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Art Business. Generating Income??

Being on this forum I see a lot of skilled painters. I love seeing the progress people have made or are making. I am curious how many of you are generating a fair amount of income with your art?? Creating work is filled with all types of different technical problems. Then when I try to look at the economical issues involved in the art career path. It is just unbelievably daunting. I currently spend about $1,000- $2,000 a year on materials. With not selling much of my work at this point. It puts me in a $1,500 hole each year. I don't mind because painting has become a major part of my life. Plus I don't want my skills to fall apart. I love thinking of this scenario. "If I sold 10 paintings this year for 1,000 dollars, that would be nice". The thought of getting people to spend hard earned money on my work at rather high prices is humbling. But if I DID sell 10 works for that. I would only have brought in 10,000 dollars. Minus material expenses, around 8,000. Deffinitely not enough to live on.
In the end I'm just curious how many of you make a net profit with selling work?? Any keys to your success??


  • sorry, I don't recommend it as a way to make money. I keep trying though!
  • edited February 2013
    Wow. I Can't tell you how much I appreciate that detailed response.. Thank you. I should note that I have just recently begun to seek gallery representation. I do have a day job doing grounds work on a golf course at the moment. This job does sap a lot of my energy for creating art but it pays the bills. I am trying to get the ball rolling here with selling work and maybe I can get another day job that isn't quite as taxing. So I haven't fully taken the plunge into the art career path. As far as entering juried shows. I have entered a couple in the past couple of years, but I didn't end up selling anything. I have trouble putting money into entering these shows if there is no roi. That's why I'd rather get into a gallery who can sell my work. Thanks again for your response. I will have more questions for you I'm sure. It's really great to get advice from someone who's been doing it for some time. If you'd like to see some of my work this will link you to my website which contains a few examples .
  • John, I looked at you web site and like your work, very nice. I would think that following AZ's and other advice will reap benefits for you. Good success to you. :)
  • For what its own personal thing to remember is that "no one comes knocking on your door" to buy your have to put the effort forth to help it sell..

    I've had great success with outdoor summer shows...always selling 7-12 pieces each one day show.......also, having your local gallery let you have a one man show...always a success...

    Potential buyers really like to meet the artist and the story behind the painting.....I find the more social you are with them...the more likely they will buy...anyway..just a few things to think about...Good Luck!
  • All absolutely correct points Savannah. You comment about no one knocking on your door to buy art is what I was saying about having a gallery with it's doors open 6 days a week. The only times I have had a prospective client come to my door is after I invited them or the gallery brought a collector of my paintings to meet me and see my studio.

    Like any business an artist needs name recognition and staying in your studio painting is going to get your name out there and people familiar with it. Contrary to what many think or espouse, the art buying public is very small, and big time collectors who will spend more than a $1000 on one painting is even smaller. Then add this economy there are even fewer art buyers across the entire spectrum, so the better your name is recognized the better the odds of having a painting sell. Galleries do this with having their doors open, advertising even if your name isn't the headline feature of a magazine ad. The fact that they have your name on magazine ads as a gallery artist, websites have your name an pictures of your work. Add your own website and you doing shows will give your name and even better recognition. Savannah is also correct, talking to people at shows ups the odds in your favor for selling a painting. These are all good points and should be explored as often as possible.

