Pricing Art and Consumer Understanding

Pricing Art and Consumer Understanding

Thought of the Day – Pricing Art

(Free Business and Consumer Advise)

Personally, I learned the process of pricing art the hard way… through trial and error. To all my lovely artist friends out there, and those who are already free-lancing or plan to in the future, make sure to not undervalue yourself by under pricing your art. This has been weighing on my mind for quite a while. Keep in mind that when you create and sell your art, you become part of an entire community that can be affected by your decisions.

Now, I have never claimed to be a business or economics expert(clearly), but I do receive messages from beginner artists and designers often regarding pricing and how to properly charge for their work. And honestly, I’ve never really thought to post about this in any great detail. However, after reading a post in one of the art groups I follow where one artist was only paying herself $3 dollars an hour, I have decided that this is something that needs to be discussed in a broader forum. Because there are plenty of formulas for figuring a price for your items that can be easily found in other blogs around the web such as this one, or this one, I’m going to just touch on a few points that seem to be easily over looked. Based on my experience, the problem with under pricing your work is twofold. First, it is not sustainable, and second, by doing this, it lowers the market value in the arena in which you desire to compete.


As an artist, your target demographic is very important. Let me explain:

Unlike those that would purchase your art as an investment, bargain shoppers are looking for the best deal, and because of this, they are unknowingly devaluing your time, products, business, and hard work. I say “unknowing” because it is very true. Consumers only know as much about a product or process as you tell them.You may feel you have to lower the price of your work if you are inexperienced or have less skill than other artisans, or perhaps your product quality is not where you feel it should be. In this case, if your work is listed within competitive margins, this is an acceptable practice. But, if you have a quality product and are simply lowering the price because you feel it will not sell otherwise, or if you are lowering your price to “low ball the competition”, you are targeting what I kindly call “the bargain demographic”, and you are essentially lowering the market value for your item and items like yours. As a result, you are devaluing your brand’s image.


“It is our job as artisans to educate those that look to buy our work so they may come to know the value of what we offer and make a more informed decision.”


There is a demographic for EVERY type of artistry. In other words, there are folks that recognize quality, uniqueness, and the value of one of a kind art products. By pricing art at a level that fairly covers costs and time, and by setting a price that competes fairly within your market, you will not only attract those folks, but you will help maintain a healthy market for all. In addition, your brand will not suffer with a “discount” stigma, and you will have gained a consumer base that allows your business to thrive so that you can continue to create quality work using quality materials.

Market Value and Competition

Why is it important to understand your contribution to a healthy market?

Your contribution to a healthy market is more important than you may realize. By setting your prices within competitive, sustainable margins, you are helping to ensure that the art you spend a great deal of time and hard work on does not drop below a standard price that is unrealistic. If competitive prices fall too low, the items affected become difficult to make and sell not only for you, but for other artists as well. As a result, there can be an over-saturation of low quality, massed produced items as artisans start to drop off because of inability to compete. In short, the health of your competition’s business is indirectly related to yours.

A prime example is bone carving. When I first learned how to carve, it was a market that was not new by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the art of bone carving has been around for millennia and is a valued part of many cultures today. However, do to the increased amount of Indonesian businesses that are mass producing bone carvings at unbelievably cheap prices, it has made the market value for bone jewelry drop to such a low level, many of the artisans I was inspired by and grew to love no longer sell carvings as a main source of income. The sad reality here is that Indonesians that work in these “studios” often work in poor conditions with no protections and very little wages despite the fact that much of their work could actually be considered competitive, beautiful, and unique enough to compete in a healthy market.

This video is a prime example of the type of hard work that goes into making a set of ear gauges. Yet, the prices that items like those in the video are being sold for are so low, they make it impossible to compete. Many of them sell for around $20-25 a pair.

Even in my carving tutorial below, you can see that the amount of time and work that goes into a bone carving is worth much more than $20. The total carving time for this pendant was around 8 hours.

