Sunday, October 11, 2020

Pricing your Mosaic Artwork

 Ok, I have to start right off letting you know that this post will not reveal a formula for pricing your work! The fact is, there is no formula. Even though I've been creating commissioned mosaic for about 2 decades, I still don't have a solid equation for mosaic projects.

When I was just getting started, I remember being very confused about how to price my work. I just made up numbers by guessing how long it would take me and how much materials would cost, and I was working for peanuts. Honestly, that is how you start. If you are like me, you are getting started with very basic skills and each project poses new and unanticipated challenges. You are making mistakes and learning as you go. Price accordingly and be honest with yourself. Do as many projects as possible in your own home or as favors for friends in order to learn and build your portfolio before accepting commissions. I can't stress enough how important this is! If you take on a corporate or public art project before you understand the properties of adhesives and how they combine with different substrates, you are setting yourself up for a disaster. 

The above image is a glass-on-glass mosaic I made for a restaurant in Olympia, WA back in about 2008 as a privacy screen between the kitchen and dining area. The design is sweet, but I did not yet understand the concept of andamento and the lines are rudimentary. I made two of these, about 36" wide, for about $900 in food credit. Twelve years later, the work would be much more sophisticated and I would charge $3000 for the labor alone now. Unless the client asked me to reproduce this design (or provided a design) there would be a design fee. If I were expected to install the panels, that would be additional. Otherwise, there would be a delivery fee.

In the years between then and now, my per-square-foot fee has slowly increased in keeping with my skill level, experience and reputation. By now, my work is installed nationwide, my CV is extensive, I know what I'm doing, and I now carry business insurance, have a contractor's license, and I'm incorporated. These are considerations for your pricing structure.

My first step toward making this work into my business was to enroll in a 3-month-long business course offered by a great local organization that helps people start micro-businesses. By the time I completed the program, I had learned about marketing, taxes, liability, etc, and had a business plan approved by a financial advisor. A couple of years later, I took a "Business of Craft" weekend workshop that was more specific to creative commerce, and it gave me more tools to apply to my own business. In 2012, I took Laurel True's "Business of Mosaic" class, which was intense! I highly recommend her workshop, if you can take it. But honestly, even with all of this information, I still had to figure out my own pricing because my particular situation is unique to me. The work I make is different from other mosaic artists. My needs are different. My local market is specific, and I adjust accordingly. Each individual project has its own considerations; is it a simple design, or more complex? Is it flat or dimensional? Stylized and simple, or complex and representational? What are the materials and tools required? Can I work on it in my studio, or will I need to travel to the site? Will I be doing the installation? Or will I need to build crates and ship something heavy to another state? Will I need to rent scaffolding? A crane? Do I need to contract others to help with aspects of the work, like the stone carver who created the inlays in these boulders?

If you are making straightforward rectangular mosaic art that is either hung on a wall or installed in a backsplash (for instance) you can more easily come up with a square-foot or square-inch price. If that's the case, I recommend you do some research, looking at other artists' prices. Try to be objective about your work and compare yourself to others at the same level, and in a similar category style-wise. Try to match your market as well as you can. If you underprice your work, it hurts your colleagues. Many years ago when I still sold at festivals, my booth was placed right next to another mosaic artist, unfortunately. She made small, simple mosaic onto the glass in reclaimed picture frames she had bought secondhand, and she lived next door to a stained glass factory where she gleaned all of her glass for free. Her mosaics were all $25. Mine were $100-$500, much more elaborate and diverse, though also using reclaimed materials and bases. I didn't stand a chance. With sites like Etsy, this kind of thing is happening all the time. 

So, it's tricky. You need to start somewhere. But you don't want to underprice your work. That is a balance each artist needs to find on their own. I've had people send me photos of their work, asking, "How much should I charge for this?" I cannot answer this question. I'm sorry, because I was once where you are and I know it's confusing. Each artist needs to figure out their market and their pricing, and in time, you'll find it. 

