Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Time, Time, on My Mind..."

"Yeess, it is."

If there is one commodity I could use more of, it would be time. And that scarcity of time is what is driving some of my decisions and choices in the coming year. It is easy to lose track of time when I get engrossed in my work in the studio. Or to have a relatively simple task take much longer than expected for any number of reasons,....interruptions, distractions, equipment or material problems, name it.

In many ways, time is one of the main ingredients in our work. How we value that time depends upon the skills and experience we bring along. But ultimately, for many artists, (excluding those working with metals these days!), the cost of materials can be insignificant compared to the time put into creating their work. Yet, it can also be the most undervalued component by the new artist starting out.

Several things got me thinking about this issue of time. There was a great post I found through Alyson Stanfield's ArtBiz blog about tracking time spent in the studio. I have tracked how much time it takes me to do a particular task, but I have not tracked my overall studio time quite the way it is described by Lisa Call. She has been writing down her hours in the studio each day, in her sketchbook. I love the sketchbook idea, but I am afraid I would fall into the judgement and evaluation of the numbers if I had them. Knowing this about myself might be why I was particularly struck by her goal to not judge the hours she had spent (or not spent) in the studio. But instead, her goal was acceptance that the hours spent there were the right amount for her.

Too often we are looking externally for cues and measurement comparisons. How much time do they spend in the studio? How many hours? Days? How many shows? The probem with these comparisons is that they are always missing essential information. No one else is where we are with our work, or lives. We all bring different experience, and baggage, to the party. And we all have different styles of work. Trying to adapt yourself to another person's work style or schedule so that you can perhaps achieve what they have done will only end in frustration.

Several other discussions in on-line forums have caught my attention when they touch this issue of time. One was about how people track time to price their work. One artist had a price per minute that she factored in for labor. Another had calculated how many pieces she could produce during a week. By adding together a weekly overhead cost, her materials, and her "weekly salary", she could then calculate a wholesale price without worrying about her hourly rate, or the exact number of hours it took her to produce an individual piece of work. One person was more exacting, and another more global in their calculations. Both had figured out what worked for them.

Another discussion centered on retailers' concerns about artists undercutting them on websites or at retail shows. This has become more and more of an issue as there are more and more direct outlets available to artists to sell their work. Without getting into the pricing discussion, a comment made in the thread resonated for me. I will try to paraphrase the comments. One retailer commented that many artists she represented had stopped doing retail shows after they did the math and saw the true cost of the retail show...beyond the booth fee, ...and found that it did not pay. An artist chimed in with her experience that reinforced this observation. She had found that she made more money, and had more time at home, and in her studio when she went to two wholesale shows a year, supplemented with on-line wholesale sales.

This reflects where I am coming to as I look at my goals for the coming year. Sales at retail shows, with just a few exceptions, have been dismal for me this year. I am not ready to write off retail entirely, but I am backing away from it. I like the idea of making work to fill an order. I like the idea of more time at home, and less of my time spent selling. I want to spend my time in the way that is most efficient and enjoyable for me. Too often this year I would spend three or four days away at a show while I had wholesale orders waiting to be filled. This just added to the frustration of a disappointing show.

As I make this choice to focus even more on wholesale, I know that there are many others out there who are leery of wholesaling their work. We all need to look and find the right combination for our time, our temperament, and our work. The balance or approach that works for me might feel completely out of balance for you. But maybe, like me, analyzing the mix in the context of time might just be what you need to help make a decision that feels right.

Enough time out of the is time for me to get back to work!

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