I sold my first paper cutting over 10 years ago off the sidewalk during Olde City’s First Friday. I was a little excited to sell something, but even then I was disappointed I was haggled down from $35. If I’m honest? Twenty dollars was generous given that I used black cardstock (acid-free or archival weren’t terms I knew then), and the frame was a $3 clearance special from Michaels. The composition and style left a lot to be desired as well, but I think enough has been said on that…
Everybody grows, everybody progresses, and in fact, as an artist, that natural growth is all part of the process and can be part of the excitement for followers and collectors. However, there is a delicate balance between honesty and the implication that your previous works simply weren’t as good or made from quality materials like the work you are currently producing. I can joke about the $3 special now because the “statute of limitations” for shiesty art dealings goes out the window when you don’t sign your work, hock it on a street corner to an unknown buyer, and stop working completely for more than five years after said transaction**. But as for work in recent history, there is something to be said for forethought.
Few artists (I would assume) have the forethought (and funds) when they are starting out to think, “I’d better do this first piece to the letter to set the bar for the future.” They just do it. I just did it. When my mom first said to me, “You need to start framing with conservation glass,” I laughed. The idea that I wouldn’t use the glass packaged up with the frame, but would rather spend 3 times over (or more) for glass was absurd. But today? I’d never frame a piece without it. It’s a small price to protect your work (and avoid upsetting calls down the road).
That was then, and “this” (the last five years) is now. When I hung my first show, a miracle in itself because I only had a handful of pieces when I accepted it, there were some glaring mistakes that I have since corrected. Each time these differences or improvements come up, I have a moment of panic when I think, “Am I going to upset or offend an early buyer.” I am quick to remember, that while I have come a long, long way since then, I had enough forethought to honor enough elements of the process to ensure lasting work. The pieces from my first show are lovely, and have stood the test of time. Like a patient in a hospital gown, they may experience an occasional breeze from behind if they are not properly backed and lovingly sealed with my trademark “brown paper,” the frames might not all pass my “litmus test” today, but they remain sturdy and adequate, and while the glass may or may not be conservation glass, the run-of-the-mill glass has done well to protect them all the same (or so those early pieces that hang in my home tell me).
**If you did buy my artwork on a street corner all those years ago, like Travis from Clueless said, “Thank you for taking a chance on an unknown kid.” I owe you one.