How to Price Your Art: Finding Your Market & Bargaining with Buyers

Hello my name is Brainard Carey and today I’m going to present a short talk – a video for you on how to price your work or price your paintings or other visual art.

I’m an artist and an author. I’ve written this book New Markets for Artists, which came out in 2012. And I’ve written this book, which is the best seller Making It in The Art World which came out in 2011. Both books are designed to help artists build their professional careers, whatever that means, in the visual arts. And in the case of the book what that means is doing what you need to do in order to be a professional artist. It has (it means) different things to different artists because artists have all kinds of mediums and ways of working in different parts of the world. But essentially it means, for the purpose of the book, developing your professional career – doing what it takes to be a professional artist.

Today we’re talking about how to price your paintings, how to price your artwork. To begin with, if this is a question for you, not knowing how to price or where to begin pricing it, then most likely you haven’t sold very much artwork. If you haven’t sold very much artwork and one of the questions that you’re having if you’re involved in open studio or an art fair or any process – like people coming into your studio where they may be interested in purchasing work. If you need to price work now, what you have to keep in mind is that what’s very important is that you sell the work. It’s important to come up with the right price – not too high or too low ideally. But essentially, you’re an artist that wants to sell work and this is the time when you’re trying to figure out what prices should be so that it will sell well.

So, one way to figure this out is to look at what other artists are selling their work for. If you’re showing work, let’s say, in an open studio or a cooperative gallery or some situation like that, you can look at what other people are selling work for. And that’s a barometer of the general range that your work should be in.

Also, it’s okay to bargain with people somebody comes into your studio and they’re interested in your work or they’re interested in commissioning a work from you. What you have to do is decide how much it is that you want for it, ideally, and I would go high. Let’s say he looked around other artists who are selling work like yours and have the same history as you, same history of sales, then perhaps you can go a little bit higher than that. And tell the person in your studio who wants to commission something or buying something that this is the price. It’s $5000. If they gawk at that and say that’s a little too much for me, then the way to get a sale is to either lower or say to them, “Look for $200 this is yours.” And they’ll say “For $200? What do you mean?” “For $200 down – as a down payment you can own this work and we can work out payments however you want. If you want to pay me a $100 a month, whatever it is.” You give them the painting or commission when it’s done.

So that’s one way to manage a sale. It’s to start high. If people are surprised by it, sell it to and offer to sell it to them in time, over the course of time. And ask for a very small down payment to begin with. Another way to think about selling your work is developing a real market for it. And you know the old saying is always whatever the market bears, you know, whatever people would pay for your work is what it’s worth. It’s what it should be sold at. So how do we know what the market will bear – what that means is what have you sold work for before. If through your studio you sold a few paintings for $500, then that’s what the market will bear.

Another way to find that out, in a very real sense, is by artists like Abby Ryan and others who are selling work on eBay all the time. I talk about this a lot in my book. I’m not saying eBay is for everybody but it is a very real market. So, she would put up painting every day at D-Day – very small painting, 4×4 inches, for sale. The first year, first several months, some would sell, some wouldn’t. And it would sell for very little, under $100. As it grew and she kept posting every day – this is like over two, three hundred postings a year – which is pretty impressive, what happened is, people started buying them. And when people started buying them and the cost went up and they were spending $200 or $300 on a painting that was the market value. And the reason that was a very real market value is because other people started spending $300 for paintings or $400 – it would stay that value. So, every day she put up a painting, it would be for that price. Eventually what happened with her is, after two or three years the paintings started selling for $700 or $800. And to this day that’s about their market price. That’s what they all sell for every day. Because she’s established a real market on eBay.

So, in conclusion how to price your work, it’s something that is very individual. But there is a real economy out there. And there are real buyers out there. So, if you’re about to have a show whether it’s a cooperative gallery, regular gallery or non-profit space, your studio, studio tour or anything like that, look at what other people are selling work for. Not what they’re asking for. Have they sold work before for that price? And in general, bring people into your studio, ask for more and see if they’re interested. The line to use is, “Would you like to own this work?” If people are interested, if they say “Yeah, but I can’t afford it,” say, “Well I’ll work something out with you.” The piece is $2000, but you can have it for $200.” Again, as I was saying, you offer them a payment plan of $200 down. That’s the other way to resolve pricing issues and whether or not people can afford it.

