Sunday, December 13, 2015

Market Price--Setting a price for my art.

Color printing sequence.
"How much does this cost?"
This is one of those subjects that makes artists uncomfortable. "How much should I charge or ask for my work. "
I make a point of not asking people to support my artistic output--I think that would be presumptuous--no one asks me to create what I make but me so it's not fair or just that I "expect" people to support me (and I don't).
However, I'd like to think that I make things that people might want, and assuming willing buyers are interested, I need to be prepared to tell them how much, and why, my works cost what they do.

Ideally, interested buyers would chance upon my work, become enthralled, ask me what it costs, laugh saying, "is that all?!?" and buy it on the spot, with another for a gift.
That doesn't happen often.
In my last local show, I had framed prints that ran from $100.00 for the small animal prints (Beetle/lizard/snake/horse) to just under $500 (for my most expensive--"Maple").  The frames, mats and glass alone cost $45.00-$90 each.  I also had a box of unframed prints--mostly black and white for $20.00 with a few of the color prints at $40.00).  My artist colleagues all remarked that my prices were way too low while the average lay person (non artist) commented instead that they were way too dear (in my guest book at least two people wrote, "Too Expensive!!! with three exclamation points and underlined three times.  They didn't leave a name so I couldn't really explain how much work they are, or how much the wood blocks cost or the paper or the framing.

But I do understand. Salaries here are very low, and the average person might earn less than 1000/Euro/month with professionals often earning 10% of what they'd make in the US. Many people now have lost jobs or have only one wage earner at home, so having money left at the end of the month for essentials is hard for many, and art works remain a luxury that come after many other needed essentials.

Obviously, the art market...people who invest in art or travel specifically to look for and buy art works by contemporary artists-- is made up of a different clientele.  Florence is NOT a location for art buyers (except antiques) so I know that I need to look elsewhere if I'm going to market or have any success in finding homes for my original prints.  But that still begs the question of what is "fair" or "reasonable".
There are two ways to go about it. The market price (what the market will bear) that ignores the work or material costs) and is based on what a reasonable person, who might be disposed to buy artwork as a gift or for themselves, would be willing to pay.
I imagine there is a "price point", a figure where the average person looking at a work might say, "hey, that's great, I really like that" at a number that they'd internally think, "that's a good deal' and buy it without remorse. (There are probably several price points---"fair, but I'll have to think about it", "fair but more than I can spend", "too expensive for what it is" and probably, "are they joking!?"....
These values will vary by location and context. My local craft fair won't move anything that costs more than $25.00 while my work would bring 10X those figures in Santa Fe, NM or San Francisco, where I used to live.
The other way to price is of course from the bottom end--calculating materials and labor and trying to factor in a "fair value" for my labor.....:
For the purposes of transparency and to stimulate the debate I've listed my expenses for my last print below:

"Autumn Treasure",  my 8"x10" 9-block woodblock print based on an etagami watercolor drawing was just finished.  I printed 20 copies (so far).  There are 15 copies with text and 5 without and they are all printed on expensive, handmade Japanese washi.
Woodblocks: 5 blocks: 3 Shina and 2 Okoume, (carved on each side): $5.00 each......$25.00
Paper 2.5+ Sheets Shin Hosho $25.00/Sheet yielding 9 pieces each+2 $24x2.5 .........$62.00
Pigment and rice paste, sandpaper and photocopies and scrap paper:  ............................$8.00
Labor*: Carving 2 days/10 hours total @ $10/Hr--------------------------------------------$100.00
Printing*: 3 half days/ 15 hours @ $10/hr......................................................................$150.00
Total: $345.00
Costs per print at 20 copies: $17.25 (assuming a $10.00/hr minimum wage).

