Sarafina Fiber Art

Sarafina Fiber Art

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pricing Art Work - The Fat and the Skinny

I'm no expert but I will tell you what I have learned from 25 years of pricing artwork.  Unfortunately there is no magic formula.  The bottom line is - How many people want it?  And that line is a product of the quality of the work and the number of people who know it exists.

Time:  It doesn't matter how long it took you.  Yes, skilled or well known artists can make fast work that sells for a very high price and novices can spend weeks making something that no one wants to buy.  But no matter your experience or skill you will have work that went smoothly and quickly that sells for more than you thought, and you will have labor intensive masterpieces that sit around unsold until you give it away just so you don't have to look at it anymore.  I am not saying not to consider your time - but time does not dictate your price.

Consider time in the sense that you have to produce something that is worth your time.  If a piece takes you forever but has a ceiling on price you might not want to go that route.  For example... you make a beautiful detailed elaborate Christmas ornament, the best in the world, for which you think you should charge $160 because it took you two days.  But no one wants to pay $160 for an ornament.  Or you work slowly and it takes you 3 weeks to make a commissioned dog - the going price is $175.  Do you really want to make $60/week?   These might not be realistic examples but you get the idea.  If you are independently wealthy and don't need the dough then ignore this paragraph.  But, at least to me, success is defined by selling my work, and enough of it, to have $ in my account.  That is not possible if I am working for $2/hour.  Nor will have success if I am pricing my time at $20/hr for something no one wants to buy.

Materials:  Most of the arts in which I have been involved have not had costly materials.  The value of a painting is my skill and demand, not the cost of the paints. (I did have to consider the cost of framing when I was custom framing my artwork.)  An artist that has her sculptures cast in bronze might need to weigh the foundry costs into her pricing.  But most arts' value are about skill and demand.

My wool sculptures are wire and wool, nothing more.  A chipmunk weighs about 2.5 oz which is $2.50 in wholesale wool.  He sells for $145.

Skill:  Almost everything we do in life needs to be learned.  Natural talent is great but unless you are a savant, we all have to practice and develop our skill.  At first you may not be making $80 per hour but that's okay; you have to start somewhere.  As you get better two things happen, your work becomes more and more appealing to buyers because it looks better.  And, hopefully, you are building a following.  In the beginning you may price one of your smaller works at $45 but over time you have learned to make that same size/item better and more people have begun to want that item and so that leads us to demand...

Demand:  Now you have been working, honing your skills, and gaining a following.  Eight people have asked you to make your $45 thingamajig and you are not sure when you will find the time.  Now it's time to raise that price to $65.  Two people might decide that's not what they want to spend but 6 will spend $390 which is still $30 more than you would have made for all 8 at $45.  Your skill and demand now gets you more money per hour.

Skill and Demand will grow slowly and hopefully steadily.  You will find a comfortable pace to raise your prices that is reflective and directly related to this growth.  Do not inflate beyond your skill and demand. 

I know extremely talented artists who do not market themselves.  Their work is above and beyond mine but they are not making a living selling art because no one knows it exists.   I also know of extremely successful artists who are master marketers but create work that I would not want to buy.   Developing awareness of your work is something that you have to work as hard for as your skill.

A few other things to consider -

Pretty Prices;  If I have an item that I think should be in the $50 range.  I will price it at $48.  That is a happy pretty price.  $47 is too pointy. $50 is too flat.  $52 is just weird.  $49 and $51? No way.   If it should be in the $1000 range, it will be either $900 or $1200 depending on which way I think the piece should sway.  The actual numbers should have a nice look and ring to them.

Underpricing:  It can actually be more damaging than over pricing (but you don't want to do either).  If you under price your work you may run the risk of devaluing it.  I have not run controlled tests on large groups of consumers but, as one, and through experience, I am convinced that we want to buy something special and valuable.  We want to treat ourselves to something.  Artwork is a luxury and people buy it with that mentality.  The same work priced at $50 might not seem as special/valuable as if it were priced at $125.  A few people will recognize "a good deal" and buy your things, but you are cheating yourself out of $ and actually lowering demand.

Overpricing:  We are lucky to have such freedom in determining our prices but sometimes it's problematic.  Over pricing can be a once in a while occurrence... you make something that is ahead of it's time in quality and complexity.  You decide it's worth way more than anything you have made before.  Maybe it is; maybe it sells right away.  But also be prepared to own it for a long time; it's a good thing you like it so much.  I have personally had this go both ways.

