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How to price your art to fit the market

Pricing consistency and structure

It’s important that there is some logic to how your work is priced. Having some kind of formula in determining value serves to make things less confusing for everybody, including yourself. It’s just weird to have price differences between works of the same size and material. If you have two paintings for sale of identical size but priced differently, why is that and how would you explain it to someone? Making art may not be a rational process but your pricing formula should be.

Compare your work to that of your peers

It’s certainly a valid point that you should compare your work to that of other artists who are trying to sell their work in the same market. It can be tough to do because you likely think of your work as being unique. An art buyer may not think the same way.  He or she might not see two 3 ft. x 4 ft. acrylic paintings by two separate artists as being so different. Try to look at other artists with comparable experience and accomplishments as yourself. Consider their exhibition records and educational achievements.

Think like a buyer not a maker

It is good to try and put yourself in the shoes of the potential buyer. That is to say, think of how someone ready to purchase might view the options available them. Do some research and see who and what is out there. Of course, you can do a lot of snooping completely on line. Also, gaining a better sense of the competition can’t hurt you. You may even gain some valuable insights and ideas on how better to promote yourself and what you do. Either way a bit of research should give you a general price range for your work. You can take those ballpark figures and work back from there. The goal is to come up with a pricing structure that works for you and the potential buyers out there. It’s important to be realistic.

The width x height x $ formula

Some artists determine prices by multiplying width and height in order to literally figure out the area of a painting. A cost per square inch (or centimeter) is then applied to determine the overall price. Using this rationale, a 12 in. x 24 in. painting has a total area of 288 in. That number is then multiplied by a dollar figure like $2.50. In this scenario the painting of this size is priced at $720. Using this method, the cost of a 24 in. x 24 in. painting is exactly twice as much – $1,440. Similarly, a painting that is 24 in. x 48 in. is four times the price of the smaller painting (12 x 24 x $2.50 = $2,880) because it is four times the area.

For me, this method is awkward because there is such a big difference between the value of a small painting versus a larger work. The time and energy involved is not directly proportional to size. I have never found that a 12 in. x 24 in. painting takes me a quarter of the effort of a 24 in. x 48 in. painting. It is often the opposite. Some pictures resolve themselves much more easily than do others and it might have nothing to do with size. But remember, pricing does need to be somewhat arbitrary and art buyers tend to see value related to size.

The width + height x $ formula

I prefer to use this formula. It still takes size into account but with much less dramatic variances based on size. Using $20 as my dollar multiple, I put the following table together to explain how it works.  

Framed versus unframed

Obviously, the frame or lack thereof should be taken into consideration. I do my own framing because I like to maintain that control. I generally show and sell my work framed so I assume that as part of the overall cost. However, when someone wants to know a price on an as yet unframed piece I charge less. I estimate the cost of framing at $10 a lineal foot. Using this calculation, a frame on a 2 ft. x 4 ft. frame represents approximately 12 lineal feet so I would deduct $120 from the usual price.

Formulas based on time and materials

Some artists like to use a formula based on their hard costs and time spent. While I agree that both time and materials need to be considered when pricing artwork I don’t find that this method suits me but it is still worthy of discussion.

Let’s say you figure $100 in materials and you have spent 25 hours and have decided that the value of each hour spent is $25. That would work out to be $725 (25 x 25 + 100 = 725) for the work of art. Framing costs would be included in the materials and possibly even in time.

As artists, we are all familiar with the standard questions we get from people asking about how many hours it takes to make our work. Heck, I occasionally get those questions from other artists. I don’t deny that time and materials should be considerations. After all, some artists complete a canvas in a few hours while others spend days, weeks, or even months on a single work. Material costs can also vary greatly from artist to artist.

I don’t keep close tabs on time spent so I only have vague notions about how much time may have gone into a particular piece. As I previously mentioned, some pieces resolve themselves more quickly than others. I personally prefer to have time and material considerations figured into the formula by having it reflected in the dollar multiplier that I use in my formula (width x height x $ amount). Once demand grows for you work you can adjust your formula higher to reflect that. Either way, you need a method to determine costs that is going to work for you. It should be easy to figure out and yield results that make you and your adoring fans comfortable.

