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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Art and Money

Clover, and lots of it!
Money, is ruining Art, we are told, in various documentaries, articles and even books, dedicated to this. New issues? I think not....
For a long time, I have been preparing, a post on pricing. Not because I am expert on this, but because I make a living from being a printmaker, which in some way, must qualify me to at least have an opinion on the subject. Right or wrong, here it is:

* Printmaking, was originally invented, for the very reason of making multiples of art in such a fashion that it would become available to the masses. So, printmaking was invented, to make art cheaper......yep, there it is..... cheaper, that is what "available to the masses" actually means.

* Having worked at a prestigious printmaking studio, we were well schooled in calling a print, an original print, as opposed to a reproduced print, an offset reproduction, where masses of prints come off a press, with no intervention from a human hand. I believe that is what sets printmaking apart,
from other forms of making multiples. It is also, what printmakers constantly struggle with, as the very word print, in said masses minds, conjure up the hated offset press ;o) and we are always trying, apart from to the few, to explain what an original print is, and why it can be called an original print. For me it is as simple as, that human hands made an original print, an etching, a linocut, a mono print, a wood cut..... a human hand inked a plate every time it was printed, a human hand corrected/made errors when printing from a plate, that was also made by human hands, marks were made with knives, stylus, brushes, etc etc..... and in making those marks, we earn the right, to say that this is an original print, don't you think?

* Right, so there it is... on the one hand, printmaking came about to make it possible for more people to buy something to hang on their walls, and at the same time, we should never forget that those things to hang on the wall, were made by artists... the printmaker!

* How to price this..... the multiple image, the handmade image......

First: I think it is VERY important, to persistently carry on with the mission of explaining what an original print is. For me, that means, including a little/large flier with each and every print, that explains what an etching/linocut etc is! In clear terms! Feel free to use my exact wording from my fliers if you want, you find them as a thumbnails with every linocut in my shop, or for my etchings, in my shop.
The flier, is great for explaining what an original print is, and I think it also serves a very important purpose, for example when giving away a print as a present, it makes the receiver understand what they are given, and the giver feels that "more value" has been added to a gift of original art explained! I have heard this over and over again from people who have bought prints from me, the flier is super important to them!!

* This post, is maybe needless to say, more directed at emerging printmakers, than at already established printmakers, as they should have their pricing in order, or sorted out for them by the various galleries/ shops etc that they work with. I think it is always very important to listen to the person who is going to be selling your prints to the public. Ahhhh, you think, but of course, and yet, I have seen many times, how artist come very prepared and quite rigid about their pricing, not wanting to hear words of advice. Fine, this post is NOT for you ;o)

* you can always go up, it's hard to come down......... this has been my measuring rod always. I tend to believe, right or wrong, that I sell very well, because my price is "right" for the public I turn myself to. I am very humble, when it comes to pricing my prints, I am not a "fantastic" artist, but quite good at what I do, I like to sell, it is a driving force for me in my creative process, so why be so expensive?
I have looked and sought advice on my pricing from many different people, before settling on a level that seems to mean, I sell very well, and I make enough to live from what I do.

2 stories to illustrate this post:
1) a friend of mine, recently participated in an open studio event, he is an emerging artist, with a clear vision of what he does, and I love his work. It was priced very well, even low, in my opinion, and during the event, he sold a lot. Somewhat to the chagrin of his fellow artists at the event......
who thought his prices were way to low. Now, if you are a "new" artist, not so tried and tested, would your objective in participating in an event like that not be to be seen and ultimately to sell, as every piece of yours hanging on someones wall, is going to be "advertising" your work? By pricing yourself well, you make that happen many times over. Each and every client, is going to tell how wonderful you are, after all, they bought a print from you..... and in that fashion, you become more known. My friend was very happy with the event, and I can understand why, because it is an avenue to higher prices...... sell well, and you can 'justify" a rise in price, simply by being in demand.
2) more than one student of mine, have participated in events, soon after coming to the world of printmaking. At these events, exhibitions, a sort of peer pressure has made for, in my mind, ridiculous prices.... so either nothing was sold, (which is very disheartening) or even worse, some family member or friend, bought a print, making it very difficult for you to now correct your pricing!
It is easy to over estimate yourself, but if you can listen, there are good reasons for not doing it.

