Figuring out pricing

The art market world has not really changed since I was in college other than the internet coming on board. Back then, as now, it is recommended that you pick a price point and charge by the inch for your work.  And, depending upon how your sales went during the previous year, you either stay the course with your price point, raise it by 10 percent if you did well.

This past year I’ve had a few sales which is very encouraging to me. On the other hand, at a local gallery where my work is displayed and I volunteer to help out once a month; I’ve heard folks literally say, “I love this painting, but it’s just priced way too high.”

I’m thinking about making an small sign for this shop that explains why artists really don’t want to be starving artists and we need to make some sort of income from our works.

But let me explain: If, for example, I have a small painting that I spent money on (for canvas, paint, equipment, supplies, electricity, rent/mortgage, advertising…) and said painting cost me $15 in overhead. Then I spend several hours actually painting. I would say, for myself, an 8X12 averages 3 hours to complete… sometimes more, sometimes a little less. Then it has to be framed. I recently had a very small pastel (6X8) matted and framed and it cost me $92.  It was nearly $200 to get an 8X10 pastel professionally matted and framed.

I’m just not going to eat the cost of all that anymore. I can’t.

The advantage to selling on the internet, is that you don’t have to shell out for the matting and framing. One advantage to painting on stretched canvas is that in some cases, you can paint round the sides and skip framing altogether. You still need to do the proper wiring, however.

Now, if you are showing in a gallery, there is normally a 30 to 35 to 50 percent commission that the artist must also pay to the gallery when the piece sells. My local gallery only charges a 20% commission right now. Sometimes, depending on the gallery, we may have a membership fee or a space rental fee whether a painting sells or not. This local gallery does have a membership fee of $30 a year. I sold one pastel painting there last year for $100. After the commission came off, I got a check for $80. And I lost money. Hmmm, I think my prices need to go up, not down.

So, let’s do the math.

You see a painting, an 8X10″ pastel, that you really like. And it has a $120 price tag. Chop off 20% for the commission – $24. That leaves $96 that will go to the artist. I’ll be optimistic and say this artist sells three painting this year, so the membership fee portion for this painting is only $10. The artist’s pay is down to $86. Subtract the framing. If done by a pro, the artist is already in the hole; so lets assume he/she did it themself and it only cost $50. $36 is left on the bone. $15 for the cost of materials and supplies and other overhead must come out. We are now at $21. Divide that by the hours put in doing the painting. Wow, the artist is at less than minimum wage. This does not pay the bills.

But, if I go to the square inch pricing method, which I have discovered is the more standard method these days for pricing artwork, I would charge more for the same painting: I’m not a nationally known artist like my mother, but I’m beginning to be known state wide. So, I’ll be fairly conservative in this and make my price point for this year $1.00 a square inch. A nationally known artist is charging $5 to $10 a square inch by comparison.

An 8X10 painting has 80 square inches. You then take your $15 of materials and supplies and overhead and multiply that by 2. (You have to pay for what you used and for the cost of replacing it for the next painting and factor in shipping or drive time, and cost of living increases) So, our price is now up to $110. Add the cost of framing and again I did it myself and we are up to $160. Then we take it to the gallery and add that commission (in this case, 20%) and that’s coming in at $32. So, we are up to $192. At this price, I may only sell one a year so I will have to tack on that full $30 membership fee to this one painting: $222. Let’s round that down and make it $200.

Maybe, it seems odd to be charging $26.60 an hour (which is what the $1 a square inch comes out to for the painting work itself if I spend 3 hours on it — and remember, it may have taken more time than that to get it to finished), but if you could do it yourself, you would have, so you are paying for my talent, vision, training, education and even hours of failed paintings from which I learned lessons and became more proficient.




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