Saturday, June 30, 2012

Poll Results - Size Matters!

June 2012 Making A Mark Poll: What's the main reason for the size of your artwork?
This month I asked you what was the primary reason for the size of your artwork and 125 people responded to the Making A Mark Poll for June.

In POLL: How do you decide the size of your artwork? I highlighted a number of reasons for making choices about different sizes of artwork.  These focused on:
  • Art Practice
  • Art Collectors
  • Art Exhibitions
In reviewing the results of this month's poll, I'll use the same headings to highlight what the data tells me and the key points made in the comments received on the post announcing the poll.

You may have a different view.  Please do not hesitate to comment telling me what that is.

Poll Results

125 people responded to the poll during June - and the poll results will be typical of the people who responded.  These are the results in tabular form - and are the same as the ones represented by a pie chart at the top of this post.

What's the main reason for the size of your artwork?

whatever subject demands & hang the cost36%
standard sizes: minimise framing costs21%
latest purchase of paper/support12%
standard sizes: for exhibitions (swop frames)10%
small size for enthusiastic collectors7%
small size for impulse purchases5%
small size for ease of postage5%
something else5%
big for competitions/ to get noticed0%
big for collectors with space & money0%

Size is important!  Artists do think about the size of their artwork and for the most part appear to have developed a perspective on what size suits them best.

In summary, of the 125 artists who responded, there is a clear split between an 'art is all' aesthetic perspective and those who want their art to make financial sense as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
  • Just over a third are persuaded that the aesthetic of their design and composition is the overriding factor in determining the size of their art.
  • Just under a third are mindful of pragmatic and financial considerations with respect to framing for exhibitions and sales.
  • One fifth paint small for three main reasons - all of which primarily relate to sales and despatch to customers and/or exhibitions
  • 5% of artists have other reasons for painting the size they do
Read my analysis and commentary to find out more about determines the size of artwork.

Art Practice

Art Practice was the driving factor for many of you.

Over a third of you are driven by your subject matter when working out what size to paint. 36% of you said that they primarily paint whatever size the subject demands & hang the cost.

I can't help feeling that while this has complete integrity from an aesthetic perspective it is unlikely to be associated with financial success.  That's because such work is likely to be a non-standard size and require custom framing - which can be outrageously expensive at times.

On the other hand, this perspective might well be one which is adopted by the artist working on gallery wrap canvas who has no intention of framing their work.

It would have been interesting to know whether works were framed or not when this approach was adopted - and whether artists who did frame were also financially successful.

The size of art is determined by the materials to hand.
In other words, for 12% of the respondents the size of the blank canvas or panel you've bought determines the paintings you paint. This is obviously an argument which does not apply in the same way to those who are drawing or painting on paper or supports which can be cut to size.

This aspect did bring home to me how much the painter in oil or acrylics needs to work out a size of support they are comfortable with because that's what they need to buy and have in stock before the next painting gets off the ground.

This approach of course applies particularly to plein air painters who have to decide what sizes they're working in before they've even seen the subject they're painting!  However for plein air painters there's also another consideration.

Plein air painting practices tend to define sizes 
RenĂ© PleinAir http://painting-pleinair.blogspot.co.uk/) pointed out that his practice is very much determined by the size of panels his pochade box will take.  This perspective will be one which is shared by many other plein air painters.


Hobby artists tend to work smaller. The aim with many non-professional artists is to get an artwork finished rather than to have something hanging around for ages.  Given competing demands on their time from their other commitments, creating smaller artworks provides the reward of creating art without having to wait a long time

I always tend to think I can tell when an artist is getting serious about marketing their work and earning a serious income from their art - as this frequently coincides with creating bigger artwork.

As I indicated in the post introducing this poll, in order to help people who are thinking of submitting artwork, I started trying to provide photos of artwork with people alongside so that readers could get a sense of dimensions of work which has been selected for an art competition or open exhibition.  It's also the reason why I include dimensions when I post art.  It's always worth reflecting on the size of the image you're viewing!

