As an art teacher, I often get questions about pricing work. These questions encompass many concerns: How much is it worth? How much will someone pay for it? How much money do I have invested in the creation of this work?
The truth is, there is really no easy or “right” answer to these questions and the answers are different for each artist. Honestly, I have never 100% figured out the right formula for myself, but I have found some resolution within my own process that enables me to come up with prices that satisfactorily reflect the value of my work.
I want to share what I have learned with others who are trying to navigate these tricky waters to help them start on their own personal journey more effectively. Although I have used embroidery hoops as my example, these concepts can apply to any type of work in any media.
Overall, my advice for pricing your work breaks down into the following:
- take stock of your invested efforts and be honest with yourself
- define your personal artistic goals and identify your audience
- do your research and trust your gut
Taking Stock (& Be Honest With Yourself)
This past holiday I created several hoops with nature themes for the artist market that sells some of my work in Atlanta. Until now, I have always embroidered for myself or for gifts so creating work with the specific purpose of making a profit was a new challenge for me.
Embroidery is a time-consuming task and the outcome is not always appreciated for what goes into it. With big-box stores offering machine embroidered (and possibly exploitative or underpaid hand-embroidered) items at a minimal cost, the average consumer will likely not understand just how long it takes to embroider a basic 8″ hoop.
As a result, making a hoop to sell is a difficult task, after all you want to be compensated for the work you put into the piece but you want the final cost to be something that is manageable for your target customer.
Taking stock is an important factor in pricing any work of art and embroidery is no different. I know that, for me, some types of imagery and stitches are faster than others. My “fine art” embroidery pieces are therefor very different than my “oh, what a cute gift for my aunt” embroidery pieces.
There are other things to consider outside of time: cost of hoop and thread used, time to prepare display hoop (painting, staining, etc.), time to back or prepare the work for sale, time to design and transfer the imagery, time to package and/or prepare work for shipping (tags, bags, etc.).
Have you ever really itemized these expenses and factors? For example, I learned a lot by really looking at what it takes and costs to stain my display hoops. It can add up and so it makes sense to really look at what is going on if you are thinking about trying to make business decisions.
You also need to be honest with yourself – how good is your work? Do you have a lot of experience with the medium – is your work amateur, average, semi-professional, professional, expert? Be realistic. Comparison is usually a big NO when it comes to being an artist but when you are thinking about selling your work and need to view yourself as a business person with a product you have to be honest with what level you are really at. It is a good idea to develop a little distance from your work while pricing.
While it is pretty easy to understand that you are not going to be successful if you price your work like an expert when you are only a beginner, it is a whole lot harder to swallow this fact when you are staring at something that you care about and spent a lot of time on.
Personally, I am pretty quick with my embroidery pieces but when I look at the work of some of the really successful artists I admire and am inspired by, I know that, while I am certainly not an amateur, I still have a lot to learn and I do not have anything that really makes my work unique (yet).
We all want to be a special snowflake but the truth is… there are a LOT of special snowflakes in the world. Awareness of these aspects help keep me grounded when I am looking at what goes into my work and how I should price it.
Define Your Personal Goals & Identify Your Audience
My biggest concern with selling my art is that it is affordable and does not alienate the very people who might connect with and wish to support my efforts.
In my classes I engage my students in a conversation about the value of art – a subject that extends beyond the dollar amount of a work. However, the reality of the monetary value of art is – it is worth what someone will pay for it.
It is important to consider that the work we produce as artists can be quite different than the work we produce to earn a living – this can certainly be argued but it is important to point out that there does not have to be anything wrong with this. Having different aspects of your work does not mean that any one part is less valuable or authentic than the others.
When it comes to pricing my work I think about what someone like me would pay for the item if they stopped in to look around or needed a sweet gift for a friend. I think about what my budget can afford and I try to work backwards from there when designing items for sale.
When I consider my audience and goals I know that I have to make some choices about the work I create for sale. Designing works that are smaller and involve simpler images and less complex stitches are perfect for a lower price point.
Some might argue that this decision, and those like it, are being made by artists all the time and lead to the dilution of quality artist goods as a whole (or that it is another example of selling out), however, I disagree. The work I create is not a watered down or less meaningful version of more complex works, it is simply a different path of exploration and a way to create and share my work with others.
Do Your Research & Trust Your Gut
It is likely that you are already pretty versed in what people are creating in the medium you have chosen. Most artists seek out the inspiration and community of other artists in this way and guess what – that is what research is. Know what others are creating at your skill level and at the skill levels above and below yours.
If you have never gone on sites like Etsy to search for the same type of items you are trying to sell then you need to do this as soon as possible. Consider the artist though – do they have a really large following and thousands of sales or are they a hobbiest who is just testing the waters with a few passion projects. Identify the artist who’s work is like yours in terms of craftsmanship and style – what are they doing to sell their work and is it effective? Think about what artist’s who are more professional are doing with their work and check out their price points, too. Where does your work realistically fit into this spectrum (and remember to be honest with yourself).
Think with your head and not your heart if you really want to sell the work you make consistently and make a profit. In my experience, you should trust your gut if you have a work of art that you really love and just hate to get rid of. These works are often hard to price at a point that makes logical (unattached) business sense. If your heart says “keep it” you might as well keep it if you know that it is unlikely to sell at the price you really want for it.
Some Final Thoughts
It is common to see someone feel greatly disappointed after they consider all of these things and realize that they were overvaluing their work for one reason or another. Others might find that they are doing the opposite and undervaluing their work and not giving themselves enough credit for how much work they have done so far.
No matter the outcome, this type of introspection can provide a better understanding of what you can do to improve and can help you to define goals that you can actually achieve and actively work toward.
You can choose to take what you discover as something you can learn from or you can let it knock you down. I would encourage you to look to the things you can control and let go of negativity that might be holding you back. Do the work required to evaluate how you personally value the work you create as well as where your work is comparably in the overall market.
In conclusion, thinking with your head does not mean that you have to compromise your artistic vision or integrity to sell your work! You just have to make smart choices.
When you can develop work that you know can be profitable and also reflects your passion and skill you will be able to sell your work more effectively and feel good about doing it in the process.