Web Hosting for Artists

The Present Group, one of my favorite organizations, recently announced their latest endeavor: Web Hosting that Supports Artists.  “Web hosting is something many of us are paying for anyway,” says co-director Oliver Wise, “we wanted to give people a choice to do something good with those dollars.  Instead of the profits going to a faceless company, we’ll recognize worthy artists and fund artist projects that we collectively choose.”

In addition to your hosting dollars going towards supporting artists, TPG’s hosting makes it easier for artists to put up their own portfolio sites by offering free installation of WordPress or Indexhibit.  They also skip glitchy and spammy webmail portals by powering your email access with Gmail.  Users still get their own email addresses at their domain (like “[email protected]”), but access and management is through Gmail’s secure and familiar interface.  Of course, you can also still check your e-mail through a program like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook if you prefer.

I think the work that these guys do is great, and I signed up for TPG hosting immediately for my new portfolio site.  It’s only $7/month, which is way cheaper than my old GoDaddy account, and MUCH simpler to deal with.  It was super smooth sailing setting everything up and I haven’t had a single question or glitch.  I used the WordPress installation to run my site, and now I can easily add new info without having to muck around in a bunch of code.

Every hosting client gets to nominate artists each granting period within a chosen theme.  We also get to vote on the final grant recipient.  For their first grant, The Present Group is teaming up with the Collective Foundation to create a $1000 travel grant for an artist in the Bay Area.  Investigating the question of why many Bay Area artists choose to leave once their careers really start to take off, Joseph del Pesco, co-founder of The Collective Foundation, theorizes  “if Bay Area artists had support for mobility…they would be more likely to stay.”

Since I have a hosted site, I get to nominate a Bay Area artist who I think would benefit from this $1000 travel grant.  Who do you folks think it should be?  Feel free to post your own nominations in the comments, or even better, sign up for your own artist web site and make sure that grant actually happens.  Only 13 more artists are needed!

And just in case you needed another reason why The Present Group rocks the free world (which you don’t), they’ve already provided free hosting to the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs! It’s just one more way they’re helping artists live the dream of turning their passion into a living.

(Psst! I also heard a rumor that TPG hosting may start offering exclusive free portfolio templates that are simple, gorgeous, and ready to go.  Just add your own text and pictures and voila!  Fully-baked portfolio site.  In the meantime, both WordPress and Inexhibit have free themes to choose from, or you can hire us at Burning House to make you a custom one.)

The Present Group was founded in 2006 by Eleanor and Oliver Wise out of the desire to create affordable and sustainable models for funding artists. In their first three years, their quarterly subscription art service has channeled over $20,000 toward funding artist projects, stipends, and development of critical essays. The Present Group Web Hosting is yet another attempt to create a sustainable revenue stream for artist grants.

Shop Local, Bay Area

Whenever money is tight, the same dilemma comes up: shop at a discounted big box to save money, or shop from small businesses to stimulate the local economy?  Most people would rather do the latter, but we simply don’t have the cash this year.  Luckily, there is a solution.  Ever the creative problem-solvers, many Bay Area businesses are participating in programs that give serious discounts (usually 15% and up) to local shoppers.

If you live in San Francisco, you can take advantage of Only In San Francisco’s ShopSF program.  Just show your driver’s license or other ZIP code-bearing ID and you’ll get great deals at their participating merchants.  Some of my favorite stores are on that list, like Urban Fauna Studio and Candystore Collective. Want to add your business?  Sign up here.

If you live in the East Bay, wear plaid this Friday to show your support for local businesses on Plaid Friday.  Their participating businesses include a lot of artists, including Ezme Designs, which makes beautiful ceramics, and TWO art subscription services — The Present Group and Art in a Box.  If you are an East Bay business, there is still time to participate.  Visit this page for details.

Alternative Press Expo

This weekend the Alternative Press Expo came to town.  It’s a nice little convention that brings together the independent publishing community, put on by the same folks who bring you ComicCon.  Most of the tables were taken up by comic artists and writers, but a fair number of zine publishers, crafters, illustrators and small shops also represented.

Soon after arriving, I swung by the Neon Monster table, where I got to meet the lovely and talented Marian Churchland.  Among other things she has drawn for Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen series.

