How to Price Artwork
Putting a price tag on your priceless artwork can be challenging, but it’s something you have to do if you want to sell your work, and pricing your art doesn’t have to be the emotional minefield it’s made out to be. In our 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market article “What is Your Art Worth?” freelance artist Margaret Peot offers practical advice, tips and worksheets to take the emotional guesswork out of pricing your artwork. Read an excerpt from the article below to learn how to price artwork. You can also read the entire art-pricing article in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market or right here on Artist’s Market Online.
Keep creating and good luck!
What is Your Art Worth? Pricing Artwork by Margaret Peot
Your art is a priceless gift that you give to your world. It is the conduit by which a wordless intimate thing passes between two humans—the artist and the viewer—something that may touch our hearts, or assure us that we are not alone. Art might share a mighty truth, or show us a tender, slight idea—as perfect as a dragonfly. Art-making is powerful magic, a mysterious act that holds a place in every society.
In this article, we will focus on what art and art-related services are worth. Freelancing will be covered at length. When you work full time, the salary is already set, but when you freelance, you must continually determine your worth. We will also discuss bidding on jobs (with three practice projects to consider and bid on yourself), touch lightly but firmly on contracts, and explore retail sales of artwork.
Setting Value on Art is Hard—or is it?
In Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, he says, “The spirit of an artist’s gifts can wake our own.” Hyde also goes on to say, “But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity.”
As children we learn that a gift should be given freely—that you can’t give a gift in expectation of return in kind. And yet, even though our art is a gift, a successful working artist must set a price on it, or the making of it, in order to live by it. The strange puzzle of art-making is that we can’t make it with its potential retail value in the front of our minds, and yet to be good business people we must be able to set a value on it after it is made.
“…though our art is a gift, a successful artist must set a price on it…”
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Freelance used to refer to a mercenary soldier of the Middle Ages, someone who hired out his talents to the highest bidder without particular allegiance to any side or country—a free lance.
In regards to artists, a freelancer is someone who hires out his or her artistic talents to a variety of employers without any long-term commitment to any of them. If you are providing an art-related service, you are probably going to be working as a freelancer. Artists are often freelancers, as there are few full-time jobs that allow for the kind of creative freedom they want. Working freelance also allows time for artists to continue to focus on their own studio work.
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Bidding on a Job
How do you decide how much to charge for a project?
Some employers will offer a freelancer a set fee, while others will ask you to bid on a job. In both cases, you need to be able to work out a bid—an estimate of time, labor, costs and value.
When bidding on a job, you should review the problems inherent in an assignment and try to figure out how much it will cost you to do it, allowing enough for materials, overhead, assistance if necessary, and income for yourself. Some of the bid will be based on your practical knowledge of the job at hand, some will be rank guesswork, and some will be padding for hidden costs. (And don’t forget that you should plan on having about 35 percent of your net being paid out as taxes!)
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Contracts and Hidden Costs
It is always good to have things in writing before you start. This can be a simple letter of agreement—a contract in letter form between individuals or organizations, signed by all parties stating what you and your client think will happen, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. Sign it, have the client sign it, and make sure that everyone gets a copy.
“Even the most experienced artists mess up on their bids…”
Sometimes a simple e-mail exchange can be enough of a record for a less formal job. Or, your contract could be a more complicated document that needs to be drawn up by a lawyer. If a hiring institution or individual presents you with a contract, do not ever sign anything without reading it first, and also perhaps, without asking the advice of a lawyer.
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Selling a piece of artwork or a craft item, whether you sell it in a store or in a gallery, is retail sales. What this means is that for whatever price you sell your work, you will have to pay a percentage off the top of that to the gallery. Gallery commissions can run anywhere from 20 to 50 percent!
What Do I Charge for a Work of Art?
Let’s say you have made a painting. It is 4′ × 4′ (122m × 122m). It took you thirty hours to complete at $40 per hour—an hourly rate you have decided on yourself. This includes time spent doing sketches, idle thinking about it, and actual execution of the painting. You spent $100 on supplies to execute the painting, and you had it framed for $300. The total of these expenses is $1,600.
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Charging by the Area
Another way to figure out the potential price of an artwork is to charge by the square inch or square foot. When pricing out a mural job, painters will often charge by the square foot: a smaller amount for a simple texture (like a vaguely cloudy sky), a bit more for a more involved surface (marble or sandstone), and quite a lot for every square foot of, for example, detailed flowers. People who make paintings for hospitality venues—restaurants, hotels, hospitals—are often asked what their “square-inch price” is. This is because they have a budget for filling a set amount of space with something beautiful and suitable. Like carpet or wallpaper, there is an area charge.
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Trial and Error
What you will do for a living, and how much you can charge for it, will be determined in part by where you live, how much it costs to live there, and how much cost the local market can sustain. Some of this will come to you by research and some by trial and error.
Margaret Peot is a painter, printmaker and writer who has been making her living as a freelance artist for over twenty years. Visit her website at margaretpeot.com.
Excerpted from The Successful Artist’s Career Guide © 2012 by Margaret Peot. Used with the kind permission of North Light Books, an imprint of F+W Media, Inc. Visit northlightshop.com or call (855)842-5267 to obtain a copy.