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Beware Bad Blobs! March 29, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Materials.

I needed a red glass blob for a stained glass window I’m working on.  Just one little blob for the center of the piece.  You know the glass blobs I’m talking about.  They come in different sizes and colors and you can usually find them by the bagful at your local craft store.  They are often used in clear vases for floral arrangements, and I use them when I want little bumps in my glass pieces.

Needing one of these blobs in red, I headed over to my local Michael’s.  They had plenty of glass blobs, in loads of colors, in little mesh bags for $2.50  So I picked up a bag of red blobs.  When I got them home I dumped them out to find the best one for my needs.

Because they really are just blobs of glass, they tend to come in varying states of not-quite-round.  They also vary slightly in size so I need to go through them to find the roundest of the bunch and from those choose the one that is closest to the size I need.

So I’m going through the blobs and I notice some of them are not evenly red.  They kind of fade off to clear at the edges.  I find this very odd, since it’s red glass and it shouldn’t behave that way.  Maybe it’s just how the light is moving through the blob.  I continue to be puzzled by this until I run across the one with the clear speckles.

Clear speckles in a blob of red glass.

I realize that the color issues I am seeing are due to the fact that these are not red glass blobs.  These are clear glass blobs that have been painted red.

Just to be sure, I scrape at the blobs with my xacto and the paint chips right off.  I scrape a few more just to be sure.  Some are painted on the top, some are painted on the bottom.

I can’t use any of them.  Since I’m working in stained glass, I’m using heat and chemicals and scrubbing on patinas and no paint would stand up to the process.

As a cross reference, I test the blue glass blobs I bought from Michael’s in December.  No paint scrapes off.  These are real blue glass blobs through and through.

The blue blobs from December are real, the red blobs from March are fake. At this point I’m thinking that maybe Michael’s changed vendors, or their vender changed the manufacturing process, in order to reduce costs.

Since I’m scraping blobs anyway, I scrape the yellow ones I bought from Wal-Mart last summer.  No paint scrapes off.  These are real yellow glass blobs through and through.

OK, the yellow blobs from WM are real, lets go buy some red blobs from WM.  We head out there, they have a bag of red glass blobs, which I buy for $3.00.  I get them home, pull one out and have at it with the xacto.

And I scrape off a nice chunk of red paint.

I’ll say this though, the paint job was much better, more evenly covered, and a much richer color than the Michael’s blobs.  And they all seem to be painted on the top, so at lest they are consistent about the paint job.

But they still are painted and I still can’t use them.

This morning I stopped in at my local stained glass supplier and bought 4 red glass blobs at 13 cents each.  I know these are solid red glass and I can finally finish that window.

So what is the point of all this?

1 Double check your materials.

2 Don’t assume that if you bought it from the same place before that it will be the same quality this time.

3 Look for paint, even if paint isn’t expected.

4 Keep your receipts.

And since I didn’t follow my own advice for point 4,  I now have 2 bags of painted red glass blobs that need a home.  I can’t use them, but you might. If you are interested, head on over to my contact page and let me know.  I’m not going to spend money to ship them anywhere, but if you live in the Chicago area I’ll be happy to meet with you for coffee.


How do we get Megan Auman to Chicago? March 3, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Business, resources, social networking.

Megan Auman is a big cheese in the online crafting community.    She has a blog called Crafting an MBA where she shares her extensive crafting business knowledge with the rest of us crafters.  Go read it.  I’d say go now, I’ll wait, but her blog is so full of useful knowledge and excellent links to other resources, that you will be  a while and may forget to come back.

She recently posted that she is going to be offering a course called Business Basics for Artists, Makers & Designers.  It’s a 3 hour class covering all the business details that overwhelm all of us getting started in the crafty biz.

The problem is that it is in Pennsylvania.

So I responded to her post, half  joking “You need to bring this class to Chicago so I can take it.”

To my wonderful surprise, she responded “I’d love to come to chicago – any recs for guilds, schools, or groups i could work with to offer the class?”

Well, suddenly I felt like a guy who asks the girl who is way out of his league for a date, and the girl responds “Sure!”

Er, ah..stammer, um.  Wow!

The problem is that I’m really new to the Chicago crafting scene.  I started in December and I’ve been to one meeting of the Chicago Craft Mafia, and that’s about it.  I’ve also heard about The Chicago Style Crafters but I wasn’t able to attend their January meeting.   I haven’t been around long enough to have learned where all the great crafting resources are in the Chicago area yet.

