Friday, May 27, 2016

Is there a guide for pricing art for competitions?

I get asked questions about pricing art from time to time. Today I got one about pricing for art competitions.

I've anonymised the question with respect to (1) the person who asked the question and (2) the competition as neither are relevant to the answers.
I am entering some works this year in the [prestigious] competition. I have got the works photographed well (I think) and they fit the bill for being me and maybe a bit different. The three I'm entering form part of a series (there are 2 more but they got rejected by me). My problem is with pricing. I have entered juried competitions in the past and think my pricing has sat well in the range ignoring the unbelievably cheap. However, this is a big one. I couldn't make it to see the exhibition last year so I have no information to go on. I have also not worked at this large a scale for open exhibitions. I think the price I would normally put on them would be too low (I am "up north") and I don't want to look foolish. Are there any guides to help with ballpark figures? How much would you think for a full imperial watercolour?

Thank you btw for such a fantastic website. Long may it continue!
You'll find my take on the answer to this question below.

I invite readers of this blog to add a comment at the end about 

  • either their own practices 
  • or their perspectives on what is the right approach for pricing for art competitions.

Is there a guide for pricing for competitions?

No - there is no guide for pricing art for art competitions.

In terms of working out what to do about pricing below you can find my personal observations on:
  1. a principled approach to pricing art
  2. some practical suggestions for working out prices 
  3. how to price for an art competition

Images are from various competitions - plus a poll about how much artists know about pricing art!

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2015

1.  A principled approach to pricing art

There is one over-riding principle behind pricing art - Be Consistent.

In general, your art should cost the same wherever it is shown whether that is on your website, in a local gallery or in an open competition.  Here's a couple of reasons why:
  • Buyers need to have confidence in the value of your work. That means they need to know that 
    • the price of the art won't change depending on where you sell it and 
    • they are not paying a premium for your work because you happen to be selling it in a prestigious competition.
  • Being consistent is also a very important consideration when it comes to galleries. A gallery that might become interested in your work and consider adding you to their roster of gallery artists will very soon have second thoughts if it finds your work is priced differently depending on where you sell it.
If you do price your art differently, you need to make sure that there are other very obvious and evident characteristics which justify such differentiation in pricing. These will probably relate to, for example:
  • nature of the art e.g. original rather than reproductions
  • size e.g. large rather than small i.e. why dimensions are an important feature of any title credit line
  • media used's well known that some media (e.g. oil) will command higher prices than others e.g. watercolour for the same quality/size/etc of artwork
  • presentation e.g. framed rather than unframed

So in relation to pricing for art competitions my advice would be
  • Price to be consistent with SIMILAR examples of your own work shown in different places over time. 
  • Do NOT price for a competition per se. Create work which is high quality and worthy of the competition and then price relative to the rest of your work.

One of the walls at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2015

2.  Practical suggestions for working out prices

There is no "quick fix" for working out prices.

Not a lot of artists know all there is to know about pricing art!
A lot of the information you need takes time to accumulate.

If you'd like to learn more about pricing art I suggest you review  the contents of the section of my Art Business website devoted to How to Price your Art.

This includes pages on:

One of the curated collections within the ING Discerning Eye exhibition 2015

3. How to price for an art competition

In relation to thinking about prices for an art competition, I'm going to reference two points from my blog post "20 tips for entering art competitions"

First you need to decide whether your work is appropriate for a competition or whether you would be wasting your time.
#1. Aim for a good fit between your work and the competition. It's a complete waste of time, effort and entry fees to submit to competitions which are not a good fit with your artwork. It's wise to do some research before you start to create an entry. If possible, I always try and see an open exhibition first before submitting work - partly to see what sort of work gets hung but also to decide whether my work is, or could be, a good fit. Another goord reason for researching the competition is to understand its purpose and to see whether again it's something that you'd want to be associated with
The next point might seem to contrary to points previously made. However it is in fact entirely consistent.
#14. Research prices and consider price points. There's nothing worse than having your pricing completely pitched wrong for the area, the gallery and the calibre of the company you are keeping if you get selected. It's very helpful if you can get hold of catalogues for previous exhibitions to see what the range of prices look like. This is again where a visit to an exhibition in an advance of entering a competition can be such a good idea.
Bottom line - you need to develop a really good sense of the market value of your work. Methods you can employ to do this include the following:
  • Look at an awful lot of art for sale - ideally by artists who are known to sell their work. An artist with lots of red spots in open exhibitions provides an excellent benchmark - whereas an artist who never seems to sell does not!  
  • Find artwork that is comparable - and research prices
  • Find artists who are comparable - and research their background/career history - remembering not to presume you are equivalent and that pricing also relates to 
    • where an artist is in their development and 
    • the extent to which they have a track record of regular sales and/or a body of collectors
  • Test out what your art will sell for in open competition with others - in the market place. This is where selling art online has helped a lot of artists develop a clear sense of the value of their art.

