View Full Version : Let's talk about pricing

03-07-2010, 06:18 PM
I tried searching the forum, but the search function didn't find anything.

I've been reading around and it looks like some people price per square inch and some people do materials plus a dollar amount per hour.

I would probably do the materials and a dollar amount per hour route. Some of my paintings are bigger and pricing them per square inch would be a lot.

So for an artist who is just starting out but would like to have a respectable price for things, what is a good rate per hour?

I have no idea. I asked my husband and he said $50 :lol:
That is definitely too high. I don't know if $10 or $15 is too low.

For example: The piece I finished yesterday...
It's 22x8 in. and I used a variety of good pastels. I don't have any idea really how to judge how much of the pastel I used. I used a full sheet of colourfix paper. So I estimate $25-30 for materials. Too much?

Then if I say $10/hr, the painting is $125-$130
$12/hr would be $145-$150.

It would be ~$195 if priced by the square in.

I have no idea if these are reasonable or not. Too much? Too little? What is a reasonable starting hourly wage?

I'll post the painting. The picture is a bit dark. I need to take a picture with better light.

03-07-2010, 06:47 PM
Hi Beth -- I'm sure a lot of people will respond. I think there are a few old threads on pricing. I personally don't think basing price on the amount of time it took to paint is a good way to go. Plein air paintings are often done in one to two hours -- sometimes even less. Some small studio paintings can take days or more. The best way to start is to go to a lot of your local galleries and see what people you consider to be your level are charging (keeping in mind that a gallery often takes up to 50%). I also look at a LOT of art online and always look to see what those artists are getting for their paintings. Once you have established the baseline price, then you can cost it out by the inch or whatever. That's my opinion -- others may have a different view. Nice painting by the way!

03-07-2010, 07:04 PM
Beth, definitely the price per size is more reasonable than your price per hour. On some things I'd have to calculate the per-hour if the medium is an exceedingly slow one, so that I wouldn't be working for a dollar an hour or something. That's where the ten dollar an hour thing comes in -- but also the per size tends to suit buyers more and it varies with the medium.

The reality of art pricing is that it's subjective and has to do with quality as well as time it took to do it. $10 an hour is a minimum for skilled labor. It ought to go quite higher if you're good at it and doing large works -- the real pricing, the best way is to look at the markets and see what comparable works in a similar medium and style are going for. Then don't underprice or overprice that average.

How famous you are will affect pricing. How many contests you won, whether you've been published in magazines, these things do quite reasonably raise the price on art. The real price is what the market will bear, what people who love it are willing to pay for it.

Looking in galleries is a good idea too. Keep in mind that galleries usually double the artist's asking price, so this $195 painting would go for $390 in a gallery. Charge the same as the gallery when you're selling online so that you're not sabotaging your distributor. Keep in mind that artists doing similar work are getting paid that much for good reason and that your selling on a website takes work too.

There's some thoughts on pricing.

Deborah Secor
03-07-2010, 07:10 PM
I price by the square inch, including mats/frame. The galleries take 50% around here, so my wholesale price (what I get for the painting after paying a commission to the gallery or show) is my price. Your $195 is what YOU need. The price should then be $390. If your painting is 22x8", and you have 3" mats on it, it's 392 square inches, and the price comes to around a dollar a square inch. You plan to get 50 cents of that dollar to cover the cost of materials, matting and framing, advertising (business cards, brochures), entering shows/fairs/galleries, transportation, shipping and handling, and other marketing for shows/galleries/work in general. That's not a lot to ask!

For a fine piece of original artwork, nicely framed and shown in a good venue, a price under $400 is quite reasonable at that size. Don't think of what it's worth to you, but what the needs are from a business standpoint. Then if you feel that you can back down on that price a bit to get started, you have that option (say $350), but when you knock on a gallery door and they say they want five paintings by May 1, framed and delivered to their door, you're set to go!

Hope that helps.

water girl
03-07-2010, 07:12 PM
This is actually a tough question. Most of my paintings take around 15 to 20 hours to complete, some less. Now there may be some that are 14 X 18 unframed, or as small as 5 X 7. Even the small ones take a considerable amount of time. Ten years ago I began selling a 16 X 20 framed for $150. Once I had sold a few at that price, I went to $225 and so on. Depending upon the economy and your location, that too will affect your starting prices. My suggestion is to just price it as you see fit and see if it sells. It may be reasonable to ask a little less to start out because you don't ever want to have to go back and lower your prices. That's just my experience. Once you start selling, you'll see pretty quickly what the market will bear. I hope that helps.

