Blog posts about the business side of being artist.
Starting my Youtube channel
Following my own advice of my latest blog posts, I started working on my Youtube channel. I had 3 videos I had posted in the past, but as most Youtube advice goes, consistency and quantity are key (as well as video quality of course. Meaning post regularly and keep posting until the Youtube algorithms start picking you up and you get suggested and as a result receive views.
The magic number of views is 10,000 for your channel, at that point certain locked features open up for you to enable to promote and monetize your videos.
The first videos
Working from home and having held off on some airbrush jobs to re-evaluate my art business I had time, so I’ve posted daily. I filmed in the morning, edited in the afternoon, posted late afternoon.
The first movies aren’t good. I had to buy some studio lights to get better lighting and bought a better webcam for studio filming (I have a good camera for filming outside the studio. I also had to set up my art studio, so it works better for the videos.
I also tried some different formats. I did some how-to videos, a vlog in Dutch, tips and tricks and a sped-up video showing me airbrushing.
I’m already noticing which ones get the most views (how-to videos) and the viewer engagement (many viewers stop watching about halfway). I already have a good idea how to fix those issues.
However, I feel good about my first week on Youtube. No, I’m not seeing much viewing growth yet, but I’m convinced that by keeping going, eventually I’ll get there. My focus will be on DIY artistic paint projects. I think a lot of people wonder how to paint something, touch something up, or even how to fix an item, to then paint it. In between, I’ll post some straight-up art creation videos. I’ve built a following organically on Facebook, so I can do it on Youtube too.
It does take up much time and that means I will become more selective in the commissioned jobs I will take on. I’ll still take on goalie masks of course (I love my goalies) and motorcycle art, but less of the unusual requests I get that in the past I said yes to for the money.
The reason and the plan
So why do all this? Well, if you read the past blog posts, you’ll have an idea, but bottom line is that I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to make money from your art, it’s not good enough anymore to rely on folks buying your art, or even commissioned art. People will pay a limited amount for entertainment art, but almost none for straight up visual art. But even in entertainment, the money doesn’t really come from straight up sales. Marketing and advertising allow the vehicles for your art to pay the artist. Think Youtube , Spotify and Apple Music. People are willing to pay a nominal amount per month to be entertained on demand, like Netflix.
As a visual artist I think it’s just not good enough to try to live from the sale of your artwork. I’m trying to make the creation of my art the product or service that entertains my fans. If I sell the actual artwork it’s a bonus, but I think I can make a business out of creating art on Youtube, both as entertainment and educationally.
Millennials are already big consumers of Youtube, but the next generation relies even more on Youtube and is even less likely to pay for any of the art they enjoy online. Because of that I think that I need to catch up, because relying on art sales is not a sustainable.
Or on my web page: Youtube
OK, so I just published my first vlog on Youtube. It was terrifying to put my face and voice out there, but those who have read my last blog post will understand why. For traditional visual artists like me, the game is changing and I believe Youtube is the key to staying up to date.
The case for Youtube
We 40 plussers are stuck in a rut of paying for services and art that our kids will never pay for. My daughter may be persuaded to pay a $10 or $15 per month fee for entertainment, music or books, but she will probably never see the value in paying roughly $200 per month for cable TV or buying one music album for the same price as a month subscription to Spotify.
It’s time for a dinosaur like me to hop on the train, before it’s passed by completely. To me that train is Youtube. I hear all my contemporaries talk about their kids always being on Youtube. It’s often followed by “I don’t understand it, what’s the point in watching someone else play a game?”. The thing is that my teenager gets much more out of it than just watching Pewdiepie playing games. She gets news from a different perspective than we do. She often knows what’s happening in the world before we do and she has a refreshing point of view. I often wish I was as unbiased as she is.
One big difference between Youtube and TV is that Youtube is interactive. You watch, comment, like and post your own stuff.
I’m doing it!