You can also learn about a competition
  • Get hold of a past catalogue for the exhibition and look at the range of prices charged. You don't have to attend an exhibition to get a catalogue - you just have to ask for one (and you may need to pay for it)
  • However do remember that the prices charged:
    • in the catalogue - are meaningless to both buyer and artist researching prices if they are not accompanied by information about size and medium
    • by the artist - mean nothing if the art did not sell. (which is why I often pay visits to an exhibition very close to the end - to see what sold!)
You then need to work out whether or not your work - and what you deem is its market value - seems to fit with the calibre of the competition from other artists for a prestigious art competition.

DO REMEMBER: Prices on the wall for an artwork without a red dot means:
  • EITHER - this is too expensive and the price is 
    • wishful thinking on the part of the artist
    • inconsistent with the pricing for other works by this artist
  • OR this is artwork which lacks general appeal
  • OR this is artwork which didn't look good in this competition and/or in the context of other works (other works can sometimes swamp a good piece which needs space to shine)
  • OR this is an artist whose work has not yet converted interest to sales.
I have to say I've seen quite a few prominent artists I know well make the mistake of pricing according to wishful thinking when they submit work for a competition - and then get selected. It frequently means their artwork gets hung but does not sell - for reasons outlined above.


  1. While I regularly enjoy your blog I would like to add a comment regarding the 'pricing art for competition', I think you should consider that some artists price their work based only on what they are prepared to let it go for, they may otherwise prefer to keep the artwork. However I appreciate everyone has a price. So if it doesn't have a red dot on perhaps the artist is comfortable with that. I notice you made some similar comments about the UKCPS show prices referring to some artists. If I was one of the artists you refer to at the UKCPS, perhaps a sale wasn't my main aim, so my price is right for me. We may disagree but I still enjoy your posts.
    David Sandell.

  2. The blog post is specifically about pricing for art competitions - not pricing in general.

    If you don't want to let an artwork go don't price it!

    Pricing relates to the business side of art and pricing needs to relate to the marketplace. The real price of a painting is what the market dictates i.e. the one it will sell for. Everything else is, in effect, wishful thinking on the part of the artist.

    I've seen artworks at open exhibitions with quite ridiculous prices on them. They just made the artist look silly - and sometimes really silly!

    Hence my advice if you don't want to sell a work:
    * don't enter it in a competition
    * don't put a price on it

  3. This is very difficult. To keep pricing in an open exhibition in London at the same rate as may apply elsewhere might conflict either with the other prices in the exhibition or the idea of covering the costs of the picture being there plus getting some return. It may be worth pricing at what would not include a profit element (in the event of a sale of course!)for the benefit of being seen in a prestigious place, but to try and keep the wall prices for big exhibitions the same as those in smaller places is a challenging one. Do people not expect to pay more e.g. (hypothetically!) at the RA Summer Exhibition than at a small provincial gallery?

  4. You have done a good job covering all the variables of pricing for art competitions. It is not black and white . All the gray areas of experience, background (sometimes even education), track record, quality, size, medium etc.

    Some other things to keep in mind or help with pricing, especially with competitions and in the beginning of figuring out where your prices should fall, when you have no idea where to begin:

    1. Start plugging in numbers to various formulas to gain an idea. Time + materials(framing) + costs of entry + % of sale collected from competition (gallery) is only one. And still considering all the factors mentioned here in this post.
    Then compare to others with similar caliber of work, track record etc whenever possible.
    Try various formulas or approaches to pricing. An artist I know sets her prices by the price per square inch. I was skeptical of that approach at first but I compared it to my method and other formulas and was surprised to find how close it came out to my prices when I plugged in the numbers. Our work is very similar in complexity or time spent on them.
    The point is I often check and cross check my prices in different formulas to make sure I am not too far off.

    2. Ask yourself how many you will have to sell just to break even and then make money. The idea is to make a profit which is why I would never waste valuable wall space on work I don't want to sell.

