Pricing Art, Pricing Me

Dancing Goddesses
Dancing Goddesses is sold

Pricing my art has always been a difficult thing for me, as it is for many artists.   Although I run my own business, I wouldn’t call myself a good business person.  Every time I tell someone how I don’t have much of any inventory, that I’m selling my work usually as quickly as make it, they tell me then it’s time to raise my prices.

And this is exactly what I’d tell someone else.  Actually I got to say just that to a friend today who has so many clients she’s doesn’t have enough time to see them all.  Common sense right, she may lose a client or two, but she can work less (actually take a lunch break) and make more money.  Easy for me to say, not so easy for me to do.

Last week I was having an email conversation with Janet who bought my Intuition Goddess Quilt.  She told me that the first piece of art she ever bought was one of my wall hangings.  When she told me she was interested in my quilt and asked the price, I had to think about it.  I had never made a quilt like that before, so I priced it the way I usually do, by what felt right to me.   ETSY has a whole system for pricing work.  I don’t remember exactly what it is, but when I heard it I remember thinking if I went by it my work would cost thousands of dollars.  Great, I thought, if I never wanted to sell anything.   It makes sense to figure out how long it takes me to make a piece, and how much the materials cost.  But that’s a literal sense of its value.  It doesn’t take into consideration everything else that goes into the work.   Everything that makes it uniquely mine.

I think of the story about the artist who is commissioned to draw a fish.  He tells the man he’ll have a painting of a fish for him in six months.  When the man comes back the artist takes out paint and paper and in five minutes paints a beautiful picture of a fish and tells the man it’s $1000.  When the man protests that it only took the artist five minutes to paint the fish why is it so expensive, the artist opens his closet and thousands of paintings of fish come tumbling out of it.  Six months of learning to paint a fish in five minutes.

So I go by feeling.   But sometimes I wonder where the feelings are coming from.  Because when ever I think about how much I should be paid, my ideas about self-worth  are right there.  And I have to admit, no matter how many pieces of art I sell, each time I put one out there, I wonder if anyone will want it.  And I think, they might want it for $75 but they won’t want it for $100.

When I finally decided on $500 as a price for my Intuition Goddess Quilt, Janet  said she was thinking the same.  She also told me her husband was worried it would be $4000.  Something to shoot for she said.  Since buying my art, Janet had changed her mind about spending money on art.  A while back she saw a painting that she really loved for $1200.  At the time, she said she’d never consider paying that much money for a painting.  But now she feels different about buying art.

So I guess I’ll keep pricing my work the way I always have, by feeling.   I have raised my prices as there’s more demand, and paid attention to what people are willing to and can pay.    And because when I really look at how much money I make and how much I put into my work it seems wrong even to me that I should get paid so little.  Which is good for me, tells me I’m feeling better about myself.   I think pricing my work is about a balance.  I don’t want to make work that doesn’t sell.  I don’t  like to keep my work around, I like when it goes out into the world and finds its home.  So it turns out that I raise my prices when it feels right to me.   And that says everything about how I’m feeling about myself and my work.  So I guess I’m feeling better.

8 thoughts on “Pricing Art, Pricing Me

  1. Your fish story (hah!) reminds me of something I heard about Picasso (I believe): When asked by a prospective purchaser how long it had taken him to paint a particular painting, he said “Forty-five years.”

    I think a lot of women (including me) have a problem with pricing. Men, not so much.

  2. your work is fabulous — it just gets better and better — and you should feel mah-velous about yourself! 🙂

  3. Maria, you are as an artist, brave in pricing and selling your work. It is a very difficult thing to do, to put a price on a creative piece of work unless you have a broker or someone to price your work and sell it for you. And then this becomes commercial and for many true artists that is simply cranking out work for the market and doesn’t feel good. I think you’ve done a good job, hard as it may be or was in the beginning to know what to charge, a creative person will never get paid for the amount of time they spend making something but what people are really paying for is the creative idea behind the mechanics of making that art and that creative idea is unique to each artist. And then there is the aspect of am I good enough to be selling my art, will people want to buy it, it still needs to be marketed in some way. I think it is the honesty of your website that attracts people to you and your work and of Jon’s as well that draws people to it, an honesty and purity. Your words often express ours, Jon’s makes us think and sometimes I think there is a naughty little boy sitting on Jon’s shoulders sometimes when he writes to make us think.
    SandyP in Canada

  4. Hi Maria, and I am always curious about the price of your pieces that sell before you can post the price! I see from Jon’s blog that your Victorian Woman wall hanging sold for $175. I’m not sure why I’m always curious – I think partially it helps me get a relative sense of what good art costs. Our local Y has a rotating display of works by local artists – usually paintings and photos – that gives me a pricing framework as well. Iguess I’m learning the ropes from the buyer’s perspective like you are learning them from the artist’s perspective.

    1. Janet, When someone wants to buy a piece of mine before I say how much it is, they usually do want it for what I’m selling it for. And I assume they have an idea of my pricing. Sometimes it’s more than they want to or can pay,and I completely understand that. Luckily I usually have more than one person wanting one of my pieces.

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