Archive for April, 2022

Getting Set Up

You’ll need some conditions for working, and it’s better to get them right from the beginning: a dedicated workplace, an etching press, heat, light and water, work surfaces and materials. You might be able to start out in a collective studio but, sooner or later, you’ll need a place of your own, even if it’s a garage or a garden shed. Creativity demands concentration, and you need to organize the studio to your own needs and standards of order and cleanliness. If you don’t have much money to invest, invest something else. Invest generosity. A gift of a beautiful print can start a chain reaction. Be generous with your time. Help other artists all you can. Don’t be stingy with your knowledge.

In our early years in Pinos Genil I used to give free painting lessons to kids in the village square and the garden of the old hydro-electric plant. The provincial cultural authority put up the materials, and I even got some mothers painting. That was in the late seventies and early eighties. My pupils were mostly eight-or-ten-year-old village kids. Today I’m old friends with most of the 50 and 60 year olds in town. An old friend in a small town is a rare luxury. A few years ago I was invited to pronounce the “pregón,” the ritual opening speech of the annual fiesta mayor, Pinos Genil’s most important fiesta of the year.

One way which enables you to survive is to swap your work, no money involved. My list is so long: I have exchanged my work for wonderful clothes, dentistry, years of attention from Granada’s most-prestigious gynecologist, a year’s dogfood for a family of Great Danes, a patchwork quilt, artisan pottery, handmade jewelry, original lamps, garden furniture, a magnolia tree, some beautiful handmade paper from the Paperki paper mill in the Spanish Basque country. When my friend, Luisa, closed her decorating business I exchanged two big paintings for a big sofa; some rugs from Taroudant, Morocco at the edge of the Sahara; some lovely lamps, beautiful hand-made curtains and tapestries. Start proposing swaps now. You will be pleasantly surprised. Boths gifts and barter will get your art out and about. You’ll be surprised to find how many people will be enchanted by the idea of doing business without money.

About Selling

My favorite place to sell my work is in my studio. It has a special allure. I’m not sure if it’s the exoticism of the etching press, the busy look or the smell of paints and solvents. It puts them in the mood. I like to sit them down on a chair facing a document chest full of prints in layers of drawers, and say to them, “See if there’s anything you like.” The drawers hold years of prints and proofs, large and small. If they purchase a few prints I make them a gift of another one. I can do that because I’m not paying any commissions. They’ll be back, often bringing along some friends. Studio sales are ideal, and you don’t have to frame anything or get in the car and drive anywhere.

My least-favorite way of selling prints is exhibiting. I’ve had some disappointing experiences. All veteran artists have. Sometimes, when we get together, we share stories. Many years ago, before my print lifetime, through some wonderful French friends, I got an invitation to exhibit in the municipal museum of Agen, in the south of France. I had all the arrangements fixed and we were invited to stay there with our friends, Olga and Touné. I had all the paintings nicely framed and securely packed and had made shipping arrangements with the biggest, most expensive transport agency in Spain, given the possibility of problems at the Spanish-French border. The shipment arrived at French customs a week before the scheduled opening and was turned back for the lack of a single document. I had bought my bus ticket for the following day. Exhibit cancelled.

You Can’t Live Without It

Obviously, there’s no way for an artist to avoid exhibiting, especially when he or she is starting out. But please be careful. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing you can do to avoid problems when you exhibit is to do your homework beforehand. Take the process seriously. Check out everything, Get references. Get it in writing. Even then you may sometimes bump into an unpleasant surprise. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done everything humanly possible.

At the end of the nineties my sales drooped a bit, but that coincided happily with a query from one of my friends, an art teacher in an International Bacalaureate (IB) school in Germany. She wanted to know if I could put together a one-week printmaking course for a dozen or so students from her art classes during Easter Week. That’s what got me into printmaking workshops, and at a propitious time. Happily, the studio that Mike built for me back in the eighties at the bottom of our garden was quite large, 50 square meters, so it admitted small groups. Though one time I had a group of 20 from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and managed it by habilitating space in my Gallinero artists’ cabin and calling in my two part-time assistants, María José and Carmen. Martyn, the head of the TASIS art department, and Frank, the photography teacher were also valuable help. The result was an inspiring setting for creative high-school art students who had never done any printmaking. My experiences with groups of European students, which all repeated over a series of years, have been extremely positive, due both to the personal qualities of the students, as well as their exceptional teachers.

