The price of your art work depends on past prices and the amount of work available

Art Fair

There is no standard way to set a price for your work. Like all things for sale the price people will pay is set by the market for those things. If there are more things for sale the price will be lower than if the things are rare. Things that sold for a high price in the past they are more likely to be expensive now.

A price is not only set only by the person trying to sell. The price will be set by negotiation between the seller and the buyer.

You need to have an idea of how much your work is worth. You cannot negotiate a price starting from nothing. Consider the price you set as a starting point for negotiation.

When you begin to sell work you can calculate how much the materials and your time costs as your lowest price. As you sell more work, your reputation as an artist and the price of your work will increase. You will have to become comfortable talking about money in relation to your work.

Selling in a gallery

The price will be different if you sell the work yourself or through a gallery. Selling a work yourself is a ‘direct sale’. A gallery will charge an extra amount on your sale price (‘commission’) as part of the total price.

Sale price for direct sale = cost of making the work + artists fee for the time it took to make the work

Sale price in a gallery = artists price for a direct sale (above) + gallery commission

Galleries charge different amounts of commission depending on:

  • The type and size of gallery
  • Your past sales prices
  • The services that the gallery provides for you
  • Who is buying the work
    • Public collections and museums will sometimes get a discount on the price
    • A regular buyer at a gallery might also get a discount
    • This discount is usually taken out of the gallery’s commission. This means that the artist will still get the price that they have asked for.

Different people pay different prices for the same work. It depends on who they are and who they buy the work from.

Many artists believe that galleries will take 50% of the sale price. This does not always happen. A contract with a gallery will include the amount of commission they will charge.

Once you have a relationship with a gallery you should only sell work through them. Do not sell direct to buyers. This will reduce the gallery’s income and will most likely end the relationship.

The cost of making the work

Begin by adding up how much you spent on the materials you used to make this work. If you bought more materials than you used in the work, only include the cost of the amount you used.

Work made from expensive materials might be difficult to sell if you have not sold much work already. Artists who have sold a lot of work will be able to sell work using expensive materials.

Each work you make will include some materials you have used to develop the work:

  • If you make collage you might buy magazines and only use a small part of them in the work
  • If you make photographs you might have to test different chemicals or paper to find the right effect
  • If you use a computer you will need to buy a new one sometime
  • If you are experimenting with materials you have not used before there may be some waste

Include the cost of some of these types of materials in your price. Read more about how artists like Jeff Koons and Rodin used investment from collectors to make their work.

Materials costs can reduce your profit when you calculate your tax. You should speak to an accountant about this.

Around 50% of artists have a separate studio that they rent, own, or share. Include part of the cost of your studio in your price calculation. You might include the amount of studio time you needed to make the work. Or you might include the same amount for each work based on how much your studio costs.

Some artists also include an extra amount to cover other costs they have (‘overheads’). This would include a part of things like:

  • Technical help
  • Production facilities
  • Business services, like legal or financial advice
  • Fees paid to a manager or agent

Without paying these costs you could not have made the work. It is reasonable to include a small part of these costs in your price. Once you have worked this out you can use the same amount in each price. Calculate the amount at least once a year to make sure it is still reasonable. For example, your studio rent might go up each year so you would add more to your price to reflect this.

Calculating your fee

More information to help you work out your fee is in our article Calculating your fee.

Setting a pricing for work for sale at a degree show

Work by new graduates is usually priced low. Prices for art are set in reference to how many works are for sale and what prices work has sold for in the past. If you haven’t sold anything you have nothing to compare your prices with. Depending on the materials you use you might not get back the amount you spent making the work. Think about the amount of money you spend making degree show work and what you will do with the work afterwards.

Negotiating a price

Use the ideas above to set the lowest price for your work. It’s a good idea to do this when you finish each work and to make notes of the materials you use. Do not provide a price list to buyers. Negotiate from your lowest price for each work. If someone wants to buy a work they might change their mind if the price is too high or too low. Know what price you are looking for and use it as a starting point to negotiate with the buyer.

