Pricing For Success

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A Beginner’s Guide to Pricing 2-Dimensional Artwork

Ah, the pricing dilemma, it seems to be the hardest part of the business. Back in the day when my work was first accepted into a gallery, I naturally had no idea as to how to even begin to price my work. The gallery director suggested that I look at another artist’s prices and go from there. She also suggested a price per square inch in order to keep my prices consistent as I created works in other sizes. This worked for awhile. I was buying the cheapest, but nicest, frames I could buy and framing my own work. Then when I became too busy to do my own framing, I wanted to spend my time painting after all, the plan fell apart. Suddenly I wasn’t making any money. How painful it is when you realize that you, and only you, are not making any money on your own work!

I recently attended an opening – an exhibit of the members’ work. A friend of mine pointed out a piece by an artist she admired. We were shocked to see the price – $60 for a framed original. My friend told him that he wasn’t charging enough. I have good friends. Surely the frame alone was 60 bucks. The point is, it happens. Now let’s prevent this from happening again!

This is the advice I would give to someone just starting out, to help him price for success. Let’s assume that the demand for your work will grow, and that your prices will naturally go up. You want your prices to be such that a gallery or museum will find it worthwhile to exhibit your work and sell your work.

First, figure out a price per square inch. To clarify, if you have a painting that is 10” x 10”, that equals 100 square inches. Take the total square inches and multiply it by a price per inch. You need to determine that price. For my example, I am using $1.00 per square inch.

10” x 10” = 100 square inches

100 square inches x $1.00 per square inch = $100 for a 10″ x 10″ image.

Second, add on the price of the frame. Obvious yes, but this is where I made my mistake. This worked when I was framing my own work. Once I started paying someone to do the framing, I started losing money. Remember, when the gallery takes their consignment fee, they are taking 50% of the frame costs too. If you haven’t factored in these expenses, you could be making just enough to pay for the framing and a little more. You should be making more than a little more. So let’s say that you are going to charge $100 for your work, and you find a frame for $50, and you don’t factor in the gallery’s consignment fee.

$100 + $50 for the frame = $150

The gallery consignment fee of 50%:   $150 X 50% = $75   Both you and the gallery gets $75.

Take out your frame costs:   $75 – $50 = $25

I know this is overly simplistic, but this happens. In this example, the artist got $25. The gallery made more money than the artist did. For the artist selling his work for $60, the gallery got 40% which comes to $24. The artist got $36 minus his frame costs, which most likely came to a number in the red.

You have to consider the galley’s cut – the consignment fee. I was told to never add it in as my prices would become too high. Well, I still can’t give my work away. I am trying to make a living after all, and I do need to replace the supplies used if I am to continue creating. I also think that I need to know if I can only sell my work for $100 instead of $1,000. It might send me down a different career path.

Here is plausible formula:

  1. Determine the price per square inch. For more detailed work, you might have a higher price, and a smaller price for less detailed work.
  2. Add in all framing costs; frame, glass, matts, spacers, etc.
  3. Add the two together for your price.
  4. Double the price.

Let’s look at the previous example.

You want $100 for your work and you need $50 for your frame. That comes to $150.

Double that figure:  $150 x 2 = $300.

Calculate the galleries cut:  $300 x 50% = $150. Both you and the gallery gets $150.

Subtract your framing costs:  $150 – $50 = $100.

You got your money back for your frame and you got what you wanted for your artwork. I realize that the gallery still got $50 more after you pay for your frame, but they are going to pay their business expenses out of their cut just as you are paying business expenses out of yours. Framing just happens to be a business expense.

Another important point to consider, you have to set your prices the same across the board. Let’s say this gallery is taking only 40% and that one is taking 50%, just calculate everything with that 50% gallery cut in mind. And never undercut your gallery! They will drop you if they find out. And there is no reason to. If you do art fairs, there is no reason to lower your prices. You do have traveling expenses, entry and booth fees to cover, not to mention your publicity fees and other hidden costs. Don’t sell yourself short.

Setting your prices is just not as easy as, “look at this artist’s work and go from there.” You have to know what you want or need for your work, know what you need for the frame, and know what the gallery is going to get for selling your work. Then and only then, will you know that you are indeed, not just breaking even.

“Money can’t buy happiness; it can, however, keep the debt collectors away.”

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