“Would you like to buy some paintings?” the little girl asked, and her companions looked at me with big, serious eyes. The three girls held a few wrinkled papers, clutched tightly in rather grubby paws.
I blinked, a bit surprised. The girls and I had gotten to know each other last summer; Stephen, father of two of them, brings them over whenever I have the garage doors up in my studio. The girls watch as I make my molds, or sculpt a clay face, or coldwork a sculpture, and ask probing questions…for about five minutes.
Then the fidgets begin, while Stephen and I discuss annealing and glass chemistry and elasticity (Stephen’s an engineer and physicist and this kinda stuff fascinates him). First they stand on one leg, then the other. Hair is chewed, arms swung around like censers and, finally, “Daddy?”
“Daddy? Can we goooooooo? Pleeeeeeease?” Stephen holds out for a minute or two more, just on principle, but then the four of them slip back down my driveway and head off for ice cream, or the wading pool, or just to bounce and be free in the glorious heat.
I kinda figured that a stop at my studio was a necessary evil, part of the arsenal used to inveigle a treat from Daddy…but maybe not.
“You had that art sale in your garage* to raise money and Daddy says you should be in a museum and so we want to sell art, too,” says the fearless leader, her smooth black pageboy glinting in the sun. I watch her eyes for signs of giggles, but she appears totally serious and a bit impatient. “So…would you like to buy some paintings?”
“Come on in, girls,” I open the door wide. “It’s a bit messy; I’m cleaning up.”
“Oh, this is NOTHING,” says the middle girl, “You should see OUR house. Daddy says that little pigs wouldn’t be that messy.”
I’ll bet Mommy would love to hear that, I think, as I invite them to spread their paintings on the coffee table. “Now,” I say briskly, “If you’re going to sell your art, you have to be able to talk about it. So, tell me about each one of these paintings and I’ll decide if I want to buy it.”
The middle girl, about 7, holds up the first work: A blank sheet of paper. “This one isn’t really a painting, because it’s blank. It was stuck to the back of one of mine. All of mine are already sold, but I can let you have this one for a nickel. If you want it.”
“Hmmm. I don’t think I need a blank sheet of paper. What else do you have?”
The leader holds up an abstract of leaves, in blues and reds, purples and greens. “This one is my favorite of the ones we have left. We got some leaves from our backyard and we picked the prettiest ones and then we put paint on them. When you squish them on the paper they make real leaves in the paint.”
“And this one,” she said, holding up a collection of colorful squiggles and lines, “my little sister made this one. She can’t draw very well yet but Daddy says she promised.”
“You mean she shows promise?”
“Yeah,” and she proffers another, this time with a big silver X outlined in crayon. “This one Mommy said is mixed up and it’s not as good as the other ones.”
Carefully, we review the entire collection, and I choose my two favorites (the leaves and the squiggles, one from each artist who still has work to sell). “How much are they?”
They freeze. “Twenty-five cents,” says the middle girl, cautiously.
“Quarter,” says little sister.
“Apiece. That’s apiece. Not altogether,” says the leader.
I pluck two quarters from my purse, trying not to wince because I know two quarters divided by three little girls equals argument. I consider offering a third quarter for the blank sheet of paper but–hey–business is business. I hand over payment for two paintings.
Their eyes grow wide and round, and they take the quarters with reverence. “Oh, thank you. Thank you soooo much! Daddy says you’re a real artist and now a real artist bought my painting with money!”
I ignore the fact that in my entire artful, galleried career I’ve probably not sold as much as these girls are selling door-to-door in the neighborhood, and just relish the fact that SOMEbody thinks I’m an artist.
“Well, thank you. Are you trying to raise money for something?”
“No. Well, yes. We’re saving up,” the leader assured me, “Daddy says we have to start pulling our weights because we’re costing a fortune for all our ice cream. And so the next time we go out for ice cream we’re going to pay.”
“Admirable goal,” I muse, “Uh, that means it’s a very good goal to have,” I hastily correct as they look puzzled.
“Thank you, Cynthia. We only have one painting left, so we’re going to go back to my house and make more,” said the middle girl, “I think this time we’re going to draw instead of paint. Paintings take too long to dry. If we only make paintings it will take weeks to make enough money.”
Ahhh. Already introducing production efficiencies. I sincerely hope the alternative, raising prices, doesn’t occur to them.
“Yeah, but all the leaf paintings sell first,” objected the leader, “You can’t draw on leaves, so we’ll have to do something else.” She sighed. “It has to be something somebody wants to buy.”
“What if,” I suggested, “You draw yourselves? Or maybe animals you see around here? Or your neighbors? People like that kind of stuff.”
They looked dubious, and the youngest made a face. “Ick.”
“Well,” I tried again, “What about drawing peoples’ houses? Maybe you could go around drawing pictures of each neighbor’s house, and then offer to sell them the drawing. People might like that.”
Their eyes lit up. “Yeah! And we can sell pictures like that for a LOT more money! Pictures like that take a lot more work!” They bounced up, and crowded to the door, waving over their shoulders as they dashed down the street.
I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be framing a portrait of my house in a very short while.
*I think they’re referring to my foray into Portland Open Studios last October.