36x36 original Fair Hill Map still hangs in my living room four years later - $4800

My Pegasus with fully functional feather wings was a very inspired piece... I am not even sure I could make it again.  I priced it at $1200, more than any other needle felted sculpture to that date, thinking I would be able to enjoy it for a while.  It sold in an hour.

Or overpricing can be an overall problem.  You have just entered the world of selling art.  You are referring to the prices of established artists for comparable pieces  and it's going nowhere.  Again, start low and raise with your personal demand.  When the bubble burst in our economy I was selling my paintings at their highest prices.  (That was also around the time that I began selling needle felting.)  Almost overnight my work was overpriced.  What worked in yesterday's economy was no longer reality.  I had not crossed that super elite line in fine art that secured enough wealthy unaffected customers.  I had to adjust and rather than lower what I had worked to hard to build, I shifted to the new world of wool sculptures and started over.

Consistency:  Consistency is extremely important.  Your patrons will appreciate and respect consistent prices.  When I was painting I had a price per square inch formula with additional percentages for added subjects.  It gave me a solid way to price my work across the board no matter who, what, or where.   I don't have a formula for needle felting but I am still very aware of my prices.  If you are represented by another seller, gallery, or store, make sure the retail price of your work is the same as if you sell directly.  You might make a little less per sale but you are gaining the ever important demand by having your work in more places.  Store and gallery owners are running a business as well and together you can have a mutually beneficial experience. 

Have confidence in your pricing so that buyers have confidence in you.  May you have many a Pegasus and nary a gigantic Fair Hill Map.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

What Wool?

When I began needle felting I had no idea the doors that would open into a world of wool.  Who knew?  All the Wool People (aka Fiber People) knew, that's who.  People who spin, knit, crochet, felt, weave, shear, wash, dye, and nurture their sheep knew.  I am now in the middle of in-the-know; not a seasoned wool expert, but learning about what I like for needle felting.

Corriedale, Rambouilett, Border Leicester, Teeswater, Wensleydale, Cheviot.... sounds like an impressive cheese platter.  The sheep breeds are endless and the wool fibers as varied.  And now I want cheese.

I ended up frustrated more than once when I bought wool online.  It was not misrepresented, I just did not know what I needed or what to look for.  So much of what is available is geared towards spinners.  Going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival that first year was the best thing I could do.  Wool needs to be seen, touched, smelled!

Soon I understood what kinds of wools I liked to use for needle felting, if not by name than at least by texture.  The challenge then and now is finding a consistent source.  Once you find a good thing you want more!  A reliable source for wool is not easy to come by.  I have a few up my sleeve but am always on the lookout.
My ever changing wool wall
However, part of the art of needle felting, for better or worse, is working with the variations.  Letting the fibers be used how they best fit.   At this point, I could find a use for any fiber that came my way.

Here is what I know I like so far:

Blended Roving - many mills mix sheep varieties.  This approach, along with woolen carding, gives roving a the perfect nubby loft for needle felting.

Romney - Romney seems to have the right balance between kink, consistency, and loft.

East Fresian - My neighbor raises them for milk and out of convenience I decided to wash and card a few fleeces... turns out I love it.  Soft, fuzzy, feltable goodness.

Carded East Fresian in the middle, angora left, and Romney right

Locks - Lincoln for long and silky, Tesswater for smaller curls... more to explore on this front for sure.

Spinner's Hill - look her up!  Amazing batts and rovings, the best white I have ever found. Deep saturated yummy colors.

Suri Alpaca - great for soft locks as hair, manes, tails, etc

Merino and other long fine staple fibers are used as pelts sometimes blended with more easily felted wools.

Angora - get some, even if you can't figure out how to use it (I'll show you how. ; ) watch this -, everyone should have a pile of angora to touch.  The world would be a peaceful place if that were the case.

May your most difficult decision in life be which baby bunny to take home.

 The next step?  My own fiber animals of course!


Saturday, November 2, 2013

We all Have to Start Somewhere and Foot in Mouth

Recently I shared and commented on a how-to video that used a mold for needle felting a 3D dog.  I regret trying to work out my thoughts on my Facebook page.  My comments were a written dialog of what was going through my head while watching the video.  I was not trying to convince anyone else that working with a mold was a bad idea or to say that that particular kit was not helpful and ingenious, or that using a mold is not the perfect enjoyable and rewarding way for kids or beginners to get introduced to needle felting.  I loved doing paint by numbers when I was a kid; I got to use the paints and brush, loose myself in the process, and create something pretty cool.  It didn't mean I didn't go on to learn how to mix my own colors and make a painting from the bottom up or that paint by numbers was not fun and satisfying.

