THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Well, hello. This is your host artists, Miriam Schulman and you’re listening to episode number 65 of the Inspiration Place Podcast. I am so thrilled that you’re here. Today we’re talking all about the art and science of pricing. So in this episode you’ll discover why size matters, why pricing art can be emotional and why you should always be testing higher prices. But before we get there, I wanted to tell you about two different ways that you can work with me. Here’s the first one. For the remainder of 2019, my artist’s incubator program is closed because it is completely full. However, if you want to apply for 2020, go to schulmanart.com/biz. The incubator is a small group coaching program that I run and it’s by invitation only. Once I approve your application I’ll invite you to a free 20 minute strategy session, where I’ll help you map out your vision for 2020. If we both agree that you’d benefit from my help executing this plan, then I’ll share more details about the incubator during that call.
Now, the other way you can work with me is by signing up for a 90 minute deep dive private coaching session, I have made only 10 of these sessions available. They’re normally $750, but in the holiday spirit, they are on sale. So between now and December 14th, you can grab one of those spots at 30% off. So either when the 10 are gone or December 14th, whichever comes first. For a deep dive session, go to schulmanart.com/coachme. All right, now back to the show. Today’s episode offers a behind the scenes look at how artists price their art, and some clear guidelines to help you get started with pricing your own. This is by far one of the most frequently asked questions I get from artists who want to get started pricing their art, is how much to charge. And let me tell you, no matter how long artists have been in business, I still get this question.
I get this question from people who’ve been in business for years. The reason artists struggle with this no matter how long they’ve been in business, is because when they have art that’s left unsold. They have not sure if it’s because they raised their prices too quickly. If the art market has gone sour, or if collectors are just not interested in their new art. So there’s a lot of factors that go into selling art and it can be confusing. So you’re not alone. And that’s why I’m here to help you. No one is born knowing how to price art, just as none of us are born knowing how to do taxes, play tennis, price real estate, any of these things. It is a skill to be learned and tested. And the longer I’ve been doing this the more I’ve come to learn that the price is, you’re not going to like this, but the price is completely arbitrary.
And there definitely is an emotional path to making money. That’s not just true of art, by the way. That’s true of a lot of things, services, commodities, all kinds of things. There is definitely an emotional component to it. Meaning the more confident you are, the more easily you’ll be able to command higher prices. And also the more you’re able to emotionally connect with your collector, the more easily you are able to command those higher prices as well. So it’s about the emotional connection between the artist and the collector and also how highly you’re vibrating, how confident you are in your own art. Now that said, there is still a way to create a system that can help you take the emotions, those pesky doubts and fears from driving your prices down. First of all, it is important to understand there are many paths to pricing art and each follows a structure that prioritizes logic over emotion.
For most people, you need to start with size. I know there are some types of art that you factor in the time as well. I am not going to talk about that today, since for most of the artists I coach and for painters, it really doesn’t matter how long you take in terms of the eyes of the collector. That is who is purchasing your art. They really don’t care. It’s how much they want it. So that’s why I say, start with size. Now, many artists set their pricing according to size and by the overall sizes work not necessarily by the square inch. Square inch method pricing leads to some pretty wacky pricing. I’m going to try to give you a few examples of why that is so. And I know that square inch is a popular way of doing it, and I’m going to try to illustrate why I don’t think you should do it.
Let’s say you make a four by six inch painting and you’re pricing it at a dollar, a square inch. That would be a $24 painting. Certainly, that is way too low for an original piece of art that you probably spent at least an hour or two creating. Right? Okay. And I tell my client never, ever price original art for less than $50, no matter how small it is. Okay, fine. So then you’ll say to me, well, Miriam, what if I make it $2 a square inch? So it’s $48. Okay. But what if your art is 20 by 20, that would be 400 square inches. So now that would be an $800 painting, I think if I did the math right. Well what I find happens with the square inch formula is at the small end with your small paintings, you’re going to get these really low prices and you can adjust that. But if you use that same formula at the upper end, your largest works, you’re going to get some very high prices. And it may be difficult for a collector to understand why you have art ranging from $50 to $2,000.
So it doesn’t quite make sense for you and your collectors. Now, what I find most successful artists do is they just pick a price for each size. I call this relative pricing and that’s what I do and what a lot of other artists I know do. So they do have a consistent price for each size, but it’s not based on a square inch. A different formula that I do like I heard Melissa din Winnel, who is a former guests on this podcast. She is the author of the creative sandbox way. I’ll make sure we link to her episode in the show notes, but she suggests to price by linear inches. Now, the way she does it is rather than take the area, the square inch is width times height. That’s the area. Instead of doing that, she is using the perimeter. So height plus the width, actually it’s not the perimeter, it’s just the height plus the width times a multiplier. So it’s basically half the perimeter.