If I print an additional 30 copies, the original carving costs get divided by the larger number of copies, and as I can now print faster now that I'm familiar with this set of blocks. So Adding in the additional costs of paper and labor: 3.5 sheets = $87.00 and two work days printing (12 hours)--$207.00=$550 total.
So now the total cost of production $550 can be divided by 50 prints, so:
Cost per print at 50 copies is now just $11.00
Obviously, I'd like to add in a factor to make all of this worthwhile, not to mention pay for rent, utilities, health care, and food.....and one can quibble about skilled labor vs. unskilled labor, etc.
Which brings me back to the original argument.
How much are these worth?
How much would you spend?
How much can I reasonably charge (with the intention of having them priced low enough that they will sell briskly rather than waiting for the occasional buyer willing to pay a higher price)? 
And if the total market--at any price--isn't big enough to justify printing 50 copies, I'd rather not......).
For the record:
My kids both said $20-25.00 was what they'd pay without thinking.
My wife pretty much said, "Why would anyone pay for that when you can just print a photocopy off your image from the internet...."
I (as the artist and culprit of this particular work) would have set them at $100 based on the labor involved (valuing my labor at much more than $10.00/hour) but I doubt I will sell any at that figure--it's a pretty, but simple piece and I'm not sure "worth" that figure to anyone but me.  So I was going to set them lower,  at $50.00 before I decided to open up this discussion to the internet/public.

* I have left out of the discussion the question of numbering/editioning these prints.
Traditionally, Japanese prints were NOT numbered. They would print as many as they hoped to sell, and if they ran out, they would print more. Prices were always lower because they were not "limited".
Buyers today all want "numbered" prints--and if I close the edition (to 20 or 50 copies) the price should be presumably higher to compensate me for the resulting "scarcity". Getting back to the argument at the top, printmaking was always meant to be a democratic medium....making multiples so that everyone could afford to bring art into their homes and lives. I'd like to find a way so that at least some of my output is priced so that it's not out of reach of someone who really likes it?

**This little print, "Autumn treasure/chestnuts" was meant to be targeted towards a market that had a modest budget and less to spend. For the sake of comparison, My "Narcissus" print (a little larger than this one) is selling at $200 and and my little Espresso Genie continues to sell consistently at $110.....


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chestnuts. Etagami to Woodblock: LAILAC DEMO

I cut the blocks for this woodblock print just in time for my little demo for the LAILAC Japanese festival in Scandicci/Florence this weekend.  I had just one hour for my demo both Saturday and Sunday so there really wasn't much time but I think it went well, although I was talking too fast, forgetting to use the microphone,  and printing too so I didn't get to take any photos during my talk (although I took a bunch of the Etagami section).  I had a good crowd, interested and attentive but lacked a video feed so it was hard for those in back to see what I was doing.

I did manage to do a brief oral explanation of moku hanga and the history of Japanese woodblock and Ukiyo-e, describing the big difference between Western and Japanese woodblock techniques with an emphasis on why I use this method for my own work and then quickly moved to the demo part which is why I was there.

Since a big part of the Japanese festival is the Etagami corner (20 Japanese members of the Etagami society came over and were assisting at the tables showing people how to do etagami), I chose to do one of the Fall postcards I made last year, reworking it as a woodblock print.

I had time just to print the keyblock and text and one-two of the color blocks (I had carved 7) so I ended up with about 10 partially printed pieces of washi.
So now that the fair is over, I retreated to my studio and finished these proofs before the paper could go bad.
The original sumi and watercolor etagami postcard.

Simple version; no text and just one of the background blocks.
Text block added (it also has additional chestnut drawing details).

An additional background color block added.

Here are three of the printed variants. These are all on Shin Hosho (from Woodlike Matsumura in Japan and via Intaglio Printmakers in the UK).
One is without the carved text block (which also had some additional drawing lines)
One is with a faint yellow background/beta ban block.
And one is with a supplementary background green block that added a little more depth and was in keeping with the original watercolor washes.
 The hardest part was the small purple/blue spot on the upright chestnut. It meant a round bokashi on one block with blue, and the careful removal of pigment in the same area on another block and there is quite a bit of variability to how they came out.

