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 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]

The July Making A Mark Poll

On Monday I'll post the new Poll for July.  If you're desperate to find out what other artists think about a key question you have the next 24 hours to influence the topic for July.

The Making A Mark Poll - Resources for Artists

Are you like other artists? Every month I ask the artist readers of my popular art blog what they think about some aspect of being an artist and selling art...


David Teter said...

I find the top answer to be odd as I don't make a correlation between the size and subject matter.
I understand that a larger size can have a greater impact, especially in a large room, but I don't see subject as a determining factor in that, any subject will have greater impact at a large size, but that's me.

And other than size ( I selected 'small size for enthusiastic collectors' in the original poll for a specific reason, see my comment from that post since I also work larger) the other more important factor for me is RATIO.

I find the ratio of height to width to be far more important so I work in even ratios, mostly 2 to 3, 3 to 4 ratios and 4 to 5 (8"x10", 16" x20").
Not all frame standard sizes are even ratios though, 11 x14 for example.
So the standard size frame option usually does not help me either.
In fact in the beginning I was trying to figure out what size to make the finished image AND allow for a mat, all to fit a standard frame,,, drove myself crazy! only to realize,,, wait I am doing this all backwards, IT'S THE ART THAT MATTERS!, the frame and mat are meant to compliment it... this is crazy!

A long post could be written on ratio alone. We have all heard of The Golden Ratio and ratios regarding sculpture, Greek and Roman architecture etc. There is a deep history of this in art.

In fact, besides the outside ratios/dimensions it is equally important to think this way regarding the design of the interior (between the boundaries) of the art. It is how the picture plane (or sculpture etc.) gets divided and sub-divided.

Back to the poll... on the standard size frame ratio, it does make a logical sense, however most professionals don't worry too much about it since most don't buy pre-cut frames, at least the ones I know. I know some do and frame them themselves but even they could save buying bulk and investing in a good quality miter saw.

The framer I use buys the frame molding in bulk lengths (for their own cost savings), 15 to 20 foot I think, then cuts to suit at their shop, so as far as they are concerned a standard size is the same as any other. We artists who patronize their services don't get charged any more for a 'custom size', it's all the same to them.

A good connection to have as a professional.

The 'latest purchase of paper/support', even here if I but a 20 by 30 watercolor paper I still figure out the largest I can work on this support and still maintain the ratio as well as have a 'bleed' for matting, if no mat is required then I can float the 20 by 30.

Two others that I found odd or backwards thinking.
'Storage size matters' and 'easier to post'

My short answer to that: That's a shaky mentality to adopt as a professional.
Whether or not they do, I never plan on art coming back, at least for very long, and I certainly wouldn't allow that to determine size.

Equally I can't imagine ease of posting being allowed to determine size.

Sorry for writing a post with-in a post.

Making A Mark said...

What's "the top answer" David? I couldn't make sense of your comment in terms of what I'd written.

Making A Mark said...

David - the main purpose of my monthly polls is to alert us all to the wide variety of perspectives that people bring to what you and I and all my readers might think are simple decisions.

I think you maybe need to take a step back and reread. This is a reflection of the views of 125 people - not all of whom think the same way as you or me.
* What you might think a sensible course of action is not (or is not applicable) to others.
* What you might think is "professional behaviour" I guarantee is not the behaviour of all the professional artists I know.

Finding out how other people think and how they act differently to us is how we learn - and is one of the main reasons for this post

I know that I suddenly realised that, for me, framing costs matter a lot whereas for artists working on gallery wrapped canvas with no intention of framing, they are wholly irrelevant. Except I guess framing costs might be the reason why they're working on gallery wrapped canvas in the first place!

Posts within post are fine if they are thoughtful and well written as yours always are. I'm just giving you a nudge to have another think! ;) :D It's always interesting to hear your views and I value your contributions.

David Teter said...

Sorry, I mean the highest percentage (top answer), 36% 'whatever the subject demands'.

