The Art Biz ep. 177: Why You Should Raise the Prices of Your Art and How to Do It

There isn’t much certainty around how to price your art, but two things are clear when it comes to pricing.

First, it’s a struggle for most artists. And, second, there’s a good chance that your prices are too low.

The difficulty with pricing art is legendary. You’re not the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out.

Even if you’re confident in your prices today, it’s almost guaranteed that you will question them again within a few weeks or months.

You heard it here first. You are not the only artist who has doubts about pricing.

And these doubts are compounded when your art isn’t selling. I’ll save that topic for another post.

Listen to this on The Art Biz

Anna Fine Foer collage
©Anna Fine Foer, Kibbutz Gan Barbie. Collage, 22 x 30 inches.

Your Prices Might Be Too Low

Knowing that the reservations about your pricing may always exist, let’s move on to that second thing. The probability that your pricing is too low.

Many artists—especially those who are just starting out—undervalue their art. Their work isn’t priced correctly to be able to split 50% of the sale with a gallerist, art consultant, or anyone else, let alone make a profit.

Artists who price their work too low are making things difficult for other artists who are pricing their work appropriately for the market and who need to make a living from sales.

It’s not good to be the “cheapest” artist.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you would be happier getting higher prices for your art. But you don’t know if your art warrants it or if this is the right time. You’re scared to make the wrong move.

[See: How to Ask for More Money for Your Art (and Get It!) ]

Fear not! Here are 5 reasons to raise your prices and how to do it.

5 reasons

to raise your prices.

1. The numbers reveal the depressing truth.

You’ve done the math and it’s depressing.

After taking into consideration everything that goes into making your art, you realize that you’re paying yourself next to zippo.

Nobody wins when you aren’t even covering your costs, let alone paying yourself. You must raise your prices.

©Marli Thibodeau, Passionate Symphony V. Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 x 2 inches.

2. Your pricing is uneven.

If you notice that there isn’t enough difference between two sizes or two disparate mediums, consider raising the prices on those that seem too low.

It’s hard to account for different mediums. Or for work that needs framing and work that is on canvas, especially given that works on canvas often have a higher perceived value. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)

Yet, it’s easy, over time, for pricing to become skewed. Time to make adjustments and raise prices where necessary.

3. The cost of your materials has increased.

This is a no-brainer. If it costs you more to make it, you should be charging more.

Back in 2011, I followed an artist who was increasing her prices due to the soaring cost of silver. She wrote an explanatory email to her list, in which she shared a detailed graph showing the price of silver’s dramatic incline.

The graph made it much easier to understand. We can comprehend the big difference from $4.50 an ounce to $30 an ounce, but it’s even more dramatic to see a sharply ascending red arrow off the right side of a graph.

Aha! We get it. Her material prices have gone up.

If it costs you more to make it, you should be charging more.

Donna Levreault print
©Donna Levreault, Not Forgotten. Gelatin silver print, 12 x 12 inches.

4. You can't keep up with the demand for your art.

If you can’t make enough work to fulfill commissions and orders and maintain inventory to show at galleries or art festivals, you need to raise your prices.

It’s the law of supply and demand. (I retained some knowledge from Econ 101.)

Being in high demand sounds like a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem—especially when your prices are too low. You are justified in raising your prices when there is more work than you can handle.

5. You start selling through galleries or another new market.

You might be selling well on your own and come to the conclusion that you want your work to be in galleries. Or to be handled by a consultant. You realize that you must split the sale with someone else.

But (Doink!) you didn’t factor a commission into your pricing.

Best business practices warrant that you include a possible (future) 50% commission in all of your pricing. If you haven’t done that, you need to face the music and increase your prices tout de suite.

And … Let’s hope you don’t have to raise them 50% at once because that’s a shock to the system if they’ve been selling well at the lower prices.

Now, here’s how to put your new prices out there.

Shannon Amidon encaustic
©Shannon Amidon, Occhiolism. Encaustic on wood, 24 x 36 inches.

HOW TO RAISE PRICES

Commit. Take action.

If you sell through galleries, other retail spaces, or consultants and want to raise your prices, schedule a conversation with those in charge. You need their input because they know their market and what it will bear.

You want to know that they believe they can sell the work at higher prices.

