How To Price Artwork

Pricing Artwork

by Daric Gill

If you’re an artist with a pulse you’ve probably struggled with applying a price to your artwork. It’s the most common concern for beginners & advanced artists alike. Sure, pricing can seem like a pretty intimidating thing. Especially if you’re starting from scratch.

 “Wouldn’t it be just the greatest if there was a simple solution, something easy to remember, that could be used across the board to price our work?”

…. is the question you’re probably thinking in your head. Right?

The answer is No. That’s actually the worst way to price artwork if you hope to benefit yourself as a professional artist. There’s good news though: this article will explain why that system doesn’t work and hopefully shed light on an actual process that is unique to each artist while still being relatively easy to grasp. After speaking at great lengths with other professional artists, I’ve combined their knowledge with my own into what I hope is a comprehensive collection of information — for artists, by artists. Read on for more.

If we’re being honest, most readers are wishing for an answer that looks something like working a ‘regular job’. Something like this perhaps:

 $ Wage  x  Hours  =  Magical price of artwork?

Believe it or not… and thankfully for all, a ‘one size fits all’ equation is impractical for real life as an artist. What’s wrong with that equation? Well, the quick answer is that unless combined with other factors, the faster you get at making work the less you’d get paid. Sure, you could constantly raise your wage and therefore raise your price. But at that point, aren’t you already creating a new price adjusted salary using entirely new pricing philosophy?

On a few occasions, I’ve heard artists suggest pricing artwork per square inch. This may help the established artist or the commercial/commissioned artist a bit. But in my experience the novice who is the recipient of this suggestion has asked a few obvious followup questions.

  • “But… How do I know what amount to charge per inch? And when should it go up/down?”
  • “That’s for 2-D only. What if I’m a sculptor, installation artist, or multidisciplinary artist?”
  • “Exhibition Re-Appraisal. What happens if a smaller piece has earned some acclaim or has shown in a prestigious space? Is the more recognized piece still less expensive?”

I’d submit that an artist should have a few solid definable reasons why that wage should grow. This may take a couple of other tactics in the artists utility belt. These other methods can be used to create a starting point from ground level and can be moved around in a way that can hopefully benefit an artist of all levels.

Still feeling a certain amount of separation anxiety when it comes to selling off your most precious work? Read “Selling Art & Separation Anxiety”.

So how do you price your own art?! … the quick reference

It’s far simpler than you’d expect. It’s all about using objective factors and letting go of the subjective factors. I’ll expand on these categories later, but as a quick overview of what is to be covered:

  1. Pick the factors that work for youGet in the ballpark
  2. % Commissions?
  3. Calculate materials
  4. Calculate time
  5.  Similar Work $
  6. Know your intended market
  7. *BONUS* Adjust for previous sales

Take in a calming deep breath

Selling Stuff 101

Before we dive in too deep, let’s just step away from the situation for a second and get some dirt under our feet. What are some factors that all sold goods adhere to?

  • Big persons/brand names can command big money
  • Precious materials cost more
  • Size DOES matter sometimes
  • Quality should cost more
  • All things being equal, a buyer will look for the cheaper of 2 prices for similar items
  • Location/venue is reflected the prices

Just keep those ideas in the back of your head. Now that we’ve got some background substance, it’s time to start considering YOU in this process. Using the previous topics you can start to calculate an informed profile that makes you up as an artist.

Finally, The Pricing Guide
1. Get in the ballpark

Keeping in mind your level of experience: what is the lowest price you could settle for before being insulted? What’s the highest price you could expect someone would actually pay without feeling embarrassed? Believe it or not, this is a very helpful step to getting a price-range to assess. Maybe your range is too low, maybe too high… but at least it’s a start.

Getting In The Ballpark

2. Are there any commissions?

Most galleries have a 35%-50% commission rates on sold pieces. I’ve even seen larger cities carry something like 60%-70%. Yep. It’s true. If you’re planning on selling work in a gallery, assume the base prices will need to be adjusted accordingly to inflate for the new retail price. Commissions also include considerations for booth percentages or other additional commission rates from other selling venues.

*Need to review your ballpark estimate? It’s ok if you do.*

Base Price – The price of a piece of art that you’ll ideally want to get before adding commission rates. In other words: This is the price you’ll want to get behind the scenes of any sales adventure, no matter what.

Retail price – The price of a piece of art in a gallery or selling venue for the buyer with all commission rates added. Any negotiations done by the gallery for *discounts* to a client should be taken off of the gallery’s percentage. Not yours.

