How to price your art

May 2, 2014

Here is a great article by Melissa Dinwiddie on how she prices her art. If you are selling your work, then this is a must read.

 

A few months ago I started sharing snapshots of works in progress on social media. Not long afterwards, someone I know on Facebook asked if my work was for sale, because she wanted to buy a particular piece I was working on.

It gets better: turns out she was interested not just in purchasing the canvas-in-process; she also wanted me to create a second, “sister canvas” to go with it.

Just from posting my process pics on Facebook, I had a buyer for not one, but two paintings! Great!

The only problem? Now I was going to have to come up with a price…

Groan!

I am convinced that pricing is always the hardest thing I do as an artist. How the heck do we decide what to charge? Pricing just feels like a big, black void, and one with a lot of pressure: charge too much, and they’ll run away; charge too little, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Ultimately, this spontaneous Facebook commission made me determined to set an entire pricing structure for my work, rather than just grabbing a number out of the air every time I create a new piece. Here are some of the “ground rules” I followed, and some tips that I hope will help you confidently set pricing for your own art.

Pricing Ground Rules for Painters

1) Remember: your pricing gets to change.

If, like my story above, you’ve got a client waiting to hear back about a price, know that as you become more established, you’ll be able to command higher prices. You may even raise your prices on your very next sale.

In other words, whatever you charge this one client is not set in stone, so don’t stress too much about it. Keep in mind, though, that it’s always a better business move to raise your prices than to lower them, so leave yourself some room for growth.

2) Never undercharge.

That said, leaving no room for growth is not actually most artists’ problem — most of us have the opposite issue: charging too little. Once I brought art to be juried into a show, and was horrified that one of my fellow artists was charging less for her work than it had cost her to frame it!

Needless to say, this is a big no-no. Always make sure your pricing covers your actual costs (canvas, paint, framing, shipping if applicable — unless you’re going to charge a separate, additional amount for shipping/packaging).

You also want to take into consideration how much time you put into creating your work. Emerging artists may not be able to command high enough prices to pay themselves fantastically for their actual time spent, but that’s definitely the goal for the long term!

If you’re lucky enough to work fast and loose, you can get away with charging less, because each piece just doesn’t take long to produce. However, if your style is very detail-oriented and meticulous, what another artist could sell happily for $500 might mean you’d be earning pennies per hour, which is not sustainable. Your choice, then, is to grit your teeth and charge a lot more, and/or to figure out how to offer less-expensive work (smaller and/or looser originals, prints, etc.)

Not sure if you’re undercharging? As I wrote in this post on 5 Pricing Lessons Learned the Hard Way, I have a practically foolproof gauge: resentment. If I notice myself feeling resentment about a sale, it’s a good bet I need to raise my price!

On the other hand, if my prices don’t make me feel at least a little uncomfortable that I’m charging too much, I’m probably undercharging!

Your mileage may vary with this: start to pay attention to whether you tend to undervalue or overvalue your work, and adjust accordingly.

Seasons of Yes by Melissa Dinwiddie

3) Be clear and consistent.

Of course your goal is to be paid well for your time, but the truth is, some of your pieces probably take a lot longer to create than others.

You know how much work went into each piece, but customers don’t know (and don’t usually care) how long a piece took you to create. Charging by the hour is likely to result in a lot of confusion as potential customers look at two pieces of the same size and wonder why piece A is so much more expensive than piece B.

Customers who are confused do not buy, which is why I’m a believer in clarity and consistency.

Size-Based Pricing

If you’re a painter, one way to ensure you’re clear and consistent is by using size-based pricing — either by the square inch (h x w) or by the linear inch (h + w). This makes your pricing easy for potential clients to understand, and it prevents you from charging more for pieces you’re particularly fond of, which makes your pricing seem random and confusing (and remember, customers who are confused do not buy).

With size-based pricing, you simply need to determine your current multiplier (the number you multiply by the canvas size) in order to immediately know the price for any given piece (okay, possibly with the help of a calculator…) .

If you create in a lot of different sizes, you may find linear inch pricing more sensible than square inch pricing. Why? When you charge by the square inch, the price difference between a small painting and a larger one can become astronomical.

Here, for example, is square inch pricing, using a multiplier of 2.5 (ie, $2.50 per square inch):

4×4 inches = 16 square inches x 2.5 = $40

8×8 inches = 64 square inches x 2.5 = $160

16×16 inches = 256 square inches x 2.5 = $640

24×24 inches = 576 square inches x 2.5 = $1,440

32×32 inches = 1,024 square inches x 2.5 = $2,560

I don’t know about you, but $40 seems awfully small price for a painting by someone who commands $2,560 for a 32×32 canvas.

