Are you interested in turning your colored pencil work into a business. Articles on marketing portraits and fine art, teaching, publishing, and other aspects of starting, running, and promoting your own art business.
It’s doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, someone wants to know how to sell art.
For most of us, making art is fun, even when it challenges us. But marketing? Not so much.
I know all about that! Art doesn’t sell itself, after all (sad to say.)
How to Sell Art – Marketing Tips
A lot can be said (and is said) about selling art. There’s so much detailed information available that it’s downright confusing. Especially when some of it seems contradictory.
When it comes to certain topics, simple is better. Marketing of any kind is one of those topics. So is the specific topic of selling art. So lets talk about a few basic—and simple—tips to get you started.
In our previous discussion on marketing, I listed some marketing myths. Today, I want to replace each on those those myths with a tip.
If I make it, it will sell… if you get it in front of the right people
The first myth was that making art was enough to sell it. Its mere existence meant someone would buy it.
The secret to selling art isn’t making art. Yes you have to make art in order to have something to sell, but the real secret is getting your art in front of the right people.
Who are the right people?
People who like your favorite subjects rendered the way you render them.
People who like art enough to want to spend money on it, and have money to spend on art
All three factors are important. After all, a person who likes what you do, but doesn’t have the money to spend on art is not going to buy your art.
On the other hand, a person who likes what you do and has money to spend, but isn’t interested buying art also is not going to buy your art.
They all work together.
Before you can put that infromation to work for you, you have to identify the people most likely to buy your art. Your target audience. I shared tips for identifying your target audience in a post call Getting Started as a Portrait Artist. Those tips work for all artists.
If I’m not selling, I’m not good enough
The second myth was that if your work isn’t selling, you’re not a good enough artist.
We all can improve as artists. Part of the artistic journey is learning new skills and improving old ones.
But if you’re not selling your work, the reason is probably that you’re not getting it out there. If people don’t know you make art, or don’t know what kind of art you make, how will they buy it?
So if you’re not selling, getting better at marketing is the solution, along with improving your artwork.
Don’t follow trends, set them
Myth #3 was following trends to sell art. This was big for me. Why?
Because I knew from the start that I wanted to paint portraits of horses that looked like the horses I was painting.
The reason this was such valuable knowledge is that I began getting serious about art just before abstract art became the big thing. When I went to school, most of the students were more interested in painting abstract than representational art. Getting a good art education in that situation was an uphill battle, and many’s the time I wondered if I had a future.
Then I made a simple decision.
I’ll paint what I like to paint in a way I like to paint, and will look for people who like my work.
I stopped fretting over what everyone else was doing, and found the market that fit my work.
That’s what you should do, too.
Stop following art trends, and create your own art trend. Even if it’s a very narrow niche market, there will be others who like what you do enough to buy it. All you have to do is find them! (See Point #1)
Yes, you can sometimes make sales by taking advantage of fads and trends, as a commenter on that previous post said. But find a way to fit it into your area of specialty. Trend following can help you if it doesn’t take you away from what you’re best at.
Set aside time to market, then use that time wisely
Have you ever found yourself thinking you can market effectively in just a few minutes a day? If you’ve tried it, has it worked for you?
Finding the people interested enough in your work to buy it means intentionally spending time on marketing. How much? That depends on your daily schedule.
If you’re a full time artist, you may need to start spending 3 or 4 hours a day doing marketing in some form.
If you’re part-time, as I know many of you are, then an evening, or maybe part of a weekend.
What you do depends in large part on the type of art you do and your target audience. It’s really a discussion for another time. Suffice it to say you have to start somewhere and it will take time. Even if it’s just an hour a week.
Part of spending time is being consistent. You need to do more than a spurt of marketing once in a while. It’s far better to spend a small amount of time daily or weekly than to spend a whole day marketing whenever the mood to market strikes.
Set aside funding, then use that funding wisely
The fifth myth was that you can market effectively without spending money.
There are ways to start marketing without spending a lot (or any) money. Social media is pretty much free, after all.