So, I’ve made a conscious decision to do just that. And guess what? I’ve found some fantastic content to follow, from pure entertainment to great news channels.
And now the moment has finally come for me to publish my own content. They always say your first Youtube video is the worst, so I figure it can only go up from here, as I get more comfortable talking to a camera and hearing my own voice and seeing my face. I’m ready for it. I feel like I’m in the caboose, but I’m heading towards the 2nd class wagon.
Go watch it
Check out my first Youtube vlog right here and don’t forget to click the little thumbs up if you like it:
Learn more on my website: https://www.artbybas.com/
“From today, painting is dead’ is allegedly a quote from French painter Delaroche after observing the first photographic process.
Of course, photography hasn’t taken the place of painting completely, but it has had its effect on the old 17th century profession of portrait painting. We may see photography now as an art form that can easily live side-by-side with fine art painters, but I am noticing an interesting overall shift in the art world from static art to entertainment.
What art do we really spend money on?
I don’t think any artform is dead or is going to be soon, but let’s face it, how many of us spend money on original art?
There are art collectors who buy original paintings and sculptures, but in my experience, most people who come to art shows are quite happy to spend a small amount of money on a nice art print. Places like Ikea, Pottery Barn and World Market also have a good collection of inexpensive prints, so you don’t even need to go to an art show. That has an impact on the value of artwork and the ability to be a professional visual artist. It’s tough to live on $30-$60 art prints.
I’m sure that also includes photographers, who probably feel the hit from the amazing camera apps and increasingly better phone cameras. You can take a half decent picture on your Iphone, use an app to enhance it and print it for $30 on canvas at Walmart. Who needs an artist? The photographer will tell you it’s not as good as a professional photo and a quality print and they’re probably right, but if you just want something colorful on the wall it’ll do and it may even come with good memories from the time the picture was taken.
If I think about what visual art I spend my money on, I must admit I’m more likely to buy a print at a Comic Con than original art. I think the last piece of original art I’ve bought was 16 years ago! I’ve bought plenty of cool art prints though.
I also buy concert tickets, Kindle books, go to the movies and occasionally I’ll pay for a music download from Itunes and I sometimes buy theater tickets. All of those have one thing in common, they’re a form of entertainment to pass the time. That’s also the one thing a piece of static art, like a painting or even airbrush art on a motorcycle doesn’t do. It’s cool and may make you stop to look at, but it doesn’t entertain for an hour or more. In fact, I will argue that riding a motorcycle with or without airbrush art is equally entertaining.
But I’m a dinosaur, I know that younger generations don’t typically buy music, but stream it or download it for free from Youtube. If you dig hard enough on the internet you don’t need to pay for an ebook either (sorry writers). Movies can be watched on various streaming services or Youtube. Although going to the movies, going to a concert and going to the theater are tough to replace, because it’s an event. It’s also a moment to lose yourself and if anything, something to brag about on social media.
Entertainment is key
If we are only willing to pay for artists to entertain us, then especially us artists of static, visual art, need to rethink what we’re doing if we want to live of the proceeds of our art.
I think we’ve come to a point where the artist with professional aspirations needs to be part of a medium that people do spend money on. That means providing entertainment. But I also think the successful artist needs to work harder than ever. Look at any successful musician. With money from music album sales dwindling and streaming services paying pennies, musicians are forced to hit the road more often and longer in addition to composing and recording new material.
Youtubers seem like a bunch of young men and women who just play games with the camera on, but these men and women work hard! Many hours go into creating all that online content. If they miss a beat, they lose many subscribers. Some of them are even touring now, going from online to live entertainment. I’m going to see Markiplier in January in a theater in Denver. Many podcasters, such as Mark Brickey from Adventures in Design and The Minimalists, tour the country many months of the year.
Want to write novels? You had better be prolific and when you’re not writing, make those book tours! It’s no different for anyone in the movie and theater industry. Right before a movie comes out, you see the actors hit the talk shows on TV.
