I wish I could magically imbue everyone with the realities of being a freelance artist. The biggest issue I feel artists face is their work being taken seriously as “work” and not a “hobby”, but that is a difficulty I will discuss later on. I decided I wanted to talk about the problems artists face in hopes that some understanding would be gained by non-artists, but as it will take more than one posting to cover it all, I will only talk about two or three at a time.
One of the main things all artists struggle with is how the majority of people, without consciously meaning to, make light of the work that goes into creating a final piece. For example, a recently commissioned landscape I’ve been working on sold for over $500. This is a specific landscape of a man’s grandparents’ farm which is slowly deteriorating now that it is no longer a lived-on working farm. His wife specifically wanted it painted to be a memory, frozen in time, for not only him but for their children and grandchildren. The main reaction from people who know what I sold it for is, “Wow! That’s a lot of money for that!” Really? One of the trees – just one of the many trees – in the landscape took three solid hours to paint. And I’m not finished with that tree; that was just time spent painting the limbs and branches against the sunset. Now I still need to add the green spring leaves emerging from said limbs and branches. (Thankfully, this customer DOES understand the time, patience, and – yes – talent/gift that goes into creating such an artwork.) Factor in the cost of the paint used, the cost of the 24”x36” stretched canvas, brushes, palette knives, and various and sundry other miscellaneous tools one uses while painting, and the hourly income made shrinks considerably. And, since it is a painted memory of a specific house, shed, barn, trees…..farm!... then extra care must be taken for it to be exact in how it looks and not just a “similar to” painting. It is very important to me for this to be an artwork that inspires a comment such as “Hey! That’s (insert name here) farm! Man I loved that place…” because that person has an immediately triggered memory upon viewing it.
Which brings me straight to a second battle an artist faces: how does one set a price for a finished commissioned piece? Ideally an artist should be able to charge by the hours actually worked plus the cost of materials, etc., but then the costs would vary from one artwork to another of the same size, and those who really do not have an idea of what all goes into the creation of each piece would question “why this one at this price, but not this one?” and the resulting conversations turn argumentative and serve no one’s purpose. The pricing must make sense to the buyer in order for the art to sell, so a set price for sizing with appropriate fluctuations for perhaps differing materials/techniques must be determined. Personally, I finally decided on set prices by size for certain medias (example: portrait painted in coffee, 14” x 18”, is $210, but the price changes as additional people are added to the portrait) but by the linear inch for paintings (example: acrylic painting – per linear inch is $9.50. The formula would be as such for a 14” x 18” painting on stretched canvas: 14+18= 32. Then, 32 x $9.50 would make the price = $304) Of course the down side to this for the artist is that sometimes more time is expended on one artwork than the other so the actual hourly rate one would ultimately earn would vary a bit; but as this type of pricing makes more sense to the buyer, this is what helps to sell the artwork.
I will write more about additional artists’ struggles, but for ease of keeping the train of thought, I’ll post them as Part I, II, etc. as I have a sneaking suspicion that the installments will be interrupted with other thoughts and discussions.