Monday, June 2, 2008

A-Kon and the Value of Artists

I just got back from A-kon, and I'll work on doing a write up tonight (we're about to go to the park!)

Right now though, I'd love to address a phenomena that I saw happening around the Artist Alley. There were tons of amazing artists selling their wares. Many of them selling beautiful prints for $4-$5 each, and custom work drawn on the spot for a similar pittance. Now, everyone sets their own price, they were selling oodles of stuff, and it definitely didn't affect my business or anything but this is something I noticed. One morning while setting up super early, I overheard a few artists talking about how many people who were commissioning them were getting very aggravated because they weren't able to instantaneously produce a full piece of work for them when they paid their good $10.

The problem here is two fold. When artists undervalue themselves, people begin to undervalue the artists. When artists are undervalued, people begin to think that what we do is easy, a trivial thing.

After sitting and musing over that around sales, I decided that this was a problem that is just too wide spread for one person to do anything about it. I carried on, and business was good. I almost forgot about the whole conversation.

A few hours later, I had a gentleman come by and browse my table, then ask if I take commissions. I told him that yes, I do, but I don't complete them on site. When he asked how much it would cost to have an ink drawing of an elaborate scene done, I gave him a fair price considering the time and research that would go into what he was wanting, with a little discount because the subject matter was actually very interesting to me and it's something I'll really enjoy working on. He was taken aback, and asked about my pencil prices, and I gave him that quote. Once again he seemed astonished - and why shouldn't he be? Folks throughout the room were charging $5-10 for pencil art of original characters. I explained to him that, unlike many of the great artists in the room, I am a full time artist. This is what I do for a living, and I put a lot of time, and pride in all of my work. He looked around a moment longer, and agreed. We continued talking about his project, and in the end, I walked away with the commission with a fair price paid in advance, and a project that I think he and I are both looking forward to. I think that I earned a good deal of respect from him as well.

The lesson here is this - When you take yourself seriously, other people will as well. Don't be tempted to undersell yourself in a market that's highly saturated with other artists who do the same just to have a chance to compete, but also don't lash out against them. My sincere hope is that each one of them is getting what they actually feel their work is worth, and since I realize many of them are hobbyists, they probably just enjoy that people love their work enough to buy it up, and they're able to make a bit of side cash as well. At the same time, as long as you as an artist charge incredibly low rates for custom work, expect people who don't understand all that goes into it to think that what you do is an easy and trivial thing, whether it is or not.