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Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Am preparing to go to my first show in a couple of weeks.  Got the tent, display, etc. pretty much under control.  All the great conversations here have been a tremendous help.  Have one question I could use some help on.

I'm an abstract painter.  I've never sold anything.  So, I'm thinking I'll set my prices pretty low.  If I sell out (one can dream), I can always raise prices next time.  My question:  If I set my prices low (that is compared to the more experienced artists in the show), will that be considered bad form or unfair competition or just somehow not kosher?  If someone is selling their large (4x4) abstracts for $6k, is it bad form for me to sell mine for under $1k?

I've paintings between 16x20 inches and 4x4 feet in the show, ranging in price from $150 (framed) to $900 (gallery wrapped).  I wouldn't think better known artist's would mind, but I'm beginning to wonder if there is some sort of unwritten rule about this sort of thing.

Am I over thinking this?  Any insight would be appreciated.

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Double and triple check you pricing. Then do it again.   Consider all costs. You may have forgotten the kennel fee for the dog. Get it down to how much your making per hour , then decide if you price is right or you are actually loosing money and should go get a job.   The other artists  minding should be of no consideration. If they dont like your prices, tough. They are free to tear down and leave.

Pricing is always difficult when the majority of your work is not in the cost of materials but in your time that you put into the piece.  I've been selling jewelry boxes at art shows for @20 years now and I still have problems doing my pricing after finishing a new batch.  My prices are very reasonable and I've been told many times that they are too low.  I've seen other woodworkers pricing their jewelry boxes much higher...sometimes two to three times my price...(even though we all make wood boxes....the style and variety are usually totally different from each other).  My shows have been consistent and very good over the years.  However, those that carried the higher priced boxes rarely sold many at the shows that I've attended.  I'd rather price my boxes a little lower and sell them, then price them too high and not make a sale.

My answer is based on getting into the better shows with the better and more experienced artists. That would be a truer indication of what people charge. At the lower quality shows there are people charging less for their work and others who over charge. Typically, they think they are better than they really are.

Since this is your first show and you haven't sold anything yet, the market hasn't set the price for your work. I wouldn't worry about prices. You aren't going to piss anyone off because they are too busy selling their own work. It isn't about selling a piece that's the same size as someone else's. There are a lot of things that factor into a price. Experience, quality of the work, track record, repeat customers, and many other things enter into the "price." You are just a beginner. Find out where you fit in this scenario before you compare prices with experienced artists.

You aren't going to get any answers from doing just one event. You need to do a number of events to figure out things. Obviously, if you sell everything you probably need to raise your prices. Conversely, just because you don't sell anything at a show, lowering your prices might not be a solution. You need to develop a clientele. Last year, almost half of my sales went to past customers. You don't have a loyal following. You don't have any following, yet. So, just do some shows, charge what you want, and figure it out from there.

I was thinking about something. I know a number of really good artists who teach at universities. They teach and make pieces. They are in an insulated environment and have no clue as to what to charge for their work. I've noticed that almost all of them grossly undercharge for their work based on the quality. It's because they are not out there selling and competing for sales. You need to be out there selling to know what your work is worth.

Thank you, Barry.  A VERY helpful reply. I'm sure you are right.  I'll just have to pick the best price points I can given what I know.  Then, I'll see what happens.

The more I paint, the better I get -- even though I may still not be very good, I'm better than I was a year ago.  So, I assume the same thing will happen from doing more shows:  I'll get better at the pricing and evaluation of my work.

I sell handcrafted jewelry, with a lot of time but not money invested.  My rule of thumb over the last 20 years has been considering all the factors everyone has brought up- but also- how my gut feels when I sell something.  

If I cringe and feel cheated tells me I let it go too cheaply, if I feel satisfied and happy to sell it, I had a fair price and profit on it.  Works for me.

I try to figure out what I think my work deserves per hour, and use that in the equation, too.  If I'm unfamiliar with a new procedure, of course I don't charge the full amount for that time.

I know that feeling all too well! It is a really good gauge 

You don't do yourself any favors by lowball pricing.  A few problems-

1) Serious art buyers may not consider your work.   "I don't buy $100 paintings". You want to develop collectors who can buy multiple items over the years so make sure your presentation, pricing and such reflect quality.

2) Raising prices can alienate those collectors that you do develop.  "Last year I paid $100..."

3) If you want to offer work at shows and galleries you need to leave room for the gallery commission. THey want to offer the work at the same price you sell it for at shows.  "Why would I sell your work for $140 when you are selling it for $100? That is likely to anger my patrons."

4) Selling everything is not a success story.  A friend made beautiful hand made dolls. She was only able to make about twenty of them a year.  She did one annual show and sold them all each year the first hour for about $200 each.  I suggested that she double her price.  She tried it and sold fifteen.  She was upset to have five left, but the math showed she made more money and she had a start on inventory for the next show.  

Thanks a lot for the thoughtful reply.

Since I am inexperienced, just starting our in this biz, shouldn't I reflect that in the price?  Should I price at comparable gallery prices anyway?

I'm torn.  I'm still learning -- though I think my work is comparable to most similar works at shows.  But maybe that's my inexperience not allowing me to judge objectively.

Anyhow, thanks for all the help.  I had my first show and sold nothing (priced in the $200 (16"x20") to $1000 (4' x 4').)

Hard to know whether to do the next show (March) at the same price, lower, or even raise prices.  As someone said elsewhere, I guess I just "have to do my homework" by doing more shows.

If you didn't sell anything, it could be it just was not the right show/audience for your work. . . it might not be your price at all. Maybe you want to try to walk a show before exhibition in it and see if it is the right show for you and your work 

I have to say when I see low prices I think that artist is doing everyone a disservice. Also--how will you know if a show is your target audience if your prices aren't where they need to be? Or what if a gallery approaches you and wants to represent you --they take at least 50%-- so are you loosing money at that rate. Think about your long game and what you want. If you want to make money selling your art, price it where it needs to be and build your audience.

On the flip side not selling anything at a show, or multiple shows, would be a real strike to the heart of a new artist. Theres a thread here from a girl that went to shows for a year and didn't sell even one piece, so she quit. I'm new at this, less than a year, and I've sold about 90 pieces over 4 shows. I've experienced buyers being excited to be able to buy an ORIGINAL for the typical price of a reproduction many, many, times. Because I'm in the very affordable range (prices range from $15 to $80 for pieces under 16"x20", 22"x30" at $140) I've sold to a wide range of age groups, gotten sells-after-shows, and made a few buyer friends. 

This year I will start bring oils in sizes up to 6'x5' and nothing I bring will be over $500. But I also have a regular job, so making/selling artwork is just a passion I indulge, not an integral part of my income. So yes I'm the very cheap side for originals, but I also have a blast at shows. 


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