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.....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Art Biz & Hiring

When first started AvantGarb (we're a custom, mascot making company),  I was the only employee. I did everything, designed, made the mascots, shipped them, did the marketing ---everything.

Quickly, I realized I was going to have to hire people. Just as employees have a learning curve at a new job, I had a learning curve as a boss. I'm still learning.

Hiring people is a puzzle. In a an arty biz like mine, creative decisions and problem solving are constant. Intuitive, improvisational communication is the lifeblood of the business.

We make mascots, which are like costumes and also like really, really big props. There is a huge amount of something I call, "non-specific engineering" that goes into them. We're engineering with foam, zippers and quick release buckles. It's a type of construction that requires whims of imagination and flights of fancy. 

Those with the most experience may not be the best ones for the job. 

Yup, it's true. We can teach someone to sew ---after all, sewing machines are really just power tools, and power tools are fun! It's hard to teach someone to take courageous, creative leaps
 - creative leaps and courage are so much harder than learning to sew.

When I started hiring people, I was interested in experience in making costumes and education. My hiring requirements have evolved over time. Education is nice, but I also want to know that there is something behind the education---like the habit of work. 
I hire from a wide range of sources. Currently we have some puppet/performance art people, theater prop people, a philosophy major who really understands interior, mascot structures, a cosplay person, a fashion person ---who always wears great clothes, a 2D artist who has a real knack for mascot shoes and accessories (in mascotdom, tails are accessories) and a former bartender who is totally charming on the phone and online, and understands quickbooks and social media.

It is a magical group. I look forward to working with them every day


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Art Workers

Carlos & Jennifer "talking design"

 "How satisfied are we with our jobs? Gallup regularly polls workers around the world to find out. Its survey last year found that almost 90 percent of workers were either “not engaged” with or “actively disengaged” from their jobs."  This from Rethinking Work by Barry Swartz, an excellent, New York Times article.

The article goes on to tell that us humans don't like to feel like we're just cogs in the machine "we want work that is meaningful — that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way."

As an art worker running a small, arty biz, I live in the same material world that all of us live in, I struggle to keep the art and income in balance. I know that I work for the challenge, the problem solving, the camaraderie in the studio, the relationship with our clients and for the joy I take in the materials we use.   

Mine is really a material world in that I make mascot costumes, which involves an awful lot of materials, foam and fake fur.

Us art workers follow our hearts, our muse, our bliss. Sometimes we strike it rich. Most of the time, though, we are making a living. I believe we are blessed. Striving solely for efficiency and compensation, for the cash is a losing game.

The people who work with me at AvantGarb are thoroughly involved in the art of making mascots. We sculpt, engineer, paint, design, market and send out proposals and invoices and we sew, sew, sew. How can that not be a compelling?

I believe the mascots we make bring Joy to the World ---and that's a pretty gratifying outcome.

 ©Jennifer Smith 2015

Artist in the Material World

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Good Exposure for Your Art? Really?

Most of us have been there. Someone has flattered us by asking if we would be willing to display our work at their business - a restaurant or a lobby, maybe a snazzy spa.

When a business comes by and says they would like to hang your art on their walls, claiming it will be good exposure, approach their offer as the beginning of a negotiation.

Free is too expensive for the artist. 

Have a monthly rental cost sheet - maybe $500/painting/month - whatever cost you feel comfortable with. If people are spending money for something, they pay attention to it. If they live with it long enough, they may buy it.

Make demands, as well like: 
  • The art must be hung by an expert under your supervision. 
  • The business is responsible for and carries insurance that will cover any damage that might occur to artwork while in their workplace. 
  • Get a deposit before releasing your artwork for display.
Don't give art away for free. 

Art is a calling. It is also a business.

©Jennifer Smith 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Rules for Creative Cohabitation in the Studio

I had the good fortune to hire a wonderful, red-headed, Baptist, southern woman and a totally out-of-the-closet, really funny, gay man. They were both hugely talented. They had a great 3-D sense and an intuitive understanding of interior, mascot engineering.

