Last evening I began a marathon framing session. My $200+ order for frames and mats came in and I set up the living room… and dining room… and kitchen… to get some matting and framing done.

Finn and Bob are on hand to supervise...
Finn and Bob are on hand to supervise…

Two hours resulted in three framed pieces and one matted image. I have four more paintings to do tonight, plus the hanging wires.

My mom called during this mess and I talked to her while defending my piles from the cats. I said to her, “Why can’t I have a simple hobby. Or at least a cheap one?”

She laughed and said, “Because you’ve turned your hobby into a business.”

This got me thinking. Do I want my painting to be a business? Is my end goal here to make my living from art?

Short answer for the last question: no (unless I win the lottery, which I’m totally open to.) For the first question, however, I’m a little less sure.

When artists paint, they create paintings. At a certain point the paintings sort of pile up. Yes, they make handy gifts, but sometimes your friends don’t want your experimental abstracts or another horse painting. Even your mom has limited wall space. That’s where “the public” comes in.

Artists lament lack of sales. People seem willing to go to Ikea or Fred Meyer and buy a print for $50, but unwilling to invest $200 in an original by a local artist. At shows like the ones I’m going to this summer, jewelry and other small items under $20 tend to do really well, but larger pieces, no matter how well-priced, don’t sell. Many artists get around this by offering prints or cards; for myself, however, I’ve found I invest quite a bit in printing and get the money back in a reluctant trickle. I’m focusing on displaying original paintings and seeking commissions. The investment per piece is just as high, but when I do get a sale my profits look like $20, not 20¢.

$20 you say. Surely more than that! I guess it depends on your numbers (and remember, I’m a numbers person by profession.) We’ll assume I produce 10 paintings a year and use that to divide the cost per painting.

  • A sheet of watercolor paper: $6.75+ (usually divided in half) = $3.38 per painting
  • Paint: $10-18 per tube = $3 per painting
  • Brushes, equipment, other: $250 (I’ll divide this over 100 paintings) = $2.50 per painting
  • Marketing (website, booth fees, etc.): $200 per year (divided over 10 paintings per year) = $17.10 per painting
  • Classes (workshops, regular classes, critique groups, conventions): $1000 per year (divided over 10 paintings per year) = $100 per painting
  • Transportation / commute /etc.: $100 per year = $10 per painting
  • Mats: $15 per painting

In short, to get a painting from idea to the hands of a buyer takes $150.98 (matted, without a frame (with a basic frame add $35.)) One could argue that that price would be reduced some without marketing, classes, and transportation. But I do want to take classes and improve, and I like the experience of meeting the public and hearing what they think of my art.

I’m not complaining or lamenting the state of art. I’m just wishing I didn’t feel like I had to worry about all this. Keep It Simple Stupid. That would seem to be the direction I want to go, but apparently it’s going to be complicated for a while.


If anyone is interested in learning “how” to buy art, here is an interesting article.

5 Ways to Learn About Art