Direct sales versus retail

It’s important to note that there should be consistency in the final price of your work regardless of whether you are selling it out of your studio or through a personal website versus a bricks and mortar or online gallery. Galleries, both brick and mortar as well as online take commissions which really cut into the proceeds. Brick and mortar galleries in particular don’t like it when you are selling work out of your studio or through your personal website for less than they are selling your work. Galleries take hefty commissions (50%) and that stings. It’s tempting to offer direct sales at a discount but that can really spoil your relationship with a bricks and mortar gallery.

-L/C

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Help me, I’m trapped somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd dimension.

I’ve started to make things in what I like to call ‘2.5 D’. Sometimes I take a picture that is already painted, cut it apart and then reconstruct it in various levels.

I’ve attached a quick video that demonstrates the cutting and another for the rebuilding.

Other times I begin with the drawing on board, cut out and around the shapes using a scroll saw. After that I paint the images on the separate parts, and then build the final piece. This is definitely the least scary of the two options. Either way the final effect is pretty much the same.

Anyway, that’s it for today. It may be the shortest blog post ever but it came with pictures so I must get points for that, right? – L/C

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Tim Hortons Holds Canada Together

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I drove from Calgary, Alberta to Knowlton, Quebec. It’s a long way geographically as well as culturally. One province feels completely isolated and hard done by and the other is Quebec, but I digress. The journey presents an opportunity to empty one’s mind but maintain enough focus so as to keep the wheels between the lines. For the record, it’s a drive we’ve done before and one that I don’t mind doing ­– just not too often.

We currently have houses in both places but hopefully not for much longer. Prior to leaving on our journey we had a few weeks of intensive fix-up and clean-up to do. Our Calgary house is for sale and our intention is to be in Knowlton full time. Fingers crossed.

The SUV was packed tight and deep with all manner of stuff. I had a bunch of new paintings that were mostly unframed and a couple of boxes containing 4 new silkscreen print editions. There was also a circular saw and various other tools intended for various projects in and around the Knowlton house. We also had clothes and shoes and a cooler and pots and pans and on and on and so forth. Lots and lots of stuff that took up the entire back of the car with the back seats folded down.

The silkscreen prints were done in advance of the 2020 Tour Des Arts. That event was also impetus for getting new paintings done. Of course, because of COVID 19 the tour has been cancelled for this year but something in me felt the need to proceed as though it is still happening. It was a case of bringing it all or sticking it into storage back in Calgary. Also, I hold hope that some us will still be able to put together some kind of show in lieu of the tour. We shall see.

Driving Cross Country During a Pandemic

Yes, we drove across a goodly portion of the country during a pandemic. While I realize this may not ingratiate us to many, I can assure everyone that precautions were taken seriously. During the rare times we left the car, we wore masks. Motels were not a problem and each seemed glad to see us. Rates were definitely lower than what is typical. CAA card also came in handy for discounts. Staff seemed to be very cautious of sanitation and cleanliness. Front desks were protected by plastic barriers, etc.

Tim Hortons We Salute You

I take this opportunity to give a special shout-out to this pre-eminent Canadian institution. Of the many franchises dotting the route, all but one location we stopped at had open bathroom facilities. Coffee, lunch, and bathroom breaks all happened at Tim Hortons. Timbits are also an excellent amuse bouche on a long drive. Tim Hortons holds this country together in good times and bad.

Loving and Leaving Alberta

This is the part of the trip that seems easiest. After the final check and packing is done you head off on the adventure with a sense of relief that you are finally on your way. Heading east of Calgary offers little in the way of anything to look at other than bald ass prairie. Occasionally, I would search the landscape for a suitable tree from which to hang myself were I to ever find myself domiciled in these parts. I never found one.

