Ursula Contemplates the Economics of Art

Math can be discouraging.

For example, I slave a fair chunk of the day on an interior illo, for which I will recieve $35, eventually, in a few months. To unwind, I go doodle something.

The last few doodles sold in one to two days, for anywhere between $30-60 depending on size.


This is a pretty extreme example, quarter-page interior illos being the sort of rock bottom of game prices, and the statistical sample of doodle sales being very small, but still.

Then I spend four or five days doing a painting for a private commission (stretched out over the course of several weeks of correspondance.) For this, I will recieve $200, and while some are cool and interesting, the usual will-you-draw-my-character variety can turn into a Bataan Death March of unmotivation. And there are rarely, if ever, any print sales to be had in commissions.

In order to feed the muse, I will then spend two to three evenings–usually not the whole day, in fact, since I’ll be painting on commissions during the day– doing a painting of my own, which I will enjoy, and for which I will recieve between $250-400 if it sells (which it has been doing about 50% of the time lately) and which will then often rake in up to another $100 over time in print sales.

So…what this is lookin ‘like on the surface is that I am actually being paid less to do things I don’t enjoy nearly so much. And this is not a good state of affairs at all–it makes lousy business sense, if nothing else. I am losing money by taking commissions when I could do my own work in half the time and sell it for twice as much.

Mmm. Hmmm, hmm, hmm.

I am trying to think of solutions. Since my waiting list is out to the end of the year, I’ve got a current moratorium on new private commissions. I am thinking once they open again, I may hike my prices up to a whopping $350 to start. This will at least have the benefit of cutting down on my rather unmanageable non-commecial commission load. Whether ANYONE will bite at that price, I dunno, but once tweaked, I can always tweak again.

The other option is to change the sorts of commissions I do. I was unutterably delighted when a recent commissioner said “Paint anything you want, I just want an original, just include (element X).” That is a fabulous sort of thing. I would not protest in the slightest if all the commissions were like that. But I don’t know if I can make such a switch profitably–if people would be willing to shell out money with no more direction than “Paint something with a star-nosed mole in it,” or if most commissioners want Their Particular Character doing Their Particular Thing.

Part of it, of course, is that I am reluctant to depend on art sales. They tend to be capricious, and there’s a real fear that I will glut the market–probably half the people who buy the big pieces are recurring sales to a few collectors, and these dear and wonderful people do not have unlimited funds. The small pieces, on the other hand, can go to just about anybody–it’s easier to do an impulse buy of $50 than of $500. But with a commission, I have money built in. I know I’m gonna make X dollars off this painting. With my own stuff, I have no guarantees.

Hmm. Hmm, hmm, hmm.

I dunno. One place to start is to begin keeping better track of the commission vs. personal art sales–I know last month I made maybe $600 in commissions, vs. a whopping $3200 in sales. Now, last month was the best I’ve ever done, more than twice my usual sales, and there was a con which counted for a good $750 bump, but nevertheless, that’s nearly four times the money in personal sales as in commissions, and this month (on a much reduced scale!) is shaping up in the same way. Even the months where everything absolutely tanks, like February, when I made under $400 dollars, the money I DID make was all in sales. So obviously I need to keep track of the exact figures for a few more months and see.

But if the money really is mostly in sales than in commissions, then I’m an idiot, because commissions far and away consume my time–I spend at least 75% of my painting time on commissions, both commercial and non-commercial. And if, as I fear, I make 75% of my money off 25% of my time, then I’m a bloody moron who is spending a huge amount of time doing stuff she doesn’t enjoy that much in order to make a lot less money, merely in order to have a guarantee of payment somewhere in there. I may, in essence, be trading the vast majority of my time for certainty (which is idiotic, when you figure that very

I dunno. Anybody have any thoughts? I’ve gnawed this one over like a rat with a Nerds rope, and I’m not getting much farther along than that. Business ain’t my strong suit, but it sure seems like I’m screwin’ up somewhere here.

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