I had met Starkings and Justin “Moritat” Norman (the main Elephantmen artist) the day before at Neon Monster’s Second anniversary party.  Happy Birthday, Mitch!  Mr. Starkings gave me a few autographed issues of Elephantmen to peruse and I have to say, it’s not a bad rag.  Mr. Moritat also drew me a sketch of Jean Grey as Phoenix, perhaps my favorite comic book character ever.  Thank you guys!

Though I usually go as a fan, this year I went to A.P.E. mostly for business — I spent my time scouting the tables for characters that might make good plush toys.  Unfortunately there weren’t too many in the simple and cute category this time around, unless you count the yetis.  EVERYone’s got a yeti now.  Yetis are the new diamonds.   Still, there was plenty to love and even more to buy.  Even I couldn’t resist.  I got two of Brandon Bird’s Law & Order valentines for my sis (SVU is her favorite show). Brandon Bird is famous among my friends for his painting “No One Wants to Play Sega With Harrison Ford.

The best thing I got, though, was this set of monster hugs cards from Goblin-Fish Press.  There were five in the pack but these two are my favorites.

hugs

Hilarious!  If you’re sad you missed A.P.E., don’t worry.  There are two similarly awesome events happening next month.  For you east coasters, visit the Editions & Artists Books Fair in NYC beginning Nov. 5th.  While you’re there, say hi to the good folks at The Present Group.  For you west coasters, come hang out with me at DesignerCon in Pasadena on Nov. 21st!

Diamonds are the New Skulls

This is according to my good friend Eleanor, who had a milestone birthday on Tuesday.  Since it was a special occasion and she is a special person, I decided to try my hand at making a pop-up card.  It was harder than I thought.  For one thing, it is difficult to make tiny background pieces bend the opposite way as tiny letter pieces.  Also, the place each piece bends is different depending on where the card itself is folded AND where the cut pieces are still attached to said card.  I tried to center everything to make up for that somewhat, and I made the letters taller than normal so they would look right when bent.  All in all, it was a good learning experience, and aside from the interior cuts in the diamond that needed a little tape, it was a decent result.  Happy Birthday Eleanor.

pop-up birthday card

Finally, Some Validation

I was delighted to read this article/interview by Jenny Hart about how important it is to keep accurate, current books.  She’s a super-savvy Biz Miss with a veritable empire of embroidery products.  Her emphasis on bookkeeping makes me feel a little more validated and a little less geeky for having taken all those Quickbooks classes.

Also, somebody (Gary Taxali) finally gave a huge company (Google) the finger (literally) for soliciting original creative work in exchange for “exposure.”  It has always floored me how ready companies are to try to take advantage of creative professionals, especially those companies who can afford to pay them fairly.  I have personally been asked for free products or services in exchange for “exposure” on many occasions and I don’t understand why I’m not supposed to be insulted by this.  I mean, you wouldn’t suggest that a lawyer work for you for free because you’re providing them with “exposure” to the dozens of “potential future clients” watching them work in the courtroom, would you? (NY Times via The Present Group)

Making Your Extra Income Work for Your Business

Unless you have truly hit upon “the next big thing” and your business takes off without any effort from you, you will likely need an extra source of income while you get started. Up until this fall I was a full-time teacher, so it would have been fairly easy to keep teaching part-time while starting my business. But teaching requires a lot of take-home work, and uses up a lot of mental energy even when you’re not on the job. It’s also not the kind of work that I could ultimately apply towards Sweet Meats. Mine is primarily a product design business, so I wanted to support myself financially in a way that would also open up new opportunities in my current field.

There are four valuable things I’ve learned in my search for relevant extra income:

  1. The key to moving into a new industry is to start with the areas that bridge your current field and your desired field.
  2. Sometimes you can create a job where one doesn’t already exist.
  3. The value of a job is often measured beyond how much it pays you. A job that pays very little, for example, but provides excellent networking opportunities, relevant lines on your resume, or exposure for your business can be much more valuable in the long-term than one that simply pays the rent.
  4. Be symbiotic with your friends.

stitch loungeTo elaborate: there is a sewing studio in my neighborhood called the Stitch Lounge, where you can take classes and rent time on their equipment. I originally looked at it as a place I might be able to consign some of my homemade creations, but then noticed that they didn’t have anyone teaching a plush or pillow class. So I approached one of the owners with a plush class proposal. It turns out that someone had recently asked her to add a plush offering and with my background as a teacher (including a semester of Home Ec.), I was hired right away.

