So I decided to spend 2014 trying to be a Proper artist – the sort that sells prints of their work to strangers, rather than making the occasional twenty off a mate, and who has exhibitions and stalls rather than a stash of drawings under the bed; the sort of person who can afford to buy new materials with the proceeds of their art, not their secretarying. (Although not much besides the art materials; Proper artists are always skint, right?)
I was quite excited about this, mainly because I’d convinced myself that it was better to try and fail – even if you do it in public and everyone thinks you’re a right idiot as a consequence – than sit and do what you’d always done, and spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had tried.
More Time Arrives!
More time immediately fell into my lap, which was either a stroke of good fortune disguised as bad, or vice versa (I haven’t decided yet). There’d been a massive overhaul at work to save costs, with half the admin staff being downgraded a couple of pay-grades; those who got the downgrade got to keep their original salary for ‘a bit’, but were warned we would eventually have to find a different job at their original grade, or take a pay-cut. Or retire, or just plain leave, thus opening a vacancy for someone cheaper.
The timing of getting downgraded was quite good, because I was cracking up under a workload double that of most of my colleagues. So that saved my arse for “a bit”. Of course, with only half as many jobs left at the original grade, popping back up like a cork, (or Monkey the Irrepressible), was not necessarily easy. I applied for everything that seemed like it wouldn’t outright suck satanic balls, got pipped at the post for all of them, and was eventually informed by email that I would shortly be taking the terrible, terrible Relief Secretary job – which sucked more satanic balls than everything I had previously regarded with a curled lip, so go figure. (We had been told previously we would have two refusals before the Or Else part, but these suddenly seemed to have evaporated).
However! Suddenly there was a part-time vacancy in a different department. Being utterly desperate, I played for it and won. And very satisfying it was too, when the Powers That Be informed me that it was part time and perhaps I had failed to realise this, and I informed them in turn that I absolutely had, thank you and so sorry about the Relief role, cheery bye. I mean, the Relief role was paid-time-off-with-stress in a hand-basket, which left taking a pay-cut; a cut in hours worked out around the same, pay-wise, so I lucked up into that instead. And I have felt miserably guilty for being part-time ever since, even though my new colleagues are too, and they’re all very nice.
(After I took the part-time job to escape the terrible, terrible Relief job, I found out that many other people had all in turn been told in turn they would take the terrible, terrible Relief job too. They had fled all over the place to escape it. However, someone had come along fleeing some impossible-to-imagine Worse Relief job at another hospital and was delighted at having this one, so again, go figure).
I could tell it was going to be okay in the new department when I walked in and my three colleagues introduced each other by various insulting nicknames and danced around assuring me that they personally were the only nice one, and the others were all evil. One of them lied, however, and came back from Florida with Harry Potter Every Flavour Jellybeans. I showed willing when plied with ‘grass’, ‘vomit’ and ‘earwax’ when she assured me they were all really nice flavours (obvious lie is obvious) but when I pled illness and she handed over ‘earthworm’ with the assurance that it was watermelon, the combination of awful was too much and I threw up in three different rooms in the department, one after the other.
Miraculously, (or sadly, as I thought at the time), I survived the experience, although I was still feeling pretty colourless the next day. My colleague did tell me she felt bad about it “for thirty seconds!” and then laughed like a drain.
I have had far worse colleagues.
Money is Found Down The Back of the Sofa
I still wouldn’t have been able to survive much on that pay, however, so at the same time the G-Monster’s* tenancy was up and he moved in with me instead. This was a bit nerve-wracking, since I had no idea how we would get along together living cheek by jowl. So far, it is sometimes alright, sometimes teeth-grindingly annoying, and sometimes great, so I suppose that’s about as good as I could realistically hope for.
*(The G-Monster: formerly known here as the Bossman. However, since he did sack me when his company folded, technically that ain’t true any more; plus he also developed the habit of stomping around the flat, roaring. I’m still not sure exactly what he’s supposed to be, though.)