If it helps, my range for fabrication is $160-$1200 per s.f. $160 is my simplest style, precision cutting or randomized andamento with relatively large pieces. $1200 would be intricate realism like portraits. Those are very hard and take forever. I now have price lists for materials, and that is a separate line item. Smalti runs about $70/s.f.. Stone is about $40/s.f. Stained glass is a wide range, depending on type. Cool colors of glass cost less than warm colors due to the minerals used. There is a design fee, sometimes admin fee for the hours spent working out details. I usually install my own projects and I charge a daily rate for that. Now, with public art, there is always a set budget. In those cases, I have to work backward, estimating the cost of each part of the process, and letting that define the scope of the project. 

So, in sum, there is just no easy answer to the question about pricing your work. But I hope this gives you some things to think about. Be sure to track your time on projects, especially at first. This will help you a lot. If it takes two days to complete a square foot, consider that in your labor cost. But maybe you are able to complete a square foot in two hours? This will help you determine your rate. 

I hope this is helpful! Thanks for reading and have fun making mosaic!

Monday, August 6, 2018

What's Happening with the Diversity Mural in Orlando?!

If you aren't following the Diversity Mural project in Orlando on the facebook page, you might wonder what has been happening. So much! So much has been happening!
A great article was printed in the Orlando Sentinel
Cherie Bosela, the owner of Luna Mosaic Arts in Orlando, is now working full steam to prep the hearts for installation, which is a huge undertaking because there are over 700! And they are still coming in from all over the world! Volunteers have been gathering at Luna Mosaic Arts to help with pre-grouting, which will make installation much easier.
Volunteers grouting yellow hearts
Laticrete, a company that specializes in top-of-the-line tile installation and surface treatment products is donating all of the thinset and grout for the project, including custom grout tints, so each heart will be grouted in its corresponding color, making the rainbow extra vibrant. Laticrete has been supportive of the mosaic community, often donating supplies for community projects and sponsoring the annual American Mosaic Summit.
Laticrete's Permacolor Select grout with custom purple tint!

This is the first mural, in Shelton, WA. Laticrete donated materials for this, and I smeared and blended the grout between the hearts. You can see how bright it is. (I still need to finish grouting later this month.)

One hiccup that has come up is that the Orlando Laticrete rep has urged us to have the paint removed from the wall before applying the hearts. Unfortunately, the quotes for sandblasting are more than we can afford to absorb. We are doing this project without a budget or any financial backing outside of a modest Go Fund Me effort, and while we have raised $3600 of the $5000 goal, we have had other expenses and can't cover the cost of paint removal. Cherie thinks she will have to grind off the paint behind each heart by hand, which will be extremely time consuming. The dedication is scheduled for September 21, so any help we can get with every aspect of the installation would be much appreciated.

If any readers have connections in Orlando and could help us figure out how to get the sandblasting sponsored or super-discounted, it sure would help. 

Still, I am flying to Orlando for the dedication on September 21, and it is going to happen! While there, I'll be teaching a workshop on Precision Glass Cutting for Mosaic at Luna Mosaic Arts that weekend, and there are still a few openings, so consider joining us if you are a mosaic artist interested in adding stained glass to your repertoire, or gaining more control of the material.
And one more reminder: Please share our online fundraiser to your community or to anyone you know who agrees strongly that the LGBTQIA community should not have to live in fear for their lives because of their gender presentation or who they love.  Thank you!!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

New Mosaic Artwork in Bellingham, WA

During the Memorial Day weekend, I put in 41 hours installing mosaic along Maplewood Ave. in Bellingham, WA between Shuksan Middle School and the intersection of Maplewood and Birchwood. There are two horizontal sidewalk inlays, one near the intersection and the other near the school. On the other side of the street are three vertical projects on concrete light post bases.

