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A Look at Artists Who are Selling Well | Xanadu Gallery’s 2014 State of the Art Survey

by Jason Horejs on January 29, 2014 · 70 comments

Today we look at artists who are reporting strong sales for their work over the last year to see what they are doing to generate those sales and their attitudes about the market.

The first thing we learn about $50k+ artists is that they are overwhelmingly full-time artists – 91% report that art is their full time occupation. This should come as no surprise. Constant, consistent hard work is required to generate strong sales.

Engagement

Residence

We will look more closely at regional differences in a future post, but it is worth noting that we had artists from around the country reporting good sales. The percentage of artists reporting good sales compared to the total number of artists roughly matched the distribution of artists participating in the survey. Residence

Primary Medium

The same cannot be said about medium. There were a number of media that were under-represented in our results for high-selling artists. Most notabley, perhaps, is the lack of representation of watercolorists and pastelists in the $50K+ cohort. Watercolorists represented 6% of total respondents to the survey, pastelists 4%, but there were no watercolorists or pastelists reporting more than $50,000 in sales.

It’s important to note that with a sampling the size we have, this may simply be a statistical aberration. My interaction with watercolorists and pastelists, however, leads me to believe that it is more difficult to generate strong sales in these media than in oil, acrylic or sculpture.

If you’re an artist working in watercolor or pastel and have feedback on this chart or sales experience that contradicts these findings, please leave a comment below.

Medium MediumStats

Gallery Sales

Another very interesting result of the survey, and an indication of the extent to which an artist must now promote their own work,  60% of artists reporting $50k+ sales indicate that more of their sales came from direct-to-customer sales than through gallery sales.

GallerySales

 

Though gallery sales were a smaller part of the sales mix than expected, a majority of artists generating more the $50,000 in sales reported that they were showing their work in galleries as part of their sales efforts.

GalleryRepresentation

Sales and Perception of the Art Market

In a hopeful sign for the art market, 67% report that their sales were up in 2013 compared to 2012. Their outlook for the coming year is optimistic as well.

2013Sales

HealthMarketProduction

65% report that they produced more than 40 original works in 2013 – echoing the full-time engagement shown in question 1.

ProductionCommissioned Work vs Work done on Spec

In my conversations with artists leading up to the launch of the survey, one of the more common requests was that I ask how much of sold work was commissioned by buyers versus created on speculation. The sense that I get is some artists suspect that many of art sales are of works commissioned by buyers. I didn’t find this to be the case for artists selling $50k+.

77% reported less than 25% of their sales were commissioned works, with a full 36% stating that none of their work was created on commission. Only 10% of respondents reported that a majority of their sales came from commissions.

CommissionVSspecInvestment in Advertising

85% of these artists reported some investment in advertising during 2013. 25% reported spending over $2500 in advertising during the year.

AdvertisingBusiness vs Studio Time

Another common request I received prior to the survey was to ask about creative versus business time. For high-selling artists, a good amount of time is spent on the business/marketing/selling side of the endeavor. 46% report spending 25% of their time on the business, and 40% report spending at least 50% of their time in the business end of things.

TimeManagementWhat are Your Thoughts on These Findings?

Do you find any surprises in our results from $50k + artists? Is there anything in particular that you would like us to further investigate in the results? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Other Survey-Related Posts

Initial Results – Participation

Artist Optimism about the Art Market Increases

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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori Woodward January 29, 2014 at 11:33 am

Thanks Jason for being willing to do the legwork on this survey. It’s helpful to see how those who are actually making a decent living with art are doing it. I’m not surprised to see that many in this part of the survey are working with galleries, but at the same time the majority of their sales come from several sources. I’m becoming convinced that I may need to re-enter the gallery system to gain credibility and reasonable prices for my work… even if I don’t actually sell much at the galleries. Of course, I’m hoping I do sell through the gallery system but am not counting on it.

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

Lori – It is an interesting question – the value of galleries to artists (one of obvious relevance to me). In my personal experience with successful artists, many of them are selling quite well at galleries, in addition to selling well on their own. A lot of artists have developed a successful, multi-pronged approach to marketing and selling their work.

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Mary Manning January 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Thank you so much for this survey, Jason. We just completed the 2014 Arts to Zion Studio Tour, and more than finding it on the Web, people who responded to a short survey said they heard about the tour through word of mouth. Artists with home studios, as well as those, like me, who rent studio space participated on the tour throughout southwestern Utah; literally from St. George to Zion Canyon’s Springdale. This took place for four days on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend. A week later, in one Saturday afternoon, when I was all by myself in our Kayenta, Utah studios, more than 60 people visited, twice as many as we had during the 4-day studio tour! Go figure.

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Monique Lazard January 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Mary, when I saw your plein Air trip to all of my favorite places I wanted to know more about it. I also would love to know if I could be included in this event next year if you do it again?
Many thanks, Monique

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Rebecca Collins January 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm

“Constant, consistent hard work is required to generate strong sales.” This is so true. There is a romantic myth that artists roll out of bed at noon and either enjoy a slow cup of coffee or a leisurely cigarette while they stare at their works in progress before moodily pacing the floor for their daily inspiration. In reality people that make a full time living at art are working hard at it all day long. They do not wait around for inspiration because they know that discipline in all things is required. I love the graphs and charts here … lovely visuals for us to get our mind around the numbers and facts you are reporting, very optimistic news.

