By Nina Berman on October 2nd, 2020
How to Price Your Artwork
Selling your artwork can be an important revenue stream for you as an artist. It can help you support your work, spread the word to new audiences, and grow your practice overall. Within the context of capitalism, it can also be a way of legitimizing your work. If people will pay for work, it might be perceived as more valuable.
If you’re an artist who wants to sell you work, one of the first challenges you’ll encounter is figuring out how much to charge for it. Trying to figure out pricing for each individual piece in an ad hoc way can be exhausting and stressful. We recommend building yourself a system or framework to help you price your work. If you’re selling work, you need to know why you’re pricing a piece the way you are. That way, you can move forward with more confidence and ease.
Challenges to Pricing Your Artwork
There are a lot of reasons that it’s hard to figure out how much to charge for your artwork.
The biggest challenge with pricing artwork is that it’s hard to put a number to how much your creative output is worth. How do you quantify your intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic vision? If you’re making work that is personal and vulnerable, how do you put a price tag on it?
Artists are used to being underpaid for work or asked to work for free. Check out For Exposure to see examples of creatives being asked to do work for no compensation. With this pervasive cultural devaluing of art, it’s hard to know how much people will pay for your work. Or, how much they should pay for it. This gets even trickier for everyone who is an artist and who also experiences structural barriers to success or money. Black artists have been historically underpaid and undervalued for their creative work, as have other non-white artists. Same goes for queer artists, women artists, nonbinary artists. If you have been consistently told that you should just be happy to be included, invited, given a seat at the table (no matter how pointless or terrible the table turns out to be), it’s hard to really know what you’re worth.
On the flip side, if you aren’t trying to make art your full-time source of income, it can feel selfish to charge for your work. If you have a full-time job, what right do you have to ask for more money to support what can be seen as a hobby?
It can feel ethically ambiguous to sell your work, especially at a high price, because the fine art market is a way for the very rich to preserve their wealth. If you can command a high price for a piece, are you just helping the very wealthy make a good investment that ultimately benefits them far more than it benefits you? If you sell to a collector, do they even like art or do they just want to make a smart investment?
Finally, different kinds of art have different pricing norms. Sculptures, paintings, drawings, and other pieces of “fine art” are priced differently than functional items like furniture, jewelry, or housewares. Tickets to events like a play or a performance will have pricing norms all their own. And those norms will change based on if the work is presented physically or virtually. Content that people can get for free (or are used to getting for free) like music or videos can be tough sells for consumers. Something that is one-of-a-kind will be more expensive than something that can be produced in bulk, although both of them will represent your creative labor.
Even with all of these challenges, your work has value and that value can be expressed economically (although its value is not exclusively economic!).
With these challenges to pricing and selling your work, it can be hard to know where to start when pricing your work. Here are a few strategies we suggest.
Pricing Based on Materials and Labor
One way to think about pricing your work is to cover the cost of materials and then pay yourself an hourly rate.
The first step is figuring out exactly what materials are required to create your work. What are the raw materials and then what are the tools? For example, if you’re a painter, you’d want to consider the canvas, paints, frame, and maybe even the paint brushes. What about the cost of a studio rental? If you’re a sewist, what are the costs of fabric, thread, and any additional materials? Definitely factor in shipping to your pricing, either in the lump sum you’re asking or as an add-on depending on where you’ll be sending your work.
Once you know how much it costs you to make a piece, ask yourself how long it takes. From start to finish, how many hours do you spend on a piece? This might entail you actually timing yourself to really see what your process looks like. Once you know how long it takes to make your work, add on an hourly rate to your cost of materials. The hourly rate you pay yourself is up to you, of course. But we implore you to not pay yourself less than $15 an hour! Your work and your time is valuable and you shouldn’t pay yourself less than what many consider to be the absolute minimum wage.
Once you have your labor and materials priced out, you can adjust for the pricing norms of your medium. This strategy can help ensure that you aren’t operating at a huge loss.
This approach works best when the work that you’re selling is self-contained and meant to be purchased by one person, like a painting or a jumpsuit rather than an experience meant for many people like a play or an album. It’s much harder to calculate the cost of materials and time for something like a play rather than a custom coat.
Price Based on Your Peers
As with many parts of your life as an artist, your best resource is your community of fellow artists. Talk to your peers about how much to charge for your work. They have been in your position before and have dealt with or are currently dealing with the challenges associated with figuring out how much to sell work for. We encourage you to share knowledge and information openly with your community.
Your prices will of course be slightly different from other, comparable artists in your community, but they should be in the same ballpark. If you charge much less than your peers do, you’ll be undercutting them. And that undercutting could ultimately drive down prices and perceived value for your work and for theirs. Then, everyone loses.