Email is much more effective, and you can start an email mailing list for free with many providers. Several email service providers have free plans up to a certain number of subscribers. MailChimp offers you free service for up to 2000 subscribers. Mailerlite‘s free package is good for up to 1,000 subscribers.
I also use some marketing plugins with this blog that are currently free, but that I’ll one day upgrade.
In each case, the free plans do what I need to do, but the paid versions offer more options. Sometimes those options save a considerable amount of time. When you’re running your own business, time is money, so consider all of your options carefully.
If money is tight, start where you can, but plan for the day when you can pay for marketing. Make the best use of those funds when necessary.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on this marketing thing, but I hope I’ve given you hope enough to get started on your own marketing.
Because selling art is not a hopeless proposition. Nor need it be as complicated as it sometimes looks.
Time to talk about a few art selling myths, and why you shouldn’t believe them.
A few weeks ago, a reader asked me about selling art. She wanted to know specifically if I’d noticed oil paintings selling better than colored pencil pieces or vice versa.
That post got me thinking about some of the common myths we artists tend to believe about selling art. Since understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work, sharing a few art selling myths is a great place to begin a discussion on selling art.
And before you start thinking this is an academic discussion, let me assure you I’ve wrestled will each one of these myths for years. Some of them are still a struggle. So I speak from personal experience.
There are a lot of art selling myths in circulation, so I’m going to focus on the five that gave me the most trouble.
I’ll also offer a suggestion or two to help you overcome each one.
Art Selling Myths
Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it.
This is the field of dreams syndrome. Remember that movie? Throughout the story, the lead character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) was told all he had to do was build a baseball field, and players would come.
He did and they did, stepping out from rows of corn like magic.
A lot of artists seem to be of the same mindset. I know I thought that way for years. All I had to do was make art and people would flock to buy it.
The problem is, it never worked. It didn’t matter how many paintings I painted, most of them languished in the studio (or under the bed, since I painted in a corner of my bedroom for years.)
It still doesn’t work. In most cases, art does not sell itself.
Not even if you put it on social media.
What to Do
This is a mindset problem, so the only way to deal with it is changing your mindset.
How do you do that?
Experience changed my mindset. Years of painting without marketing or selling eventually taught me the importance of marketing. That time wasn’t wasted because I continued making art and my art improved.
But if you can sit yourself down and reason out the link between marketing and selling, you’ll be yards ahead of the game. Hopefully a lot sooner than I was!
Myth #2: If my art isn’t selling, it’s because it’s not good enough.
I suppose it’s natural to reach this conclusion if you believe the first myth. After all, if art sells itself and your art isn’t selling, it must be because it isn’t good enough.
It makes sense, but it isn’t true. All you have to do is look at the sales records for places like Christy’s to see that art that looks bad to you (meaning you don’t like it,) sells all the time. Sometimes for a ton of money.
Even art that’s technically bad—that is, poorly drawn, poorly rendered, created with non-archival materials and so on—can and does often sell. Sometime for a lot of money.
What’s my point? You may not think your artwork is good enough, but someone else will. All you have to do is find them and that’s called marketing!
What to Do
This, too, is a mindset problem. Every artist I know has moments of thinking their work isn’t good enough. Some of us (yes, me) never think our work is good enough.
But we are usually our own worst critic, and the solution is the same as the solution to Myth #1.
The fact of the matter is that your art IS good enough to sell to someone somewhere.
Myth #3: If I follow the trends, I’ll sell art.
No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no.
Unless you can create complete works of art in a day (or perhaps several of them a day,) you’ll never be able to take advantage of trends. You just won’t be fast enough.
Sure, you’ll gain skills you wouldn’t have otherwise gained, but you’ll also gain a ton of art that can’t be given away.
What’s worse, you’ll end up with a collection of art that fits no particular style. Your work will not have a common thread. It will be all over the place.
And that makes marketing very difficult.
What to Do
If you tend to chase trends in art, the first thing to do is stop it!
Figure out what you’re most interested in drawing, how you most enjoy drawing, and what motivates you most.
Then draw those subjects in those ways and have fun. People who see your work will come to recognize it, and sooner or later your work will begin to attract people who like the same type of work.
