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Being practical and following your dream

Dear Friends
        I have been too busy to respond to the exhibition fee and making a
living, following your dream postings and finally just have to make the
time. I?ve just mailed the manuscript for my second book to Scholastic,
Step-by-Step 3-D Pop-up Reports for American History, a book form but
built around history topics. I just want to say how much I appreciate
the list. Going through weeks with nothing but work and talking to no
one except my family, the messages from the outside world were something
I looked forward to.
        First of all about exhibition fees. Yes, they have been going up. It
doesn?t affect me too much because I am quite selective about the juried
shows I enter- only ones specifically for the Book Arts or a theme
related to the themes of my work, or in my town. I?ve found that I have
not done well getting into the large shows with many media and don?t
bother anymore. That seems to keep the number within a year affordable.
I have been on the other side and know how much work putting together a
show is. I also appreciate the fact the show is opened up. If a gallery
is interested in a book arts show, it would be much easier for them to
contact one or two people they know and set it all up as an
invitational. A publication I have found useful for the business side of
things is Art Calendar, Box 199, Upper Fairmount, MD 21867. It comes out
monthly, $32. per year and has articles and listings of exhibits.
        I appreciate a conversation about the business side of things because I
feel that as artists, we are expected to be operating on a higher plane
and that it somehow seems crass to talk about it. It?s a fact of life
and important, because if you can?t figure out how to make some kind of
income, you cannot sustain the art.
        I would like to add to the conversation that it is important to follow
your dream- I cannot imagine not doing what I do, but that it is also
important to make your decisions based on a realistic picture of the art
world, and to come up with a solution to the art/money problem that
truly suits you. I have made a series of decisions that I?d like to talk
        I have been self-employed since 1979. I have only recently started to
make what I consider decent money, and that is not specifically through
my art. I came into the world of art through calligraphy. Over the years
in calligraphy, I did a lot of commercial work- invitations, diplomas,
certificates, menus, wedding proposals, poems, logos- the works. I made
small matted fun sayings, as well as work for exhibition that was much
more creative and much more personal. One of the interesting things was
that the better my work got- the more individual and expressive, the
less it sold. I tired of the sayings and the commercial work first,
although I didn?t stop doping commercial work for quite a while. It was
still the only way I knew to make money. I often said, ?I either have to
get a personality transplant, or get out of this business.? I let people
push me around too much. I didn?t charge enough. I felt uncomfortable
asking what the job was worth. I just couldn?t get my mouth to form
large numbers. And every job was an individual one and prices had to be
figured and negotiated every time. I eventually found calligraphy itself
limiting and embraced the book form with enthusiasm.
        When I was in my late 30?s, I decided there had to another way. I had
come to a point where I had a sense of life?s finiteness, but I also
looked ahead and saw another 25+ years of working life and I knew I
didn?t want it to be the same. I was still doing some commercial
calligraphy and had just stopped teaching calligraphy at a college
because I had figured out what I was making and with class time, prep
time, grading, travel, and child care, it was less than $2.00 an hour
and it was wearing me out. I was making art and exhibiting it where I
could. I had a solo show locally at a cooperative gallery about every
two years and entered whatever group shows I could. I never sold
anything. I would work personally without worrying who if anyone would
buy the work, but then as I spent money preparing the exhibition, I
would start to figure, if I sold one piece I would break even, etc. I
would go from the high point of creating the work to the low of no
money. It was driving me crazy and I wanted my life to flow at a more
even pace.
        I decided that I would separate completely art and money, do art
without any thought of whether it would sell or not, and find another
way to make money. Since 1990, I have developed a teaching program over
the years which concentrates on the schools. This evolved over time, and
it has been the first time where I actually put practical considerations
into the development process. I first began teaching bookmaking through
community Ed avenues. My focus was not on bookmaking techniques but on
using books for personal expression and recording family and personal
events. There really wasn?t the interest, but I did find teachers
coming. I developed a program for teachers and have been expanding and
refining it ever since. I am successful because I have come to know my
audience and have worked to fill their needs. I think that keeping the
art totally for myself made me better able to see the teaching as a
service. My teaching is much more curriculum oriented than when I
started. And I find that I enjoy combining the subject matter with the
book form. I also have found to my amazement and delight that this seems
to be a perfect fit with my personality. What made me a pushover in the
commercial world makes me accessible and kind in teaching and puts
people at ease. I hate meetings and office politics and the level of
involvement I have in schools requires neither. In a former life, I was
a swimming teacher for the Boston School Dept. and there I learned to
project my voice over 30 screaming kids in an echo chamber of a room and
that too has served me in good stead. The money thing is much simpler
than it was in calligraphy. I have a standard price for the day so it?s
cut and dry. And I forced my mouth to say some numbers that surprised me
and now they roll right off my tongue.
        I am now in the process of shifting the focus again. While I love the
teaching, I find the scheduling hard (with kids) and the preparation and
packing a drag. I?ve cut down my teaching schedule to about 35 workshops
a year and hope to stay at this pace for a while. I?ve started writing
and want to continue expanding that portion of my life.
        And now for the only tough part in the story and that is making time
for the art which all this was supposed to support. I had an exhibit of
my work in the cases of my local library in February and called it
Seeking Balance. I exhibited one of a kind artists books from my Spirit
Book series, edition books, books I developed as teaching samples, books
I made for friends and family, and little books I made as cards. It was
well received and a great reevaluation for me. I realized that I want to
do all those things and that the key is not giving up any one of them
but finding a balance among them.

in good spirit,

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Newburyport, MA

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