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A short essay on pricing pen plotter art

Executive tl;dr summary

When I first started thinking about writing this, it would be a guide on "How to price your pen plotter art", but that was a trap.

Instead, this is a blog post of my thinking about how much I should charge for pen plotter art, how I came to those decisions, and why I've probably got them slightly wrong.

I'm writing this because it's the type of post I wish existed when I first started and was looking around for information.

These are the main bullet points.

I'm based in the UK, so I'm going to be using £, at the time of writing conversions are roughly.

£75 = €85 = $100
£100 = €115 = $135

This post is long (about 8,000 words, ~40 minutes reading time), skimming and skipping sections is a perfectly valid strategy; there is no test at the end. If you have any more questions, email me questions@revdancatt.com, or follow and DM me on Twitter or Instagram, (or Facebook, I guess). I may update or add footnotes to this post.

My shop with my latest prices is here: https://shop.revdancatt.com

With that out of the way, onwards!

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Who pays for the art?

"Think like an artist, work as an accountant."
— to slightly misquote David Brooks

I think there are three generally useful categories to use when thinking about pricing, which are.

  1. You pay for the art
  2. The art pays for itself
  3. The art pays for you

None of these categories is "better" than any of the others, none more worthy or proper, none make you more of an artist. It's fine to move, and want to move, between any of them in any direction.

The first "You pay for the art" is what we'd call a hobby. Photography and specifically drone photography is my hobby, buying drones and lenses is not making me any money, or even covering its costs, but I'm okay with that.

If pen plotting is a hobby, theoretically, it doesn't matter what you charge for your art. Although we'll come to that later in "Pricing art is political" below.

I'd already decided right at the start that I wanted pen plotting to be category 2; I wanted it to pay for itself.

I was happy to pay the initial outlay to buy the plotter, pens (so many pens), paper, time for R&D, finding my feet, art studio, setting up a shop, and so on, with an eye that over time it would start covering its costs.

If I keep selling artwork at the current rate and amount, forever, then it'll allow me to buy more pens and paper than I could ever consume. It will happily be covering its own costs.

Aside: Depending on how you look it, I'm sort of halfway between 1 and 2. I'm not including my own time in that calculation. I'm freelance, and my hourly rate is generally somewhere between £100-£150 per hour. As a rule of thumb, I aim for paid work 20 hours a week and do my art for the other 20 hours a week.

By choosing to do art for 20 hours a week instead of more paid work, I could say the art is "costing" me the £2,000 - £3,000 that I may be theoretically working. There are many ifs and buts in there; I'm mentioning it here because I need to acknowledge it.

The third category, "The art pays for you" is where I'd like to be. It doesn't look very possible for me after crunching the numbers, but it's worth doing the sums anyway. This is where you make enough money from selling art (and art adjacent activities, workshops etc.) for it to cover things like food, shelter and most importantly, pens.

With all the above in mind, we can do a simple calculation, work out your costs/expenses, divide that by the amount of work you sell, and that's your price per item. Done!

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Pricing case study of me.

I'm going to break down the calculations for categories 2 (where I am), and 3 (where I'm aiming). You'll plug in your own numbers or forecast, or whatever you want here. These are the monthly averages over the last seven months of my main expenses.

Postage and Packing:£121
Paper:£48
Pens & Ink:£56
Studio Rent + Other random-ish expenses:£144
Total:£369

Each month I sell on average eight plots 🙂

This means that roughly to break even; I'd need to sell each plot for £47 (£369 / 8).

Anything more than that and I make a profit (well in my case, pay off a bit more of the initial costs). But can I live off that profit? Well no.

Let's plug that into category 3.

My monthly expenses are mortgage, bills, tax, groceries, three teenagers, two of which are on homeschooling courses and one about to go to University, tax, Netflix, World of Warcraft, tax and so on. Did I mention the whole feeding three teenagers part?

So let us round my monthly "expenses" to £4,000

To cover my costs, I'd have to either sell eight plots to make a profit of £500 each, 85 plots to make £47 each. Or something in the middle, say 32 plots making £125 each.

For me to move from category 2 to category 3, I can do three main things…

  1. Sell more plots
  2. Sell each plot for more money
  3. Reduce my expenses

My most significant expense is having three children, and reducing that expense is pretty much waiting until they all leave home, so you know, ten years. For what it's worth this is not an unreasonable long term plan for being an artist.

With that option currently off the table if I really wanted to make a living from art my two choices are;

  1. Sell more plots, which roughly translates to, having a larger audience.
  2. Sell for more, which roughly translates to, being more famous.

