A pricing situation

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Dear Artist,

Vicki Lynn Rae of Vancouver, BC wrote, “I have noticed from time to time subscribers have written with art related questions and now I have a situation that has me stumped. A few years ago a client bought from me two large paintings. One, an Orca, I had already painted and listed on my website. The other was a landscape commissioned to go along with the Orca. Recently, I received an email from this client saying he is having to downsize and wishes to sell the Orca painting. He asked me to handle the sale. I have agreed but I have never been in this situation and am not sure what to do about pricing this piece. My client says money is not an issue though he does not want to “give” the painting away, nor undercut the apparent value of my works. I am independent as an artist, not represented by any galleries. I will be taking a commission on the sale. Have you encountered this? Any advice or thoughts on how to price this?”

Ranch House, Santa Fe, 1925 watercolor over pencil on paper 13 7/8 x 19 7/8 inches by Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967)

Ranch House, Santa Fe, 1925
watercolor over pencil on paper
13 7/8 x 19 7/8 inches
by Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)

Thank you, Vicki. You need to price the painting in alignment with your current price list. Generally speaking, for living, working artists, size, not the amount of detail, time taken, the age or the provenance of the work, is the better guide and rewards your enthusiasts with consistency and transparency. “There’s something to be said for making up your mind on a pricing plan that will last a lifetime,” wrote Dad in his letter Pricing for Joy. “The joy of your art process is one thing. The commoditization of your art is another. It’s something we learn to live with if we wish to stay in the game and have a life.”

Market this painting as you would your other work, lest it be unfairly tarnished with a patina of rejection. Perhaps it’s just me, but words like “resale” need not be included — our offerings are special and possibly pre-ordained to change hands through the ages and outlive us all. Instead, catalogue this treasure with a high-quality photograph and slot it into your oeuvre where it belongs — in period, year and medium. This way, when its next destiny comes knocking, it will be easy to discover.

St. Francis' Towers, Santa Fe, 1925 watercolor on paper 13 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches by Edward Hopper

St. Francis’ Towers, Santa Fe, 1925
watercolor on paper
13 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches
by Edward Hopper

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “If you give your life as a wholehearted response to love, then love will wholeheartedly respond to you.” (Marianne Williamson)

Esoterica: Dad also wrote a letter called Principles of pricing art. “Artists, in my opinion, need to distance themselves from daily commerce,” he wrote. “Intelligent, long-term pricing accommodates friendly partnerships, maintains your integrity, and makes your progress viable in an ongoing manner. Intelligent, long-term pricing buys your freedom.” He then laid out what he called the “Ten Commandments of art pricing.” Here they are:

Adobe Houses, 1925 watercolor on paper 3 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches by Edward Hopper

Adobe Houses, 1925
watercolor on paper
3 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches
by Edward Hopper

Thou shalt start out cheap.
Thou shalt publish thy prices.
Thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and a little.
Thou shalt not lower thy prices.
Thou shalt not have one price for Sam and another for Joe.
Thou shalt not price by talent or time taken, but by size.
Thou shalt not easily discount thy prices.
Thou shalt lay control on thy agents and dealers.
Thou shalt deal with those who will honour thee.
Thou shalt end up expensive.
(Robert Genn, from Principles of pricing art )

Hopper studioThe Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” (Henry David Thoreau)

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12 Comments

    • Although I have never dated a painting on the front it was always dated visibly on the back until I lost a sale due to the client seeing it as it was carried out of the gallery. Since then I have followed Robert’s advice and written all pertinent information on a piece of canvas which is attached internally in the back of the stretched painting.

      • I code my information: NMXKB002019 means neomosaic, mixed media, Karen Blanchet, #20 of 2019. This inventory number is placed under the name of the work, media, name of artist, all written in pencil so as to prevent any leaching to the front.

  1. As somewhat of an emerging artist (read: unknown) I have struggled with pricing. I have sold some of my work by as Robert’s first rule, thou shall start out cheap. I understand best practice never to lower prices however when entering shows where minimum pricing set quite substantially higher than my pricing is the practice of selling for less when no commission taken? Hard to know when an artist is trying to gain exposure. Btw i am in not referring to artists who have work in galleries where undercutting galleries would be unacceptable and virtual artist suicide.