I'm pretty happy with this. It's pretty close to the original Sumi and watercolor drawing that was the inspiration and a good printing exercise.  I'm not sure which I like better, the one with or without the text. The former retains better the idea of a watercolor still life while the one with text is still an etagami or "Word Picture".   The text reads, "AUTUMN TREASURE" and is a accurate description about how we feel about finding local chestnuts in the woods.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LAILAC Festival. Demo Dilemma.

The 17th LAILAC Japanese Cultural Association Festival is this weekend and I am going to be demonstrating Japanese woodblock printing again during this year's festival. However, while LAST year I manned a table and carved and printed for almost all of the 3 days of the festival, THIS year I am just doing a brief demo (1 hour), each of the two weekend days so I'm trying to figure out how much I can do in such a short time.
There will be a lot going on, as in addition to Intro to Bonsai, Dogs of the Samurai, Gift wraps, Intro to calligraphy, I will be trying to make sense of Ukiyo-e and moku hanga.  As with last year, I will be competing with TAIKO drumming and Japanese theater and dance.

Since I am not a historian, and didn't fall into moku hanga from the Ukiyo-e direction but from the fine-artist-looking-for-a-portable, non-toxic-medium I am hesitant and unqualified to discuss-other than briefly-the history and importance of Ukiyo-e.  But, I an a decent printer and the thing I do love and find fascinating is still the process of Japanese woodblock printing so that's what I'll be doing.

I will be printing from my blocks copies of one of my woodblock prints while discussing the technique and some of the history.
But in just an hour it needs to be fairly simple, big enough to be seen from more than just the first row, eye-catching or crowd-pleasing in subject.

I was planning on printing up copies of my CYPRESS trees print (It is Florence, after all).
I carved it at last year's festival but didn't print it until a few weeks later and it has a nice November/Winter palette.  It has the advantage that the blocks are carved, it's a big print, and I've printed enough that I know the quirks of these blocks well enough to do a decent demo.

But since I am ALSO helping out at the Etagami tables, I have been thinking about trying to make another print from one of my etagami. (The Japanese Etagami Society is again sending almost 25 memebers (most over 70 years old) to teach and help at the Etagami stand.  I also will be meeting my Etagami pen-pal for the first time.
Here is an Etagami I did last year and that I mailed to my pen pal over a year ago.  It was one of the ones I liked enough to want to make an attempt at revisiting as a woodblock print and now seems like the perfect occasion.

I've enlarged it to twice it's original postcard dimensions and have traced the reversed design onto 6 blocks. I'm not sure I can get them carved in time for Saturday's demo, but I'm going to try.
It will be fun to try to reproduce the watercolor blush of the chestnuts and the background and I like the idea of keeping the calligraphic text,
"Autumn Gift". I'll post the progress as we get closer to Saturday and Sunday.

Friday, November 13, 2015


Only a few students showed up for the first open studio today but the presence of three young sculptors meant I kept the space open and once they were working and I was sure all was under control,  I was able to pull out a piece of marble from the scrap pile and have a go.
It was already roughed out as a sort of long cylinder with 4 stud/pronglike things at the top, and it's been drilled for a rod in the bottom so the orientation is already established.

I've only worked the middle section...the rest is still "as found".

Don't ask me what it's going to be yet as it hasn't decided, and nor have I.
I will say I worked mostly today on the middle section, narrowing it and changing it and helping to give it some clarity.

I think I see a direction. So I took a few photos: Front/Back/Profiles so I can mull it over a bit.
It was ugly to start.
It is still ugly.
I wonder what happens next?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Marble Dust

Ceres, carrara marble, unfinished sculpture, 2000

While it's not definite, I've been asked to help out at a local sculpture school for a few weeks to keep an eye on the students during their independent study time.   I'll be there to make sure they keep on their goggles, and don't work in a way that might risk injury and are holding and using the tools properly, and for that I'm still abundantly qualified. I don't know that I've written about it on my blog, but before I started cutting woodblocks,  I was carving stone.
I'm married to a geologist, and her field work takes us frequently to Liguria and the area in and around Massa and Carrara, where the marble has been quarried for thousands of years and where the stones came for the facade of the Duomo and the statues of Donatello and Michelangelo.

