Friday, 18 February 2011

just for the record

it's a tricky business, making a living as an artist. many of us have to wait tables and wash dishes at some point just to keep body and soul together. i have taught school [paid and also unpaid], painted scarves for the tourist trade, cleaned hotel rooms [nasty] and worked in dress stores [strangely entertaining]. i have driven exhibition trucks and toured art [made by others] to remote corners of the state.
that was then.

now i am in the fortunate position of being able to juggle teaching [mostly adults who actually want to learn and don't need me to engage my best theatrical skills in order to secure their attention], writing [the odd commissioned texts for set fees as well as the more rewarding sole author trips ie Eco Colour and the soon-to-be-unleashed Second Skin] and exhibiting. sometimes  if i am lucky i have the time to make a few dresses and in between i am grateful to Leigh Warren for offering me costume work.

this is not a hobby. it is my life and my profession. it supports not only me but also three children, 6 rescue cats, 5 elderly horses, a wind-dumped parrot and several bunnies. one day i hope that list will again include a Border Collie or two.
yes, i do get to travel to interesting places...but no, mostly being crammed into cattle class for long flights isn't a great deal of fun [even with gin and hours of stitching]. it's getting harder to bounce back after those long flights so i have to schedule a recovery/adjustment day after each one.
yes, i amass flyer points and sorry folks, i do insist on flying [as far as possible] with Qantas. loyalty pays off and call me old-fashioned but i like to think that the pilots know what they are doing. if the wings fall off they'll calmly deal with it, rather than screaming and leaping for the nearest parachute. so no, i won't fly with the cheapest airline just to save a few pennies.

it all sounds very exotic but lining up the ducks is not so easy as it seems.
i really don't know what artists did before credit cards were invented. maybe it's why some of them cut off their ears. think about it. in order to fulfill my commitments i usually have to organise and pay for my flights in advance. this year i have one European trip, three trans-Pacific flights and have just put some weeks in NZ behind me. in between there are several gigs in Australia. unless i personally take bookings from students [in which case, thank you dear friends, there is cash in the kitty] i am paid at the end of an engagement. sometimes the cheque doesn't arrive until a month or two after.
administration is not my forte. recently i found a cheque in my travel kit that was over 6 months old and could no longer be presented to the bank. i'm still blushing with embarrassment.

i drive a fifteen-year-old car and don't buy new clothes [except for knickers and socks]. i don't go "on vacation". when at home i work seven days a week [admittedly because sitting around doing nothing ain't my gig]

anyway you look at it, this way of life requires a substantial turnover of $

the funny thing is, i can work as hard as i like and fill my year with a squillion trips but in the end, each year i net roughly the same amount of money once expenses have been taken into account. and it's frankly not enough to fund a pension plan so i'll probably still be tottering on to planes at 90, hoping someone out there is still interested in listening.

if you're still reading you may be wondering what my point is.

i'm trying to explain why i don't haggle, give discounts or sleep on couches [9 times out of 10 i find homestays involve interrogations over breakfast and dinner and by the time i get to class i am already worn out and can't remember what i was going to say].

these days when people start to quibble and mutter about my fees, i just back away. this is why i am not teaching in Belgium, Holland or Italy this year. it is also why i will be attempting to present a tri-lingual class in Switzerland and enthusiastically visiting Canada and the US several times and one of many reasons why i will continue to delightedly visit my beloved Aotearoa.

argue with me and i run. treat me as you would any other professional person [would you ask for discounts from your lawyer, dentist or car mechanic?] and i will respond by giving it my all and handing out chocolate against "day 4 syndrome"

and at the end of the day, Dogs willing and with a fair wind, i wouldn't want to be doing anything else. thanks folks. bless y'all.


  1. perfect. i can't say better.

  2. In my book dear India you're worth every cent. You share openly and you are the Teacher life sent me to open my eyes to the wonders in my own yard. I just needed to shut my mouth and open my ears!!!So thank you. I hope I'll be catching up with you in class until you're 90 = by which time I'll be at least 100.....hugs Gin

  3. thanks Gin, look forward to tottery tangos together...

  4. Well stated. Your standards are almost exactly as I have read from several other professional artists.
    Ever grateful for your teaching. Thoughts of you today surrounded me as I walked and picked up a nice rusty tail pipe.

