The Art of Pricing
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
One of the most terrifying things for an artist to do is to share their creations with the world, saying "Hey! Look at what I made!"
The second most terrifying thing for an artist to do is to put a price tag on their time and talent.
When I first started listing art on Etsy, I didn't really have a system in place. I just put stuff out there with a price tag that I was sorta kinda comfortable with. I listed a 10x10 original painting for $120. There wasn't a formula for this price; it was basically based on what I saw other artists selling 10x10 original paintings for on Etsy (I went on the low side of things!) But it was a price that felt worth my time and reflective of my talent/experience, while covering the cost of supplies. Done deal.
I received a commission to paint a 24x48 piece. That's 2 feet by 4 feet, y'all.
So now I had to go back to my customer with a price. I hadn't done a [paid] commissioned painting in probably twelve years, and back then I was a collage student so took whatever people wanted to pay. Now I was trying to build a portfolio and a career, so I needed a pricing structure.
I asked Google and Pinterest. Because they know, right?
They didn't know.
Several artists have shared blogs about how they price their art and why, but it wasn't for my art and my why. But I did find a good take away:
Don't price your art based on emotions. Yes, that butterfly you painted is a beautiful and inspiring representation of your new self, and yes it might be your absolute favorite painting that you've ever done because it is your best work yet and you painted it while getting over a bad relationship (or whatever) but that doesn't mean you should put a $1,000 price tag on that itty bitty piece. Because the next person who sees it isn't going to have $1,000 worth of emotional attachment to it like you do.
So I decided that all my pieces of similar medium would be priced solely on size, because the content of the art doesn't really impact how much time/cost/talent I put into it. Yes, some pieces will take more time than others, or require more tubes of paint than others, but in the end it is all art that I'm trying to sell. And honestly, the buyers don't care if it took me longer to paint that $180 painting than that $120 painting, because to them they see a 10x10 canvas with a completed image on it.
Now that I knew I would be basing my pricing on size, I started to work on a formula. The "experts" on Google and Pinterest kept telling me that, when pricing based on size, create a formula using the area of the canvas. Multiple that by a magical number that you determine is what your time/talent/experience is worth.
For example, a 10x10 painting has an area of 100 square inches. And the artist determines that their magical number of "worth" is 8. So their formula for pricing would be:
100 x 4 = $400 (obviously a more "in demand" artist than I!)
Okay cool. I like formulas. I thought I'd give square inches a try. It makes sense, right? The more canvas you are covering, the more paint you are using, and the more time it takes you.
I set up the formula using the $120 painting that I'd already priced (that's another thing I learned: don't lower your prices after they have been set, because isn't fair to previous customers who paid the higher amount. They felt your work was worth the higher amount; trust them!) Based on what I'd already priced a 10x10 original, I decided that my magical number would be 1.2. My pricing formula was:
(square inches) x 1.2 = cost
For my 10x10 piece it was 100 x 1.2 = $120
Great! Easy peasy.
But now I needed to go back to my potential customer with a quote for their piece. Remember the 24x48 that started this?
Look at what my formula does to that:
The square footage for a 24x48 canvas is 1,152 inhces.
1152 x 1.2 = $1,382
$1,382??!! Are you serious!?
Ok, so yes, $1,382 can actually be a reasonable price for artwork. But at this moment in time, it certainly wasn't the price point I was looking for. Especially in comparison to that 10x10 I was starting at... a 1,000% price increase for 14x38 more inches of canvas didn't sit right with me.
Back to the drawing board (e.i. Google and Pinterest.) After a lot more reading, I found a few tiny references out on the great wide web about linear inches. Heard of them? Google says I can thank the airline industry for this concept. Instead of taking the length times the height, you take the length plus the height. Addition, not multiplication. Works for luggage; works for art!
Based on linear inches, my magic number to reach $120 on a 10x10 canvas was 6. (Whew, that makes me feel more awesome than the little 1.2 did!) My pricing formula became:
(linear inches) x 6 = cost
For my 10x10 it was 20 x 6= $120
Now to really test it out... how drastically would the price increase as the size increased?
Not too bad at all. In fact, I found the increase to be quite reasonable! Check this out:
A 24x48 canvas has a linear inch measurement (length plus height) of 72.
72 times my magic number (6) is.... $432.
That's more reasonable for an artist who starts her pricing at $120, don't you think? And check out how well the price transitions up with the sizes:
So again, if you are just getting started on putting your creations out to the world (Bravo! Do it!!) and are looking for a solid pricing structure, here is my formula:
(length + height) x (your magic number) = price