February - April 2000
For the best in art opportunities see
Art Opportunities Monthly
| GIOTTO di Bondone
Death and Ascension of St Francis (detail)
280 x 450 cm
Bardi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence
We asked readers how they as artists used computers,
either to make art or to help handle art-related business. The response was
so overwhelming that we're presenting our findings in two parts. This time,
we'll report on the business end of things. Next time, the artmaking.
Those who responded are enthusiastic about computers, even though many had been leery at first. For instance, San Francisco sculptor/installation artist Dan Pillers said, "For years I was resistant to computers altogether. I was afraid of learning the technology, and I had a hard time justifying buying something that was going to be outdated before I got it out of its box. But [now] I can't imagine not having a computer. As an artist who wants to compete in today's market, I find my computer to be invaluable." Some artists use their MACs or PCs only to write an occasional letter, but others are like Sue Clancy, a Norman OK painter, who said that about the only thing she doesn't do with her computer is "putting on my socks." In short, readers use their binary boxes for general art-business correspondence; creating, printing, and storing support materials; record keeping; maintaining mailing and other lists; designing and printing brochures, announcements, signs, and labels; finances; publicity; and even calculating the price of commissions, framing, or the art they are trying to sell. And they go into cyberspace to learn, teach, promote and market. Here, in more detail, is what they reported:
In the Office
Information creation and storage. Whether using sophisticated data base programs or simple word processing files, almost all said they keep lists of their work. Michele Theberge, a SF CA painter, has an "inventory of all my work, the size, media, date, shows it has been in, price, location, etc." and painter Mal Mori, Saratoga CA, has "a spread sheet which lists every piece of work painted, with number, date, title, size, and wholesale price as well as its location; if purchased, by whom." Printmaker Evan Lindquist of Jonesboro AR uses File Maker Pro to store the location of the more than 9,000 prints he has produced. Catherine Sobredo, a mixed-media artist from Santa Fe NM, categorizes "bodies of work by maintaining folders and files of my work so that I don't feel overwhelmed," and similarly categorizes art that she has scanned. One sculptor keeps a database of all of the suppliers and materials he has used over the last two years; to place an order or check availability, he just clicks on a name and his modem dials the phone. Ceramist Peter Sheremeta, San Jose CA, keeps his glaze recipes on his hard drive. Several artists keep both wholesale and retail price lists, ready to send to galleries or individual collectors.
Mailing lists. Those addresses and phone numbers are usually turned into mailing lists, which may also include dealers, critics, individual artists, art-related businesses, periodicals, curators, consultants, museums, and art schools. These lists. printed onto labels, are used for invitations to shows, open studios, even for personal newsletters, and they are done on anything from word processors (sometimes using mail merge) to dedicatedmailing list programs to highly customized database programs that can make a mailing to, say, East Coast collectors who have-or have not-bought green geometric abstracts during the past year.
Finances. Using such programs as Quicken, QuickBooks, MYOB, and customized database software, many artists record their expenses and income, whether to do their own bookkeeping and taxes, or in preparation for turning the records over to a pro. Respondents also use these programs for tracking and calculating orders, shipments, and payments; calculating sales tax; making and printing consignment inventory sheets or invoices; calculating shipping prices for shows; keeping a tickler file to show when payments are due from galleries or people who have bought work on the installment plan; making reports of income and expenses for any given period of time. One, pastelist Steven Gordon of Yountville CA, even used a spread sheet in an attempt to "more exactly determine the price" of his work based on it size. And, in order to prepare for a show, Lindquist enters the catalog numbers of the prints he is going to exhibit into his database, and out comes a list of every item that needs to be framed, showing the sizes for mats, frames, and glass along with an estimate for the cost of each piece and for the whole show.
Marketing. Since prospective buyers have to know about the existence of a piece of art before they can even think about purchasing it, many artists spend a lot of effort trying to make their work visible. Here are some of the ways our readers use their computer systems to go about that:
Sales materials and images. They design letterheads and logos to distinguish their business materials. They design and even print out business cards. Vallejo CA sculptor/furniture maker Guy Marsden says he makes business cards "with color images of my art and furniture. I print these 8-up-with different images-on a page of card stock and cut them out myself." Several artists create brochures to promote their work either to dealers or directly to the public. Printmaker Emily Duffy, El Sobrante CA, made an "order form/brochure of my linoleum block prints so I can mail them out to people on my mailing list. I'm hoping that will encourage sales even when I'm not selling my work at locations outside my studio." A growing number of artists design their own flyers, show announcements, and postcards, because, as Sobredo says, "you can save money and have more control over the final image." Patricia Tavenner, Oakland CA, reports that "I have been doing lots of books and brochures about my art, and this would be impossible in terms of time and money without desktop publishing." Several people use digital cameras to shoot their work and then make diskettes, Zip disks, or CDs, sometimes in slide show format. Julien Douglas of Napa CA prints out her pictures and sends them by good old ground mail, and others use their images for brochures, business cards or even stationery.
