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Pricing Artwork Part 2

December 13, 2010

Some artist friends have told me the information they found in part one was useful, so I thought I’d give a little more info from my Kanab presentation. Check out this graph:

Art Pricing and Output Graph

Disclaimer–most of what I’m about to say consists of hasty generalizations, so take it with a grain of salt.

The yellow line represents the typical output of a professional artist. The early years are filled with exploration, a lot of squinting and adjusting, and fewer finished works of art. Then gradually the artist gets more confident in his/her explorations, has more demands to fill shows, and is able to finish more and more works of art. At some point, this probably levels off. This point was driven home to me by artist Gary Ernest Smith. He had a large, seemingly almost finished painting. “I just started it this morning,” he told me. “It goes more quickly when you know what you want.” I’ve found this to be true. My early years of painting averaged only about twenty finished pieces. In contrast, this year I will finish about 100 paintings. Granted, many this year’s have been small and quick, but many were also large and involved. All this to say, whatever you can do to up your production, it’s probably a good idea–especially when you are starting your career. Don’t sacrifice quality, but try to finish more quality pieces. First rule of any business: you’ve got to have a product or a service to sell. Make lots of paintings and you’ll have a great product.

The top red line indicates a mistake (in my opinion) that some beginning professionals make. They spend months creating an extraordinary work of art, they look at the mediocre artwork being sold by other artists, and then proceed to put a crazy-high price tag on their new masterpiece. The problem with this is, most artists need to grow their clientele from a wide base. Not only that, but there is not sufficient output from the artist to build a strong foundational momentum. The artist may find a buyer for that one expensive piece, and perhaps again six months later with a new piece, and so on. But, the sales are sporadic, and the artist often realizes there are easier ways to make a living, and abandons the career path altogether. To this artist I would say, increase your output and decrease your prices–try to start by underselling the established professionals that are doing similar work.

The lower red line represents a second and probably more common mistake. This is the artist that puts such a low price on his/her work that it barely covers the cost of materials, let alone the time put into creating the work. This artist works for $1 per hour and eventually tires of the small returns, and gives up. To this artist I say, don’t undervalue your work. Pick a target price range you want your work to sell at, and work really really hard to bring the quality of your work up, so it’s worth that price. For example, say you want a 10″ painting to sell for $900. Make it look like a thousand dollar painting, and you’ll get your $900. If it doesn’t look like it’s worth that much, keep working on it. Make the piece stunning, even if it takes twenty painting sessions to do it. Over time, fewer and fewer sessions will be needed to make a stunning piece.

Okay, the blue line is the ideal. Most artists should start out with a moderately low price, and gradually raise it over time. That way you can grow a large clientele base and a solid foundational momentum. Ten or fifteen years into your career, you’ll start to see some good return on your efforts, and twenty to thirty years, you’ll be doing quite well. Some of the highest-paid professionals in our communities are artists–artists who work hard and continually seek to improve their craft, their voice, and the business channels that promote them.

To sum up: most beginning professionals should seek to increase output and establish a moderately low price, then gradually raise it over time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010 12:14 pm

    I really appreciate your notes on this subject. It seems like most professionals and educators try to stay away from talking money in the classroom, and because of that, I have had very little insight into the way that I should approach the situation. While I have had to learn the ropes on my own, I appreciate the professional light that you bring to the table.

  2. Pauline Gough permalink
    May 27, 2012 3:37 pm

    I also appreciate your thoughts on pricing artwork. I have only been seriously selling my work for just over 2 years and, although I am pricing my work relatively low, I am managing to make steady sales, cover my costs and make it worth my while and, at the same time, increase my skills. At the outset, I decided it would be preferable to sell my work to make space for new work. Your thoughts on this subject validate what I’m doing.

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