September 5, 2020

Pricing your creative work: the self-doubt-proof way

In a recent edition of The Capsule, I shared a glimpse of an exchange I had with a recent client, and how it doubled the market price of my work in one strike. It so results that pricing your creative work relies more on instinct and intuition over rationale, and today we'll learn why.

Creative work tendentially low-ends because we, the makers, fail to see what the outsiders do. The “business” aspect of things was forgotten along our manufacturing process. For the worse, there's no visible neon sign anywhere that reads “Look! This is how much your work could make the client bank!”. Well, I'm here to plug the first cable into the socket.

Learning where to draw the line between “fair price” and “I could exchange this for a popsicle” is where it gets all fuzzy. Us designers and artists enjoy playing the role of people-pleaser frequently because, as I said, we're enamored with our craft. Thus we take in work here and there, unfiltered, stockpile it into our pipeline, and pray to Chuck Norris our awake time will suffice.

It is time to become more assertive about our pricing strategy, grow confidence over our creative outlet, and bring in the money fellas and felletes.

Simply ask for more money

Yes, you read right. Just ask for more. Can it be that simple? Confirmado.

Chris Do is well known for procuring paradigm shifts in creative minds. His discourse is meticulously crafted to dismantle the self-undermining talk some of us involuntarily put together when we question ourselves: am I skilled enough? Professional enough? Prepared enough? All silly, all woo-woo, questions that handicap our potential.

I've known outstanding creatives charging pennies for the work. I've also known average joes cashing in for the simple fact they asked for more money. It boils down to a matter of attitude. No matter how good you can draw, how A-level your perspective game is, how proficient you are in creating vector burritos; if your earnings aren't in ascent over time, there is a piece of the machinery that needs some greasing.

During this interview with Cuban-American visual artist Magdiel Lopez, both Chris and himself drop a couple of golden nuggets. I advise you to watch it, listen closely, and take notes if necessary. Magdiel recalls one particular “Aha!” moment following a client exchange which radically changed his outlook upon the value of his own work. Go look it up...impact guaranteed!

Enlightenment arrives when you dart that four, five, or six-figure number, swallow hard, and hit send. In that very instant, a chunk of the impassable paywall bias crumbles down right before your eyes like soda crackers. All of a sudden you feel empowered, capable, and most importantly: valued. So don't be afraid to simply ask for more.

Google your client

No, no. Not in a weird way!

Depending on who's soliciting your services, the company may or may not have financial data on the internet. The bigger the business is, the more likely this becomes. For instance, if Coca-Cola reaches out to you to create graphics for their winter campaign you could do one of two things:

  1. Assume that for it being Coca-Cola they are going to count with a big bag of cash for this job, a valid argument.
  2. Dive into Google to do lightning research on their campaign budgets or yearly ad spend. This will give you a hint of how far you can toss the spear without risking losing the client...or stabbing it.

Now, let's say the client is not Coca-Cola but a local eyewear brand. What should you do? You could go even further into the research. How many shops are there? What is the average price point of their product? Are they selling locally only, or region-wise? Can you look for competitors with similar profiles to cast a guess on Ad spend? These are all pointers you can later use to craft your project proposal with some solid arguments to support it. Bring me ze money!

Price based on foreseeable impact is a valid outtake strategy. What I mean with that is: create a hypothetical scenario of how your work will bring positive results to your client. What is the project scope and reach? Will it be showcased worldwide? Art creates emotions, moves masses, and provokes change. Your piece could be the defining factor of a well-executed campaign. Treat it like such.

Be bullish, your work demands it

Ever heard the saying: “One can only charge as much as your client is willing to pay?” No? Good. Me neither.

Cheap work is unappreciated work. Cheap work is destined to be battered, dragged, and thrown around like a ragdoll. In fact, charge your client cheap and be ready for what-ifs, let's do what my cat suggested, and who knows what sparkle of spontaneous capricious charm.

Note to starters: At the early stages of your freelancing career as an artist or creative, you shouldn't be bothering to appear on MTV's Cribs. You should instead have three goals in mind:

  • Build a portfolio
  • Become highly skilled in one (or more) areas
  • Network with other artists, designers, and agencies

Whether that entails doing free work, creating make-believe projects, or going on a 90-day artistic rampage. Your work has to do the talkin', don't fall into the ambition trap too early.

Remember price is an agent of quality. When a potential client winds up asking for a quote and your rates fly below their expectations, you signaled you're insecure about the value of your work. This unravels a plot in which they own the upper hand to toy around with requests, so you may as well buckle-up tight, Chewie.

Another win-win-situation about increasing your rates is you immediately put yourself in the spot of delivering higher quality work. Double the price, double the expectations, double the pressure, double the growth. Can I have that with fries on the side, please?

Sorry but we can't afford it

Lastly, this a scenario you're going to face give or take when the rubber meets the road. At this moment you have to ask yourself a handful of questions:

  • Will this project significantly improve my skills?
  • Could this relationship result in more work further on?
  • Is the client a fit for my values and objectives?
  • Am I in the right financial situation to cut-down prices?
  • Would I amount to a greater impact by investing the time into honing my portfolio and skills instead?

If the answer is yes, take it. If otherwise, know you should only take in commissions you feel good about—unless your finances state the opposite. Halving the price of your creative work doesn't render it less valuable, or you less competent, if you're harnessing a big chunk of professional experience in return. Hold onto that thought.

Put your priorities on a scale and make a cold call. Don't hesitate to say No to a client whose objectives are incompatible with yours, there's plenty of fish in the sea.

