Have you ever heard the “Picasso Napkin Story”? It goes something like this ….. Picasso is sitting in a Paris café, when a woman and admirer of his work approaches. She asks if he would do a quick sketch on a paper cocktail napkin. Picasso politely agrees and deftly executes a one-minute sketch. While handing it to the woman, he asks for a rather significant sum of money.
The madame is shocked! “But sir, how can you ask such a princely sum? This drawing only took one minute.” Picasso quickly reclaims the sketch, and replies, “Madame, this sketch has taken me 40 years!”
Picasso makes a great point. What we should learn from his witty remark is this: the time you’ve invested in a specific painting is the length of time to finish that painting plus the number of years you’ve logged in perfecting your craft. Many, and I dare say most, collectors haven’t considered this point. The price is relative to the time spent.
Your collectors have no idea how much you have invested in art school, studio equipment, art supplies, frame shop equipment, art booth, art trailer, art books, trade publications, workshops and everything else I can’t think of right now. I think if I liquidated just my store of watercolor paints and brushes, I could probably pay off a small country’s debt---at least Zimbabwe’s!
I would also caution you that it’s really not the customer’s fault. Many galleries use the square-inch measurement method to influence their artists’ pricing of their works. In my opinion, this is an artificial process. An elaborate 8 x 10 painting may have taken you four days to paint, while an 11 x 14 vignette could have taken half the time. This tells me that many galleries don’t comprehend what it takes to produce a piece. They have a slanted frame of reference to measure from…. namely, the sale.
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Therefore, the question “How long does it take to do a painting?” must be met with careful consideration. I think it is better to err on the side of longer than shorter, simply because of the perception that time should determine price.
It bothers me to hear artists say they knocked out two paintings before lunch and will complete two more before day’s end. Can this really be quality work, deserving of the price they are asking? This is a bit of an exaggeration, but we all know the type.
My advice to you is this: Take pride in the amount of time you’ve invested in your craft. Your final product reflects your time and your soul. Ultimately, the square inch, or the number of minutes to completion, should not dictate the price. Your finished painting is a culmination of your vision, your experience and your sweat. Only you can set the value of your work. Treat it with respect.
Content and West of Paulden © Mark Kohler Studio.