Buying Local Art

I've been trying to editorialize around a set of questions that I asked four of my favorite artists in Fort Wayne. But then I realized the whole point here is to connect you (the art appreciator and would-be art buyer) with them (the amazing artists). So instead of painting around the facts, I'm going to share the artist's answers word for word.

My only contribution is this: remember that we're all better off when we put relationships over transactions. If you like someone's work slide in their dm's (but not in a creepy way) and try to be in relationship with them. Know up front how much your budget is and communicate that affirmatively. Know where you want to hang your art and what you like. Communicate with them, just like you would a friend. Be in relationship -- instead of looking for a quick purchase on the clearance rack at a discount store.

(art by Grace Harman for Hyper Local Impact)

Without further ado, its my pleasure to share with you a conversation on making and buying art in Fort Wayne with Jerrod Tobias, Matthew Plett, Bridget O'Brien, and Lyndy Bazile of Afroplump.

We kicked off the conversation discussing the practical economics of making art in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Here at Hyper Local Impact its our goal to normalize the candid discussion of money -- the sooner we get it out of the way the better!

Question 1: How do you make ends meet as an artist in Fort Wayne?

Matt: I’m a freelancer graphic designer and artist and I hustle for every dollar I get.  I’m blessed to be married to a partner with a stable job. I don’t make enough on my own to support my entire family but I’ve totally been lucky to get the work I have and make what I do.  Whether it’s logo design, illustration, murals, fine art or anything else I can figure out I try to make what I can.

Lyndy: I worked in a restaurant before COVID and also managed an Airbnb. Now that those jobs have both been lost, things are much more difficult financially. 

Jerrod: We make ends meet with multiple jobs, business from home, and a modest lifestyle.  I have worked for a global logistics company as a driver and handler for over 15 years.  I recently also took on a full time landscaping job.  I am also working on commissions in the studio.  It took me 10 years to make enough money as an artist, to make a difference in my budget.

Bridget: I believe the wonderful thing about working as an artist in Fort Wayne is the sense of connectivity between individuals that, in my experience, translates to people looking out for each other constantly. Small town mentality, compassion hyperdrive, in a medium sized city. This is how I catch my bottom line; people become aware of your work and a friend has a friend who is seeking a commissioned work, or a friend is having a group show, a friend is opening a restaurant and needs work on the walls, or a local shop wants to exhibit prints of local artists. I rely on the generosity of others always.

Question 2: What are some of the benefits of being an artist in Fort Wayne over other (bigger) cities?

Bridget: The benefits of being an artist in Fort Wayne seem to culminate more and more the longer I am here. Fort Wayne is a very affordable city, which expands the capabilities of an artist indefinitely; when you can afford a studio and the time to focus on work, your work tends to benefit both quantitatively and qualitatively. Fort Wayne also has a vested interest in fostering its art community, through a myriad of organizations asking artists to participate in calls for public art or gallery shows.

I believe the paramount benefit to being a working artist in Fort Wayne however, is the way people support each other. Toxic competition I’ve experienced elsewhere is replaced by a hardworking tenacity and sense of communal purpose. It really is just fun to be a working artist in this town.

Matt: I think some of the benefits are cost of living and community with other creatives. 

Lyndy: In Fort Wayne, it is easier to find your base group of people who will support and encourage you. It’s also easier to feel like your ideas are special and unique because there aren’t thousands of other people already doing what you’re trying to do. 

Jerrod: The scale of Fort Wayne is a double edged sword.  It is easier to stand out in a small scene, but there are less opportunities, and fewer resources.  You have to partner with a non-profit to access most grant programs.  This gives you a handful of local organizations to partner with on projects.  The grant system is a world unto itself and fraught with inexperienced rich kids and out of touch board members.  I have chosen to stop supporting multiple organizations over gross mismanagement and elitist tendencies.  It doesn't take long to draw yourself right into a corner in a small town.  But I would rather be true to my craft, than make economic gains with the good old boys.  You'll never find me at the golf course.

Question 3: How do you reinvest in Fort Wayne outside of the art you make (think: do you eat local, shop local, volunteer with nonprofits, donate work, etc.)?

Lyndy: I am conscious about spending my money at local businesses as opposed to larger chains and corporations. I’ve also volunteered with art/ mural projects around town and always try to support other artists at their openings and shows. 