We'll get into both of those in more detail in a while (in the "Can I make a living out of it, audience wise?" section), but before that, I wanted to get into the actual pricing model I use.

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The actual pricing model I use.

£75 for an A3 plot

There we go, that's the tl;dr

The spreadsheet I use is here (google docs), which I'll explain a bit more in a moment

At some point, you just have to pick a price and then adjust from there.

Probably the best way to do that is to look at what other people are charging and then go "yeah roughly that". But we can probably dig in a little more.

I also believe that it's more comfortable and a better look to adjust the price upwards over time than to start high and change your prices downwards.

I already know that a base price of £75 is too low. I picked that because I'm still in the act of "debugging" my selling and shipping process. People who want to buy my art while I'm still ironing it out are my "beta testers". If I want to move from Shopify to Squarespace, or Wix, or something else I want to do it sooner rather than later, so it doesn't cause too much disruption.

But, start somewhere, start measuring, adjust accordingly.

Now, I'm about to get into some nerdy detail about pen plots, now's a good time to skip the next few sections if you wish.

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What is pen plotting art compared to other art?

On the spreadsheet I have a couple of entries for "Limited edition markup" and "Random edition markup", and I think it's worth describing what that is, and how pen plotting fits in with other arts and crafts.

Let's look at a "traditional" artist, a painting they have created and how they may sell that artwork. Caveat time, there will be exceptions to what I'm writing below, some widespread ones, this is just a handy framework in which to place our pen plotting artwork.

• The artist has an original painting; they can choose to keep, destroy, give away or sell that artwork. There will only be one original artwork, and this one sells for the most.

Sketches, often there may be many sketches for an artwork, and other studies before the one original. Every artist is different here, it's tough to put a value on these, but they are a thing that exist.

Limited editions: Should the artist wish to sell copies of their work they often come in the form of limited editions, you usually want these to be as high quality as possible, matching the colour as precisely as you can. These are generally as close to the original as you can get, without being the original. They will most likely be signed and numbered. These will cost not as much as an original, but more than "open editions".

Open editions: Often not signed, not numbered, can be printed and sold forever, the colour reproduction can vary from the original and is usually on cheaper paper stock.

Tea towels and licensing: Let someone else deal with all the tedious old printing, selling & stuff, license your work, then sit back in the *piles of cash you earn from your artwork being sold in places and on things you never expected.

*piles of cash may vary from nothing to tens, and tens of hundreds.

• There's also Studio Editions, which come about while you're testing prints for selling limited editions. You may get anywhere from 2-5 copies back from the printer while you test the whole process and match the colours. They can be worth more than the limited editions, but not as much as the original.

If I were going to put this in a hierarchy, it'd be…

Original💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰
Sketches💰 - 💰💰💰💰
Studio edition💰💰💰💰
Limited edition💰💰💰
Open edition💰💰
Licensing💰 - 💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰
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Now let's take something else like screen printing or woodblock printing. The idea behind those is to replicate several prints perfectly; there isn't an original as such, there's the original screen(s) or original woodblock.

No-one wants to do a single screen print or woodblock print forever, so those tend to be limited to small runs by their nature, 25-50, maybe up to 250, rarely more.

Those tend always to get sold as limited editions in a "colourway"; 25 in red, then another 25 in blue, 10 in gold, and so on.

Pen plotters and pen plots are slightly different, in fact, you could argue they are perhaps closer to studio pottery or textiles than print, but that is definitely an argument for another day 😉

So how do they differ?

Well, first, they are all original, and there is no original. I've chosen to break them down into three different types.

Loosely the "Standard edition", this is a plot like my "Sacred Geometry" plots.

This is pretty much a static design, in theory, I can send this to the plotter repeatedly, and it'll come out the same-ish each time. Because it's using pen and ink on paper, the very nature of that causes subtle variations. But whenever the shop sells out I can just plot some more.

These are close to screen prints, apart from the fact it takes just over an hour to plot one of these. So while a screen printer could produce a run of 50 prints of a single design in a day, that would take me about a week to do.

So if you were going to price your art based on woodblock or screen print equivalently and consider time, probably price them a little higher.

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A "Random edition" is where the code and algorithms produce a different result each time, within a specific design space. My "Ghosts" fall into this category.

Each one will look similar to all the others, but will itself be unique. At this point everyone is getting an "original", but I can "churn them out" at the rate of a couple a day, much faster than the traditional artist's painted original described all the way above, which may take days, weeks or months.

