The 7 Factors that Determine How Art is Priced

When you first walk into a gallery or check out an artist’s work online, sometimes the price can make your stomach jump. If you are used to seeing the prices of prints and posters at Target or another home goods store, the cost of an original may seem over the top.

So I wanted to give you some insight into the factors that go into pricing a piece of artwork. That way, you can get a better sense of how I price, and why other artists may charge what they do as well.

1) Cost of Materials

This is, of course, Econ 101. As artists, we have to be able to buy supplies in order to make paintings! However, if you aren’t an artist (or a painter), you may not know the sheer amount of supplies that we require. Here is the basic list of studio supplies that I use and their general costs:

  • Oil paints = $10 for a small tube (1-3 per piece)

  • Linseed oil medium = $15 for a small container (1 per piece)

  • Canvases = $60 - $80 per canvas

This list doesn’t include things like brushes, brush cleaner, pencils, rulers, a desk, hand soap, and the plethora of other things that are a single purchase that can be used for a long period of time. As you can see, my immediate costs for to create a single painting are around $100.

2) Time

It takes me anywhere from 1-4 weeks to complete a painting. Between waiting for layers to dry and the act of painting itself, this is not a fast process! While I don’t keep a direct “timesheet” for how long a painting takes or change my pricing accordingly, the point of knowing how long a piece takes is to be able to see that we are limited in how many pieces of art we can create every year. Even if we are working nonstop, we are limited in the amount of original work we can make (as opposed to people who sell merchandise or digital products). As such, we have to price in a way that allows us to make a living wage.

3) Overhead Expenses

The immediate cost of supplies does not include other overhead expenses, such as:

  • Renting a studio

  • Paying for a website

  • Paying for other advertising costs (such as local publications or social media promotions)

  • Printing business cards

  • Printing exhibition promotional materials

  • Applying for shows (those cost $30-$40 a pop!)

  • Boxes, tape, and packaging for shipping

  • Shipping costs

  • Gas to get to and from the studio

Even if we are frugal and work at home, there are still tons of hidden costs, as any other small business owner can attest.

4) Loss of Inventory

This may seem obvious, but once we’ve sold a piece, it’s gone! We can’t resell it. So if we had planned to include a piece in an upcoming exhibition or museum show and then it sells (yay!), that means we have to scramble to create new work to fill its place.

5) Gallery Commissions

Galleries take a 30% - 60% commission from the sale of a piece of art! In order to cover all the costs listed here, we must also take into account that we may only receive half of our asking price when we eventually do sell a piece.

6) Market Pricing

By market pricing, I don’t mean the millions and millions of dollars that are spent at art auctions. I’m talking about our local market. We don’t want to undercut our artist friends! While we each price according to our own expenses and time, we also take into consideration how much other artists are charging who are (and this is important) at the same stage of their career. This means experienced artists with a 40 year career under their belts will (and should) charge more than the 18 year old who is just finishing up high school. Similarly, artists who live in a more rural region (like me) can (and do) charge less than artists who live in New York or LA who have much higher expenses.

7) Love

This final element is so important: we created something we love. We want to make sure this creation is going to end up in a home where it will be loved, appreciated, and cherished. If we just charge $50 for a painting, it will likely be thrown in the trash next time you move. If you feel you have invested in a piece of art, you are more likely to keep it safe and treasure it, which is really all every artist wants.

I am not listing all of these components to elicit pity or express that I have a sense of entitlement about how much my art is “worth”. Instead, I am hoping to show you that artists, like me, who love what they do are constantly putting their money where their mouth is. We respect that not everyone can afford original art, but I hope this helps you to better understand why art is such a worthwhile and loving investment.

If you need help figuring out how to afford an original piece of art that you just adore, check out this post. I also give away a painting for free every month as my contribution to keeping art accessible. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post, and please forward this post along to a friend who has always scoffed at how much art costs in a gallery!

Sending you lots of love,

CJ

P.S. If you believe that any of these paintings are good enough for you to add it to your personal art collection, then I want you and my art to be an absolute match made in heaven. Therefore, all paintings come with a Worry-Free Guarantee, which means you can return or exchange any piece you purchase within 30 days. Plus, the shipping is on me. Yup, totally free shipping. (Or - if you’re local - I’m happy to hand deliver your piece and help you hang it.) Finally, if you’re too strapped to pay the full price upfront but just have to have that painting, I’m happy to work out a payment plan with you that will work for both of us.