Inspired by: Renegade Round-up

Now that I don’t sell retail any more I was able to go out to the San Francisco Renegade fair just as a shopper.  There was unfortunately a bit of repetition, which will happen whenever any meme proves itself to be commercially successful.  I saw at least four booths selling spiral-bound journals made from recycled book covers, and there were more mustaches, bacon and abstracted San Francisco maps than you could shake a stick at.  Still, when you have 300ish vendors, you’re bound to find a few new and interesting things and find them I did!  Here is a sampling of a few of the artists I admired this year:

Emma SanCartier’s oddFAUNA sculpture shadow boxes:

“Jesus Saves the Dinosaurs” and other irreverent collages by Unusual Cards:

And Whitney Smith’s gorgeous pottery. Would LOVE one of her bowl sets:

Myths that Make Creatives Undervalue Their Work

I have never seen such rampant and epidemic underpricing as I do with creative professionals. Mostly I think this is due to a number of myths that customers, clients, and the general public often believe.  Here are a few of the most common myths, and why the people who propagate them are ignoramuses:

  • “Art is a hobby, not a profession.” A favorite line of my dad and many other old-country parents, often used to steer young people out of the arts and into more “respectable” fields such as medicine or business (I got around this by majoring in “Networked Media,” which was a digital arts degree, but my dad thought it was computer science).  The implication is that working in a creative field is frivolous and therefore not worthy of serious consideration or compensation.  Luckily, like the notion that climate change is a myth or that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry this opinion is beginning to die out.
  • “What you do is easy.” Only ever said by someone who has never tried to create something seriously beautiful, or who has such poor taste they wouldn’t know what beautiful was if it slapped them in the face.  Cringe and pity this person the way you would a loud and tone-deaf contestant on American Idol who still insists they’ll make it as a pop star.
  • “Why should I pay you for something you like to do anyway?” A harder one to combat, but still a fundamentally stupid point.  Isn’t it likely that someone who enjoys their work would do it better, and therefore should be paid better as well? People who say this are likely bitter about their own jobs and therefore think that everyone’s work should be unpleasant, or it doesn’t count as work at all.
  • “I can get the same thing for cheaper at a chain store.” No, you most certainly cannot.  A person who says this does not understand the difference between a Scharffenberger souffle and a Hershey bar. Even though they may say they’re seeking value, what they really care about is price, and not any other aspect of value such as quality or integrity.  This person is therefore not your customer, so feel free to send them cheerfully along to Walmart.
  • “If you can’t afford to buy your own products, they’re too expensive.” This is one I hear a lot from creatives themselves, but it sounds like a ridiculous form of classism.  Think of what it implies: that only rich people should design expensive evening gowns or sports cars, or that I shouldn’t charge a local department store more for a window display than I could afford to commission for my own apartment.  It is perfectly fine to have customers outside of your income group to help you support your passions — whether it’s rich socialites or big corporations.  Your job is to make beautiful things, at a price that sustains your business financially so you can continue to make beautiful things, not to cater to some arbitrary price stratum.
  • “You need to put in your dues before you can reap the rewards.” Often said by clients or companies looking to take advantage of newbie creative professionals through unpaid internships or “portfolio-building.” Clients who underpay you in the beginning will never pay you better down the line, nor will their referrals, so it’s best to sidestep them completely before they become your clients at all.  To avoid feeling like you need to do cheap work to build your portfolio, take a day job for a few months to pay the bills and work on projects after hours, so that when you are ready to take on paying clients, you have the work to back up a sustainable rate.  Contrary to what anyone might say, a portfolio of work you love and do well is much more helpful in getting the jobs you want than a collection of boring projects you did for “real” clients.

Stop Buying Garbage

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, my babysitter was part of a group of little old ladies who had an “investment club”. They got together every week and decided which stocks to buy or sell to increase their retirement funds.  One day they had an investment banker do a presentation for them as a guest speaker.  He showed them how to read all kinds of charts and prospectuses in order to better predict which companies would become more valuable down the line.  He was in the middle of explaining why the supermarket chain McCrory’s was a really hot prospect when one of the ladies in the back interrupted him, shouting, “I’m not going to buy that garbage!”  When the banker protested, she interrupted him again, yelling, “There’s a McCrory’s down the street, and there’s never anybody in there!”  After that, the remainder of the presentation was cut short, and the ladies’ investment club agreed not to invite any more “experts” to their meetings. Anyone who ignored personal observation and common sense was clearly no expert at all, since those two tactics allowed the club to collectively rake in over $200,000 in two years.