Proposals for commissions, shows, grants, etc. Most applications for residencies or grants require a written statement about why the applicant deserves to be chosen. Proposals for public art or other commissions often require detailed explanations, diagrams, models, renderings, and budgets. One sculptor uses a 3-D modeling program to make an almost realistic picture of how his proposed piece will look in place. Another sculptor figures out the costs of potential commissions by entering all of the needed material, labor, licenses, and insurance into a construction estimating program. If he gets the commission, his shopping list and much of his to-do list is ready to go.
Michael Starbow, in Benicia CA, was asked to design some stained-glass windows to replace the large clear panes in the entranceway of a church. Using a digital camera, he took shots of the interior and exterior, then downloaded them to PhotoShop on his Power Mac. Inspired in part by certain angles in the building, he developed a design. Then, using the ability of the program to create transparent overlays, he pasted it exactly into the inside and outside views of the window frames. He printed out the two views on a color inkjet printer, and showed them to the clients, who were duly impressed by what looked like photographs of the windows already in place. (The view from inside even showed the cars in the parking lot.) Bottom line: faster, cheaper, and more convincing than even top-notch architectural renderings.
Identification. Several artists make slide labels and print out slide lists and price lists. The best programs are those that allow the user to store the data and print lists of selected works from it. Artists also report making labels for the backs of framed works, and price/wall tags for shows. and signs for fairs, festivals, and open studios.
Public relations. Some respondents regularly write and send press releases about their upcoming shows, open studios, and other events. One keeps word processing templates of hers, along with thank-you notes, so that she can just plug in new information when it's time to act.
The day job and other non-artmaking pursuits. Several artists, such as painter/printmaker Judith Dunworth and photographer Ethel Mays, both from San Francisco, have taken advantage of their aptitude with computers to get higher paying jobs. A number of others use computers in their own businesses, not only for the support tasks, but as self-employed graphic designers, silkscreen designer/printers, illustrators, writers (several have published books-ranging from poetry to novels to scientific textbooks), neon sign makers, model makers, bookkeepers, financial administrators, investors, web site designers, consultants, etc. Kris Johnson-Michiels, Oakland CA, who, with her husband, does illustration and graphics says, "Since we started using computers, we have been able to work at home more and more. I would say that it has had a fairly profound effect on our lives."
Artists who teach make posters, graphs, charts, data-fill forms, teaching handouts, make requisitions for materials and supplies, and enter grades and absences. They create exams (Lindquist programed his database to select and sequence questions from a pool organized by topics and level, then print the exam sheets and an answer key), keep teaching records, and keep track of tools and supplies checked out by students.
Finally, because of the high cost of top-of-the-line gear, some artists band together to ease the per-user cost. For instance, photographers Rob Badger and Nita Winter of Marin City CA regularly meet with other artists to swap information and ideas about promotion. As part of this, they also share, for a small fee, their newly purchased high-end monitors and scanners. Badger says that their combination of equipment can produce a top-notch reproduction of art work for about 10-15% of the cost of a similar photo.
Artists have taken to the Internet with a vengeance. Marja-Liisa Iivonen,
a painter in Katrineholm, Sweden, said: "Although promotion, marketing and
searching for information on contests, juried exhibitions, and galleries takes
a lot of time from studio hours, it's fun and also a must-do thing." Not
everyone agreed that it was fun, but water colorist Leah Jakusovszky, San
Jose CA, says that she is "so dependent on email, the web, and my computer
in general I can't even begin to tell you what happens to my life when these
things don't work!" and other respondents expressed similar sentiments. Email
is quick and easy. Mixed-media artist David Alvey of Dallas TX, for instance,
use it regularly to keep in touch with colleagues all over the world. He says:
"with email I can be less formal and get to the heart of the issue." Palo
Alto-based book artist Jone Manoogian believes that its greatest asset is
"when you work with a group and need to get and receive information quickly."