The Province That’s Easy to Draw

Saskatchewan is mostly, although not entirely, flat and an easy drive. It has a few gently rolling parts to occasionally relieve the monotony but requires little real effort in terms of driving. In fact, half asleep is not a bad way to do it. I’m pretty sure that I drove most of it with the little finger of my left hand while the car was set to cruise control. They call it ‘Land of the living skies’ by default. It’s a good part of the drive to let your thoughts wander where they may.

Manitoba

Brandon was our first stop and we took up in a Super8 just barely off the highway. Manitoba has terrible highway and road conditions. Bumpy, rutty, and generally terrible.

Ontariariario

The one thing I know for sure is that Ontario is very long indeed and the most taxing part to drive. The Trans-Canada, as it is called, is really a bunch of cobbled together secondary highways once you get into Northern Ontario. Highway 17, which you are on for a good part of the way is mostly two lanes with intermittent sections with passing lanes. These are helpful for sure and likely prevent a lot of accidents. The route tends to be very twisty-turny so the driving required in Northern Ontario is far more active than say Saskatchewan is. We budgeted and spent two days to get through Ontario in order to avoid driving at night. Best not to hit a moose.

There are some very beautiful parts of the drive through Ontario. The fact that we took two days allowed us to stop occasionally and breathe some of it in. Big stretches of Northern Ontario have very little in the way of services like gas and lodging, so you need a bit of a strategy.

We went into Thunder Bay to stay the first night. The city itself is a little off of the Trans-Canada but it is surprisingly beautiful and vey well-kept. We stayed in a funky hotel that had previously been the courthouse. Funnily enough there were 3 cars (out of a total of 10) in the parking lot that had Alberta plates. Apparently, we were not the only Albertans defying recommendations not to travel. In the morning we took the short trip down to the waterfront and recharged a little before resuming our big drive. From there, we were on to our next big stop in Sault-Ste-Marie.

By the ‘Soo’ we were starting to get a little crusty. By this point your mindset is bordering on a dream-state so you have to keep your wits. Ontario was not finished with us yet and we were determined to get this done and be in Knowlton by day’s end. We made a brief stop in Ottawa to have a socially-distanced visit with our daughter on the front steps of her place. Gas, coffee, Timbits, and off we headed to our final destination which at this stage was 2.5 hours away.

We did finally arrive in Knowlton late in the evening while it was still light enough for us to glimpse the yard-work and general clean-up that was in store. The general condition of the house and yard is much improved but by no means are we finished. I haven’t had the time or energy leftover to do any painting. It’s hot and humid here right now. Hopefully I can get to that point next week. Everything is a journey, right?

In closing I just want to say that I haven’t had a Timbit since getting here. However, there is a Tim Hortons within about 2 kilometers. It’s still too soon, but one day. You see, it really is the glue. – L/C

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Should you date your artwork?

It’s a matter of personal preference and choice, of course. I do sign my work but prefer not to put a date on it. I feel as though it is somehow limiting to the work and to myself as an artist. Perhaps it is completely irrational to think this way but we are talking about art here.

Yes, a date on artwork indicates the year in which it was completed. Perhaps ‘completed’ is the key word here. I suppose that for some artists it is a declaration to themselves and others that the work they are putting a date on (and presumably signing) is now finished. The creator may have even worked on this particular piece over multiple years and at this pivotal moment, the process has definitively and finally concluded.

Past its best-before date
It’s how other people may perceive the date on a piece of art that worries me. It can feel like a best before date on a tub of sour cream. It’s no longer desirable of fit for human consumption. It’s been abandoned at the back of the refrigerator (possibly next to a jar of heritage cocktail onions) for far too long. Metaphorically speaking, it has gone off.

I always imagine someone looking at a piece of work for sale in a gallery and seeing a date that is a few or even several years in the past. Maybe it would make them see it as some kind of unwanted leftover and therefor think less of it. ‘After all this time is still hasn’t sold,’ they muse, ‘why should I want it?’ They may otherwise really love it and be interested in purchasing it but the date can sow seeds of doubt. Should it really matter that the paint is still fresh?

