Sunday, February 16, 2020

Pricing a Pastel and Pastel Society Annual Exhibition Metrics

The annual exhibition by the Pastel Society is the largest exhibition of artwork in pastels and other dry media in the UK every year.

The Pastel Society Private View

I reviewed the exhibition 10 days ago - see 121st Annual Exhibition of The Pastel Society

Following on from my review of other annual exhibitions by national art society last year - and the closure of the exhibition earlier today - I'm now going to review below the exhibition metrics (relevant performance data) for the 2020 Annual Exhibition:
  • how open is this open exhibition - the ratio of members to non-members
  • how well pastel artwork has sold - with specific reference to price bands
But first the prizewinners.

I didn't get back to the exhibition, because I acquired a cold and spent most of last week sneezing repeatedly and going through boxes of tissues. With the current scare re the coronavirus I decided I'd rather not be heckled for looking as if I might infect people - even if it was only a cold.

(NOTE: Metrics - I apply a standard system of measurement to all the annual exhibitions I review)


The Mall Galleries has done an excellent review of the Pastel Society Prizewinners on its blog - which includes large images of the artworks.

An Open Annual Exhibition

Malcolm Taylor sold three artworks - two of which are in this photo

Those aspiring to exhibit at the Pastel Society in 2021 should be reassured that this is a proper OPEN EXHIBITION
  • 282 artworks were exhibited. Of these
    • 170 are members (60% of artists)
    • 112 are non-members (40%).
  • 128 artists exhibited. Of these:
    • 44 were members (34%)
    • 1 was a deceased member
    • 84 were non-members selected from the open entry (66%)

The one thing I find quite odd is that the total number of works exhibited in the same three galleris at the Mall Galleries is well below the number exhibited (for example) by the RI (which exhibited 411 artworks by 166 artists in April 2019).

I think once the Pastel Society have reviewed the sales figures in relation to price and size, they might want to think long and hard about whether next year's exhibition might be bigger - with maybe more smaller paintings.

I recommend this exhibition to all those aspiring artists working in dry media - bearing in mind that it's not just about pastels.  It's also very evident that works across a range of subject matter and styles can sell well - if priced to sell.

ALL ARTWORKS (including those by members) are reviewed by the selection jury.

The average number of paintings hung in this exhibition were
  • Members: 3.9 paintings (not every member submits the 5 they are entitled to submit and not all get all works hung)
  • Deceased member: 1 painting
  • Non-members: 1.3 paintings
    • Most non-members have just one and sometimes two paintings in the exhibition.
    • Those who have applied to be a candidate for membership often have more than two paintings in the exhibition - and I suspect those who would be considered as a candidate if they'd only get round to applying!
    • The implication for those applying to get work hung in this exhibition is that they MUST submit their BEST work - and two works might be the optimum number of works to submit (if not previously selected)

Sales at the Pastel Society Annual Exhibition

I'm going to start by saying I'm absolutely convinced that sales during the Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2020 were undoubtedly reduced due to the absolutely appalling weather we have been having - which will in turn have reduced the numbers wanting to leave home and make the effort to travel to London for the exhibition.

Plus the fact that both Storn Chiara and Storm Dennis chose to arrive at the weekends!!!  This weekend there were a record number of flood warnings and alerts in England, according to John Curtin, the Environment Agency's head of floods and coastal management.

It's really bad luck for any art society when you get very bad weather during an exhibition - but to get it both weekends is really unfair!

Number of artworks sold in each price range

In total 62 paintings sold - 33 (53%) by members and 29 (47%) by open entrants.

The chart below records sales results for 62 sales recorded online at midday today on the Pastel Society website and the Mall Galleries website. I'm not 100% sure that all artworks listed in the catalogue were also listed on the website but my sample check indicated that they were and the numbers between catalogue and website also seemed to correlate.

Number of artworks sold by price range - pale blue = non-members

By way of a preamble, it probably goes without saying - but I'm going to reiterate this very important point - that DRY MEDIA drawings and paintings - like watercolours - typically sell for less than oil paintings.

Unless they look incredibly like oil paintings and are presented without a mat. So you need to bear this in mind when looking at the figures below.