The example she gave is, again, if you take a four by four inch square painting, you price it at $2 a square inch, you would get a $32 painting way too low for an original artwork. And then if you had a 32 by 32 inch painting, that would be $2,000. So again, it’s really hard to explain square inch pricing to buyers, why you would have a four by four 30, $2 and then another painting $2,000 it doesn’t quite make sense. Now, if you use the linear method or the way I like to think of it as relative size method, then that four by four inch painting, she suggests uses $20 per linear inch. And these multipliers are going to depend on where you’re selling your art and whether it’s oil and all that. We’ll get to that in a moment, but let’s just pretend you’re using this method and you have a four by four inch painting, $20, a linear inch.
That would give you eight linear inches at $20 is $160, which could make sense for a four by four inch painting. That would be a pretty good price for an emerging artist without gallery representation. Okay. That same artist, if she had a 32 by 32 inch painting and use $20 per linear inch, that would be 64 linear inches. And if you use that $20 multiplier, you would get a $1,200. It’s really $1,280. I would probably round it by the way, either to 1200 or 1300. I don’t like the precise pricing when it’s that expensive. Pricing this way, more of a relative size pricing leads to a smooth progression between your small artworks and your larger artworks. So there won’t be such a big price jump between a nine by 12 inch painting and 11 by 14 inch painting. In the mind of an art collector, an 11 by 14 inch painting really isn’t that much bigger than nine by 12. So it shouldn’t be so much more expensive.
So again, if you are using… So nine by 12 is 108. If you’re going to do $2 per square inch, that would be $216 for nine by 12 and 11 by 14 would be $300. So that works well. Now, if you were to do linear, these would be much closer in price. So nine plus 12 times 20 would be a $400 painting. And 11 by 14 times 20 would be a $500 painting. So you would have a $400 painting and a $500 painting, which to the mind of an art collector for those two paintings to be about a hundred dollars apart, makes a lot more sense. Okay. So pricing your art by size will work for you, if you generally create your artwork with the same level of detail. You tend to work with the same combination of materials and it takes you about the same amount of time for each work in a particular size. Now, where you can break that formula is for something like for example, portraits.
I definitely recommend that you have a set price per size for portraits as well. However, with portraits, you should also be charging more every time you add a figure to the portrait. So a painting with two people, is going to be twice as much work as a painting with only one person. And that’s also true if you’re adding pets. So I always charge more for people and pets and all these prices are figured out ahead of time in a grid. So when I’m talking to a collector to a potential, a person who is about to commission me, that they can have a peace of mind to know that I’m not making up prices on the fly, that I do have a system for charging them. And I’m able to share that easily. Now, if you’re selling your art online, you will also need to calculate the shipping and add that to the cost of the painting. This is because nowadays most online shoppers expect free shipping. In fact, if you’re selling your art on Etsy, they prioritize your art to show up in searches if you offer free shipping.
Now I have art over on Etsy and I offer free shipping over there. And a recent painting that I sold for $1,800 cost me $140 to ship via the postal service. And by the way, it would have been a lot more for me to ship this UPS. Maybe it would have saved money if I went to FedEx by the way, just saying. It was totally worth it to pay $140 to sell a painting without having to give away a gallery cut. And the thing about shipping through the postal service is I have a good relationship with my postal carrier. So she took the painting directly from my door. I didn’t have to leave my house. So if I shipped by FedEx or some other method, it would have taken me quite a bit of time to get in the car and have it shipped to that way. It probably would have added probably 30 or 40 minutes of extra time to the sale of this artwork. So I always value time, very highly.
Now, in addition to size, you should also be considering your medium. I know a lot of you may be wondering what about mixed media or acrylic? Here’s the thing oil paintings have the highest perceived value and fetched the highest prices even higher than acrylics. Oil is considered by the art market to be the gold standard and the most archival of all mediums, and the most sought after by collectors. Now you are fighting against the perception that oils are more valuable than watercolor, and that is why they do command higher prices. And the truth is any works on paper that you have, are going to sell for far less than works on canvas or works on wood boards or anything of the same size. So you do need to factor that into your pricing. You’re going to need to have a different pricing system for watercolor on paper or a pastel on paper. Then you do for an acrylic or mixed media on canvas.
This is not just because of the higher perceived value of works on canvas. But it’s also because works on paper do require additional framing in order to be presented. While works on canvas can often be hung with a simple frame or no frame at all. Especially if you wire it for your customers. In general, if you have both types of art, consider pricing your works on canvas 30% higher than similar works that are on paper. Now, a lot of my students ask me if they need to frame their art. In other words, how to increase the value of their art or their perceived value. The best way you can really do this without much effort is in the presentation. However, I don’t believe that you have to custom frame your artworks. That can be very expensive and in more times than not a waste of money, because people will ask you if they can buy it without the frame. That frame that you think is so beautiful, it just may not match their decor or their personal preferences.
