Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Tuesday Tips and Tricks

Flon Flon et Musette, Lincoln Square, Chicago

In the last few weeks I had three separate conversations with three different artists who asked for suggestions how to price artwork. I wrote to them separately in private messages and emails essentially the same set of suggestions. Perhaps if I share these suggestions here, they will be useful for someone. 

Pricing artwork has always been a mind boggling subject. And like politics or religion it seems to be a sticky and uncomfortable topic to discuss. But someone has to talk about it, so we will here. 

There are many different ways to price artwork. I will talk about one of them - the one I use - pricing by size.

First I want to share with you 10 Commandments of Art Pricing by one of my favorite art writers, late Robert Genn:

Thou shalt start out cheap. 
Thou shalt publish thy prices. 
Thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and a little. 
Thou shalt not lower thy prices. 
Thou shalt not have one price for Sam and another for Joe. 
Thou shalt not price by talent or time taken, but by size. 
Thou shalt not easily discount thy prices. 
Thou shalt lay control on thy agents and dealers. 
Thou shalt deal with those who will honour thee. 
Thou shalt end up expensive.

When I first read Robert’s Commandments I knew that I found my pricing system. I started then and continue to this day to price by square inch. This system takes amorphous and emotional things like “This was complex”, or “I struggled with this one”, or “My sister really likes it”, or my favorite “I don’t need prices, I am not at that stage yet” out of consideration. If we are selling work, it it a good idea to be objective and consistent. This is business.

But can we get a little more specific? Let’s see the numbers! How much per square inch? A little research is in order. Find work by others that is similar to yours in quality and style. Browse art selling websites like eBay, Etsy, online galleries. Perhaps you will find a drawing 5”x8” priced at $35. Or  another one 7”x7” for $80. Try these prices for your art piece, do they seem to fit?

When you find an approximate suitable price that works for you, you can figure out your price per square inch. For 5”x8” $35 sketch, price per square inch is $.88. Take this number and calculate prices for your other drawings of various sizes. You will come up with a little table that may look somewhat like this:

6”x6”  - $31.68
5”x8”  - $35
8”x11”  - $77.44
12”x12”  - $126.72

How does it look? Too low? Too high? Adjust the price per square inch so it feels comfortable. Then round your prices to drop funny cents. Now you have your price list, it will look something like this:

Jane Sketcher’s Price List 2015:
6”x6” - $32
5”x8” - $35
8”x11” - $77
12”x12” - $127

Now, if you find yourself in a situation when a music band you sketched on a sketchcrawl wants to buy your sketch to put on their album, you are not going to be caught off guard, unprepared and coming up with apologies, like I did. Instead you can sound professional and say: “Oh thank you for your interest! Let me email you my price list.”

Flon Flon et Musette, Tunes from Last June. Artwork by Alex Zonis

Oh, and please note that this price list is good for 2015. In the beginning of 2016 you may consider increasing your price per square inch by 10%. Happy pricing!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seeing Six Shades of Gray

Tuesday Tips and Tricks

Navy Pier, Chicago

It's been such a gray winter in Chicago that I’ve been seeing the urban landscape not in terms of color but as patterns and shapes created by light and shadow. As a sketcher it's made me more sensitive to value. Value, a.k.a. tone, is defined as the lightness or darkness of a color in relation to a scale from white to gray to black.

Many photographers and artists use a value scale to check the accuracy of their vision. The scales can be as involved as twelve shades of gray to as simple as three tones, a dark, a midtone and a light. You can buy a value scale at any art supply store or download one from the internet. I prefer a six toned scale and think there’s much to be gained by making your own scale. It develops your sight for awareness and perception of tone.

Making a Value Scale

  1. Draw six (or as many as you choose) blocks about one inch wide.
  2. Leave the first one blank/white. Shade the last one as dark as possible.
  3. Fill in the remaining boxes to show the gradation from the darkest dark to pure white. For this scale I used a 2B pencil since that is what I often use when I sketch.

Using a Value Scale

Cut the scale out and take it along on your sketch outings. Hold it up to your subject and check the accuracy your perception of the tones you see. (Hint: Squint to help simplify the values .)

Try seeing your subject in terms of value shapes rather than named parts or colors. Both these squares are painted with blue taken right from the tube but where do they fall on the value scale? Which blue is the tone you may need?
              Holbein Verditer Blue             Schmincke  Prussian Blue

Which of these center gray squares is darker?

How we see the value of a color is effected by values around it. Using a value scale can help clarify what is actually in front of us. The center grays are exactly the same. 

The Value of Values

  1. When a painting seems lifeless or dull, or just a little off, it’s frequently because the values aren’t correct. 
  2. Rendering values will add dimension and light to your work.
  3. Color can be a personal choice but the lightness or darkness of that color must be on the mark. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tackle your Toolbox

Ever put the wrong color on your sketch? Realize you didn’t bring along any water-resistant pens? Forget which pen skips on watercolor paper? Stare at a completely blank sketchbook afraid of making the first sketch? Or maybe you hoard art supplies and can't remember which palette has your favorite yellow? (Oh, maybe that's just me.)

Today’s Tuesday Tips and Tricks is my favorite way to help prevent some of those bumps in happy sketching. It’s especially fun because it involves using your tools!
Sketch & originals of my current palettes and tools
That’s right this is about sketching your tools.

 My solution to help prevent all these problems? Sketch my tools in each sketchbook.

