How much should I charge for that painting, anyway?

Ah, art fairs… I do miss you at times.

Charge by the inch, of course.  (I’m not kidding.)

This is the most emotionally-fraught question I hear from beginning painters. You can simplify the issue greatly by setting aside your emotional involvement with your art and basing your selling price on the size of the piece and your selling history.
If you’ve never sold anything before, there is no way to deduce a selling history: only the market can do that. But most beginners price their work too cheaply. That can actually hinder sales. Nobody else is going to value what you don’t value yourself.
Survey other artists with the same level of experience and set your first prices in line with theirs. Experience and competence are not synonymous. Most artists are terrible judges of their own work, seesawing between believing they’re geniuses and believing they’re hopeless. Such a subjective judgment should never guide pricing.
It’s not just brushwork that sets market price. Check out the regional market in which your competitors are selling, their affiliations, and their history of shows and sales. Be honest with yourself. Thomas Kinkead may have been a lousy painter, but his canvases are worth many times what mine are. He was an extremely talented marketer who created a nationwide niche for his work.
I believe in giving paintings to non-profits for their charitable auctions. It’s a good way to leverage your talent to help others. It gives exposure and a sales history, and if you err in the pricing, it’s not a fatal mistake. (But don’t do it for a tax deduction; these donations are generally not deductible.)
Whether selling in a gallery or at a festival, the principles of pricing remain the same.
Once you’ve sold something—to a friend or family member, or at a charitable auction—you have a sales history, albeit an imperfect one.  From this, you can extrapolate a pricing structure.
Let’s say you gave an 8X10 watercolor of the Old Red Mill to your local historical society, which turned around and sold it for $100. Great! You have a sales history (albeit an imperfect one) from which to calculate prices. Just figure out the value per square inch and calculate from there.
Knowing that many artists are arithmetic impaired, I’m going to spell this out for you. Square inches=height times width, so your 8X10 painting is 80 square inches. Dividing the $100 selling price by 80 gives you a value of $1.25/square inch.
So to use this to calculate other sizes, you’d end up with:
6X8: $60
9X12: $135
11X14: $240
12X16: $315
Now, on the edges, I might adjust a little, since charging $15 for a 3X4 painting would be absurd, and charging $1500 for a 30X40 would surpass what anyone would pay for an untried painter.  But it’s a formula I’ve used successfully for years. Framing costs scale up and down in the same way, and the bigger the painting, the more work it generally represents (unless you’re playing games and your large canvas is merely a schmear).
I would not set my prices in stone on the basis of one sale, of course. In fact, I never set my prices in stone. You should continuously update your prices based on your average sale prices for the prior year or two. The goal of every artist ought to be to sell at constantly rising prices. The last five years have played havoc with this, but when you find yourself “painting on a treadmill” to have enough work for your next show, it’s definitely time to charge more. Each time you show, your work will be better known, and over time your prices will rise.
When I first started painting, I used to factor in two things I’ve since learned are totally irrelevant: how much time I’d spent, and how good I thought it was. Frequently I’ll struggle with a canvas for months, working out a problem I don’t even know I have, and the next painting will be faster, fresher, and more successful. You’ll also eventually realize you’re not the best judge of your own work. The work you think is brilliant may ring nobody else’s bells, while the painting you considered tossing may actually sell very quickly.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

More on that winnowing thing

Everything I’ve sorted so far pales in comparison to the business of sorting paintings with a critical eye… there are works that aren’t mine, works I can’t assess the quality of, and works I hope to finish some day.

The Duchy is perched on the side of Rochester’s only hill. This makes it prone to short bursts of flooding. Given the monsoon-like rains of this week, Coach and I suspended our regular workout in favor of clearing storm drains with a hoe and a trowel.
Too much of a good thing leads inexorably to trouble.
New York is lush in late spring, and the Duchy tends to go for over-the-top horticultural displays. I confess I’ve contributed my share of them, having designed and planted St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church’s gardens as well as growing a profusion of roses, peonies and ornamental trees on my own small plot.
Blossoms, seed pods, soil, mulch, and clippings… all creating concrete in the storm drains.
Of course, a surfeit of good things can be as troublesome as any bad thing. The Duchy’s trees are lavishly shedding blossoms and seed pods. That has combined with soil, mulch and clippings washing down from gardens and along the gutters. Now, blossoms and seed pods and soil, mulch and clippings are all great things, but in excess they’ve packed the storm drains up like concrete.
Winnowing is an ugly job… but absolutely necessary.
This brings my thoughts inexorably back to my own studio. There are stacks and stacks of my field sketches, and paintings by my students, and unfinished canvases for which I still harbor some hope, not to mention art supplies that I may use someday. All are unabashedly good things, but taken as a whole, they’ve blocked my studio up as surely as those storm drains.
The hidden stashes don’t count if they’re in a dark closet, do they?

This, then, is the next big step in the winnowing process.
And if you haven’t signed up for my Rochester classes or Maine workshops, what on earth are you waiting for? August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Why do mermaids wear shell bras?

