This post is by, Tina Garrett, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Tina is an ARC Associate Living Master, she teaches workshops across the US and in Europe. Tina published her first instructional oil painting video in January 2019 and held her first Solo Show, "Pieces of Me" at Bountiful Davis Art Center in Salt Lake City, Utah in March of 2019. Tina is a proud Missouri State Ambassador for the Portrait Society of America helping Missouri artists fully benefit from their PSoA membership. She is also proud to be a 2018 & 2019 Cecilia Beaux Forum Mentoring Program Mentor.
Part 3: Q&A
In this final part of my 3-part article on pricing your artwork, I’m going to answer the questions that I get frequently. Don’t hesitate to re-read parts one and two, follow my blog and newsletter and feel free to join my free Q&A Live Broadcast Group on Facebook where, once a month, I answer your questions about all things art in a fun, live, real time format.
Pricing your work so that you are making what you need to make in order to make a living is just the beginning. As the quality of your work grows, as your work receives recognition and as the markets you reach expand, the value of your work will grow past the basic needs you have set out in your Annual Salary Grid. How much your prices rise is determined by the market value, and your best market value depends on how well you get the word out about your work. Do market testing. That is to say, raise your prices slightly and see if your works can still sell at the new price, to the same audience you normally advertise to.
If your works aren’t selling at a new price, you have some work to do: Create better work with a higher perceived value. Expand your audience—meaning reach out to new possible collectors. Earn recognitions that improve your credentials, thus increasing your perceived value. Talk about your work with more sophistication and in as many outlets as you can; for example, my work and teaching is being “talked about” in this article, in online galleries, in multiple publications, on my website, blog, newsletter, in all kinds of social media, in handwritten communications, and in my face-to-face conversations. It also helps that my fans, collectors, mentees, students and workshop hosts talk about my work and my teaching online and in person. Ask yourself, “Where is my work being talked about on a regular basis?” If you can’t list a diverse set of outlets, it’s no surprise your work isn’t selling. If the only way I ever tried to sell my work was to stand on my own front porch with a painting and shout, I would sell no work. My voice can only carry so far when shouting and the pool of collectors from those passing by is very shallow. So get your voice out through as many different outlets as are appropriate for your work. And remember, make smart choices. Don’t spend thousands on an add in a magazine that primarily advertises abstract works if you paint animal portraits. Use common sense and learn from your experiments.
Here are my best answers to the questions that were submitted in Parts 1 & 2 of Pricing Your Artwork.
When I paint a portrait it takes much more time and effort. However, I can paint a simple still life or somewhat abstract subject much faster and easier. I find it difficult to price them both the same. How would you suggest I deal with this?
I like to use the Annual Salary Grid as a guide to know what I need to make annually and there are any number of products and services that can fill the empty spots in the grid. So, if I have made 3 little oil sketches, each taking three hours, they aren’t the same price as one, 40x60 that took three months, but I don’t automatically assume they have a low value just because I painted them quickly. I compare their quality, size and complexity to the highest selling similar object in my portfolio and go from there. Ultimately, knowing what you need to make in a year helps guide you to setting the market price of your products and services so that your annual salary is met, and eventually surpassed. It is a great starting point. But the nuance of perceived value is very important. Don’t sell your landscapes and still lifes short just because you’re good at them and they come easier to you. Do market price experiments to discover what your market is willing to pay for them.
How does one deal with a 're-emergence' of sorts? I had a small art business and sold for twenty years. Then, I chose to take care of my folks for about ten years and completely 'vanished' from the art world. Now, after getting back into painting for the last four years, I'm ready to start showing again (even if it is just online). I feel like I'm 'beginning again' and don't really want to start pricing at where I was previously. I feel that I need to 'get back in the game' gradually, not having beginning prices, but not up to where I was. Suggestions?