Make a choice
I think as artists we have come to a point where you must make a choice: Set your life and family aside and work the many, many hours to be successful in a form of entertainment, where there still is money to be made, or accept that your art is a side business and enjoy creating it, without the pressure of making money doing it.
10 efficient rules to live your daily life by…
I’m an organized person. I like to plan, get things done and I don’t like being late. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have rules for an efficient working day.
I try to have a daily routine and even though there’s almost always something that throws it off, I like having a plan, so I try to follow these 10 rules.
- Make a physical list the evening before. I use a small notepad, where I jot down thoughts of what I need to do tomorrow in a list. I don’t do it digitally, because I’ve found digital lists are too easy to ignore. My list sits next to the coffee machine, where I see it often throughout the day.
- Start the day reading something meaningful. I think it’s important to put yourself in a good frame of mind for the day. Don’t start with work, email or the news. They all trigger feelings of stress. I’m not a religious person, so my morning reading tends to be about mindfulness, compassion and other life lessons. Another person might read the Bible, Koran or whatever. The point is to start the day with a sense of being grateful for your life and the people in your life and thereby realizing that not everyone is so lucky and that any day can potentially be your last. Don’t waste your time being angry, unhappy or mean to others.
- Eat a good breakfast. Not cereal or a quick bite in the car. Your brain and your body needs fat to be full, content and happy. I cook breakfast for my family every day, so we can all last until lunchtime without being hungry or needing a snack. If you’re in a hurry, make sure you have a boiled egg in the fridge you can eat. Avoid sugars and carbs. They make you lethargic, tired, hungry and fat.
- Delay reading your first emails of the day, because once you start, you know you’ll be putting out fires for a while. Many problems solve themselves and most can wait, really, they can. So, if you have something that must be done today, do it before looking at emails.
- Dumb down your smart phone. I turn my smart phone off around 8 or 9pm and usually don’t switch it on until about 9am. That allows me to spend the evening with my family without distraction, sleep without disturbance and focus on my morning routines. I also removed all my social media and games from the phone, except Instagram (I use it to post pictures of my artwork, but I rarely spend much time visiting it). Instead I have my books on the Kindle app, so when I’m in a situation where I’m waiting somewhere, I spend time reading. This was an excellent tip from The Minimalists. I read more and waste much less time on Facebook. It’s also much better for my data usage.
- Have lunch at a set time. I don’t eat a huge lunch, because I have a good breakfast, so I don’t spend much time on it, but I try to have lunch at pretty much the same time every day.
- Stop working when you get home. This one is hard for me, because my art studio is at my house, so it’s easy to slip in there. But really it is much better to set work to the side and give my wife and kids the full attention they deserve. Again, this one is very hard for me. My brain wants to keep going. However, when I adhere to this rule I’m always happy afterwards that I did.
- Read before sleeping. Nothing can keep you up more than to work late or to stare at a screen late at night. Nothing helps you sleep better than reading a book in bed. If you must have something keep you awake, let the book hit you in the face as you fall asleep.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Even your TV! Luckily my wife wholeheartedly agrees with me and believe me, once you start doing this your partner will too, because as far as I’m concerned, the bedroom is for 2 activities only and both are more enjoyable than TV or Facebook. I notice the difference, even if I’m just charging my phone in the bedroom. Only the Kindle is allowed.
- Use a shared calendar with your family. We use a shared Google calendar. We can all add to it and see what we’ve going on. That way there are less surprises, better planning and less chance at double booked appointments. It really reduced stress in our household.
Art Pricing for commissioned work on objects
The first time I had my hockey goalie mask painted, I wasn’t working as an artist yet. I had bought a brand-new mask. I remember that my budget for the paint job was (arbitrarily chosen, I admit), no more than what I had spent on the mask. After all, in my mind it was just decoration, whereas the function of the mask, to protect my noggin, was worth much more. The idea that the paint job was skilled art work that takes much more time than to create a mass-produced goalie mask and therefore should cost more, never crossed my mind. I looked at the art pricing from the consumer’s perspective, not the artist’s.
