because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

THE TALE OF A TRAVELING ARTISAN: THE BACK STORY

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“How can you justify charging $20 for a print,” a lady asked me last weekend at my first outdoor festival ever. “Seems like a lot,” she added.

I know this woman probably doesn’t deserve an answer, and I certainly don’t need to justify my prices — but I thought people might be interested in knowing what exactly goes into one of my $20 reproductions at a festival.

1. Create the artwork.

That means coming up with an inspiration, and then turning that inspiration into reality with paint, vintage papers, colored pencils, crayons, oil pastels and other ephemera. I don’t know how to put a price on creativity, but I can tell you that part alone takes between 20 and 30 hours, no matter the size of the canvas.

2. Convert the original artwork into a high-resolution photograph.

To do this, I set up a photo session in my house. Because my house doesn’t get the best light, I use three white poster boards curved in such a way as to accentuate the colors without throwing any shadows. The lighting has to be just right.

3. Email the high res image file to my printer across town.

4. Pick up prints. Check quality.

5. Hand slice each individual print into the appropriate size.

6. Inventory & order additional magnets, coasters & masonite squares from another out-of-town vendor.

7. Slide all reproductions into individual cellophane wrappers. Remove the plastic strips that protect the adhesive tape and seal each envelope individually. This does not take into account any of the marketing I do (which I do by myself), or the fulfilling of orders (which I do all by myself), or the packaging (which I do by myself) or the trips to the post office (which I do by myself).

8. Many months in advance of any show, I have to apply to be juried in & pay the application fee, which ranges in price from $45 to over $300, depending on the venue. I have to remember to bring and display my Certificate of Authority, which I applied for and paid for. This allows me to legitimately collect taxes (which I pay someone to file).

9. Purchase/create a display & practice setting up — tables & tablecloths, tent & tent weights, banners & racks, signage & business cards — the list goes on. I have to make sure I have duct tape & binder clips & clamps & pens & scissors & bandaids & all kinds of other random things that I might need. I even pack my own lunch!

10. Make sure the card reader is working and set up pricing for each individual item. Research and apply the local sales tax in every county in which I plan to show.

11. Go to the bank to get change.

12. Enlist help. I don’t have any single designated person to assist me, and my tent weights are 40 pounds each…so I need peeps with stamina. At this last show, I was helped by my father & an old friend from high school! I am beyond grateful to them both!

13. Set up tent & display. At this particular show, my load-in time started at 7AM. Which means I was up waaaaay before that.

14. Sell. Stand for roughly 11 hours  — in any kind of weather, rain or shine. Be professional & fully present while talking to anyone who wanders into my tent. Answer questions, take orders & hold down the fort.

15. Handle unforseens. On the first night of this particular show, there was a torrential downpour. Many tent canopies had not been weighted properly, so they toppled over or — literally — blew away. My tent was okay, but the high winds toppled my tables, soaking my tablecloths, signage & some of my merchandise, which I hadn’t thought to put away. I had to make an executive decision to close-up show, packing everything up in the middle of the night in a heavy downpour.

15. Tear down. At the end of a show, I do everything in reverse: box up, tear down, pack up, drive home, transfer everything back into my garage until the next festival.

So yes, lady in the white leggings. My prints are twenty dollars. And, now that I think about it, it doesn’t sound like near enough.

How would YOU respond to a comment like this? What do people not know about the work YOU do?

12 thoughts on “THE TALE OF A TRAVELING ARTISAN: THE BACK STORY

  1. $20 is a steal even for small size prints ! It cost me about $50 each to have 20 x 30 laminated prints manufactured . I’ll burn them if can’t get $150 for them.

    1. I have a very good printer in town, someone with whom I can easily communicate. I’m not sure why you are paying $50 and I’m not sure why you are choosing to laminate your work…but that is up to you. On a completely different note, I am so glad to see you are still here, following along. You know you were one of my original subscribers waaaaay back when. Yours was the first blog I ever found, and I’m just so grateful you are still in my life in this way.

  2. This reminds me of the process that musicians go through to prepare for a show. Whether they are playing on a stage a small venue or a stadium concert. It’s remarkable what effort and details go into putting on a show! It’s something to consider and appreciate when you purchase your concert tickets!!!

    1. You are spot on. A few musicians have contacted me privately to share that this is the same thing they go thru. I think it is a common dilemma for those of us who choose non-traditional creative paths.

  3. Renee, thank you for this. It is a well articulated summary of what I would love to say to people when they question how much my products are, both in the store and when I travel to markets, festivals and events. Over the years, I have learned to let it roll off and not respond to the questions and looks regarding the price tags for my products as they do you art work.

    Often times the question comes from lack of knowledge – about what you’re selling, what it takes to run a business, who you are, etc. Like you, when I travel to markets and festivals, I have the same laundry list of things to do. But in addition to that, I have two retail brick & mortar stores, that I have to staff when I’m out of the store during the week and on the weekends during our normal store hours. So in addition to the product costs, entry fees, travel costs, my prep and show time, my marketing time and all the other little things I’ve not thought of, I have my inventory costs, rent & utilities, staffing and labor costs, marketing costs, and so much more. If the question seems genuine and I have the time, I will educate them about the products and their journey to our shelves.

    But sometime it’s from a place of personal frustration of the questioner. For these folks, I’ve learned not to engage and take it so personally. It is energy I don’t have and don’t want to give them. This is harder to do on days where you are feeling vulnerable and maybe sales aren’t going as well as you would like. It is harder to put those snarky questions into the proper perspective. I’ve been there and I’m still working on it because of the passion I have for what I do.

    While mine is a consumable that needs to be replaced once used, I still consider it an investment and personal choice, the way one invests in your artwork. Some days the buying flows and others it doesn’t. If they want it they will buy it, if they don’t let them ask the question and move on. It’s a reflection of them, not you and if anything, you learned from this exploration, that your prints are worth more than $20 per print. Maybe thank her for asking the question and definitely consider raising your price to a fair market value for your prints.

    Keep on shining, creating, teaching and leading by example!

    xoxo
    Rishona

    1. I am in several Facebook groups where artists often share personal moments like this one, but I think it’s important for members of the general public to hear these discussions, too because people need to understand how these comments feel and are received. I have learned that art is a luxury and that many people would prefer to purchase a large reproduction for $9.99 at TJ Maxx (and that’s okay) but htere are definitely people in the world who appreciate the work and the soul that is present in an original piece of art. Thank you for being one of those people.

  4. Although I’m not the type person who is likely to pay much for a painting – original or print – I can certainly appreciate the time and effort you put into doing this. As far as I’m concerned, you should be well compensated just for having to put up with the smell and mess of paint. Ugh!

    Keep trucking, Renee, and ignore detractors.

    1. Thank you so much, David. Your responses always make me feel completely understood. 🙂

  5. Excellent !!

    1. Thanks John. 🙂

      1. Hi Ras , I absolutely love your art a good friend of mine has quite a few of your original pieces. They marvel me I get stuck looking at every little detail. My friend often reminds me of your struggles and how it goes into your work also your attachment to each piece . She recently purchased the piece with the girl and a the bird with the Langston Hughes quote on the back. She purchased it as a gift for our daughters nursery . We absolutely love it and are so pleased to finally have a original of yours.

        1. Hi Marc! Thank you for the kind words! I absolutely ADORE Sandra and I’m so glad you received the gift that she selected for you — and that you love it! If there is anything else I can do you, please don’t hesitate to ask! Nice to meet you! xoRASJ

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