Tools on paper over back cover of S&B Zeta Sketchbook
Depending on the book’s purpose, I like to chart out my tools in the front or back of the notebook.  With my first Stillman & Birn sketchbook, fear of a huge stack of nice blank paper kept it that way for nearly a month. Finally I decided to sketch my palette on the back of the front cover to help me get over my fear. It worked and I’m happily filling it with paintings! However, in the smaller watercolor sketchbooks I carry for Urban Sketching, I prefer to make a chart or drawing in the back. When I’m out sketching I find it easier to reference a chart in the back than in the front. In my Zeta series Stillman & Birn sketchbook, the endpapers are so close to the rest of the pages that I sketch my tools there. Those of you who received sketchbooks at last year's seminar should check the end papers in your sketchbooks--unlike other sketchbooks I've used, these are high quality and can often hold watercolor!

How to get started? Well, you can always just jump in and get started making up your own method. For those of you who less inclined to experimenting, there are great examples by other Urban Sketchers, like Liz Steel with USK Australia, who sketch their tools often. Here are some ideas to get you started and examples from my sketchbooks:
Here I only draw one pen & pencil to represent multiple variations

  • Draw one pen to represent multiple pens of the same type in different widths. Draw a line from each pen coming from the tip or under the pen and label its size.
  • Draw your pens and make a line coming out the tip of each. After all have dried, take a wet brush or q-tip and run it over the lines so you can see (and refresh your memory about) how each pen handles water.
  • Draw only your top three favorite pens. Sure your favorite may change in a month or so, but this will help you see which types of pens you like best over time.

Watercolor Pencils:
  • Draw a watercolor pencil and a swatch from each color under it. Label each swatch with the color name on the pencil, then wet half of each swatch to see the color wet and dry.
  • Make swatches of your pencils inside a rectangle or square to keep your pencils together. Label each swatch with the color name on the pencil, then wet half of each swatch to see the color wet and dry.
This was my first watercolor chart in the back of a pocket Moleskine

  • Draw the palette you want to take on your next sketch outing and fill in each pan with the appropriate color. Leave the     colors flat to see how they’ll look on the paper or practice shading to show the texture of the paint.
  • Draw all of your palettes to help you remember which ones have certain colors without having to test them all again.
  • Paint a stroke of each color on the page where it would appear in your palette. This quick method is still a great reference in the field. 

What about you, how do keep track of your tools? Are there tools not mentioned here that you bring along to sketch with?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Snow? Into the Field!

Narwhal facsimile (on watercolor moleskine)
Itching to sketch during this snow pile-up but hoping for something more dynamic and...well, warmer than the snow?

I was on Monday, so I trekked downtown to the Field Museum of Natural History. If you've never sketched at the Field Museum, take my advice and don't wait for the meetup at the end of the month!

female ruby-throated hummingbird (on Stillman & Birn Zeta)

Whether you prefer sketching people, animals, objects, or architecture, the Field has amazing exhibits to suit a sketcher's fancy.

On this visit I explored part of the "Ancient Americas" exhibit -- stunning artifacts and a life-size replica of a pueblo interior. But to be frank, I barely got beyond the "World of Birds" exhibit. Between bird-song playing all around and vibrant birds in replicas of their habitats, I was proud to not spend my entire visit in front of a single display case!

 For those who feel self-conscious about sketching alone in public, the Field is a great "sketch alone" location. The other guests are so involved with the exhibits that unlike subjects on the CTA, hardly anyone realizes someone is sketching!

woman reading by water buffalo exhibit (painted in watercolor molsekine)
The Field is also among the most artist-friendly museums in the city. Pencil, pen, watercolor, and nearly any other media are welcome (excluding acrylics and oils). Many exhibits have strategically placed seats, but if you don't want to risk not finding one near that perfect scene, artists are welcome to bring their own chairs. (I brought my folding chair, but ended up taking advantage of provided seating and an excuse to practice sketching while standing.)

Still need a reason to go sketch at the Field? Basic admission is free to Illinois residents the entire month of February!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Warming up to sketch? Here are some benefits


Anybody who has spent time amongst first responders such as firemen, paramedics, military personnel and athletes of all levels (and Chicago winters for that matter) will know that practice, drills and a proper warm up are an essential part of being ready at a moment's notice when duty calls. Practice keeps the team in shape and alert for whatever comes their way. It also lets the team leaders work out the details on how the team will communicate and perform with each other so there is clarity and simplicity across the group. Another part of the practice and drills are in becoming familiar with all kinds of probable scenarios the team may face in real life-or-death situations so that they do not panic under pressure.

Am I suggesting that sketching requires warm up and practice to prepare for life-or-death situations? Not unless you are faced with the eleventh hour of turning in your final project for master's thesis or a big client presentation. What I am suggesting is that there may be some value in warming up your hands and brain before you attempt your sketch. 

Here are some of the main benefits to warming up. What are some of your warm-ups?


  • getting yourself in the right frame of mind
  • learn to search for a scene that resonates with you
  • look for a story to tell and create a sketch that tells that story


  • loosen up your wrist and arm
  • increase your range of motion
  • quick studies that help synch up the hand and eye coordination
  • play around with basic shapes and scale


  • practice making mistakes on purpose
  • try out new ideas without fear of messing anything up
  • test out your drawing tools, make sure they are in working order and find out how they will behave on certain papers