Jerrod: Re-investment in Fort Wayne is a design challenge we face as a community.  We can't simplify our socioeconomic issues into "Think Global, Buy Local".  We are often oblivious to power of our consumption.  The economy has tanked globally in 4 weeks because we all stopped buying shit.  If your budget gives you an opportunity to make mindful decisions, you can work toward change in many small ways.  We don't go out a lot, but we support the people we love and respect.  I try to say yes when people ask for a painting donation, but that also has limitations.  I've certainly given away more work than I've ever sold.  That's rarely sustainable. (Preach, Jerrod!!)

Matt: I think being connected personally to other creatives or local businesses can actually help you naturally want to give back and reinvest. We try to eat local, shop local as much as possible. I donate art and work to people and businesses I have relationships.  It’s all a flow, for me.

Bridget: I try to buy locally as much as I can, which is quite easy to do in this city. Fort Wayne has a plethora of incredible family-run grocers, restaurants, and cafes, many of whom gave me my first exhibition spaces. #ArtistsSupportArtists seems to be a mantra Fort Wayne has taken to relentlessly – it is a tremendous privilege to be able to trade or purchase the works of other artists in this town. I have volunteered with the YWCA teaching painting methods to children, which taught me in turn that I have effectively lost everything I thought I knew about art by aging out of childhood.

Question 4: If you could share a few honest sentences with a potential customer about why they should purchase your art what would they be?

Matt: "If it speaks to you, if it makes you feel something or resonates with you then consider purchasing a piece directly from an artist.  Doesn’t have to be me.  But you won’t get a chance to own that piece ever again, so jump on it if you’re feeling it.  It’s something that will continue to reward you every time you look at it and the artist can go and make more!" 

Jerrod: "I've worked my entire adult life at developing a visual language to communicate an important message.  We are an infinite fabric of light and time."

Bridget: "Hi, thank you for purchasing my art. Wow. Really? That is very nice. You are very nice to do this." To a potential customer – know that your patronship is deeply appreciated. My work is a very deep part of myself, so when people want to engage with it themselves, it is immensely validating. It’s not just baby needs a new pair of shoes kind of patronage (although it is, again, thanks so much.) It is a fundamental part of how I connect with others. Past commissions have blossomed into unique relationships, and I view this kind of work as a collaboration more than a job. I am so grateful to work to make dreams, memories, or places visually tangible with you.

Lyndy: AfroPlump is what I call my brand of work. My intention is to bring awareness to the special qualities that exist in women, particularly those who have been rejected by the societal standards of beauty, gender and race that exist in our world. 

Many of my pieces are intended to both celebrate the women that came before me who were marginalized by society and also to inspire the women of future generations to continue the fight for equality. 

Question 5: What do you consider some misconceptions about buying art/supporting artists?

Jerrod: Some common misconceptions about supporting artists is that they are desperate for exposure.  Neither my grocer, nor my mortgage company take exposure as payment.  (Clapping vigorously) Another misconception associates wealth, with understanding. Just because you've traveled abroad, doesn't mean you know shit about materials and process.  

Bridget: Perhaps one misconception about buying or supporting artists is the belief that artists are in competition with each other, or that there is a concept of “good” or “bad” art. I experienced this a little getting my BFA, and the absence of toxic competition is welcome. If you’re doing something unique, and supporting others with your work, you are a good artist in my opinion. You can’t compare a Frankenthaler with a Whistler, or a Pollock with a Picasso – style is so subjective. Some of my most frequent buyers are artists themselves, which is an assertion of the remarkable artist community Fort Wayne has cultivated.

Lyndy: People often tend to buy art that makes them feel good but I think it is also important to value art that pushes on you, might make you uncomfortable and positions you to consider where your feelings come from. It’s good to grow through art. 

Matt: I think this quarantine has proven the value of art in all its forms. Almost everything we are turning to for comfort and entertaining ourselves with during this time is art. If you are getting value from something, it makes sense to support the work.  I think people talk a lot about supporting artists but we’re still buying art from Target on clearance that thousands of other people have in their houses too.  I think spending money on someone and their creation can change your mind about who you are, what you believe in, how you show support and it also can be all the difference in the world to the artist.  

Question 6: What's your favorite commission you've ever received?

Matt: Ah, man, I don’t know if I have a favorite.  I really feel crazy good when someone asks me to make anything and wants to pay for it.  I’d love that to be more normalized for everyone but it still feels like such a big deal every time.

