Beginning prices

28

Dear Artist,

Rolf Reichert of North Vancouver, B.C. wrote, “I am a hobby artist and would like to exhibit my art work at sometime or another, but don’t know what I should price it at. I don’t expect a fortune for my work, but maybe just my material cost and a little profit for my time would be fair. Is there a formula that I could follow to take the guesswork out of my head? Or should I look at other artists’ paintings and gauge mine from there? If you could give me a rough idea how I could go about pricing my paintings, I would be grateful.”

sara-genn_early-work2

“Concern For Misplaced Passion” (1992)
24 x 30 inches acrylic on canvas
by Sara Genn

Thanks, Rolf. Artists of any age and stage who are yet to establish a reputation or sales history need to start out with bargain prices. This allows would-be speculators to easily share the joy in your debut. It also allows them to get in on the ground floor of your future skyrocketing success. While there’s no magic formula for setting initial prices, here are a few guidelines:

Price by pictorial size only, not by effort, affection, prize-winning or detail.

If you’re able, consult with a local gallery or dealer friend for an informal but professional opinion.

sara-genn_early-work

“The Theosophical Painting” (1992)
24 x 30 inches acrylic on canvas
by Sara Genn

The prices of other artists can serve as a guide, but don’t have much to do with you.

If you’re going to sell your art, use the best quality, archival materials possible. Your work must last.

Factor in the cost of materials if you must, but only for your own information.

Providing a range of sizes can broaden your reach. Consider that some artists use a slight bell curve towards the high end. This makes smaller works continually affordable for entry-level collectors and reserves loftier prices for big spenders at the top.

After establishing consistent sales and other professional markers, follow the ten percent rule: prices go up ten percent, once a year. Be steady. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, your prices can always go up, but should never come down. Your art’s value is earned over time, and collectors are won with fairness and by warm invitation to participate in the magic.

sara-genn_secret-garden_crop

“Sketches of Spain, Secret Garden, Granada” (1998) pastel on canson paper 5 x 5 inches
by Sara Genn

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “The joy of your art process is one thing. The commoditization of your art is another. My advice is to start low and yet keep an eye on the big picture. There are rewards for those who do.” (Robert Genn)

Esoterica: After my first year of art school, I came home to live as a hermit in a wooden shed at the bottom of my parent’s property, where I painted for two months unencumbered by pedagogy or professional aspirations. By chance, a local artist who was about to open a small gallery poked her head in to see what I was up to. After flipping through a few hundred small canvases, she tucked a handful under her arm and said, “These are suitcase sales.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “We’ll price your paintings so irresistibly that most anyone will see fit to pop one into their suitcase.” I was 19, with no reputation and in the embryonic phase of finding my style and subject passions. After a year of steady sales, I started to hear from other galleries. A few years later, I noticed that my work had made its way into some admirable collections, and I was grateful for the friends who’d stuck their neck out for me at the beginning and for the dealer who made it easy for them to do so.

sara-genn_monday-girl

“Monday Girl” (2016)
24 x 24 acrylic on canvas
by Sara Genn

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“There’s something to be said for making up your mind on a pricing plan that will last a lifetime, setting it in motion, and forgetting about it. With compounding, you’ll get there anyway — much to the satisfaction of your early collectors. When work is half decent, there’s justice. The main thing is to catch the breeze and sail on.” (Robert Genn)

 


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28 Comments

  1. Good advice, Sara. When I first wanted to sell my work, I first figured out what I had in the painting (materials, etc.), added in a reasonable hourly rate (I think maybe $20/hr at the time), and came up with a base price. Then, I took the work to a local gallery that had expressed interest and asked what they thought they should be priced at. That became my starting point. Over the years, my prices have gone up as I have gotten into better galleries that wanted higher prices and also art festivals. Today, I, too, use a formula for pricing. It’s based on dollars per square inch. As the paintings get bigger, the price per square inch drops incrementally. One problem with keeping the rate the same regardless of size is that prices get ridiculous as the paintings get larger. At $7/sq in. (as an example), a 9×12 painting would go for about $750; a 24×30 would go for about $5000. When you look at these two sizes on a gallery wall, the larger painting seems a little over-priced, IMHO. So, I drop the rate. Maybe the 24×30 would be better-priced at $4000.

