Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pricing for Geeks

Oil on Panel

Tony Moffit had an interesting post last week about an artist who had priced their work per square inch, and had a gallery lower the price of their larger works. Tony correctly stated that the gallery had no right to force the artist to change the price of their work, but I disagreed with his statement that pricing by the square inch is correct. Since then, Clint Watson posted his own opinion on the Fine Art Views blog, and sparked a great discussion in the comments about pricing practices. If you haven't read either post, read both - they're great!

Pricing can be difficult for an artist, especially when starting out. It's easy to see the appeal of pricing work on a simply per square inch basis, but it results in very cheap small paintings and very expensive large paintings.

When I got accepted into my first gallery, they set my prices at something like $3/sq. in. I made next to nothing on my smaller pieces, but my larger work was at a good price point for an emerging artist at the time. My paintings started to sell faster than I could keep up (those were the days!), and the gallery and I quickly figured out that it was time for an adjustment. At the time, we increased my larger pieces by 10% and the smaller ones by up to 50% - in the end, my small paintings were priced much higher on a per square inch basis than my larger paintings, and they've stayed that way since. I keep track of this graphically because it helps me make sure that none of my prices are out of line. Here's what my pricing looks like for a wide range of sizes:

You can see that I range from about $9/sq. in. for a 6x8" painting, down to about $4/sq. in. for a 36x48" painting - not a small difference!

Nowadays, I set my own pricing, and adjust my prices when I feel a need based on demand. In the past, I've raised my prices 10-15% at the start of each year when I felt that I was having a hard time keeping up with my galleries, with an occasional bump in prices when I won awards or got magazine coverage. This year, I didn't raise my prices because I didn't feel that the current market warranted it, and I stand by that decision for now.

One thing I do to make sure my prices aren't unreasonable is to compare with a selection of other artists with similar resumes. I pick a handful of artists in this region who paint similar subject matter, show in the same tier of galleries, and have been in some of the same shows as I have, and I record their prices for a range of sizes. I put them all on a graph together just to make sure my prices are following the same trend, and aren't too far off in magnitude. Here's my graph for the last time I did this:

You can see that my prices tend to be on the low side compared with this group (I'm the bottom line), and I'm comfortable with that. A lot of my peers raised prices this year, so I'm left looking a bit cheaper than I used to be. My paintings are still selling well, so chances are I'll raise my prices a bit at the start of next year. In a market like we have now, I'm okay with being patient and just trying to do good work.


  1. Stacey, this is such a timely post for me as I'm in the process of constructing my web site. I too had opted for the price per square inch formula, but I will certainly review this strategy after I've digested the information you've provided.

    One of the more noteworthy points raised in the articles you've linked to is that it's better to raise prices in the face of unexpected demand than lower them to kick-start sales, upsetting past clients in the process.

    How to price limited-edition prints is another hurdle I'll have to face! Do you have any thoughts on this topic?

  2. Not only timely, but generous of you to share this practical information on marketing. Don't see this kind of advice given freely much, especially for emerging artists and it is something with which many of us struggle. The chart is helpful. Thank you, Stacey.

  3. Great post. I actually have a per square inch spreadsheet of my favorite artists clustered by "resume" that I use for collecting. It serves as a baseline for tracking retail prices over time and making secondary decisions about what I should buy (first decision is if I like it or not!). If I like two pieces equally as well, why not buy the one that is selling at a more competitive price? Of course there is sometimes a "WOW I have to have that" factor that will throw the spreadsheet out the window. I have paid $7.87 psi for 1200 sqi to $8.68 for 144 and $3.57 for 252. All from established artists painting for 6 to 15 years. I rarely make impulse decisions unless I know the painting is a good value for the quality or artist. Bottom line is nothing beats putting original art on your wall and hunting for quality and value is part of the fun.

  4. I'd never thought that deeply about my pricing structure; mine's developed over years, and I got interested to see what my "curve " would look like, if I did a similar graph. Whadayaknow? It looks exactly like yours! Glad to know.

  5. Oh yeah, your inner engineer is showing. haha. It's extremely logical and fair though. I'd rather spend money on art that I thought was fairly priced with LOGIC behind it rather than someone just thinking they could get a certain price for it. I think it takes some of the emotion out of it and probably makes things much easier for you.

  6. Interesting and very informative. I havent sold many works yet and so my pricing structure is not too well sorted out. Thank you for this lovely post. I shall be using this information to chalk out my pricing plan too.
    Best wishes....

  7. Stacey, I always know there will be great information on your blog, I have been following you for a year now and have used your goal setting and other tech stuff for my own blog. Thanks, and by the way I like this latest painting very much. Anne Spoon

  8. Great post, Stacey (as always)! I think you're right on the money with this - I do something similar, and I have made graphs, too (though not as in depth as yours!! ;). One thing I've noticed in the gallery is that not everyone prices consistently by size, though the gallery encourages it. Some people price by time spent on the piece, or by how much they like the piece, or by how much they paid for the frame. That strategy is just too subjective to the general public, and too random. It makes sense to collectors to see consistency in pricing. Your strategy is a smart one. Thanks for sharing it!

  9. Great post Stacey! I read both threads you mentioned and thought your follow up (wth graphs!) was spot on. I use a similar modified price per inch formula doublechecked against other artists' prices. I thought William Scott Jennings' post on Clint's blog about raising prices was particularly interesting!

  10. Nice painting and informative post. Your attention to detail and discipline is what is making you a good painter as well as pricer of paintings.

  11. Hey Stacey,
    Ah, the engineer in you never dies!!! I price similarly (though on a lower scale at this point), though may tweak things up or down if I personally feel the piece is a favorite. I do think it's justified to up it a bit if frame is pricier than others. Never thought about graphing it all though to see trends and patterns. How ingenious!

    (btw, lovee this painting; such wonderful depth seen here!)

  12. Stacey, "Wildflowers" is gorgeous! Keep up the great work.

  13. Hi Stacey
    Just stumbled upon your blog...Lovely paintings! A lot to learn for me!!! :)

  14. Great post Stacey! I'm still at the beginning of my art journey so this kinda stuff is really good to read and learn from- Thanks!


  15. your paintings are beautiful, great work on your landscapes.

  16. Hello Stacey!

    I'm very grateful for these information.