As a source of income, Stitch is not particularly lucrative. I teach 2-3 classes a month, which only amounts to a couple hundred dollars. The opportunities for networking, however, are worth much more than that. Before I had even taught my first class, for example, the owner who hired me referred me to her friend at PSY/OPS, a local type foundry, to help them develop some of their letter forms into decorative plush objects. Not only does design consulting pay more than than teaching, PSY/OPS is a fantastic client to include in a product design portfolio.

the present groupProduction work for friends is also an excellent stepping stone to design jobs. My friends Oliver and Eleanor, of “The Present Group,” sometimes hire me to do production work with them on particularly complex pieces. Likewise, I have also hired them to help with photographs or production when I get swamped. Though we’re basically just doing each other mutual favors, working together like this allows us to confidently refer each other to other clients and provide examples of the work we’ve done.

One final note about extra income: it takes a while (usually at least a few months) for the networking mill to bring enough referrals your way to make ends meet. It is therefore much easier to quit your full-time gig if you have a bit of a savings cushion or a partner who can help support you for a while. That said, if you put yourself out there and you’re good at what you do, the work will find you, I promise.

Sales and What Tax?

I had never even heard of use tax until the State of California told me to pay it.

I had recently registered for a seller’s permit, which is a requirement of doing business in California, and which affords you the privilege of collecting sales tax for the state. It’s an awesome racket. I get to work as a tax collector for the state! Without getting paid!! And all I had to do was pay $50 to sign up!!!

Unfortunately, if you want to be able to purchase things for resale, you’ve got to have one of these seller’s permits. It’s the only way to prove you’re a business and not just paying half price for items for personal use. But it also means that at the end of your first year in business, you will receive a deceptively simple-looking form from the state, asking you to hand over your sales and use tax.

The form is only one page long, front and back, but I couldn’t answer even the first question on it. I called my friends Oliver and Eleanor at The Present Group for help. Eleanor tried to walk me through the definition of use tax, but I asked so many follow-up questions that she finally gave up and said, “You really just need to take the class.”

“The class,” it turns out, is the Basic Sales and Use Tax Seminar offered by the California Board of Equalization. If you sell anything for profit within the state of California, you MUST take this class. Nothing I explain in this post will be as helpful as that free seminar and they will walk you through filling out your entire return step by step. However, for the sake of personal edification and to help you understand why you need to take the free BOE seminar, I will try to provide a brief overview of sales and use tax here:

Contrary to popular belief, sales tax is a tax that companies pay for the privilege of being able to conduct business in their state (8.5% in most of California). It is not actually a tax on consumers for the privilege of being able to buy things. Most businesses, however, can’t afford to pay nearly a tenth of all their sales to the state (in addition to regular income and payroll taxes), so they pass the cost on to their customers by simply adding it to the total sale.  Sales tax only applies to taxable goods (most things other than groceries), not services, and does not apply to non-profit organizations. It also only applies to sales that end up within your state of business, so if you sell things online, you only need to pay sales tax for things you ship to addresses within your state.

Filing sales tax forms is complicated because you need to pay sales tax not only to your state, but also to each individual county in which you did business, and every county has its own sales tax rate.  You can also deduct the cost of any sales tax you paid on materials you bought for your business from the amount you owe the government (more on the definition of materials later), since this is technically a resale transaction.

So what the hell is use tax?  Use tax is a tax businesses pay for anything they buy for resale (i.e. without paying sales tax), but don’t, in fact, re-sell to the public.  It is always the exact same rate as sales tax (e.g. 8.5%).

Let’s say, for example, that I buy fleece, buttons, scissors and a marking pencil for making plush meats.  I don’t pay any sales tax when I buy these items because I am buying them wholesale for my business.  The fleece and the buttons eventually end up as plush meats and go to a customer’s house; they have been re-sold.  I therefore collect and pay sales tax for them. The scissors and marking pen, however, stay with me at my studio.  I don’t resell those items, I use them, so I need to pay use tax on them.  This also applies to plush meats I “use” as gifts or promotional items but don’t sell.  (I don’t need to pay income tax on any of this stuff, since it is still a business expense, but more on income tax in another post.)

In the end, you see, anything you buy for your business requires giving the government sales or use tax.  They both cost the same amount, but need to be neatly divided when filing — I have no idea why.  I have only given a brief overview of the rules above. I would never attempt to file a BOE-401 form based on this information, but hopefully it will act as a good primer before taking “the class.”