Workshops to Afront the Crises

My work with students opened the door to workshops with artists. That turned out to be a life saver in the lean times ahead. I started with mostly Spanish non-printmaker artists. It was rewarding to see them getting into ink. Then, thanks to the websites Mike made for me and kept up, I started getting artists from abroad, first in small groups, then individually. It turns out that the most productive mode of launching or perfecting one’s printmaking is in one-on-one sessions with a master printmaker/teacher. That’s how I learned at the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada. The workshop had a lot of members but I was the only one who attended every day. José García Lomas, “Pepe,” the wonderful printmaking maestro there, appreciated that loyalty and took me on as his protege. Everything I know about teaching printmaking, I owe to Pepe Lomas. His method can be summed up briefly. “Respect the taste and talent of the students. Let them follow their own stars.” I can’t remember how many nationalities have passed through my studio over the past four decades.

“Creativity” Covers More Ground Than You Think

Creativity is not just putting paint on canvas or scratching a copper plate. Creativity begets creativity and, once you get in the habit in your studio, it extends to other facets of your life. It becomes a lifestyle, and people who come here notice it. Virtually all the artists who stay in my Gallinero artists’ cabin comment that they sleep better. Serious printmaking is relaxing, but also tiring. The biggest commission I ever had was from a big Paris construction company. They wanted gifts for more than a hundred of their clients and employees. I made several different prints for them in order to keep the edition numbers down, assuring true limited editions. And I ordered some beautiful hand-made-paper, and envelopes in bright pastel colors, from my friends at Paperki. Beyond my most optimistic expectations, those atypical gifts were a big success and the company repeated the commission for two more years.

When Covid 19 shut down the world I went into shock for a while, but eventually decided I had to work my way out of it. So I produced a portfolio of my favorite recipes illustrated with prints. That was an extremely limited edition (limited to the amount of paper I had on hand) and it sold out in a couple of months. Then it occurred to me to convert it into a little book which, with the help of my wonderful printshop neighbor, Ricardo, was a big success. I’m currently working on etched VIP invitations to the inauguration of our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum. María del Mar, the new director there was one of the 10-year-old students in my village painting classes all those years ago.


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Though, As We All Know, the Best Commercial Is Non Commercial

In my last post I promised to dedicate the next one to selling your work. Then there wasn’t a “next one,” because I got swept up in a project to create images for our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum, located in our old tram station. The Sierra Nevada Tram was an ambitious project promoted by a Granada nobleman–el Duque de San Pedro de Galatino–to ferry clients up to his hotel/gambling saloon up on the mountain. It also provided transport for the people of several villages along the way, one of which was ours, Pinos Genil. The project–20.5 kilometers of tram line between Granada and El Charcón, at 1,500 meters of altitude, included 14 tunnels and 21 bridges, and was presented in August of 1919. Work began a year later and the first stage of the service–Granada-Canales–was inaugurated in 1925. By 1928 the line had reached the Maitena station, from which clients were carried the last stage of the trip up to the hotel by horse and carriage. The tram, which continued operating until 1973, never made a profit. It was finally terminated due to the construction of a giant new dam and reservoir that covered the tracks.

We arrived in Pinos Genil, where we have remained every since, in the fall of 1969 and made use of the delightful little yellow trams both for routine trips down to Granada and summer excursions up to El Charcón where it was cool and they had diverted the River Genil to create a chilly, melted-snow swimming pool. To give you an idea of what the old Spain was like, the couple of rustic restaurants on the tram’s trajectory permitted clients to take their own food and just buy drinks. Today that sounds like science fiction. Oh, I almost forgot, the town hall has very kindly offered me display space to sell my tram-related prints.

