Pricing your Artwork Part 2: Conducting an internal assessment


This post is by, Tina Garrett, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Tina is an ARC Associate Living Master, she teaches workshops across the US and in Europe. Tina published her first instructional oil painting video in January 2019 and held her first Solo Show, “Pieces of Me” at Bountiful Davis Art Center in Salt Lake City, Utah in March of 2019. Tina is a proud Missouri State Ambassador for the Portrait Society of America helping Missouri artists fully benefit from their PSoA membership. She is also proud to be a 2018 & 2019 Cecilia Beaux Forum Mentoring Program Mentor.


Now that you’ve set starting prices for your work based on your Annual Salary Grid, you need to do an assessment of your artwork, your market, your prices, and your value. Being able to make these assessments will help you both raise the value of your work (logically and sustainably) and sell your work. 


Assess your Artwork: Make the best work you’re capable of making


This might sound kind of obvious, but you can’t just send out shoddy work and expect to be paid well for it. There’s no job on the planet where you can do poor quality work and get paid well for very long. You have to put the best work possible on the market. You need to be able to reflect on your work without bias and see clearly where your work needs to improve. The most successful artists have a critical eye and a curious mind which is never satisfied. If you cannot be your own critic, you need to learn — and there’s no time like the present. Look out for my upcoming November blog post on how to develop a critical eye.


I highly recommend purchasing a critique from a professional artist through the Portrait Society of America. I did this in 2014 and was assigned artist Tom Edgerton. His critique was so honest and so practical, the very next painting that I created won 1st prize in the OPA Online Showcase — and it was my first painting to sell to a collector in the U.K. If possible, take a workshop or find a mentor who can help you improve your skills. As an artist, I will never stop learning. There is always more to learn and ways to improve so that you’re doing everything in your power to send your best work out into the world. 


Assess your Market: Find and reach out to people who can afford your work


It goes without saying that if you are making the best work possible, you will need to get clean, accurate images of your finished works (and in these images, there should not be any framing or matting). In 2020, even if you have gallery representation — which less and less artists are able to attain — you must have a regular social media presence and a website (make it easy on yourself and use FASO). After all these steps, if you are still not selling, you will have to reflect on what you’re offering and the value of your work by assessing your market.


My Business Level mentees sometimes believe that their work will sell as long as they show it to lots of people — any people — however, shooting in the dark when aiming for your target audience is a waste of your time. To help illustrate this, I tell my mentees this story: Imagine that I try to sell one of my very best paintings at my normal retail price, by standing with it outside of an amusement park here in Kansas City. As park visitors come and go, hundreds of them might stop and talk to me and many would tell me how much they love my work but zero paintings would sell. Why? Because amusement park visitors don’t generally expect to spend roughly $10k on a work of art. Usually, their discretionary funds are in the $20 to $500 range. So it makes absolutely no sense for me to drag my artwork out into the midwestern sun and try to sell it. However, take that same painting and display it at a Porsche or Tesla dealership, and my chance of selling the work rises (at least in comparison to the amusement park). This is because the dealership visitors in this scenario are much more likely to have the discretionary funds necessary to make the purchase. Thus, my job is not just to create good work and show it to as many people as possible, it’s also to show it to people whose spending power matches my retail prices. 


Understand Perceived Value

You need to be willing to and capable of assessing who your work currently appeals to and why. My husband offered this fable to illustrate the importance of this concept: 


A dad gave his son an old car and said, “Here son, you’re 16, so I’m gonna give you this car. You can do with it what you want, but first I’d like you to take it down to the scrapyard and see how much they’ll give you for it.” So the boy takes it to the scrapyard and they say, “We’ll give you $400 to scrap this rust bucket.” After the boy returns to his father, he’s told, “Now take it up to that used car lot and see what they’ll give you for it.” The used car dealer says, “This is an old car, and it’s in bad shape, so we can only give you $1000 for it.” The son returns to his father once more and he’s told, “Now I want you to take it to this antique car show and ask them what they would auction it for.” The guys at the antique car show take one look at it and say “Holy moly! This is a 1962 Porsche Carrera 2! Only 300 were made! If we restore it, it’s worth $750,000!” 


