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What’s in a Price?

By Peta Tranquille


Pricing artwork can be tricky, and many artists find this problematic. While this is probably more prevalent in emerging and less experienced artists, I know this is not always the case.


As an artist confident with pricing, I wanted to share my thoughts on this topic.


I have seen many formulas and ways to determine your price, but it is not that simple for many artists.


The most important factors you need to consider when pricing is knowledge, materials and time. Of course, this will not be relevant to everyone. I will break down each of these factors to make it easier and discuss another important pricing issue.



KNOWLEDGE


Just like with any job or career, what you know is a driving factor in determining your wages or hourly rate. For example, you are not going to start a retail job at the hourly rate of the manager. Nor are you going to get the wages of a coach as a first-year rookie (I love sport, so I had to include that reference).


If you are emerging, you need to consider your experience. For example, suppose you have attended a few drawing classes and decided you are now going to give it a shot at being a professional artist. In that case, you might want to take a few years to explore materials, learn about the history of your chosen field or perhaps connect with an art group. Another great way to learn more is by regularly visiting galleries or open studios. Check out our events page and join us at a gallery visit or check out our blog on Creative Tips.


Knowledge and practice go hand in hand to develop your creative persona. As with anything we do, the more you practice, the better you will become. Like many of you, I grew up in an era of ‘practice makes perfect”, but as an adult, I understood that perfection is not always the goal. So, for me ‘Practice Makes Improvement”, and another way to define that is growth and development. I recently blogged about taking your creativity to the next level.



MATERIALS


The choice of materials is essential when arriving at a price for your artwork. The difference in the quality of materials and mediums can vary greatly. For example, compared to craft or student quality materials, those considered to be of a professional standard can be an eye-watering difference in cost. I’m not saying anything is wrong with any material you use, but it should be reflected in the price.


If I were buying or investing in an expensive artwork, I would expect the artist to have used quality materials. For the less expensive pieces, it would not be as important a factor with regards to the price. For example, if I bought a small A4 digital print for a few hundred dollars, I expect it would continue to look that way and not fade in a few years because the paper or print quality was poor.


One thing I learned when using better-quality materials was that you usually use less. So, while the cheaper ones are attractive if you are on a budget, investing in professional quality materials might not cost much more. And while you might be thinking that the buyers won’t know the difference, and in many cases, they won’t, you should give some thought to the standard you want to set for yourself. The apparent discrepancy between an artist and a professional artist is the word “professional”.



TIME


Time is the most challenging factor to determine concerning pricing. You might be an artist that spends less than an hour on a piece of artwork, or at the other end of the scale, it may take three months. I feel that while the time it takes to create an artwork is relevant, the most critical time factor is experience.


I could write so much about this one factor, but I will use an example outside the realm of the arts to make it easier to explain.


Some professions (note the word I used) can charge quite a sum for a short period of their time. For example, a Lawyer or Surgeon may charge you hundreds of dollars an hour, but you need to remember the time it took for them to be as good as they are in what they do. So, when you get the invoice and nearly fall over backwards, you must understand that they probably spent a decade or more learning and perfecting their skills before working full-time in their chosen profession.


To compare these professions to an artist may seem unconventional, but the factor of time is the same across all occupations. For example, nobody will pay the same for a first-year lawyer as they would a lawyer with 20 years of experience. That is a simple fact.


Another example would be from a personal perspective. While I have only been painting maps inspired artworks for about six years, I have been drawing all my life. Therefore, regardless of my pieces taking one or three months to paint, my thirty years as a Cartographer in the mapping industry has to be considered. My prices, therefore, reflect my experience and time spent not only painting but as a Cartographic professional.


So regardless of how long it takes you to create your masterpiece, consider how much time you have contributed to it in your lifetime.




SALES vs SALES


The other issue I want to discuss is sales and sales. Some artists are fortunate to have regular sales, and while that is not the focus for every artist, it is always a happy surprise when your artwork is bought. However, I am very passionately against the sale, such as the EOFY Sale, the Christmas Sale or the Spring Sale. I don’t have an issue with artists trying to clear old works, but I think that the word ‘sale’ can cheapen an artist or the artwork. Based on the materials, time, and knowledge I discussed, I have always found it difficult to price an artwork only to reduce it for a ‘sale’. We compared a professional artist to other professions, and I don’t feel that a “sale” fits the brief. Architects, surgeons, accountants, and lawyers don’t have sales. They have a set price; if anything, those prices increase over time. If I have carefully considered all three factors when pricing my work, reducing it questions my belief in my skills and knowledge.


However, you can find sales in online shops, supermarkets, car yards, etc., but they are commercially based and sell multiple amounts of the same product. Unless you do prints or make copies of your work, should a carefully considered price for a one-off item ever be in a ‘sale’?


Now that you have digested this blog, I’d like to finish by asking you an important question.


What would you pay for something that is the only one of its kind in the world? Wouldn't this be considered a priceless object?



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1 Comment


Thanks for the article about price Peta, it's very helpful. As a relatively new artist I haven't looked for opportunities to sell my work very often, but the couple of times I have priced a piece in an exhibition it has been difficult. I have mostly considered the cost of the frame and then added what I think is reasonable for the painting. Too high or too low seems to be an issue that affects what people think I have discovered when talking to other artists. How do you see this? In regard to your question, something unique if it appeals personally, I am happy to pay the price asked, if I can afford that.

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