I very rarely, if ever, tell people that I am a visual artist. When asked, I usually offer a vague description of what I do for a living. It’s weird too, because I usually regret not mentioning that I am an artist right after making an acquaintance. If nothing else, it’s the loss of a networking opportunity because you never know what that person’s interests might be and it might lead to somewhere interesting.
For a while, I would say ‘I do a few things’ whenever people asked what I did for a living. And it is true, art is not what I do for a living. It’s almost the opposite of that – definitely more money out than in, but that’s my choice. It’s what I do for fun. Maybe that’s the crux of it – it only matters if you make money at it, and preferably lots.
‘What do I do for a living’, you ask. ‘I do a few things’, I say.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t rehearsed what to say or how to say it. I also might be avoiding the inevitable questions about what kind of art I do and having to explain that. I think the best explanation I’ve ever come up with is ‘nothing that will match your couch’.
I may even think that my making art is evidence of a character flaw. I do believe that, for me, making art is a compulsive behaviour. I admit to feeling a little guilty because there are so many other things that I should be doing. You know – adulting things. I have to feel caught-up with the rest of my life commitments before I can give myself permission. It’s messed up but, guilt or no guilt, it keeps happening. – L/C
They are disarmingly adorable and of course you fall in love with them. You are powerless in the thrall of their adorability. You’ve fallen into a quicksand of cuteness and it’s a good thing that they are so cute. Like babies, they were no doubt made that way for a reason. By the time you realize the truth, it’s way too late. You are done for.
The pile of puppies
The first time we ever laid eyes on Ollie and his 11 siblings they were all just a writhing mass of fur, brown eyes, and squish. Memory suggests that they were around the four-week mark, give or take. Very fresh and cute. Anyway, we were just there for a preview. They varied in colour from white to toffee and each had a different colour ribbon around its neck to identify it. All but five of the litter of 12 were already reserved. It was a self-evident truth that we would be taking that number down to four before leaving. Somehow a little beastie with a turquoise ribbon was placed in my son’s hands and that was the extent of the selection process.
My wife and I spent the first couple of weeks taking turns spending nights on the couch. This point, Olli resembled a potato with legs. Unlike a potato though, he had very limited bladder control. He would wake and need to be promptly gathered in one’s arms and taken outside. The available window of time was narrow so you had to be on your toes. Otherwise, relief would be taken on some patch of carpet or other. For that reason, the quality of sleep that we got on the couch was fitful at best. After about a week and a half of sleep deprivation I realized that I was basically wandering around in an impaired state.
Doing the math
Beyond taking care of number 1 there was also number two. There seemed to be a constant tally of when and how often. Each deposit that occurred outside of the house was considered an achievement to be celebrated. Keeping track of Ollie’s bodily excretions became the focus that we had obviously and so desperately needed in our lives.
We were motivated to get the dog into a crate and he took to it surprisingly quickly. With Ollie in his crate we were able to return to the bedroom and enjoy some solid, although somewhat abbreviated, sleep. Our days tended to start around 4:30 or 5 am but it was still a lifesaver. We quickly began to alter our nighttime routine and started going to bed early. We began to feel like functioning humans again.
Stomach on legs
Ollie will get into everything and by ‘get into’, I mean eat. He likes to chew paper, plastic, leather, nylon, lumber, sticks, rocks, and asphalt. This is only a partial list but you get the idea.
We have been cautioned by amateurs and professionals alike about the perils of obstructions in the digestive system and the surgeries that often follow. We do try to discourage it, typically through distraction or offering more appetizing alternatives like treats. At some point in the day though, it becomes too tiring and we just give up.
He is joy and frustration all rolled into one mischievous but very handsome package. He is still a very busy little guy and the centre of our time and attention. Young labs have energy to burn and burned it must be. Walks amuse them and give them opportunity to send and receive pee-mail but ultimately do not wear them out.
Ollie is almost 10 months old now. He has completely lost interest in sleeping in his crate and we just as quickly lost the will to enforce the rule. He sleeps at the bottom of our bed but please don’t judge us. The good news is that he sleeps like a teenager so everyone is well rested.
It is still difficult to find 5 minutes in a row and we still find ourslelves working around the dog’s schedule. You do things when the puppy is sleeping. Or you choose to put the puppy in doggy day care so you can have a sustained block of time to tackle chores. Certainly, there is little time or energy left to devote to writing blog posts.
There it is – I’ve blamed the dog for my inability to launch a blog post so my work is done.
