My Blog Journal


The True Cost of Creating Art

Lizzy Bennet Regency Cat Portrait by Tara Fly Art

How much are you willing to pay for an artist’s talent and skill?
$750.00? $2,500.00? $3,500,000.00?

How do artists come up with these figures anyway?

For those of us who have 9-5 jobs (or 8-6 jobs, or even 7am-7pm jobs..), earning a regular paycheck, we can easily quote our worth in terms of hourly wages or yearly salary.

We can identify ourselves as being “middle class”, “working class”, “poor”, etc…

We begin our careers as inexperienced teenagers and young adults, probably making minimum wages, perhaps slightly better…
Given some time, training, a college degree, and focus, we’ve managed to become valuable assets to our employers, and have been rewarded with raises and promotions.

One wouldn’t expect an employee with 10, 15, or 20 years of service to be offered a comparable job with a starting salary of $8.00 p/h. One might rightly even consider it an insult!

Artists, too, need to be fairly compensated for their labor, and if that 20×30 canvas took 60 hours to paint… and they’re asking $10.00 per hour, so be it.

People mistakenly believe that a more experienced artist will work “faster”… which is true and also false.

A more experienced artist will push him/herself to tackle more complicated projects, which invariably take longer to complete.
Sure, he could sketch that horse in half the time it takes a newbie to figure out the correct leg proportions…
Or he might take twice as long as the novice, ultimately producing a drawing alive with detail and depth.
A horse practically prancing straight off the page.

Details of Lizzy Bennet acrylic painting cat portrait by Tara Fly

The beginner might sell you her drawing for five bucks, or you might be able to persuade her even to give it away.
I don’t believe that I kept ANY of my paintings from high school, when my work first began to attract attention.
If someone wanted it, I gave it to them.
I have a few pieces floating around from grade school though. ;)

The professional artist, on the other hand, realizes that his paintings need to earn him a paycheck. Which, in addition to labor, he needs to factor in the cost of his materials, plus his utilities, rent, food, and other needs… the overhead of being self-employed.

regency cat portrait acrylic painting on plaque with lace trim.

What? Artists should live on the streets and starve?
Is that how little their talents are worth?

They’d be better off salting your french fries or stocking jars of tomato soup, because those jobs are necessary and respectable…?

I’ll remember that when I overhear the maintenance person in Aisle 5 grumbling that his job isn’t “worth it”, as he mops up the shattered jar of spaghetti sauce that some testy child threw from his mother’s cart.
As she merrily strolls away, whistling distractedly… not even bothering to apologize.

I’ll say to him,
“Hey, buddy, look on the bright side! At least you’re not an artist! Cause they don’t even deserve to get paid; they must work for free. Enjoy pushing that mop for $8.50 per hour. Cheers!”

The fact is, running a business (even a tiny one) always costs more than one realizes…
And Creating, in all its forms, is a full-time job for many people.

They have mortgages and bills just like everyone else. Plus, they have merchant credit card and Paypal fees, vendor booth fees, machine maintenance and repairs, taxes and licenses, membership dues, website hosting, advertising…

My mind is drawing a blank, as I’m typing this at 1:40AM after being awake for 20 hours. ;)
But you get the idea.

Only the very successful artists are selling $3,500.00 paintings every week, or every month. The rest of us are squeaking by on much less, and whatever we earn in sales must cover everything.

Although I shouldn’t draw myself into that illustration, really. I’m self-admittedly not doing this full-time anymore.
But I made a commitment to myself, and to my family, that my artistic income would help cushion the responsibility my husband has undertaken in his role as breadwinner.

Unfortunately, the 21st century economy isn’t friendly to “one income households”, especially not families with young children.
Although we aren’t homeless or hungry, living on charity or government welfare (not yet, thankfully)… it certainly isn’t a life of ice-cream socials and sock hops.

His income provides us with our basic needs, 99% of the time; some months are a stretch.

regency cat portrait painting on wood plaque by Tara Fly Art.

When I list prices on my artwork, it isn’t simply rolling dice or doing Rock-Paper-Scissors.
There is a standard pricing formula whereby all the money is accounted for.

My fingers hesitate to type this cliché, but purchasing my art really does put food on our table, keep the electricity running for another six hours, and allow us an extra night of sleep undisturbed by worrisome thoughts.

And I’m not just speaking for myself.
If you don’t buy artwork from me, at least do consider making your next purchase from someone who is supporting themselves solely with their craft. Help the independent business owners and local artisans to help you in return.

Don’t balk at their prices. I’ll bet if you asked, they could justify every penny… and sadly they probably undervalue their worth as well.

Don’t cave and go to Walmart for the cheap crap, which will inevitably fall apart within six months and wind up residing for eternity in a landfill. I blame them for our throwaway culture.

Trust the experience of people who have perfected their skills, who create fine quality pieces and can guarantee their craftsmanship because they stake their livelihoods on it.
This is what they do in order to eat.

Acrylic painting portrait of Lizzy Bennet Cat by TaraFly on wood plaque

In case you were wondering, these images show my latest original Regency cat portrait of Lizzy Bennet – “Dressed for Netherfield”. I painted her with acrylics onto a basswood plaque, measuring 7″ x 9″, and applied 3 coats of matte varnish to seal her.
The fabric and lace trim was hand stitched by me, and I fastened each faux pearl onto the lace with thread, before hot-gluing the entire piece of trim to the plaque.

I spent over eight hours creating this lovely piece, and she is available now for purchase on Etsy, for $95.00. :)


  •    Reply

    […] Fly, T. (2011, April 30). The true cost of creating art [Web log post]. Retrieved from […]

  •    Reply

    I recently raised my prices Tara. I couldn’t justify giving my pieces away. Well, I wasn’t giving them away but after doing my taxes I realized how little I earned last year.

    There are people out there who will pay for handmade. Keep smiling!

    BTW – this is one of your most fabulous kitty cats to date! I love here and love the texture in her face and whiskers. Absolutely victorian shabby chic! Can I use that phrase? xo

    •    Reply

      Thanks Jess, I really appreciate that …because I like her, too! :)
      I’ve always liked certain pieces better than others, but I can’t determine what other people will be attracted to.

      And I know exactly what you mean about selling and not earning. Sometimes we look at the numbers and think, “Wow, this person has sold thousands of paintings and/or prints!” … but there are so many other factors we aren’t aware of. Only the artist himself, or his accountant, can look at the outgoing expenses and determine whether his prices are reasonable and sustainable.

      This little rant came about after reading a few artists’ comments on Facebook… one artist in particular, who is a very dear person, had to explain why she priced her originals so high… even though she’s been professionally published, her work is licensed, and she spends 60+ hours on each canvas painting. Even with her experience and skill, a fan interested in commissioning her was questioning her $10-12.00 per hour rates. :P

      LOL “Victorian shabby chic”, you say? I’ve never had a label before (does “crazy” count?), and my house is more “eclectic mess” than shabby chic… but it is great to hear that my work resembles an officially recognized decorating style. :)
      I like the look of shabby chic, unfortunately it focuses heavily on white… which would spell disaster around here. Or should I say “spill disaster”…
      But perhaps I should be painting for other folks’ homes anyway; maybe my customers have white couches and carpets. hehe ;)

      On a tangent… I did a brief search for Victorian shabby chic, and came across this beautiful wood cabin, which was renovated by an amibitious woman (all by herself!) while she juggled two full-time jobs. Wow! Now that is inspiring! :)
      (and it reminds me of your adventures with home renovations…)

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