Since we'd often be up near the quarries during the weekends or after hours, I'd putter around while my wife was scouting for geologic clues to the formation of the Appenines, I'd try to find a piece of cast off marble that was big enough to sculpt, but small enough to lift. (They quarry out blocks the size of a small VW van, to be cut down in the city stone sawmills). The pieces that chip off or are lying around are scrap and while for safety reasons (there are no fences protecting the sheer drops of the quarry), no one is supposed to tresspass, no one will bother you for picking up scrap marble.

So in 1998 or so I started first with a rasp, shaping the occasional piece of stone, and then, later I actually rented a room in Querceta, near Pietra Santa and Massa Carrara and started actually learning how to carve marble with a hammer and a chisel.  I worked mostly with hand tools, but after a while I also acquired a pneumatic hammer and grinder as some of the basic roughing out can be done much faster with power tools, although they are very noisy and even more dusty.

We were commuting often those years so I'd spend a few months in Italy carving stone, then go back and work as a physician back in the US.  I did shift work in the ER and they were always short-staffed, so I never had to worry about having a job coming back after time away.

Commuting however is hard with stone. An unfinished sculpture is still really heavy and the tools are all steel and iron.  I never wanted to deal with shipping a container of stone to the US from here, nor did I have contacts in the US to buy Vermont or Colorado marble or stone to carve when I was home.
Eventually it was the hassle of trying to carve stone on two continents that led me to woodblock prints.   A class in Santa Cruz, CA. in 2005 allowed me to start carving wood, instead of stone and I've been printing ever since.
But I miss the stone carving. It is probably one of the most fun things I've ever done. The tap, tap, tap of the hammer, the slow emerging from an ancient block of stone something that didn't exist before, the dust and the marble chips that would fall from my brow, hair or out of my nose the next day would always make me smile. (Marble is also pretty inert, and was not going to cause lung disease--which granite or other silica based rocks can do).
Even an ugly statue looks good in the garden.
So, I'm really glad that I came to mind when they were looking for someone with some carving experience with stone and stone tools to help out in the next few weeks.  I also think, since there are just a few students, that I'll also get a chance to work a bit on a new piece of stone after a few years of pause, and that has me dusting off my tools and looking for my safety glasses.  I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Studio Shuffle

My new space, freshly painted.

There's been a lot going on in the last few weeks.
Today, I finished painting my new studio. It's not really a "new" studio.  I am just shifting rooms from a room towards the back closer to the street and front access. One of our 4 artists moved out. My neighbor took the front room and I decided that since I am hoping to start teaching moku hanga classes in Florence that having our rooms contiguous would allow us to occasionally share spaces (each room alone is only big enough for 3-4 students but together can host up to 8-10).
I took advantage of the emptied room to repaint it but that meant pulling down lots of ugly shelves, patching holes, painting the walls and today finishing the painted baseboard. While the rest of the studio is peaceful, neutral beige/off-white, I went with colors a bit more fanciful.
The back wall is a white indoor house paint with a ton of leftover dry pigment mixed in: mostly phthalo blue and burnt umber.
This is the space before painting.

And after.

While this is my current room--charming but very cluttered.

Tomorrow I will start moving stuff forwards but as you can see from my old room photos, I've accumulated a lot of stuff and hope I can take advantage of the move to get rid of many things that don't belong.
But while I hope to get moved in very soon, it may be a bit before I can get any real work done:

I'm preparing for the Japanese Cultural Fair that opens in 2 weeks and where I'll be doing a printing demonstration and I found out today that I will be assisting and supervising a stonecarving studio's independent study for a local, private Exchange program one day a week through December.
Plus I have shallots and garlic to plant, and fields to prepare for next year.
Not to mention New prints to start and finish.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


I've been an occasional forager for mushrooms for over 20 years......I'm cautious after working for a few months in the San Francisco Poison Center in November, when new immigrants would occasionally ingest seemingly familiar mushrooms with deadly consequences or we'd field a call about a child who'd eaten a mushroom off the front lawn.

