Monday, August 23, 2010

A short essay on being an artist.

I decided that I wanted to be an artist when I was six years old. As I grew up I realised that in order to do so I would have to make sacrifices. I would probably never have enough money to buy a house, probably never have children. Holidays were rare and unusual things. I wanted to paint and draw. That was all I wanted to do. I would always be poor, because very few people manage to live off their art. All of these were conditions I accepted so that I could follow a path that I chose and spend my days pushing coloured water around on paper, scribbling and later writing.
I have been very lucky. A run of work for a card company enabled me to gather enough money to put a deposit on a house. It is amazing how years of frugal living can suddenly lead to savings as money comes in. I met a man who I loved who wanted to look after the children so that we could have a family and I could continue to work and was blessed with two very beautiful babies.
It was a great sadness to me when just as we seemed to be finding our feet and he was working also doing something that really fired his mind our paths went in very different directions ( a nice way of putting something that was a very painful time).
For the last ten years I have painted and illustrated and written and been a single parent. And life has been good, but not always easy.

I sell my paintings. It is always hard to put a price on them, but I do find what I think is a fair price. I am very lucky in that it seems that much of what I do is desirable and people find pleasure in my work. This is a great privilege. And what I am trying to find in this post is a way of saying how I feel when someone goes into a gallery and asks for a discount on the price. 
Some years ago a gallery I showed with phoned. There was a man in the gallery who wanted to buy a painting of a red winged angel. "He wants it, but he doesn't want to pay £1 700 for it. What shall I do?" " Tell him to pay in instalments or buy something else." I suggested. "We need the sale, " the gallery replied. " Then wait for someone who values the painting enough to pay what I ask," I answered. The gallery sold it at a discount and took the hit themselves out of their comission. Happy gallery, happy punter, very unhappy artist. To me it feels as if people think I am trying to cheat them. I don't want to play the game of putting an extra £2 or £300 on a painting so that I can go, "I tell you what, I'll knock a couple of £ off because I like your face." I price the work. That is how much it is. If people want it, fall in love with it then that is the price. I do not sell used cars. I do not go to the supermarket checkout at the end of a shop and go, "I tell you what, knock £30 off and I'll take the lot." And I do know that bartering is a game that people like to play, but I don't.

Likewise for a gallery. I know how much work goes into putting on an exhibition, paying for invitations and post. I have never paid for publicity, but exhibitions, framing, commission etc all eats away at money and even more at time. I am so lucky that John Foley and The Imagine Gallery found me. In my working life I have wasted so much time with galleries who want my work and then say, "Oh, these are a little expensive for us. I don't think we can get those sort of prices from our clients." And then they sell work and it takes me months to get the money from them.
John has such an eye for beautiful things. My visit to the gallery in September will be my first visit there, other than online. So looking forward to it. I feel very privileged to show my work with John at Imagine.

The wind is rattling over the house and shaking it like a ship at sea. Blue sky and fast clouds outside and I have said too much.

The red winged angel would now sell for between £2 500 and £3 000. I doubt very much that if the gentleman sold it he would offer me a share for all the hard work that I have done in honing my skills as an artist and 'building my market' and all that sales jargon nonsense, that has led to an increase in the price of his angel.
Someone once asked me if I thought my work was a good investment. I said no. They looked surprised. You should never buy a piece of art as an investment. You should buy a piece of art because you love it, because it speaks to you, because it sings to your heart and soul, because it gives you pleasure, because it intrigues, because it challenges, because it is beautiful, because you can't not buy it.
My answer would be different now. I would say, it depends what you value.


  1. What an interesting post Jackie and I agree whole hearted, you should buy a piece of art because you Love it and want to look at it everyday.

  2. An excellent post Jackie...
    I find myself in the same conversations: "you should sign these, the'll be worth something in a few years!" And my answer is the same as yours.. you should value it because it gets at you through your eyes, because it makes your heart sing or twist.
    Such an endless struggle the tightrope between being an artist and asking for money isn't it.
    Thanks for introducing me to the lovely Imagine Gallery too :) Enjoy your trip.. it's a splendid place :)

  3. I think all artists need to follow your example and hopefully your words will spread. I have two prints of yours because I love them and wish I could have afforded originals. Easier and more comfortable times for you amd your family are totally deserved. I loath the way art is treated as a commodity - your mini article here would make an excellent BBC2 documentary!

  4. All I can say is:
    "we are not worthy". As a gallery we are so fortunate to be able to show
    your work. There is not a day that passes that my spirit isn't lifted by
    looking at your pictures.
    I am very lucky, for the time they are on display but unsold I can pretend that they are my own collection.
    When they do sell I think "that's a shame I loved that". But most of the time they sell to very nice people and it is a pleasure to observe their
    On those days I enjoy what I do.

