It is said that it takes 66 days to establish a habit. Well, I am now well passed that point with the #BlackSquares365 project so I guess it has become habitual for me – a good habit I hope. It is certainly a habit that is bringing me some very pleasing and encouraging results.
First, I am continuing to sell pieces on a regular basis. Perhaps not quite as quickly as I had hoped, but I have some plans to boost opportunities as well as promoting it more widely to my network.
Secondly, it is proving a fertile ground to try things out and, as always when you are up against rules and deadlines, it forces you to trust your instincts and make good artistic decisions. I’m now in that zone, perhaps like a jazz musician improvising, where I hardly give it a thought but merely set it running and it happens.
Thirdly, I hoped it would keep my social media presence ticking over whilst I got on with some other things and it is here that I have been astonished and delighted with the results. On Twitter, which many people agree had become less dynamic and less “social” in the preceeding year or two, I found an immediate reinvigoration. The first month saw the largest growth in followers for a long time and levels of traffic and engagement that I had never had before even in Twitter’s heyday! The growth in followers has steadied up since but level of interactions and engagement continue to climb. On Instagram #BlackSquares365 has made a remarkable difference to my account. My Instagram followers have grown by almost 1000 in just 75 days and the number of new personal interactions and commenting has dramatically increased. Before I started the project I was pleased if I got 100 likes and delighted if I hit 200. In the first few days of #BlackSquares365 it was much the same as before. Then in the second half of the week it started to grow. By day 9 I had my first 300 likes. Week three saw the average number of likes get above 200. Not every day was equally well received but time of posting has quite an effect I am finding. Then on day 37 the likes just kept coming. I couldn’t believe how quickly they clocked up . It is still my highest-liked piece at 1589 as I write this. Since then I have had other posts with over 1000 posts and am no longer surprised when something reaps over 500 likes.
These number may seem trivially small compared to some people’s success on social media but it’s been a great result for me when all I hoped for was to maintain my presence. This, in turn, has led to enlarging my network and getting some new first contacts with gallerists and curators. So I strongly recommend making new good habits!
I began writing this post a few weeks ago but was interrupted by having to cope with the worst cold I have ever had. I managed to keep doing my #BlackSquares365 piece every day, but this blog got put on the back burner.
I’m a member of the RWA Artists Network and at our meeting soon after starting it I had a few conversations about this #BlackSquares365 project I’m doing: in particular, the pricing of the pieces I am making but also the bare fact I’m mentioning prices for my work on social media.
At the outset, I considered very carefully what “price point” to choose and what I wanted to get out of the project. I have found these serial art projects enormously beneficial to me and my practice and making it public and shouting about it means that I will keep my word and actually do the work each day.
#BlackSquares365 is designed to keep and, if possible, increase interest in my online presence at a time while explore some new avenues of work which I may not want to share straightaway, but it is also designed to provide me with a trickle of income to help pay for the development of that new work.
I am going to do this work anyway. I cannot afford the time and money to frame it and try and sell it at my usual prices. What good will it do just sitting in a box? Much better that people can have it and enjoy it and take a bit of joy and fun in the project! So, I decided to price them as “pocket money pieces”. For a lot of people £40 is pocket money: it’s a round of drinks or a cheap meal out. For those with less disposable income but who enjoy art £40 can still be within reach. At just £40 people can buy them as Christmas gifts or “dated” birthday presents. So, I feel it’s quite a “democratic” price – almost anyone could buy their own small part of a larger artwork, the whole #BlackSquares365 project, an artwork spread over time and space that no one person will ever own and nobody will ever see in its entirety. I’m pleased to say that the number and speed of early sales seem to be proving me right, with multiple requests for the same piece and work selling within hours of posting! There has also been a boost to activity on my social media accounts since the project started.
So, what about those conversations with other artists?
