I thought I'd start sharing some interesting stories and even some candid confessions that I've experienced as a full time artist. I think we tend to sugar coat things on blogs sometimes but there is nothing more sobering and impactful than the brutal truth. Perhaps I'll begin this series with a story I like telling about my daughter.
Let's back up a bit to when I was just starting out. At the time my daughter was seven years old (she is 13 now) and I was in my first year as an artist. I had just taken on a commission to paint a Michael Jordan portrait for a young couple who wanted to decorate their son's room. I was really excited to paint a sports painting and even more excited to get paid for it. This was during the summer so my daughter was with me a lot during the week. She got to watch me work on paintings and learn a lot about the creative process.
My daughter is really good with money. She saves every penny and knows how much to spend when she wants something.
So back to this commission I am to paint. I decided I want to take the time to show my daughter how I start the painting. It's simple enough so why not have her do it? So she agrees after I demonstrate the process to her. She does a great job of painting the background and I'm feeling pretty good as a dad, showing my daughter how to create art. Little did I know she as scheming from the very beginning. She likes to play innocent and not reveal her true intentions (I have no idea where she learned that). So the day comes when I turn in the painting to the collector and they love it.
I'm paid $600 for the painting and I think to myself "My daughter helped me with this I should give her a small reward". Awww what a nice dad! Right? I decided $20 was a good bonus for her especially for a seven year old. So I pick her up and on the car ride back to my place I tell her that I finished the painting and got paid and I wanted to reward her for the great work she did. I whipped the $20 bill out like a pistol (for dramatic effect) and her face lit up. I thanked her for helping dad and waited for her response. She sat there in her seat staring at the $20, blinking once or twice symbolizing some sort of chemical reaction of neurons firing simultaneously. I was expecting to hear "thanks dad!, I love you!". Just silence for about 10 seconds. Then she asks "How much did they give you for the painting?". I'm at a loss for words. I didn't expect her to ask that. I suspect I'm walking into a trap. "Enough", I said thinking that would settle that question. My daughter asks "More than $40?". So I decide to just tell her, there is no reason to hide the truth. She ponders my answer for a moment then hits me with trap "Dad," in a formal tone, "Would you say I painted half the painting?", here it comes. "Well the background isn't half the painting" I respond. "It is if you didn't paint it" she says quickly. Okay at this point I'm in a corner. But I'm also astounded at the sheer gall she has to have this conversation with me, so I play ball. "Okay and?" I say. "Well if I painted half shouldn't I get half the money?"
There it is. What just happened? Did I get outwitted by a seven year old? Did she just plan this out over weeks? Of course I can't let this slide. I have to flip this into a teachable moment. So I go into "dad mode" and respond back to her, "I would have given you half if you had gotten it in writing before you did the work, next time you do work for anyone be sure you are getting paid and how much." She sat there in disbelief that her plan had fallen apart as if the $20 was just a piece of paper now to her. She attempted to give her rebuttal but I asked her for the $20 back to which she said "forget I mentioned anything, thank you dad. I love you."
Lesson here is to never trust a seven year old and if you do always have a contract.