....and they really, really liked each other and I adored both of them. They kept me laughing.

To keep the peace, at AvantGarb, I knew I was going to have to set some boundaries. 

These guidelines are good ones for every workplace. Well, you might not be that interested in new ways to knot a piece of thread ---but you'll get the picture. 

The Rules for Creative Cohabitation 

in the Mascot Studio

When making mascots, we have to communicate clearly with each other. Ask questions often and you must have courage. Keep communication open and transparent.

Fabric, foam and fuzz are endlessly fascinating in a mascot shop. As are:

  • New ways to knot a piece of thread,
  • Interior mascot engineering
  • Sturdy ways to secure a helmet in a mascot head.
  • Really corny jokes.
  • Funny, buoyant stories,
  • Mascot videos at lunch
  • Favorite illustrations in the ULine catalog
  • get the picture

Not endlessly fascinating and creative inhibitors are:

  • Personal politics and personal sex life.
  • Any words you wouldn’t say in front of a 4 year old - we want to keep the mascot spirits sweet - even the ones with the Game Face.
  • Anything disgusting. If it’s a story you really love, but think it might possibly be disgusting to some --- don’t tell it --- it’s the thing about keeping the mascot souls sweet.

Last but Certainly not Least, Dress Code & Hygiene:

There is no back room. We’re all on stage at AvantGarb so….
  • We have to look good AND, have clothes we can work in - it's a delicate balance.
  • Stylishly distressed clothes are fine - no worn-out clothes with holes, tears, weird stains, inappropriate words or images.
  • It can be a dirty job. We get sharpie marker on our hands, adhesive in our hair - let's give ourselves the best chance we can at looking pretty good - start out clean.
  • get the picture

Monday, March 30, 2015

"We're Closed" = RFRA Bill in Indiana

Yes I live in Indianapolis,

My business is in Indianapolis.

Right now, all businesses in Indianapolis are in shock.

A Religious Freedom (RFRA) bill found it's way to Governor Pence's desk, and he foolishly signed it.

The bill allows businesses to refuse to do biz with people with whom they disagree. It seems to be aimed at the gay communitee.

When I started AvantGarb, my plan was to make costumes for avant-garde theater - thus the name. And I have certainly designed costumes for some fascinating performances. However, pretty early on, I got calls from companies and corporations that wanted mascots.

Rather than say "no" to customers I perceived as the wrong customers for me, I sad "yes". I have never regretted that first, "yes".

It turns out, I was born to make mascots! I love mascots! I believe mascot could bring world peace!

My customers defined my business for me. They knew better than I.

A bill like RFRA promotes the "no". It discourages the revelation. It puts the kabosh on the party. It is bad for all businesses in Indiana, large and small.

Business wants to grow and thrive - to stretch out in exciting, new directions.

With RFRA, Indiana tells the world that we aren't interested in the new. That we don't want to innovate and thrive. RFRA is like hanging out a "We're closed" sign.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Some Thoughts on Marketing an Arty Biz

At AvantGarb, we make big, dynamic, extroverted mascots.

In my weaker moments, I have this delusional idea, that people will somehow find AvantGarb and recognize our talent & vision.

Sometimes magical thinking works. But really, If you want your arty biz to flourish, I have 3 words for you:

Market. Market. Market.

These times are great for the introverted artists. Much communication is done in online via e-mail and in social media - tweeting, pinning, facebooking and blogging. However, actually connecting people in real time - having a conversation - that's when things get exciting - when the idea becomes real - that's when the passion for the project comes through

At AvantGarb, we use HootSuite to schedule posts on social media sites.

...but it's not all social media - what the point in being a creative business that makes stuff, if you don't also include something real. We send out funny fuzzy & googlie-eyed things, now & then.

Why not? We love to spread the joy!

Now, I almost, completely, most-of-the-time, adore marketing---I get a kick outta the pull and push of the relationships, the ins and outs of negotiations.

Marketing has always been social.