Experience has taught me that for most people, purchasing art is an impulse buy. Their rational selves are trying really hard to convince their irrational selves not do this. Why give them another reason to talk themselves out of it?

I have few doubts that a good argument to the contrary could be made – just not by me. Some may see it as an important part of the archiving process or as a means to track the progression of their work. It’s all good.

You should catalogue your art

Everyone says you should and that it is the professional thing to do. I can’t argue with that and I can argue with most things. After all, it’s helpful to the people you leave behind after you kick the bucket and your work is actually worth something. Seriously though, keeping track of my work has never been a strong suit but I now see it as a priority.

Cataloguing your work is a great way to keep track of many more pertinent details than just date-of-completion. In fact, this blog post has given me the push that I needed to get finally get around to doing my own. Recording dimensions, materials used (media), if it’s been sold, and to whom is a good start. A brief description that includes any relevant information is also good. A picture is key.

Some out there suggest using a program like excel and assigning what a number to everything. There are few things that I like less than a spreadsheet so this idea holds no appeal for me. Also, wouldn’t you have to have a separate visual record that is numbered to match the one in the spreadsheet?

I am using Adobe InDesign, a page layout program that I am very familiar with. This way I can have a photograph for each with a corresponding block of text with as much information as I need. I can easily add as many pages as I need and the document can be updated and expanded on an ongoing basis.

This way, the fact that I prefer not to date a specific work is compensated for by having a permanent record that includes the necessary details for each work but also my entire output. Of course, whether you decide to date your work or not is up to.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. – L/C

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How do I photograph artwork?

Here are the basics that I will expand upon further.
• Use a tripod.
• Use a digital camera with manual settings.
• Line up the middle of your camera with the middle of the piece you are shooting.
• Make sure that the amount of light is even across the artwork.
• The area behind the camera should be dark to avoid reflection.
• Shoot inside with photo lights if you can
• Do it on an overcast day if shooting outside
• Remember to take some close-ups along with the wide shots.

Specifically, I am referring to photographing two-dimensional artwork. Most of my art is rectangular so, for the purposes of discussion, I will stick with that. If the format of the artwork is an unconventional (non-rectangular) shape, the same principles still apply but may not be quite as critical. Rectangular artwork is especially tricky because of distortion caused either by the lens or the relative positions of the lens and subject. If your setup is wrong you will end up with slightly wonky shapes and that can be really frustrating.

How Do I position the Camera?
For best results, the camera needs be on a tripod. The tripod not only keeps the camera rock-steady, it maintains the same position. You’ll also need a tape measure and maybe even a plum-bob if you like. It’s virtually impossible to get a good result doing hand held photography. The middle of the lens has to be in line (or as close as possible) with the middle of the artwork that you are photographing. This is true both horizontally and vertically. For example, if the middle of the painting is 4 feet off the floor then so too does the middle of your camera lens. You really need a tape measure to achieve this. Being precise with your set up is the only way to avoid distortion in your images.

Getting everything lined up horizontally is another key part of the equation. It can be little tricky but I would recommend finding the horizontal middle of the art and aligning it with a line or seam in a hardwood or tiled floor. This is where the plumb-bob can be helpful. If not, a pen at the end of a string also works. Then you can line up the camera to the line on the floor.

I always have a roll of masking tape and a Sharpy handy so that I can use to make temporary marks on the wall or floor.

The camera needs to be perpendicular to the surface of the artwork. This can be made easier by the use of a spirit level. Otherwise, you can do it with a careful eye and some trial and error. I definitely prefer having a vertical wall or an easel that is set completely upright. It’s just easier to match two straight up-and-down planes than it is to match two odd angles.

It’s worth noting that the degree of difficulty in avoiding distortion and thereby ending up with wonky (skewed) shapes increases with size. So larger pieces make careful setup even more essential to success.

Use a Camera with Manual Settings
I won’t go into really technical detail about exposures here but the problem with shooting on automatic means that the camera is left to do a lot of guess work. There are many factors that can throw it off.  For example, the lightness or darkness of the artwork can hamper the camera’s ability to make an accurate white balance reading. The colour balance can really get out of whack and that is a problem when photographing art.