Prices for editions

Artists who make editions sometimes raise the price as they sell out.

Traditional editions were etchings or other print techniques. As printing goes on the print quality degrades. The plates become worn or damaged, and ink does not transfer so well. As a result, the first prints were better quality and were more expensive than later prints.

If you make an edition where there is no difference in quality you might set the same price. But remember that as a thing becomes rarer the price goes up. Many artists and galleries increase the price of any edition as it sells out.

Looking at other artists’ prices

It’s a good idea to get to know what prices other artists set for their work too. By comparing your prices you will make sure your work is not too expensive or cheap for the market you are in. Ask other artists around the same level as you for their prices and check galleries for price lists. Compare your prices to:

  • Artists who have been working for about the same time as you
  • Artists who make work using similar materials at you

Comparing your prices in this way is ‘benchmarking’.

You can change your prices before you sell based on this research. Once you have made a sale the starting price for your work has been set. Remember that it is much more difficult to lower your price than raise it. Prices for your work cannot go down. Previous buyers would have work that was worth less than when they bought it. This risks your good relations with buyers.

As you work out what prices other similar artists sell their work for you can be more confident in your own prices.

Relationships with buyers

Someone who buys a work from you now is more likely to buy something in future. Build relationships with buyers over a longer period. You might:

  • Keep in touch with them to tell them about new work and exhibitions
  • Invite them to your studio for a special preview of new work
  • Show them work in progress
  • Offer new work for sale first to regular buyers

Making a good relationship with a buyer is important. A buyer will show your work to other people who might want to buy something too. Building a network of buyers makes it easier to sell your work.

Letting people pay in instalments

If your work is expensive you might allow a buyer to pay you the sales price in small parts over a set period. This is ‘payment by instalment’. Get a written contract to detail:

  • How many instalments will be paid
  • The amount of each instalment
  • How many instalments need to be paid before the work is delivered
  • What happens if the buyer stops paying the instalments

Try to keep the payments over a short time. This should be no more than 6-12 months depending on the price. If a buyer can’t afford instalments you could talk to them about buying a lower priced work instead.

If you know the buyer well and trust them, you might let them take the work after only a few instalments. Once the instalments are paid the buyer owns the work.

Galleries can use the Own Art scheme to allow buyers to pay by instalment.

Increasing your prices

You will establish your prices once you have sold some work. Your sale price will start to rise from this point as:

  • More people get interested in your work
  • You have more exhibitions, particularly solo exhibitions
  • You make more sales
  • You win art prizes
  • Journalists write articles and reviews
  • People write catalogues and books about your work
  • You get commissions or go on residencies

These projects and markers show people that you are progressing in your career. As people in the art world validate your career, you can sell work for more money.

Bear in mind that price increases may be gradual and slow. Artists whose prices rise quickly risk a quick fall in prices too. The market for your work will begin to rise more than your costs and fees, raising your income.

After the sale

You should give a certificate of authenticity to anyone who buys your work. This confirms that the work is authentic, made by you, and not a fake. Enter the information in your catalogue raisonne to keep track of everything you make and sell.

Even if you sell your work you still own the copyright. You also have moral rights that means the work must be shown in a respectful way that does not damage your reputation.

Depending on the kind of materials you use you should agree if or when you will make repairs. The work might need a specialist transport company to send it or you might be able to bring it yourself. While it is traveling it may also need insurance.

Stay in touch with everyone who buys your work:

  • You might need to borrow the work for an exhibition
  • The buyer might be interested in buying something else in future
  • They will talk about the work with their friends and might want to put you in touch

Ask to add them to your email mailing list to tell them about your future exhibitions and projects. Follow up the sale a few weeks afterwards to make sure they are happy or have questions.

A Talk on Pricing

Listen to this talk by Medeia Cohan-Petrolino for more information on pricing your work.