Pricing is one of the mysteries of the fine art industry. My students who are beginning to exhibit their work constantly ask me how much they should ask for it. I myself was in a quandry over pricing when I first began exhibiting in small shows and did not have the expertise of a gallery director to point me in the right direction.
Fortunately, another artist suggested a pricing strategy based on what is known as the French formula. The French formula calculates retail price (the price collectors pay) based on size. You simply mulitply the length of the piece by the width and then multiply that number times 4. For example, an 18″ x 24″ painting would look something like this:
18 x 24 = $432
then multiply 432 x 4 = $1728 (retail price, you may round it up for simplicity)
The French formula is a good place to start if you are an emerging artist and your work is of high enough quality that you are accepted into national/international juried exhibitions or have representation with a commercial gallery.
Consistency in Pricing is Key
One of the best things about the French formula is that it is based purely on size, it takes any emotion out of the equation that may stem from your attachment to a particular item. All of the work that you offer for exhibit or sale should be of equal quality–if something is not your best, leave it out of the show instead of offering it for less.
Once you have become established with a gallery or have been exhibiting for several years and are regularly selling your work at the pricing you established with the French formula, you may consider an increase. If you have gallery representation, ask for and listen to their advice–they are best placed to know what the market will bear in terms of their collectors and the demand for your work.
They will also be aware of what other artists work in the gallery is going for–who you hang with can positively (or negatively) affect your sales and your pricing. For example, if I have a $2000 piece in a show and all the other work of similar size and quality (it should all be of similar, professional quality otherwise the gallery is not doing their job) is priced at $7500, that could make collectors question why mine is so much less. It is better to take that out of the equation by having work priced in a closer range to the other work in the show, $5000 would likely be more appropriate in this instance.
Be sure not to increase your pricing too quickly. Collectors who bought your earlier works will be thrilled if they see your pricing inching up. But too much of a jump to a point where your work stops selling spells disaster for everyone. The last thing you want to have to do is lower your prices as a result of too high of an increase. Imagine being a collector who bought a painting of yours for $2000, and a few months later they see the same size painting priced at $1800! They would not be happy.
So consider increases carefully and only when appropriate–an increase in a difficult economic period is not a good idea. However, neither is discounting–it’s preferable to just wait out the recession than to start lowering prices. Remember, collectors who already own your work don’t want to see it deflate in value.
Studio vs. Gallery Sales
One thing that I believe is very important to maintaining good relationships with your galleries is not to under cut them with discount pricing for studio sales. Personally, I have chosen not to sell work directly to collectors–I don’t want to collect and remit sales tax (or have to pay a CPA to do it for me), I don’t want to haggle over prices and I don’t want to accept credit cards. I am not a gallery owner, I’m a painter.
However, if you do choose to sell your work directly as well as have representation, be sure to offer consistent and equal pricing in both venues. Do not take 50% off your studio with the thinking that you are giving the gallery commission as a discount to your collector. If your work sells for $2000 in the gallery that is what it should sell for in your studio. Besides, you should be thrilled, you get to keep the 50% because you sold it yourself.
Friends & Family
The best advice I can give here is simple–if you can avoid it, don’t sell directly to friends and family. I’m sure this is going to ruffle some feathers, but I believe it needs to be said. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t from time to time give a painting as a gift to someone special, or if you have time and want to do something nice, paint something for someone just for the cost of your materials, etc. The key word here is occassionally. Don’t make this a recurring theme and don’t rely on sales to your friends and family for income. Why?
First, it is not a true measure of your ability to sell in the marketplace. And second, if you put all your efforts into discount commissions, you won’t have time to focus on your work that is for gallery exhibition and sales.
The bottom line is price consistently regardless of economic conditions. Avoid discounting and don’t raise prices too steeply even in a good economic environment. Ultimately, your work will increase in value if the market demand is there.
This is the third in a series of articles on managing your career as an artist in a troubled economy.