artists – how do you price your work?

Many artists are not business people. They do not come from an economics, science, or mathematics backgrounds. Some do, but many do not.

Artists are artists. They are creative people that transcend economics, science, and maths. They are people that pour their hearts and souls into their art; and into creating something that has not existed before.

Many artists would love to live off their art. They would love to give up their ‘employer derived income’ and live off the proceeds of their art. They would love to create for a living and get paid for it… not in the ‘starving artist’ kind of way, but in a more comfortable ‘I can eat and pay the rent and bills with money to spare’ kind of way.

Unsurprisingly, many of the artists that I have been speaking with during the past 6 months do not have a pricing strategy for their artwork. Actually, I lie.  Their strategy is to get as much as they possibly can for their work to ensure sales.

When you pour your heart and soul into your artwork; and when you want other people to want your work, a pricing strategy for artists is usually not top of mind.

So, here are three simple tips to help artists price their work.

1.       Start with your base costs

Art can be an expensive business.  It is very important that you keep track of how much money you spend on producing your artwork.  The vast majority of artists do not know how much their artwork cost them to produce; even though it is one of the simplest things to work out.

Keep receipts for everything, especially for the materials that you use to create your artwork. Canvases, paint, brushes, mediums, solvents, clay, wire, paper; anything that you buy or are given to use on your artwork. If you buy a whole tube of oil paint but only use 10%, then apply 10% of its cost to your base cost.

Don’t forget to count the services involved in producing your artwork. Photographic processing, kiln firing fees, canvas stretching, models, props, framing, hanging systems, presentation systems, studio fees, printing press rental.  All of these costs contribute to your base costs. You may even want to determine
how much electricity, gas, and water you used to produce an artwork.

Add all of the above costs together to determine the base cost of your artwork. If for example, all of your costs for a painting come to $100, then this is the base cost of your artwork.

You now know how much you need to sell the artwork for to break even, and how much you need to sell it for to make a profit.

There is a very simple rule of thumb that the wholesale/retail industry works on. This isn’t true for everyone but it will give you a start. Generally speaking you will multiply your base cost by 2 to get a wholesale rate and then multiply it by 2 again to get your retail rate. In other words, if you are selling your artwork direct, then you should multiply your base cost by somewhere between 2 and 4 to get your sale price.

If you are selling through a gallery, don’t forget to add their commission to your price!

2.      Calculate what your time is worth

The calculation of the base cost above does not necessarily take your time into account; and this is a very important factor in determining the price of your work.

The standard work week is 38 hours.  This equates to 1976 hours per year.  The number 1976 is important as it will help you determine what your hourly rate is.

Without going crazy, work out what sort of gross salary you would be comfortable with to do your art full time.  Is it $50,000 per year? $60,000, or $100,000?

Regardless of the figure, divide it by 1976 to get your ideal hourly rate.  Here are some examples…

  • $50,000 = $25.30 per hour
  • $60,000 = $30.36 per hour
  • $70,000 = $35.43 per hour
  • $80,000 = $40.49 per hour
  • $90,000 = $45.55 per hour
  • $100,000 = $50.61 per hour

Keep a rough record of how long an artwork takes you to produce and multiply your ideal hourly rate by the number of hours it took you.

For example, if a painting takes you 6 hours (on and off) to produce and you’re happy with $50k a year, then your time cost for the artwork is $151.80. If you’re a photographer, how long did the shoot take? How long did the post-processing take?

If you add this amount to the base cost in point one, you will have an even better ‘cost’ of your artwork and won’t need to randomly multiply the base cost as previously suggested.

3.      Research your competition

Bill Henson can sell his limited edition photographic prints for $15,000 (or more) each; paintings by Picasso sell for millions.

I’d suggest that you are probably not competing with these artists, but if you are I am privileged that you are reading this.

Go to art galleries, framing shops, furniture shops, and interior design specialists. Find out what they are charging for their pieces. How do they compare to yours? Is yours better? Is yours more exclusive because it is a one-off? Is there more work in yours? Does the artist of the other pieces have a name in the industry? Are they well known?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you know where you and your artwork is positioned. If you are too close to your own work to know the answers, get some objective friends to help or see a gallery owner (like me!) for some independent advice.

If you have done the calculations above in Points 1 & 2, and have determined that the cost of your work is (e.g.) $251.80, but you can see other artworks that are of a similar quality to yours selling for $1,000, then maybe your artwork should be valued at somewhere between $800 and $1200?

Don’t be shy, but do try and stay reasonable.  At the end of the day, artists are responsible for pricing their work. If you don’t ask for the price that you will be happy with, I can guarantee that you won’t get it.

Artists also need to consider things like their intellectual property, their studies, their technique, professional memberships, their point of difference, their expertise, etc. etc.

Pricing artwork is not a science; it is more of an art, so artists should be quite good at it!

Use the points above as a guide to help, but please also make sure that you are always striving to achieve what you want to achieve out of your art; financially or not.