Things I Learned as an Oil Painter: Thing #12

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Thing the dozenth:

Price by size, not by time spent or perceived quality.

Whenever an artist transitions from pure hobbyist to semi-pro (i.e. selling a few pieces) they inevitably wrestle with the pricing question. How much to charge is a difficult thing to judge, especially if thing #11 is right (the artist doesn't make judgments about the work). What thing #11 does help us with is how to set prices comparatively (i.e. the price of painting A vs painting B). If the quality is not a factor (because that's up to the buyer) and time spent is out (because that's nobody's business but your own), then the only variable the artist has to play with is the size.

Personally I set pricing by area. I have a set of price bands that tell me how much to charge by square inch for a given range of areas. The bigger the area, the lower the square inch rate. My rates were originally calculated by visiting galleries and looking at works by established local artists that were in a similar vein to my own. I then made a judgment based on where the established artists were in their careers and figured my work would probably fetch between a third and half of their prices. Breaking this down by area gave me a rough estimate of a rate.  I also thought about at what point I would consider the price too low for a set of given sizes - here the average time spent painting came into play.

I won't deny there was a lot of tweaking and re-tweaking until I came up with something that seemed to work.

When buyers buy, you know your prices are not too high. Whether or not your prices are too low is really your call, but a selling-out in a group show might be an indication, because buyers can make comparisons between your work and "the competition". I was lucky enough to sell out in two group shows last year so I bumped my rates a bit. I'm still selling so happily the bump wasn't too big.

The main benefit of sizing by price is the complete and utter removal of any headaches associated with pricing each piece. I simply use my rates and add my cost of the frame (thing #12b: don't attempt to make money off the frame - unless you made it).

There are probably many other methods of pricing out there that work very well - this is what has worked for me (so far)...

Thing #1: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #2: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #3: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #4: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #5: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #6: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #7: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #8: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #9: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #10: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #11: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…

Why am I posting this stuff? maccski.deviantart.com/journal…

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TomOliverArt's avatar
Great way of doing that!
Earleywine's avatar
Ah, pricing. Probably the hardest thing about trying to make a living on your art. I learned long ago not to try to judge my own work. The fact is, I don't like anything when I first finish it - I need to not look at it for a week or two and then decide if it is any good. Per square inch doesn't really work for me either. I can not justify selling say an 11 x 14 plein air landscape that I spent maybe 4 hours total on for the same price as an 11 x 14 painting of a buffalo that I spent 35 hours on. So yes, I go mainly by my hours, which I keep track of. Figure out the hours, add the cost of the frame - and then double that because most galleries want 50%.

Frames and mats and such I order online, then put them together myself. It would kill me to do custom framing at a frame shop. I tend to lean towards simple solid wood. I will sell them unframed, but will not show them without a frame. I am a firm believer that you can make a good piece look mediocre with the wrong frame, or you can make a mediocre piece look great with the right frame.
Earleywine's avatar
I was just thinking about selling pieces without a frame, and it reminded me of a funny thing that happened last summer. I was doing a local art fair, and this lady stopped at my booth and was looking at one of my drawings. It was a young bear on a piece of handmade bark paper. She asked me how much I would drop the price if I took it out of the frame. Which in this case, was not a lot. One of the things I love about working with the handmade papers is that I can just float the paper on a mat board that I cut myself, a piece of glass and a frame, and I am done. Then she wanted to know if it would be easy to take the drawing off of the mat board. hmmmm I was thinking that maybe she was traveling through and didn't have room for the frame in her car, so I was going to offer to ship it to her at home. But no, she was local. She told me that she lived in a trailer house and it was hard to hang anything on the walls. So she was thinking that she would buy my drawing without the frame and mat, get a can of spray glue, spray the wall, and GLUE my drawing to the wall!!!!! OMG I didn't sell it to her. hahaha
RandomSearcher's avatar
Frames are the stuff I don't understand... A framed painting looks better indeed, and is likely to sell better for that reason, but very often frames that I see are kind of weird and not suitable for an average room, and the painiting will likely need to be re-framed. Kind of a contradiction here :confused: How do you choose frames for your paintings? (or is it a thing #N?)
maccski's avatar
I have a "thing" about framing, but it doesn't cover choosing a frame - so I can comment with letting anything out of the bag! I go with a floating frame because you get to see the entire painting. I use the exact same style of frame for every painting - contemporary, simple and fairly neutral. It's a dark wood that will go on any wall colour with a thin gold inlay to make the painting really pop out. By using the same style every time I don't even have to think about choice (neither does my framing guy...) I will gladly sell frameless but I will never show frameless.
RandomSearcher's avatar
Sounds reasonable :nod: I prefer simple frames, too
21stCenturyDamocles's avatar
i really struggle with this i price high and negotiate iv found that if a buyer wants a work they will tend to pay the price if they have the money the higher the cost the higher the perceived value at least here in America. i don't really base my prices off what others are doing because that is comparing my work and i think that is very negative for my self esteem, it comes down to believing in what you paint if you don't the buyers will sense that and think its not worth the money i have been criticized many times for my high prices but i just tell them hey if its to much for you i understand but it plants a seed in their heads hey this guy is worth something and maybe not today but down the road they will come back. i have seen this time and time again i can think of several people that told me i was nuts and stormed off only to have them come back a year later telling me they just could not get that work out of there heads. you sell buy creating value its a hard lesson for many artist to learn but you have to be ruthless and stick by your guns never seem reticent about your pieces just state it with confidence that its worth that and move on there are always more buyer never think that if they walk away that is the end of it. over time you will get known and people will start to seek your work out if you are good its not concete you have to really believe in your work and love it as much if not more. and the price of oils painting has done nothing but skyrocket in the last 30 years so even if you are not well known if your paintings are good then the minimum for anything over 30x40 is 2500.00 even if no one has a clue as to who you are anyway thats my take on it every one has to do what is right for them and i had to wait a long time befor my paintings started to sell at those prices
maccski's avatar
You're right on the money (pun intended). High price = high value. But also high profile = high value = high price. I'm still in the early stages of my art career and I've had to be sensitive to my market. Initially I was only putting my work in exhibits with an open association (i.e. non-juried). The buyers these shows attract are mostly casual non-collectors who are not necessarily aware of the value of fine art. I priced my stuff based on 1/2 - 1/3 of the pros in galleries and got some bites. Now I'm in a juried association, I'm an elected member of the Society of Canadian Artists (and very proud of it!) and my work is on permanent show at a gallery...it's a whole different ballgame. I'm starting to get on a level with the pros and my pricing has crept up accordingly. The buyers at the juried shows are a different breed - they have a budget for collecting and they know their stuff. So far 2013 is shaping up to be the best yet - even with my higher prices. This year's goal: raise the profile even more...
21stCenturyDamocles's avatar
excellent analysis of why professional assoc. can be of great help wise move my friend
glunac's avatar
Yes, pricing is always difficult.
Many artists/ some galleries offer two prices one for the framed piece seen in public & a lower price that is negotiable for the same piece unframed. Many buyers prefer to re-frame the art to match their decor or taste, so both parties win with the 2nd offer.
maccski's avatar
I'm always happy to sell without a frame - I get to use it on another painting!
glunac's avatar
Exactly...I find framing the most expensive part of painting.
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