Pricing Your Artwork

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Pricing artwork can be tough. I have a measured approach to this challenge. The method used for pricing commissioned projects is as follows:

1. You need to be comfortable with the price.
2. The price needs to be fair to the artist.
3. After we determine the size, you will receive two quotes from which to choose, each priced differently, based on a few factors:

a. level of detail, complexity, and elements you would like included
b. time estimation to complete (think “hourly wage” here)
c. materials (30% down payment to cover these costs up front and to secure your place in line)

What follows below is an explanation of some of the elements that factor into the pricing of art, both for the customer and the artist. The hope is that the following ideas help crystalize the dilemma of how to place a monetary value onto a spiritual process.

Determining the price for a piece of art is the same as walking into a relatively fine restaurant, looking at the menu and seeing “MARKET PRICE” listed at the end of the food item, instead of a set dollar amount. This can be anticipated well before we ever sit down at the table. By going to a nice place to eat, we willingly walk directly into relative financial uncertainty. We have to be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable, knowing that it will indeed be worth the investment.

Yes, we have a general idea of what the waitress will say when we ask for the actual price of the seafood, and if she says something outside of our level of financial tolerance, we choose something else to eat. It’s somewhat simple, really, because well before we even cranked the engine in our car, it was a predetermined outcome that we were heading to an enjoyable evening where the quality of the food, and the correlating price of said food, was going to be above our normal experience…but you’re not there for a normal experience.

You can’t pay hamburger prices for quality steak. You can’t pay Captain D’s prices for freshly caught swordfish. When you enter into an art gallery, or enter into discussions with an artist, your intent to purchase needs to be categorized properly.

You can’t pay Hobby Lobby prices for gallery artwork. You can’t pay minimum wage for an artist’s labor, either. Your artist is a specialist, working in mysterious methods that are unreachable for the common man (I mean, that’s the ideal). After all, you are here for something special, unique, hand-made and spectacular that will become a family heirloom for years and years to come. This isn’t a photo enlargement. This isn’t a mass-produced flower print from Lowe’s. You are not here for the ordinary or mundane – you are here for a glorious conversation piece.

Wow, that prior paragraph sounds a little tough-loved in nature. This is due to my own frustrations as an artist in combating expectations. But, there is an opposing force of frustration that impacts the buyer somewhat more sharply, however.

Walk into any gallery and you’ll quickly get the chance to think, “Who in the HELL does THIS artist think they are, asking that much money for that type of thing?!?!?!” Yep. Artists are our own worst enemy here. Unfortunately, its a very understandable conundrum.

We raise each work of art as our own child. How do you put a price on your child? We’ve conceived it, prepared for it, spent money on it, invested countless hours pouring our hearts and souls into its development, agonizing and laboring over every single decision until the child finally has everything it needs to bloom, take flight or sing.  Then suddenly its done and you’re staring in wonder, bleary eyed and gummy-hearted, into the soul of your baby and asking it to tell you how much it is worth. It’s impossible to be unbiased, folks.

In other words, the value that a piece of art has to its creator is damn near impossible to be equal to the price they receive in exchange for it – especially for new artists or artists who aren’t Salvador Dali. My experience is that the money I hold in my hand after saying goodbye to one of my creations can only buy happiness for a handful of days before succumbing to guilt, loneliness and self-doubt.

That’s why we over-price the heck out of what we create. Blinded by love, seduced by hope, and tricked by the thought that maybe, just maybe, we will be able to command that kind of money. So, here’s where the MARKET PRICE analogy comes back into play for the artists: Supply and demand.

As an artist, are you actually well known in your town? Do you have trouble letting the paint dry before someone is beating down your door to buy it off your easel? Are galleries calling you to see if they can hang your art on their walls (instead of vice versa)? If so, then knock yourselves out with those Hollywood prices. If not, please consider the following approach.

Go to local galleries and ask them who their top selling artists are, then find out the sale prices and specs of those pieces sold. Determine if you are similar in talent to that artist. Ask yourself if you want to sell several pieces at a low price, or one piece at a high price. One argument holds that its far better to underprice your work so that you sell a few pieces sooner, instead of overpricing your work and hoping for that one big fish to bite later.

Once you sell a few pieces, you’ll start to build a fan base. As your work gets more exposure, then the demand for your work will hopefully increase. Once demand for your work goes up, then you can consider bumping up your prices a bit.

Now, my current pricing strategy takes all of this into account, but here’s the bottom line:
1. I need my customers to be comfortable with the price.
2. The price needs to feel fair to me as well.


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