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Pricing Your Artwork

Tom Neel speaking about pricing artwork

Possibly the hardest thing an artist will do is find a proper value to put on their artwork, and here in lies a big part of the problem. Most often they begin placing the value solely on the product and not themselves. Listen, I’m going to come right out and tell you, this is a BIG topic, one I plan on more properly covering in my upcoming podcast, but let me try for now to offer a good perspective.

There are less than a handful of components to pricing anything, be it a product or a service. But art is possibly the hardest, because of it’s subjectiveness, personal feelings and lack of defined function. It’s an emotional product. By that I mean, if you go to the store to buy a rake, you’re just trying to do a job, rake something, leaves, etc. You have 3 to 5 choices, which are mostly mechanical ones spun around if it will comfortably and effectively allow you to do the task of raking. Okay, maybe one rake is green with a wooden handle and another is orange with an ergo plastic handle, but it’s not really an emotional one.

Art can be a functional purchase, but for the owner it’s not usually the primary driver. Making example of the rake’s functional properties, yes, a client may need something of a particular size to fit their space. They may need it to have warm tones or specific colors. They may need a type of decor matched frame, or for it to be a 3 dimensional piece. This is especially true in commercial applications. BUT, they really have to like it and live with it. They want it to say something to them and for it to say something about them. Simply put, when they are done raking, the rake goes in the shed until they need it again. Their art becomes an important part of their living or office space, one with a deep connection dating back thousands of years, coveted by Kings, deemed to be priceless in museums around the world, and so perceived value is altered.

So, in our handful of pricing components, there is certainly customer emotion and yes, there is still also function. If you make really big art, you have more limited use, but that use maybe commercial and therefore increase its value and function. There is also your fellow artists, your competition. Yes, they want that spot in the client's home or office too and why should you be chosen over them? We also have your experience and bio of awards and VIP collectors to play into to this. There’s also the quality of materials you use, expensive or cheap frames you may be known for. We also mustn't forget what the market will actually bare for products like this. Hum, it seems I’ve used up more than a handful of components here and still need to consider the most important component of all, YOU!

Pricing artwork then, is complex, but let’s not forget the artist in this. You can value your artwork, but you also have to value your time. What is your time worth? What do you want to be worth? How many of you reading this right now know you are making less than minimum wage, but you just love creating art? Loving to do something has a value right? Of course. Some may create art for a little extra money and be truly happy. If though, you are actually trying to make a living with your art, you must ask the question: what am I worth per hour, or month, or annually?

Let’s just start with the national average income of around $27,000 or $520 per week. In the simplest of terms, that tells you that if you make one piece of art per week, its sales price formula would need to look something like this for a painting sold through a gallery or show, where a commission needs to be paid. So start with $520, your weekly salary for your total time dedicated to the creation of that one piece of artwork. Then add in your cost of materials - including the total cost in framing if needed, studio supplies, and equipment. Then you have to add in the cost of shipping to the gallery or show if necessary, or delivery time and expense. Add it all up and armed with this number, you would then have to add the gallery’s or show’s commission on top of that number. This formula would give you a price of not having to create, but also sell one piece of art per week to make $27,000 per year.

Remember too, and this is very important!! If sometimes you sell through a gallery and sometimes you don’t, your standard retail price needs to be basically the same or you will surely create confusion with your collectors.

Lets now just say for example, your price became $1,000. If you honestly can make two pieces of art in the same time and sell them, you can make them each $500 to accomplish your same goal right? Or if you can only make one piece every two weeks, the price would close to double. Please do not forget to use those handful of pricing components above, but know that the true complexity really lies in what you need income wise for your art. You may have a full time job, or live at home, or have a spouse provide most of the household income. The point is, never forget to factor you into to mix!

Live an artful life,