03-07-2010, 09:10 PM
Pricing per hour in the fine art world doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Should the artist who paints very quickly be "punished" by receiving less for a painting than someone who paints very slowly? That's assuming the paintings are the same size, the artists are of the same ability, and have the same recognition in the art world. I don't think so!

Pricing per square inch may be manipulated to suit the level of experience and recognition of the artist by taking that number times a "factor" to reach the sales price. Some people I know even use two different factors depending upon the size of the artwork.

Here's a couple examples:
An 8 x 10 painting is 80 sq inches. Let's say you are just starting out and no one has ever heard of you nor have you ever been accepted into a juried competition (that's pretty bare bones)... You might sell it for $80 with a simple frame and single mat.... or you could use a factor of 2 and sell it for $160 and easily cover the expense of the frame and mat. However, if there is a commission fee of 50% you will receive $80. Is that enough to cover the price of your mat, glass and frame? Maybe yes, maybe no.

An 18 x 24 painting is 432 sq inches. You could round that to 435, put a mat and frame on it, and sell it for $435. If you take that times the factor of 2 the price is then $870. I've had people at the "bare bones" level tell me they feel that price is too high for their work so they use a lower factor on work that is larger. They used a factor of 1.25 ($543.75), and round the sales price to $550. this time the price you might receive after commission is $225

The whole idea of pricing in the beginning is to just get your work into the hands of collectors. Some artists may hold back on sales until they do have some competition recognition and may use a higher factor to begin with. This may or may not work in their favor when trying to create sales. The public needs to know you too. Then again if you price your work too low that may also be off putting! This can be a never ending cycle of frustration if you let it bother you too much. You will need to decide just how much money you need or want in the beginning to help you feel it is work the expense of framing and marketing your work. Pick a pricing method and stay with it until you have a good feeling for how it works for you. It is good to know that as your recognition and honors grow, so does the "factor".

Once you set a price for your work, do not change it to suit different venues! If you are selling through a gallery or any venue that takes a commission, you should leave the price the same no matter what as it doesn't look so good if your clients or the gallery owner sees your work for a lower price elsewhere. That is a sure way to make the gallery owners hesitent to market your work and to ask you to leave their gallery as soon as they can. It is easiest to assume a commission of 50% when setting a price. That way if a commission is less, you get more money, but you will never get less than your bottom line needs.


03-07-2010, 09:58 PM
I price per square inch, but on a sliding scale so that my larger paintings won't be so prohibitive. If a painting takes a lot longer, I'll sometimes price it a little higher, but not much. Commissions generally take longer for me and there's a lot of back and forth with clients, so my commission prices are about 20% higher.

One of my galleries takes only a 30% commission and I don't have to frame. She is a framer, so she gets to make extra money by charging the customer for a custom frame. She gets to sell my paintings for less than my other galleries, which all take 50%. The way I see it is, why shouldn't she have the advantage of lowering her commission to be able to sell artwork for less? My other galleries certainly have that option as well! They can lower their commission at any time to reduce the price. (Can you tell I'm really sick of these 50% commissions that put our work out of range for so many buyers, and make it impossible for us to do much more than recoup framing costs?)


03-07-2010, 10:21 PM
Wow, lots of replies! Awesome.

I guess it really does make more sense to go by the square inch. I think I just have a complex about asking for what things might be worth. :lol:

So for this one then, so I'm clear:
It's 22.75 x 8 in. = 182
Then I could multiply it by a factor. Before, I chose $1.10 per sq in., which would be $200. This is without matting and framing, which I would have done somewhere.

And then if it were at a gallery they would add whatever their commission is? So it would be $400+ (with framing). Mindboggling. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see that, but I have a hard time picturing it.

I have a painting that is 481 sq in and I paid $170 to mat and frame it.
So that would be $700 if I used the formula above. That seems like too much to me. Especially if you were to add 50% ($1400!!!)
I guess this is where I would use a lower factor then.

It's not like I have a gallery or even a way set up to sell things yet. I'm just trying to get an idea. I was going to start working on a website.

Deborah - I have a question for you. I took my last pastel for matting and framing at Weems Gallery on Montgomery. Do you have a place you like to go that you could recommend?

03-07-2010, 11:10 PM
Deborah, thank you for pointing out that the mat should be taken as part of it in pricing. Since I'd have to buy the frame for something to go in a gallery, that does allow me to use better frames and price accordingly knowing it'd be covered, also archival mat boards and backboards which are a serious investment.

