I have my own little theory about pricing art. It is two fold, one side being practical and the other being philosophical. The practical side says art should be affordable. Both because no one will buy it if they can’t afford it, thus I make no money, but also because art is a wonderful thing to share. I want other people to enjoy my work. It’s an odd feeling though, someone purchasing your work and knowing its hanging in some one’s house. No matter what, I always consider my paintings mine, whether they are hanging on some stranger’s wall or in my living room. It’s a part of me regardless. So, how does this assist me with pricing? Its why I try to keep things “reasonably priced”.
I did attend a workshop a couple of years ago about pricing artwork. I paid close attention, took some notes and returned home prepared to objectively look at pricing. The formula was based on the cost of materials and the amount of time it took to create a given piece. The woman who gave that workshop was a potter and she had timed how long it took her to do particular pieces and she had weighed the clay before beginning. It seemed like a reasonable approach. Especially where she had worked on this problem for years and had come up with a solution. I hadn’t been painting very long and so, why not use her method?
The Hoolahoop Method
I discussed this workshop, and the methodology with several people. Since the whole question of pricing artwork is a constant source of frustration to many artists I wanted to get some feedback to my new found knowledge. Among those I spoke to was my father, a man who’d been in the business world for many, many years. When I finished explaining the pricing schema, he said it was a bunch of nonsense. Great, and why was that? He said “the hoolahoop“. Pricing has got nothing to do with what it cost to make something. It’s all about what people are willing to spend.
When my son Richard jumped into the fray, he came up with a formula as well. It was based on what I thought was a “reasonable” price for some of my pieces and he came up with how much it was per square inch. I could then use that to price larger pieces I had begun painting. My whole notion of affordability started getting more difficult when I painted the larger pieces and I was hesitant to charge equally large prices for them. Of course his idea made perfect sense, and in fact I’d read a few articles which said the same thing about going by the square inch as a pricing method.
My Little Basket Method
Still, I come back to my father’s hoolahoop. It’s all about what people are willing to spend. I have been testing this at the outdoor shows I do all summer. My “bread and butter”, that I mentioned in my first entry is my little 5×7 paintings which I put in a basket on a table in front of my tent. My favorite I’ll put on a little decorative easel to draw attention to the basket. I started out pricing these at $25, with a little sign hanging off the basket. My son scolded me for charging so little so I raised price to closer to $50 as he suggested. At this point the small paintings were primarily watercolors. When I upped the price to $50 I had no sales. Now, like it or not, sales of these little paintings tended to cover my entrance fee. Also they were as close as you can get to a sure thing at one of these shows. Selling a painting for a couple hundred dollars happens, but not with any regularity. It is the nature of these shows. So, my basket of paintings became even more important as both my pricing test as well as some kind of hint at a steady income.
My next step in this process was to vary the pricing in the basket. Base the pricing on the quality of the painting. The more detail (thus the more time it took) the higher the price. I also had begun painting small oils. Oil painting by its nature takes longer and so they needed to cost a little more. So, now the little basket paintings range in price from $25 to $50. The oil paintings are $45-$50 and the watercolor paintings are about $35. At these prices they have continued to sell with some regularity and have helped me understand the idea of a price point. Also, running out of these little paintings too quickly is problematic, so a slow but steady pace of sales is best.
The complication now is the economy. The South Portland, Maine, show this past Saturday was well attended but purchases were more sporadic than usual. I am wrestling with dropping my prices on larger paintings to increase affordability while people are struggling with gas prices. The other option is to just wait it out and plan on a rough, unprofitable – not even cover expenses year. Maybe I just need to stop blogging and get working on some more of those little paintings!
more on pricing later….that is after my son and friend Anne-Marie scold me yet again, for my pricing!