This article is by Lori Woodward, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is a member of the the Putney Painters, an internationally known group of a dozen artists who paint under the mentorship of Richard Schmid. Lori authored and illustrated step-by-step articles for Watercolor Magazine from 2007 to 2012. She has taught art marketing seminars at Scottsdale Artist School and at the 2012 Oil Painters of America national convention and show.
Today, I'll talk about how systematizing your buying of supplies will save you both money and time. In a previous blog, I talked about how I'm not the greatest at math. Well, I have to admit that although I try hard to be organized, it's just not in my nature. Be it that way or not, it's important for me to run my art business in a way that causes me less stress, and being organized and planning my art supply buying helps.
As I write this, I'm aware that many of you have systems set up for buying and handling supplies. If you do, feel free to share your experience in the comments section - what works and what doesn't. Blogs are a great place to help each other out.
When I recently attended Joseph McGurl's workshop, I noticed that most of his plein air studies were on 9x12 linen panels. If a master painter like Joe can simplify his work process, so can I.
It's said, "Time is Money". It occurs to me that if I were to order most of my supplies, frames, and materials once or twice a year (in bulk), that I'd systemize that process and save myself a lot of time and frustration.
This last week, when I needed to quickly ship a 12x12 painting on panel, I realized how out of control my process is. I couldn't find exactly the right sized box for the framed painting. It was too large for the priority mail boxes I'd picked up at the post office. I could've gone to a packing store and bought the right sized box, but I was also packing for a short vacation - time was of the essence. Fortunately, I did find a box in the basement that would work, but had I planned ahead by having adequate shipping materials in stock for 12x12 square paintings, things would've gone a bit smoother.
This is just an example for discussion's sake. Let's say that I'm super organized, and I'm about to order a year's worth of canvas, stretchers, panels and frames for my art business. I like the idea of ordering in bulk because I usually get discounts from the distributors. When I order a box full of the same sized frames made with the same moulding, I can get significant savings from the frame maker. I've done that in the past and sometimes paid half of what it would cost me to order one or two different sized frames at a time.
Why should I paint in one or two standard sizes? Doesn't that stifle my creativity? Not really, and here's why. When I can reach for a prepared panel from the shelf, transfer my study onto the surface and know that as soon as I finish the painting, I have a frame and the right size shipping box for it, I feel calm and able to focus on my painting. If someone buys the painting from my website, I know I'm set up to ship it within a day or two without complication.
Let's say that I paint in two sizes: 9x12 archival linen panels and 18x24 canvas over deep stretchers (gallery wrapped). I sell the 9x12 works unframed from my website, but I also offer a framed version for an extra fee. All the frames are exactly the same. If the buyer doesn't like this frame, it can easily be ordered unframed, and they can choose their own.
Let's say, once a year, I order fifty 9x12 panels from an art supply website, and then I also order fifty 9x12 frames - all the same moulding - from a frame maker. This framer is someone I can speak with directly, the frames are made by hand nearby and I establish a business relationship with that company. I enjoy working with folks I can talk to directly.
For my larger works, I order rolls of high quality canvas and deep stretcher bars. I order fifty 18" and fifty 24" stretchers bars. I have enough to make 25 canvases, so I make sure I have enough canvas to cover all of those stretchers. I take a few days to stretch and gesso 10 canvases at a time so that they're ready to use.
Then, I go online and bulk order shipping supplies to specifically ship these two sizes of paintings. By keeping the size of my paintings standard, I take the guesswork out of my shipping process. I never run out of shipping supplies and can ship on a moment's notice.
When I order in bulk, I can easily figure out the cost of my materials, frame and shipping for each painting. I divide the amount spent on these three categories by the number of paintings I plan to complete. I'd calculate one set of of expenses for the 9x12 works and another for the 18x24. Because I'm using the same materials and frame for each, my costs will also be standardized.That way, it's easier to see whether I will make a profit when I sell my work. The lower the cost of my materials, the easier it is to make a profit, and when I order in supplies in bulk, the less expensive these materials are.
Is this boring? It could be, but I think I'd rather have "calm" and simplification in my work routine than chaos, confusion and an endless stream of choices when it comes to framing and shipping.
So you might be thinking... what if I want to paint in a custom size? For myself, I'd choose to use deep stretcher bars and make my own gallery-wrapped canvas for custom sizes and sell them unframed, but other than that, I want my paintings to be standardized so that I don't have to think much.
So again, feel free to share how you streamline your supplies, framing and shipping practices. We can all learn from each other and then choose the option that works best for each of us.
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