    • Try pricing by the length of the diagonal and you will not get into these exponential price increases.
      For example, a painting with a diagonal of 23 inches (roughly 12.5 by 19 inches) could be $230. Then if you go to say 36 by 48 inches as a larger piece the diagonal would work out to 60 inches (all in round numbers) or $600. The smaller paintings would be more expensive on a square area basis. Now go really big, 6 foot by 6 foot (72×72 would yield a diagonal of 100 ) or a price of $1000. True there will be variations based on the ratio of one side to the other, where nearly square paintings will be always be less since their diagonals will be smaller as a relation to area. Are you with me?
      Another suggestion is the sum of two sides, often used for pricing frames.

  2. I saw an article of the amount of art produced in a year. Australia has about 40,000 artists alone. There is only so much money chasing many newly created and inventoried works. The numbers of consumers of original work is smaller than you’d think., and the amount in the world’s inventory grows. Public universities are still cranking out artists at an astounding rate. Add to this magazine and internet trained artists and the numbers explode. Go to any art fair. I have gallery representation, but make objects in a different medium and price range to be sold in municipal art galleries’ gift shops. Original art at affordable prices in people’s homes that would otherwise not own any.

  3. I don’t think I can ever pass up an article about pricing paintings, even after years of painting. It is good to know and hear comments from someone as accomplished as Mr. Johnson that we all have to ponder the pricing of our work objectively. At first I was just thrilled that someone would buy my art. That thrill has never left! My goal is to make enough money to live and continue painting but also make sure my paintings are fairly priced. I would rather sell my art and know somebody is enjoying it than be so proud that it sits in my studio at a premium price. It does take time to build your skill level and therefore your prices as well as taking into account your special circumstances. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is important to monitor the prices established by your peers (such as MCJ)… you know the level of craftsmanship you must attain and as you do you also see your efforts pay off in what people are now willing to pay for your work. My formula has worked for me. I took the square inch price on average of several established artist I admire and found similarity in our style and priced at a self-realized percentage. If the best get $7 a square inch, should you be at $2 or $3.50 or $5?

    • Sally Ogletree on

      I looked on your site Dennis. Beautiful work. I love the effect of a palette knife! You have a great eye for color and composition.

  4. Catherine Joan on

    Hi, a question: if you have paintings hanging somewhere and the anniversary date comes around, do you reprice those that are out there, or leave them at the previous price and raise the price only of new paintings going forward? Thanks!

  5. I am only making the effort to enjoy gallery representation now – though my things hang worldwide and some nice awards – I had done my things up lifelong and always won a decent price. Since I was involved with art friends and other artists, pricing was never an issue. I always won a nice price and did giveaways too, since my people like to donate, though IRS is mean with artists who donate the work outright, my buyers can deduct full value if they donate the art, but I can only deduct “parts, not labor” – hoping IRS gets around to making a table of standard allowed deduction soon – it’s too hurtful.

    My collected awards and sales piled up and now I seem to NOT be able to enjoy the success so casually and I am delighted. Yes some galleries are expressing interest. Grateful.

    The good thing about pricing is that it makes the artist self-assess! YOU must look at the work and outgrow the “hem and haw”, the false modesty or false pride…and in the end, you will be delighted, too, or find some other path for expression – many artists keep more than one, due to the way of it with the creative spirit. Good luck.

  6. This discussion is so helpful! Twice a year I revisit larger works and raise prices accordingly. Also our studio/gallery allows us to promote and hang our work wherever we can display our work. In the past four years, I have been building a reputation and a clientele, a slow and steady process. This year, to top it all off, painting has become such a joy, it has changed my life.

  7. I think that the idea of pricing by size is wrong in some instances..It takes me ,maybe a morning plein air session plus an hour or two in the studio, to get a landscape painting that I can be proud of ,or just wipe out..sometimes it takes a week or more to make the same size still life..do I really have to charge the same price?

    • Thanks for your common sense approach. I’m just getting ready for a “small works” show and it certainly makes more sense to price the smaller Plein Air paintings for quite a bit less than the larger ones that took a lot longer.

    • Plein air and studio works of the same size should have the same price. Your sales will balance in the end. If your client sees two paintings the same size with different prices, they think ‘What’s wrong with the cheap one’?’ , without considering the process.

