Good morning everyone! I hope you all had a fantastic day!
This question has come up a few times for me lately, both from friends wondering how much to charge, and from people asking 'how do you price your work and why are you able to do those sales you do?' It can be a bit rough sometimes, as an artist... Knowing the right path, knowing what to charge and what would be fair for both you and your customer. Pricing work is a really unique experience for each artist. Remember, only you can really know what you feel comfortable with selling your work at, so don't be ashamed of the prices you set! But when you do set your prices here are some things to keep in mind!
The beginning: pricing originals
All artwork starts with an original painting. Now for digital artists, there is no original so this section doesn't quite apply. But for any traditional medium artists you will have one original. Treat it well! The first thing to keep in mind is your base costs. Before you sell any artwork at all, make sure you are covered for the price of making the artwork! No matter what technique you use to come up with a final price, please make sure you are not paying people to take your work! So, how you do this is you keep track of the amount spent on everything. This can be a little bit tricky with things like paint, as you don't always use the entire bottle to do one painting, so try to use your best judgement here. If I do gold leafing I charge for the gold leaf, sizing and special brushes that I have to get! If I use pencils, I charge for the cost of a refill of lead. If I use watercolors I tend to add in 1/10th of the cost of the tube of paint (I can get about 10 paintings out of one bottle before I screw up and break the tube). Did I use a kiln? Try to figure out roughly the cost of running that kiln for the firing time of the piece. Am I painting on illustration board? Then the cost of that. Once you add all of that, you have your base amount that you cannot dip below!
Now comes the tricky part. Pricing above your base costs. There are a few ways to do this, some are comfortable with one, some are not. For me, what I do is I charge an hourly wage for my time. I know roughly how long it will take me to complete a painting and I pay myself x amount per hour to do this piece. I started at minimum wage ($6 something an hour back then), and then as I improved in skill I gave myself raises until I am at the price I am now. This gives me a base amount of cost of materials + (time taken x my hourly wage) = the price of my work. In general every piece I do just for myself is priced about on those lines.
However there is a thing called supply and demand. If I have a piece that is hotly argued over, several people want it RIGHT NOW! I will sometimes add a 'this piece is epic and worth more!' amount to the piece. This acts somewhat like a live auction, to move the piece out of the range of the average buyer and take it up to the ones that are willing to pay more to make sure THEY are the ones who get it. Often times the price goes into negotiation with the people at this point, to figure out who will end up buying it. This also goes for pieces that I simply don't want to get rid of an chose to price it out of reach of the average buyer as well. Everything I have and do is for sale, but sometimes I want the price to be out of reach. This is okay to do! Don't feel bad about it! My friend Sarah prices her work considerably higher than I do because she is DEEPLY emotionally connected to all of her paintings. She doesn't want to sell it, so if you are going to buy her work, you had best make it worth her while and something she won't regret! If you feel the urge to price above your base amounts, that is totally okay to do!
Some people don't feel comfortable with pricing their work the way I do. Some feel that doing an hourly wage prices them out of the market, and they can't build a fanbase if their work is out of reach. This isn't a bad thing and don't for a moment feel you are doing it 'wrong' if you don't want to price your work that way. I would STILL recommend you find out your base cost of materials fee though, as you really don't want to be paying others to buy your work. But that said, there is such a thing as the fair market value of a work. This means that you do a lot of research and find out what the average going rate is for the type of work you do on the skill level you're at, and then price accordingly. Now the problem with this price method is that you will very much be at the whim of every single teenager who is so excited about selling their work that they will sell their paintings for $5 for an original no matter how much time it took or how good it is. This is where a lot of anger at 'selling yourself cheap' comes from, because when you sell yourself cheap, you change the fair market value of artwork of similar calibre. Please please please be careful with this technique as what you do impacts all the other artists who are your peers and using your prices and the prices of others for their sales.
