There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how to price your art. So where do you begin? Our step-by-step guide is there to walk you through the basics. Whether you’re selling your work via an online platform or Instagram while in quarantine, or looking ahead to the next exhibition or fair post-crisis.
It may go without saying that it’s difficult to think objectively about something that might hold a lot of personal value for you. And even harder to put a price tag on it.
Though it may be a bit heart-wrenching, you’ll have to take a more pragmatic approach to pricing your art. That means basing prices more on concrete, clearly measurable factors than on personal preference and sentiment.
But from a practical perspective, knowing where to start can be just plain complicated. There are some suggested formulas for pricing your work. Though, in general, these shouldn’t be strictly followed, because there are always variables and other factors to consider. Level of experience, previous sales, and competition, for example.
To get you started, we’ve put together this guide with tips to help you create a price structure that works for you.
Step 1: Consider your market
Where and how are you selling your art? From your studio, at fairs or festivals, through a gallery? Are you selling locally, nationally or internationally? It’s good to have an understanding of the art market on a broader level, but you should pay particular attention to the context, criteria and ins and outs of the market that you’re operating in.
This plays an important role, because local street fairs will definitely have a different price bracket from, say, an international gallery or online marketplace. So identifying your market will be a good start towards setting your parameters.
If you’re selling through a gallery, keep in mind that a commission will be taken on works sold. This amount varies depending on the gallery, but is often around 50%. You should take the gallery’s cut into consideration when setting your prices, so that you are paid appropriately.
And make sure you price your work the same as the gallery if you are also considering selling artworks from your studio. This way you can avoid becoming their competitor. A good relationship with your gallery and a credible reputation in general are important if you plan on continuing to work with galleries in the future.
Step 2: Research comparable artists and works
Do some research on who’s selling in your market, what they’re selling and for how much. Finding out what others are charging for work that is similar to yours will give you a good initial estimate to work from.
Search online, visit exhibitions or open studios to find work that is in line with yours. Look at characteristics like medium and materials, subject matter, style, and experience level. And also check out artist CVs to determine whether they are at a similar stage in their careers.
Talk to artists that you know to try to get some insight into how they price their work. Open discussion will help you find your footing and feel more secure when approaching the question of how to price your art.
Also keep in mind that experienced collectors will likely do the same and compare prices for similar artworks in a given market. You don’t want to deter interest or lose credibility by being priced too far below or above range.
Step 3: Determine a fair wage for your work
Your market and the research you’ve done on similar artwork should be taken into consideration alongside other factors. Like time and material expenses, for example. This way you can gauge a reasonable price for your art while ensuring you give yourself a fair wage.
So, pay attention to how long it takes you to make a work, the cost of materials, etc. This will help you determine a living wage for yourself. You could think in terms of an hourly wage that you’d be comfortable with, for example. Depending on where you are based, there may be local standards for artist fees and wages. The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has established a code of practice and policies to ensure fair pay for artists and arts workers in Australia, for example.
Though this is a good way to begin to gauge the cost of your work, it isn’t always the most effective. Think about it: if you are experienced and work quickly, your work shouldn’t be priced lower because of it. And on the other hand: what if you’re just starting out or experimenting with a new technique that takes you longer to figure out? This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should price your work in correspondence with the hours spent. In this case, the work could end up being too overpriced for your market.
Of course, it’s important not to undersell. You could end up burning out because you have to compensate for making too little for your time. But you also don’t want potential buyers to lose interest or trust because the prices seem overblown. Tricky, isn’t it?
Maybe even trickier: it’s important to steer away from pricing works based on your own feelings and opinions about them. It’s easy to get attached to something you’ve put valuable time, energy, thought and emotion into. But this shouldn’t influence your price scale.
To stick to an objective, facts-based approach, here are a couple of formulas that may be useful:
(Hourly Wage × Hours Spent) + Cost of Materials
This is a good formula to follow if you’re just starting out. It takes into account the time you spent on a work, as well as material costs. It’s also a formula that could work for artists regardless of medium or discipline. The research you’ve done on your market and comparable works will come in handy in helping you determine your hourly wage. Choose a wage that is suitable for you, do the calculation and compare to similar works in your market. If it’s too off, then you might want to adjust your hourly wage accordingly.
(Height x Width) × Price per square inch
This formula is used for flat, two-dimensional work, like paintings, prints and drawings. It’s also pretty straight forward: it takes the surface area of a work and multiplies by a rate of your choosing. Determining the price per square inch is the tricky part. If you are just getting started and haven’t sold work before, then try starting out at a lower rate: for example, 2 euros per square inch. And work your way up from there. Keep in mind, if you have works of varying sizes, you might need to adjust your price per square inch accordingly.
(Height + Width) × Price per linear inch
This formula is referred to as linear inch pricing and is geared towards flat, two-dimensional work, as well. It’s a simple and straightforward way to price art — not just for you, but also for your buyers. It’s also particularly useful if you are working with canvas or paper in a wide range of sizes, for instance, because there will be less price discrepancy between works. Since the height and width of the work will be added, rather than multiplied, the price per linear inch that you choose should be higher than when calculating by square inch.
Overall, if you do use a formula to price your art, it may take a bit of playing around with different rate calculations. Use a bit of trial and error to come up with a rate that’s best suited to your market and aligned with similar artworks.
Step 4: Make sure your price structure is clear
And that leads us to the next step: Can you explain how you determine your prices and back them up with facts?
Your prices shouldn’t seem erratic or arbitrary. This is not only important for building relationships with collectors and galleries, but also for more practical concerns like taxes or insurance.
To avoid ending up in a messy situation, make sure you have a clear idea of your price structure and that you can explain it to others in a straightforward and understandable way.
Plus, being able to explain to others how you come up with your prices will also help you build confidence. The ability to stand by your prices will ensure that you are compensated appropriately for your work.
Step 5: Price your art consistently
Of course, you will likely have a range of works with different price points — and that’s OK! It’s good to having some works that are less expensive than others, for example. This will help to make your work more accessible to buyers with a lower budget and bring you more exposure.
But it’s also important to be consistent and transparent in how you price your work. Avoid major jumps in prices between works that are similar. Because this could put your buyers off. And building trust is an important part of the process.
This is also important if you are working with one or more galleries. Galleries won’t like being out-priced by you or other galleries you might be working with. If you keep your pricing consistent, you will not only avoid confusion, but also maintain good relationships.
When considering how to price your art, try to think beyond a single artwork. Determine a strategy that will work for you in pricing your work in general.
You can try out different price points in the beginning to gauge an appropriate bracket that seems to work well for both you and your collectors. But avoid fluctuating too much. It shouldn’t seem like you’re just pulling numbers out of nowhere.
It’s a process. And you’ll ultimately have to figure out what works best based on your market, the type of work you make, comparable work by other artists, and your level of experience. Don’t be afraid to aim high. But also bear in mind that if you’re just starting out, working your way up might prove to be a better strategy.
Set your own framework for how to price your art. From there, you’ll be able to make adjustments as necessary and scale your pricing to grow with your career.
And no matter what stage you’re at, it’s important to give your work visibility and present it in a professional manner.