Wee Menger sponge with many fewer constituent parts than the original design.

Thinking about the practical art economics of stained glass a little lately as I get more practiced and confident with my work.

This like all creative production is a balance of materials cost and labor cost, and one interesting revelation is that working the same design at a somewhat reduces materials cost somewhat but has approaching zero effect on labor cost. Each individual piece of glass, regardless of size, requires some significant minimum fixed investments of time.

e.g. if I were to do this same Menger sponge at 12"x12" instead of 6"x6" I'd use (approximately) 4x as much glass, and foil, and solder, and misc. cleaners.

I wouldn't spend 4x the time on it, though. It's still 18 pieces of glass, from a pattern that exists; each piece needs to be cut, ground, foiled, and then all soldered together, and each of those steps would take a bit longer vs at smaller scale, but not even 2x since most individual steps lose time to starting, not doing.

Cutting involves: getting the cutter into place for each discrete cut (same amount of time no matter how large or small); making the cut (very quick and flowing generally, regardless of length); breaking off excess (basically the same no matter the size of the break); and a bit of grozing pliers clean up maybe (brief for any given piece).

Cutting the same piece at twice the size takes fractionally longer, and if curves are involved may actually be simpler to do as breaking is less dicey.

The same holds for most other steps (grinding probably least so as grinding does take more significant time per inch of material): it takes a fixed amount of time k to prepare to execute each step on each piece, and then some small extra time j per inch to flow through the process on that piece. k is more or less invariable; you can't make it go away by working smaller (and at the lower limits it actually becomes harder and more fiddly to do some steps than with a non-tiny piece).


So, okay, that's the story: working bigger isn't always proportionally slower or more difficult than working smaller, across reasonably moderate changes in scale. 12"x12" isn't 4x the work of 6"x6".


Put yourself in a buyer's position, wanting to buy a piece. How do you budget in your mind the thing that 12"x12" vs. 6"x6"? Probably not as "oh those should cost essentially the same".

One looks like a window hanging, one looks like a tree ornament. Prices presumed to correspond.

All of which is to say I do not see myself getting in the habit of making small complicated pieces as a money-maker.

I don't think I'd have trouble selling them if I put them out there at a price people would be happy to pay; but I think I'd have trouble selling them at the price that actual reasonable labor compensation would demand, vs. getting a similarly reasonable hourly compensation out of a larger but otherwise identical piece.

@joshmillard my understanding is that for visual art from professional but non-famous artists, the pricing is basically a function of size (and materials) and that's it. so!

@xor Yes, that seems to be very common! In fact I do that with my oil pieces, and given the nature of my compositions and how I execute them it is in that case a reasonably good correlation to the labor hours involved, so it doesn't feel terribly weird to do.

On the other hand, I do execute some large complex paintings that would be just as complex to execute small and sell for far less as a result, and...I just don't make those small very often.

@xor Not never, because the thing that fundamentally drives my decision-making about what I paint is "what do I want to paint", but I'm lucky there that I don't depend on painting to eat and so don't have to be mercenary about it. But if it came down to raw dollar efficiency, small fiddly paintings would definitely go from Seldom to Never as a matter of sheer necessity. Which is a bit fucked up as no less thought or care would go into them, and yet here we are.

@joshmillard “this one is bigger so it should cost more” is so pre-late-capitalism

@philnelson I mean, it's weird, because it makes a kind of gut sense, that the cost of manufacture of a thing would correspond to the size of materials consumed. And there's stuff where material cost is absolutely a primary component.

But it is also obvious to anyone who has had a hand directly in art-making or hand-crafted work that that is hardly universally so. And equally obvious in turn how much mass scale crafting *must* depend on massive arbitrage & exploitation of cheap labor.

Sign in to participate in the conversation

Server run by the main developers of the project 🐘 It is not focused on any particular niche interest - everyone is welcome as long as you follow our code of conduct!