How to price fine art (tips for emerging artists)
“It’s a nightmare”, Elizabeth told me when I asked her about how she sets a price for her original paintings. Knowing how to price fine art can be one of the most difficult business tasks artists have to do. Maybe this is why a blog I wrote on the subject – How to price fine art photography - is the most popular one I’ve written.
I was looking at pieces by English pop artist Sir Peter Blake, Robert Mars, and Damien Hirst in a modern gallery when some advice from my old blog post - telling artists to look at comparables to figure out what price to set – hit me as incomplete. To be honest, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
If you are an art collector there is software to help you manage your inventory, resources to help discover new artists, and databases where you can research recent auction prices and determine what you can expect to pay for art.
What tools do artists, particularly emerging artists, have to help us set prices? How do you know what a comparable is for your art? How do you find a reasonable comparable if your work isn’t in a gallery (online or traditional)? As artists, we need a better approach to pricing fine art – a more systematic one.
So, I’ve laid out a step-by-step plan to help emerging artists in figuring out how to price their fine art. Importantly -- this is just a starting point! Obviously the price will also be determined by your costs, demand (have you already sold a piece at a certain price point?); the audience you are targeting, your medium, your location and so much more. I’ll have more to say on these in later posts. For now, let’s get started.
Step 1: Collect relevant art profiles
When it comes to understanding what price to charge for your fine art print, oil, watercolor, sculpture, jewelry, furniture or anything else - be systematic. Start gathering the most relevant facts about art in your genre. You may find this art online, in traditional galleries, artist co-ops, art fairs, shows at local art associations, or in a catalog. Don’t worry yet about trying to set your prices. Just gather information. And don’t try to remember it. Write it down!
Sample Art Profile Template
Here’s the data you’ll want for the art profile:
Think of step one as putting together a puzzle: get the pieces out of the box, put all the outside edge pieces together and look at the picture on the top of the puzzle box to see what it is that you’re trying to create.
Step 2: Organize your art profiles
Take all of the art profiles you’ve assembled and begin to organize them. I recommend a simple Excel spreadsheet for this.
You can download a PDF sample of my Art Profile Template here:
Here are two techniques for how to organize the art profiles:
Don’t forget to add your own work to this list too. If you’ve sold a piece or two, write down all that information. Actual sales are the best indicator of the minimum price you want to set for your work (notice I said minimum as you may be leaving money on the table and need to set a higher price).
Step 3: Look for patterns in the art prices
If you’re someone who loves Sudoku, crosswords, or puzzles you’ll enjoy this next part. For others it may be out of your comfort zone. You want to look for patterns in the data you’ve collected.
Here are a few questions you might try to answer:
The idea is to use the information you’ve collected, along with your intuition, to find the right price range for your work – the price you want to start testing at.
Case in point: I have fine art prints available at The Artful Home and so I often look at other comparables at The Artful Home and other online galleries.
Step 4: Set an initial price for your fine art
Keep in mind that the art profile data you’ve collected is not the whole picture when it comes to pricing your work. You don’t know if the pieces you’ve seen are actually selling! You are just looking at the asking price. Maybe the artists whose work you are seeing are charging way too much for the quality of the art. Or, perhaps they are undervaluing their work. I suspect that emerging artists are not charging “market value” for their work and leaving “money on the table”.
Also, you’ll need to consider your cost for creating art – your time and materials. For some artists this will be more of a factor in setting prices than for others. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you’ll want to consider the buyer for your work and other factors.
Having said all of that, you have to start somewhere. This is a simple method for getting started. That’s all.
Step 5: See and be Seen
The Darkroom Gallery in Vermont offers a unique option to photographers who submit work for upcoming shows called View and be Viewed. You can see entries from others in that exhibit who are willing to share. These include entries that were accepted and also those who were rejected.
It’s a great learning experience and one that’s inspired me. Let’s share the art profiles we collect with one another! Let’s build a rich database of art asking and selling prices to use, independently, to price our fine art.
Leave a comment below with the information you’ve seen, or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add it to my Excel Spreadsheet and share it back with my readers.
Let’s see and be seen! Together we can help each other with the business of fine art and build our artistic presences.
I am a marketing professional and a fine art photographer. With more than 20 years of experience as a marketer and image maker during the digital technology revolution, I now teach creative professionals how to create their artistic presence in the changing art world.
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