Sometime back a friend and I were talking about painting and she expressed surprise that it cost me more to paint than to write. She didn’t know that self-publishing is essentially free and that painting is very very very very far from free.
I was contacted today by a woman who wanted two of my paintings that are available on Etsy. She wanted a 2 for 1 deal. Was I having an after-Christmas sale? I offered her a deal — the best I could — and that was the last I heard. My paintings are already priced low since most of my market is here in the San Luis Valley which is not a wealthy area.
Let’s look at a 16 x 20 oil painting painted on an Ampersand Gessoboard. This is a common surface for me to use and a common size.
The surface alone ranged in price from $35 to $50. Since I try to get them when they are marked down, let’s just go with the $35. I use this surface because it’s easy to frame and will not bend, shrink or do other nasty things that crack paint. It is also very long lasting so if a person really LOVES the painting it will always be THAT painting. Same with the paint I buy.
Then there is paint. Since a tube of paint is good for multiple paintings, but you can’t paint any without any paint, you have to buy it. I mostly use a brand of paint made in the United States by Robert Gamblin who, in his long career with pigment, has restored paintings all over the world including the National Gallery and the Smithsonian. His company is dedicated to giving artists the chance to make their studios as safe as possible. Most people don’t think about the chemicals that are in paint, but some of them are nasty, such as chromium and lead, not to mention some pretty toxic solvents. If you are interested in this you can learn about it on Gamblin Artist Colors website. Since my studio has no direct ventilation and I don’t much want to die of chemical poisoning, I care very much about this, as should any person buying paintings.
Gamblin’s paints are competitively priced and I generally prefer mixing a lot of my own colors, so I’m a thrifty painter. Let’s invest in Gamblin’s basic set. It is $116 and the artist gets a good assortment of colors to mix with and paint just about anything they would want. But down the line paintings will demand different paints so let’s add another $100 to that for paints that are likely to become important to the painter. My REAL ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli was a bargain paint, on sale, from Daniel Smith at $35. To that I added a collection of natural pigments last year, on sale, for $70, and I’ll “give” you an additional white that behaves differently from the Titanium White that comes with Gamblin’s set.
The artist also needs brushes and brushes are expensive if they are any good. It’s better to invest ONCE in a really good brush than buy a cheap, unresponsive brush that wears out. I have a few brushes I bought on money from the Denver YWCA back in 1977 that I am still using. Cheap brushes wear out faster and do crappier work than good brushes. There is also no one-size-fits-all brush. Depending on style, the subject and the size of the painting any artist needs an assortment of brushes with different types and lengths of bristles. Brushes are an enormous investment for an artist, but since we’re trying to keep costs down while maintaining quality, we’ll get a large set of decent student-grade brushes and figure around $50.
If the painting is any good when you’re finished — or you hope to sell it — you’ll probably want to frame it. Since most of my paintings are OK in a rustic, barn wood frame, and they are economical and still make a nice finished product, we’ll buy one of those for $50.
Framing an oil painting requires more than slapping a frame on it. There are necessary tools and hardware. Some years ago I bought these tools and continue to replace the hardware, so I’ll cut you a deal and only add $25 to the price.
Then there is shipping. Shipping this painting anywhere will be impossible for less than $25 and might be more depending on how far and what level of insurance the buyer wants.
All this adds up to $400 and does not even consider the hours, skill and effort that goes into a painting. Some of my paintings took around 4 hours/day for a month to finish. Some longer. At the rate I was paid as a teacher, let’s see. 4 hrs x $75/hr x 7 days/week x 30 days/month? That’s what, $9000?
So… a GOOD 16 x 20 oil painting, painted with high quality materials with a thought to preservation — lasting a while — priced at $300 is a bargain.
P.S. I did NOT include a dedicated surface like a table, but I had to buy that too. I got lucky at a thrift store and got a great drawing table for $12. And then, my recent purchase, my easel, which I scored in an estate sale for a mere $100 which is $200 off the price the easel costs new. Storage isn’t free either, but I’m OK with my brushes in Lavazza coffee cans, my paints in tool boxes, etc. all scavenged from somewhere. I give up a lot of things in order to paint. I need a new phone. I will need a new laptop this year, but there is always the hope that the money from paintings will refill the well and those other necessities will be in reach. I’m not a starving artist, but some of the garden signs I have painted and sold paid for vet bills, lights, groceries, etc.