To this end, we can see that it should probably be priced above the "standard" but lower than an original artist's painting.

We take advantage of what a pen plotter can do over screen printing, woodblocks and mass printing; each one can be different at no additional overhead; the process is the same.

We share a lot of space here with our sister field of generative art, with some crossover.

Worth noting there are two kinds of "random". There's "seeded" random, where each result is hard enough for us to predict that it's as good as random. But given the same starting conditions and values, the "random" work can be replicated.

Sometimes you'll see pen plotters or generative artists print the "seed" onto the work itself, which means that in theory if the artwork was lost an identical version could be recreated.

The other is random enough that you can't replicate the artwork. True random is hard; I do it by using time down to the millisecond to "seed" the algorithm and then never recording that seed.

Because my workflow when creating "Random editions" involves sending the plot directly to the plotter and then deleting the file I can't replicate the original, which is an artistic choice rather than technical.

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"Limited edition" is then a choice to only produce a limited number, this is the case of the "Silver Ghost" plot I make, in which I've decided it'll only ever produce twelve of those. I could, in theory, make more, but have decided that I won't.

I could choose only to plot a handful of my non-random "sacred geometry" plots in a particular colour on a specific paper, thus making them limited.

Then there are these "Bug Doodles."

When I was adding some more code to one of my generators, the code was buggy (I was transposing x and y coordinates in a function). I kind of liked the output, so I saved out nine different versions before then fixing the code.

Each one is randomly unique and "original" but in a "series", and that series is limited.

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Bringing us back to the spreadsheet.

I'd decided on a based price of £75, and then have modifiers. If the plot is "Random," i.e. ghost vs repeatable sacred geometry then it's an extra £10.

If it's "limited" rather than "open" then again £10.

So at current prices, an A3 plot can either be £75 if it's always the same and I just keep plotting them, then £85 if it's either random or limited and £95 if it's both random and limited.

Going back to "Should I increase my prices to hopefully make more profit?" we can then do a couple of things.

I could increase the base price, which I've already done once, taking it from £65 to £75, which moves everything up.

I could also increase the modifier, a £10 markup for something being limited probably isn't enough. It feels like you should either be paying more for something very limited or more-less for something that isn't, i.e. if I don't care about owning a limited edition I shouldn't only be paying a little bit less for it not to be.

This gives us more scope to play around with pricing. If I made random editions £20 more, and limited editions £30 more then my prices would be:

Standard, open:£75
Random, open:£95
Standard, limited:£105
Random, limited:£125

With that, I can get to my potential 32 plots at £125 a month, but still, keep some plots at the more "affordable" £75.

It's possible to add one more category, the total one-off, for test plots, mistakes or other uniqueness which means you can never create the same plot again.

Finally, on that spreadsheet, I also have a value to calculate the pricing of smaller plots.

I sometimes plot multiple designs on an A3 sheet and then cut it to make two A4 plots, four A5 plots, or eight A6 plots. Because cutting them is such a tedious pain in the ass, the price of one half the size as the previous is 54.5%

Two base A4 plots would together sell for £81, a £6 markup. Eight A6 plots together are £92. Although you also need to start taking postal cost weirdness into account when you do that.

By which I mean, shipping A4 plots, so their corners don't get bent is a pain in the ass, and at A6 size postage price starts to get close enough to the actual plot price that you could end up making a loss.

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Tracking your costs

I'm not sure if I do this more than most people, I suspect I do. But the next thing to do is keep track of your costs.

For example, take the Silver Ghost plot, which I'd (now) sell for £95. The pen costs £0.25, and the paper costs £1.07 for a total of £1.29 to make a £95 plot. It seems like it's literally a license to print money!

But, according to my tracking, on average my costs spread over the plots I sell mean that an A3 plot actually "costs" on average £48 to produce.

Some more numbers for a reality check.

In December, when I shut down the shop, but still had my usual overheads, I made a whole £4.64 profit for the month. An A3 plot I sold for £85 + £4 p&p, "cost" me £87.34 to produce.

Meanwhile back in November 2020 when I sold more, an A3 plot only "cost" me £40.44 to produce.

If you are tracking these, they should be averaged out over the long term (my £48 figure). I'm making enough for the art to pay for itself, so everything is fine. But once more, if I wanted the art to pay for me I'd be looking at ways to either; sell more, increase my profit, or reduce my costs (or all three).

Nerdy calculating costs details, feel free to skip this bit too...

