Learning how to price artwork is really challenging for lots of artists. If you’re finding yourself struggling with where to start and wondering how to price your art in a way that is fair, represents your effort, and will actually sell, you’ll find this guide super-helpful!
It’s really important for artists to have a good understanding of things like commission prices, pricing artwork that has already been completed, and the differences between selling independently and selling through a gallery. At the end of the day, most artists need some income to be able to keep making art. Creating an awesome portfolio and pricing your pieces appropriately will mean that you can keep doing the thing you love, and better yet, get paid for it!
How to Price Artwork Based on Comparables
As amazing as your art may be, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum separate from other work that’s out there. When determining how to price your art, you have to take a good look at where you plan to sell it and what other comparable art is being sold in that space. Art valuation always depends on other similar work, whether we like it or not!
This can be hard to accept, because of course, you know your art and the effort, motivation, and emotion that goes into it better than you know anybody else’s. But if you’re serious about pricing artwork to sell, it’s time to start comparing your work that of other artists.
What Market are You Selling in?
The first step is to determine what market you plan to sell your art in. Are you focusing on selling locally, in your city or immediate area? Maybe you’re planning to sell your artwork nationally, or even internationally. Depending on where you plan to sell, you’ll have to figure how to price your art accordingly, based on the prices of artists selling in that same market. The going price for your type of art in your city might be higher than, say, the going price on an online market that sells pieces from artists all over the world internationally such as Saatchi Art.
If you’re selling primarily through a gallery, that’s a different market than selling primarily directly to your consumer, for example. By knowing what market you’re selling in, you’ll be able to take a look at other artists selling similar work in the same market to get an idea of what kinds of prices people in your market are willing to pay.
Which Artists Are Similar to You?
Pricing artwork involves a bit of snooping around. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with other artists making pieces similar to your own. Cruise their online portfolios to check out the details of their work—and the pricing. There are a few areas you should consider, especially:
- Size of composition
- Subject matter
- Technical skill involved
- Experience level, or how long they have been selling art commercially
All of these parameters matter for painting valuation, so you’ll want to be honest with yourself and try to identify comparable artists whose prices you can use as a guide for your own prices.
Then, especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have many sales yet, it’s probably best to price your art around the lower end of the range of similar artists (ensuring that you’re still covering your costs and paying yourself a fair hourly wage). If other people are pricing artwork similar to yours at a lower price than you, and you don’t have a reputation yet, you’ll miss out on sales that should be yours!
It might be tough to compare yourself to other artists objectively, but try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What are they looking for? Who might they consider buying from instead of you? Try your best to go through this exercise, and if you’re having a hard time, ask someone who isn’t a friend or family member (and therefore more likely to view your work extra-favorably) to help.
Leave Emotions Out of Your Art Valuation
Every artist knows the feeling of being more attached to some pieces than others. It’s totally normal. But when deciding how to price your art, it’s important to be as rational as possible.
That’s because you want your customers to understand your price structure. If one piece is much more expensive than the rest because it’s a personal favorite, you might be putting an interested potential buyer in the uncomfortable position of having to ask why it costs so much compared to the rest. That can throw them off inquiring altogether!
How to Use a Formula
Once you have an idea of the ideal range your artwork should be priced based on comparable artists in your market, see if you can come up with a formula that you can use that will get you within this range. At the very least, your formula should cover the cost of any materials you use, and an hourly wage.
For example, let’s say you settle on a price per piece of about $600. If your materials cost $100 and your pieces take about 20 hours to complete, you can pay yourself about $25 per hour to arrive at the target price ($100 for materials, 20 x $25 for your labor. If you see that similar pieces in your market sell for about $500, you may have to lower hourly rate a bit.
With more experience and more sales under your belt, you’ll be able to increase that hourly rate, so try to be honest with yourself about what that rate should be today.
How to Establish Commission Prices
There are so many amazing opportunities for artists who make commissioned work. But you want to make sure your commission prices are in line with others in your market. If you sell custom orders, you’ll definitely want to learn how to price commissions so that you can get steady orders.
Luckily, a lot of the same principles that we’ve learned so far apply. If you do custom portraits, you’ll want to get a sense of portrait prices in your market, and establish a formula with an hourly rate that is fair to you but also lands you within a price range that your work will actually sell in.
Having a formula that you can refer to for commission prices is super-handy because you can scale your price depending on the complexity of the piece, and it will be easy for your client to understand how you arrived at that price.
