Friday 2 December 2011

When the going gets tough - the sensible guy does something else

In a few short days I will be hanging up my smock and beret, twisting the caps firmly onto my acrylics, folding away my easels and scraping off my palette. I will be retiring as a professional artist.

I've always been an artist and always will be. I can't not be an artist. I've always been pretty handy at drawing and, in this last year or so, I've taught myself to paint. Having scored a few early successes with the QI Annuals and a few other projects in 2009, I decided that I'd have a go at earning a living from art. So, throughout 2010 and 2011 I've sent my portfolio out to every art agency and every newspaper and magazine I could think of. My friends and colleagues have recommended still more people for me to contact and I have done so. Every new piece of art I've done has been posted up on this blog and on my website. I've really whored myself out on Twitter; the very nature of the medium is immediacy and intimacy. I've been able to post day by day, sometimes even hour by hour, updates on a piece that I'm working on. I've run a 365 doodles theme on my blog and Twitter with different art every day because Twitter is stuffed full of journalists, editors, artists, art buyers and commissioners. I've entered every online art competition and submitted my work to art magazines and collections. I've become a member of the national and international professional cartoonists' organisations. I've been made one of the artists for the annual Royal college of Art Secret Auction. I've run art challenges and drawn unique, original artworks for all who enter and have posted them out at my own expense. I delight in seeing other people's work and encouraging others to draw.

And I've got nothing. Not a sausage. I have sold a couple of  paintings to private individuals and I've done a few small commissions, but that's been it. I've made £1250 in the past 12 months.

The sad fact is that, although people seem to like my work, no one wants it. Many can't afford to buy it, of course, and I quite understand that. These are tough times and art is a luxury. I'll admit that I am occasionally irked when someone baulks at paying £300 for an original painting that I've spent days on. Particularly when, like today, I had to pay a gasfitter - who is a friend and gave me mate's rates - £145 for three hours work moving some pipes and last week I had to pay another mate £475 to fix the clutch on my car. It took him half a day. But I have to be practical; gas supply and cars are necessary luxuries and I don't begrudge people earning a living. Art isn't a necessity and these are not days of easy money.

The second factor I suspect is my age. I have tried to fit in with the arty crowd on Twitter and in the real world but I can't. While they all retweet each other and invite each other to shows and exhibitions etc. I'm not part of that crowd and never will be. I rarely get retweets from anyone like that (though I can always rely on my friends). They're all half my age. And they all have a style that's very en vogue right now, whereas my stuff is out of step with popular taste. I don't have the IT or design skills either. I don't own Photoshop or Illustrator and, even if I could afford to buy them, I have no idea how to use any of them. Artistically, I'm a  dinosaur best suited to the fine art market. But that's not me sadly. I haven't come up through either the university or the gallery system and what I get from people when I ask about exhibiting is arrant snobbery. They have no interest unless I studied at X or under Y. My artwork falls between two stools; I'm not commercial enough to be commercial, not fine enough to be fine art. It's unsellable in the current climate.

And so, after 24 months of giving it a damned good go, I'm leaving the world of art. I'll still do the odd commission if people ask me. And I'll probably still draw and paint for pleasure. But I will scale it right back. It takes up a lot of my time - an average painting takes me 3-4 days at least. And that's time I could be using more profitably. After 30 years as a cop, and with all of the visceral reality that the job entailed, I hoped I'd be able to earn a living doing what I love doing most. But it ain't gonna happen. So I'll focus on something else I enjoy and see how that works out instead.

I have had some small success as a writer; I have been published by a major publisher at least once. It wasn't the greatest of experiences for reasons I've talked about way too often on this blog but I did it once and that says to me that I could maybe do it again. So all of the effort that has been going into art will now go into writing. I have several book projects on the go, all in various stages of completion. In 2012, my agent and I will begin an unprecedented assault on the publishing industry. They'd best start erecting the barricades now. Meanwhile, I'm applying for jobs. Lots of jobs. They may not have anything to do with the arts but they'll help pay the bills and I'll write in my spare time like I used to.

So there you go. This blogpost isn't a whinge or a moan or a crying-into-my-laptop style admission of defeat. It's me taking a tough and painful decision based on stark reality. And it's me pulling up my socks, popping my writing fez on my head and saying 'This time next year, dear friends, I'll be in all the book shops!' I'm smiling as I write this. Well, maybe it's more like a zealot's terrifying grin. Either way, I'm seeing this as a positive move.

Onwards and upwards!

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