Thursday, March 13, 2008

Paint first ... ask questions later (Story of my first painting sale)

As a young guy learning how to paint at a summer workshop in Provincetown in the summer of 1951 I had no thoughts of making a living … or that someone would want to pay money to me for things I was learning to do. I was just training with brushes and colors … in between late night parties and laughter. Never thought much about making a living
Five mornings a week I painted and seven afternoons and evenings a week I bussed tables at the Moors Restaurant, out near the beach. One afternoon a very pretty woman came in with her two small children and her mother … or maybe the mother-in-law.
I schmoozed with them as I set up the table and, I guess because of my city-street attitude, the woman asked what I was doing in P’town. She was genuinely surprised when I told of the painting workshop ... then asked if she could see some of my work.
You know, I was macho and comfortable enough chatting them up while setting the tables for them … but she wanted to see my stuff … what was that all about? Why would she want to see my stuff? I began stuttering and shuffling because I sure as hell didn’t want anyone to look at my work. I guess I figured it was cool to talk about being a painter and let them wonder how good I was rather than to let them see the work and probably remove all doubt.
I had my gear in my locker including three or four paintings I had just finished. I was pleased with one of them … a painting of a fish processing plant jutting out into the harbor on a fog-drenched morning. I liked it … It was a good painting.
I remained firm in my refusal to show my works for about fifteen seconds. Did I mention that she was pretty? So I went off to my locker.
When I returned to the table a man had joined the party. Rats … must be the husband, I thought. Parking the car. I handed the paintings to the woman and went off to fetch some water. And when I cane back the guy says to me … “How much are you selling these for?”
Whoa … having to show them was bad enough … now he thinks I was trying to sell them. I took a bit of an issue with his question and his tone … like I was some kind of a gypsy selling roses from table to table.
I said I was not selling them. He gave me a look that was like … Yeh, Right.
He said “What do you mean your not selling them?”
I said, “I’m not selling them. The lady asked what I was doing in Provincetown and I told her I was in a workshop. I work here afternoon and nights … and I paint in the mornings … and I really didn’t want to show them. I don’t show my paintings … I don’t sell my paintings.” I had my dignity.
And now I was really getting agitated because I was trying to explain something very simple and doing a bad job of it.
He said, “You don’t sell your paintings!”
I said … “You got it.”
Then he holds up the painting I liked … the foggy fish plant … and says … “Well if you were selling them … what would you sell this one for?”
Now I figured he was playing games … having a little sport with me. I was into a slow burn. They were all looking at me … so I figured … “To hell with it.” I really wanted to bust his chops and make him look silly in front of his very pretty wife.
I thought to myself … let’s see if he can put his money where his mouth is. I smiled, leaned forward … locked into his eyes and said, “Twenty bucks.”
So the guy reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet picks out a twenty and holds it out for me.
I looked at the twenty … then at my painting … that was getting better looking and better looking as the seconds ticked away.
Now don’t forget … this was 1951 … and back then twenty bucks would go a long way for me in P’town. Rent … Food … Nights of splendor. Mostly the splendor.
I licked my lips … seven, eight, nine, ten … I grabbed the twenty and said, “You’re not getting it back.”
Now everybody laughed and I went off to my other chores filled with a bittersweet joy of selling my first painting ever … but one that I really didn’t want to sell.
Later in the afternoon, as things slowed down, I was chatting up with the bartender and he asked, “What was going on with the Fords?”
I said … “The Fords,”
He says, “The Fords.”
I says … “What Fords?”
He said “The Fords … the party against the window … you were showing them some of your paintings.”
I said, “Them! Oh yeh! They were nice Although the guy was a wise guy … he was busting on me. But he bought one of my paintings.”
The bartender said, “Henry Ford Jr. bought one of your paintings?”
I said, “Henry Ford Jr.? … like in the beep, beep, beep, Henry Ford … Automobile-Ford? … Model T-Ford? … Fords?”
He said, “Yeh … That was Henry Ford Jr.”
I thinks … “How do you like that? I coulda nailed him for forty bucks.”


· Don’t argue with a client.
· Why paint something that you don’t want people to see?
· Painting for money is nice.
· All paintings are Af-FORD-able.

Blog me back and share your the story of your first painting-sale. Or poem ... or song ... or photograph ... or whatever.

Dan McCole


The Lone Beader said...

Cool story! My first 'real' painting sale was commissioned after a gov't worker (from Washington DC!) saw my work in a magazine. He wanted the piece he saw for his beach house! I was unable to sell him the piece because it was off being photographed for another publication, so I offered to make him a custom piece! He accepted, and I took photos of it on a daily basis, posting them online so he could see it in progress. And, his beaded painting ended up better than the first! That's the story of my first painting sale, as well as the early idea for my blog!! :D

And, now that I think about it, I think the Fords could use a beaded Ford! :D

SHEILA 02127 said...

love it as always, you do such great work, Dan. Hey can you send my email address to Martin Lynch for me? I'm coming over to see him, and want to explore the South of ireland. He is and will always be my FAVORITE IRISH NEPHEW!