I think of the per-time thing as more of a minimum than an absolute. On quite slow methods, if a medium isn't cost effective I may not even want to sell the originals -- not if I'm only getting fifty cents an hour for my work however polished. But I can see how with using different factors, a general idea of the amount of effort that goes into a piece could get factored in. I could use a higher factor for, say, colored pencils realism or slow-layered oil painting that takes a year to complete by method, versus a simpler factor for all the mediums that can be finished in a reasonable amount of time.

My concern about the time thing is that painters who do very slow meticulous methods do still need to eat, to live, to buy supplies and as a collector I do not mind paying more for an 8" x 10" piece of colored pencils realism vs. an equally lovely pastel that isn't as detailed but is as high in quality. It's more like that would mostly apply to certain methods that are inevitably going to take a lot more time to create a piece than the regular pricing would.

And then just having a "slow medium" factor would deal with it adequately, but it ought to be worked out so that the poor painter is at least getting a tad over minimum wage, or they're better off completely abandoning the slow medium -- when it may be their best medium or most popular. More like the per-time factor could be figured out the same way expenses get calculated -- know how long it takes to do a particular style or medium and adjust the factor accordingly.

It would be easier for me to give a price break factor at large size in a loose medium or a fast medium than something that took as long to paint as ten smaller paintings even though it's only four times the area.

It's also natural for artists to underprice their work. I've done it, I've known so many others to do it.

Beth, why is $1400 for a big painting like 481 square inches out of bounds? Given that I had a lifestyle with that much wall space, I could afford it and might expect to pay that much for something that big. $170 for the frame is coming out of your share, after all. So you're really getting only $530 -- but your gallery is getting its electric bill, its employees' payroll, its expenses paid too and the big painting is getting attention.

Getting an average idea of the per-hour would make sense for understanding what factor to apply to which medium. But having a bottom line to it is where that would matter most, unless you know that you're hanging onto the original and going to earn out the time you spent on that mostly in selling prints and cards. Profit from prints and cards would come into whether selling something is cost effective.

Deborah Secor
03-07-2010, 11:37 PM
I'll PM you, Beth!


03-07-2010, 11:40 PM
I don't think it's out of bounds to sell a painting that size for $1400. I just can't imagine selling one of mine for that much. :lol: I imagine other people selling their work for that much.

Clearly, I have a problem. I have a large acrylic painting that would be priced similarly based on size and I was thinking more like $350 for it. This is really hard. Because yeah, it's kind of forcing me to think about why I don't think my stuff is good enough.

I think I will go around to some galleries and check out pricing, too.

Thanks everyone. I like hearing what other people do. This is interesting. Keep em coming.

03-08-2010, 12:05 AM
Robert I understand your reasoning concerning various mediums and how long it may or may not take to finish a piece. However, many of the professionals - big name professionals - charge the same price for a pastel as they do an oil painting. People are "buying" the artist's name as much as they are the painting. I worked for a gallery for 14 years, and most of the clients we had either bought the "name" or they bought what they liked at a price they were willing to pay for someone who didn't have much of a reputation established as yet. You may be an exception in that you are saying you'd be willing to pay $1400 for a painting by someone completely "unknown" - most of the clients I remember wouldn't be willing to do that. For that matter, the gallery owners would not have even looked at representing that artist if they came in with that price tag on their work. They themselves were working artists - very successful working artists educated at the Cleveland Institue of Art. We did sell artwork in that price range and above, but this gallery believed in helping the talented new to sales artists as well as those already established in their careers. The new artists had to understand that they could not command high prices until they'd begun to get recognition throughout the region either by working summer art fairs, entering, being accepted into and receiving awards in local and national competitions or any other manner in which they could begin to establish a reputation with the public. That gallery survived 26 years in business, and unfortunately had to close when one owner died and the other got Alzheimer's disease - that was a very sad day around here...

Another consideration regarding pricing of different mediums is the popularity of each. That will vary from region to region, but overall oil paintings tend to be most popular with the public as well as gallery owners. Around here, one doesn't see many colored pencil pieces even though Gary Greene, a very well known colored pencil artist lives in the same county I do. At one time watercolors were extremely popular here and often outsold any other medium - that seems to be changing lately. I could go on about this, but I think what I'm trying to say is every region of the country/world will have different preferences of what the clients want as a medium and what they are willing to pay for each.

