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Smart & beautiful insights, advice in pricing artists work


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Dorothy Jett-Carter creates beautiful bags and purses from vintage African cloth. Her creative work is sold at the Detroit Institute of Arts gift shop, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History shop and in galleries and art fairs. She also has experience selling creative work to department stores.

And in all those places, she strives for consistent pricing. Artists must price their work the same in many venues, even if the commission or cost to sell varies, she told Mint Artists Guild teens at our March 2016 workshop on pricing. 

“You can’t go up and down with your price. You can’t have a gallery on one side of town selling it at once price because they would buy it wholesale and then on other side of town, a different number.  You need to be consistent with your pricing.”

Artists and galleries use many methods to price their work – from measuring the size in square inches to evaluating competitors prices. Some price their work based on the customer’s economic status. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some prices based on social media followers!

However, Jett-Carter recommends artists consider all the costs of producing the creative work – including equipment and supplies and time spent on delivery or promotion. Then add in some amount for the  artist’s creativity and reputation and figure in the commission too.

She described the various ways artists may sell their work and noted that the commission rates may vary from 20 to 50 percent, and payment terms vary too. 

A wholesale client will pay for your work upfront, but will expect a 50 percent discount from the standard price. Many galleries take artists’ work on consignment, often for 90 days, and pay only after the piece sells.  And a few galleries will rent space to artists for a set payment each month plus a low commission of 15 to 25 percent. “I don’t recommend those galleries for emerging artists,” Jett-Carter said. They work best for artists who already have “a tremendous following” or for work that is more commercial, such as art made into coasters or calendars, she added.

Jett-Carter, who runs a small training company, has worked with many businesses and artists. Her expertise on artist pricing is much appreciated by the Mint Artists. Here’s three other pieces of pricing advice Jett-Carter gave at the Mint workshop:

  • Cost of your work.   When you consider how much it costs to produce a piece, be sure to add in costs of tools such as paint brushes or a sewing machine. And calculate both time and labor – and the value of your creativity, she says. Many artists forget to add in miscellaneous costs – gasoline, electricity, studio rent, art fair admission fees and promotional costs – often  about 10 to 15 percent of the price, Jett-Carter said.
  • Art fairs. You mark up your price to cover commissions galleries take. Yet your price stays at that higher level at a fair or art pop-up, even if you have no gallery has signed up to accept your work. “Gallery owners shop art festivals looking for new talent all the time. It is the best way that I know to have gallery owners find you,” Jett-Carter said. (She joined Mint Artists at the 2016 Palmer Park Art Fair.)
  • Left unsaid.  If a customer asks how long it took to make a piece, it’s best not to answer that question.  Or to give a very vague non committal answer, Jett-Carter said. If you say it took three hours, they may try to calculate a price be based on an hourly rate for your time.  

Take a very limited approach to discounting on prices.  “A discount is taking a very small amount of money off the piece – just enough to say thank you” to a repeat customer, said Jett-Carter. That amount will often be around 10 percent. If someone asks for a discount, consider the request. “Before you say yes, stop, breathe, think. People will try to talk you down….. Don’t give your work away.”

  © Vickie Elmer 2016   (Photos by © Rod Carter, courtesy Dorothy Jett-Carter)

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