How to price your artwork

Medeia Cohan-Petrolino gives her perspective on how to go about pricing your artwork. (Many thanks to Artquest for permission to republish this article from their website.) For in-depth information on pricing and negotiation, come to our workshop on Monday 18 June at 2pm, where Susan Jones from a-n will advise you on how to negotiate and charge prices for your work. Bookings will open tomorrow.   

For many visual artists, pricing artwork is often as difficult as making it in the first place. It is important to remember that, in line with much of the knowledge within the visual arts, there are no right answers or standard formula for pricing your work.  There are, however, lots of formulas and systems which may be of help; at the end of the day, you should be satisfied with the prices you set.

When considering what price range to put your work in, it’s worthwhile considering the key concepts in this article.  This article is intended to provoke your own research and thinking about your own price range and cannot be used as a guide to price your work as there are too many variables to consider in each artists’ practice.

This article was written by Medeia Cohan-Petrolino when she was at the University of the Arts London Emerging Artists Programme.  Medeia now works for School for Creative Startups, a training provider for creative businesses as they begin to trade.

For designer-makers, Cockpit Arts has created a useful resource pack: The Pricing decision series.

Materials cost

How much did your materials cost? Before you do anything else, you should consider your expenses in making the physical work and make sure to factor in covering them. This will be your base on top of which you will add your artist fees and other costs.

Materials costs can in many cases be deducted from profits when calculating your tax

Using an hourly wage (why not to)

Many people and arts organisations recommend that artists assign themselves an hourly wage and then consider the total time it took to make the work to reach an artists fee; the idea being that if you add your cumulative hourly wage to the material costs you will find a price. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that depending on where you’re at in your career and your education, the time it will take you to make something can vary greatly.

It may take a first year BA student 35 hours to make a work, whereas an MA student, recent graduate or established artist it may take a considerably less time to make a similar work.  Should the BA student charge more for their work than the graduate because it took them longer, or should an established artist charge more because they are more experienced?  Remember that charging an hourly wage can make prices based on an hourly rate prohibitively expensive for some collectors, while it could undermine the value of other artists work.

While there may be some situations where charging an hourly rate may be appropriate – such as working in education or public programmes – it should not be considered a catch-all methodology of charging or pricing work.

Peer pricing levels

To have a clear idea about pricing your work, you need to know what comparable artists are doing. Your peers could be considered as comparable artists to you right now; artists who are at a similar place in their career to you and whose medium is comparable to yours (i.e. If you paint oil on large canvases do not compare yourself to a sculptor who works in marble or video artist; look for another painter working with similar materials).This research is important to give you a realistic and relevant view of the market. If everyone else that you compare yourself to is selling work at between, say £1,500 and £3,000 but you want to sell your work at £5,500, you may want to consider lowering your prices. Similarly, if you are considering selling your work for around the £400 in this scenario, you might want to increase your prices (and your self-confidence in pricing your work). In effect, you are ‘benchmarking’ your artworks within a pricing range and giving yourself realistic limits to work within.

Emerging artists

There tend to be unspoken price limitations when it comes to buying work at degree shows or during the early stages of an artist’s career. As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule, but by and large collectors (from big names down to family and friends) tend to be willing to pay no more than £1,000 for work at BA level and around £2,000 for MA work.

If your work is exceptionally large, exceptionally intricate or your materials are exceptionally costly, then of course your price point will be higher than these guidelines.

Note that these are approximate maximum prices and not a value to ascribe to all your work, regardless of size, materials cost or quality.

Pricing for experience

In addition to your costing for making work, another notion to consider when you are pricing your work is your own perceived value as an artist.This ‘value’, difficult to pin-down and unique to each artist, is increased by milestones such as:

  • Years in the business
  • Professional accomplishments
  • Major group or solo exhibitions
  • Residencies in the UK and overseas
  • Profile of your partners and organisations you work with
  • Your reputation
  • The increasing quality and complexity of your work

The more of these ‘markers’ you pass in your career, the more you lower the risk for a collector wanting to buy your work.

Increasing prices

Once you have established a starting price point, you will need to grow gradually upward from there over time. This may seem obvious, but often recent graduates or emerging artists will price their work at the top of the ‘reasonable’ mark. Once that artist sells one or two works, they may think that they can start raising their prices. Bear in mind that you have your entire career to steadily increase your prices and earn money. You cannot expect to pay back your student loans with your degree show, nor can you expect to increase your prices after every sale. This is a gradual and slow process.

Artists could consider increasing their prices somewhere between 10% -20% after each major milestone in their career such as:

  • After a major group show with significant other artists
  • After a sell-out solo show
  • After winning a major prize
  • After a successful year of press and sales

When setting your original pricing structure, remember that it is impossible to reduce your primary selling price (i.e. the price of work that comes from you, as opposed to the secondary market, when people who have bought your work in the past sell it on) so do not set this higher than your market can sustain or is willing to pay.

Gallery commission

As part of your agreement with a gallery or selling outlet, the selling price you set will have commission added to it. The final selling price will be made up from your price for the work plus a percentage added on by the gallery which they keep, to help pay for their overheads and costs related to selling your work on your behalf - such as running costs, rent, publicity on your behalf and so on.

This means the price you want to sell at – the amount of money you need to earn on a work to make a living and support your practice z- is only a part of the final selling price passed on to a client or collector. Your own price must to take this commission into account to your final selling price remains at a good level for your experience and sales history.

The level of commission set on your work will be individual and should be negotiated with the gallery. Take time to see if that price is realistic for where you’re at in your career and make a choice about how to go forward. There is no standard level of commission. Galleries can add on anywhere between 33% and 100% to your price as their commission, but commission on works sold through boutique shops or stores reach as much as 250%, or more –making your final selling price two and a half times more than what you're earning from the sale. In all cases, commission should be negotiated with the organisation or company selling the work, and should be in your contract of exhibition or written records if you are represented by a commercial gallery.

Things to consider when setting a commission level:

  • Your accomplishments since you first priced the work, i.e. have you showed much since you originally showed the work?  And have you sold much at that price point?
  • Peer research: what are other people at my career level selling their work for?
  • The state of the economy. Being realistic is an important part of selling. If the climate is right for moving work in your ‘new’ price point and you trust the gallery’s ability to sell the work (i.e. they have a proven track record of working with artists at a similar stage in their career to you, at a similar price point), then go for it.
  • Finally, and always most importantly, are you happy with this price? Would you be comfortable telling people who have bought your work previously about the new price? If you’re not comfortable, or able, to add a substantial commission on top of your prices, the gallery still needs to take its cut for its own costs. That means that you may have to take a loss on your own part of the selling price – again, negotiate with the gallery and make sure you are getting the best deal possible or see if they are willing to share any loss in the short term.  Remember a small loss initially could equal a lot more work sold (particularly if you are making editions of work). You could consider this an investment in your career and future selling potential.

If you sell work on your own and through a gallery, it is a common courtesy to keep your prices at the same price. If a gallery is selling your work for £1000 and you are selling it for £500, the obvious thing for a collector to do is to try to buy from you directly, thus cutting out the gallery and diminishing their profits and ability to meet running costs - and their ability and willingness to support you as an artist. Mutual respect is the key to working with any organisation and you could damage your reputation (and therefore ability to sell work or create new projects) if you do so.

Two interesting reports published in 2005 are the Arts Council England report Artists in Figures: a statistical portrait of cultural occupations, and the Institute for Employment Research bulletin A Balancing Act: artists' labour markets and the tax and benefits system, both available for free.

Read more helpful advice from Artquest