If they agree, it’s a win-win. You make more and they make more.

When You Only Sell Directly to Collectors

If you only sell directly to buyers, you can raise your prices after doing your homework and meeting one of the criteria above.

Upon opting to increase your prices, make sure you have a plan to put all of the pieces into place.

Keep in mind that higher prices are usually only on new work. Will you stick to that rule of thumb or be raising prices on work you already have in inventory?

Rip off the Band-aid and go forward with confidence.

Always announce your decision first to previous purchasers of your work—giving them an opportunity to buy at your current prices.

They will understand your situation so there is no reason to be afraid of telling them.

Diane Leifheit pastel
©Diane E. Leifheit, Adirondack Bounty. Pastel on wallis paper, 30 x 40 inches.

What to Say to Collectors

Your collectors are the people who have been supporting you. You want to do everything to keep them happy and in the loop. Consider wording similar to this.

Things have been going very well for me, which is good news. On the flip side, I can’t seem to keep up with demand, so I need to raise my prices.

Because you’ve been such a valuable supporter, I want to offer my work to you at current pricing for the next 30 days. After that, my prices will increase by x%.

Of course you must be specific about which work the price increase will apply to.

Contacting them in advance and giving them an opportunity to add to their collection before your prices go up makes them feel special. It also build trust. They’ll have confidence, based on this one interaction, that you’ll always do right by them.

Collectors should feel good about investing in your art early on in your career. They’ll be delighted to know that you’re successful enough to raise your prices.

This post was originally published October 27, 2016 and has been updated with the edition of a podcast episode. Original comments left intact.

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23 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 177: Why You Should Raise the Prices of Your Art and How to Do It”

  1. This is something I have just done this past week. I did it for different reasons. I am selling more work and I have also received new awards and signature status. I compared my prices to others with similar experience and sizes of work and found my work was priced on the low end. So I have raised the price per inch but not a huge jump. I did clear it with one of my main galleries and they agreed with the pricing. I also want to make sure the work sells and didn’t want to make too large of an increase. I can reassess in another year or two.

    1. Debora I also price by the inch. What % did you increase by? And Alyson if only reason 1 applies and not reasons like Debora just outlined, are you still justifies in raising prices? What constitutes “zippo”? For me it’s just a feeling that I’m not left with enough after the 50/50 split considering how long it takes to paint most studio pieces. Plein air is another matter- much faster but personally a less rewarding result. From what I’ve been reading, it sounds like I need to learn to paint studio pieces faster, and sell more before I can justify raising prices. Am I thinking backwards?

  2. Thank you, Alyson! This, as you note, is a very tricky area with many moving parts to consider. What are your thoughts on the possibility of having raised one’s prices too far and thereby stalling out sales? And related to that (perhaps this is a subject for another post), what about having too many paintings in the market place? How does one keep that sense of specialness and uniqueness to the work and balancing that with supply and demand? Thanks!

  3. Wonderful post, Alyson. I just increased my prices per square inch this year. Not a significant / big amount, but because I have been at the same level for several years and had not taken into account the rise in supplies, etc. Also, I was on the lower end of the price range for the artists at my same level of experience, shows and awards. The economy has not been great and sales have not been at the level of a few years ago. But, still there were sales. I really was feeling that my prices were too low. But, my hometown, early career clients, keep telling me I am too high for them. I have to learn to get over this bit about they remember when I was selling 1/10th or even less of what I am now price-wise. So, thanks for the reminder of the good reasons we need to reassess where our prices are.

  4. I’ve been told many times that my prices were too low. This year, Martin Stellar challenged me to raise the, at least double them. I did that after announcing it beforehand. Nobody’s complained 🙂 I’m probably still low, but I haven’t found anyone to compare my prices to so I’d know. I don’t sell enough to have anything to judge by there.

  5. Thanks for a great article, Allison.
    It’s so hard to price work. One thing that helps me is to price all my pieces according to size. That simplifies things somewhat. But like many of your followers I will be looking again at my pricing.
    Thanks so much as always, Lauren

  6. “Artists who price their work too low are making things difficult for other artists who are pricing their work appropriately for the market and who need to make a living from sales.”

    That was the most important statement in a most informative article. You know I will be sharing this! Thanks Alyson!

