A Wonderful Museum for that Man in your Life. . .


Last night my husband and I attended a fund-raising event for the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum in Windsor Connecticut. My husband’s been a member of this wonderful non-profit institution since it’s near-inception. It’s run by the very capable hands of John Ellsworth and Chris Watts.

There were vendors present selling hand-crafted jewelry and candles. Also, there were two separate tables for wine and chocolate tastings.

I tried both.

I also wandered into a small studio featuring gazillions of wires and boxes with nobs and screens and a computer. This was the ham radio station. A gentleman named Chris came in and demoed for us, he got “on air” but explained the night atmosphere wasn’t conducive to bringing in clear signals at the moment. Even so, he chatted with someone from New Jersey and another operator in the Mid-west.

The museum houses a display following early radio with TONS of examples from the 1920’s up to the 1960’s. I spotted a small brown radio with a baseball player silhouette on it. I commented to my husband that I bet it was a popular collectible in its day. Whereupon Mike replied: “That’s a $900. radio, John’s son found it at the garbage dump.”

The museum also has a display of vintage hi-fi curated by Robert Pienkowski, an avid fan, member of the museum and collector himself. And it has a sound studio in the works as well as a TV station. This museum has everything to teach young ones-and remind the old ones- about early American communication systems.

As the jazz trio played into the night, Mike and I set up the magnets on an authentic old refrigerator that I designed as a donated gift to the museum. This fully operational vintage refrigerator was restored by another member who fixes up these nifty relics and this one-filled with fresh soda pop made in New Britain, Connecticut.

If you get a chance, stop on by the museum! You won’t regret your time spent there.

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Adding some Retro Geek-Men Magnets to my Etsy Shop

The Above new additions to my line of humorous magnets are available here:SmirkingGoddess

Over eleven years ago I serendipitously came up with a new vocation for my husband Mike. He’s an electrical engineer-grad of Penn State. When we met, he’d been in the corporate world for almost twenty years. A long time to endure constant lay-offs due to the new American corporate economy of moving jobs overseas, hiring cheaper new grads–or in some cases just young what-evers–with no experience to muck up a job only to have to do it again, and Outsourcing. Please note, CEO’s never get outsourced.

After Europe moved in and bought up the last company he worked for I suggested he try his hand at building up his own business. He’d been successful at selling off sports collectibles and his coin collection on eBay, so says I: “Why not sell something you’re passionate about on eBay? Something old you can buy and fix up like, like I know! old radios!” I listen to NPR while painting and old radios just popped in my head.

Well as the saying goes, the rest is history. He started his business of selling, repairing and restoring not only old radios, but vintage car radios, vintage hi-fi and other sound equipment in our small railroad flat. Today he’s a global seller and I’m proud to say a “preservationist”. Mike’s need to keep the past alive through his work has also made him environmentally conscious as well. We’ve rescued many an old tube, radio shell, or stereo sitting forlornly on a curb waiting for pick up, thus saving it from landfill or more specifically-Mother Earth.

The above magnets and pinbacks I designed are terrific gifts for that Dad, or Grandpa in your life who is passionate about all gadgets that deliver a smooth, golden tone, built by American hands and some lovingly restored by my husband-expert: urban-antiqueradio.com

Please note, the second button is a Ham Radio and yes I believe it was besides the phone, our first social network.

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How to Tell if you Moved to a Town with a Lousy Art Center

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My husband and I invested in a neighborhood slated to become an up and coming “artist district” eight years ago. Had I visited the Art Center Gallery I would’ve saved myself some time and disappointment-especially me, after we purchased our home, I threw myself into helping the gallery, I joined the Gallery Arts Committee, worked for three years presenting a project to receive grants to bring public art to public spaces (outdoor murals), plus I at times supplied the gallery with fine chocolates and desserts for openings and created flyers for the Art Council Gallery events. I also joined the Visual Arts Committee in town where I did receive positive help to move forward with my mural project. Our community had a lot to recommend itself, but in retrospect, this experience taught me why professional artists and artisans shy away from joining any local art councils and committees.

I wish I wasn’t anxious to help out to the point I didn’t acknowledge the painfully obvious examples that clearly marked the community as lacking the kind of support to build a strong artist gallery center to service the public and support local and state-wide talent. So here are my tips to you all seeking an affordable area to invest in, or for those who’ve already purchased a home, the list below gathers experiences I’ve had from more than one town:

• Prior to buying, walk in the Art Center/Council gallery and check the current exhibit-is the work sub-par with a few sterling examples? Did the ribbons go to crafty collages overwhelmed with glitter?

