Monday, September 08, 2008

My Art Advice: How can I make a living off of my art?

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,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

great advice. very very good

Anonymous said...

Good advice. All around.

But as she said she was a sketch and paint artist, the price range probably comes from small drawings upto large scale paintings. I have had the same. Selling my mass produced BW large format photos on the LightJet 430, best printer in the the world here at my job on Fuji color paper. For around $120 each, not in signed lots. Archaic artschool practice not relevant with modern print practices. Rather bring art to the "masses" anyway. They actually often have more sense that art world types. Even Hollywood types I have met through friends love the work, and ask why they see such trash in galleries.

To my paintings, mid sized up of 3-5 foot for in the $800 to $1500 range, to large ones up to 10' that are hard to sell, few have the wall space, for around $3k.

Depends on the market, supply and demand. Many can admire, but the truth is in putting the dough on the table. Few will put over $1k unless seen as an investment, dont want the price to degrade, so gotta be sure they really want it.

Also, where you sell. Festivals, galleries, on line. Getting to your market is always the difficult chore, and there may not be one where you live. I know its damn hard for me here in LaLa land. I have been told it would be much better for me by older gallery owners in Portland or even Frisco. Europe would be best I think, but not England, they are idiots these days, and never been artists anyway.

You have to find like minded people with cash on hand. People with empty wallspace and what fits their decor, art is mostly wallpaper for people these days. Has to create ambiance. Getting hooked up with an interior designer is the most consistent way to sell. But gotta feed alot of egos then. Gotta have a strong stomach and toughness, or can get used bad. It takes its toll. Its business.

Anonymous said...

This is some great advice to consider. Helpful tips for all. Donald made a good point about where you live and how it can impact your ability to sell. And FINALLY there is someone taking a stand against those silly art business books.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest to keep buying good quality art materials, especially paint. Start eating more rice and pasta at home to replace eating out, but don't buy cheap paint.. it's nasty stuff.

I once took a job where they used to throw away perfectly good rolls of canvas. I used to take home rolls of canvas so big that I couldnt carry them by myself. I now have a shed filled with canvas. So low paid crappy jobs can be good if there are bonuses like the one I had.

Art is a business though.. a tough business, but I have no sympathy for struggling artists. Artists are the luckiest people in the world. I feel sorry for people in suits that never get around to living their life as theyre too busy at work.

Anonymous said...

ANB, I see nothing wrong with using cheaper materials. Why use $40 tubes of professional grade oil paint when you can use student grade oils for far cheaper? Canvas is nice but there is nothing wrong with masonite either. I've even seen paintings on plywood hanging in NY galleries. Buying and using the best materials does not mean that you are creating the best art.

Anonymous said...

Donald, you are correct, in that my smaller and simpler drawings and paintings sell for a much cheaper price than my larger, detailed, and very time-consuming works. I also do not sell anything I am extremely emotionally attached to - I exhibit them, but do not sell.

I also do stretch my own canvas, and though all my other materials are of a high quality, I have managed to find some of the better prices around, so it's not necessarily a money thing at this point, as far as cost of materials, etc.

What IS the problem, I am finding after reading this response, is that I can't find my market. And I am still not sure how to FIND my market.... I suppose it's just keep on getting out there and exhibiting, donating pieces to charity events, and advertising advertising advertising.... though, as Donald recommended, trying some interior design people is a fantastic approach, and I WILL be trying that!

I guess my answer is just keep getting my name out there and supporting other art-related events and artists.

Great responses, from EVERYONE! I thank you all kindly!

Anonymous said...

If you want to make a living selling art you will need to shell out art if you want to offer affordable works. It does not sound like you are in the position to sell for thousands so you will need to create thousands of paintings and sketches and offer them for affordable prices. I'd go with prints if you are able.

You would have to sell 400 painting at $75 a piece to earn $30,000 per year and that is without taking taxes and expenses out. You might want to ask yourself how many decent paintings or sketches you can create in a month.

It is possible because at one time I sold around 10 painting each month for an average of $50 - $100each and that was on Ebay! It was just a way for me to make some profit off of work I considered studies so that I could have more money for my larger projects.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, last Anon. i am doing something like that. Used to go for home runs all the time and often made huge paintings. Hit alot of triples and doubles, maybe one or two HRs, but now, after twelve years off, going to smaller sizes and making them quick. Not because they are easy or dumb, but are studies. Making one about 3'x4' and then related 22x28s. And can buy the stretched ones for $5, cheap place in Westminister. Can make a painting per day, have a job and a house I gotta maintain too. Never thought I would make a living off art, just add to income when I retire, will need to the way Social Security is going. can sell them for a coupla hundred bucks each, and the large one for much more.

And Dion, agree you gotta use expensive for small paintings, but not large ones. Its the relationships of colors that count, not the brightness when large, like over 3'. Just bought lots of big tubes for $9 each and small ones for $4 because school is starting and on sale. Winton is fine for me. Used to buy canvas and duct from awning companies and stretch on lumberyard 1"x2"s. Not gonna for lots of small ones, too time consuming, plus the big ones and the way they were woven together had to be precise in proportion and size, had to be hand made.

So depends on what you are doing, but would love to get some of those rolls of canvas you got. One 6'x8' i got is damaged beyond repair, gonna redo it slightly smaller, its a HR. And got mold on another 5'x10' Been in the garage for over a decade, and roof leaked . And got one I want to do to go with the circular one I got, which is 92" round, rectangular of nude men, gotta be about the size of my damaged one and might use the frame, but buy new canvas. The rest I am doing are singular nudes and will be smaller, or small groups. Will go back to big and more complex constructions later, but doing fundamental research right now, something more artists should do.

Art at its best is always musical. Line is melody, color harmonies, structure rhythm. Think in terms of extended music, and they are more likely to come alive. Literary themes are illustration, and conceptual just plain stupid pseudo intellectualism, games. And pop, well, is just pop. Disposable fashion with no shelf life.

And Betsy, see about other areas too, what part of the country is msot like what you do as far as style, of hosue, lifestyle, tastes. Can have better luck there. my stuff is often so big its hard to transpor at a reasonable cost, roll up and reframe costs. And possibly not worth it. but gotta do what you gotta do.

Balhatain said...

"What IS the problem, I am finding after reading this response, is that I can't find my market. And I am still not sure how to FIND my market...."

Betsy, so are you in a city or are you in a more rural location? Also, when you have sold work has it been online or in a gallery setting? Which do you have more luck with?

Caron at Michigan Quilts said...

Excellent article! The arts is a saturated market... everybody and their brother things they are an artist - or want to be an artist. One key is seperating what YOU do from what the weekend hobbiest does.