Red 40 Mike Jackson_small

Artist to Artist

If Mike Didn’t Draw It, It Doesn’t Matter

I met Mike Jackson back in 2011 when he started to hang out and draw at Indy Hall. We were the only artist/illustrators there at the time that were actively creating and drawing.

In April of 2013 I produced his solo show, Fast, for a Catcher, where he filled the entire gallery with artwork and stories surrounding his love of baseball. Since then, Mike and I have produced art shows, collaborated on pieces, painted giant murals ,and have encouraged each other to continue to live our lives as creators.

As my drawing mentor, he is constantly encouraging me to settle for nothing but my best. Mike wants everybody to be at their best so he can share the incredible things that people are capable of.

This is why I chose to interview my friend, teacher and collaborator to find out where this incredible execution of colors and lines came from and the stories he is telling with them.

-Sean Martorana, curator

Fast for a Catcher Mike Jackson

SM: Tell me the story of your earliest art and design influences.

MJ: My grandfather saw that I had an interest in drawing. He sat down with me one Saturday night and showed me how to draw a convertible in one point perspective. I remember him specifically saying “. . . and you can add a little fella in there, and then you can draw a sidewalk and he’s looking at a pretty girl at the stop light. You can just keep adding and adding to this.” This was the first time that I got permission to keep building.

I also remember drawing Batman in the frost on the bus in first grade. I did a different super hero every morning. I knew they were going to the next public school when they dropped us off. So I was leaving something behind to build a legend.

It didn’t work. I was not a legend. But my Batman got tighter.

Was there a moment when you really decided you wanted to focus on illustration full time?

I felt like everybody in grade school was the best at something. For some reason I thought I was the best of the best if I could draw really well. I wanted to be known as “the drawing guy.”

In the third grade there was a girl who took art lessons on Saturdays and I remember thinking, “I can’t afford art lessons.” I thought she was going to be better than me and I was going to lose “my thing.” She stopped taking lessons but I kept drawing because I really liked being the best.

Then I went to art school, at University of the Arts, because I figured this is what I’m good at and it’s worth pursuing. I didn’t know I had to know what I wanted to do with it. Art school was just the next logical step.

Line drawing from a live model by Mike Jackson, collection of Sean Martorana

You have a very strong style that you have crafted over time. It’s your hand, your signature. Was there a specific moment you started to find this approach?

College is when I got introduced to line. Up until then I was just trying to draw as realistically as possible. Then there was this girl in college and her renderings were beautiful. Untouchable. So I thought, ok, I’m going to have to figure out a signature. Otherwise I will just be reaching for something that I am good at, and she’s just better.

There was a class with teacher by name of Roger Roth. He encouraged that every week we draw differently. That is the first time I started thinking about bringing a voice to illustration.

He also introduced me to David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld, and from there I started drawing with line.

I find your lines to be very animated. They are very loose but sophisticated and intentional. Is there something in your style of line that helps tell the story of the people you draw?

Usually I try to tell as much story with as little line as possible. The more line I have, the closer I get to rendering, and I am trying to get as far away from that as possible but still pass some kind of recognition onto the viewer.

Jazz Mike Jackson

One thing I appreciate with your lines is that they are so tight. In contrast, your color is not as clean. Is there a reason your color is so much looser in its execution than your lines?

Recently I’ve tried not to paint but to apply color. Color adds depth beyond the line . . . which is fun. I want people to have a smile even if it’s just internal. I want them to feel better about something when looking at my work.

Some guys Mike Jackson

Since you like to capture moments and tell stories of incredible people, is there one particular story that stands out to you?

One would be the Kinetic Sculpture Derby piece. It was just a summarization of this day that I had. We went to the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival and were walking up to Frankford Avenue as these people showed up. It was absurd and wonderful I thought if this isn’t the best gateway for telling this day I don’t know what is.

Just two people covered in balloons.

Kinetic Sculpture Derby Mike Jackson

After watching a parade of a viking ship that had 18 people peddling, which is amazing, then these guys were just wearing balloons. It was this simple display of absurdity that I appreciated.