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Well said Rebecca. While you certainly must be finding inspiration and creating your best work, there’s no substitute for getting in the studio and putting in the time.

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Helen Klebesadel January 29, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I was not surprised to see your comment: “Most notably, perhaps, is the lack of representation of watercolorists and pastelists in the $50K+ cohort. Watercolorists represented 6% of total respondents to the survey, pastelists 4%, but there were no watercolorists or pastelists reporting more than $50,000 in sales.”

I am one of those in the mix who have a part-time day job to cover base expenses, so I do not have a full time studio practice (yet). If my sales would double with my time spent on the creative effort I might just make it into the $50 K+ cohort, but its been my experience that works on paper have a much harder time finding gallery representation. I think that makes a difference. (Let me know of the venues if you are aware of galleries that specialize or represent watercolors well).

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Helen K. Beacham Fine Art January 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hi, Helen (from another Helen). I too am a watercolorist. It’s not something you can change about yourself (or at least I can’t). I just strive to be the best one out there and keep on keeping on. Your work is lovely!

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Sandra Pearce January 30, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Helen & Helen,

Another watercolorist who is in agreement – I still have much to learn in my medium, and have not yet found the same satisfaction with other media. I am in love with the watercolor process. It is a shame that many collectors do not value watercolors as much as oils and acrylics. But I will continue to push my way through the crowds and find the audience who also love watercolors – they are out there. Best of luck to you both, with your beautiful works.

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Helen, it is a real challenge, and a bit of a vicious cycle. Galleries don’t show as much work on paper, therefore it doesn’t sell as much, and since it doesn’t sell as much, galleries are reluctant to show it.

We should also keep in mind that interest in various media is cyclical and regional. So while watercolor may not get as much interest now, it may later, and you may also find that it does better in certain regions. As Helen Beacham says, it’s not something you can change, so you keep at it and claw your way to success. There are successful watercolorists out there, they’ve just had to work harder to gain the success.

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Donia January 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm

In direct response to your desire for feedback on the notable lack of pastelists and watercolorists in this high-sales group, as a pastelist myself, and general lover of works on paper I am not surprised either. There is a notable bias against pastels and anything behind glass – which is understandable to a certain degree because glass only makes fragile works that much more fragile, and can add glare or extreme expense if museum glass is used, etc, etc.

I was actually just engaged in a discussion about the bias against pastels and for oils on LinkedIn entitled “The market has clearly demonstrated that people pay more for oil paintings than for pastel paintings. But is there a logical explanation for the disparity?” Since it is a closed group, you can’t access the conversation unless you’re a member so I’ll copy some of the more eye-opening comments here:

“Prime Galleries in the past have called it collectors snobbery. Their clients consider works on paper to be fragile and the medium to be less than light fast. Clearly this is an outdated and naïve attitude. I never understood the aversion since Masters Works are in museums that are wonderfully unscathed and worth thousands to millions: Degas, Mary Cassett, Homer, Rockwell and more”

More surprising was this comment: “Finally, we do have a huge task of educating public and professionals, overcoming the perception of our medium as one used only by “amateurs”. Recently I visited the Queen’s Gallery in London, where there is currently an exhibition of 100 works on paper donated as a gift to Her Majesty by members of the Royal Academy. Only one of these items was executed in pastels, which I suppose tells us something.”

ONE work on paper was pastel out of 100!

And when I asked in a separate discussion (to this group of pastel artists with over 3100 members): “It’s hard enough finding a gallery that is compatible with one’s style, price range, etc, let alone one that exhibits pastels! Do any of you have experience with galleries – commercial or non-profit – that don’t simply begrudgingly show pastel artists, but are happy to show them or better yet, champion them?”

The ONLY reply was this: “You are right Donia, the only medium galleries like less than Pastel is Colored Pencil.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!

So very sad, as pastels, by nature of being pure pigment, are more vibrant and immediate than any other medium.

I love them so much and I can’t work in oil, due to migraines, and I despise painting on canvas. However, I’ve been working tirelessly for 14 years to get my foot in the door of the art world with very little to show for it (I realize I make things even more difficult for myself by painting ABSTRACT pastels – so I’m not even included in most pastel exhibitions since they’re focused on portraits, landscapes, and still lifes (even in the Pastel Journal’s annual contest, their “Abstract” category is rarely judged by an abstract painter, and the top awards always go to “abstracted” paintings which are still very obviously landscapes, fruit, people, etc (!) (there are separate categories for each of those as well))

But this survey only serves to galvanize a decision I’ve been pondering just this month – to find a medium I enjoy working in that doesn’t require glass to cover it… specifically, I’m looking to learn encaustics – a medium I’ve wanted to try for as long as I’ve been painting professionally. Now, perhaps it might seem odd that I’m choosing yet another marginalized medium, but I love the ethereal quality of traditional encaustics and I’m hoping that the lack of glass will be the key to getting my abstract work to a larger audience.