In my opinion, your re-emergence depends on the quality and the relevance of the work you are making now. If you are making the same exact quality of work from the past, the same subjects, the same styling, then your work may not be fitting for today’s market or it may not be as valuable (UNLESS you have a loyal following who has been waving their wallets and clambering all along for you to paint again). Artists evolve, or at least they should. You can take this re-emergence as a way to draw from yourself your very best ideas and skills and present them to the world. If you were actively selling and successful in the past, your skills should give you an advantage of artists who are literally just beginning—not just in your skills but also in your process and business practices, you are seasoned. So, do some reflection and show the world what is new. And, like any business, do test marketing and test pricing to see what your market will pay for this new body of work! Good luck!
How do you price commissions in comparison to an equivalent painting?
Commissions are not equivalent to any other painting that you make on your own volition. By their nature they require more work because they are born of the seeds of someone else's ideas. Depending on how much you allow the client to interject into your process, your commissions could cost more than your other work. Use the Salary Grid to learn what you need to make in a year and use the projected number of commissions and projected number of other pieces and other products and services you offer to begin to get an idea of the minimum your work should cost. If you feel your commissions are worth more and they will sell at prices higher than your similar pieces, power to you! I’m writing a separate blog post on commissions soon, and you are welcome to subscribe to my newsletter through my website to get notified when it’s published.
Another important thing is—don’t be afraid of having to justify your prices. If you make your Annual Salary Grid and you test your market and your work is selling, your pricing is justified. Some people might be offended that a certain product or service is more expensive than they want it to be, but only you know your market, and if others are happy to pay that price, enough said.
My work is fairly consistent, and I try to price based on size. However every once in a while I manage to produce a painting (not a commission) that I feel is superior to what I have produced up to that point. I want to charge more for pieces like that, but have been told that is not appropriate. What do you do when you feel some works are better than others even though they are the same size?
Artists are inundated with advice. Ultimately, what is appropriate for you, only you can determine. After all, you have to live with the consequences of your decisions. The trouble with pricing your work drastically differently depending on just the idea that you think the price should be raised because you think the painting is better than other similar work you have made, is that your collector’s may not understand why the price is higher and those more expensive paintings may not sell because of that. The best thing you can do is test your theory out. I recommend that you market your more expensive pieces differently than your other work, however. That means you have to talk about them differently to your market so that (if it isn’t totally obvious by viewing the work, which honestly, it should be) they understand why you are charging more. Label them as a special series, etc.
I’m wondering when you’re a novice and just starting out do you price your pictures differently to if you are a professional or Master? So what I mean is should your price structure be different depending on the level you’re at?
An artist’s ‘level’ is so subjective: How many years or workshops does it take to graduate from being a beginner? Is an artist a master because of their experience or the quality of their art? I’ve taught students who’ve been painting for 40 years and are not considered masters and I’ve taught students who have painted for only 5 years and are making master quality works. Except in the cases of designated Master artists with extreme notoriety, collectors should not expect to pay more or less depending on how long the artist has been painting. Collectors should pay a price that reflects the quality of the work and how badly they want it. So, make the very best work you are capable of at this time and do everything you can to speak about it and get others to speak about it to your market so that your market becomes aware of your work and begins to consider it when they are considering buying art at all.
This is always a headache - what’s too low, and what’s too high? I was told by someone who commissioned a piece, my prices were too low. But, I don’t want to price them too high for fear of not selling anything? But, I’ve heard, people value higher priced art?
This is one of the reasons why the Annual Salary Grid is a good way to start learning how to price your work unemotionally and based on your salary needs and the other products and services you offer that can help you meet those financial needs. Yes, you’re right, people value higher priced art. That’s because people value higher priced anything. One scientific study proved that when consumers try the exact same thing, in this case, wine: The exact same wine was served to all study participants, but some were told the wine was very expensive and the others were told the same exact wine was very cheap. MRI scans of their brains showed that the people drinking the wine that was labeled expensive, their brain scans showed they actually enjoyed that wine more than the people who were drinking the exact same wine, but they were told it was cheap. This is known as the “Marketing Placebo Effect”. So, do a test, paint three of your best works and raise the price on them, put a fancy label on them (meaning speak about them in a more sophisticated way than you have for past works) and see how they sell in comparison to your other work. Good luck!
