Most artists dream of being able to support themselves with their artwork, but it often seems impossible. When we think of a successful artist who lives off of their work, we think of big names in bigger galleries with even bigger price tags. For an artist looking to simply start making an income off of their work, the prospect of selling art can seem intimidating and impossible.
But the reality of selling art is quite different from what you might think.
Most successful artists aren’t selling paintings to museums or sitting in the top galleries in the world. In fact, according to an Art Basel report, in 2017 the common price range for buying works of art was less than $5,000 (79%). Just 1% of consumers bought art at prices in excess of $1 million.
This means that you don’t have to be selling your artwork for massive amounts of money in order to be in good company with thousands of other successful, working artists.
With this fact in mind, you still need to know what to charge for your art, where to sell it, and who to sell it to. Once you answer those questions you are one step closer to making art for a living.
How to Price Your Art
Often the most difficult part of selling your art is knowing what your work is worth. And it’s really not about what the work is worth. It’s about what your time is worth and how to price your work relative to where you are in your career.
Most people don’t know what their time is worth because they give it away every day to a menial job. Consider this scenario if you’re just starting out with no name or client base. A portrait could take you ten hours and you value your time at $20/hr just like your office job. At this rate, you will produce a painting worth $200 in ten hours.
Now, anyone who can produce a beautiful portrait in ten hours knows that their work is worth more than $200. But realize that when you first start out, you can’t figure out the value of the painting itself. You first have to figure out the value of your time. You have very little monetary value as an artist because you just aren’t established yet. But with time, that will change.
Art is a commodity
Art, though very personal, is still a business and therefore somewhat impersonal. The job of the artist, at least on the lower end of things, is to educate the potential consumer.
The way to educate your customers is to show them beautiful work and have people desire to own it. So if you go out into the world and try to sell your work at a very high cost without a reputation, purchasing that work will be unfathomable to clients. But almost anyone can afford $200. And if it takes you ten hours, that is a living wage if you can find enough people to purchase your work.
So this is a place to start. It is about changing what you think about what you do and figuring out what your time is worth. You need to start with what your time is worth, not what your work is worth. With time, the value of your work and time will rise together, because of your experience and the experience of your clients.
Who is Your Market?
When you start out, utilize the people closest to you and start close to home. Don’t go out and try to find clients halfway across the world. Find people who can see your work with their own eyes, who you can deliver finished work to with your own hands, and keep it personal.
Use social media to share your work with people in your area and to show you are capable of producing work worth paying for. Ensure you are over-delivering for what you are charging, and as an artist starting out, getting the short end of the stick isn’t the end of the world. You will be getting an hourly wage based on what you think your time is worth.
If you offer the opportunity to purchase a portrait for only $150 dollars, even if just to people you know and feel comfortable selling to, I guarantee you will fill six spaces. And once those paintings are done and delivered, you now have six happy clients who will be walking endorsements of your work. Ask them to share the image and share your information with their friends. Start simple and close to home.
Increasing the marketable value of your art
As you begin to sell your work and gain some sort of reputation, slowly begin to build up your prices. If you charged $150, give yourself a 33% raise up to $200, which is still affordable. But your hourly wage has gone up drastically. It is about simple steps. Start at an affordable price, get your name out there, and build up an audience of happy clients.
Content clients can become your marketing. You don’t ask them to advertise for you, rather you ask them to share what you’ve done for them and if they’ve had a good experience, they will do so happily. Most people are happy to share if they love what they had delivered and want to show off. Prompt them and ask them to encourage their friends to make a small purchase and you’ll find more work will come your way.
And you keep doing just this, and every time you get a certain amount of clients you raise your price again.
Where to Sell Your Art
Now you need to be creative in how you find new places to sell your work. Starting from a niche is a good idea. If you’re involved in a club, a sport, any kind of activity you can be knowledgeable about, spread your work around and find places where you have access to people.
For example, imagine a farmers market or flea market. If you went and set up a workstation people will be drawn to you immediately. So you have some of your work up and you begin selling affordable portraits. And if out of a thousand people you only get 1% as clients, that’s still ten portraits to paint. And then you go through the paintings and go back to the market again to find more potential customers.
Utilize the spaces around you and utilize events that you can participate in and subjects you are knowledgeable about. And as you build up your reputation you will grow in success. It’s easier to build from the ground up in smaller ways, selling creatively. There are an infinite amount of opportunities like I’ve described above, it’s simply a matter of finding the one that suits you.
Selling art is made out to be an impossible task. But it is simply a matter of following a plan and starting out small. If you are able to knowledgeably talk about a subject, then do so! Paint what you know and are passionate about and people will choose to buy your art. Putting yourself in the right place for the right price is crucial, and once you can figure that out, you are one step closer to making a living making art that you love.