Starting with the obvious: the durable goods of art making, an oil painter needs good, artist grade oil paint, which runs $15-$80 for a 16oz tube. Paint quality is really important for a lasting, professional painting. Substandard paint is prone to yellowing and cracking and has poor tint/color levels. Brushes can also be fairly expensive, although many of my teachers have helped me see that just about anything can be used to apply the paint...even the edge of an old credit card! What the paint is applied onto is very important, meaning canvas, boards and panels. Paintings 16x20 and larger are almost always on stretched canvas with a third support bar across the middle for durability. Panels need to be wood or mdf board for longevity. Cardboard panels are not going to survive long. Turn a painting over and look at the canvas or panel to see what quality it is. I like to paint on linen covered mdf panels or stretched cotton canvas. There are dozens of other supplies, usually one-time purchases like easels, lighting, palette, and of course, all kinds of educational art books and videos.
What isn't so obvious when wondering why that painting is ten times more than the framed print at Target or World Market is the investment in learning how to do it right. This can be done through classes ($10-20/hr), instructional books and videos ($20-200 each), workshops ($300-800 each), and at least 2000 unpaid hours of painting time. A funny quote I heard a few years ago was someone asking the artist how long it took to paint a particular painting; she replied 15 years and 5 days (for all the learning and growth that led up to what she was now producing.) Most of the Master Artists I admire can create an amazing painting in 2-3 hours. I'm not quite there yet...haha...but as the composition, color, problem-solving decisions become more and more intuitive, good artists will often paint so much faster than less skilled artists.
Here is one final explanation to understand the cost of a painting...commission. When a painting is in an art show, more often than not there is a percentage of the sale that goes to the organization hosting the show. In my case, this has ranged from 30-50%. That definitely has influenced the prices I put on my paintings. I currently offset this by offering unframed paintings on my website, while nearly all are framed nicely for art shows. If an artist has gallery representation it can raise the prices even more. Almost all galleries take 50% of the sale price and may even lower the sale price well below what the artist has invested into the painting.
I hope this has shed some light on why an original oil painting might be $400-$600++ (even significantly more for the Master Artists) and why the cost is well worth it. In a future blog I want to make a case for original paintings to be as important in our homes as our TVs or dining room sets. Let me know what you think about all this!
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