Sunday, December 13, 2015

Market Price--Setting a price for my art.

Color printing sequence.
"How much does this cost?"
This is one of those subjects that makes artists uncomfortable. "How much should I charge or ask for my work. "
I make a point of not asking people to support my artistic output--I think that would be presumptuous--no one asks me to create what I make but me so it's not fair or just that I "expect" people to support me (and I don't).
However, I'd like to think that I make things that people might want, and assuming willing buyers are interested, I need to be prepared to tell them how much, and why, my works cost what they do.

Ideally, interested buyers would chance upon my work, become enthralled, ask me what it costs, laugh saying, "is that all?!?" and buy it on the spot, with another for a gift.
That doesn't happen often.
In my last local show, I had framed prints that ran from $100.00 for the small animal prints (Beetle/lizard/snake/horse) to just under $500 (for my most expensive--"Maple").  The frames, mats and glass alone cost $45.00-$90 each.  I also had a box of unframed prints--mostly black and white for $20.00 with a few of the color prints at $40.00).  My artist colleagues all remarked that my prices were way too low while the average lay person (non artist) commented instead that they were way too dear (in my guest book at least two people wrote, "Too Expensive!!! with three exclamation points and underlined three times.  They didn't leave a name so I couldn't really explain how much work they are, or how much the wood blocks cost or the paper or the framing.

But I do understand. Salaries here are very low, and the average person might earn less than 1000/Euro/month with professionals often earning 10% of what they'd make in the US. Many people now have lost jobs or have only one wage earner at home, so having money left at the end of the month for essentials is hard for many, and art works remain a luxury that come after many other needed essentials.

Obviously, the art market...people who invest in art or travel specifically to look for and buy art works by contemporary artists-- is made up of a different clientele.  Florence is NOT a location for art buyers (except antiques) so I know that I need to look elsewhere if I'm going to market or have any success in finding homes for my original prints.  But that still begs the question of what is "fair" or "reasonable".
There are two ways to go about it. The market price (what the market will bear) that ignores the work or material costs) and is based on what a reasonable person, who might be disposed to buy artwork as a gift or for themselves, would be willing to pay.
I imagine there is a "price point", a figure where the average person looking at a work might say, "hey, that's great, I really like that" at a number that they'd internally think, "that's a good deal' and buy it without remorse. (There are probably several price points---"fair, but I'll have to think about it", "fair but more than I can spend", "too expensive for what it is" and probably, "are they joking!?"....
These values will vary by location and context. My local craft fair won't move anything that costs more than $25.00 while my work would bring 10X those figures in Santa Fe, NM or San Francisco, where I used to live.
The other way to price is of course from the bottom end--calculating materials and labor and trying to factor in a "fair value" for my labor.....:
For the purposes of transparency and to stimulate the debate I've listed my expenses for my last print below:

"Autumn Treasure",  my 8"x10" 9-block woodblock print based on an etagami watercolor drawing was just finished.  I printed 20 copies (so far).  There are 15 copies with text and 5 without and they are all printed on expensive, handmade Japanese washi.
Woodblocks: 5 blocks: 3 Shina and 2 Okoume, (carved on each side): $5.00 each......$25.00
Paper 2.5+ Sheets Shin Hosho $25.00/Sheet yielding 9 pieces each+2 $24x2.5 .........$62.00
Pigment and rice paste, sandpaper and photocopies and scrap paper:  ............................$8.00
Labor*: Carving 2 days/10 hours total @ $10/Hr--------------------------------------------$100.00
Printing*: 3 half days/ 15 hours @ $10/hr......................................................................$150.00
Total: $345.00
Costs per print at 20 copies: $17.25 (assuming a $10.00/hr minimum wage).

