How Can You Get Started With Pricing Your Artwork?Jan 26, 2022
Many artists struggle with the challenge of how to price their artwork. Besides, ‘How do I get a gallery to work with me?’, it is a question I am often asked as an artist coach and art dealer.
There are many variables to consider, and the answer to this question is not a ‘one size’ fits all answer.
If you are new to pricing your own art, are just coming out of grad school, and/or have never had a gallery help you with pricing your art, some of my suggestions below will help you!
So, how do you start setting the prices for your artwork? Here is what I suggest:
Research Research Research
Now more than ever, we have the ability to get information at our fingertips quickly, and this includes how other artists price their art!
When I first started my gallery in 2001, I had many artists who were newly out of graduate school, a few that were more established and a few that had never worked with galleries. I had the very important job of pricing their art. My process for the artists who had never had their work priced before or had never worked with a gallery was to go online and research emerging artists. I looked at artist resumes to find comparable artists. I also asked gallery dealers who were ‘emerging galleries’. A pattern started to emerge after looking at 10-12 comparable artists.
When you do this, it is not a competitive exercise. You need to be honest and not make up a story. You need to find artists working in a similar style, medium and size, and with comparable experience as to your resume.
If you are not sure, throw out that question in the numerous artist chat groups and see what people share back!
What do you want to earn and make??
If you were asked what you would like to make per hour, how would you answer it?
Most people posting resumes must answer this question (for example: the nanny we just hired).
How would you respond?
Think of a reasonable hourly wage that you would feel comfortable with and work backward. The U.S. Department of Labor lists the average hourly wage for a fine artist as $24.58—use this to help you estimate.
Be diligent when recording how long a work takes you, and then factor in the cost of materials and overhead. This is also very sensitive for each artist making their work. I coached one artist in my Art MBA program who wanted to get paid $100.00 per hour for her work. She kept meticulous notes on her cost of materials doing one work of art, and exactly how many hours it took her to paint a particular size or style of her art. She then used that is her metric. For example, a 36x36” canvas cost her: $200.00 for the canvas and about $50.00 for the paint. She noticed it took her about 20 hours to paint it. When she added up her time using the numbers below, her costs came out to $2,250.00. Her gallery also needed to make their commission, so they decided a great price (based on her career status/resume) would be $6,000.00 for a 36x36” canvas. The numbers were rounded up to cover all her time and costs, the gallery and their commission, and allow a cushion for any discounts that were asked for.
This can be a good way to gauge the worth of your work.
BE CONSISTENT IN PRICING
If you are doing your research and ‘due diligence’ to establish your pricing, make sure you compare yourself to the same type of artist. For example, if you are not represented by or working with a gallery, don’t go off gallery prices. Galleries often have higher prices – sometimes as much as 50% higher – to cover their commission and cost of doing business on their end.
In addition, if you have a gallery, but have the flexibility and leeway to do your own sales outside of their ‘sales radius’ (Which is typically within 50-100 miles of their gallery location), do not sell work from your studio at lower prices or post lower prices on your website.
This could undermine your professional relationship and your credibility in the marketplace.
Galleries want to ensure that artists who work with them have the same pricing everywhere else!
Make sure you have set prices that are the same for your studio and your galleries. That way people can purchase your work from your studio or the gallery, and you can maintain a positive relationship with your galleries. If you are not sharing any commission for this particular sales scenario, it means you can have more flexibility if a client asks for a discount.
The win is that if the client went home with a price for one of your particular works that they liked, and did their research and found your galleries price lists (or inquired), they will be happy to know that the prices match.
I remember working with an artist who was represented by me and a gallery in another state. The gallery had lower prices on her paintings than I did, and this became a problem, as clients asked me why the same size works were higher in my gallery. I had to call the gallery and discuss it, and we came to a happy medium, so our prices matched and did not affect each other or the artist in any negative way. Also, if a gallery feels your prices are TOO high, and you have sold your work with other galleries at that price or comfortably, it tells you that the gallery might not be able to sell your work because of its (perceived) market, and that gallery is most likely not a match for you.
KEEP SPECIAL WORKS FOR YOURSELF!
In working with thousands of artists over many years, I have had numerous conversations with artists that have a special bond with a particular artwork and might not want to let it go. If there is a particular piece that you just feel really strongly about, is especially meaningful to you, or holds sentimental value, consider keeping those works for yourself.
With all the time, creative effort and emotion you invest in your work, pricing your work needs to be predominantly based on its physical and material attributes, not on personal value. I remember early on in my gallery, one of my artists would literally cry and get depressed every time she dropped off her works for me for our inventory or for a show. I had to pull her aside and basically tell her to “Knock it off.” I let her know that if she put out energy that she didn’t want her work to be purchased by clients and collectors who would love it and add it to their homes, that I could not work with her. I let her know that if she wanted to buy paint and feed her family, she needed to make great art (yes, that was sometimes hard to part with) that I could sell, and that she would not have a career unless the work went out into the world. It totally changed her perspective, and she never cried or complained again!
HAVE WORK AT DIFFERENT PRICE POINTS TO COVER YOUR DIFFERENT TYPES OF BUYERS AND THEIR BUDGETS!
Do you remember your first sale? I know I do! It was way back in 2000 when I was in a taxi cab, and the driver revealed to me that he and his wife were art collectors! (He was driving me to a framer, and I just so happened to have a portfolio of art I was taking to get frames for). I happened to get lucky on two fronts: 1. My taxi driver was an art collector and was friendly to ask what I did for a living and 2. The works I was carrying, which were small watercolors (and were priced between 300.00-500.00), happened to be the budget range of what he and his wife purchased!
I learned two valuable lessons that day: 1. Always share what I do, and ask what others do or love to do and 2. Art buyers are everywhere, and their budgets come in all shapes and sizes! That made me realize that I needed to offer works in various price points to cover these different buyers and budgets, and the same goes for an artist!
In addition, I have also learned that as my gallery price points have climbed steadily over 22 years, I can also offer prints to continue to capture a lower price point and budget!
I recently had a ‘newbie’ art collector who loved one of my artists ask what our “lowest price artworks were”. I started with showing him the smallest paintings, and when that was still too expensive for him, he simply told me that and I suggested he look at prints by that artist. He was thrilled and purchased a $300.00 print on the spot. He just called me back and is coming in to look at small paintings. (I gave him time to warm up to the artists pricing and enjoy the process of collecting a work and living with it for several months). Now he is excited to move to the next level!
Lastly: If you have done your market and personal research, you can discuss your artwork pricing and your resume to anyone who has a question on how you have priced your works the way you have.
You can also share that there are ‘material costs’ inherent to making your work, and ‘time’ involved as well. Remember too that the longer you are in the marketplace, someone is potentially buying 15 or 20+ years of your art development skills!
As a special bonus to those reading this article, I will actually give you a peek inside my Beginner Sales Class, where I just shared an in-depth 20 minute video on how to price your artwork! Just drop your email below, and the video will be sent to your inbox!
P.S. My Sales Class students paid over $2,000, and I'm offering you this bit of information for FREE!