Open-air gallery opens

Growth in painting sales is almost all online, which means that we either learn a new way of doing things, or we retire.

Belfast Harbor, 18×14, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas

This weekend my open-air gallery at 394 Commercial Street opens for the season. It’s a soft opening, meaning that the brilliant Aubrie Powell isn’t making any noshes (sorry about that). I’ve been so busy painting that I forgot to do any advance marketing. Them’s the travails of a one-man show.

To make up for that, I’m having a 25% off sale. Yes, that’s any painting in the gallery, including my newest work. That’s an unheard-of discount, only made possible because I’m my own boss. Traditional galleries don’t have sales. That’s because they operate on a consignment basis. They must clear discounts with every artist they represent. In addition to that being a daunting task, artists operate on notoriously narrow margins.

Why am I still doing open-air when COVID restrictions are ending? I found I like the warm light, soft breezes off Rockport harbor, and the less-restrictive space of my side yard. My former gallery space is now rigged up as a Zoom teaching studio. COVID changed my workflow permanently. It drastically winnowed my galleries. I especially rue the closure of Kelpie Gallery in Thomaston and Maine Farmland Trust Gallery in Belfast. Both were wonderful galleries with curatorial vision and purpose.

COVID showed us the weakness of the traditional gallery model. Growth in painting sales is almost all online, which means that we either learn a new way of doing things, or we retire gently into the night. I’m not ready to go there yet.

Beautiful Dream (Rockport), 16×12, oil on birch, Carol L. Douglas

One thing I do not miss is getting damaged frames back from events and galleries. I spent a long time on Thursday taking adhesive labels off the backs of frames and this afternoon I’ll be touching up dings. Anyone dealing with art should know to not use tape or other permanent adhesives anywhere on a painting or its frame. Thank goodness for Goo-Gone.

My summer hours will be:

  • Monday—open this Memorial Day, otherwise closed
  • Tuesday—noon-6
  • Wednesday—noon-6
  • Thursday—1:30-6
  • Friday—noon-6
  • Saturday—noon-6

You can text or call me at 585-201-1558, or message me here.

Fish Shacks, Owl’s Head, 14×11, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas

Thursday’s opening is later because I teach plein air in the mornings.

As you all know, I teach a variety of workshops, in Acadia National Park, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Florida, and right here in Maine aboard the schooner American Eagle. That’s enough to satisfy anyone’s wanderlust, but for those who are looking for something here in the Rockland area, I want to recommend two of my plein air buddies.

Eric Jacobsenis new in town, but a familiar face on the national art scene. He will be teaching Painting Expressive Landscapes through Coastal Maine Workshops from July 13-16. Ken DeWaard will be teaching Design! Essence! Design! there from August 9 to 13.

I paint with these guys frequently and I know their character well. They’re patient and kind and they know their craft, so I’m sure they’re good teachers.

You want to be a professional artist—are you sure?

Every artist, if he or she is completely honest, has two parallel thoughts going at once: the first says, “I am the greatest genius in the history of painting,” and the second says, “I totally and completely suck.”

Skylarking, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available.

If I can get my social media specialist to manage the admin, I’m going to do an online workshop on going professional. That means how to sell work, how to present yourself, how to use social media to advertise, and where and when to show. But before you sign up, I want you to consider carefully whether or not you really want to go that route.

My friend Nancy is a retired art teacher and an excellent painter. A few years ago, she asked me how she can sell paintings. Honestly, I can’t believe that the sheer grind of selling will make her happy, when she has so many other things occupying her time: a husband, grandkids, friends, travel. Selling is a tremendous amount of work. And it doesn’t validate the quality of her work—that stands on its own.

Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available.

I spend at least half my time on marketing. It’s what the experts say you can expect. In addition, I pay someone to do some of my online marketing for me. I’m still always behind. For example, my website is in dire need of updating. The successful painter is first and foremost an entrepreneur, not a painter. You work long hours, have your finger in everything, and nothing is ever finished.

I’ve been painting since I was a child, and I can honestly say that nothing else is closer to my ‘true’ work. However, I spent years avoiding becoming a professional because I didn’t believe I could make a living doing it. I’m happy to have proved myself wrong. But it’s been difficult. I had no models for entrepreneurism. I’ve had to figure it out by trial and error.

Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, available

I’m not sorry I made the transition. Honestly, I don’t have many other marketable skills. However, there’s one thing that’s changed for me. I no longer paint for the pure joy of it, but as part of an effort to create and develop a business.

Does that make me insincere? I don’t think so. Every painting is a communication between the artist and his audience. Sometimes, the way the audience says, “I love it” is by getting out its collective checkbook. Nobody questions that when a musician cuts a best-selling album, but for some reason painters can beat themselves up about selling out.

Jack Pine, by Carol L. Douglas, 8X10, available. 

There are moments in every job that are tremendously rewarding. I didn’t begrudge my doctor his fee because he fist-bumped me when he finally figured out that I had cancer. I love hard work myself. My favorite job after painting was waitressing. Should I not have been paid because I had a good time doing it? That would be nuts. But there is that perception about the arts in general, that we’re having too good a time to justify a paycheck.