To do this calculation, I divide my plots into "units", and A3 is eight units, A4 is four units, A5 is two units, and A6 is one unit.

So if I sold an A3 plot, 3 x A4 plots, and a couple of A6 "postcards" plots, that would be 8 + (3 * 4) + (2 * 1) "units", for a total of 22.

If my expenses for the month were £198, that would mean the costs spread across each "unit" would be £198 / 22, or £9 per unit. Making the expenses for each plot…

A3 = 8 * £9 = £72
A4 = 4 * £9 = £36
A4 = 4 * £9 = £36
A4 = 4 * £9 = £36
A6 = 1 * £9 = £9
A6 = 1 * £9 = £9

Assuming those plots were all standard plots I can see the following.

Size Sold at Cost Profit
A3£75.00£72£3.00
A4£40.50£36£4.50
A6£11.50£9£2.50

At this point we're just kind of noodling around, you would have to be really into expense reports to start caring too much about this.

The main take away is that no, a plot does not cost a £0.25 pen and a £1.07 sheet of paper to make. But if you're not tracking your costs, it's very easy to think that it does.

It's also effortless to think that other people believe that too. Remember they most likely don't think that, and your plots cost all your expenses, time, skill, and knowledge to produce.

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Can I make a living out of, time-wise?

Going back to our: is it a hobby, side hustle or making a living question. All of the above maths and experiences suggest that I cover all my costs if I sell five plots a month, which keeps me in supplies of pens, paper, ink and the opportunity to experiment and explore new ideas, pretty good.

But if I wanted to make a living from it, we go back to the question of how much would I need per month, and for this example, we'll assume £4,000.

I split my time between working on my pen plots and actual freelance work. Art in the morning, work in the afternoon. Work is super important, so I don't want my pen plotting to interfere with that. For this reason, I run my plots slowly, timing them to take roughly four hours if I can. Letting me set them away before I start work, and they finish at the same time I do.

Half the time I'm experimenting, half the time I'm working on plots that may go into the shop.

If I focused, I could produce one plot to put into the shop per workday, or 20 plots a month.

Assuming I had a huge audience who would buy up every single plot I produced that would mean I'd sell 20 plots a month. £4,000 / 20 is £200, which is the profit I'd have to make on each plot. Selling them for around £240 each, one a day, every weekday, forever would let me give up my day job.

Spoiler: I do not sell one plot a day, every day, for £200 profit. I sell about 5-12 plots a month, the rate of production is not a bottleneck.

But, for fun, let's pretend I was super good, created two plots in the morning, one in the afternoon, bought a second AxiDraw plotter doubling my output, and sold all of them … I know we're playing SimPenPlotterShop now, but we'll roll with it.

That would be six plots per workday, 120 plots per month. Now I would need to sell them at £34 profit per plot to get to my £4k, assuming my costs are roughly the same that would be £74 per plot, which is not far off the £75 base price I have at the moment.

You could mess around with the numbers forever at this point, but two things are clear. Either I need to sell more plots for the same price, or the same number of plots for way more. Or, most likely somewhere in between.

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Can I make a living out of it, audience wise?

(Fwiw, this section is very sketchy)

Bringing us to the other question: to sell plots, I need people to buy plots.

I keep having nagging thoughts that at some point, everyone who wants to buy a plot will have purchased a plot and then I'll stop selling plots. If we assume that does become true, then selling new plots depends on getting those plots in front of new people.

That involves either having continuous "audience" growth or ongoing "reach".

We are now very much in the realm of this blog post not being advice and more about the thought process I've gone through while thinking about selling plots. There is going to be a lot of dodgy back of the envelope calculations here.

When I first started trying to write this blog post, I had around 4,000 followers on Instagram.

I have a lot to say about what "followers" mean on Instagram and the idea of "Growth Hacking" and all the adverts I get for services and guides and courses to do with it that get thrown at me, which is all going to go into a different post; I, have, many, thoughts.

At 4,000 followers, selling eight plots a month means that out of every 500 followers one person was buying a plot. There is a lot wrong with this calculation, which we'll touch on in a moment.

But, let's just pretend that there's some kind of ratio between followers and sales, and that's one sale per 500. We'll also pretend that I've increased my prices to £125, for a profit of £85 per plot and I'm aiming to sell 50 plots per month.

That would need an audience of 25,000 followers. Or, going back to our "everyone who wants one has now bought one" way of thinking, that would be 25k new followers per month.