These are the light post bases, designed by kids during a community event in Squalicum Creek Park last summer. I rolled out butcher paper and asked kids to draw themselves and critters that one might find in a garden. Then I spent about 6 months re-creating their designs in mosaic.
Here is an example of an original drawing (one of my favorites.)
And this is the same face in mosaic. (The eyelashes are there, but I used groutlines.)
 The sidewalk inlays began as several designs that were presented to the community and voted on. They went with mandalas featuring Pacific NW species. My favorite is the one with Blue Herons, salmon, Skunk Cabbage, the Cascades and Birch trees (located close to Birchwood Ave.)

This one is brighter, with a spring theme. There are some glass butterflies and dragonflies mixed in as well.

The second mandala features otters in the center, Sword Ferns, eagles, the Cascades and Maple trees (for Maplewood Ave.) This one is more Fall themed and feels a bit more subdued.

Usually, my projects are at least partially grouted when I install them, but this project had different circumstances and I underestimated the time it would take to complete 125 s.f. of mosaic by myself. Luckily, I had some great helpers come to my rescue.

My friend and sometimes-assistant, Tara, loaned me her Kia Soul, which had enough room to pack all of these mosaic panels, installation supplies, a fold-out canopy, and my personal belongings.

Mount Bakery owner Vince Lalonde provided my breakfast on three mornings, which was so hearty (and delicious) that it got me all the way through each day, which was amazing because I didn't have time to stop until about 9pm each night, and I was too tired to eat then. He also loaded up his van with 5 gallon buckets of water and dropped a few of them at each project site, and this was a life saver. Vince owns and manages the two locations of Mount Bakery (downtown and Fairhaven) and is a very busy guy, so I can't thank him enough for taking time out to help me. And the food! So good.

Theresa, a woman who lives on the block, and her son Langston, helped me grout for two days. (Langston played nearby most of the time, but he helped here and there, and was a good conversationalist.) I really enjoyed spending time with them, and the help was awesome.

I want to also mention that I love the Birchwood Neighborhood! This has to be the most diverse neighborhood I've ever spent time in, which seems very strange to find in Bellingham of all places. The people who stopped to talk with me were from all persuasions, wearing different ethnic and religious clothing, speaking different languages, and appearing to be from all different levels of wealth and privilege. Everyone, without exception, was enthusiastic about the artwork. Doing public art closer to home, I have found that a large percentage of the community resents seeing the new artwork, and they ask me if I'm being paid and if their taxes are being used for something so frivolous. Last weekend, people were just delighted that the City would invest in their neighborhood, improving the street (there are new sidewalks, bike lanes and street lights - much safer for everyone.) Several people shocked me by saying, "I hope you are getting paid well for this!"

It was a very hard weekend, and my body is still recovering, but it was also extremely rewarding. If you happen to be in Bellingham, now or in the future, swing by Maplewood Avenue and take a closer look.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Joanne Daschel, Environmental Mosaic Artist

Last week, I started writing about some of the creative people in my social circle who inspire me. Each day, I look forward to checking my facebook and instagram feeds because they are filled with posts about art and nature, and it uplifts and motivates me.

Today's blog post is about Joanne Daschel. I first met Joanne while teaching a workshop in Hillsboro, Oregon on precision glass cutting for mosaic. There were about 20 students, and Joanne was quiet and needed very little help. She was a quick learner and brought her own style to the project, so she knew what she wanted to do. I spent a lot more time helping other students, but I noticed that Joanne was already skilled in the medium.
This is Joanne in that first class, having cut a narrow, inverted curve that would become part of a peach.
I think it was during that first meeting that Joanne told me about The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, where she works part-time. She suggested I teach a workshop there, so we corresponded afterward and within about a year, I did get on the Sitka schedule. The class filled up right away, and I was happy to see that Joanne was one of my students again. This time, I taught a glass-on-glass workshop, where students made a translucent mosaic on a reclaimed window.
This was Joanne's window! It still hangs in her studio.
I spent 3 days in Lincoln City, OR while teaching the workshop, and Joanne was a great host, taking me around to meet local artists, showing me the good places to eat and drink, and showing off the amazingly beautiful landscape on that part of the Oregon coast. Conversation flowed easily and we became good friends very quickly.
The view from Cascade Head.
Since then, I've taught each summer at Sitka, and there have been other opportunities to spend time together at workshops, art events and the SAMA conference. Joanne is funny, smart and insightful, and I learn something new and surprising about her every time we hang out. She is a very skilled artist. Examples of early drawings are on display in her house, and they are outstanding. Her work focuses on the natural world, including the food we eat. Joanne was landscaper until her body began to suffer. Now she balances her job at the Sitka Center where she is surrounded by artists and environmentalists who are teaching and learning, with her personal work in her awesome studio located in the Lincoln City Cultural Center.