    JPost, I looked at your website and I liked what I saw. You have a good thing going and the more you paint the better you will get, just like everyone else. Do not be afraid or hesitant to take some watercolor workshops, but only do this with artists you enjoy and who are at the top of their game, so to speak. Another thing is the eastern half of the US is a far better market for watercolors. Out here in the west it is almost impossible to give a watecolor away unless you are Steve Hanks, Henry Casselli, Gerald Fritzler, Jack Lestrade, Mary Whyte and very few others, but no less as talented. In the east there are many very fine watercolorists who sell well normally. I am not sure where you live, but I would suggest look at eastern US shows and galleries. The gallery that represents me is Biltmore Galleries. They have been selling top quality deceased art, for years and contemporary realism. The only watercolors they would handle would be a Charles M. Russell, or a Remington and maybe a Morris Rippel. Right now, I do not think there is a watercolor in the gallery unless it is back in the storage racks. I am not trying to be negative, jut letting you know where the best markets for watercolors are. If they were good here, trust me I would be painting almost as many of them as I do oils. I started as a watercolor painter and sold a lot of them, but that market dried up out here so I moved to oils. I love watercolors, both doing them and looking at them. Check out Henry Caselli. He's hard to find, but he Google him and I think you will find some stunning watercolors. From what I see of your work now I believe you can become a top watercolorist and sell very well eventually. Bravo! :)
  • Hi AZpainter, Thanks again for that input. I see how important it is to learn about the art buyers market. I am not familiar enough at all about the market and I think that is part of what confuses me. I had assumed that the people with the kind of income to purchase art for over a thousand dollars would be scarce.
    As far as watercolors, I really appreciate your compliments! I studied at Kutztown University in PA. The watercolor Professor there is Matthew Daub. If you don't know of him he's an extraordinary painter with a lot of recognition and success. I do feel Watercolor is my most natural medium, but for some reason I started to struggle with it after taking some time off from it. This led to frustration which led to me not working much. So now I'm training myself in oils. I'm slowly learning how to use oils in a way that suits my temperament. Which is why I'm here on DMP. Mark is an awesome teacher, and his method is very direct which I like.

    By the way what is your name AZpainter? I'd like to take a look at your work as well. Also, are there any texts that you recommend that could really help me to understand the art market more? Thanks a ton for your advice.
  • JPost, I am assuming it is alright to give my website here. Forgive me Mark if I am violating any rule against this. I have been lax lately and desperately need to up date my site, but you can get an idea of what I do. Health issues, and upcoming deadlines and just plain laziness in photographing recent paintings is my excuse for not keeping it fresh. I will be working on it shortly, probably next week.

    As for learning about the market, there are some books, one that comes to mind is "The Artist Market. They publish an updated book each year, but it leans heavily towards commercial art and illustration. I have found, talking to other artists, galleries, and doing shows is the best way to learn and understand the market. It is hands on, so to speak and I feel can give you a more realistic understanding in your own area, which is where you will be starting to sell. One thing I noticed on your site, is your pricing. Customers and galleries will want to see a consistency in your pricing. There are various ways you can price your work, and I described one previously in my first reply to you, but what you can do is figure your cost as I described and multiply it by the amount I mentioned (6) then figure out how much that is by the square inch. This maybe not the best way, but when getting started it will give you a consistency though out the different sizes you paint. I noticed a 12x16, I believe it was, and then an 11x14. The smaller painting was simpler and $100 more than the larger on. This normally is fine, but it will confuse clients (trust me) and a gallery will have a hard time understanding your pricing. I also saw a small painting at $75. Any painting is worth a minimum of $100 just for the effort, materials and framing. Believe it or not, an artist can hurt their own sales, by pricing to low! So I suggest you and everyone get a consistency in your pricing and get the prices to where they are fair to the public and to you, the artist. You will sell more if you do these things. You can over price also, so go easy at first, but fair to all concerned. This is another place a gallery can really help since they should know the market they are dealing with.
  • Hey AZ Painter (John). Your work is excellent. I'm particularly fond of the Canyon Landscapes and your figures. I'm jealous of you southwesterners who have the Canyons as subject matter.

    I'll take note of your points on my pricing. I haven't put enough effort into organizing my website so I will begin to tweek things. When you factor in costs, you mean basically materials times 6 right? So 100 dollars for canvas, paint, brushes would be 600? probably times 2 in a gallery to 1200?
  • Thank you for your kind words and I am glad yo like what I do. Living in Arizona as I do has a lot of perks. We have such a diverse landscape here from the Sonoran desert, where I live in Phoenix and within an hour or less I can be in pine tree covered mountains. Lakes, rivers, riparian areas with numerous kinds of trees and wildlife. One hundred miles north of me I could be skiing on a 10,000 foot plus mountain (if I knew how and my body allowed it:)). Eight hours drive I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico and double that and I am in northern Colorado or Utah, Nevada. So as far as landscape variety in easy access we have an abundance. In about 5 hours I can be on the beach at Newport or Huntington Beach in California and 6 hours, San Diego. We also have a climate where we can paint outdoor almost year around. Right now on my covered patio it is 78 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect painting weather. Maybe that is why we have so many artists living here and even some of the best artists painting today in the US and maybe the world in some cases. Enough about me and where I live.

