What goes into the making and selling of one painting?

Recently, I did another painting of a new series “Austrian Lakeviews”.

For the last three weeks I was near one of the most beautiful lakes in Austria – the Weißensee in Carinthia. So, I wanted to paint it ever since I arrived in the area. But it took me a week to find the time to visit the lake and take some photos.

550807 Weissensee * White Lake (Abstract)When I was finished with one of them, I realized that I had done it in only two hours. I did have to correct some aspects on the following days. That was not surprising because it is a fairly small format since I’m not at home and the table in my hotel room was fairly small. So I’m glad that I chose to bring only my 16 x 12 inch paper with me.

Later that day I started reflecting on how much time goes into the pre- and post- processing of one painting.

Here are the areas that come to mind immediately.

  • Buying supplies – even though I do most of that online, it can take quite some time, eg, comparing prices and special promotions. Or finding the right color, because unfortunately, different brands have different names for the same color. Or even the same brand; e.g. Schmincke Akademiecryl and Primacryl don’t use the same names. Sometimes there is no way around it and I have to drive to the store myself. Such as recently I wanted a specific painting knife and could not see the right one online. As a result, I decided to stop at one store in Salzburg on my way to Carinthia.
  • Searching the right image – that means either taking the photos myself such as in the case of the Weißensee or find the right image online. Google image is great but it does not tell me easily whether an image is copyright protected or not. Flickr has the advanced search option for creative commons images. Unfortunate this option does not seem to exist in the mobile version for iPads. 🙁 Another great resource is the website called Paint My Photo. Once you’re a member you can paint any photo posted there. Or, as a last resort I sometimes request permission from a photographer. For example, I’m very inspired by the photos of an Italian photographer on Flickr, Andrea Pucci. I recently asked for his permission and was thrilled to receive it.
  • Choosing an image – deciding which image is the right one for today can take time too. I might have decided on am image yesterday but today I find it not inspiring at all.
  • Laying out the supplies – this can be done in a sec if you have a permanent place. Changing from one medium to another takes time if you have only one table.
  • The actual painting process – might take only two hours like the one mentioned above, but that’s the absolute minimum. Often when I look at it again the next day(s), there are things that need adjusting. This can take several days or longer. Of course – larger formats and more complex topics require more time.
  • Photographing the painting – once I’m satisfied with the result, I take photos from the painting. Sometimes that needs waiting for the right time of day or special arrangements for the proper lighting.
  • Processing of photos – these photos are then transferred to the laptop and processed with Lightroom. This process could be a separate blog post. I usually take several photos of the same painting. I do the lens adjustment and cropping of each photo and then decide which one I want to keep. Then comes the naming, tagging, and other metadata, before I export them for different types of online usage.
  • Online presence – that’s another big subject that requires a separate post. There are countless options with different advantages and disadvantages. Most of the time, I post them on my website, my Facebook artist page, Twitter, and my Fine Art America page. BUT – posting them online is usually not enough to make a sale. Don’t believe the myth of passive income while you sleep. Passive income happens only after you have invested countless hours of post and self-promoting.
  • Advertising and marketing are the biggest chunks of time. Leslie Saeta mentioned in an interview that it takes 50 % of her time.
  • This includes the planning and preparation of exhibitions. Again this will be a blog post in its own right. For any kind of exhibiting, I need to decide how to frame it and which matting to use. There are several places where I buy frames all of which require driving between 20 to 40 kms. For the matting I usually have to drive twice to the next town (15 kms away), first to choose the color and size and then to pick it up several days later.
  • Hanging an exhibition usually requires several hours. Slightly less time is needed for talking them down. Plus it requires time for the design of the invitation, the price list, the personal bio, and the labeling of each painting. Even though I’ve done several exhibitions in the past, I always seem to underestimate the time necessary for all these details.
  • Shipping – if the painting is sold online, it is usually mailed without matting and frame to save on shipping costs. However, it can take a lot of emails until a client comes to a final decision on which painting to buy. And of course, careful packing and shipping take time.
  • Last but not least, each sale requires the writing of an invoice and/or receipt, as well as doing the bookkeeping process and the taxes.

As you can see, there is more than just the actual painting process that is needed until I have the money in my pocket.

Summary of the above tasks.

Doing a rough estimate on the list above, I came to the following minimal times for just ONE painting:

* Preparations for painting – at least 1.5 hrs
* Painting – between 3 hrs (2 hrs is rare), 3 days or 3 months (with interruptions).
* Post-painting photographing – at least 1.5 hrs
* All tasks around an exhibition – 2 hrs (time split up between several paintings)
* All tasks around an online sale – 3 hrs

All of these estimates do not include the factor that not all paintings are sold. So, you’d have to multiply the hours with a factor, based on the conversion percentage. Neither do these times include all tasks related to general advertising and marketing, both online and offline – for these you can probably double the number of hours. Plus there are all kinds of smaller tasks that are not directly related to one painting or one sale, such as networking and improving your skills.

All in all a good reminder

Even if a painting was done in only two hours, there is much more that goes into it.

> For myself, this is a good reminder for when fixing my own prices.
> For my artist friends, maybe it will help you to be more realistic in your own pricing.
> For those who buy art, I hope it will help you appreciate the time investment by the artist.

Don’t underestimate the time and effort that goes into one painting!

What is your experience? Have you ever tried to calculate the time needed?