Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fine Art Pricing

I'm trying to figure this out (fine art pricing), and near as I can tell it's pretty messed up. How do you figure out how to price your art? There's a lot of of contradictory and self-serving advice out there.

Some sources say you should just charge as much as you possibly can or even more than that. This is the same advice I got when I started as a consultant and again when I started selling games. It presumes a profound disrespect for the people buying your wares and it's also just plain bad business advice.

Other sources say that there are some very strict Rules that One Must Follow. They say that you start by pricing your art very low, then gradually raise the price over time and never, ever, ever lower it. Art is a long struggle, the story goes, and the rewards come only with time and must be earned, which sounds reasonable enough. The problem with The Rules is that they were created to support the industry of art is an investment, to be bought principally by people with money and to gain value over time, which isn't how I want my art to be bought at all.

And there's a whole camp that says selling art is the province of dealers and galleries and that the artist shouldn't deign to sully himself by getting involved in it. Which has the effect of taking the artist out of the loop and giving dealers exclusive control of the pricing and evaluation of art, which surely isn't to the benefit of the artist or the people the art was meant for.

All of this strikes me as extremely bunk. It grates my indie instincts to the core!

So here's what I propose to do. I'm going to start selling some art on a pricing scheme that makes sense to me and see how it goes.

I'm now selling original microdungeons for $25.00. I will keep this price as long as I can. Maybe forever. The goal is to sell original artworks at a price that is affordable, but still reasonable to me. Matted or framed individuals will cost a little more. Many originals won't be available until after my big microdungeon show in January.

Prints of individual microdungeons, including everything on this blog, will be $5, but just for now until I figure out how much trouble it's going to be to print and ship them and how many people want them. Maybe the price will go up a bit. These will be acid-free individually-printed by the artist archival prints that you can frame and keep for hundreds of years. I'm aiming for something a little high-end here because if you just want something quick and cheap, you can always just print the Web-ready images from this blog; I don't mind in the least.

Special projects, large originals, limited runs, and other such miscellany I will sell for whatever price I please, probably a high one, because if I can make a little money that way, I can spend more time making pictures.

PayPal buttons, storefronts, shipping rates, and that sort of thing will be forthcoming as I figure it all out, but if you're interested and want to jump in right away, email me at tony.dowler@gmail.com.

How's that sound?

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Blogger Ethan said...


I'm not sure how well this will translate into your style of art...

But I consider my woodworking to be as much "art" as anything else, especially when it is a commissioned piece.

So when I'm figuring out a price, I first start with the basic material cost. Obviously, your micro dungeon material costs will be much less than mine. But I only use premium hardware (English locks, extruded brass hinges) so I pass that cost on to the buyer (and why on earth would someone spend 10 hours making a box only to put cheap $2 hinges on it? I don't understand that...).

Once I've determined all of the material costs, I then pay myself an hourly wage. Since this is more hobby for me than making a living, I don't pay myself very much. I enjoy making the project, so that counts for something intangible.

But if/when I finally get my shop back in order and start producing some works on a slightly-more-than-hobby level, I will increase my hourly wage to compensate.

October 11, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Blogger Stefan Poag said...

It sounds very good to me. The only advice I would give in regards to pricing art is nearly useless --- "sell it for the price at which you can afford to part with it." Obviously, if you are selling something for less than it cost you to make it, eventually you will have to give up (unless you have another really good job that makes up the difference). And perhaps the occssional sale is good for your artistic morale and can spur you on to creating more.
Pricing stuff I have made has always been very difficult for me. For some of my commission work, the price is set -- a publisher will say, "We pay X amount for the use of a picture that measures x by y." And I try to get the same price from other clients (because it seems unfair to charge more to some).
For some of my artworks that I am trying to sell through local galleries, I've found talking with the gallery owner to be helpful, although, take it with a grain of salt because my work hasn't been exactly flying off the shelves... maybe that is because the work is crappy or people don't like it, maybe that is because my prices are still too high, maybe that is because this is SE Michigan with +12% unemployment and flat wages.

October 11, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

That's cool to hear that you've both got pricing plans that more or less work for you. I imagine it's a process that continues as long as you're making art.

@Ethan, if you increase your hourly wage, does it impact your enjoyment at all? Does making more money make it feel more like a "job"?

@Limpey don't tell anyone, but I barely make a cent on print copies of my D&D adventures. It's just that I hate for a book not to be available in print!

October 11, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not sure the art world quite knows what to make of old-school gamer art. But then again, there's a new art gallery opening up in a fashionable neighborhood here in Seattle that specializes in Star Wars and video-game related art! We should set up a big show of OSR-friendly art and make a splash!

October 11, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Blogger Joe Bardales said...

All I know about art pricing: if the artist is dead (*knock wood*), he or she can charge more...
Not very practical I suppose. :)

October 11, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Blogger Brendan said...

You should charge more than that for the prints, if they're a decent size and on nice paper. It costs you materials and labor to print and ship them, above and beyond the initial act of creation. My expectation for those was $10-12, and at least $35 for the originals.

October 11, 2011 at 1:43 PM

Blogger Peter Fitz said...

I'm with Ethan on this, and it's pretty much the way I price all my stuff. Cover materials and costs, pay yourself an hourly wage, and then you have a fair price for the work. My own hourly rate is variable, pretty much based on how much I like (or dislike) the client and how enjoyable the job is, but it varies around a set rate.

It's fair enough for a gallery owner to add their cut; they are (or should be) marketing the work. However, their cut should be dependent on how hard they will work to sell it -- if all they're doing is hanging it and leaving it to swing in the wind, that cut should be minimal.

October 11, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Blogger Stefan Poag said...

Tony: When you say 'art show' with fantasy art, I'm thinking something more like this:
rather than a gallery with Thomas Kinkade looking paintings with unicorns and wizards in them.
Sadly, the Riviera gallery is now closed and the rollin/hatin show is only a memory.

Pricing work is something I never can figure out. The best I can do is add cost to produce + something for my trouble and see how close I can get to what the market will bear. Sometimes I have just needed money in my hand and sold stuff more cheaply that I would have liked, but when all else is added up, I would rather just move on and try to make more stuff.
When or if I reach the point where I have more customers than work, then I guess I can revisit pricing.

October 11, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Blogger Joshua L. Lyle said...

Starting from scratch, I would first figure out what I could charge for commissions, then base speculative work as a proportion of that, reducing it in price as stock accumulated.

October 12, 2011 at 12:39 PM


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