This was a lot of fun because it is simple. The color is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s just an application of color that ended up emphasizing the story.

Is there a subject you are currently interested in?

I have been drawing the theater around Philadelphia. It’s a thing, which doesn’t get much attention, that I can add my voice to. In my world it doesn’t have a prominent voice. When I get together with my friends we talk about the Phillies.

I feel like it’s completely wide open to do what I want. I really don’t know of many people drawing the theater right now. So it seems like the wild west.

I’ve only been doing it for about 5 months but it’s gotten me into some really great shows and it’s another thing to bounce my drawings off of. I go see what other people are capable of doing and how can I show that through what I am capable of doing.

It’s been really great seeing how much work goes into a production, and then can I do it justice.

It’s so much fun.

Ok, final question, because I could go on and on. Do you have any bucket list projects, mediums or things you would like to see your career?

To be a part of a community where I am a respected influence in the community. That will be cool.

The biggest thing, which is why I do all of it, all these little tiny things, add up to the fact that I want to have been a prolific illustrator who supported himself and his family through illustration.

I also want people to say “If Mike didn’t draw it, it didn’t matter.”

Good answer.

Wait. One more question. Can you capture this interview in one of your daily drawings?

Sean and Mike by Mike Jackson

All images by Mike Jackson. Figure drawing from a live model is from the personal collection of Sean Martorana.

Sean Martorana_small

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How to Price Your Art

Sean Martorana is an institution. If you are involved in the local art scene or are a member at Indy Hall, you have seen his work. Everything is Sean’s canvas, from wine glasses to jewelry; his iconic designs have graced both murals and products. Most importantly, Sean believes in fair pricing for artists and has generated one of the greatest self-pricing formulas I have encountered.

– Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder

Pricing artwork is tough for an upcoming artist. For 13 plus years I have worked to find the simple formula I now use to price my own work.

A few years after graduating a two-year college I started a small marketing and design company for small to mid-sized clients like architects, fashion designers, restaurants, and financial firms. Eight years later I switched my focus to my own artwork and design. I have been a full time artist for over seven years now, selling works of art, jewelry, murals, select commissions, and more. For all of these, I use the following method to help set my prices and charge for my time.

Pricing on materials and time doesn’t work. Does something that takes one hour cost less than something that might take three hours? What if you were inspired and you got it perfect the first time? Does this make the end result different in price? Absolutely not. Pricing based on your emotional attachment is also a terrible idea. If you love the piece, you will price it out of range and nobody will actually be able to afford it.

So, How to Price Your Artwork.

I price it by the square inch. Yup. By size. And it works every time. I originally learned this technique from Maria Brophy, an Art Business Consultant whose blog has provided answers to many questions I’ve had. Since I found this method, I have molded it to my specific career and helped others find their way with it as well. Let’s look into this formula and go through the process of pricing a 16” x 20” work of art.

16″ x 20″ = 320 square inches
At $1.00 per square inch, that = $320.

Is $1 per square inch an appropriate fee? To determine what you would actually be making off of the work you have to subtract your costs.

Canvas cost you $50, paint cost another $20; so, after you subtract your equipment costs from the square inch price, you are now making $250 off of this art.

A gallery’s commission could be anywhere from 40% to 60%. Let’s go with 50% for a happy medium. If that is the case you are now making $125 off of the painting.

What does that look like on an hourly rate? It all depends on how long it takes for you to create the work. If you spent five hours on the painting, you are getting paid $25/hour. Ten hours, you are getting paid $12.50 an hour. I’m not just talking about the actual time paint is hitting the canvas (or which ever medium you use), I’m talking about ALL the time. The time it takes to set up your easel. The time it takes to clean your brushes. The time it takes to research the subject you are about to create. All these and more are billable hours and should be accounted for.

Knowing around what you want to make hourly is important too. If we look at our final price and you aren’t making that mark, you need to raise your price. A good practice is comparing your rate to the rates at which companies contract freelancers. For example, if I were designing the branding and identity for a company, illustrating a poster, or even consulting on the interior of a space, I charge anywhere from $85/hr – $125/hr and this is within the market standard. Why should my fine art be any different? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.

