Researching megastar artist, Takashi Murakami, I learned he first made millions from his business, Kaikaikiki, a commercial art production company. He was able to use this money to create larger scale works for the Fine Art arena. Similarly, Jeff Koons became a Wall Street broker to earn the money to finance his early works. This strategy of creating multiple income streams to survive and prosper as an artist applies not only to superstars, but to us every day creators as well.
I set out to produce what I call a “Commercial Fine Art” product… something I could readily manufacture in small quantities on my own in order to get the ball rolling; something, however, that could eventually sell in volume to develop a substantial revenue stream; something that would be a fit for high-end gift shops, department stores, and other outlets. In the past, this would have been frowned upon in the Fine Art World. Now it is not only acceptable, but expected. I spent the last several years trying a variety of ideas and experimenting with all the materials (traditional and new) I could lay my hands on. The road was rockier than expected.
Among the first products I developed were 3D acrylic works. I had my own designs and artwork printed on clear, Plexiglas panels, then used stand-offs to arrange them two or three panels deep.
I also layered translucent, acrylic artwork inside shadow boxes, and as free-standing pieces, edge-lit with LED strip lighting.
The results were often lovely, but acrylic prints are quirky and don’t always end up looking the way they are visualized in Photoshop, particularly when employing translucent effects and adding LED edge lighting (fyi, some acrylic sheets distribute the edge lighting evenly, some do not). And if the visual effect doesn’t work, guess what… the printed acrylic sheets are a bust, meaning money down the drain. But the biggest challenge was working with the acrylic itself. Without precision manufacturing equipment, it’s difficult to cut or drill, and often breaks where it should not. Additionally, cutting acrylic makes a huge mess… dust goes everywhere. My studio was not the ideal place to construct these pieces. I’d need a full-blown factory style workshop. Back to the drawing board.
I decided to see if I could reasonably produce one of my 3D models. I’d been creating sculptures in “Blender,” a free, open source, 3D modeling/animation software that’s equivalent to its professional counterparts costing many thousands of dollars. Not an easy learning curve, but very rewarding once you figure it out. (It only took me about five years, off and on, but that was learning on my own via Youtube tutorials.) The awesome thing about creating digital-based sculpture is that I can email the computer file to a foundry in China where they will 3D print it any size, and from that 3D print, form a mold. And from that, the work can be cast in a wide range of materials.
which is very much on the frontiers of cutting edge fine art. Previously, I’d ordered the first casting as a nine inch, stainless steel sculpture. The results were magnificent, but costly. The stainless steel version of NU would have to retail at around $6,000.00, not exactly commercial department store faire.
At any rate, I decided NU would be my first “Commercial Fine Art” product, as it seems to have the “cute” factor going for it, and everyone loves “cute.”
So, how to produce the Commercial Fine Art version of NU? I began to experiment with materials and processes… wood, clay, metal, concrete, cardboard, Styrofoam, and more. Because of his unique shapes, NU would be difficult to make using any of these materials. Either that, or the materials just wouldn’t work at all. For example, I thought ceramic was surely the answer. After experimenting with various, slipcasting prototypes, I found out my design would not hold up in the “firing” process. I won’t go into detail about all the different things I tried, but when you’re researching, and ordering stuff, and waiting for it to arrive, and then finding time to actually assemble your ideas, time passes quickly… in this case, R&D, including the acrylic works, took years.
At last, I discovered “Ponoko,” a company that can cut out small designs from a variety of materials using a standard laser cutting technique. A lot of artists use Ponoko to produce jewelry and small figurines. Ponoko also does 3D printing, but sadly 3D printing is not yet ready for prime time—you end up with a rough, gritty surface. It also gets quite expensive. For example, I would have loved to have small NUs 3D printed in a metal like stainless steel or bronze, but the cost was in the thousands for a single 5” inch high figure.
However, laser cutting, which employs a 2D design format (even something as simple as an Illustrator .eps file), is far more cost-effective. I placed my first order for a 4” NU. The results were promising. Laser cutting is precise, and I was able to order ten figures cut from bamboo for around $200. So cost, not including my labor to finish, is around $20 each. And these days Fine Art Toys are selling anywhere between $150-250 bucks (and that’s for mass-produced, injection mold figures which are never touched by the artist’s hands). I also wanted something a little fancier than just a cut-out. Laser cutting can also make engraved areas which allowed me to have inlays made from a different material. This was getting exciting now. I really wanted the inlay pieces to be made from some kind of metal. Alas, Ponoko can’t laser cut metal. I reluctantly settled for black plastic in my excitement to get something finished.
