As the old saying goes there are two ways to make money in business: increase sales and decrease spending. But I’ve figured that in the art world there is a 3rd way: track production costs.
As I’ve stated in an earlier blog post, if you track your production you will more often than not be able to recoup half of those expenses from the gallery that sells the work. Typically a gallery will split profits with you 50/50 and the same goes for production costs.
I’ve explained exactly what constitutes production costs and how you get repaid for those production costs BUT what we haven’t discussed is exactly how to track them. How you track production costs depends on your art practice. I would say most artists have bodies of works and maybe within those bodies of works there are series. Or maybe there are just series if you stick with one medium. Or maybe you have different practices, you have a collaborative practice with another artist and you have a solo practice. Or you have distinct practices that overlap other art forms like book-making or performance.
In any of these cases, the way I find the most useful is to track expense with as much consistent detail as possible. For example, say you have a solo and collaborative practice, you are a sculptor and a filmmaker, you have a series of work that you are making for a museum show at Kunsthalle Zurich, and you began making the work in 2012. So you paid a fabricator $1,000 to make an armature for a sculpture. So that $1,000 would have a code associated with it which would indicate the practice, the medium/body of work, the series or project and the year. So the code might look something like this: AD.Video.Zurich.2012. AD (my initials) indicating my solo practice. Video indicating my medium. Zurich indicating the project or series. And 2012 indicating the year I began making the work.
I like going from broad to specific because it’s easier to search in whatever database or program you are using. If you use Quickbooks then you can put this “code” in the Memo field or the Class field. If you are using Excel you can put this in the same row as the work and then do a Sort Table function by the Code Column and then Sum up everything in the Cost Column. If you have a more sophisticated application like ArtSmart or Artbase then you can use the Notes field and pull up specific searches for that code.
Usually when you begin making work, you have no idea if it will be one piece or many pieces that will come out of it. So it is good to start with a code like this. Then when you figure out exactly how many pieces you are creating, you can either divide the costs up evenly or begin to parse out the exact cost of each individual work.
At the end of your project, you will be able to look and see exactly how much was spent, exactly how much each work costs and easily present these costs to your gallery (BEFORE) the work sells so that you can get ½ of that money back. You just made $500 for typing in a little code. So a little work and organization can really pay off.