How do you work with galleries on pricing your work vs selling direct to the collector.
That’s easy. The market price of my work is the market price of my work whether it is sold by me, a gallery, a neighbor, my dentist...the price is what the price is. If collectors discover that your prices fluctuate from venue to venue or week to week, they will always be waiting for the time when your work is on sale and you will scare off collector’s who are market value conscious — because they believe the work they could buy today may be worth less tomorrow due to the fact that you are randomly raising and dropping your prices. Be consistent regardless of who is selling the work and make small moves when raising your prices. Remember, if a gallery finds a buyer for your work, the fee that they take has been earned. They found the buyer after all.
Hope you cover input and output what you put in costs: paint, canvas, framing, rent, gas etc…
All of the costs you incur in order to live: your housing, food, child care, art supplies, shipping, taxes and even the tax accountant, all of it, that has to be added up and that is the number you have to have at the top of your Annual Salary Grid. If you can’t produce art or art related products and services to make that amount, you have two choices: get rid of some of your expenses or earn more money in a non-art related job.
Is it okay to price by the hour?
You have my permission to try any kind of pricing strategy that you want. If it works, go for it. Eventually, the value of your work should transcend the time you took to paint it, it’s size, it’s subject, etc.
What I'd really like help with is finding ways to sell outside my rural areas/towns. What I'm finding is that already established artists’ works are being bought. I need help in knowing what to do to break this barrier in order to sell more of my work. I sometimes feel so overwhelmed with the statements from some people who say, "just get in a gallery" or "just push your work on Facebook or your website". I do these things but with little sales. It's frustrating to say the least.
Lets first define what it means to be an ‘established artist’: it means your work is known. Therein lies the key to your problem. If a collector is going to buy art, they’ll go to where they know art is and make their selection. If they can’t find you so that your work can be considered, it is no wonder your work is not selling. So the real question is, how do you get your work in front of people who are in the market to buy art? Now more than ever, this means you have to have great art with a strong, online presence. My advice is to make the best art you can, really push yourself outside of your current level, enter competitions so you can get known by art lovers, since winners of competitions get written about and their work is shown on the competition website. Make sure your website is a FASO website and that it looks great and is updated regularly. Talk about yourself and your journey regularly on your website, your newsletter and blog and on social media. Start there. Good luck!
Your sense of humor is marvelous!! I may never stand outside Brad's house, but it did get me thinking about friends I have who might be willing to put me in front of their friends. I wouldn't mind some advice on how to go about this. It's so important to be genuine and not come off as a cold and calculated opportunist. I thought of offering to do a live painting event for some of their get-togethers before Covid ruined that plan. Any ideas?
Since your intention is to simply make a living, you’re not a sell out or a calculated opportunist, you're a worker bee! And now more than ever, people need beauty and mystery and an experience that heals and takes themselves out of the ‘real world’ and elevates them, makes them think and makes them feel. Paint those kinds of things and be proud when you talk about yourself. Artists are so underrated and undervalued, which is a crime in and of itself, since it is the arts that makes the world worth living in and it is the arts that everyone goes to for entertainment and comfort.
Did you get started using this grid method successfully by selling online, word of mouth or with gallery representation? Curious about how I can make this work when galleries take 50 percent and that is after some give 10-25 percent client discounts off the top.
This is probably the question I get the most. You don’t have to work with galleries that take 50% if, in order for you to make a living, that rate pushes your market price of your work out of a sellable range. There are galleries that take 40% and less. I have a wonderful gallery that only takes 40% AND if a painting doesn’t sell, they ship it back to me at no cost to me! I have another that only takes 30%! If you’re making great work that sells you have a lot more negotiating power. But for the record, none of the galleries I’m affiliated with have exclusive rights to sell my work. All of them understand that if I find the buyer, I keep 100% of the sale. Essentially, you have to advocate for yourself like you believe your work is worth it. You have to make a living right? So be sure to calculate the fees any gallery would take from the hard work of selling your work for you and make sure that is factored into your annual salary grid.
