Know Your Price!

As artists, we absolutely love the art-making side of the job.  When we are in the studio, hours zip by as if they were minutes, and an entire evening can melt away in creative abandon.  But the business side of being an artist – not so much…
When it comes time to focus on marketing our work, talking about our work, or even selling our work – we often freeze up, the synapses of our brain refusing to make the leap from the right to the left hemisphere.  Thinking in logical business terms requires a different part of the brain and it can often be difficult to switch gears.
Don’t be caught without a price on your work!  As the artist, you should know your own price.
As the Creative Director for the Community Arts Center in Danville, KY – I get to work with a lot of artists, hang a lot of exhibits, and get a really good look at what being an artist in a small town is all about.  The Arts Center’s most recent exhibit, New Year New Art features all new work made since August of 2016.  It’s an invitational exhibit with quite a long list of incredible artists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  In past iterations of this exhibit, the Arts Center had a requirement that all art in the show must be for sale.
Since all of the work was brand new, I found that many artists were not ready to part with their most recent work.  I watched as several of the artists knowingly priced their work well outside the reach of potential buyers, just so they could check off the “for sale” box while not having to be concerned with losing their latest masterpiece.  It was interesting to look around the gallery and see the range of prices – some priced with the clear intent to sell, and some nearing five figures.  We recently abandoned the “must be for sale” rule (just for this exhibit) because of these inflated-beyond-sale prices.  Now artists in the exhibit can mark their work NFS or “not-for-sale” if they wish.
As I was hanging the New Year New Art exhibit this year, I began to notice that I was seeing more NFS exhibition tags than I was expecting.  I’m sure that some of these pieces are marked as such because the artist fell in love with the piece during the creative process, and can’t bear to see it go.  I know that I have a few pieces in my own “collection of the artist” that I can’t part with because they represent a certain pivotal point in my art-making journey – and that’s quite okay.  I also understand that there are a lot of artists that aren’t into creating art to make a profit – they simply do it for their own enjoyment, and that’s okay too.  But I am concerned about another category of artists – those paralyzed by the fear of pricing their own work.  Some artists just can’t come up with a price.  They may even want to sell their work, but for some reason freeze when it’s time to write a price on the exhibit form.  Rather than stay in a state of puzzlement, it is easier for them to write NFS.
Do not be afraid to price your own work.  If anybody knows what your work is worth – it’s YOU!  You should know what your work is worth even before you are finished creating it. You shouldn’t have to get it back from the frame shop, step ten paces away and agonize over its value.  You should already know. There are some questions you should be asking yourself when pricing your work:
  • How long did this work take to create?    Of course, there is the old artist’s adage – “a lifetime,” – but really how long did it take to make this particular work of art?  Hours?  Days? This counts procuring materials, preliminary sketches, finishing touches, etc.  By the same token, you should not say it took a month to paint a picture if you only pecked on it every other Saturday.
  • What did my materials cost?  Some forms of art are certainly a lot more expensive than others.  For example, works on paper can be quite costly because they almost always need to be framed to be presented properly.  Photography can be expensive because of software, printer ink, and camera costs.
  • What do similar works of art sell for in my region?   What do other artists in your region making similar works to yours charge for their art?  Don’t base your prices on New York or L.A. prices, but think more locally.  Location changes the price of everything.  Think in terms of real estate – my modest home in Kentucky would likely be worth ten times more if it happened to be in New York or L.A.  The same is true with your art.  Also compare your skill level and exhibition experience with other artists.  Artists that have more experience showing in professional galleries can also charge more for their work than a skilled artist that is just starting to show their work.
  • What do I charge for my other works?  Your art should be priced similarly across your entire body of work.  Some artists charge per square inch.  Larger works have a larger price.  I tend to think of my work in terms of “small, medium, and large.”  If it’s a 36-inch square – it’s one price, whether it’s good, bad, or ugly.  A 24-inch square is a bit more affordable.  If I think it’s my best piece, I don’t charge more for it just because it’s superior to the others.  While it can be tempting to price with your heart, your clients shouldn’t have to pay for your preferences.  Just because a piece is your favorite, it shouldn’t cost more.
  • Is my work selling at my current prices?   If some of your work is selling – congratulations – you might have your work priced properly.  If ALL of your work is selling and people keep commenting on how affordable it is, you may consider raising your prices.  If none of your work is selling, you may have it priced too high.  Raising your prices should be done rather cautiously.  Pricing your art is definitely a one-way street.  You do not want your previous buyers or potential investors seeing your prices fall.  They want to believe that your prices will continue to climb, indicating that they have made a wise investment.

Hopefully these tips will help you to price your work more effectively.  It is important to remember that your art – your creative vision and life-force – is a product.  While that might seem a cold and harsh way imagine your work, seeing your work as a product will allow you the level of professional detachment necessary to succeed on the business-side of the artist career.  If you still find yourself doubting your ability to price your own work, ask other artists and art professionals for their honest opinion.  Whether you price your own work or trust the opinions of others to help you, you should always be prepared to answer when someone asks for the price.