Breaking into the industry

Pricing your art

There’s an endless debate out there about art prices. This article suggests a simple way to set your prices for commissions and exhibits.
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People undervalue art, period

If you ever tried to sell your artistic skills, you probably already experienced that people ignore nearly everything about making art. They think it’s fun, quick and relaxing. This happens because people have no clue about practice, time and efforts needed to produce every single decent looking drawing.

In summer 2014 I held a personal exhibit. There were printed illustrations, a live-drawing board and videos about digital painting. That was a great chance for visitors to take a tour “behind the scenes” and I was amazed by how little they knew about illustration.
Most of them didn’t even suspect it’s still an artisan’s job, with the author stuck on paper or screen for hours or even days to complete a single image. People knows nothing about the efforts your job implies. You have to explain it to them.
Once visitors are aware of your time and efforts behind an image, its price will sound way more fair.

They’re not buying the result of some funny minutes of your life, they’re buying a proof of your vocation for art.

Do not undervalue your art

punishment
You know your skills and their value. People don’t. You set the price, not them. There are some common pitfalls when pricing your own art:

  • Lack of self-esteem. You don’t feel you can compare to the big names. While you’re probably right, this doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a fair compensation for your images.
  • You’re new to the industry. So you set a low price. This way, you’re actually claiming you’re a newbie with unready skills and worthless images. You’ll appear naive and unexperienced.
  • You compensate low self-esteem with low price. You apply a marketing move hoping to increase sales. The bitter truth is that you’re scared nobody will buy your stuff, so you set a ridicolous price. Even if you sell nice this way, is that because you’re good or because you’re cheap? There’s no point in calling yourself a professional because you’re cheap.

Such pitfalls can be very subtle. You can set them aside with Zen sentences such as:

Do not undervalue your art, people is already doing that for you.

Indeed, you need to keep your price high enough to manage margins, discounts, special offers, etc while still making an earning.

Counter attack strategy

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1. Research about prices

Search or ask other artists, even veterans, for suggestions about speed and prices. Price / hours needed = hourly rate. This way you can compare your rate, speed and the final price of your images and fine tune these three factors. As a reference, I would recommend not to drop below €15 per hour. Working for less is simply no real work or even killing your career.

2. Improve your art

Never stop improving! Always do your best. Then do even better. The more stunning your art, the less trouble to sell it.

3. Improve your time-vs-quality equation

If your calculation doesn’t fit a professional rate, you’re probably too slow or not enough skilled yet. Focus on your weak points and overcome them.

4. Educate clients about the efforts needed to make quality art

Whenever you get the chance, show or talk about behind the scenes. Explain that this is more like a vocation, that you can’t stop practicing and learning and that each piece takes hours or days to see the light. People will be grateful and look at your art more respectfully.

5. Offer different art at different prices

Allow visitors to find something they can buy from your booth.  Offer different packages or sizes and price accordingly.
Try to offer a pricelist as wide as possible. Visitors can pick a pin badge for € 2,50 or fall in love with a print and spend more. Either way, you make sale and win an happy customer.

6. Cut down costs

Do your best to save as much money as you can: materials, shipping, hotels, everything. Every cent you save will help you manage discounts, special offers and afford expenses to keep working.

7. Uniqueness

A loving aspect of being an artist is that everyone is unique. There’s no point in comparing or envying each other, because everyone express himself his own way. This is a reason why prices can range so much when comparing artists.
Remember -and tell clients if needed- that each artist is unique and so are art prices.