Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Art is expensive. Plus plans for the future.

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.



  1. *applauds*

    I've often seen artists get quite upset about people questioning their prices. I can understand why they'd feel upset. As you have explained, art is very personal to an artist and it's also their livelihood. It's unreasonable to expect artists to give away their art for free.

    But where you differ from some artists is that you're very honest about the hard work involved with your work. Your tone is not rude or accusing. On the contrary, this entry was really informative and well written. I greatly admire your honesty and transparency about your work.

    I think a lot of people (myself included) don't always realize how much work goes into art.

    So thank you very much for this.

  2. Well said, a great way to explain art costs to the non-artist who may never think about all of the additional costs involved in selling a piece.

  3. Very well said. I agree most people see artwork in a gallery and imagine that all the money goes directly to the artist. Also its still a widely held belief that artist don't really work hard. I work part-time for a landscaping co. and a Co-worker who knew I was also an artist couldn't believe what a hard worker I was when out on jobs, he couldn't reconcile that with me being an artist. Lol

  4. Not forgetting too that as a self-employed person you don't get 4 weeks paid holidays, paid compassionate leave, paid sick leave, paid bank holidays, or a pension on retirement.

  5. Amanda I am also an artist and consider myself EXTREMELY fortunate to own one of your peices. These words will be printed out, given a proper vessel and be displayed with your work. You have NO IDEA how meaningful they are to me. They are as prized as the art itself. Thank you for sharing yourself so freely and openly. ♥

  6. Thank you very much for writing this, Amanda.

    We need to educate the public. The more information they have about the business of are, the more they can understand the value of our work.

  7. I can totally relate to this - especially the 'lower my eyes and mutter the price' part. I wish I could just give my work away and stay alive and happy but alas, money is vital. Thanks for posting this. Great work, by the way!

  8. Brilliantly said. Thank you for your insight and integrity and creating unimaginably wondrous works of art.

  9. I can tell you that you have NOTHING to be ashamed of... And I really admire and respect that you give so much thought to everyone in the process no matter where they are in their current financial situation...

    I can tell you that the few works I own of yours, "Bomb Squad," and little medic bring me so much joy and happiness on a daily basis. I love bringing them down from the wall/shelf and showing people. All the time and details you put into them show how much you care about your craft.

    I then tell them to smell, and talk about your prior days as a soap maker. What you do Amanda is amazing!

    and not only that, but I helped purchase Shagbark for a friend of mine that proposed to his long time girlfriend with it, she had wanted one of your works for a very long time.... I had kept it "hidden" at my house until my friend was ready, it it was heartbreaking to let him go. But at least I get to visit him on occasion.

    Keep up the amazing work, and I can't wait to see what you have in store for us in the coming years....

    PS: About a year ago, I started bringing the little medic with me on all my travels and taking pictures (like a roaming gnome). I'll have to send them to you sometime. It's been to Japan, Singapore, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Vancouver, Whistler, Arizona, Florida, Las Vegas, Colorado, Chicago (and the Lyric opera house), Kauai, Hawaii (Big Island), and many more to come!

  10. lol...I have to say, that if I could afford it, I would happily spend $5000 for one of your pieces. They are amazing! I can look at a picture on Facebook and know that even at $1500 you are undercharging.

    I'm a martial artist, and I have an eye that can see things even if I don't necessarily understand what I'm seeing. Years ago I saw this carved soapstone was this abstract female form. Anyway I could see the skill of the artist but wanted to understand, so I bought a chunk of soapstone and sweated over the damn thing for days. It was not pretty, but I'm glad I did it because it helped me understand.

  11. Leesa Whitten GreenleeDecember 21, 2013

    Well said Amanda,
    I am worried about the flood of "art schools" out there lowering the definition of professional artist. I have been a designer/Illustrator for more than 20 years and I find the downward trend in pricing to be really disheartening to those of us who have been able to squeak out a living doing quality work. The freelance world seems to be going to only the lowest bidder…digital art has become the norm on most commercial jobs. However, art made with REAL HANDS seems to always have value. Keep up the extraordinary work you do! Im saving up for a really nice one…definitely worth every penny.

  12. We have made a living in the arts for over 40 yrs. Art IS very personal and if you want to make a living, the artist also needs to keep marketing in mind. My husband, John Blowers, is a very successful painter and sells his paintings very reasonably compared to most artists. He tries to keep in mind that people are looking for a good value as well as something they can live with and enjoy for many years to come. Price matters to most people, even those with a lot of money. It is very competitive out there and many artists have what I feel are outrageous prices on their art. John does very well at most shows and sells as fast as he can produce because he keeps the customer first.

  13. This post was a pleasure to read. I make plush toys and have been fiddling lately with art dolls (haven't finished one yet, it's certainly a learning process.) I'm extremely conscious of the quality of the things I make since I started a few years ago and I LOVE when someone buys something from me and says that they can't believe it's handmade. A lot of people seem to equate "handmade" with "arts and crafts" so they expect a certain level of.. roughness, maybe? I'm getting off topic, but I work hard to make things look and feel sturdy and accurate to the vision the customer has. Lately I've been feeling the same shying away from stating price, but I always spend a lot of time on what I make because I want to make things that I myself would want to buy. I sometimes underestimate how much work something will need and don't charge enough because I feel guilty. This post will be helpful to remember next time someone I know mentions pricing to me and I try to explain why something costs what it does.

  14. Very insightful! My craft is writing, and while my materials are much cheaper, I know exactly what you mean about time and pouring a piece of your soul into a work. Some people forget that art is work, and we all want to be paid fairly for our work. You've expressed this very tactfully. Well said!

  15. Lizbeth TurnerJanuary 14, 2014

    In general I think artists vastly underprice their work. Art must be valued like any other product - cost of materials, hours spent on design, creation, packaging, postage, etc. If we charge for our time at $50 an hour (low for skilled labor) it's a simple equation. I wish all artists would be encouraged to be more businessike, which would simplify the pricing issue for everyone concerned.

  16. Excellent article. Someone once asked me how long it took to create a piece. My answer was that the piece in question took about 7 - 8 hours but it took more than 10 years to learn HOW to make it.

  17. totally superb article. Well written and thoughtful. I agree with you fully and understand the price hiearchy now. thanks.


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