Tips on Pricing Your Artwork, Part 1: Fitting Into the Market

Sunlight-changes-grey-breeze-web“Sunlight Changes Everything: Grey Breeze” by Laureen Marchand (oil/board)

Being an artist can mean you want to sell your art. If that’s so for you, at some point you’ll probably need to decide what dollar value to place on your work.

I’m thinking about this these days because my newest paintings (like the one above) are opening in a group exhibition at Assiniboia Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, on April 24. If you’re thinking about it too, here are 15 tips. I’ve gathered them over many years and am glad to share them with you.

And please note that though these ideas are common practice,  they aren’t rules. Any time you’re given advice, you should think hard about whether it actually applies to you.

1) Medium: Generally, the more complex the work’s medium, the higher its price will be. That means installation and sculpture are usually priced higher than paintings, which usually sell for more money than drawings or original prints. Prices are usually lower for works made in multiples than for one-of-a-kind pieces. Reproductions are worth much less than originals.

2) Size: A bigger artwork usually costs more than a smaller one, especially when comparing pieces by the same artist.

3) Reputation: If you’re an artist just beginning your career, your artwork will usually have a lower price than art by a well-established artist. Find out what artwork by artists with similar reputations to yours, and in a similar style, size, and medium, is selling for.

4) Use to be made of the artwork: If a work is being purchased with a condition of reproduction, performance or other further use, you should decide whether the price includes and considers that use.

5) Geography: If you exhibit in a small town in a remote area, your artwork will usually command a lower price than if you show in a major gallery in New York City. This has partly to do with local expectations and partly to do with the cost of selling. Larger centres have a higher percentage of regular art buyers who understand the value of art, as well as a higher percentage of well-established artists. They also have higher rents and associated expenses.

6) Location of purchase: If you sell your own artwork through cafes, gift shops or craft fairs, buyers will expect to pay less than if your work is sold from a well-recognized gallery. Whether it’s true or not, buyers will often feel that the artist in a gallery has a bigger reputation and more regular production and sales.

7) Your artwork has value. If your artwork is saleable, it’s saleable at a fair price. Fair to you as well as to the buyer. Some writers and bloggers suggest artists auction their art, setting the starting price at a bare minimum. Or offer art art minimum prices to get “exposure”. In art, as in everything else, buyers tend to value a product the same way the producer does.

8) You are not the buyer of your own art. Artists sometimes think that what they would pay for their own artwork is what any buyer would pay. This is rarely the case. We tend to undervalue what’s natural to us and overvalue what’s difficult or emotionally meaningful. Think of your own artwork as you would that of another artist of your reputation and skill. What would a reasonable buyer, with some disposable income and an understanding of the way that art enhances lives, pay for art by that artist?

9) How difficult the work was, or how much you like it, shouldn’t affect its price. Artworks shouldn’t leave your studio unless you’re satisfied with them. However, some pieces will take longer than others to complete and sometimes you’ll be more satisfied with one than others. Selecting a more difficult subject, having an “off” day, or feeling that one piece worked out really well shouldn’t be passed on to the buyer. Buyers should feel confident that all your art has your complete commitment.

10) Art prices should go up, not down. Set your initial prices so you can raise them eventually. If you start too high and find out you can’t sell at that price, you might be stuck waiting until your reputation matches your prices. And it’s hard to increase a selling reputation without selling.

11) Art that has already been priced should be left at that price. Though your prices will go up in time, this should apply to new works only, not to works already on the market.

12) Avoid price markdowns. It’s unfair to any buyer to find out that if he or she had waited a few months, the work would have been worth less. Respect your buyer’s faith in you. It’s probably better for your artistic reputation to give away work you’ve outgrown than sell it cheaply.

13) Avoid different prices for different locations. No buyer wants to walk into a different gallery and find out that the same artist’s work has a lower value in the second location. Respect your buyer’s faith in you.

14) Don’t make presentation the deciding factor in the price of your art. If you use an expensive frame for a piece and so decide to charge more, the price you charge from now on for a work of the same size and medium should be that price. Otherwise, buyers are less likely than you to consider the costs of framing and can perceive that your artwork has dropped in value. Artists are probably best off to use functional frames that represent the work well, and let buyers decide the work needs more elaborate presentation.

15) Don’t undercut your dealer. If you sell artwork through a gallery and also out of your own studio, don’t let anyone pay you less for it just because they buy it from you. You and your dealer have an agreement based in trust. Respect that trust. Consider that as the seller you also have expenses. Any commission you don’t pay to your dealer can be used to offset those expenses instead of making it harder for your dealer to sell your art.

This is the first of two blog posts on this topic. Come back next week for part two, or sign up in the box on the right so you don’t miss a post. And if you’d like to talk about other topics related to you being an artist, check out my Artist Mentoring offer here.

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