How to Price Your Art

There are different approaches to putting a price on your art

Artist working on painting concentrating in studio.
Dougal Waters / Getty Images

Getting a painting to the stage where you’re satisfied with it is hard, but putting a price on your work can be even harder.

There's no wrong way to decide on a price for a piece of art. But you should try to get as much out of the sale as you put into the piece, whether you measure its worth in sweat equity or materials used. How you decide to approach it depends somewhat on your personality and experience. Here a few different options to consider.

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The Simple Approach: Price Determined by Standard Sizes

Using this tactic, paintings of the same size will all have the same price tag, regardless of the subject, how long it took to finish or how much you happen to like it. Create a price list based on size and stick to it, with possible premium prices set for commissioned paintings or other specialty work.

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The Accountant's Approach: Recover Your Costs

Decide what percentage of profit you want to make over your costs for creating the painting. Then add up the cost of everything that went into making the painting, add the percentage, and you’ve got your selling price. The costs calculation can be basic (materials and labor) or comprehensive (materials, labor, studio space, lighting and sweat equity or a combination).

Under this system, every painting has a different price, based on what went into creating it. Think of this approach as getting a return on your investment.

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The Capitalist Approach: Make the Price Market-Related

Do your homework by visiting galleries and studios in your area and target market(s) to see the sale prices for similar types of art. Price yours to compete. If you’re selling directly (not through a gallery), you could offer special deals to make potential customers feel like they’re getting a bargain.

If you’re also selling through a gallery, never undercut their prices; you may risk undermining your business arrangement with them. 

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A Mathematical Approach: Price Calculated by Area

With this method, you decide on a price per square inch (or centimeter), then multiply the area of a painting by this figure. You'll probably want to round up to a number that makes sense.

If you paint smaller works, this approach may put you at a disadvantage, but you could use another measurement, such as the amount of paint used. Ideally, those who choose this style of pricing will be creating big, bold works of art.

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The Collector's Approach: Increase Your Prices Every Year

Some people who buy art do it for investment reasons, and they want to believe the value of the painting they bought from you will increase.

Read enough financial news to know what the current rate of inflation is, and be sure to increase your prices annually by at least this much.

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The Creative Director Approach: Sell a Story, Not Just a Painting

Have a good tale to tell with every painting, hinting at it in the title, to create a sense that the buyer is getting a little bit of the artist’s creativity, not just a product.

Write or print out the tale of the painting on a little card to go with the buyer to its new home (Be sure to put your contact details on it). Hide your prices in the small print to keep the sense of intrigue.

Note that this approach takes some planning (and possibly some comfort with stretching the truth to create a compelling backstory). 

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An Instinctive Approach: Pull a Price Out of Thin Air

This particular method is not a good long-term approach, but if you have a piece for sale that is very different from your usual style or medium, you may just have to wing it. If you get a buyer willing to pay for a one-off, you can't hesitate or haggle over ​prices for something new and different.

Consider all the other approaches before going this route, as you may end up losing money, or getting a reputation as a bit of a flake.