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 284 – New Markets for Artists / Common  Courtesy

Common  Courtesy

Most people are just like you: They are cautious, and would like to know a bit about someone before they meet for the first time. Even if you do not have a mutual friend with the person you will be meeting you might have other points of similarity (the same college alma mater, experience living in the same town, or perhaps you both visited a recent art exhibit). These are all things that can also make someone feel more comfortable about meeting you. Take your time and do your research before writing so that you can better tailor your letter to each person. Internet profiles, press releases, and media clippings can give you clues about how to make your approach based on the current interests of the person.

Following Up

Writing this short, polite letter requesting a meeting should be the easy part. The hard part for most people is following up when you do not get a response. This is usually the part where people give up because they take a lack of response personally and assume the person doesn’t like them when they don’t write back. I will tell you a few stories about my own follow up, and also one of my friend’s stories. She was working at a major publisher in an upper-level executive position, making a six-figure salary, and was happy with her job. But she felt her boss was sexually harassing her. She filed a complaint with human resources and they told her that her situation was unfortunate and she had two choices: either stay on after giving a formal complaint and see how it worked out, or quit and they would give her six months pay and a coaching system and mentor that she could use until she got her next job. She thought that having a coaching program for as long as needed to secure the perfect job was an attractive offer. That alone was worth thousands, so she took it. As she told me this story, she also showed me all the printed material she had received on getting the perfect job from her coach. While reading it, I came across a passage on how to get someone to respond to a letter.

How to Land an Interview or a Meeting

The section began by saying that most people who send their resumes and cover letters complain that no one ever calls them back for an interview, and further stated that this is the reason that most people don’t get the job they are after, and why they become resentful. Artists can relate to this as well. Writing to collectors, museums, and galleries and not getting responses can be frustrating.

The Way to Handle No Responses

My friend’s coaching material details the proper way to handle not getting a response. When writing a letter, it says, always end by saying that you will follow up with a call in two days. Be precise and never forget to say it. That way, the reasoning goes, you will remain in power and never have to wait for a call that isn’t coming. If you call in two days and get voicemail or a secretary, simply say that you are following up per your email and will send another email in two days. Every correspondence should end with you saying that you will follow up with the alternative method to what you have just done—a phone call or email. In this way, you can pursue people for weeks or months—however long it takes to reach them.

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 283 – New Markets for Artists / Formal Manners Can Pay Off

Formal Manners Can Pay Off

This kind of politeness is what you should aim for in your email messages to collectors. Addressing someone as “Dear” and signing off with “Best wishes” may seem insignificant and not reflect your normal voice, but to the recipient, these touches create an air of respect and professionalism. The agitated man I spoke about didn’t miss the fact that I addressed him as “Sir,” and that helped calm him down. I am sure he wouldn’t address people that way, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate receiving that courtesy himself. The same principle applies to the people you write to, no matter who they are. You can still joke around or be vulgar, but if you do so in a respectful way, your message will be better received.

Short Notes and Meeting Places

When writing short notes to people on Facebook, be clear about wanting to meet them and apply some of my suggestions. When I do it, I always ask if I can meet them at a cafe near their work. If you are trying to meet someone for the first time, it is safe to ask for a meeting in a restaurant or somewhere they are used to going. In the first letter, I always ask if they are interested in meeting. Once I get a response, I ask where would be a convenient place for us to meet. One way to increase the likelihood of getting a response is to mention that you have a mutual friend. I am not talking about the Facebook friends (whom you may or may not actually be close with), but the people that you actually know and communicate with on a fairly regular basis.

A Designer’s Technique for Landing Clients

I have a friend who does very high-end construction jobs in New York City, and when he is trying to get a job he knows other people are bidding on, he employs a few tactics to set himself apart from his competition. One is to handwrite a letter on nice stationery with a fountain pen, and the other is to use his network to gain the inside track with the employer. Sometimes, if his network (a group of real friends) is not connected in any way to the client, he will try to meet the client’s friends so that he can learn more about the client and claim to know some of the same! This process works for him, and he is extremely successful in New York. It is all personal in many ways, so the more time you take with your letters and connections, the better.

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 281 – New Markets for Artists / A Matter of Style

A Matter of Style

That is just one route to a sale. I gave that specific example so you could see how an actual studio sale might take place, but yours might be very different. However, if you remember the basic elements of the sale, you will be fine. Keep in mind what it takes to encourage someone to buy your work. They have to fall in love with it, and it’s your job to see that that happens. The most subtle and crucial task is getting them engaged in your work. You can do this in many more ways than what I mentioned earlier, but that must not be forgotten. Help them talk about your artwork and treat their opinions as the special gifts that they are and use them to help make the sale. Art is perhaps one of the more difficult things to sell, and to buy, and like any commodity, the consumer needs to be encouraged to buy your product. Be mindful of this, because you might feel comfortable talking about art, but most people do not.