Not everyone values everything equally, and not all people understand or appreciate the value of artwork. In the marketing world this is called “Perceived Value,” and it is determined by the customer’s evaluation of the art (based on their knowledge of art value) and whether it meets both their taste and needs in comparison to similar artwork. So do an honest comparison between your work and the work that is in the price range you wish your work was in — then bring your work up to par. After that, you’ll have a lot less trouble finding the people who see your work as truly valuable. More on this in my upcoming November blog post. 


Assess your Prices: Raising and lowering


Hopefully after reading Part 1, you have created an Annual Salary Grid. You have compared your work to similarly quality work and it holds up to the price you need it to be in your Annual Salary Grid. So you have a pretty good idea what you can sell your work for. All that’s left is to put it up for sale and be observant of the market’s response. 


Every time you put your work up for sale, you’re performing a marketing experiment. You just may not have been looking at or learning from the results. Use your past sales knowledge to see how buyers respond to your work and the prices you’ve been using. You need to be collecting data on who you’re reaching and whether they are both interested in your work and able to afford it. You have to determine based on this feedback whether raising or lowering your prices is a smart choice. 


If all your artwork is selling out and everyone’s asking you for more, your prices could probably go up a little bit. On the other hand, if you have a lot of art available and no one’s touching it, your prices may be too high or you are still not reaching your targeted group of collectors. (Or, you have not reached the level of mastery in your work which you thought you had.)


If your prices ever are too high, don’t immediately drop them. For the same reasons that you shouldn’t discount your work, be wary of dropping your prices. If you are consistently lowering your prices, anyone who’s ever bought your work will feel like they paid too much; they should have waited until your work went on sale. Similarly, new collectors will likely wait to buy your work until the prices have dropped again. This brings down the perceived value and integrity of your work. To avoid having to lower your prices, be careful not to set them too high to begin with and when you raise them, do so slowly and only when you have the data to back the decision. 


Related Article: Bending Under Pressure: Running an Art Business in Hard Times goes in depth on selling your work, diversifying your income, and alternatives to offering discounts. 


Assess your Value: What raising your prices really means


Let’s just say you made three to five pieces that you consider bigger, better and stronger than the rest of your body of work, so they should cost double. I say at least three pieces, because it is important to prove to your market that this new, better work isn’t a fluke. Having a group of equally strong works assures collectors that this is your new level of mastery and thus your new level of value.

Now, if those works are twice as expensive, they are most likely not as marketable to your current list of collectors who are used to your lower prices. You have a few choices: (1) explain with well crafted PR, why these works are worth more (maybe they’ve won prizes or been written about in editorials), (2) go out and find a different audience which ideally has more spending power than your original audience, or (3) be collected by someone like Brad Pitt, which raises your market value sheerly by virtue of your new famous collector. Having collectors like Brad Pitt also puts your work in front of all of their rich friends, helping you build that new market with minimal effort on your part. 


If Brad hasn’t called you yet, you may need some help reaching that new market in order to sell those paintings. This is a great time to connect with a good gallery. Take into account that galleries will take a fee — which is effectively an advertising fee that you will pay to help you find that new market. You’re going to pay one way or another. Either you’re going to pay a gallery or broker to help your artwork sell at your new, higher retail price, you’ll pay directly for advertising in a magazine, catalog or online art marketing group, or you’ll pay with the sheer amount of time and effort that you will have to expend finding those new collectors and putting yourself and your work in front of them (either in person or online — or by standing with your paintings in front of Brad’s house until he comes home). 


These decisions have to be made based on many factors — such as your ability to speak and write publicly about yourself and your work, whether galleries find your work marketable and profitable for their customers, and other specific data that is reflective of each artist’s work and their current market value. It’s not a formula that exists in outer space; all the information you need is in your ability to honestly assess your artwork, your market, your prices, and your value. You just have to get started. 

Please submit any questions in the comments below to have them answered in “Pricing your Artwork Part 3: Q&A.” 


Leave a Reply