Imagine how artists priced their artwork 50 years or even 100 years ago. This was a time when handheld computers were the stuff of James Bond and sci-fi movies! This was a time before the internet, before print-on-demand. A time when artists were either street vendors or in galleries. And a time when racism and gender relations were very strictly aligned to enable white men to rule every industry they wanted. And I'm not picking on white men, it's just to point out a lot has changed since the 1960s!
Now get this: those same ways of pricing art are around today; that is what everyone is telling you to do!
Here is what they say you are "supposed to do" as a "good starting point" when it is your first time pricing your type of art. (BTW - I am actually quoting from my personal experiences). You are supposed to find "similar work" from "similar artists" and "similar subject matter" to figure out your art prices based on the price tag you see on their art (um yeah, hello apples and oranges). Even art professors at art school have been telling their students to do this for a long time, and still, continue to do so!!
Here is the problem with the "supposed to do". Finding comparable artists is such a superficial way of determining the selling price for a piece of artwork. Because here is the truth:
- Your art is unique to you so don't even bother comparing it to fellow artists.
- Your art skill level, expenses, hours spent, and other additional costs are going to be different from the artist you are trying to compare yourself to. Which if you don't account for these things you will lower your profit margin.
- When you compare your work a lot of personal feelings start getting in the way of logic and this is the start of the Impostor Syndrome problem.
- The final price for the artwork would be based on feelings rather than facts.
That doesn't sound right, does it?
Nope! I'm glad you and I are on the same page - times have changed.
The way it was isn't good enough for today! You CAN have an art business with or without the aid of a gallery or an agent. There are literally HUNDREDS of ways for you to sell your art - but the age-old questions still remain for every genre of art:
- How do I price a painting?
- How do I price a commission?
- How do I price a print?
- How do I price limited editions?
- How do I price custom block prints?
- How do I price digital designs?
- How do I price photography prints?
- Should I price by square inch? Why can't I figure out how to price by square inch...
- What about pricing my artwork at wholesale price vs retail price?
- How should I price my work as a hobbyist?
WHEW! But let me tell you, I had the same questions which is why I came up with a solution and I want to share it!
I wrote a book about pricing artwork. "Art Pricing Secrets: Ethically Pricing Creativity. The Formula That Works." AND because I know there will be more questions I've even created a special forum in The Positive Painters Artist Community to address pricing questions and triumphs! And I've gone a step further - on my youtube channel (and rumble) I've added a playlist of videos to show you HOW TO PRICE YOUR ARTWORK!
So here is what you'll learn in this article about how to price your artwork.
- Why the old formulas will not work and should have never been given to you, to begin with.
- What are the steps to pricing your artwork? I'm going to show you the formula here because I 100% know that someone is going to rip me off in the book I wrote and the formula that I wrote because it is freaking brilliant. And BTW - it is copyrighted.
- How to price your artwork as a hobbyist vs a professional painter?
- How to price your artwork consistently?
- Can you make a living as an artist?
If you really want to dive deep into Art Pricing Secrets to get my spreadsheets and get support from the Positive Painters, grab the book - it is well worth it!
I will also be exceptionally clear here: this article is NOT about selling your artwork, it is about pricing it. The difference is: selling is all about marketing and finding your right pool of potential buyers - aka target market (which is why buyers of my book also get a Target Marketing White Paper as supplementary materials). And I'll be 100% upfront with you, if you don't know your pricing, you'll never be able to find your target market. And if you don't know who your target market is you will never know if you can price your artwork to make a living.
So let's start with the foundation - pricing.
Why the old formulas will not work and should have never been given them to begin with.
According to many articles currently (May 2023) out on the web, there are only 3 formulas to calculate your artwork’s value. I'll share those here and say exactly why these won't work now.
FORMULA 1: Square Inch × Dollar Amount = Amount you should charge
FORMULA 2: (Hourly Wage × Hours Spent) + Cost of Materials = Amount to Charge
FORMULA 3: (Height + Width) × Multiplier = Amount to Charge
Why won't these art pricing formulas work for me?