But, who are your peers? Your peers will be people whose work is comparable to yours, who are in the same relative geographical region as you, and who have approximately similar levels of success or notoriety as you. For example, your peers might be people who you share a studio space with, who you’ve sold work with at a pop-up shop, who you’ve been in group shows with, etc. You should reach out to your peers to talk about any issue you’re having with your art, including pricing
Note: Demand or fame does not necessarily always mean higher prices for work. Sometimes, the more a person produces, the less they might charge. Their expenses might be lower if they create work in larger quantities or they might work more quickly. If everything you do is a custom piece or part of a small batch, your prices will likely be higher than someone who creates larger batches at once.
A Pricing Example
Now, let’s see all of this in action. I’ll share a look at how I’ve thought about pricing my own art. I make functional ceramics at a nearby Brooklyn studio: vases, mugs, bowls, planters, juicers and more. But figuring out how much to charge for them has been an ongoing project.
Some recent ceramic vases, mugs, and bowls I made and had to price before selling
I don’t need the income to pay for my rent or food because I have a full-time job (running this blog). Ceramics is a meditative practice for me. When I’m working in my studio, hands covered in clay, I can’t be looking at my phone or thinking about anything that’s not right in front of me. It’s hugely important for my mental health. And I love it as a creative outlet. How can I ask people to pay for the output from something that’s so beneficial to me?
But ultimately, unless I’m donating to a fundraiser or giving someone a gift, I do charge for my work.
As I’ve improved my technical skills and gotten more comfortable making and selling my work, I’ve adjusted my pricing as I’ve gone along. And now I want to formalize it.
I’ve been making a lot of mugs lately. But how much should they cost? The first thing I look at is the cost of materials. A 25-lb. bag of clay ranges from $22-$34 depending on the kind of clay. I generally use 2.5 lbs of clay, meaning that my cost of clay for a mug is between $2.20 and $3.40. The firing fee for a mug usually hovers around $6 (my studio charges by the cubic inch). So that means that my final production cost of raw materials is around $11. I don’t include the cost of my studio rental or the cost of the tools I’ve used for years.
From throwing the vessel on a wheel to trimming the bottom and attaching a handle, sanding the surface, prepping a piece before the first firing, and glazing, I would say that I spend approximately an hour per mug. If I were to pay myself an hourly rate of $20 per piece, I should be using $31 as a base price to cover costs and expenses.
Before figuring out how much to charge for a mug, I talked to my studio mates and looked at their websites to see how much they charge for their work and how they calculate costs.
I also look at the websites from other ceramicists whose work I admire. Mugs made by my general peers fall in the $38-50 range.
So for me, to stay in line with what my fellow ceramicists are making, to cover the costs of my materials and labor, and to even begin to use ceramics sales to support my studio membership, my mugs cost $40 (plus shipping), with a discount of $5 for friends and family.
Why You Might Sell Your Work for Less
There are reasons that you might sell your work for less than the price you’ve identified using a combination of the strategies we suggested.
If you’re selling your work to a store, you might sell to that store at a wholesale price. You’d likely be sending them multiple pieces of work that they can then sell to their audience, which could be broader than and/or different from your regular audience. You’re essentially exchanging a bigger purchase and a potential wider reach for a portion of the value of the piece itself.
Your friends and family might want to purchase your work. If so, you might offer them a reduced rate. It’s always a nice gesture to give a discount to the people who you care about and who support your work, but remember that they want to support you! Your community knows how much time and energy you put into your work and they want to see you compensated for it.
You might offer a pricing structure to make your work more accessible to people who are dealing with the effects of structural economic inequality. For example, you could charge based on a sliding scale range of prices for your work or suggest a tiered pricing system based on access to resources. Rolling Grocer 19 has a good example of what that tiered system looks like.
When you do offer discounts or reduced rates, it’s helpful to have a standard strategy so that you aren’t making ad hoc decisions based on each individual case. The specifics of individual cases might impact your choices, but going in with general guidelines will result in more equitable decisions and will make you feel more confident as you make them.
It’s Hard for Artists to Talk About Money
Fractured Atlas recognizes that artists need money to be able to realize your visions. And we want to help you get those resources any way we can. Through our fiscal sponsorship program we help artists raise money through grants. We help artists raise money through crowdfunding campaigns and through our recurring donation pages for artists.
As artists, it’s hard to talk about selling your work. It can make you feel callow, like you’re only making work to turn a profit. It can make you feel like you’re in over your head if you don’t consider yourself a “money person.” But even with these barriers for artists talking about money, it’s crucial that we do to help sustain our work..
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.