Here are the same canvas sizes using linear inch pricing, using a multiplier of 20 (ie, $20.00 per linear inch) — as you can see, the difference in price feels a lot less out-of whack:

4+4 inches = 8 linear inches x 20 = $160

8+8 inches = 16 linear inches x 20 = $320

16+16 inches = 32 linear inches x 20 = $640

24+24 inches = 48 linear inches x 20 = $960

32+32 inches = 64 linear inches x 20 = $1,280

Neither of these pricing methods is “right” or “wrong,” but once you determine your method and your multiplier, charging by size can be a very helpful way to eliminate the guesswork, and feel confident about your pricing.

Different Pricing for Different Media?

One possible modifier to your size-based pricing structure is the media you paint with. If you only paint watercolors, or only paint oils, there’s no problem, but if you paint both on canvas and on paper, as I do, it gets a little tricky.

For whatever reason, paintings on paper tend to sell for less than paintings on canvas — even though they require framing, which is an added expense. In my case, if I were to pay to have a piece framed, my costs become much higher for a work on paper than for a canvas painting! What’s an artist to do?

I don’t have a final answer to this question, except to refer you to the item below…

4) Do your research.

It can be useful to look around at what other artists are charging for their work: artists in your local area, and especially artists at a similar stage in their careers.

What are people charging for framed works on paper? For unframed works on paper? For stretched canvases?

The challenge here, though, is that what other people charge is likely to be all over the map. So when you do your research, be sure to take into consideration how you want to brand yourself: do you pride yourself on making “art for everyone,” at “everyman” prices? Or do you want to make your mark as a high-end, premium-pricing artist?

When artist Matt LeBlanc was deciding what to price, he looked at what kinds of art were available in his area and noticed the low-end and high-end of the market were rather saturated. The mid-range, though, didn’t have a lot of competition, so that’s the price range he decided to set on his paintings — at the time of this writing, Matt has work for sale from $50 to $900.

This kind of research worked well for Matt: he went from selling no art, to being featured on HGTV, and being one of the hottest selling artists in his area.

5) State your price, then shut up.

My most expensive moment as an artist was several years ago, when a couple flew out to California from Philadelphia to meet with me about commissioning a ketubah for their anniversary.

I’d already told them my price range, which at the time was something like “from $1,500 to $5,000″ (mistake #1: never put an upper limit on your pricing!), and when they told me what they were looking for, I realized it was going to be one of the most time-intensive pieces I’d ever made.

In other words, this was a top-of-the pricing scale commission.

However, I’d never yet commanded $5,000 for a piece, and I was afraid this number, which felt so big to me, would scare them off! So when it came time to give them an estimate, I hemmed and hawed, and said something like, “Well, what you’re looking for is at the top of my price range.”

Then, instead of keeping my mouth shut and seeing how they responded, I stupidly barreled ahead to say, “…but if $5,000 is too much for your budget, I can always scale back the design to make it less expensive.”

Doh!

The husband said, “$3,000, $4,000, $5,000 — it’s all the same to me. But I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, so let’s go with the middle price — $4,000.”

Yep — because I couldn’t just state my price and shut up, I lost a thousand dollars in a heartbeat. (And “scaling back the design” is a myth. It never happens!) Lesson learned.

This one is important, so I’ll say it again: state your price, then shut up. Period. Do not explain, do not apologize.

(I’ve done that too — gotten defensive about my pricing — and oh, the pain! Now I’ve learned to say, “If you like my work, this is the price. If you don’t want to pay that, you don’t have to buy it.”)

If you’re sending an email to a potential customer, “state your price and shut up” might look something like:

“For this painting, the price is $X [plus shipping/packaging, if you're charging for shipping separately].”

Or

“I charge $Y per linear inch, and this painting is 24×30, which is 54 linear inches, so the price is $(Yx54).”

Then:

“If you’d like to purchase it, just let me know and I’ll send you a link to a payment page where you can pay either with a credit card or your PayPal account [or whatever payment method you use]. Once I receive your payment and shipping address, I’ll ship your painting to you via [shipping service].”

[Be sure to indicate when you'll ship -- a day? a week? does the painting need to cure first? does it need to be varnished first?]”

