I get asked so often "how should I price my work?" by artists and while I feel that pricing is a personal beast, I decided to FINALLY write up some general tips and advice... skim this for fun, use it as your bible, read it and then do your own thing - all of those option are totally okay. At the end of it all, you have to do what is right for you. So, in this post, I will guide you but ultimately you will have to determine what works for you, your style and the clients that you are reaching.
Before I get into math (ugh) I feel like a lot of people also ask me about the lingo. I've defined some of the common terms, in my own voice, to help give you insight to the WHY.
MARK UP / Retail Pricing
Mark Up - the percentage that you add to your wholesale cost in order to make profits.
Retail - the final sale price of your work. It's what you would quote someone who wanted to become a collector or who may be interested in purchasing from a show.
I believe that mark up is essential in pricing your artwork. If you create a system that works for you, you will never undersell yourself again and every time you sell a piece of art, you WILL make a profit on it.
How to come up with your mark up amount? To be honest and blunt, I tell everyone use 30 or 35% as the number for their mark up and to then use that same percentage on everything - keep it consistent and never ever deviate from the number for the first few years they try to really sell their work. The reason for this is, it keeps it simple. I like that number because it’s a considerable discount for wholesale or “to the trade” clients you may meet along the way. Also it gives you negotiating room should someone interested in buying want to haggle - if you always know your mark up is a set percentage you can confidently offer a discount of 10 or 15% off the retail price to close the sale but know that you’re still clearing expenses and making profit.
Wholesale - the break even price of your artwork plus 10%.
Creating a foundation price, your wholesale price, gives you the opportunity to work with wholesale and to the trade accounts. Wouldn't it be great to build a relationship with a realtor or interior designer - these are people who would purchase your work regularly on behalf of their clients for, let's say, a closing gift for the house they just purchased. Realtor do this guys! Often, a realtor will purchase something for the home for their client as a thank you for allowing them to assist in the buying process. Also, interior designers often procure artwork for their clients when designing or redesigning their homes or businesses.
Offering a whole sale price to people like this, people who are "in the trade" will give them the potential want to buy from you often. So while your profit margin may be less, you're selling more work and you are in places that people see your pieces - offering lots of looks and potentially creating referrals for future buyers who you would have the opportunity to sell to at your regular, retail, price point.
Commissions / Jury Fees
Commission - the percentage that you owe a curator or show host for helping connect you to a buyer or featuring your work in a show.
Jury Fee - the upfront cost associated with submitting your work into a show. This covers the cost of time/labor (and more) for reviewing many submissions and curating a cohesive and dynamic exhibit. This fee is pennies in comparison to the amount of work it takes to get your work on the wall.
OMG! If I hear one more artists complain about having to pay a commission or jury fee, I will seriously scream! If you don't want to pay commission or jury fees - then you are not making art to sell it and you need to find/create your own means of getting your work out there.
Curators (that's what I do!) provide a service to artists. We bring people to your art in many ways and when you sell a piece, it is literally because we did the majority of the legwork for you. The commission covers our time and labor to get you out there, to show you off and to help sell the work that would otherwise be stashed away in storage. If you think that a jury fee is ridiculous, then its obvious that you have never organized a group of artists and that you don't understand the amount of work it takes to weed through submissions to find that one defining thread that will create a beautiful experience for someone viewing the show. The jury and curator develop the story of the show so that each piece flows as well as stands alone.
Think about this. Would you want to exhibit your work in a show that just allowed every single person into it? Say your caliber of work is top-notch and you are placed on the wall next to someone who makes some horrible, ugly art. Now, think about the viewer - your walking through the show and you come to the ugly art... your not buying the piece of amazing art next to it because its a physiological response. That ugly piece of art will stay with someone for 3-5 more pieces before they forget about it and can see the remaining works with clear eyes.
Other people's ugly art KILLS your beautiful art's opportunity... be thankful for a jury fee, it means the ugly stuff is still in the artist's closet and not hanging next to your work.
Collectors / Buyers - these people pay your bills. Show them some love.
Finding buyers and collectors is what we are all after. Working with a curator will get your work out there so that potential collectors and buyers will see it. Once you sell to someone they are considered a buyer. Once you sell to them again, and again hopefully, they are your collector.