So I’m asking the internet, because the internet knows all…Do you have any recommendations for guilds, schools, or groups she could work with to offer the class in the Chicago area?

You can leave any ideas you have here in the comments, or go to my contact page, or you can email me directly at deb (at) bigblued (dot) com.  I’d love to know what you know!

How many hats does an artist need to wear? March 2, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Business.

I had a busy weekend digging through emails, tweets, and comments on DeviantArt/LiveJournal/Facebook.  Sadly, this meant no new projects and no new thoughts on the process of art making.

But I did run across a great series of articles about the different roles an artist needs to take on to successfully run an artistic business. They are by M.C.A. Hogarth who somehow finds time to be both a successful artist and author.

The first article clearly defines the three roles an artist must take on to be in business as an artist; The Business Manager, The Marketer, and The Artist.

The second article explains the distinction between the piece of art and the products that can be made from that art.  It also discusses ways to motivate the artist in you to create new work.

The third article discusses how to find a business model that works best for you and how to work out how much time you need to dedicate to each of the three roles.

While the articles are not specifically aimed at 3D artists, or even SF&F artists, there is so much good information I felt I needed to share them here.  If you have an article about the business of being an artist, I’d like to know about it!

Let’s play “Hunt the Bacon!” February 19, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Convention Art Shows.
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Can you find the Stained Glass Bacon?

Don't Do This

Capricon was this past weekend. It was the second show I have displayed my stained glass in and I made just about every amateur mistake there is.  So once again, you  get to learn how to do it right from looking at how I did it wong.

Pre-plan your display

Have a look at the photo.  Would you believe I spent a lot of time working on the layout of my display?  No?  Sadly, I did, but failed to document it in any way. This meant that I had nothing to reference when it was time to hang the art.

Before WindyCon, in November, I took photos of the layout before I packed it to go to the convention.  But I didn’t print it out, and trying to squint at the tiny screen on my camera was next to useless.

What I used to do, back when I was doing jewelry, was draw the layout on a piece of paper, and that seemed to work really well.  Taking photos may seem more hi-tech and therefore better, but I think I may go back to drawing them by hand.

Looking past your work

WindyCon and Capricon use the same grid system, you can see the grid lines in the background. And since I work in stained glass, you can see the grid lines through some of my pieces.  Another one of the artists, Moira of Moira Coon’s Shinies, solved this problem by hanging her pieces on giant gilded picture frames with velvet backing.  The frame hangs on the grid, hiding the distracting lines, and then her pieces are hung on the frame.

I may go this route for the suncatchers, which are fairly small.  But some of my larger pieces would require excessively large frames and I haven’t decided if I want to deal with display materials that big.  If I did though, the effect would be dramatic.

Gotta getcha some elbow room

On the left and right of my display, you will see grid “wings” on each end of the table.  What you won’t see is any art on those wings.  Why not?  No particular reason.  I thought it would all fit on the back wall of the bay.  And it did, sort of, in a very cramped way.

I didn’t come to the realization that it would be too tight until I had 2 pieces left to hang and had to figure out where to squeeze them in.  I had two choices, cram them in somewhere, or re-arrange the whole display and gain more room by using those wings.  But I still had to finish my paperwork and I had less than an hour left to set up my dealer’s table when I was done with hanging the art.  So I got out the ‘ol shoehorn and wedged them in.

Big mistake

The first problem is that the whole display looks crowded.  There is no opportunity for the eye to rest on any individual piece. This reduces the  chance that someone will really “see” a piece and fall in love with it.

The second problem was that I had heard there was some confusion about which bid sheet went with which piece.  Is it the bid sheet next to the piece or under it?  Can’t tell without reading all the neighboring bid sheets and picking the one with the most likely name.

Fortunately, the pieces had clear names like “Dragon Head Suncatcher” or “UFO Suncatcher”  but it’s no excuse for making it hard for the potential buyer.

The third problem brings us to the title of this post.

Where’s the bacon?

Somewhere on that wall is a suncatcher shaped like a piece of bacon.  I posted about it when I made the piece. I tweeted about it.  I told people about it at the con.

Everyone said “That’s really cool!  It will go to auction for sure!”

It didn’t sell.

