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Should your art be affordable?

I recently saw a post by an artist who wanted to sell her paintings, really gorgeous work, and she was asking if people thought £25 was too much. That’s about $28 USD or $36 CAD. For an original painting!!!

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Her reasoning was that art can be so expensive and she thought that everyone should have the opportunity to own original art. A noble reason, of course, but wildly wrong.

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Let me explain because on first glance, putting art into everyone’s hands sounds awesome and I’m all for everyone experiencing art no matter their circumstances.

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On that £25 pound painting, she’s probably spend half the amount on materials alone. This excludes her space, electrical and other costs that feel intangible.

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She’s used her knowledge and experience to create it, and it’s obvious she’s spent a lot of time honing her craft so she’s an expert in her field.

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People value an item based on price so if you price it so you’re losing money, they’re going to be less careful of the art, treat it like it’s a throwaway and maybe hang it in their bathroom or basement. It won’t be a prized possession.

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People also value someone’s expertise based on prices so she won’t be seen as a professional because she’s charging less than what most artists charge for prints.

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She’ll never be able to live her dream of being a full time artist because, in order to make living costs of say £2500 a month, she has to make and sell 100 paintings per month!

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If she does decide to come to her senses and raise her prices to liveable wages, she will lose her entire audience because they either can’t or won’t pay more for what they got so cheaply, so she’ll either have to stick it out or grow a whole new audience.

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Finally, she’s hurting every other artist around her by undercutting them through price.

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It may feel good initially to do it this way, and I am speaking from hard won experience here, but it’s a set up to failure and not even in the long run but very quickly.

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If you want to price your art right, the first thing you have to ask yourself is what your end goals are. If you’re aiming to be a full time artist, then you need to sort out how much money you need to come in each month, what your art related costs are (and this includes internet, phone, electricity etc), and how much art you can realistically make and sell each month.

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Is it one piece per week? Then take those expenses and divide by 4. Come up with a price per linear inch or centimetre that gets you out on top and that’s your starting point.

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So if we take the original painter I mentioned with her mythical costs of £2500 per month, she needs to charge a minimum of £700 per painting. Yes, I know the number is £625 x 4 but you have to allow for materials costs.

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On a 50cm x 50cm painting, it comes to only £7 per linear cm. It’s on the low end of what she should be charging for expert level work.

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Knowing that her rate is £7 per linear cm means that she can scale up or down in size and confidently charge accordingly. No negotiating with clients. No feeling insecure about her prices. They are what they are.

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When it comes time to bump up her prices, even to £1000, she won’t necessarily lose her audience because it’s not a far leap up. Plus, she’ll gain new people who won’t look at art that’s below a grand anyway.

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If you’ve survived all the math I’ve just thrown at you, I want you to know this: it is NOT your job to put art in everyone’s hands. It IS your job to make art, make a good living at it, and get it out into the world while being able to feed and house yourself.

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Make your prints affordable if you want, those have low overhead anyway. Make your art special and position yourself as the expert you are.

Paula Telizyn

Paula Telizyn

Paula is a business coach, author and mentor for visual artists. She works with ambitious, motivated creatives to help them create success online.