Posts Tagged ‘Carl Heilman II’

Few things are more entrepreneurial than working in the arts, and yet most artists would be horrified to call themselves entrepreneurs, or even worse, business people. 

But business it is, and as well all know, business has been bad these past few years. And while every sector of business and industry has taken a hit, the arts, as usual, take a bigger hit than most. Retailers of all kinds have taken to discounting to clear inventory, despite evidence that continued price reductions in any field are hard to recover from.

Case in Point:  Last Fall, a major upscale women’s clothing retailer opened a new store near my home. It was a smart move, since the surrounding towns are populated by women who have bought from this line both online and through catalog sales. But aside from a stunted economy, it’s been a hard winter. The weather has often prevented people from going out at all, and the store’s sales reflect that. The parking lot is rarely full and the window boasts increasingly deeper discounts on already discounted items, representing cuts of 70-80% off original prices. What happens now? When new merchandise comes in, the locals wait for it to go on sale, not just once, but until reaches the rock bottom price they have now decided it is worth. What’s more, the original prices are now viewed as “overpricing.”

For artists, there is the added problem that the arts are perceived as a luxury—one of the first things to go when money gets tight. And while discounting may help a retailer trying to clear merchandise, as a strategy for artists, it can be disastrous.


Branding allows your public/audience to recognize you and your art, and to set a current value for it. (It’s very clear in music, where artists like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga had to create personas with new names to finally succeed).

Artists hate the concept of branding, and well they should. In a perfect world, they would be free to create without the weight of public perception bearing down on them. Major artists sometimes have the luxury of leaving this work to art managers and gallery owners who take on the full time job of marketing artworks and branding artists. The vast majority of artists, however, will have to take on some, if not all of the work of presenting themselves to the world at large.  Many do it successfully. (See my previous posts about Adirondack photographer Carl Heilman, II, and iconic musician Kenny Loggins for insights into how successful artists market their work through changing environments.)

 So, even though you may know nothing at all about marketing, if you plan to sell any of your art, you will have to develop an image that people will recognize in a few seconds as someone whose work they value. Yes, this is branding.

What is Your Art Worth?

Which brings us to pricing your work: How valuable is your art? This is a highly flexible concept, and how you approach it is crucial to your survival as an artist. It distresses me to see so many previously successful artists dropping their prices across the board, as this sends the wrong message to art buyers. It reinforces the belief that art is a luxury, and when it gets too expensive, patrons stop buying it or they buy it for less. In short, it devalues your work and the work of others as well.

The challenge to pricing is that nobody really knows what it should be. Some landscape artists follow a basic rule of a price per square inch for their work, while others look at the complexity of the project and the cost of materials. These are all good ways for you to do initial assessments of the value of your work, but for  a successful strategy that will survive the ups and downs of a long career, you need to think through the basis of your pricing structure thoroughly to preserve both your image and your income as an artist.

7  Steps to Help You Set Your Pricing

1)  Look at your entire portfolio as it stands now. Evaluate the quality of your work, and how it has grown and developed. Later work should not necessarily be priced higher, as it may be experimental, or just less popular, although your growth as an artist will be recognized and appreciated by critics and collectors.

2)  Take everything into account. Some works take longer, or cost more to produce. You need to recapture costs for time and expenses, or you won’t last long as an artist. Track the time and costs on each painting, sculpture, etc. Break down shared costs, like the cost of a kiln, paints, studio space, gas to and from your studio, to shows, etc. Create a master list of all the costs associated with your art (down to every pencil and a cost or percentage of the utilities at your studio or home) and then assign a time-associated general cost for doing your art. The easiest way is to start with a 1-day cost. Then calculate what part of a day, or how many days this piece takes you.

3)  Assign an overhead cost. For example, say a still-life takes you a half-day in the studio, while a plein air painting takes a full day out of the studio plus a half day of touch-ups. A portrait requires a 3-hour study, a day in the studio, plus a half day in touch-ups. Do the math based on your 1-day general cost, and assign an overhead cost for your work. This represents the barest minimum you can accept without taking a loss.

4)  Add creative value to your work. The overhead cost would be about the same whether a 3-year old did it, or a seasoned 30-year artist. What makes your art valuable are the choices you make: subject, lighting, palette, medium, size, level of detail, etc. Creative value is a very subjective measure, and one you should talk over with other people familiar with your work. In the end, you want to arrive at a solid scale to measure by. Keep track of how much you value each work creatively and why. Look again at the whole grouping and how you placed the value, and then make adjustments. And it’s worth noting that the better your marketing campaign, the higher the value you can place on the creativity of your work. 

5)  Assess the technique. A simple, brilliantly executed painting will fetch more than a complex, poorly executed one. Again, this is subjective, but you really know when you have outdone yourself, and when you’ve just done your usual great job (anything less you should not even consider selling, as this will damage your brand). 

6)  Stratify your pricing structure. Set a basic A, B, C structure of categories for your work that reflects all of the features above.

Your “A” list is your top portfolio, which gets you more work, more showings, and more buyers. These prices should never be compromised or reduced; in fact, these are generally works that are sold for higher prices through galleries and at auctions.  Instead, pull a work that isn’t selling and look at ways of marketing up to achieve the price you have set.

