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Help! How do I Price My Paintings?

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by Melissa Dinwiddie

A few months ago I started sharing snapshots of works in progress on social media. Not long afterwards, someone I know on Facebook asked if my work was for sale, because she wanted to buy a particular piece I was working on.

It gets better: turns out she was interested not just in purchasing the canvas-in-process; she also wanted me to create a second, “sister canvas” to go with it.

Just from posting my process pics on Facebook, I had a buyer for not one, but two paintings! Great!

The only problem? Now I was going to have to come up with a price…

Groan!

I am convinced that pricing is always the hardest thing I do as an artist. How the heck do we decide what to charge? Pricing just feels like a big, black void, and one with a lot of pressure: charge too much, and they’ll run away; charge too little, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Ultimately, this spontaneous Facebook commission made me determined to set an entire pricing structure for my work, rather than just grabbing a number out of the air every time I create a new piece. Here are some of the “ground rules” I followed, and some tips that I hope will help you confidently set pricing for your own art.

Pricing Ground Rules for Painters

1) Remember: your pricing gets to change.

If, like my story above, you’ve got a client waiting to hear back about a price, know that as you become more established, you’ll be able to command higher prices. You may even raise your prices on your very next sale.

In other words, whatever you charge this one client is not set in stone, so don’t stress too much about it. Keep in mind, though, that it’s always a better business move to raise your prices than to lower them, so leave yourself some room for growth.

2) Never undercharge.

That said, leaving no room for growth is not actually most artists’ problem — most of us have the opposite issue: charging too little. Once I brought art to be juried into a show, and was horrified that one of my fellow artists was charging less for her work than it had cost her to frame it!

Needless to say, this is a big no-no. Always make sure your pricing covers your actual costs (canvas, paint, framing, shipping if applicable — unless you’re going to charge a separate, additional amount for shipping/packaging).

You also want to take into consideration how much time you put into creating your work. Emerging artists may not be able to command high enough prices to pay themselves fantastically for their actual time spent, but that’s definitely the goal for the long term!

If you’re lucky enough to work fast and loose, you can get away with charging less, because each piece just doesn’t take long to produce. 

However, if your style is very detail-oriented and meticulous, what another artist could sell happily for $500 might mean you’d be earning pennies per hour, which is not sustainable. Your choice, then, is to grit your teeth and charge a lot more, and/or to figure out how to offer less-expensive work (smaller and/or looser originals, prints, etc.)

Not sure if you’re undercharging? I have a practically foolproof gauge: resentment. If I notice myself feeling resentment about a sale, it’s a good bet I need to raise my price!

On the other hand, if my prices don’t make me feel at least a little uncomfortable that I’m charging too much, I’m probably undercharging!

Your mileage may vary with this: start to pay attention to whether you tend to undervalue or overvalue your work, and adjust accordingly.

3) Be clear and consistent.

Of course your goal is to be paid well for your time, but the truth is, some of your pieces probably take a lot longer to create than others.

You know how much work went into each piece, but customers don’t know (and don’t usually care) how long a piece took you to create. Charging by the hour is likely to result in a lot of confusion as potential customers look at two pieces of the same size and wonder why piece A is so much more expensive than piece B.

Customers who are confused do not buy, which is why I’m a believer in… Continue reading Melissa’s article here!

Photo courtesy of: Matt Lodi, CC BY-SA 2.0flickr.com/Chris Sherwood

Melissa Dinwiddie is an artist, writer, performer, and creativity instigator, on a mission to empower people to feed their creative hungers. She coaches and consults with individuals and groups, and leads creativity workshops and retreats in inspiring locations around the world as well as online. Get a FREE mini-poster of Melissa’s Keys to Creative Flow and her Imperfectionist Manifesto at Living A Creative Life, MelissaDinwiddie.com.

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