Traditional Studio Visit Aided by Facebook

That was the classic structure of the studio visit and sale. Now that we are in the new millennium, there are a few more tools we can use in the sale. If there has ever been a video of you discussing your work,  you should show the video. You can use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to help bring people to your studio. I am not talking about groups of people but individuals who might come and buy your work. They could be anyone. Facebook lets us easily search for collectors and make connections. We used to meet new people at museum and gallery openings (and we still do), but now we can make real meaningful connections through Facebook as well.

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 280 – New Markets for Artists / Being Direct about a Sale

Being Direct about a Sale

If after discussing a piece of art you can see that they are even mildly interested, you can say, “Would you like to own this piece?” That might catch them off guard and they will say, “Uh. I don’t know, maybe.” Most likely they will say yes, because they have been looking at the art with you and have already become personally invested with it. Now that you have gotten this far, it is your turn to say with affection, “I would really like you to have it if you really like it.” Then you can discuss the price. You can suggest a down payment of $300, or whatever you think is a reasonable amount, and then wait for their next question which should be, “How much is it?” At that point you can tell them that while negotiable, the price is $3,000 (or whatever price you have in mind) and can be paid in monthly payments.

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 279 – New Markets for Artists / Personal Topics

Personal Topics

If you are comfortable enough, ask your visitor if they have ever had to fight for their dream. If they say no, ask if they ever had to fight for something they believed in. You will probably get a response, and when you do, recognize that this is a precious moment. When people share personal stories they are opening themselves up to each other and strengthening the connection between them. Respond warmly and enthusiastically to whatever someone tells you, join them in the triumphant feeling of talking about their interests and personal asides. Remember, the goal of having a studio visit is not to just make a sale, but to form meaningful relationships with people who want to see your art.

Making a Connection

Once you’ve connected with someone, that person will have a lasting and positive memory of visiting your studio, and they may choose to preserve this memory by purchasing your artwork. You don’t have to talk about prices or sales on the first visit if you don’t want to—you can do that on the second visit—but it wouldn’t hurt to try. I would certainly not have gone back to the Dalí galley, so the woman there was smart to make her pitch while she could. If you are getting along with your visitor and want to progress the conversation beyond your personal responses to the art, price is the next topic to broach. I like to be fairly direct, and there are a few ways of doing this successfully.

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 278 – New Markets for Artists / Get the Visitor Thinking

Get the Visitor Thinking

Be casual and reassure them that there are no wrong answers so they don’t feel pressured. If they say it looks like car parts, then you can agree and explain how abstract work allows for more interpretations than one, which is why it can be so successful and subjective. And truly, like a Rorschach test, people do see different things in the same abstract work, and that is fascinating, because it reveals something about ourselves. Your visitor says the sculpture looks like car parts, but perhaps to you it is much more sensual than that. 

Ask about What the Visitor Is Saying

Be curious and tell your visitor you agree with them. Sure, it could be car parts, but could it also be something else? If they don’t answer, suggest other shapes and ideas that come to your mind. Your ideas may inspire the viewer to think of other things, but at some point you have to move the conversation to something that is a bit more personal.

Tell Stories

The story the woman at the gallery told about Dalí fighting for a loved one was powerful and easy to relate to. In the case of your sculpture, perhaps there is an art story you can tell even if it doesn’t have to do with this piece in particular. Tell them how you began making art and what made you decide you wanted to work with sculptures. Per- haps there was a time when you had to argue with someone about why you wanted to be an artist, or maybe you had an internal struggle about being an artist that you resolved in your studio. Tell a story about something you struggled with—almost anything will do—and watch how your visitor reacts to what you say. Tell them the sculpture they are looking at is also about your struggle, and fight to do what you love.

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 277 – New Markets for Artists / Talking about Art

Talking about Art

Art can touch people in ways they cannot describe, and often you cannot trace how or why a particular picture moves you. Therefore, if the studio visitor points to their favorite artwork, it is up to you to help them better understand it and increase their interest with a personal, meaningful touch. This is your goal during a studio visit. You want someone to walk away feeling like they now know more about themselves after looking at your art; you want them thinking about the visit for the rest of the day. You might still be worrying that you do not know what to say about your art (whatever the medium), but consider more than just the work itself. The art can be a jumping off point to talk about something else. Let’s say you have an abstract sculpture in your studio that vaguely resembles a tree branch or a human figure, but mostly looks like a twisted mess of clay.

Conversation  Points

If that is the visitor’s favorite piece, go over to it with them and tell them how much you love it too (and if you can think of the reasons you like it, mention those as well). How was it made? Does it remind you of something? You can talk about your inspiration and state of mind when you built it. But if none of these seem like viable options, then after you tell the viewer how beautiful it is, you can ask them if the sculpture looks like a particular shape or reminds them of something.

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.