Negotiating the price of a painting is something that EVERYONE does, but remember. In negotiations the seller nearly always ends up selling for less then they are asking for, NEVER higher then they are asking for. This is why it is recommended to price at the high end of your painting's worth. Someone will negotiate with you, and you don't want to end up dipping lower then you are comfortable with selling your piece for.
Stage two, I've decided to make prints! What do!
If you have an original, or a digital piece, you have the ability to make prints! As the artist you are the copyright holder to your painting so you can literally do whatever you feel like with prints! This is the place I suggest artists go to when they see the market for their work has been pushed low again, too low to sell originals. It's time for prints!
Once again with prints, you need to make sure that you charge over your base production costs. This is much easier to add up then originals, as you have the cost of paper and the cost of ink. That's about it. If you go to a publishing company to make your prints they will give you a flat cost per piece. So make sure that you do not charge less then that amount! This is a hard limit, you can't go below it or you'll be paying people to take your work off your hands! After that, I would recommend checking the average price that people charge for prints of that size and quality, to keep roughly in the market. In general most don't demolish the market, remember not to consider things like 'moving sales' and other types of sales as the average market value. Sales tend to be exception to the pricing rules.
Remember, limited edition prints will go for more. Giclee and other specialized printing options will also cost quite a bit more. If a piece is matted that needs to be accounted for, as does any sort of packaging! I tend to stick with a base price per size and if the piece is limited edition or open edition so that everyone knows what they are getting into with pricing regardless of how popular a piece is.
Packaging and Shipping
This is added in because a lot of people forget this.
Packaging. If you sell a print, chances are you are going to package it. I use a small sheet of board for support and then bags from clearbags.com. I include the cost of the packaging in my initial adding of the 'base cost of the print' so it's not added on at the end. If you do specialized boxes, jewelry boxes, etc, make sure that is added in your cost of the print. In general your packaging should be a very small dent in the price of the piece. If you do specialized packaging (like hand painted jewelry boxes to ship a bracelet in), then consider that part of the art and sell it as part of the art, not just 'packaging'. The same goes for things like hand painted mats, embellished matting for prints, hand made bags for items you sell, etc.
Do not eat the cost of shipping. This is hand in hand with the 'base cost' of the artwork, getting it to the customer. You can do this several ways. Myself, I charge shipping extra on top of the piece, because it's easier to negotiate the price that way. By negotiating I don't mean 'well it costs $5 to get it to you but I'll only charge you $4.' I mean 'Well you bought 2 pieces so I'll just ship them together to save you on shipping costs, now it costs x amount to ship them together.' The post office sets the price for shipping, use that. Don't forget to add in the cost of any packaging, if you have to get extra mailers and the like to ship it. I tend not to because I use cut up cardboard boxes to sandwich the art, and they cost me nothing. So it's just the cost of shipping.
Stage three: Time to sell my copyright!
Now we get into the real tricky mess. You want to sell your work for use on websites, book covers, anything that involves granting rights to another to publish your work. This part I can't figure out for you, you're going to have to do a LOT of research first. In general there are artist guidelines that can help you from the Graphic Artist's Guild that give you a fairly decent guide to what the current market values are. I would stick within those ranges for the most part. Often you will work for companies that have a set price they pay all their artists (when I worked for Baen they gave me the price they paid per piece and it was up to me to take it or leave it). The important thing to remember here is ALWAYS GET A CONTRACT. Have it in writing what is being sold, exactly what the limits are for what they are buying, and the duration of those rights. Do it before any money or art changes hands, it is your first priority! I wish I could give you better information here, and Angela I KNOW you have advice so if you want to pipe up here with how you do it, by all means go for it! I have not worked for anyone who didn't already have a base contract with all their artists so I can't remember how to price freelance for this kind of thing. I will probably do another journal later JUST covering this issue and contracts and the like, as it's a bit much to handle in one paragraph.
If you have any thoughts on this, or other ways to price your work, speak up now! I would love to hear it and add to the suggestions for those who are lost in the woods!