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On Pricing your Art Work as a Professional Artist

by Michelle Curry

mcurryarts.com

Sooner or later, you as an artist come to the place where you must put a price on your work, if you are to sell it. If you are an amateur, or hobbiest, you can arbitrarily set a price for a work. If you are a professional, or aspiring to be professional, your pricing strategy should reflect that mindset, not in exorbitant prices, but in having a realistic and stable rubric. 

After earning two art degrees, (which did not address this subject), and over time, watching my mother in her career as a successful Artist, I began searching out articles on the internet, and reading books and articles on this subject. I realized this was something I needed to resolve if I was going to be a professional career Artist. I finally settled on an approach that works for me. However, as this is a highly individualistic decision, as varied as Art itself, this is only given as a view, rather than a definitive answer. I would encourage you to seek out your own answers to this question, and find out what works for you. This is not a “magic pill,” as you will need to use your own brain to figure this out! As time goes on, what worked for awhile in your business model may need to change, or undergo restructuring.

Someone has said that the price for anything is what someone will pay to have it. Remember that the value of your work must give the buyer an overwhelming return, in comparison to the small cost you are charging them. As an artist, you may have to resign yourself to the fact that you may never sell anything in your lifetime. Your work must have market value in order for you to sell it. If you put too low a valuation on your work it will reflect that to the public, as many people look at the price to decide what your work is worth, not the other way around, as it should be. If you don’t value your work, nobody else will either. On the other hand, if your work does not sell, you may need to have confidence in yourself and continue to create regardless, like the famous Van Gogh…

We live in a world where Chinese copyists plagiarize art (common practice of mass production, to sell at very low prices), where the internet is populated by competitions that are really crowd-sourcing (3,000 people make art, and 1 person gets hired, but then loses their copyrights on said art), and by “Poster-world” (Where real artwork is devalued because people expect to pay for art like it was a poster, or that because you have fun making it, that you should give it away for nearly nothing). All of these hurt the hard working true artist, who is trying to make a decent living. 

It is difficult (but not impossible) to know what to ask for your copyrighted, original artwork, but you do deserve to be paid, just like anyone who has knowledge, and skill, and works hard in a specialized field does.

A Couple of Different Ideas for pricing your Art…

1. Arbitrary. Just price it however you like. I have seen many Artists do this, even professional Artists. 

a. Many want to hang onto their work, so they price it inordinately high. Overall, you must be willing to sell most of your work if you are professional.

b. Some Artists may enter a show, and price their work higher, to “match” the other artists in the show. 

c. An artist may think one piece is “better” than another, so they will price it higher or lower. Bear in mind, you can be biased, just like showing favoritism is blind! If you need to, get other professional Artists to critique your work. When you get consistent responses, you know you are on the right track! I have put art out on the internet, and the piece that I thought wouldn’t be quite as popular got pinged a lot more than another that I thought would! You don’t know always how a piece will speak to someone else. 

d. An artist may get tired of not selling, and have a “Sale.” You may have to look at your work, and be willing to throw it in the burn pile, if it really isn’t worth it. But only you can decide that. An artist’s prices should never go down though, as a rule. It sends a clear message to clients that the work isn’t worth their investment! Don’t do it!

2. Time and Materials, and gallery or show commissions costs. Many artists use this in combination with the arbitrary method to decide.

Pitfalls…

1. If you are the only judge, you may value your work higher or lower than it should be.

2. Clients will soon see that your prices are going up and down on a whim, and they will not trust you. Once you make a pricing strategy, stick with it!

3. You may never get out what you put in, either in time, money or anything.

4. You cannot allow personal pride to enter in to your estimations of the worth of a piece, OR your self-worth. An amateur ties their work to their self esteem. You must be able to take constructive criticism, realizing it will make you a better Artist. The public is the public, and they always throw darts!

3. Price per square inch (my current strategy).

1. People are used to paying by increment for things like tile, carpet…gold and silver.

2. The price is stable, your customers can trust you not to price gouge.

3. You must pick a price that will serve you a long time, and incorporate all aspects such as… a. Materials, like canvas, papers, paint, pastels, etc.

b. Time spent overall (not on a single piece, but average time it takes you to create art pieces.)

c. Experience and Training, should be considered (Not enough alone to hike your prices, your WORK must reflect it. I have seen people with Master’s degrees who are lousy artists! I have seen self taught artists who were really good too!).

d. What are other Artists getting for work similar to your style and effects, and where they are in their career. You must price other’s work in (many) galleries you visit to determine an average. Location and fame of the gallery may be a factor too, so visit many.

e. Gallery commission. Many galleries charge up to a 50% commission on your total price. Some shows cost a lot to enter, not to mention if you have to buy equipment like tents, tables, walls, racks, and a truck van to haul it in, and gas for said show…

f. Notoriety. Do you have juried shows you have been accepted in, and are known far and wide for your work in outside sources beyond your family, friends and local community? Are you already selling at the prices you have set? Do not change them, only increase when you cannot make the work fast enough to keep up with demand.

g. The price you choose helps other Artists. If you charge a reasonable amount, other artists will over time get confidence to charge a fair amount for their work also. This leads to respect from the public for Artists.

h.  Matting and framing. The average mat costs $20, for a shop to cut it. I use only archival materials with my pieces, and UV protected glass. The price for the art alone should be more than the frame cost. After all, what is more valuable? The frame is only there to enhance the work, and protect it. If your frame is more valuable than the art, I would say you might be in the wrong business… 

i. Is it affordable for anyone who really would like to have a piece of your work? People go out and spend a lot of money for things that bring them pleasure…dinner out, vacations, trips, toys, computers, etc. Realize you are selling them an heirloom, a one of a kind, but you still want it to be a decent price. 

j. Are you willing to trade or barter? I am, and have done this! I traded a car one time for a painting. The car has long since ended in the scrap pile, but the painting is still giving joy to the beholder…

k. Commissions are hard work, will you charge extra? Larger paintings have a different dynamic, up to what size will you change the starting price point?

I cannot tell you what the right price is for you…but this is what I do…

Measure the image area…

Times the length and width…

Then times that by the price point…

Add on the average frame and matting costs afterwards, 

Then add MI sales tax.

If I must ship it, the customer must pay for shipping costs.

 

How to decide…

Start this way…If you charged .25 cents per square inch of image area, would it be enough? 

Try it?

Here is an example:

8” x 10” = 80 then x it by .25…That amounts to $20.00

I add on top the cost to mat and frame, so that I don’t have to eat that cost.

So $20.00 + $30.00 mat and framing….

oops! The frame is more $$! 

Very likely it took me more than an a few hours to make….And then, if the gallery takes 50%…

If it isn’t working, continue to up the price until it is working with all the consideration points above. Maybe the lower starting price point could be for your cards or prints…