Pricing Art

Pricing your art? Oh jesus, what a subject! This might be the most perplexing… 

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked by artists how to price their artwork. Do I charge by the square inch? Do I charge by my time and materials? The color? By how excellent? Whether or not there’s a dog in it? Actually, like everything else, there’s no one right way to do this. There just isn’t. Yes, it can be tricky, I suppose, but it doesn’t have to be.

Now here’s a note, if you don’t want to sell your work, this article is not for you. So feel free to stop reading or go to another website. I recommend Mark Manson. He’s full of good advice on all kinds of subjects, and he’s funnier than I am.  

However, it’s okay not to sell your art. It’s even acceptable if you want to give it all away for free. Of course, you’ll lose money on your materials, but that’s your choice. You might even want to sell your art for dirt cheap because you have a philosophy about making art accessible to all kinds of people of the world. All the power to you. This post is also probably not for you.

Remember, these posts come out of my mind, and it’s all just one person’s opinion. And my opinionated request from you is this: please, don’t price your work so low that you can’t make a profit. I’m talking about the hours you’ve put into making it as well. So many artists price their work so low that it isn’t even funny. I do not laugh at all. 

I’m not saying you should ask something astronomical at the gate so that no one can afford it. Just don’t undermine your art or underestimate yourself! 

Most artists don’t think enough about themselves. And yes, some artists think too well of themselves. I’m not addressing the latter because those artists wouldn’t even recognize that they did think too well of themselves. They’re borderline narcissists. I’m speaking to the majority of artists that need to ask fair prices for their work.

Who cares if you’ve seen artists asking $100 for a 24×36-inch painting somewhere. Who cares if you even think it’s “better” than your art. (You’re not supposed to compare yourself, remember?) …And when I keep talking about “paintings” I’m only using that as an example. This goes for any artwork in any media. 

The artists selling for super cheap, aren’t you, in more ways than one. They’re also selling to a different audience. And if they’re asking that little for something you think is really great, trust me, they aren’t in it like you are. They aren’t even trying. They don’t have the same goals, okay? Just ignore all that and keep your eyes on your own homework. 

Pricing your first artwork is difficult because you haven’t sold anything yet. When you are first pricing your work, it’s a bit different than artists who have already been selling. Those artists have been able to establish a baseline already. Once you fetch a certain amount and are able to keep that up, you can start to incrementally and slowly raise your prices over time. Raising prices can also happen when you receive grants and awards, exhibit in more prestigious galleries and museums with more prominent artists, or with specific curators. 

Still, you don’t want to jump your prices too high too quickly. Once someone starts paying very high prices for your work, they have invested in your work and you as an artist. If you turn around and lower your prices out of desperation to make a buck, you’ve just screwed your worth and your past collectors. So, it becomes complicated. You must hold tight to your integrity and wait a bit longer between sales. That’s just how it goes.

You can become wildly popular and frequently sell (enough) at the market you’ve set. Ride yourself silly all the way to the bank. If you know how to stretch and budget your finances, you can make a decent living. But truthfully, it’s rare. Many artists supplement their income with another job, like teaching (the most usual one). There are also grants, which is where your writing skills come in. It’s wise to write as much as you can so that you can get decent at expressing your ideas for this purpose.

In the beginning, try to sell your first piece (or two) for as much as you can. (A secret is that’s usually a little bit more than what your collector says they can pay.) But remember this, if someone falls in love with your work and they really want it, they will pay what you’re asking, or very close to it. 

If they don’t think your work is “worth” what you are reasonably asking, then that is not your collector, and you can confidently walk away. Try to hold firm.

If they feel your work is worth what you’re asking, but they say they don’t have the money, don’t lower your price. Maybe suggest they make payments because as long as you get the price you are asking, you’re establishing a baseline (and money is money, no matter when it comes).

When you first price your work, consider a reasonable hourly wage. You are in a specialized field, not a MacDonald’s employee. How many years have you trained? How much experience do you have in your craft? There’s always a fair estimate for that “wage.” You already know what it is.