Summing Up

The really challenging thing about pricing is that there are no hard and fast rules. Everything depends on you, your work, where you live, where you are in your career — there are so many variables it can drive us nutty!

The tips I’ve shared here have helped me get more confident with my own pricing. I won’t lie to you, pricing my work is still really, really hard, but hopefully these ground rules will help light your path as you negotiate this trickiest of areas for artists.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Bio:

melissa dinwiddie headshotMelissa Dinwiddie is an artist, writer, performer, and creativity instigator, on a mission to empower people to feed their creative hungers. She coaches and consults with individuals and groups, and leads creativity workshops and retreats in inspiring locations around the world as well as online. Get a FREE mini-poster of Melissa’s Keys to Creative Flow and her Imperfectionist Manifesto at Living A Creative Life, MelissaDinwiddie.com.

 

Portrait painting of Ramana Maharishi

February 9, 2013

I completed a portrait painting of Ramana Maharishi yesterday. I’ve been learning a technique that makes portrait painting, in this style, much easier than anything else I’ve tried. I have never considered myself a person who can paint people, but the responses I got from my painting of Palden Gyatso had me rethinking how I see myself in that regard. I’ve since taken on portrait painting and have done three or four of them.

Ramana Maharishi is a unique and important individual for people who practice spirituality. I won’t go into a long diatribe about it here as I assume if you are interested in him, then you will seek further for yourself, but I do want to add this quote from wikipedia. “He radiated a silent power which stilled the minds of those who came to him and occasionally gave them a direct experience of his state. In later years, he became more willing to speak and respond to questions, though he always insisted that the silence he emanated was his purest teaching and that his verbal teachings were only for those who could not understand his silence.”

Ramana Maharishi

Ramana Maharishi

Harold

Newton

January 13, 2013

Newton

Wet red leaves
fall to frozen
white earth

These leaves
were severed
Plucked
Not allowed to run
the race of life

Instead
only to fall
like parents’
tears left
in grief

~Harold
My heart goes out to all involved in the Newton Connecticut community.

January Afternoon at Noreen’s

January 12, 2013

January Afternoon at Noreens.

Art as an expression of Essence

January 7, 2013

So I’ve been a Professional Coach for a couple years now and not ironically, I guess, have been hired by a number of artists to support the expansion of their art and life.

The most profound experience I’ve had through working with these amazing creators is how their art changes as a result of connecting in a clearer way to their essence; the most fundamental reflection of their being, their light, their true nature. It shows up in their paintings as their “voice”. Some call it style, but I’m not sure that captures it because you can work in different styles and yet be creating through your essence. It’s an expression deeper than the style or medium chosen.

I watched Katy Perry’s “Part of Me” movie last night and I got even more clarity on this process. My analogy is a tube between your deepest self and your medium (canvas, paper, instrument, etc). The clearer the tube the clearer the true expression of your essence. Then I started realising that we are all at different levels of clarity within our own “tubes”. So even when an artist paints and the result isn’t their clearest expression, it may just be perfect for someone else who is at that exact level of clarity in relationship to their own essence. I now wonder if that’s part of what happens when an artist is unhappy with their work, but others are blown away by it. If the negative self talk is not involved, then maybe that artist just knows that their tube had some translucence to it instead of transparency?

If you are an artist and looking to clear the tube between your deepest self and your medium I’d be honoured to work with you. This is open to the artist working in their home studio who never shows their work to the established artist making a living through their work.

Make 2013 the year of you. Make it the greatest year of your life. You won’t get it back, and you can only run this calendar once my friends.

Harold

Exposing the Heart

May 29, 2012

The second piece I’ve entered into the June art show at the Terrace Art Gallery is called “Exposing the Heart”. It is 3′X5′. This is the second time I’ve worked this large and I have to say I kind of like it. The space is so big that painting on it involves my whole body. I will even share that I have though about going larger! It will be tricky to get a larger painting out of my basement studio though, but nothing that a hole through my basement wall wouldn’t cure.

Exposing the Heart

I took this photo outside and I love how the sunshine exposes the frame behind the canvas.

Harold

Coming to Life

May 29, 2012

I am part of a June art show at the Terrace Art Gallery. The first painting I finished for the show is called “Coming to Life” and is a reflection of my own journey to becoming a 0 handicap golfer. The golf hole in the painting is not finished just as my project to become a “scratch” golfer is not yet complete.