And if you must dabble with trends, make sure to incorporate something recognizable into the trend-following artwork. Something that connects it to the other pieces.
In other words, stop following the herd.
Myth #4: Marketing takes only a few minutes a day.
Oh, how I wish this was true!
Do you know, when I’m doing marketing right, I spend at least half of my day marketing?
The percentage is actually higher, because there’s a lot more to marketing than just, well, marketing. There’s all the business administration that goes with it.
So when I consider bookkeeping, order fulfillment, correspondence, inventory control (someone has to buy art supplies,) and all the rest, 80-90% of my time is spent on marketing or marketing-related things.
Granted, not all those things are directly related to marketing, and you might not consider some of them “business” because they’re fun. But they still factor into the equation on some level, so must be considered.
What to Do
The best remedy for this myth is intentionally setting aside time to market every week. It doesn’t matter whether you market day-by-day or week-by-week. It is important to get into the marketing habit early.
Also pay attention to the types of marketing that work best for you and spend most of your marketing time there. Take email lists, for example. It’s a proven fact that the people on your mailing list are far more likely to buy from you than almost any other group you might imagine. It makes more sense to work on building your mailing list then your Facebook following.
Know which marketing activities yield the best results, then make those activities priority.
Myth #5: I can market without spending money.
Isn’t that what social media is for? Free marketing?
You can promote your work on social media and get sales. But if your percentages are the same as general percentages, you won’t make many sales.
According to the studies I’ve read, only about 1% of your social media followers actually buy something from you. Of the people who make purchases through social media, they appear to be more likely to buy small things or services. Things like coloring pages, collectibles, or courses.
There are also services you can use with a blog or website that allow you to sell without spending money. I use Easy Digital Downloads to sell and deliver tutorials, for example. It does what I need it to do.
But it does take money to make money, and if you really want to do marketing right, you will need to spend money sooner or later.
What to Do
If you’re like 99.9% of artists, you’ll be working on a shoestring budget when you begin marketing. That’s normal!
So make use of those “free” marketing tools like social media and word of mouth.
But get rid of the notion that you can market forever without spending money by starting to set aside money for paid marketing opportunities. Start now.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of money either. A few pennies set aside out of every dollar accumulate faster than you might think.
There’s nothing quite so liberating as finding a paid marketing opportunity for which you already have money set aside. Money that doesn’t have to come out of the household budget.
5 Art Selling Myths that Don’t Have to Hold You Captive
Which of those art selling myths is holding you back? Identify it, then overcome it. Start with the solutions I suggested, but don’t stop there.
Work at changing how you deal with any of these problems or any of the many other marketing myths currently in circulation. Yes, it’s hard work, but you won’t be sorry.
For many artists, making reproductions of their work is an important way to generate income. Bob asks some very important questions on tht topic.
I need some advice. I am new at CP.
As I get going , I would like to be able to save my drawings so I can have a master of each and be able to make copies if someone would like to purchase one of any size. Obviously I don’t want to spend a lot of money because I may not find anyone that wants to buy anything. Here is a list of things that have come to me so far.
What is a good size drawing to to have when making a master?
Without spending a lot of money, how do I take a good picture of the drawing?
What do I do to make different sizes of the drawing?
What’s a cheap way to keep the master copies?
What a great question! I love talking about the business end of colored pencil art almost as much as I enjoy talking about the creative end of it. You’ve given me a lot of opportunities!
I’ll address each of your questions individually, if that’s okay.
Warning! This is a long post!
Before I go any further, let me clarify terms. A lot of us use the words “prints” and “reproductions” interchangeably. Once something gets into the common vernacular, it’s next to impossible to get it out, but there is a difference between a print and a reproduction.
A print is created when an etching is made in copper, linoleum or some other substrate called a plate. The artist spreads ink over the plate, then presses paper onto the plate either by a flat press or a roller. Sometimes the artist rolls the paper by hand.
The resulting image is a print and it’s called that because it was printed directly from the plate. As a rule, a limited number of prints can be made from a plate before the printing process begins to wear on the plate.