  8. Wonderful article and discussion! Pricing artwork for me has always been a little challenging. I started out doing commissioned work and established a $250. base rate in the early 90’s and now I charge $400. for a similar size of commission work. To me, it would appear that my prices really haven’t moved too much ahead. I have fine art degrees, shown internationally, received awards, members of professional arts association, so I’m not sure why our rural County is reticent to purchase art? For every person who walks through the door at my Annual Studio Tour, I’m teaching them about art, the pleasure of owning an original, the styles of art available in our Community of artists etc……with limited sales. Now, with Facebook, I’m in touch with so many artists and patrons and have sold and sent work all over U.S.
    I may be raising my prices soon. It is all about supply, demand, and originality.

  9. Brilliant article Sara, thank you! (When are you coming back to Oz; looking forward to seeing you). This is brilliant timing as I’m just putting a sales page on my website, for the first time ever. It’s a huge venture and nerve wracking – as I’m sure so many people who have commented have also experienced. Strangely, I’ve determined pricing in a completely different way to everyone who has commented. Am I wrong/missing something? Maybe it’s because I’m so novice at selling? I calculated my costs; ie with the limited edition Giclee prints, the cost of making a print, mounting, postage, packaging and then put a percentage profit margin on top. So the price increase per size option is dependent on the cost of those activities, per item. I haven’t factored in size of the original, time, materials such as paint and paper in creating the original as I don’t think the end result in price would be affordable for anyone! I’ve also tried to keep an eye on whether the end result of my price is realistic and accessible in different countries; I’m in Australia, so have looked at what my end price means for people in USA, UK and Europe (sad that I have to single out UK from Europe now, but that’s another (Brexit) story)! I’m starting out and would really appreciate if some of the people commenting here who are FAR more experienced than me can please tell me if I’m going up an ‘ill advised’ route. Thank you again for a great conversation.

  10. All so interesting, with valuable insights and advice. I am always in a predicament re pricing though, as my work is mostly mixed media sculpture, materials often costing little, but time involved very long. Originality and “experimentation” are factors I consider, but how do you put a price on that? When it comes down to it I have to keep prices quite low, for two reasons as I see it: the economy in general, and that my “market” is small. But I love what I do!

  11. Patricia (Trish/Trisha) Dunlop on

    Very interesting, thank you. I took the guide from my Siriol Sherlock book on botanical art, quote per size and amount of work / paint etc.

  12. I’ve heard of pricing one’s work by the square inch, but really haven’t found that to be true with watercolors. One can have a large seascape, with minmal detail/time involved, that using this practice, the work should be priced higher than a much smaller portrait requiring a great deal of prep/detail. I’ve been dealing with a gallery that does sell everything from 3D to all manner of 2D, including photography, and the gallery manager states there seems to be no logic in what sells. With this in mind, I’ve tried different pricing models, not going less than what I’ve sold in the same size in the past, as have other artist friends of mine, to see no difference in what sells or not. The most common phrase I’ve heard for the past year is, “People are buying smaller pieces as they can always find places to hang them”. Has anyone else heard this, too?

  13. I started out doing small profile pencil portraits at craft fairs. I charged $10.00 per sitting, 1/2 hour. They were about 12 x 18. I worked fast. Then someone asked for a three quarter pose. I raised the price a bit. $12.00 per sitting? Then I went to pastel , color. Small size. I raised it to $30.00 an hour, which was the time it took. They sold like hotcakes! In our area I was never able to get above that $30.00 price per hour. I felt it never met the time and talent involved. But it was what people in this area would pay. I charged more for drawings done from photos sent to me at home. I hated doing them. They are terrible to work with. I never have felt that I could get the price that the works deserved when done in oil. I loved to paint in oil. Now, I am giving the oils away at local art venues, for money raisers and suddenly they are loved and desired! But these are large figure paintings in oil, done in classes years ago. I am happy to find good homes for the works I loved doing. Many people do not buy paintings of people who are not their family and from an artist who is not VanGogh. What I did get was a lot of satisfaction in having so many people have my work in their homes and also a great long term lesson in painting the human head. I just had a retrospective where I priced works in what I felt were fair prices, not by hours of work. I sold two, and they were two that I felt no one would ever want. It is a strange pursuit to sell art work! People buy art for love. My largest work is a 7′ x 9′ altar piece in acrylic, a religious work. It is wild in color and not the expected Christ on the cross, really it is a risen Christ off the cross and he is bald. Will it ever sell? I doubt it. What does one do with a work that large and so unusual? It has been shown in many churches for Easter. Church people will tolerate it for a month or so but no longer. I was inspired to paint it by the work of a Canadian artist, one of The Seven.

    Donna Veeder

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