Pricing artwork is one of the most complex tasks that emerging artists face, especially when they first begin to work with galleries and start to establish their art business. It’s easy to see by reading art business articles and books on art marketing that the opinions of the experts vary.
To make it even more complicated, we artists sometimes price with our emotions. Some artists overprice their work in order to impress viewers, hoping to make the artwork look more valuable. Sometimes this works, but usually only when the collector is naive or when the artwork is spectacular and gets the attention of serious collectors.
When I price with my emotion, I tend to lower my prices because I feel sorry that the collector has to spend so much. Now, don’t get on me for this … it’s the truth. I’m an empathetic type, but I need to be careful to not price my work based on how I feel about it or collectors. In other words, I need to look at pricing and how to sell artwork objectively.
Putting emotions aside, let me share a simple formula that many of my professional artist friends have used when first starting to sell their work. I still use this formula. Remember that pricing reflects your position and reputation in the art-selling world more than what your art looks like. If you’re relatively unknown to collectors and don’t have many credentials—such as having placed in competitions, shown with a well-known gallery, or had your work published—you really can’t get the same prices as artists who do have those credentials.
When you’re first starting out selling art, it’s a good idea to make your work as affordable as you can while being able to cover your costs and make a small profit. Don’t charge so little that you don’t break even. Remember that galleries often take a 50 percent commission from sales, so you’ll have to take that into consideration.
Here’s the formula that I recommend:
1. Multiply the painting’s width by its length to arrive at the total size, in square inches. Then multiply that number by a set dollar amount that’s appropriate for your reputation. I currently use $6 per square inch for oil paintings. Then calculate your cost of canvas and framing, and then double that number. For example: A 16”-x-20” oil-on-linen landscape painting: 16” x 20” = 320 square inches. I price my oil paintings at $6 per square inch. 320 x 6 = $1,920.00, and I round this down to $1,900.
2. My frame, canvas and materials cost me $150.00 (I buy framing wholesale). I double this cost so that I’ll get it all back when the painting sells at the gallery. Otherwise, I’m subsidizing the collector by giving him or her the frame for free. $150 x 2 = $300.
3. Then I put it all together: $1,900 + $300 = $2,200 (the retail price). When the painting sells from a gallery, my cut after the 50 percent commission is paid comes to $950 for the painting and $150 for the framing, for a total of $1,100.
For much larger pieces, I’ll bring the price per square inch down a notch … maybe a dollar or two lower so that I don’t price my work beyond what my reputation can sustain. Alternately, for smaller works, I’ll increase the dollar per square inch because small works take almost as much effort as larger works, and I need to be compensated for my expertise, even when the work is miniature.
This is not the only way to price artwork, but it’s one that keeps my selling art prices consistent. Keep in mind that my prices were much lower 10 years ago when my artwork was relatively unknown to collectors. It’s important to note here that when I have a great selling year, I raise my prices by 10 percent. When the economy is poor or my sales are slow, I don’t raise prices at all.
I hope this give you a place to start. If you’re just selling at local outdoor shows and are entering the art market, I would suggest that you keep your dollar amount much lower than mine. I’ve been selling my work for 14 years. There are ways that I could increase the worth and therefore the price of my art, but I’ll talk about that in a later blog post.