Studio Sessions

Walden-Inspired Accounting

By Christine Wong Yap March 11, 2013

Studio Sessions offers behind-the-scenes access to artists, writers, curators, and creative individuals through a variety of tête-à-tête conversations that consider the how, and what, and where of making art. Studio Sessions are presented as interviews, profiles, and studio visits through text, photo essays, and videos.

Walden-Inspired Accounting

Christine Wong Yap. Screenshot of Quikbooks ledger, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist.

Inspired by Thoreau’s Walden, Ann Hamilton’s “Creative Accounting” in The Believer, Eleanor Hanson Wise’s Show Me the Money series on Open Space, and the ongoing belief that demystifying the art world is helpful for artists and audiences, I am embarking on an experiment of transparency. Below, I list the material and labor expenses I incurred to produce a recent drawing.

Monetary accounting ignores the aesthetic, personal, psychological, and social rewards of artistic practice; nonetheless, I took this approach to see what is revealed about the art-making process. For example, the ink on paper in a frame that viewers see is a fraction of the materials used in the production of this work. Similarly, the act of drawing is a small part of the labor involved.

In this particular case, material costs were offset in part or in whole by estimated, lump-sum reimbursements from a presenting partner. I was very fortunate to have this support. Typically, artists default to covering all production costs. The more successful an artist, the more partners and negotiating power she has. This leads toward partners covering a greater share of or the larger overall production costs, which converts more revenue into artist’s income.

Additionally, I only provide figures for my outlay. In-kind donations and labor are mentioned by way of explanation, but I did not include their valuations because I neither know the actual values nor presume that my partners share my interest in transparency around this issue.


Total for Material Expenses: $757.19

Drawing materials subtotal: $40.80

  • Gel pens: $20.28
  • Vellum: $20.52

Procurement, research and preparation materials subtotal: $126.34

  • "Illustration board: $6.83
  • Ground transport of materials to residency: $8.95
  • Flourish, by Martin Seligman (used copy): $16.77
  • Luggage fee for transporting nine notebooks: $25
  • Yoga mat, brought in same luggage as sketchbooks: $01
  • Post-it notes: $2
  • Newsprint for organizing research notes: $15.25
  • Digital output: $29.34
  • Gas for 111 miles, inclusive of two trips to framer and three trips to digital output service bureau: estimated at $22.20
  • Highlighters and miscellaneous tools borrowed from parents: $0
  • DSLR camera and tripod borrowed from residency: $0
  • Used and new reference books from my existing collection, including Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, by Elaine Fox; The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt; Born to Be Good, by Dacher Keltner; Sex, Drugs and Chocolate, by Paul Martin; Happier, by Tal Ben-Shahar: $0

Framing subtotal: $487.50

I use ready-made frames when possible, but this work’s fragility, size, and probable shipping required professional framing.

Crating subtotal: $102.55

We built a crate in advance since I live in New York and do not plan to return for de-installation.

  • Lumber, plywood, screws, and adhesive: $50.87
  • Insulation foam: $10.462
  • Shock-absorbing foam: $41.22
  • Poly bag from framer: $0
  • Use of miter saw, jigsaw, T-square, and workshop, in-kind from presenting partner: $0
  • Use of other tools, in-kind from father: $0
  • Use of truck with gas, in-kind from presenting partner/assistant: $0

Total for Labor: $971–2,875

112 hours of my labor subtotal: $896–$2,800

The low figure reflects California’s minimum wage of $8 per hour. The high number reflects a freelance rate of $25 per hour that experienced art handlers and artist’s assistants can command in New York.3

  • Procurement related to organization and shipping: 0.5 days
  • Organizing research notes: 1.5 days
  • Design development and color selection: 1.5 days
  • Incorporate copyedits, revise design, and prepare for output: 1 day
  • Pick up and re-order botched output, pick up new output: 0.5 day
  • Draw initial drawing: 3 days
  • Draw improved drawing: 3 days
  • Photography and color-correction: 0.5 days
  • Pack and deliver work to framer with subsequent pick up: 0.75 days
  • Procure materials, borrow and return tools, and build crate: 1 day
  • Procure and cut foam: 0.5 days
  • Unpack and store crate and install art: 0.25 days

Subtotal: 14 days4

2.5 hours for copyeditor subtotal: $75

With dozens of texts and citations rendered in pen, I could not risk typos.

Assistants: 8 hours, $0

In-kind assistance was provided by presenting partner. I asked a truck-owning assistant to help out, as the crate materials and finished crate were too big to fit in my borrowed car.

I did not to include the following indirect costs incurred by partners and supporters.

I arrived at this figure with the advice of professionals, mainly considering the price of the other works in the show, past sales, and the cost of the frame. In the event of a sale, the presenting partner’s fee is 30 percent, or $630. The remaining artist’s portion would be $1,470. Assuming that all expenses were reimbursed, at 112 hours I would theoretically have made $13.12/hour pre–income tax.

Walden-Inspired Accounting

Christine Wong Yap. Studio view of research notes at Lucas Artists Program at Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, CA. Courtesy of the Artist.


  1. Due to the drawing’s scale, I had to work on the floor; a mat saved wear-and-tear on my knees.
  2. A note to fellow artists: I only used insulation Styrofoam as an economical outer foam layer. When packing fragile art, shock-absorbing foam is the best choice.
  3. For more information about freelance rates meant to cover un-billable hours, insurance, sick and vacation days, income and business taxes, etc., see the Graphic Arts Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook.
  4. 4. While I did administrative work on other projects during this period, I also worked occasionally ten to twelve hours per day, so eight hours per day seems a reasonable average. Materials procurement and initial crate building: 4.5 hours
  5. Three trips for transport of crate: 1 hour
  6. Transport of other materials, such as camera and tripod: 1 hour
  7. De-installation, crating (projected): 1.5 hours
  8. The residency provided a four-hundred-square-foot studio, accommodations, utilities, and WiFi, as well as many meals.
  9. Gallery exhibition costs, such as changeover and installation labor and materials, invigilation, overhead, printing, postage, and administration.
  10. My mother lent me her car. I made no contributions toward insurance, registration, or maintenance.
  11. In the drawing, I cited presentations from the IPPA 2011 World Congress. My attendance (conference fee and IPPA membership, $685, plus travel and accommodations) was made possible with the support of a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant.

Comments ShowHide

Related Content