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How to Price Your Artwork

By March 7, 2017Uncategorized

Pricing Artwork

Money stuff is really really really hard for me. Putting a financial value on art is weird, and if I were to leave it up to my heart to guide me I’d be wearing burlap and sitting on the street corner. So I don’t leave it up to my heart. I apply a logical and stable structure, and try as hard as I can to not undermine that structure with emotional stuff.

Here’s the formula I use:

length + height = “united inch” or “ui”

ui x magic number = price of my painting

Example:

8″ + 10″ = 18ui

18 x 30 = $540

I call this the “linear inch” or “united inch” formula, because the inches are added instead of multiplied. Some artists use a “square inch” formula. Length times width is square inch. This square inch system means that the smaller work is less expensive, and the larger work is exponentially more expensive. For some artists, artists whose work is roughly the same size, this works fine. For me, it causes my 48×72″ paintings to be completely unaffordable and my 8×10″ paintings to be hardly worth the effort.

This is the pricing curve of a square inch formula:

(Ignore the numbers, this is just a picture I got off the internets)

In contrast, this is the pricing structure of a linear, or united inch formula:

See how much more stable the linear inch formula can be?

Career Growth

Never ever never ever decrease your price. Be stable. Have the same price in the gallery as you do in your studio. This will make galleries happy to work with you, and buyers stop haggling. After you’ve sold a body of work, every year or two, increase your magic number by 10%-15%.

For example:

2013 solo show, work was priced at 25ui (8×10″ painting was $450)

2014 solo show, work was priced at 27ui (8×10″ painting was $485)

2015 solo show, work was priced at 30ui (8×10″ painting was $540)

I had a show right before the market crashed and did really well. The gallery owners were running around the gallery with sheets of red dots and calculators. I was on top of the world! Then the market crashed and there weren’t even pennies on the ground. Artists lowered their prices, sold what they had for fractions of the cost, and they suffered. I held. I didn’t increase, I just held. I kept my price the same for 5 years. I didn’t sell much for a while, but then after a while the market returned, and I was on firm ground to raise them. I’m so glad I held.

Good, Better, Best

Some artists increase the price if the painting is really good. I can see there are reasons for this, there are definitely some paintings I’ve made that are more valuable, but I also see how it can create tangles. What if someone likes a painting but the price is lower? New art buyers can be nervous, and you just told them the one they like is the wrong one.

Seems to me that “good better best” is for the second sale – the sale after you’re dead, or at least the sale you’re not involved in. Time, and the market, will decide what was my best.

In theory, this philosophy of “good better best” is about elevating the best works with higher prices. In application, I’ve wrongly used this as an excuse to discount works I’m less confident about. To me it’s just been another way to undercut myself.

My painting teacher Barbara Sternberger gave me the following advice:

“Stick to your formula. If a work isn’t worth the full price, don’t sell it.”

Time = Money

Some artists increase the price if they spent a long time on the painting. This is another tangle for me, because it disregards the hundreds of unseen pieces I had to make in order to be able to paint that one in an hour. And what if I struggle with a work for a year? Is it worth 365 times more than the one made in a day? Introducing these questions seems to me to be a way to just introduce problems, ways to undercut myself again.

Framing

If the piece is framed, I’ll add for that. Some galleries will allow me to charge framing separately, which I appreciate because a $150 frame, if doubled to account for their mark-up, ends up inflating the cost of the piece. For instance, imagine a $200 drawing in a $150 frame (not unreasonable for custom matt and glass). If the gallery is going to take half of the sale price, I have to double the cost of the frame to get my expenses back. So now it’s a $200 painting for $500, which feels uncomfortable, I’m not making much, and buyers are suspicious of the jump. So whenever possible, I try to separate frame costs. So back to our formula:

painting price + frame costs (rounded up) = total price

EXAMPLES:

My magic number started at 10 (in art school). It’s now 30. For example:

length + width =  ui  x 30 = price       framed?   frame cost    total price

8         + 10     = 18  x 30 = $540            yes       $100          $640

24       + 36     =  60 x 30 = $1800          yes       $150          $1950

48       + 72     = 120 x 30 = $3600         no            0             $3600

It’s just numbers

If you’re new at this, but wanting to sell your work, just experiment with finding your magic number. Try putting some prices on the work you have ready. Compare your work with other work that seems similar, and use those prices as a guide. Don’t let your heart get in the way. It’s just numbers.

Taxes

…are you still reading this? Goodness you’re brave.

If you’re selling your work, you need a business license. You’ll also need to charge sales tax, and actually pay it when the government requests.

Resale Certificate

Here’s some good news. If you’ve got a business license for selling art, you can apply for a resale certificate. Resale certificates are valuable. They mean every time you buy a consumable art supply (canvas, paint, etc) that purchase is tax exempt. So in addition to whatever discount you can wrangle from the store, you also save nearly 10%. Did you just get excited? Me too. Save your receipts.

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