The "average" client isn't someone schooled enough in the various mediums to know how long it takes or doesn't take to complete a painting nor do they care. What they do care about is do they like it, will it match their decor (I hate that reasoning but it exists!), how much it costs, and does the artist have a enough recognition in the art field to be accepted as an equal by their peers. It is the responsibilty of the gallery owners to know enough about their artists to be able to convenience the clients that those artists they represent are worthy of the price they see on the painting.

Contrary to what some people think, most gallery owners work very hard to create a client base that will return again and again to buy art from them. If the artists don't want to pay whatever commission the gallery is charging, then they don't have to work with that gallery. Having worked both sides of the street so to speak, I appreciate my gallery owners willingness to pay the rent & utilities (which are probably raised at the drop of a hat), advertise in many different venues (which also becomes more expensive each year), offer artists' receptions when they have a block of new work (wine and cheese don't come free nor do the show catalogues, invitations or postage), create and keep updated websites (something that didn't exist when I worked - lol), etc, etc, etc. A good gallery is worth the 50% commission. Are there poorly run galleries? Most certainly, but they don't remain in business with first class artists to represent for very long.


03-08-2010, 01:18 AM
This is good. Thank you for these really informative posts, Peggy.

So I'm thinking that I can calculate based on square inch of the piece and matting and framing costs. And then I can choose a factor to multiply that by which is based on size categories.

I do think that $700 is too much for the piece I was talking about earlier, based on the fact that I have no recognition, haven't been in any shows or competitions, and I have not tried to sell any art yet. For that specific piece, the point is moot because I painted it for myself and our wall, but I do have other paintings that are that big or bigger. It's just the only one that is framed.

I just assumed I would pick a pricing scheme based on selling my work myself and then if a gallery was interested at some point, add the commission cost, or that they would do that. I also always assumed they would tell you if your prices were too low or too high.

So this is good. I think I would be comfortable at least for this piece with around $200 after framing. For larger pieces I might use a factor a little lower than 1, because I just don't think I can charge that much yet.

03-08-2010, 08:20 AM
Everyone has given you really good advice Beth. The bottom line to remember, though, is that ORIGINAL ARTWORK IS VERY EXPENSIVE! Definitely don't price yourself out of the market but remember that an original painting by an artist is not a cheap purchase. Before you start selling, though, you really should get your name out through local competitions, then national, etc. The process takes a long time and is an ongoing effort. Someone pointed out the importance of keeping your prices consistent -- that is a really important point. If you get into a gallery, you don't want to undercut them by selling the same paintings through your website for 50 percent less! Anyway, good luck!

03-08-2010, 08:51 AM
You can also look for an answer in Art Business (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=32) forum, lots of good advice there regarding pricing.


03-08-2010, 09:11 AM
Boy: This is a tough one. Now here is an important point. I have seen some small works that were photoreal go for way more than larger works. The other thing is the popularity of the artist. A 9x12 by so and so may go for much less by......"so and so". I always check with the gallery to see what the price range is and the commission they get. I would say most of the time, you have to go with your gut. I just sold an 18x 24 pastel for $600 framed and the gallery owner told me later. "Derek, that businessman would have given you a thousand for that piece, he loved it". SO you never know. I deal with a gallery that is kind of mid-range in prices. About 30 miles away is another gallery in an upper-crust town. The work is no better, but the prices are thru the roof. Go figure.
Gut Feeling is my opinion.....but try not to low-ball. Derek

03-08-2010, 10:39 AM
Yeah. That's why I think the time that how long it takes on average to finish one matters most in slow mediums and styles -- photoreal can take a lot longer to finish, to the point where it needs to have a completely different factor for per-square-inch.

It would take me two or three long days to do photoreal colored pencils in 4" x 6" but an ATC is a one day project. So setting my price for doing photoreal in colored pencils has to have a high factor... but per square inch does make sense for that too because that's what actually soaks the time when doing photoreal styles. Even if after a while they go faster, every step still has to be done well for the painting to come out and by then of course the artist's skill is still better so it's not like the earlier photoreal ones weren't worth the price.

This is why aside from doing factors per inch it's good to look at what the markets are charging for comparable works. And in a gallery it'd be good to price comparable to the other artists in that gallery so that you don't stick out as a newbie or seem like your work isn't as good as theirs -- that rebound effect does happen. I did it to myself a couple of times even as a street artist until I wised up and started charging the average of what the portrait sketchers charged.