Monday, September 27, 2010

Artists and donating art

Every pet portrait artist I know gets hit up by rescue groups all over the United States, asking for donated art that will be auctioned to help fund the care of homeless animals. Back in the early years of my pet portrait career, I would donate a custom portrait in colored pencil, created from the donor’s photos.

I don’t have the time to do that anymore. But I have continued to donate art prints, notecards, ceramic tiles, and other products made from my art. I have also donated my book, Basset Hounds, Your Happy Healthy Pet, to Basset rescue groups.

I have had to cut way back on my donations for several reasons. First, the amount of requests, though worthy, is overwhelming. Second, I have to pay postage to send all these things, and it gets really pricey. Two years ago, I spent $500 in one year sending out donated artwork. Yes, it is usually tax deductible, but it is still out-of-pocket expense I can’t afford. Like most artists, I don’t make enough money to support myself from my art. Yes, we are starving. Maybe someone should donate to us!

And last, but not least by a long shot, I have never gotten one thing back from all these donations. Fundraising people always say “it is wonderful exposure for your art, like free advertising.” I never get new clients or commissions. A recent discussion on the Canine Art Guild group list revealed nobody else ever has either. So if we donate, we do it out of the goodness of our hearts, our love for animals, and our desire to help. And I am happy to do that. To a point…

What gets to me is the many donations where I have never gotten any acknowledgement back from the organization I donated to. No receipt, no thank you, no “this is how much we made.” If you can’t be bothered, neither can I.

I recently got a downright insulting request for a donation. The caller wanted me to donate a portrait. I said I don’t donate portraits, but I would donate a couple of prints. She replied, “Well, can’t you just do something small and simple, like with just five pencils or something that won’t take as long?” Right, but I’ll only draw with one finger…

Later she called about getting the prints delivered to her (obviously wasn’t going to the trouble of picking them up). She referred to them as “copies.” Like a xerox? My prints are signed and numbered limited edition lithographic prints with a certificate of authenticity. I donated the prints, and have as yet received no acknowledgement or thank you.

I won’t be donating to that organization again. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert pet portraits. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mike Sibley artist's workshop

I traveled out of town last weekend for five days to attend an artist’s workshop up in Solvang, CA. Mike Sibley works in graphite (pencil) and I have admired his work for years. This was his first trip to the western US from England, and I was thrilled to be able to attend. I booked it back in February!

You’d think that since I’ve done pencil art for years myself, particularly black and white, that I wouldn’t learn a whole lot. You would be wrong. He gave me an entirely new outlook towards how to use the pencils, and how to create backgrounds (the hardest thing!), fur, eyes (the most important part of any pet portrait), and especially composition. His work is so minutely detailed that he spends up to 250 hours on one piece of artwork.

I’ve never had that kind of patience, but there I was, spending 6 hours on a 4” x 5” section of a picture. I love detail and realism, and on the last day, he gave us a project where we could practice all the techniques we learned during the first two days. The art above is the work I did on the last day. He gave us all the same sketch and turned us loose to see what we could do with it. I’m itching to try it in color. 

It was very intense, and we were exhausted by the end of each day. I even had to go out and buy a stronger pair of reading glasses, because my eyes got tired after 6 hours a day drawing. 

But the time flew by, and I loved every minute of it.  Mike and his wife Jenny are funny, friendly and you can tell they genuinely enjoy their work. Mike took the time to give every artist plenty of attention, and his critiques were honest and helpful. I also enjoyed hearing his various adventures over the years with publishers, selling prints, copyright infringement, donating art, and all the other business challenges that come up every day when you are an artist.

If you have a chance to attend a workshop, I highly recommend it. You don’t have to be an animal artist to learn a lot. His book is fantastic, too (available on his web site).

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.