Which leads me to my last argument: clients, there are many; your time, on the other hand, is finite. Focus on doing the work you love and let that be the compass that leads you into a successful economic landscape. It works like clockwork. In the meantime get educated, read books, water your creativity, equip yourself with tools to face the journey, and don't forget: never be afraid to ask for more money.

July 2, 2020

Neuroaesthetics and the meaning of beauty

The emerging field of neuroaesthetics is looking to find the answer to one of humanity’s millennial questions: the meaning of beauty. Born between the crossroad of empirical aesthetics and neuroscience, this emerging discipline is seeking to understand how human brains perceive beauty across different spectrums.

We're taught that beauty is entirely subjective. Fully dependent on each individual's point of view, past experiences, fleeting emotions, and rancidness of the oranges eaten at breakfast. But can neuroscience prove it otherwise? Can beauty be quantified and objectified? Can we use technology to precisely measure it? I believe we’re soon to find out.

Where humankind's greatest ideas are born...in the bathroom

Marcel Duchamp, AKA Robert Mutt, was an artist far ahead of his time. Back in 1917, at the peak of artistic audacity and defiance, he decided to submit a piece for the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists that would radically shift the tectonic plates of art as we knew it.

In the past, Duchamp took on various attempts to vindicate the public perception of artistic beauty. He denied big collaboration opportunities with other renowned artists—one of them being the very Henri Matisse. He coined Matisse's art as "retinal", meant to please nothing but the eye. Instead, he wanted art to serve the mind.

With that in mind, his entry for the exhibition was no other than a urinal extracted from a sanitary house, flipped upside down, and tagged with the words: R. Mutt 1917—later renamed as "Fountain".

He coined Matisse's art as "retinal", meant to please nothing but the eye. Instead, he wanted art to serve the mind.

Duchamp's bold move had a universe of intentions behind. He knew he would dent the establishment for a fact. And that didn't seem to bother him for a second. Not surprisingly, his piece was the only one excluded from the final exhibition's selection. Dismantling the recently-founded organization's credo of "accepting all member's work". The verdict: it lacked the characteristics label it as "real art".

Looking back at Duchamp's feat, we could articulate that art does indeed serve a higher purpose. We could say that art is meditative, transgressive, and outpouring meaning. It relies on us, Modern Artists, how we bestow it in the attempt of triggering micro-social impacts.

Neuroaesthetics, the crossroad between neuroscience and empirical aesthetics

When neuroscientist Semir Zeki coined neuroaesthetics back in the 1990s, he commenced by identifying parallels between an artist's perception of her visual world and her brain's processing of visual input. Questions such as "does the brain trigger aesthetic experiences?" arose from the studies, embedding at the core of the newly founded science.

Following through Zeki's research, other collaborators found through brain scanning technology we can effectively detect the subject's neural reaction to stimuli of beauty. When a participant's brain activity was measured, different areas of the neocortex flared, inferring that the brain was signaling what appealed or not to that person. His or her personal tastes.

Could we say therefore that aesthetics—or the perception of it—is indeed hardwired into our biology? And if so, how does it grow, mutate, or evolve as we venture into adulthood?

Neuroaesthetics brings us closer to the meaning of beauty
Willem de Kooning's art transformation post Alzheimer's disease.

Art of a damaged brain

What would happen, however, if our brain was affected by a chronic neurological disease that severely altered our perception of reality? Would it transcribe into a new vision of art, beauty, or the material world and all its undertones?

This was the case of Willem de Kooning, an American-Dutch abstract-expressionist whose art manifested a sudden—abrupt—transmutation after his Alzheimer's diagnose. Willem was known for his agitated, heavily colored paintings up until this moment. All of a sudden, his canvases became airy and spaced out. His colors of choice changed from a wild combination of hues to a minimal primary palette. Alzheimer's appeared to have rewired Kooning's perception of beauty.

Cases like Willem's are more common than we think of and deserve a closer study. The public opinion poses he created his best work in his later years after the disease took over. But then again, how can we objectify that argument? Willem's brain was working in different ways as it was before, yet different doesn't equate to betterment. Or does it?

Similar studies done in a systematic fashion promise convincing results on how or brain works on beauty and art. How our creative capabilities differ and evolve depending on neural health, and how this affects an individual's take on la belleza.

A fair debate: does higher consciousness correlate to the appreciation of beauty?

Questions will continue to surface as we dig deeper into this rabbit hole. Millenary currents of thinking like the Japanese Wabi-Sabi welcome us to seek the beauty in the imperfect. Imperfect paintings, imperfect buildings, imperfect behaviors, imperfect people like we all are.

Growing up, the norm pushed us through the holes of aesthetic canons through publicity stunts, banner ads, half-naked bikini women, and perfectly-shot hamburgers—which we all later found out to look like swollen shoe soles after a scorching Sahara afternoon.

We were shaped to see, understand, perceive beauty through a tiny keyhole. Our notion of pretty is majorly influenced by mainstream media's erratic discourses aimed to satisfy hungry egos and individual interests.

The challenge I pose is: what if we articulate our words responsibly into an inclusive discourse where all shapes and colors are appreciated for what they are?

We can start by teaching our kids that beauty is omnipresent, everywhere to be seen and appreciated. It is in the old vintage leather chair grandma holds onto despite the little tears of time. It is in the latest chameleon-green Reebok snickers with LED-lights, subwoofers, and a projector. It is in the Poodle, as it is in the Shar-pei. It becomes obvious whenever we choose to see it.

I drop my two pennies in Neuroscience to shed more light on this enigma. And yet, who knows? Maybe someday it becomes the driver of this neo-concept of beauty: inclusive, unlabeled, and free.