Pricing Artwork

Pricing ArtworkEstablishing the retail value of artwork is one of the most confusing tasks a beginning artist can undertake. There are many possible approaches to this problem and I plan to discuss a couple of the most basic within the text of this article. The methods outlined below have their foundation in substantive factors and leave emotional attachment out. Pricing artwork based upon how “good” an artist thinks it is leads to a very sloppy and inconsistent approach that can leave collectors confused.

Whether one is a seasoned professional or a rank amateur, it is often pertinent to survey the current marketplace to discover what similar artists are using as a pricing model. If your peers are selling their work for much less than what you are expecting to receive, you might think about adjusting your prices appropriately. If, however, you seem to price your artwork lower than pieces of equal quality, your prices may need a slight increase. Bear in mind, however, that the price of art can often be affected by an artist’s reputation in the marketplace. Just because you create work that is perceived to be as good or better than a given medium’s master, doesn’t mean your paintings will sell for millions of dollars.

For those who prefer a more scientific approach than the speculative comparison method, there are some typical business formula that can really help. It is not uncommon for artists to simply add the cost of all their materials, double that number, set up an hourly wage for their time, and add the hours it took to complete the work multiplied by the established wage. Often, a percentage of some overhead costs gets added to the equation if the artist pays studio rent or expects to pay a gallery commission after the sale. In other words:

Hourly Calculation

It is not unusual to become confused about what number to choose for an hourly wage. The simple answer is “What do you think your time is worth?” However, if you would like to know what other artists are making in my country, take a look at the chart below from the United States Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics from May of 2012:

Bureau of Labor Stats - Artist Wages

The pricing determination method above assumes that larger artwork takes longer to create than smaller pieces. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and adjustments will be required if one desires proper compensation for one’s time and expertise. Because of this artwork dimensional quandary, there is another pricing method that is fairly popular.

In order to price artwork while accounting for the dimensions of the piece, artists created another equation:

Dimension Calculation

The “Predetermined Value Per Inch” variable of the above formula is often also referred to as an artist’s “value in the marketplace.” I have seen artists use anywhere from $1 USD to $6 USD for this mathematical factor. As an artist’s reputation increases and their work is in greater demand, this value should theoretically increase. While this method works for some people, I don’t prefer it for pricing my work. This equation appears to be more commonly used by oil and acrylic artists than by watercolorists.

As a watercolorist, the pricing method I have chosen to use is to simply price my work based upon size. I usually mark large paintings at one price, 10″ x 14″ (25.4cm 35.6cm) pieces at another price, and 5″ x 7″ (12.7cm x 17.8cm) pieces at yet another price, etc… This allows me to maintain a consistent value for my work and collectors know exactly what to expect. I roughly arrived at my pricing figures by utilizing the hourly wage calculation method above combined with a marketplace comparison. Several artists have suggested that my prices are too low but I am happy with my current rate of sales and would rather have my work getting into collectors’ homes than to have it gathering dust in my studio. Perhaps, however, the future will see me raising my prices as demand for my work broadens.

Ultimately, pricing artwork is a very personal and complex procedure and as an artist gains reputation within the marketplace, their work may continue to escalate in price. This element, however, is a difficult one to assess and really is based upon rate of sales, current economic conditions, etc…

If you are an artist and you have a unique pricing method or a more effective variation of any of those mentioned above, feel free to leave a comment in the section below. I would love to hear your opinion.

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Comments (15)
  • Jim Swarthow September 28, 2013

    Thank you for the information. I have just begun selling my artwork online and it has been a real struggle trying to determine pricing. I appreciate this article!

    • Ken Powers September 29, 2013

      Thank you Jim! I am glad you found this information helpful!

  • Tom Anderson September 28, 2013

    Very nicely written article. Great info!

    • Ken Powers September 29, 2013

      Thank you very much! I appreciate the feedback.

  • Dai Wynn September 29, 2013

    Another very interesting article, Ken. You talk about confused collectors. I am a confused artist who produces both watercolours and oils, in metric dimensions and Australian dollars. I know that hourly rates DownUnder are somewhat higher than in the USA, and it would appear from several statistical analyses that the online art market is substantially in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Forgive me if I have mentioned him previously, but a favourite “A Painting a Day” artist of mine has his own 24-hour online auction on his website. While his original intention was to ensure that there would be only one buyer per painting (what a situation to find one’s self in – having to re-imburse ‘unsuccessful’ buyers on PayPal), the real benefit is to establish a true market value for each work.

