Deciding how to price artworks can be a challenge for artists, especially those at the start of their career. It helps to be prepared when speaking with prospective buyers about how you set your price, and as a result, it’s a good idea to stay consistent and ensure a fact-based price structure.
That doesn’t mean artists shouldn’t be flexible – artists change their prices based on recent sales, the cost of labour and materials, and general market trends. We have covered some of the key factors to consider when pricing artworks.
Research Similar Artworks and Artists
When determining how to price your art, a good benchmark is to look at what other similar artworks are for sale where you plan to sell. This enables you to see what price other comparable art is being sold for. When looking online, compare your art to what sells, not what doesn’t sell or hasn’t sold yet.
Spend time researching artists making work similar to your own. Most will have a website or catalogue where you can look at the details of their work. Visit exhibitions and talk to dealers to get a feel for the current climate. They may use different methods for pricing artwork to you, but in general, the main points to consider are: materials used, size of the composition, subject matter, technical skill involved, experience level, and how long they have been selling art commercially.
It can be tough to compare yourself to other artists objectively, but try to put yourself in the position of a buyer. Consider what they are looking for, and who they might consider buying from instead of you.
Cost of Time and Materials
Beyond what price the market suggests, consider the costs which apply just to you, such as time spent on the work and salary, materials, overheads, plus any desired profit margin on top. As a benchmark, set yourself a reasonable hourly wage, multiply that by the number of hours it took to make the work, and add that figure to the cost of your materials. There are also many tools available online, such as the Art Price Calculator, which can help with this.
The Artists’ Union England currently lists the below as guidance when paying another artist:
£22.16 p/hr new graduate artist
£28.73 p/hr with 3 years+ experience
£34.20 p/hr with 5 years+ experience
*Updated: Sep 18, 2020
It is also worth taking into consideration utilities, professional fees like framing, transportation, postage, or studio rent. The cost of packaging the artwork for shipping is also usually the responsibility of the artist, so these should be factored into the price as well. Always remember to include the sales commission if you’re going through a gallery or agent. These ‘hidden costs’ can often catch you out in the long run.
It’s also worth noting that when artists are just starting out, something might take much longer than an experienced artist in their field. On the other hand, when you have mastered a discipline, it might take a much shorter time to complete a work and you will be able to demand a much higher price for it.
In short, this isn’t a fool-proof method, but it is a good way to get started in gauging the value of your work.
What Market are you Selling in?
You should bear in mind that the 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, such as Saatchi Art.
If you are selling one artwork on multiple channels, make sure its price is consistent everywhere. Similarly, be consistent about pricing works within your portfolio – for example, larger works should be priced consistently higher than smaller works.
Pricing Different Sized Artworks
Buyers will usually expect to pay less for smaller works and it’s a hard rule to follow, because that doesn’t necessarily mean less work has gone into them. However, it’s something to be aware of when pricing your work.
It’s a good idea to have artworks in a range of size and prices in your portfolio, as this will widen the net of people who may be interested in your work.
Establishing Commission Prices
Many of the same principles mentioned so far apply to commissioned works. If someone commissions you to paint a portrait, it helps to get a sense of portrait prices in your market, and establish a formula with an hourly rate etc.
Having a formula that you can refer to for commission prices is useful because you can scale your price depending on the complexity of the piece. It will also be easy for your client to understand how you arrived at that price.
For example, if your portrait painting price is £500, it is understandable that the commission price for a painting with two figures will be more expensive due to the extra time and materials involved. You can use a formula and an estimate of how long it will take to figure out the price.
When selling prints artists have an extra element to take into account – editions. Make sure to number and sign each piece – first editions should be sold at a higher price as they are considered the most valuable.
Avoid pricing your work until you have decided on the edition number: the number of times you duplicate the work affects the value. Generally speaking, artists wanting their work to become collectable and steadily increase in value will produce a lower number. Higher limited editions of 250, 500, etc. are typically saved for certain works by highly collectable artists.
Stand Confidently by your Prices – and Adapt
Whether you sell a lot of work or are new to the process, have confidence in yourself and your prices. If someone asks why a piece is expensive, have a prepared answer. Put their mind at ease by showing them that other people have made similar purchases, and that the way that you price your work is methodical and fact-based.
Buyers want to be able to justify their purchase, and they also want to know they are spending their money wisely. If the buyer offers below your price, you’ll be ready to justify your price.
Basing your pricing on these guidelines is a great starting point, and remember that you can inch your prices up, within reason.
Every artist knows the feeling of being more attached to some pieces more than others, it’s normal. That said, when deciding how to price artworks, it’s important to be objective – that means pricing an artwork based on its physical attributes and not on personal value.
So, when’s the best time to increase your rate? If your prices have remained the same for a while and you’ve been getting steady work, it could be a good time to raise them. If you’ve just won an art prize or had a write-up in a well-known publication, that’s a good sign that you can increase your valuation as well.