In short, you are better off starting low, and going up....... there are so many sources online today that can give you a hint of what kind of prices are being asked for what kind of prints.... don't compare yourself to someone really well known, or compare one kind of prints to another kind, find something that kind of resembles our own sphere, and try it out. Being less expensive, does not mean you are going to sell like the clappers, it still has to be good art for that, but it does mean you are not closing doors, before they were even opened. Being less expensive, I think, often means that galleries and shops see a way of working with you, it shows you are being reasonable about your prospects and humble about your beginning, not bad things to be as an emerging artist........ actually, not bad things to be as a person either.

Don't agree, or indeed do agree... I'd love to hear your thoughts!
All the best


  1. I do agree! I believe this also applies to the world of painting, sculpting, ceramics, bookbinding.... all areas of handcrafted art, design, products.
    My books are almost all "one-offs" - I rarely make two exactly alike, except for small notebooks.
    It doesn't pay to be over-priced. People will not buy if they perceive that your items are not worth the money you ask. However, it does require common sense, balance and then effort to explain exactly what is being offered for sale. A hand bound book. Made by hand. From individual pieces of paper and fabric, lengths of linen thread.... Each process done individually by hand, with care, with love, with some knowledge & experience.
    Not a machine-made book. Not a re-covered machine made book (!). Hand Bound.
    I believe, like you, that this makes all the difference. For me, the mass produced notebooks and journals in popular stationers are the equivalent of your offset press prints (or even of photocopies - yuk!). You can pick these up for a quid, or two, or three... although actually, some of them are surprisingly pricey for what they are - just stick a label on saying the cover paper was designed by someone popular, or say it has a "leather" cover (that yukky ground-up and re-constituted stuff they call leather...ikk!), then they hike up the price. The book is still made by a machine and it is still held together with glue, not with stitching.
    I try to ignore the pricing of those mass-produced products. They are not the same as mine. The base materials are similar, but the methods and quality are just in a different league. I take pains to explain what a Hand Bound book is - just as you do with your prints (though I don't send out a little note with my books - perhaps I should?).
    I do use other binders' items to help me decide on pricing, but I also work out what it cost me to make my books, how long it took, what I feel the "value" of my work is.
    While trying to be fairly humble. After all, when I look on the internet, at the wonderful, amazingly beautiful work produced by highly skilled, trained binders... well, my books are quite good, I do my best to make each one perfect. But I am not in their league.

    I really think you see this in the right way. Don't price too low - that is silly. But be sensible, humble and intelligent about selling and pricing. Listen to those who know what they're talking about, don't be stubborn or pig-headed about it. Be aware of the place that your work occupies within its own world - ie. I'm a self-trained book binder, with only a little formal training and four years' experience & practise. I'm better than many, but no way am I up to the standard of the highly trained Professionals! A little humility does, indeed, go a long way!

    As for "prints" and "original prints"... I find it frustrating that the distinction is not always made clear. I have seen original prints on sale, next to someone else offering mass-produced items for similar prices. There is no comparison... yet the prices!

    Keep at your evangelising on behalf of the hand made, hand created, hand crafted, Mariann! We need people like you, who will support your colleagues and are not afraid to use your common sense and be aware of your own worth and your place within your world.

    Good luck! You surely deserve it.

    (sorry if this is a bit long....)

  2. What a great post Mariann! Thank you so much for taking the time to put all this down. You're such a pro! I never thought for a minute about putting in a little explanation with my prints to let people know exactly what they're buying. SUCH a good idea! I am always so surprised when people don't understand this...I guess I shouldn't be. Someone convoed me a few months ago to ask if I'd sell them the "original" of one of my prints. When I explained to them that the print WAS the original, they never wrote back. What to do?

    1. ahhh, a flier can make all the difference, people like other people to know, that they bought them something "real"...... big hug, Nancy!!

  3. Great post. As someone who makes monotype prints I find it very hard for people to see that the price is because it's a one-of-a-kind piece and not a reproduction. They hear the word "print" first.

    1. Thank you so much for your support, to write about pricing is always super tricky......

  4. A generous gesture, and interesting reading your thoughts on pricing.
    I am not a printmaker or artist of any kind, but I have been a businesswoman all my life and this makes sense, you explain the basic principle of business very well and surly artists have to sell their art to joy for the buyer.