  5. Nicely put. I would never ever ask for a discount on a work of art. I breed Welsh ponies. I put a fair price on them.
    I hate it when some one wants to haggle. I tend to walk away and say, that is the price, if you dont want to pay it some one else will.

  6. The other thing is that I don't only want rich people to buy my work so I let people pay me in instalments, spreading the cost sometimes over years. There is a massive element of trust on my part doing this as I insist that people have and enjoy the work while they are paying for it.
    John operates a similar scheem where you can spread the payment over 10 months. This means that most people can buy if they want.
    People who want a discount would usualy spend more on wine in a week than it would cost to pay in instalments.
    Must be hard selling ponies, Penny. I have rarely sold work to people I don't take to. There is such trust with selling ponies, that they will be loved.

  7. Jackie, wonderfully put, pricing ones work is always difficult and this mindset of always wanting to get a DEAL or bargain belittles ones work.An artist has put so much more into the canvas and paint thats stands forsale and people who have the balls to ask for discount miss the point completely.That loser will be wishing his sorey ass he had paid the price now but he really didn't GET your work or would have bought it.When I first sold my work it bothered me wondering who these people were that were taking a peice of me home,, I don't think they ever saw it like that.Thank you for sharing your story explains much, best wishes from Laurie in Canada

  8. The perfect day for this post (I'll say why in a minute) and I completely agree. And I would add that art IS an investment - not a financial one though. It;'s an investment in love and life and imagination. The pictures I have by you, Jackie, bring joy every day.

    recently I donated a large, framed, original from Katie and the Dinosaurs to a charity hospital auction. It was mistaken as a print and went for £150. A woman who wished she had won in asked "if i could produce another print". I explained this was impossible - the picture was the original. I don't make prints of my work and rarely sell anything. In the end I agreed to let her consider other illustrations from the same book. I priced them at £300 - £400. She just phoned a few minutes ago to say that (after wasting several hours of my time finding pictures and telephoning her to describe them) they are "too expensive".

    Do I discount? the idea ran through my head. but thank you Jackie. The idea has run out of my head and far away. In fact I think I might double my prices!

  9. Argh!!!!! James I think you need to put your prices up at least 3 fold!
    My publishers were once astonished that I sell my work for what they called 'so much'. ( great to have their confidence there). It is partly a question of self respect. Your work, James is so beautiful, and you have such skill and such a wealth of understanding of drawing of story.

  10. My goodness! My heart just nearly stopped beating here! If someone who has such a huge back catalogue as you James, asks such low prices how is this ever going to work out?

    Copyright is slowly dying out, and people want everything for free. I've only ever sold a couple of paintings and barely made a bit of money from my published books.

    I will never stop painting but I really doubt I will ever manage to make a living with my art. My only wish now is to have a good day job so I can finally stop running about having two day jobs on top of all the rest. I haven't even had the time to paint anything in the past 6 months.

    Explaining doesn't do it all, but showing people that an artwork is more than the result of sitting down for a couple of hours with a brush, might change a few mentalities.

  11. Beautifully written. I think you have spoken for all artists and the dilemmas that we all go through.

  12. I do sometimes give work away too. Not to the gentleman who wrote to tell me how much he and his family loved my books ( which was lovely) and how he had sent me a cheque for £40 for me to make out to a charity of my choice because he wanted to give one of my drawings to his wife for her birthday. And when I wrote back and explaned that I sell my drawings for £250 -£3 500 he sent the cheque back and said he couldn't afford that so just make the cheque out to a charity etc etc.
    But to people like Great Ormond Street hospital, where I said they should do what they wished with it, ie raffle or, what I hoped, hang on the wall in the hope of distracting children. Glad to say the painting hangs in the hospital somewhere and I think it might be time to send them another ( though it is not easy to give them work.)
    Sometimes I get enough requests for work during a week to keep me and the kids in gruel for a month so long as the gruel was free!

  13. This was an interesting post to read, especially as I am at the start of my own artistic journey and find pricing to be one of the most difficult things to get my head around.

  14. I have followed this thread with interest, both here and on John Foley's blog. I am fascinated by the attitude towards artists and their prices. People don't seem to get that you have a right to eat, sleep in a dry bed and buy enough materials to go on creating. Most artists do not even award themselves the minimum wage and undervalue their time and effort hugely.