Once again, the above logic is not right, but it's not entirely wrong either. But it's enough to see that I do not have the audience to turn pen plotting into a full-time job even with juggling prices and production.

I'm going to make a bold statement here…

If you aim to sell pen plotter artwork to cover your costs, then the number of followers you already have is probably enough. The important thing isn't to gain followers, but rather to set up some way of easily selling the plots.

You sell plots by engaging with and having an engaged group of people around you. That's easier to do with a smaller number of followers.

A quick behind the scenes (i.e. boring social media talk) of my current followers.

At the time of writing, I have just below 7,500 followers, up from the 4,000 from when I was a couple of months into selling plots. Most of those new 3,500 followers are the result of me spending money on running ads on Instagram.

Those adverts aimed to put my plots in front of as many people as possible and lead them to my profile rather than to plots to buy. And to do that I've targeted people in India because £1 will "target" 6,000 people, if I leave it up to Instagram's automatic setting, £1 will "target" around 600 people.

For what it's worth, this isn't buying followers which is a terrible idea, for reasons I'll put into my other blog post.

It's (very loosely) suggested (by people) that you should be putting 10% of your turnover towards marketing. My average turnover is around £600/month, so I spend £60 per month on Instagram promotions, which has a reach of 360,000 people. In India, that is, and it's not 360k, as many of my promotions will be shown to the same person several times (which is good).

The overall experience has been good, but for slightly unexpected reasons, which once again I'll put into my other blog post.

I wanted to highlight that none of those new followers has bought a plot, and most likely never will, that wasn't the point after all, but it does have this effect…

Instagram doesn't show your posts to all your followers for various boring technical reasons, although in time it may for other boring technical reasons (again in the other, yet to be written post).

So let's say I now have 4,000 followers who may buy my plots, and 3,500 who definitely won't buy the plots, and Instagram choose to show my latest post to 200 of my followers.

If I had just my original 4,000 "organic" audience, 200 of them would see my plot and perhaps choose to buy it or not. Now, with my larger audience, of those 200 randomly selected to see my posts, 105 may be from the "organic" group, and 95 from the advert grown group, who will never buy a plot. By increasing my followers this way, I've nearly halved the effectiveness of my "selling".

Again, there's more to it than that, and I'm attempting to grow my followers for slightly different reasons than just straight up selling. But you are almost certainly generally much better off just being you, doing your thing, posting your work, enjoying yourself and chatting with the followers you do have. It is far easier to talk with fewer people than the state of my DMs at the moment where a lot is going on.

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Two final notes.

Do not compare follower counts as a measure of "worth" or validation. For fun, I find local buildings and see if I can "beat" their follower count. I celebrated a couple of months ago as I passed our local Market Hall, a stupidly arbitrary goal to keep things interesting. Each time I walk by the building I'm like "Oh yeah, I got more followers than you".

Of my "organic" 4,000 followers, about 2,000+ of them were from my previous existence of working for Flickr, therefore vaguely making me a person of vague interest, I joined Instagram on May 15th 2011.

Potentially my 7,500 followers are equal to your 2,500 followers. As I said, there's no point in comparing follower counts, and smaller numbers are easier to keep up with than large numbers anyway.

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Now the final note.

While I said that follower count doesn't matter, it also does.

Most of the people in the pen plotter space are around the 2,000 mark, and much of their work is fantastic, a lot of it way better than mine. A few of us are around the 7,000 mark; a handful have broken through the 10k line.

And then there's James Nolan Gandy, @gandyworks at 176,000 followers, give or take a few. His most recent posts will get anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 likes. James has a shop over here http://www.jamesnolangandy.com/, with eight pages listing sold plots on that site, although the numbering suggests there should be 20 pages. Each of those pages has around 200 plots on, each sold for $100.

8 pages * 200 plots * $100 = $160,000
20 pages * 200 plots * $100 = $400,000

I'm putting this here for no other reason than suggesting it does seem possible to get the numbers needed to turn it into a full-time job.

I have no idea if it was a single event, a string of events or steady growth that got James to 176k followers, but that's not important. What is important is that it demonstrates that it can be done.

The other thing I know (studying this kind of thing is sometimes part of my actual job), is that if it's been done once, it can be done again. That just because it's already been done doesn't mean it's too late to start having your own go at it. And that a combination of hard work and luck may, or may not get you there.

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Competition from other pen plotter artists.

Lol, I should probably start wrapping up now, but there's still a couple of points I want to hit.

The question: am I in competition with other pen plotter artists, if someone chooses to buy from someone else, that means they're not going to buy from me, right?