Jason – I’d be curious to know, however, if there was much response from encaustic artists in the survey — and where they fell on the “success” spectrum?

Mahalo once again, for collecting and distributing this info!
~Donia
ethyrical artist
http://DoniaLilly.com

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Judy Dunn February 3, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I agree with much of what you have said about the “unfairness” of how the world seems to view pastel work. I had been actively engaged with pastels for several years, but began to move away in part because of concerns about the dust and associated health issues,…. and because I found a way to work with oils, without the toxic fumes. Check out M.Graham oil paints. They have a walnut oil base, which is quite lovely in and of itself, but it also does not have the smell of linseed oil. I only use solvent for my under paintings. And, I use canola oil, or baby oil to clean my brushes, along with Master’s brush cleaner or a good dishwashing detergent like Dawn after they have been mostly cleaned in the oil. My brushes are in beautiful condition, and my studio does not have the odor of oil paints. In fact, visitors often assume I am working with acrylics because of the odor free environment. And I have eliminated the expense of framing under glass. Best wishes in your search. Encaustics is lovely, but a large investment, and the odor might not be the best for you. Try it out first before investing too much in materials.

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Donia February 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Great info Judy, both on your oil materials/process and your advice about encaustics – mahalo! (And yes, I will definitely be trying it out before investing too much in materials!!) My issue with oils, other than the odor, is that I love transparencies, layering, and ephemera in general, and oils are such an opaque medium (unless you use lots of solvent) – another reason I’m attracted to encaustics. But again, we’ll see how that goes. Perhaps I’ll have a breakthrough and have great things to report on Jason’s State of the Art Survey next year :-)

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Alison Nicholls March 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm

I agree with both your comments regarding works on paper framed under glass. I’m British, living in the US and I find there is a much wider appreciation of works on paper in Europe. Here in the US, artists and collectors appear to know the level of skill required to paint well in watercolor, so the poor representation of the medium has always surprised me. It was definitely a factor in my change of media. I used to paint only watercolor on paper. Now I paint in Golden fluid acrylics on Fredrix watercolor canvas. This combination has allowed me to continue to work in the same manner and style, but now I can label my work as acrylic on canvas. I have to say that I’m really enjoying myself with my new-found media. I can paint larger, do not need to pre-stretch my paper, and no longer have the expense of framing with mats and glass. One thing bothers me though…I’m so used to framing with glass that even my framed canvasses feel far too lightweight when I collect them from the framers!!

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Thanks for the great comment and for sharing the discussion from the group. I might just add that another potential issue is size. In order to get to a high level of sales, it’s often the case that an artist has to be selling larger pieces. This is an especially challenging prospect for artists working on paper and behind glass.

I will look into the encaustic question, but it looks like we really didn’t get enough of a response from encaustic artists to draw usable conclusions. I suspect the answer would be very similar to what we see for watercolor and pastel.

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Donia February 11, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Mahalo for the reply Jason – and I agree size is definitely an issue and one that has also had me moving away from pastels because again, it’s market/client perception vs artists’ reality: larger works are generally deemed more valuable/worth more even though much smaller works may take *much* more time and effort for the artist to create. (Same goes for color vs black and white work)

Do you sell any encaustics in your gallery, by the way?

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Michele Van Maurik January 29, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Hi Jason, thank you for creating this survey and posting the results. I’d be interested to know, of the artist’s who are most successful, what subject matter and styles seem to generate the most sales….abstract, landscapes, still life, florals??? Is there any information on this?? I have both your books and they have really helped me along in my art career!

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Donia January 29, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Hi Michele (and Jason) – I agree the subject matter/style would be an interesting addition.

Another point of interest I noticed when reading this data was the whole chicken-or-egg conundrum. The statement: “The first thing we learn about $50k+ artists is that they are overwhelmingly full-time artists – 91% report that art is their full time occupation.” begs the question whether they started selling $50k+ and therefore were able to become full-time artists, or if they put in “Constant, consistent hard work” full time and then started selling $50k+…. Because the way it’s presented makes it sound like they *sell* $50k+ because they are full time artists, not the other way around. If that makes sense?

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I will definitely add this question to the survey next year. Good question.

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Marilyn Johnson February 7, 2014 at 8:20 am

I agree that info sales by subject matter/styles would be interesting. A gallerist (now deceased) once told me his anecdotal sales theory about abstract vs. representational work in a “bad” vs.”good” economy: one style seemed to sell better in a slow economy, and the other sold better in a good economy. BUT, I can’t remember which. Granted, it was only his observation. But, Jason’s opinion and/or research on this would be interesting. Thank you!

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Eileen Pleasure O'Brien January 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Hello Jason. As a former Behavioral Psychologist, I also enjoyed the way you presented your data. I’m wondering – in your research, were you able to obtain additional data as to the percentage of sales based on style of work sold, i.e. representational, abstract, figurative, etc.