My first solo foray was in Pt. Reyes State Park and I picked and filled a big hat with mushrooms I picked off the damp forest floor.  I'm a good observer and I sort of figured out what were probably edible boletes, probably russole, and probably amanitas.....I wasn't intending to eat any based on my untutored hunches but they were confirmed at the parks entrance when a couple with a basket Full of Porcini and chanterelles stopped me to tell me that the amanita I'd picked was indeed poisonous.

Since then, I've been to mushroom fairs, guided forays, hung out with mushroom experts and read lots of books. I'm not an expert, but there are a few that I can reliably identify, a few more that are hard to get wrong and a bunch more that I find now and then that I'm "pretty sure" are this or that but won't eat them until I can find an expert to confirm what I think.

While in Santa Fe, I'd regularly find Porcini and chanterelles and shaggy manes, here in Italy we find on our property lots of common field mushrooms (agaricus) sp., chanterelles, puffballs, lactarius, once a truffle, and I'm still hoping to find a morel.
We have poisonous mushrooms too. Amanita's fruit regularly, I think they're Grisette's (so probably edible) but I won't eat any of the Amanita's and I check EVERY mushroom to make sure there's no volvulus (the sac at the base that means it's a potentially deadly amanita).

This is a big mushroom.

 This year I was surprised to find a large fruiting of a very large agaricus. Driving in I saw what looked like a dozen white plastic plates in a distant field and told my son, we have to go check those out....they're probably Horse mushrooms!    I did check them out. We picked some and I ran them through the algorithm in the David Aurora's wonderful book,  Mushrooms Demystified that is useful for identifying mushrooms.
Large white agaricus, non-staining, tan to pink to brown gills, no phenolic smell.....that sure sounds like Agaricus Arvensis (the horse mushroom--a good edible). But nearby I found another very similar grouping, and these did stain yellow (a bit) and did have a funny smell......that would mean Agaricus Xanthoderma (not edible/poisonous). Neither had the almond smell that was supposed to mean the edible type. Spore print-chocolate brown (like all the agaricus) I cooked a tiny portion of one and didn't have to even taste it as once cooked an odd, medicinal, odor came out of them that convinced me that they were probably not something to eat without a better confirmation than, "probably".
This clump had some yellow staining at the base and a funny smell. ? Agaricus Xanthoderma?

Agaricus? xanthoderma or arvensis?

Slippery Jacks and Field mushrooms (agaricus campestris) and chanterelles under both.

Fortunately, it's been wet and there was a whole field of mushrooms I knew we could eat.  I picked some slippery jacks (Suillus Granulatum) and Field mushrooms (agaricus campestris) and Chanterelles and we cleaned those and cooked them with garlic, olive oil,  and a little soy sauce.
Chanterelles from the front lawn!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Baren Tests

I spent a few hours yesterday testing my home-made barens and comparing them to the professional-grade Murasaki (strong) and the ball-bearing barens that I already own.

These tests were performed on damp, double-weight, coated bond paper for inkjet papers.
It's what I use for demos and proofing as it is easy to register and prints well when damp.
Then the heavier barens were also tested on Magnani Incisioni, a 190g/m2 etching paper that I use for some of my smaller moku hanga works and that prints well when a good baren is used with lots of pressure.
Not surprisingly, the best impressions, cleanly and efficiently printed with little effort were with my $150 Murasaki Baren.  More suprising, instead, was learning that my twisted-cord Barens all worked reasonably well. They needed more work and rubbing and left a lighter impression but improved greatly by printing twice.
My Thumbtack baren was too strong for this small piece of wood, printing over the grain and causing the paper to slip. With extra care to keep the paper from moving, it also gave a decent impression.
My Ball-Bearing baren was surprisingly weak on thick paper.

