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Pricing Your Work

Many artists who take classes with me ask me about pricing their work. It's the number one most confusing thing for artists just starting to enter the marketplace. I have a unique perspective because I am not only a professional artist, but used to run a gallery and sell other artist's work.

"Vinoy on a Sunny Day" (St. Pete) Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 11x16 $400 (unframed)

Pricing is one of the most difficult challenges an artist faces. Most artists face the pricing quandary when they sell their first painting. If you've been painting for a while, and just started exhibiting the work, then you may be facing the quandary now.

For me personally, it is a double-edged sword. I love what I do, and almost feel guilty asking for money, yet...I've worked for over 30 years now perfecting my craft and using the best materials possible to create the highest quality product. Plus, the galleries who sell my work need to make a wage for their work. I have to make a living from my work, and cannot afford to make mistakes when it comes to pricing.

"Witness" (Boyd Hill Preserve) Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 18x24 $1000

I have built my prices up over years and years, starting with $100 for the first sale in the 1980's, and now over $1000 for the same size painting in 2021. This isn't by accident, it is be design. I followed a well-worn path to get to where I am. My pricing is based on a formula.

Artist's often start with a formula based on size; some by square inch, some by specific sizes. For example:

My prices are based on specific sizes. An 8x10 would be $300

The way I arrive at this price is time it took to paint (approximately 30-45 mins.) which I pay myself $200/hour (up from $50 in 1980's) so that's about $100-150. I add the cost of materials and framing ($50 which is the cost of the local frame and high quality materials). This gives me a break-even price of $150, which I double because the cost of advertising the piece to sell it is equal to the cost to produce it.

"Serenity" Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 12x16 $500

The cost of advertising is often paid by galleries if not by me. I give a 50% commission to my galleries, unless they are nonprofit which take 30%-40%. I also pay for advertising in regional and national magazines like Pastel Journal. These ads are very expensive and help raise my artistic profile, and the cost of the paintings.

Another formula is by the square inch. Many portrait artists use a square inch method and often price pieces based on the canvas size rather than the complexity. For example, an 8x10 = 80 square inches. If I priced my work at $3.75/square inch, I would end up with $300 as the base price. I still would need to pay for advertising or gallery commission, but most portrait artists are commission-only and don't often go through galleries. If portraits are your 'thing" then this may be the best way to go.

Also, I keep an eye on what is selling and at what price in the galleries that represent me. You can put any price you want on a painting, but that doesn't mean it will sell! See what the price point it for works that are selling, and keep your prices reasonably close to that. If you're offering a painting for $100 in a show where everyone else is priced at $400 or more, people will think your work is of lesser quality. Same goes if your price is way higher than every other price. The best place to be is in the middle, not the highest price, not the lowest.

"Leave Nothing" Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 11x14 $400

I look at other artist's prices as well who are at the same level in their career as I am. There are 6 artists who I watch, and check their prices, and keep mine in the middle. They are also great market-indicators.

You want to be very careful about pricing. Start off lower and let your prices get higher over time, as your career builds. If you start off too high, you have to maintain that high price-you can't go backwards. People who buy in at the higher rate will lost faith in you if you do that. Galleries will not represent you if your prices are not consistent.

Whatever method you choose, let it reflect market value for the work you do and take it seriously. Also, please do not equate sales of art with success. The more your prices rise, the less works you will sell. Art is a hard sell. It requires the right mix of professionalism, marketing, and love-someone has to fall madly in love your painting to buy it during the early stages of your career.

Many people who defines themselves as "artists" will make less than $400 from the sale of their work this year. Don't get caught up in tying your value as an artist with sales, or even what other people think. Be true to your vision and your heart. It may take a while, but if you believe in yourself, other's soon will as well.

"Afternoon Nap" Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 12x16 $600 framed

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Excellent and relevant blog, Shawn. Thank you so much❤️


Great information! Your paintings are so very beautiful and must be so hard to sell one of your « babies »! Can’t wait to have one in my « Florida Home » and I really mean that...surprise me with a painting 🤩 Ali💜

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