“I’m wondering if you might be selling yourself short” was the opening, with the concern that once you openly quote a low price it will be hard to justify your normal higher price. I have to say that was a worry I had but I have settled to the fact that I usually work in series. This series will only be available direct from me, unframed and unmounted. At just £40 people seem happy to get a bargain small artwork with the added tale to tell that its part of a bigger project work.
“Galleries won’t touch you if you sell on line or have prices on your site.” Well, galleries were not lining up at the door begging for my work anyway so perhaps I have little to worry about there! Certainly, some galleries have exclusivity requirements and I believe complete honesty and openness is vital to the success of any working relationship, but the art market is in meltdown with everyone trying to find new ways to work. It seems that many artists are working with a range of galleries, agents, consultants and curators as well as forming their own marketing groups and selling their own work directly. This seems a reasonable way to move forward as long as everyone knows what part or parts they play in the mix and everyone gets rewarded appropriately for their work.
“If you sell them all that’s over £14k! You’re on to something there!” I know of artists with gallery representation who might get £45k from a show but then may not get another show for 3 years and can’t sell elsewhere. It would be very unlikely for me to sell all of them, but the early signs are good that I’ll sell enough to pay for the development of other work.
“How will you keep up the ideas and ensure the quality? Will each one really be worth £40?” My immediate reaction was “cheeky sod” but it’s a fair point that some days will produce better work than others. I have made a commitment that each piece must meet the minimum standard that I would be happy to have them on my own walls. Many people will get a bargain! I have found it interesting that I often get just as positive a reaction to pieces not amongst my favourites as to pieces I love the most! As to the ideas running out, it just won’t happen. Projects like this generate a momentum: each day fuels the next.
Here I am after 11 days of this project and I am running up against a problem. It’s not the problem of lack of discipline: with a history of success in two year-long serial art projects in the bag I’m unlikely to falter or forget. It’s not the problem of lack of ideas: quite the reverse I’m overflowing with ideas already. It’s the problem of the rules! I have said I will “create a fresh artwork from scratch each day for a year” and that I see it as “distributed art”, one piece of work owned by many individuals over time and space. That makes it a conceptual project which the audience is taking on trust: people are willing to accept that my act of posting an image of the day’s piece on Instagram and Twitter before the end of the day equates to evidence that I produced it that day. People I have talked to about this have said I should not take things so seriously and to stop making difficulties for myself. Most people seem to just be enjoying it in a light-hearted way, but I need to make it clear to myself and anyone interested that, for the project to be a success, there have to be rules that I abide by and success can only be achieved by measurement against those rules! So, the problem I have is what do I mean by “from scratch”?
The mere fact that I have started the project is enough for my brain to generate all sorts of ideas for it. I am also doing other work and have in the past done work in the area of “Black Squares” so I cannot avoid whatever I do in #BlackSquares365 being influenced by all that. I am not aiming to create a new, unique idea each day only a new, unique artwork each day. I am more interested in developing themes and refining ideas rather than being completely different each day. So I may end up doing runs and series of pieces, but they will be made freshly within the 24 hours of each day. So for clarity here are some of my thoughts about the rules:
- My aim is to have no plan in advance what any day’s piece might be be, but that doesn’t stop me being able to look at my sketchbooks or notes and using an idea from there or even something I steal from others.
- If I create more than one piece to the format in a day I cannot use the spares for some day in the future (though I could use the unused piece as collage material for future pieces)
- I am allowed to cut paper to size in advance and make collage material in advance.
- My aim is to create work of good quality and integrity. I will not allow a “that’ll do” attitude. I will continue to make work until I am satisfied that the result is of a quality I would be happy to spend money on framing and put on my own walls.
- If I make prints they will be the product of a single day – but I may use surplus prints as as collage material or overprint on later dates.
- If the piece is a photograph it will be taken on that day but I can use it in future days as collage material or as elements within a digital work.
That probably covers it for now, but I would welcome any thoughts or challenges to this.