Side note: I attended your workshop a few years ago in Buffalo. At the time, although I enjoyed the workshop, I wasn’t sure what your motives were, i.e. just trying to sell your book/in it for the money. Anyway, after all these years, I have come to the conclusion that you are sincere in you interest to help artists. I have found the information you provide, and the dialogue you facilitate among artists, very interesting (And I don’t begrudge you if you do make a few bucks). Thank you.

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Mike Mumford January 29, 2014 at 2:47 pm

For people who are building their art business, I wonder if there was any info about how long these people had taken to grow to that level of income/productivity?

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Jude Lobe January 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I was surprised that a whopping 15% did not spend any money on advertising. I’d like to know how they got the sales they did if they made $50K, unless that is the same group that sold in galleries.
It might also be interested in knowing the median price of artworks sold. Someone who produced only 10/year may be selling them for $40K each, versus those who produced 50/year, who may have been selling painting a day art for $100 each. Bringing up the point, that an artist needs to figure out their goal with that in mind.
Thanks for doing this survey. It does make one think about their goals and particularly about advertising, paying more doesn’t necessarily pay off.

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Nancy Darling January 29, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Jason thank you so much for all this information. I have decided to leave real estate and work in my studio. I have been doing real estate for many years; It’s getting more and more detailed paperwork and law oriented and it creates a chaotic schedule. I have tried for years to make a gradual transition but it hasn’t worked for me. I’m very excited to take the plunge and this information is very very helpful.
Thanks again,
Nancy Darling

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Kathryn January 29, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Always find your thoughts on being a working artist interesting. It’s not just pastels and watercolors that get dissed—I do hand painted ceramics, and although I may spend a lot of time creating my work, and every piece is unique, it’s not perceived as being as valuable as a wall piece. I haven’t been doing ceramics for that long, but already have hit a sort of price “glass ceiling.” I’m not saying what I do is anywhere close to the value of a big bronze or large oil, but there’s a perception that it’s a craft, not art, and not in the same league. There isn’t even a category for it on your survey, although glass and textiles are included. There are some well-known potters out there who charge big bucks. I’m in some nice galleries, although some of them treat my work like filler. The only advice I’ve gotten is to make really big pieces, which isn’t too practical for me right now.
Thanks for letting me vent!

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Kristy February 2, 2014 at 7:05 pm

I had the same ghought…wondering why clay was not a category. There were lots of “other” respndants…wish it would have listed what they filled in as their media.

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Brenda March 7, 2014 at 4:24 am

I, too, am a clay artist, creating fine art ceramics. My meditative vessels are priced high-end and my sculptural wall murals are 3-dimensional works on the wall. I would like to see who is in the other category as well. After 18 years as a full time ceramic artist, I am proud to be among the $50k+ category and have been for quite some time. It is a lot of hard work and I agree with most of the delineations of time selling/marketing/studio. We never seem to have enough studio time, but each time I spend a few hours reaching out to my prospective clients – I make much more money than if I were to simply create and not connect. This is a ‘people’ business, where clients need to be invited in to view, converse and ultimately, feel comfortable enough to invest.
Jason, I’m always grateful for your insights and words… I read everything you offer and appreciate your commitment & integrity.

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Sarah Bernhardt January 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Jason,
Thanks so much for this eye opener! As a pastelist I have long suspected that pastel paintings are harder to sell to galleries or the general public. I have been slowly moving back into oils, but will not abandon the use of pastels, completely. I also found the stats on time spent on the business end of the art to be surprising. I did not realize so much time was needed to promote your work, I would really like to know their promoting strategies and advertising avenues, are they strictly magazines? Thank you, Jason for doing this and all you have done with webinars and mentoring of artists. Its all been very helpful.

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rani garner January 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Thanks for another interesting survey, Jason!

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Martin Bezzina Wettinger January 29, 2014 at 7:17 pm

What about wood carving. Why is it absent in your lisr? Surely there exist some successful wood carvers out there.

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Martin – for media we build the options from the responses of participants. If we see enough woodcarvers in the “Other” category, we will add it next year.

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Brenda March 7, 2014 at 4:25 am

Jason… how do we get on your list to be part of the survey? I have many artist friends who I think would also appreciate the opportunity to share. Thanks! brenda

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Barbara Lipkin January 29, 2014 at 7:42 pm

I’ve been enjoying following your blog and mentorship, and learning a lot about how to go about improving my own marketing efforts. I’ve been trying to comment on the mentorship site, also, but for some reason have not been able to do so recently. I log on, but it doesn’t let me leave a comment. Oh, well, I will stop in the gallery in person to see Carolee’s work, maybe at the artwalk tomorrow night.

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Peter Leckett January 29, 2014 at 8:17 pm

More and more I see watercolours treated with acrylic spray, avoiding the need to frame under glass. Technically, this changes the definition to multimedia but I wonder if this isn’t a response to the dilemma of being a watercolourist.

