by Michael Damico
A large part of my business includes working directly with artists. Since I’m an accomplished artist who also understands the business of art, the nature of my work leads to a lot of consulting. In fact, my company also offers mentoring, marketing, and managing for artists and photographers. With that said, I know the art business inside and out. So, I wanted to share some of the most common mistakes I encounter with artists, myself included.
Mistake 1: Underpricing
Most artists, especially those trying to break into it professionally, are so hellbent on making the sale that they’ll do just about anything to get it. Even if that means making next-to-nothing or, in many cases, actually losing money in the process. The first and obvious problem here is that, if you’re losing money or even breaking even, you’ll never be able to sustain yourself as a professional artist.
The second problem is not so obvious. It’s actually my personal observation that underpricing breeds contempt towards buyers of your work. And being bitter about that can lead to many missed opportunities. Instead, I encourage you to have an attitude of assessing what’s needed to accomplish a project and then price it accordingly. That means you do not lead with price. How many times have you started out with that and it leads to a downward spiral argument about price?
Use this method as an alternative: “I absolutely know a way to achieve this ________ and I can do it for you in the time you’ve allowed.” In other words, start with what you can do at the forefront of your conversation and presentation. Then present your price in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Just put it out there and let them consider what they’d like to do. Don’t jump the gun and try to defend your pricing. You’ve already explained what you’re doing. You see, when you let the buyer decide for themselves what they want to do, you’ll be surprised at what they might have to say.
But What If They Can’t Afford It?
If, for any reason, the price is not within their budget, help them find ways to compromise. For example, consider offering them a smaller scale image. An even cheaper route is to offer them a print or reproduction instead of an original work. Don’t dilute your value just to make a sale. That’s not necessary. And just because you didn’t make a sale doesn’t mean you missed an opportunity either. Rather, it means you’re willing to wait for the client who wants exactly what you have. People don’t always shop the lowest price for something they want. Many people in our society prefer value and quality over “cheap.”
Furthermore, don’t guess about your pricing. If you’re unsure, be transparent with the customer by saying, “I need to put pen to paper and get back to you with a comprehensive quote.” In fact, I’ve provided a short tutorial on pricing strategy that helps you consider all of your costs, including time, supplies, and much more. It also includes a FREE CALCULATOR I created to help you strategically price for sustainability and growth.
Mistake 2: Using Cheap Products
I see artists trying to cut corners and save money by using cheap products. I mean, I really see it a lot. Listen, I get it. I was a starving artist myself. But when I started accepting that good work can be enhanced greatly by using quality materials, I had no problems asking for- and getting- the prices I wanted for my work. That adage that “you get what you pay for” applies to art, too. My advice? If nothing else, at least hunt for the best quality materials at a price that’s reasonable to you. However, I’d definitely avoid cheap paints. Sure, you get them at half the price. But in many cases, you’re getting half the pigment too. The more expensive paints actually last considerably longer, go farther, and perform the way you command them to more often than the bargain brands.
All too often I see artists using the cheapest, most flimsy prefabricated canvases they can find. What’s the problem with that? Well, the tooth is very heavy, the materials are weak, the gesso is brittle, and the stretcher frames are prone to warping, bowing, and corner breaks. I know this from personal experience, but also because of all the artists who come to my shop to have their work framed. The cheap canvases are not only a dime a dozen, they’re easy to spot because the quality is just so poor and, sadly, it often reflects in the artwork as well.
So, I advise one of two options: 1.) stretch them yourself using a high-grade cotton or linen over a custom made stretcher from a local custom framing service provider, or 2.) have a custom framer build and stretch them for you. Hopefully, you’ll use us, but there are undoubtedly other framers out there who will do it for you. Just know that we are using the best materials on earth to make stretcher frames. Not only are we working with artists and their canvases everyday, but as an artist myself, I’ve been using canvases for nearly two decades. I genuinely know what works best. The canvases we build for you are exactly like the ones we build for ourselves. We have definitely mastered the perfect canvas! And we can make any size you want, from very small to absurdly large. In fact, the largest canvas we ever crafted was 8’H x 16’W. It was so big that we had to construct and stretch it in the actual room where the work was going to hang. So, just tell us what you need. From traditional to custom, we’ve literally got it covered! Call us at 615-815-0615 for specifics.
A Word About DIY Mats & Frames
I want to wrap up this section on cutting costs by addressing artists who cut their own mats and make their own frames in an attempt to save money. Look, I really get it. Again, I’ve been a starving artist myself. But please hear me on this, even if you don’t use my services, because this is a lesson I learned before I even got into the framing business. If it’s a joyful experience to cut your own mats and build your own frames, go for it! But if you’re doing it to save money, I feel like you’re lowering the perceived quality of your work. I strongly recommend that you form a good relationship with a knowledgeable custom framer who can provide you with those services. You want to find one who will always try and present affordable, yet elegant designs.
Do you know what got me into custom framing in the first place? While I was in college, I had one of my first gallery openings. They told me ahead of time that thumbtacks would not be acceptable on my work. They said it had to be framed. When I found out the price for two custom frames was going to be over $500, I scoffed. But I figured out a way to make it work. And at the end of the day, the person who bought both of my pieces couldn’t write the check fast enough! In fact, the final price was about three times higher than what I thought was acceptable. You see, in many cases, you’re selling your work to people who can afford it. And for those who can’t? Just start selling prints of you work.
Mistake 3: Signing Mats
Stop. Please…just stop signing mats. Just about every time a client comes to our shop to frame your beautiful print or painting, there’s a signature on the mat. And every time that happens, the client says the same thing: I hate this mat, but I don’t want to lose the signature. So, we then have to work around a disposable mat, which inevitably disrupts the design potential. My advice here? Sign the border, the back, or even the image itself. Learn to think of your mat (even those from custom frame shops like ours) as presentation packaging only and not permanent fixtures to the piece itself.
Questions? Comments? Leave me a message below or simply call the shop at 615-815-6015.