    Your costs are your materials. Paint, canvas or w/c paper or board, brushes, say $100. Multiply by 6 which makes it $600, say for a 12x16. That is retail price whether in the gallery or from your studio or a show you are doing. Keep consistent pricing. More on this later. The $600 is divided up this way: $100 materials, 10% of retail or $60 for framing. No more than $100. This leaves you $200 labor/profit. The other $200 is 40% which goes to the gallery if they sell it. If you sell it from your studio or a show and there is no gallery connection, you just made an extra $200 for a total of $400 profit. Make sense, now?

    As we all know, it is almost a total impossibility to measure how much paint we squeeze out of a tube for each painting. Plus the fact that different colors can be very inexpensive or outrageously high (another plus for working with limited palettes, like Marks! :)) Sense I work in oils and you are starting them, I pluck from thin air a $1 for each color I have on the palette. This more than covers the cheaper colors and what is saved there makes for the cadmium. I have two Silicoil brush cleaning jars. I don't know how many refills out of a gallon of mineral spirits I get so I just divide the cost of the gallon by 10. So at about $15 per gallon, I use $1.50 per painting So with paint and thinner, I am up to $7.50 for a 12x16. But wait, the big expense is the canvas (in my case oil primed Belgium linen). I look at the most recent catalog of my regular art supplier and see what the price is for a stretched canvas would cost me and that is what I add to my material cost. From Utrecht, my 12x16 would cost $30, if cotton duck it would be about half of that, so lets say $15. These prices are way higher than you can stretch the same material yourself, BTW. So now for a 12x16, support, paint and thinner is $22.50 Now you have brushes and such, but to be honest I have no clue how to figure their cost, but since you are charging $100 and out of that you have spent $2250 plus sales tax, the balance left should cover the wear on your brushes and the electricity for lights. :D I could go on, but I think you see how I do this. The $200 allotted for materials and frame is going to leave you with several dollars that can go in your pocket or towards more supplies. So let's say you are going to start out using the square inch pricing. A 12 x16 is 192 Divide that into $600. You get $3.12 per square inch. Okay, so your next painting is an 18x24 which is 432 times $3.12 gives you a retail price for a 18x24 to be $1347.84. No customers don't like odd numbers like that so round up to say $1400 or even $1500 retail for your 18x24 painting. You use the $3.12 as your multiplier for everything up to about 30x40. At that point and in some cases, 2x26 my maybe the cut off, depending on your frame supplier, but these are the sizes where frames start taking a big jump in price which you will need to account for. There are some great priced, excellent frames though that you can find on the web and if Mark gives me the okay I can give a list to all on this thread. I hope I did not make everyone's eyes glaze over and clarified how this is done as a beginner. Once you have a name and a following and we have a normal market again, you can start adding 10% to 20% per year to the price of your work, depending on how fast it's selling. My prices though have not gone up a dime in the last 3 years. In fact some smaller one, I started painting a slightly different size and lowering the price. Instead of a 9x12 at $1400, I will paint an 8x12 for $1250. The market dictates this, and in a sense, when you really get down to the bean counting a painting i worth exactly what someone is willing to give you for it.
  • Hey, remember there are no rules! Puulleeaase post the good frame sites! Thanks for all of this great info on pricing. It makes me feel better about how I have been thinking of pricing...was kinda thinking toward the $3.00 per sq inch range vs the $1 I have been crazy to do in the past. X_X
  • For now I sell for few because I'm conscious of my level ... but after seeing the portrait of "Cassandra" an acquaintance want that I make a portrait of her daughters!
    Ok, I'm surprised ... will be 2 figures in 2/4 life-size (30x40 inches I think is fine) ... still do not know how much I'll have to ask I'm afraid that asking too much can make her desist.
    In any case I have told her...not before the summer ... I need to practice a lot!
    She is a person who works with me ... suggestions?
  • Hi Maria, :)
    Doing a 30x40 portrait of two figures is a bit of an undertaking for anyone other than a very experienced portrait artist that does these all the time. You should be fair to yourself as well as your acquaintance. You have cost that you have to pay. Canvas paint that will need replacing, possibly a frame and most important your talent and ability. The "formula" I gave in this thread will work for you and if you explain to your client what it costs you and how long it will take, they will see the price is fair to both of you. I don't know the exchange rate from US dollars to Italian Lira is, but you can easily figure that out and what your materials cost. This formula would make your 30x40 worth $3744 US dollars. Convert that to Lira or whatever the formula works out to be for your costs and time and it will be fair to you and her.

