Friday, July 19, 2013

Life; Live It.

This week my niece is up visiting from New Jersey.  She is a sweet and very, very smart and creative girl.  She is my brother's daughter. This past April, my brother died suddenly, leaving his wife and 14-year old daughter behind.  He was only a year older than me.

This, by anybody's definition is tragic.  There are no do overs of these moments.  It is forever.  I lost my Dad 13 years ago.  While this was painful, it was also expected.  My brother's loss was not.  Losing a sibling seems to be a strong reminder of our own mortality...that and the passing birthdays!  In this time of mourning, I have had moments of gratitude.  Gratitude that I went back to school this past year to study art; something I always wanted to do, but hadn't.  Gratitude that I have spent time attending more to my relationships in recent years.  There is a constant push pull between the time to attend to our own needs, and the needs of those we love.  It is worth the struggle to try and find some balance.  Regrets are few.  I am not putting off living the life that matters to me.  It does not mean a life of constant joy, but a life of greater peace.

Enough tragedy.  Now some joy.  I promised an image of my latest painting; the first in my new studio!  I am very happy with how it came out.  Could it be better?  Sure.  But in my opinion, it is better than the last painting, so that is my yardstick for now.  Hope you like it too!

"Dance", 2013, oil on stretched Arches oil paper, 36" x 48"
Up next week; I will be taking a continuing ed class at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.  The teacher was one who was highly recommended, and the subject is one I am interested in; the perfect combo!  The Intersection of Painting and Photography.  Looking forward to it.  I will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


It has been a long time; four years actually, since I have posted to this blog. Many changes have taken place in that time. And I have missed this connection I have had with other creative souls. But it was only recently that I saw a way back to this process of blogging that made sense for the place I now inhabit.

I no longer work much with polymer clay. I still play with it from time to time, but more often teaching others than pursuing work of my own. In the years since I have made forays into fiber, and fine art. The latter led me to go back to school, where I fell in love with oil painting. My time with polymer clay helped me move with confidence into this new color based media.

I have moved into a studio space in Lowell, MA (Western Avenue Studios), and now have some needed separation between my work and my home life. And I get to be connected with other people who choose to make a space and time for creative work in their lives.

I hope to share with you a bit of my creative journey, as I begin again, down a similar, but slightly different path, a little older, perhaps a little wiser. I will be trying to navigate this uncertain terrain. Trying to make the challenge of a life in the arts workable. If you decide to travel this path with me, welcome! I am glad to be back. This journey will still look at the artrepreneurial aspects of my life as a creative person, but it will also be open to the detours and side trips along the way.

Next post; my latest painting!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How Do They Get Away With This??

I was talking with another artist the other day about a shop that had approached both of us within the last few years. What stunned me as we spoke was the fact that this place was still in business, getting artists to sign up to their "great" plan.

The deal is that you pay a fee of about $170 for six months, and then you "only" have to pay a consignment fee of 15%. Apparently this last thing is what gets so many artists caught up in the web. They hear the 15% and think,

"What a great deal. Only 15% fee."

What is wrong with this picture?

First of all, why are you paying someone to carry your work? It is not necessary, and it is a needless cost. Let's assume that a mark-up of 2X your wholesale price is reasonable for both you and the seller to cover your costs, in which case the standard consignment of 50% is not entirely out of line. So, you would need to sell $400 through this shop to reach break even. It is only if they are selling more than $400 over a six month period that you will begin to see any advantage to the better consignment rate.

But, when you sign up, how do you know if this will be the case? This artist that I talked to managed to negotiate a six month period with a standard 50% consignment rate. During that time, she found out that they did not do a good job selling her work. She would have been in the hole by several hundred dollars. And when they presented her with a contract, and an offer to continue to have her work with them, she saw that they had kept the consignment rate at 50%, AND wanted her to pay that membership fee.

What else is wrong with this picture beyond the basic math? First of all, why are we so willing to carry the inventory costs of the shop by offering our work on consignment, and, to pay a fee for the privilege on top of that? The sales pitch tells you that they will spend your fee to help market your work. Isn't that what the the normal consignment fee goes towards? Why would anyone want to assume all the risks of their business by paying this fee up front, and giving them the inventory they need to run their shop?

When we sell our work on consignment, we are carrying the inventory costs of a business. This is part of the normal operating costs of a retail business. And when the work is on consignment, their is a risk that the merchandise will be neglected, damaged, or not tracked well. We are assuming more risk that with wholesale.

There are good reasons to have your work on consignment. There are a few local shops where my work is sold through consignment, and I find they do a good job representing my work. And, I can give them a wider range of work than some wholesale accounts might carry. It gives me the opportunity to see how newer work will do. A few local wholesale accounts will have one or two larger pieces on cosignment to give the display of my work more "Wow!"

But, I only will do consignment with local businesses. Even then, it is a challenge to keep them stocked, to rotate inventory, and make sure that my work is being well represented.

There are some galleries that only work on a consignment basis. Sometimes you need to do some research, talk with other artists who have their work there, and find out if it is a good place to have your work. Do they pay promptly? How do they handle rotating stock? Have they ever had any concerns?

I am not ruling out consignment, under the right conditions. Ideally you will be paid 60%, or in a few rare instances even more, of the selling price. But 50% is pretty standard these days. Know how often the checks will be cut, and sent out, so that you know when to expect payment. And, be willing to risk losing something. Theft happens in even the best of circumstances, and you will be more at risk to absorb this loss under consignment, than under a wholesale arrangement.