    3. Weigh all that against the effort it takes and decide if it is worth it to you.
    I have entered into some where IF I did not make a profit I would have to get something else out of it like collectors, exposure, getting your work in front of the right people in terms of building a career.

    All calculated risks to take.

  5. David - I completely agree. There are many considerations which contribute to decisions about how to price art.

    That's why I built the section on How to Price Your Art - which contains several pages about the different considerations, perspectives and aspects of pricing art - on my website Art Business Info. for Artists.

    You can find it the drop down menu of the category about Money.

  6. Catherine - I guess it depends on the reasons behind entering a national prestigious art competition.

    Here are some relevant considerations for all artists considering entering a prestigious national art competition (such as the ones covered on this blog (click this link and open in a new tab for more details about Major UK Art Competitions 2016)

    1) Do you just want to be represented by galleries in your locality? Or would you like to be represented by a gallery with a national/international clientele? Maybe one in London - or at some distance from where you live?

    2) If a London Art Gallery (or one at some distance from where you live) asks to represent you and sell your art, how are you going to factor the cost of shipping the art to the gallery into the price? Clients don't pay extra for shipping the art from the artist to the gallery - they only pay for shipping the art from the gallery to their home.

    2) Do you think of art competitions as a way of advancing your career (ie a marketing activity) or as a sales activity - a way of selling art?

    3) How much investment do you make in marketing? Many aspiring and established artists consider prestigious national art competitions as an important MARKETING activity - a way of raising their profile - and hence they are prepared to spend money and not necessarily get the same sort of return that they might get from selling art at home.

    In fact I'd go so far as to say if an artist is expecting to recover the costs from exhibiting in a prestigious national art competition then he or she has fundamentally misunderstood how they work. The nature of such competitions is that only a small percentage of art and artists get selected compared to those who enter. Consequently the vast majority of artists are very definitely going to be out of pocket without a hope of recovering costs when it comes to the costs of fees and transport - not because they don't sell their art but because their art is not selected.

    This is where digital selection helps enormously in reducing initial outlays - however most competitions generally still have a second round of selection where more are asked to present their art then will be chosen for exhibition. Hence the same principle about recovering your costs applies.

    Not wanting to waste their money when they actually don't have a good chance of being selected is a key reason why an awful lot of artists wait to enter until they think their art is good enough to get selected. Watch my video of my interview with Aleah Chapin winner of the BP Portrait award in 2012 - and hear what she has to say about waiting....

    My personal view is that these competitions are primarily about advancing an artist's career and enhancing your CV/bio. Price your art in terms of what you think its value is - and have a long hard think about how you need to ENHANCE THE VALUE OF YOUR ART to be able to price it at a level which means you recover costs and make a profit when it is sold in a gallery at some distance from your home (whether that is in a competition or in a gallery which takes you on because they first noticed you in a competition exhibition).

    In other words at the end of the day:
    * it's about the price representing the value - and if the value isn't there then the price is never going to recover costs of entry.
    * don't just bump the price up just to recover your costs or raise the price from what it normally is because those that get selected tend to have higher prices. That's just plain silly!

  7. I'm pleased to see you have now acknowledged artists entering competitions or shows may do so for reasons other than a simple sale, which was my original point. It's a exhibition/competition before it's a salesroom. Your initial response..."if you don't want to sell a work: don't enter a competition" seemed to leave no room for any other objective, which as you have now clarified may be to gain exposure and increase profile, marketing being the bigger perspective.
    I'm not sure if you are aware but portraiture in particular is a difficult subject to sell at shows simply because people generally don't buy to hang pictures of strangers in their home, so commissions tend to be the main sales channel. That shouldn't mean artists should avoid competitions or exhibitions. Therefore they can price how they like. Your advice was in the best intentions but there are certain nuances not covered.
    Regards David

  8. If we're talking portraiture - the only prestigious portrait competition in the UK does not have prices or sales.

    If we're talking sales - I'm talking long term as well as short term. The key is to make sure prices quoted are consistent with an overall pricing STRATEGY - which will always be to make sales in the longer term if you are taking the trouble to price them now. So prices quoted in competition MUST be consistent with prices quoted elsewhere.

    I did the blog post to make one simple point. Be consistent with your pricing and do NOT invent "a competition price".

  9. PS David - UKCPS is an open exhibition NOT an art competition. My comments about inflated prices were not directed at open exhibitions.