A camera with manual settings allows you to ‘bracket’ your exposures. Bracketing simply means taking multiple shots with different camera settings. I use the preview on the back of my camera to tell me when my exposure settings (aperture and shutter speed combination) are about right. I know from experience the image on my preview tends to be a little deceiving so I take that into account. Once I am happy enough with what I am seeing in the preview, I take two more shots with different exposure combinations. I prefer to keep the same aperture setting and vary the shutter speed. I take one shot with a shutter speed that is one setting faster and another that is one setting slower. Keeping a constant shutter speed and varying the aperture setting will also work.

One more thing – if your camera has the capability, shoot in RAW mode. This way you have the most range to adjust things like exposure, colour balance, and contrast after the fact.

How Do I Light Artwork?
You basically have the options of shooting indoors with artificial light or outdoors with natural light. Some people suggest a combination whereby you shoot the art work on a wall that is beside a window that is letting light in. In my opinion, this is just plain wrong. There is no way that you can get an even amount of light across the surface of the piece that you are shooting. This is essential to capturing an accurate record of the artwork. In other words, you have to have the same amount of light hitting the entire surface, top to bottom and side to side. Fudging things in photo-manipulation software after the fact will not be able to solve this. But I digress.

Shooting with Artificial Light
You need two photo lights that are set at a 45-degree angle to the subject. They need to be an equal distance from the art and also aimed at the middle of the painting. My paintings tend to have a glossy surface so getting this right is particularly critical. Otherwise you can easily end up with hot spots on the image caused by the surface reflecting the light back at the lens.

I have a pair that I bought on Amazon. Each is a soft-box on stand that holds 4 led bulbs and have two intensity settings, full and half. I forget how much I paid but it wasn’t a lot. They aren’t professional grade by any means but they do the job well enough. The bulbs I put in them are LED balanced to simulate ‘daylight.’ LED bulbs create very little heat and use minimal energy so are a great option. You can leave them on a long time without worrying.

You need to eliminate any extraneous light sources. Obviously, shooting after dark will take care of any light coming in from a window. Just turn off all other sources of light in the room and you should be all set. Control is key and you really don’t want to mix natural light and artificial lights because your camera settings will only work for one or the other.

Whether shooting indoors or out you don’t want to have any source of light coming from behind the camera. You can avoid a lot of pesky reflections this way.

Using Natural Light
You can also shoot artwork out-of-doors using natural light. This certainly eliminates the work involved in setting up your lighting but it can present some other complicating factors like wind, rain, and changes in the amount of light available from one moment to the next. I also find that setting up the artwork or even finding a good place to do that makes it more difficult than in a controlled studio or interior setting, which is generally my preference. However, shooting outdoors can be a great choice if the conditions are right. AVOID SHOOTING IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT. It is virtually impossible to avoid hot spots of reflected light. Shooting in shade or much better yet, overcast but bright conditions will yield much better results. The light is much more even, and diffuse in overcast conditions. This makes it much easier to have even lighting across the surface of the two-dimensional artwork. You can still get variation of light intensity from one side of the artwork to the other. I find it a good idea to have the work facing toward the brightest part of the sky.

It’s Time for Your Close-up
Once you have your wide shots done I strongly suggest taking some detail shots of the artwork. You’ve got your lighting all set up and your camera at the ready so why not take some close-up shots that can show details and what the surface or texture is like. I take the camera off of the tripod for this and do it hand-held rather than zooming in. You get better image quality this way. These close-up shots are particularly valuable when posting your artwork online. Sites like saatchiart.com and Etsy.com typically require that you have detail shots in addition to the main shot of the artwork. After all, showing or seeing online comes with a few disadvantages when compared to an in-person gallery situation. This is one way to help overcome that.

Wrap-up
Photographing artwork can be challenging but it is possible to do it yourself and get good results. I hope what I have written here will be a help to some of you. Bye for now. – L/C