I wanted to talk about an issue I have been observing, and shine some light on what I see as a mistake some newly professional artists are making. I've been selling my art for coming up on 10 years. So I started out as a fine artist in late 2009, when I made my first efforts at putting my work in shows. Before that I was just doing it as a supplement to my career as a concept artist. I want to talk about three of some common pitfalls that I've seen artists fall into when they decide to start selling their art.
Undervaluing Your Art
I totally understand why. I mean, you get into it and you think, “I'm just barely starting out. I don't know how to price it. I'm afraid that if I put my art too high in the beginning, I won't be able to sell any of it.” Totally understandable. I completely relate. But the problem is that it takes a long time for people to get out of that mindset and it kind of carries throughout their entire career until they get some big award which gives them some sort of justification for raising their prices. Or they just flame out because they can't sustain their career since they don't put enough value on it.
I’ll tell you a story about one time I severely undervalued my art.
I first started out in 2009 and at that point it was tough to sell art. It was the middle of the housing market crash, so the great recession was pretty much in full effect at that point. I was designing full-time for a startup company that was struggling to make ends meet. So I was forced to put myself into all sorts of different situations where I was using my art to try and make money off of it. I was just searching for any little freelance job that would come my way, which were very few and far between. For example, I would get hired to draw charcoal portraits for people for 20 bucks a pop.
I remember one time I was hired to do a live painting event where you set up your easel and paint either the scene that's going around you or you can paint something that you prepare for beforehand. It was a David Bowie-themed show. One of the things that they requested that we do was to put our art up for silent auction. One of the mistakes I made was that I made no minimum bid on my auction pieces. I remember bringing whatever I had and putting it up on the walls and at the show itself, I painted a 24 by 36 inch canvas live. The painting probably took me a few hours to do, and even by modest standards, an hourly rate for that would be like 150 to 250 bucks an hour for that sort of thing.
When it went to auction, I believe the finishing bid was a whopping 80 bucks.
So that was pretty deflating. But that's a pretty extreme case for me. I did still underprice my work for a while, and it wasn't really until I hit on my “Painted Roses” series in 2010 that people really started to catch on. Even that first Painted Roses show, I ended up selling a 4x4 inch piece for 80 bucks just because, well, I don't know how much I was supposed to sell it for. Something like that today would go for about four times that price.
Don't shortchange yourself.
it's a race to the bottom. If you do undervalue yourself just for the sake of a quick buck, it's harder and harder to dig yourself out of that hole once you're in it. Start from a place of an upward trajectory rather than the short-term financial goal in mind. You should always be working your way up, especially as an artist who is trying to make a career out of this.