A goalie mask will set you back on average around $500. OK, there are more expensive ones and cheaper ones. To paint a goalie mask typically takes me around 2 weeks, including preparation for painting and clear coating. Of course, I don’t work on it a solid 8 hours a day – I’m also a stay-at-home dad and I usually work on more than one project at a time.
If I was to divide the price my customers pay for a goalie mask paint job by the hours I spend on it, it comes to a little over minimum wage. I avoid doing that. It’s depressing. If I priced the paint jobs properly by the hour at what I think it should cost, the cost to paint a goalie mask would be prohibitive for most goalies.
The Art Pricing Value Gap
I call that the art pricing value gap. The difference between what the value of a piece of art should be or is even perceived and what the customer is willing to pay for it.
I think most of my customers would agree after I paint something for them, that the value of the paint job is far higher than what they paid. However, budget constraints simply won’t let them pay that. That’s OK and understandable. We all know this struggle.
So once again, my father’s wise words, that you price an item to what the fool is willing to pay hold up. However, in this case it really backfires.
The value of doing what you enjoy
Why do it then? Well, I could spend my time in an office, making much more than I do, performing a job I don’t want to do, 8 hours a day? Not in corporate America, where you’re required to show your commitment to the company by working many more hours than the regular work week.
Or, I could make a lot less, but do what I want, be my own boss and enjoy what I do and spend more time with my family, which all makes me happy! That’s a choice I made.
Not all jobs are like the goalie masks though. I find that the higher the value of the object you paint, the more people are willing to pay. My motorcycle customers are willing to pay more than my goalie mask people.
Of course, there are occasionally exceptions, but I think many of my colleagues in the custom art world will agree that they prefer not to divide what they get paid by the number of hours they put into a project.
Lastly, my airbrush teacher had looked at it in a positive light: “Every dollar of profit you make, is more than you had in your pocket yesterday”. I’m not so sure that that holds up when you look at your total business accounting, but it puts things nicely in perspective. Enjoy what you do and be grateful for that.
Know your expenses
If your art is your business, you need to have a good overview of your expenses. By knowing that, you can know how much you need to make to breakeven and to make a profit.
In part 1 of this series I talked about a base price. That base price is not chosen randomly. Based on your expenses you need to figure out how much you need to make to cover those expenses and then some more for profit.
For me, expenses include paying for my domain name, webhosting, email service to use that domain name, art materials, marketing materials like business cards and event materials (canopy, banners etc), tools, insurance, admin etc.
Knowing what that is, you can figure out, if I make $X on a painting, how many should I sell in a year to cover my expenses. More strategically: How many do I need to sell to not just make breakeven, but to make whatever profit I want to make?
You could gamble on selling one original painting for $50,000 if that’s your yearly goal, but more realistically you figure out how many pieces you can realistically paint in a year. How many you expect to sell within a year. How much should you then get for your paintings? That will get you closer to that base price. Over that you need to add any cost of materials, packaging and maybe commission. How does the price look now? Would your customer pay that or do you need to adjust? In that case, do you need to increase yearly production to be able produce and sell more? How can you do that without giving up quality? Do you need to add other revenue streams? If so how and what?
These are all important business decisions. It’s an ongoing process called running your business. There is never a single, final answer.
Choosing creative freedom over business
This may not be how you envisaged being an artist. Maybe you’re more idealistic, maybe you just want to create your art, regardless of cost, profit and demand. That’s OK, but then you need to be prepared to supplement your art career with other income streams (a different full-time job). There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s how a lot of the most progressive artwork is produced, sometimes with dramatic success, far beyond those of us who try to immediately run art as a business.
I’ve read a few times that if you do that, ‘art is just your hobby’, I disagree, you can be a professional artist and still supplement your income with other jobs. I think most artists do one way or another.