  5. This post of yours was sent to me from fb in a reply to my post where I was wondering about pricing. I make textile art but my bread and butter is my brooches. I can sell loads at craft fairs for £10 each. But thats 'almost' my rock bottom price so when approached by galleries I have to raise it for them to get their commission and drop my price for them to want them. I've been at it in a higgledy piggledy way for years and still haven't come up with a good strategy. Perhaps I should do what you do and include a 'how its made' slip with each piece. I actually wrote a post on this subject in my blog. Dare I link to it here? I think I will not for self glorification but so you can see as it chimes so much with this post. Hope thats OK? And thank you for the thoughts.

  6. Thank you for your generous offer and insight. You have me considering what I might put into a "flier" to accompany my own art and craft pieces. Your perspective is refreshing and inspirational.

  7. I followed the same post that Jackie came from on FB. On the surface I disagree with this. I'll quote what I wrote on Jackie's page: "I'm a big believer in pricing on the high side for unique items. Price is seldom the limiting factor in someone buying something they really want. If they can afford $15 they can afford $20. On the other hand, if a product won't sell for $20, reducing it to $15 won't make it sell any better. Lower prices bring an unsavory element and a perception of reduced quality. A very wise business owner once told me, "If people complain about your prices, raise them." I find that to be true. You don't want to be wasting your time catering to the lower end. They'll wear you out."

    However, I am also acutely aware that the marketplace might be very different here in the US than in the UK. We have such a mentality here of "I can get that cheaper at WalMart". People don't value handmade goods unless you're priced high enough to have a mystique and cachet of being perceived as high end. It's really hard to make any money in craft shows here because there's always someone's grandma making hand crocheted doilies for $10 (that's £6.50). That kind of thing is just wrong. It's slave labor.

    Selling products for less than your FULL cost (materials AND overhead) plus a good solid wage for yourself is just wrong. But I agree with you that pricing much over that is highway robbery. The thing is, very few people here in the US craft marketplace are pricing anywhere near high enough to make an actual profit. And that makes it hard for those of us who need to.

    Especially when just starting out, so many people are afraid to charge high enough prices. They're so afraid they won't get any sales, so they price it too low. It's really hard to raise your prices, actually. It's so much better to price high enough at first. You can always run a sale.

    Interesting discussion. I'd not really noticed the US/UK difference in that regard until recently. It's a very different marketplace. (I'm in the US but am married to a Brit. The differences intrigue me.)

    1. Hi Ginger, I could not agree with you more..... if it's rubbish, it will not sell what ever the price! And it shouldn't! I don't see any differences between the various place I have lived..... and know lots of Americans, that are facing the same issues as we do here in Europe.
      Now,when I say, don't over price yourself..... what I mean is.... that I think "art" , just by being "art" is perceived as being "expensive".. I look hard at the bottom line, materials, my time etc etc..... and make a very good living from my printmaking. I don't compare myself to big names, represented by galleries in big cities etc... I think that is the road to disappointment..... I am super happy with my life, and my work, and my way of figuring things out, having said that... If Saatchi and Saatchi comes knocking, hey, me and Damian will be pricing right up there ;o))) but until that happens, have a think about what you want from your creative life, an opportunity to moan about being misunderstood, or an opportunity to make a very nice living in a way that you love. Don't undersell, I'd be quite horrified to think that anyone would misread my post as advice to do that.... but be realistic...
      and yes... god darn grannies with their doilies, they bug me too... but they are always there, and really..... is doilies what people want?

  8. I am thrilled when other printmakers provide a clear explanation of the meaning of "original print". Thanks for that!
    In regard to pricing, your thought of keeping price low is good. One has to make some money, so I take into account my expenses, and add onto that a reasonable amount (generally materials and overhead times 2). Gallery affiliations, while prestigious and nice, can end up forcing us to raise prices because they take their 50 per cent, or more. So if I can sell from my studio it makes more sense money-wise. Of course, I have to do all work of selling, but if one is good at that, and enjoys it, why not?
    I make prints more expensive as the edition sells down..I wonder if you do this too Mariann?

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      thanks for your comment... I am not really sure I am so advocating keeping the price low, as much as keeping it realistic, although that is such a difficult call at time...... if possible having a look round yoru local shops, gives you an idea what people/shops think will be paid for an etching etc..... selling from studio is super, I prefer that myself, and I could not agree more with you Elizabeth, if you are good at it and enjoy it, fabulous!
      I never did raise my price towards the end..... have thought of it though, especially with my lino reductions, that are hugely time consuming and very short editions..... :o)) Mariann