I don't think this is true. I believe that pen plotting is super niche. I don't think the problem is there being other pen plotter artists. I think the problem is other people even knowing that pen plotting is a thing that exists and that they can buy all this unique artwork from all these fantastic people.

I'm a member of People of Print (big up to them), and when I joined there were all these tags you could pick to say what types of things you did, woodblock, lino, screen printing, etching, there was a lot and not one of them was pen plotting.

Pen plotting has been around for years but has only really started growing over the last four years, with the selling of the AxiDraw and all the cheaper versions of it.

I am going to note here that yes, there are many different types of pen plotters and I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole now.

The more people doing pen plotting artwork, and the better that artwork is, the more people will become aware of it as an art form and are likely to buy it.

Other people making and selling pen plotter artwork, increases the chance of me selling pen plotter artwork.

If I were a watercolour landscape painter, sure I'd probably feel different. It would be tough to get seen among all the other watercolour landscape artists; there must be hundreds of thousands of them worldwide.

Meanwhile, my AxiDraw is number 361.

Other pen plotter artists are not the problem; people knowing about pen plotter artists is the problem. 😀

Now I know I'm a super helpful guy. I publish tools to make SVGs for pen plotters; I post my monthly profit/loss, I'm starting a newsletter soon. I answer questions in DMs on Instagram and Twitter all the time. I'm busy outlining a series of tutorials, and if it weren't for Covid, I'd probably be trying to run workshops.

Because I want as many people as possible to make pen plotter artwork, and for it to be as good as possible, so I no longer have to explain what it is to people, so they are happy to buy it.

Pen plotting has a great selling point, which I alluded to in the "What is pen plotting art compared to other art?" section. It allows people who want to have original unique one of a kind art in their home, or office, but can't afford (or want) original paintings, to do so.

They want something more unique, interesting or personal than buying a print and less expensive than an original painting. Pen plotting is well placed to serve that kind of market, and that market is enormous.

So I guess I'm saying, price your work higher than a print, less than original art, so anywhere in the £60-£1,200 bracket should be fine. 😆

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Sanity check, look at other people in the same space.

Getting back to the pricing part, the easiest thing to do is look around at what other people are charging, and peg your price around there. Search the #penplotter tag on Instagram (or #plottertwitter on Twitter), look through the top and recent posts, click through to the users and see if they have links to shops.

From a quick look at the latest snapshot I took of people selling plots, a random-ish sampling gives us a smattering of prices as follows (normalised to A3 sized and converted to £)

£45, £50, £60, £75, £90, £100, £110, £125, £150, £180, £200

An average price is around £110. There also doesn't appear to be a massive difference in the rate they get sold based on price.

My slightly educated hunch is that people with fewer followers charge less for their plots, but sell to a higher percentage of their followers because that price is lower. While people with more followers charge higher, and fractionally fewer people from that larger pool of followers pay the higher price. Making it all even out in the end. But this is a small sample size where the difference between 500 followers and 2500 followers isn't that great.

From watching people, us pen plotters don't seem to be very forward about selling pen plots, most of us seem happy just to mention that a plot is for sale, rather than push it.

In the months where I consider I've pro-actively "hustled" more, I've sold more. In months where I've just posted things and not really mention it I've sold less.

Other people in adjacent printing fields seem to be far more comfortable promoting themselves and their shops, which we as pen plotters should probably learn from.

My prices range from £75 to £95, suggesting I should probably adjust my pricing.

I like the base price of £75, it keeps things affordable, so perhaps my Limited and Random modifiers should move up from £10 to £20, making the price range £75, £95 and £115 🤷

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

If people are telling you your art is worth buying, believe them.

Sometimes we find it hard to believe people would want to buy our art. I did a bit before I started selling. I was trying out ideas, thinking I was working my way towards what I would consider acceptable. But it turned out people liked the ideas, and they already wanted to buy the art, even though I wasn't ready to sell it yet.

And there's a good reason for that, we are in a niche, it isn't watercolour painting, it's often more mathematical and mechanical, but at the same time, it isn't a computer print. It's real ink on real paper. There is a very distinct aesthetic about pen plotting that appeals to a lot of people.

Just because you, like I, feel as though we may be cheating because it's just computer code, sometimes straightforward code. That it's just a one dollar pen (sometimes) on paper, drawn by a robot and not painstakingly done by hand, because it may be easy now and then, doesn't mean it doesn't have worth.