    Of course, having the auction function on one’s website – and directly accessible from the eNewsletter – means that branding can be closely controlled by the artist. Of course, having a mailing list of 30,000 helps tremendously, and that’s only possible by using all manner of allied marketing techniques.

    Finally, this artist is very talented, so the quality of his work is generally – but not always – very high.

    Keep up the good work, and please drop the ‘drop cap’ thingy which simply doesn’t work, but does annoy, in the newsletter.


    Dai Wynn

    • Ken Powers September 29, 2013

      Thank you Dai! I appreciate your comment. It would definitely be interesting to compare the average hourly rates for artists across the entire world. Unfortunately, I don’t have that information. Luckily for me, the wage information for every USA occupation is very easily attainable and is a matter of public record. Global information, however, would have made a very nice addition to the article and would have opened an interesting dialog concerning whether to price one’s work for the world market or for a specific locale. The answer, of course, might be more specific to where one is putting their marketing efforts to the most use.

      As for the drop-cap “shortcode” feature (as well as many others) that is custom to my website’s theme: Unfortunately, the Jetpack comments and subscription service do not strip them from the emailed posts. Many of the email syndication services, like FeedBurner, are either going away or are too expensive to utilize but do remove the shortcodes or render them properly. I tried Subscribe-2 for a while but I didn’t like the text-only post extract that was sent to subscribers. Due to the annoyance this has been causing, I am going to suspend emailing published posts until the Jetpack add-on is fixed and adds more features. I reach more readers through the use of Social Media notifications anyway.

      Thanks again,

  • Dai Wynn October 2, 2013

    Another thought of mine on artwork pricing issues.
    I suspect that I put a premium price on my paintings. Against other artists’ works of similar size, similar subject matter, and similar quality, I set a similar price. Naturally, I don’t always have a similar number of followers and collectors, nor do I have a renowned signature.
    Now, I do admit to having a handful of keen collectors – perhaps they consider themselves ‘patrons’ – who are more than happy to pay my asking prices. Unfortunately, there are too few of them, and clearly I’d like their numbers to increase.
    So, my dilemma is, “How do I sell more works to the masses without disappointing my loyal coterie of collectors?”
    While my fresh-off-the-easel, premium-priced, paintings are featured on the front page of my website at, and are posted to a small mailing list in a bi-weekly eNewsletter linked back to my website, older works are posted on eBay for a fraction of the price I’m asking for new ones.
    In effect, that portion of the 7 million eBay shoppers who view my artworks thinks they are worth considerably less than my estimation.
    The question is, “Do all of these would-be collectors think collectively that my artworks are rubbish? Do they represent the opinion of the general art marketplace? Or does the garage sale mentality permeate the Internet?” For example, front page advertisements for $18 oils on canvas doesn’t really strike confidence in a premium art market.
    BTW, I’ve been playing with MailChimp for a couple of weeks now, and I think I’ve modified the code to where I want it.



    • Ken Powers October 3, 2013

      Thanks for the input Dai! I think you have really hit on the key issue…..getting artwork in front of the right set of eyes. One has to wonder if the eBay venue fosters the garage sale mentality? Even if the service reaches a possible 7 million shoppers, are they all looking to get something for as cheaply as they can possibly get it? Does this, in effect, force pricing downward? I have to wonder if this actually works to devalue original artwork as opposed to breeding the collector mentality. I think the perceived “value” of owning a “one-of-a-kind” original piece of art gets lost. Of course, we are now living in a society where everything is deemed to be “disposable” and that can directly influence pricing as well. Because of this, I have a hard time believing that the eBay marketplace represents the opinions of the true collector and certainly shouldn’t be the factor that determines the quality of one’s work. I think you have made some great points! Thanks for the feedback!

