Monday, January 30, 2012

Pricing Paintings

"Red Rock Quiet" 9x12, oil - Zion National Park

Students ask me how to price their paintings.  When I first started out, I didn't have any idea, either.    What was a reasonable price for a 9x12 pastel - a hundred bucks?  A thousand?  Judging from some of the prices I'd seen in galleries, it seemed like the range was pretty wide, and price didn't necessarily relate to the quality of the work or the artist's reputation.

My mentor, Ann Templeton, introduced me to her gallery in Ruidoso, New Mexico.  The owner liked my work, and I liked the gallery.  So, I asked her what she thought she could get for my 9x12 pastels.  She named a price - $300 - and so that's where I started.   Since that time, I've raised my prices annually if things were selling, and kept them the same if they weren't.  (I have yet to drop the price.)  It's been a good policy, and I think my work today commands what I consider a fair price.

Whenever I go to a new area looking for a gallery, my procedure is to ask what they think they could get for my work.  Sometimes it's higher than what similar work is priced somewhere else.  And that's okay.   I know the received wisdom is that prices should be the same across all galleries, but I disagree.  The price is whatever the market will bear.  Some galleries have access to a wealthy clientele; some don't.

As for different sizes, I price by the square inch, but as the number of square inches increases, the price per square inch drops.  Bigger paintings cost less per square inch than smaller ones.  I built a little spreadsheet that does all the calculations for me.  One important thing to take into account is to make sure you consider framing and the gallery's commission.   If you charge $500 for a painting, your gallery will take $250 (if you have a 50/50 deal), and if the framing cost $100, that will leave you with only $150.  If you're shipping work to an exhibition, make sure you take shipping into account, too, as it can eat up your profits.

Sometimes I'll offer sketches and demonstration pieces for sale.  These I price lower, since they are often unframed and, well, sketches and not finished work.  I price them reasonably, keeping in mind that often these go to students or to people who'd like a piece of original art but just can't afford a finished piece.

There are many ways to price artwork, and this is just what works for me.  Check with other artists to see how they price things and what their philosophies are.  The bottom line is, if you're trying to make a living at this, you want to get paid a reasonable rate for your work - and to make sure it gets out the door at whatever price.  (Click here to see more of my plein air landscapes.)

How do you price your work?

6 comments: said...

I also price by the square inch, with less per unit as paintings increase in size, but this still leads to some odd gaps, although they are not too noticeable because I don't paint much in some sizes, and the price changes are on either side of these gaps.

How did you set up your chart? I'm not interested in the exact price/sq. in. but in how you make the transition from one size category to the next. I am a math cripple and cannot figure out how to do this myself.

Because of that I am close to the Edgar Whitney (American Watercolor teacher of the 50's - 70's) strategy for pricing: "Would I rather have $xx or this painting?" When you hit $xx, then that is the price. I presume he also considers the likelihood of his actually getting that price; I do.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

I just set up a grid with my standard sizes, have the spreadsheet calculate the square inches, then multiply that by my rate. I set the rate manually, based on what I think looks about right. It's a gut call. It is not a smooth progression from $X/sq in for the smallest paintings to $Y/sq in for the largest.

Doug Runyan said...

The real fly in the ointment is the framing cost when considering the gallery division of proceeds and the appropriate price for a work. Good framing is necessary, of course, but it all comes out of the artist's pocket. It's really difficult to recover the framing cost, keep enough for the artist and not price the work too highly.

Libby Fife said...

This is a very reasonable and fair explanation of how to price. Glad that you said it so thank you:)

Kasturi said...

I am not a big painter, just a small time hobbyist, but nevertheless, I have been lucky to have sold some of my paintings. I also face this dilemma of not knowing what to price my paintings at.. Initially I used to price them really low, but now, after seeing the art of some amateur artists I price them ( still at reasonable prices as per Indian rupees)depending on my effort and technique, concept. So its like i have worked out my own parameters for my own paintings..and they seem to be acceptable!:) But this grid system looks good!Thanks!

Michele Traum said...

This was very interesting and helped me see where to adjust my prices. Previously, I had priced my paintings just on frame or canvas size as well as gut/guess what they'd sell for.