When providing career guidance to artists many of the questions I receive are related to pricing their art. In this article I provide advice that will help you know how to price your art. There are specific rules for pricing art that are used in this business. If you follow the methods I recommend here you’ll be confident that you’re consistent with art business ethics. These guidelines are used by the most reliable and respected art dealers and galleries. This advice will insure you that you’ll have a respectable and secure business for a long time to come.
1. Research the art market.
Increase your knowledge on the subject. Visit galleries, art fairs, auction houses, and art websites. Avoid setting prices arbitrarily by doing a comparative study between your work and others in the same style, media, subject matter, complexity and detail, technical ability, professional experience, education and talent. Ask for the advice of respected dealers, collectors, consultants, fellow artists, and agents. On an ongoing basis collect résumés, brochures and price lists of art at all levels to keep as future reference as your career grows.
2. Build retail sales first.
Selling in a gallery has its rewards however, you don’t want to jump into this relationship prematurely. Wait until you have a strong track record of retail sales, a solid mailing list, and a large inventory of salable art before getting involved in the wholesale market. Otherwise you may suffer a huge loss of profit after the gallery takes its 50% commission. And, unless the gallery sells your work steadily you’ll be tying up valuable retail inventory.
3. Build a recognizable art style and reputation.
Strive to produce a cohesive signature style and become known for it by the general public as well as by your peers. Build a reputation and sales by exhibiting where most people will respond favorably to your art. Develop your niche market. Promote your art to wide audiences via social media, alternative spaces, online galleries, and arts organizations.
4. Keep records of your costs.
Maintain records of the time you spend creating your art work and your art business-related activities. Keep a record of your fixed and variable expenses such as rent, utilities, legal and accounting fees, material costs, framing, printing, photographer’s fees, travel and transportation, website maintenance, postage, and shipping, etc. Divide this total number by the number of works you make in a year. That will give you the average cost for each work.
5. Price your art proportionately.
The method that makes the most sense to prospective buyers and is used by most dealers is to price your art according to size. Obtain your square inch price by multiplying length times width and dividing your selling price by the total number of square inches. For example, a 12″ x 16″ painting that you sell for $400 will cost $2.08 per square inch. Subsequently, your 24 x 36″ painting will be $2.08 x 864 square inches = $1,797. Round it off to $1,800.
Keep in mind prices vary according to medium. Your prints, drawings on paper, collage, etc., will be priced at a lower price per square inch than paintings on canvas.
6. Strive to Increase the value of your art.
Continuously strengthen your credentials through winning awards, getting publicity, having one-person shows and getting into important collections. These accomplishments will build your confidence muscles and sales skills as well as offer justification of your prices to potential buyers and galleries. Check this website for an article about how to increase the value of your art.
7. Present your art work using high standards.
Don’t ignore the ways you can improve the quality of your art by exhibiting in upscale exhibition venues and art auctions, using professional quality photography and framing, having a well designed and maintained website, using archival materials, certificates of authenticity, and sharing testimonials from respected art leaders.
8. Get it in writing.
When a gallery offers to sell your work get a written agreement of what the retail price — not the wholesale price — should be. This way you gain control of your prices rather than offering them a wholesale price, which they can mark up as high as they choose. When this agreement is reached make sure you obtain a signed and dated consignment agreement and artist-gallery contract.
9. Maintain price integrity.
Whether your art customers are in New York, Chicago or London they should pay the same price for the same work of art. The retail price should be consistent whether you sell it directly locally or in a gallery across the country.
10. Don’t sell your art at “discount” prices.
Avoid the reputation of offering “bargain” and “discount” prices in your studio while your exhibition and gallery prices are publicly listed at full cost. Word travels fast. Your reputation will suffer and you will not only risk losing the gallery for doing this, you will also lose the respect of your buyers.
Announcing discount sales regularly on your website and on social media is not recommended for the same reason. It will send the wrong message. I know a lot of artists who do this and that’s what I remember most about them rather than remembering how good their art is. It’s a big mistake.
11. Know when it’s customary to offer discounts.
Museums often receive discounts. This is justified by the fact that the sale to an important art institution will likely boost your reputation and the value of your art overall. Professional discounts are also given to corporate art consultants, interior designers, and buyers who buy several works at once or within a short time period. It is okay to send notices to your top buyers occasionally throughout the year if you want to announce a special offer. Do it discretely and set a time limit on it.
12. Know when to raise prices.
The time to raise your prices is when you’ve established a proven track record of sales and the demand for your work is consistently high for at least a year. Experts say when you’re selling at least half of everything you produce within a six-month time period you can increase prices 10-25% each year.
13. Don’t price your art emotionally.
If you are attached to a piece and don’t want to sell it yet, remove it from the market rather than fixing an excessively high price on it. You can also mark it “sold” or “in the artist’s private collection.” Then, when the value of your artwork increases you can reintroduce it to potential buyers at the price you want.
14. Adjust to the changing economy.
If there is interest in your work but it hasn’t sold for several months offer potential buyers installment plans, introduce smaller works, change to a less costly medium, or sell elsewhere until the economy improves. If selling your art is your only source of income consider supplementing art sales with teaching, lecturing or taking on commissions for individuals and interior designers. And, increase the value of your art work in the ways I mentioned above in #6.
15. Be prepared for success.
As you grow so will your buyers. When the value of your work increases you may be able to educate your existing buyers to pay more, but don’t be disappointed if you lose some of them. Revise your marketing plan and exhibition venues. Consider moving your work to galleries that attract a higher budget clientele.
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