And after the con, several people told me they specifically looked for the bacon and couldn’t find it.

That’s right, there were people at the convention who knew about the bacon, were interested in buying the bacon, but didn’t because they couldn’t find the bacon.

Look again.  It’s at eye level (or my eye level anyway) up and to the left of the green Celtic knot in the center.  Still can’t see it?  I don’t blame you.  And I don’t blame anyone else but myself for it not selling either.

Lessons learned

– Take your time and plan your layout.  If you don’t know  how much space you will have to work with, contact the art show and they will be happy to describe their display setup.  Document your layout clearly so there will be fewer surprises when you go to hang it at the convention.

– Spend some extra time working on how your pieces will be displayed.  Are you just going to hang it on the grid or peg-board or do you want to make some kind of frame or background for your art?

– Spread out your work.  Even if it means paying for an extra panel, it will make the layout more pleasant and will help boost your sales.

If you want to show off your 3D SF&F Art display, please contact me.  I would love to have you write a post about how your display came together, how you decided on your layout, or how you made or found your props.

Shop Tip – Flame Treating Plastic to Make the Paint Stick February 3, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Shop Tip.
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Yesterday I needed to paint a plastic part, and I knew from experience that it was the kind of plastic that the paint would not stick to.  So I used a technique I learned a few years ago that helps the paint stick.  While I was doing this, it occurred to me that I should share this trick with all of you.

Some plastics take paint just fine but some don’t.  If the plastic is flexible, the paint will often chip and flake.  But even some rigid plastics will have problems, sometimes with pitting or orange-peeling.  This happens most often with plastic made from polyethylene and polypropylene.

There are some common solutions, such as scuffing it with sandpaper, or rubbing it down with a mild solvent.  The first will give the plastic some “tooth” for the paint to grab on to, the second will remove any oils on the surface that might keep the paint from sticking.  But neither is a perfect solution.  The piece you sanded is left with a texture that may show through your paint job, and the solvent doesn’t always solve the problem.

Professional companies prepare plastic parts with something called a Corona Treatment, which sort of zaps the surface with an electrical discharge. The discharge changes the surface enough that paint and ink will stick to it. But a Corona Treatment takes a lot of expensive equipment.

A cheap way you can get similar result at home is to Flame Treat the surface.

Basically you take a flame, such as a propane torch, lighter, or match, and you barely lick the very tip of the flame over the surface of the plastic. Some web sites even suggest that you use the area of the flame that is the gassy fumes just past the tip.  You need to move quickly, the sorts of plastic that respond well to the flame treatment also melt quickly.

On larger items, you can tell when the treatment has worked, the plastic loses it’s gloss and now has a matte finish.  On tiny pieces, you can’t really tell, you usually just have to trust that it worked.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve treated a piece multiple times because I wasn’t sure, only to end up melting it.

With a bit of practice, you can get pretty good at it, and you will learn what the plastic looks like when it works.  I would suggest trying it out on some scrap pieces before doing this procedure on something expensive or irreplaceable.

And remember, safety first! Flame treating plastic involves fire, so take all the necessary precautions when dealing with an open flame.

If you have tried this technique out on one of your 3-D SF&F projects, let me know how it worked out for you!

Pricing Followup January 22, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Uncategorized.
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A couple of days ago I wrote  this post, because this post by Megan Auman had me really thinking about how we price our work, and why there is the expectation that we should sell it for far less than it’s worth.

As it turns out, it touched a sore spot in a lot of us, and I wasn’t the only one who had a similar reaction to her post.  Megan has since posted a roundup of links.  Some, like mine, are specifically tied to the conversation Megan started.  Others touch on the real social costs of the “Cheap” mentality.  Go check it out.

Ramblings on Pricing Your Work January 19, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Business, Convention Art Shows, online sales.

I hadn’t planned on having a post so soon after the last one, but I just ran across this post that was written today by Megan Auman, the creator of the Cozy Cuff, a reusable felt band for your take-out coffee cup.  In it, she talks about the conversation sparked over the price of her product.   It hit a hot button for me because stained glass is an expensive medium to work in which makes pricing even harder.  The first big question is…

How do you price your piece?

In this post, on her own blog, Megan gives a brief outline of what factors go into her pricing.  Not only does she include the cost of the materials and her time, but she factors in cost of living expenses! How dare she!

