Pricing Your Work as an Artist Part 1

by

Armand Cabrera

These ideas for pricing are for artists trying to make a living from their art. Pricing is irrelevant to people who work other jobs or don’t need the income. People make art for many reasons and not all of them want to make their living exclusively from their art.

Pricing is subjective let’s just admit that and get it out of the way. An artist’s price is very organic over a lifetime as styles and tastes change. It is the age old problem price too low forces the artist to churn work out and eventually that affects quality, price too high and you don’t sell enough to be able to work and that affects output, which affects quality.

This may seem to make pricing harder but it shouldn’t. Just about everything bought and sold has a subjectively applied value to it. For every price point there are willing buyers if the perceived value of the object being sold matches the asking price in the collectors mind.

When artists start out they constantly question their pricing. I think when you start pricing should be simple; you should reimburse yourself for your materials and your effort. The pay for your effort should be based on skill compared to other jobs in the marketplace.

Personally, I think competent representational art takes more skill than being a waiter or sales clerk or barista. So the artist should price taking that into account. I think when you start out charging $15 to $20 an hour for your effort plus your expenses is not unreasonable. It gives you a base to not lose too much money as an artist. Once you have a base price you can then adjust it upward or downward to align with other work of similar caliber in the marketplace already.

As an artist you are building a brand. Your brand is important because it affects your price over your career. You establish price in an art market through awards and other established recognition like important commissions, magazine articles, inclusions in books and juried or museum shows. Markets are finicky and establishment in one doesn’t necessarily translate to another. The best way to get your brand going is to build on the quality of your work. While there are many styles and genres of art each one of them has a standard of excellence to aspire to.

The value of these achievements as an indicator of success depends on the fidelity to a measurable standard. In other words if any of these has too much nepotism or unfair judging going on the value as an indicator of success is worthless.

Pay to play magazines are a good example of this. Paying to be in a magazine doesn’t make you a good artist it just makes you one with a lot of disposable income. Using nepotism or cronyism to score work doesn’t really help your career in the long run, neither does copying living or dead masters and they eventually work against an artist over the life of their career.

You have to build a brand with everything working in tandem. Quality of work, customer satisfaction, a list of museum shows, awards, articles. One just can’t buy their way to a pedigree. Your brand is more than just the quality of your art it’s the demand you are building for something (your work) that only you can provide. Price can be built over time with a history to make the case to collectors why they should pay an amount for something on top of material value and effort expended.

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Pricing Your Work as an Artist Pt 2

by
Armand Cabrera

Once an artist starts selling their work the next thing to do is expand your brand. Your brand is your business identity. As an artist you and your art are inextricably intertwined.  How you conduct your public business dealings is part of building your marketability as an artist. Clients aren’t just buying a piece of work from you; they are investing in you and your career.

You have to build a brand with everything working in tandem. Quality of work, customer satisfaction, a list of accomplishments like museum shows, awards, articles. One just can’t buy their way to a pedigree. Your brand is more than just the quality of your art, it’s the demand you are building for something (your work) that only you can provide. Price can be built up over time with a history of artistic achievements to make the case to collectors why they should pay an amount over and above material value and effort expended. 

Raising your prices should be carefully considered. The rule of thumb is when you sell faster than you can comfortably produce its time to raise your prices. But there are other scenarios that shouldn’t be over looked. One is a good economy. In good economies it is important to build prices while you can and have them increase as peoples earnings increase because when the economy falters the price you are at is where the downward pressure of a bad economy will start to affect your sales. For people with too low of a price point the economy could force them out of the market altogether. A more established artist, with higher prices, could survive price corrections of a bad economy for a longer period of time. That time allows them to continue to work at what they love and to modify what they do in answer to new dynamics of the changing business landscape.

If you never raise your prices you will be buried under rising costs of materials and general inflation. An artist must raise their prices to survive as an artist. The old saying to make hay while the sun is shining goes double for the self-employed. As an artist one must constantly apply pressure to the economic forces around them. Another thing to consider is collectors want to see their investments grow. They are spending their hard earned money on you as an individual. They believe in your brand and nothing makes collectors happier than to see it grow over time.  While some may stop buying your work as your prices increase, they are still your advocates. They still want to see your brand succeed.

All of this means an artist can’t be too insular. Art is communication and finding the balance for a successful career should be on every self-employed artists mind as they work. Do you like to paint figure work? What can you do to make it more appealing to buyers and still satisfy your creative desire? How can you expand that interest into other similar genres to grow your client base and still satisfy you as an artist?

Some people choose to work and paint on the side and that’s fine. Doing that does limit your creative time but it’s better than starving and if you work on your art towards the goal of being an independent artist the steady income can help you get there. When I started out I worked non art jobs for 17 years before landing my first full time art job at LucasFilm Games at 35. I’m 60 now and have worked as an artist that whole time. Some of that time was for other people or a company as an illustrator, concept or production artist and some of it was as a gallery artist.

 The things that have helped me survive all this time are cultivating a broad interest in different genres and types of art and applying my own personal style to them, participating in prestigious shows, and building customer satisfaction with corporate clients, galleries and directly with collectors. Something worth considering if you are just starting your artistic career.

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