Some of my first ornaments... not even as old as my very first ones which I have no record of because I did not even own a digital camera!

Little Blind Dogs ( ? ? )

Discovering fiber arts opens up a wonderful world.  The joy and fun is in the fiber and exploring a new creative process.  That's what got me hooked when I began five years ago.   Now that I have a growing following on Facebook and Youtube, many people are seeing my work for the first time at a current level.  I started at the beginning, though, just like anyone else.

A goat, deer, and pony - these were all only about 2" tall

My goal is to teach and share in a way that I believe in.  The possibilities are endless, felting wool is no less than miraculous, the medium is forgiving and lends itself to fuzzy cuteness, and it doesn't take an art degree to enjoy it.  My techniques are methods that I grew with, that I practiced, and that were born out of my desire to make the next one better.  As you can see I've come a long way!

It seems I did not think any critters needed to see.
Happy creating, Sara

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sharing - Walking the Thin Line

"The meaning of life is to
find your gift.
The purpose of life is to
give it away."
- Pablo Picasso 

As a painter I had a pretty close knit support group.  We were artist friends (still are) who talked shop, and technique.  We would share insights into the professional world of painting and selling.  I highly valued the camaraderie and owe part of my success to it.  Sharing painting war stories and triumphs always inspired me, taught me, and cautioned me.  Our sharing nurtured a collective creativity.

When I began needle felting in 2008, I had no idea the craft would become my profession.  My first critters were as you would expect, sort of loosely felted, not particularly well crafted, and more color blocked than color blended.  I don't even have good pictures of them.  All I knew was that felting was fun.  (Looking at these pics I realize I seem to have been incapable of felting eyes - most are blind!)

By 2010, I got better and opened my etsy shop.  Even that short time ago there were far fewer needle felters on etsy.  Still, I was lucky to be quickly recognized and generate sales. 

I felt very competitive with the other felters making animals.  Partly because I had never met them in person (the internet bubble), partly because I was determined to get better and continue to stay, if not on top, towards the top, and because this had become my livelihood. 

The only way that I could excel was perseverance and practice.  I did not have books or take classes.  I started with one kit and may have watched a few of Felt Alive's videos.  I messed up and tried again.  I used what supplies I could find and scoured resources to find better.  I experimented with armatures.  I collected fibers.  I holed up in my Hobbit like work space under the eves on my third floor and felted away, learning with every sculpture.  This is also the way I learned to paint, first with watercolors ( I had the help of my Dad), then oils (BIG learning curve there), then pastels, and clay to bronze.  I just did it without worrying whether I could or not.

I'm not explaining this to toot my horn; it's just always been the way I have grown as an artist.  And, my point is, I don't want to freely share what I know because I have worked so hard to obtain it.  But this contradicts my generous spirit and the notion that there is room for everyone to succeed.

So, many workshops, instructional videos, and internet correspondences later, I still find myself walking that line.  I am openly sharing the methods that I have developed and the techniques that I use but, admittedly, with business goals behind it and only after I feel I have explored it's full potential..

Recently I have been asked how I made the gorilla's face pose-able.  My lips clamped.  I wasn't ready to share.  I respectfully (I hope) declined.   I have so much I want to explore with this idea, so much yet to develop, before I hand it out. 

The artist in me wants to give freely, the entrepreneur knows better. 

I have boiled the thin line down to this...   Forge bravely ahead in your art.  Enjoy the process of discovery.  Do not rely too heavily on others because you limit your innovation, but pursue camaraderie among your peers.  Be as generous as possible without being stupid.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hoarder or Prepared?

Sometimes, when I watch "Hoarders" I think, "I am only one tragedy away from becoming a hoarder."  I am saved by the fact that I enjoy a purge almost as much as a binge.   Most creative people hoard.   I am making the declaration pretty confidently without exhaustive studies.  

One of my sisters hoards beads, the other fabric.  One of my friends, a spinner, covets every fiber producing animal she sees; lets just say she has as many as she can handle.  My Father is currently trying to whittle down his collection of art supplies which fills a 1200 square foot studio top to bottom side to side and in the middle.  ( I haven't decided yet if I am saved or cursed that he lives so far away that I can't easily take his crap off his hands and make it my own crap.)