    Kim

    1. Yes to this! I see this on Etsy all the time (in both types of jewelry that I make) and wonder how in the world they can possibly be making enough for their materials and time and profit margin. And it makes others look overpriced when they are actually just charging for their time, materials, and appropriate profit margin so they can stay in business for the long haul. It’s very frustrating!

  7. Alyson,

    I’m glad that I am still on your mailing list. Raising prices has been on my mind and it is good to get your re-assurance that this is a good idea.

    I recently presented my work at the Paradise City show in Northampton, MA. In advance of the show I received amazing promo form the Paradise City folks, this is just one of the ways they promoted my participation: https://festivals.paradisecityarts.com/guide/flipbookf16/pcafguide.html#p=10

    I did the smart thing and raised some prices before the show – mostly modest “rounding up” but more substantial increases on a few lower end pieces that keep selling.

    I did well at the show and the price increases did not seem to effect sales in the least. I am now looking at my whole pricing structure and thinking that I deserve more per hour!

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Mark Eliot Schwabe

  8. I have raised my prices on some of my sizes recently for all the reasons that you listed with the exception of selling my work as fast as I can produce it. I haven’t raised them in several years and will be notifying my collectors of the upcoming changes.

  9. A useful, relevant article Alyson. Thank you. I really enjoy your blogs in my inbox. I’m with Philip Frey on his point. I raised my prices last year doing well in galleries and also direct sales. I didnt want to undercut my galleries when selling direct from my studio, so I offered only a minimal discount to repeat buyers. And I’ve had a very good commissions as well. I’ve been entering competitions, raising my profile and feel I’ve added value to my art and the rise in price is justified. Though the paintings are still not too expensive. However this year things are very slow and I feel I may have outpriced myself. I’ve lost confidence a bit. Things have stalled and I’m left with loads of paintings I can’t sell and don’t want to lower their prices. There are also galleries I feel I cannot now approach because my price range has gone above their levels. I just don’t know what to do next.

  10. Excellent points. Having made a big price increase I did struggle with stalled sales for a while. It was a tough time and caused plenty of second guessing. But with sensitive marketing this bump does even out as you reach out to new buyers. Better to raise prices annually at consistent levels. Plus I had to be brutally honest about producing quality work. There is no escaping this too.

  11. I’m always interested in your thoughts on this topic and I agree with most everything you say here. When I started selling my work about 10 years ago I tried Robert Genn’s system of uniform pricing by size and annual increases. While it made perfect sense, it called for price leaps for my smaller paintings I couldn’t justify, particularly in the recession economy. So I settled on a more relaxed, intuitive version of his system that has yielded extraordinary results for me.

    I do review my pricing annually and, based on the previous year’s sales, raise the price of my best-selling sizes by rounding up. For example, I sell a lot of 30 x 30s. In 2000, the price was $2000; today it’s $2500. The pricing on some sizes I simply leave alone until it seems time for them to go up. I publish an annual price list that I hand to serious lookers in my home-based Studio & Gallery.

    I’ve observed that buyers seem to go art shopping with an upper limit in mind and I try to create work that will allow them to purchase at a level they’re comfortable with. For example, when the price of my 30 x 30s increased to $2500, I started offering a 24 x 24 at $2000. Now, both of these sizes sell well.

    Because I’ve wanted to paint larger, I’ve created pricier paintings too. Now, my 30 x 40s ($3200) and 36 x 48s ($4000) sell well. I also have created several paintings that range between $6,000 and $9500. I’ve not yet sold one of these but there has been meaningful interest. Not one of the interested parties has mentioned price as an obstacle.

    I’ve made my peace with the fact that a painting is a luxury item. Those with disposable income for art will frequently spend whatever it takes if they really want the piece. I’ve become comfortable with the notion that a lot of people who like my work don’t believe they can afford to own it. I’ve also noticed that some people I assume (based on my own limited beliefs) can’t afford to purchase art actually can and will if I don’t apologize for my prices. I also have a policy that states my willingness to make it possible (thru a variety of means) for anyone who loves a painting to own it. Occasionally someone who believes they can’t afford a painting will work with me to achieve ownership in a way we both win.