When people tell you they want to buy your art, believe them.

Preparing to sell shit is hard, but also easy.

Nearly finished, you're doing well.

If you're a perfectionist preparing everything to sell is hard. If you choose to let go of that perfectionism, like I had to, then it can be easy. Open a shop somewhere, pick a template, take some photos, add a price and off you go.

You can set up a shop in a couple of days.

My old routine generally went like this.

  1. Plot some art.
  2. Excitedly take photos of it and post to Instagram.
  3. People ask if they can buy it.
  4. I say "Not yet, soon."
  5. I get distracted by the next plot.
  6. Finally upload the previous plot to the shop.
  7. No one cares anymore.
  8. People ask me about the new plot.
  9. I say "soon."
  10. Repeat.

My advice would be, and this is super hard...

Make the plot, take the photos, put it in the shop, then post the pictures to Instagram. I know that isn't very "Insta", but I think it's better for selling. I've been trying (and failing) to give myself a two-week buffer. The best I've managed to do so far is to post what I'm currently doing to Instagram stories, then get the plot into the shop, then post to the stream.

I haven't even touched what to do on Facebook or Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram Reels, or IGTV.

I feel that I'm missing out of sales by not pushing myself everywhere, but I also value my sanity.

🏛 🏛 🏛

Pricing art is political.

Having made you read all of the above, I'm now going to link you to an article that pretty much says it all, but better and in fewer words, it's by Anders Hoff and it's over here: https://inconvergent.net/2020/making-money/.

In that blog post, he links to one by Amandine Coget called "You are underpricing" https://blog.fibraquarelle.com/2020/01/30/you-are-underpricing.html which goes into the politics of pricing art, the value of time and the cost of living much better than I can.

But if I were to have a stab at it, it would be this.

In a callback to the start, if you are in the category of "you pay for the art", and it's a hobby, then you can charge whatever you like for your work. If you're in the second category, you want the art to pay for itself, and you have a job that allows you time and resources to produce art, then that also affects your pricing.

If you don't need to charge much for your work (hobby), or it's subsidised in time, like mine. That I can afford only to work 20 hours a week, means I have time to produce the work (and write posts like this). If I price my work down low, because I can, then I'm undercutting the people who are trying to make this their job.

Nothing is stopping me from churning out pen plots and barely covering costs, or even know or caring what those costs are, and bringing the value down for everyone else.

I'm not saying you should charge more, and I'm not saying what you should charge at all. But I am saying that it isn't a decision that is free of moral and ethical dimensions.

Suppose you have money or time that gives you the freedom to set your prices lower than everyone else's then be aware that you may be causing other artists to give up, even before exploring this rich area of creativity, or keeping them in the "hobby" sphere, especially at a time when we need more pen plotters.

I should definitely put my prices up.

🎉 🎉 🎉

Conclusion.

If we pretend this has all been some form of weird therapy for myself, working through thoughts and ideas, I think I have concluded that there's a couple of areas to work on.

1. Diversify my output.

Packing and shipping plots takes time, producing plots takes time. There's an appeal to the whole Print on Demand area, where I can upload a design, put things in the shop and then just let the automated process take care of the rest.

However, I like the aesthetic and technical nature of pen plotting, and I also want anything I sell to be of high quality.

I can do the high quality by working with The Print Space, who is probably the best printing shop in the UK (who also have a base in Europe) for printing and shipping art prints on-demand, with archival ink on archival paper.

The technical nature I'm okay with too. I'm sure I can make some nice prints from my code, producing lovely posters and prints that I would happily put up on my wall.

But I still want to capture some of that pen plotter quality.

I think I've found a way to do that, and I tested the waters with my first print.

I don't want to become a print artist, like I said, I enjoy the pen plotting aspect of it too much, but I can see myself creating a line of prints to sit alongside my plots. It's easier(ish), and as I increase my plot prices, I can still have a product that captures what I do, but at a price point that is easier for people to buy in at.

They may not want or need, a unique work of art, but want to buy something from me. At which point a £25 - £50 print seems ideal.

2. Be happy

In the book "Designing your Life", Bill Burnett and Dave Evans talk about "Gravity Problems", these are problems that you just can't solve. These are similar to "Anchor Problems", which can be solved, but you're stuck and focused on the wrong solution.

Upon reflections, on all of the above. Attempting to move from category 2 to 3, from the art paying for itself to paying for me, is a Gravity Problem. It's just not possible. The way to do it would be to either reduce my costs or increase my sales.