Studio 5 - William Ferrar Renzulli
We see the possibility in everything.  We are artistic McGuivers, delighting in finding the perfect bobble in our stash to execute the creative urge that is pulsing at the moment.

Here is a current list of things that, once seen, must become a part of my pile (and this is just the 'work' related stuff.):

Wool and fibers - any and all - I will find a way to use it

Wool Sweaters and Tweeds - sorry Goodwill shoppers, but I have taken it all

Birds' nests - little miracles of construction

Feathers - also little miracles and useful in my animal sculptures

Random pieces of nature - interesting stones, sticks, stumps, gourds, roots, fungi, lichen, moss

Wooden Crates and Baskets - pretty AND useful!  I mean, you need something to hold all the stuff!

Miniatures and Props - if I come across something that one of my sculptures, present or future, can hold, sit on, consume, play, cook with, wear, look at, sit next to, be surrounded by, and/or climb, it comes to live on my shelf with the other props waiting to become a part of some genius creative vision

We have not even tackled the subject of whether or not you are an organized (anal retentive or OCD) hoarder or, more like me, a content-to-throw-it-in-the-most-convenient-place hoarder.  Let's save that discussion for next time.

Remember, you can't implement it, if you don't have it! ; )

(BTW - the only reason my hoard looks as beautifully organized as it is, is because I now have Kyla, a.k.a. Everything in Its Place, helping at Sarafina.) 


Friday, September 6, 2013

The Truth About Needle Felting

I have a pet peeve.  It bugs me when artists describe their work as "painstaking" and then proceed to elaborate on the amount of time, or stabs, or difficulty that is involved in their work.

Do they want us to feel sorry for them?  Are they trying to justify an out of kilter price tag?  Or do they really truly feel burdened by their creativity?  Maybe it's the first and/or second reason but I can't believe it could be the third.

Needle felting is fun.  No matter how many stabs it takes, every single poke is a split second of affirmation and achievement.  Further more, aside from the mis-stab that hurts your finger, even the bad stabs can be easily fixed. 

The process of stabbing the wool is rewarding but we have the additional enjoyment of our fibers.  (Imagine me here tossing lovely locks in the air with abandon and running through a field of bunny angora.)  At the risk of sounding like a looney, I am convinced that working with natural fibers is healing.  I even keep locks in my car to settle me when I feel my anxieties creeping in.

And, if you can believe it, there's more!  When you have finished your project, you have something to enjoy, or sell, or give as a gift.  It's all good.

No wonder the craft is spreading like wild fire.  It's affordable, easy to get started, and instantly rewarding.  And I believe those who are trying it are falling in love and will 'stick' with it - so to speak. 

So quit your whining felting artists!  I know the truth about needle felting and the rest of the world (or at least the 10 people who follow my blog) will now know too!

Happy felting.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Growth and Gorillas

My sister (I forget which one) once said, "Blogs are like diets... you announce your blog to the world with the best intentions and then directly fall off the wagon."  I  wish a could maintain my blog more regularly because I really do enjoy both writing and sharing.

So in the spirit of jumping back on the blog wagon here I am.

I would like to introduce you to Kyla DeStefano.  We met at the end of the school year when my son, Max, attended her son, Andrew's, birthday party.  He came home with a dvd video of skits that they had performed that day.  I thought, "Who is this woman that can have 8 kids in her house, provide all expected birthday traditions, shoot a video, and then edit and prepare dvds for them to take home in 2 hours!?" She was the answer to my prayers, Kyla, mother of two boys, self taught videographer and self proclaimed anal retentive.  She can now add "entrepreneur" to her resume as she is helping build Sarafina Fiber Art.  Kyla is the yin to my yang.  Where I am mostly circular thought and ideas she thrives with columns and action.
Kyla and Finley

With Kyla's help Sarafina has a new energy and potential for growth.  We are working really hard to bring the best felting supplies to you as well as needle felted sculptures.

Today, while I fussed over finishing my gorilla and giving him a proper photoshoot, Kyla whipped around the workspace cleaning, stacking, organizing, sorting, and planning.  I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to have a second heart and mind invested in Sarafina.

Which brings me to my gorilla. 

 People often ask me, "Is it hard to let go and sell your things."  I usually say no.  But this guy has been my companion all summer as it has taken me that long to make him. And he has a way of looking at me as if he wants to be animated and included.  It will be hard to let him go no matter how flattered I am that someone might want to buy him.

Well, I hope this is the beginning of renewed attention to my blog.... at least for a little while.