…um that is sarcasm, for those who can’t see my face as I type this.

In most start-your-own-business guides, one of the things they will have you do is write up a list of your expenses.  Materials, rent, insurance, equipment maintenance, salaries, travel expenses, etc. You add it all up and divide by the number of widgets you can make in a year.  The result is how much you should charge per widget.  But very often Art, and especially 3-D Art  gets the short end of the stick.

For some reason a potential buyer will look at your artistic widget and not care that it took you 20 hours to make.  Because it is art it shouldn’t cost what you really should charge.

  • Maybe it’s because they don’t understand the process, and teaching the consumer more about what you do will help them feel ok with paying a higher price?
  • Maybe it is because art isn’t a necessity and they have a  hard time justifying the expense for something that serves no purpose other than to make them feel good when they look at it?
  • Maybe in their minds they are mentally comparing it to (what they perceive as a)  the similar item they saw in the dollar store?

Selling on Price

So we compromise.  We want our pieces to sell so we start trimming the things we should build into the price.

  • It’s just a hobby and we do it out of our living room so we don’t need to charge for overhead.
  • We love it so much we’d be doing it anyway, and if it doesn’t sell it’ll just pile up, so we pay ourselves $2 per hour, if anything at all.
  • I made it from scraps leftover from another project so I don’t need to charge as much to cover the materials.
  • Fandom is poor and they are all my friends so I should trim it a little more.
  • I have a day job so it will be ok if I don’t make anything on it.

In the end, you finally have a price low enough that people buy it without hesitation or complaint.  But you don’t have a sustainable business.  It’s called Selling on Price and you should’t do it.

Pot, Kettle.  Kettle, Pot

In full disclosure, I sort of do sell on price myself.  Which is why this is such a hot topic for me.  I’m new to satined glass, been at it less than a year, and I’m still trying to figure out where my prices should be.  I currently charge $3-4 per piece of glass in a window.  A 3 piece suncatcher, $10.  A 60 piece panel, $180.  All other expense aside, that pays me about $10/hr. for my labor.  If you factor in the cost of the materials, it’s closer to $6/hr.  Not exactly a living wage.  Good thing I have a day job.

All those price slashing excuses?  Those are the ones I personally use in my own head to justify charging too little for my work.

Why don’t I charge more?

One of the laws of supply and demand says that you can charge only as much as the market can bear.  And the market price is dictated by what price others are charging.  For some Bizzaro reason, the majority of the other stained glass artists on Esty value their time even less than I do.  The going rate seems to be about .40 – $2 per piece.  So a window with 20 pieces of glass will often be listed for under $20.

I know how long it takes for them to cut, grind, foil, solder, patina, and polish each piece.  Not to mention the time it takes to photograph and list a window, or the percentage of the sale taken by Etsy and PayPal.   Even if they were getting the glass for free, they are still paying themselves less than $4/hr.  You can get better than that working retail.

So my “sort of” is that my prices are on the high end for stained glass on Etsy,  but still lower than I really should be charging.

I thought I was fine with it, but the more I read, the less fine I get.  I know I need to charge more but I haven’t made the mental leap to do it yet.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way

As for “What the Market will Bear?”  A quick poke around Etsy shows other hot beverage cup sleeves go for $5-8.  A hand knitted one may go for as much as $15.  The Cozy Cup?  $32.

Yes, $32.

That’s 2-6 times what the competition charges.  Not a few dollars more.  Two to Six Times More.

And yet she has had more than 300 sales.

No, I don’t know why.  I need to spend some time rummaging around her Etsy store and her web site to try to figure that out.  But believe me, when I have some idea, I’ll let you know.

But before I go, I have one more question.

Why is it worth more in a different category?

In her post she points out that her product is dual purpose.  It can be worn as a bracelet, and it can be used on your coffee cup.  In the comments, someone said “expensive for a cup holder but not for a piece of jewelery”.  Why is that?  Why is the same piece of laser cut felt worth more as a body decoration and worth less as a functioning item?

Another one I don’t have an answer for.  It’s a question I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I have a lot more to say on the subject, so I guess I’ll just have to write another post.

Talk to Me!

How do you price your 3-D SF&F Art?  Do you price different for Etsy than you do for conventions?  I’m trying to figure this out myself, and I’m sure many others are too.  Sharing your experiences will help us all do a better job at pricing our work.