These days, all the “experts” are talking about social media, and I’ve been consistently frustrated with how wrong it usually turns out to be. So I’m taking a page from Betty — I’m not going to buy that garbage anymore.

Maybe it’s this article I read last week; maybe it’s the continuing downward slide of Facebook’s stock valuation or maybe I’m just fed up, but I’m finally starting to feel like all the gut instincts and common sense I had about social media are turning out to have been right all along.  A couple of things I’ve noticed:

  1. The people with a ton of followers/likes/etc. tend to fall into just two categories: social media/marketing professionals, and people who were already famous.  In other words, people will follow you because they love your work, not the other way around.  You can’t put a mediocre product out into the world and socially market it to success, unless social marketing becomes your full-time job instead.
  2. It’s other people’s links that have gotten me new fans/customers/clients, not the ones I post myself. In other words, it’s been more useful for me to spend time making beautiful things or creating interesting content than figuring out which hashtags will court the most re-tweets.
  3. Contrary to popular opinion, I think social media is best used casually and sparingly.  When I use my accounts just for entertainment or to meet/keep in touch with friends, I don’t have the stress of constantly checking my stats, and I tend to spend my time on more productive ventures.  I can scroll through the day’s events for 10 minutes before bed, bookmark or re-post anything interesting, and then sleep soundly.  Conversely, when I have put significantly more effort into social marketing, it has yielded only nominally better results.  One week I actually lost followers, because I think they could smell the stink of desperation.
  4. It’s still good to have accounts with a couple of the major platforms.  When I find a new artist, company or organization I like, I look for the little Twitter link on their web site because it’s the easiest way for me to keep up with them.  For other people, Facebook, Pinterest, or an RSS reader is their go-to.  If people can’t easily find you on the platform they’re already using, it’s likely they’ll just forget.  Platforms also come and go (remember Friendster?), so it’s good not to put all your eggs in one basket.  Thankfully there are lots of good aggregators out there now that will let you post to all your networks at once.
  5. Be early to the party.  I’ve found that my social media reach has far more to do with how long I’ve been on a particular platform than how much effort I’ve put into the marketing itself.

For me, social media is enticing for the same reason it’s destructive: it allows me to instantly measure my “success” against others.  But as soon as I stopped letting it be the primary metric for measuring my worth and starting using it just for the convenient tool it is, the sun came out and everything got so much better.

200 Yards Photos

Just found out today that one of my photos made it into the 200 Yards exhibition at Rare Device! The opening reception is on my birthday, June 1st, which makes it doubly exciting.  I took a ton of photos and whittled it down to five submissions.  I won’t spoil the surprise by showing the photo I’m exhibiting just yet, but here are the other four I really liked that didn’t make the cut:

Through the corner windows of Rare Device

Bus Shelter Reflection on Hayes (I think this one might be my favorite)

Flat Old Pick-up on Scott

And here are a few that I didn’t submit, but still kind of like:

Starling Perch

Automotive Service

Planter on Fell


About four years ago I started this generic travel illustration (pardon my scanner, which is total shite).  It depicts the fictional island nation of “Travalin,” complete with disgustingly adorable destinations like the “Memoriviera,” the “Ghettiway” region and “Mt. Delycius” located in the “Gormay Mountains.”  After completing the cutesy place names I had no desire to actually finish the coastline, so I put the project away indefinitely.

A few weeks ago I pulled the piece back out and gave it a hard look.  The shape of the island was a non-descript ovalish form, communicating nothing other than its being an island.  In a fit of inspiration, I pulled the whole collage off its backing and cut it apart to be reassembled into the shape of an airplane, (an international symbol for travel!) but it still doesn’t salvage this piece as an illustration.  The airplane shape is based off of a three-quarter view, which resulted in some foreshortening that makes it look more like a shark.  The place names are also still too small to read effectively, so there’s no publication/medium where this would be useful.  Still, it’s nice to have it finished and put away, and when your only stakes are practice, every failure is also a success.  So, success!  I declare it, take my ball and go home.

Craftcation Recap

It’s been almost a week and I’m still not sure I’m fully recovered from the Craftcation conference.  I was scheduled to run three sessions in three days, but then added a fourth at the last minute when another speaker had to cancel.  Having been a middle school teacher for six years, where you teach 4-5 hours a day, I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but I was exhausted at the end of every day.  I forgot how tiring it can be when all of your down time between sessions is spent networking, even meals!

