I will never forget him, even though I never got his name.
I don’t remember what he looked like, but his words changed my path. They realigned me with who I am and what brings me joy. For that, I am forever grateful.
I was at an event in a neighboring town, “100,000 Poets, Artists and Musicians for Change”. It was part of a national campaign and I was excited to participate when I first signed up.
But when the day finally came I had to smother my nerves with faux confidence and extra deodorant.
I felt awkward and out of place displaying my large, bright artwork with big price tags in a room full of so many other creatives displaying beautiful and less expensive work. Like my prices were screaming, “I’M BETTER THAN YOU, I’M BETTER THAN YOU.”
Which was not at all how I was feeling and not the message I wanted to portray.
In the months previous, I had purchased an online course for artists in which the teacher said that fine art should be priced from $2-$7 per square inch, depending on your level of skill. I had opted to go even lower at $1.50/ sq inch because I just couldn’t imagine people paying more than that. But, after considering my costs, time and skill, I felt like less than that would be doing myself a disservice.
This was the first time I had a live audience, rather than posting and selling from behind a computer screen and I really didn’t know how they would respond.
Luckily, people loved my work and were very complimentary.
One young couple said they wished they could afford my largest piece because they loved it so much. It was a two panel 4ft by 4ft mandala with rainbow wings, priced just shy of $3,500.
Another girl told me she had come that night looking for inspiration to start doing art again and that seeing my creations was exactly what she needed.
Lots of people took my card and promised to follow me on social media, but I realized fairly quickly that I would not likely sale anything that night and decided to just enjoy whatever happened.
There were musical numbers, dancers and poetry readings. There were food trucks, snack booths, a coloring contest for kids and people dressed in streampunk and drag. There were t-shirt designers, photographers, painters and comic book artists. There were old people, young people, drunk people and sober people, gay people and straight people, loud people and quiet people.
I had made a last-minute decision to give out candy and people kept coming back for more, so I always had someone to talk to.
Near the end of the night, he approached me. He had a nervous energy about him, as if his heart was beating faster than it should be, his body held tight, trying not to sweat.
I had seen him looking at my offerings earlier, but he was with a group so I hadn’t talked to him specifically.
He had $10 in his hand and sort of waved it at me.
“Do you have anything for $10? I really love your art.”
“I’m so sorry, I only have big pieces, nothing for that price.”
He thought for a few seconds, coming to some conclusion.
“Well, it’s all I have… if you don’t have anything I can buy with it I’ll just give it to you to support you doing more of what you do. It’s amazing.”
It felt wrong to take his money, it felt rude not to.
I fumbled through a response.
“No, no, you keep your money. The best way you can support me is to follow me on social media and keep offering me that amazing encouragement of yours. That would help so much.”
He seemed a bit dejected, but agreed, put his money in his pocket and tipped his imaginary hat in a gesture of respect as he made his way back to his friends.
He wanted me to have his money, he believed in me with all he had.
He wanted to contribute to my work, to my story and he may have left that night thinking he didn’t, but… he did.
I did not grow up in a house that could spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on art. I learned how to sew, cook and can food from my mom, and I learned how to use power tools, shoot a gun and make a fire from my dad. DIY was the name of the game. My parents provided a great life for us-- we always had good food to eat, went on family camping and fishing trips and got new clothes and shoes when we had grown out of the old ones. But we were frugal. We did not go on fancy vacations, or wear name brand clothes and we almost always shopped clearance sales, outlet stores and scratch and dent. If you couldn’t make it yourself and you wanted it, there was always a way to do it cheaper.
I still remember how much my dad loved western art. His favorite was Tim Cox , but buying an original was out of the question. So, he would buy the calendar, cut it apart and have his favorite pieces matted and framed to hang on the wall. He found a way to enjoy art that he loved and I reveled in and looked up to his cleverness.
When I was a young mother with a budding Etsy shop selling BooB TooBs (a nursing cover I invented), I was really struggling with pricing my products. As my sales grew, I needed to charge more to get the right materials and make it worth my time, but I just couldn’t imagine anyone spending more. The DIYer in me assumed everyone else had the same mentality I did and would rather make their own than spend more money. I as afraid if I charged too much that no one would buy it. But I was wrong. After multiple customers told me I should charge more and a few logic breakdown conversations with my husband, I realized that not everyone grew up the same way I did. Most people did not have the skills to make their own and most of the people who did have the skills didn’t have the time or desire. All of them were willing to pay for a product they wanted so that they didn’t have to do the work. It was a huge perspective shift for me.
Most of us don’t know how valuable the things we do are because they come so naturally to us and we assume they come that naturally to everyone else. We are often blind to our own magic.
After that art show, I remembered what it felt like to not have much money, but hope that I could be clever like my dad and find a way to have a little piece of the things that brought me joy.
I also remembered that not everyone had the skills, the time or the desire to create the things that sparked little fires in their heart and that perhaps they were looking to me with asking eyes, to be their flicker of hope.
I never wanted someone who found some type of beauty, inspiration or joy in my artwork to walk away empty handed. If they were willing to spend all they had, even if it was only $5 or $10, I wanted to have something for them to take home. A piece of my story that could be a part of theirs.
It wasn’t an immediate change, but the feeling took root in my heart and over the next year I shifted my focus to creating coloring books, prints, stickers and other products that kept every budget in mind.
I did not become an artist to paint one-offs and try to get rich selling to the super-wealthy.
I became an artist to turn my lessons, pains and joys into something tangible and meaningful. I made my own medicine and when it healed me, I ached to share it with the world.
Offering the fruits of my labor to others and seeing how it brought them joy made it feel worth the emotional price I had to pay to create them.
I believe that we were made for deep connection and that the joy we find in the creations of others is a mirror reminding us of our own creator identity.
I want my art to create both the connection to each other and to spark a remembering of the powerful creator self within each person.
all someone has is $10.
Do you believe you were created to create?
Learn more in my free e-book Creative Magic.