Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pricing Structures




Centered, 2006, Oil on Panel, 11x14







I read with interest Shan's post about pricing her work, and the price of art in general, as well as Anna Conti's post about how she has priced her work over the years. This is a topic I have been meaning to discuss, so it seems like a good time to throw my hat into the ring too.

Pricing my work has been one of the most difficult, and frustrating thing about being an artist. Well, along with coming up with titles that aren't totally stupid or doing taxes or record keeping. Ok, so there are a few things about being an artist that aren't completely fulfilling. Anyway, when I did those first oils a few years back in Utah, I basically looked at how much the framing cost was, tripled it and then added the percentage that the gallery would take, 30% in that particular case. The prices were fairly high, especially for the community that I lived in, a fairly non supportive area for the arts and also because I was just starting out. So, I sold a few pieces (mostly pity purchases by my friends), gave a few away as gifts, and I have the rest packed in boxes in the attic. Not a successful pricing structure I'd say.

So I talked to other artists, I did a lot of reading and research on the internet and in galleries, looking for art that was similar to mine and who had a similar resume. At first, I put together a price list based on $2.00 per square inch, for smaller sizes and skewing downwards as they got larger. Frankly, I was not at all comfortable selling a 5x7 painting for 70.00 so I pretty much doubled the prices. Despite being new to exhibiting my work, I really felt that my work had more value, based on its quality and based on the feedback I was getting about it. I didn't sell anything at the very first show I had in NY, but that was a really lame show and definitely merits its very own post one of these days. However, at the next show, I sold about half of the pieces that I exhibited, which was really encouraging, and I decided to stick with those prices for the time being. As I had more shows and started to get gallery representation, I raised my prices about 25% (in early 2005) at the request of a few of my new galleries. That was kind of a big jump, but still at that point, my work was almost always the lowest priced in the gallery and no one felt that it was an unreasonable increase.

I was still feeling that my work was underpriced, especially in comparison to the work that it was hanging next to in various shows and exhibitions, so at the beginning of this year, I raised the prices again, another 25% or so. One of the frustrating things about my pricing structure, however, was the fact that each sized painting had a different price attached to it. Since I use almost every standard size at one point or another, having so many prices to keep track of was starting to make my head spin, not to mention creating a bit of confusion for the galleries. Coincidentally, around the same time I was meeting with a gallery director and we were discussing my pricing structure. Given that I liked working in so many different sizes, rather than just a few standard sizes, she had a few suggestions for me, which have made my life so much easier! This is what she suggested:

Add the two dimensions together and list the results next to the sizes. Then cluster the results and create a break after about 4-6 inches, or in a place that seems logical. We established that 2 of my existing prices were fine-$400 for 8x10 and $1800 for 24x36. So she suggested working backwards from there and pricing each cluster in $50 increments, based on what I felt comfortable with. This is difficult to explain and I don't know if it is at all clear so here is my worksheet, including my prices.

Size L+H Price
5x7…………………12……………………….350
6x6…………………12……………………….350
5x8…………………13……………………….350
6x8…………………14……………………….350

8x8…………………16……………………….400
8x10……………....18……………………….400

9x12………………..21………………………500
12x12………………24………………………500
11x14………………25………………………500

12x16………………28………………………750
10x20………………30………………………750
14x18………………32………………………750
16x16………………32………………………750

12x24………………36………………………900
16x20………………36………………………900
18x18………………36………………………900

20x20………………40……………………..1200
18x24………………42……………………..1200

24x24………………48……………………..1400

18x36………………54……………………..1600

24x36………………60……………………..1800

36x36………………72……………………..2450

40x40………………80……………………..3100
36x48………………84……………………..3100

45x45………………90……………………..3950
48x48………………96……………………..3950

Although this took some time to work out, it has actually made things much easier for me and for the galleries as well. I don't work much larger than 24x36 or smaller than 8x10 these days, but I do still like to paint on a variety of sizes. When it's time to raise the prices again they will increase across the board in $50 increments.

I debated yesterday and last night about actually posting my prices. I thought it might be tacky or a conflict somehow with my galleries, but then I decided that this information is not relevant to our nation's security or anything so I've put them up. I do not include prices on my website, mostly because I do not sell directly to buyers. I direct all inquiries to the galleries that represent my work. Some of those galleries post the prices on their websites and some don't. Much of my work that is currently placed in a gallery have prices under my previous pricing structure. Once a painting is priced, that prices stays with it, it doesn't change if my prices go up. Sometimes this is puzzling to observant buyers who notice the discrepancy. I always explain (or the gallery explains) that the older prices stay with the piece, the higher prices reflect the fact that the value of my work is increasing and should be viewed as a good sign to potential buyers.