Thank you for listening today. You can ask questions if you like. You can like the Facebook page that’s down below and ask questions on there. My name is Brainard Carey and thank you for listening today.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.


Episode 110 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Closing a Deal

Closing a Deal

The last step is to get the check or cash in your hand. This is the part where you must be brave. Even gallery owners have difficulty closing a sale, but it is not that difficult. Like before, making the person comfortable is the first step, and after talking to them and involving them in the work, you can say something like, “Would you like to have this?” It is simple and bold, but they have to respond while you are smiling, waiting for an answer. They will probably say something like, “Yes, but… ”And then if you want to be smooth but effective, interrupt with, “For only $100, you could have it—as a down payment.” They are still comfort- able; you have gotten to the point quickly.

If they want to purchase something from you, you have made it easy, and if not, they can get out quickly now. They will either say, “No thank you,” and you can leave it there and go on with the story, or they will say, “$100?” And then you say, “I will negotiate, but for a $100 deposit, it’s yours, and then we can work out a payment arrangement for the rest.” If they still seem at all interested, you can go on to say, “The total cost is $5,000, but yes, for a small deposit and what- ever arrangement we make, it’s yours. I could have it delivered next week.” That may have seemed aggressive to you, but it is a polite, brief way to get the visitor to agree to your terms and get it out of the way. Otherwise, it is also a way to end the conversation about it if they are not interested.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 109 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Studio Tour

The Studio Tour

Take your visitor around assuming that they are feeling a bit shy and are not sure what to say. In most cases, this is the fact; how would you feel in a new studio where you do not know anyone and were being shown art? The way to break the ice easily is to tell a story about one of the pieces. This can be wide open, but it is an important talking point when someone visits the studio; telling a story can relax both you and the visitor. They are in a foreign place, so take them by the hand (not literally, but figuratively) and bring them to your work, or get them something to eat and then bring them over to a work and tell them a story. It could be anything, but something authentic, something you can easily remember. You could talk about how you built the painting, what was in your mind.

If there are things in your image that you can decode or explain for the viewer, they are more drawn in. Give them tools to feel comfortable by describing what you like about the painting, what works, what doesn’t work, even. You are educating the viewer on the process of looking at art. Everyone loves this no matter how sophisticated or amateur a viewer they are because they are learning, and that is a reward in itself. If you practice this with different people, you will get better. You will get better at telling a story and then involving the viewer in your story. That is the next-to-the-last step in this process, and we are far into it now. You have met, written to, and finally gotten a studio visit from a curator or helpful person and they are in your studio.

The final step is telling them a story and becoming better at involving them in the story. For some this comes naturally, but for most it does not. After you pick a story of some kind and feel comfortable telling it, then ask your viewer questions that can bring them in. Because no one wants to hear a lecture on your art, they want to relate to it, they want to feel that they have a personal connection to it. The only way they will get a personal connection is for you to help them make it. If at some point you are telling a story and it involves an encounter, you can ask, “Has that ever happened to you?” or something similar and get them to start talking about their experiences. Then at some point, bring it back to your work. Then do it again; ask them more questions so they would begin telling the story of the painting with you. Now you have a fan and an admirer.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 108 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / A Studio Visit

A Studio Visit

You may also be making the meeting with one or all of the people you have met at openings, so you can bring them to your studio to look at your work and possibly buy it. We are talking here about building relationships in the art world. And if step one is to go out and talk to people a bit, then step two is to make a meeting with them, and step three is asking them something in that meeting, and for this example, what you are asking for is a studio visit.

A studio visit is special because it is so intimate and the viewer is investing a lot of time in coming to your studio and looking around. Also, for people who are not artists themselves, going to an artist’s studio is a very unusual and even exotic adventure. The key to getting a studio visit is to make the person you are asking feel comfortable with you. If you are just getting to know someone, asking them to come to your home or studio may seem a bit forward. The easiest way to get around this is to have a very small party.

