There is a well-known Oscar Wilde quote that goes, "When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.”
As an artist, you understand the making part of your job like the back of your hand. You could probably paint blindfolded and come up with a decent-looking piece. You have spent thousands upon thousands of hours honing your craft. What we often struggle with is the part that comes after we put that last final touch on an artwork—pricing.
Pricing is awkward. Setting a price on something that is so deeply personal and doesn't have a set market value is even more awkward.
Especially at the start of your career, or if you don't have a nest egg to fall back on, you want (and need) to make sales, but you also don't want to sell yourself short.
So, how do you start setting the prices for your artwork so you can get the salary you deserve? If you don't have a consistent history of selling your art in a particular price range or in a particular market, follow these seven rules to get started.
Do your research on comparable artwork
Bless the internet, we now have access to a whole bunch of data that makes setting our prices a little easier. Put your research cap on and start looking for artists that have similar work to what you are currently producing.
How much do these artists charge for their work? Is there a pattern in this pricing?
Seeking out artists who have similar work will give you a better idea of what you can and should be charging. Make sure you are making an honest evaluation of your work and then comparing it to artists with a similar style, working in a similar medium, with a similar amount of experience, as well as selling within a similar geographical region.
Next time you are at a dinner party with your artist friends, lean into that stereotype of money-talking artists and pick the brains of your successful peers. Ask them how much they are selling their work for and why. Open and honest discussions about money will help guide you and ensure that your pricing is on track.
Give yourself a living wage
There is no faster way to burn out than overworking and underselling yourself.
Creating artwork isn't cheap. There are expensive materials, equipment, and studio space to take into account.
Think of a reasonable hourly wage that you would feel comfortable with and work backward. The US Dept. 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.
Of course, when you are just starting out, something might take you much longer than a master in your field. On the other hand, when you have mastered a discipline, it might take you a much shorter time to complete a work and you will be able to demand a much higher price for it.
In short, this isn't a fool-proof method, but it is a good way to get started in gauging the worth of your work.
Once you settle on a price, be consistent.
If you aren't currently working with a gallery, make sure you are comparing your work to artwork that is also being sold directly from the artist. Galleries often mark up works by 50% or more.
However, if you do have representation and you’re thinking of selling work from your studio at lower prices than your gallery, think again.
Galleries put time and energy into their sales and generally aren’t happy to learn you’ve been selling work for a lot less. Take it from Art Biz Coach Alyson Stanfield, they will drop you like it's hot.
What’s more, other galleries could learn about this and be less inclined to work with you. Make sure you have set prices that are generally 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.
That said, with more and more people buying artwork online and directly from artists on Instagram, you might not have to take this commission into consideration if you are cracking the online sales market.
Separate feelings from facts
This is a hard one. However, it's not easy to justify your prices to a potential buyer by saying you just really like it. 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, it’s easy to get attached. Take a step away from your work after you finish it to gain some perspective. Then, approach your pricing as you would any other product. Some artists like to use a sizing formula. Pricing your work needs to be predominantly based on its physical attributes and not on personal value.
Have work at multiple price points
Some new customers might shy away from higher priced art. Smaller, less expensive pieces are more approachable. They are also more attainable for buyers who can’t afford more costly works. For example, a young buyer might not have the funds for a $3000 painting but can afford a $300 one. They still get to take a piece of your art home and fall in love with your work. When they have a higher art budget in the future, your art will already be top of mind.
Prints are a wonderful way for buyers to feel like they are taking home a piece of your art. Though a print is not the original work, it can still be a decent size. And it is much more affordable. It’s a way for tentative buyers to get their feet wet. When they are more comfortable, they can upgrade to a more expensive artwork.
The more people who buy your art, the more exposure it will get. More people will see it, talk about, and want to know more about you. This means there is also a higher chance of more people wanting to buy your work. Your range of price points can foster goodwill—people will be happy they can bring home one of your creations—and bring sales back to you.
Be transparent with your prices
Having to ask for a price is an automatic red flag in a collectors mind. It sets off alarms that you might be changing your prices based on who is asking, their perceived level of interest and their perceived level of wealth. Having your prices up front, available and available on your sales platforms demonstrates your integrity.
Additionally, if you hate talking about money, it helps you avoid a lot of potentially uncomfortable conversations. Putting that information up front puts all the heavy lifting decision making on the buyer. It gives them time to decide which piece is within their budget and then they can approach you ready for the easy transaction.
One easy way to show your work that gives your buyers confidence is through Artwork Archive's public portfolio page. It allows you the control over which information you can make public, links with your most up-to-date inventory, and gives potential buyers the options to contact you directly.
Stand confidently by your prices by providing evidence
Whether you sell a lot of work or are new to space, have confidence in yourself and your prices. If you don’t, buyers will figure it out quickly.
The next time someone asks you why a piece is so expensive (which they always will), have a prepared answer. Show them that you've been regularly selling comparable art for that same amount. Talk about, or print out provenance records, that show the similar sales you have made from galleries, dealers and out of your studio. People want to be able to justify their purchase with cold, hard evidence. They want to know they are spending their money wisely.
Put their mind at ease by showing them that other people have made similar purchases, that your work is valued and the way that you price your work is methodical and fact-based.
When you take the time to properly and realistically price your work, you can stand behind the price. If the buyer wants to go below that, you’ll be ready to justify your price. Confidence does wonders and will help you come home with the money you deserve.