Saturday, March 14, 2015

It's Been A Long Time Coming...

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is...

As usual it has been way too long since my last post. Another long winter is winding down here on Cape Cod and I am looking forward to another great selling season. I haven't really kept you all in the loop as to how I am doing with my quest to finally make a living as an artist, so let me fill you in...

When I last left you, I was tending bar at a great little restaurant on the Cape, It gave me the flexibility and time that I needed to work on my art while making money bar tending to pay the bills. I was able to paint some commission works and sell some prints on the side. It wasn't the perfect situation, but it wasn't too bad. All good things, however, must come to an end so they say, and the great little bar is no longer there. I was sad that it had happened, but thought I may get a chance to paint all winter. Although it made me nervous, I was also kind of excited to be able to do it. It ended up that I was only unemployed for about a week. The fear of unemployment and the inability to pay my bills was always lurking beneath the surface. A job offer came in at one of the busiest places in town and I accepted it. Once again, this job quickly pushed my artwork aside. My hours suddenly crept up and the fatigue of overwork and the irregular hours of bar tending took over. The desire was there, the time and energy to do it was not. After a few months I quit... well tried to anyway. The management and I reached a compromise, I became the part-time day bar tender. My schedule was mid week; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday days. Not quite bankers hours, but hours I could work with. Because of the amount of business in this place I could pay my bills with only three shifts! This not only gave me four days to focus on my art, but FOUR DAYS IN A ROW. 

Paying my bills was one thing. But, paying for the little things in life was "a whole-nother thing". I needed to find a way to add to my income, using my art to do it was the most logical choice. For a while I had been painting American flags on shipping palettes. I would sell them here and there via Facebook and through word of mouth. I had an almost unlimited supply of palettes and I was using some cans of house paint that I had lying around to paint them, so there was virtually no over head. I looked around for a venue to sell them through and found, of all places, a flea market. There was almost no cost to me for the product and the flea market only charged $25 a day. I loaded up the truck and headed out to sell. They were a hit. My first day of selling them I made more than a week of bar tending. But, I needed to make more to sell next week. Two days of selling and I was almost out of product. Now my week consisted of two days of painting, two days of selling, and three days of bar tending. It was a lot of work, but worth it.

 The flags sold well until the 4th of July. Two things happened. First; July 4th. Apparently flag season ends on the Fourth. Everyone bought them to hang on their house or in their gardens as decoration for the fourth of July. Once the Fourth was over however, so was their patriotism. The other factor was that the tourist season was in full swing. Apparently you can't fit a flag painted on a palette in your suitcase. Flag sales tapered off and I needed another product to sell. I spent one day sitting at the flea market in the sun with people smiling and looking at my product, saying wonderful things about them, but not a soul bought one. It was a beautiful day and I got a great tan, but didn't make a dime. In fact I was out the $25 for a day at the flea market, the cost of gas and my lunch. As I sat there thinking about it all I noticed a vintage clothing booth across the aisle from me. Hanging from the end of one of the racks of clothes was an old belt with nautical shipping flags. I'm not sure how I knew them, but I could read that it was just the alphabet A-Z embroidered on the belt. I noticed it, thought nothing of it, and moved on with what was now just an afternoon of tanning myself.

A few minutes later, a family walked by. They smiled and chatted about my palette flags. The youngest child in the group loved them and asked if they could buy one, his father said," No son. It won't fit in the car when we pack to go home at the end of the week." and they moved to the next booth... the vintage clothing booth with the shipping flag belt hanging on the end of the rack. The youngest saw the belt, loved it, and asked what the symbols were. The Dad knew, but didn't know what each letter was. the kid loved it and they bought the belt for him. I was just an uninvolved bystander watching it happen, not even really thinking about it...  And then the child said," I wonder what it says. .. Wouldn't it be cool to have one that says my name?"

That's when the idea came to me!

I took four inch canvasses and started painting nautical signal flags on them. I sold them for $5 a piece. Most people would spell their kids name or their last name. Brides who were planning nautical themed weddings, bought the names of their entire wedding parties. I would paint for ten or twelve hours a day on each of my painting days and I still couldn't paint enough. I had to bring my paints and canvasses with me so that I could paint more as I ran out of letters. In the two days that I would sell, I'd make more than twice what I made in my three days of tending bar. My problem was that I couldn't keep up with demand, because of my bar tending job, but I couldn't quit my bar tending job because the selling season was going to end come Labor Day. Now I am making the bulk of my income from my art. Instead of being a bar tender who paints on the side, I'm a painter who tends bar on the side.

I'll keep you posted!