The question comes to me in many forms. How do we advance the reputation of watercolor? How do we get over the age-old prejudices against our medium? How do we reposition the value of watercolor in the minds of collectors and gallery owners and print journalists and museum directors? How do we combat the idea that watercolor is a fugitive medium? How do we address the price differential between watercolor paintings and those painted in oil or acrylic?
I believe the answer lies with watercolorists. We need to believe in our medium. And we need to be more publicly supportive of our medium.
We must be the champions of watercolor.
I was recently in a discussion with several watercolorists about this issue. One said that he did not even call himself a watercolorist anymore, but rather referred to himself simply as an artist to avoid the stigma associated with watercolor. Another asked why he would want to be identified with a lesser art form, and therefore called himself a painter. I think that this approach is wrong, wrong, wrong, and seriously detrimental to our goal of advancing the recognition of watercolor as a superior art medium.
I think each one of us who prides him or herself on the creation of quality art through the medium of watercolor should stand up and shout, “I am a watercolorist, I am proud to be a watercolorist, and I am proud of my medium, watercolor.”
How can we get anyone to believe that watercolor is an equal-to or better-than art form if we hide our pride under a basket and duck our heads rather than admit that our chosen medium is flipping fantastic?
We must price our work accordingly.
Many times, we are our own worst enemy. I recently saw the price listing of paintings by 30 top watercolorists from all over the country. All of the paintings were of the same size and offered for sale unframed, in my mind a real “apples-to-apples” comparison. The prices ranged from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. If we are so uncertain about the value of our art, how can the public be wiser?
The good news is that we are beginning to see a number of examples of artists who have moved up the price point (yes, let’s face reality and talk about sales in the language of the marketplace, and not be embarrassed to use words such as price-point in relation to our creations) of their paintings in the galleries in which their work is shown.
Over the past five years, I have been able to move the price of my full-sheet paintings from $2,800 to over $5,000. And a number of my watercolor friends have greatly exceeded those price points. Agreed, you have to be in the right gallery in the right geographic area of the country, but still.
There are also many stories of watercolorists selling their paintings online for prices in the thousands. If you forever price your paintings in the hundreds, that is all you will get for them, and you will be supporting the public’s low opinion of the value of watercolors.
You have to get away from your painting board and understand the dynamics of the retail art market. If you just sit back and complain that no one is paying enough money for your paintings, then you are doomed to selling your paintings under their value.
If you are sitting there waiting for a top gallery to find you and sell your work at top dollar, you are in for a shock. It isn’t going to happen. If you want success in the market, you have to work to make that success happen.
If you only want to sell your paintings in Memphis, TN, then you have to be aware that Memphis is a $350 watercolor market. If you are not willing to go where you can get a better price, then you have no reason to complain. If you want to sell your paintings for thousands of dollars, you have to find galleries that will and can sell your paintings at those prices. They exist, probably not just down your street and around the corner.
If we continue to look for and support those establishments that treat us and our work with respect, we will raise the value of watercolor across the marketplace, across the country, and around the world.
If I could, I would wear an insignia on my collar that proclaims I am a watercolorist, just the way I wore my captain’s bars when I was in the Corps of Engineers of the US Army. I was proud of being an officer serving my country, and I am equally proud to be a watercolorist.
We must educate the art-buying public.
We all need to become advocates and educators in this cause. We need to submit our best work to competitions. We need to attend those exhibitions. We need to support galleries and exhibition spaces that show watercolor. We need to go to opening nights for shows for other watercolor artists.
Each of us plays a part in making watercolor a more important and desired medium. Get out there and spread the message. Watercolor is great!