What should you charge for your artwork, your hours, days, weeks and more of effort and agony? This is a question that every artist considers, at least at some time during their career. This is, of course, assuming that you are willing to part with one of your creations, your children.
The first painting that I ever sold was when I was in high school. My art teacher was preparing our pieces for an upcoming state show for students. The actual painting was an illustration of The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. One of her friends had seen it at her home where she was matting the works. On the recommendation of my art teacher, I was offered $50 for it which was a whole lot of babysitting money back then.
Needless to say, this set me on the path to thinking that I could actually make some money from something that I had created. But it was a decade before I actually began to pursue my art in such light and sold it.
Pricing your artwork is a tricky proposition and one that attracts many opinions and much advice. After thirty-five years in the business, these are some of the considerations that I use to price my paintings.
1 Materials and costs
Obviously any business person can tell you that you need to cover your costs. This includes overhead, such as, rent, utilities, computer services and websites. Include your equipment to make your work – easels, kilns, brushes, even your vehicle if you need to transport it. Materials like clay, canvases, paints, drawing materials count, too.
You need to eat and keep a roof over your head and pay the kids’ orthodontist’s bills so you must pay yourself a salary. Hopefully, you can eventually do this solely with your art but you may need to take a part-time job here and there. The whole point is that the more time you can spend creating, the more money you can make.
If you are not tracking your costs you need to start doing this right now. You are in business so get a sales tax license and be professional. After a year or two, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you need to bring in to cover your expenses. Everything above that is profit.
2 Size matters
Frankly, I think the bigger the painting, the more you should charge for it. You may have more work in a smaller painting, but the show pieces are generally the largest. Customers expect to pay more for size. Plus, you have more materials in them.
I created a chart which quickly gives me the ballpark figure for the size of painting that I have to what I should charge for it. I may not always stick with this, but it gives me a starting place. Price calculator
3 Talent and skill
Be realistic. Your mother may have told you how wonderful you are and what a great artist you are. But, take a look around. How does your work compare to others, especially in your area and medium. I have seen so many artists who just come on the scene and start attaching really high prices to their work, only to be disappointed when nothing sells.
Maybe you are one of the gifted people who will command high prices right from the beginning, but most artists do not. It’s always easier to raise your prices than to fumble around and lower them.
Where you live and where you sell your work can have a significant impact on the fees you can charge for your work. In big cities, especially the coasts, the audience is expecting to pay more. Galleries and museums have their own overhead to cover and, of course, higher rents in metropolitian areas.
In most rural areas, it’s difficult to command the same price structure. Cost of living and wages are lower, thus people expect to pay less. For the most part, not always.
Art fairs are mostly entertainment but few visitors are going to shell out thousands for a painting at most art fairs. This also includes street artists so set your prices accordingly.
There are some caveats with this theory. With the internet, artists can live in low rent areas but sell across the country, indeed the world. But again, most people are not going to spend big money on something they haven’t seen in person.
5 Awards and shows
If you are an award-winning artist and have lots of credentials as well as significant shows and exhibitions, you can command higher fees. You have proven your worth and the customer can feel comfortable that they are buying something from someone with good credentials. Do you belong to any special art societies? List them on your resume or website.
I was fortunate that my work was exhibited in some really good shows when I was still pretty early in my career. I didn’t even know how good they were then but am pretty proud to list them on my website now.
No, not your age. The age of the pieces you still have hanging around your studio. If it’s something fresh, maybe a new style or direction, stick with your best prices. However, if you’ve got that box of photographs that you took twenty years ago gathering dust under your bed, do yourself a favor and price them to sell. Yes, they really may be worth what you originally priced them at, but if you sell them, then you will at least recover some of your expenses and can use the money for more materials to create new work.
I will sometimes host a studio sale where I’ll invite local and regional friends out for a weekend. I’ll clear my studio of most furniture, set up all the paintings that I want to move, and put some really attractive prices on them. I usually do this in the fall before holiday shopping takes off. And I always have some music, food and beverages for an added attraction. I picked up this idea from a potter friend of mine who would unload his summer inventory every autumn.
I have another friend who actually rented the high school auditorium and set up thousands of paintings to move. He made $50K that weekend! I don’t make nearly that much but it’s good to make some extra dough around the holidays and clear some room for new work.
Occasionally I will have an online sale but I don’t want to do that too often. My patrons should realize that I charge a reasonable price and shouldn’t wait around for the sales.
7 Bonus point. Be fair
Make sure the prices you list on your website are the same you’re charging in a gallery or somewhere else. The quickest way to lose a gallery is to undercut their prices. I give my galleries some leeway to negotiate prices or to bundle sales. Everyone comes out happy.
These are some of my suggestions for setting prices for your artwork. You’ll probably find some helpful or maybe you’ll create your own set of rules. Whatever you do, remember to keep creating and have fun!