Check out this video - it explains the art pricing formulas, and walks you through the art pricing formula that ethically prices art and the corresponding spreadsheets!
In this video, we talk about:
- Why the 3 common formulas for pricing your artwork were not designed for artists to make a living wage.
- Review the formula that I created so that you can price your artwork in a repeatable process, without unknown variables. Resulting in a solid foundation for you to price your artwork.
Provided within this article is also a PDF of several chapters of the book "Art Pricing Secrets: Ethically Pricing Creativity. The Formula That Works."
But for those who prefer to read over watching a video - here is a summary of why the formulas won't work and who they were designed for.
Each formula has 2 variables to solve for, highlighted in pink. This means you either have to guess at the variable or make an assumption based on a feeling or comparison data that is superficial and therefore inaccurate (you simply cannot compare your work to someone else's - apples and oranges in style, experience, materials etc. - just a bad idea).
For example: for Formula 2 you'll either guess what you want your hourly wage to be or the amount to charge. And in case you are wondering how well that is working here is a fun fact: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor indicates the minimum wage an independent artist is making is $9.34 in 2021. That's below what the current administration set in 2021 as the minimum wage, which means skilled artists are getting WAY less pay than unskilled workers.
Recently I relayed this little factoid to some high school photography students and they were up in arms that it was the U.S. Bureau of Labor's fault. I worry about this next generation and all the crap they are being fed by social media and lack the ability to critically think (it too is a developed skill that teachers and the government don't want you to have..but that's a story for another day). So let's just squash that little bit of stupid right here. The Bureau of Labor collects this data from the workforce. So who is at fault for undervaluing their work? YOU! Because you've been guessing your artwork's value like it is 1969!
Why these formulas should not have been given to some artist long ago to declare as the gospel because they are formulas designed for a gallery. Gallery owners or gallery directors would want to charge for their square footage because they have limited wall space and a gallery will know their monthly fixed and variable expenses for their brick-and-mortar to be able to calculate the amount to charge by square inch or by a "multiplier".
These are size-based pricing structures to accommodate a brick-and-mortar!
Formulas 1 and 3 were designed for a gallery - not an artist!
But that is not the only problem with these formulas. The math doesn't work, they present location bias, gender bias, ethnicity bias - pretty much everything that we don't want. I go into those details in the book, which again, I highly suggest you get to further educate your stance when you move forward with a logical formula.
But I have good news! While the above formulas do not work for you, I've created a formula that works for the visual artist!
What are the steps to pricing your artwork?
The Art Pricing formula for the modern, living artist is a 2 part formula to calculate the cost you should charge for a piece of art.
In order to calculate your art pricing, you’ll need to complete 4 steps in the following sections:
Step 1. Determine Your Skill Mastery
Step 2. Determine Your Experience Factor and Base Wage
Step 3. Calculate Your Hourly Rate or Wage
Step 4. Put It All Together - Calculate Artwork Prices.
The Experience Factor and your Hourly Rate/Wage are calculated by first understanding your Skill Mastery Level.
The formula looks like this:
My formula is a 2 part formula to calculate the cost you should charge for a piece of art.
- Part 1 of the formula is to calculate the Wholesale Cost. (note: COM means Cost of Materials)
- Part 2 is to calculate the price to charge for the artwork.
In this formula, you have 2 variables we are going to solve for: “Hourly Rate” and “Experience Factor”.
When I first started relaying this formula to some of the elders of the art world, the first response was you can't put a price on experience! We'll that's a weird response because when you talk with a gallery that is exactly what they do with the "multiplier". And when you work in any other industry you get paid for your experience, you get hired for your experience. So why is the art world different?
So here is what we know:
We know that experience comes with time and the practical application of a learned skill.
