The Tricky Business of Pricing Artwork


King Street At Night #1, 12″/36″, oil on canvas, painted 2013.  (King and Jarvis-2010)


The painting above took over 80 hours to complete.  I was just starting out again after taking years off to raise my son.   It was as if I had to start all over again in some ways.  Mapping out the painting took forever and building up the skill after years off from painting takes time.   I was really determined to try to make a living from my painting.

I would paint whenever I could and I had decided that when I had at least 4 or 5 paintings that I was happy with I would try to sell them.   That’s when I got a bit intimidated.   I had no idea how to price my work.   So I got the idea to bring my work into a local gallery to ask them what I should charge.   The woman  who worked there was very nice but was almost afraid to look at the painting.  She was pleasantly surprised when I had shown her the work but still she didn’t want to give me a definitive answer.  She showed me pieces from various artists with quite a range in price according to experience and notoriety.   Unfortunately that confused me even more.

So, I decided to go low.    I wanted the pieces to sell because I needed more materials to keep painting.   Each tube of oil paint costs 20.00, canvases start anywhere from 15.00- 100.00 depending on the size, brushes, thinners can also be really expensive.  At the time I was a full time mom and had absolutely no money and very little materials.  Not to make a sob story out of it but I barely had money to get on the bus at the time.

When I completed the paintings I just put them up on my Facebook page to see what the reaction would be.   I got a great response from my friends and was lucky to sell a piece that week!


Side note:  When people look at art and wonder why it is so expensive I don’t think they understand what goes into making a piece of work.  First off,  it takes years of experimenting and practice.     I served tables and painted for  8 years  just trying to figure out what my style was going to be.   Then it’s the time it takes to go out and take photographs, selecting the image that will be a successful painting, and then the work itself can take a month or more to complete depending on the details.  And of course, the materials can get really expensive. Also this is an original, handmade piece of work and that is valuable in a mass produced society granted if the work is good.


From that point I had enough money to be able to buy materials however I was still in the dark about how artists actually price their work.  So I asked my friend who was a very successful artist in Toronto how she priced her paintings.  She told me that she charged per square inch and that was the standard.   Again, I was too afraid to ask her how much she charged per square inch because I think it’s a bit rude to ask people how much money they make. So I started to look at some galleries and their pricing and I did the math.    (However it is important to know that most galleries take 50% of the sale so I factored that in as well)

I wasn’t prepared to give up 50% to a gallery so I decided to rent a space and throw my own show at Wychwood barns.   Someone did tell me that beginners should charge 1.50 per square inch.  That is what I did.   A piece that was 12″/12″ /1.5 is 215.00.    As the sizes got larger I would not stick to the per square inch equation if the price seemed too high.  Over time you get a feel for the value of your work.  It is important to have the formula for consistency.

If a piece is very detailed and takes a lot more time I will charge more for the piece.   I now have 2 formulas since I do have 2 different styles.  The paintings that are more abstract take less time therefore I charge less.

It’s been 4 years now that I have been painting full-time.   I feel now that my work is at the right price point.   I love working with a formula because it is easy to explain to people who want to commission a piece or are just inquiring.   I have to say though, it was the trickiest thing to figure out in the beginning.   I was a bit terrified to tell people the price of a piece.  Talking money for something that I made was uncomfortable at first.   It just takes some time to get used to.   I hope this helps for any artists out there with this issue.




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