Over the years, many artists have asked me for advice on how to price artwork. Conversely, many investors are interested in why some artists charge much more (or less) than others. My view is that many artists producing quality work are undercharging for their paintings. I used to, and in so doing, I did a diservice to myself and to the industry as a whole. I undercharged because I thought people would not pay. I also believed I didn’t deserve to earn a living doing paintings (repeatedly people suggested that I ‘get a real job’); add to this the hiccough that once you increase your prices, you cannot decrease them, and you get a plethora of artists charging barely more than the cost of supplies, expenses, and taxes. While I understand the appeal of ‘getting work out there’, earning money to pay the rent, and giving paintings away for ‘exposure’, I recently decided to take a different approach.
I am a professional; it has taken me over a decade to learn to do what I can now do. And it will take longer…possibly a lifetime. Can you imagine someone asking a doctor to charge less for their work because they only took half an hour for the surgery?! That is absurd. Yet artists of all kinds are expected to do this on a regular basis. Why? Because the benefits of what we do are rarely tangible. Just as medical doctors heal the body, artists heal the soul.
So let’s talk tangible. Let’s talk dollars, hours, years, and business.
The following are the various ways I have used to determine how much to charge for my paintings:
- What will the market bear? What is the quality of the work?
- Cost breakdown
- How much do I want / expect to earn (hourly, monthly and/or yearly)
What will the market bear?
I have spent twelve years determining this in various ways:
- On line – When I began 12 years abo, I looked online to find the pricing of comparable work in quality and style, in similar markets (Western Canada). I also looked through the bios of each artist to see how long they had been a professional artist. I still look online, though like me, many artists don’t post their prices.
- Interviews – I asked several prominent, successful, local artists whose work was similar, and asked them what their paintings sell for, what pricing strategy they use, and what they recommend I do. As a result I chose to implement a price by the square inch in keeping with a strategy that began at ¼ of what Alan Wylie charges per painting. Within 8 years I have tripled my prices.
- Testing – I have taken my paintings to many shows in Alberta and BC and have gleaned incredible information and insights from customers and art enthusiasts. I have spent a lot of time honing in on my ‘target market’ and trying new things to see what works and what doesn’t. Just because something works now, doesn’t mean it will in the future (and vice versa).
- Location – My work is heading into the USA and the Netherlands. Each artist needs to find out where their enthusiasts, i.e. those who really love my work and can pay for it. Don’t know? Try different opportunities and see what works.
- Ongoing research – this is a fluid business! As an artist I constantly need to adapt to the change in markets, in cultural paradigms, in resources, and in opportunities. I also listen to my collectors, patrons and investors. All of this while staying true to who I am as an artist. It is a delicate balance for me of staying focussed and grounded within a chaos of opportunities!
Based on my research, when I sell a 16″ x 20″ painting for $2,000, I will earn roughly $600 from the sale of that piece. See the cost breakdown below:
$2,000 painting (not including PST & GST)
– $1,000 50% commission to gallery or other
– $100 frame (which I purchase in bulk & do myself)
– $50 supplies directly to make the painting (eg. as paint, canvas, solvent, etc)
– $90 business costs* (see below)
– $160 income tax
Total: $600 earned
*Business costs are incredibly important here, and are usually overlooked by most artists! Artists are more like contractors, who need to charge double the regular ‘wage’ costs in order to cover business expenses such as (this is only a partial list!):
|Studio rental||Marketing||Art supplies – brushes, easels,||Income tax|
|Hydro %||Administration||Packaging & Shipping||CPP|
|Vehicle %||Office supplies – computer, paper, pens,||Professional development (taking classes)||Personal insurance or payment for services (such as dental)|
|Networking||Bookkeeper / accountant||Memberships to organizations||Insurance on paintings|
|Travel costs||Resources (such as books)||Model fees / camera|
How much do I want / expect to earn?
Let’s say I decide that want to make $100,000 per year. This is a far cry from the average wage for a professional aritst in BC, which is a mere $16,000/yr. But I like to think big. Most professionals who put 10+ years into learning their trade are paid accordingly. As an artist, I am a self-emplyed business person. So I need to determine how many paintings I can create within a year. Let’s say that I could complete ten 4ft x 6ft paintings per year. I would need to charge $10,000 per painting, right? Nope! Add onto this all of the items listed above, including supplies, commissions, business costs, and income tax.
If $600 = $2,000 price tag, then $10,000 = $33,320 price tag (depending on the cost of supplies)
I would need to charge $33,320 per painting! All of this is primarily dependent, of course, on how many actually sell (back to the question of ‘what will the market bear’)? So, I either need to find a market that will bear these prices, paint smaller work and sell more, or expect to earn less. My longterm plan is to do the first option.
It is my belief that if an artist does her research and uses all of the above options, he/she will likely come up with a pricing strategy that works.
I have developed two price lists, both based on the price per square inch. The price is higher per square inch for smaller works, and lower for larger paintings. One pricelist is for landscapes, still lifes, figurative, studies, commissions and the like, and the other is for philosophical paintings. My philosophical paintings sell for much more. Why? Because they are incredibly complex and take years to develop.
I hope this post has been helpful. Please feel free to email me or leave a comment.