The Price of Design

October 12, 2009 at 11:39 pm (Artist Musings)

About a week and a half ago, Artspace hosted a luncheon and tour for members of the Downtown Raleigh Business Alliance. A few artists were asked to participate in the tour and demo. I did a demonstration of my “gin and sin” image transfer technique and answered questions. One of the questions asked was, “how many pieces can I produce a month?” To be honest, at first I was confused by the question because I don’t know any artist who counts how many pieces they can produce a month. When I spoke to some other artists about this, they said that the question really being asked of me was not “how many pieces can I produce a month” but “how much money do I make.”

When I first started my business, another artist friend and mentor, Irene Semanchuk Dean, gave me a formula for pricing my work. I have used this formula to price every piece I have made since 2004. I actually time how many hours each piece takes to make and calculate hourly wage, materials cost, overhead, and profit margin, which gives me the wholesale price of the piece. From the wholesale price, I calculate the retail price (advice that Irene gave me very early on and a mistake that in my opinion many new artists make when pricing their work).

Trapeziste

Trapeziste

While this formula gives me a valuable tool for pricing my work, it doesn’t take into account the cost of design. Design time is unquantifiable because the design process is never ending. For me, the initial design process starts with a vision. I am not worried about execution, just the overall look of the piece. Typically, at this point in the process, I do not sketch, although I do have a mental snapshot of what I want the piece will look like. For the Trapeziste necklace for example, I knew that I wanted the trapeze artist to be “flying” across the neckline. For me, that is where the design process starts.

The next part of my design process is figuring out how to execute the piece. This is usually the part of the process where I need to sketch. For the Trapeziste necklace, I collaborated with Artspace artist Catherine Thornton, who sculpted the trapeze artist and created a mold for me. The inspiration for trapeze artist was a French circus poster. I knew I was going to cast the mold inolymer clay and paint it to mimic the original French label, however, I wasn’t sure which paint to use or even which clay to use for that matter. So, I started experimenting with acrylic paint, oil paint, and different brands of polymer clay. Four trapeze artists later, I had a finished pendant. The experimentation process, for me, is akin to a rough draft. I use this part of the process to work out the kinks.

The final part of my design process is figuring out how to put the whole piece together. For the Trapeziste necklace, I knew that there wasn’t going to be a clasp and that I wanted it to wrap around the neck like a scarf. I had to figure out how long the piece needed to be to wrap around the neck and how to weigh the piece down at the bottom so it wouldn’t slip and slide off the body. I also had to figure out how to suspend the trapeze artist across the necklace so that it wouldn’t flip over.

The actual execution of the piece, making the twenty something circus label image transfer beads, creating the final version of the finished trapeze artist, and weaving and twining the piece together, took ten hours start to finish. Design time, on the other hand, took about two weeks. The end result (in my opinion) is priceless.

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