A reproduction, on the other hand, is created indirectly from a photographic or digital image. The artwork is finished by whatever medium the artist prefers. Oils, acrylics, graphite, pastels, colored pencils. The finished artwork is photographed, the image is color matched, and then reproductions are created from the digital image. An unlimited number of reproductions can be made from an image.
I understand why so many people call reproductions prints. They are printed, after all. But in the strictest, most art-related sense of the word, they are not prints.
Tips for Making Reproductions of Your Work
What is a Good Size Drawing for a Master?
You can make a good master from any size of drawing, but in general, the larger the original, the more flexible you are in making a master for reproduction purposes.
The more important thing to consider is how you plan to make the master. I’ll tell you how I do it now and in the past.
The Way I Used to Make Masters
When I started making reproductions, my husband suggested a professional photographer photograph my work, so that’s what we did.
The photographer had a set up much better than what I could afford. He photographed the work, color corrected it, and then printed a proof.
When the proof was ready, I was able to do side-by-side comparisons. Reproductions were then created on just about any paper I wanted, including canvas. My artwork at the time ranged in size from 11 x 14 to 20 x 24.
The reproductions from this method were identical to the original artwork. At least I couldn’t tell the difference. But they were expensive! Photography alone cost about $200 per painting. I received high-resolution images on CD when it was all said and done, but that was still a lot of money.
The advantage is that it doesn’t matter how big or small the artwork is.
The Way I Make Masters Now
These days, I have a good scanner and I scan my own work. I scan at a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch—the higher the number, the better the resolution,) and usually save masters at 3000 pixels on the long side.
Because my scanner is just a hair over letter size, all of my work is small enough to fit on the scanner bed. That way I don’t have to stitch the images together in a photo editor, something that has never worked very well for me!
I no longer make reproductions of my work, but I have used some of those images for printing. Ann Kullberg’s Grazing Horses* tutorial is my work and those images were all created on my scanner.
I also have a piece in her DRAW Landscapes* book, and those images were scanned.
Print versions are available of both of those publications and the printed images look just as good as the originals.
So you could very easily scan your artwork this way and then make reproductions at home.
*Contains affiliate links
Another Way to Make Masters
A lot of artists use medium- to high-end cameras to photograph their artwork.
If you plan to do this, you need proper lighting, a tripod for your camera, and a method for displaying your work flat against the wall.
You also have to learn how to take the best images of your work. Automatic settings don’t always guarantee good results even with the best cameras.
As with professional photography, it doesn’t matter what size your original artwork is.
If you don’t have a scanner and don’t want to buy one, you can always have your work scanned by businesses like Office Max or some copy shops. The advantage to this course of action is that these companies can usually scan larger work, and produce high-resolution files. The cost per image scanned is usually less than $10, too, so you can have one or two scanned, see how it works, and not pay and arm and a leg.
How To Get a Good Picture of the Drawing?
(Without spending a lot of money.)
The best way I get good images of my work is with a scanner. Even some of the more inexpensive scanners are capable of producing excellent images with good color.
I currently use a HP Deskjet 1510 printer/scanner. It’s an older model, but still available through outlets like eBay. I found several on eBay while writing this article, and prices began at $25.
It’s good quality, scans anywhere from 100 dpi to 2400 dpi and scans artwork up to a little over 8-1/2 inches by a little over 11-1/2 inches.
You also need a good photo editor for fine tuning the scanned images. I use one of two free downloads. IrfanView is good for basic adjustments. If I need to make more in-depth adjustments, I use GIMP. GIMP is more versatile, but also has a steeper learning curve.
How to Make Different Sizes for Making Reproductions
Opening an account with Fine Art America is the easiest way to begin. Upload your master, and select the sizes best suited to your master. Fine Art America will do the printing for your customer and ship it.
Basic accounts are free and you can upload up to 20 images the last time I looked. They’re easy to set up and you can market different types of reproductions all from the same master.
No guarantees on sales, but if you want to test the market and you’re willing to do some marketing, it’s a good way to get started.
