Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

This Painting Costs WHAT?!!

I can practically hear people thinking this sometimes.

After many years of having the  conversation in my head or with other artists about what goes into the price of an artwork for the career artist, I decided to take my rant public.

I will use as an example a recent pastel demonstration in my studio. I carefully planned a piece that was horizontal (so folks could see around me); had seasonal color; and had elements that were quite familiar to me, even if I didn’t know until I was in progress exactly what I was going to include and where it was all going to go. I knew that I was planning on finishing this piece in the hour+ time I had allotted for the demo, so picking certain kinds of imagery (a flat sky rather than complex clouds, and a minimalist hillside with some field dividers instead of marsh grasses, and so on) was essential.

And so, with many years of experience paintings landscapes and quite a few doing demos for students and occasionally the public under my belt, I pulled it off. Here it is, below, a 10″x27″ piece.

Red Field/White Sky

“Red Field/White Sky”

For an exhibiting artist, prices need to be consistant. This means that same-size pieces (unless they are an entirely different series or medium) should be the same price. Furthermore, for me personally, it doesn’t matter in the least that one pieces takes me six times as long as another, since it all averages out.

A lovely minimalist piece that practically painted itself is worth the same price as an equally lovely image of more complexity that I might have struggled over, or just surrendered to with exquisite patience. I love doing them both, and often my buyers prefer one over the other fairly strongly.

And REALLY furthermore, there are many things that go into the price of an artwork. So to any of you who have ever thought, “OMG, she just did that piece in 1.5 hours and she is charging $1,500 for it without even framing it, so that’s $1,000 per hour!”, here goes!

Sticking to the example of my recent demo:

1. I spent hours arranging and cleaning the studio. (Let’s say, 5?)

2. More time driving to get the paper I needed and planning the pastel, including looking for and then contemplating all the references photos that this one required, and selecting my palette of pastel colors. (4?)

3.  Creating the email and Facebook invitations, back-and-forth with folks wanting to attend, photographing and processing the digital photo. (3?)

3. Materials, since the quoted price I am using for the piece is unframed, were minimal. ($50?) but that doesn’t take into account that I have hundreds of pastel colors (mostly Schminkes costing $6 a stick) necessary to my work, even if a small amount of those actually got used up.

4. Also averaging in other overhead that I must cover daily or regularly to create and sell my work: A larger car that uses more gas than I would otherwise drive and the many errands and deliveries to galleries, framer, art supply store, and private buyers (this is both time and money); studio construction, maintenance, and heat;  emailing galleries and creating events (hours every day and tech and office expenses); keeping up with taking and processing photos (IPhone and time, laptop); ferry or airfare and accommodations and meals further afield for shows (expense and time);

5. My husband is very helpful for deliveries and installations and repairs and being personable at openings. Does his time get factored in?

6. Brain space. This piece used quite a bit of it. They all use a goodly amount (and are supposed to!).

    7. Gallery commission, on most sales, 50%. (And trust me, they earn it!)

I am not even getting into how many years/decades it took me to be able to do this work with enough ease to a) do it well and successfully and b) do it in front of an audience. Nor am I going to add up the above estimates of time and materials.

With any luck, I have made my point.

14 responses

  1. Monica Rozak

    Bravo! (for saying all the above…and you don’t even mention normal cost of living expenses that artists must cover like everyone else …insurances, healthcare, food clothing, shelter!)

    November 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    • So true! We need to draw a salary, just like everyone else.

      November 4, 2014 at 3:34 pm

  2. Well ranted Christie. Any successful work of art is a culmination of all the right technical, conceptual, and aesthetic decisions that went before it, and also all the wrong ones. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

    November 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    • Yes, and THAT would be another great discussion! Who is writing that, me or you? Maybe we should get together on it!

      November 4, 2014 at 3:49 pm

  3. AMEN.

    November 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

  4. lynnherring

    When Picasso was confronted with a similar question after doing drawing on a napkin, a collector at the table with him asked how much it cost. Picasso told him some huge sum of money and the collector responded, “but it just took you one minute to do that drawing on a napkin!” Picasso responded, no, this drawing took me 40 years to do!

    Experience, many hard years of doing work and believing in your work no matter what adds up to better and deeper work. Those of us who have been devoted to doing our work for decades have put that experience and value into our work. We don’t sell every piece we make – in fact it’s not easy to sell work at all – especially without a dealer. Marketing time, studio time, experience all add up and this time is paid for by the artist. Not to mention when you have a dealer, their commission is 50% as well. Then there’s overhead for the studio, art supplies, framing and on and on.

    I hate being defensive about this! But I guess I am!

    November 12, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    • Even when every piece that I do sells sooner or later, the overhead that each one carries is enormous. I often don’t like to a) complain and b) talk about money on my blog, but really the point of the blog is to discuss aspects of being an artist and being an artist in the marketplace that are on my mind. So, just as a twinge (not too much!!) of guilt can motivate you to act in such a way that you don’t feel guilty, that little kick of defensiveness can create a discussion that obviously resonates with many artists and elucidates some things for those who aren’t (this post has had over 500 reads, way more than any other I have written).

      November 12, 2014 at 4:57 pm

  5. You used the word ‘rant’ and I do understand why, however, this blog seems so logical … you are clearly explaining so much of what goes into creating a beautiful work … besides the materials and supplies that an artist needs, you have also referenced the thought process that is needed to bring a piece together … in so many professions employees spend quite an amount of time conceptualizing projects in order to attain a specific outcome -and they are being paid for this important time … why should it be any different for a career artist? So glad you included this aspect of the undertaking … Thank you for this … not as a rant but for the clear and concise elucidation!

    November 17, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    • Such a great point about the time that the thought process requires—thanks, Cathy!

      November 19, 2014 at 1:53 am

  6. jen

    Hi Christie,

    What a great post–your candor is much appreciated. Valuing art is difficult and confusing–especially hard to understand for people with no involvement in the art world, and I wish more people would discuss it. One thing a lot of people don’t know is the commission that galleries get, and that even if you are selling privately, prices need to be kept in the same range. (You discussed this in an earlier post, an eye-opener for me). One thing you discuss here that interests me is pricing by size. I never would have thought of that, but it does simplify things, and saying that it balances out makes sense.


    November 20, 2014 at 3:16 am

    • Yes, Jen, I not only didn’t get into the dealer/gallery commission on this post, I also skirted the issue of pricing as a reflection of the career of the artist. Why does a piece by one artist cost $3,000 and by another $30,000?
      That is another discussion, and another blog post, and even the answers carry lots of caveats.

      One reason that pricing needs to go by size (within a given series, at least) is that if an artist feels that they have a stellar piece that they want to charge triple for, what are they saying about the other pieces?

      More on all of this soon! But next up is a very different post, about creative contentment.

      November 20, 2014 at 2:12 pm

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