I decided to “distress” the wooden bodies so they had an antique look. I also had to glue feet on because the cut-outs (only 1/4” thick) won’t stand on their own. After staining the wood, I glued the plastic inlay parts on by hand. I thought I’d done it, at last—a product I could reasonably produce on my own without a lot of initial headache and expenditure. (Injection molding runs around $20-30k for a minimum run.)
One of my plans for these figurines is to send them as gifts to gallery owners in New York and Los Angeles. After a couple of weeks, I realized, no matter how cute, I couldn’t send a hand-finished figurine that used plastic. Damn! I really wanted those metal inlays. Back to research. Fortunately, I found a company called “Pololu,” similar to Ponoko, but they laser cut metal! I ordered another batch of wooden figures with thin steel inlay parts. They arrived… and everything was magnificent, perfect, beyond my expectations. Still, I had to distress the wood, stain the metal, and glue everything together, but the parts fit together perfectly.
Meanwhile, during all this R & D, I was also researching the best gift packaging materials… another grueling excursion into the unknown. After looking at literally thousands of styles of gift boxes and stuffing materials, I finally found the perfect one—and this is big—one that was the perfect dimensions. AND I was able to order them in small quantities whereas most companies have minimum orders of hundreds. After years of sweat and failures, the NU Fine Art Figurine was ready at last.
Because of my background writing film and novels, it occurred to me I might craft a kind of graphic novel using still images. I thought if I could capture the attention of my target audience, and get them emotionally involved with NU, they would help me spread the word. I could also have NU contests and give some away free. I decided to go this route… and I would not even hint at selling anything… not until my customers were hooked.
Crafting a compelling story using small still frames means you have to come up with a very succinct way of writing. You must convey as much as possible in one or two short phrases. Not to mention, of course, your visuals better be pretty damned exciting. I love taking photographs, especially of natural beauty, and have done so in my travels for many years, so I have a large archive of images I could use as backgrounds. I also had experience combining digital characters with real photos (sort of like the FX process used in LORD OF THE RINGS.)
I put “selling” aside, and got to work writing the SAGA OF NU. From my past experience in online marketing, I knew that it can typically take three years for something to catch on with a target audience. I also knew that “marketing” was something you’d have to keep doing for a long time, conceivably for the rest of your life if you’re talking about your art. So you’d better be marketing something you’re really passionate about; it had better be your Primary Mission in Life—the Reason You’re On This Planet—if you’re going to stick with it. Otherwise, you’re gonna burn out on the process, something I’d also experienced in the past.
I decided to start writing without a detailed outline… I wanted the story to be spontaneous. Early on, I realized NU could be a champion for things that are dear to my heart… socio-political causes which, fortunately, are embraced by the Art World. The Creature NU, quickly became an advocate for the environment, sustainability, love vs fear, the value of Living in the Now, and my vision of reinstating dignity and integrity to the Human Race (as opposed to the superficial, sickness-ridden, Market Society that is now the Mainstream).
Like the character, the SAGA OF NU starts off seemingly childlike and innocent. But the tale gradually grows darker and more surreal. NU himself falls victim to the allure of materialism. He will forget his ideals, succumb to greed, and eventually get a terrible, but common disease. It’s not until he almost dies, that he has an epiphany and evolves into the true hero he is meant to be.
So that’s where we are today. Fortunately, the Creature NU is gaining momentum on Instagram with over 35k followers at the time of this writing. The hub for the NU Project is where you can see the NU video, as well as visit the Instagram graphic novel and the NU Gear Etsy store. If you like NU, and share his ideals, then your support would be much appreciated. Follow NU, and invite your friends to do the same. As we all know, the artist who thrives off his art is the artist who establishes multiple revenue streams. This is true even for the fortunate few who have top tier gallery and museum representation. Whether I can sell figurines in the thousands, even millions, remains to be seen. But I sure plan to give him my best shot. (Move over Murakami!) I’ll start off with a Special Limited Edition until enough financing comes in for mass-produced versions.
Wish me luck, folks. I hope you find this story inspirational for your own creative endeavors in supporting your Art. Be Positive, Confident, and Never Give Up! And perhaps most importantly… HAVE FUN!
From the lineage of the great Gregory Gillespie, Metrov has been impacting the Fine Arts for over 35 years. His work resides in collections around the world, including those of celebrities like Mick Jagger, the Hemingways, and Academy Award winner, Robert Zemeckis. He is also an author, filmmaker, and environmental advocate who lives in Southern California.
Please watch the video on www.DoYouNU.com. We can use your Youtube “views.” Any comments on the Youtube video would also be much appreciated! To leave a comment just click the Youtube icon under the video. Thanks”