Your “B” list is where the majority of your income as an artist rests. These are the proven techniques and pieces that buyers have loved in the past. Be careful to preserve the prices you set here, as once you drop them, you make previous buyers feel like they should have waited. If a buyer wants to pay less for an art work, then it is best to redirect them to a similar piece that has a slightly lower value. This way they will feel that they got a bargain, but they also got a valuable work of art.

Your “C” list represents untested or experimental work, or older pieces that have value but may not represent the full extent of your current technique. These can be discounted, as long as the discount is explained through careful marketing. 

7)  Consider your marketing vehicles.  You have to build into the price the cost of marketing, even if you’re doing it yourself. Most artists mistakenly assume that if they sell a work themselves, they are saving the 40-50% commission they often pay to a gallery, but over time, you are spending this money (and maybe more) in self-advertising, maintaining a website, doing demonstrations, and manning booths at festivals and open-air shows. And most importantly, you are taking time away from creating your artwork. On the other hand, a lesser investment of time or money will generally yield fewer sales.

Whether you pay a commission to a gallery, a fee to a marketing site or a collective, or do your marketing entirely on your own, you have to designate a retail price (what the customer pays) that represents ALL of the above costs. Ideally, this price is one that can cross-over all the categories, so you can show your top pieces at a gallery, sell your B-list on your own website, and even make some cash selling your C-list at fairs and festivals.

A Basic Formula  For Selling Art for Profit: 

Overhead Costs + Creative Value + Technique  = Base Price

Double this to get your Retail Price. 

Anything less, and you will drive yourself out of business.

The Other Side of Pricing: Know Your Marketplace

One of the most important factors in setting good prices is an understanding of what the market will bear.

For dead-on  insights into what drives the erratic instincts of buyers, I  recommend a very interesting article published last week online at Inc. Magazine, by blogger Charlie Gilkey, who writes the Productive Flourishing newsletter (with invaluable advice for creative entrepreneurs). 

The article,  called “The ABCs of Pricing,” offers  simple advice that is particularly important for the retailing of art (including photography, sculpture, pottery, and fine arts, and includes a  tight summary of three principles of price setting in a fluctuating market place: anchors, bumps and charms.

These principles, along with those I have already outlined, will guide you in designing pricing strategies that work for your career over the long run.

   © 2011 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

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In an earlier post, I interviewed Carl Heilman II, a landscape photographer who knows how to expand the boundaries of a frame to bring his photos to life. We talked about how he gets those great images―particularly his panoramas of the Adirondacks―and how his career has evolved from the beginning.

Classic Carl Heilman II Adirondack Panorama

 Now we’re getting down to business—the freelance photography business. Here, Carl shares his personal formula for freelance success.


Carl is kind of a one-man-band of outdoor photography. He takes the photos, processes them digitally, teaches workshops, writes books, does lectures, develops programs, and spends a great deal of time doing things other than photography to keep his successful business enterprise going. His family, including wife Meg and married daughter, Greta, also work fulltime in the cottage industry known as Wild Visions, Inc.

In June of 2010, Carl released his latest book, Contemporary Landscape Photography, a book that captures his knowledge about his craft, and walks you through how to do your own beautiful landscapes using digital cameras and equipment.


ARTS ENCLAVE: What makes this book different from your others? 

CARL HEILMAN: This is a how-to photography book, rather than a book of photographs. It’s really all about landscape photography from A-Z, from aperture and shutter speed to weather, lighting, equipment, depth-of-field, and creative techniques, and includes a section my daughter Greta did on Photoshop techniques. 

AE:  It’s basically a course in a book…

CH:  It’s part of the evolution of things. I’ve had an idea in my head for 3-4 years now to do a project like this and I’ve been fortunate with my other projects. Then, all of a sudden I got an email to do a panoramic photography techniques book, and although I didn’t end up getting that project they said, “Hold on, we have another project that would work perfectly for you.” The book kind of all fell into place and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it—it was kind of an extension of what I’ve been doing for years in my workshops.

AE:  How long have you been doing the workshops?

CH:  I’ve been doing photography [shooting] workshops since the early 1990s and more steadily since the late 1990s. We started doing early Photoshop workshops for photographers back around 2000, in addition to the photo-taking workshops.

AE:  You are working at landscape photography as a fulltime sustaining business—how many people are actually able to do that? 

CH:  I know, it is our sole income here. My wife, Meg, and my daughter, Greta, work with me, and this is our business. It’s been as much of a challenge as anything I’ve had to do, to grow and maintain a photography business….

AE:  Who does the marketing and the website?

CH:  The website is still based on a lot of the work that I did during the first few years I worked fulltime in photography. Greta maintains some sections of it and I still maintain some. I’ve also gone to Facebook now.

AE:  You’re also doing speaking engagements, writing books, and you have many hyperlinks on your website—that’s a pretty elaborate business model for an individual photographer, because that’s larger than just doing photography…  Do you have a marketing plan?  Do you sit down and decide what kinds of things you might be doing in the coming year?