You can still present everything very professionally finished without the expense of custom framing. That’s why I always recommend when you have works on paper, to matte them and put them into an acetate sleeve with a foam backing board. So, that is the best way to present your latest watercolors. Do not present them in a Ziploc bag. If you present your art with dime store marketing approaches, you are going to get dime store prices for your artwork, or you’re just going to miss out on sales. You never ever want to have a flea market look to your artwork. Now, luckily you do not have to break the bank in order to present your art professionally. And like I said, you should also never spend a lot of money on framing only to discover your dream client once a different frame anyway. So whenever I do need to frame an artwork because it’s in a show or for whatever reason, I want to hang it up as part of my display. I choose the most neutral frames possible.
So I found that black wood is the most neutral. Black or other metals, they do tend to cheapen the look of your presentation. And other frames, they could be not in the aesthetic they want. Another approach some artists like to do, is they will work for local frame shop or a framer that they use all the time to price out preferred framing choices, along with researching the shops turnaround time. Then what they can do is have just one piece framed beautifully, so they can present that one piece framed and then offer to frame the other ones the same way. I also know artists who have a similar approach to this, but instead of using a custom frame shop they might purchase different frames, like standard sized frames that they can swap the artwork in and out and reuse those frames or being able to offer that kind of framing option for the customer. Tracy Lizotte. When we talked about selling art at art fairs uses exactly this approach and I’ll make sure to link to her episode in the show notes as well.
So I’ve found that for me, the best way to present artwork is I present all my watercolors matted, foam backing board acetates sleeve. I get all my supplies from Stu-Art Supplies. They’re not a sponsor of the show, but if you call them up or work with them online, please tell them that Miriam Schulman sent you. The sleeves keep fingerprints off of your originals. And they also make the artwork easy to transport. Since I create my watercolor in generally the same sizes, I can have them matted to sizes that fit ready-made frames. That way I can tell my collectors that they don’t have to custom frame the arts, since it already fits those ready-made frame sizes. Believe me, this has led to many sales, just being able to share that. I do the same thing also with my prints. All my prints are the same size.
And by the way, I do have a free crash course on creating your own prints. That is schulmanart.com/printclass. Now, if I am selling the art framed, because I framed it for a gallery that insisted that I have a frame or some such venue like that, what I usually do is double the cost of framing. I round that up a little bit, and then I add that to the price of the artwork. And the reason I double the framing cost is if you’re selling through a gallery that takes a commission, there’ll be taking half the price of the sale, and you don’t want to lose money on the framing of your art. That is why I only sell my canvases in a simple black floater frame that doesn’t cost that much. And like I said, for my works on paper I generally sell the matted as I already described and unframed for the same reason.
And online I sell any of my watercolors framed. I do not want to be responsible for shipping glass. All right. So no matter what method you choose, whether you go with some sort of relative pricing or some other method that we’ve described here, make sure your prices are consistent. If you’re in a gallery or you’re selling online, these have to be the same prices. And don’t inflate anything just because suddenly you’re in a gallery, that will stop your sales cold in its tracks. Now, as you are creating art and selling your art, make sure you keep track of who is collecting it and how much they’re paying for it. I use a database to keep track of all my art sales and contact information. And it’s really, really key to get additional sales from existing collectors by being able to suggest when you have a new painting that might go along with the collection they already have.
So make sure you do that. It’s definitely worth it. It also helps to keep track of your selling prices and your selling history, for when you do the gallery route to show that you have a history of sales. Now, when you choose a new venue, you want to make sure that your prices and the selling prices of that gallery or venue are in the same range. Notice I use the word selling prices. You want to make sure whatever venue you choose actually sells work at the prices that have been sapped. So for example, if you look at a gallery and the average selling price of that gallery is $600. You can’t go in and expect to sell your art in the thousands. Even if you’ve commanded those prices elsewhere, unless you’re bringing in your own customers, which can be exhausting. I know, because I’ve done it.
Here’s something else you should know, pricing your art too low also rarely works. So in other words if the average art in the gallery is $600, you’re going to have trouble moving art at $200 or $300, because customers are going to look at your art and wonder what’s wrong with it. As you run low on inventory, you can increase your prices. The traditional advice is not to make jumps of more than 10% of your current selling price at a time. However, I’ve found that advice to be kind of ridiculous. The truth is you should always be testing higher prices. If you only increase by 10% at a time and you started too low, you’ll never get there. No one knows your prices and what your old prices are and whether your prices have changed but you or your gallerist. Nobody’s keeping track of it that carefully. I’ve doubled prices and tested to see what’s happened.
