Monday, October 9, 2017

Splendid Fairy Wren vs. Las Vegas Shooter

My daughter, who works in the mascot-making studio with me, has a day by day bird calendar. She looks at a photo of a new, glorious bird, every day. She has been chirping praises of birds since she got the calendar at the beginning of the year.

Bird of the Day

The morning after the horrible night before, the night when when a deranged, angry man man blew out a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas picked up his guns and started shooting, the bird of the day was a Splendid Fairy Wren.

My daughter said,"If the shooter knew there were Splendid Fairy Wrens in the world, he wouldn't have killed people".

Maybe she's right. We are angry and dangerous because we lack imagination. Imagination that pierces our psyche with visions of the glorious when we are consumed by rage, and trapped in obcession.

I know, bird watching isn't the cure.

  • looking at art isn't the cure,
  • cooking a meal isn't the cure, 
  • painting a picture isn't the cure, 
  • reading a book, listening to the birds in the morning and the bugs at night, going to church, taking a class, strolling the nabe, humming a song, writing a poem, isn't a cure.
None of these things are cures for unbridled anger but all make a dent, chip away at the obsessive vanity, chew away at the hubris, make us humble. 

The advice from the mascot-making studio?

Contemplate the Splendid Fairy Wren. 

 ©Jennifer Smith/Artist in the Material World 2017

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Art Art Art & Money Money Money

Andy Mouse - Keith Haring

Painting nudes

Us artist have it so good.

In art school, we live in creative hives.

We can follow sparks of imagination to see where they lead, which is always to something else. We can record traffic and make it music, print our own art money like Andy Warhol---invite an audience to the forest for an outdoor, nature symphony - like John Cage --and---we get to take classes where we stare at nudes and draw them. It’s a good life.

...and then we graduate and leave the paradise.

So many of us wonder what we’ll do with our degrees. Will we be able to get a job? make a living? are we destined to work in restaurants? What will we do?

There are many who give us artists a hard time. They think artists aren’t realist, that we don’t understand the real world. Many think being a doctor, lawyer, accountant, nurse is the rational, sensible way to go.

For people who want to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, nurse ---it is indeed a good idea to pursue those professions.

For those of us who think putting paint on a canvas is heaven, composing a photo, writing a novel, making a movie or directing a play are the things that make a life meaningful ---don’t be swayed into becoming someone you aren’t - don’t disrespect your own talents.

The Museum of Modern Art helped raise me.

I grew up in Queens - in NYC ---my friends and I would take the F train to 53rd street and go hang out at the museum --or we’d head all the way to the the tip of Manhattan to hang out at the Cloisters - where we’d examine the Unicorn tapestries.

Art is the foundation I stand on. It is because I saw a Claus Oldenberg exhibit at MoMA, when I was in 8th grade ---and that my grandfather was in the fabric biz, that I’m an artist in business.

I seemed perfectly possible to pursue my dreams and make a living.

I’m here to urge you to go into business.

Small biz - micro biz, art biz is what makes capitalism fun! We are the verve meisters.

Go into business - become part of the world of commerce. Figure out how to make some money from your art.

  Learn how to write a proposal, write an invoice and reel in the job. It’s exciting to be involved in the mainstream conversation.

As Andy Warhol said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

©Jennifer Smith 2016 - Artist in the Material World

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


There are many meccas. For artists, it’s NYC.

On the strength of a nice, little grant from The National Endowment for the Arts, in the 70’s, I headed to NYC.

I had no job, but I knew a few people. I knew I could land and sleep on someone’s couch for awhile. That was enough. It was a good move. I could take in the art movements from around the world and found my little niche in that world. Thrilling!

The other day, I gave a talk to a bunch of business students at Morehead University - in a lovely, small town in the midst of Kentucky’s rolling hills.

In telling my story, my hope was it would give students courage to follow their heart - not just make rational decisions.

Rational decisions are over-rated. What’s rational to one person may be seen as totally crazy by another.

Say, someone wants to be an opera singer. That person will hear, from people who may never have listened to opera --- and really don’t know what they are talking about ---- that they will never make any money pursuing an opera career.

Don’t listen to them!

Instead, Go to Italy, Go to NYC, go to places where opera is valued.


Want my advice to students?

Go! Follow your dreams. Want to work in the tech world - Go to Silicon Valley, or Houston, Boston or Hyerabad in India. Want to dance - Go to NYC. Is there a place you’ve always wanted to live? Go there. You will find work you love because you love the place.

Go to your Mecca. You will be rewarded and enriched.

Friday, September 30, 2016

In Praise of Foolish Decisions

Drawing by Anne Avery Dougans
I'm in favor of foolish decisions. We have this one precious life. Our time to make a mark, to have some fun, to set out on an adventure to make discoveries and to screw things up.

