Decorating your home like a pro has never been easier. Big box stores and websites make it a cinch to create a Pinterest-worthy look with a few clicks or a quick pass through the aisles. Pillows, paint, throws, decor items and wall art are widely and cheaply available. Why would anybody spend more for sustainable decor?
That’s the challenge I’m facing as a photographer who is increasingly focused on sustainable materials. Because my primary subject is nature, I felt pulled to express my photography with natural materials that do no harm to the environment. It’s not a cheap endeavor, nor is it eco-perfect. But I feel pretty good about what I’ve accomplished so far. The challenge now is finding buyers who can afford to support my efforts.
The framed photo above is not large. It measures about 11x11 inches. It’s a precious little gem. And it costs more than you might expect if you were used to purchasing similar items at, say, Target. Is it worth it? Let’s explore. Here’s why sustainable art costs more.
The materials cost more. I could have sent the above photo out to Walgreens or another quick printer. But instead, I went with a local independent print shop that specializes in eco-friendly printing. The owner’s expertise in color printing is, to me, well worth the price. The paper is made in the United States from salvaged cotton, using 100% wind energy. Up close, it has a beautiful, warm, textured feel to it. Though the printing prices are reasonable, it’s a far cry from printing at Walgreens.
In addition, I could have bought a frame at Michaels, Target or another big box store. I lack the skills to make the frame myself, so instead I sourced it from a U.S maker who handcrafts frames from reclaimed lumber. As you can imagine, that takes time, and the maker bills for his time. The frame wasn’t cheap. (This particular shop was in Utah. I’m still looking for a local maker that might cut me a deal. I even have some of my own wood to reclaim.)
The artist’s time is worth something. Artists are looking to do more than recoup their costs. Their time, vision, and unique point of view are worth something too. After all, I went out on a rainy autumn day when the light was just right and scouted around for this image. I knelt down on the sidewalk and captured many versions of it. I edited it just so. I titled it, “Remember Who You Are.”
Now, my piece is hanging in a local coffee shop. The price on the wall ($75) may seem high to you, especially for such a small piece, but it barely covers my costs. If it sells, 20 percent will go to the gallery owner, a local artist organization. This is standard and helps to cover their costs. With what’s left, I will only break even on my materials. My time and my vision will be “free.” But, I’ll be more than thrilled that someone found my work worthy of hanging in their home. I could charge more, but at this particular venue, items priced over $100 don’t sell well. So, in this particular time and market, it’s a choice between not selling at all, and breaking even.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. In fact, I feel blessed to have a local venue and community that supports artists. I’m simply trying to shed some light on my pricing and perhaps start a discussion on sustainable art.