30 August 2011

More to ponder as the school year begins...

A friend of mine sent me a link in response to my last posting. 

Like Lilly Like Wilson by Taylor Mali

Thanks Dirk. The poem made me smile. I loved the story it told.

23 August 2011

Something to ponder as the school year begins

Overheard as I passed a classroom last semester:
"God, I hate this. This class is so stupid..."
"What makes you say it's stupid?"
"It just is!"
"I've found that people often say a class -- or anything else, for that matter -- is stupid when in fact they are simply uncomfortable with the ideas being examined.

My job here -- the entire purpose of higher education -- is to challenge your comfortable life. To get you to think about the uncomfortable things in the world. And perhaps most important of all, to help you develop a mind that is open to all the conceivable possibilities. Because if you're not open to all the possibilities, you'll never understand the questions, let alone find the answers."
Dedicated with deepest respect, love and appreciation to every teacher, every professor, that made me think about the uncomfortable things.

19 August 2011

Setting prices for artwork

Recently there was a post in a forum asking for advice on setting a price for artwork:
“I need some pricing help! How do you guys price your art to sell? … I don’t want to become another artist who charges a fortune and no one buys anything. HELP! How do you guys charge for your art?!?!”
Of course I have an opinion… which goes something like this:

First and foremost, you need to be fair to yourself. You need to be setting a price that pays you a living wage… no one should ask you to work for less. Some artists price emotionally instead of using a good business model which is unfortunate because it causes other artists a lot of grief (and explaining) and really confuses art buyers, especially new or casual buyers. Artists who price emotionally also run the highest risk of either drastically underpricing their work, or becoming one of the ones you mention who cannot sell their work because they’ve way overpriced it — and both of these experiences can defeat an artist who is just getting started in the market.

So how do you determine the right prices, how do you hit that sweet-spot between undervaluing your work and pricing yourself out of the market? And what exactly is your market?

First I want to address the idea of “market”…In the past your market was pretty much defined by your geographic region, the area you were willing to drive or ship your work to. These days your market can be wherever and whoever you conceive it to be. With the various online tools available to us now, location is no longer the limiting factor to determining your market. That said, it is even more important than ever to carefully consider your portfolio. Don’t put every single piece you’ve ever done on a website, Facebook, or Linked-In. Put only your very best work out there. If you cannot decide which pieces best represent you, poll your friends and family (try really hard not to be put off by their comments and suggestions). And if you feel like you absolutely must put that piece you did ten years ago (when you were first learning your trade), be aware that it probably doesn’t represent your current abilities and strengths, and it will affect how buyers evaluate the worth of your work.

The formula for determining price is really quite simple (however it is really hard to get comfortable with). You need to take into account your time, materials and supplies (and their associated costs), and overhead (a portion of your household expenses if you work in your home or all of your studio costs if you maintain a separate studio). Materials, and to some extent, overhead are relatively easy to determine. Time can be a real bugaboo… especially if you haven’t been paying attention to how long it takes you to do a piece. You will need to initially make your best guess, and then become obsessive about keeping track. You’ll need to decide if you’re comfortable including planning and deliberating within your billable hours, along with the time it takes to learn a new skill or process… In general I usually weigh that decision based on the exclusivity clause: am I going to be able to apply this planning/deliberation/learning to future projects or is it only applicable to this one project or this one commission? Once I have that figured out I can decide how much of it — if any — should be built into the price of an art work…

The other conundrum you need to think about is the wholesale / retail price issue. If you EVER intend to sell in galleries or shops, you must be selling to individuals at a price that would be comparable to what a retailer would price your work at for a significant period of time before you begin to move your work through a retail establishment. No gallery will pay you the same amount you have been selling at — they cannot, they also need to make a living wage. They are going to expect to purchase your work at 40 to 60% of what you are currently selling it for, so be sure to add that markup into your calculations when selling to individuals. If you get into a gallery or shop, and they learn that you are underselling them, you will loose the gallery and probably not find another soon.

There is often quite a bit of guilt and a whole lot of uncertainty for most artists when they are pricing for individual sales. What you need to remember is that you deserve that extra compensation BECAUSE you are acting as your own retail agent… which is taking up your valuable creative time. You are out on the streets looking for customers; you are enduring arts fairs and festivals; you are searching for commissions. That is ALL work that you need to pay yourself for doing.

So, easy as pie, right? You can do this with your eyes closed and both hands tied behind your back, right? Excellent… but there is something else you need to also be thinking about… Worth.

Perhaps the most difficult area regarding pricing work that an artist needs to consider is determining worth. Worth trumps the pricing formula every single time — it’s the monster under the bed that makes us all doubt and second-guess our art and our art practices.

Worth is different than price — worth is determined by the quality of your work and its future value. Quality is a moving target that is most clearly demonstrated by your attention to detail, your technical skill, and your devotion to artistic growth. It requires a reflexive, often ruthless, self-evaluation that is honest and informed.

Luckily, if you pay the utmost attention to quality, future value will likely take care of itself.

14 August 2011

Mosaic of Mary

Lend Us Your Strength is now hanging  at SMU.

At first I didn't really know what to think of the location that was chosen for it. It is hanging in the hall between Heffron Hall and Skemp Hall - just around the corner from the executive suite, in the seating area at the entrance of Skemp, a women's residence hall.

