Tuesday, December 14, 2021


(Originally written for the Mountain Artists Guild, Prescott, Arizona)


Pricing artworks is a mysterious and arcane endeavor.  There are many opinions but very few rules or guidelines.  There are no ‘industry standards.’  I will begin by mentioning the following information is for the fine artist and not the commercial artist.  Pricing commercial works is often the result of negotiation and always includes a ‘reproduction’ or ‘license’ fee.  Sometimes commercial art prices include a transfer of copyright too.  Reproduction and copyright is not a factor in a fine art purchase.  When a collector buys a fine art piece they are not buying the copyright, which remains with the artist, nor are they buying a license to reproduce the artwork in any way.  When one purchases fine art they’re buying a piece of art for display only.  This should be written clearly on the invoice or Certificate of Authenticity to avoid any confusion by the buyer.

One pricing methodology I eschew and recommend avoiding is the ‘square inch’ model.  This method takes the size of the piece; height x width = size in square inches, and assigns a number (price) to each square inch to determine the artwork’s price.  Here’s an example:  a 16x20 inch artwork is 320 square inches (16x20=320), if you assign $5.00 per square inch you end up with a price of $1600.00.  320x5=1600.  This method does not take into account any aesthetic factors and should be left to those who price and sell carpet or tile.

Most retail pricing takes three factors into account: cost of production (materials), cost of labor, and profit.  For artwork it’s nearly impossible to calculate the cost of labor so forget about that as a pricing factor. 

After many years of selling art, I’ve found the following factors should be considered when pricing your artworks:

·         Cost of production (material – paint, canvas, film, paper, ink, frame, etc.)

·         The gallery and market.

·         Similar prices.

·         Your medium.

·         Size of artwork.

·         Your status/recognition.

·         Profit margin after gallery commission.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Every artist should know their production costs.  For painters it’s the cost of the canvas, paint and frame; for photographers or digital artists it’s the cost of paper, ink and frame.  Minus the frame, this is the actual cost of the artwork – which in most cases isn’t all that much!

Framing is problematic.  Frames are not cheap yet it’s expected that artworks in a gallery are framed.  The expense of the frame falls wholly on the artist and eats into profits.  Few galleries share framing costs so it’s best to use the cheapest frames possible without the frame looking cheap and cheesy.  That’s a hard target to hit.  Think of the frame as an unpleasant add-on expense.

When I do exhibitions out-of-town I always defer to the gallery for pricing.  They know their ‘range’ and they should know their market.  I try to hit a ‘median’ price that’s an average for the gallery, not over- or under- priced, and in a range expected by their clients. 

Look around the gallery and in other galleries in the area at other professional artists’ prices.  In most cases your prices ought to be within this range to be ‘competitive.’  (There are exceptions.)

Medium is an important factor.  One-of-a-kind artworks are naturally more expensive than reproducible art.  This is why paintings cost more than photographs or digital art.  A painter expects to sell one painting at a high price whereas a photographer expects to sell lower-priced prints but in multiples.  Beware the terms Gicleé and Inkjet as they effect the perception of value!  Gicleé is a fancy, French word for ‘sprayed ink’ or ‘inkjet print.’  When painters sell Gicleés of their paintings they’re selling reproductions.  When a photographer or digital artist sells a Gicleé they’re selling originals.  A true digital ‘original’ exists only as binary code but ones and zeros are not ‘a tangible form’ and must be printed to be seen.  Therefore that ‘digital print’ or Gicleé is an ‘original’ just the same as a photographic print from the darkroom was.  Avoid the term ‘inkjet’ entirely as most people associate inkjet with their cheap office printer.  To avoid the stigma of either term I use ‘Archival Pigment Print’ for my digital artworks.

Size matters.  Obviously large artworks should command larger prices simply because production costs are higher.

The artists’ status or level of recognition does affect prices.  If you’re well-known with name-recognition, like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, your works will command a higher price than an artwork by Billy-Bob Nobody.  This is how the art world works.  If you’re ‘famous’ your name alone asserts value, your works are more widely collected, appreciate in value and are worth more in the secondary market.  Don’t worry, if you should achieve widespread name-recognition the gallery will raise your prices for you!

Finally, profit-margins.  Profit, as in extra money, is the thing that allows you such luxuries as owning a car, sleeping indoors and eating on a regular basis, so you’re going to want as much of it as possible.  You’ve got to factor the galleries’ commission into your retail price.  As a rule, most galleries take a fifty-percent commission.  That means for that $500.00 print sold you’re getting $250.00 after the gallery takes their commission.  Let’s do some simple math here, and you can use this to ‘explain’ to someone who thinks $500.00 is ‘too much’ for an artwork:


·         Print sold for $500.00

·         Less the 50% gallery commission

·         Leaves you $250.00

·         Let’s say the print and matt cost you $30.00

·         And the frame + glass cost you $50.00

·         Deduct $80.00 ($30 + $50) from your $250.00

·         That leaves you $170.00

·         Let’s say you’re in a low tax-bracket (because you’re an artist) and pay 10% Federal Income Tax

·         Deduct another $17.00 leaving you with $153.00

·         And you pay an average 3% State Income tax

·         Deduct another (approximately) $5.00, leaving you with $148.00


So, the collector who paid the gallery $500.00 + sales tax for your artwork nets you $148.00 after expenses and taxes.  This is why art is expensive!! 

Pricing artworks is indeed a mysterious and arcane endeavor, you want to hit a price someplace between free and extortionate and that’s a hard target to hit.


Dale O’Dell

December 2021

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