A key issue when trying to sell your artwork and artistic abilities is PERCEIVED VALUE. (On this issue, I will at first speak the obvious, but bear with me, please.) Artwork has no monetary value until someone gives it value. The one who produces a piece of artwork most often assigns the value, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. Often, the value of a piece of art is arrived at only when someone agrees with the artist on a price and pays it. Still, that price may not be agreeable to another, and therefore the artwork is not a good investment for possible future sale. Artists like to think their artwork is sold to people who buy it because they like it, not as an investment, and while it is true that most people do buy what they like, frequently, often wrongly, the buyer also thinks that the piece carries a particular value they might need to cash in on in the future.
Perceived value is the collective response to your work by an audience, big or small, generally a community of some size, a fan base; those who attend a venue or enjoy a genre or a particular type of product in which or with which your artwork is associated and seen. You know your abilities are valuable, but there are people all around us with their very own valuable artistic skills and in order for yours to have high value, they must stand out in some way. The more people who see your work as having high value, the more you will be paid for it.
Exposure helps. Get your work out there. Early in your career it may cost you something to do that, but think of it as an investment in the perceived value of your work. Show samples to buyers, whether commercial or private, take part in art shows, competitions, etc…
The buying public, whether it is a company or individual, wants to know that you’re consistent and reliable at what you do. A one hit wonder, or someone who occasionally squirts out a little artistic genius on their own time will not earn the kind of respect that garners ongoing success. Work for people while working for yourself. Be prolific. Reinvent yourself regularly, but don’t drop the old you when doing so. Strive for distinctiveness in your work so that you are not replaceable. Hook up with those who are putting out products or events that are highly regarded or involve other highly regarded artists, writers, and products, for the high perceived value of those colleagues and products will rub off a little on you and your work. Strive to knock the socks off of your clients and their/your audience even if it takes more effort than you’re getting paid for. Sell your original work, as the sale of your work speaks volumes to others about the desirability of it. When you’re just starting out, lower the prices you’re willing to take, sometimes to ridiculously low levels, just to make the sale. Again, consider this an investment in the perceived value of your work.
The image with this post is an acrylic painting I did in 1985, the first year I was a full-time freelance illustrator. Not much really—an afternoon’s worth of work, maybe six inches tall, by twelve wide—it was one of umpteen quick, small pieces I did to show and sell cheap at science fiction conventions that year. Just starting out in freelance illustration at the time, I was struggling to get work and exposure, so I would entered this piece, and many others like it, in the convention art shows’ silent auctions with a minimum bid of twenty-five dollars. My hope was that it would get a couple of bids, and therefore have to go to the voice auction where artwork was paraded around by runners who showed the pieces to those bidding. That way, my piece of art would get more exposure. It may have gone up in price during the voice auction or it may have sold for twenty-five dollars in the art show’s silent auction—I don’t remember. My goal was to have the highest profile sales of my artwork at as many conventions in as many cities as I could, with the hope that by the next year, folks would know me and my artwork a bit. I sold sixty-four pieces of art at conventions all over the country that year and my income was pitiful, but by the next year, my artwork was commanding higher prices and people were talking about my work.
Artwork: “Adolescent Spacecraft” copyright © 1985 Alan M. Clark
—Alan M. Clark