We Americans and you Brits have slightly different... phrases and sayings.
It took me a while to decipher 'hang the cost', which I think means 'fo gedda bout it' (disregard).


Tina Mammoser said...

It is very interesting results! I think all the responses are relevent and reflect how differently we all work.

Only comment I'd disagree with is that somehow working in sizes to suit subject requires custom framing which costs more. ALL my framing is custom framing and I don't think there are any "off the peg" frames that look professional enough for me personally. So even if I used standard sizes the frames would cost the same. However, as you point out, the convenience of working in a standard size relative to the rest of the artists' work (so at least all your frames are the same size even if custom) really does help for swapping existing frames!

David - I do a whole "ease of posting" series of drawings. They're for a specific venue and it means I have one size I can do hundreds of works with. The size actually isn't very important to the drawing itself so picking a convenient post size was just a business decision. Then I have the packing materials at the ready for the (essentially daily) sales. Quick, easy, a good earner, ties into the larger work too.

I actually blogged about Katherine's poll so I could share how I needed to choose 4 of her answers for different situations. :)

David Teter said...

I agree with your first paragraph. In fact as a professional or not I still learn new things all the time and frequently change working methods etc as a result of following online blogs like yours. I value the wide variety of perspectives the web has brought us all.
And yes, the framing issue is not a simple decision.

I am only relating what I have learned over the years through trial and error and from my experiences with the intention of passing that on to others. I am not saying it is the best or only way.
I used to frame and mat my own art, still have the mat cutter and sometimes still do, and would encourage anyone to do the same when it is absolutely necessary. It is a lot of work.

I simply have reached a point where I can't (make the time) to do it all and must delegate some of it out, like framing.
I still must very carefully consider the costs like most, so I don't take it lightly.
In fact, daily I must weigh time against cost like we all do. When do I spend $, when do I spend the time?

I also realize that professional behavior is widely varied. Again I am only relating my own experiences as it may have some value to others.
Never is it my intention to disparage others or their means and methods.

My own professional beliefs are constantly evolving as I learn through new experiences and following the online community.

Framing is really expensive and is a cost we don't get back until a sale, that too is a factor I always must consider.
As a result I have recently began building my own cradled supports. Made of wood, stained and clear coated. Essentially the same as a Gallery wrapped canvas but of wood.
A far less monetary cost than frames and gallery wrapped canvas, but more time on my part.
The benefit is I can produce several in the same time it takes to mat and frame a single work.

Thanks for providing an open forum.

Making A Mark said...

Correct. What it means is people decide what size is appropriate to work at for the subject they're paintings - and they don't think of anything else

For me that's a decision about aesthetics and has very little to do with a "balance scorecard" approach (guess who used to be a management consultant!) which weighs up what works for the aesthetics with what works practically in terms of getting the work shown

I was talking to Jeanette Barnes this week (see my post about "Built"). She produces very large drawings. She told me that the drawing of "The Shard" which she is currently exhibiting is the largest she has ever done - and realistically her limits on size are determined by the width of the paper roll she works on, how tall she is and the the size of work her husband is prepared to frame. That to me is an artist who knows what size she wants to work at and what limits she has to work within.

Making A Mark said...

Plus what size of work she can physically move in and out of her studio!

Making A Mark said...

The other comment I forgot to make about framing is how much more unified a solo show looks when the frames used all stick to the same type/molding and to no more than two (maybe three) sizes - whatever the size of the artwork.

I've never seen an exhibition yet where this approach didn't make the artwork look very impressive.

Making A Mark said...

Tina - I forgot about that post when I was drafting this last night. I've now added in a link to it in at the end of the post

If anybody else has written about size of art as a result of this month's poll please let me know.

Making A Mark said...

I guess my concern is that people from all sorts of different backgrounds read my blog and I think it's always necessary when providing recommendations or perspectives to say a little bit about how you arrived at your own perspective.