For example, if your portrait painting price is $400, it is understandable that the commission price for a painting with two figures will be more expensive due to the extra time involved, and you can use your formula and an estimate of how long it will take you to figure out the price.
If you’re an artist who works on commission, you’ll want to look for a website builder with built-in client proofing, making it easy to stay in touch with your client throughout the process.
Understanding the Difference Between Retail and Wholesale
When you’re just starting out, you will probably sell primarily through your online store. Even if you get gallery representation, you may still sell some original work, prints, or commissions directly to customers through your store.
Selling directly to customers is referred to as wholesale (even if you’re selling just one piece), and selling through a gallery is retail. If you’re selling wholesale, you can use the tips we’ve talked about so far. But if you’re going to sell through a gallery or an online art retailer that takes a commission, pricing artwork will involve understanding how much of a cut they will take.
Let’s say you set your art commission prices around $500 a piece. There’s a good chance that if you sell through a gallery, you will get 50% of the sale price. If that’s the case, your selling price at the gallery should be around $1000.
If you do sell through a gallery, your online store prices should be in line with those gallery prices. They won’t like knowing that customers can find your work for a much cheaper price elsewhere, after spending time and resources promoting you themselves.
How to Incorporate A Marketing Strategy Into Your Pricing
It’s a good idea to think of pricing artwork as part of your overall art marketing strategy. Your art commission prices situate you in a certain part of the market. How can you leverage your pricing strategy?
Having original pieces that are priced a bit higher than the rest (maybe they’re much larger, for example) could make the rest of your pieces seem like a great deal in comparison. Even if you know you probably won’t sell the large, expensive piece easily, it creates a higher perceived value for your overall body of work.
Similarly, having amazing original pieces on your online portfolio could drive fans of your work who don’t necessarily have the budget or original artwork to check out prints for sale. You could create a gallery just for prints, so that there’s something for everyone who loves your artwork.
Consider the Long-Term
When deciding how to price artwork, you might be tempted to go as high as possible. But, as we’ve shown, that’s not a good idea. What’s the point of having a bunch of $5000 paintings in your store if none of them are selling? Instead, think of this as a long game. Start out by pricing your work based on these guidelines, and remember that you can always inch your prices up, within reason.
So, what’s the best time to increase your rate? If your art commission prices have remained the same for a while and you’ve been getting steady work, you can probably bump your price up to a higher bracket. If you’ve just won an art contest or had a write-up in a well-known publication, that’s a good sign that you can increase your art valuation as well!
It’s better to be selling work consistently and building your brand than to dive right into pricing artwork in a very high range. This way, you have a better chance of gaining the reputation necessary to justify those higher prices,
Set Up An Online Store
Having a great online art portfolio is a super important tool for any artist. By showing your artwork in an online portfolio, you give people a way to discover you, keep up with your latest work, and also get to know a little bit more about you and your accolades. This is another way to justify those artwork prices!
Don’t have an online portfolio yet? Choose a website builder with a built-in online store, so that you don’t have to deal with any annoying integration issues, as well as beautiful themes; this way, your work can shine in an attractive yet professional way. If you’re not sure where to start, look for an online portfolio that offers a free trial, which allows you to test it out for a couple of weeks before committing.
Include a Well-Written About Page
You’re more likely to be able to charge higher commission prices if people know more about you as an artist, so make sure you include an awesome, informative, and well-crafted strong artist statements, along with a thoughtful, articulate about page. This is where you share your background and any art contest or art scholarship wins you have under your belt. Remember: better experience equals better art valuation!
Be Clear About Commission Prices
Your online portfolio should also include compelling product descriptions, since these are really powerful tools that can sway potential buyers to make the purchase. Don’t forget to include pricing, including art commission prices.
No one wants to contact artists to inquire about price, so don’t make your customers go through the unnecessary extra step (or worse, click away from your website all together). Consider including a pricing page with all your commission prices to make it super-simple for them.
You could also create a gallery specifically for commission pieces, so that people can see exactly the kind of awesome work you’ve created for other people and get inspired to commission their own! (Need more tips on how to curate that website? Check out our guide to picking images for your portfolio.)
Although it’s not always fun to sit down and figure out dollar values for the work you put you put so much heart into, it’s super-important for your career as an artist to understand how to price artwork. Now that you have the tools, you can get started on setting up an online store with prices and incentives that will get your customers placing orders in no time!
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