One of the most difficult aspects of my work to talk about with people is...*gulp*...pricing. I'm in a constant self-battle about how to price my work, and when asked how much something costs, I'll inevitably either dodge the question, or sort of sheepishly lower my eyes and mutter the price. I know I shouldn't be apologetic for the price of my art, because I know what goes into it, and I am very proud of my work. But I also understand that art is expensive (I would have to really save up to buy my own art!) and I am truly grateful for those who do purchase my work.
I wanted to write a little post about WHY the kind of art I do costs what it costs, because while I'm face to face with these realities every day, I think many of you may not know some of these facts. I thought this might help other artists too, if you're just starting to get your art out there, or finding pricing to be a very difficult challenge.
I want to be transparent and open about talking about this, because I want people to understand that it's not just me making up numbers ;)
1) Art is hard to make.
Every piece I create is the culmination of all the mistakes I have made, all the hours I have spent, all the lessons I have learned, and all the skills I have developed up until the moment I finish it. Learning skills and perfecting them takes a lot of time and effort, and like you would pay a professional specialist extra money to do that thing they're specially good at, you pay an artist to do what only they can do. Someone could copy my work, yes, but only I can make the exact work I make, because only I will make the choices of color, texture, proportion, composition, and technique that I do. That's what makes it unique - when you buy a piece of original art, you buy a little piece of that artist's spirit.
2) Selling art in galleries is expensive.
Most people are shocked when I tell them that a standard art gallery commission is 50% of the sale price. Some galleries in large international cities charge 60% or more commission. Artists are also required to foot the bill to ship and insure their pieces on the way to the gallery. So as an example, let's say I was selling a drawing for $100. The gallery takes their $50 of the sale price, then sends me a check for $50. Before it sold though, I paid $10 to ship and insure it. The materials and the frame cost me $15. So what most people think is $100 in the pocket of the artist actually looks more like $25 when it's all said and done. This is why I don't usually sell pieces that are less than $300 in galleries, unless they are part of a bigger body of work that I have for sale there.
3) Art takes a lot of time.
If I started in the morning and set out to make one Dust Bunny, I would finish it in about 2 days, if that was the only thing I did. Some take a lot longer, some seem to be speedier. Sometimes I go almost all the way with something, and it totally doesn't work, and I have to scrap it. Sometimes I just can't think of a good solution to an artistic problem. All the time an artist spends on their art is time they aren't spending on something else - and all the time they're spending on other things (keeping books, answering emails, tidying up the house, etc) is time they're not making money.
Why do an artist's prices go up as their career goes on? Sometimes it's just simple economics - their costs may get higher, as they sell more pieces and have to pay for more insurance, shipping, and supplies. The quality of their supplies may be better as they can afford to use more premium supplies, so they will charge a bit more incrementally to help pay for the premium materials. My prices have gone up to accommodate my using better materials and taking more time on my art - my work has gotten more detailed, more high quality, and just plain better though the years...I'm proud of that, even though it means I'm forced to charge a little more each year to pay me for the extra time.
I'm setting a lot of new plans into motion for 2014. One of them is to build a hierarchy of prices, so that everybody can afford a rad piece of art from me. Of course, the top of the pyramid is the one of a kind, completely handmade pieces, that range in price from $500 to $1500 depending on size and complexity. But I also am working toward having resin editions (painted and unpainted), vinyl toys, 2D wearables, accessories, and merchandise all the way down to $5. Not everybody can afford a $600 art doll, but maybe they can afford a $125 edition doll. And if not, maybe they can buy a $16 Pipsqueak figure. All of them will be very high quality, as I want them to reflect my work well, but in this hierarchy, the more money paid equals the more time the artist's hands actually touched and manipulated the final look of the piece.
If you're an artist getting into selling in galleries, make sure you set your prices fairly - consider what is fair to the customer, the gallery, and also to yourself. If you're just starting out, your prices might have to be lower than you'd like, while you find your footing. That's okay. I remember selling pieces for way too cheap when I was getting my name out there, but sometimes that's necessary. You can nudge up as time goes on, but it's really difficult (and embarrassing) to have to come down. Only sell work that you are really proud of - you would not want a customer paying a premium for a piece you were "so so" about, would you? Work hard, hone your skills, price fairly, make friends, and be receptive to positive critique, and be nice to people. There's room for all of us.