The Great American Road Trip Part 1: Midwest

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

“Killerfemme, where have you been this summer?” “Where haven’t I been?” I think, at this point. I’ve spent the past three months visiting 17 states and 23 different cities on a book tour to connect with DIY and handmade business owners to promote my first book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! Besides getting to meet rad creative people all over the country, I’m really grateful that Grow gave me a reason to travel to places I hadn’t been since 2002, the last time I took a cross country road trip, like Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. It also took me to places I’d never been before (and hope to go back to) like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

In front of Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota

In front of Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. Open 24 hours a day for nearly 70 years!

The lure of the open road has been immortalized in American literature and culture, with John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac being some of the most prominent. Of course, as an angst ridden teenager I was deeply influenced by the later and wrote a whole faux road trip novel at age 15 having barely left Maine or and only visited New York City once. This summer I was really excited to set out in mid-July to “middle America,” or “fly over country” as it is so dismissively called by some ignorant coastal souls. This trip was hardly a drug-fueled whim like those of my beatnik brothers (are you kidding? I was driving! I hardly had a drink!), but a journey with the explicit purpose of promoting Grow. I wrote about what I learned about DIY and craft business on the Grow blog, but of course, one can’t work 24/7. So here I wanted to share some more personal images from the lovely places I visited.

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

One of the best parts of the trip was the opportunity to connect with friends I had met through publishing zines and the underground, punk community over a decade ago. Some of them I had figured I’d never see again, but instead, here they were, living full, beautiful, inspiring lives. For me, seeing these women again showed me why the concept of DIY has remained so compelling: when you are committed to making something, adding value to your community, and forging a genuine connection with other creatives, those relationships last.

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby's in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby’s in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

I shouldn’t have to say it, but the Midwest suffers a bad wrap from those on the coasts, even though so many people living here are from there. It’s a diverse place and full of history. It contains key locations along the Underground Railroad (don’t think that walking across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio didn’t give me chills), to battles fought in “Indian Country”  over questions of slavery versus freedom and Native sovereignty in Kansas and Oklahoma, to current events, as Detroit declared bankruptcy just days after I visited (it’s not my fault!).

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Midwest is also breathtakingly beautiful. Though it may not boast the drama of the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coast, it has a sky that stretches on forever, rolling green fields, and dusty roads that scream, “Take an adventure, America!” While I am a reluctant American, spending two weeks in the Midwest reminded me that I am very much of this country. I appreciate the pioneering and the “Can do, make to” spirit of the people I met in my travels.

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Also, breaking news: Brooklyn, NY and Portland, OR are no longer so original or special. Do you think I had to give up fair trade, cold brew coffee or organic, local produce while I was on the road? Quite the opposite! Cities and small towns all over the US are bursting with local goodness and it’s exciting to feel like “local flavor” actually means something again.

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

However, I also found myself enjoying some mass produced pleasures, like the fact that you can get 20 different kinds of iced tea for under $2 at a “gourmet” gas station like Quik Trip (thought I just got black, unsweetened tea). I mean, thank you, America, this iced tea kept me awake through some long drives and was delicious to boot. So, if you ever think, “Should I visit Tulsa? Or Omaha?” the answer is emphatically,
“Yes!”

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

Creative Money Maker: Profit at What Price?

Do you make something that you love? If so, how much is it worth to you?

Last column I introduced the concept of value when it comes to paying yourself for your time and expertise. In this installment of the Creative Money Maker we are going to continue the conversation about value as it relates to setting prices for the products that you make.

Earning income from selling a product is what we most often thing of as “making money.” Just like the rest of your budget, you want to plan carefully for earned income.

This column will help you avoid two of the biggest pitfalls creative people make when pricing their work: under pricing their work because they under value themselves and over estimating how much they will make from sales because they don’t know their market.

Antonio Ramos from Brooklyn Soda Works explained to me that, “It is difficult to change the price once you start your project. When pricing factor in the following: What does it cost to make? How long does it take to make it?  What profit can you make from your product at a price people will pay without compromising the essential nature of your project?”

Similar to paying yourself for your time, there is no specific formula to determine the price for your work. When you assign a price you assign a value to your work. When you set out to do so, it is important to have a sense of how valuable you want your item to seem to your customers.  Here are a few basic guidelines to help you set a price:

  • Know how much the raw materials to make your item cost. You want to be sure these costs are covered
  • Does your item include rare or expensive materials or a process which demands unique skills to create that would make your price higher?
  • How much time does it take to make your item?  You price should cover this time, including the time it took to create and refine the idea. For example, for a band this would include writing and rehearsal of a song
  • Know the standard price for your object or event – how much do other items like yours sell for?
  • How much are your customers willing to pay? How little would make them think it is too cheap and not worth their time?
  • How valuable is your item? Pricing and money is about assigning a value, so you want to make sure you don’t under value your creation or yourself
  • Refer to pricing guides for your specific disciplines, such as crafts, visual arts, graphic arts, music, and edible goods. There’s rarely a specific formula, but depending on the discipline their may be industry wide standards

For an example of adding value to the product you produce:  In the early 2000s the going rate for a zine was one or two dollars, no matter how many pages it had. When I incorporated art papers, letterpress printing and hand binding into my zines I decided to break from tradition and charge five dollars for them. I was worried I would receive criticism for how “expensive” my zine had become, but the exact opposite happened! Those who picked up my zine valued the time, effort and care I had put into it and people still tell me they have kept them and cherish them as art objects.