  5. and as you say, far cheaper than therapy and a hell of a lot more fun - I'm with Gin - I can just see us old girls still getting excited over yet another bundle!

  6. India,
    Cultural workers need to develop standards that those in other career paths already expect and secure. You change lives in your own inimitable way, hence, your practice is priceless.

    So go ahead and be a diva because for heaven's sake, you are already a rock star!

  7. We all find a way to make it work.

    I commend you. And I bought Eco Color, because I think you are brilliant and I enjoy learning from you. If you are in my neck of the woods, I'll gladly take a class too.

  8. Well said, and I love the new format of your blog.

  9. the worker is worth their wages. You also need a bit of down time to make your class time all it should be. Any one who says otherwise is truely not worth the effort.

  10. c'mon India, don't complain, it is reality. Most artists can't make a living out of their art and most artists have children to feed and bills to pay!

    And by the way why wouldn't you ask for discounts from your lawyer, dentist and car mechanic?

  11. Hi India
    I've been lurking here but have to come out to agree with what you are saying and give you some support. My husband is an artisan bricklayer and people are lucky to have him on the job....but they complain about his fee. (so called high priced professionals complain loudest as they present clients with bills twice his rates for 5 minutes of their time). We do not haggle either.
    Artists are far too undervalued in our modern society. I'd pay your course fees without blinking if you ever came to my area.

  12. thanks everybody for your kindly contributions
    and Anonymous, i wasn't complaining...just putting it in writing.

  13. i'm happely travelling all the way to Lausanne to learn from you...........

  14. you are invited to follow my blog

  15. Bravo India!
    Have recently seen need to voice similar in ink (letter in this case) in order to make the case for all artists before and after me in a situation where much was demanded in exchange for a name.
    When we fail to speak up... it is not only we who go without... but also those around us who would like to know the full benefits of value for endeavors well served.
    Lurking behind the anon. rebuke is so often green eyes of want.
    What ails we artists is feeling time has not yet arrived to speak to this matter.Its arrived ... it must be said. If we do speak ... things can shift.Those who hear it may well reject it at first...but wait ..down the track they hear alright.. maybe come back... or they learn the very things they've snubbed you for doing.
    If we dont know our value will anyone else?
    S x
    ps When I pass on buying tickets to a concert, or workshop or experience I'd love... its not because its too much... I just dont have the cash... there's a huge difference! I wouldn't dream of asking for a discount... I just think there'll be other times. You're most definitely worth what you seek to earn India. Noisy wheels tempted to judge (my) standards so often revert when they see the wisdom... not that they admit it! Some slow learners out there.

  16. Great post. Living the life as an artist seems to always be a juggle whether it's trying to pay the bills or keeping the inspiration and production flowing. Great Blog!

  17. Its your blog you can say what you like and am sure what you say is true for very many folks be they in the arts or not.
    A persons truth has a right to be heard.

    Thought it quite funny that the smart arse 'anonymous', hasnt the conviction to stand up and be named ~ but obviously so much time on their hands, they are taking the length of time to read through.........a post that so obviously doesnt reflect their own views... (Sad that tolerance is so ofetn in short supply lol)

  18. Amen and well said. I support you totally.

  19. "I'll say what she's saying'.....
    You couldn't have put it better m'dear... I'm sure all of us also in the arty trenches know EXACTLY what you mean!

    ps - I thoroughly recommend the restorative powers and understanding ear of a border collie....

  20. Well said. Anyone who would quibble over $$ with an artist as grand as yourself doesn't deserve to take the class. Period. And I say a few hours of peace and quiet to yourself in a hotel room are quite deserved as well.

  21. go girl. i experienced similar 'issues' as a horticulturist when most folks thought i'd come and see their garden/fix it like don burke on the telly ... i didn't/won't 'cause i'm a business as you and all artists are, valuing who you are and what you've worked for. excellent. jenny.

  22. Well said! I have not done a course with you, nor do I know how much you charge. Unfortunately, I come across this on a very regular basis, as my art is also my only income. I can completely relate to your situation and especially to the "not going on vacation, buying new clothes or having time off". And I don't really care, because I am doing what I love.
    I have your book and learned lots from it and I am sure others did as well, as they do from your courses.
    You are definately worth every dollar that you charge with all the knowledge that you have.