CH:  It just kind of happens… Oh sure, we are incorporated, so we do have a business meeting each year and talk about what directions we want to go in―what’s worked, what hasn’t, what needs to be republished, whether we want to publish anything new, and whether there are new book projects coming through. I’m always trying to look down the road 4-5 years, but most of the time I’m working about a year out on projects and lining things up.

AE:  Who handles the business side of the business?

CH:  Meg does the actual Quickbooksâ work. Greta has taken off on her own with the travel mugs and other aspects of using my photography for retail-type products. So it’s a joint effort all around. I probably do most of the actual business contact stuff, whether it’s stock photography, pursuing speaking engagements, or setting up workshops―that sort of thing. 

AE:  You seem to be going constantly. Is it 7days a week most of the year?

CH:  Mostly, yes. Last winter I had to slow down a bit. After I finished my latest book, Contemporary Landscape Photography, I actually took some time off to read a bit and catch up on some sleep and recoup a bit before summer came around. And yes, many weeks, it can be a 7-day affair that goes from early in the morning until suppertime. Most people think I’m out in the woods 90% of that time, but if I look back over a year or several years time of how much time I spend shooting to the office, it’s only about 10% outside shooting and 90% in the office.


AE:  Really? You would never think that, especially since you have such a huge volume of work.

CH:  Well, one of the wonderful things about landscape photography is that it doesn’t go out of date or out of style that quickly, so you can take years of work, scan the slides and add them into the database. And even still, if 10% of my time is spent out shooting, it’s not like when I was first photographing. Back then, if I went out to shoot in the morning, I’d come back with one or two really good photographs. Now I can come back with a number of them, and a variety of images that can be used for a lot of different purposes. It’s a better use of time, since I have a better understanding of the weather, and can use internet resources to check it. Now I can get up at three o’clock in the morning to check the satellite view of the clouds. That gives me a sense of how the weather patterns are moving, to help me know whether I’m going to have the sunrise I wanted or it’s going to be a washout. So now I can make better use of my time both in the office and when I’m out shooting. 

AE:  About the books―do you have one that was your favorite to work on?

CH:  I haven’t had that question about the books before, but I get it about the photos all the time. People ask me, “what’s your favorite photo” and I tell them, “what’s the last one I worked on?” Every new project has a challenge about it, and I’ve enjoyed working on every one of them: The Coast of Maine, Lake George, going all around New York State, the Adirondacks, a project I did for Montana Fish and Wildlife—they’ve all been unique and special.

AE:  If people want to order your books, how should they do it?

CH:  If they want to order through my website, we offer autographed copies. Of course, they’re available in bookstores (especially in upstate NY), and online through Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.

AE:  Anything you want to offer to someone starting out in outdoor photography, if they want to start a career? 

CH:  Persistence and patience.


AE:  Do you think it can still be done the way you did it? Now, with digital photography, anybody can go out and point a camera at something—is somebody going to be able to make a fulltime career out of freelance nature photography if they don’t already have a long-standing resume like yours?

CH:  I don’t think it’s all that different….digital photography gives many more people the option to capture photographs, but it also just raises the bar for those who do it. It offers the opportunity to capture better photographs than ever before, and in order to stay above the rest you need to really put your effort into digital capture as well as the final print. I think there are still options out there, it’s just finding what works for you. 

That was how I pursued it. I could have gone into wedding photography and a lot of other things that have a much higher income base than what I do, but my decision when I got into this was, if I’m going to do photography, I’m going to do photography that I want to do, and if I can’t do that, then I’ll do something else, because then it becomes work. I’ve done a number of other things that I enjoyed that became work. It was important to me to keep this as enjoyable as possible because it was a passion, it wasn’t work.  It does become a full time job, but when I have a camera in my hand, it’s still a passion, and I think it’s important to keep that kind of perspective if you’re going to go into it.

AE:  Didn’t you start off with an engineering degree?

CH:  I never had a degree in anything. I went to college in Pennsylvania for a while and had about 48 credits—what’s that, about a year and half? I was going for industrial arts because I wanted to learn more about cabinet making, and I found that they were just teaching me to teach, rather than teaching me about cabinet making. I found out that it wasn’t what I wanted to do and so I came back to the Adirondacks and started making snowshoes along with my carpentry. (Carl has written a number of articles on snowshoe design as well as snowshoeing and mountaineering. He has also led many snowshoeing treks and workshops for the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club.)

While I lived at home with my parents I had a great time going to college, and I took a course in black and white while I was there, which was good to have. I still have the course curriculum instruction sheet, which I used for a number of years while I was learning photography. But my passion has been the Adirondacks and the lakes and mountains up here. 

For more on Carl’s artistic process, read Part I of our interview.

All photos seen here are provided under copyright by Carl Heilman II, and are available for purchase at his website. To see his gallery, learn about his workshops, buy his books, or read his articles on snowshoeing, visit his extensive website at:  www.carlheilman.com or www.naturepanoramas.com

Carl also invites you to become a ‘fan’ of his facebook pages: http://www.facebook.com/NaturePhotographyWorkshops and www.facebook.com/NaturePhotographyTips.

   © 2011 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

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