Hand printed covers for the last issue of my zine Indulgence

Once you have gotten a sense how much it takes you to make your item and how much you want to charge, it’s time to get out a pencil and paper and determine your total cost to produce one item, the wholesale price and the retail price.

Pricing terminology:

Total cost to produce your item: this is the basic cost of materials, labor and time it takes for you to make one item. This should not be your price, but you should know how much each item takes to produce.

Wholesale price: This is the price to which you offer your product to retailers. You will be offering your items to retailers at a “markup” price on your base cost. The markup should cover your overhead, such as your studio space and your tools. There’s no hard and fast formula for determining the wholesale price, but it can range between 100 and 300 percent of the total cost, depending on the kind of product you are offering.

Retail price: This is the price you suggest to retailers to sell your item. This can be twice or even three times the wholesale price. Remember, retailers take a percentage of the sale of your item to cover their costs. When you are selling your item yourself, such as through a website or in person, you should offer it at the resale price. You don’t want to undersell yourself or the retailers that are carrying your work!

It may surprise you to hear there are no specific formulas for assigning a value to your work, but take your time to research price strategies for your specific field. The most important aspects of pricing are that you need to feel confident in your prices and that your customers need to feel they are receiving something valuable to them at a price that feels good.

The Creative Money Maker was developed in collaboration with the DIY Business Association.

High-Style Hand Knit Woolens

Gaptastic infinity scarf hand knit by me!

I know, I know I wait until winter is on its last legs to share some wooly goodness with you. But rest assured, if you leave anywhere vaguely North the March winds are just as chilling as any other winter weather, so you still have a good few weeks to swaddle yourself in wool to keep warm. This year marks my return to knitting after a five year break. While my mother is a knitting expert, and I have an archive of one-of-a-kind sweaters she has made me since I was a little girl, I am a slow and imprecise knitter. I love making things, but I’ve never been able to retain knowledge about how to knit from one project to another.

However, for the second winter in a row I was seeing huge, soft, infinity scarves that engulfed their wearers in warmth and style and I wanted one. In December saw a grey, silky wool cowl at one of my favorite boutiques NOS in DUMBO, but when I inched in to look at the price I balked and declared, “I could make that!”

Another piece of wool I’ve been wanting to add to my collection is the perfect cable knit sweater. I reached out to my mother and asked if I might be able to commission such a sweater from her. In a beautiful marriage of technology and craft I put together a Pinterest board to share my cable knit ideas with her and she found a variety of patterns on Ravelry, a pattern sharing and social networking site for yarn crafters, for me to look at. Together we found the perfect pattern, which was in a book she ordered from Amazon! Ahh, the modern world.

Skeins of Bel Aire yarn for the scarf

While I was home for the holidays my Mom and I went yarn shopping and after considering various organic yarns for my sweater I wandered around the yarn shop, Grace Robinson in Freeport, Maine, and found the perfect yarn for the cowl of my dreams. It was thick and soft, like petting a cat or grabbing a handful of clouds, if clouds were warm. It was 100 percent Merino wool by Bel Aire and the color was poetically named “Philly Fog.” I bought 3 skeins. I admit I had the yarn before the pattern, but my mom found me the perfect pattern on Ravelry, the Gaptastic Cowl. As a note, the yarn I used was a big bigger than the yard suggested for the pattern, so my scarf is even chunkier than the one in this pattern.

Crackers the cat helped me wind the skeins into balls of yarn

I had to get a little help from LJ to remember how to cast on and encouragement from Sabine, but I actually remembered how to knit pretty easily and didn’t even need a lesson to remember how to pearl!

Knitting lesson from LJ at Cake Shop, New Years Day

Of course my mother, champion knitter that she is, finished an entire sweater before I finished my scarf, but by mid-February I have been able to wear my two new high-fashion, handmade woolens – my lovely cable knit, organic, Oatmeal colored sweater made by my mother, and my voluminous grey cowl, made by me!

My beautiful mom-made cable knit sweater with a thrifted, handmade shirt, Mavi jeans and Swedish Hasbeens boots

Interview with Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts on NYFA Current!

The ILSSA Reference Reports, a component of the ILSSA Quarterly, are an ever-growing and collaboratively generated annotated list of resources relevant to ILSSA members. The group's founders call the Reports “our analogue Internet.”

Impractical who? Speculative what? What is she on about? If you love bookbinding, zines, letterpress printing, type writers, old Polaroid cameras, and any and all things that have to do with obsolete technology, you will love this project. Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts was started by Bridget Elmer and Emily Larned, two artists who are letterpress printers and bookmakers that I greatly admire. It was Emily who suggested I intern at Booklyn, a Brooklyn-based book artists alliance, my first internship in New York. I also worked in Emily’s studio all through college, binding books, scoring and folding CD covers, and sorting type, in exchange for the use of her beautiful Vandercook press and lovingly homemade lunches. It was this kind of impractical labor, and Emily’s inspiring example of how to do it, that made me think very carefully and clearly about what it meant to be an artist and how one builds an artist’s life and balances their life and work.

Set letterpress type for the ILSSA leaflet, What is craft and why does it matter?, included as part of an ILSSA Research Quarterly.

Bridget and Emily’s project/organization is a membership organization that borrows from ideas of a labor union and a research institute and a performance project all rolled into one. I was very flattered to interview them for NYFA Current and I hope you will read the full interview here about their activities.