• Are the exhibits always based on a theme, is it a dumb theme? More like a call out to artists to create something not representative of their body of work? Say a theme asking artists to plagiarize a famous painting? Why would a professional artist take time out from a commission to participate in creating something that wouldn’t sell? Are there no serious curated shows featuring top-of-the-line examples of work done in a specific discipline i.e. wood, clay or painting?

• What does the Gallery Gift Shop look like? In our previous town everyone local was obviously invited to put a piece in the new gallery shop which included a stuffed Raggedy Ann doll with garish orange-red yarn-hair-and yes there even was a painting on canvas board of a poorly painted kitten in a basket signed by the artist “Betty”. My digital collage prints and magnets featuring vintage postcards of the area sold very well-yet my work wasn’t given prominence in the shop along with work done by other strong artists and artisans. I’d walk in to find some Sunday Painter propped their workshop flyer on my display, I was always moving that flyer as I didn’t want the public to think I was the teacher, nor did I think sticking it on top of my prints made for a professional presentation. If a town financially supports a building dedicated to local and state talent they need to support the professionals whose work supports them in return i.e. work that brings serious buyers in. And they need to support more quality artists to place work in their gift shop and have pictures of such items on the Art Center website to draw visitors. Some of the amateurish works got weeded out, but unfortunately the damage was done and strong work–one by a popular, nationally known outsider artist disappeared from the shop.

• When consigning your work does the gallery manager expect you to log in everything you’re consigning while she reads a novel? When your work sells does it take forever to get paid?

• How is the lighting in the Art Center Gallery? Is it soft track lighting to highlight the works of art? or severe. color damaging florescent lighting? Do they have proper and protective displays for sculpture? I stupidly encouraged an artist friend who is a member of a prestigious international artist group-(niada.org) to submit one of her pieces for a show. The piece was stuck on a table next to the gallery guest book, at the opening one woman plunked her drink right next to it. I moved the piece to a safer spot and vowed never to promote this gallery to my colleagues again.

• What does the outside of the Arts Council Gallery look like? Especially at holiday time? Are professional pieces of sculpture arranged around the building? Is landscaping kept up? Our former town seemed happy to let the surrounding grounds go, potted miniature pine trees turned brown, and at Christmas time someone would stick garish orange-red bows and tinsel on all trees dead or alive. Yet downtown was another story, the mayor made sure all town-owned grounds were groomed. I emailed the “faceless”sterling committee in charge of this town’s cultural agenda offering to tastefully spruce the area up. I received a curt reply declining my offer. I emailed back that I lived down the street and stated dying trees and run-down landscaping de-valued our nearby property. They then did something about the property and even placed an impressive sculpture outside the entrance. Unfortunately the tacky Christmas display was up every year. Why couldn’t this committee kindly help the volunteer who took the time to put those garish bows up to select something more appropriate?

• What is your local arts council committee made up of? Or rather who? Is it overly ambitious Sunday painters looking to grab the email/snail mail list? Are all the committee members “computer illiterate”? Many are stricken with computer illiteracy to avoid doing any volunteer work that doesn’t serve their own personal agenda. It’s okay to insist on a win-win arrangement as in these hectic expensive times artists are on a limited budget and pressing time schedule, especially those working full or part-time to support their business. Yes volunteer, but the arts council should seek an incentive for quality artists/artisans to volunteer their time, such as waiving a show entrance fee, or yearly membership fee. Otherwise the volunteer turnover rate is high and this impacts the strength of the town’s cultural art’s presence at large. Stability is key. And lack-luster membership discourages valuable non-art volunteers from signing on to help.

• Does the local P&Z stand in the way of the Arts Council hanging a well placed banner at the train station or other high-traffic places? In some Connecticut towns and cities the P&Z seem to turn a blind eye to blight situations but oh would they be insulted at the idea of a well-designed banner promoting a local play, concert or show facing thousands of commuters every day.

• If you’re a volunteer, do your good ideas to build the visual artist presence crash and burn because some faceless committee who had the ultimate say said “no”. Are you never invited to meet this committee? Does this committee sit on art center project-agendas to the point nothing gets done?

