Monday, February 01, 2010


Today I decided to rework my formula for pricing. How should a painting be priced? Up until now I've worked out the number of painting days, added a factor for the size of the picture, then a commission. This is not always ideal. For a start this doesn't take into account materials or days for studies and concepts. Also a picture is more than merely the time it takes to paint. I decided to rethink my strategy from scratch.

So, what factors are applicable to a price asked?

Let's examine costs. The cost of materials, plus the cost of the time involved are the important ones. It would do no good to sell anything at a loss so that was my first rule. For a beginning artist that is difficult to stick to. It's often the case that an artists early works are lacking in quality, or are experiments or tutorials, or sold below cost for promotional reasons. It takes time to create artworks of a saleable quality.

Some painters charge by size, per square inch. That is most useful for commissions, as a rough guide to the work that will be involved. For pricing works already painted the actual time taken is better.

I began then with time taken. Since my early days as a painter I've documented each day's work on a painting so I can calculate exactly how many days each picture takes.

Then I decided to add something for materials, the largest cost of which is the frame. Expensive materials such as gold leaf or gemstones have extra added.

Then I thought I needed another less corporeal number for quality. The most, the only, important thing to a buyer is whether it looks good, so it makes sense that the best works should have a premium added. However deciding which works are "the best" can be a slippery slope, it's difficult or impossible for the artist to objectively decide, and soon the love for one work spreads to love for another that is nearly the same.

I decided on a simple strategy; that works selected by juries in competitions or exhibitions are awarded extra points. Works commended or honourably mentioned get more points, and works that win prizes get yet more.

I thought that there needed to be a constant too because a sketch that takes ten minutes is not worth one 168th the amount of a painting that took 28 days.

Overall however, the days of work involved should make up the majority of the above calculation. That plus materials is the ultimate guide to profit.

Finally a commission percentage should be added. Exhibition venues charge a commission, and normal prices should be about the same as when exhibited. For a start, if something is sold after an exhibition the gallery deserve their cut. Adding commission also means that sales to friends and people who know about your work from other sources can be offered a discount.

Once computed all that remains is to assign a cost per day, the amount you need to work as an artist. That can be incremented periodically as demand dictates.

So, that about outlines my thoughts.

If you are an artist what formula do you use to calculate your prices?


Sheila said...

Great post! I know an artist who has been painting and showing for 40 years. She charges a dollar per square inch, no budging from that price.

I tend to be more like you although you have made me think of more things to consider in the pricing now. Thanks!

hwfarber said...

When I price my paintings I only consider one thing--how much I like it. If I would like to keep it for my wall, it gets a higher price (& these are the ones that usually sell). If I can't part with it, it's marked NFS.

The price marked doesn't change, whether or not there is a commission. Discounts (10 percent) are offered only to return customers.

How do you price an entry for a show? If you win the prize, do you then change the price?

Mark Sheeky said...

I've often found that I grow to like a picture. Sometimes I'll like it at first but grow to dislike it! Deciding exactly how much I like a picture is stressful so I decided that the best option is to know exactly how much every picture is worth. If a picture wins a prize then it's price would go up next time, assuming it doesn't sell. Come to think of it that should be an incentive for someone to buy it. I think that once a buyer knows that the prices are worked out fairly then they are more likely to buy and be happy with the picture.

Kathy said...

Mark, my experience is that I can't make a tally of the time spent, expenses, etc. because the resulting price will be too high for most collectors, and certainly out of line with the work of comparable artists. Therefore, I decide upon a price based on the results my research to determine how comparable work is priced. It's all what the market will bear.