Why sell your work?

Selling is not selling out. If nothing else, you can use the money to buy more paint.

Keuka Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. All that vert is beautiful, but tough on allergies.

There is a myth that the word Genesee is Seneca for “Pleasant Valley.” In fact, it means “miasma,” from the humid air that hangs over the Genesee Valley. The Seneca were the most numerous of the Haudenosaunee people. Many moved west along the Niagara River and south into Pennsylvania. This was largely to escape the heavy air in their heartland.

The Adirondacks were never permanently settled by the Iroquois and Algonquin. They hunted there and brawled with each other. The winters are too cold, the summers are rainy, and the soil is thin.
I haven’t had an asthma attack since I left New York. Rochester is a city of lovely gardens, which means heavy pollen. I loved to garden; I hated my allergies. In Maine, nobody fusses with rare plants, and the offshore breezes keep the pollen down. I replace my rescue inhaler annually but never need it.
Letchworth Middle and Upper Falls, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last week in the Adirondacks I was having twinges of breathing trouble. It was nothing that I couldn’t control by sitting quietly. When I arrived at Long Beach Island, NJ, my asthma bloomed with terrific ferocity.

“Welcome to New Jersey,” my New Jersey pal Toby texted me when I complained. I blamed the cedars and retreated to air conditioning.

With temperatures in the mid-eighties and no shade, both Bobbi Heath and I were wilting. A few passers-by expressed amazement that we were painting here instead of at home in cool, breezy Maine. Why would we do that, they asked. We’re here to sell paintings.
Bridle path, by Carol L. Douglas
Sometimes I meet people at plein air events who say they do these events just to have fun. I’m not sure if I believe them. These festivals are organized around the all-important show and sale at the end. The energy is infectious.
Selling your work is important. When people pay money for your work, they’re telling you that it’s good enough to shell out for. That’s far better validation than your grandmother’s praise.
Selling is communication, a dialogue between you and the buyer. Putting your work out with a price tag forces you to see it as transactional, as a reciprocal exchange of ideas. That, in turn, requires that you clarify your ideas enough for them to make sense to the viewer. Some people call that ‘selling out,’ but I’m not talking about producing dreck. I’m talking about the difference between omphaloskepsis and conversation.
Eastern Manitoba forest, by Carol L. Douglas. I love trees but they don’t always like me.
Selling your work grows your fan base, because it puts your work out there for public consideration. And therein lies the rub. When you first start out, the work you labored over will probably be met with cruel indifference. You just need to work through that.
I first started selling paintings because the finished ones were taking up too much room. And, of course, most of us also need the money, if only to buy more paint.
According to Toby, today is going to be cooler. We’ve got paintings to make and a schedule to keep. I sure hope she’s right.

How much should I charge for that painting, anyway?

My wall at Red Barn Gallery. If luxurious surroundings scare people off, then it makes sense to not have luxurious surroundings.

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.)

Painting sale
Whether selling in a gallery, online, 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 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. 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. 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.

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