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How I've priced my art

Now I've got a (big) stock of paintings, framed and ready to go, the question is how much should I be selling them for?

Scour the internet and there's lots of advice. Because, naturally; its a problem for every artist setting out and you need to get it right from the off. Once committed, it's difficult to change things significantly, at least in the short-term.

There are some horrendously complicated formulae being recommended out there but setting an hourly rate for yourself and then basing each painting's price on how long it takes you to complete it seems to be one of the simpler and more popular suggestions. However, while this might work for artists who produce a diverse range of art in different media and styles, it doesn't really work for me and even this relatively simple approach seems a bit over-complicated for what I do.

That's because I'm essentially offering the same product every time i.e. a pastel painting of a Welsh landscape, in one of just four set sizes and always in an identical frame. I just can't imagine a buyer being willing to pay three times as much for one of my paintings that looks ostensibly the same as another one of the same size hanging alongside it, just because it happened to take me that much longer to complete. Individual, bespoke, prices also feel like a nightmare for keeping on top of my finances.

Much simpler to set a fixed price for each of my four sizes, regardless of how long a particular painting takes. I'll make more on some and less on others, though the fact that I also sell limited edition prints means that, eventually, I should make a decent return even on those paintings where I take a bit of a hit on the price at which I sell the original.

Fortunately, the fact that my product is so 'consistent' works to my advantage when it comes to setting those fixed prices. There are an awful lot of other artists selling exactly the same thing as me (Welsh landscapes) at similar sizes. And there are a lot of galleries acting for them. It doesn't take much effort to browse some of those artists' websites and have a chat with some gallery owners to learn where it would be reasonable to pitch yourself as an emerging artist. So that's what I've done.

Although deciding which artists to benchmark yourself against does involve a degree of subjectivity and having enough, rightly placed, confidence in your work and its merits. Again, the gallery owners are your best friend. They'll tell you straight; its not in their interests either to over- or under- estimate the value of your work. Of course, they'll also tell you if they don't think your work is saleable at all, so it does take guts to knock on their door in the first place. I'll talk about my experiences in approaching galleries in a future post.

Anyway, once I got my guide figures from galleries and other artists I churned them through a spreadsheet where I've included all of my costs (framing, printing, materials, time etc.), tweaking around with the retail prices until I got a margin that I'm comfortable with on all of my product formats (originals and prints) and whether I'm selling them direct or through a gallery that will obviously need to take commission.

Using that process to fix a price for the originals is straightforward because the margin is reasonable to start with and I know it will grow as I become established and my prices can be increased. But its much harder for prints.

Mine are limited editions (only 50 will ever be produced), which creates a certain cache for the buyer and means I can charge something of a premium compared to open edition prints where there is no limit on the reproductions.

Even so, if I use my existing approach and base my print prices on what similar artists seem to be charging (minus a bit because I'm new) then the margin isn't great but at least there is one. However, I don't yet have a customer base for direct sales and so I am going to be dependent on galleries and exhibitions for the majority of my business. As soon as the commission is factored in, my spreadsheet says the margin shrinks considerably. Of course, I could go for cheaper frames for my prints; however, I am determined that my brand be associated with quality products and that includes a high standard of framing: I use the same frames for originals as for limited editions. I'll just have to live with relatively low returns and either bank on a lot of sales or see my prints as a bit of a loss leader until, hopefully, demand grows and I can start to increase my prices.

Again, the internet is full of advice on pricing your limited editions but it seems to be so diverse and just added to my uncertainty. For instance, suggested formulae seem to range from setting prices at 10% of the price of the original, all the way up to 33%. I've gone somewhere in the middle but at a level where I am making at least something from producing and selling them.

Of course, the temptation is to set different prices, depending on the context in which you are selling i.e. direct sales versus a gallery or exhibition. However, that is clearly an absolute no-no and a sure-fire way to alienate your customers and the galleries. Prices must be consistent across all retail platforms.

The ultimate goal for me is to open my own gallery space. However, that is part of a 12-month plan as, unfortunately, where I live now isn't ideal in terms of location, either for a home-gallery or renting a high street shop. So the house is on the market and I'm on the look out. I'll keep you posted.

Commissions. These are something else altogether and it's an issue that I've had to resolve quickly as the orders and enquiries started coming in as soon as people heard that I was going 'pro'. I can't price them at the same rates as my 'off the shelf' paintings, as each one takes at least a couple of days of my time: one on location and one in the studio. Further, there is no potential for on-going sales through prints. So this is the exception, where my prices do indeed have to be based on hours spent. The approach I've gone for is a uniform base price to cover the two days of work, regardless of painting size, with framing and any other costs on top.

So, in summary, I've gone for the simplest approach I could think of i.e. fixed prices for everything: originals and prints according to size, while all commissions are based on two days of time.

I'll soon find out if I've got it wrong and should have gone for something more intricate but my spreadsheet (and I like a good spreadsheet) suggests that I should be OK.

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