Bridget: My favorite commission by far was for a painting of the Firefly Coffeehouse on North Anthony. The patron and I both met very important people to us here, and the space itself is radiating with creativity and flora of absolute visual delights (thanks by no small part to the lineage of artists associated with that place.) Through this commission, I learned a great deal about the personal history of the individual, which granted me many visual cues I could put in the painting she would recognize. That is my favorite part – gathering a series of tidbits to create a cornucopia of imagery, knowing that she would have to “Where’s Waldo” it later. She was open to that style, and it made making that painting so exciting to me.

Jerrod: The most important commission of my career is Metaform.  That is the 300' Mural and sculpture on Columbia Ave by 3 Rivers apartments.  That project called my bluff on many levels and forced me to learn many things the hard way.  I was able to reconcile some personal issues by achieving that dream.  It freed me.  I think it also brought Kara and I closer to one another.

Question 7: What's been your biggest personal challenge in helping people value art and artists?

Lyndy: It’s been challenging to balance the level of nudity and nakedness in my work. My intention with nudity is to offer an honest and clear version of the women I portray but often people see it as sexual and vulgar instead and they are instantly repulsed. Sometimes it is sexual, too but usually it’s just nudity! 

Matt: I think a big challenge is the view of value to art for people who kind of only see things through a Capitalism lens.  People who only see artists as valuable in a black and white, are you producing things I see are economically viable things, mindset.  Art is so much more, and I think most people know it.  I have so many opinions on art and it’s always changing and I don’t even understand them all the time.  I really just feel like the value of beauty (whatever that means haha) has been lowered and lowered for centuries.  

Bridget: My biggest challenge in helping people value art and artists, is the decoration aisle at your local Target or Walmart. I have thought so many times about sneaking a drawing of mine into a frame to see if someone would buy it. This is a horrible confessional! It is the truth though. My biggest contentions with department stores are: 1) They are not supporting the local art economy, whatsoever. Unless a designer lives in the area. When you buy art, you are likely buying many other artists’ works, as most artists pay forward in this community. 2) It is a waste of material. I paint on recycled wood. Often, the wood I use to make frames is repurposed. It is less expensive, and I hope better for the environment – this also allows me to keep my pricing bracket lower. 3) My work is often priced the same or lower than the printed and mass-produced decorum at larger stores. And that is an O’Brien guarantee.

Jerrod: One challenge is the relative value of art compared to other markets.  Often times the wealthy will gobble up auction house work during economic downturns.  Then when the markets rebound, they sell for huge profits.  This goes hand in hand with the real estate and stock markets.  People lose sight of how art has been used as a mechanism for gains from the Catholic Church to Sotheby's.  It is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.

Question 8: Can you describe the various price points you have available if someone wants to purchase your art? (prints vs. originals, sizes, mediums)

Bridget: I price my work on a sliding scale based on a function of time spent and materials used. Usually, larger does mean more time and material, but not always. If you prefer a pricing range before commissioning a painting, I am happy to accommodate. I recently sold a series of 8x11” original framed drawings for $25 each. Prints of the firefly painting are 8x12” and unframed, so I sell those for $5 each.I am working on a commission for $60 that is a botanical acrylic piece on wood, 17x34” in. I am also working on a much larger watercolor landscape; 3 feet x 4 1⁄2 feet, framing included, for $300.

Private commissions are a bit more nuanced, so I would work out a price after meeting to discuss what you’re looking for.

Lyndy: I have small digital prints of my work starting at $3, I have large paintings priced around $500 and I have a wide range of options in between. 

Jerrod: I price murals by time and material at a rate of $50/hr.  I try to achieve that rate in the studio, but it doesn't always work out.  I've never made prints of paintings to sell, because it seems like a nickel and dime game.  I just want to make new work, and try things.

Matt: I have pieces from $20 for some 8x10 prints to a few hundred for paintings or other fine art pieces.  I’m always jumping around with different mediums and themes so honestly, if you like something you may want to ask me for price or snatch it up? ;)

Question 9: Are you willing to work on different payment structures with clients (pay over time, discounts for multiple pieces, etc.)?

Jerrod: I am negotiable on price and payment within reason.  All my bills are due in 30 days, so I expect payment within 30 days.  Don't commission work you can't afford.

Matt: I’m as flexible with prices as I can be, I make so many different things that it’s hard to know what prices could be, but if you’re interested we can always make something happen.

Lyndy: Yes! I'll work with you!

Bridget: Absolutely. Commissioning a painting is a very vulnerable process, and it is impossible to avoid the inherent vulnerability associated with how to price your ideas. Malleability is essential on both ends, and I appreciate it when people ask for exactly what they want or are willing to pay for.

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