I've number-crunched all the sales on my Excel spreadsheet and these are the sales metrics worth highlighting

My conclusions are:

  • 85% of sales were priced at less than £1,000 (this compares with two thirds for the RI which had a bigger exhibition)
    • I was left wondering how many of those priced just above £1k might have sold if they'd been priced just below £1k
    • that said the average price for all works sold under £1,000 was £564
  • NON-MEMBERS sold more artworks priced at less than £1,000. This provides a pretty clear indication that:
    • those entering artwork for the open entry should always consider favouring prices which are more affordable to buyers.  
    • those members pricing below £1,000 might want to consider whether their work stood up well to the best work of non-members.
  • MEMBERS dominated sales priced above £1,000. Indeed they were the ONLY artists (8 in total) to sell work above £1,000. 
    • This reinforces my view that buyers, when looking at work in an exhibition by both members and non-members, will tend to favour members for higher priced artwork - unless the artwork itself holds particular appeal
    • It also suggests to those new to this exhibition should start with submissions priced below £1,000 until such time as they have got a firm foothold (i.e. repeat selection for the exhibition) - especially if you want to impress other art galleries with a sales record rather than how big your unsold artwork is
  • AVERAGE prices within each price range were as follows:
    • 25 sales @ under £500: £422 
    • 28 sales @ £501 - £1,000: £691
    • 5 sales @ £1 001 - £1 500: £1,250
    • 1 sale @ £1,501 - £2,000:  £1,950
    • 2 sales @ £3,000 plus: £2,950
  • BIG HURDLE: Sales priced above £1,500 drop dramatically as a percentage of the total - totalling only 4 sales of the grand total of 62 (6%).  
    • I continue to take the firm view that - for non-oil paintings - £1,500 is a significant price hurdle and the majority of artwork will always sell for less than this - unless by a "name" artist with a very strong following and/or big fans with a big wallet. 
    • That's simply because of my observations about sales over a long time. 
    • It doesn't mean that artworks above that figure won't sell - but if you want to exhibit artwork above that price hurdle you better do a lot of additional marketing on your own account to a target audience of art collectors who will buy at that price!

Peter by Benjamin Hope PS NEAC ARSMA
(Soft Pastel, 96cm x 65cm)
£2,400 SOLD 

  • SIZE: the majority of sales were for artworks which had at least one dimension of 50cm/20" or bigger
    • 44 artworks (71%) measured larger than 50cm/20" on one dimension - but most also measured less than 100cm/ 40"
    • only 3 artworks which sold measured bigger than 100cm/ 40" (of which 2 were priced c.£2k or more)

Charcoal and pastel drawings by Melodie Cook PS
Ellie with Poppie (centre) SOLD

(Charcoal and pastel, 117cm x 82cm, £1,950)

Janine Baldwin sold 5 artworks - including all in this photo
Her palette would be extremely sympathetic with recent contemporary decorative palettes 

  • BEST SELLERS: 3 artists who did well (3 or more sales) all priced their work below£1,000
    • Janine Baldwin PS
    • Malcolm Taylor PS
    • Tom Walker PS
    • observations I'd make about all them is that 
      • their strong style means all could be hung together "as if" a series 
      • their style is much more contemporary than other artists
      • at least two of them probably should be charging more for their patels!

Tom Walker sold 5 pastel artworks - including these three with red dots
IMO with better presentation they could sell for even more than they did

  • NO SALES: A significant number of member artists had no sales - including ones who have sold well in the past - which really surprised me. (Hence my preamble about the weather)

Pricing lessons for ALL selected artists

Key points:

  • Inexperienced artists who are ignorant of market prices often overprice.
  • Most non-members' artworks sell for less than £1,000
  • Most artworks overall sell for less than £1,500
  • Extremely few pastel artists sell pastel artwork for more than £3,000 at the Mall Galleries - no matter how impressive it is. Those that do have a strong following and/or paint excellent large pastels.
  • Pastels in general cannot compete with the price of oil paintings and should be priced accordingly.

Why artwork needs to be priced to sell

Below I'm reiterating below points I made last year. I think they're probably worth making again.
Introducing a "price check" for market realism may net more sales - and more commission even if the artworks are priced lower.

After all an over-priced artwork that does not sell is a net loss to:

  • a gallery which loses on commission through no sale - and the opportunity cost of selling other artwork which might well sell
  • an art society which wants to help artists in general to do well
  • an artist who has paid for transport, framing etc
  • an artist's career. It's all very well seeing selection for a national art society exhibition as a pathway to getting a gallery - but all galleries are interested in (after they have assessed whether your art makes the grade / fills a gap) is whether or not you are already generating sales i.e. are people interested in your work when it is realistically priced!
Pricing to sell is a really good strategy for a long term career.

You can read more how to How to price your art on my Art Business Info for Artists website.

More posts about the Pastel Society

You can review previous posts about Pastel Society exhibitions - from my archives. As you can see I've done 14 reviews of this exhibition!

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