Sunday, December 09, 2007

Pricing one's artwork.

"Drumlins, Near Ballynahinch, Co. Down, N. Ireland", November 2007.
Oils on canvas, 30.5 cm x 25.5 cm. (6 hours working time).
£120 unframed, plus postage and packing.
Pricing one's artwork:

This is not an attempt at advising others on how they can price their own work, just my own musings on the subject, with an invitation to others to comment.

It seems to me that this is always going to be a thorny subject. Price yourself too high and you are unlikely to find buyers. Too low, and, effectively, you end up subsidising your buyers. You can, therefore, only continue to produce artwork if you have other means of support. This also makes it difficult to raise your prices in the future because you have firmly set yourself in the bracket of amateur artist. Of course, one way out of this dilemma is to find a dealer who likes your work sufficiently to promote it, but this has the disadvantage of meaning that you have to be able to fit into a recognised slot in the art market.

My own case is slightly peculiar. Because I taught art for many years, my skills and knowledge of the subject are quite highly developed. However, because I was concentrating on my teaching career, I have built no reputation for myself as a professional artist and established no slot for myself in the art market. Indeed, on leaving teaching, my morale was so low that, at first, I had difficulty in believing that anyone would be interested in anything that I might produce!

Because I have a pension, I do not rely on selling my art to cover basic living expenses. However, as a mature person with commitments, neither can I completely devote every moment of my time to my art career. Essentially, the two aspects balance each other out. My pension covers my non-art commitments, but my art work has to sustain, through sales, my ability to produce more art work and to develop my career as an artist. I also have no desire to subsidise my buyers. If my work is worth buying, then it is worth the buyers paying a realistic price for it!

I decide that, as an entry level-artist, without an established reputation, that the best initial policy was to price myself as a skilled and professional craftsman. However, I also had to allow that non-commissioned work, which might not sell immediately, would involve marketing expenses which also had to be covered. I therefore decided to that the price of my art work would be calculated according to how long each piece took to be produced, at a basic rate of £20 per hour. Since commissioned work brings in cash as soon as it is completed, I give a discount of one third on all commissions.

This is not great money, but it has been adequate to allow me to establish a local reputation - which is keeping me busy with a steady flow of commissions. This , in turn, has meant that I have started to build up a reserve of non-commissioned work for sale at exhibitions. For the immediate future, commissions take priority, because these are what allow me to keep going. For the longer term future, the non-commissioned work is vital, because these will allow me to establish both a wider reputation and higher prices.

From a pricing point of view, non-commissioned work can be split into two categories. Relatively quick work, such as small landscapes and people studies (which therefore carry relatively low prices) and more elaborate and impressive pieces, such larger landscapes and studies of towns (which are time-consuming and thus have to carry larger prices). Landscapes have proved popular in the local market and, as they carry the full price tag, are more profitable - providing I can wait for the financial return! Larger, more elaborate pieces, have to sell between £1,400 and £2,000 if, even on my present pricing system, they are to be worth doing. Since a smaller percentage of the population is prepared to pay this sort of money, this means that I have to gradually become better known to attract the right sort of buyers. However, by their nature, the larger pieces are more impressive so, eventually, this should happen.

There are limits on how much work that I can produce so. hopefully, a point will be reached when I cannot fulfil the demand (to a small degree, this is already happening). This means that I can afford to discourage some buyers by asking for higher prices. If I am getting higher prices, than the value of existing pieces is also likely to go up and so my work should acquire an investment value, which in turn should boost sales. This is clearly a delicate balance, but the big advantage - to me - of higher prices is that it gives me more freedom to select the sort of work I want to do and to experiment with other media (for example, I have planned some pieces of sculpture that I would like to be able to cast in bronze). Greater financial freedom should also bring me more freedom in terms of where I can exhibit and thus widen my potential market.

All of this is calculated entirely from the point of view of the money required by me, personally, in order to be able to continue to produce work and expand my own art career. However, a time should come when established, commercial art galleries find my work desirable purely from a business point of view. The difficulty with this is that galleries have to factor in their own profit margins, so an increased selling price will not necessarily immediately reflect in more money for myself. What would make this worthwhile would be if the gallery was promoting my work into new markets and could reach further afield. It would also lift the burden from me of having to organise my own exhibitions! In the longest term, this is probably the way that my career has to go, since eventually it would result in the greatest freedom to concentrate on producing the work I want to. However, it is not something that I am feel any urgency about. Galleries have their own concerns! If they see a profit in promoting my work, I think that this will make them keenest to do so!

From an artistic point of view, I am happy with what I am doing. I know my work to be unique and I believe that it offers something special to the various people who have bought my paintings. I just want the financial freedom to be able continue expanding the scope of my art. The above writing encapsulates my thoughts on how I can establish this greater financial freedom. If anyone reading this is also a working artist, I am would be interested in their comments and curious as to their own approach(s) to promoting and financing their careers.

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