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Jim Carpenter March 8, 2014 at 11:45 am

It is a response to the dilemma, which is twofold. 1) framing under glass is expensive for the artist, and 2) paintings under glass are not as easy to sell – for whatever reason. I have a painting hanging in a restaurant and a patron looking at if from a distance and commented on how much he liked it, and then he said “if it were on canvas, I’d buy it.” To me that says a lot about the dilemma. It’s less expensive to show works on canvas, and works on canvas can be sold at a higher price. I know an artist who charges more for a painting that she mounts on board or canvas than for one she puts under glass, because patrons value them more. Go figure.

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Marge Kinney January 29, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Hi Jason, I like your emails and look forward to reading about what you find interesting. I have been a landscape artist for 25 years now and love art. And yes, 91% of my time is in the direction of pursuing my passion. Four years ago I gave most attention to abstracts and found most younger couples wanted abstracts…strange. More conservative continue to pick regional scapes and I live along the California coast. A few years ago I decided to “give back” and to share many of my “secrets” of making over 50K a year. While YouTube is not my moneymaker, I receive letters from around the world. Currently, there have been 490,000 views, and over a million minutes spent learning about art for free. I have become friends with artists from Spain, Germany, Australia, Cape Cod, Canada, and more and their questions are so intense, that it is fun to answer, even if it is in a different language. ?Como estas hoy?
I am grateful for YT social media… margekinney707.

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Susan McCarty January 30, 2014 at 4:40 am

Enlightening stats… I think it will help me refine and define my business plan. Thank you
Sue

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Lynn Morgan January 30, 2014 at 5:54 am

Fascinating information well presented. I’ve enjoyed reading others’ comments, too. I am a pastelist and would have to agree with the comments of other pastelists. One other thing that irks me is that many galleries classify pastel paintings as drawings. My paintings are made with the same pigments as other media — just without a brush. They are NOT drawings. Gallery owners need to become more knowledgeable about pastels.

I would also like to know more about how those successful artists spent their advertising dollars. With a limited advertising budget, I struggle every year to decide how best to spend those dollars. So far, not much has worked, although I have had a couple of random sales from a magazine ad. It was also be nice to know which publications generate the most sales, although I suspect that would be hard to find out.

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Donia January 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

YES Lynn – I agree! Pastels *can* be drawings, but more often than not they are PAINTINGS! It’s frustrating because even on sites like Etsy or other online places to sell art, the drop-down menus only classify pastels as drawings, and there’s no way to choose one but not the other… so I don’t list them as simply pastels! Really sad the amount of ignorance that surrounds such a beautiful medium.

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Lynn – this is a really interesting point, and an issue I wasn’t aware of. If I think about it, I guess I wouldn’t categorize it as drawing, but I also wouldn’t classify it as painting (which, to me, would have to involve paint!) I’ve always thought of pastels as . . . pastels! You are right though, if there’s no distinct category available, I would consider the finished product closer to a painting than a drawing.

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Merrilyn Duzy February 4, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hello Jason and all the others who’ve commented on pastels. I too work in pastels, along with oils and mixed media. As to the question of drawings vs paintings – my thoughts are that if a piece fills the support regardless of medium – then it’s a painting – if there is plenty of the paper, canvas or other support showing, then it’s a drawing. There are lots of “drawings” made with oil paint and paint sticks. I also would like to know which advertising venues are most successful as well as the prices and subject matter of the art works.
Thank you for doing all of this.
Merrilyn Duzy

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Addren Doss January 30, 2014 at 8:13 am

Jason, this is such valuable information, thank you. I work in pastel and oil, and teach workshops in both mediums. For the past several years my emphasis has been back on pastels and I have seen a significant drop in sales. Several gallery owners have even said “your pastels are so beautiful, but we just can’t sell them”. The data you have shared has shown me that my decision to create more works in oil is a good one.

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Patricia Zannie January 30, 2014 at 8:51 am

Thanks for the survey, it’s presentation and all the comments.
I’m a collage landscape artist and find the same snobbery and elitism everywhere I go and believe it is from “old school” thinking that only “oils” are valuable…and that “collage” is for children not adults.
I’m in 4 galleries (3 are co-ops) in 4 different cities and that’s a lot of travel time for drop offs, pick ups and gallery sitting; but that’s what it takes for me to make sales each month….I have to teach art on the college level to supplement my income and still don’t make a “living” wage….I have lovely large pieces on canvas which do not sell….I sell small and medium sized framed pieces under glass, but most sales are from “unframed” pieces out of the “bins.”
I’ve been selling my work since 1980 and the past 2-3 years have been my best “sales” because of expanding my market into different cities…I hardly ever make sales from my website, virtual galleries, and even gallery websites….people are impressed with my work when they see the works in person and can appreciate the effort and detail that goes into them….which cannot be conveyed on a “monitor” etc.
My gratification comes from helping students enter into the art world and that “strangers” see my work, admire it and buy what they can afford…I am happy being an artist and just live very frugally to compensate for my lower income…..I also try to get into as many local exhibits as possible to present my work to the public. They can’t buy it if they don’t see it!

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Jason Horejs February 3, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Patricia, Dave Newman is one of my best-selling artists and is a collage artist, so don’t give up the battle. I think that buyers will ultimately care more about the imagery that you are creating than the technique you used to get there. If collage is the best medium to achieve your aim, you should stick with it.

