Archive for May, 2008

Pricing Your Artwork Part 1

Undaunted recently asked me a great question concerning my Best Selling Image post. “Why did I continue to raise my price on the Natural Grace painting, when people showed an interest, but did not actually commit to buying it.”

In truth, I responded to a gut reaction that said, that is what I should do. Many of my business (and personal) decisions are made with a combination of logic and overall gut feeling. I have had many years of artwork selling experience which have developed my instincts.

Soul Mates - Clouded Leopards - click for larger image
Soul Mates
Water soluble pencil 18 x 24
Copyright by Mona Majorowicz

However, since gut reaction is notoriously hard to quantify, I will try to elaborate a bit more on pricing on the whole for todays post. Followed by a more thorough answer to Undaunted’s question in the next post. And as is my way, this has turned into a 3 parter. The last post will be an overview of post 1 & 2, plus a few little extra bits thrown in.

Starting From Scratch.
I don’t know of any one effective way to price artwork that will work for everyone. Some people do it by square inches, others do it by hours used to create the work. There are loads of elaborate plans out there for pricing artwork. (Like: take the square inches of the painting times how many hours you worked add Your hourly wage subtract your meals then times it by infinity) Frankly this seems all wrong to me. You are not being paid a wage for hours worked, you are being paid for your vision. Your paintings may or may not exceed what you think your time is worth per hour.

Personally I suggest if you are starting out and unsure of where to begin with your pricing, you should go to galleries and artfairs, in the area you will be selling your work. Look for similar work that is in your style and skill level. See what they are charging and then price your work a little lower. Presumably, they have earned whatever pricing structure that they currently fall into. If the work you are creating is flying out the doors at that price, then raise it slowly. You can always increase your prices, but reducing them after you have begun selling can kill a career.

My rule of thumb tends to be, if work is selling faster than I create it, I need to raise the prices. If you have a basement (or closet, spare room, garage, tool shed, doghouse etc.) full of artwork and nothing is moving, you need to reconsider your pricing strategy.

The Hard Cruel Truth
Art is often priced based on perceived value. Meaning it is set using various arbitrary factors like skill, what the market is paying, notoriety of the artist, medium it was created in.

So when you are out price comparison shopping, you also need to consider the medium you are creating in. The hard cruel truth is, work of equal skill has different perceived value based on the medium in which it is created.

The structure is like this:
Color work trumps (is worth more) than B&W.
Watercolor trumps pencil work.
Work on canvas trumps work on paper
Oil trumps acrylic.

This is a generalization of course. A pencil sketch by Bev Doolittle is worth far more than an oil painting done by your neighbor. This rule only applies, when all other things are equal.

So if you’re flexible in your media, and you want to earn more per image, paint in oil. Sad but true.

Personal Note
Both my water soluble pencil pieces and my oil pastel pieces tend to sell for about the same amount, within my price structure. However one of the things I really like about the oil pastels is, because of the way that I work them (and frame them,) they look very much like an oil painting. This dramatically helps in their perceived value. People are really drawn to the look of an oil painting. I do clearly label what media they are, and often discuss it with the patrons. But I believe, it is the look that really helps to pull them in.

A Final Thought on Pricing
When you are running the numbers be sure to factor in whether you will be selling through a third party, like a gallery. They will want anywhere from 30-60%. I would advise that you keep your pricing the same whether it be through a gallery, an art fair or out of your home. You should do this for two reasons.

1. Keep your gallery happy. Be good to your gallery, they are taking a chance on you by carrying your work. They deserve to not be undercut in pricing by selling it cheaper elsewhere.

2. Keep your collectors happy. If someone paid X amount over here, but then later discovers had they bought it from you over there, it would have been less. They will feel cheated. That is soooo not good for building a collector base.

