Pricing Art For Beginners: Originals, Art Prints, and Formulas

Pricing Art For Beginners: Originals, Art Prints, and Formulas

Pricing art for beginners is confusing and naturally, they look for hidden formulas as if that alone is the answer. This is a myth. The art world plays a different game. If you need a quick pricing guide try this:

Art prices are calculated by your choice of medium, your targeted demographic, and your personal following. Large art sells for more money regardless of the time taken. Don’t set your prices too low, and research comparable artists and copy them.

Do you price your paintings, by the square inch or by the hour? How do you price your art prints? How do you know where to start and what to do?

There is no one-size-fits-all, but there are guidelines that help. I’ve been selling my art since the early 80s, yes I’m that old, and this is my advice.

Let’s start.

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

Pricing Formulas For Beginners

OK, so you’re a newbie, you haven’t got a clue, and you want a formula anyway. Try this then:

Yearly income required + expenses ÷ ‘X’ paintings per year.

How many saleable pieces of art can you practically produce per week? If the answer is 1 then you can sell 52 paintings per year. In theory.

But of course, it’s not really so simple because you should be selling prints, plus some paintings will never sell, and you’ll be doing some commission work.

Let’s take a look at things in a little more depth.

Pricing Your Art By The Square Inch

The idea is you set ‘X’ pounds or dollars per square inch and price accordingly. All you need to do is times the width by the height and voila! It makes sense right? Well in a way, it’s true that people will pay by size.

Unfortunately, you still have to set the rate per inch or centimeter and that’s totally subjective and arbitrary. Two artists with different styles and techniques will set different rates. We are all unique.

It’s all guesswork. When you are a beginner with no sales record to fall back on, all you can do is make up the price and start from there.

Say you have a painting measuring 10″ x 12″ and price it at $5 per square inch. It’s worth $600 by your calculations. Does that sound right for the time it took and the skill level?

Sticking to your formula a 6″ x 8″ painting will cost $240 and 20″ x 24″ painting will cost $2400. This is regardless of the time involved.

This is a handy guide: What Size of Art Sells Best?

And none of this takes into account how each painting will be judged on its own merits. It’s all subjective, some art will sell and others not.

Bestselling elephant print by Wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
This is my bestselling print ‘Jumbo Family’

For a formula to have value, all the paintings must conform to a consistent theme, style, and medium. Where does that leave you if you try something new?

It makes more sense to calculate the price of an art print by formula because it’s a retail product, where true costs can be determined and time is not a factor.

Here’s another take on pricing from a slightly different perspective. This Skillshare class (affiliate) is worth checking out. It has extremely positive reviews.

Pricing Your Art by The Hour

How long does it take to paint a picture? That’s almost like asking how long is a piece of string. Can you paint by formula and complete every painting within a set number of hours?

I’ve tried it myself, and I can tell you from experience, it doesn’t work in the long run.

We all have different mindsets, styles, and aptitudes. Each artist must determine their own individual productivity. The number of paintings you think you can paint is likely to be overestimated.

Life gets in the way of crude formulas. Basing your art on hourly rates takes no account of life dramas, and your best-laid plans will inevitably backfire.

That forces you to compensate for downturns and rainy days by hiking your hourly rates. Can you see how a simple formula can get complicated very quickly?

The truth is, some artists take months to do a painting and another artist only a few hours. Logically the beginner artist, who takes forever to do their work, will not be able to charge an hourly rate. People will not pay for it.

In contrast, a prolific painter, who can churn out their art, can get away with overcharging. There’s no fairness in the art world.

Pricing Your Original Art For Beginners

When I first started to sell, I hit on the (daft) idea of producing high-quality work at a lower price point. I had to paint 5 pictures a week assuming that 3 would be saleable. That’s a lot of work and unsurprisingly I burned out.

Note I said ‘saleable’, and that’s important because you’ll never sell everything you make, that’s just a fact of life.

The advantages of painting quickly are:

  • Higher turnover of sales
  • It’s more immediate and fun
  • It’s less important if you paint a dud

The disadvantages of painting quickly are:

  • Easy to burn out
  • You end up painting by formula
  • The quality suffers

Let’s suppose that you are not prolific, perhaps you can make one painting a week.

Assuming you need £30,000 per annum and sell one painting per week, you need to sell each picture for an average of £576 to reach your target. That’s 52 saleable originals.

That’s not an easy task.

Selling 2 paintings per week will still mean you have to sell each one for £288. The price itself is not so high but you must sell 2 per week, every week.

That’s assuming, of course, that you are selling them yourself. If a gallery represents you they’ll want their cut, so you must factor in their 50% markup.

This will interest you: Selling Your Art in Galleries, Is It Worth It?

So if that’s the case what about those artists who are too slow and can’t produce enough work?

These are the pros and cons of painting slowly:

The advantages of painting slowly are:

  • You can paint your best work
  • The results are more satisfying
  • You can make prints to sell

The disadvantages of painting slowly are:

  • It takes forever to build a portfolio
  • Originals earn a poor hourly rate
  • Painting a dud will cost you more

As a beginner, there is only one practical answer to your problems. You paint pictures only to make them into art prints, and any originals that sell are a bonus. This way allows you to scale your business plus sit on the price you desire for the original.

