One of the beauties of prints versus originals works of art is the simple fact it has the potential to pay dividends in the form of ongoing revenue that only stops when you decide it has to stop. If you sold a painting that took you 50 hours to complete and then turned around and sold it for for $1000, later prints have the potential to allow you to continue to resell the concept behind that original work over and over again. Let us assume that over the course of a few years you sold a hundred prints at $100 each, your total gross from that one painting would be $11,000. That is $220 per hour. Not bad! But in the real world it is not quite so simple. It may have taken you 50 hours to complete the painting but what about all the time devoted to placing those prints for sale, not to mention time it takes to fulfill or have the orders fulfilled.
For many of us, time is a commodity within our daily lives that we cannot get enough of. How often have you said to yourself there are too few hours in the day? Not all artists and photographers are retired with loads of leisure time to fill. A large number of artists I have met are also juggling family responsibilities and a full-time job. Sometimes the time to spend on their craft, whether it be painting, drawing, taking photographs or even some other visual art-centric discipline becomes evasive. Notice that I said "spend" when referring to time and this is why time should be seen as a commodity. Probably the best way to look at time in relationship to creating beautiful imagery is it becomes one more tangible expense that is added along with everything else to complete the finished project. A tangible expense is the actual physical property's cost that is spent in the creation of a work. For artists, it could be new paints, replacement brushes, canvas or paper. Since the majority of photographers now days work in digital it is a little more difficult to find tangible expenses unless you could calculate how much of a percentage of your equipment's lifespan and cost were to factor into taking that shot. But it could include gas to get to your destination where you took the photo, entree fees or a number of other expenses that might be associated with allowing you to finally press the shutter button at the right moment. It does not matter if it is art or photography. If you are making prints, you also have to include the cost of printing. But rather than printing, its this annoying time thingy that I want to further focus on here to illustrate how it relates to turning your art into something which is more profitable.
If time were an ounce of gold, what would the cost per ounce be? For everyone it is a little different. Look at the mom or dad who already works a full-time job. They work late into the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, so they can focus on making their hobby a side business to help make ends meet. I know this is the case because the late evening, early morning hours flood our list of new orders every day. Maybe that describes you. This gold bar might be valued less by the person who is a retiree who has a comfortable pension but pursues their art more out of the joy of it. Then there are those that might even have been fortunate enough to be able to turn their art form into a full time business. If that is you, you may evaluate that bar of gold even more differently because your hours in the day are also spent on marketing yourself, administering the business side of things, customer or client relationships and finally time to create your works of art or photography.
This past weekend I went to a local Barnes and Nobles book store. This is kind of common because my wife is a former teacher and has instilled in our 4 year-old daughter a love of books. As I was wandering around the aisles I came to an area where the book store staff had cleared out an area,that is usually reserved for toys (another area my little girl loves to explore). There I discovered a lady had a table setup on which she was demonstrating to patrons of the store how to make stained glass window creations she had setup for display. Once the crowd had thinned a bit I had the opportunity to talk to her about her craft, asking such questions like if she was selling online anywhere (which she was not doing since she had trouble with them survive shipping), how long had she been doing it, etc. I then gestured to some items she had on display and inquired what creations like those sold for. She said she sold them around $25. That is where the business gears in me became engaged since I am always just as interested in stories on how a hobby becomes a business, especially if it is art or photography related. I also was curious how much in materials she typically spends. She proudly told me "The glass is not that expensive, I get it around $10 per square foot.". At one point in my life I would have immediately thought, "not a bad profit margin" but now days I ponder a little deeper before making that determination. On the surface that may seem profitable since the pieces she had on display looked to have taken up about a square foot of cut glass but I also knew how often artists do not always think beyond the cost of physical materials. Someone then asked how long it took to create a piece. Having watched her work I knew it was not something that she could churn out within a couple minutes. She smiled and said, "Oh, maybe 30 minutes, not that long at all."