    My references to very high prices relate to the national art competitions listed on where it's not uncommon for artwork to be listed anywhere between £1k - £30k. I'm referencing the artists who I see listing their art in open exhibitions under £1,500 suddenly listing their artwork between £5-10k when it's entered in an exhibition - and the artwork is not that different. (Obviously a very large artwork listed for a much higher price is a totally different matter - that's legitimate - but it still bottom line has to relate to perceived value)

    My personal view is that if an artist doesn't want to let an artwork go then they should list as "not for sale".

    There again it's very common for portraits to be listed as NFS in exhibitions because they have been done as commissions. That's very common practice in relation to all portraiture exhibitions - just take a look at the RSPP exhibition.

    I was referencing examples such as the artist who listed a work at £100k because the artist did not want to sell it but all works entered in that particular competition had to be priced for sale - so he/she put a crazy price on it.

    Frankly I have some sympathy with the organisers of David Shepherd's annual Wildlife Artist of the Year competition - where they reserve the right to change prices when the ones quoted are silly. I seem to recall that was after the competition had a spate of artists entering work with very silly inflated prices. Mind you the organisers' aim with that competition is to sell art so they can raise funds for their charity via commission. Makes sense to me - after all all artists sign to say they've read the rules....

  10. I've never really approved of competitions. Everyone has their own style and level of talent and why compare? Since there's always disagreement with the judges what's the point? My house would fall down from the weight of the art I connected with if I could have afforded to buy it. So I deliberately priced my work lower so that people who loved what they saw could buy it, even if they were not of the "very well off class". I've sold a lot and the buyers were very happy that at last they could have original art in their home. And I'm not the only one. I've bought some things from artists who felt the same about sharing their work. For me it was the art, not money. Spread the art, people.

  11. @Molly Vollmer - I'm very curious - do you make a living from your art or do you just do it in your spare time?

    If you want to make your art accessible to all give it away or barter it with other artists.

    If you want to make a living as an artist you need to sell it and hence need to price it - and then you need to generate a good turnover to cover costs, tax and pensions as well as a wage for yourself. There are two approaches - low price and high volume or high price combined with lower and hopefully increasing volume. Pros and cons to both.

    If you want to sell art then you need to price it at a level where the market will consider it a fair price and will buy it. Everything finds its own level - that's the nature of the marketplace and that won't change. If you sell a lot at a low price maybe that's because that's the price the market thinks is a fair price. You won't ever know unless you raise prices.

    If you want to raise your profile as an artist, then entering an art competition is seen by many as a wise thing to do - no matter what reservations one might have about whether art and competitions are a good mix.

    A number of artists have done very well after being selected for prizes and I don't suppose the trend to have competitions will go away any time soon.

    PS. The subject of this post was NOT about pricing per se so much as pricing for art competitions.

  12. Yes, you did really sum it up with "Do NOT price for a competition per se."
    Pricing really is the toughest part of the art business I think. You can't really get it all at once and it takes time as you mention Katherine. I am still learning about it.
    One thing I will say about pricing is you better know all your numbers well and not price too casually.
    So even though there is no guide for PRICING FOR COMPETITIONS how does (fair and honest) pricing relate to these venues of the gallery opening night, the art fair and the competition?
    Mainly, these are the times when we come into direct contact with people in the business (collectors, gallery owners, others in the art business) and the general public who usually just doesn't know and needs to be educated.
    If you get questioned on it you better be able to back it up with your numbers. I have had to do this more than once at gallery shows and competition/art fairs. It IS a business if you are trying to make a living at it.

    I had a women at a gallery show opening night ask me why original art was so expensive. Not just mine but all of it at the show. I briefly explained the costs it takes to make it, frame it and get it to the show, the lead time we have to start to make it etc AND added the risk involved. Even after all that there is no guarantee it will sell.
    Still not convinced I related it to her this way.
    I asked her what she did for a living, she had an office type job for some company. I told her it would be like her boss coming to her and saying you are going to work for the nest 3 months and at the end of that 3 months I'll decide how much of that work you'll get paid for.
    This made sense to her because I related it to her personally and she then understood how much work and other costs really goes into it all.

    You should have a bottom line when someone is looking to negotiate the price. You should be able to explain in one or two sentences why the price is what it is and stand firm if you want to be taken seriously. That point goes with your consistent pricing everywhere.
    Pricing is a reflection of how professional you are.

  13. Sound comment David Teter - I may quote bits of it! ;)

  14. Thank you Katherine. By all means quote if you like.
    And I'll add one of my favorite Picasso quotes since it relates to the business of art.

    “When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.”


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