[UPDATED JANUARY 2021]
BEFORE WE START…
I hope you find this post valuable whether you’re reading as an existing follower of my work or an artist creating work of your own. Of course, artists and followers aren’t distinct from one another — they’re often one and the same.
If you’re completely new to The Lifeboat Station Project, welcome! Click here to learn more about it.
However you’ve landed on this post, I hope you’ll read it to the end, support it, then stick around for a while to see the rest of the journey unfold.
What you’re about to read covers topics that I had no idea I’d have to contemplate when I embarked on this project. It’s a journey that’s been humbling and I’ve certainly been put in my place!
Since returning from Ireland in October, I’ve learned that I’ve had to become comfortable with sharing some of the inner workings of my mind, to share more of what it actually takes to make one of the largest photographic projects ever undertaken.
The glossy façade I presented at first on social media that gave the impression of “I’m cruising along making this look easy” simply wasn’t the whole picture nor was it an effective approach.
My growing social media audience clearly thought I had it all under control, that I didn’t need their help. It was a scenario far from the truth and it was my fault it had been perceived in that way.
Therein lies the first big lesson learned:
“If it’s difficult, don’t make it look easy!”
To be blunt, I had to learn to open up quickly in order to save The Lifeboat Station Project. Thankfully, with guidance from friends and loved ones, my revised approach is beginning to work.
If you need a refresher of where the first chapter ended and the new one began, have a read of the blog post I wrote back in October called Mission Fatigue.
At the time, I was anxious about publishing those words and the accompanying video, which revealed just how tough I was finding it to keep going, but it became an incredibly positive landmark on my journey.
It resulted in me being more open and asking my audience (my crowd) for their help via Patreon.
Read on for a glimpse into some of the other things I’ve learned along the way.
My hope is that this post can be some sort of useful resource. I feel I could write books on the topic — and would like to one day — but in the meantime, I hope the words below are an insightful start, particularly if you’re thinking about taking on a big project of your own…
CONNECTING LOOSE WIRES
The Internet is incredible for creative people in countless ways — Social Media is the most obvious example — but I feel there are still some connections that need wiring up.
The main problem is that we’ve all got used to being entertained free-of-charge.
Furthermore, we’re at a point where there’s often very little financial value attributed to the wonderful material we’re enjoying.
Online audiences can now revel in the creations of so many talented people but all too often there’s little or no financial benefit to the clever people that created the work.
Ultimately, that means that creators’ earnings become scant and unpredictable. Under such conditions, it becomes extremely hard to pay bills, put bread on the table and make new work — a desperate situation ensuring that the day-to-day lives of many artists remains a struggle at the very least.
The notion of the struggling artist is not a new one. Throughout history, the creative arts have rarely been given the same stature as literacy and the sciences. The latter are both important, of course, but I don’t think they’re more important than creativity.
It’s a topic regularly discussed at length, not least by the likes of Ken Robinson in one of my favourite TED lectures. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll find it when you reach the end of this post.
So many creators are extremely talented yet they’re driven to devoting much of their time to worrying about money. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could put that energy into making new work?
As one of my friends and peers recently wrote online:
“A very large part of my daily life is spent worrying about money. I’m constantly looking for new opportunities: applying for grants, art commissions, filling lengthy forms, answering emails… Therefore having very little time to actually create new work. By helping to remove the financial stress you will be contributing to improve the quality of my work.”
I feel for him. And I could have legitimately written those words myself, as could millions of other artists.
But there’s good news! This is a situation that can be resolved almost instantly with some very small positive behavioural tweaks by both followers and creators.
But it can only happen if the right climate is provided by creators.
Creators need to let their followers — their crowd — support them.
If they do that, their audience will respond. I believe followers really want to help, they just need to be shown how.
That’s something I hadn’t contemplated at the very start of the project, in fact it took me well over a year to realise it. Now, I always strive to create the right climate, something I share more about later.
I’m not saying it’s easy, by the way. After three years, there’s finally light shimmering at the end of the tunnel. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Despite the mismatch in social perceptions between literacy, sciences and the arts, online audiences continue to love the creative arts in the same way they did before the magical cybersphere came about.
If anything, the love is greater as a result of the easier access.
Not only do we get to see much more of it but — behold — we’re able to show our love by reacting immediately with likes, shares and retweets.
The love is shown, so both parties feel good. For a millisecond. And then another millisecond. And so on.
Unfortunately, that little dopamine hit is a huge red herring for creators and their followers, a chemical on which we’re overdosing. It’s induced an engagement numbness which brings us back to that notion of being entertained free-of-charge.
We see, we like, we move on.
That’s the bit that needs adjusting.
IS THERE AN ANSWER?
Creators like me need to provide attractive ways to let our audiences support us. It is our duty to do that.
We also need to educate our audiences as to why that is, to throw the occasional bucket of tepid water into our feeds by sharing the realities and the struggles, in an effort to convert likes into real world support — money.
My own journey has also made me acutely aware of the plight of the people I follow online. They regularly announce all kinds of things for sale like prints and books. I really try to pay attention to that, to listen to what they’re trying to tell me.
If I can, I leap at the chance to buy their wares either as gifts for others or for my own collection.
It will put bread on their table. It will help them make new work. It will make me feel good. It will make them feel good. And, let’s remember, what goes around comes around.
As I wrote in an Instagram post, I believe the required adjustment is quite simple: if you follow and enjoy somebody’s feed, I believe it’s the right thing to try to contribute financially, even if only in a small way (and if you can manage it, of course).
Rather than liking, enjoying and moving on, consider stopping for a moment to see if there’s a way you can offer your support in a more tangible way.