While I had no idea what her life story was, if she was a retiree or trying to do this while holding down another job, I used an arbitrary number in my mind for time cost evaluation. As she had indicated, her cost in materials was around $10 but let's say she was competing with her existing job which might pay her $20 per hour. This means her 30 minutes of time is worth $10. So if she sold a stained glass creation for $25 she only was making $5 in profit. And that is not including other possible expenses such as marketing, replacement tools and other items which can add up. Oh, and let's not forget that Uncle Sam gets a chunk of that $5. While this may seem like an oversimplification, and hopefully her business is a little more profitable than I estimated, you might be surprised how often similar scenarios come into play with artists I have met.
After a while I went my way but could not help but wonder how often do some of us as artists forget to account for the time it takes to create one of our creations, especially if we are also trying to sell it. I have met painters that might spent over 50 hours on a painting only to sell it for only a thousand dollars. For some it might be even over a 100 hours. Maybe it was a commissioned work so they got to keep the profit but in some cases it is a gallery sale in which they have had to split sale price with the gallery owner. Using that 50 hours again, when you do the math, a $1000 payout might seem like reasonable money since it is $20 an hour but what if they took longer or they had to forfeit 30-40% to the gallery? As most truly passionate artists will tell you they do not create art strictly for monetary gain. Many do it for the love of creating something. The feel and smell of the paints as they work in their studio. The process of taking a bank canvas and giving it life and color. Same with photographers. Many photographers will pour hours into manipulating, adjusting and other work on an image in Photoshop which may or may not even get sold anywhere. They do it for the joy of photography. My grandfather could be an example of this. Even though he was a successful landscape and fine art photographer of his day many of his works never sold but were developed into prints to simply decorate the walls of his home. But if you are one that is trying to turn your art into a business or planning on doing so at some point in the future, you have to determine how time factors into your cost.
Now let's quickly look at this from another point of view. I have met artists that create custom designed hand made crafts they sell on Etsy and other online venues. Some of the more insightful ones have told me they used to sell their goods at very low prices to compete with similar products sold by other artists. Eventually they discovered when they factored in time, they really were not making any sort of profit on their creations. Then raised their prices, sold less but made more money. This sounds counter intuitive but also makes perfect sense when you think about it. Yes they sold more prior to that but they were lucky to break even. And it was that annoying time thing raising its head which made them realize they had to raise their prices to make it worthwhile. Even though they raisd their prices, their cost, including that bar of gold called time, did not increase. It reamind the same.
One of the biggest reasons customers who used to do their own printing, now come to us is because we help lower the time factoring costs. I have on more than one occasion mentioned what it was like for me when I found myself having to suddenly fulfill about a dozen orders for prints people had placed for a new digital art piece I had created. At that time had been receiving an order here or there prior to that but rarely more than one a day if I was lucky. While I knew I was going to have to spend time on getting these orders out, I barely gave it the thought it deserved. Looking back at it I think what I really was doing was not wanting to account for time spent for fear it would discourage me in my pursuit of printing and selling my prints. Here is how it turned out. Back then I was selling the prints for about $12 each so when I received those 12 orders in one day I was ecstatic even though I knew that in materials and postage, I was spending about $6 per order. But it was after that day was over that made it impossible to ignore time because it had taken me 4-5 hours to finish everything I needed to do. This included printing, cutting the prints, packaging which took the longest, and finally the trip and wait at the post office.
For some of us,we engage in our art just because we love to do it. While making it a source of revenue which we can live on is a wonderful thought but it might not be a priority for everyone. But for many of our customers at FinerWorks, it is. It is easy to want to ignore the time factor because like me it may create some angst and cause you to have to be honest with yourself. But once you are honest with yourself on how time is such a big factor, not only will it make it easier to know how to price your work but also turn what could be a break even art business into a profitable one. It's challenging enough to turn a profit as artists so why make it more difficult.