The only other option I see is to print your own reproductions at home. For that, you need a printer capable of printing larger sizes using archival inks. Those printers are not cheap.
If you go this route, you change the sizes in whatever photo editor you use. Just remember to always save the changes as a new file, and to never enlarge. Always reduce!
The Best Way to Store Masters
Since your masters are going to be digital, you need a computer and/or separate storage device to store them.
How much computer space you need depends on how many high-resolution images you plan to store.
Now I scan most of my work regularly so I have step-by-step progress shots. I also scan the finished artwork. I save all images at 300 dpi resolution and a miminum of 3000 pixels on the long side. That produces a print image 10 inches by whatever the short side is.
I have over twenty years worth of images stored. Not all of them include progress shots, and most of the older ones are not at 300 dpi or 3000 pixels. I saw no need for larger images back then.
At the moment I’m writing this, all of those files (including written painting journals) are nearly 20 gigabytes total. I have them stored on the hard drive of our desktop computer, and backed up to a flash drive (aka thumb drive.)
CDs or external hard drives are also a good way to store digital masters.
I don’t know how likely it is that you’ll have film masters, but if you do, your best storage option is archival album sheets. I know such things are available, but that’s about the limit of my knowledge. Your best bet is to consult a professional photographer who has been in business long enough to have negatives in storage.
My Advice for Making Reproductions of Art
You’ll like this (I hope.)
Start where you are.
Your idea to start creating and saving masters of each piece is a very good one and long-sighted. Good for you! Use the equipment you have to create the best possible masters. Remember, larger and higher resolution is better.
Upgrade equipment when you can and after you’ve established a market.
For many centuries, making a living as an artist required painting or drawing portraits. While there are now many more ways to generate art income, portrait work is still a staple of many studios. Getting started as a portrait artist can be time-consuming work, though. Is there an easy way to do it?
There is no quick start program for getting started as a portrait artist. Like everything else art-related, it takes time, patience, and persistence.
But you can do a few things to make the process smoother. And possibly faster.
Tips For Getting Started As a Portrait Artist
There’s much more to becoming a portrait artist than we have time to discuss today, so I’ll begin with four basics. Doing these things doesn’t guarantee success, but not doing them could hinder progress.
Tip #1: Consider Your Target Market
If you don’t know your target audience, you’ll spend a lot of time and money promoting your portraits to people who just aren’t interested. It’s important to understand who is most likely to hire you before you start marketing yourself.
Figure out the people most likely to hire you, and you can focus on those areas from the start. That alone makes it easier to gain portrait work and name recognition.
Does that mean everyone in that target audience will become a client? Not at all. But it does mean those people are more likely to take an interest in your work.
Does that mean you never promote your work to other people? No, because you can never be sure who will buy something from you.
But best place to begin promoting yourself as a portrait artist is with people who like the type of art you do.
So what does a target audience look like?
Members of your target audience share three characteristics.
One, they like the same subjects you like. Say, horses or dogs or classic cars (yes, classic cars, houses, and landscapes can fall into the portrait category.)
Two, they like art and prefer your style.
Three, they have money to spend and are likely to spend it on art.
It does you no good to promote your portrait work to other artists (a lesson I had to learn the hard way.) Nor does it do any good to promote your dog portraits to people who want portraits of their cats and their kids (unless you’re willing to step outside the box; not usually a good idea when you’re getting started.)
It’s not necessary to spend weeks figuring this stuff out. An afternoon is usually sufficient.
And if the thought of finding a “target audience” is too scary, then just look for people who like the kind of art you make.
Once you’ve identified your most likely clients, go where they are. Do you paint horse portraits? Check out the local saddle club, or county fairgrounds. If you do dog portraits, look for kennel clubs and so on.
When I was getting started, I found regular horse shows hosted by the county fairgrounds in two neighboring counties. I went to those shows as often as I could. Sometimes, I went with just my camera. Sometimes I set up a small booth or just sat in the stands and sketched or watched. I got to be a regular and made friends among the horse owners. I rarely sold anything on-site, but it was time well spent, and I often went home with batches of new photographs. Photographs I still sometimes browse through.
