Guest Post, Successful Actions

Full Time Artist – A Goal

A consideration you must confront when planning a career as an artist is that you will be able to produce enough of your artwork and able to sell it at a sufficient price to cover your costs and your bills without working yourself to death.

Wow! That’s a big statement. But let me give you some examples.

I am a watercolor painter primarily – I sell my watercolor originals, prints and cards. That’s not all I do artistically – I also work in polymer clay, acrylics, collage and various kinds of sculpture, and my favorite medium is dye on silk and batik. I also paint murals.

I only accidentally took up watercolors. At one time I had a very small studio apartment, and had no room to do anything else. Watercolor turned out to be my favorite medium (besides silk and dyes).

I started selling my watercolor originals and bought a house, where I could set up a studio. Over the years I went back to old mediums (dye and silk) and took up new mediums (clay, polymer clay, sculptures). Customers admired my new work, but they bought watercolor paintings and prints. Occasionally I sold something else.

Sales of other artworks was rarely profitable. I will explain: I could spend 20 hours on a large watercolor painting. I am fast and I am good. Frame it for $150. Sell It for $1,500 to $2,500. Or I could spend 20 hours on a hand painted silk scarf and sell it for $45 – maybe. More likely I would wind up selling it for $20 because it didn’t sell. People pay $39 for my 8×10 prints of watercolor paintings, yet will not pay the same amount for a hand dyed piece of clothing which took 5 or 6 times as long to make. Early on I learned that if they are going to wear it, they don’t expect to pay much for it – at least not in the galleries and art shows where I work.

I consider that some of my work with dyes on fabric is some of my best art. But I learned some time ago that if they can’t hang it on the wall, they are not going to pay big bucks for it. I wear my fabric art. Often people have told me I should be selling that fabulous shirt or awesome skirt. I got to smile. It took me 3 weeks to make that skirt and nobody is going to give me 3 weeks’ pay for a skirt. I can not even imagine making skirts and shirts in various sizes to sell – I would spend a year working to accrue a small inventory, which would never sell for a fair price.

I have sold quite a bit of clay pottery when I have done it, but even though it sold, it was not as profitable as the watercolors, and took a lot more work. I’ve sold hundreds of prints of my collages because of the poetry on them, but I rarely sell an original collage.

Another consideration which most galleries ignore is that most people cannot afford original art until they are well on in their careers and are no longer paying for 3 kids in college. To invite younger people to start enjoying and collecting art, you need to offer prints of your artwork. I have notecards, 5×7 prints, 8×10 prints and occasionally larger prints. Having different sizes and prices of prints allows younger people who cannot afford a $500 – $2,500 and up original artwork. As they get older perhaps they will return to purchase a smaller original ($100) and then later a larger one. They do return.

Take these things into consideration when you are starting out to be a full time artist. If you expect to support yourself and your family working as an artist, you will have to run a business. And taking into consideration what people are willing to pay for various works of art is part of your business plan.

Elizabeth Sullivan
Wild Spirit Artworks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *