You’re finally doing it: entering your artwork in an exhibition for the first time. That’s great! You frame your work, load it up, make your way to the gallery, and go to sign it in. Medium, title, artist name — these are easy questions. Where’s the hard stuff?
Oh, there it is. “Price.” You draw a blank.
The mystery of pricing artwork
For first-time exhibitors, pricing artwork is often a last-minute, difficult decision. It’s daunting to assign value to your own work, and beginning artists often tend to err on the side of under- or over-pricing.
Let’s start with two main assumptions:
- Your work has value, and you deserve to be paid for it.
- Someone out there will like this piece, want to own it, and be willing to pay the reasonable price you set.
Now, what does “reasonable” mean?
Where to start
Here’s our standard advice for an artist contemplating pricing for the first time:
- give yourself a fair hourly wage
- add to that the cost of materials you used and other expenses
So, if a piece took you 10 hours to make, you want to get $15 per hour, and the materials cost you $45, you could use $195 as your starting point (10 times 15, plus 45).
Cost of materials would include your canvas, paper, paint, ink, and so forth. For expenses, don’t forget things like the framer you used and exhibit entry fees. It can be trickier to factor in annual business costs like your website hosting, but once you have an idea of how many pieces you’ll sell in a year, you can include that as well. The important thing is not to forget these costs, or else you could end up losing money!
You can also visit a gallery with artists similar to you to get a rough idea of what numbers you should be looking at.
Note: This is a starting point for artists who are new to exhibiting and selling artwork. Artists at different points in their careers may use different formulas that aren’t based on time, and those are good too!
If you sell artwork through a gallery, it will take a commission. (At The Art League, it’s 40 percent to us, 60 percent to you.) Don’t forget to take this into consideration when you price your artwork! You want to make sure you’re still making money after that commission is taken out.
Does that mean you should sell the artwork for less on your website? No! Your artwork should be consistently priced no matter how and where it’s sold. Galleries won’t like discovering they’re being undersold, and buyers won’t like discovering that others paid less for similar artwork.
Some artists price artwork based only on size, either by the square inch or the perimeter. This is easy to explain to buyers, and certainly makes sense if you spend less time on smaller work.
Even if your smaller works take every bit the time and effort of your larger ones, buyers expect to see lower prices for smaller sizes by the same artist. It’s not a hard rule, but it’s an expectation you should be aware of and prepared to respond to.
What’s your medium?
Depending on the medium you work in, you may have other things to take into account.
Photography and Printmaking: You’ll be selling one (or more) of a limited edition, so make sure you number and sign each piece! (Read more about selling editions.)
If you’re using the time and materials formula outlined above, you can divide by the number of prints to find the price you should charge for each. If the time and materials for an edition of 15 totals $1,500, your starting price would be $100 each (1500 divided by 15).
Jewelry and Sculpture: You can still use the time and materials formula, but materials will probably be more of a factor. Be sure to keep track of what goes into each piece!
Be sure to keep records of the art you sell! You can use them to back up the prices you quote and when making decisions about raising prices (see below).
“But I don’t really want to sell it”
If a piece was particularly difficult to work on, or you are particularly attached to it, there’s a tendency to want to price it higher. That can be hard to explain to buyers, though, and is best avoided. Stick to the tangibles like the time you spent, the cost of materials, or the size — and if you don’t want the work to sell, don’t list it for sale!
Remember what we said at the beginning of this post? That your work has value? Don’t forget that.
Lots of people, however, sometimes get the feeling that they don’t belong. That they shouldn’t be charging what comparable artists charge, even though they’re having success. It’s called impostor syndrome (and knowing is half the battle).
Where to go from there?
Your prices won’t stay the same forever. As you get more sales under your belt, you’ll want to raise your prices — you’re in demand now! If you find that you’re selling half of what you make in a six-month period, then that’s a good sign that it’s time to charge more for your work. Raising prices by 10 to 20 percent is a good starting point.
Should you lower prices if you aren’t selling? Don’t be too hasty. Make sure you or your gallery are putting effort into promotion before you blame your prices. (See below for some tips on spreading the word.) However, keep an eye on comparable artists (same medium, size, place in career, etc.) for a rough idea of where to price.
Avoid putting artwork “on sale”: remember, you want to present a consistent price to the public. If your buyer sees work sometimes goes down in price, they’re less likely to buy it at the original price. In general, your prices should only go up over time (slowly).
Also: don’t forget to promote yourself!
Setting a price is only step one! Improve your sales with a healthy dose of self-promotion. Telling your story, and your artwork’s story, increases its value. Here are some other blog posts to get you started:
- How to Create an Artist Website
- The Zero-Budget Guide to Photographing Artwork
- Email Newsletters for Artists in Three Steps
- Starting an Artist Blog
- What To Post (and What Not To) As an Artist on Social Media
- 33 Ideas for Artists’ Pinterest Boards
Finally, don’t think that you have to do all the work. If you exhibit at a gallery, are they sending out emails about the exhibits you’re in, blogging about them, and otherwise getting the word out? If not, ask yourself: are they earning that commission?
We get it: you’re an artist, and you’d rather be spending time in the studio. You can always pay someone else to manage your website and even your social media, but no one but you can set your prices.
That said, getting started is the hardest part. After your first few sales, you’ll have the confidence to know your prices are all right. You’ll find the pricing formula that works for you, and coming up with prices won’t take so much effort.
And soon enough, you’ll be raising your prices. Good luck!