If I print an additional 30 copies, the original carving costs get divided by the larger number of copies, and as I can now print faster now that I'm familiar with this set of blocks. So Adding in the additional costs of paper and labor: 3.5 sheets = $87.00 and two work days printing (12 hours)--$207.00=$550 total.
So now the total cost of production $550 can be divided by 50 prints, so:
Cost per print at 50 copies is now just $11.00
Obviously, I'd like to add in a factor to make all of this worthwhile, not to mention pay for rent, utilities, health care, and food.....and one can quibble about skilled labor vs. unskilled labor, etc.
Which brings me back to the original argument.
How much are these worth?
How much would you spend?
How much can I reasonably charge (with the intention of having them priced low enough that they will sell briskly rather than waiting for the occasional buyer willing to pay a higher price)? 
And if the total market--at any price--isn't big enough to justify printing 50 copies, I'd rather not......).
For the record:
My kids both said $20-25.00 was what they'd pay without thinking.
My wife pretty much said, "Why would anyone pay for that when you can just print a photocopy off your image from the internet...."
I (as the artist and culprit of this particular work) would have set them at $100 based on the labor involved (valuing my labor at much more than $10.00/hour) but I doubt I will sell any at that figure--it's a pretty, but simple piece and I'm not sure "worth" that figure to anyone but me.  So I was going to set them lower,  at $50.00 before I decided to open up this discussion to the internet/public.

* I have left out of the discussion the question of numbering/editioning these prints.
Traditionally, Japanese prints were NOT numbered. They would print as many as they hoped to sell, and if they ran out, they would print more. Prices were always lower because they were not "limited".
Buyers today all want "numbered" prints--and if I close the edition (to 20 or 50 copies) the price should be presumably higher to compensate me for the resulting "scarcity". Getting back to the argument at the top, printmaking was always meant to be a democratic medium....making multiples so that everyone could afford to bring art into their homes and lives. I'd like to find a way so that at least some of my output is priced so that it's not out of reach of someone who really likes it?

**This little print, "Autumn treasure/chestnuts" was meant to be targeted towards a market that had a modest budget and less to spend. For the sake of comparison, My "Narcissus" print (a little larger than this one) is selling at $200 and and my little Espresso Genie continues to sell consistently at $110.....


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chestnuts. Etagami to Woodblock: LAILAC DEMO

I cut the blocks for this woodblock print just in time for my little demo for the LAILAC Japanese festival in Scandicci/Florence this weekend.  I had just one hour for my demo both Saturday and Sunday so there really wasn't much time but I think it went well, although I was talking too fast, forgetting to use the microphone,  and printing too so I didn't get to take any photos during my talk (although I took a bunch of the Etagami section).  I had a good crowd, interested and attentive but lacked a video feed so it was hard for those in back to see what I was doing.

I did manage to do a brief oral explanation of moku hanga and the history of Japanese woodblock and Ukiyo-e, describing the big difference between Western and Japanese woodblock techniques with an emphasis on why I use this method for my own work and then quickly moved to the demo part which is why I was there.

Since a big part of the Japanese festival is the Etagami corner (20 Japanese members of the Etagami society came over and were assisting at the tables showing people how to do etagami), I chose to do one of the Fall postcards I made last year, reworking it as a woodblock print.

I had time just to print the keyblock and text and one-two of the color blocks (I had carved 7) so I ended up with about 10 partially printed pieces of washi.
So now that the fair is over, I retreated to my studio and finished these proofs before the paper could go bad.
The original sumi and watercolor etagami postcard.

Simple version; no text and just one of the background blocks.
Text block added (it also has additional chestnut drawing details).

An additional background color block added.

Here are three of the printed variants. These are all on Shin Hosho (from Woodlike Matsumura in Japan and via Intaglio Printmakers in the UK).
One is without the carved text block (which also had some additional drawing lines)
One is with a faint yellow background/beta ban block.
And one is with a supplementary background green block that added a little more depth and was in keeping with the original watercolor washes.
 The hardest part was the small purple/blue spot on the upright chestnut. It meant a round bokashi on one block with blue, and the careful removal of pigment in the same area on another block and there is quite a bit of variability to how they came out.

I'm pretty happy with this. It's pretty close to the original Sumi and watercolor drawing that was the inspiration and a good printing exercise.  I'm not sure which I like better, the one with or without the text. The former retains better the idea of a watercolor still life while the one with text is still an etagami or "Word Picture".   The text reads, "AUTUMN TREASURE" and is a accurate description about how we feel about finding local chestnuts in the woods.