But please. Do not pay to play. If someone is asking you to pay a fee to sell your work in their shop, and keeping a portion of the sales price as well, ask them,

"Why am I assuming your business risk?"

I did not get a straight answer from this shop when I asked that question. So I declined the opportunity. They placed a wholesale order for some cranes. Go figure. Sometimes saying no is the absolute best thing you can do for yourself, and your business. There is enough risk in the business of being an artrepreneur without taking on the risk of another business too.

Remember, sustainability is our goal. We want to be in this for the long haul.


I am leaving for Las Vegas and the ACRE wholesale show this afternoon. The last word I heard was that more buyers were registering in the last few weeks. Let's hope that turn out is better than expected, and people come ready to place orders.

I'll keep you posted!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pricing Challenges

I recently had the good fortune to be invited to speak to the Vermont Craft Council. I taught two classes; one about using the Internet for publicity and promotion, and the other about pricing. I was frankly a little surprised by the invitation, but also flattered.

But, I also wondered what I had to say about pricing. I struggle with nearly everyone I know. I have yet to meet the crafts person who declares, "I love to price my work!"

It is a task that is put off to the last moment for many of us, or agonized over for too long. As I prepared for this presentation, I reviewed some of my earlier posts about pricing, and in particular the ones about pricing the pear. I had learned a great deal in the process of writing those posts, and once again, I found preparing to teach a class brought forth new understanding.

First off, I recalled that I have always hated pricing. When I was selling oxygen, nitrogen and other industrial gases, I hated pricing. It was nearly always a challenge even then to come up with the right price in competitive bids. When I was a product manager in several companies, and I had to review price deviations with sales people, it was always a stressful process. When I had a business making window treatments, I really felt challenged by coming up with the right price. So, why should this be any different?

If anything there is the added challenge that we are pricing something that we have made with our hands and often our hearts. A piece of us goes off with each piece. How can we value that?

Then there is the challenge of trying to figure out how much will someone else pay for this item? Can we cover our costs...if we even know what they are?

As I reviewed my presentation with my husband, we began to talk about the many factors that go into pricing. That was when I realized how I had always hated pricing. But I also began to see a new challenge that exists in the world of an artrepreneur. The marketplace is dysfunctional. Both the buyers and sellers can play a role in that dysfunction.

Let's look at the sellers first, since this is the easiest...but not easy! control. As I reviewed the past posts on pricing, and the many ideas I gathered from readers about how they approach pricing it was clear that not all sellers are pricing in a way that will create a sustainable business. In order to continue to be in business for five years, ten years, or more, a seller must consider all their costs of being in business...not just their cost of materials. Or maybe the labor. If a seller is selling their work in the retail market at wholesale prices, they are doing themselves, and the market, a great disservice.

We need to price our work with the idea of sustainability. That means our overhead, selling expenses, and a profit that can be reinvested into the business in new equipment or other capital purchases, are incorporated into the price, along with labor and materials.

What if you think, "Oh, I don't want to do that. I just want to have fun making things and make enough money to buy materials."?

Okay. What about your cost of display equipment...even just a table....or packaging? Are you including those? Are you declaring your income and expenses with the IRS? Can you honestly say you are in business if you are not pricing your work like it is anything more than a hobby?

Maybe you have moved past that. You can comfortably say that is not me. I don't do that anymore. I price my work so that I can make a fair wage, and a fair return on my investment in my business. But then you go to a show, and you find yourself surrounded by people who are pricing it as a hobbyist. Do you think the customer can understand the difference in pricing, and why the higher price is actually more rational? Does the average consumer at a local craft fair care if you are in business next year? How can you keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs?

This is where I began to realize part of my underlying motivation to move up to higher quality shows, or to wholesale. The markets are more rational. You are more likely to compete against artists who understand the cost of being in business. They are in it for the long haul. Likewise, the consumer is likely to be more educated as well. They are willing to pay a fair price for handcrafted work. They want you to be around in five years, so that as a collector or as a shop owner they can continue to purchase from you. They understand that you do not need to price the work so that every single person who wants to own it can afford it. You are one person. There is only so much that you can produce.

I am not dissing the local craft shows, or the on-line shops full of dysfunctional pricing. I am just describing the landscape. I did a terrific little show last year at some local art studios. There were people there who had fair prices. And there were plenty with just crazy pricing. But, I did not allow the people who have are pricing too low make me question my own pricing strategy. And I had a great show.

There are also times that you can reasonably lower prices. If you have old inventory that you want to clear out. Or if you have seconds that are saleable. Go ahead and discount those items and convert them into cash.

If you hate to price your work, you are not alone.

If you think it is way too hard, you are right.

But just because other people around you are losing their heads, doesn't mean that you need to lose yours. Hold on tight. Breath deeply. Know what your true costs are, and know what a fair price is.

You may find that a fair price for an item is just not saleable. You may need to redesign the product, resource your supplies, or perhaps even come up with a new idea all together. But continuing to produce it, and sell it for less that is reasonable for the costs you have...that is just crazy. And you know that.

Sustainability. That is the word to hold onto. We want a sustainable planet. And we want an sustainable business. Neither is easily achieved. But both are well worth the effort.