The Simple Guide to Pricing Artwork
How to cut through the confusion and get started selling art.
By Noah Blumenson-Cook on January 17th, 2018
It's no small feat to try and assign real-world value to something you've made out of your own inspiration and creativity. It's the uncomfortable clash between creative thinking and logical reasoning. Pricing your artwork can be intimidating, especially if it's your first time.
But it's incredibly important, and incredibly rewarding. Actually selling a piece of artwork or a ticket to a show for the first time is an immense psychological boost. It's a moment of validation that shows you that your art is a valuable commodity that people actually want to experience. In short, it's awesome.
And it's actually pretty easy to figure out. So let's break it down into three basic elements.
Let's start with time.
The first thing you need to do is determine what your time is worth. "Well that's easy," you might be thinking to yourself, "I'll just go by the hourly wage for my day job." And if you freelance for your day job, that might not be a bad idea. If you work for a company as an employee, you probably need to increase that number by at least 35%. Your art practice doesn't come with insurance, or paid sick days. It won't match your contributions to your retirement account, and your expense reimbursements amount to what you can write off your taxes.
So here's a simple way to figure it out. Take your target annual income. This should cover your living expenses, what you need to save for emergencies and retirement, and anything extra you need to support yourself. It'll be more or less depending on where you are and how you live, but for this example let's call it $55,000 a year.
Now figure out your annual billable hours. This is all the time you spend working directly on things you can sell. There are 52 work weeks in a year. Let's say you spend a quarter of your time on administrative tasks like building your website, managing your mailing list and reading helpful articles like this one. That leaves us with 39 weeks. Subtract five weeks for vacation, sick days, and those days where you just can't seem to get anything done. That leaves us with 34 weeks, or 1,360 hours.
Okay! $55,000 a year divided by 1,360 hours is $40.44. Behold, your hourly wage.
Now let's talk about material cost.
It's the cost of the stuff you need to make your art. Pretty straightforward, really. Keep your receipts.
The one curveball in this part of the equation is the cost of free help. If you have access to free or discounted supplies through your school, or your friends are helping you frame your work for a show, you need to factor the cost of that help into the price of the work, even though it was donated or subsidized. You won't always have access to school resources, and you shouldn't count on your friends helping you out for free every time.
So let's put it all together. Let's say we're selling a small ceramic sculpture that took 8 hours to make and cost $50 in stoneware clay, glazes and kiln fees. 8 hours, times $40, plus $50 is $330. Great! Done, right?
The last part of the equation is what the market will bear.
Before you settle on a price, shop for your own kind of art. Scope out your Etsy niche, people selling work on Instagram, and ticket prices for shows. Find Kickstarters and Patreons for work that's like yours, and check out their goals and rewards. Look at local art fairs and galleries too, but remember to factor in the average 50% commission that those venues will take, and remember there's no guarantee they'll accept your work.
If the prices you're seeing are higher than your time + material cost, fantastic! That means people are willing to pay more than your asking wage for your work, and you can reinvest the profits into growing your practice.
If the prices are lower, then you might need to change the way you work to fit the market. Don't be afraid to create smaller, easier to sell pieces to get the ball rolling. Once you've gotten a few sales under your belt, it's much easier to find buyers and patrons for larger pieces or ambitious projects.
So there we have it, the simple equation:
TIME + MATERIALS + MARKET = PRICE
Your prices will evolve and change as you get to know your buyers, but this is the best way we've found to get over that first hurdle. If you've never sold a work, I hope this guide helps you take that exciting first step. If you have, please get in touch and share your stories!
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