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Mary Armstrong January 30, 2014 at 9:16 am

Interesting results depending on who responded. Guess I better go back to oils! Though I have found my watercolor and mixed media do much better in exhibitions. Currently am working on an oil and it is already….sold! I think it is the artist’s dream to make all his/her living from the creative process, no matter the medium.. Since I fall into the retired category(but not from art) I am less concerned about high volume work or sales, but must say my income over many years was from my artwork and graphic design, and I am fine with that.

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Lorraine Potocki January 30, 2014 at 9:31 am

Jason,
Read your blog for the first time and appreciate all the great information. I live in Florida. What sells the most depends on where you live and where you are selling. In pastel, my primary subjects are Florida scenes–beaches, sunsets, palm trees, etc. I also paint animals. Though I don’t sell many originals of animals, I have gotten many commissions, since most people want a painting of their pet. I’ve also begun to paint in acrylic again, and abstracts. I’ve been told there is a market for abstracts–hotels, restaurants, large businesses, hospitals, etc. Just beginning to explore this market. I’m an artist for a living. I also teach art in two art centers and give private lessons. My 2013 was better than prior years. My 2014 is off to a great start. In my past career, I was in the corporate world. It taught me very valuable lessons–how to present, manage your time and finances, communication skills, negotiation, etc. That has proven to be a huge benefit for me in my new “artist” life.

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Tiffany Miller Russell February 4, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Corporate sales would be a great addition in the gallery vs. direct sales category.

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Tiffany Miller Russell February 4, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Speaking of the direct sales category… just what are ‘direct sales’? Festival sales, studio sales, internet sales, sales generated from print advertisements, etc?

…and as my husband is reading over my shoulder, we’ve started an interesting discussion on the role of internet sales as analogous to real world venues, using a site like Etsy as an example. He views the site like a co-op gallery; they handle the sales and I do the sitting. I had considered it a setting more like a festival, they drive the traffic and I take care of my own space and store. Both are great points and there is such a huge spectrum of options available to today’s artists.

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sandy January 30, 2014 at 10:15 am

I am a watercolorist and sculptor. I personally feel that the reason works on paper are less sought after, and that the value is generally less than that of other mediums (oil and acrylic) is the lack of understanding by the public. They have been led to believe that an “original oil” is the ultimate artwork. I’ve had people actually ask me when I’m going to move on to the next level -oil painting! Like it is the goal of all true artists. Anyway, I agree with the comment that educating the public is the answer. How is that possible? I don’t know since we have centuries of the “original oil” stigma to try to undo. I also agree with the statements about the light fastness of watercolor being misrepresented. As proof that is wrong, when I visited the Met, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the fact that one of Michaelangelo’s wonderful oil paintings was absent because it was being renovated. Next to its empty spot was a beautiful little watercolor that he had painted prior to the oil painting. Unrenovated.
I am a watercolorist. I will not change my medium in order to sell more. I cannot. My art would be for not if my passion were missing. I can however try to educate people about art whenever the opportunity arises. I certainly don’t discredit oil painting, I just try to expand their knowledge and appreciation of all mediums of art. One small bite at a time, one small step at a time.
Happy Creating! (In oil, acrylic, wood, textile, pastel, watercolor, encaustic, film or mud! Enjoy! and help the non-artists out there expand their horizons too.)

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Matthew Zedler January 30, 2014 at 10:39 am

These are all interesting findings. I would love to see a survey done that went a little further and broke down genre of art sold, – by region. Meaning, what parts of the country are currently strongest (& growing) for a specific style of work. Being a passionate and well studied progressive linear-geometric abstractionist, I feel fairly strongly these days that living in the Southeast is a disadvantage for me. Here, traditional landscapes are still king. I have been told by many viewers (who understand the work) that my paintings are “big city art,” which I understand. Most folks in the S.E. know very well of Kinkade, but have never heard of Kandinsky (quite sadly). Anyway, some food for thought ~ Cheers to all in our business for a wonderful 2014 :) ~ Matt

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Holt Webb January 30, 2014 at 10:43 am

Jason,
What is YOUR take on these statistics?

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Kim Lordier January 30, 2014 at 11:40 am

Hi Jason,

I wonder if the number of folks that paint primarily in pastel and watercolor are informed of your blog. It seems to me, being an artist who works mostly in pastel and makes a living with my work mostly through gallery sales, that the watercolor and pastel societies have a tendency to be secular in nature, while educating and informing their public, but not always reaching outside the medium’s community. Just my two cents on why there may not be as many of them who took the survey. I didn’t take the survey because it was closed by the time I was aware of it, but am real interested in reading these results. I know many artists of both mediums that are making fine living, and are represented in galleries around the country.

Thank you so much for what you give to the artist community. It is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. I am not putting down the medium societies, as they have a very strong presence, are doing an amazing job of educating the public and fellow artists about their respective mediums. I appreciate the community and service they provide.

