Today's guest author is artist, Trent Gudmundsen. This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. Find out how you can become a guest author.
Last night I was introduced to a young woman who, more than anything in the world, wanted to be an artist. Her passion was obvious, and she had already produced quite a number of paintings; each of which was full of expression and passion, but which were also somewhat lacking in basic principles of design. I, nevertheless, enjoyed looking through her makeshift portfolio, and let her know that she had a potential and a good chance of eventually
making it as an artist.
She was excited by my encouragement and mentioned that she was planning on setting up a booth at the local art fair this summer. I agreed that this would be a great way for her to try to break into the local market. I then pointed to a painting in her portfolio and asked her what she wanted to charge for it. Her quick reply, “I was thinking around $10 a square inch." Wow! Over $4,000 for an 18x24 painting, by a completely unknown artist who, regardless of her talent, still had a lot to learn?
I was reminded all too vividly of my early years as a cocky young artist, eager to show the world what I had to offer, and eager to charge a hefty fee for it (this was still several years before I was good enough to sign my first gallery contract). Obviously, this aspiring young artist felt that what she has to say with her art is important; but at that price, it's not likely many people would take a chance on her work.
This inability to sell overpriced art can greatly interfere with an artist's ability to continue their work, due to lack of funding. Without an audience, the best speech in the world doesn't really count for a whole lot. Most of the time, art by budding new talent has an intrinsic value that collectors are willing to pay for...but there is a right way and a wrong way to introduce your work to a competitive world of talented artists and savvy collectors.
When you're just starting out, it's wisest to remember that you can always raise your prices to keep up with demand, but that you should never lower your prices (unless you want to confuse and/or anger your collectors—they want to see their “stock” in you increase, not decrease). [* - footnote below]
The WRONG way is to scare people away with world-class prices at your local booth. Just because a painting may be the best you've ever done, and while you value it as much as one of your children, that doesn't 'mean you charge $1,000,000 (unless you honestly don't want to sell it—in which case, go ahead and ask that much). I can almost guarantee that, at that price, a buyer will never come.
So, here's the RIGHT way to price work at the beginning of your career: Price it as low as you can possibly stand, even if it's ridiculous. You'll be able to tell after the first 5 minutes at the art fair if your prices are too low. Here's a hint: if it's looking like you'll sell out before the end of the fair, raise your prices next time. If you come close to selling out, then I would personally consider that a huge success. You will have effectively found the perfect price point for your work. After all, in the world of business economics, if you're able to sell all your inventory with no back-orders or leftover stock, you've hit your perfect price point.
Your annual price increases probably shouldn't exceed 10-15%, unless you're suddenly selling so well that you can't keep up with the demand. I've occasionally raised the prices of certain special
paintings at the request of my current galleries, but I've found that it's best to follow a structured schedule.
Make sure to keep your increases palatable. You don't want to scare off your new loyal followers. If there comes a time when you'd like to approach a gallery with your work, I would suggest simply asking the gallery what you should charge. If they're interested in representing you, they'll be happy to suggest a good beginning price structure. In my case, back in 2001, my prices were set at $4 or $5 per square inch-- for a “no-name” artist in a big-name gallery.
Remember, it's always better to make a small profit than to price your work so high that you never make a sale. It's a hard thing to price your work correctly—probably one of the most difficult parts of the whole marketing process. But with a basic knowledge of the principle of supply and demand, you can price your work like a good businessperson and greatly improve your chances of “making it” as an artist.
[*] [Editor's note - although it is
commonly accepted that an artist should never lower prices, we feel that there may be times that such an action is
justified. For example, what if the choice is lower prices or stop painting
? As collectors, we would rather the artist go ahead and temporarily lower prices in that case. The author's point is correct though, you should attempt
to structure your career so that you don't end up needing
to lower prices later.]