Have you seen the news reports lately about the excess of office furniture? Now that folks are working from home, apparently there's too much and they're actually sending office furniture to landfills. What a waste.
Anyway, I've been wanting to get a new chair, an adjustable drafting chair actually - to replace the IKEA stool I've been using since forever. I started looking at new chairs online, adding one to my cart every now and then - and then abandoning it. I knew I couldn't do it.
Then I remembered Furnish (a nonprofit store selling used office furniture in the Northrup King Building) so I headed over to see what they had. They had some nice, brand-new chairs for about $100, that should retail for $700. I considered one, but it didn't feel right for me.
I wandered the store, trying out chairs. There were so many! I felt a bit like I was at the pound, searching for the right pet for me. My plan? I was going to take home the mutt that no one else wanted. And then, I saw it! This gorgeous blue, pre-used drafting chair called my name.
And guess what? Only $9.99.
What do you think of tip jars?
I've been taking notice of them lately. Of course, the tip jar is a standard sight at café cash registers. A must for musicians, they usually take the form of an open instrument case. I've seen them as hats at street performances, beer steins at bars, and I especially like the clever ones that say things like, "If you fear change, leave it here."
What I've never seen, though, is a visual artist with a tip jar. I wonder why? An art fair really is nothing more than a pop-up street performance. One would think it'd be the ideal venue for creative tip jars.
Maybe artists see them as uncouth? Or maybe they worry that their patrons will find a tip jar unsophisticated?
I don't know, but I feel like a tip jar at an art fair makes so much sense! Artists are engaging with the public all day, displaying their work for all to see and enjoy. Why shouldn't they have a tip jar? Visitors who are enjoying the art but aren't going to make a purchase may feel moved to put a dollar or two in a tip jar.
I may try it.
In fact, I could set out a tip jar at my upcoming open studio during Art Attack. A creative container of sorts - asking for "art supply funds"? I'd love to see what happens.
This year, one of my goals is to open up about the business side of making and selling art. In my previous post, I revealed the true cost of art when it comes to selling at art festivals. In this post, I answer questions about retail price and the value of art.
I am not a pricing expert; I'm an artist who struggles with pricing. I feel that I'm constantly reevaluating and adjusting my prices. Price and value are difficult and this post addresses what I've learned so far. I always have more to learn.
Q & A on the Price of Art
How is retail price calculated?
A traditional formula for calculating retail price is:
Costs of labor + cost of materials + business costs/overhead = Wholesale Price
2 x Wholesale = Retail Price
What makes pricing art different?
A traditional formula like the one above is derived from manufacturing industries where there are high volumes of "widgets" being produced. In contrast, the very nature of art is that it is one-of-a-kind.
Pricing art using a traditional formula doesn’t work well because the value of art is subjective. Basically, the list price is what an artist hopes someone will pay. But, the truth of the matter is that some art never finds a buyer. An artworks’ value is only determined once an artwork has found a buyer. When an artist and buyer agree upon a sale price, that is when its value is determined.
How do you calculate the retail price of your art?
Despite the difficulties of retail price versus value, we still have to start somewhere! Here is a simplified version of the pricing structure that I use to determine the retail price of my art:
Why is the Retail Price so high?
In an art gallery setting, when/if an artwork is sold, the gallery takes half of the sale. In essence, the artist is paid their “wholesale price” for the art.
An art gallery takes half of the sale?!
It may sound like a lot, but an art gallery has its own costs and overheads (rent, employees, etc.) to pay and it needs to make money in order to stay in business. Just like an artist, the only way a gallery makes money is by selling art!
An artist may choose to sell their art without a gallery, but these settings come with a cost as well (for example, see the costs associated with selling at art festivals in my previous post). Selling art at retail price regardless of setting allows these costs to be recouped.
Life is like a game of chess
The Game of Chess
Then another chess coincidence happened that week. While I was working at my sewing machine, I pushed play on Radiolab, one of my favorite podcasts. It just so happened that they were rebroadcasting an episode on games, which included a whole lot of interesting information about chess. My ears piqued.