In fact, a week ago, I got a commission from a collector who had only paid half for a house portrait that she paid for a few years ago. And she didn’t say a word about my higher prices, which probably means I could have charged her that higher price a few years ago as well. So don’t get nervous that repeat collectors are going to question the higher prices. Most of the time, they just don’t even remember what it was that you were charging. Now, on the other hand my friend Jan Schmuckal, again, another guest on the podcast. She cautions against raising your prices too quickly if you get a trophy sale. So for example, she recently sold out all of her paintings when they were priced at a premium by her art dealer. And she shared that she allows her vendors to set their own prices and she shipped 12 paintings to this vendor who set up a show and then all the paintings sold very quickly.
Now, she thought it was because there was a collector there who had been waiting for her art to come out and snapped up four right off the bat. And basically this chummed the waters, then lots of collectors came in and bought the art. But that’s her story. I don’t know if that’s completely true. So she could also have said that this story was evidence that she could have been commanding higher prices. That’s just my take on it. And I do know that Jan Schmuckal has basically zero inventory and sells everything she makes, which definitely is evidence that she could be charging higher prices. Now, on the other hand, your pricing could be perfect. Your art could be priced absolutely correctly, but the right seller has just not come along yet because you aren’t putting yourself out there enough. Okay. And finally, another way to price your art rather than just making up some pricing strategies, is take a very careful look at your competition.
As artists, we joke about competition because we know that art is such a personal thing. But in the marketplace, we can benefit from comparing our prices to that of active artists who are in similar stages in their career. No need comparing your prices to the artist whose art hangs in the MoMA and has a gallery contract with a New York art dealer. But perhaps there’s an artist in your town with a sales history that you can research. I find though that art on Etsy tends to be underpriced. So be very careful about comparing yourself to people on Etsy. You do not want to inherit another artist’s limiting beliefs about pricing. So what advise my clients to do is to research prices at local arts festivals. The kind of juried art shows where artists are displaying their art in tented booths. Look for an artist whose work is similar in medium as yours and take notes at what they’re pricing their art at.
These artists are more experienced at pricing and finding the sweet spot for what sells for them. This is called market research. And as much as you might feel like you’re stalking other people, you really are just collecting data on comparable works to yours, in order to determine the prices for your art according to size, medium finish and market research. Okay, to sum it all up, there probably is no formula only guidance. You may have come to this episode looking for a magic art calculator, only defined that the way to price art is by researching your market according to guidelines. Research is simply a matter of using your resources, whether it’s Saatchi online or Etsy or stalking artists who you admire on their websites. And do your research according to size in medium or by visiting local art galleries, to see the sales environment that’s around you. Even in the most high end galleries or even when purchasing real estate, pricing is often determined by showing comparable items.
Okay, I hope this clarity alleviates the emotional side of pricing your work. And provides you with comfort in knowing that even the most prolific and successful artists, are still doing the same process of researching and testing the value of their art in the marketplace. As a friend of mine, Eden Folwell says, “You need to take the emotion out of it and price your art and move on.” Another piece of advice that I found really helpful for myself and also the clients I coach is that you should expect to hear no, at least 50% of the time. And if you aren’t hearing no, that often then your prices probably aren’t high enough. To truly raise your prices, you need to raise your confidence. My spiritual listeners out there will call this raising your vibration. And there really is a lot of truth to that, because a lot of pricing isn’t about whether your art is worth it. It’s whether you consider yourself to be worth those higher prices.
This is why coaching to increase your confidence. And your mindset is so valuable. This is true, not just of artists. This is true of a lot of people. A lot of coaches, a lot of… anybody who is putting anything out there in the world. You have to raise your confidence. This is why coaching to increase your confidence and your mindset is so valuable. That’s what I offer my coaching clients inside the artist incubator program. We combine practical strategies like how to sell as well as how to price your art, but also how to find the confidence to charge what you’re worth. If you’re interested in ramping up your art sales in 2020, I invite you to apply. The program is closed for 2019, but I am now interviewing prospects for 2020. To see if you’re a fit for this program, simply go to schulmanart.com/biz. Fill out the application there.
And if you qualify, you’ll get a free one-on-one strategy session with me.
That way you can get a free taste of what it’s like to work with me. And we can talk more about how to build your art business for 2020 and beyond. And if you don’t want to apply, you want to skip all that and get some help right away. Don’t forget, I have a black Friday special on those deep dive, 90 minutes strategy sessions. To invest in one of those for your own art business, just go to schulmanart.com/coachme.
Finally, to wrap this all up, I just want to ask you to take the time to review this podcast. And if you haven’t, why not? I would love to encourage you to do that right away. These reviews help others find the show. And I always give shout outs on Instagram to my reviewers. I would love for you to be one of them. Okay guys, thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you the same time, same place next week. May you get a great one. Bye for now.
This episode was sponsored by the Artist Incubator. It’s my small group coaching program, where I help you take your art business to the next level with practical strategies that work. Imagine what it would feel like to be easily selling your art and profiting from your passion.
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