Sunday, April 15, 2012

Winks and the Big Money

A few years ago I started my own little art enterprise.  My business strategy capitalized on three key ingredients: the overabundance of wealthy tourists in my town, American tourist's love of Kinkade infused local art, and my seemingly universal appeal to old men.  It's been a wild success.  And by wild success I mean it pretty much equates to my weekly bar tab.  Beer money begotten by mediocre art and a good wink.    

It started out innocently enough with Sunday strolls downtown to sit by the docks and let my brain run free while painting.  And yet when you are seeking quiet downtime,  it's amazing how many people stop to talk to you.  Also, it's amazing how excited people are to meet a "real" artist.

At first I was amused and frank with the folks peering over my shoulder. "No, no I'm not an artist or an art student.  I just do this for fun...No, you don't want to buy this, trust me.  See the mistakes?"

But after a few weeks I caught on and my answers began to change.

"Why yes, I AM an art student.  A poor, starving local artist.  I spent my every last penny to study abroad at the Uffizi.  You'd like to buy this?  Well, normally I charge $20 but for you I'll drop it to $15."

Granted, my paintings aren't terrible.  I've seen worse being hawked in other towns by other twenty somethings in need of beer money and diversion.  But still, they are a far cry from anything I would forcefully sell.  Which is where my business strategy comes into play.  Nonchalant free marketism.  Adam Smith would approve.

Step 1:  Put on an amazing outfit.  Something bright with a flowing skirt.  People buy art because they like the idea of buying art.  So by making the art, you are a large part of the idea of art that they want to buy into. 

Step 2:  Set up in a well trafficked area.  Spots near ice cream shops guarantee a high volume of happy people.

Step 3:  Casually place out a few Dollarstore matted paintings with no prices on them (to avoid violating anti-busking laws and to keep prices flexible to the day's market)

Step 4: Paint!

Step 5:  Wink at old men as they walk by.

Yup, Step 5 is the key.  Plenty of people will stop to oogle your awkward brushwork and compliment a lumpy painting of a sailboat, but to clinch a deal you need to target the weakest customer.  And that customer is usually 64, wearing loafers, and has a bossy wife with entirely too much gold jewelry on her overly tanned skin.

The wink is not a hard and fast rule.  The first painting I sold was to a Mexican dishwasher who had just gotten off his shift at a fancy restaurant down by the water.  He was a nice man and picked up a piece I really was proud of.  I let it go for $5.

Oh but loafer man, your Sperrys and madras shorts tell me that you are easily $15-20 prey.  Annnnnd... done.  Ah the thrill of the sale.

In every other part of my life, I am the antithesis of a ruthless money grabber.  But in this little business venture, I've been amazed by my knack for shameless cunning.

That said, not every day is a sale.  On today's painting excursion, I made friends with two adorable Spanish toddlers, Marco and Violetta, who taught me a thing or two about watercolor finger painting.  It might be my next medium.   I had a conversation in broken French with an old lady who used to be a real painter (she called me out on my shenanigans).   To top off the afternoon, I was protletized to by a man in a cheesy dark suit who asked me if I believed in God the Mother and Her Imminent Salvationizing Power. No, I don't.

No winking, no sales, but definitely more fun than sitting at home.  I got to relax and paint.  And that was the whole reason this started in the first place.

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