Thus the comment I had on the original post from a Mum who loved doing art - saying she worked small so she could fit it in with her other commitments. That's a perfectly valid reason for that person. It maybe doesn't make sense for a professional artist - but it might help validate other Mums who are doing the same thing.

Then there are the "handyperson" artists who are a dab hand at wielding a saw and doing woodwork. They might not be exclusively male but I rather suspect that those who cut wood might well lean that way! ;)

On the other hand, there are other artists who are danger to themselves and others if they use a sharp implement of any sort to cut anything! For the record, given this is following on my previous remark, I don't mean to imply any sexist remark by this! Clumsy is as clumsy does!

Speaking personally, after trying different approaches - and some cost-benefit analysis(!) - I buy frames and "treat" them and cut mats. Once you've got a decent mat cutter and have done a few it ultimately saves time for me in terms of the trips back and to the framers. Mind you I've still to find the person who will cut glass for me!

vivien said...

I agree with Tina and David that I have my work framed by a professional framer, so cost is the same anyway - but also as a regular customer I get preferential prices as all professionals do with him (errrm maybe unless he doesn't like them!). That keeps the costs down a bit. I think most good framers do this once they realise that you are going to be a repeat customer.

I think we all also deliberately do a series of small works in the same size to appeal to those with less free cash ;>) - just not the main thing we do.

Making A Mark said...

I'd be interested to know whether you all sat down and costed out the different options. Or whether you're taking this approach because you're time poor and you consider your time is better spent painting than doing stuff related to framing.

David Teter said...

Ok, I misinterpreted 'post'.
I took it to mean post to an online site, a more common use of the word these days.
Here the context is shipping, post as in postage or send.
Which of course makes perfect sense, especially in the daily painting sense.

It's true about framing and a solo show and unification.
I had a solo show last year and cost aside it was important to consider the show as a whole.
So we choose 3 frames/moldings, 2 in black with different profiles and 1 in a deep brown.

David Teter said...

I can relate to this.
I did a background for a local school play a few years back.
The roll of paper was 8 feet tall and 20 feet wide as I remember.
The only solid wall, no doors or windows, available at the time was 7 feet tall by 9 feet wide.

I had to do it in sections, scrolling sideways to work and still maintain continuity.
We find a way out of necessity when we have to.

David Teter said...

Yes, time poor is a factor quite often.
It is easy to have your time slowly consumed by non-income generating tasks related to running a business or being self-employed, and a lot more than just framing time.

The bottom line is if I don't allow enough time to produce the art I earn nothing.
I have and still do cost out my options, which is why I sometimes mat and frame myself and began building cradled supports.

My solo show last year,... all professionally framed as I simply had only enough time to produce roughly 50 works in only 3 months (about 6 months worth for me).

Carolyn A. Pappas said...

Since I like to post my artwork online, I mostly limit my artwork to the size of my scanner (I don't have a good photography setup). This is about 8 x 10.

David Teter said...

I don't have an elaborate photography set-up either and for now I make it work.
I will upgrade when I can afford, another cost consideration (Katherine, hows the Canon working out?).
I, out of necessity must photograph my art since hiring a pro I can't afford.
I use natural light and have limited knowledge and equipment of photography. I don't have lights and screens etc that pros have, but I make it work.

My current camera is only 6 mega-pixels which is barely good enough, certainly good enough for online posting. I have only a basic tripod, used when I got it.
Incidentally I read online somewhere (a photography site related to photographing art) all that is needed is a good 8 mega-pixel camera and the resolution is good up to a 20 x 30 print.

So a DSLR is not absolutely necessary.

Tina Mammoser said...

ah, I think it's more a British term David. We still get our letters in the post, and post things by mail. :) We might say "mail" but not as often. (Katherine is in the UK too)

Making A Mark said...

I understand the scope for possible confusion re 'post' - but my my option actually said "postage" and I didn't think there'd be any confusion over this.