  • Phil Kendall October 3, 2013

    The price per square centimetre [regardless of materials used] + the cost of the canvas + a 10% contribution to studio overheads = basic selling price. Example 30 x 30 cm @ £0.05 = £45. Canvas costs £20. Running cost £300 [per month] 10% = £30. So 45 + 20 + 30 = £95 as a target sales price. Its the cost of the canvas that gets overlooked. It really should be its current replacement cost that is used & not the historic cost

    • Ken Powers October 3, 2013

      Thank you for the great comment Phil! This is exactly the dialog I was hoping would develop from this article. By refining the equation based upon real-world experience and materials costs, we can arrive at a much more accurate way of determining selling price. You are absolutely correct about the cost of the canvas being overlooked and its cost has varied greatly over time. Thanks for the insight and example!

  • Dai Wynn October 5, 2013

    Would that I were perceived as a brilliant and talented artist, able to establish my own prices and please my wealthy collectors who, in turn, would experience an ego-blast showing off their collections of my artworks to their influential friends.
    OK – wide awake now!
    I met a gentleman several days ago whose wife is an artist. Now, I would not have thought a couple, about to embark on a luxury cruise down the Danube, was short of money. However, he said that he had recently “done a course in framing artworks”, had purchased the tools and consumables, and – from iPhone photographs – now does a fairly good job at framing his partner’s watercolours. The formats are good, the dimensions are right and the colours match. We even philosophised the ancient concept of the “Golden Mean”.
    This conversation began when I bemoaned the fact that the real cost of framing often swamps the computed price of the artwork (as determined in the comments above).
    The other fairly minor issue is the inference that “his wife is an artist”, suggesting that she paints watercolours in the same way that my wife completes Sudoku puzzles in her spare Sunday afternoons. I agree that this assessment is rather harsh, but is nevertheless a common one.
    Indubitably, RESPECT is earned. In the meanwhile, I’ll keep on monitoring my costs and use every opportunity to reduce them. I may even investigate framing my own works.

    • Ken Powers October 7, 2013

      I agree that the term “artist” is thrown around loosely Dai. The quality of one’s work and reputation in the marketplace certainly play an important part in the pricing calculation. Respect in the marketplace is definitely earned and often requires great efforts in order to attain visibility as well.

      As for materials and labor, I do all my own matting and framing in order to keep my costs down. If I didn’t, it would be very hard to make a decent profit on each work sold. Unfortunately, this also amounts to an increase in personal labor costs as the procedure is fairly time consuming.

  • Dai Wynn October 9, 2013

    Ken, the ‘scientific approach’ to pricing artwork in your original ‘blog article starts the clock on picking up the brush. Of course, this is a nonsense because someone had to slip down to the art supplies store to buy the brush, the canvas, the paper, the paints, etc. Then there’s the cost of framing and exhibiting the completed artwork, ‘in the flesh’ and online, and finally with a joyous heart, packaging and shipping the artwork to a lucky collector.
    If you, like me, paint landscapes, they hardly pop out of my fertile imagination and appear in excruciating detail on my canvas. I need to travel, sometimes to overseas destinations, to take many thousands of ‘reference’ photographs which I will ‘finesse’ using Adobe Photoshop until I am happy to paint the final images. This all costs money and much of it can legitimately be classed as a production cost for taxation purposes. I might even argue that I save the collector an airfare to the exotic location featured in my landscape painting.
    Now, one could argue that the collection of travel images is simply a marginal cost on a personal travel budget. That maintaining a well-lit, warm studio is just a marginal cost on running a private residence. That packing and shipping of artworks in padded bags by registered mail is no different to slipping a hamburger into a paper-bag at the local fast-food outlet. That the incessant tweaking of websites is just a labour of love – because one has been blessed with the technical and design prowess to do it.
    And, finally, given that one has made the fateful decision to be a visual artist, all of the endless ‘behind-the-scenes’ unpaid and unappreciated activity is simply ‘par-for-the-course’. I often suspect that those persons who have to face the treadmill of a boring and repetitive job every work day would point to a visual artist and say, ‘What, you enjoy yourself 24/7 and you WANT TO BE PAID for your efforts as well?’

    • Ken Powers October 9, 2013

      Very true Dai! There is a lot to be said for the behind-the-scenes costs associated with building and running a successful business. The hours that simply go into building a website that acts as an artist’s virtual storefront can be difficult to properly assess and recoup. The studio space and travelling costs definitely add to the complication of computation as well. Ultimately, we have to accept the fact that purchasers of artwork are getting a pretty darn good deal! 😉

  • Owen Swanson October 26, 2013

    Thanks for the amazing article! This has helped me big time!

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