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Get ahead: Create more art that seems more timely, ahead of time

Last week’s Inauguration celebration of the United States’ first female and first Black Vice President seemed like a remarkable event, and it brought an array of images of Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden to our Instagram feeds.

Some digital, drawn or painted images were created weeks earlier in anticipation of their move to the top of American politics and others were created on the fly.  We recommended to Mint alumni Trinity Brown that she create a wire wrapped necklace similar to the one Vice President Harris wore to her swearing-in.  We suspect fabric fashion designers are recreating  the beautiful Maison Schiaparelli gold dove brooch Lady Gaga wore, signifying her hope for peace in the United States.

Then we realized that creating art that feels like it jumped from the headlines or captures the essence of our cultural experiences is a valuable trait for emerging artists to develop.  Offer art that is fresh, timely and relevant, even if you created it months or years earlier.

How do you do that? First look ahead to memorable or significant moments that resonate with you and your work. Perhaps it’s the reopening of schools after covid-19 vaccinations are widespread, or the the birthday of Rosa Parks, which we mark because of her ties to Detroit and because of our beautiful Mint print based on Mint worker / artist Bryan Wilson’s painting.

Second, set a Google Alert to be notified of news and information about your favorite subjects, those that show up in your art and imagery often. Ask for just the best results; some may provide inspiration or a reason to share your work.

Next create a calendar for yourself of events and dates that suit your

Martin Luther King Jr. collage by artist Isadora Gacel (used with permission)

creative style and interests – or buy our 2021 calendar to inspire and write them in.

If you photograph or paint beautiful buildings, note the birthdays and other significant dates of architects Albert Kahn, Norma Merrick Sklarek and Maya Lin.  If flowers and plants show up often in your images, perhaps key moments for botanist George Washington Carver or Arber or artists Georgia O’Keeffe or Claude Monet belong there. If your art springs from the fight for equality and civil rights, track important dates from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work to the anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death.

Whatever your subject, pour over media timelines and museum retrospectives for dates and events that resonate with you and your art. Look for lesser known events or people or ones that seem newly relevant.

Detail of Arise Rock’s winning triptych painting © Arise Rock

Document the Black Lives Matter movement and the demonstrations after the cruel killing of George Floyd, as Mint Youth Arts Competition winner Arise Rock did.  May 25 will be one year after Floyd died after pleading with police. Or create photos or mixed media slamming the growing gap between rich and poor, known as income or economic inequality.  Unfortunately, these images will be timely again and again.

Keep making more work that suits your cultural moments and themes. That way, when one piece sells, you may share a second and a third.  Consider which one may be powerful enough to be made into a print.

And if you think you’ve missed your moment with Vice President Harris, consider that she will have a very busy first year in office with many moments to shine. Plus she was born on Oct. 20, (1964), so that gives you plenty of time – and a clear deadline – for  creating a portrait or series of pieces about her.

© Vickie Elmer, 2021, for Mint Artists Guild

Watch for our guide to intriguing events in 2021 that may inspire your creative work. Coming up in February in the Mint blog.

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Smart & beautiful insights, advice in pricing artists work


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Dorothy Jett-Carter creates beautiful bags and purses from vintage African cloth. Her creative work is sold at the Detroit Institute of Arts gift shop, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History shop and in galleries and art fairs. She also has experience selling creative work to department stores.

And in all those places, she strives for consistent pricing. Artists must price their work the same in many venues, even if the commission or cost to sell varies, she told Mint Artists Guild teens at our March 2016 workshop on pricing. 

“You can’t go up and down with your price. You can’t have a gallery on one side of town selling it at once price because they would buy it wholesale and then on other side of town, a different number.  You need to be consistent with your pricing.”

Artists and galleries use many methods to price their work – from measuring the size in square inches to evaluating competitors prices. Some price their work based on the customer’s economic status. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some prices based on social media followers!

However, Jett-Carter recommends artists consider all the costs of producing the creative work – including equipment and supplies and time spent on delivery or promotion. Then add in some amount for the  artist’s creativity and reputation and figure in the commission too.

She described the various ways artists may sell their work and noted that the commission rates may vary from 20 to 50 percent, and payment terms vary too. 

A wholesale client will pay for your work upfront, but will expect a 50 percent discount from the standard price. Many galleries take artists’ work on consignment, often for 90 days, and pay only after the piece sells.  And a few galleries will rent space to artists for a set payment each month plus a low commission of 15 to 25 percent. “I don’t recommend those galleries for emerging artists,” Jett-Carter said. They work best for artists who already have “a tremendous following” or for work that is more commercial, such as art made into coasters or calendars, she added.

Jett-Carter, who runs a small training company, has worked with many businesses and artists. Her expertise on artist pricing is much appreciated by the Mint Artists. Here’s three other pieces of pricing advice Jett-Carter gave at the Mint workshop:

  • Cost of your work.   When you consider how much it costs to produce a piece, be sure to add in costs of tools such as paint brushes or a sewing machine. And calculate both time and labor – and the value of your creativity, she says. Many artists forget to add in miscellaneous costs – gasoline, electricity, studio rent, art fair admission fees and promotional costs – often  about 10 to 15 percent of the price, Jett-Carter said.
  • Art fairs. You mark up your price to cover commissions galleries take. Yet your price stays at that higher level at a fair or art pop-up, even if you have no gallery has signed up to accept your work. “Gallery owners shop art festivals looking for new talent all the time. It is the best way that I know to have gallery owners find you,” Jett-Carter said. (She joined Mint Artists at the 2016 Palmer Park Art Fair.)
  • Left unsaid.  If a customer asks how long it took to make a piece, it’s best not to answer that question.  Or to give a very vague non committal answer, Jett-Carter said. If you say it took three hours, they may try to calculate a price be based on an hourly rate for your time.  

Take a very limited approach to discounting on prices.  “A discount is taking a very small amount of money off the piece – just enough to say thank you” to a repeat customer, said Jett-Carter. That amount will often be around 10 percent. If someone asks for a discount, consider the request. “Before you say yes, stop, breathe, think. People will try to talk you down….. Don’t give your work away.”

  © Vickie Elmer 2016   (Photos by © Rod Carter, courtesy Dorothy Jett-Carter)

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