Outdoor Lighting: Art vs. Material
I had an interesting conversation recently with one of my landscape designer friends who frequently calls us to light his outdoor projects. He told me he was bringing me in on a very nice lighting project, and the client enjoys the finer things in life.
He then told me that this client would likely ask me what products I was specifying and research those products himself to try to beat me down on my price for the complete project. My friend explained that this is what happened with the irrigation company.
This made me pause and think a little because it’s not the first time I’ve heard of this happening now that the Internet has made shopping for materials pretty easy. I gave my landscape designer friend an analogy that came to mind, hoping it would help homeowners see what goes into a lighting design and installation project.
The value of art
Let’s take a painting, for instance. The total material cost for paints and canvas may be around $40. (We won’t worry about the frame, since most people frame the art to go with their décor and painters are not framers.) So let’s go to the art gallery and find a lovely painting for $40. Hmmm, we can’t find any.
Let’s add in $20 per hour labor into that painting. Heck, it probably took that person a couple of days to complete the art piece, right? Now we’re up to $200! Surely we’re going to find a nice painting at this gallery for that? Well, maybe not. So, why are these paintings' prices so darn high? There’s hardly any material cost and the artist shouldn’t need to make too much money, right?
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What some consumers forget is what it really takes to create that piece of art. The artist has invested many years of their life to learning their craft. How many years did they struggle to make a buck before they were able to sell anything they created? How much time and cash did they spend in art school, learning how to mix their paints just right so they could get that perfect final color? What tools and skills took them from being someone who put paint on canvas to being an artist? What reputation does that artist have now? What do paintings normally sell for these days? All of these factors go into that price tag on that one painting in the art gallery.
The art of lighting
I explained to my designer friend that I do not sell light fixtures, wire, transformers and other items; I sell a Night Scene. I sell ambience in a space. I sell the years of experience it has taken to learn the outdoor lighting design craft. I sell the knowledge I've gained from outdoor lighting schools that I’ve attended all over the country. I sell the reputation of NightScenes Landscape Lighting Professionals. You can’t find Internet pricing on those things.
A light fixture is simply a lifeless light fixture. If you don’t know which fixture to use and where, it’s not going to do you much good simply standing in your yard. If you don’t know the lumen output that you need from a certain fixture, it won’t highlight your focal points. If you don’t know what beam spread that fixture needs to produce in a certain setting, it can’t bring life and depth to your landscape at night. If you don’t know where to place that fixture, you won’t be able to achieve the security and beautiful ambience you desire.
If you buy a bunch of paints, can you bring them home and create the exquisite canvas art piece that you want? An artist knows what color paint to use and where to use it to create an emotional response in the person viewing the painting. A good outdoor lighting designer does the same thing with light. The cost of the paints or light fixtures doesn’t figure into the “picture” really — it’s the final product when the painting's complete that matters most.