If 'mail' (USA) is to 'post' (UK), what's the American for the UK term "postage"

Making A Mark said...

Carolyn - another option I forgot. I know you're not alone in limiting the size of your work to what you an scan. I think there's quite a few other people who sell all or most of their artwork online who think the same way.

I guess it's also what explains the lust for A3 scanners! ;)

Tina Mammoser said...

I have costed things after the fact. I did choose canvas for aesthetic reasons long ago, switching over from oil on board to canvas mainly to stop framing purely for visual reasons, not due to cost. At the time I had a very good affordable framer.

But the cost is significant. For example, I've just framed 4 small works and the frames average about £40 each. These should retail about £300 and £80 of that is the frame cost (since my gallery doubles my artist price).

Now, a large canvas can also be expensive - my 120x120cm custom canvas was £180. But when the retail price for something that size is nearing £2000 that material cost is much easier to absorb.

And time poor and muscle-poor is part of my choice too - it's why I usually don't stretch my own canvases. Too time consuming and inevitably injures my shoulder for a few days.

As a humourous side note - when I was trained to do framing the place didn't have a hydraulic cutter yet. I couldn't cut frame on the industrial upright mitre cutter because I wasn't heavy enough to push down the pedal with enough force. haha! I liked cutting glass though.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks for the details Tina - most helpful and it's also got me thinking about another post!

Your comment about strength is also reinforcing my notion that stretching canvases and making mitred frames are things that blokes do! However I have a female friend who is a meticulous carpenter and I've never thought to ask her to make my frames for me - and I might just do that now. I'll pop across the river and get you to cut my glass!

jane said...

One factor which you have only obliquely referred to is the physical limitations of the artist - I'm pretty short, and have dodgy shoulders which mean I can't use an easel. My paintings therefore have to be of a size that I can hold in my lap.

Limitations can stimulate creative thoughts, though (as blogged here ).

One of the things I noticed about your poll is that the wording of the choices implies that nobody would paint small out of choice - and I therefore chose the hang the expense option as being the closest to what I do. Framing is more expensive for small proportionally, after all.

Making A Mark said...

I hadn't realised that people would interpret the "paint small" options in that way. I'd have thought 'small size for enthusiastic collectors' was a pretty positive reason for painting small! :)

I guess what I was doing was trying to tease out the reasons which have developed over time as to why people paint the size they do. The reasons I identified are all ones which have been quoted to me by different artists over a long time. For example paintings which come in a smaller size do tend to generate avid collectors more often - and knowing this artists continue to paint this size even when they paint larger sizes as well.

However you are absolutely right the first option "whatever subject demands & hang the cost" covered everything from very large to very small and was the one for those who think about what they want to do first - and then think about all the other issues re. framing, selling etc later - and

Kimberly Kelly Santini said...

With respect to your "hang the cost" comment when working in custom sizes - that's not really my point of vies, as I have worked out a finishing option that, for the most part, keeps costs well in hand while allowing me to recycle old frames, even for custom sizes. I work on flat panels which I then "float" on archival mat boards mounted inside shadow boxes or deeper frames. There is the occasional piece that requires something custom, but I have a framer who is very accommodating with respect to building my frames from her scrap molding/mat blanks and extending preferential pricing when we have to order new materials for a piece. This way I am able to accommodate stronger compositions than those steered by standard sizes while not breaking the bank on finishing costs.

Great survey, as always, Katherine!

Making A Mark said...

Kimberley - that sounds like a brilliant solution! You should write a blog post about it! I'd love to be able to share the idea with a wider audience.

David Teter said...

You are right, you said "postage" in pie chart and list. No confusion there.
My confusion:
I read "ease of posting" in the description and for some reason it stuck in my mind.
... putting "ease of posting" and " online..." together I was thinking Web.

" 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 "

And the American term for UK "postage" is "postage".

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