How to Price Your Art as an Emerging Artist

You adjust your prices until you hit a sweet spot. There are no hard and fast ‘rules’. Your work has no intrinsic value, it’s worth what you can get for it, that’s all. Cruel but true.

Start with a lower price and slowly work your way up, don’t do it the other way round. You will only upset any existing customers plus it’s psychologically defeating.

When you hit on the perfect price, don’t apologize! The price is what you set and there is no need to defend it.

Your art is worth what you say it’s worth, as long as the public agrees. You’re not selling an essential item, it’s a discretionary spend.

Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by ideas of ethical profit margins. If you can make 1000% then go ahead and make it. Look at it this way, if you buy something for £1 and sell it for £5, your profit is a staggering 500%. but so what? you’ve only made £4 profit.

Likewise, you might sell a limited edition print for £100 which costs you £5 to produce. That’s a totally obscene 2000% mark-up, but you might only sell one a week.

Your dream might well be to sell 20 limited editions per week. Is that fraud? Of course not, you created that image. It didn’t and couldn’t exist without your time, effort, and talent. It’s special.

If you are serious about making a living as an artist, Brooke has an insanely popular class on Skillshare (affiliate). Over 30,000 students!.

Pricing Your Art Prints For Beginners

There are so many variables to take into account when deciding upon a price structure.

Before you price your art you must know:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What kind of disposable income do they have?
  • What are your overheads?

Determine how much money you need to make and work backward.

I am British so let’s say, for argument’s sake, you could live on £25.000 per year. Add your fixed overheads, let’s say another £5000 for transport, rent, licenses, insurance, etc. Ok, you need at least £30,000

You know how much each print costs. Let’s say you pay £1 per print and think £10 is a reasonable price to charge. That leaves you with £9 in profit.

If you divide £30,000 by £9 you must sell just over 3,330 prints per year.

That works out at selling 64 prints per week, or about 10 a day. Put it another way, you need to earn £82 per day and that is perfectly achievable.

This post goes further: This is How to Price Art Prints: Practical Advice for Beginners

It’s a crude ballpoint figure for selling one standard-sized print, unmounted and unframed. It doesn’t take into account, multi-buys, upsells, or selling other products. Nor does it include any commission work or selling originals.

All in all the figures are all within reach for anyone with a reasonable work ethic.

Top Tip: Buyers love a bargain. If you sell £10 prints, you could offer 2 for £15. Most people will grab the offer and instead of a £9 profit, you now have a £13 profit. This works brilliantly. It’s a classic upsell.

Selling Limited Edition vs Open Edition Prints

I sell both and cover all bases. Open edition prints (unlimited) are my bread and butter sales. They constitute the bulk of my sales and income. However, if I didn’t sell limited edition prints, I would be leaving money on the table.

Some people only want something exclusive. They don’t want anything mass-produced. That being said, very few people can afford the original and that’s where limited editions work so well.

The printing game is tricky so read this first: How to Make Prints of Your Art

Limited editions also work as an upsell. A customer who is torn between liking two prints, one an open and the other a limited edition print, is likely to choose the cheaper option. A good salesman will offer a deal to sell both.

Let’s say you sell an open edition for £8 and a limited edition for £25. Imagine the reaction when you offer them both for £25. Sounds crazy right? No, it makes perfect sense, and here’s why.

a limited edition print of a family of elephants by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Family Life’ A limited edition print that sold out

If each print costs £2 each to produce you are most likely to sell the cheaper print for a £6 profit. By offering both for £25 your customer doesn’t have to make a decision and you make a £21 profit.

Would you rather have £6 or £21? It’s a no-brainer. You’re happy and your customer has a ‘free’ print so they are happy too. That, my friend, is how you sell.

Here are a few selling tips: How to Sell More Art: 10 Selling Tips For Artists

The Advantages of Selling Limited Edition Prints:

  • High profit margins
  • Elevates the percieved value of your work
  • Great as an upsell

The Disadvantages of Selling Limited Edition Prints:

  • Your bestsellers will run out
  • Slower turnover
  • Choosing the right image is a gamble

The Advantages of Selling Open Edition Prints

  • Bestsellers will sell for years
  • You can repurpose the image for different products
  • You can sell in bulk

The Disadvantages of Selling Open Edition Prints:

  • You must have a high turnover to succeed
  • You must buy your prints in bulk to get a cheap deal
  • Storage problems

There’s more to it: What Are Limited Edition Prints and Do Artists Really Need Them?

I should make it clear that your daily income is an average figure taken across the year. Obviously, you will have peaks and troughs. Some days you’ll earn more and others less.

Your income will be higher on weekends, holidays, and during events. It will nose dive at other times. Trade is seasonal. Your cash flow will be inconsistent, but as long as you do the hours you’ll get there in the end.