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Ruth Koh January 30, 2014 at 11:47 am

Jason, thanks for the survey. And thank you for all of your valuable tips…I appreciate your insights and seem to agree with you on every subject. I look at the survey results and think I am going in the right direction–for me. Not every artist has the personality to self-promote at shows and festivals. I am terrible at it. (And I used to be in sales promotion!) As far as I am concerned, gallery owners deserve every penny of their commissions–they do the heavy lifting with sales and they incur huge overhead costs. What I am trying to say is what works best for me, has been gallery sales. With my work in four galleries and currently selling at decent retail prices ($400-3,000) creating quality work and adding new galleries will be my focus for 2014. My change in focus came about after I read your blog post on creating a business plan. The section on where most of the revenue was being generated gave me the answer I needed. There is no one size fits all answer. I am a size 2. This is best for me.

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Lawrence Chrapliwy January 30, 2014 at 11:55 am

Great article. My question is. What percentage of the people making $50k + are members of professional organizations. By that I mean OPA Oil Painters of America, AWS American Watercolor Association, AIS American Impressionists Society and APS American Pastel Society. What is the a difference $Moneywise if you are a Signature Member or Master Status. And lastly, what is the average income for teaching workshops by yourself vs through places like Scottsdale Art School.

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kathryn January 30, 2014 at 12:25 pm

wow…interesting post and comments for many reasons! I’m a graphite artist, so the bottom of the barrel I guess! (HA!) I think traditionally oil has always sold more than any other medium, that’s not a surprise to me. But I think all this information is extremely helpful, especially since I want to be one of those full time $50,000 a year artists! I would be very interested to know the subject matter that is selling the most as well as how did those artists make the leap to full time! Some interviews would be wonderful!

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Tiffany Miller Russell February 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

I second the suggestion of interviews!

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Eva S. Nichols January 30, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Thanks Jason for doing this survey (I did participate). I am a watercolorist, so it’s a bit discouraging to hear that I am in love with a medium that makes it harder to succeed financially. But it’s not a surprise, and one of my main struggles is always the framing, which is a pain!
I also teach classes and workshops hoping that the combination eventually will make it possible to live solely from painting and teaching. I have added collage and mixed media to my repertoire, but looking at your chart that’s not really the “hot” media either! Due to allergies oils have never been something I want to explore. That leaves acrylics – but they just don’t have the same allure to me that the watercolors have! What’s a watercolor artist to do? I have explored mounting my watercolors so they do not need framing under glass, but not sure that’s the way to go. I fear they might still not appeal to the buyers, and on top of it turn off the one’s that do love and buy watercolors. Do you have any insight on this?

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Mike Simpson January 30, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Great Survey Jason for all the reasons everybody else has commented on. I would be curious however if the $50,000+ category represents gross sales, which I assume it does, as opposed to net income.

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marianne hornbuckle January 30, 2014 at 9:25 pm

I would love to see a break-down as to genre – I suspect landscape paintings – representational – head the list, and their reach is regional (which is probably true of all art, with some exceptions). I today learned of an artist ( thank you abundant artist.com) who graduated from art school in CA, but started her career six years later with a business plan, and within a year, is in the $100K category. In 1978 when I started I had no idea what a business plan was – imagine that! Painting for a specific market was beyond my imagining too. Her work is very nice and at least not cute – landscape – and with a narrow focus – but she is far more savvy than I, and I’m not sure I would want to have started that way (where’s the magic?) Thanks Jason, for the insight and information you are so generous with…

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Stan Bowman February 1, 2014 at 6:11 am

Valuable info Jason. Hope you will continue this.

One thing that caught my eye was that these artists are selling more directly to buyers than through galleries. It would be useful to know what role the internet plays in these sales or have these artists simply built up their own following over the years who make up most of their buyers. Another thing was that these $50K artists spend as much as 50% of their time on the business and marketing of art. Many artists do not realize this is what it takes to be successful at selling.

For those watercolor and pastel artists who lament the lack of attention and sales, one media even more ignored is digital art which is what I do. I think in many cases it is not seen as a way to create original works and just another form of reproduction, hence not as valuable as original painting and sculpture. But then this does not surprise me.

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Judy Dunn February 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I think the last question was very valuable. Completely dispels the myth that marketing your work can be an after thought. I sometimes feel badly about how much time I am spending on marketing, but now I won’t. I can see it is necessary to get where I want to be.

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Joyce Boyer February 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I am a pastelist and love doing it but I hate the fact that transporting of this media makes for a big dilema. If you use fixative the colors change and if you do not the dust can cling to glass. Transporting it flat is fine for me but many do not know nor understand the importance of this. Getting a piece across the country would be a nightmare. I do think that people have to be educated about this medium. I sold a piece yesterday to a lady who said that she had never considered buying a pastel until then. Pastels are wonderful but there are some draw backs to the marketing of such a medium. Thanks for putting out such informative information

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K Wayne Thornley February 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Excellent information. I’ll just echo the thoughts about subject matter…abstract vs. realism, etc. Would also like to know what OTHER in media actually means. Thanks for conducting the survey and sharing the results. Encouraging.
KWT