Treat buyers well, connect with them. Email them regularly (once a month is perfect) let them know what new pieces you have, the shows you will be in, share some behind the scenes stuff with them. They are not only buying your work, they are buying a connection to you, the person, the artist.
The Market - the current state of the scene. The vibe that determines what's "hot" and what will sell. Also the market determines the demand and the appropriate price scale that artists sell for.
You have to know your market or you have to work with someone who does. It's that simple.
The market will determine how you ultimately price your artwork. It's the general feel for what's going on, what's interesting and what people are willing to pay for art. Remember - art is a luxury spend, it's not food or water. While as an artist, we need to create to survive, as an art buyer - it has to fit the budget.
If you want to show your work only - I suggest labeling your work as "NFS" or Not for Sale. With that said, if you price your work high because you don't want to part with it and the price on the tag is your "I'd only let this go at ...." amount, be ready to let it go at the high price... you never know who will walk into a show and be willing to spend.
Before I get into the math part of this post... let me share this. If you have rarely or not yet sold work OR If your work is on display in public or hospitality shows - It is a very slim chance that your going to sell work priced higher than $1,000 and even then, $500-600 is considered "high."
Artists that sell for thousands are selling because they have been in the game for a while, they have a developed style and they have a fan base. They are consistently showing AND selling their work which is increasing their demand. They are not showing up to their first show with tag prices at that level. I promise you.
Now, I'll never flat out tell you to reprice your work because I feel that its a personal journey and I hope that you have read this post... but if you straight up ask me my answer will ALWAYS be - what do you want out of this experience?
If all you are after is eyes on your work and you hope to network and get a few addresses on your email list - then honestly, price your work for millions, it wont sell but maybe you will meet someone who wants to commission you for a custom piece or a mural. Maybe they will ask for a print... just don't expect to sell, because as a Curator, that isn't what we offer - we cannot promise you sales, especially at prices like that.
If your answer to my question is "I want to sell it" I will tell you that in the venues I currently work with, that price wont move. I mainly host hospitality shows and the magic number is $600 or less usually. Now, earlier I referenced that I've sold for an artist at around $1,000 - that has only happened ONCE in the 4 years I have been hosting these types of shows. It was A LOT of back and forth with the buyer and the buyer negotiated to that price, the piece was listed at $1,500. I bring this up because anything is possible, its just not something that has happened more than once in the 4 years, nearly 8,000 pieces of art I've shown for artists. Keep that in mind.
How to price
Still with me? Okay - there two methods that I think work pretty well with pricing art for those just getting started. I often use these myself when I price my own work.
OPTION 1, Cost plus time:
Take your materials cost and double it. Then come up with an hourly rate and multiply that by the time spent on the piece. Add your mark up and DONE!
Let's break it down visually -
Materials (canvas, paint, new brushes bought just for this project, etc.) = $123
The hourly rate you'd like to make = $25/hr
The amount of time it took you to create = 6 hours
123 x 2 = $246
25 x 6 = $150
246 + 150 = $396 (this is your break even cost!)
396 + 10% = Wholesale at $435.60
435 + 30% = Retail at $565.50
*Obviously, round up or down - no one wants to see change on a gallery tag.
OPTION 2, By size:
Multiply the length by the width of your finished work. It's literally that simple.
Let me break it out visually for you:
Length = 24
Width = 48
24 x 48 = $1,152
Now - depending on your demand, you could add additional mark up if your selling regularly, that would look like:
$1150 + 10% = Wholesale at $1265
1265 + 30% = Retail at $1644.50
*again, always round up or down to whole numbers.
Again... I am going to stress that this is just my advice, take it or leave it. If you work with me directly, I'll point you to this post to read through but at the end of the day it's YOUR art and you have to be comfortable with what you sell it at. If you think $1150 is giving your 24" x 48" piece away, then price it differently, but be REALISTIC and understand that pricing something at say $5,000 is probably not going to give you the opportunity to sell at all in certain environments.
Most importantly, just have fun. Make the art you want to make - don't make art that you are trying to sell. We can see it in the work and the buyers can too. Be you, be original and enjoy the process.
Have any additional ideas or thoughts on this topic - leave me a comment below!