Invite six or seven people over, depending on the size of your studio. These people should all be persons who have an interest in your art and are not fellow artists or family. If you have a small gathering like this, you can ask the person you are meeting if they could come to a small party at your studio. If you ask them this directly, they will answer directly and perhaps ask you which day. Be ready to have a day in mind, then get people there! The way to have a party like this is to invite the right crowd.

Welcome to my studio

People who are either fans of yours already or new people that are learning about you are the ones to invite. You do not want this to turn into a party where people are drinking and talking or dancing. You should have wine and cheese there, but it is a very sober event where you are there to talk about your work. That is a very important consideration when deciding how you will have a party or give a tour of your studio. The setting has to be very focused on your work. Remember your goals when you are showing someone your work; you want to sell them one of your pieces, you want them to take an interest in you and the way you work, and you want them to come back again.

So a good technique to get the person who is a new relationship over to your studio or home is to have a party, a small gathering, and have a little wine and cheese, and keep the event to a two-hour window, like three to five o’clock or in the early evening. Keep in mind that you want them to buy something, but in the first visit, just make them comfortable. If you have any press clippings or reviews of some kind or a book, have them all in a little pile somewhere in the studio that is within reach.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 84 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Art Online

Selling Art Online

There is an artist called The Me Nobody Knows or TMNK who sells his painting on the streets of the city and also on the Internet. He is always near his paintings and has made his living by selling work that is generally under $500, but sometimes more. He is also actively selling his work on eBay, and there, he shows images of himself selling work on the street, and the fact that he is auctioning his own work on eBay makes sense in this context. He is an outsider, generating his own sales on his own terms, and we buy it because it is working and he is a professional. What makes him professional is his consistency. He continues to exhibit his work, and has built a website that promotes his paintings and prints and drives people to eBay. The mystique that he cultivates is that he is a nobody and makes his art in relative obscurity. Of course, he has become just the opposite, but by building that mystique—of a nobody—he is able to play the card of the artist cliché and lead others to believe that he labors in obscurity, which helps to sell his work to the public.

Another example is Abbey Ryan, an artist who sells a painting a day on eBay and earns almost $100,000 a year from it. She has a blog, a website, and has created a way to remain in the studio all day and make a living at it. She was written about in business blogger Seth Godin’s book Linchpin as an example of a businesswoman cutting out the middleman and bringing her work straight to market.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 83 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Work on the Streets

Selling Work on the Streets

We could begin with artists who sell work on the street. This may not be for you, but consider it for a moment. In New York City and many other cities and towns, artists set up small tables on the street and sell their work. The more savvy artists that have been there for a while are selling matted photographs or prints of some kind in the range of $15 or two for $25.

The artists who are selling on the street are able to get a license to do so fairly easily because they are selling their own art, which is allowed in New York and many other cities. Of course, many artists set up with no license at all.

Nevertheless, this is a valid system of making a real business outside the traditional art market. The artists that are doing very well on the street are selling inexpensive matted prints, but also they are usually hiring others to do it for them, thus increasing how much they earn. It is a fairly simple business plan. If matted prints of your work (which means common color copies or some- thing as inexpensive) cost you about $4 each to make, then you could give someone $2 for every print they sell. So if they are making $4 for selling two prints at $25, you are making $17 on each sale without being there. Not too bad, is it? You could also sell matted prints to boutiques or small stores at wholesale for $8 each. You make $4 with every sale. I am outlining this simple business model because to most readers, this may seem like the least attractive way to sell art, but it is also an easy way to see how sales and profits are made. I have seen artists do street sales on many levels, and it is helpful to discuss because it is such an entrepreneurial venture and the model can be adjusted in all types of ways.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 81 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / How It Was Done, DIY Style

How It Was Done, DIY Style

His story begins with him putting up posters of his artwork, in a graffiti style, all over Los Angeles in 2007. That was the beginning of his marketing, you could say, for his exhibit. In 2008, he rented an abandoned building, the former CBS Studios in Los Angeles, California, and decided to stage his own show there. He worked tirelessly to fill the space, hiring other artists to do much of the work for him. Like Andy Warhol, he made prints as well as paintings and created portraits of numerous famous pop figures. He also created sculptures and installations. He hired other artists to make most of it for him.

