Everything comes with a price tag, including artwork. The artistic process is built on skills, education, experience, and creativity, all of which take time to develop. That said, outside your studio, the market also shapes the potential pricing for your creations.
Successfully pricing art requires developing some business acumen. It combines an analysis of the costs incurred (time and materials) to make the piece, the level of skill you’ve attained, the profit margin that is acceptable to you, and the pricing limitations of the market wherever you sell.
Many customers who are interested in buying art are aware of the market rates of its worth. But to sell to a wider audience, you may have to persuade less experienced buyers that your prices are reasonable by explaining the process that goes into making a piece, from research and techniques to firing. If you cannot do that, you may have a tough time selling any art to an audience that’s new to you or is inexperienced with purchasing artwork. If you are new to selling art in a selective price range or a specific market, your sales are erratic, or you’re not confident in deciding how much to charge, follow the guide below to get started.
Do Research Online
There are several ways to study the value of your pottery online. If you’ve sold work in the past, the straightforward and most dependable way to determine an absolute current market price for your pottery is to research recent sales at galleries you work with or that carry work similar to yours. For the precise assessment of your pottery’s value, you need to find a similar example for comparison.
When looking at comparison sales, restrict your analysis to the pieces that have already sold. If you are new to the industry and don’t know how to set prices, you can compare prices online on Etsy or Instagram. Visit independent artist websites to compare the price they have set for similar pieces. But remember that the artist’s work you are comparing with might be more experienced than you, so their price might be slightly higher. Decide wisely.
One way (often not thought of by potters) to ascertain the value of your pottery is to put it up for auction and let the bidding determine the price. There are many ways to sell your items through an auction. These include eBay, belhorn.com, liveauctioneers.com, invaluable.com, or other local live auction houses. It is useful to promote the auction of your work, so that potential buyers and those currently on your mailing list will see where it is available.
Another avenue for selling work includes setting up an account on art-specific e-commerce sites like Etsy. Once you open a shop and do research on sales of items that are comparable to your own, you can add pieces, pricing them by taking costs, profit margins, and comparison prices into account. Use multiple tags (to describe the work as thoroughly as possible) and promote your shop on social media so buyers can find your art, and then you can gauge what sells well at what price.
Earn a Living Wage
Do not undersell your pieces. Producing artwork is expensive. Factors that need to be considered include: raw materials, tools and equipment, experience and education, studio overhead, insurance, hours/time invested, and business management time. Shipping costs should be calculated separately.
Consider a reasonable hourly wage and work backward from there. The US Department of Labor lists artists’ average hourly wage as $24.58 on their website—this will help you to estimate your pricing. Thoroughly record your working hours and then factor in the cost of materials and overhead.
For example: You complete a piece in 30 minutes, and pay yourself $15 per hour, so the labor cost for the item equals $7.50. The materials cost $10. Overhead is 10% of these combined costs.
Next, use the numbers in the following artwork pricing formula:
(Cost of Supplies + Labor) + Overhead = Artwork Price
Using the example, the cost of supplies and labor equals $17.50. To determine overhead: calculate 10% of the combined supply-and-labor cost (10% of $17.50), which equals $1.75. The total artwork pricing cost is $19.25.
From there, determine the wholesaleprice. The formula is:
Total Artwork Cost × 2 = Wholesale Price
In this example, that equates to $38.50.
Now find the retail price. The formula is:
Wholesale Price × 2 = Retail Price
In this example, that equates to $77.
For calculations that work backward from price to hourly wage and materials cost, follow these steps:
Step 1: Plug your numbers into the following formula:
Number of Mugs × Cost Per Mug = Total Cost of Mugs
Step 2: Use that resulting total in the following formula:
Total Cost of Mugs ÷ Overhead and Selling Costs = Total Artwork Price. Use a spreadsheet to track the cost of materials and overhead.
Step 3: Now find your hourly wage using the following formula:
Total Artwork price ÷ Labor Hours = Hourly Wage. This calculation tells you whether the mugs are priced too low or just right.
Be Uniform with Pricing
Galleries typically mark up works by 50% or more. You should plan to sell your pieces for a similar price, including markup, rather than selling for less than the retail price. Galleries will not be pleased to discover that you are selling work for a lot less than their price. If you are working with a reputable and responsible gallery, be mindful that the markup cost for selling your work is used to cover marketing and exhibition costs. Undercutting a gallery’s pricing on your own site, studio sale, or online platform could result in making galleries less inclined to work with you. Set prices that are generally equivalent for your studio and your galleries to keep a positive rapport with galleries and maintain a positive reputation as an artist to do business with should other galleries seek you out.
Price for One and All
Not all customers buy higher-priced art. Less expensive pieces are more obtainable for a wider audience, including buyers with modest budgets or young buyers who are just getting started in collecting. They still get to take your art home and fall in love with it. When it is possible for them financially, they can upgrade to higher-priced artwork.
The more people who buy your pieces, the more exposure you will receive. The more people who see it out in the world, the more they spread information via word of mouth or on social media, exposing you to new audiences. Having various price points can encourage goodwill—people will be happy they can bring home one of your creations—and in return, refer additional customer sales back to you.
Wholesale pricing is the price you charge when selling multiples of your items to a single buyer or a store owner.
Selling a high quantity as a wholesale usually costs less than selling singular items to many customers. That’s the reason wholesale rates can be cheaper than retail prices but still be profitable. Pricing for the buyer is based on the expense it costs to make the item. It is important to factor profit into your prices. Some people make the error of not adding profit to the price, thinking that the labor cost is their profit. Keep in mind that labor is not profit. You may be paying yourself the labor for production time right now, but in the future, you may need or want to hire an apprentice, and that kind of enterprise expansion will only be possible if you’ve built that expense into your prices.
Mamta Gholap, a frequent contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated, earned her MBA in finance, and is passionate about handbuilding with clay.