I can do anything when I have bungee cords, including painting on all sides of a buoy. (Yesterday’s objections retracted.)

It was 54°, rumbling, and pouring rain here this morning. Nobody wanted to be outside; my suggestions to walk were summarily rejected by my son, my husband, and my personal coach, in that order.  So I went upstairs and spent some time with the mermaid I’m painting for the Penobscot East Resource Center. “You’re complaining?” she whispered in my ear. “That’s typical weather for us mermaids. Why do you think we wear these silly shell bras?”
Back of the buoy, a lobster boat.
As soon as she dries, she is going in a box and traveling back to Maine.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

What did the sea say to the mermaid?

It’s a Merdonna and Child. Or something.
When this buoy arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, certain members of my family were flummoxed. “Who sent us an oversized dreidel?” Since I was expecting it, I recognized it for what it was, but then wondered whether it was supposed to go dreidel-side up or dreidel-side down. A cursory search on the internet was useless—evidently, Mainers are not into social conventions like which end is up.
I took a guess, and put the stick on the bottom. Too late to worry if it’s wrong.
How do you paint on a buoy? Lash it to your easel.
I am painting it for a fundraiser for the Penobscot East Resource Center to be held later this month in Rockland, ME (more on that later). One would imagine it was a simple matter of filling, sanding and priming the surface, but, as usual, I’m pressed for time.
The biggest problem in painting on a curved surface turned out not keeping the figure proportional (as I expected) but drawing a straight horizon line. It’s very difficult to lay a ruler down on a cylinder. Tomorrow I’ll mark it with string.
There was a time when I used these wee little brushes a lot. That was a long time ago.
Eventually I bungee-corded it to an easel, but I’m only going to be able to paint on one side at a time. So much for working all parts of a painting at the same rate of development.
Sandy just told me she learned in her Renaissance art history courses that the infant Jesus always looks so weird in order to prefigure Christ’s death. I think that’s a fiction that comes from art historians never actually painting. Just try drawing a squirming, wailing baby—without photography, you’d have to drug the little darlings to get them to hold still. My mermaid is a little hackneyed, but her baby is coming along well. 

Baby’s cute. Mom needs work.

I have to leave in a few minutes to go teach at Schoen Place on the Erie Canal. There are no buoys there; there are (to my knowledge) no fresh-water mermaids either. Have a happy evening!

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.
Oh, BTW, what did the sea say to the mermaid? Nothing. It just waved.

Hey, Carol, what am I supposed to buy for this workshop?

Years ago, I took a figure workshop from a well-known American figure painter. On receiving his supply list, I noted several pigments that are not normally on my palette. Two were transparent earth colors; one was Naples yellow; one was cadmium green. I duly bought them, took the workshop, and came home having never touched them. The transparent earths were occasionally useful for glazing, but that $20 tube of cadmium green sat in my cabinet until it thickened and died.
I never want to do that to anyone. (Not that I’m totally immune to it; my oldest students will remember my infatuation with Payne’s Grey back in the day.)
Here are my paint supply lists for both local plein air painting (in Rochester) and workshop painting in Maine this summer:
·         Watercolor
·         Pastels
·         Oils
I expect that experienced painters already have a palette they like and tools they’re comfortable with. If you have questions about why I have something included, just ask; you may already have something that can substitute.
Nevertheless, there are certain paints I recommend at the expense of others. For example, it never makes sense to buy alizarin crimson. The real thing (PR83) is extremely fugitive,*
so many manufacturers have decided to make “hue” formulations that mimic it. Many of these are either also fugitive and or so high-stain that they tend to bleed up through drying paint. Yet alizarin crimson is a staple in the paintboxes of so-called traditionalists.
How much more sensible it is to buy straight up quinacridone magenta (PR122) and mix it to the color you want when you need it!
Another example is Naples yellow, which was originally made of yellow antimony (PY 41) and is one of the oldest of pigments. Unfortunately, it’s also extremely toxic. There are a million proximates on the market—so called “convenience mixes”—because that dense, chalky yellow is extremely useful in landscape painting. But why carry a convenience mix when you can make up something equally as useful from yellow ochre and white, which both have a million other uses on the palette? (Yes, I know some of you watercolorists take great pride in never using white, but when you use a Naples yellow you’re using white whether or not you admit it.)
On the other hand, there arepigments that make reasonable substitutions. For example, I want oil painters to have a high-stain greenish blue, but phthalo blue cyan (PB15:3) will just do as well as Prussian blue (PB 27) if that’s what you have.
Recently I wrote about hues and the Color Index system. Handprint has a more detailed explanation here. For the sake of efficient painting, I urge you to avoid hues and convenience mixes. Single pigment paints are most efficient in the field.
And if you haven’t signed up for my Rochester classes or Maine workshops, what on earth are you waiting for? August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

*”Fugitive” just means the pigment fades over time, and real alizarin crimson—an extract of the madder plant—is among the most fugitive pigments of all.