Art Exhibitions

At some point after you get past mastering the techniques of how to draw and paint, artists begin to think about selling their work.  If they are professional artists this is the point at which many start to unpick the costs of making work and how they can maximise their profit.  While the cost of materials is not insignificant, the cost of framing can be astronomical relative to the value of the painting unless an artist investigates ways of keeping costs within budget - with a view to maximising profit.

Nearly a third of you understand that working to accommodate standard frame sizes can be cost-efficient and cost-effective in terms of both time and money.

  • 21% paint in standard sizes to minimise framing costs. I'm only surprised this didn't present a larger percentage of the responses.  The major cost hike when framing for an exhibition pr sale is when you move from standard sizes to custom made. If you work to standard sizes you have the scope to customise frames so they look nicer while costing you much less.  For example, I buy plain wood and then paint and wax them myself which gives me a huge saving on the cost of buying something similar.
  • Another 10% of you work in standard sizes so that you can swop frames around for exhibitions. This was a very early conclusion that I arrived at after several frustrating attempts to find frames to fit work for exhibition.  I now very often work out what size mat and frame I require for a work before I start as it affects decisions made about format, design and composition.  I don't demote composition as a factor in this balancing act so much as challenge it to avoid costing me too much money!  I'll go for custom made if that's what it requires - but the subject matter has to work very hard to persuade me that the extra expense is worthwhile.
Viven Blackburn (Paintings Prints and Stuff) counsels against being ruled by the size of the frame and creating formats for artwork which don't work.  Read her post How do you decide which size to work? to understand why she adopts this view.

Nobody is primarily painting big to get noticed or for competitions.
Which is not to say that might not happen now and again - but it's not part of the routine practice of the artists who responded.

Storage size matters
One person commented and told me I'd missed out the option which was "small for ability to store after it comes back from the exhibitions"! I'm very sure a number of people might identify with this one - and I regret I forgot about this very important consideration!

Art Collectors

19% of respondents chose to paint small for three reasons

  • 7% painted at a size which encouraged enthusiastic collectors
  • while 5% found smaller size easier to post - which is a key consideration if you're marketing online and selling to collectors all over the world
  • 5% found smaller sizes attracted more impulse purchases ie work priced at a level where people don't have to think too long before they make a decision to buy.  The level at which that price is pitched may well vary according to the people the artist is pitching their work too and/or the quality of the work on offer.  Nevertheless the principle remains the same - there is a price level where works sell faster and generate a higher volume of sales - and that typically relates to smaller works.
I'd expect these perspectives to be ones associated with the "daily painters" and those associated with that movement.

Nobody is primarily painting big for collectors with space and money.
I was a little surprised by this.  For me, one of the distinguishing factors about professional artists is that, in general, they tend to paint on a bigger scale than hobby artists or semi-professionals.  When I go to see open exhibitions which are a combination of professional artists and serious semi-professionals, it's very noticeable that the bigger work is almost always painted by the professionals.  Also 'proper' galleries tend to prefer work which has an impact on a potential customer when seen from the other side of the gallery - which is something which is more difficult to achieve if artwork is small.

During the recession it was very odd when all of a sudden the professional artists started to paint on a smaller scale to try and make their work more affordable.  On the whole, it didn't work.  You need to sell a high volume of smaller works for this sort of pricing strategy to work.  This typically requires targeted marketing - which is rather more difficult for either an artist or a gallery to change than the size of the support you work on.

A little while later many switched tactics and started painting bigger (and often in a way where paintings had more impact) and charging more - and the work looked better and seemed to sell better in open exhibitions.

The feedback I'm currently getting from a number of painters is they're selling bigger works to less people for more money - however this was not reflected in the poll.



[Update:  Professional Artist Tina Mammoser (In the Studio, On the Shore) has written a post describing how she decides what size to work at - and she combines a number of approaches so I'm including a link to her post here - What size to paint? How art size matters 

If anybody else has written a post on this topic please leave a comment and I'll take a look re linking to it from this one]

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