    • I follow a gallery owner, Jason Horejs, Red Dot Blog, based in Scottsdale Arizona. He suggested doing a research of other artists at about my level of expertise, within the same genre of painting (mixed media, semi-abstract landscape) who show in galleries. Find out what they sell for and visit the local galleries for a better idea of your fit. Taking the going price average (I discounted the well-known, high-priced ones) choose a number below the average and do the math for a $/per sq in. You will need a sliding scale (charge more for smaller work and less for larger). I think Robert did an excellent job of explaining that. In the end I doubled my prices. A lot of artists simply do not know how much they sell themselves short.

      • Thanks for the feedback, I’ve read charging per linear inch may work better than per square inch particulatly if one paints in large variation of sizes as price for larger works are less likely to go up too quickly for scale of price? Yes, indeed pricing is a challenge, will check out the galleries locally though for sure.

  2. Excellent timing on this reminder, and thank you for posting the link to Principles of Pricing Art. I’m going through a slow-down in sales, and the demons were starting to whisper that my work is overpriced. Integrity and consistency will win the day!

    • Higgs Merino on

      There’s the art.
      There’s the art world.
      Then, there’s the real world.
      Best to know the difference.

  3. I teach watercolor. I advise my students to date in pencil on the back of the painting, never on the front with the signature. This invites a viewer to say “oh, it’s old” .. good is good, no matter the age.

  4. Here’s another beauty that can shed lots of light on the subject of pricing one’s creations. Thank you for quoting your dad, Sara. It’s always wonderful to get his point of view and wisdom…..Suszanne

  5. I’m 67 years old, and have been painting seriously since age 8. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, to every rule there’s an exception. I’ve had paintings come back for a variety of reasons: repossession, death, gift, change of circumstances…everything under the sun has allowed work to return. And much of it is “old”. It’s all been dated and signed, front and back, all in series, and my art career has seen my evolution from realism to Impressionism, Pointillism and on into abstractions, and now a style I see as truly my own. I followed your father’s rule #1, and honored all who honored me, but the rest of his guidelines can easily be transgressed based on circumstances. I haven’t gotten rich, and I have kept my work priced inexpensively, but then I didn’t want a life of poverty, so had jobs that allowed me to paint in my “spare” or real time. Just that path alone violates a few of those rules on pricing. But, in my case, I wanted my work out there. They are my “children” who find their homes, immediately and eventually. Their value? ‘Wanted’ is it. Painting isn’t a job, but has been a life, full and free of capitalist demands and worries about if it’s old. Quality doesn’t age, but is timeless. The importance of painting has been that it fulfilled me first. If others wanted it, all the better. But I would suggest no one ever structure their ego and self around how others view your art and its value. And creation ( making art ) should never be put in the position of having to feed its creator.

  6. Well….I guess I’m just completely out of my league here since most my work is inherently small….tiny even….much of it made with precious materials including pure gold and silver. I consider it art, although the “art world” so often mentioned within these pages is not convinced and probably adverse to the idea, it does occasionally make exceptions. To me, BIG is just a waste of materials….like a huge home for 2 occupants….it speaks of big egos and common perceptions….and one must have that huge home to hang it in. I’m tossing the 6th commandment of pricing!
    Control of agents and dealers….since when does the artist dictate the commission? Galleries usually demand 50% on site and off site by association….and the artist is often liable for all sorts of incidentals like insurance, postage, exclusives and stock requirements, not to overlook statements/resumes/PR releases and various other gymnastics….all for the benefit of whom?
    Art should never be required to feed its creator….but the reverse is always true, and if the creator is starving, then the art shall die as well….and it’s value will increase at last.

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My art represents an artistic journey that has been on-going for more than thirty-five years with help and guidance from many wonderful artists. Now, with years of plein-air painting experience, study and solo exhibitions, I believe that my current work has reached its highest level, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me.  I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop I taught. Still is.
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