As I listened, I learned the chess term "out of book". This term quickly caught my fancy. If you don't know this idea - as I didn't - here's the background: there exists a "book" of all the chess moves that have happened throughout the history of the game. Although it's not a real book, in Moscow there is an actual library of all these recorded moves. This library has been kept since the 16th century and, like most things, it recently has been digitized. Basically, during a game of chess, most of the moves players make have already been made before in past games. (The digital book can even tell you how many times before each particular play has occurred!) But, not all of the possible variations of chess moves have been made before. When a player come to the point in the game that isn't in the book, the play is now considered to be "out of book". The way chess analyst Fred Friedel explained it on the the Radiolab episode is my favorite. He says when your play is out of book, "you have a position which has never occurred before in the universe."
Wow. Consider that!
The Game of Life
Traditions are the life equivalent of playing by the book. The book of life says: go to school, get a job, get married, have a family. Traditions can be great; they provide quick and easy answers to basic life decisions.
In the game of chess, it's easy to tell when players are playing by the book. Their moves are quick and decisive. These moves are easy because the players have them memorized. They've been done so many times before that no thought is necessary. It's when play reaches the point of being out of book that the game becomes a challenge and slows down. Now, players have to think about each move they might make. They have to consider all the possibilities and all the consequences of each move and can no longer rely on what's been done before.
We humans can be really hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up when we feel we did something wrong. But life isn't always predictable. If we learn anything from the game of chess - and the unfathomable number of possible plays there may be in a game - it's that not everything is in the book. Not everything has been done before. There are times when you may "have a position which has never occurred before in the universe."
For me, the pandemic created a whole slew of things that never happened before. I didn't know how to make money as an artist. My two teenagers fell into depressions. Tradition was no help, life was out of book. And just like the game of chess, everything was slow and challenging at this point. It makes sense to me now: my brain needed time to process absolutely everything. At the time though, it was awful, exhausting and terrifying. I felt incredibly guilty and constantly felt that I wasn't doing enough. The problem was, that I didn't know what I should be doing.
Here's my art interpretation of the chess concept Out of Book.
"Out of Book"
16" x 20", cut and sewn cotton fabrics, thread. Sold.
© Mary Pow. All rights reserved.
The true cost of art.
I had good reason to expect that the two festivals I got into to would be decent shows for me. I did my research on both events and I heard great things. But I'm not naïve, I know that doing any art show - especially if it includes large travel expenses - is a huge gamble. But I figured that if I could double the amount of sales I made at one show last year, it would be worth it.
"I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?"
Unfortunately, the end result of this experience has left me not only in debt, but also questioning my art. I've decided to share the true cost of selling my art at these shows. This is not an easy decision; I know that people unwittingly prefer to support winners and I could lose sales over this. I usually try to be as upbeat as possible about my art career in public. But I'm not sure it can get much worse; this week I definitely feel like the loser in Beck's song.
Two Art Festivals in Florida, February 2023
Costs and Expenses
What costs are not included here?
Artists are not paid for their time.
It's hard to imagine all of the time the entire art-festival-going process takes. Usually I try not to think about it since none of it is paid time. But, in an effort to be transparent, here's a look at some of the time I put into doing these two art festivals.
The hardest question I always get asked is:
"How long did it take you to make this?"
"Okay," you're probably saying, "but how much money did you make?!"
Here is the dismal truth...
Show one: $698.00 in sales
Show two: $2,323.00 in sales
Total after expenses = -$3,290.00
This result is extremely embarrassing to share. Sure, there are places I could have cut costs. I could have slept in the cheapest (worst) hotels available. I could have driven through the night (dangerous and stressful). I could have done the second show without my husband's help (no lunch or bathroom breaks and no support) and saved on his airfare. But regardless of expenses, the amount I made in sales wasn't worth it.
Where do I go from here? I don't know. I have more questions than answers.