Joanne teaches workshops and holds open studio hours, and she is constantly creating new work that celebrates the natural world and her connection to it. When Joanne isn't working at Sitka or in her studio, she's either in her own garden or hiking. When you see her work, you sense her passion for the things that sustain us.

I could keep gushing about Joanne, but I have a tendency to make my posts too lengthy. Be sure to look her up on social media to see more of her work. Right now, she's working on a series, making a 6" x 6" mosaic every day in tandem with painter Katia Kyte. These will be on display at the Chessman Gallery in Lincoln City, opening on August 10th. I'll be there! (I'm teaching a workshop on light and shadow in mosaic that week at Sitka.) It is worth a trip to this beautiful area. (*Also, we will both be at the reception for another version of the Chiaroscuro group exhibit in McMinnville the following evening, August 11. I'll post details as we get closer.)

More of us, for fun:
In Boston

Scott Fitzwater, Joanne Daschel, Jennifer Kuhns, Lynn Adamo, Mark Brody: the seeds of a collective were planted on this night.
St. Patty's Day, Boston
Lincoln City, secret trail

Joanne held open studios and generated 101 hearts for the first Diversity Mural!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Introducing Reham Aarti - Idaho Mosaic Artist

I am lucky to know so many amazing people! I'm going to start finding time to write a little bit about each of them here. Most of them are doing interesting, wonderful projects, and I want to help spread the word.

Today, let me introduce you to Reham Aarti:

In 2016, I was attending the annual American Mosaic Summit in San Diego, and a friend who works for the Washington State Arts Commission sent me a facebook message saying to keep an eye out for Reham. She thought we would hit it off. The only information I had was that she has blue hair. I mentioned it to my roommate, Krystie Rose.

Later that evening, when I returned to the room, Krystie Rose said, "Look who I found." And there was this adorable woman with blue hair sitting on the bed! A group of us were planning to head out for dinner. Reham had her own plans, to meet a family friend for a Mediterranean dinner. Reham was born and raised in Kuwait, and is an American citizen (no trace of an accent, even) living in Boise. The group was going to join forces with Reham and her friend, and we were all on our way to a Lebanese restaurant in two cars, when something came up for the other group and they turned back. I found myself out with two people I had only just met, and I felt a bit like a third wheel.

For about 10 minutes.

Reham and her friend spent the car ride talking about their experiences living through the Gulf War, and I learned that Reham had been active in the resistance, against her father's wishes. Conversationally, I had absolutely nothing to contribute, but it was fascinating to listen and learn. And by the time we were eating a humongous dinner (Reham's friend knew the owner, and we were served a lavish meal) I felt completely welcome. Reham is outgoing, warm, and hilarious. I felt extreme gratitude that I had gotten into her car so that I had a reason to get to know her better.
Wonder Wall, public art mosaic by Reham Aarti

As we shared pictures of our work, there was an immediate kinship. Our approaches are similar. We both love folk-arty aesthetics with bright, dynamic colors. We work in similar arenas, mixing private commissions with public art, and are just doing our best to keep finding and making mosaic to support our families, doing something we love. However, I have a partner who supports me. Reham is flying solo, raising two boys on an artist's income.