    I know when you are starting out, it can be frightening to ask what seems like a lot of money for your work, but let me ask you this. When you go to the store to buy bread and other food for yourself and family, do you bargain with the grocer over the price? How about your art supplier? Do you argue what is fair for a tube of white paint? Of course we don't. Why should we as artists be any different? Are our talents, knowledge and work worht the same as others doing specialize work? :) Artist fear of asking a fair price for their work has caused more failures of art careers more than anything I can think of other than someone trying to be an artist who knows nothing about it.

    You can do it. So what if they back away? Should you pay your money to make them happy and get one of your paintings? You are doing this to make money as well the joy of painting, but it should never cost you money and labor to give a client a painting they want. That is no different than selling a painting at a loss to you.

    Here is what I do. If someone asks me to do a portrait or any painting just for them of what they want, but especially a portrait, I tell them I need one third down payment that is non-refundable and the balance when the painting is finished. I have never had a client say no. Not once. This way your painting materials are paid for and a little for your efforts. If they don't pay the balance, they don't get the painting. The reason for this is, if you weren't working on their painting you would be working on something that anyone might buy from you. Who wants to buy a portrait of some children they do not know? Not me and not most people.

    You have a wonderful ability and talent and you deserve to be paid fairly for that. Don't cheat yourself into poverty and have to stop painting because you can't afford to buy more materials. You can do it and get paid fairly for a wonderful painting your acquaintance will love. :)
  • US$3744 = 2802 Euro

  • Thanks Denis. I realized I used the term Lira instead of Euros and really dated myself. Thanks for the correction and the exchange rate.
    Maria, I would round that down to 2800 Euros, if that covers all your costs and labor Good luck. I know it will work out for you assuming the client is a fair person, which I would bet they are. :)
  • @AZPainter
    Thanks for your explaination the problem is I'm not so confident and not so experienced in others words I feel fear ask all this money, but that must change because I don't want be only an hobby painter!
  • You are exactly right, Maria. Fear is something all of us must deal with. I still do after nearly 40 years of doing this. We have fear of messing up a painting or making changes to a painting for fear of ruining it. We fear charging a fair price for our work. I had a conversation this past weekend with another artist on this very thing, only their fear was in making changes to a painting that was really all but finished in their mind. To overcome the fear, whatever it is, we have to step out of our comfort zone and just do it. The way I have always approached my fears, whether in art or in racing, the military, or everyday life was to just do what I feared most. Probably not the best choice at times when life and limb are risked, but in art, we don't have those risks. The worst that can happen is the client says no or tries to bargain with us. No one gets physically hurt. Look at it like you are applying for a job. The employer rarely comes and asks an person to come to work for them. The person has to apply, and sometimes they must negotiate a salary to get paid what is fair and their expertise deserves. You and I as artists are really doing the same thing. We are telling an prospective employer what pay we must have to do the job they want done at a fair and honest price to do it right. Many times you can make people wonder if they are making the right decision to buy a painting if the price is to low! They wonder what is wrong with it that it is priced so low. I've seen paintings in a gallery priced to low and not sell, then removed from the gallery for a couple of months or moved to another gallery with the price raised and competitive with other paintings of the same quality and they sell immediately. The art world and pricing can be a very odd thing, and there are no set of rules that always apply to everyone. So if you want to move towards being a professional and not a hobby painter, you need to start charging fair prices for your work. Over come your fears and tell the client in a positive, confident and friendly way what the price of the portrait of their daughter will cost. If need be explain that you have expenses for materials and you do not work for free and say it with a smile. They will understand. They don't do their job for free either. :) Good luck. :)
  • Thanks AZ! As I know you are right I've decided to make a portrait of my beautiful female-friend as a proof of what I'm capable to do following all Mark's direction (what have done Garry with Maz)!
    The most has a "carnet" of "true" works to show to a client, not me because I've started only with the purpose of sell...and so I've done only small painting for the market., but now that I began this journey I want to do more and work on both sides (however quality)...paintings for recharging my fonds and "PAINTINGS" that seems to me the way for never loose the imput and growth.
    Ciao Maria :-c
  • Thanks for sharing Valentin.. You do some great portrait work.
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