Art Exhibitions: Not just putting stuff on a wall and seeing what sticks
So the first two things I needed were taken care of – time and enough income to get by. The third thing was, some actual art for selling. After that, I figured the fourth was exhibition space, and the fifth was, Customers.
So despite being on a long weekend in Brussels at the time, and thus miserably hungover, I started the “28 drawings later” challenge/ community, which was pretty damn challenging really; one picture a day for the whole of February. Armed with an earlier knocking-off time and a whole lot of port, I knocked out stuff in a night that would normally have taken a whole week; at least for the first fortnight or so, until the G-Monster complained that I was drinking far too much and also ignoring him and his dinner.
(We still have not quite reached an equilibrium on the second two subjects, almost ten months later. I think the G-Monster feels unloved unless he is fed and eaten with; I feel unloved when I feel like I’m expected to provide maid-service. Perhaps there is a happy medium in our future, or perhaps not.)
Still, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, until I found out that you can’t just go round drawing from photos you find on the internet, even if they’re ones of your friends’ Imbolc fire festival which was in the paper; you have to ask permission first. Since a lot of the photos were of people in masks, I had no idea how I’d ever track them all down, but then I discovered you’re supposed to ask the photographer’s permission, not the subject’s. Also, I found out that if you don’t, you can have the arse sued right off the base of your spine, even if you never make any money from it at all.
This sounded incredibly terrifying. Happily, half the people I spoke to about it assured me that there was no way this could ever happen (until one contacted me and said it had happened… to her. Recently.) The other half assured me that it would never happen as long as I never ‘fessed up to the photographer (which I already had done). Thankfully he was very nice about it and only asked for a 40% cut of proceeds, which is certainly better than losing my arse, and also persuaded me to never work from his stuff ever again. Win all round!
Anyway, so that meant that my first ever solo exhibition ever was not banjaxed, hurrah!
Except that it promptly was, of course.
With hindsight, this is probably largely due to my face – I have absolutely no idea what my expressions look like, but they don’t seem to pair up to my emotions very well. Thus, when I am at my absolute angriest, blokes in the street will shout, Cheer up love, it may never happen! in mocking tones; when I’m feeling like I’m going to burst into tears, everyone skips out of my way like I’m wearing a waistcoat of dynamite. I have been accused of looking inappropriate cheerful at moments when I certainly wasn’t feeling inappropriately cheerful, and of shouting at people when I was whispering because I was so terrified I was struggling not to cry, etc etc.
And lo, I was terrified of this solo gig. I’d had a terrific burst of manic energy all February, which wore off as soon as I had to go and actually interact with other people, natch, so I can confidently guess that my face was a picture when I went into the caff with my stuff, (and not the sort I was paying to put up on the wall, boom boom). I tried to be polite as I could to absolutely everyone, baring my teeth in inane over-expressions of amiability, mumbling in case I accidentally shouted, and generally probably coming across as Tom Baker going through a bad patch, and did it all again the next week when I went back to meet up with folks who said they’d come in to see the stuff.
Unfortunately, during this I discovered there were no titles put up, and here we were halfway through was only a fortnight-long exhibition. So nobody had a clue who any of this stuff belonged to, nevermind that they could (and should!) part with cash for some of it. These things happen, however, so I went back in to put some up signs myself, during which I asked someone if they wouldn’t mind moving while I put a price up.
Turns out that after I left, they complained to management, which I found out a week later when we were taking the exhibition (which had sold nothing) back down. I found this out when the management complained to the lassie who was organising the exhibition, who was right next to me, and told her to pass it on.
The worst part was, the lassie organising things was so obviously mortified as well, by my behaviour.
My attempt to go up and apologise to the manager did not go over very well, and on my way out the door I was accused of trying to sneak out without paying for a coffee. In one of those loud voices that make everyone turn round and stare, because of course it was.*
I am never setting foot in the place ever again.
