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How to Price Your Art / Why Some Art Costs What it Does

Posted on April 19 2016


This was originally posted on CurateThisPhilly.com

Curate This is an incredible look into the world of artists, creatives and their supporters. Please visit and explore, follow and support the the great conversations this platform creates.

Sean Martorana is an institution. If you are involved in the local art scene or are a member at Indy Hall, you have seen his work. Everything is Sean’s canvas, from wine glasses to jewelry; his iconic designs have graced both murals and products. Most importantly, Sean believes in fair pricing for artists and has generated one of the greatest self-pricing formulas I have encountered.

– Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder

 Curate This Sean Martorana Icon


Pricing artwork is tough for an upcoming artist. For 13 plus years I have worked to find the simple formula I now use to price my own work.

A few years after graduating a two-year college I started a small marketing and design company for small to mid-sized clients like architects, fashion designers, restaurants, and financial firms. Eight years later I switched my focus to my own artwork and design. I have been a full time artist for over seven years now, selling works of art, jewelry, murals, select commissions, and more. For all of these, I use the following method to help set my prices and charge for my time.

Pricing on materials and time doesn’t work. Does something that takes one hour cost less than something that might take three hours? What if you were inspired and you got it perfect the first time? Does this make the end result different in price? Absolutely not. Pricing based on your emotional attachment is also a terrible idea. If you love the piece, you will price it out of range and nobody will actually be able to afford it.

So, How to Price Your Artwork.

I price it by the square inch. Yup. By size. And it works every time. I originally learned this technique from Maria Brophy, an Art Business Consultant whose blog has provided answers to many questions I’ve had. Since I found this method, I have molded it to my specific career and helped others find their way with it as well. Let’s look into this formula and go through the process of pricing a 16” x 20” work of art.

16″ x 20″ = 320 square inches
At $1.00 per square inch, that = $320.

Is $1 per square inch an appropriate fee? To determine what you would actually be making off of the work you have to subtract your costs.

Canvas cost you $50, paint cost another $20; so, after you subtract your equipment costs from the square inch price, you are now making $250 off of this art.

A gallery’s commission could be anywhere from 40% to 60%. Let’s go with 50% for a happy medium. If that is the case you are now making $125 off of the painting.

What does that look like on an hourly rate? It all depends on how long it takes for you to create the work. If you spent five hours on the painting, you are getting paid $25/hour. Ten hours, you are getting paid $12.50 an hour. I’m not just talking about the actual time paint is hitting the canvas (or which ever medium you use), I’m talking about ALL the time. The time it takes to set up your easel. The time it takes to clean your brushes. The time it takes to research the subject you are about to create. All these and more are billable hours and should be accounted for.

Knowing around what you want to make hourly is important too. If we look at our final price and you aren’t making that mark, you need to raise your price. A good practice is comparing your rate to the rates at which companies contract freelancers. For example, if I were designing the branding and identity for a company, illustrating a poster, or even consulting on the interior of a space, I charge anywhere from $85/hr – $125/hr and this is within the market standard. Why should my fine art be any different? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.

16″ x 20″ = 320 square inches

We are now at $320 according to the $1 / square inch math. The gallery is going to charge 50% commission. This should be added on top. Not baked in. You saw above that when you bake it in you start making close to minimum wage. So 50% of $320 is $160.

Total is now $480.

$70 in materials could be baked in but let’s add this on top allowing more room for time.

We are now at $550.

If you want to get this custom framed, add another $200 – $400 or more on top of that. Framing costs more than the artwork sometimes. This makes no sense.

So $550 (unframed) seems to be an ok price for a 16″ x 20″ painted canvas. This doesn’t look at the time spent because that changes for every artist and every work of art. You need to do the math and figure out if that actually makes sense to you.

If you don’t profit from your artwork, you end up paying people to take your art away from you, and begin to collect debt. You are not helping your craft. You are actually taking away from it and not financing your next project.

I move fast and I create a lot. I want to create more all the time. But I can’t do that if I have to spend my time making money somewhere else. People are not benefitting from my art or design if I have less to offer due to spreading myself thin with multiple jobs. I want my undivided attention on making this world better through art and design, and to do this I must charge accordingly and realize that this time spent creating art is valuable.

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