Inés Gregori Labarta is a PhD student in the Department of English & Creative Language, and an avid doodler and illustrator. Here, she shares what she has learned from working with us at our weekly StartupLab and why she finally feels empowered to put a price on her art.
As an artist, I find it difficult to put a price on what I produce. First because it’s something intimate, like a part of my body, or a memory. Also, creating equals good mental health for me and it’s, plainly, my source of energy. Creators out there, you know where I’m coming from, right? If suddenly all the papers and pencils in the world were gone and I couldn’t write or doodle, I’d automatically go insane – and start seeing faces in my wall, like the protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper. On the other side, I’m a terribly perfectionist artist. I haven’t ironed my clothes for years now but let me tell you I get literally sick every time I see the slightest mistake in my piece. Nothing of what I produce resembles the (perfect) ideals I have in my mind.
Because of all this, every time someone asked me how much I charge for an illustration or story I had no idea what to answer. It could be one thousand pounds – considering that I’m selling something unique and original that, in some cases, has taken years to produce. Or I could also give it for free considering it’s not perfect – what’s perfect in life anyways?
Did you have similar thoughts at some point in your artistic career? Art being priceless, way above money and any other mundane nuisances, or not good enough to deserve some cash. To me the turning point was gaining financial independence by working as a content writer in an office. This came with a realisation; work is great because it can give you freedom (unless you have blue blood running through your veins, of course). But you have to like it, or else it may become torture. I hated my work with a passion – the office environment turned me into a caged ferret and being forced to put quantity before quality when performing any tasks made me feel like a fraud. I put up with it, as I still do with many part time jobs, because, well, I need to, but that made me realise that I wanted to make money with something I enjoyed enough to not mind the downsides – and that has to be art.
I find many artists associate genius with poverty and misery – at the end of the day, Vincent Van Gogh never sold but one painting, and Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe died penniless. This may be rooted in your subconcious too – it was rooted in mine, at least – but as the writer Carolyn Elliot explains in this interview, you can change that. Art and money go hand in hand and hey, that doesn’t make your art dirty or less real.
Just put it this way; when you walk into Sainsburys to buy a loaf of bread, do you expect them to give it to you for free? And when you jump on the bus to go to Uni or work, do you get offended when they ask you to pay for the ticket? Do you scream at the bartender when he’s trying to charge you for a pint on a Saturday night? We live in a capitalist society – and if you don’t like it you can always burn all of your money and go to live Thoreau-like as Christopher from Into the Wild. Time is valuable, and a limited resource, so why wouldn’t it have a price? An alternative would be exchanging your goods for other people’s goods – for instance, you could try to pay for a meal with a doodle on a napkin… but realistically it would take lots of time and discussion. Money is, on the other hand, an easy way for people to show appreciation for what you do.
And this takes me back to pricing. Shall you charge all or nothing for your art? Luckily, pricing can be resolved in a logical and easy matter, so next time someone asks you how much you charge for painting or writing you can give a quick answer full of confidence – instead of blushing thinking “oh-how-can-someone-pay-for-this” and mumbling a random number. (Yes I’ve been there too). This article by Amanda Brooks from the Enterprise Centre taught me in about twenty minutes how much should I charge for my art and – more importantly – why that particular number and not another. If you want to honour your artistic gift and make it a way of living, check it out!
If like Inés, you find it difficult to know how much to charge for your work, or if you’re looking to start making money from your creative talents, get in touch.