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Wendilee Heath O'Brien February 4, 2014 at 5:25 am

Hi
A friend just connected me with your web site. THank you for doing this. Above you asked if we had a different experience than represented in your survey. I have
I am a watercolor/ pastel painter and I grossed over 50k this past year. That being said, i must qualify that I do not limit myself to one medium which is part of my success.
Most of your other findings are congruent with my experience- little of no use of galleries, work full time ( 10-12 hours a day painting), very little money spent on marketing.
The other piece I would add is that I live where there a cazillion artists of all ilk ( Downeast Maine). And frankly there is little being said that has not been said before. What i have found to be absolutely critical besides face to face time with clients is a coherent compelling vision/story wedded to one’s business vision. I am finding that folks are not just buying a painting, it is an experience, a process that speaks to their spirit. I am a Quaker and have rooted my business plan in my Quaker testimonies= simplicity and equality. I believe anyone and everyone should be able to afford original art. I structure my pricing accordingly (Matierials + time $12 an hour). Studio motto is waste not want not. Any piece of broken glass becomes a size for another picture. A torn piece of gold leafed paper becomes a book mark. Folks really appreciate this. Framing is either recycled or made by a friend who works in our grocery store. I pay him what I charge per hour. We scavenge for wood from construction sites and lobster cars. If find the average middle class person who so wants a work of ‘real’ art deeply respects keeping art pragmatic as well as expressive. It is no longer something mysterious, out of reach or enigmatic. It is real, touchable even destroyable through love and enjoyment.

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Katalin Luczay February 6, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Encouraging. I wander how many artists just sell on the internet. And how successful are they? Is it worth having more than 1 or 2 internet sites? How trustworthy are some companies on the internet that sell your work as well as giclee prints of your work? Do you really get your money of all the prints they sell?
Would love your feedback
Katalin Luczay

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Elaine Kehew February 12, 2014 at 5:17 am

Thank you for this informative survey. The most interesting bits (for me) were that successful artists spend 50% creating and 50% on business (it’s true for me!) and that some money needs to be spent on advertising. Well done, and excellent presentation of the data.

Kind regards, Elaine

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Barbara Ferrier February 15, 2014 at 9:37 am

Thanks for the survey Jason. It’s very confirming of my experience.My goal has been to paint efficiently enough that I can spend at least 50% of my time on sales/marketing. For years I’ve found it easier to find collectors than galleries. I would take my work to several gallery appointments and get rejected for whatever the excuse of the day was, and then they’d invite me back and reject me again. Then someone would come to repair the furnace, step in the house and become transfixed by my work, and buy or commission something. Sales of my work have always been impulse purchases – only occasionally from people who consider themselves collectors. I’ve officially decided to think about my paintings in terms of what they do emotionally for people and not for the medium (acrylic on canvas). The last show I hung was for an art walk. While I was hanging it, the roll up glass doors on the gallery were up – making an inviting space. 3 people from completely different lifestyles stopped in their tracks and were drawn into the space. The 50+ man who looked like he was on the way home from several days of commercial fishing (beat and filthy) was the most enthusiastic. The 30+ professional texting walking home from work also stopped in her tracks. We all shared a certain energy brought out by the artwork – the color, the places, the characters. Clearly the work is demographic crossing – and I suspect the same is true of everyone’s work on this thread. The 3 people who stopped that afternoon on an otherwise empty street completely changed my thinking about what my work can do for people.

People who buy art are buying emotions and emotional connection just as they do with music, performance and even food. I adore and hang onto everything Jason and Barney have to say. They’ve helped me put my ladder against the right wall as I climb to continued success. And once I started hearing artists say that marketing is at least as creative and fun as painting it changed my perception of embracing that work.

I strongly recommend some additional wise people to add to your advisers list. I’ve added Jonah Berger (author of Contagious, why things catch on), and Marie Forleo, developer of Marie TV and b school. Marie has lots of free videos on her sight and interviews with people – like Jonah on Marie TV. Also, the Good Life Project, my favorite (!) is great for listening while you are in the studio painting. Good Life Project will inspire you and keep you strong. It’s a weekly web television series interviewing people – including painters – who have created their own ‘good life.’ It’s interesting is that everyone defines ‘good life’ differently – but you’d agree with all of them.

I hope my search for a better way of thinking about marketing/sales/ contribution helps all of you. Take a look/listen. Jason and Barney I hope you benefit from these other people’s wisdom as well. Clearly we’re all in t his together!! Finding the best way forward is like being on a fun, exciting and rewarding scavenger hunt.

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Jeanne Bessette February 24, 2014 at 11:07 am

Yep…the objective stuff I can;t comment on but the subjective things…work ethic, time engaging in Business…all spot on…

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Mary Helmreich March 14, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Most of my work is through direct sales at art events. I have 3 galleries representing me. 30% of my income comes from commissioned work.

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Dave Beckett March 26, 2014 at 6:12 am

Thanks for your efforts, especially in the ranking of mediums. I am a pastellist and generally my sales or good. As to sales the past 3 years have seen a big drop in sales. Have other artist found the same?

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