boom box playing old Dylan most of the time and being in a beach town all summer was great. I talked to about a zillion people a week and that was interesting too. The little business actually worked, I sold enough painting to live very simply and I was living by my art. I had already done that for a few years then, but this was the first time I had a steady cash flow and and knew I had found a way to make a living painting. I was about 30 at this time and had been painting full time about ten years. I had atelier training behind me, which was scarce in those days, so I had some chops, and that helped a lot. I was well enough skilled to do paintings of a quality that people would buy.
I did almost none of the paintings from photographs, I started stuff outside and finished inside, or I made up seascapes, ( I did lots of those) and I worked in both an old timey Dutch style and impressionism. It really was a great training experience to actually paint to earn my supper. If I didn't sell, I didn't eat. That makes you very earnest in your painting, you want to make them as well as you can and get food!