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More Kittens Pics

I was asked an excellent question by Undaunted concerning the reasoning behind raising the price of my Natural Grace painting despite the fact that though there was interest in it, it wasn’t selling. I began working on a post to answer that more fully and as usual it spun out of control. So tomorrow (hopefully) I will post the answer and comment on pricing in general.

But for today you must be contented with some cute kitten photos. They have gotten to that little drunkard stage where they have to concentrate hard on not falling over. I love this stage. I can pick them up and cuddle them and they just look back at me with their huge blue eyes and blink. In a few more weeks though, they are going to be gnawing on my ankles and climbing me like a tree.

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Snow Leopard on Handmade Paper

Well here it is finally. I plan to tweak it just a bit. I’ll probably fluff out the edging fur to look a little softer. I’m not sure how I am going to frame it, or if I even am. I am not all that thrilled with this one. I may just stick it in a box for the time being. Once again in order to cut down on scan time I did it in one scan, instead of two, (which would have shown the deckling and made it look so much prettier.)

I am pondering what to do next. Connie sent a fresh box of handmade paper (to replace the stuff that was too soft.) So the possibilitites are endless. I am thinking lillypads of somesort, maybe with a koi? I may also try my lambs again. The nice thing about these little paintings are, I can just do something on a whim.

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Since we have been talking about creating art that people connect with enough to spend money on. I thought I would share with you my best selling image. Natural Grace has been my highest grossing image in print for the past couple of years.

Natural Grace - Friesian Horse - click for larger image
Natural Grace
Oil Pastel 10 x 30
Copyright by
Mona Majorowicz

Who Knew?
Truth is, it’s not great art. Oil Pastels were still a very new medium to me when I created this piece. I was just kinda playing around and I didn’t try particularly hard with it. I seriously thought of tossing the painting when I was done. My husband had to talk me into making prints of it. (Actually we debated for weeks and he finally just went ahead and did it. Hooray for Mike, that he could see what I could not.)

I started the original at the bargain basement pricing of around $500 and took it, and a couple of prints to an event. People loved it, (or they made horses ass jokes.) I sold several prints and had a few serious lookers at the original. I raised the original painting to $650. Another event more prints sales, more serious lookers at the original. I raised it to $850. This went on for half a season, raising the price to match the interest of the public. I won’t say what it finally sold for, but I am so grateful I didn’t toss the painting. The prints continue to do well. When I create 5-10 more images that do as well, I will be a very happy woman.

The 80/20 Rule.
Often 80% of your sales will be coming from 20% of your work. If you want to increase your sales you need to look at what sells and then do more of it. I’m not saying you need to make duplicates but if you take a gander at the wealthiest print artists in america today (like Thomas Kinkade, Terry Redlin or P. Buckley Moss) you’ll notice that they have one similar painting after another. They have figured out what sells, branded it (meaning just their name alone will trigger an image in your minds eye of what they paint.) and keep producing more. They get a lot of heckling for it, mostly by other artists. But I would think being multi-millionaires really takes the sting out of any bitter remarks.

For myself, I estimate that 7-10 of my prints are making the vast bulk of my print income. While the other 25 images or so sell just enough to keep them in print. I regularly look them over to see what the popular ones have in common.

As a side note.
I have a very dear artist friend, who is quite a good equestrian artist. She has a strong dislike of the Natural Grace image. So for a while after every event when it did well, I would poke her and say “I sold $ of Natural Grace this weekend”. Her usual response was “People have no taste.” I find this hugely funny. Makes me smile still, to think about it. Had anyone else said such a harsh thing to me, I most likely would have felt a little offended, (it takes a lot to hurt my feelings these days) but since it was her, I just find it funny.

I tell this to illustrate my point that even though she is knowledgable about both horses and art, she also would never have guessed Natural Grace would be such a stellar selling image. Friends, artists and collegues are not always right.

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Why People Buy Art

I want to preface this by saying this post is about selling art. If you are looking to improve yourself technically as an artist, that is a different path. For selling art, the buyer (whether it be patron, gallery, or publisher) sets the rules, not professors or friends. Give them what they want (within the paramaters of what you do) and the path to sucess will be so much easier.