*(While this may or may not be utter nonsense, the G-Monster tried to cheer me up by insisting that the caff was a thin veneer for a drug-dealing operation, on the grounds that a) it is almost empty at all times, yet somehow stays in business, and b) he says he saw it happening. This just made me more anxious – for all I know, that means that when I went up to the counter and said, ‘May I speak to the manager, for I would like to apologise’, in Mob-speak that actually meant, “I will burn down your [expletive deleted] house, you [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]”.
Which is a misunderstanding that would not improve my life.)
Stalls: the Boss Level of Exhibitions
Due to the utter mortifying failure I displayed there, I realised that it is in fact way, way better to sit and wish rather than failing horribly in public and being utterly mortified. Therefore I resolved not to have any kind of public exposure ever again. Unfortunately this bolt of clarity came the day after I had agreed to take a stall at the West End Gala, where you don’t even just hang your stuff on a caff wall and get shouted at by the management, you have to stand in front of it and take whatever lumps the public wants to dish out too.
So after a couple of weeks of hiding in Skyrim (where you can walk into a shop with whatever-the-hell you’ve made and if they have money they will buy it off you and nobody ever accuses you of trying to leave without paying. Although I hear some people play for the fantasy dragon-slaying element instead), I actually recovered from the flu and then had to run about like a blue-arsed fly, arranging hundreds of poundsworth of prints and frames and mounts and what-have-you. Was everything unsuitable the first time? Damn right. Was the second time a little ropey also? Damn straight. Was there more of this ‘being shouted at by people in shops’ lark? Dammit, yes there was, even though this time I shovelled down loads of (prescription) pills to keep the terror at bay and my expression more human. I was starting to feel righteously aggrieved.
However, after all that, and with the help of the internet, I learned how to mount my own prints, by the half-hundred too, and then showed me mate how to do it and assembled two of absolutely everything I might need… and got abandoned on the kerbside ‘near’ the venue, far too early in the morning on the day after my birthday. For the G-Monster had to go on some business trip. At least I didn’t have to try and get all my crap onto a bus.
(Did I have a birthday party/ soiree/ celebration? Nope, I was absolutely not doing this with a massive hangover. Therefore I am officially an adult now, right?)
I got approximately twenty feet down the street before my wheelie-trolley got stuck on a lighting-rig cable, and when I went to lift it over manually, everything toppled off it, to the amusement of all. Still, only a few hundred more yards to go.
I could already tell it was going to be an extremely long day. Especially when the heavens opened, settling into a steady rhythm of rain that got into, and under, absolutely everything, no matter how many layers of ‘clear’ dust-sheets and Duck tape I spread everywhere, and the two kitchen rolls I had brought to mop things up were through in minutes. Also, while the ‘clear’ dust sheets might not keep the rain off, they certainly kept potential customers from seeing a damn thing.
Despite all this, things actually went better than I had anticipated, in that many of my friends came along to say hello, some people even pity-bought some of my stuff, and one guy who was an absolute hero snuck me in a pint of cider disguised in an apple-juice carton. I have never been so grateful; my own stocks of gin-laced tonic water were running low by this point. And nobody had a fit at me, which is always good. Although there was an unfortunate moment when the cameras turned up for this new telly channel that was opening and decided to interview me, of all people – but they did point the camera at me artwork and ask my name, so I merrily mugged it up in hope of Publicity, trying to ignore the way the camera was pointed up and under my chin/s, and managing not to reply to “What makes Glasgow great?” with “the quality of the skag!”
Not only was that completely out of character, I can never think of a witty quip when it would actually help, ever.
So there I was on the telly some evenings later, chins asail across the screen like a pie-shop flotilla, and no mention made of me art whatsoever, of course. I had at least hoped that nobody I knew would catch it, but there is always one eagle-eyed boyscout who tells the whole of facebook the link to the damn thing.
So that was the first half of the year nearly up, and me another year older. I did actually sell some stuff at the gala, however, meaning I went from ‘several hundred pounds down’, to ‘several hundred pounds down but up sixty quid. Minus the taxi home from the sixty… oh SOD EVERYTHING‘.