I have included a gallery of the pieces up to yesterday
I am not intending to post every piece I make in the #BlackSquares365 project on this blog on a daily basis. I will reserve that for Twitter and Instagram. Eventually, I hope I will be able to document it all on my website and possibly a site of its own where people will be able to safely buy on line. As for posting on a-n, I’ll aim to only post every week or two with an update unless I have some interesting thoughts or meet interesting challenges.
As the project is new I will probably post a little more often to give some background . Today I thought I would mention the piece I made a couple of days ago. This piece is my take on where it all started. The oldest image of a black square as a complete subject in itself that I have found is an illustration in Robert Fludd’s “Utriusque Cosmi Maioris” from 1617. That engraving is a depiction of the nigredo in alchemy and, at the same time, the chaos of unformed matter at the start of God’s creation. A conversation on Twitter about it a few years back reconnected me to the work I did on alchemy more than 40 years ago and spawned my last series of #BlackSquares work. Black squares have often make fleeting appearances in my work in the few years since the series I showed in “Black Lines, Black Squares & Black Magic” at Black Swan Arts, Frome, towards the end of 2015. Until recently it has been a flirting, but my interest in re-engaging with 3D work has rekindled a passion to explore the idea in myriad ways. I studied sculpture and printmaking at college and much of my degree show work was rooted in alchemy and my final year thesis was about alchemy too. It’s fascinating to me that the subject keeps nagging at me. A few years ago I heard David Nash give advice to young artists to the effect that they should make a note of every idea they have and that he was still working out ideas he had first started as a young man. I guess that’s what has happened to me. David Nash was one of my visiting lecturers at college.
Yesterday I launched a new personal project, #BlackSquares365. Each and every day for the next year I will create a small artwork from scratch and post it on Instagram and Twitter before the end of the day. Each piece is available directly from me for a bargain £40 including worldwide postage* (email me for details – hopefully soon I will be able to create a safe online way to buy them).
I’m calling it “distributed art”: lots of people can own an individual, unique piece of art and at the same time hold a share of one larger artwork spread across time and space; no one person will own it all, nobody will ever see it in its entirety!
The idea that it’s a work that is deconstructed and scattered to the four corners of the globe (hopefully) fits the themes of erasure, redaction, forensics, geology and landscape that run through much of what I make. Little traces of #BlackSquares365 will be lodged far and wide: the dispersion making it harder for it to ever be completely destroyed.
Selling small pieces at a price within the reach of ordinary people appeals to my democratic sensibilities. I see it as a bit of an antidote to the high-end art market where art is a trading commodity: works of art gain prices that have little to do with the level of pleasure or intellectual stimulation they engender becoming, instead, conceptual currency notes. In that world only wealthy individuals and institutions can own large works but anyone can buy into #BlackSquares365 and get their own small piece that is itself a part of the much bigger community-owned art project.
Each piece will be 8” (20cm) square and will be signed on the reverse with date and number stamps and a brief description of the materials used. Despite the much-reduced price each will be made with the same quality materials that I use normally, such as artist’s paints and acid-free professional papers and will be made with the same care and attention as any of my work. I will use a simple quality control measure throughout which is that only work I personally would be happy to frame and have on my own walls at home is acceptable. Talking of framing, 8” x 8” will fit into standard off-the-shelf frame available from Scandinavian lifestyle superstores and other outlets (though it always pays to have things professionally framed. I will not be giving titles to anything (the prices would have to rise enormously!) If you fancy the idea of reserving a piece made on a special day that’s fine. I would expect full payment with the order. You can rest assured that I won’t let you down – I have completed two year-long projects like this before – but in the unlikely event that I gave up or was prevented from continuing I would fully refund your money.
So why Black Squares as a subject? Well that is a long story which I will weave in and out of further posts, but those who know my previous Black Squares work will know that “black is not the only colour” and “other geometric plane figures are available”!
*I can only afford to post work at the most basic postal rate and cannot be responsible for any taxes or customs duty when posting to other countries. If you require a faster or more secure delivery I am happy to arrange at cost.