Moving your Business Beyond the Kitchen Table panel at Craftcation with me (moderator), Angharad Jones, Delilah Snell and Nicole Stevenson

Despite my exhaustion, I had a really good time.  I love helping other creatives (especially women) get their businesses on the right track, and I got to spend a little quality time with other energizing crafty business ladies.  I had one particularly raucous dinner with Steph Cortes from NerdJerk, Rosalie from Unanimous Craft, Marlo Miyashiro, Danielle from Etsy, Ashley Jennings, and Rena Tom that I will not soon forget.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Marlo, Rena and me

I was really pleased to see such great attendance at Craftcation, though some of my sessions didn’t run quite as smoothly as I’d hoped.  The session on pricing was so popular that the room became a fire hazard and we had to start turning people away.  We also didn’t have a working projector, but the attendees all rallied their technology so that each table could view the slides on a shared iPad.  The marketing session was also a full house and we ended up running out of handouts halfway through, but my helper for that one, Stephanie, was freaking amazing.  I understand that you can never quite predict session attendance, and besides, shit happens, but I want to make sure that anyone who couldn’t attend or take home handouts has a chance to access the materials.  Y’all paid good money to attend the conference after all, so here are the links to the materials from my three solo sessions (the panel didn’t have materials):

Full house at the Marketing on a Budget Session at Craftcation

One thing I’m having trouble with is measuring the ROI of this conference to my own business.  The benefits are so intangible for the most part that it’s tough to tell whether offering three days of (essentially) free teaching will pay for itself in the long term.  I really like teaching, so there’s that intangible benefit right off the bat, but does it make up for the three days I couldn’t work on any of my own projects?  Right now I’m leaning towards “yes”, but I couldn’t give you any hard evidence for why I’m leaning that way.  Right now it’s just a gut feeling surrounding the concept of “networking”.

How do you figure out when to take on projects that are peripheral to your creative business, like speaking, writing and teaching?  I could honestly really use some help with this one.

Ventura, Here We Come!

Headed down to Ventura this morning to spend the weekend at the Craftcation Conference. I’ll be teaching three four sessions there:

  • Moving Your Business Beyond the Kitchen Table (panel)
  • Marketing on a Budget
  • Pricing Your Handmade Work
  • Accounting/Bookkeeping for Crafters

I’m excited to see far-flung friends Jenny Hart (at a conference I’m NOT organizing, for a change!) and Danielle Maveal (see this video Q&A we did together last month), and to spend time with fellow SF crafty-business ladies Stephanie Cortez from NerdJerk and Rena Tom.

For a little pre-conference recommended reading, please peruse this article I recently posted to design*sponge on approaching other business owners for advice.

Looking forward to trading business cards with y’all.

Drawing a Day: Month 1 Re-cap

There’s nothing like documentation to keep you motivated through a project, but when it comes to my drawing-a-day practice, let’s just say you don’t need to know how the sausage got made.  In order to spare you the gory details (or the awkward sketches, as the case may be) I’m just going to post my progress on a monthly basis, highlighting some of the things I’ve tried an learned along the way.  I began the project on December 20th, 2011, so today marks the end of the first month.  Here’s a sampling.

Not knowing what to draw, I started drawing animals from memory, alphabetically.  I started with an aardvark, which was so pitiful I threw it out immediately.  Next I tried to draw a bird (a penguin, actually), which was also horrendous.  Here’s my third attempt with a monarch butterfly, but I couldn’t remember the actual pattern their wings have:


After that I gave up on animals for the time being and just decided to work with the alphabet itself. i had just finished a typography class, so it was kind of fun.  Here are a couple of typography doodles. I won’t share the hundreds of random letters I drew, though you can see some of them show through the back of the paper.

10,000 hours of expertise starts with a single sketch….

It was two days after Xmas.  Can you guess which movie I went to see?

Tired of making stuff up, I decided to try drawing some things IRL. Here’s my attempt at drawing a rubber tree leaf that looked like a bird.  It took a surprising number of tries to get the proportions and curves right, even with a ton of erasing.

And this is a two-minute sketch of the back of my husband’s head before he moved.

Then Tina Jett asked me how things were going. She is doing a drawing-a-day project too, in the form of an illustrated blog, which inspired me to illustrate my last two blog posts, too.

Anyone else embarking on a similar project? How are things going with your New Year’s resolutions?


