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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pricing Art (my two bits)

"Escapee" - original oil 6x6"

I recently received this email from a good friend and fellow artist:

"Ok, age-old question:  how do you price your paintings?  Do you do a per/inch type thing?  Or something else? And how do you even determine your prices? I think my prices are probably too low. But I feel crazy for saying that when I'm not selling anything!!  Help."

I've been asked this question before, it is age-old, and here is where I have settled with it:

Per inch is the norm, and the easiest.  Personally I just did what felt right for a few large to middle sizes and then worked out from there. Not a per inch formula at all. When things are selling well I gradually inch my prices up, when things are slower I go in to a holding pattern. Some artists have a business strategy of increasing 5-10% a year regardless of sales. 

How you determine price is based on many things: 

  • quality relative to other artists you're selling amongst (local market) 
  • time spent overall (how prolific are you) 
  • reputation (awards/juried shows/ signature status in well-respected organizations/magazine articles/workshops taught/demand for your work are all things to consider here)
  • whether you want to sell LOTS or are willing to sell fewer but get paid more for your what you produce. One of the ideas behind pricing lower than quality or time spent might warrant is that hopefully you will sell lots and get a name, while gradually increasing over time. This works well if you're prolific, but if your career path involves continually exploring challenging territory in your effort to grow as an artist, this almost always slows down the flow of commercial output. If you can be prolific while growing, awesome! 
My prices are on the high end of my local market, but I believe they are in line with the quality (as well as 20+ years of painting, and snippets achieved of each of the things I listed under reputation). Those selling larger works for half the price certainly sell more volume than I do, but I believe that things balance out in the end. My personal experience is that continually stretching is a very rewarding path to choose, but also produces many efforts that never wind up in a frame, and my higher price structure gives me some breathing room in this area.

From the beginning I have believed that people value things in part by how they are priced, and will question the value if something is priced low. Other folks, however, snap things up because they are affordable. I have an artist friend who makes 6 figures annually from his art, pumps out a mixed bag of quality (from excellent to not so excellent) but creates and sells tons of work, who says “The only people who care about good art are artists.” I don't think this is entirely true, I believe there are many collectors who recognize and appreciate high quality art, but I have also seen high priced, substandard work sell on a consistent basis, so it's not entirely untrue. Art sells for a lot of different reasons, quality is only one.

You must decide what kind of artist you would like to be, what market you want to go after, and after accounting for all the other factors mentioned, price according to that.

#1 rule, don’t price too high too early, because except in very rare circumstances, it is not a good idea to lower your prices, it suggests a loss of confidence in your work and is not a hit with your collectors.

If you trust your gallery, they can be an asset in helping you set prices, just remember that they have interests besides just you that they will take into consideration when guiding this choice. In all decisions regarding your career, the best advice I can give is do your research, search your heart, and do what will best serve your long term vision for your career. 


  1. I very much appreciate your thoughts on pricing, this provides a huge amount of information on a topic that many artists struggle with.

  2. Thoughtful commentary on pricing..a lot to think about! Plus your "escapee" is right on target!

  3. Love the orange slices. I love how you make them so juicy and glowing! Thanks so much for the insightful article. I always learn so much from what you posts and very much appreciate it.
    -I do have a question: Although I'm only in some smaller galleries right now, but my goal is to get into a few prominent ones in larger cities. I have a feeling I will be underpriced for these. What should I do if a gallery thinks I should price higher? Should prices be raised across the board? Or should I resist?

  4. Thanks for your feedback Lisa.

    In the age of the internet, it is a good idea to have consistent pricing. Collectors in Toronto will not be impressed if they paid 20% more than someone in Portage la Prairie for the same size piece by the same artist. On that note, it is pretty much standard to always charge the same price for the same size, regardless of how long it took or how much you like it, though I have occasionally put a premium on a piece if it is particularly hard won or one of my best efforts ever.

    I would say if a gallery is encouraging you to raise your prices, consider if the new price will be viable in your current galleries. If you decide to do it, it should be an across the board increase. This includes people buying directly from your studio or website. Selling to a client at a lower price than your galleries is unethical and undermines their efforts. People will ask. The professional response is to respect your galleries and decline, even if it means losing the sale.

  5. Liz, thanks for this topic. It is one that I am seriously rethinking just this week!

  6. This was so great to read. I am one who experienced fairly early success and then fairly rapid price increase too early i think. Now it is going slowly and i have been resisting the temptation to lower my prices just to generate a little income. I am so glad i read this and i am grateful you took the time out of your painting day to share your thoughts here. Thank you for your inspiration and encouragement.
    I also love your art too. It is absolutely beautiful and gives me something to aspire too.

  7. Hi Ross,

    Thanks for your comments! When things are slow, as an alternate to lowering prices, you could think about things such as teaching workshops, giving individual private lessons, or creating small daily paintings that you can sell for less, in a size you haven't currently offered in the market place. These are all ideas I'm trying out...think about seeking to get paid for the value you have to offer in other ways, rather than devaluing your work by lowering prices.

  8. thanks Liz;

    I thought your smaller painting idea was brilliant and was about to borrow the idea. Smile! And yes, workshops and classes are a great idea too! I have a couple of classes at present but could certainly do more. I'm also trying different types of paintings, ones i've always wanted to do. Oil is also a favorite medium but haven't done much with it yet. So that is also a possibility. I am looking forward to exploring your Blog further Liz. Your generosity with your experience and knowledge is greatly appreciated by all those who visit, I'm sure.
    Blessings always.

  9. Thanks Ross. I'd love to take the credit, but the brilliant small painting idea started way before me. :)

    Definitely seems a good idea to bring our creativity into the marketing area of our careers as well. Some artists like to let their galleries handle that area, which can be very effective. Personally, I like to be pretty involved in all areas of my career.