This is the great thing about art, the freedom to be an artist however you want. In fact, the way many folks in the corporate world often look with jealousy at my freedom as a commercially minded artist, I feel a pang of jealousy when I meet the artist who truly creates what he or she wants, without the constraint of commerce, especially when they are as successful as I dream to be….
In part III of this series I will talk about how I price my commissioned airbrush and custom paint jobs…
Pricing your paintings
What is a good strategy for pricing my paintings? The question of all questions for artists. I’ll start with one of the wisest lessons my dad taught me when I started working with him:
“In marketing, pricing is not based on the manufacturing cost of an item, but it’s driven by whatever the fool is willing to pay for it…”
I can prove this with wo words: Fidget Spinner. ‘Nuf said.
The Banksy factor
On my last trip home to Holland I visited a Banksy exhibit at the Moco museum opposite the Rijksmuseum on the Museum Square.
Some Banksy pieces have sold for over $1M, yet my guess is that in terms of time to create the painting, making the stencils and doing some research may have taken him a day or so and actually spraying the painting (much) less than 1 hour. Material cost is minimal. Maybe I underestimate or overestimate, only Banksy knows. Point is that there are plenty of paintings by well-known artists, that took months to complete, but fetch less or the same price at Sotheby’s than a stenciled and sprayed piece that could be finished in time before the cops catch you putting it up on a wall. Time and materials are not necessarily a guideline for the value of a painting.
Who do you sell to?
When you start out as an artist, many seasoned artists will tell you not to underprice your work. They want to make sure that the value of art is not spoiled by low cost pieces, but I’ve always wondered if that is such important advice. Who buys a piece of art, because it’s cheap or on price alone? When you’re at a point that you’re selling originals to collectors, I’m pretty sure your prices will reflect that. Most of us are not.
The question is, who do you sell to? Art collectors are known to value certain pieces higher and spend more, but how do you get their attention? If you sell to the general public like many of us artists, most customers have a much tighter budget. They are often more inclined to pay smaller amounts for a nice art print. In that respect, you also compete with the commercial stuff you can buy at home stores. For someone who’s just looking for something pretty to put on the wall in the kitchen, a painting of several thousand dollars just isn’t in the budget.
Commissions and other cost
Another issue is the cost of exhibiting your work. An online gallery like Saatchiart.com may take a 35% commission and require you to pay for packaging for shipping. A lot of brick & mortar galleries will take 50-60% commission. Even in the cooperative gallery I hang my stuff I pay a monthly amount of $65 and 20% admin cost for each sale. You don’t want to be yoyo-ing with your prices. To your customers it looks like you make it up as you go along, but it could also severely piss off the dude who paid 50% more, because he bought your piece in a gallery vs straight from the trunk of your car. So for your original pieces you need to consider the amount you are willing to take for it (base price) and then add the possible commission and any other cost to it (50%). That may take you past the amount you think ‘the fool’ – my dad talked about – will pay for it, so you may need to adjust that down or perhaps the higher price is the correct value and you were actually pricing your work too low…
Establishing base pricing
For the base price, I do have a ‘system’. I figured out what I would be willing to take for one of my paintings. This shouldn’t be some gut feeling amount, but a careful consideration what you need to make to give your business enough cash flow to flourish (your nut). I then take the surface dimensions of that painting (length x width). I divided that base price by the square inch surface of the painting. Now I have a per square inch base price. Every subsequent painting I make I work out a base price based on its size. I do price differently for oil paintings vs. acrylics, because I’ve noticed that many galleries price acrylic paintings lower than oil paintings. My price per square inch is higher for oil paintings than acrylics.
So now that I know my base price and I figure out any additional cost and commission I think I have a pretty good method to price my work by. Now let’s hope someone finds it who loves it enough to pay the full price for it…
One important note to make: I don’t consider art buyers fools, and neither did my dad. The person who buys art is paying a carefully calculated price for a handmade piece of art that they can enjoy lifelong and by generations to come.