Let’s start with the low hanging fruit. Defining what qualifies as a reproduction is pretty straightforward. There is an original and from that there are replicas. You start with an original painting. It is photographed and then printed using a technology called 4-colour lithography. When you look closely, you can see the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots that combine to form the image. I’m oversimplifying the process here but you get the idea. It’s the same way that most everything in the commercial world, like magazines, and posters etc. are printed. In the end you’ve got a photographic reproduction of an original artwork.
There is much confusion surrounding the concept of an original print and the difference between that and a reproduction. When people come and see my work they see mostly paintings but also several editions of silkscreen prints. I often find myself having to explain that the prints are not a reproduction of an original. It strikes me as particularly odd given that silkscreen printing is one of the least likely methods that one would use to reproduce an image with any kind of fidelity.
The pervasive use of the word ‘print’ doesn’t help.
Many popular artists in the 1980s started to market ‘limited edition reproductions’ of their work. I particularly recall Robert Bateman, a very commercially successful wildlife artist in Canada who did just that. Each print was indeed signed and numbered. The editions were very large, often in the hundreds and even over the 1,000 mark. The editions were so large in number that it was frankly misleading to refer to them as limited at all. Artists like Bateman, and there were many, made loads of money for themselves and their dealers.
To confuse the buying public even more, the images were printed on top quality, archival (acid-free) paper – the same sort of paper that a legitimate artist/print-maker would use. That is where the similarity ended. The printing was done on large, industrial grade printing presses. These were really high-quality reproductions but reproductions nonetheless. This practice, more than anything else, did huge harm to the market for original, limited edition prints.
Also, online art sites like Saatchionline.com sell digital prints that are reproductions of artists’ work. To the best of my knowledge there is no limit to the quantity they might produce of any given image. That sort of ‘print’ is a reproduction of an original and completely different than an original print that is part of a signed and numbered limited edition. ‘Giclee’ refers to a kind of inkjet digital reproduction. I don’t know much about them except that a lot of artists are using them to make money. These are really just a poster. They may be nice to look at but they have no intrinsic value.
How can a print be an original?
I recently reached out to the folks at Open Studio in Toronto to get their take on how to explain it all. Open Studio is an awesome place where artists can access printmaking equipment and workspace to make original prints. We’re talking about printing techniques like lithography, intaglio (e.g. etching), woodcut, and serigraphy as well as a few others. They also offer classes and workshops to artists and school groups. That’s not all they do but you get the picture. Anyway, they were nice enough to offer me their explanation:
“An original print is an image that has been conceived by the artist as a print and executed solely as a print, usually in a numbered edition, and signed by the artist. Each print in the edition is an original, printed from a plate, stone, screen, block or other matrix created for that purpose.”
It may be difficult for people to get their head around the idea of a print actually being an original. Essentially the original exists in multiple and that’s a little confusing, especially for the uninitiated. After all, there are usually a number of pretty much identical pieces of art on paper. That is what is called an ‘edition’.
I suppose this means I have to briefly try and explain what the term ‘edition’ refers to. For the sake of discussion, let’s say there are a hundred identical impressions. Each one will be numbered sequentially (in this case 1/100 – 100/100), and signed. The total number in the set is 100. That’s the edition.
I like to make editions of silkscreen prints. There may be 50 or so in the edition and each would be pretty much identical to the others. Unlike commercial/industrial printing methods using machines, there are minor inconsistencies in any hand-done printing methods. After all, I’m using my two hands and as much as I try for consistency and precision, I am no machine.
Each colour is a separate printing. I typically do 2 colours because it suits the kind of images I like to make. I do a base colour printing and then follow that up with a black printing. The sheets of paper are hung separately and have to dry after each colour is applied.
It’s not all about the money, but it’s not, not about the money.
Selling limited edition prints can be a good way for artists to make their work more available to a wider audience. It’s a volume thing. Because they exist in multiple they are a much more economical option for purchase. A painting by any particular artist might be for sale for thousands and out of reach for many people. However, a limited-edition print by the same artist could be had for much, much less. It’s way easier for most people (to rationalize) a purchase decision to shell out a few bucks for a print instead of the bigger ticket items. Obviously, you have to sell many to make it financially worthwhile but it is often easier to sell a lot of prints versus a single painting. I sell most of my serigraphs for $75 and the number of multiples in each edition is relatively small, usually 50 – 75.
It’s also nice that people who like your work but aren’t in a position to spend a lot can walk away with a piece. It’s also a great way for people to start collecting quality, original work on a budget.
Anyway, I hope that I’ve made your understanding of this better and not worse. Thanks for reading. – L/C
Acknowledgment: Open Studio — one of Canada’s leading contemporary printmaking centres—offers affordable printmaking facilities for artists, and exhibitions, education programs and artwork sales for the general public.’
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.
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