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How to price your art to fit the market

Pricing consistency and structure

It’s important that there is some logic to how your work is priced. Having some kind of formula in determining value serves to make things less confusing for everybody, including yourself. It’s just weird to have price differences between works of the same size and material. If you have two paintings for sale of identical size but priced differently, why is that and how would you explain it to someone? Making art may not be a rational process but your pricing formula should be.

Compare your work to that of your peers

It’s certainly a valid point that you should compare your work to that of other artists who are trying to sell their work in the same market. It can be tough to do because you likely think of your work as being unique. An art buyer may not think the same way.  He or she might not see two 3 ft. x 4 ft. acrylic paintings by two separate artists as being so different. Try to look at other artists with comparable experience and accomplishments as yourself. Consider their exhibition records and educational achievements.

Think like a buyer not a maker

It is good to try and put yourself in the shoes of the potential buyer. That is to say, think of how someone ready to purchase might view the options available them. Do some research and see who and what is out there. Of course, you can do a lot of snooping completely on line. Also, gaining a better sense of the competition can’t hurt you. You may even gain some valuable insights and ideas on how better to promote yourself and what you do. Either way a bit of research should give you a general price range for your work. You can take those ballpark figures and work back from there. The goal is to come up with a pricing structure that works for you and the potential buyers out there. It’s important to be realistic.

The width x height x $ formula

Some artists determine prices by multiplying width and height in order to literally figure out the area of a painting. A cost per square inch (or centimeter) is then applied to determine the overall price. Using this rationale, a 12 in. x 24 in. painting has a total area of 288 in. That number is then multiplied by a dollar figure like $2.50. In this scenario the painting of this size is priced at $720. Using this method, the cost of a 24 in. x 24 in. painting is exactly twice as much – $1,440. Similarly, a painting that is 24 in. x 48 in. is four times the price of the smaller painting (12 x 24 x $2.50 = $2,880) because it is four times the area.

For me, this method is awkward because there is such a big difference between the value of a small painting versus a larger work. The time and energy involved is not directly proportional to size. I have never found that a 12 in. x 24 in. painting takes me a quarter of the effort of a 24 in. x 48 in. painting. It is often the opposite. Some pictures resolve themselves much more easily than do others and it might have nothing to do with size. But remember, pricing does need to be somewhat arbitrary and art buyers tend to see value related to size.

The width + height x $ formula

I prefer to use this formula. It still takes size into account but with much less dramatic variances based on size. Using $20 as my dollar multiple, I put the following table together to explain how it works.  

Framed versus unframed

Obviously, the frame or lack thereof should be taken into consideration. I do my own framing because I like to maintain that control. I generally show and sell my work framed so I assume that as part of the overall cost. However, when someone wants to know a price on an as yet unframed piece I charge less. I estimate the cost of framing at $10 a lineal foot. Using this calculation, a frame on a 2 ft. x 4 ft. frame represents approximately 12 lineal feet so I would deduct $120 from the usual price.

Formulas based on time and materials

Some artists like to use a formula based on their hard costs and time spent. While I agree that both time and materials need to be considered when pricing artwork I don’t find that this method suits me but it is still worthy of discussion.

Let’s say you figure $100 in materials and you have spent 25 hours and have decided that the value of each hour spent is $25. That would work out to be $725 (25 x 25 + 100 = 725) for the work of art. Framing costs would be included in the materials and possibly even in time.

As artists, we are all familiar with the standard questions we get from people asking about how many hours it takes to make our work. Heck, I occasionally get those questions from other artists. I don’t deny that time and materials should be considerations. After all, some artists complete a canvas in a few hours while others spend days, weeks, or even months on a single work. Material costs can also vary greatly from artist to artist.

I don’t keep close tabs on time spent so I only have vague notions about how much time may have gone into a particular piece. As I previously mentioned, some pieces resolve themselves more quickly than others. I personally prefer to have time and material considerations figured into the formula by having it reflected in the dollar multiplier that I use in my formula (width x height x $ amount). Once demand grows for you work you can adjust your formula higher to reflect that. Either way, you need a method to determine costs that is going to work for you. It should be easy to figure out and yield results that make you and your adoring fans comfortable.

Direct sales versus retail

It’s important to note that there should be consistency in the final price of your work regardless of whether you are selling it out of your studio or through a personal website versus a bricks and mortar or online gallery. Galleries, both brick and mortar as well as online take commissions which really cut into the proceeds. Brick and mortar galleries in particular don’t like it when you are selling work out of your studio or through your personal website for less than they are selling your work. Galleries take hefty commissions (50%) and that stings. It’s tempting to offer direct sales at a discount but that can really spoil your relationship with a bricks and mortar gallery.


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