$$$ Pricing Your Work - How much is your child worth? $$$

The most horrid thing to do for most artists is coming up with that infernal and dreaded demon of all...COST! How does one do it? We have all seem the formulas. Time x Materials x Overhead x 2 = Wholesale x 2 = Retail, or some such variation. This works well with production work I guess, doing no production work myself, but it falls short when it comes to one of a kind work. Even if a formula worked, I couldn't really use it anyway for a variety of reasons. First, I can't keep track of time. If I am not losing myself in a piece, falling fast into the story of the work as I make it, then I am not doing it right. If I am not having fun most of the time then why bother at all? I also work on many pieces at once, like many artists do, jumping from one piece to the next, back to the first, and maybe skipping the third and picking up the forth. I had though of purchasing a time stamp machine and having individual time cards for each work in progress. Other then the ticking driving me nuts it reminds me too much of waiting tables. Too much of the times I would go with my mom to her job as a teacher and her early morning "clocking in". Too much of WORK. When it comes down to materials I am at a loss as well. Much of my work recently uses "found" and recycled objects. How much did that laundry detergent cap cost me? What does 1" of the black prismacolor pencil really cost? How much was that birds nest? What did I pay at that garage sale, with the funky smelling basement, for that antique bakelite doll whose head I severed? None of it costs very much at all, for if it did I wouldn't have purchased it. All of formulas, the keeping track of time, material costs, overhead, x this, x that, x that other thing over there, = A Giant Migraine. And unfortunately, I really do get migraines. Go to the hospital, sit in the ER for 4 hours, pump you full of some pain medicine, throw up from pain medicine, type migraines. So I really don't need the extra stress of having to price my work using some formula that would baffle Stephen Hawking. For me pricing comes down to one question: How much is your child worth?

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Comment by Stevie B. on January 23, 2009 at 12:16pm
I've been meaning to come back to this for sometime...

Thank you Makio for you comments. I hope to find customers that would take care of my baby as much as I do :)

Michelle - I did read that article :) The advice I liked best was if something doesn't sell in a gallery he marks up the price! I don't remember if there was a reason but it sounds good. The added provenance of this piece may have something to do with it.

Now that I have gotten some work back, which means of course it didn't sell, I am trying to convince myself that it's not that the piece is bad or overpriced, it's because the buyer just didn't show up. :)
Comment by Chihiro Makio on November 2, 2008 at 8:52am
I've been meaning to read your blog and I finally did. Very interesting to hear how people do the "evil" pricing. I find it the hardest part of my work. I personally keep my "production" and my "one of a kind" completely seperate. With my production, I have to keep in mind that is my living, and I do have to sell them even if that involves adjusting the design to make it reasonable. (Even still I hear from other artists that my prices are TOO reasonable for my labor, so I'm creeping up my prices slowly.) For my "one of a kind", I justify pricing a scary amount of money that convinces me that it was worth selling it. I get so attached to my pieces after taking months making it, I can barely let it go when it is purchased. So I feel like I got enough money for it that I CAN make something as good using the money to pay for the material and for my time in the future.
My first big sale at a retail craft show, I hesitated selling the piece after a customer said "I will take it". I mumbled "oh, but it is my baby..." then the customer smiled and said "don't worry. I will take care of it." so I sold the piece. 6 years later I still see her at craft shows sometimes and she is always wearing the bracelet. As long as I feel like it went to a good home, I guess the price doesn't matter as much.
Comment by Stevie B. on October 4, 2008 at 4:27pm
Great advice from all of you. Thank you :)
Comment by 2Roses on September 28, 2008 at 11:37pm
Michelle is right on target. Discussing prices with your gallery can be both a reality check and an eye-opener. We have adjusted our prices up and down based on the input from our reps. They talk to collectors and art buyers every day and usually have a pretty good idea of where prices should be. In our experience, arbitrarily lowering prices does not increase sales volume, and can have quite the opposite effect. If the price is too low it can negatively influence the perceived value of the art and/or artist.

Michelle, why do you feel like you've prostituted yourself just because someone offers to pay something different than your asking price for a work? Since we all agree that there is no Big Book of Standard Art Prices - its ALL negotiable. They like the piece enough to offer money - if the offer is too low you don't have to accept it, or you can counter-offer. Negotiation is an art too.

Every business (and art is a business) adjusts prices to meet market conditions (your's and theirs). If you need cash flow and you have a buyer on the line you may adjust prices to close the deal. There is nothing dishonorable in this. If your sitting fat, you would probably hold your prices. If demand for a particular line is outstripping production you would raise your prices to maximize profits. If lowering your price is equal to prostitution, is raising your prices an exhibition of greed? We think neither. Its just the way all businesses work.

Not coincidentally, really good prostitutes are usually really good business people too.
Comment by Stevie B. on September 27, 2008 at 10:01am
Michelle - Our creative processes indeed sound very, very similar :) I find it very helpful to be working on more then one project at a time. For one, sometimes I get stumped, or bored, or generally unenthusiastic about a piece sometimes and it's great just to jump to something else. Usually this change helps by taking focus off the other piece for a while and allows my subconscious to work out whatever needs to be worked out so I can return to it.

Secondly, my longer pieces, in terms of time, sometime drive me a bit madder then usual and the switch to something else helps to bring me back to my "normal state" of being.

2Roses - Thank you both for your comments :) It gives me much to think about and I love your use of the word "art". It's been difficult for me so far, as a very slowly emerging artist, to get the point of my work as "art" to many people I meet. Family members, friends, potential clients, and even some classmates see jewelry as jewelry only. It's not at all a form of expression to them, it's gold and silver and gemstones. "Art" is either hanging on a wall, or standing on pedestal. I guess some people "get it" and some people don't...or won't.

Do you think it's worth lowering cost to get work "out there"? I understand that much of an artist's value is determined by the price paid for his/her work, but as a newbie to the scene, who has had very little exposure and even less experience at galleries this option appeals to me more then I would have thought. At least until I quit that day job...
Comment by 2Roses on September 25, 2008 at 12:43am
Pricing is such a fun subject for artists. It raises an amazing witch's brew of emotion, fear, anxiety and mathematics. What to do, what to do? Price your work to low and you screw yourself. You've left money on the table. Price your work to high and...you screw yourself! Your artwork is left sitting on the table.

Formulas are useful to get an understanding of theoretical benchmark prices based on recouping costs that are for the most part arbitrary and artificial. The simple truth about pricing is your work is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

The real question to answer is not how much I should charge for this piece, but how do I create the circumstances by which someone is willing to pay more for my artwork? Spending more (or less) time creating it wont do it. Neither will using more (or less) expensive materials. This is why manufacturing time/material costing is useless for pricing art. People don't buy art on the basis of time and materials.

People purchase art for a complex set of emotional reasons. These reasons range from a simple emotional connection to the piece ("I like those colors") to personal status and investment. To be sure there are many, many other factors, but the point is that time and material cost is almost never on the list. How much the buyer likes your work, your reputation as an artist, and the reputation of the agent/gallery is ALWAYS on the list.

We consider the galleries we work with as business partners. It is in both our interests to sell the most amount of artwork for the most amount of money. Both partners understand that selling art is often a process of negotiation. The bottom line is that the more art you sell the more people will be willing to pay for it.

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