In search of the perfect easel

I can handle the Sun-Eden storage because it’s plastic and light. I hate carrying around wooden storage space just because someone else thinks it’s necessary.

Of course, there IS no perfect easel, but I do have a perfect palette, and I want an easel deserving of it

My current easel took its last gasp at ABVI’s “Play It Forward” on Saturday. It’s ironic that, after years of being hoisted over rocks, up hillsides, through snow and withering heat, it would succumb during an air-conditioned cocktail party. (Perhaps it was shock.)
My palette on the Sun-Eden.
I have painted with a French easel (which proved to be too heavy and awkward), a Gloucester easel (which is far too big and inflexible),a Guerrilla box (which is just too heavy to carry long distances but is solid as a rock in high winds), simple tripod easels of both wood and aluminum  (which have no shelves so necessitate bringing a table), and a beechwood folding tripod easel with adjustable head. The last has always been my favorite, except it’s relatively delicate and has finally succumbed to overuse.
My palette on the Featherlight Pro.
The best possible place to explore easel options is when you’re with a bunch of other serious artists, and NYPAP’s Statewide Paintout at Olana provided a great opportunity to look at two easels—the Sun-Eden Traveling Easel and Featherlight Pro Easel. (And thanks again to Jamie Grossman and Bea Gustafson for giving me the highlights of their easels.)
Corinne Avery’s shelf solution. Very useful for watercolor, which is light. Not so good for oils.
I also came across thisand wonder if I ought to just buy it and the Plein Air Pro shelf to attach to my Slik camera tripod, which is a high-quality, underutilized piece of equipment.
In order of importance, what matters to me is:
  • Light weight (I want to be able to backpack my kit short distances when necessary);
  • Durability;
  • A stable shelf on which I can secure my palette;
  • An adjustable head that is separate from the body;
  • NO extra weight in built-in storage (that’s what Tupperware is for);
  • A hook from which I can hang my backpack to stabilize the thing;
  • Reasonable price.

 So I’m curious: what easel do you like and why?
August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Views and Duets

My painting for ABVI’s “Play It Forward.” I know how to defeat this painting for next time I’m asked, BTW.
When last I posted, I had just painted with my fellow NYPAP artists* at Olana, the home of Frederic Edwin Church. This event, spearheaded by Marilyn Fairman, is in honor of NYPAP’s founder, Ted Beardsley, who was the driving force who brought painters from all corners of our state together.
Last year, I left in the late afternoon, since I had to drive back to Rochester. I remember thinking, “It’s nice and I’ll come again, but I am not in love with the views.” (My feelings about grandiose historic homes are generally mildly negative; I mostly thank God I don’t have to maintain them.)

The Catskills are just so beautiful!
 This year, I was near the house as evening approached and I suddenly understood the magic of Olana: it is organized around the evening sky. The colors Church caught in his Cotopaxipaintings are really no more magnificent than those he saw many evenings from his porch. Suddenly, as so often happens, my whole view of Church has undergone a sea change and I find myself studying his pinks and reds and considering them not as fantastical but as totally realistic.
But I—wretched creature that I am—had ignored Jamie Grossman’s warning that I didn’t want to paint though the whole day, and I had nary an ounce of energy to paint that fantastic, fantastic sunset.
This year’s waterfall painting… not a success. Last year’s is here.
The next day, many of us gathered at Jamie’s to paint waterfalls. Breakfast and then a brisk walk with friends, and I climbed down to the catchpool and set up. I was cautiously optimistic about this painting, since I’d painted a similar view last year with great success. Alas, it was not to be. Sometimes the mind is willing but the body is weak. I had a hard time concentrating; it was excessively hot; I was already tired and sore from a long day painting the day before. To cap it off I slipped on wet rocks and took a tumble.
But sometimes we are called away from man’s work to God’s work. I was asked a question I never hear in art circles: what does it mean to be ‘born again’? I did my best to answer, and all the way home to Rochester I second-guessed my answers, until I finally realized I am only here to play a very small part in an eternal duet between God and another soul.
I’m never happier than when teaching…
Back to Rochester: Saturday morning promised another hot day, but we met on the canal at Schoen Place, where there was shade and a breeze. It wasn’t a brilliant painting day for any of us, but I’m never happier than surrounded by students and it was no exception.
My tiny landscape of canal path near Schoen Place. I hate wee brushes; can you tell?
But Saturday evening turned out to be one of the weirder days of my art career. I had agreed to paint live at ABVI’s “Play It Forward” event, not realizing that I was actually going to paint indoors at a cocktail party.  Well, I’m game for anything, but it was a tough challenge. I duly finished the painting and it was sold for a decent price, and we all went home happy. And when I got in, my husband told me I’d missed one of the worst electrical storms he’d ever experienced. Good thing I was indoors!
Once again, thank you so much, Jamie Grossman, for your hospitality this week. It means more than I can express.

*Remember, NYPAP painters: you have a special discount at my Maine workshops… just for being you. August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.