16″ x 20″ = 320 square inches

We are now at $320 according to the $1 / square inch math. The gallery is going to charge 50% commission. This should be added on top. Not baked in. You saw above that when you bake it in you start making close to minimum wage. So 50% of $320 is $160.

Total is now $480.

$70 in materials could be baked in but let’s add this on top allowing more room for time.

We are now at $550.

If you want to get this custom framed, add another $200 – $400 or more on top of that. Framing costs more than the artwork sometimes. This makes no sense.

So $550 (unframed) seems to be an ok price for a 16″ x 20″ painted canvas. This doesn’t look at the time spent because that changes for every artist and every work of art. You need to do the math and figure out if that actually makes sense to you.

If you don’t profit from your artwork, you end up paying people to take your art away from you, and begin to collect debt. You are not helping your craft. You are actually taking away from it and not financing your next project.

I move fast and I create a lot. I want to create more all the time. But I can’t do that if I have to spend my time making money somewhere else. People are not benefitting from my art or design if I have less to offer due to spreading myself thin with multiple jobs. I want my undivided attention on making this world better through art and design, and to do this I must charge accordingly and realize that this time spent creating art is valuable.

Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC

Take Your Shoes Off at the Door

First Friday Is Still Flawed

First Friday in Old City is reappearing on the radar. There has been a staple group of visitors for First Fridays, yet the event has a reputation for discouraging local artists from participating. “In art school, we used to go to Old City for examples of what not to do,” a friend told me as we shoved through the crowd this past Friday.

When you have a chance to actually look at the work you see that the majority is skill focused, not informed by contemporary interests, says very little about the art community in Philadelphia, and (perhaps the biggest complaint) it is overly commercial. Why go to First Friday in Old City when you can go to Frankford Ave Arts’ First Friday, or to a show at Vox Populi, and be a part of something that reflects the art community and displays relevant work?

The First Friday tradition in Philadelphia has branched out, in part because Old City was only representing a small portion of the contemporary art scene in Philadelphia. Granted, a good portion of the art showing in the 40+ galleries at Old City’s First Friday is created by local artists, and the same can be said about the street vendors—who scale from pandering flea-market-esque venders to actual artists trying to support themselves through their work.

There is a distinct difference in the crowd at Old City and Frankford Ave Arts. In Old City you are confronted by people who are traveling from outside of the city, where Frankford Ave Arts caters to and supports their North Philly community. Community (and competition) seems scarce in Old City, but there are exceptions.

Surprisingly, some non-gallery spaces in Old City are drawing on their clientele to support local talent. This past Friday Indy Hall opened its doors to the public and invited people to KIN: “a collaborative exhibition featuring the creative endeavors of an evolving artistic community.” Indy Hall is not a gallery but a member based cooperative working space. All showing artists were Indy Hall members. A wider Indy Hall community was in attendance, supporting them, and as a result, purchasing local work and advocating for our creative economy.

Art in the Age, a store that sells an array of artisanal products, featured the work of Eric Kenney. His T-shirts, flags, paintings, and prints straddle the line between commercial and art, which sits well with a shop that does the same. Art in the Age is not stepping outside of their wheelhouse when they show and sell work like Kenney’s, but what they are doing is encouraging their customers to buy from a local artist.

Support for Philadelphia’s larger art community is why people like me are returning to Old City for First Friday. There are only so many Facebook invites from friends that you can ignore, but there is still a lot of room for First Friday to become more relevant. It will never be a noncommercial experience, but it has the ear of communities outside of the arts, so it is vital for those of us involved in the art scene to look at it critically.

Amanda is an artist and writer living in Philadelphia. Her work has been displayed at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, featured at festivals, and in events with Fait Du Vide Collective. Amanda has published with Philly.com, the Philadelphia Daily News, Art Attack, and VICE Media. In her spare time she likes to drink and draw naked ladies.