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Friday, 13 September 2013 02:44

Art - Making Marketable Art Is Giving Me the Inventory Blues

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I’ve never seen myself as an artist who paints one fabulous painting at a time to fill gallery walls, satisfy a waiting list of eager buyers, and someday make it into a modern-art museum. My work isn’t so highbrow, I say to myself; because I do a lot of drawing and less painting, and choose horror mixed with humor as my favorite subject, I fall somewhere in between the gallery painting and the greeting card.

Our booth at night (with the merch put away) at Comikaze. We’ve got plenty of hangers, naked mannequins, and bins full of T-shirts, art prints, and stickers in storage when these shows aren’t taking place.

There’s a lot of art product in between those two things. So much, in fact, that I’m trying to do all of it. I see what sells and think I should do it, or someone suggests that I do it because it will sell well. So far I’ve got T-shirts, giclee prints, poster-grade prints, and stickers. (People have asked for tattoo designs and books, so I’m considering them too.) And now I’m surrounded by boxes. I’ve got the inventory blues.

It’s not that no one buys the stuff. People do. But the suppliers who help us make the T-shirts and prints have minimum orders. Right now I’m making more women’s organic mermaid skeleton shirts because we’re out of size Large. To keep the cost reasonable for me and the retail price reasonable for the buyer, I have to make a certain amount of them (not mass market, mind you, but enough to make our storage space much harder to walk around in…and it’s already tight). To fill an order, I have to navigate the boxes, unshelve some, unfold and refold, hurt my back putting things away. I don’t want all this stuff around me. But wait…it’s my own stuff. It’s my product. Shouldn’t I want it? Don’t I like it? Now I feel guilty as well as hot and tired.

I love the images I make. But when there are too many of one image lying around, I think there shouldn’t be so many, and the quantity starts to freak me out. It’s like seeing one mouse in your house versus more; one is cute, but more are vermin. This is no way to feel about one’s own artwork.

The only way to cure the inventory blues is to create a discount or an event or some kind of motivation to help people see the inventory and entice them to buy it. Trade shows are great ways to mingle and move merch, and it’s fun to be at them once they’re up and running. We have lots of trade shows under our belts now. We meet very nice people, see amazing products by others, and are usually happy with the sales. But each event requires paying a fee to the organizer, renting and packing a U-Haul full of display furniture and product, having new signage made, and advertising the event to the public. That’s all time I could have spent actually drawing or painting something. In fact, the amount of time I spend drawing and painting is quickly becoming less than the time I spend marketing, going on the social networks, organizing inventory, and filling orders. Recently I was recently in two gallery shows that opened the same month, and getting ready for those was like a happy dream. I closed my online store, spent almost no time on the social networks, and did nothing but draw and paint for nearly a month. But I made very little money. The only way to make the money is to move the stuff.

This was my 11-year-old daughter’s idea, to combine our stickers with her advertising at Unique LA. It was very effective; people liked the personal touch.

Back in February I was invited to do my first big event out of town—not the gallery kind, but the kind that would have involved hotel bills, twelve hours total of driving a U-Haul there and back, and hiring a setup crew. I know some people do this all the time, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for it and decided against it. Hiring help for a Friday and the weekend might have eaten up all my profits all by itself. The hotel bill would have doubled that negative number. I have a kid in elementary school; I would have had to bring her along on a school day in the U-Haul, have her stay up till the event ended at 2 a.m., and try to ease her frustration while she sat for hours in our booth…either that, or hire two days of child care (more profit loss), or foist her onto another family for two days (possible friendship loss unless I reciprocated). I could do it, sure, but wouldn’t I have to do it again and again once I started accepting out-of-town invitations? Time to think seriously about how much growing my inventory-pushing campaign should do. Because more growth will mean lots more driving, packing and unpacking, and paying fees as well as shipping out of state, checking hotel rooms for bed bugs, and turning a happy, relaxed kid into a stressed-out, bored gypsy. And more inventory blues.

Uh-oh, now I’ve just tarnished my company’s can-do image. Speaking of can-do, the problem of making enough new art and selling enough of it at the same time has made it too difficult for me to continue writing this blog right now. I wish I didn’t have to bow out. This has been a fantastic outlet for me as well as a motivation to keep up with the LA art scene; but I’m juggling a lot right now. Thanks so much to Nancy Bianconi and the staff at for giving me this opportunity to write about the things I do and see. And thanks so much to you, for reading my blog for the past year!

Please don’t miss my duo show with my husband, Daniel Saks, at Cella Gallery October 19. It’s called “Enlightenment,” and it’s about the Age of Enlightenment—electricity, invention, dissent, revolution, and much more. Hope to see you there!



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Thea Saks

Thea Saks is an artist based in Los Angeles. Her company, The Mighty Squirm (, specializes in apparel and art prints with designs inspired by folklore and historical periods of interest, especially the 19th century. Thea's work has appeared in local galleries including Cella Gallery, Cannibal Flower, and La Luz de Jesus, as well as Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco and District VII in Detroit. The Mighty Squirm has participated in markets for highly original merchandise such as Unique LA, Bats Day Black Market, Bazaar Bizarre, Comikaze Los Angeles, and Son of Monsterpalooza.

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