Price Anchoring

As someone who teaches classes on pricing, I was really interested to hear this segment about “price anchoring” on Marketplace Money yesterday (get ready, because I’m about to really geek out here). According to Nick Epley, who teaches behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the decisions we make involving numbers (such as how many of something to buy, and how much to spend) are based on an “anchor” number.  Sometimes we already have the anchor in our head (like the total of your last grocery bill), and sometimes it’s just a random number that appears in front of you.

One example Mr. Epley gave is that people will guess that a football player made more tackles in a year if his jersey number is 97 than if it’s 27. He also recounted an interesting study in which a grocery store sign suggested that people buy Snickers bars to put in their freezer. In one instance, the sign said to buy “some” Snickers bars, and in another instance, the sign said to buy 18 Snickers bars.  People ended up buying far more Snickers bars when they were given an anchor number of 18, rather than the word “some.”  The reason this works, says Epley, is that people tend to only use one anchor number at a time, so whatever anchor you walked into the grocery store (or football stadium) with gets replaced by the new anchor that is put in front of you.

I wonder if this concept of “anchoring” is also what accounts for people’s tendency to accept more expensive prices on an item if that price isn’t a round or common price number (say, $57 as opposed to $50 or $49.99). If a price is harder for us to compare to our anchor, are we less likely to fight it?  I’d love to see price anchoring tested out a local shop or craft fair. Any takers?

p.s. First drawing-a-day with color! Pushing boundaries!

Thoughts on Community

Last week I had lunch with some friends: fellow CCE founder Laura Henry, and Genevieve Robertson and Shelly Kerry from LightboxSF.  The meeting was ostensibly to brainstorm surrounding conference-y event formats, but the conversation kept coming back to community.

Initially I was sort of surprised how central the issue was, since I always think of networking as an important but secondary part of any conference.  To me, programming always came first.  That’s why you pay for a conference that has expert speakers, rather than just attend a party, right?  But the more we talked about it, the more it became clear that community-building might actually be more crucial than content.  To give just one example: let’s say you attend a session featuring someone you admire; the presentation itself probably doesn’t include much material that isn’t already on the speaker’s blog, in their latest book, etc., but afterwards you have the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask a specific question of one of your heroes.  Which is more valuable, the content or the connection?  To put it another way, a session might present some interesting ideas, but it’s the time you spend discussing those ideas with other people that ultimately leads to plans for action.

If you think about it, every modern art movement — from impressionism to Dada to street art — grew out of a small group of artists getting together and bouncing ideas off of one another.  Renoir, Monet, and Mary Cassatt all attended each other’s exhibitions (or showed together), collaborated, critiqued each other’s work and introduced each other to new friends and patrons.  So did Warhol, Basquiat, and Julian Schnabel, or Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy — you get the idea. Though the image is often of the tortured, solitary artist, working alone in his studio, the reality is that most successful artists are part of a supportive community.

I’m ultimately going to ignore the chicken-or-egg question of whether successful artists become friends because they are successful, or if they become successful because they are friends. Sometimes it’s the former, such as when speakers meet at conferences, and sometimes it’s the latter, such as when friends promote each other’s work to their respective online audiences.  Overall, I think one causes the other and vice versa, so it doesn’t really matter where you start — except that it’s generally easier to make friends than to become commercially successful.  I’m currently trying to do both, and the problem I keep running into is where to split my time between the two.

These days, when people talk about building a community around your art or business, they’re usually referring to social media. I’ve (virtually) met some great people through social media, but between Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and now Pinterest (which I refuse to join), you can lose a lot of time that could otherwise be spent on making new work.  I also make the mistake of following/liking a lot of people I admire, which is a great way to feel inferior, especially when you’re not being terribly productive.  Our lunch meeting last week reminded me how much I prefer talking to people in person.  It’s much more efficient than scouring tweets, and builds a deeper connection than just shouting things into the ether.

Next month the four of us plan to meet again over dinner, hopefully inviting a few more people as well.  It may not be a conference, but we’ve all been in business long enough that we each have knowledge to share.  Our collective experience means we can help one another take our businesses to the next level.  At the same time, we’ll be building a mutual cheerleading club, which does wonders for motivation and cross-promotion.  In the meantime, I’ll be scaling down the social media side of things until I’ve got enough of a real-life community to make it worth it.

Thanks to Tina Jett for inspiring today’s illustration with her own daily illustrated blog posts.