I realize that this has been a fairly technical discussion of pricing art. There's a whole other conversation to be had regarding the emotional aspect we all go through in establishing prices and since this post has, as always with me, gotten long, perhaps I'll write more on the topic. How about tomorrow!?

PS. The Intrepid Art Collector has a great post today, listing the costs involved with being a "hot" artist. I am nowhere near that level. nor do I want to be. Give up my chickens and flower gardens to pay a million dollars for a condo the size of 1/8 of my current home? No thanks. She makes a good point though, artists do still have expenses to cover, high or low, we all still have them.

9 comments:

Anna L. Conti said...

Hi Tracy-
Good post. Your story sounds a lot like mine. You did mention something I forgot to write about - the issue of older (cheaper) prices on older work. The only exception I make to that rule is if the particular piece of work hasn't been in a show yet, in which case I feel free to raise the price to current levels, even if the work is a year old.
Anna

Tracy said...

Hi Anna, Thanks, I make that exception too. Anything that hasn't been shown previously gets the new price.

Ed Maskevich said...

Tracy, your prices look good. They are similar to my prices. I like the idea of clustering. I have also found that if prices are too low then people asume there is little or no value to your work. I have had customers try to negotiate prices. I will only do this if they are buying multiple pieces at the same time. I will sell directly from my studio if the gallery is not within a 100 miles radius. However, I keep the prices the same as the pieces in the gallery.

Lisa Call said...

I really am loving this idea of clustering. My pieces really range in size as I don't have a canvas to dictate the size and they all just kind of grow to whatever works for each piece. So they are all totally different and it's a pain to keep track of.

I'm going to look into this and see how it can work for me. As I mentioned on Shan's blog, I also adjust my prices based on how good I think the piece is - some of my work is definitely better than others and I price it accordingly (a few of my favorite pieces are nearly double in price compared to those of similar size that I don't think are show stoppers). I suppose this is very non-buyer-friendly but I do it anyway.

Thanks also for including info about older pieces also - I do the same thing but it took me quite a while to settle on that idea as noone ever talks about these things.

Tracy said...

Ed, People always want a discount! I never request a discount when I buy art because I know how that eats away at the artists, and gallery profit. And you are right about low prices indicating a little value.

Lisa, I am sure that you can find a way to set up a clustered price list, hey that's what we should name this! 2006 Clustered Price List.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about pricing work based on quality. I understand it and know a few artists who do that but I am not sure I'd want to announce to everyone which of my own work that I think is great and which is just so-so. If a buyer falls in love with a piece that I think isn't the best, what am I telling them? They have bad taste? Please don't think I am saying you that you shouldn't price things that way. I am just pointing out how it can be interpreted. I do show work that I don't think is my very best, but I never say which those are, and very often the so-so one ends up being a piece that someone connects with and buys. On the other hand, I totally understand wanting to get a better price when your genius show itself! I think it's a matter of preference ultimately.

I do eventually sell things deeply discounted, but I think I'll discuss that issue in tomorrow's post.

Shan said...

Tracy,

I, too, hesitated before posting on pricing. I'm glad I did though, as so much good discussion has come of it. I loved reading both your post and Anna Conti's post.

Pricing is a tough issue for most artists and one that is rarely discussed. Thanks for the link!

Tracy said...

Hi Shan, Glad to know you weren't sure about posting your prices as well! I have definitely enjoyed this topic too.

Jeff Hayes said...

Thanks Tracy for another terrific post on the Nuts&Bolts of being an artist. I've been struggling with this issue since I started selling 2 years ago; I've tried a number of different approaches, and it's been complicated by the fact that I sell out of my studio (where I get a lot of foot traffic), at auction online, and at galleries. The resulting scatter-shot pricing has been inconsistent and probably unsatisfactory to everybody.

I've heard over and over again how important consistency is in pricing, and I'm trying to make my prices more uniform. I do really like the simplicity of your clustered approach, and I may consider a similar structure.

By the way, I appreciate your refreshing openness in disclosing your prices - this kind of information is helpful to a lot of people in making decisions about pricing their own work. And I do believe those are very good prices.

Tracy said...

Hi Jeff, I do tend to agree with what you have heard. It really is important to have consistent prices everywhere. But if you are maintaining a studio space in order to sell your work, the prices there should be the same as in a gallery. After all, you are marketing and have expenses as well. Auctions? perhaps you could sell different work in the auction-different medium, subject matter, size, to justify a sale at a different price. Just my opinion of course.