Serenity - Paint Horse Foal - click for larger image
Oil Pastel 15 x 11
Copyright by Mona Majorowicz

It matches my couch.
There are of course many reasons people buy art, ranging from collectors (of art in general or of something specific like flamingos) to . . . because it matches their couch. They may have a space above their toilet that needs a picture. Not a glamorous thought to think your painting may be destined for just such a spot, but that is the nature of things. If you are creating art to sell, you need to get over it. People buy art to live with.

Perhaps the more appropriate question is not why people buy art. But what motivates them to buy the art that they do. The main reason people will plunk down their hard earned money for a piece of art is because . . . they connect with it on an emotional level. (Not very profound I realize, but it’s the truth.) Whether it is destined for a corporate office or above the toilet, the art has to speak to them in some way. So then the big question becomes . . .

How do you create art that will connect with people emotionally?” I know what your thinking, “Mona, everyone is different. Everyone has different experiences and different things that trigger them emotionally.” True. Look at this as a good thing. This is what allows the variety in styles, media, subjects and genre to all be marketable. So rather than trying to appeal to everyone, first and foremost you need to create art that you are passionate about. Paint what you know and love. The emotion and authenticity comes through in your work and people will feel it.

My example of this is: I get told over and over that my horses are wonderful. They tell me how rare it is to find someone who does horses well. The truth is some of my horses are flawed. Some have conformational issues you probably would not want on a horse you would actually purchase. This is something I work hard to correct. (Technical correctness is important to me. I study anatomy and horses in motion) But since I actually draw them out, it is what it is. I believe what people are reacting to, is that my horse painting have “soul.” You feel like that animal exists somewhere. You look at it, it is looking back at you. That is my love and passion for my subject matter coming through the work. It is the same reason I will never paint someones child. There will never be any passion for the subject and therefore even if the painting is technically correct, it will still be lacking, even if it is only on a subconscious level.

So to wrap this up, if you are looking to sell your art, you need to create authentic art that people will connect with emotionally. You need to paint what you are passionate about and in your own voice (style is a complex enough subject it would need it’s own post) Once you do this, then you need to listen to what buyers (more than friends, family or colleagues) are saying about your work. And more importantly pay attention to what is actually selling.

Tomorrows post will be about my best selling image in print. It is a great example of art connecting with people that I would never have anticipated.

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Be Fearless

In terms of marketing your art successfully you do need all of the traits listed in the previous post 6 Traits to be Successful in the Art Market. If you add “lack of” to any of the 6 traits you will struggle to acheive success. Lack of Confidence. . . Lack of Drive . . . Lacking the ability to be alone. (Ummm you get the idea.) Of all of these things though, fear is the most dibilitating issue that artists face. It can be immobolizing and cause stagnation. I could have added Fearlessness as triat #7 but it is such a major player, I thought it deserved it’s own post.

Everyone has fear issues.
Fear of acceptance like will I get accepted into that show, or will the buyers be interested in what I do.

Fear of failure is when you are waiting for things to be perfect. Your skill level to increase, the right timing. Fear of failure causes you not to act at all. And the only way you will become successful at art is through action. Whether it be creating it or selling it.

Fear of the unknown, like how will my life change if I decide to go professional. Will I still have time to do the things I love.

But in order to be successful in the art market (as well as in anything else) you must push past it. Many starving artists become starving artists because they are allowing fear to hinder their progress.

In truth I don’t have the answer to handling your fear issues. (I think that is probably in the realm of a shrink) But I do know what worked for me was just doing it.

Sometimes I play the Whats the Worst That Can Happen game. What’s the worst that can happen if I screw up this painting, Hmmm. Well . . I toss it and have lost a few hours of my life. If I posted it on my blog, then the world has seen that I don’t always create wonderful art. Hmmm. Not such a travesty. I mean it’s not like I’ll come down with malaria and die or something. So I move forward. Always keep moving forward. Stagnation will kill a career.