Great article, Tina! Love that your formula included extra to pay taxes. Do you also add in other expenses (like commission fees for galleries, materials, costs for shows and travel, equipment, etc) when you figure out your final prices? Thank you!!
Yes, as mentioned before, your Annual Salary Grid needs to encompass your annual salary - that is to say, the total of what you need to make a living to cover all of your expenses in life, business and otherwise. If you don’t know how much that is, it is long-past-time for you to do an audit of your income and expenditures. Luckily there are a lot of banking apps out there that can help you do that. You’ll want to know what you bring in now, how much you spend, how much debt you hold and at what interest. Being honest with this assessment will help you understand your situation and make better decisions when you are setting your pricing, deciding what products and services you offer, how hard and long you need to be working, etc.
My question is in pricing my paintings for an exhibit - do you take your price and add 20% in the event it sells? or how does that work?
Nope, the price of my work is the price of my work. If the venue finds a buyer, that 20% is their commission for doing so. If you raise and lower your prices for every little thing you're sending a message to your collectors that you are in financial instability and that sends the message that they may not want to purchase your work. There are many collectors who, in part, consider the value of your work and the prediction that it will raise in value years after they've purchased from you. If they see today that a painting costs $1000 and tomorrow that painting costs $1200 and then a month later they see on another website it is discounted to $800, it is my philosophy that, at best, you will have collectors who wait around for your prices to drop, or simply don't collect you at all. Everyone wants to feel like they made a really good purchase. As collectors see the value of your work raise over the years, you are reassuring your collectors and enticing them to buy from you again. And trust me, it is much easier to sell a second painting to someone who already collects from you than it is to find a new collector for each and every painting.
Thank you Tina so much for this information. I have struggled so much with my prices. One thing I find very difficult is to compare my work. I find it hard to find artists that do similar work and have similar experience or style. Any tips on how to make that research?
Sometimes, we are too close to our own work to see it for what it really is. I recommend that you ask two acquaintances, not close friends and definitely not other artists - a neighbor or spouse’s co-worker - look for folks with good taste in clothing, a business colleague of a friend perhaps or distant relative with a luxury car. Tell them you are doing a blind study experiment. Ask them to look at three of your paintings - choose three of your best. Ask them if they have time to do a quick web search for you to find three other works of art by modern artists that they think look like yours in quality, and fineness, ask them to send you the links to those works that in their eyes are ‘equal’ to yours. Give them a little help, for example, send them to Artsy or Saatchi, or if you do portraiture, ask them to look through the past few years of winners of the Art of the Portrait International or BP Award, if you paint landscapes, ask them to look through the winners of the OPA Regional, etc. Tell them it is critical that they be honest and that there is no wrong answer. And tell them if they can’t find anything of an equal level - meaning if your work doesn’t measure up to what’s on the market, they’ll be honest with you and tell you so. Then tell them thank you, you’ve learned what you needed to learn. Then, go research the artists that they think are your dopplegangers. Look at those artists’ websites and pricing, where are they showing, what size paintings are they painting, etc. Be ready. More often than not, artists who are not selling or winning prizes or being written up in magazines are not receiving these accolades because their work is not earning them. You may find you need to reevaluate your work and up your skills and or the narrative within your work. Don’t worry, these are opportunities to grow and that is always a good thing.
Tina Garrett is an American 21st Century Realist whose works have been recognized by the Art Renewal Center, Oil Painters of America, Portrait Society of America and others. She teaches at dozens of venues across the U.S. and abroad including the Scottsdale Artists’ School, Village Arts of Putney, Denver Art Students League, The Florence Studio Italy and the Dutch Atelier of Realist Art in Netherlands. Tina is a proud mentor for the PSoA Cecilia Beaux Forum and PSoA State Ambassador for Kansas and Western Missouri. She teaches online workshops and offers critique and business level mentorships. Tina offers a free Q&A live broadcast once a month on Facebook which is open to anyone with art-related questions. Visit www.tinagarrett.com for more info.
Pricing your Artwork Part 2: Conducting an internal assessment
Pricing your Artwork Part 1: Where to Start