Local shows are often free admission and close by, which means reduced expenses all the way around. If you’re working for a living and building an art career on the side (which most artists are), cutting costs wherever possible is a necessity.
The purpose of attending such shows on a regular basis is to be seen and to see. If all you do is make friends and take pictures, you’ve had a good day. Building relationships is key. Think of it as laying the groundwork for future business.
And those pictures could become the reference materials for a new drawing or painting.
Work Your Way Up
Leverage time and experiences at local events into larger events. The friends you make at the local level know about regional, state, and association events. Chances are they know far enough in advance for you to make plans to go, too.
Attending a large show could involve a lengthy drive and possibly admission fees, so when you’re beginning, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to attend very many of them.
But you do need to go, whether you’re exhibiting artwork or not. The opportunities to meet horse people from around the region and across the country is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.
Take a camera, drawing equipment, and a stack of business cards. Take a lot of pictures, and hand out business cards to people interested in your work.
Build a Body of Work
Do as much painting and drawing as possible. You need at least a half dozen pieces to exhibit, more if they’re small. That means six oil paintings or drawings that are as good as you can make them and framed for exhibit.
Choose your best work. You can take them all if you want, but display only the best. It’s nice to have backups to replace paintings or drawings you sell, but your display should always showcase your best work. This will be the only opportunity a lot of people have to see your work; make the best impression on them you can.
Don’t Give Up
Don’t expect overnight success. Chances are you will not see significant sales right away. It is possible, of course, but it isn’t probable. You need to establish yourself as a trustworthy artist with not only the skill and talent to do the work, but the determination to see it through when you get a custom order.
Getting Started as a Portrait Artist is not Easy.
For most of us, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and time to build a career as a portrait artist.
But it can be done and, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort on your artwork and on promoting your artwork, you can do well as portrait artist.
If there’s one thing most artists have trouble with, it’s knowing how to set art prices. As if that’s not bad enough, we then have trouble sticking to them.
What if our prices are too high?
What if they’re too low?
I wrestled with prices for years, so when I received the following email, it resonated!
This may be too long, but I’m going to be detailed so you see I’ve been reading on this quite a bit.
The big question is: How do you determine what to charge for your work, and stick to it? At first everything I did was laid-claim-to by well-meaning family, so it was given away. Then I made a tentative effort to set a price, but WAY under-valued my work, so much so, that had the item been purchased and shipped, I would have paid out of my own pocket!
I decided to up the price by a little, but my heart knew it was too little. My work and time and the use of top-grade supplies had to be worth more. Keep in mind, I had NO personal attachment to anything I’d created, so it wasn’t about a reluctance to let go. I read recently that “if you don’t feel just a little guilty about your pricing, then you are probably under-valuing yourself”. OK, that sounds reasonable to me, and quite true.
Recently I got my 1st commission. Yay, right?! It was from my sister, buying something for her boss for Christmas. (She had already received a special piece from me as a gift, and she loves it). I advised her of the price with a discount that brought it to $70.00. She had no problem with that, immediately agreeing. But you know what I did? I started feeling guilty! So I texted to let her know I decided to bring the price to $50. Another couple of days passed, and now I’m doing 2 versions for her boss! She didn’t ask for, nor expect, any of these perks.
So the struggle continues. Each family member will get one free piece of art, so I feel it’s absolutely fair to stick to my pricing decision, allowing them a reasonable discount on future orders. How can I overcome this personal feeling of guilt, and be firm with the pricing?
Change some of the personal details and this was my story! (Who am I kidding? I still struggle with guilt over prices!) What about you? Do you have a similar story?
How to Set Art Prices (And Stick to Them)
As difficult as it seems when you’re in the process of setting prices, it can be simplified immensely if you’ll do a little bit of thinking before tackling prices.
Change Your Mindset to Answer Most Questions About Setting Prices
I spent years thinking my art wasn’t all that good and that I wasn’t good enough to charge a lot (ironically, I’m going through the same thing now with knowing how to price classes, etc.)