If I accept neither is going to happen, that what I need to do is wait for the children to leave home and mortgage to be paid off, then, as if by magic my costs will just naturally reduce themselves. Reducing costs is not a problem to be solved (although reducing costs a bit is always a good idea).

When you identify a Gravity Problem, then you need to "reframe" the situation. If I know all I have to do is wait, then what I need to focus on is work. Work gives me the money and time to continue my art, if I focus too much on the art at the expense of my work, then I damage the very thing that allows me to do it.

And if I need to not let that happen, then to carry on making art I should do the work to the best of my abilities and commit to enjoying it, rather than seeing it as something that gets in the way of what I "should be doing, i.e. the art". Work is not the enemy of art.

This isn't particularly hard for me, because I do enjoy my work. I have yet another blog post about the creative process that ties in nicely with this, but again that's for another day. But I need to make sure I nurture the work and how I work.

The second part of this is if I do think I could turn my art into my full-time job sooner than the kids leaving that I need to be careful not to see the solution as "get more followers", "get famous", "sell more work", "produce more work", as those can quickly become "Anchor Problems."

I really think the best thing I can do is the quote I had at the start.

"Think like an artist, work as an accountant."

Just keep doing the work. The followers, the process, tracking expenses and costs, keeping the prices right are all influential, and I should keep an eye on them, but don't let them overwhelm me.

I enjoy tracking all those things, but they are not the work. I would like to improve them, but that is not the solution.

Keep doing it because I enjoy it, and I should probably hustle more. 😆

📖 📖 📖

Other resources.

There are a few books and audiobooks I've been reading and listening to while mulling this over the past few months. You do not need to read them! I'll cover that in a moment.

In no particular order…

Art, Money, Success: Finally Make a Living Doing What You Love by Maria Brophy

This one's a bit "advice guru", the most valuable part is where she goes "Work out what you need to live, work out how long it takes to make your art, divide one by the other, that's how much you should charge." There are other interesting things in the book, but nothing will suffer if you don't know about them.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Section 9: "Be boring it's the only way to get things done", talks about: Take care of yourself, Stay out of Debt and Keep your day job—all good advice.

Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist by Lisa Congdon

Not terribly relevant to either pen plotting or the art market outside of the USA.

This book is okay if you want a quick overview of things-to-consider-being-an-artist all in one place. Handy for filling in the "Oh yeah, I didn't think about that bit of being an artist" gaps but doesn't go into any great detail on any subject essential to pen plotting.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Not about selling art, but more about the practice of getting on with the work. You've got to be able to do the work to sell the work. I am recommending the audiobook version of this. (I do not do Morning Pages, fwiw).

Any book by Steven Pressfield, pick one at random, they're all pretty much the same book, just told in a different order, again audiobook is best.

Real Artists Don't Starve by Jeff Goins.

This comes across a bit "Motivational Speaker", which is, fine?

Useful in that it reiterates the point that slow-and-steady wins the race. For all the stories you hear of people going "Oh, thing X happened, so I gave it all up and turned my hobby into a job, and look, it worked, and now I have a lovely studio and life is perfect", you don't hear from all the ones that failed, that's survivor bias right there.

Keep your job (if you can), work carefully, plan, be intentional, understand what you are trying to do, and why you are trying to do it. Then act upon it.

Measure, adjust, and so on.

Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Well now, before I get onto this one.

What all the other books basically boil down to is this. If you just want to float about, being an artist and just going with the flow, that's fine. If you're going to sell art and attempt to make a living from it, then at some point you need to get serious.

You need to write shit down. You need to work out what you actually want. Then you need to figure out how to measure if you are moving towards that or not. Then you need to review that and be open to changing plans if you have to.

You have to put the work in. The next book, the next blog post, the next YouTube video, the next online course, is not the answer. The answer is doing, the, work.

This book is probably one of the best ways of approaching that; it has worksheets, it has self-reflection, it has awkward questions you have to answer.

🏁 🏁 🏁

The final word, probably.

Like I said above, you do not need to read those books; you do not need to do anything different. Just carry on doing what you're doing if you're enjoying it.

Selling work and making money is not a validation.

Selling work is as simple as picking a price, putting it somewhere people can buy it. That's all you need to do.

You can take it as seriously or not as serious as you like. If you want to take it seriously then hopefully something I've written above will help.

If you want to know more about either my "creative process" or "social media growth hacking (bleh)" you'll have to wait for me to write those blog posts.

Remember these are the essential things…

🤖 🤖 🤖


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