How to price art

About Pricing Artworks

The pricing of artworks can be a tricky thing, but if a few guidelines are followed, the process is actually quite transparent and easy. Yes, it is a bit of work, but with minor tweaking, it should be simple to continue.

Here is how I calculate mine.

The first thing I had to do was figure out “where” in the system I was. I did this by research, both on and offline. What were other artists selling for? What kind of work was selling for how much? What are these other artists’ qualifications? Am I ahead of them, or behind them? How long have they been selling or in the market? Do I have a reputation? Is my name known in my community?

Clients who search online have the resources and means to go to their local gallery as well: they know what art sells for in the “real world”. Some clients are brand new to collecting art. I applaud these people for “getting out there”. (Sometimes going in to galleries can be intimidating, for artist and collector!)

It also helped to know why I am selling online. What are my motives? To make money, pay the bills? Because I enjoy it? For myself, all of the above are true, but essentially, the internet is a marketing tool that I am using to get my name out there. The ability for this to occur for more and more artists is simply astronomical, and the power in the hands of the artist has never been greater! I am a big believer in the internet, in its potential and capabilities.

Making a Living as an Artist

From Making a Living as an Artist, the editors of Art Calendar suggested I do three things:

“1. Understand how much it is really costing you to create a work of art.
2. Research your market (that means you in compared to other artists, and you as in your artwork compared to other artists). What are they getting?
3. Confidence in the price you set. Self-confidence is paramount to being able to stick to your guns or negotiate with strength to get what you want.”

The Business Side of Creativity

In the Business Side of Creativity, Cameron Foote suggests that “many individuals assume that pricing is the most important factor in business success. Given this orientation, they often tend to underprice to ensure they’ll get work (sold). The logic is: “By being more competitive and busier, I’ll make up with higher volume what I lose through lower rates.” He goes on: “A reputation for low-price work attracts smaller, less sophisticated and more demanding clients, while repelling the larger clients. …an individual or (artwork) is not even considered because of the bargain-basement image low price conveys.”

I considered my qualifications. This means anything to do with art, and anything not to do with art. My past experience with military enhanced my innate ability for self discipline and direction. It also taught me to persevere and focus in the face of opposition. My previous failed attempts at university taught me how important education is and how privileged I was to have it when I finally graduated with an almost perfect GPA. It also taught me that my education didn’t end when I finished with my degree, and consequently I continually read art history and study old masters constantly. My university did not teach technique – they taught how to conceptualize and to think about art as well as doing it. All these are qualifications and extremely valid and contribute to the creation of my artwork. I am active in my art community as I run drawing sessions for myself and other artists – it was so popular, we started a non profit association called Livessence. An artwork is a snapshot of a total person in a specific amount of time – the caring, the curiosity, the passion, the drive, both on and off canvas – and all of this contributes to the whole picture of ME.

Art Marketing 101

Here is a brief calculation table I used from page 74/75 of Art Marketing 101. I have found this resource to be highly informative.

“Most working artists will have to be able to complete at least five original works a month. This doesn’t mean you will sell all five pieces each month, but you need to build a stock so your clients have a variety to choose from. If it takes you a month of working eight hours a day to finish one painting, this probably means you will have to get involved in the print market and forget about selling your originals.

1. Calculate the total business expenses for the year (dues, education, utilities, publications, postage etc) to figure the per month overhead.
2. How many pieces do you do complete in a month on the average?
3. Divide the number of pieces you complete in a month by the monthly overhead.
4. Decide on an hourly rate of pay for yourself.
5. How many hours to complete an average painting?
6. Add a 10% profit margin.
7. Add a 100% commission.
8. Add the frame cost (if applicable). If you do the framing this price would include your labor but no markup ie. The same cost as a frame shop.
9. Then add tax and shipping.

Market Value pricing:

A second method to calculate price range is to go in to the marketplace (on and offline) and see what other artists with the same type of background are selling their artwork for. “…Most prices in the artworld are related to the price paid for similar work sold in the recent past.” I also had to keep in mind how much I am selling work for out of my studio. It is extremely important to me that I am fair to my local clients in relation to my internet clients. I believe it is not good business practices to consider the internet as a separate world from reality – how would you feel if you purchased a 16×20 from me in the studio for $650 and then saw it in my store for $40? My store prices are my studio/gallery prices.

Once again from Art Marketing 101: “When comparing pricing, keep in mind the aesthetic and technical merits of works, the style, medium and reputation of the artist and the intrinsic costs of production.

“It is generally a mistake to base… prices solely on the amount of hours spent creating the work….Don’t undersell your work. You must feel comfortable with the prices you decide on otherwise you will feel resentful.”

Price By Size

And a third way to price artworks is by united inch or square inch. This is the method I prefer, but I keep in mind market prices as well. Length (for me, I use inches) multiplied by width multiplied by value a, depending on total square inches (for united, it is length plus width then multiplied by value a). Value b is the product according to the total square inches of the artwork: under 100 square inches is price x, between 100 and 300 square inches is price y and over 300 square inches is price z.

a 16×20 painting (320 square inches) at $2/square inch (value a) is $650(price y). I round up or down to the nearest 50.

As artwork on paper generally gets less per square inch than on canvas or board, and oil gets more than acrylic, a fair pricing system is necessary. Again, this is why I keep in mind Market values.


Remember much of selling artwork is hit and miss. If you don’t get your work out there, you won’t be seen. 98% of your success is up to YOU! If you try something and it doesn’t work, then try something else. Tom Venuto (a bodybuilder and a wise man) said “There is no such thing as failure, only results. If you don’t like the result, then change the game.”

Comments and questions are most welcome!

Julia Trops

The Business Side of Creativity, Cameron S Foote
Making a Living as an Artist, The Editors of Art Calendar
Art Marketing 101, Constance Smith
Messages from the Real World, Ted Godwin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *