For the next few blogs I’ll be addressing some of the issues aspiring artists have faced and how I’ve dealt with them. The topics will range from Selling, Touring, The need for expensive studio space, how to deal with galleries, and this piece on pricing your art. It’s a very up in the air subject and there’s as many answers as to how you should price your art as there are artists in the world, so here’s what has worked for me so far. This is an excerpt from my new book ‘Confidence Pig’ which is available for sale at www.seandietrichart.com. If you’d like more advice on the business side of art, scoop a copy.
If I told you it was easier to sell a $5000 painting than it is a $500 painting, you’d prob tell me to piss off, but it’s true. What to sell your art for is the million dollar question, and hopefully one day you’ll be asking yourself if a million is enough. I used to sell my paintings at a club downtown for a few hundred bucks and a bar tab, and I remember almost every sale being the equivalent to some sort of genital torture. Now granted I was in San Diego at the time--one of the cheaper sets of people I’ve ever met, but I’ve felt the sting of the nickel and dime customer all over the country--until I raised my prices. In my experience, when people find that a piece of art is within their range, they will try to haggle you, but when it’s someone asking about a painting in the thousands of dollars range, it’s either buy or walk usually. It really weeds out those that are just wasting your time, and helps to build up the kind of clientele, and people in general, that you want around you and your art. When my paintings were $300 or so, it looked like the sales force of a used car lot hanging around my booth trying to get the price down even more. Now that I sell my originals for quite a bit more, I have a different set of people that are collecting, and for those not buying originals there are reproductions. And if those people that are actually serious about buying a painting that is thousands of dollars do ask about a discount, it’s usually in a much more polite way other than someone just throwing a number out there because he thinks you are desperate for rent money.
The first thing you have to realize about pricing your art is that your originals need to be priced in a range that if someone buys one from you, it takes care of something significant in life. You’ve put your thought, research, time and heart into this painting, so it better pay off your time, supplies, and cover that month's food and bills at minimum. If not, then what’s the point of selling. Your originals are the big movers in your business, meaning that when they sell, you’re going to be a well fed starving artist. They are the one’s that will allow you to upgrade your equipment, pay extra rent and bills on time so that you have more time to just work instead of having to go out and sell art, pay for publishing a book of your art, and produce higher end reproductions to accommodate different price points. Your originals should be sought after, and kept rare so as to drive up the value. Just spraying a stencil on 800 pieces of 5” x5” cardboard and selling them for $25 is not doing you any good. The point is to produce well thought out art and create limited edition reproductions in order to drive up the price of the originals and accommodate a range of price points. For instance I, like most artists, sell 11x17” poster prints of my art. They are the bread and butter of most artists and sometimes looked down upon because everyone does them. For aspiring artists it’s definitely the inexpensive way to put your artwork out there in mass. It offers a much smaller price point to the customer and allows for them to own multiples images. For those willing to spend a few hundred dollars or more I offer reproductions on canvas, wood or metal, offering something that is a bit more expensive, upgraded in appearance, and more limited edition. The key is keeping all of them limited edition as well. Not necessarily signed because you don’t want your signed items to become less valuable because you sign everything in site, but limiting them does create an urgency to buy and creates value. It also allows you to cycle through artwork in a timely manner so that you are not selling art that is older and doesn’t represent your current improvement in style and caliber. When I do events, it’s nice to show people that there is plenty of new art, and that some of the art they have bought in the past is now sold out. Feels awesome knowing that they supported me when the painting first came out and now they have something that can only be bought if some other customer is selling it.
When you are starting out selling and pricing your art, it’s also important to make sure to realize that you are going to have to test the waters to see what a good starting point for pricing your original art will be. Too low and people won’t value it as much even though they might buy a piece. Too high at the beginning, without proof that you have been out and about moving art for that much or have something like publishing credits, past large scale press, or a history of some sort to back up that pricing, and people won’t believe you. BUT, like I said, I’ve had a much easier time selling paintings for 5-10K, than I have selling $200 paintings because I sell with confidence, have a history of published work, a log of paintings that have sold for similar amounts, and a log showing that the value is steadily increasing, proof that I’m still producing and growing as an artist such as a list of upcoming tour dates etc., and there’s an energy about how I tell the story behind the art and how it came about. All of these elements combine to create a great picture of an artist that has been producing for quite awhile and will continue to do so. People want to know you take them seriously when they buy your art, which you should. They are showing you, buy way of making a purchase, that not only do they love what you’ve done, but they want it in their lives on a daily basis because it pulled on something inside of them. Buying art is definitely an emotion based purchase, and you treating them as such by offering a price that is both fair to them and your talents, and making them feel special for doing so will create a great relationship with that client, and the referral business will start to come in as well. Once I had sold my first piece for $5000, it just opened the floodgates for that clients friends and family to be introduced to my art, and subsequent sales followed. My log started to fill up with examples of paintings that had sold for that much or more, and with that proof it was easier to ask for that kind of money, or more depending on the situation, and people started to believe in my art and see that I wasn’t going anywhere, and that’s how it became easier to sell a $5000 piece than a $500 piece.
Some other things that will come into play when figuring out the pricing of your artwork will include gallery commissions, the cost of your equipment and living (gotta make sure you bring in enough to maintain being a professional artist), wiggle room to negotiate the price of a piece, and if you are going to be involved in the wholesale of prints or any merchandise that your work is printed on. Let’s go over a few:
Another trap artists fall into when pricing and dealing with the money of art is that they think that expensive art supplies, and renting a separate studio space. First of all if you have talent you can paint something amazing with toilet tissue from the bathroom at a punk rock bar and spaghetti sauce if need be. Believe me I know. Talent is first--expensive equipment is secondary. Now this doesn’t mean go out and buy the cheapest brushes that will fall apart when you put them to canvas, but if you can’t afford the top shelf stuff use yet, find a nice compromise. You can eventually build up to having the nice equipment and the studio with a view of the ocean if that is your thing.
STUDIO SPACE OUTSIDE OF THE HOME:
Personal experience has also taught me that working from home saves money, unless there’s a massive amount of art buying foot traffic in a studio situation. I personally work from home because I have the space, and because I tour extensively throughout the year so I’m always meeting most of my customers out and about. If I were an artist that worked exclusively at home I would make sure that I had a nice area to receive customers, or might look into some space in town that might increase visibility and sales potential, though I would be cautious as to how much I would spend on that space. There’s nothing like getting a studio/gallery up and running, doing well the first month because you are new, and then falling into the trap most galleries do, which is too much overhead, not enough sales, and having to spend too much to get the customers to come to you. For me to have an outside studio space or gallery is something you do when you’ve got money to burn or are established to the point that you know your opening nights will sell enough art to keep you going.
This is an area of selling art that always makes me cringe because I think galleries want too much money for too little effort, so be very careful when dealing with them. The idea is always nice to have your own solo show at a gallery in a downtown area. I mean that means you’ve made it right? Hell no. It means you’ve now committed to a gallery to sell art for them, and then give them a sizable chunk of your earnings. Most galleries I’ve dealt with haven’t offered me anything in the way of moving my art career forward because they can’t compete with the money I make by touring, and the cost for me to tour is far lower than if I sold the same amount of art at a gallery and then gave them the commission that they wanted. Can you afford this? If you do decide to go with a gallery, make sure their mailing list/client base and efforts match what they want in commission. Personally I don’t give more than 30% of my sales to a gallery unless they are literally walking up and down the street naked, wearing a sandwich board touting my opening everyday for the month leading up to it.
PAY TO PLAY:
Pay to play art shows are another iffy situation, where they want you to sell a certain amount of tickets or you to pay for each piece you want to hang. Again, unless they are bringing in a ton of art buying people, are known for previous shows that have moved a ton of art for participating artists, or have some insane marketing in place that will help you sell art, I’d pass. Use your best judgement with shows like these--for some artists that are just starting out, it may be worth it to participate in certain group shows for the exposure, but just remember, once you do something for exposure, you will be inundated with emails and calls for you to show your artwork for exposure, or do a piece of art because it’ll be shown in front of thousands of people on a website that will definitely be the next hot thing because they say so. Yeah right. You have to look at it from an advertising point of view. Would I spend the same on a magazine ad, mailer, or social media ad to generate the same attention and sales? Now this is damn near impossible to figure out before hand, but you’ll learn which shows are worth it because it draws a certain clientele, and which shows are just groups of people trying to rip artists off by making money off of cover charges or commissions or both.
So to recap a few things about pricing your art:
- Price your original art according to what will create a change in your life if one sells
- Create reproductions that are limited edition, and offering a range of price points so as not to exclude any level of buyers.
- Take time to keep a log of the sale date, title of piece and how much it sold for so you create a paper trail of the increase in value and amount of work sold.
- Test the waters. If you sell a piece for $300 at a show, increase a similar piece for $400 at the next show to see if it sells. If you want to sell art for tons of cash, you have to ask for it. It can be intimidating to ask for a few thousand dollars for your art, but remember art is a luxury product and an investment, the people buying most likely don’t have your talent, and you’ve tapped into a person’s emotion by using your bare hands and some paint and that is worth more than gold.
- Make sure your life accommodates what you bring in. Don’t spend tons of cash on expensive art supplies, studio space, gallery rental space, pay to play art shows, or other non essentials until you are able to bring in enough money to do so. Even then, make sure that you're able to take a hit if, for instance, a gallery doesn’t pull through and sell a ton of art for you (we’ll get into this more in the ‘Selling’ section).