Friday, June 5, 2009

The art business waltz,lesson 9

Here are few woods pictures by the Russian 19th century painter Ivan Shiskin. He is not well known in this country but is important in Russian art history. He made a number of different sorts of paintings, but I have used three of the same sort. You can see him handling very similar designs in different ways

I have again traveled to Kennebunkport, about two hours away, painted all day, attended a reception at a large inn where I did a painting demo on the lawn, and then driven two hours home. Tonights post will be short and hopefully useful. I am going to respond to several questions asked in the comments.

I will start the great reader critique about the middle of the coming week. I have a nice group of images from many readers. There is still time to e mail me yours at

The first question I have been asked is "who sets the prices. you or the dealer?" You do. However since you are very new to the gallery game, you may want to work with the dealer to set prices, as he has an idea what his customers will spend.


How long it took you to do it, how much you like it and what someone else you know is getting , are useful benchmarks for setting prices, but ultimately you want to find out what the market will bear. That can take some experimentation and it isn't a fixed target either. It changes from one gallery to another and from one time to another.

You should start out low and go up from there. Most of us oscillate from feeling cocky and wanting big money to feeling beaten and pricing our selves too low. You will have to honestly compare yourself to other artists in your showing environment and compare your art to theirs.
Once you do this and set your prices they need to be THE SAME EVERYWHERE!

Here's what can happen if they are not. Gallery owner A who has your 18 x 24 priced at 4800 dollars goes into gallery B and sees one of yours priced at 4200 dollars. They contact you and ask about the difference, before you know it you have told them other picture at galley B is not as good as the one at gallery A. Now you are arguing against the quality of your own paintings.

Price by size. Make all of your 18 x 24s one price and all your 24 x 36s another. Only charge more for a given painting if it has a real gold frame. Sometimes people have asked me how I can price the best ones the same as the weaker ones. I answer that if they see one that is particularly good at the same price as a weaker unit, it is a bargain and they should buy it.

Also clients will "shop" your work in different galleries. If there is a wild discrepancy in prices, they will assume that the prices are arbitrary, flexible and are not "real". If your prices are lower in your own studio, people will shop the dealers and then buy from you. When the dealer finds out that someone they were selling to bought from you , you will be in danger of losing that gallery.

I don't mean to say you never cut someone a small break in negotiations, but extract something in return for that. Don't begin by giving it away. If I get a lower offer on a painting I am willing to take, it I will usually say something like;
  • OK, but that means here and now, I can't hold that price for you, if you want that price we need to do this deal now.
  • I can't take payments from you on a reduced price. I would require total payment now. A check or your Visa card is fine. Krugerrands are even better.
  • You carry the painting home with you today. I don't have to ship it for you at my expense. I will ship it if you like, but I will have to charge you for that.
  • You still pay the sales tax, I can't eat that expense. ( except here in beautiful New Hampshire where we have no sales tax)
I will return tomorrow, with more on pricing and the answers to several other other business questions that have been asked.


Unknown said...

Ah, Shiskin.. another guy I really like.
Having only started painting 4 years ago, and no formal art history background, I am woefully ignorant of the riches of previous generations of artists...I've sort of just begun to muddle my way through. But I discovered Shiskin early on, and really admire the kind of silvery light he is able to portray.. you can FEEL that light, whether cold snowy moonlight, or filtered through a sunny forest.
so, anyway, thanks for posting all these treasures..
As far as pricing goes, I'm at a point now where it seems time to raise prices, having heretofore intentionally kept them moderate - but in this economy is it a good idea? Who knows?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have written tonights post partly as an answer to that question.Let me know if it doesn't