How To Price Your Art (And other Fables)
Nov 01, 2021
18 months ago I couldn’t do anything that made up the ability to sell my own art. The only thing I knew how to do was make the art - that in itself was a miracle that took ten years. Recently I heard someone share the importance of replacing “I can’t” with “I don’t know how.”
Now ok. When things take a sharp turn to motivational speaking or telling me what I should do I tune it out instantly. But for real. If someone would have said that to me in 2011 (granted I had the capacity to even hear it) I might have been able to start stepping into the courage to live my dream a lot sooner.
I believed that all of the things I didn’t know how to do (which was everything except paint, and even that I have no idea how that happens) meant that I didn’t have any talent. I thought that if I was meant to sell my art, I should just know how to price it. If I had any talent, why did I always feel so terrified of rejection and being laughed at? I compared my little paintings I’d give away for free to internationally successful artists that have a team of photographers and writers producing their content. There was no way I would ever be good enough, and there was no way that all of those successful artists felt the way that I feel. That shit is a trap. Check in on yourself when you’re scrolling through instagram, famous artists etc. Someone will always have more. Take that information and know that it is only in your space in order for you to know what is inside of you that you are capable of.
Every other aspect of being a “real” artist that I had no idea how to function as was like a glaring truth. But pricing my art was like an extra special monster under the bed that I didn’t want to look at. Every time someone asked about the price of my art, I could not separate the emotional reaction to the information. I would give the art away before I would have a conversation about money that might make me seem vulnerable.
My head immediately went to “they’ll think it’s too much and laugh at me” “they aren’t serious and are just being nice.” I would be so frozen and embarrassed because I couldn’t answer (instead of just giving myself a break and admitting I didn’t know how to answer) that there were many people, for many years - that I simply never responded to when they asked to buy something. I have since apologized and sold them art.
One day my husband, who is a successful voice actor said to me “Why don’t you just make a rate card? For all inquiries with my Voice over business I have a simple rate card that I always refer to.”
That was a huge turning point for me. I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote out the sizes of canvases I have and how much I wanted to charge for each size. This took a really long time because of all of the battles in my head. I sat down and intentionally created it on my own time without the pressure of someone waiting for a response This took a lot of the emotion out of the process.
The very first painting I sold was in 2014. A 48x48 for $300. A colleague of mine named Tommy asked me how much I would charge for it after seeing I posted it on facebook. (I used to paint solely to post it on facebook because what else was I doing with my life?) I was in the tiny manager's office in the restaurant I worked in. Exhausted at 1am, fishnet tights ripped, my boots covered in cheesecake (it happens during convention season. Nobody eats the last course and you’re clearing out a room of 140 $15 slices of untouched cheesecake.) I remember sitting down on the wheely chair to absorb what he had said. I blurted out “$300” because that was how much my late rent was short. He responded “Done. I would have given you $2,000.”
The second painting I sold was in June of 2020. Her name is Gloom & Gold Dust. She is 16x20 and framed. I remember with so much clarity the moment that money went through paypal to me. I couldn’t believe someone had paid me for a painting. After that someone got in touch to custom commission a 48x48. And after that another person for the same size. It all snowballed from there.
I recommend resisting the urge to reach out to other artists to ask how much you should price specific pieces of your art. We all want a short answer given to us, myself especially. But the best advice I can give is use your intuition to make up your price list and keep it simple. Making up a price list is as personal and difficult as creating an original work of art. It takes a ton of courage and walking through fear - lessons you will miss out on if you just ask for someone else's rate card. Instead of analyzing the cost to determine your prices, commit to keeping a detailed, updated spreadsheet of what your costs are for at least the first six months. This way you can make an informed decision.
What number feels fair and positive to you to receive for the work? I’ll tell you - that first $300 I made for a painting I now sell for $1,700 felt like $6,000. And the $150 I made for a painting that now costs $375 felt like a million dollars. Gratitude for what is happening instead of analysis of what isn’t happening goes a really long way.
It’s a personal decision but I include all packing and shipping in my quoted price. Only because as a consumer I dislike thinking something is one price and it being upwards of $50-$150 more after check out.
The more I do the work the more I learn about what I want to be paid. Starting out this past year I can say I sincerely busted my ass - which is tricky because it doesn’t feel like work. I need to be charging way more for what I do but I still have that fear that if I do, nobody will buy it. It’s an emotional muscle that I am learning to flex. The only thing that will build my confidence to charge more is selling art that is priced in a manner that people can afford if they want to buy it. I don’t know anyone that’s sold art in their first year & someone in Boston with a fancy last name is bragging that they paid $88,000 for it, so be realistic. The more you learn to sell your art, the more you’ll feel comfortable charging more to sell your art.
Do not -
Try to figure out every single cost right away. The mind is tricky and if you’re struggling to come up with prices, anything that can get complicated will replace your intuition (spirit) with analysis (ego.) Whe
Price your art based on fear that nobody will buy it. People buy art every single day. No reason for it not to be yours - your job is to find them.
Do not focus on what you don’t have. We are all full of everyday abundance. Figure out what that is. Focus on it. Whatever you think about and allow into your space is what you get more of.
Always take a 50% non refundable deposit up front for anything custom. It took me a lot of getting burned with people dropping off their bookings to finally have the confidence to request the money without the work. Your time is worth it, and you will waste a ton of time re planning your month and head space of what is next for nothing.
Take some time to create a rate card. Simply the canvas size and price you are asking. Keep this saved as a text on your phone or in your email so you can copy and paste it if anyone asks, instead of freezing in fear like a possum as I did for a decade.
Keep a detailed spreadsheet of what you are spending and on what. In a later blog I will break down that spreadsheet. This will build a foundation to better determine what to add to your selling price in the future. For now, just keep it simple. (Shoutout to M. Dagash for painstakingly taking me through a corporate profit & loss spreadsheet for six months for my managing job and my smashing husband for walking me through the trauma of making one for myself years later. He is a saint.)
Know that people are asking how much your art is because they want to buy it, not for any other reason besides that that your head comes up with. In the digital world, try to respond right away even if it’s just to say “Thank you. I will get back to you when I can sit down and properly respond.”
Remember that it is only information you are exchanging. And never forget that courage is always rewarded - even if it isn’t right away.
CELEBRATE THE FUCKING WIN!!! I am so bad at this one. I jump right to the next obstacle without giving myself a pat on the back and some love. Truth is if I were to see the art I am producing and the career I have today I’d be fucking dead in a ditch of shock. Never underestimate the power of acknowledging how far you have come - it is a very good map for how far you can go - it’s the best building block we’ve got.
Know that very very rarely, if ever - does our worst imagined outcome come true. Of all the thinking I did for so many years that people would tell me my art was too expensive, too glittery, too different, too whatever - only one person ever has told me they can’t afford my art. And it was with love, regret and kindness. We are our own worst critics. Writing a positive outcome costs the same amount of money as projecting doom. We have that freedom - we have that choice.
I hope that my stupid stories are helpful or at least entertaining. Long ago it was desperation to have a voice that taught me how to write. I wrote and wrote and wrote for a decade. I feel that my paintings are what I found when I figured out how to listen and re-create the information in a visual format. Which is priceless, unless you’re asking. I’ve got a spreadsheet for that, and you should too. :)