Reham has started using the Patreon platform to help fund more public art projects for Boise schools. Her particular focus is creating "buddy benches." Read more and consider contributing here: Reham Aarti on Patreon

If you love mosaic and/or public art and art for kids, keep an eye out for future projects by Reham!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Music Out Loud mosaic in honor of Verne Eke, by Jennifer Kuhns

On Saturday, April 28, there was a dedication for three new mosaic sidewalk inlays in Downtown Olympia as part of the Music Out Loud program. Each mosaic was designed by a different local artist in honor of a musician who has been influential in the development of Olympia's music scene. The City plans to expand on this program, creating more memorial public art pieces in the future, and also scheduling live music events on the sites.

You can learn more about the overall project, including watching how it was installed by the Belarde Company, here:

That's me, speaking at the dedication.
At the dedication, I spoke to the gathered crowd, explaining Verne Eke's design concept. While the above video and other articles about Music Out Loud articulate the overall project and each of the musicians being honored, I thought it would be useful to write a post about this specific design.
Verne Eke's likeness in mosaic.
From speaking with Verne's friends, I learned that he was a dynamic and fun person, but he didn't strive for center stage. He played piano and conducted orchestras, and it sounds like he saw the potential in the people he knew and encouraged them to perform. He created opportunities for others to shine, putting on musicals and fundraising for new venues for performing arts and music. I made Verne Eke the central focus of this design in a literal way, with a portrait, because I felt it was his turn to take the spotlight.

Verne's friend and sidekick, Jim This, emphasized that the piano should be prominent, along with a reference to his role as a conductor of orchestras. So, I backed the portrait with a ribbon that is part piano, and part music.

Verne loved musicals, and I noted that Hello Dolly was one of the shows he put on. I attended a performance of Hello Dolly when I was 4 years old, and I never forgot it. It was a special experience for me. While working on the design, I had the main song in my head throughout. I looked up the music sheets from the song and used a note progression from the phrase "It's good to have you back where you belong..." Verne was the primary force behind the development of the Washington Center for Performing Arts. Everyone who was around Verne during that time period says the Center would not exist if not for Verne. Now his likeness is permanently installed right in front of the entrance, and the musical phrase in the mosaic speaks to that.

One last detail is the circle logo for the Washington Center. Because the mosaic is directly in front of the building, it seemed redundant to make this element too bold. However, this is a signature accomplishment of Verne Eke's, and he worked very hard to raise the money and lobby for it, so it is in the background, but in a similar color and value to the concrete to make it subtle.

It has been an honor and pleasure to work on this project. It is completely different from any of my previous public art works because I did not fabricate the mosaic or install it. I consulted with the fabricator to finalize details, and I wasn't even involved in the installation at all - very strange for me! But it was also nice to know it was in capable hands, and I had time to work on other projects with pressing deadlines instead. And now I have a public art mosaic in my own community, in a prominent location, and there's even a plaque with my name included! I actually have never had a client place a plaque in or adjacent to any of my work, giving credit to the artist until now, and it means a lot to me.
One more, showing the excellent fabrication work.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Events for JK Mosaic

This is almost more for my sake than anything else. I am finding it hard to keep track of everything that is happening this year!

First, a reminder that I am featured in a new book about contemporary mosaic, curated and published by Jacqueline Iskander, called "Creations." You can purchase the book directly from her at this link:

It is also available on Amazon, but please know that far more of the proceeds will go to Jacqueline if the book is purchased through her. It is very well put together, with a wide variety of mosaic artists and lots of color photos.

Music Out Loud in Olympia:

A new set of mosaic sidewalk inlays were installed in downtown Olympia last week. The title of the series is "Music Out Loud" and each mosaic commemorates an influential Olympia musician who is no longer living. My design is in front of the Washington Center for Performing Arts and is a tribute to Verne Eke, who was instrumental in the development of a performing arts scene in Olympia. He was the force behind the opening of Harlequin Productions and the Washington Center, and was an avid musician, both orchestrating musicals and playing piano. 

