Pricing Your Work as an Artist Part 1


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.