According to Dreyfus & Dreyfus Model for Skill Acquisition, there are 7 Phases of Skill Acquisition that everyone goes through as they progress in their skill sets, art is not exempt from this progression.
The 7 Phases are:
- Advanced Beginner
- Practical Wisdom
With this knowledge and the knowledge of how the retail market works we, as artists, can derive a formula to calculate the Experience Factor to work for the art market! I'm going to recommend you get the book "Art Pricing Secrets: Ethically Pricing Creativity. The Formula That Works." at this point because if you've read this far, you'll want the book and the spreadsheets that explain and do the calculations. I've already written the 26k words...I'm not doing it again in a blog article :). Love ya though and really hope you get the book because it will bring you a great deal of confidence in your pricing!
How to price your artwork as a hobbyist vs a professional?
Kiffanie Stahle guest wrote an article "At What Point Does a Hobby Turn Into A Business?" The integral question for you to answer is:
- Do you want to get paid for the art piece? If yes, go ahead and consider yourself a hobbyist.
- Do you want to get a profit for the art piece and all the other work you put in? If yes, then you need to consider yourself a business.
So, if you are a hobbyist, then you would stick with the wholesale cost rate. Which is Part 1 of the formula.
Part 1: (Hours worked * Hourly Wage) + Cost of Materials = Wholesale cost
If you want to make a profit for your piece, which will also go towards all the other work that goes into creating and running a business that you can live off of, then you need to go beyond the wholesale price to calculate Part 2 of the formula.
Part 2: Wholesale Cost * Experience Factor = $ Charge
Why the difference between a hobbyist and a professional in pricing?
Artists, like any business owner, generally will work more than 40 hours a week on their business, but one piece of artwork may take you only 8 hours to complete. The remaining 32+ hours would be work that you did for free if you were ONLY getting paid the wholesale part of the formula.
We need to consider all the other work required to run a business that isn’t calculated into the wholesale cost of the art. That’s why we need both parts of the formula for a professional artist:
Part 1: (Hours worked * Hourly Wage) + Cost of Materials = Wholesale cost
Part 2: Wholesale cost * Experience Factor = Amount to charge
As a professional artist, the second part of the formula is where you’ll account for your experience.
The experience factor is the key to unlocking what you should charge, and again, if you've read this far, I'd recommend getting the book because it takes about 15 pages for you to identify which level of experience you are and a table with calculations. If you are looking for a magic number with little to no work - my website is not your website, my book is not your book, and more than likely - you won't succeed because, to be honest - being an artist is hard work!
As your skills increase because of your hard work throughout your art career so should the amount of work you can complete in a given period of time and so should your pay.
How to price artwork consistently?
Have you ever noticed that when you go to purchase a t-shirt that the price is pretty much the same for a small, medium, large, and extra large, but when it comes to buying a double extra large there is a bit of a bump in price? But the price structure is the same across the same brand with different designs?
The other component to think about in the t-shirt scenario is that when they manufacture the t-shirt they know they'll have consistent quality and consistent quantity in a given period of time. So what does this mean for an artist?
Over time you'll develop consistency and you'll begin to know the labor costs to complete a specific subject in a specific size (which is also why it is so much easier to sell when an artist chooses to niche down). Until then, it is a good idea to document the hours to complete your work by size, by subject, and material costs. You may find over time that a 6x6", 8x10" 9x12" may be a grouping for you that can be considered your smaller works and take less time and develop a price range for each type.
Once you understand your pricing method and the time required to complete specific subjects, you'll also find that your art commission prices will solidify, enabling you to take on more commissions with confidence!
Can You Really Make a Living as an Artist? Here's What You Need to Know
Many people dream of making a living as an artist, but is it really possible? The answer is yes, but it requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and a willingness to take risks, AND oftentimes, a willingness to do something that makes you uncomfortable. In this section, we'll explore the steps you need to take to turn your passion for art into a successful career.
Develop a strong portfolio.
