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The New Real Cost of Art

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Underground River
Fresh back from Grand Prix Las Vegas 2, the event has made me take stock of what I’m doing here. I’ve been writing about art a few years here at Gathering Magic. An emerging area of Imaginative Realism (the fine-art term for Magic art) has now had Magic original art hit five-figure sales, and major works are largely gone from the marketplace. The market is more than just eBay, ComicArtFans.com, artist pages, or Heritage Auctions. I saw people looking for art—and especially deals—in person. Collectors who know each other that are gauging interest in their works have also settled a bit. The frenzy is largely over. What exists now are new works being gobbled up and life events churning up art.

Are you going through a divorce? Magic art is sold.

Are you looking how to pay for your kid’s first year of college? Magic art is sold.

Are you selling your minor works for major works? Magic art is sold.

Art is slowly popping up, but it’s not as visible anymore. It goes quickly to a collector or to those who don’t want others to know it’s there. It’s a three-day auction for a pain land that goes under the radar.

This creates a problem of accessibility.

Chris Rahn’s newest dragon, let’s be honest, won’t be accessible in price. New collectors aren’t being easily added into buying paintings. Least of all, new folks are being slowly added to art collecting circles. It’s just prohibitively difficult to buy art because the stimuli, cards, are so accessible. Buying actual paintings is nothing like buying a collectible trading card.

Inroads are needed +

Art collectors are quick +

More players =

Magic art scarcity issue =

Lower price point items

To combat this, artists are responding to the market. They did so at Grand Prix Las Vegas, and they have been slowly doing so for the past four years. The issue is that demand is not satiated.

Flipping of art is one indicator of an unstable, highly-in-demand market. Buying any piece for under $400 could be easily sold on eBay for $400 in any semblance of an auction. Digital artists now making preliminary sketches is the other hint of Magic collectors looking for long-term value.

I just returned from Grand Prix Las Vegas, and I noticed a few things in regard to original artworks, pricing, and more. I thought everything would be priced high, as to maximize profits, but the opposite was true. Artists seemingly priced things to push a large number of sales, fearing they’d be priced too high and out of the market. That didn’t happen. I feel it relevant to share some pricing information with everyone and have a discussion on the updated cost of art for us, the players. Maybe an artist will learn a thing or two as well.

Prints

Prints used to be the de facto souvenirs for Magic players at Grand Prix events. Internet storefronts were largely terribly outdated and rarely worked. You really had to be a diehard fan to contact an artist for a specific print.

Average prices at Grand Prix Las Vegas:

  • 8.5" × 11" — $13.57
  • 11" × 14" — $16.42
  • 12" × 18" — $23
  • 20" × 30" — $37.50
  • Giclee on canvas — $100

It seems that 8" × 10"s have risen from their $10 normal price, as have the $15 × 11"s. The “small print” has also increased to 12" × 18" instead of a smaller size, and it wavers between $20 and $30. Oddly, larger prints are still only around $40, which is dirt cheap for basically a giant poster. I loved seeing really nice giclees on canvas being accessibly priced, which Donato Giancola does at conventions for $100, but a huge gripe is that artists aren’t numbering them! Canvas prints need to be a small, unique group. It’s an easy $100–$300 at the largest convention. The “unique” digital artist making one giclee with embellished paint atop it is a good idea, but it has to be an iconic card an artist made to be an immediate seller, as players don’t understand what a giclee is, why it’s important to paint over (black is often too light with canvas prints), and acclimate people to the inexpensive price for the awesome it creates.

Artist Proofs

We finally got there! Artist proofs used to be a flat $5 only a few years ago. They’re now all on a sliding scale. The game is just too big not to have them priced accordingly. This is especially true with the new foil artist proofs. A few artists have raised all prices to $10 minimum for a proof, though as artists gain more commissions, those $5 bills sit a long, long time. I do like the idea of older proofs being $3 each or some sort of weird combination deals. Anything to get people curious and looking into the binders for “value” is a net benefit to artists. It increases the line time, but the longer a buyer dwells, the chances of a sale increases dramatically. “Dwell time” is the technical term, and if an artist can increase that, while also keep his or her line moving quickly, profits increase. Each artist booth is a mini art exhibition, with eyeballs being guided through a tour of wares.

Artist Proof Sketches

This is the closes thing Magic has to comic conventions of “convention sketches” of an 8" × 10" piece of paper. And our community does it on the back of a card! I’ve seen as cheap as $5, but most are $15 or $20, and the artist-proof cost is not included in that. Obviously, a sketch in color on the back can be near $100, but since only a few artists have color paint with them at a Grand Prix, it keeps the cost down.

I did see a few collectors who try to get one artist proof sketch from each artist he or she has ever seen at a convention. I can’t post pictures, but seeing a Quinton Hoover sketch both made my heart sink and gave me utter delight at a player’s love for the importance.

Play Mats

Monastery Swiftspear
Something new at Grand Prix Las Vegas was the demand and hype of play mats. While they were only $30–$50 for a printed, limited number of them, a cleaving of the market occurred. RK Post made two exclusive play mats and talked about both of them, throughout idea generation, sketching, and previewing on his social-media channels. Needless to say, of one of the series, seventy out of the seventy-five were already being held or sold by Thursday morning—the first day of the Grand Prix, ten minutes into opening the hall. I wrote about what artists are bringing as a primer to Grand Prix Las Vegas, and while there, many artists were intrigued by this super-exclusive idea of a play mat with a location printed onto it in limited quantities.