But, I don’t mean you should get crazy-technical about this, like you should hold a stopwatch as you work on each piece because some paintings are going to take longer than others. I personally don’t charge per time. It’s the sizes I make consistent. The way I see it, a work of art takes as long as it takes, and the “time=money” concept eventually evens out in the end. People also ask fewer questions, like, “why is this painting more than that one?” Also, don’t price your favorites higher. Your favorites might not be what other people prefer. They usually are not.

Take into account the materials you’re using. I don’t mean you should measure how much paint came out of each twelve-dollar tube of paint. Don’t get anal here, either. Estimate. However, are you using the best light-fast paint available? Archival materials? How much work are you saving the buyer in taking care of this work if it falls apart in X amount of time? These are all things to factor in. 

All this is why you can’t ask $100 for a 24×30-inch painting. I mean, if you are using the cheapest materials possible, and the piece takes you an hour, and you don’t mind getting less than $20 an hour to make some beer money in the end, then I suppose it’s doable. That’s not paying back any of the investments you’ve made or any of the financial upkeep you might have (website, internet, business fees, etc.). That is hand-to-mouth living.

So finding a baseline price is where you should focus, and then try to make the rest of your prices comparable to that. Probably start with the size you most usually make, and go from there. And consider all the experience you have (or don’t yet have) under your belt. Remember, each piece has taken you your whole life, not an hour.

I only don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. I’ve literally starved for my art. I’ve lived in my car. I was initially desperate and naive. I don’t want that experience for other artists. 

But this was all the pre-internet days, and it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. There are so many more opportunities for artists nowadays. It’s only a matter of research, networking, and resume-building. I feel like I can help a little with that. So, thank you for indulging me in all this. I really hope I am helping someone here.

Next time, I’ll be “teaching” you how to write your Artist’s statement. Doesn’t that sound like fun???

3 thoughts on “Pricing Art

  1. eric January 19, 2023 / 6:04 am

    how would you go as far as pricing prints & posters is concerned?. I’m fully in line with what you say for original artworks & the tendency we have to undervalue what we do. But I’m a bit lost with prints where this tendency seems even worse.
    Thank you

    • Ayin Es January 19, 2023 / 11:14 am

      Hi Eric,

      I’m not a huge fan (for me personally) selling reproductions. It depends on the type you mean. Fine art prints are a whole other animal, like etchings, monoprints, screenprints, and the like.

      Digital, laser prints, “Giclees,” and posters shouldn’t really be “limited” to editions since they can be printed in unlimited quantities these days. Because they don’t have anything too rare or special about them, like an original work, I tend to feel they shouldn’t be priced too high, as they are a way for collectors to own the image at an affordable price. If it costs the artist $100 to make the print (for example), I probably wouldn’t charge more than $200 retail for the print, if that. $150 or so would be a fair price I’d think. But that’s me. Some people charge more depending on the quality of the print, ink, and the paper it is printed on. If it is archival and a very high quality, it can go up from there.

      Lithographs, which people don’t really do anymore, would be a lot more because they can be done in editions. You can only print so many of them before the quality starts to wane.

      So, I guess my answer is, it “depends” on the print. If that makes sense. I’m not an expert in the digital print arena. I’m more of a fine art/editions kinda arist. I know it is really affordable to make digital prints now through all kinds of websites. They make it very easy to sell them, even with frames in a variety of sizes too. Sometimes, those sites make price suggestions for you, like Society6, and RedBubble, and those kinds of sites.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. eric January 20, 2023 / 3:47 am

    Yes it helps a lot. I agree with you that prints are not very exciting compared with the original artwork. For me it’s more a special need as I’d like to prepare small books with prints of some of my illustrations and drawings so I could mix it with some hand written text etc. But I’m not going for (fine) art books as you did in the past which are super beautiful but are out of my scope.
    I retain your advice of multiplying the cost of the actual printing by two to get some sort of fair price. I’m not yet sure about the process I will follow. To start with I will give the small book to friends, some galleries, etc. Just for fun and the challenge of doing it 😉
    Thanks again Ayin for taking the time to share your knowledge !

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