Valuing original artwork

What do famous art masterpieces from the likes of Van Gogh and Rembrandt have in common with today’s professional artists – artists eeking out a living creating commercial illustrations or portraits and landscapes to sell and exhibit?

They differ in that the old masters works might still exchange for tens of millions of pounds or dollars in the international auction houses of London and New York whilst the work of today’s artists sell for tens, hundreds and maybe thousands, if they’re lucky.

However whether you’re looking at Van Gogh’s famous ‘sunflowers’ or a beautiful landscape of ‘The Lakes’ they both consume the same amount of time from researching and planning out the design to the overall creative input developed from years of hard graft and experience. And the artists of today and yesteryear both incur the same costs associated with producing their work. On top of expensive materials required they also have living costs of housing, food and utilities and maybe the additional burden of hiring studio space.

I pose the question because as a pet portrait artist I receive many enquiries every week and I often get asked if I can reduce the price of my original work. “Ooo, I really love your work and it would be a great surprise for Dad’s birthday but I just can’t stretch that far”, they’ll say.

My reply is usually a firm “No” unless of course the customer is buying two or more pieces then I’ll offer a discount.

How it all adds up

Artists value their work based on several factors. I produce both pet portraits and general wildlife in a variety of mediums. For me, the first consideration is the set up costs and related preparation time. Before I paint a single stroke I have to acquire high quality reference images which I then spend time transforming into an idea for a unique and

original painting. I never just replicate the image I’ve purchased but work on interpreting it in a different way using unusual colours and tones. Then I have to prepare the canvas to ensure that my finished artwork is extremely durable so that the colours stay vibrant and the canvas does not warp over time.

Once the painting is sold I may need to frame it at the customer’s discretion but I will certainly need to securely package it before taking to the Post Office. These peripheral stages of the production process all take considerable time which has to be taken into account.

The actual painting process time varies wildly depending on the complexity of the subject – and whether the piece is a commissioned pet portrait or a piece of fine art for sale on the market – but I estimate that on average I spend 12 hours on every piece of work I sell. Many people assume that the old masters spent days and weeks on their famous paintings, hence the huge auction prices they command today. In his short adult life though Van Gogh created around 2,000 artworks – he died at 37. This would average out at two paintings a week over his working lifetime but actually he created most of his work in his twilight years and would have been knocking out several a week!. However this volume never devalued his currency.

Coming to a figure

Then I have to ask myself what I think the finished piece is worth and this depends on the complexity of subject. I also take into account how the market values my work. For example my paintings sell for several hundreds at exhibitions and art fairs and are often bought immediately through my internet marketing channels. As importantly all feedback on my work from the marketplace, my cpeers and friends and family is invaluable. All these considerations guide me but the most important consideration of is what I personally want for it.

So if you find a piece of artwork you really like but baulk at the price think of all the costs, hard work and creative skill that’s gone into it. It’s that price because you want it.