Is it me? Does my art suck? Should I get a "real" job? If so, what makes something a "real" job? Maybe it's not me, maybe it's the economy? Perhaps people are too worried about inflation? Do people ever spend money on art? Do any artists make money at art fairs? Maybe it's my medium? Perhaps people aren't interested in purchasing textile art? And around again: Is it me?
Who knows. All I know is that I can't NOT make art. (I've tried to stop.) So despite the huge emotional toll all of this puts on me, I'm already planning for my next art festival.
Spring comes slowly
Spring comes so slowly in Minnesota. It forces patience upon you, however unwilling you are. Every morning you wake up to another sprinkling of snow, no matter how much you long for the flamboyant beauty of your crabapple tree in full bloom. You are tired of the waiting. You say, “I can’t take it anymore. I cannot handle this for one more day.”
Especially after such a long winter. A long, bitter winter filled with trials and tribulations that scraped your insides out and left you raw.
Don’t you deserve some easy beauty? The hot sun on your shoulders, flowers blooming, butterflies floating through the garden.
But the world owes you nothing. If you want to find beauty, you’re obliged to notice the simple, subtle beauty of spring coming slowly. So, fine. What else can you do? You take your walk in the cold, blustery day and you notice the loons are on the lake. That’s spring. And you see that the fat robins have eaten every single berry on the tree since the last time you looked. That’s spring, isn’t it. And by the time you walk around the entire lake, and your thighs are numb with cold, you are entirely sick of trying to notice the simple things.
The subtle beauty is actually making you angry, because why does it have to be so hard.
Then you see something, a stalk of dead grass blowing in the cold gray air, waving to you, holding a beauty so understated that it makes you want to cry. And you walk past it, thinking, “no I won’t stop and acknowledge this. I want the gaudy in-your-face-ness of summer.” But it comes slowly. And the simple beauty is so touching that you retrace your steps to try to capture it in a photo.
Of course, the photo cannot capture what you see, what you feel – but it is there; you cannot unsee it. You must continue your day being grateful for the small things, because what else can you do. There is no forcing spring. It owes you nothing. You take what you can get.
Perception is Reality
I'm so honored to have been chosen to have a solo exhibition at The Phipps Center for the Arts! It is on display now in Gallery One through May 22, 2021.
Setting up the Exhibition
Video Walkthrough of Exhibition
Let Me Know What You Think
If you visit my exhibition, please let me know what you think! Write a comment on the Facebook Event page, send me a message, or comment here.
A certain depth of blue, such as the rich blue of this velvet lining, is where my soul wishes to reside. You'll find me there, down in the depths.
View Shoulder Bag
Shown here is the green/blue 'In The Depths' color way. Hand-crafted with linen, cotton, and velvet fabrics.
A New Series
Hey friends, I've started a new project! It's a series called 8x8x8 Faces. Each artwork is soft pastel, they are 8x8 inches square and take about 8 hours to complete.
If you'd like to participate in my new series, it's $100 per face and you provide the photo reference.
Turn that senior photo into a work of art!
Send me a favorite photo of your child and I'll turn it into something to cherish!
Turn your boring business pic into something worth sharing.
Go here for 7 Tips: How to Choose a Reference Photo
If you'd like to keep up to date with this series of artwork, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @marypowdesigns
I keep them in my bathroom.
For most of the summer there it is: a mason jar filled milkweed. Caterpillars in various stages of their life-cycle, munching away. I have them in my bathroom so I can shut the door - to keep them in - and the cats out. But the door usually gets left open.
I tend to count them whenever I go in the room. Has a new one hatched? Are they all here?
I discover one is missing, and a heaviness settles in my heart. I count and re-count. It's not there.
Several days later, I find a caterpillar on the stairs. Quite a long journey from the bathroom for such a small creature. I gently scoop it up and bring it back to the milkweed. When I set it on a leaf, it curls up. It doesn't move.
Starved to death.
My heart aches.
I could have done more to prevent this from happening.
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.