How to market and price paintings as a young artist?
May 9, 2007 6:34 AM   Subscribe

How should one market and price art as a young artist? My sister-in-law is a very talented young (20 y.o.) artist. She is just finishing an undergraduate program in fine arts (where she excelled, particularly in the applied courses), and is actively attempting to make a business out of selling and marketing her art.

She has a number of pieces on display in local galleries, and has sold some pieces to friends and family already for prices ranging from $500 to $1000. Now she's going to be working full-time on creating and hopefully finding homes for her pieces, what strategy is best for pricing? More generally, how should she peddling her work? She's counting primarily on word of mouth and informal networks, but are there other things she could be doing? It seems that one strategy would be to price low (materials + $20 per hour) to "get out there" and hopefully drum up more business. Another strategy would be to price high (pick a substantial round number per piece regardless of materials or time, e.g. $2500 or $5000) in order to establish her work as worth paying for. Yet another idea would be to price by size of the painting (e.g. $x per square inch), which could work with either one. Ideas as to the best approach are most welcome by everyone, and especially by those with relevant experience.
posted by balarie to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Does she have a website?

It's hard to answer your question without having a look at her work.
posted by konolia at 6:46 AM on May 9, 2007

How do dealers price contemporary art in a world where objective criteria seem absent?

Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art by Olav Velthuis
posted by RMD at 6:46 AM on May 9, 2007

A couple times a year, an outdoor art show comes to Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Artists have their own tents and show their work. Passersby can look and buy. I imagine there are similar exhibitions in other cities.

I don't know much about pricing your art, but I imagine you could charge more for a larger piece, and charge more for a "showcase" piece.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:46 AM on May 9, 2007

Wetcanvas, an online artist community group has a business section.
posted by b33j at 6:48 AM on May 9, 2007

Also, NYC gallerist/writer/goodguy, Ed Winkleman's recent advice for young artists (One More Time, With Feeling) is not about pricing, but finding a gallery, and is extremely well stated and generous.
posted by RMD at 6:56 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a few answers for other young artists a while back as far as drumming up business.

As far as pricing, well, price what the market will stand. What does this mean to a young artist? Well price them what you think they will bring, but please for the love of all that is holy don't price them by the hour or by area. Art doesn't work that way and you're just setting your self up for heartbreak. Get an idea what similar paintings are going for, look in galleries, go to art openings and go to student sales and price them thusly. Adjust your time and materials to fit this, not the other way around. Round numbers are good, but remember some galleries and shops will take a commission, so figure your loss there. Be prepared to take the occasional loss, as people will not be as attached to your work as you are, but also be prepared to find the occasional 8"x8" print that you knocked out in five minutes to go for hundreds, the market is funny that way.

Most of all, don't give up, art is hard, and selling it will seem even harder, but it can be done.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:59 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

If her stuff has a wide enough appeal, auctions could be a good way to determine an optimum price. She could auction everything or just have a periodic auction on a few representative pieces and then apply similar pricing to the rest of the work.
posted by DU at 7:11 AM on May 9, 2007

Last week I was on a painting course and I asked our very talented instructor the same question. She said that she and her husband would often work together to price work - both of them would write their suggested price on a sticker put on the back of the work. They would then usually split the difference in the prices. She refused to sell anything she would not have wanted to display in her own home and would only exhibit where most other paintings where in her target price range. Quite often she had been able to shift a painting by doubling its price.
posted by rongorongo at 9:27 AM on May 9, 2007

People have been happy to pay $500 to $1000 for her earlier pieces? She's actually sold stuff, and not just to relatives and friends? She should ask the galleries that sold her work how they arrived at sale prices, if she didn't set them herself. If she has sold a fair bit of work at such prices, going down would not make much business sense, and would insult potential future repeat buyers who have already dropped a dime on her work. And she should be inspired to price future work higher until she finds the ceiling of interest. Or as I once heard, a painting (or any work of "art" with no inherent value other than materials) is worth what someone is willing to pay for it after they see how much someone else is willng to pay for it. I think it's rather like other forms of selling yourself.
posted by spitbull at 9:39 AM on May 9, 2007

I agree with spitbull. Also, if she's already selling pieces for $500 to $1000 she's doing quite well. Art is a tough business to break in to. Her best bet is to make as many contacts in the local art world as possible. Get into a good gallery, but be sure that they are non-exclusive and let her sell on her own too.

Work. Work. Work. Good luck!
posted by spakto at 11:00 AM on May 9, 2007

if she's selling in galleries they should be able to help with pricing, because they generally get a percentage of the sale price, so they have a vested interest in setting the highest price that they think will sell, and some experience determining what that is for their market. even if she mostly wants to sell her own stuff outside of galleries, doing one or two gallery shows in this way might help her get some professional help/experience with pricing.
posted by lgyre at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2007

Definitely encourage her to put some energy into applying for grants, prizes and awards. Any wins will, obviously, not only provide cash but also help with generating gallery interest; there's a real snowball effect there.

The Foundation Center and NYFA's "NYFA Source" are two massive free databases of artist opportunities (the Foundation Center also offers a variety of free courses for individual artists in NYC, Atlanta, Cleveland, D.C. and San Francisco, and a wealth of free info on their site).

Especially after a few years, she can make a living this way. This is what I do for most of my money; effectively, I have a well-paying part-time job, in which my work is finding, researching and applying to an endless stream of grant opportunities, prizes and commission opportunities. So in principle I'm being paid for the quality of my work & my project ideas, but in practice my hourly wage would be money won divided by hours spent researching & applying for all money.
posted by allterrainbrain at 6:12 AM on May 10, 2007

Another great Ed Winkleman piece on this... Alternatives to the Commercial Gallery System for Selling One's Art : Open Thread
posted by RMD at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whoops... actual link with comments here.
posted by RMD at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2007

« Older Looking for modern / retro outdoor fireplace ideas...   |   The happiest of birthdays! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.