• Do your ideas get stolen by a member or non-member with better town hall connections? Artists are small business people who support the local community through their taxes, shopping etc, they deserve the same recognition for their supportive efforts that other small businesses (i.e. local banks, jewelers, lawyers, insurance companies etc.) get when donating their time or money to a local cultural event. I did receive support for my mural project, but I initially put in all the work. After we moved from the town I was disappointed to receive at my OLD email account-I’d emailed them my updated address- a hastily sent LATE invite to the unveiling of the first public mural that went up in the town. I was indeed miffed that I wasn’t personally invited to see the fruition of my initial dream become reality, and a “thank you for starting up this project for our town” would’ve been the decent thing to do. Don’t discourage future professionals from moving to your town by treating them as if they’re invisible.

• Does the (paid) director of the town’s cultural arts center return your emails and phone calls? In our new town the director shoots emails all the time to members and keeps up on correspondence. The director job is all-encompassing and a busy one, but returning emails and phone calls is part of the job. I’ve had past experience from town-hired folk who never return emails.

• What kind of crowd shows up at the art shows? Is the crowd focused more on the refreshments and free wine than what is on the walls? Is work selling? Are they perusing the gallery shop or helping themselves to more fingerfood and booze?

This post may sound harsh, but if any professional out there could avoid wasting their precious studio time than I feel I’ve done my job here. Every town benefits from a strong cultural presence, but to sustain that presence, those in charge of the town need to know how to interface with local, professional talent. Some towns do this successfully. And artists pay attention too, if the town is really trying, respond by assisting in any way you can, they need you as much as you need them. A healthy win-win is for the good of all.

Posted in Urban Advice | 1 Comment

Another Cost Cutting Tip for Artists

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The Above Magnet/Pinback is available in my ETSY shop:SmirkingGoddess
I have some artist friends who don’t subscribe to cablevision due to the expense. I must say in both instances, I saw how it positively impacted their children’s educational performance at school. Theie kids read more, and find more creative ways to entertain themselves. Patience seems to come a little swifter for these kids who don’t have a tiny box with buttons to push to produce instant passive entertainment.

However for those who wish they could afford Cablevision this tip comes from my husband, we learned this from the guy who painted the interior of our new home. Cablevision is expensive, many artists can’t afford $200. bucks a month for this costly indulgence. Now with Roku you can, you purchase the antennae up front, my husband sells them for 40. a pop. The atennae pulls tv shows off the internet, i.e. it streams the info. All you need is someone who knows how to hook up the device and you’re good to go. We often download netflix movies this way. And you’re able to download other channels. It is different from cable, but we get local and national news and a lot of the programs we normally would watch. This has been as big a savings for us as using the green light bulbs!

Herewith for more information: Roku

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Artists! Companies that offer Benefits to Part-Time Employees

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The above magnet is available in my ETSY SHOP: SuzanneArtist
For a short period my husband and I-before I found full-time employment-were without health benefits, it was a scary time in our lives. We cut down on risky physical exercise, he didn’t rollerblade, I didn’t bike. We took a lot of vitamins and I drank green tea. For those creative professionals seeking affordable health benefits, there are companies that do offer health benefits to part-timers. In fact, When I stood in line at the Starbucks on my lunch hour, I wondered if the guy waiting on me is a musician, artist, or actor. I always wonder that about employees at Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble and Trader Joes as part-time jobs that offer benefits often attract creative professionals who need the benefits but can’t work full-time due to their profession. Found out guy at Starbucks is an actor! So his gig at the Starbucks is a good thing in between his runs into the city for cattle calls around his work hours. Most of these companies have an area on their website where they post jobs seeking employees with a brief job description and you can apply online for any posted job. Whole Foods and Trader Joes actually hire in-house artists to create their signage and flyers. NPR did a fascinating story on this fine artist who works at Whole Foods in Philadelphia: Artistic Expression in the Produce Aisle

The below link is an article I found listing companies that offer benefits to part-time employees:

http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/11/09/top-10-part-time-jobs-with-benefits/

Posted in Urban Tutorials | 2 Comments

Tips for Finding Income Opportunities to Support your Art Habit

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The above Pinback/Magnet is sold in my ETSY shop: suzanneartist

Firefox and WordPress just screwed up and lost this post-please for my efforts “like”, “StumbleUpon” or “Diggit” this post if you found it helpful-I’m rewriting it now:

My last post I gave a run down on some part time jobs I had over the years to support my illustration business. Unless one is married to a doctor, lawyer or someone with a six-figure income or inherited a bundle or has generous parents, trying to build a sustainable art business from scratch is hard.