Pinos Genil’s Renovated Sierra Nevada Tram Station Museum

My Mixed-Media Images of the Original Trams

Back to Being Commercial

Let’s start with the foundation truth: too few printmakers are able to make a living from their artwork, and it’s not getting any easier. We’ve had the financial crisis of 2009, and for some of us that’s not over yet. Add to that a few more economic wobbles, a few wars, Covid 19, and the disloyal competition of people selling “giclee” reproductions-and calling them “prints,” when they’re just photocopies. What they aren’t is fine-art prints. But they could be sold profitably at a tenth of the price, and they have cut a wide swath through the fine-art-print market, our market. Print departments–and whole art departments–started closing down..

Being realistic, I suspect that printmakers will never again see prosperity like that of the old days. I’m referring to the 70’s-90’s. I fondly remember the first edition of Estampa, the Madrid Fine-Art-Print Fair at the Crystal Palace in Madrid’s Retiro Park in 1993. By the end of the second day of the five-day event I had sold everything I brought with me and had to phone Mike, at home in Granada, and ask him to empty all of the print drawers in my studio and rush all the prints to me in Madrid. Those were great times. There was a leak in the roof right above our stand. Did the management panic? No, they just rolled in a big, potted plant and placed it beneath the drip. It was beautiful, and we continued to sell prints.

That first edition of the fair was boycotted by the art galleries. I think they stayed home because they considered the lowly prints too cheap to make much profit on. But, when they saw the success of that first fair, they quickly awakened to the commercial possibilities there. Over the next few years they took over the running of the event, raised the prices of the stands, imposed mandatory minimum prices for the prints and generally started treating printmakers like merchandise. I wasn’t the only artist to abandon the fair after a few years. Though, it was great in the early days. I confess I miss them.

Selling Fine Art Prints in Troubled Times

So, with all the cards stacked against you, you want to try making your living selling your prints. It’s not impossible, but it’s far from easy. I think the first thing you have to get clear is the fact that you’re not just selling prints. You’re selling your humanity, culture, philosophy and lifestyle. The bottom line is, you’re selling all the best of yourself. If the retail business rests traditionally on three pillars: location, location, location… the fine-art-print business is based on three others: communication, communication, communication.

Luckily, we’re living in the age of Internet, the most powerful communications tool in human history. And, depending upon your level of Internet skills, it’s practically free, because you can do it yourself. Obviously, if you’re a digital native, it will be easier for you. If not, you’ll have to choose between learning to do it yourself or paying someone to do it for you. Happily there is a middle way which, I suspect, is the way many successful artists go. That is, have an expert design your website and prepare templates for your site and your blog. Then, all you have to do is fill in the blanks with fresh content in order to keep everything updated. There is still a bit of a learning curve but you can surf it if you’re constant. Your success or failure, of course, depends upon those three little words: “keep everything updated.”

The success of your online communications depends upon the professionalism of your site, what you communicate and how often. It’s not just about techniques, sizes, prices and shipping costs. It’s much more magical than that. You have to impart your enthusiasm, knowledge, secrets and “ilusión.” This is a Spanish word for which there is no English equivalent that I know of. It’s not about the illusion of a magician. It’s about hopeful enthusiasm and anticipation and the conviction to make things happen. It’s one of the threads that pulls us through life. Maybe I’m getting a bit airy-fairy here, but it’s true that you have to transmit to others your own enthusiasms, aspirations and commitment. That is to say, what you have to communicate is You.

Then There’s Your Work

Your work is the motor of your whole enterprise, and it helps if you have some innate talent. But, talent or not, your trail is the same: study, work, learn to see, do a lot of sketches, re-invent yourself with new ideas and new techniques. And you must work hard to get all the qualified feedback you can, have some studio exhibits, inviting friends, family and art lovers and previous clients who already have some of your work on their walls. Never give up, be positive and create what you see around you, this makes your work authentic and unique.

The most popular way of getting artwork before the public is, obviously, exhibiting. Which brings me to a confession. I don’t like exhibiting. And as soon as I could shake it off, I did. It’s one of the most dubious commercial propositions I can think of. To begin with, it’s a lottery, and most of the risk is placed on the artist. Of course, there are great galleries who work with artists for years and help them consolidate their careers. But they are the exception. My recommendation is to sell as much work as you can from your studio or via Internet or local commercial outlets and choose your exhibitions with great care.


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