My twisted-cord barens all performed surprisingly well for a cheap baren made from humble materials and designed to be suitable for beginning users.
They needed more concerted pressure to get an impression, but with TWO passes, yielded very satisfactory results. This impression is from my nylon twisted-cord baren, printed Twice.
Baren #4, printed twice.
 And here is one printed with a twisted hemp cord coil: one impression on damp bond paper.
Baren # 8 Hemp cord and vinivil
While my thumbtack baren was harder to use. I had paper slippage (three times) with the dampened bond paper which wasn't a problem with any other baren. With incomplete rubbing I got Baren-suji, the marks left by the baren path.
But with care to make sure the paper didn't move, the impression was good, but heavy. The wood grain was partially lost, and there is some color that squished out here and there from the heavier pressure.
Thumbtack Baren, Rives etching paper.

Thumbtack Baren/Bond paper

Thumbtack baren, suji and slippage.

The Murasaki Baren printed cleanly on both the etching and bond papers.
Surprisingly,  My expensive ball-bearing baren was the weakest:
Ball-Bearing baren

This was not a blinded test. I knew which baren I was using and varied the pressure and effort of rubbing to match the baren.  My goal was to find out if I could get a decent impression from each baren not how they would all print with the same effort.
I'd like to go back and retest the ball-bearing and thumb tack barens to see how they perform on normal and medium-weight washi and with  bigger passages of printed color.
Another fun test would be to print a small batch of prints, using different barens for each copy but on the same paper.  This would allow me to see the tonal variations of the various barens in multiblock prints. 
I'd also like to print a big section of color using them to see how the tack baren performs when really worked hard. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015


"I look a little like this"
My etagami penpal, Yasuko Izumiya, will be coming to Florence for the 17th LAILAC Japanese Festival next month and although we have been exchanging these sumi ink and watercolor drawings for over two years, we've never met in person. The Japanese Etagami Society has many members and last year's group and the publicity they received in their monthly journal (with photos of the fair, the etagami tables, the paintings they did of Florence) has stirred up much interest and I'm told that this year there is a waiting list of those who wanted to come......Most are in their 70's and 80's, so it's quite a stretch to imagine flying from Japan to Italy, touring the country a bit, spending two full days at the Fair, hosting the Etagami tables and helping young and old alike learn how to make etagami, jet-lag and all.

I will be demonstrating moku hanga prints again this year and I've also volunteered to help out with the etagami section if there's need.
I'm thrilled I get to meet my Etagami-pal after sharing  drawings of flowers, bugs and everyday objects with her for almost 2 years.

As we've never met, and there will be a big crowd, I'm sending her these cards to help her pick me out from the others.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Baren Play--home-made barens revisited. Italianism schedule?

In preparation for tomorrow's ITALIANISM art fair and creative conference in Rome, I've been busy making barens. While technically, I think I'll be demonstrating moku hanga printing and's a group of artists and designers, and in my experience, the baren is what really makes people curious.

I make these twisted-cord barens for my moku hanga workshops--they work better than the plastic ones--but I'm still looking for how to improve them.  Since I'm working more often with Western papers (as it's still hard and expensive to get Japanese washi way out here in Florence), I continue to look for ways to strengthen the barens to allow them to work well on thicker papers.

I made a thumb tack baren (after seeing examples on the web) which has steel 9mm tacks. They're quite hard, but far apart so I'm curious to see how it prints. It should be a hard baren, suitable for color passages on thick paper.

Tomorrow I'm demonstrating moku hanga.
It's a long day 10am through probably 8-10pm (when the music starts).

So here's the tentative schedule I'm planning on following.
10am-noon:  Organize my table and work on a small carving for later printing (baren tests).
12:00-4:30pm--I'm printing copies of my Boteh print from white paper to as far as I get.
4:30-5:30  alternative barens: How to make a home-made twisted cord baren.
5:30-6:30  printing tests with a Murasaki/Twisted Cord/Thumbtack and Ball-bearing baren.
7:00 until I'm too tired: More Boteh Braid printing.

I'll be answering questions, and discussing some of the prints I'll have on display for who stops to look or ask.
It should be fun!