Positioning Your 3-D Art for Increased Visibility January 19, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in Convention Art Shows.
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This isn’t a post about leveraging social media for more sales, or boosting your SEO. This post is literally about getting your art off of the tables and up to eye level where they can be seen.

Back when I first started selling my metalwork (read: jewelry) at SF cons I displayed my pieces on a table.  After all, that’s the way everyone else did it.  Being new to how the Art Shows worked, I had no clue about how to price for sales, how to increase the number of pieces going to auction, where was the best place to hang bid sheets, what images sell, or even what the general process was.  So I observed.  I looked at how others did everything and paid attention to what sold and for how much. And one thing caught my eye.

The art hanging on panels had more sales and sold for more money than the art sitting on tables.

Specifically, If Artist A had 10 pieces on a panel and Artist B had 10 pieces on a table, Artist A might sell 7 pieces while Artist B sold 3.  And the 3 pieces that did sell from Artist B would generally go for minimum bid, while more of the 7 pieces from Artist A would go to auction.

Why was this?

Was 2-D art more popular?  Do fewer people want jewelry and sculpture?  While that may explain why more hung pieces sold over table pieces, that didn’t really explain why table pieces sold for less money.

I tried an experiment.

I bought some cheap frames, replaced the glass with padded velvet, and used them to display my pieces on a panel instead of on a table.  As a bonus, I let the buyer keep the frame so they could hang it in their own home as art.

My sales went through the roof.  More pieces went to auction.  My pieces sold for more money.

My interpretation of why this happens is that there is a perception in fandom that Art is more valuable than Craft.  If it is on a panel it is perceived to be Art, and if it is on a table it is perceived to be Craft.

The lesson learned was get your art off of the tables and up on the panels.

Necklaces and pins are fairly easy.  You can use the same picture frame solution I used.  My friend Moira makes these amazing Steampumk bracelets and she built a display for them using random stuff from the hardware store.  Her overall display at the conventions is very eye catching.

Sculpture is a little harder to do.  Small pieces can sit on little corbels hung on the panels.  You can find them at most home decoration stores. You can place a board across 2 corbels or brackets to make a shelf for multiple pieces.

Some pieces may be too large to hang, like large sculpture.  Put your pieces on a display stand, pedestal, or hunk of driftwood.  Anything to get it up closer to eye level.

If, for whatever reason, you must display your work on a table, don’t have the pieces all on the same level.  Get boxes or blocks of different sizes and cover them in interesting paper.  Or drape a flowing fabric over all the blocks for a more unified feel. By placing the taller displays in the back and the shorter ones in the front it will let the potential buyer see each one from the front instead of looking at everything from the top.

I’m going to cut this off before I go too far into display brainstorm mode.  The goal was to inspire you to think about how your 3-D pieces are displayed in convention Art Shows and how improving your display can improve your sales.

If you have any ideas aboout how to display your 3-D SF&F Art, I’d love to hear about it!  I would especially love to get photos (or links to photos) of your display and how-to articles about making interesting displays.

How Do I Glue This to That? January 13, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in resources.
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It’s strange.  People ask me glue related questions all the time.  Co-workers come downstairs at work to ask what would be the best glue for different non-work projects, like fixing shoes or boat parts.  I even had someone call me on my day off to ask about glue.  I’m not going to go into the long-winded philosophies of various adhesives here.  Instead, I will link to a great glue resource, thistothat.com.

It’s simple.  Choose from drop down lists what you would like to glue together, and the site will give you a couple of options.  They provide additional information like the clarity of the glue, drying times, stiffness and ease of use.  There are links to more information on each glue type suggested, such as toxicity, price, and links to the manufacturers web sites.

It’s a great resource that I’ve been telling people about for years.  Is there a web site you find incredibly useful when making your SF&F 3-D Art?  I’m sure others would love to know about it too!  Contact me and I’ll post it here.

New Upcoming Convention Page January 12, 2010

Posted by Deb Kosiba in resources.
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I just added another page to this blog, a page to list upcoming convention Art Shows.  The first, and so far only, listing is for Capricon XXX, which is coming up fast in Feb.  As time goes on I hope to get it populated with convention Art Show information from across the country.  If you would like to promote your SF&F (or anime/gaming/furry/linux/etc. ) convention’s Art Show, contact me and I’ll add it to the list.