  23. You touched a chord here- I also travel on airplanes to teach workshops around the US and Canada- the planning, the packing, the travel day-- YES DAY! I have to admit when I in those planning days I think I need to be committed but once I arrive I find myself challenged and alive with trying to help other artists find their personal voice- until I come home have to take several days to unwind and adjust back into the studio. We artists really do earn every penny.

  24. If you choose to have a set price then people should respect that, weigh up the cost and Decide.
    I don't see a problem in Asking for a discount, it's that everyone expects a discount....lots of retail businesses factor a discount into the price to make the purchaser feel like they have got a bargain. Who wants to be their bargain... I love what you do and have enjoyed your class

  25. velma alerted me to this post after i came home from a workshop and was horribly disappointed by a sudden reduction in teaching fee simply so the host could "break even." somehow, it's okay for the artist to take the loss but not the business. your words were wonderful to read, esp since you are so articulate about these issues, but also sad: for someone of your caliber and experience, to still suffer similar issues, well...i hope it encourages us all to stand up for ourselves just a little more and in time and solidarity, change the perception that artists can and will work for free.

  26. Hi India: perfectly said - well done and with your sense of humor -wonderful : ) I would love to travel to YOUR home-state/country to take a class from you, I have your boook and follow your blog and I SWOOOOOON over your ART and I think, like all 26 comments before me, you are worth every penny, whatever that amount may be and I'm happpy to read/hear you make no excuses for it !!!! soooo, bravoooo to you : )
    Blessings, Sandra in AZ, USA

  27. India, good to put that in writing! People also often forget that it takes time to get ready for the workshop and then to put everything back into place before our regular art practice can continue and this time needs to be paid for as well. If as artists we would charge truly professional fees as we deserve, then the world would be a fair place, alas the best we can do is figure a fair price that lets us make a living at the end of the year and that price is firm! Has to be!.. and you are also right to not wanting to bunk on a couch... as I'm sure your contract does not state that you have to share all of you in minute physical detail, but only that which you are willing to share. I even think that having the artist go to lunch with the group is often hard, as the teacher doesn't get a break that way.

    So stick to your guns girl!...

  28. good point about prep time...

    Aimee's comment reminds me that i was once asked to teach somewhere for a very measly amount + $500 studio cleaning fee + free places for organiser and studio owner.
    i said yes to all cos it was the first time i'd been asked to teach in the US
    but then when they email 3 months out from the class and said there were only 3 enrolments and could they halve my fee [but i was still to pay the cleaning fee]

    i pulled out. it was going to cost me $2500 to come and teach [bearing in mind travel expenses].

    that said, i'll happily drop into primary schools in disadvantaged areas from time to time and attempt brighten small peoples days by showing them how to make felt or how to wrap a dye bundle....but i decide when and where i will perform for nix! [not someone else]

  29. in some ways, it's a relief to hear it's not just an isolated incident, getting the short end of the stick. but again, also sad. but the very important thing is that you give voice to it so that awareness rises, and then the strength to make a change. thanks for inspiring us!

  30. Go for it. I JUST found your blog - I shall definitely be following it from now on. If you come to the UK you can stay here - and I promise not to talk to you!!!

  31. I love the juicy discourse..

    And wonderful to hear your voice -
    Your integrity will sort the sheep from lambs and HOW glad am I my course didnt sell.


    oh, and you must tell me what day #4 syndrome is.

    Is it when a possey of students all start bitching and turn on the teacher?

  32. ... It is really hard making money as an artist... but when you do make money from your art... there is nothing that compares to that feeling of deep internal self satisfaction that you get from being an independent artist... and India the knowledge that you have collected and share with your students is priceless... as a past student i treasure the wisdom you so openly and passionatly shared, and often think of you when i wander off to collect my "windfalls"...

  33. Hi India..l agree with every thing you have saidxx As an artist, counsellor and teacher l hear what you say. I was coming to Switzerland to learn at your feet but as you know family problems have put a stop to that. But l am on the out look for another chance. You deserve to be paid correctly for your experience, your skills and all the prep time..don't listen to others who dis value your are an amazing woman and artist.x lynda

  34. thanks everybody for the kind thoughts and for contributing generally

  35. Well said India. A little quote that is appropriate.
    "Dismiss whatever insults your soul"