3. Calculate materials

The cost of materials can accumulate to be a pretty substantial hit to the wallet. Make sure you get that materials cost back. Of course, this doesn’t mean add the cost of every paint tube you own for each piece of art you make. Naturally, that would be slightly over-zealous. However, this does mean that you should be responsible for figuring out how much of that tube was used and estimating how many art pieces you could probably get out of that tube. This goes for all types of materials.

A side note: free materials don’t always mean material costs should be forgotten about.

Balance Materials & Skills
Balance Materials & Skills

It’s like figuring out how much food you need to buy to make dinner. Just because you had the ingredients in the fridge today doesn’t mean you’ll have those same ingredients next time you want to make it. Additionally, the more you make a certain dish the more you’ll know how much to buy and how much it should cost. We do that sort of price negotiations all the time in our day-to-day life. There’s no difference.

*Pro Tip: Keeping your materials receipts. Seriously. This is one of those tips that benefits the artist in many ways: from tax deductions to returning unused materials. Also, it helps when figuring out potential costs of future projects as well as assisting in the estimation of current price points.

4. Calculate Time

Again remembering your level of experience: Calculate the time you’ve spent on said piece. It’s always important to keep track of the time you spend on your work, as it can help. If you were to make an hourly wage, what wage would you like to make? Does it represent the your time invested well?

*Pro Tip: Evaluate. Do you need to adjust the wage or possibly the hours invested? This is a step that most artists really misrepresent. Beginners tend to focus heavily on the time while experienced artists tend to work on numerous pieces at once and tend to not ‘clock’ the time effectively.  On the other hand: If you have a quick, repeatable process that’s easily tracked, hourly might be perfect for you.

Why Hourly Wage Doesn't Always Work
Why Hourly Wage Doesn’t Always Work
5. Prices of like items?

If you’re going to go out and buy something you’re probably going to do some price comparisons, right? The same goes for creating the price points for your own work. I know your piece is hopefully an original idea, but it’s likely that there’s work out there that is similar to yours in some way. Take a look around online and in person. Check the prices of work that could be sold in the same places that you’d sell yours. There’s a good chance that you’ll find out what other pieces like yours are going for. This is a good tool to see if you’re way off or just right.

6. Type of selling venue?

Take a personal look at what type of artist you are. Where do you want to sell your work? My personal belief is that each artist has his or her right match for selling venue. And likewise, each venue has their average type of patron. What can each type of market bear?

Fairs and festivals

– Sold from booths, tents, or pop-up galleries
– Lower price ranges ($0-few hundred dollars)
– Artist is salesman
– Amateur friendly
– Upfront booth costs likely ($0-few hundred dollars usually)

Etsy or like online art/crafts site

– Sold online
– Lower price ranges ($0-few hundred dollars)
– Artist is salesman
– Amateur friendly
– Small % commission to Etsy AND PayPal (or other transaction services)

Shops, Restaurants, and Consignment * (* A place that has other means of income aside from your work for their main income)

– Low to lower-medium price ranges
– Artist is usually salesman (sometimes shopkeeper)
– Amateur to semi-professional friendly
– Small % commission transaction fee likely

Consignment Shop AKA Consignment Gallery * (* A shop that sells artwork, accessories, frames, or other means of income aside from your work for their main income)

– Sold online and/or in shop
– Small to medium-high price ranges
– Shop is salesman (possibly artist too)
– Amateur to semi-professional friendly

Artist’s Professional Website and/or Online Market

– Low to very high price ranges
– Artist is salesman
– Amateur to professional
– Possibly smaller % commission transaction fee

Art Galleries

– Medium to very high price ranges
– All sales differed to gallery in a certain mile radius during exhibit (if in contract)
– Semi-professional to high-level professional
– Exclusive solo shows an option (preferred by artist)
– Non-contract to contractual
– Continual gallery representation an option
– Access to private collectors an option
– Large to very large % commission

Museums

– High to very high price ranges (if sales are allowed)
– All sales differed to museums in a certain mile radius during exhibits
– Access to permanent collections and/or private collectors an option
– Semi-professional to high-level professional
– Exclusive solo shows an option (preferred by artist)
– Contractual
– Continual representation an option
– Large to very large % commission, if any

7. Adjusting & Combining Pricing Methods

Use this guide to think about your pricing in new ways. Choose what’s right for you. Combining methods may help you find what fits and what doesn’t. If you’ve sold work before, adjust your prices to reflect your successes. Now that you have a benchmark, you can also think about ‘fixed price’ as an option as well.

Pick the factors that work for you
Pick the factors that work for you
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