The marketplace can be very cruel. Every artist, if he or she is completely honest, has two parallel thoughts going at once: the first says, “I am the greatest genius in the history of painting,” and the second says, “I totally and completely suck.”

To succeed, you need to silence those voices. Instead, just tell yourself, “I have a product, and I’ll test whether there’s a market for it.” As personal as painting is, you’ll suffer if you let the marketplace be a referendum on your inner self.

Monday Morning Art School: How to price your work

For some artists, the hardest thing in painting isn’t drawing or color-mixing but how to price their work. Charge by the square inch, of course.

Keuka Lake Vineyard, 30X40 by Carol L. Douglas, is available through Kelpie Gallery

A proper price is the meeting point between how much you can produce of the product and how much demand there is for it. If you can’t keep your paintings stocked, you’re charging too little. If your studio is full of unsold work, you’re either charging too much or not putting enough effort into marketing. Your job is to find that sweet spot.

Art sales are regional. If you live in a community with an aging population and a prestigious art school, you’re going to have low demand and high supply. If you live in a booming new city, you will have more demand and prices will be higher.
Art is not strictly a commodity, however. A painting’s value depends on the artist’s prominence. Most artists are terrible judges of their own work, seesawing between believing they’re geniuses and thinking they’re hopeless. Such subjective judgments hinder their ability to price their work.
Art festivals are a good way to establish a price history. I don’t miss them, however.
Don’t assume that because you labored for a long time over a piece, it is more valuable. Your challenges are not the buyers’ problem.
You can simplify the problem by setting aside your emotions and basing your selling price on the size of the piece and your selling history. How do you do that if you’ve never sold anything before? Survey other artists with the same level of experience and set your first prices in line with theirs. Visit galleries, plein airevents and art fairs. If you see a person whose work seems similar to yours, find his resume online and check his experience. Know enough to be able to rank events. Painting in Plein Air Easton is not the same as painting your local Paint the Town.
Charitable auctions are a good way to leverage your talent to help others. They provide a sales history to new artists. (But they aren’t tax deductible contributions.)
Striping (Heritage) 6X8, by Carol L. Douglas, is available through Camden Falls Gallery.
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 a limited and imperfect one) from which to calculate prices. Just figure out the value per square inch and calculate from there.
Square inch is the height times the width. That means your 8X10 painting is 80 square inches. Dividing the $100 selling price by 80 gives you a value of $1.25/square inch.
To use this to calculate other sizes, you would end up with:
6X8 is 48 square inches. 48 X $1.25 = $60
9X12: $135
11X14: $240
12X16: $315
In practice, my price/sq. inch gets lower the larger I go. This reflects my working and marketing costs, some of which are fixed. If you started with my example, above, a 3X4” painting would more reasonably sell for $3 a square inch or $36, and a 48X48” painting for $.75 a square inch, or $1700. But that sweet spot between 6X8 and 16X20 are a fixed cost/inch, rounded off for convenience.
My price list is on Google Drive and I can access it wherever there’s phone service.
Charity sales are known for seriously underpricing work, but it’s better to start low and work your way higher. Periodically review your prices, and make sure you have a copy with you at all times, because people will ask you about paintings at the strangest times. I keep mine on a Google sheet I can refer to from computer or phone.
Once you have a price guide, it should be absolute. I adjust it slightly for family members (or more likely just give them the painting), but I use the same price structure in events and galleries.
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.
The marketplace favors fair, consistent pricing. I charge the same amount everywhere I sell. I don’t want to undercut my galleries.
And I don’t explain my prices, for the most part. Does anyone ever tell Christian Louboutin that $995 is a bit much for a pair of platform suede pumps? No; they either understand Louboutin’s market or they don’t buy designer shoes.

Selling: Motivation (Part 1 of 3)

Toys in Snow, 11X14, by Carol L. Douglas. I thought I would illustrate this post with the first thing I ever sold, but the truth is that my records don’t go back that far. This painting, however, is owned by the person who pushed me to start teaching.
Yesterday I got an email from N., who’s conflicted. She doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on the business of art, since she has already retired from a successful career. “All I want to do is paint before I can’t anymore,” she wrote.
Nevertheless, her paintings are piling up, and she would like to at least defray her costs. She’s shown without selling, but she understands that visibility is the key to developing a market.
After the storm, 18X24, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas. The buyer remains a loyal collector, but our relationship started at an outdoor art festival.
Before I can advise her about the mechanics of selling paintings, she has to decide if she actually wants to engage in the marketplace. There are excellent painters who don’t, either because they’re either highly introverted or they have other priorities.
Almost all artists take time off from selling here and there. I did that after the crash of 2008. Work wasn’t selling well anyway, and I was feeling the stirrings of a big leap forward.
Nevertheless, for most of us selling and showing are integral parts of the art process. They give valuable feedback on one’s work. They validate that what we are doing is important. They are steps in the dialogue between artist and audience.
The Rio Grande in New Mexico, 18X24, by Carol L. Douglas. This was purchased by a collector of my work, but she never would have seen it had it not been shown in a public exhibition.
I have found that, contrary to expectations, the more time I spend on marketing, the more time I paint. However, marketing does take time—between a quarter and a half of the time I devote to my career. So my recommendation to N. is to plan on living longer, so she has time for both painting and selling.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

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.