How to Make a Living as a Full-time Artist

How Much am I Worth as an Artist of 50 years Experience?

The most single asked question by customers is: How long did this take you to make this?

I am always hesitant as to how to answer. My first thoughts are: Are they questioning the price? Are they trying to figure out how much money I am earning? What business is it of theirs? Are they trying to find out if it is hand-made or mass produced? Do they think it is too expensive?

Regardless of the reasons, I do not like to discuss the subject; sometimes I would joke by saying, three years of studies, 50 years of experience, and I am not sure how long in the workshop.

The truth is, I am a qualified teacher and I gave up teaching to produce art. So there is no way I should be earning less than a teacher at retirement age. Since I am creating art as a full time job, I have to be conscious of my earning capability. There is only one item that I find impossible to produce at my acceptable rate of pay, and that is mugs. Mugs are mass-produced everywhere and I do not mass- produce or slip cast from molds. Each mug has to be hand-thrown and most customers have a maximum price in mind when it comes to mugs. I definitely cannot meet that price; so I will only produce mugs as a commission at my acceptable price. I prefer not to produce mugs.

What is Market Value?

An artist should always see what other artists are charging for their comparable works of art. Consideration should be given to reputation, experience, and volume of sales. If sales are flourishing, a slight increase in prices is acceptable; but when there is a volume of finished work sitting in a storeroom, it is time for a revaluation, especially if you rely on your art for a living.

Examine what sells and what doesn’t, or experiment with new ideas, but whatever you do, do not undersell yourself, be sure to meet your bottom line as an acceptable hourly rate.

Cost of Materials and Overheads.

As a fulltime artist, you must figure in to your cost-labor + materials + wear and tear on tools and equipment + overhead cost which includes rent + utilities.

If you plan to wholesale any of your work, the challenges become greater. Be assured anyone purchasing from you wholesale will add on at least a 6o to 100% markup, depending on volume and price range, 100 % is the norm. If you plan to wholesale, your acceptable hourly rate should be at the wholesale prices.

Honesty is the best policy.

Do not sabotage your wholesale market. A young artist exhibited some of his paintings in my gallery on a 35% commission, a customer walked in one day and asked if I can offer him a discount. I informed him I will have to ask the artist. The artist agreed to a 10% discount. The customer wanted a higher discount, which we both agreed to reject. A few days later, the artist came into the gallery and asked if he could borrow the painting and he would return it in a few days.

He came back with a different painting. Unknown to him, the purchaser had returned to the gallery and boasted of getting a 35% discount from the artist himself. I asked the artist to remove the rest of his paintings and don’t ever come back.

Protect your wholesale buyers as much as possible.

Make sure your retail prices are competitive with your wholesalers, if you retail also; depending on locations, a 10 to 20% variation in price might be acceptable.


Sentimental Value

I must admit every now and again, I will create one of my masterpieces that everybody loves. And if I love it, you can guarantee many people will love it. This is when I will attach a special price. I have only been wrong once when a selected piece took more than 12 months to sell. Maybe the special price is a little high, but I have no problem retiring it to my private collection.

Unless you are one of those lucky artists that the collectors have adopted, which means your work demands high prices and not lacking for sales, most artists have a bread and butter production and you will need it during tough times.

My bread and butter production are my touch forms and has been since graduating from college in 1967. Hearts have been the bulk of the production for the last 30 years but I still favor my unique one-of-a-kind hand sculptures as my touch forms.

Did you like this? Share it!

0 comments on “How to Make a Living as a Full-time Artist

Comments are closed.