This is a very popular course with very good reviews. Foncho has had over 56,000 students on Domestika (affiliate). That’s impressive.

How to Price Your Art Commissions

For most artists seeking out and accepting commissions is a vital part of the job but it can easily turn into a frustrating dead end.

Let’s be honest how many clients will ever give you the freedom to do as you please? They won’t, they have an idea and then want you to interpret their idea in your own way. In other words, you’re expected to imagine what they are imagining.

Right from the outset, you have to deal with false expectations and unrealistic demands and the only way to deal with that is to set out some clear guidelines upfront.

Before you undertake any work, you must discuss what you can and can’t do and the costs involved.

You must determine:

  • The quality of the reference photo
  • The expected size
  • The medium
  • The delivery time
  • The price with or without a frame
  • How many, if any, alterations you are prepared to make
  • The price per portrait, not per photo
  • The deposit
  • The final price

So How Do You Price Your Art Commissions?

Well for a start only you can figure out how long the job will take. When I took commissions, I would allow one day. If I screwed up and it took two days, it was my loss.

There are no rules dictating your rates but you can get a ballpark figure by seeking out other artists doing similar work or even base it on the average hourly rate in the industry.

You can make a living just painting pets: How to Draw Pet Portraits for Money and Start a Business

Bear in mind that other artists may well be more established with a larger fan base so they can command higher prices but at least it will give you an idea.

Another way of looking at the same question is to ask yourself what you are prepared to work for if someone offered you an unrelated day job, right now. What figure would make you say ‘Yes I’ll do it’.

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of underselling yourself. A fair price is one that both parties feel comfortable with. If you take on a job with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach you will resent the commission.

I look at my work as a skill worth paying for. I want more than a minimum wage, I want to feel valued and respected. As a professional, I want a good return for a bespoke piece.

As I point out to people on almost a daily basis. I can put in the same amount of time and effort into making my own work and sell the prints for years to come, or I can make a single commission for less money.

Point this out to your prospect and your higher price becomes much more reasonable.

Take my advice and accept only those jobs that are low risk and can be accomplished within your chosen parameters.

Choose your…

  • Style
  • Size
  • Medium

…and stick to it.

Don’t give choices. Offer a ‘take it or leave it’ service and that way you will limit your problems.

Set one rate for all and if you get a ton of work, create a waiting list and slowly raise your prices until your orders diminish. That’s your price point.

How Your Medium Affects The Price of Your Art

Believe it or not, there is a hierarchy of medium and that affects the price you can ask for your work.

You must price your art accordingly.

You can’t command the same prices for pastels as you can for watercolors and they aren’t as popular as acrylics which in turn are worth less than oils.

It is less rigid these days but still, the perception remains in the eye of the public (and galleries) that some mediums are worth more than others.

As a graphite artist, I’m almost at the bottom of the pile.

Don’t listen to the ‘experts’ who assure you they love black and white. It’s a niche and few galleries will want to risk it on their valuable wall space.

Why do I do it then? I’m colorblind. Hey, you play the hand you’re dealt with!

This is: How to Sell Your Drawings (All You Need to Know)

Time is Money in the Art Business

There is no getting around the obvious limitations of your time. Everything comes down to the amount of time it takes to get your work done.

Sadly, your time has little bearing on the value of your work. A piece that took a week can retail for the same money as something else which took just a few hours. The public doesn’t care.

Sadly the public rarely appreciates the difference in skill levels between artists. If they do, then the added time it takes to reach that higher level is not understood.

There is a misconception that if you excel at something then it must be ‘easy for you’. Someone who is able to paint fluidly and at speed may well have spent half a lifetime getting to that point, but the public is oblivious.

All the public sees are the results and that is what they are buying into. They look at the image and make their judgment, whereas other artists look at the process.

That’s why some 5-minute doodle can outsell a highly accomplished piece of work. It’s the difference between ‘quirky and fun’ and right for the space, as opposed to ‘crafted and clever’ and out of place entirely.

On the whole, it’s the image and not the skill that sells. There is no appreciable premium for the time it takes.

Pricing Art For Beginners – Final Thoughts

If there was a proven formula for pricing art then I’d have found it by now.

Art is worth what the buyer is happy to pay and that’s a matter of trial and error. Sorry, there is no magic bullet.

So many variables exist that influence the asking price that one size can never fit all. All these factors come into play:

  • Size
  • Time
  • Reputation
  • Client list
  • Customer Demographic
  • Medium
  • Subject
  • Style

And last but not least your.. Price Your Art With Confidence!

Katy has a popular class on Domestika (affiliate). It’s worth having a look. She has 98% positive reviews

If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit: (Amazon affiliate links)

I cover everything you need to know in this guide. You should check it out if you want to make money selling your art in a no-nonsense way:

Selling art made simple digital guide for starting a small art business

If You Want to Sell Your Art

Check this out!

Psst…it’s only $12.99!

If you found this article helpful you might like these:

Plus find an ONLINE COURSE that suits you.

Keep in Touch

* indicates required
Pricing Art For Beginners: Originals, Art Prints, and Formulas