He oversaw the entire process, but to make enough work to fill the gigantic building he was in, he needed people to manufacture and create new designs for paintings. He did this entire production by himself; that is, he had no gallery dealer or representative, just employees. It was, as the press called it, a DIY show, a do-it-yourself exhibit. He must have spent a great sum making all this happen, and has said that he asked people to purchase works in advance to finance much of it. He did hire a curator to help him, the same one that produced the Banksy show a few years earlier.

As a promotion, he said he was going to give away two hundred prints to the first two hundred people that came to the opening. That night, an estimated seven thousand people came to his opening. He sold almost a million dollars’ worth of art! And in one bold stroke, the art world knew his name. To this day, the art world continues to dislike him because he did not travel through the usual channels of the art world; he did it in his own way, on his own terms. And in my book, that is just fine because he is prospering off his work, doing what he wants, and like Damien Hirst, he is challenging the so-called rules of the art world.

When I want a show, I ask for it. When I want money, I ask for it.

Since that show, he opened a similar one in New York in an abandoned warehouse. In New York, the show was also mobbed, and he gave away hundreds of posters and sold work as well. This is a wonderful example of how an artist can not only work outside of the gallery system, but can create their own mystique, marketing, and sales on their own. Is his art good, and is he talented? In this case, as with the others, that is not the issue for me to decide. Because if he is talented or not, he is making it in the art world in a big way. Selling work at major auctions is the ultimate goal of being recognized in the art market. When we examine an artist like this, for the purposes of this book, we are not determining if this is good or bad art; we are looking at his techniques for earning a living and becoming well-known in the world of art.

Part of his initial success was due to his having mounted a show that was so large (over 125,000 square feet) and also to his status as an unknown artist. When you do something on a scale that is record-breaking, the press pays attention. It is a technique used by many promoters and was one of the elements brought into play for this show. He also asked for the help of other people who had organized events in the past. Besides being a driven, obsessive artist, he was also getting all the help he needed. The movie that I previously mentioned, Exit Through the Gift Shop, is a must-see for readers of this book. You will see more details of his story and will probably find it quite inspiring. As with Banksy and Damien Hirst, Mr. Brainwash took the idea of an independent warehouse show to a new level. He was bold and brave enough to believe in what he was doing, and took it one step further than most by making it on a scale that most never imagine doing.

There are many lessons to take from this artist, but I think the most important is that this is a way of working, a way of making it, that is new to the art world. No one had ever seen an artist rise this high and this fast, especially in this manner, separated from the art institutions that are normally the stepping-stones to success.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 79 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling What You Can’t Document

Selling What You Can’t Document

His work could be called performance art. It looks and feels like performance art when you see it, and it certainly isn’t a painting or sculpture. It is necessary to have live performers whenever his work is shown. He is the first artist in the performance art world to make significant sums of money from his work; in fact, he is the only one of the performance artists to make money from his work. There were many other quite famous performance artists who were jealous of his success and frustrated by it, because they never found a way to market their own work.

The key to what Tino Sehgal did was to address the issue of collecting his art directly, because your art cannot be in the marketplace if it is not collected. Let’s take this situation apart for a moment, because as poetic as some of Sehgal’s work is, how the system of the art world consumes it is very important.

