Putting your work up for sale the first time is a scary business. You are putting your soul on show for other people to comment on. You need to applaud yourself for your bravery.
That said, please don’t expect to sell. Of course, it is disappointing when you don’t but selling on your first show is not to be expected. That way if you do sell it will be a real bonus.
But how do you price your work?
The best starting point is to calculate how much you have spent on supplies. What was the cost of the canvases, the paints and the frames?
You then need to calculate a price for your time.
This is where most people come unstuck.
A starting point here is what is the minimum wage in your country? In the UK it is £8.21 an hour. How many hours did you spend making that piece of artwork? Calculate all the time spent going to the store to buy the paint and canvas, going to the framer or if buying a ready-made frame or making one yourself, there is still a cost of obtaining the materials and the time spent. Add up all the figures and you will now have a price from which to work.
Perhaps you are someone who take hours and hours to make a piece of work which would take someone else half the amount of time to produce; or equally you could be someone who works really quickly. If you fall into either of these categories, you may need to adjust your ‘time spent’ calculation to something you think is more reasonable.
To give you an example:
A 30x40cm (12×16”) canvas here in the UK will cost you around £7.00
Paint (oil or acrylic) and varnish for will also cost you about £7.00
A frame for this size will come in at about £20. Many people buy second-hand frames from charity shops (thrift stores), which is fine so long as the frame is in good condition. A damaged frame will make your work look bad.
So far, without the time element we’ve spent £34.
There may be other costs to factor in. If you are showing work at an exhibition there will be a ‘hanging fee’ (a fee charged for the ‘space’ your work is occupying on the wall) and probably a commission fee (a percentage of the sale price if your work is sold at the exhibition), too. The hanging fee with an art group will be about £5 and commission will be around 20%
Including the £5 hanging fee as a further cost, we’re now at £39.
Adding in the time of collecting together all the materials and making the piece, (say five hours in total) and working with the minimum wage as a guide we have 5 hrs @ £8.21/hr = £41.05.
So, materials and time together equates to £79.05. To achieve this figure for your work, selling at an art exhibition, by the time the commission has been paid, the piece would have to be priced at £98.81.
Being new to art, you are likely to think that your work is not ‘worth’ this amount and you will be tempted to price it at the lowest point the exhibition allows. At most art exhibitions there is a minimum sale price of £50, and if you sell the piece at that price, after the organisers have taken their 20% commission, you will get just £40.
Costs alone have been £39, so all you’ve received for the time spent is £1; a big difference to the ‘reasonable’ cost that you calculated based on the minimum wage of £41.05.
Most people who buy from you in the beginning are family and friends. Whilst this is happening, I would suggest you keep you prices on the lower side, and ‘give your time’ for free, just looking to recover your costs.
However, you can’t go on ‘working for nothing’ unless you are only doing it for fun and have an abundance of time to spare (who has?), so perhaps you should put the cost of artwork into perspective.
The average UK household spends £91 per week on food. That is the mean average, which includes those living in poverty. They won’t be, or are very unlikely to be, buying your art.
If you are sitting at a computer reading this article you are no doubt in the top 50% of households and that means your weekly spend will be at least £150, probably quite a bit more.
Thinking about how much is spent going out for dinner, buying shoes, going to concerts etc. will, hopefully, help you to appreciate that the ‘realistic’ figure of £98.81 for a piece of original artwork is insignificant by comparison.
Once you have started to attract ‘outsiders’ (i.e. other than family and friends) to buying your work, you can gradually increase your prices and, obviously, the better artist you become, the more you can add to the price tag. Then at least you will be working at ‘minimum wage’ levels.
I am on the committee for a local art group and we do not allow anyone to show work priced to sell at less than £50. You may feel that even this is a huge price tag to place on your first piece of work, but if your price is any lower and unrealistic, then it devalues everyone else’s work. For a 30x40cm piece – which is a substantial-sized work – on canvas with acrylics or oil the absolute minimum on the ticket really should be £70 or £75.
The material costs of producing a watercolour piece is likely to be slightly less, depending on the type of paper you go for, but don’t be tempted to use the very cheapest just to keep the costs down so you can sell more cheaply. You will still spend the same amount of time producing it, and likely get sub-standard results. For information about materials see my blog post Which artists paints and substrates to use and why.
Bear in mind though that regardless of size, most art groups in the UK, these days will not allow you to hang your work for less than £50 and the above calculations are probably why.
So make that work, hang it in the next art group exhibitions and I will keep my fingers crossed for you that it sells. 😊