This is a topic that comes up in every artist's career. If you're like me, you've been drawing your whole life, and painting for at least half of it, and then you reach the point where you decide: you're going to go pro. You do your training, constantly working on your craft and struggle to put your best work out there, and if you're fortunate enough, people will start to ask to buy it. And therein lies one of the biggest dilemmas every artist must face: what is the value of my work?
I've been selling my art for a little over a year now in the United Arab Emirates and occasionally, USA and Canada. And while I am still very much a newcomer and learning a great deal from others, I did want to share a few lessons that I've learned along the way:
- There's no one size fits all formula to pricing your artwork. You can read the commandments on pricing your artwork and still walk away feeling confused. Should you price it by linear inch? By square inch? By time spent? How much you love it (no, don't do that)? All of these are ways that artists and some galleries come up with their prices. The most sound approach I've found has been to charge by size. This keeps it fairly consistent and makes the most sense to your customers. It also helps you ascertain the price of a painting pretty quickly and objectively, which is important as you start to produce more and more work. You can then decide if you're going to price it by linear inch or by square inch. The best way is to just do your research. When I was working on my pricing structure, I calculated the costs of several paintings using each of these models and then decided on the one that works best for me. One great piece of advice I found was to look at some artists who list their prices, and work backwards to calculate what formula (if any) they are using. I looked at several artists whose work I admire, including one abstract artist that I love who has most of her work priced publicly on Saatchi. Within a few minutes of number crunching, I was able to deduce, "Oh, she's charging $1.5 per square inch." And then you can decide from their what your work can garnish comparatively.
- The average person does not understand the value of art. Including us artists. Unless you've spent your formidable years attending art auctions, learning art history, and mixing with the upper echelons of society, you probably don't understand the value of art. And even if you did, you probably are baffled by the egregious prices much of "modern art" and other works command these days.This is really important to understand as an artist, because it means that it's our job to show people the value of art. Show them that when the designer bags wear and tear, or the Loubiton heels go out of style, their art collection will still be hanging on the walls, warming the hearts of their families for years to come. It's the gift that keeps on giving and is one of the few things that usually appreciates in value. If you see a piece of art that you love, and you see that the artist is serious about his/her career, then chances are, the price that you're looking at today will increase if not double in a year or two. But it's sad that some people still try and bargain down an original painting much to the artist's regret. I was talking to an artist friend of mine, Kellee Wynne Conrad, and she said something pretty profound:"People would pay an artist more to paint their walls white, than they would be willing to pay for a painting. That is sad."
- In the beginning, you're totally out of your mind. Have you ever gone to a market or bazaar only to come across some really amazing art. You see the artist, slightly hunched over the table, and proceed to inquire about a painting you admire. She names her price, and you gasp inside, but try not to blow it. She's about to sell you an amazing piece of art that she conceived and hand painted for less than the price of a meal at your favorite restaurant. You're getting a deal! As you hand her a few bills, you imagine exactly where it's going on the wall in your home. She's packing it up and thanking you from the bottom of her heart. Have you seen this artist? This was me not too long ago. Although I've been drawing and painting my whole life, when I first started selling my artwork about a year ago, I stumbled. You're so caught up in doing what you love that you don't have the foresight to view what you do as a business. I heard in a Fresh Rag podcast feature that "Hope is not a business model." And for many artists, that's all we have. We "hope" someone will want to buy our art. We hope they'll pay us in actually dollars and not other mysterious currencies like exposure and networks. The problem is, hoping for the bare minimum isn't sustainable. It doesn't work, because of the following.
- You will reach a point where the value of your art starts to exceed your earnings. And this is one of the most exciting things about being an artist and creative entrepreneur. Your work increases in value over time. And depending on how hard you're willing to work, you can close the gap pretty quickly. That's when you'll start to look at your prices and say, my work is worth more than that, I'm worth more than that. A painting you were once willing to sell for $300, now you wouldn't let go for 3 times that amount. The quality of your work increases. You're using finer materials and your customers are noticing. But more importantly, you're noticing and you feel more confident in what you're doing. This is when you can raise your prices without owing anyone an explanation because your work commands it.
- Other artists will look at your prices. Remember that first point I mentioned above about doing your research. Well, other artists are doing the same. They're on your website or online store right now, figuring out your prices. And guess what, they have an opinion about your prices as well. Just the other night, I saw an artist's promotion on instagram quickly turn into a platform to talk about her prices. This particular artist was selling beautiful hand-painted original art for $30, framed! I'm happy if I can buy a decent pair of shoes for $30, so when I saw one artist comment and tell her flat out that she's undercharging, I understood. The comment continued by letting this artist know that her prices affect us all. In other words, this artist got all but yelled at for saturating the market with below-profit price points. Her prices were too low and another colleague was not afraid to let her know she wasn't happy about it! Some can argue that this decreases the value of art and makes it difficult for other artists to move their work at fair prices. But there's a flip side to this experience as well: some artists will look at your prices are get angry because your prices are too high! We've all done it. Gone to an artist's site and sit their confused, "she's getting X-amount of money for THAT?!" But you know what? If collectors are willing to pay what that artist is asking for, then they're doing something right. They've found their tribe, so get over it and go find yours.
- Your customers will ask about your prices. This is a big one. Basically, you need to be able to explain why a piece costs that much. Not necessarily on it's own, but in relation to your other work. That's why I like pricing by size, because I think it makes a lot of sense and is easiest to explain. I've met some artists that insist on charging more for one piece because they spent months creating it and its so detailed, and they used chopsticks for the edges, and blah-blah-blah. Why should your collectors pay for your work habits? I believe as you get good at what you do, you become more efficient, and the time it takes to complete a work should be independent of the price. Some may disagree, but unless you're making jewelry one day, and crocheting a sweater the next, I really thing consistent prices for 2D art is the way to go. Some paintings take me months to create. I'm much slower and exploring different options, and not all of them work so the painting evolves. But you know what? If I didn't love the creative process I wouldn't be an artist.
- They will change. You will change. Don't make excuses. This is my last and final point on pricing but I think it's worth mentioning. As most of us know, our passions and styles evolve over time. Our prices can and should change over time to reflect this. If you are raising your prices, don't make excuses. After all, when's the last time you pulled up to a gas station and the owner apologized for raising today's prices? Do retailers give a reason for their prices? Do we even ask? We know that H&M sells at this price point and Armani sells at another. We wouldn't think of asking the sales clerk to explain the prices on the rack so don't feel the need to explain why you're asking for what you are. State your price and then shut up and smile. A good collector will see how fabulous you and your work is and be happy to pay what you deserve. And these are the people you want owning your art in the first place.
I hope this article was helpful. Everything here is just my opinion, so obviously take it with a grain of salt. But, I think confidence and being well-informed goes a long way in an artist's career.
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