No life is perfect, nothing is guaranteed. It won't be a smooth ride. There will be bumps and crashes. Things will fall apart. Dreams will be dashed, we may not climb the highest mountain.

But we will have stories. We will know some fascinating people. We will be a fascinating person for going after the foolish ---the artistic moment, the vision, the move, the boyfriend, the husband, the babies.

For me, following the muse has lead me into a world of creation. Sometimes I look around the mascot studio where we might be making a rainbow bellied dinosaur, collecting fabric swatches for some imaginary critter and shaping foam for some buff, muscular mascot.

All of the foolish decisions have lead me to my very own little piece of heaven.

©Jennifer Smith 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Spreadsheets & Negotiating for Artists

Spreadsheets are sexy!

With a spreadsheet, I can estimate how long each part of the job will take and how much the materials will cost. It's exciting to get to the final number, the bottom line - the great reveal!

At AvantGarb, my little mascot biz, there are many different jobs---designers, pattern drafters, stitchers, sales people, painters, IT people, web gurus, the HR department, the benefit package, accountants. estimators, and oh-my-goodness-this floor-needs-to-be-swept people. At one time or other, all of those people were me. Sometimes, they still are.

When deciding how much to charge attach a cost to each job. Some jobs may be $35/hr, some may have a set $2500 cost, some may be $225/hour, some $75/hour. Even if one person does all of the jobs, attach a cost to each specialty.

Put together a spreadsheet to get a sense for the real cost and extent of the project. Attached is a sample spread sheet that AvantGarb uses. It's for making mascots ---yours will certainly be different labor titles and headings --- this is merely a sample.

It's simple, yet it gives us a handle on costs and time. A spread sheet is for the business's information. It is not a document to share with clients.

When negotiating, it's good to have what you propose in writing. People hear what they want to hear. Put it in writing.

We put together a pretty specific proposal when we're going after a mascot job. We have a description of each part, fabric choices, a bit about mascot engineering, some photos of relevant mascot, a select list of clients and projects.

We have a separate costs page where everything is listed. 

We list all the parts of the mascot - head, body, mascot clothing, etc and put one cost for those items. It's not a menu. We don't separate cost for materials and labor. That might or might not work for everyone.

There is also a heading for Additional/Optional item. Something the client might want, but hasn't thought of.

I always use a spreadsheet to keep me based in reality.

You may have clients that want a fabulous production with fabulous clothes, a mural in their restaurant, a commissioned installation. Give them a cost. You may be surprised to learn how much wiggle room there is in the client's budget.

Under-pricing creative work is too expensive for the artist and practically guarantees tension between the artist/designer and the client. 

Why are spreadsheets sexy? 

They let you know what your work is worth, and with a good number in hand, the relationship with the client might be as much fun as dancing the waltz of the booga-loo.
xo Jennifer - An Artist in the Material World

©Jennifer Smith 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Flirting is Marketing / Marketing is Flirting

Putting on the lipstick & the heels!

When I start complaining to my, sometimes exasperated, staff that we will have no work after we finish whatever mascot we are working on....

....and we will be absolutely out of money,
.....nobody will ever want a mascot again
......we are finished, kaput, done
.......and we will have to auction everything off for a mere pittance

They all roll their eyes and get back to what ever they were doing. They have heard my sad refrain before.

Then someone says, "Start flirting!"

Heels and lipstick

There was a woman who worked for me many, many years ago. She, too, had heard my sad refrain one time too many. She finally said, "Put on your heels and bring in some work!" I did. That's when I realized, marketing is like flirting. 

If I've worn some sensible shoes to work, I take them off and put on my emergency, cowgirl boots w/ heels, put some color on my lips and get down to the business flirting ---really marketing, but aren't both pretty much the same?

In marketing you want to:
  • Attract clients.
  • Present your best self for the business.
  • Inspire trust and be trustworthy
  • Put forth a proposal
  • Work on the relationship
  • Close the deal
Kinda like flirting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Mascot Studio - Favorite photos - Artists in the Material World

Some mascot makers at AvantGarb Mascots - Kristin, Megan and Anne and the Loudmouth Fish

Laura shows off her muscles!
I bought a "Boss Lady" tee shirt & it inspired a whole outfit - complete w/ my aunt's pearls and a fake, turquoise Rolex
Mike is wearing shades made for a tiger  - as well as a stylish tee.
Mike wearing Floyd the Monster's back legs - w/ Peter, out male mannequin
Anne w/ and awfully nice tail

Dave with Tivo inner structures

A very small part of the Mascot Wall of Fame
The wall of lost mascot parts - a moose tail - moose don't really have tails, a hand w/ too many fingers, a penguin crotch, a too short jaguar tail.....