Most artists are their own worst critics, and I would also go so far as to say most artists are their own worst enemies. We simply do not value our skills and artwork properly.
So you need to get past that idea if you find yourself devaluing your work, your skill, or your time. You may need to remind yourself frequently, but it is well worth the effort.
Once you get beyond that, there are some basic methods for figuring out how to price your work.
No Formula to Set Art Prices Works For Every Artist
You need to find the formula that best suits your business plan and personality.
Let me describe the three most basic—and most frequently used—pricing formulas.
Option 1: Supplies + Time + Margin = Price
This is basic. You should be selling your work for no less than supplies cost you. Otherwise, it’s costing you to make and sell art.
Step 1: Cost of Supplies
Some of that is easy. The cost of the paper is easy enough.
But how many colored pencils? How do you include the cost of erasers, and other tools?
One way to deal with this is to look at the price for open stock pencils, then add up all the colors you think you’ll need. The cost of buying those colors is the cost of supplies for each drawing.
Another method is to look back over the last two to five years. How much did you spend on supplies each year? How many drawings did you do? Divide the total cost of supplies by the number of drawings and that’s your average cost per drawing.
For example, you spent $1,000 on paper, pencils, and all the accessories. You produced 100 drawings. 1,000 divided by 100 equals 10, so you averaged $10 worth of supplies per drawing.
The equation looks like this:
$1000 divided by 100 drawings = $10 of cost per drawing.
If you produced 20 drawings, you spent an average of $50 in non-canvas supplies for each painting.
$1000 divided by 20 drawings = $50 of cost per drawing.
The average cost per drawing is the absolute least you should charge.
It’s a good idea to know how much you spend on average per drawing because it gives you a place to begin calculating prices. But unless you multiply that figure by 20 or 30 (or more), you’ll still not be charging a reasonable amount for each painting.
Step 2: Cost of Time
The time you spend painting is also something to consider. It should be factored into the price of your work, too, and is probably the first thing I started considering when I got serious about pricing. I decided my time was worth $10 per hour, then began tracking the amount of time it took to complete each artwork.
This calculation gives you a clear and easy-to-determine number that is directly affected by the size of the work. If it takes ten hours to finish an 8×10 and 25 hours to finish an 11×14, you can easily calculate prices for each size. At $10 an hour, the 8×10 “costs” $100 and the 11×14 “costs” $250.
$10 multiplied by 10 hours = $100 for an 8×10 drawing
$10 multiplied by 25 hours = $250 for an 11×14 drawing
As you can see, you need to charge more than $10 per hour to get what I would consider a reasonable price for your work.
Step 3: Setting Up a Margin
The margin is the profit. It’s what you make over the cost of supplies and time. It’s known as the mark-up in retail. For a lot of retail businesses, mark-up is around 50% of the total cost. In other words, the retail price is double the cost of buying the item wholesale.
For the artist working on that kind of margin, the cost of the drawing is double the cost of supplies plus the cost of time. My 8×10 is now $220 to $300 and my 11×14 is now $520 to $620.
If that all sounds too complicated—and it can be very complicated-=-there are a couple of easier ways.
Cost of Supplies + Cost of Time = Price for the Drawing
Pricing by the Square Inch is a Simple Way to Set Art Prices
When you set prices by the square inch, you determine the area of each drawing by multiplying the length by the width.
Multiply the area by a dollar amount. If you charge $5 per square inch, the price for an 8×10 is $400. Charge $10 per square inch and the price is $800.
Ideally, you should charge enough per square inch to pay for the cost of supplies and the cost of time.
I used this method for years because it was easy to calculate. I needed only a calculator to make a quote for any size.
The problem with pricing by the square inch is that your price list will include some price jumps that look extreme. While the prices for small pieces look reasonable, the prices for larger pieces quickly climb. Remember that 8×10 that we charged $5 per square inch for? It cost $400. A reasonable price.
A 16×20 at the same rate is $1,260. Over triple the price.
If you stop and think about it, that’s not really an unreasonable jump. The 16×20 has four times the surface area as the 8×10. But most people don’t think that way. They see the 16×20 as double the size of the 8×10, so the price jump looks pretty big.