Here’s some ideas on finding income to support oneself while waiting for the ETSY shop to take off, or a commission to come in, or a gallery to wake up and notice your work or and so on. Without further ado:

• Government Job-more specifically town jobs but they pay better than some jobs, and if they don’t they come with great benefits. This is at the tax payer’s expense but there are two sure things in life, death and taxes-so the income source is there. Working in the library shelving books, assigning beach stickers, working as a school aide (Para)-not all of these jobs will be part-time but if you work in a school you will be on the school calendar which means summers off, vacations off-sans pay but time to work your own business and you will have health insurance if full time i.e. 11-month employee. My suggestion is to seek school work in more monied towns near your area.

• Online internet freelance sites-If you check my links menu under my header you will note one that says: “Resources 4 U”-this is a list of links to sites help the creatif. I’ve only listed a few here, there are more, and dig deeper through surfing to find illustrator/designer forums where artists will recommend one over the other, Guru is one such recommended site. Please note I haven’t used some of these sites myself yet but others have made money this way:

Can you write? These sites find jobs for writers:
Thewritersmanifesto
Can you draw? How about selling DigiStamps? My work is on this site:
SquiggleFly
This is my page:SuzanneUrban

Can you design logos? websites? templates? Initial pay may not be great, but surf around the sites and see how much some designers have made in a year, AND this creates a portfolio for you. A friend of mine recently hired a logo designer from 99designs for her new business. Herewith:
-Guru.com
TemplateSold
99designs.com

• Apply for a Grant-this is hard, but there are individual businesses making this easier for people-I find the government grant programs either online scams or you have to have non-profit status. Try these sites, also google or go to library or buy a Grant Writing for Dummies book to help you:
DigitalWoman
PeaChic
IdeaCafe

• Production Artist at a Newspaper-doesn’t pay well, but because of this for those of you who aren’t totally computer savvy, you could learn more photoshop, illustrator or InDesign while you work. People at newspapers are more focused on getting the product out under a tight deadline-so if they have to stop and show you how to use the rubberstamp tool in PS real fast, they will. (However this has been my personal experience). You can dress casual and where I worked they allowed me to run free ads on my art business. You can find free online computer tutorials here:Escape from Illustration Island

• Continuing Ed-Teaching evening classes or teaching at a local Arts Center or Art School can provide steady part time income. I’d shy away from teaching out of one’s own home, as you would need liability insurance and that’s expensive. What could you teach? Photoshop? Doll Artistry? Painting? Write up a course outline pick up a Continuing Ed catalog to get an idea on how to writeup a course. Be aware that if no one signs up for your course, you won’t make money. Call local School District office for contact name.

• Waitering for Caterers-you’ll need black pants, white shirt and a black bow-tie, the work is physical but pays well. It’s also seasonal for the most part busy during wedding and holiday season, quiet otherwise. I chose working for caterers over restaurants as I didn’t want to handle money or depend on individually doled out tips, or deal one-on-one with the public. Bartending at events is a great way to make money too, you would need to know a lot about mixed drinks so bone up or take a class. Let caterers know you can do calligraphy or create props out of foam core this could generate income. When I was at my poorest I was given food to take home too! Find Catering halls and Individual Caterers online in the yellow pages.

• Think sales-My husband and I are thinking of ways to expand his business income so I can move forward with working straight from the studio. Recently he noticed a sales person who made an appt with him was in his eighties. Sales positions seem to hire all ages. So my husband is interested in selling solar panels since he purchased some on the side. You get paid only by commission, and networking is key. If you get a part time job at a school i.e. in a largely populated institution add to your income by becoming an Avon or MaryKay or other company representative-pass catalog out in staff lounge-make sure this isn’t frowned on by superiors.