The people who buy art for personal collections and for investment are not only wealthy, but they speak the language of business all the time. Since they probably accumulated their wealth through hedge funds, private banking, stocks, etc., they are very familiar with the language of money, and in fact, it is their passion. So when a dealer and an artist explain to a potential wealthy collector that upon buying the work, there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue, and no pictures, it begs the very interesting question of “Then how do I buy it and show it in my home?” At that point, they are already engaged. Brilliant! They have never heard of a sale like this before, and they want to know more. What they end up finding out is that the artist tells them verbally what to do, and they have to stage the performance themselves with actors in their home. Because this is such an unusual way to buy work, it generates interest in people who collect and are fascinated by the language of money themselves. Museums can buy and loan the work; it can also be resold, and that is what makes it part of the market. It is also what makes it unlike anything a collector has heard about before.

Sol LeWitt also had a process similar to this. He would sell instructions to make a drawing or mural on a wall. The collector bought the instructions and could have Sol LeWitt’s team of painters execute the drawing on the wall of their choice. The artwork could also be moved by erasing or destroying the wall mural and making it again in another place. Furthermore, LeWitt’s work could be loaned to museums in the same manner. Tino Sehgal is taking a page from LeWitt’s book here by making a sale in a manner that is itself not only creative but very savvy, because the collector is engaged largely in a conversation about how the work itself is purchased, and that is an interesting conversation for collectors. Also, the public and the art world became amazed that he rose so quickly to such heights but also that he was selling his work, which to most people seemed like performance art, and previously no one had sold work in that genre for so much or in such a fashion. As of the writing of this book, in January 2011, Tino Sehgal has not sold any of his art at auctions, but he has sold work to museums and collectors.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 78 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Tino Sehgal

Tino Sehgal

Tino Sehgal is a high-profile artist who recently had a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum. I want to talk about him because he has approached the sale of works in a way that in itself is quite new to the art world and, I believe, is one of the reasons for his success. It is also something you can adopt or use to stoke your own creative approach no matter what level you are currently at in your career.

Tino Sehgal creates what he calls “constructed situations” in which one or more people are performing instructions created by the artist. That means, much like a theatre director, he tells a group of people that he hires to have conversations based on a theme of some kind. In the show at the Guggenheim, you never see the artist, there is no art on the walls, and when you walk in, a small child asks you what you think the word “progress” means. You begin to have a conversation with that person and then you are led to another person who continues the conversation until you reach the end of the ramp at the museum. What the artist has done is train all the actors, so to speak, to ask certain questions to the audience members.

The reason I am using this artist as an example of a new method for selling your work is this: on the sale of his work, he stipulates that there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue, and no pictures. That’s right, he sells his work so that you could, in fact, buy one of these pieces, but there is nothing physical to own, not even a receipt. During the show, there was another piece of his, which was a couple kissing endlessly on the floor of the museum. The two people kissing would do so for two hours at a time, and then the actors were changed. The remarkable thing to me is that the kissing couple piece was owned by MoMA and lent to the Guggenheim for this show! So what I want to examine here is how he sold the work and why it is significant and also important to your process.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 77 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Banksy Lesson

The Banksy Lesson

The lesson and perhaps inspiration to take from Banksy is that he is playing by his own rules. Like other graffiti artists, he paints on the street, but unlike other artists, he has consciously created his own mystique. By remaining anonymous, he continues to engage the public in a guessing game. Also, his content is often touching on issues of social and political injustice, and this is something that many people can respond to. Rather than have images that are decorative, his work is engaging the viewer and asking them to use their minds and agree with him or not. That is a provocative idea that brings the viewer into his fold.

The latest effort in marketing himself was quite brilliant. In his 2010 film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I strongly recommend seeing, he cleverly uses another filmmaker’s footage of him and other street artists to document the whole genre of street-art painting. But he also skewers the art world by presenting an artist that had never had a show before, who calls himself Mr. Brainwash, and is a total unknown. Like Banksy and Hirst, he had a warehouse-type opening that was a success. He is profiled later in this chapter.

The method of Banksy and other artists who mount their own shows in abandoned warehouses is becoming more popular, and it is one of the new methods that you should consider. You can remake the idea in any way you wish, but in this economy, there are more empty spaces than ever, and it is worth considering. You don’t have to mount a giant solo show; a group show in an empty commercial space can work even better because all the artists will have their own mailing list, and it can generate even more traffic that way.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.