Unfortunately, over-saturation can and will happen in some markets regardless of how artists are pricing art. As an artist, you have the difficult challenge of competing with not only other artists, but with large manufacturing conglomerates. Competition with other artists that use comparable processes is sustainable through healthy pricing practices, but when you throw mass manufactured goods into the mix, it can sometimes derail the market in such a way, that you simply become buried. This is where marketing plays an important role.


Finding your target demographic.

While over-saturation happens, it is still possible to be recognized and found if you correctly market yourself. I will not lie… marketing is time consuming if done right. Like I said above, I am no marketing expert, but I do understand its absolute necessity in regard to the health of your business. You must seek out those you wish to sell to. This can be accomplished through search engine optimization, social networks, advertising, and brand promotion.

For example, if you paint a star trek themed painting, simply listing it on Etsy may not necessarily make you visible to your target demographic. The over saturation of Star Trek items and memorabilia on the market is extensive. However, if you find a group or forum of Star Trek enthusiasts and share your work with them, you might have more luck finding a buyer.

Artisan Value

Exploring an artist’s value using comparative examples.

In the real world, we pay for the goods and services we need. In many cases, we do not expect those goods and services to be cheap to the point that the cost in not justifiable to those that are selling said goods and services. Doctors and lawyers, for instance, make the amount of money they make based on their time and skill. When was the last time you asked a lawyer for a discount? Although it is done, it is not a common practice and it is well known that lawyers have a set fee that is somewhat concrete. If the fee is not something that is within personal budget, it is easy to continue to search for other alternatives.

In the world of art and design, it is somewhat specialized in that not much is known in many cases about how our products come to be and what type of developed skill and time it takes to produce a work of art. Thus, it is sometimes difficult for consumers to assume and understand the value of our work and the reason behind why we are pricing art the way we are. Often, this leads to consumers having much lower expectations in regard to price for our art and/or services. This is why, as I said above, it is our job to educate our consumers.

Basket O’ Eggs

Do NOT put all your eggs in one basket!

When you take into consideration all of the above info, it is generally not a good idea to “put all your eggs in one basket”. Basically, this can have a broad or specific implication. There are several different ways artists limit themselves and the potential of their businesses:

  • By making only one type of art product.
  • By selling on only one digital platform (i.e. Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc…)
  • By selling only online or only offline.
  • By selling only one variation of what you make.

Make sure to always expand your “horizons” so to speak. This way, you are able to counter drops or changes in market value or consumer trends. If one market becomes over-saturated, you will still have a back-up plan so to speak… and at the end of the day, you will still be able to keep the lights on and do what you love.

Message to Consumers

What to understand when purchasing art items.

Because I am also a consumer, I understand the value of a good bargain. A good bargain on items that we use every day, such as food, clothing, transportation, etc is a necessity. Every dollar we save is just another dollar we can spend on something else that is essential to our daily lives. However, in turn, as a consumer, I also know that a bargain price sometimes means lesser quality… though there are exceptions. Technology and manufacturing has soared to such an immense level of sophistication, quality products are often offered at low prices as well. Because of this, society as a whole has come to expect a certain quality of service and consumer experience. This is where we have to be thoughtful when we consider purchasing an artisan product. Understanding an artist’s process and skill is a valuable consideration, and can be a looking glass into the reason/s why artists charge the prices they do for their goods and services.

When buying from an artist, please take into consideration a few things.

  • Artists often already exclude some of the cost for their time to stay competitive.
  • Artisan products are not mass produced, but handmade one step at a time.
  • Art is not just a passion; it is an artist’s bread and butter.
  • Artisan items are one of a kind and cannot be compared to re-sale or mass manufactured items.

A certain amount of heckling over price is acceptable and encouraged, but please be respectful and reasonable. If you complain about an artist’s price, you may be unknowingly devaluing the hard work of someone that is simply trying to keep a float in a world full of mass manufactured “affordability”. In addition, and speaking as an artist, I can tell you that every single piece of art I make contains a little part of my soul. To devalue my work is to devalue me.

Thank you for investing in artists, and I look forward to hearing all your thoughts! 🙂 – Heather

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