Yesterday on the Quiltart list my friend Valerie Goodwin wrote: “Interesting dilemma...did a spreadsheet tallying incoming and outgoing expenses related to my artwork expenses. Broke even because of the cost of having a studio space outside the home. I LOVE having this space! Decisions, decisions......I would appreciate some advice.”
I started to write her back a personal note and then I realized that so many of the issues coming to mind might be thought-provoking for others. Even though we may not have a studio, all of us wrestle with the question of priorities and objectives, how to spend our time, how to focus our activities, what to work on. So with Valerie’s permission, I’m moving the discussion here.
After 20 years working for a consulting firm, I am unable to answer a question without additional questions. My first is, why is this a dilemma? What's wrong with breaking even on your art, especially when you LOVE the space you're working in? A lot of people would think they died and went to heaven if they found themselves in that situation.
Do you need to make money from your art? I know that you have a decent day job, so I wonder if you have really made this as a decision or if you have just assumed that any enterprise that you can put onto a spreadsheet needs to have a plus on the bottom line. Some people would say otherwise, that they make art for personal gratification, and they’re willing to spend money on it just as they might spend money on playing golf or eating out or going to the movies or giving to charity. I think women in particular are prone to feel guilty about spending time, effort and money on activities that aren’t “useful” or profitable – but let’s don’t do that.
Any financial operation can be described in an equation: Income minus expenses equals profit (or loss). You know the figures in your equation, because you just ran a spreadsheet. But I would argue that this is not the right equation for you to be looking at – the real equation has to do with the income and expenses for your whole life, not just the art part. Since you LOVE having your workspace, you could call it entertainment and cut down some other portion of your entertainment budget. For instance, would you be willing to not take a vacation this year if it meant you could keep your workspace?
But if you really do need or want to make money from your art, how much per year do you need to make? When you have set a specific goal, it’s easier to figure out how to achieve it.
If you want the profit to increase, you have several ways to tinker with the equation.
You can eliminate your studio rent, of course, but maybe there are other expenses you could reduce. For instance, you could cut back on entering shows, thus saving entry fees and shipping. Or you could drop out of some organizations and not attend workshops or conferences.
Or you can increase your income. Could you increase your prices? Could you increase your production? Could you change the kind of work you make so that you could get more money for it?
(Valerie wrote me that she has been doing smaller, less complex works that have been selling well, but at a low price, and they take up her time. She says she would really love to work on larger pieces suitable for exhibit, and get some corporate commissions. And she would like “a bit of income.”)
My advice would be:
• Keep the studio. You LOVE it, and it’s helping you be productive. Cut back on something else in your life to fund the studio for one year. Think of it as an investment in the next stage of your art career.
• Stop doing the small works, or at least stop undercharging for them. They are distracting you from the work you really want to do.
• Resolve to make at least one large work in the next six months. (Or whatever other time frame seems reasonable – you want this to be ambitious but doable, so you don’t fail and get discouraged.)
• Do some research on how to get corporate commissions, and identify three organizations that seem like good possibilities. Put together a portfolio/proposal and submit it to one of them by the end of the year.
• Think about other ways to market yourself and your work, such as entering high-quality shows, updating your blog or website, printing postcards of your work, whatever comes to mind.
• Next year update your spreadsheet and see where you stand financially. More important, see how you’re coming on changing your focus to larger works and commissions. Then recalibrate your objectives, your finances and your plans as needed.