Follows, likes and retweets are great at spreading the word but the only thing that truly puts bread on the table for creators and their families is money.
A PROBLEM OCCURRED
When I started The Lifeboat Station Project in January 2015, I hadn’t really thought through the fact that I’d be launching headlong into the vagaries of the retail world.
I soon found that income was highly unpredictable and inconsistent.
In hindsight, a major problem was that I only had Limited Edition Prints for sale. They were starting to sell but not consistently enough to bank on the money arriving at the right time — to pay for accommodation, put fuel in my vehicle or to make sure my direct debits got paid.
The problem wasn’t only that I didn’t have enough variety on offer, the problem was also that the one product I did have on offer was also the most luxurious, most expensive product I’d likely ever have on sale!
Setting the purchase price at £195 was actually pretty straight forward but I found publishing the price a hard step to take. I knew that once I’d set out my stall, that was it, there was no going back.
But I felt confident in my decision. If you know you’re right and have belief in the value of your work, you have to stick to your guns.
There was another issue too — sometimes people said they were going to buy prints but then didn’t. I naively pinned hopes on those promises.
If all the talk of print purchases had been fulfilled, the financial picture would have been so much healthier.
The disappointment of unfulfilled sales can be galling for an artist. The hope of future sales is one of the things that keeps us going, so when a promised purchase doesn’t materialise, it really crushes morale.
I’ve now learned to accept that sometimes people confuse talking with actions. The only thing you can count on is the completed sale and the money in the bank!
Three years down the line, people have told me the prints are too expensive, others have told me they’re too cheap and plenty of people have bought them, so I think I’ve got it about right.
You see, there are two different camps: there’s the art world who think I should be adding a zero to the end of the price in order to reflect the true value of the work and there are the people who wouldn’t normally ever consider buying art.
Those are two very different worlds to straddle with a body of work that’s about day-to-day life involving the lifeboat volunteers themselves.
However, aside from the increasing sales, I received wonderful words of reassurance from celebrated photographer Martin Parr who recently purchased three prints for his personal collection.
He asked me to explain my pricing policy and in reply he concluded:
“They are too cheap but it is a noble gesture to make the price more democratic.”
After hearing that from Martin (perhaps the authority on the harmonisation of photography, art and people) — and after sticking to my guns for so long — I knew I’d definitely got it right.
Behind-the-scenes, I was also searching for a sponsor. I hoped it would be the RNLI themselves. But that would take time and time was running out to make the project work financially in the manner required.
WHAT WAS MY ANSWER?
I quickly thought about how I could open the project up, to make it more accessible.
I’d stubbornly resisted for so long. I wanted the project to be pure (whatever that meant) but I came to realise that was wrong.
Instead, I opened my mind and ears and listened to my audience, my crowd. They wanted postcards, clothing and other merchandise — things that were cheaper, more accessible and weren’t necessarily the photographs themselves.
So I made all of those things, and more, available in The LSP Shop. And I found I enjoyed it!
As a result, the Project has become enriched beyond all recognition.
Take With Courage Keyring, for example. Who would have thought I’d be selling luxury leather keyrings? Hundreds and hundreds of them too.
And who would have predicted that it would have engaged the lifeboat volunteers in such an unprecedented way.
When Cardigan lifeboat volunteer Simon Mansfield sent me a photo of his new keyring attached to his emergency pager, I knew I was onto something special…
…but I never would have thought that this would happen:
In addition to the prints and merchandise, I now have various other funding mechanisms in place that include a regular stream of talks and events about my work and a small amount of funding from the RNLI.
The latter covers about half of my production costs, so, believe it or not, everything I’ve described so far still isn’t enough. Therefore, I continue to spend a lot of time thinking about new ways to cover the rest of the production costs and generate a living as well as making the work!
A MAJOR NEW PIECE IN THE JIGSAW
[UPDATED JANUARY 2021]
After three years of using Patreon to help fund my project, I felt I’d become too reliant on a platform that’s growing increasingly dominant…and expensive!
So, during the lockdown of November 2020 — and in my quest to be independent from that kind of scenario — I worked out how to build my own membership platform, an environment which I feel is much more suited to The Lifeboat Station Project.
So, a major piece in the jigsaw is now up and running in the form of The LSP Society — a place which truly lets my crowd support me and be rewarded for their kindness in return.
OVER TO YOU…
With all that in mind, I’m going to finish by asking for your help.
If you like the work I’m making and enjoy the story I’m telling, I would love you to help me continue.
If you been thinking about buying Limited Edition Prints or anything else from the online shop, please do convert those kind thoughts into kind actions.
Ultimately, I want to make my income more predictable. So, I would love you to become a member of The LSP Society too.
It may not be as expensive as you imagined. For example, my entry level requires a pledge of just £1 per month.
That may not sound like enough but, remember, this is the very essence of crowdfunding.
For example, if 20 supporters pledge £2 per month, that adds up to £480 per year!
In return, you will have access to the all-new Members’ Area and I will be able to continue making the project.
You will also have the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped to make this historic project happen and your name will be printed on a special thank you page in the back of the final book…
If you’d like to learn about all the other ways you can support my work, then here’s the page you need:
Thank you for reading and to all those who’ve helped me on the journey so far.
You know who you are:
My loved ones; our brave and selfless lifeboat volunteers; anyone who’s put up with my dreams and expectations (not least at the RNLI); those who’ve bought prints and merchandise; the kind people who’ve provided food and accommodation; the clever folk who’ve supplied the Project with the things it needs and, of course, to those who’ve become my patrons…
…my work would not be possible without you.
Wishing you fair winds and following seas,
Jack Lowe, Creator of The Lifeboat Station Project