Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I track my time

Burning Stubble??? Oh my!!
Photo by Pete
A lot of my artwork is tedious and detailed. When people see it they often ask "How long did that take you?" I tell them I would have to look up the actual tracked number of hours and their next question is; "You track your time? I thought artists didn't do that."

Without tracking time it is very easy for me to finish a project and have no idea how long it took me. When I'm doing artwork, especially if I have a big block of hours to do it in, I fugue into the work and lose all sense of time passing. Did I just spend an hour, two, three?

I don't know about other people who do artwork, but I track my time. Yes surely I don't track it all. If I'm sketching ideas, or I’m creating something for fun, I don't track my time. But when I'm on a project, a commission, or working on a specific piece with a purpose I start time tracking.

When I'm working on something that I will get paid for, having the time it took me to create it lets me calculate how much I made on the sale. I can figure out my "hourly wage" is for the work, and I can improve my estimation when I'm pricing the next art piece or project.

I count the total time: Sketching, obtaining materials, mock-ups, negotiations, communications, and the actual painting, sculpting, printing, etc. AND clean up. I don't count general studio operations, blogging, marketing, proposals, sales, or errands that keep the overall studio working - that's overhead. I take the price it sold for, subtract the cost of materials, then divide that number by the time I put into the project.

For example; I sell a painting for $4,000. I subtract the cost of materials; $500. I take $3,500 and divide it by the hours of work; 80.5 (I round to the quarter hour for ease of calculations) and I get ~$43.48 as my hourly rate for this painting. If my hourly rate target was to make $50.00 an hour then I need to charge more, paint faster, or reduce cost of materials :^). 

Calculating this is separate from figuring out what my hourly rate NEEDS to be. When I do that I calculate covering my overhead costs (see partial list above), how many items I sell in a year (occupancy rate), the market value of my artwork, and my financial needs. All of which factor into making the business of artwork sustainable. In this post I'm just talking about keeping track of time to get financial feedback on creating that one piece.

I know time tracking isn't very aligned with the general image of a free-flowing artist sitting at a café sketching all day and then working in feverish frenzy all night long, but if that's your style you can do that and track your time too. Maybe to protect your image you just don't tell anyone you track your time. :^)

Of course this is all a moot point if it only takes you an hour to paint $20,000 paintings and you can sell ten a week. But until you get there, tracking time is great for improving your estimation skills and your pricing of projects so that you're making enough to keep making artwork. 

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