“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”
~ James Whistler
At some point in our careers as artists, we will inevitably be faced with the challenge of putting a price on our artwork.
This is not an easy task, and it causes a lot of anxiety for some people, sometimes even to the point of avoiding selling their art because they don’t know how to put a value on it.
So how do we decide how much our art is worth?
This is a particularly pertinent question for me at the moment, as I have recently decided to focus all my efforts on my art career. I am accepting commissions again after a long period of not taking any on, and I have been faced with the decision of how to price my artwork.
Value vs. Cost
There are two main ways to come up with a price for any product or service. The first is based on your costs, and the second is based on the value you provide to the customer.
What Did it Cost to Create?
To set a price based on your costs, you would work out exactly what it cost you to create a particular piece of art. This includes all of your materials used, and any delivery costs etc. Then you would need to decide on an hourly rate for your work so you can figure out the cost for the time it took you to create.
To work out your hourly rate, you need to take into account how much money you need to earn to survive and pay all your bills etc. and also how much profit you want to make. Freelance Switch has a handy hourly rate calculator you can use for this.
So let’s say for example you made a painting and you worked out that the materials used (canvas, paints, varnish etc.) cost around £30, and the painting took you 10 hours to complete and you worked out an hourly rate of £20 per hour, then based on your costs, you could charge £230 for this painting.
How Much Value Does the Customer Get From It?
The other way to come up with a price is by considering what your product or service is worth to your customer.
Your product or service may cost you very little, but if it solves a serious problem for the customer, or saves them money, then you can justify charging more for it.
You may have heard the story (or a variation of it) about the ship engine that broke down, and the owners tried one expert engineer after another, but nobody could fix it. Eventually they brought in an old man who had been fixing engines his whole life to have a look at it. He inspected the engine carefully from top to bottom and then took out a hammer and gently tapped it in a particular spot, at which point the engine roared into life.
The old man then sent a bill for $10,000 to the ship’s owners, who were outraged. They demanded an itemised bill, as they insisted the old man had only tapped the engine with a hammer, and how could that possibly cost so much.
The next day they received the itemised bill which read:
Tapping with a hammer: $2.00
Knowing where to tap: $9,998.00
Obviously the old man’s costs were very low, but his knowledge was very valuable to the ship’s owners as he was able to do what nobody else could.
The problem when it comes to pricing art is that its value is subjective as everyone’s taste is different. What appears to one person to be a valuable work of art may look to someone else like just a regular pickled cow.
But that’s fine, the people who don’t like your art won’t be your customers, so you don’t need to worry about them. As long as there is someone who sees your work as valuable then there is a market for your art.
The most important thing is not to undervalue your own work.
Find a Happy Medium
A good way to begin might be to work out your cost-based price and use that as a minimum, then think about the perceived value of your art to your customer (someone who actually likes the work you create), and come up with a figure that feels right to you, based on your level of experience. You can always increase your prices as you become more established and well-respected.
Things to Avoid
There are some common pricing pitfalls that artists often encounter, and which you should bear in mind as you figure out your own prices:
- Don’t sell yourself short! You have a valuable skill and you deserve to be paid for it.
- Don’t worry too much about what others are charging for their art. It’s worth researching the market, but there’s no rule that says you have to charge more or less than your contemporaries.
- Avoid discounting your services. If you offer discounts to try and make a sale, people will come to expect it.
- Don’t wait until you’re an expert. There is always room for improvement, and you should always be striving to grow as an artist, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make money at your current level. If you wait until you feel like you’re a master before you start charging for your art, you will never make a penny.
- Don’t worry that people won’t be able to afford your art. Sure, some people won’t be able to afford it, but that’s fine, those people aren’t your customers. You can always sell prints of your work to cater for people with a smaller budget.
- Don’t set your prices based on what you can afford. Chances are, if you’re just starting out in your art career, you won’t have £1000 spare to spend on a painting. Don’t let that affect your own pricing. Other people can and will spend more on art than you could personally afford.
For more advice on pricing your artwork, including pricing based on size, check out this great video by Cedar Lee posted on Artonomy.
Have you struggled with putting a price on your art? Do you have any tips for creating a pricing system? Please share them in the comments below.