One of the most important steps in making a living as an artist is developing a strong portfolio. Your portfolio should showcase your best work and demonstrate your skills and style. It's important to have a variety of pieces that show your range as an artist, as well as pieces that are specific to the type of work you want to do.
It is good to have a mix of traditional and digital pieces to show your breadth and range. BUT when you submit to galleries or for exhibitions they want to see a "consistent body of work". A consistent body of work is a grouping of art pieces that are similar in style, medium and subject. Agents, on the other hand, will want to see a well-organized portfolio showing the range that you have the ability to create. You can showcase your portfolio online through a website or social media, or in person through art shows and exhibitions.
Network and build relationships in the art world and in the normal world.
Building relationships and networking is crucial for making a living as an artist. You CANNOT stay in your house and expect people to come knocking on your door when they don't know you are there!
Attend art shows, exhibitions, and other events where you can meet other artists, gallery owners, and potential clients. Joining artist groups or associations can also be helpful for networking and gaining exposure. Don't be afraid to reach out to people and introduce yourself, and always be professional and courteous in your interactions (meaning don't show up to an event in your paint-smeared clothes and reeking of pot - yes, I've seen that happen and no you don't sound as intelligent as you think - that is one way to get the wrong attention). And dress to meet someone who is not in the art world (those jeans with the paint splatters should remain in the studio and should not visit a hotel conference room with the local community leaders).
Building strong relationships can lead to opportunities for commissions, exhibitions, and other career advancements.
Consider alternative income streams, such as teaching, commissions or freelance work.
While selling your artwork is the most obvious way to make a living as an artist, it's important to consider alternative income streams as well because selling artwork is an inconsistent revenue stream. Teaching art classes or workshops can be a great way to supplement your income and share your skills with others. I know many artists worry about teaching others to do what makes their work special - you'll find it really doesn't work like that. Think back to your teachers, do you copy their work or learn golden nuggets to create your own style?
Freelance work, such as graphic design or illustration or murals, can also provide a steady source of income while allowing you to continue creating art.
Don't limit yourself to just one source of income, explore different options and find what works best for you and your career goals.
Market yourself effectively through social media and other channels.
In today's digital age, social media is a powerful tool for artists to market themselves and their work. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter allow artists to showcase their art, connect with potential buyers and collaborators, and build a following. It's important to have a consistent and professional presence on social media, with high-quality images of your artwork and engaging captions that tell the story behind your pieces. Additionally, consider other channels for marketing yourself, such as art fairs, galleries, and online marketplaces like Etsy or Saatchi Art. The key ot social media is:
- to be proactive and strategic in your marketing efforts,
- to always be looking for new opportunities to promote your work.
- find only 1 or 2 channels and focus on them first before getting new ones.
- find a way to automate so you don't get burnt out on social media. I personally LOVE SocialBee because it allows me to plan in advance and it takes RSS feeds from my other websites, shops, Youtube, and Podcast (AND their new AI feature is freaking fantastic!).
Stay committed and persistent in pursuing your goals.
Making a living as an artist is not an easy path, but it is possible with commitment and persistence. AND I will also say it is ok to get another job to support your art until it 'takes off'. (read more about recession-proofing your art business here.)
It's important to set clear goals for yourself and create a plan to achieve them. This may involve taking on part-time work or freelance projects while building your art career, networking with other artists and industry professionals, and continuously improving your skills and techniques. Remember to stay true to your artistic vision and style, while also being open to feedback and constructive criticism. With hard work and dedication, you can turn your passion for art into a successful career.
There is a reason why pricing your artwork is the #1 question for every artist; without the answer, you cannot have an art career, you cannot create an income, and you cannot find your target market. And like always, I'll be honest, there is not a 1 page article that will give you the answer to how you should price your artwork. The book "Art Pricing Secrets: Ethically Pricing Creativity. The Formula That Works." will enable you to price your artwork for success. The rest is up to you.