Q. I am writing to you, as I need some advice, and I hope you can help me. I am an artist, predominately a painter/sketch artist, and have been exhibiting frequently for the past two or three years. I have multiple websites, online galleries, and have joined many artist networking sites. My activity has gained a fantastic response for my artwork. And that is great! It keeps me optimistic. However, I am having a major issue with sales, or lack thereof. I can't seem to sell anything! I wouldn't dare say that it's not worth it to keep pursuing my dream of making a living from my artwork. My ultimate goal is to be able to quit my day job, though I'm not expecting to become a millionaire. I just don't know what I am doing wrong here.
I calculate the cost of a piece by cost of supplies, size of the piece, and time spent on each. My range is from $75 to $2,000 per piece. I advertise constantly, physically and online, but I just can't seem to get a sale. Any thoughts? Words of wisdom? Anything you may be able to provide is greatly appreciated!
A. I’m concerned about your price range. Being consistent with your price range is a must. The range you mentioned has a fairly wide gap. Thus, I’m wondering how many works are in the $75 to $100 range compared to the number of works that you have priced $1,000 and up. More often than not artists will hurt the foundation of their marketing plan by charging more for pieces that they feel a strong personal connection to. Emotive pricing can quickly become an obstacle that blocks your goal. $75 here, $150 there, followed by $1,000 and another piece for $4,375 may look good on paper, but in the mind of someone interested in your work the wide range of prices may cause some confusion-- leaving them to ask what exactly they are paying for compared to the next piece.
True, every piece you make is personal to a degree, but if you are pricing works that you are really attached to for $2,000 or more you may very well be pricing yourself out of the range of what most people are willing to spend-- especially if you have yet to make a name for yourself with a consistent history of selling your art. In other words, you might want to think about not selling certain works if your attachment to them results in prices that are several hundred dollars more than paintings that you are willing to let go for $75.
If you want to make a living off of your art you need to be business-minded. One of the basic rules of business is to buy low and sell high. Thus, you should think about your expenses and find ways to lower your financial burden. For example, if you work with expensive materials you might consider downgrading to something that is more affordable so that your art can be more affordable when you sell it online. Save the expensive paints for works that you plan to exhibit in brick & mortar galleries-- and just so you know, you always want at least 20 good paintings on hand for when you land an exhibit.
There are other ways to save money-- and if you plan on living off of your art you will want to save as much money as you can. For example, if you paint on pre-stretched canvas you may want to learn how to stretch your own. Paying between $5 and $10 for each 16 x 20 pre-stretched canvas that you use can add up really quick. In other words, you can save thousands of dollars per year just by learning how to stretch your own. You may also consider experimenting with other surfaces that are cheaper than canvas. These choices will allow you to price your work lower while still making a profit. Again, save the good materials for the art you plan to exhibit in brick & mortar galleries or until you establish a base of collectors who are interested in your more expensive works.
You will want to keep your business face on at all times, so to speak. That involves following your intuition and preventing yourself from spending money on services or information that you don’t really need for your marketing plan. For example, avoid the ‘how to make a living off of you art’ books-- I can‘t stress that enough. I know people who have spent hundreds of dollars on those books only to find out that they could have learned some of the same information online for free. Most of those books are written by ‘art coaches’ with the full intention of luring readers toward their services-- this is not football… you don’t need a coach. However, you may need a team… so remember to help your peers out where you can so that hopefully they will return the favor in your time of need.
Now for the most important advice I have for you-- Don’t jump the gun at the first sign of success. The last thing you want to do is to quit your day job only to discover that your art is not making enough to pay your monthly expenses. You have big dreams-- but forcing those dreams to happen is not worth the loss of your car, home, or anything else. Success rarely happens overnight. Even if you have success you must realize that making a full-time living off of your art is always a gamble. However, there are other options. For example, if you work full-time you could try to save some money up so that you can work part-time instead. With that option you will still have a sense of job security-- and hopefully some benefits-- while allowing yourself the extra time that you need in order to focus on your art, your marketing, and your dream.
On a side note-- if you take that option you may consider applying for a part-time job at an art supply store-- that way you can obtain discounts on art materials in order to further lower your expenses. Also, you may want to consider selling prints instead of original work-- just know that finding an affordable printing service can be tricky. Just remember to have a little nest egg saved up no matter what you decide to do.
Take care, Stay true,