Even though I understand why the numbers jump as they do, I eventually gave up on the Square Inch Method some time ago. Here’s the method I now use.
Pricing by the Unified Inch Produces More Consistent Art Prices
With the unified inch method, add the length to the width. The sum of those two numbers is the number on which you base the price.
Instead of getting 80 square inches for an 8×10, you have 18 unified inches. An 11×14 has 25 unified inches, and a 16×20 is 36 unified inches.
The unified inch sum is multiplied by the cost per inch.
You’ll have to charge more per unified inch to get a reasonable price. $5 per unified inch is going to put your 8×10 at $90. At $10 per unified inch, the price is $180 and at $20 per unified inch, it jumps to $360.
Overall prices with this method appear to be more logical, too. The jumps from one size to the next aren’t as dramatic. At $20 per unified inch, an 8×10 is $360, a 16×20 is $720, and so on. The increase looks more logical, and is less of a shock to potential clients.
And once you get accustomed to calculating this way, you can still quickly quote any sized artwork with nothing more than a calculator. You don’t need complicated price charts to know what a drawing will cost, no matter what size it is.
So I’ve Set Art Prices; How Do I Stick to Them?
No matter what method you use to calculate prices, sticking to those prices is where the rubber meets the road. If you don’t follow your own rules, you may just as well not have rules.
If you have trouble sticking to your prices because they feel too high for you, reconsider how you’ve set them. Believe it or not, it’s better to start out with your prices a little bit too low than too high. If you set prices low, you have room to increase them, and customers feel they’ve made a good investment.
If you set prices too high to start with, then reduce them later, customers who bought high may feel cheated.
Or you may simply need to re-evaluate how you view your art. It’s entirely possible that the problem is internal. In that case, go back to the mindset section and review that.
What Should I Do If I Like to Reward Customers with Discounts?
Rewarding clients who buy more than one thing is a great idea. It shows them you appreciate repeat business for one thing. It also gives them a reason to buy from you again instead of going to another artist.
There are a couple of ways to reward clients.
A discount if they pay the full price up front is perfectly acceptable. I give portrait clients who pay in full up front a 10% discount. That gives them a price break, eliminates billing problems, and leaves both of us feeling like we got a good deal.
Also consider a discount if a client purchases more than one piece at the same time. 10% is a good starting place, but it could be more. Just don’t make such deep cuts that you end up giving too much away.
My favorite discount is the “collector” discount. A portrait client who orders a second commission gets an automatic discount. After they’ve purchased two portraits, they get a significant discount for any subsequent portraits. Think of this in the same way you think of frequent flyer miles—only better! This discount should be more than the other discounts you might offer, since you’re dealing with someone who is giving you more of their business.
I Want to Reward Clients Who Refer Others
Great! This is a wonderful way to encourage satisfied customers to bring others to you.
Let current or new clients know that for every paying client they refer to you, you’ll thank them with a reward. It could be a set dollar amount to be applied to their next purchase, a size upgrade, or something else that works for your work and the people who buy it.
The advantage to offering discounts is that it gives you a legitimate reason to give people discounts, but also sets guidelines for you, so you’re not giving away too much.
But you must decide in advance what discounts you’ll offer, when you’ll offer them, and how clients earn them. Having these details written in stone (so to speak) makes it easier to stick to the prices you set for your art.
Whatever method you use to price your art, make sure you add the price of framing to that. That’s a must. You can include shipping in your cost if you wish, but framing should always be extra. Why?
Because the price of frames varies so widely from simple and inexpensive to very expensive. Making framing extra also gives your client the option to choose the type of frame they want.
Vickie’s experience with her sister reminds me so much of myself. I ended up giving a lot of stuff away because I could never settle on a price and stick to it. Even now, after over forty years as an artist, it’s difficult not to feel guilty.
So the best pricing advice I can give you is this: You have a product someone is willing to get in exchange for money. Whatever pricing method you use, set your prices so they are fair to both your clients and to you. Both of you should go away from the sale satisfied.