Jessica L. Wagner
What's the Deal with the Cost of Art?
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Peeling back the Lid on Pricing Art
Hands up for who finds the price of art slightly confusing?
One of my biggest motivators behind giving blogging a go via JLWagner is to peel the lid back on the occasionally mysterious bits and pieces of the art world.
So without further ado, for my first official content post, a burning art question that I get quite often:
How the heck do you price art?
Fair enough, art pricing is CONFUSING.
Well, I want to dive in to how I personally price my work.
Keep in mind, this is not how every artist does it, but this is how I do it.
When I first started truly selling my work for profit I struggled pretty tremendously on sorting out the value. The price of art is so subjective, "what is someone willing to pay?" I'll also be the first to admit that for a few years my pricing of pieces lacked consistency and resulted in pushing through numerous growing pains surrounding art sales.
Many moons, learning moments, and honest conversations later- one of my front and center goals with my personal art practice and JLWagner is to provide transparency in pricing.
So how do I personally price art?
I pay myself in similar fashion to any job, hourly.
I currently pay myself $20.00 per hour, and calculate how many overall hours I spend on each piece. Makes sense right? Hours spent working on pieces includes, initial sketches and planning, back and forth revision conversations with clients, and finishing touches- framing, adding wiring, packing, or hanging (all if requested).
I then add in overall cost of the physical materials and any shipping costs (if the piece needs to be shipped).
Disclaimer: This is how I price work, artists run the gamut with pricing (some charge quite a bit more for pieces, particularly if that’s their sole livelihood). I also work within the museum sector and don’t 100% rely on my creative income, which gives me more flexibility when it comes to art sales. I love being able to offer affordable price points, transparency, and having the freedom to do something I truly enjoy- make, make, making.
A breakdown looks like:
Let's look at an actual piece, a landscape piece (that's about to go up for sale, look for it online soon *wink, nudge*).
Material Cost: canvas ($20.00), paint ($10.00), brushes ($10.00)= $40.00
Hours Spent: 11 hours x $20.00 per hour= $220.00
Shipping Costs: (depending)
Total Cost of Work: $260.00 (plus any shipping)
With that sort of visual breakdown, it's easy to see how complicated artworks can easily begin to cost thousands of dollars- portraits with multiple subjects anyone? hyperrealistic works, large works, multiple panel works, etc.
What if my budget is small can I still commission an artwork?
Yes! I'm always willing to work hard with anyone on price points and completely understand not wanting, or being able to, break the bank to snag an art piece.
Here are few tips and tricks for lowering the cost of a work (from me specifically, I can't speak for other artists).
1. Commission a monochrome piece, in other words, a work that uses one color in different values- lights and darks (full-color artworks are very time intensive due to constant mixing of various colors- and the lights and darks, warms and cools- of those colors).
⇦ Like this!
2. Decide on a simple piece, a.k.a. simple line drawings, sketchy works, or small abstract pieces take far less time to create (again, for me personally, other artists differ).
3. Have plenty of great photos of the subject you would like painted or drawn, for example, if you would like a portrait of your doggo, Scooter, make sure you have plenty of clear, well-lit images of Scooter from multiple angles. The more images I have for reference the faster and easier I can create a rendering. The less quality images you have, the greater time I spend imagining the subject, visualizing in my head (or doing a sitting in person with the subject), then creating sketches until I get it just right. Less reference photos = more time = more cost.
4. Be gentle with changes, in other words, complicated edits and fast and furious back and forth revisions on a piece eat up quite a bit of time, and time = cost. I 100% want you to be happy with your art piece, but if we change the doggo, Scooter, from red to blue, back to red again, then to fuchsia with green highlights, that takes a good chunk of time, and adds to the overall cost of the artwork.
Ok, one last thing, what about popular artworks or artists whose work costs hundreds of thousands, or millions, why?
Honestly, I hear you, that's where things get fairly tricky...
Once you cross into the realm of popular or famed artists, cost becomes dependent on many factors. As artists become more popular, their demand increases, their collectibility increases, therefore they can charge more per hour for their time (if that's how they price, but for this example it's easier to think of it in hourly terms). Much like a CEO of a successful company (just for comparison, fun, slightly awful fact of the day: the CEOs of CVS, L Brands (which owns Victoria’s Secret), Starbucks, and Walmart all make more than $9,000 per hour).
Now, I won't completely dive into the stickiness of art collecting, art critics, and the high-dollar art world in this post, but I'll just leave this episode (take it with a grain of salt, but a fun video of some hard #truths) of "Adam Ruins Everything" here.
Thanks for reading!
Leave a comment, leave a question, about pricing, about the art world, about anything and everything.
Everything creative, always.
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