In a large Grand Prix, even over fifteen hundred people, making ultra-exclusive play mats for $30 won’t sell themselves—you do need some prep work into letting an audience know. A great work on a play mat isn’t guaranteed to sell itself. To help every artist, a tournament organizer, usually the person in contact with the artist for the art area, can help get the word out. There is also the art community, which I’m always happy to connect an artist to about upcoming events, or new things happening in the marketplace.

As for play mats going forward, any fan-service (safe for work) play mats that integrates card artworks that group together decks is a wise choice. Think of a burn deck with Lightning Bolt and Lava Spike, for example. If an artist has a marquee card in a deck like Monastery Swiftspear, the play mat that could be made would be a new image with a likeness of that character alongside other card arts from that deck. It sells. I don’t know why it sells but it does.

Custom Sketches on Play Mats

There is sliding scale here I’ve seen for artists:

  • $15 for small
  • $25 for a quarter page
  • $50 for a half play mat
  • $100–$600 for a big area

Many folks sit in the $50–$75 range for a half play mat, which is often a central figure. And the folks who purchase a play mat sketch from every artist generally pay $10–$20 per artist, as the uniqueness of “getting everyone” allows for a discount both in quality and cost. I didn’t see any you-can-leave-it-with-me-and-I’ll-ship-it-to-you-if-a-full-mat-or-$400 sort of deals or offers, though that could be left unsaid.

Alterations

This is the weirdest area of art pricing. Some artists charge a quick and dirty $5–$15 for a simple alter but then have a $50–$75 tier for full color, paint, and even glitter. Alterations were unheard of five years ago. Now, over half the artists at Grand Prix Las Vegas fully promoted them and often had examples on site that let people see their handiwork. This isn’t a fad. It’s not going away. We’ve yet to see a Grand Prix have an “unofficial” artist: an alterist having a guest or vendor table in the same area as the artists. Only StarCityGames does that currently. I’m not sure how I feel about non-MTG artists receiving the same spotlight, but I understand the appeal. It’s growing cheaper to have these done by Magic artists despite people like Eric Klug charging more. Quality is now being a greater consideration, as black Sharpie aliens in a saucer on a dual land aren’t really kosher anymore.

Artist Tokens

These are a relatively new concept, and a few artists are making some pretty decent money, $1 at a time. The average cost is $1, no more. A custom artwork of a random Magic token is okay as a “playing card.” Being very careful on the card back and the power and toughness in the lower right is a serious consideration! Asking other artists seems to be the norm here, with Aaron Miller and RK Post being great people to ask about them. The add-on-a-token idea isn’t new to sales. It’s a tried-and-true tactic of increasing a basket size at a larger retail store. While margins aren’t the same overall on all products, reaching $20—the ATM value Magic players often have—is critical to aim toward for artist sales. Likewise, for a player, if I can pick up some extra awesome for cheap, and I don’t need weird dollar bills, I’m all for it.

There is a lot of testing still happening here with white-back tokens to artists calling them token sketches to pre-numbered, pre-signed token sets. I think as artists do card arts that fit into decks, tokens will be made to reflect the decks at a greater increment. It’s money literally lying on the table.

Signatures

Steve Argyle wasn’t kidding when he said his 10 Commandments of signing cards was being heard by other artists. There used to be utterly no rules even three years ago. Now, at Grand Prix Las Vegas, over two-thirds of the artists had either hard costs or the first ten to twelve free with $1 each after that. It’s not to gain a large amount of money for artists, as they still feel it’s a convention expectation for new and young players. What they’re trying to do is keep the line moving quickly and make dealers and brokers with long boxes of hundreds of cards from coming up. Though, if they want to wait in line and pay for it, an artist will accommodate them, for a price. A few vendors are even stocking for cards in case you forget, which is clever.

This is a huge win for the industry. In order for Magic art conventions to finally make it to comic-book-convention status of “convention sketches” and such, signatures have to be valued. It will be unique how we reach there, but valuing a signature values an artist’s time there.

I’m not entirely ready to encourage charging a flat fee for signatures, as many people told me how much they hated that concept. It felt like gouging. I disagreed with their logic, but I understand the seemingly rapid change to a player who only attends maybe three Grand Prix events a year on a good year!

Miscellaneous Things

Art books haven’t permeated the Magic-artist crowd much yet—or they haven’t brought many with them to events yet. They are heavy as hell to pack and take up a ton of room. Also, there are some draconian rules on them that artists have to dance around.

Deals are becoming more common, with two prints or ten tokens for a reduced price, but again, the common amount of hitting $20 or $40 is just not being considered yet. It will in time.

Any fan-art pieces, or derivative works, have emerged, such as Drew Baker’s Elspeth, but it’s really rare when an artist would sell a unique painting or sketch premade before the event. On-site sketches of stuff will happen all day though.

Original Art

This will require a full article by me in the future, hopefully this summer. In short, major works are selling like hotcakes. Minor works have doubled or more in price and will sit for years if no corrections occur. When cards are released, it’s the best time for art to move these days. If a block rotates, that art just doesn’t have the value unless the card art is used in a hot new deck. Sometimes, it can sell in person at larger Grand Prix events or conventions, so some of an artist’s hoard should always be brought with, if even just a few aspirational pieces. Lucas Graciano did this with a NFS piece, a not-for-sale, Spectrum-art-annual-included Grave Titan. (In short, it’s an art award-winning piece.)

Whew, that was a lot of art news. The market is constantly changing for this niche of Magic-art-related products, and novelty is a huge seller if it’s in small quantities and collectible! The audience wants it to be!

-Mike


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