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“He’s a Smart Big Fish, He’s Gone Under the Boat.”

This moment was the first time Quint realized that he might have met his match, and you can tell that part of him relishes it. After God knows how many years of shark fishing, here was a target that wasn’t playing by the rules, and maybe Quint was going to find out just how good of a shark hunter he really was.

Later, when the shark surfaces, finally showing itself to its pursuers as it leisurely passes by the Orca, Hooper cries out, “That’s a twenty footer!”, to which Quint quietly replies, “Twenty-five. Three tons of him.” You can hear the respect in his voice. 

My twenty-five foot, three ton shark is Paul Pierce.

I’ve been attempting to do a charcoal drawing of him holding his Finals MVP trophy for the ALS auction sponsored by the Sons of Sam Horn, the same auction for which I’ve already drawn the David Ortiz portrait that I blogged about a few posts ago.

I can usually bang out a charcoal piece in a couple of hours, and this one was going well, until I got to Pierce’s face. I just can’t nail his face. I’ve drawn it and erased it three separate times, and I’ve hit a wall. It’s never happened before. With each attempt I attacked it in a different state of mind (whether by choice or coincidence: slightly buzzed, pretty damned drunk, and stone cold sober). Didn’t matter. Snake eyes.

I’m pretty determined to finish it now, not only for the auction’s sake but just to prove to myself I can’t be beaten, but it’s a foreign feeling, and not an entirely unpleasant one. Given the safe and unoriginal nature of the artwork I make, it’s easy to get complacent and then bored (which is deadly), so it’s nice to actually feel challenged for once, tasting the blood in my mouth from the stiff jab that somehow slipped between my upraised gloves.

After the third failed attempt to get Pierce’s face right, I clicked off the lamp above my drawing table, looking at the piece and the chewed-up vacant space between Pierce’s neck and his World Champions cap, and thought approvingly, “He’s a smart big fish, he’s gone under the boat.”

I shall return to the table soon, harpoon in hand. Or knowing me and my creative process, Harpoon IPA in hand. Either way, I look forward to it.

It’s Just Strokes on Paper

I was thinking about the post I wrote the other day regarding my Ortiz drawing that’s up for auction and how I have trouble with the concept of pricing my work. I don’t want to get too much into it, because it’s a boring argument (the whole “eye of the beholder” thing), but I will say this:

About four years ago, when I was living in Maine, my basement flooded during a spring thaw. My studio was down there, and while most of the stuff that I was working on at that time was spared (sitting on easels or lying on my drafting table), my portfolio that held all my work from high school and my three semesters at Syracuse was on the floor, leaning up against a wall, and it got soaked. Once the basement was pumped out, I started to gingerly go through some of those pieces until I realized that they was no saving any of them, and I picked up the portfolio, took it out to the garage, and chucked it in a trash barrel.

I didn’t feel anything regarding the situation. It wasn’t that I was numb or in shock, I just felt like, “Oh well, no sense in keeping this stuff around.” I don’t think I had ever placed any value on it beforehand, sentimental or otherwise, the pieces had just sat there in an unopened portfolio for close to fifteen years, so what’s the loss? If I had cared, I would have hung some of the stuff, right?

Yes and no. A lot of the pieces were of the quick sketch variety, not necessarily the kind of things you’d put on a wall. Others were more experimental and held more value as living lessons than as decoration, but not enough for me to have ever looked at them since leaving school. And last but not least, a great number of the pieces were nudes that I had drawn during some studio classes at SU, and unfortunately for me (and everyone else in those classes, I suppose), SU seemed to corner the late ’80s/early ’90s market on morbidly obese models. Such a cruel joke: you tell a college-aged kid he’s going to draw a live nude and then a manatee comes waddling in. So that’s not the kind of stuff you want to linger over, either.

My basic point is that none of the stuff held any value as finished art. But they were worth holding onto as biographical pieces or historical documents. To track progress. To get a sense of place and time. To show to my kids some day.

But I felt no pangs as I threw the portfolio away. I’ve never hoarded my art, I’ve almost always given it away to someone else. I’ve cared far more about the process than the final result, so it wasn’t like having your CD collection wiped out. Which is why it now feels weird to sell anything I do. I’m sure this struggle isn’t unique, but it would be different if I had a storage room full of my work that I preciously guarded; it would feel right to tell someone that the drawing they want is going to cost 200 bucks. But if I bat no eye nor shed no tear when my entire portfolio from my formative years is swept asunder by the wrath of God, if I blithely give away whatever new work I create again and again, then how can I place a monetary value on it? It’s not that it’s priceless, no, quite the opposite… I’ve always seen it as disposable. So how can I sell it to someone and keep a straight face?

But.

I feel that if I’m going to charge people for art, a price really can’t be put on it. At least not one that would facilitate a piece being actually sold, anyway. I have no problem giving art away for free, because that’s my choice, but if you ask me to assign a cost value to it, it’s going to be far greater than a few hundred bucks. That’s in a vacuum; obviously the market dictates the price, but in terms of the amount of myself that goes into each piece, it’s going to cost a lot, more than anyone would probably willing to pay. But that’s not the way it works. So you grit your teeth and set a price and then whine about it on a blog.

There’s the Why, and Then There’s the How Much

The above piece is something I drew specifically for a charitable auction for Curt’s Pitch for ALS organized by the Sons of Sam Horn website in the memory of John Hoyt.

 It’s on the block until August 10th at 8:00PM, so far the highest bid is $550 (as of 7/17 at 10:45AM), which is nice. Until now, the highest amount of money I’ve ever sold a piece for is $200. Of course, that $550 isn’t a true reflection of the buyer’s valuation of the piece as art, because the bid is inflated due to the charitable nature of the auction. But that hardly matters, because what it essentially amounts to is that it’s the equivalent of me writing a $550 check to this cause, something I’m not actually able to do at this point. So I was able to utilize my talents to benefit a noble cause in a way that far exceeds my own financial capacity, and it feels really good to be able to do that. If the buyer ends up actually digging the piece, so much the better.

I’ll be doing a second drawing for the auction as well. There’s a possibility that the combined sale prices of both pieces will exceed $1000. It’s kind of mind-blowing, and I genuinely feel much better about this sort of transaction than if I were selling the pieces for profit at a lower price. I’m still really uncomfortable about charging money for my artwork, primarily because I’m usually selling pieces to friends and acquaintances, so it just feels awkward  to me. In all seriousness I know I’m undercharging for my art (which is borne out by the fact that I have steady work and future buyers on tap), but it’s hard because art is subjective and what’s worth $200 to one person is worth $550 to another and worth 75 cents to yet a third. Ideally I’d create a piece on my own and set a price I thought was fair based on the amount of work I put into it, and some stranger would agree and then buy it from me. Doesn’t really work that way, at least for 99.9% of the artists out there.

 In the meantime, participating in stuff like this is a really rewarding consolation prize.