Sarafina Fiber Art

Sarafina Fiber Art

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pricing Art Work - The Fat and the Skinny

I'm no expert but I will tell you what I have learned from 25 years of pricing artwork.  Unfortunately there is no magic formula.  The bottom line is - How many people want it?  And that line is a product of the quality of the work and the number of people who know it exists.

Time:  It doesn't matter how long it took you.  Yes, skilled or well known artists can make fast work that sells for a very high price and novices can spend weeks making something that no one wants to buy.  But no matter your experience or skill you will have work that went smoothly and quickly that sells for more than you thought, and you will have labor intensive masterpieces that sit around unsold until you give it away just so you don't have to look at it anymore.  I am not saying not to consider your time - but time does not dictate your price.

Consider time in the sense that you have to produce something that is worth your time.  If a piece takes you forever but has a ceiling on price you might not want to go that route.  For example... you make a beautiful detailed elaborate Christmas ornament, the best in the world, for which you think you should charge $160 because it took you two days.  But no one wants to pay $160 for an ornament.  Or you work slowly and it takes you 3 weeks to make a commissioned dog - the going price is $175.  Do you really want to make $60/week?   These might not be realistic examples but you get the idea.  If you are independently wealthy and don't need the dough then ignore this paragraph.  But, at least to me, success is defined by selling my work, and enough of it, to have $ in my account.  That is not possible if I am working for $2/hour.  Nor will have success if I am pricing my time at $20/hr for something no one wants to buy.

Materials:  Most of the arts in which I have been involved have not had costly materials.  The value of a painting is my skill and demand, not the cost of the paints. (I did have to consider the cost of framing when I was custom framing my artwork.)  An artist that has her sculptures cast in bronze might need to weigh the foundry costs into her pricing.  But most arts' value are about skill and demand.

My wool sculptures are wire and wool, nothing more.  A chipmunk weighs about 2.5 oz which is $2.50 in wholesale wool.  He sells for $145.

Skill:  Almost everything we do in life needs to be learned.  Natural talent is great but unless you are a savant, we all have to practice and develop our skill.  At first you may not be making $80 per hour but that's okay; you have to start somewhere.  As you get better two things happen, your work becomes more and more appealing to buyers because it looks better.  And, hopefully, you are building a following.  In the beginning you may price one of your smaller works at $45 but over time you have learned to make that same size/item better and more people have begun to want that item and so that leads us to demand...

Demand:  Now you have been working, honing your skills, and gaining a following.  Eight people have asked you to make your $45 thingamajig and you are not sure when you will find the time.  Now it's time to raise that price to $65.  Two people might decide that's not what they want to spend but 6 will spend $390 which is still $30 more than you would have made for all 8 at $45.  Your skill and demand now gets you more money per hour.

Skill and Demand will grow slowly and hopefully steadily.  You will find a comfortable pace to raise your prices that is reflective and directly related to this growth.  Do not inflate beyond your skill and demand. 

I know extremely talented artists who do not market themselves.  Their work is above and beyond mine but they are not making a living selling art because no one knows it exists.   I also know of extremely successful artists who are master marketers but create work that I would not want to buy.   Developing awareness of your work is something that you have to work as hard for as your skill.

A few other things to consider -

Pretty Prices;  If I have an item that I think should be in the $50 range.  I will price it at $48.  That is a happy pretty price.  $47 is too pointy. $50 is too flat.  $52 is just weird.  $49 and $51? No way.   If it should be in the $1000 range, it will be either $900 or $1200 depending on which way I think the piece should sway.  The actual numbers should have a nice look and ring to them.

Underpricing:  It can actually be more damaging than over pricing (but you don't want to do either).  If you under price your work you may run the risk of devaluing it.  I have not run controlled tests on large groups of consumers but, as one, and through experience, I am convinced that we want to buy something special and valuable.  We want to treat ourselves to something.  Artwork is a luxury and people buy it with that mentality.  The same work priced at $50 might not seem as special/valuable as if it were priced at $125.  A few people will recognize "a good deal" and buy your things, but you are cheating yourself out of $ and actually lowering demand.

Overpricing:  We are lucky to have such freedom in determining our prices but sometimes it's problematic.  Over pricing can be a once in a while occurrence... you make something that is ahead of it's time in quality and complexity.  You decide it's worth way more than anything you have made before.  Maybe it is; maybe it sells right away.  But also be prepared to own it for a long time; it's a good thing you like it so much.  I have personally had this go both ways.

36x36 original Fair Hill Map still hangs in my living room four years later - $4800

My Pegasus with fully functional feather wings was a very inspired piece... I am not even sure I could make it again.  I priced it at $1200, more than any other needle felted sculpture to that date, thinking I would be able to enjoy it for a while.  It sold in an hour.

Or overpricing can be an overall problem.  You have just entered the world of selling art.  You are referring to the prices of established artists for comparable pieces  and it's going nowhere.  Again, start low and raise with your personal demand.  When the bubble burst in our economy I was selling my paintings at their highest prices.  (That was also around the time that I began selling needle felting.)  Almost overnight my work was overpriced.  What worked in yesterday's economy was no longer reality.  I had not crossed that super elite line in fine art that secured enough wealthy unaffected customers.  I had to adjust and rather than lower what I had worked to hard to build, I shifted to the new world of wool sculptures and started over.

Consistency:  Consistency is extremely important.  Your patrons will appreciate and respect consistent prices.  When I was painting I had a price per square inch formula with additional percentages for added subjects.  It gave me a solid way to price my work across the board no matter who, what, or where.   I don't have a formula for needle felting but I am still very aware of my prices.  If you are represented by another seller, gallery, or store, make sure the retail price of your work is the same as if you sell directly.  You might make a little less per sale but you are gaining the ever important demand by having your work in more places.  Store and gallery owners are running a business as well and together you can have a mutually beneficial experience. 

Have confidence in your pricing so that buyers have confidence in you.  May you have many a Pegasus and nary a gigantic Fair Hill Map.