    In addition you have a right to recognition of the quality of your work. As you say art is priceless; you cannot place a monetary value on to the nourishment that feeds soul, heart and spirit. But our world requires that you do therefore price must reflect talent, pride and professionalism.

    Well done to you Jackie for sticking to your guns, I might not be able to afford your originals (at the moment), but I can enjoy them on your blog and when I buy your books.

  15. I'm glad you became what you wanted to be. When I was younger I thought it would be fun, to just destroy the work in front of someone. But after all it is their ignorance. They have not learned to be respectful.

  16. This is such a challenging subject. One of the galleries that represents me always gives discounts to interior decorators or art reps. They split the discount with me. That feels hard to me - they might work with these folks a lot, but I don;t.

    I love how you would answer someone now about if your work is a good investment, I answer in a similar way - that purchasing art you love is an investment in your joy - and what could be a better investment than that?

    I've been following Imagine's blog and loving the wonderful work and John's spirit in general. I must admit, I'm a bit jealous, I'd love to have such a person to sell my work!

    Thanks for the excellent post.

  17. I could rant for pages on this topic! but, I'll just say that I agree whole heartedly with what's been said.

    I also want you to know how much I appreciate your sharing your art by posting it on your blog. Your work gives me so much pleasure! I long to own one of your charming cheetahs, but. . .at least there are the books! My treat for keeping my nose to the grindstone this month is I get to have one of your books. Took me DAYS to decide which one to get. . .

  18. I am so glad to read this post. I used to sell my pottery and sculptures at craft fairs and beyond. There were always a few customers who wanted to bargain my prices down, up to 50% or more. The few times that I did give a price break, I felt extremely used and dirty. That taught me to never ever bargain with my prices. I do not charge too much or too little and I am definitely there to sell my pottery at the value that I deem them.

  19. What I didnt add to my post is, that some tmes I dont sell to people who I either dont like or who I know wont look afer the pony, and I take long term payments from those I know will and I have ponies either given or on long long leases to those with the know how, the ability to feed and look after but to whom buying one would be impossible.
    Dont expect that from an artist, it is your hard work and expertise that has gone in and, well bother off the subject, would love to be not so far away and could actually SEE your work in the flesh.
    Sorry thisis a bit disjointed.

  20. well done!
    It always feels like a slap around the face to me. I hate pricing my work. As an artist I have to understand that your work is worth what someone is prepared to pay and it's pitching it right to be able to begin the climb up and establish yourself without selling yourself short. So when you find a price and someone says 'can I have it for less' it's hard. I totally understand how you feel

  21. Thanks for this insight into an artist's mind and world. We have bought some paintings recently, and for us it was a lot of money - but very special to have something unique. Wish we could visit you in Wales but health makes that impossible. Every Blessing PS - I get a lot of pleasure at looking at your pictures online, thank you

  22. Oh, here here, Jackie. It's SO hard to find a balance between the work you put into something, and a price that is reasonable enough for someone to buy. People tell my I should 'simplify' my work so that it doesn't take so long to do, that it will still be beautiful. But I can't help myself, I always end up getting drawn into the details and fine work. I don't want to have to compromise.

    I worked for years as a Graphic Designer, and my husband still does, and it always seem odd to me that people and businesses are willing to pay a high hourly rate for design work (an extremely high rate if they go to a fancy Design House), but if you put a price on your fine art reflecting that same hourly rate, they wouldn't even consider it. I don't want to pay myself $5 an hour for what I do, I think I'm worth more than that.

    But at the same time, as you say, I don't want my work only going to people who have an open cheque book and think it will match this season's trendy colours, or the new sofa they bought. I want it to be affordable to people who LOVE it. Probably my happiest moment as an artist was selling a set of four quite large paintings of the Four Elements. The girl who eventually bought them started off with one, which she bought outright. Then she came back to me and said she really thought she had to have them all, was there anyway I'd consider payment in installments. She never asked me for a discount, and she payed them off over several months. She had to save up and it was a lot of money for her. But she loved them so much, it didn't matter. That's the kind of buyer who makes you realise it's all worthwhile, but they don't come along very often.

  23. It would seem that this post struck a nerve with many. I have had emails from collectors of my work too supporting me in my stance on discounts, which is good. I haven't bought a piece of art for a long time, though I still remember the first thing I bought. Maybe I will write a blog post about that. It is beautiful and still delights me, and I bought it at least 25 years ago.

  24. Ooops...that should have been "hear, hear"...sigh, all that money spent on my education! ;-)

  25. Wise words, Jackie!

    That's one of the reasons I loathe the idea of selling in galleries. You're not entirley free to create and sell your art how YOU want it.