Last but not least-TWO Urban tips: Lower your living expenses swap out the incandescent bulbs with the new “green” ones. My husband recently swapped out all the incandescent bulbs in our home, this means my studio got hit too. The good news? The new warm light bulbs are wonderful! The even gooder news? Our electric bill was reduced 80%

I found cheap art supplies on Craigslist-need a kiln? ShrinkyDink machine? drawing table? Check out Craigslist in your area.

and. . .Check out my blogroll there are blog links to sites that can help you. I hope this was helpful, as a big peeve of mine are these enthusiastic suggestions from online career coaches who have never tried what they’re suggesting. Case in point-Monetizing your blog-in order to make money you need a HUGE follow-ship-this is hard to build-and one has to post daily on blog and be able to write really, really well and target a popular niche market and…

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Finding Work to Support Your Art Habit-Let Me Tell You MY Story

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The above button/magnet can be purchased from my ETSY store:suzanneartist

I recently read an overly enthusiastic (online) article on how an artist can find extra curricular income as they continue to build their creative business into a sustainable enterprise. Some of the suggestions were good, others–like knocking on doors offering to do physical work for hire, mowing lawns etc. was laughable. How many artists especially those of us in the middle years are going to go begging for lawn mowing jobs? As someone who’s done the following (listed below) over the years, I think I can offer an in-depth review of what works and what doesn’t because I’VE BEEN THERE DONE THAT. Tomorrow I will cover my enthusiastic suggestions. With no further ado, I’ve:

• Waited tables at a comedy club that was no joking matter had to quit when I got Epstein Barr-they tried to withhold one of my paychecks. An obnoxious comedian made a pass at me when his girlfriend was in the bathroom-I laughed right in his face like it was the most hilarious joke, they gave me few tables to wait, and I had to tip Bartender from my pithy pay when ordering drinks–WTF?

• Telemarketing-very demeaning to have a job that annoys people.

• Made props for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs for a party planner, including two giant whales that sandwiched the band in between-the kid loved fish. Money was good. Make sure you get paid upon delivery.

• Worked for a dating service–legit-but my mother was upset-I remember the day the ninety-two year old man wandered into our office with his photo album he was rich as heaven and outlived three wives, he didn’t care for the sixty-something we matched him with-“too immature”. All things are relative in the dating scene after all. Not a great job as well, poor pay and it sounds fishy, but seven happy marriages resulted in two years!

• Taught art for an Artist Guild and for a Small Business. Small business taught kids art by using stupid handmade kits to copy images-pretty poor if you ask me. Artist Guild job exhausting but good pay and rewarding, I designed my own lessons, this takes time at night to do.

• Temped including one stint where I tramped through the rain in a high-brow town handing out 15.00 gift certificates for a newly opened Staples store–everyone but one bitchy receptionist-opened their doors to me, this resulted in my crossing the street and giving TWO gift certificate freebies to the competing insurance company receptionist. Another stint was for a corporate conference center where I ate gourmet meals for free and could use their gym for free-I thanked the heavenly bodies for this one over and over.Temp agencies always pay on time.

• Costume modeled for artists-I have a “touch of ADD” as a former Dr. diagnosed, but was able to sit still for twenty minutes at a time. My mother purchased vintage costumes at tag sales for this job. My likeness made it on Danbury Mint stamps and some of Isaac Beshevis Singer’s paperbacks and some national magazines. Good money if you’re young as illustrators who paint book covers generally need young. Art schools take all ages, and like me you can keep your clothes on.

• Freelanced as a production artist at corporations and publishing companies-not bad if you can get the gig as long as they pay on time. Newspapers pay less, but it’s more rewarding-will cover in next post.

• Waited for caterers i.e. weddings, I always cried when the bride and groom took their first dance-exhausting work but pays well, and make sure you work for a NICE caterer, I worked briefly for one who was the devil incarnate, never paid his bills or paid late, he’ll be arrested for tax invasion or something some day. I believe in Karma but know it’s beyond my grasp to understand it fully.

• Worked for decorative painters-make sure you work for an organized one who is a good business person-see above story. Otherwise one’s style aesthetics could be a mismatch especially for an artist who creates murals and is totally disorganized. I also painted children’s furniture briefly but there is NO money in this for those well-heeled housewives looking for a deal, not to stereotype, but if it isn’t jewelry, it’s value is secondary to some. Also, decorative painters are painting on the buyers turf-so business boundaries come first, don’t allow them to leave kids at home unattended, nor make last-minute changes to mural etc. without added charges in place.

There were other jobs but this gives you the idea. Tomorrow I will cover more sane solutions-for those artists not willing to compromise professional integrity, or physical health by knocking on doors(therefore competing against the scores of lawn upkeep businesses)seeking part-time work while waiting for a commission/job to come in or painting to sell.

©2012 Suzanne Urban copy and image all rights reserved.

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