I’ve included the Art & Fear book in this post because I do actually have it in my library. My art group was reading it a few years back and most of them found it very helpful. I found it interesting, but at this stage of the game I have worked through a great many of my fear issues. (I did this by doing by the way) I still have some fears, don’t misunderstand me. But the more I work the art thing the fewer and more infrequent they become.

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For those of you considering turning your art hobby into a successful art business here are a few of the traits that will best equip you to do so.

1. Drive (also known as motivation, determination, perseverance and tenacity) I am tenacious. I keep going no matter what. You need to be able to let things like rejection, rude comments, or occasional slow sales, not deter you from your goal. I do what it takes to get the job done.

Drive is what keeps you at it even when you work full time, have kids, and have a busy life. There is always time. Now I am not saying spend time in the business over time with your family. But the truth is, all gathered round watching TV is not exactly quality time. Before we moved to Iowa I had worked a couple of jobs and had 2 Sundays off a month, I still created, (though at the time my art was barely a hobby) often late into the evening hours. Without drive, your success may well be limited.

2. Focus In my opinion the thing that has saved my art business, while I have watched gallery after gallery close in my area, was the fact that Wild Faces Gallery is diversified. I don’t rely on only one source for sales. What this means however, is I have to juggle dozens of jobs all the time. The only way I can keep from going crazy is to maintain focus. Not only focus on the future goals but also focus on my daily and weekly goals.

3. Personable Good people skills are essential. I consider myself anti-social by nature. I would be ever so happy if I could hide away in a mountain cottage somewhere with a few horses, a pack of dogs, a few miscellaneous critters and a shotgun. (yes, my husband is also welcome on this fantasy hill top, but I just thought, that went without saying. But then I thought, maybe it didn’t) But if you actually want to sell art, you actually need to talk to people.

I am not a big fan of the hard sell approach, you know the used car salesman kinda thing (though that is a successful technique for many) I tend to greet them and just make myself available. If they seem interested, I generally ask a few questions about them (everyones favorite subject is themselves.) The good thing for me is that most of the people that are attracted to my work are generally animal people, which makes having a conversation easy. Plus I am genuinely interested and not feigning my attention. I know that sounds rude, but after you speak with hundreds of people in an afternoon, it can get tempting to fake it.

4. Being Comfortable in Solitude This sounds kinda of the opposite of #3 but if you plan to make your hobby your business you are going to be spending quite a bit of alone time. Most artists are solitary by nature. The act of creation is often a private affair.

5. Honesty I don’t mean honesty with your customer, of course that is important. In this instance, I mean honesty with yourself, your capabilities both mentally and physically. Also honesty with your business. You need to have the ability to take a good hard look at the numbers.

For example: Lets say I do an artfair and I made X dollars. I need to factor in ALL my costs, like hotel, gas, food, booth fee, jury fee and cost of good sold. And if I’m feeling very brave (or on the fence about returning to an event) I may also look at time lost creating in the gallery.

6. Confidence or at least the ability to fake it. In order to effectively sell what you do, you do need to have a certain amount of confidence. Most people (including patrons, galleries, and publishers) want to feel they are making the right decision by trusting in you and your work. They can’t get that warm fuzzy feeling if you yourself, don’t feel confident in your work. The old saying “Fake it ’til you make it” is true in this instance. Success breeds confidence, so eventually it will come. Be aware that it is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

Note: No where in this list is skill or talent mentioned as a necessary aspect of turning your art hobby into an art business. While skill is important, it is the ability to market successfully that will determine your business’s success or failure.

Tomorrow I will talk about the main trait that holds most artists back from success, (and hopefully post a finished snow leopard.)

And following that will be a post about the number 1 reason people buy art. Anyone want to hazard a guess?

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