Question from Reader:
“I have no idea how to price my work? Where should I start?”
**I want to start the answer by asking what is your purpose? We all have different directions as artists and creators, but my focus as I answer the question is on the professional artist - the creative looking to make a career out of art rather than as a side note.**
Some days I can’t believe that my job is to paint and make things for other people to enjoy. What a dream. What a huge undertaking! I may have a moment where I say, wow that painting only took 30 minutes! But then in a blink I realize all the work it took to get there and before I undersell myself I must realize my worth, even as I am so honored to be doing what I love for a profession.
Let’s put things in perspective: The plumber charged me $300 for an hour of work last week! Yeah, painting is joyous and I can't believe people will pay me to do this, but am I not as valuable as the plumber? Would you pay me more to paint your walls white than to make a work of art that will last you a lifetime?!
When I factor my cost, I don't just think about the one work in front of me. I think about all the costs:
art supplies * office supplies * hanging hardware * business materials * promotional materials * jury and membership fees * framing * scanning fees * print inventory * packing supplies * food for receptions or clients * food for myself when I have to eat out because of an event * gasoline to get all the supplies and take my art places * transportation and hotels for travel * continuing education with books, videos, classes and museum tickets * utilities for my studio * web and program fees * my computer, printer, camera, etc...
And then there is my time....sure some little paintings I can finish in 15 minutes! Once I finished a 4'x4' huge canvas in six hours. But then there were the times I worked and struggled with a painting for months only to rip it up with an exacto knife.
hundreds of hours painting * hundreds of hours practicing * hundreds of hours studying * working on my website * photographing my work * obscene amounts of time on social media * editing, posting, replying to comments * answering emails * driving to drop off/pick up/check on work * driving to the post office or art store * going to get work scanned or pick up prints * hanging work for shows * time at receptions * time talking with clients * and time just planning my next move.
After counting up all that I must do for a successful art career, it is easy to see that I work more than a 40 hour work week and that does not include my first job of being a mother and homemaker. Right now I am feeling like my paintings should all be thousands of dollars! I am exhausted. I am exhilarated. I am an artist.
I can not honestly tell YOU how or what to price your work. There are many methods to calculate a price and many opinions on what a fair price would be. But I can give you a few tips to consider…
- Value yourself and your time. Don’t undersell yourself. (see above lists!)
- If you are working with a gallery, they will likely be able to help you find the right price for your work as an emerging artist.
- If you are not working with a gallery yet, do some research on what artists with similar experience levels and similar work price their art. Be cautious of using Etsy or online only artists or stores as your source. Rather find galleries or established artists that post their prices online so you can make easy comparisons. The world is flooded with people who put their art up for sale at rather low prices, but a true test of value will be those who have a proven market for their work.
- Seek out reputable local galleries, non-profit artist organizations or art marketing workshops to get more personalized help. Watch out for scams! But a reliable group can give you good insight not only to pricing, but the whole business of art. I've turned to all three for help at various times.
- Be careful that you don't get sucked into the mentality that your art is worth less in certain areas. Yes, there is some fluctuation in different markets, but we are a global economy and an iPhone is going to cost the same in Green Bay as it will in San Francisco, so shouldn't you put value on something that will last longer?
- Give yourself room to grow as an artist. It’s ok when you are first starting to start by selling at a lower price (but not too low) so that as your experience grows, so can your prices. When you have established a history of sales at one price for a year or two you can slowly increase the value of your art.
- Always price your work the same no matter where you sell it. Different styles of your work might be different prices, but once you have established a price, it should be the same online, in a gallery or to your friends. Your reputation depends on it and the value of your art does, too.
- It is common practice in galleries and sometimes in online stores to give a small discount. Give yourself some wiggle room to negotiate that 10-20% discount.
- Never slash your prices in a “super sale”. What does this say to the customer that paid full price about the value of your art? What does this say to the future buyer that will just wait until another big sale day? What does this tell the galleries who are trying to represent you? Just don’t do it. Small discounts are expected...a big half off party is not just bad practice, it's bad business ethics.
- As a general rule in the art industry, smaller works will cost more for their size than larger works. i.e. If a 12x12 paintings sells for $500, that doesn't mean the 24x24 will sell for $2000, it might be priced closer to $1500 or less. And so on as the paintings get larger.
- You can charge by square inch (length x height) or linear inch (length plus height) or by how long it took to make at a hourly rate, etc...But whatever you choose, keep the same method for all your work and write it down so that you know the answer when someone asks how much you are selling your work - then the answer is always the same.
- And finally, what does your gut tell you the right thing is to do. If you feel good about the price you've asked (even if you are splitting it with a gallery) then you know you have ended up with the right answer for yourself.
**Final Disclaimer** Only you know what will work for your art career. For every word of advice I share here you can find several who will disagree. The only way to really know is through trial and error. Just do the work...and do it with integrity.
Do you have a question for me? Leave a comment and your question may be featured in a future Q&A. Thank you!
Enjoy the Journey