Initially I was disappointed that it wasn't going to be in a more public space... but the space it is in is a very nice, contemplative space - and that's good.There used to be vending machines in this hallway. They were moved because they were visible from the entrance of the executive suite which was less than ideal. I'm sure that the president and others who passed by often probably thought that the eye arresting vending machines distracted from the quiet atmosphere and the classical architecture of  Heffron Hall.

The only problem for hanging the mosaic in the space is the lighting. Glass mosaics generally do best with lots of diffused natural light, or if that's not available, with soft, indirect lighting as the  second-best option. This area has large windows at either end of the space, and a single dim fluorescent fixture on the 12-foot ceiling. The windows have the top panels covered, but they still bring in a lot of light. At this point, the light coming in the window nearest the mosaic casts a glare on the glass unless you are pretty much directly in front of the mosaic (angle of incidence equals angle of reflection) and the top of the mosaic is in a darker spot...

But, if you're sitting in any of the very comfortable chairs in the area, the view of the mosaic is perfect.

Lend Us Your Strength, 2011.
Glass mosaic, 3' x 4' excluding frame.

Beelandia Mosaic Apiary Sign

I've been working on the Beelandia sign for Abelisto's apiary. The migraine last week slowed everything down for me this past week, and along with a number of the "must-do" things that often get in the way of making art kept me out of the studio most of the week.

Today I escaped from all that and worked on it for a few hours. I got much of the background done. I think a couple more evenings and I'll have this one done.

Beelandia Apiary sign 1 week ago - the bees are done and I started the background.
Beelandia Apiary sign when I started on it today.
Beelandia Apiary sign when I stopped working on it tonight.

04 August 2011

Beelandia Mosaic

Finished the bees' wings tonight. I'll be working on their bodies next.
Should be able to get a lot of this done this weekend.

Beelandia sign - 12" x 24"
I need to get some of the tamper-proof hanging hardware since this is going to be hung on the apiary fence.

01 August 2011

Current Mosaic Project

While I'm waiting for the orders of supplies for the other mosaic project I'm working on I decided to make Wes' sign for the apiary, Beelandia. He's been wanting one ever since the apiary became public knowledge last summer (with the infamous article in the Winona Daily News regarding the bee ordinance and the various responses to it ).

The sign is 12" x 24". The letters and the bees are in smalti and the background is stained glass, and the differences in the thickness will make the sign have a little bit of a third dimension. I'm going to put a thin strip of copper around the piece to serve as a frame.

I'm doing the bees in tiny pieces of smalti. I wanted to make their striped bodies with narrow, slightly curved slices of glass so that they would obviously be bees. I then decided to also make the wings out of random tiny slivers and wedges of smalti so that they'd be more interesting and give the bees more character than using just a few larger pieces. This will be a grouted piece and the grout will make the bees -- bodies and wings -- cohesive elements while accenting the green background pieces, making them stand out as distinct blades of grass. There will be enough contrast between the letters and the background that there won't be any problem seeing the letters as letters.

Close-up of bees, letters and grass (background)

Blackberry Gluten-free Scones

I don't usually post about food since others do that much better than I ever could, but these gluten-free blackberry scones are (well, were...) worth a few words...

I used to make everything from scratch (strange phrase) -- no mixes, no ready-to-eat, no processed foodstuffs (except Kraft macaroni & cheese), no shortcuts... But between being gluten sensitive, working full-time, and trying to develop my artistic practice I've sort of let go of the food purism.

I have a plethora of alternative flours but gluten-free baking seems to be very hit-and-miss for me -- probably because I don't really have time to do the experimentation that I need to do to figure out how much of which kind of flour and whether to add xantham gum or guar gum or whatever... so I bought Bob's Red Mill gluten-free baking mix (think organic, healthy Bisquick). The scones turned out perfectly...
2 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free baking mix
add 1/2 cup of organic raw sugar, cut in 1/2 cup of organic butter
add 1 cup of vanilla almond milk (was out of the plain variety) stir until all is moist
gently fold in 1 1/2 cups of organic frozen blackberries
press out onto a baking stone, score into 8 scones, sprinkle with more sugar if you want
bake at 375 until browned and flaky
eat while they are so hot you can barely stand it
It's been a gradual relaxation of a set of unspoken food rules I had for myself. I realized I had fallen from food grace when, late one recent supperless evening I found myself standing in front of the frozen food section of Target (egad) eyeballing the frozen veggies (not so bad), and the frozen pre-cooked chicken strips (argh!) and frozen ready-to-heat-and-eat brown rice (bizarre and shameful)... I caved -- mostly because I was starving and it was almost 9pm and I couldn't face going home and either cooking a full meal, or eating a peanut butter sandwich. Got home, dumped it all in the wok with some broth, some shopped garlic and ginger and a bunch of tamari sauce... food in 20 minutes, not delicious, but edible...

When I was a make-it-from-scratch purist I was a stay-at-home mom with 5 - 9 kids in the house and food was my main creative outlet. I made 2-4 loaves of bread every day, baked a dessert twice a week, raised and processed my own meat (lamb and chicken and the occasional deer), gardened and preserved the veggies, made my own jams and jellies and butters...

I guess I could still be a purist if all I wanted to do was work and do foods. But now my life is about more than that, and until someone wants to move into the empty bedrooms and take this task on... well, some convenience foods once in a while won't kill us.