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Pricing Your Art

written by: Sylvie Colette•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/18/2011

Putting a price tag on your original pieces of art is confusing. Learn the basic guidelines so you can confidently set your prices for the marketplace. This article covers all the aspects of pricing your artwork.

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    How to Price Art for Sale

    dollar sign 

    Deciding where to start when pricing your artwork for sale is an issue that stumps many artists. Having a few clear guidelines will give you a starting point. There are some techniques that many artists use that takes the guess work out of putting a number on that sales tag.

    Personally, I would rather not charge anything for my art. I get more pleasure giving pieces away or keeping them for myself than exchanging a piece of my soul for cash. But, I have to make a living, so there is a dual set of guidelines that I use. Hopefully these tips will be helpful for you.

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    Determining Base Price

    First, in order to be able to sell your work in galleries and online, at art fairs and from your own studio, your pricing structure needs to be consistent and understandable enough for customers and gallery owners to understand where you are coming up with these numbers.

    • Determine a base price for your art. Your base price will be based in part by the price of similar work by artists in your genre. Real estate agents do this everywhere. A price of a house is determined by the houses in the same neighborhood. Look around at what other artists are selling their work for, selling, being the key point.

    There are artists who price outrageously for simple marketing purposes. If their original is listed for $10,000, then of course it’s a steal for someone to buy the print for a measly $2500 or less. Whatever the price they put on the print, it’s artificial. They are playing a game; most of them never really intend to sell their originals. They are in it to sell prints at a high price. Do not use their original prices as an good gauge.

    A pitfall to avoid is artificially lowering your prices to accommodate a market. You will devalue your work and the work of all the artists in the area.

    Think of selling a car or a house, two analogies that may seem completely unrelated to the practice of art, but are very useful when taking the emotional factor out of pricing. You will need to come up with a base price for your work. As in selling cars, a base model is a basic car with no extras. The more extras, the more the car will cost. Look over your work and keep that in mind as you progress through these steps. They are all inter-related, so it's best to gather as many facts as you can along the way. Write down a number that you think might be your base price at this point. You'll probably tweak it many times until you arrive at the right level. This price will go up or down according to the size, amount of detail work, and other various factors that can be clearly explained to a potential customer.

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    Realistic Pricing Structure

    artist 

    Now, determine what your cost of living is, including materials used and time invested – that is half of the price, now double that. The second half covers marketing and selling that piece. When you price your art in this manner, you can confidently use gallery representation to market your art, and pay their commission, since you no longer have to do the heavy work of sales. It releases you from worrying about high commission cost and any feeling of being short changed, since you have already completely covered that in your pricing. The freedom can now be turned to creating more art and better art, since the pressure of proper pricing is off your shoulders.

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    Pricing Changes Over Time

    Artists deserve to make a living, so set your prices and maintain a standard.

    • Prices should, as a general rule, go up over time, not down. Your earlier work is not clearance sale material. Think of it as a savings account.
    • It is generally time to raise your prices, across the board, when about a third of your work is selling out within a few months of putting it out in the public.
    • If there are certain pieces that you feel are special and are prone to attachment based pricing, then it may be best to keep them off the market – especially if it is difficult for an outsider to make the same distinction in value as your emotions have.
    • Displaying an item as ‘not for sale’ is fine. Letting the public look at the piece and hear your eloquent speech about how important it is to you will do more for your relationship with the public than if you sold it for less than you thought it was worth and spun into depression.

    Finally, be sure to participate in shows that have the same caliber work as yours. I’ve found myself in uncomfortable situations where my art display was next to Grandma's tea cozy table. The art promoter usually is on top of this sort of mismatch, but not always. You will need to do your own research on the venues and ask lots of questions.

    Artists can be emotional creatures. Keep your pricing void of subjectivity and watch your value increase in the market place as your anxiety over pricing your artwork goes down.