I chose to render Verne in portrait form for my design because he was a behind-the-scenes guy, bringing musicals and performances to life, but not being in the spotlight. I felt it was his turn to be the focus. There is a ribbon behind him that transitions between musical notes and piano keys. This represents his primary instrument, and the fact that he worked with orchestras. The musical notes that I included are a short series from the song, "Hello Dolly," which seems to have been a favorite of Verne's. The notes were pulled from the section of the song that goes, "It's good to have you back where you belong." This felt sentimental and poignant, given that Verne put so much energy into creating a vital performing arts scene, and his likeness will now grace the front of the one venue in our Capital City that brings top-notch music and performance to Thurston County on a regular basis.

The celebration of this series of artworks will take place on Saturday, April 28 (2018) from noon to 2pm. Here is the announcement (which features my design before installation):

Next Up: Diversity Mural!

I've finally been given the go-ahead to start installing the Diversity Mural in Shelton this Friday! I can't wait to see this project becoming a reality. I don't know how long it will take, but I'll post an update when I have something to share.

In the meantime, we continue to collect hearts and donations for the second Diversity Mural in Orlando. Please help us by donating and/or sharing to your contacts:

Secret Project:

I've been slowly creating a mural for an Olympia client. But, it's a surprise, so if I tell you about it I'll have to kill you. All will be revealed in Mid- to Late- May. Shhhhh!


For the past year (plus) I've been working on a multi-part project for the City of Bellingham, and it is DONE. For now, it is stored in my big, old studio, awaiting installation. There have been some construction delays and weather has been a factor, but it looks like everything is lining up for a late-May installation. One part of this project is a set of sidewalk inlays that are mandalas featuring Pacific NW wildlife. The other is a set of vertical mosaics designed by local kids that will be located along the street most of the kids walk between school and home, with the sidewalk inlays on each end of this area. I am really looking forward to seeing these go into place.
This is one of the mandalas, made of matte glass tiles on fiberglass mesh.

Olympia Arts Walk:

Is your head spinning yet? Because mine is.
Olympia's Spring Arts Walk is on April 27 & 28 this year. If you haven't attended, it is one of my favorite events of the year! Downtown is largely closed off to traffic and there is music and performance in the streets. The businesses stay open late hosting local artists, and it is definitely the place to be. I'll be at Hot Toddy, in one of the front windows. Because the only new work I have is on display at Wallow Gallery in Carlton, OR as part of the Chiaroscuro group mosaic exhibit (and I won't make yet another paragraph about that) I am showing my papercut artwork, plus any work by the teens I teach in Shelton, if I can get them to rustle up some courage and let me put it on display! (They are resisting.) 

I recently had one of my papercuts transformed into a metal banner for the South Capital neighborhood. When you approach the Capital grounds coming off of I-5, my banner is just to the left, high up on a pole. The original papercut will be for sale during Arts Walk, along with a whole body of this work, which is mostly done using a Polish folk art technique called "Wycinanki" where the paper is folded while cutting, revealing a symmetrical design when unfolded.

Project to honor my Sister-in-Law:

This is a harder project to announce. Last month, my dear sister-in-law passed away very unexpectedly due to complications from a very simple, usually minor infection. She was a beloved kindergarten teacher in Palmdale, CA for 3 decades, and will be awarded Teacher of the Year posthumously. The school library is being dedicated to her, and when I learned of this, it occurred to me that I can create a mosaic portrait of her to be hung in the library. My idea was received enthusiastically and immediately, so as soon as I complete my current (secret) project, I will get started on this portrait, which will be part of my own healing process.

Oh, and one more:

Years ago, I had a foyer framed out onto my old, big studio to help keep rain and cold out. But it has been sitting unfinished and ugly, right in the driveway. I promised that I would make it pretty this year, finally, so I have mesh sections with a folk-art inspired mosaic in progress. I work on it now and then, between other tasks. I am determined to get it finished by fall.
*There is a whole separate list of other types of events, like workshops and travel coming up this summer, but I think I've probably lost most readers by now and I don't want to make this any longer than I have. If you made it this far, thank you for reading!  You can follow my progress on Instagram: @jenn.kuhns or on facebook:'m even trying to do Twitter: @jkmosaic
I hope to see you at one of the upcoming events!