Part of this whole deal is learning to think about business, which isn’t always the most natural fit with being an artist. I am not a meticulous record keeper or tracker of my time and work, but I do manage to hang onto enough data to have a decent idea of what is happening in terms of time and money.
Here’s my dilemma: I have a size and a price of work that sells well. I can’t adjust the time it takes to make it, or it won’t be good. If I raise the price too much, it won’t sell, or at least won’t sell in this region. If I sell it through a gallery, my hourly wage often drops below what I want to make.
To be clear, I am NOT someone who pisses and moans about gallery commissions. It’s a really tough business to be in. A gallery keeps a regular schedule so that I don’t have to. They take risks on shows that may or may not be commercially lucrative. They buffer me from crazies and people looking to take advantage. Work gets seen by people who might never otherwise find it. As someone who doesn’t love the schmooze, it’s invaluable to have someone else take care of that for me. I’m lucky to have had really good experiences working with galleries. At the same time, my time has a price and I need to be conscious of where that number is. If I don’t want to make much money, there are a lot of things I could do for work that are far easier than selling art.
I’ve been slowly inching towards trying to sell artwork online in addition to working with galleries. I feel like being here in Alaska sets you at a huge disadvantage in terms of exposure (particularly if you’re not shooting for the tourist market. . .) and it’s silly not to try. When I moved back up here twelve years ago, the internet was a very different animal and people were much less comfortable buying things online. We all seem to have gotten over that in the last few years. I have several friends who do a nice business marketing the things they make directly.
A gallery I used to work with had me sign a contract that prohibited me from selling work on “Etsy or Etsy-like” websites. At the time I didn’t care, but I did find it curious that this would be in the contract. I was never sure if this was about competition, or a sense that Etsy was “low-rent” (a feeling I don’t share – you can find both the wonderful and the horrific on that site.) I wonder how much online sales directly through artists are considered a threat to gallery business. Maybe it would be a cut – on the other hand, if making a bit more on some of my sales keeps me out of other jobs and in the studio, there’s that much more work that can go to galleries.
So, artists, art buyers, gallery owners, what’s the etiquette? I make the stuff, I pay for the photography and the website, I live in hicksville, AK – are there reasons not to proceed on all fronts? I know the obvious rules; you don’t undercut your gallery prices, you cut galleries in if someone sees your work at their business and then buys online, you keep the dialogue open so that nobody is out of the loop, but are there other considerations? I feel like it’s worth a try. Anyone who has an opinion, please weigh in.
And on a completely unrelated note, check out these heirloom tomatoes from my friend Joanna. Talk about an artist!