Coming to Life

Peace

Harold

Palden Gyatso meets Chuck Close

March 25, 2012

If you are unfamiliar with Palden Gyatso he is a Tibetan monk imprisoned and tortured for 33 years by the Chinese government. I highly recommend “Fire in the Snow”, a documentary on Palden. His story is heartbreaking and inspiring all wrapped together.

Chuck Close is an American artist famous for his portrait painting. His style is to grid a photo and then paint each individual square which, when viewed from afar, makes the painting appear as one image.

While working with my art class I decided to introduce them to Close’s style and we took on a project of placing a grid over a photo and then painting each grid onto a larger piece of paper. I decided to join in the fun and to also take the opportunity to introduce my students to the amazing story of Palden.

It took three months to complete this painting, which gave me an even deeper respect for Close’s style and process.

Image

peace

Harold

 

Summoning Love & Strength

May 13, 2011

Summoning Love & Strength

I completed a commission this week and thought I’d write a blog post about it. It is for a wedding, and when I was told about the couple my mind wandered around about what marriage takes to be successful. I came upon two supports: Love & Strength. Here’s the letter I wrote to the couple.

Dear Jon and Jessica,

What is created when two individuals join in marriage? I believe that when two whole and complete people come together to celebrate their individuality their relationship becomes an expression of the greatness of each person. This union brings forth something to the world that was not there before.

There are two components, or halves, to any relationship: Love & Strength. The circles in this piece represent your individuality, your tapped and untapped potential. You are coming together to create an interlock of your individual beauty and expression. The hearts express the two unique shapes of each of your personalities that, when together, create something new that cannot be created alone. You are surrounded by your love for each other. Your love can also been seen through you (the hearts are visible through the centre of the circle of your individuality).

You two are embarking on a life together that with both inspire others with your love and your strength. Love as the expression of the divine within each of you as well as the divine love created with your union. Strength for the times when challenges surface within life and your relationship. I wish you both the greatest life you can possibly create together. It has been an honour to ponder the power of love and strength while creating this art for you.

peace and love,

Harold

Since I enjoy seeing artists through their process, I am going to share a couple photos of the journey and then the finished product.

Side

Other side

As usual, feel free to comment in the space provided.

Harold

Summoning Wholeness

January 2, 2011

I recently completed a commission. The piece was ordered for a doctor and my instructions were simple, “Carve an egg for me as a gift to my surgeon.” The great thing about this commission was that there were no guidelines. I could create whatever I wanted. I immediately had an idea that I liked a great deal. I worked through some design ideas but nothing was working. My ideas just couldn’t take form. I thought this was weird because I was jazzed up about what I had planned. I struggled with it for a couple of sessions and then had to reevaluate.

While in the reevaluation state, I ended up thinking about a previous piece, Summoning Intuition, which I had completed for the December show in Terrace Art Gallery. I found out that I wasn’t done with the driving force for that piece yet. When I started to think about it again a flood of ideas came pouring into my head at once, competing for the limited space available there. I then spent some time pondering why these empty circles were so powerful for me. This is what I came up with.

“I am currently fascinated by the potentiality of empty space. Space that appears to contain nothing which actually contains everything. A simple example that everyone can relate to is the empty space of a womb. A swimmer and an egg are both floating in this empty space and BAM, a human life begins the process of becoming. This happens in the realm of potentiality, or comes from the realm of potentiality (?). Out of this nothing comes something. There is this magic potential which is always available. Every single thing in this universe at one time only existed in the realm of potential. This fascination of mine has surfaced in the circles found in my current series of goose eggs.”

I created Summoning Wholeness, photographed it, and delivered it. With the delivery came a letter to the surgeon who will be receiving this piece. Here is a portion of that letter for you to read.

“I have always created circles in my art, but have also always filled them with something. I think the circle is a beautiful shape: strong, symmetrical, infinite. Recently though, I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about potential. I began a series of carvings that build around circles unfilled. The emptiness in them represents the potential nature of that particular piece. Your piece, Summoning Wholeness, has three circles. Because you live the in the healing arts, these three represent body, mind, and spirit. These are the essentials of wholeness, the feeling/sense of being a healthy and whole human. Each circle contains within it the potential of unbounded health in those three areas. You have the potential to inspire people. To approach these three platforms for healing and initiate change that alters the course of their lives. This has been very inspiring for me to ponder while working through the design phase of this egg.”

I thought I’d include photos of the process for this piece. I hope you enjoy them.

peace,

harold


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