    I see pricing as a great exercise in expanding my limited thinking about what’s possible. Just as I once stretched to sell a painting for $1000, when I (inevitably) sell one or two of those $9500 paintings, I will no doubt cross the Great Divide to 5 figures and, one day, beyond that. Meanwhile, time to get some painting done!

  12. Ive been selling art full time since 1978.
    1. decide if you are wholesaling or retailing. Hard to do both; and its not really quite right to have 2 different sets of prices.
    2. Safer to undercharge than to overcharge. The last thing you want is a collection your own artwork. Some people think charging more makes it seem more valuable. I dont think so. Even the 1% wants things to be as cheap as possible (but lets not go into that)
    Of course, this is a perspective from a perpetual motion machine possibly a workaholic….

  13. I’m so glad to see this article. I am starting afresh in a new medium [watercolor] after a couple of decades in weaving. I have always struggled with pricing. I was told by a mentor to use best quality materials – and I did – and then found that the hometown crowd loved the new work, but would not pay for it. And I stayed stuck there. I’m too far away from either coast to branch out to better venues. So, I turned to selling hand dyed yarn instead, which sells great online and consistently, but I still don’t know how to price and sell finished work – like my new paintings. If I’m brutally honest, I’m scared people will think I’m not worth the prices. I know I can paint really well – about 1 in 10 paintings lately. So how do I price the other 9? Can I sell them? Or do I just tuck them away as ‘studies’.

    I have not tried to market at all and instead have focused on competitions, thinking that maybe someday if I get into enough big juried shows or win an award or two, by then I’ll have a decent inventory and enough reputation to charge decent prices. And then maybe galleries will approach me instead of me having to do the salesman thing. Marketing and pricing go hand in hand for me and marketing feels a lot like prostitution. It’s a big problem area for me.

  14. I struggle with pricing because of commissions that range from 0% (I pay a flat monthly rent at my co-op) to 15% at the local Arts Council gallery (plus a monthly entry fee that varies depending on the amount of work you hang) to 30% at a higher end co-op in Palm Springs (plus $40 annual membership fee + an annual fee if you get juried into the gallery) to 50% at commercial galleries and other outlets in upscale areas. I also participate in an open studio tour that has $170 entry fee + expenses getting ready for visitors to my studio + a 5% commission on my sales.

    If I price too high, sales disappear over the board, if I price too low, it isn’t worth it, once the galleries take their 50%. I am constantly having this discussion with my peers because most of us in my area are in the same boat. I wish it were as simple as just factoring in a % commission.

  15. I raised my prices on my functional pottery items that I was not able to keep in stock – some of them by a significant amount. The end result has been that the items still sell but not as quickly and I am able to have some left in inventory at the end of a show or in the case of my Etsy shop, have time to make more before I sell the last one on-line. One of the least expensive items has slowed down to a point where I sell far fewer, but I am happy to not have to make as many and even in a larger volume they did not comprise enough of my sales at the lower price for me to be concerned. I also have introduced some slightly “higher end” items that have yet to sell but these are items that take more time to make and they serve to attract people into the booth even if they do not regularly sell. They are currently receiving a lot of favorable comments and in time, the right buyer should come along.

  16. Thank you. This message is one that is necessarily needed to be understood by all artists. My simple comment is this: you can’t expect to have your art valued if you don’t value it yourself.

    Artists need to understand their own worth. In my own case selling through galleries, art fairs and agencies I need to have the same remuneration as any other professional. Take off the 50% commissions and don’t forget the tax (income tax and VAT) in some cases, then your overheads of studio rent and direct costs of materials – if that does’nt leave you with a working pay cheque then you are a hobbyist

  17. Last year, over the course of the year, I raised prices for both my paintings and my bead weaving. When asked about this I explained that my work was worthy of those prices and I could just as easily “not sell at X dollars as at one half x dollars.” But the changes were not truly as random as that. With respect to the earrings which went up by $10.oo (15 to 25 and 24 to 34) I made the decision after speaking with other artists. In the case of the paintings I did some research and calculations first.

    I have matured as an artist and found my voice. I am hopefully pricing more closely to my works’ actual value.

    I fear a lot of artists undercharge and mostly for similar reasons, especially, the undervaluing of the work of independent artists and the fact that too many forget that the Wal-Mart customer is not our client.

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