Art Business: Develop Collectors of Your Work (Pt. 1/5: The Formula)
By Michael Damico
NOTE: Michael Damico, owner of Damico Frame & Art Gallery, presented a workshop at O’More College of Design in Franklin, TN on November 4, 2016. The following was adapted from that recorded event, entitled Business Sense Q&A: How to Develop Collectors of Your Work. It has been broken into five parts. This is Part 1: What’s the Formula? (or “How Do I Price My Art?)
As an artist, consultant, and professional framer, I get a lot of questions from other artists, photographers, crafters, and so on. The most common questions I receive are:
- How can I start an art business?
- There’s so many options. How do I price my art?
- What if I price too high/low?
- Where do I start?
- How do I talk to galleries?
- Where do I sell my work?
- What products should I sell?
- How do I sell it?
- What if my work isn’t that good?
- Do I need a business license?
Before I answer some of these, let me tell you a little about who I am and why I am qualified to answer them. I am a fine artist who specializes in faces, so I’m a portrait painter. I’ve been drawing and painting since I was very young. It’s honestly a dream come true to practice art professionally. But I also operate a micro-business in the form of Damico Frame & Art Gallery.
This puts me in a very unique position. Specifically, I have 10 years of experience operating a business that regularly deals with fine art and photography. Grass roots style, I built my business from the ground up using my interpersonal skills and time to get where I am today. This means that I’m in regular contact with approximately 800-1000 artists and photographers through my business alone. Consequently, I get asked a lot of questions, but I also get to hear what’s already working for them.
So while I am certainly not the law when it comes to the art business, I have some tried and true methods and advice for artists of any kind, whether they are hobbyists or serious professionals.
Price My Work: A Change in Perspective
I’m going to address the kind of advice that is most useful. More importantly, I want to look at the value of shifting your thoughts from “How do I sell my work?” to “How do I get people to want my work?”
Of all the questions I listed above, the most frequent advice I offer people is related to pricing. In fact, I estimate 80% of the advice I give is specifically for those trying to gauge how much they should charge for their work. So I give them a tried and true formula. It’s not one that I developed. The formula actually came from my mentor who was running a $50M printing company. I don’t personally know a lot of people running businesses of that size, but it’s obvious that it works. So I’m going to go with what works:
- Consider your costs. This should absolutely be your first consideration. Start out with the basics. It doesn’t have to be complex, but you can get as definitive as you want. When you’re ready, include not only the obvious cost of equipment, such as cameras, canvas, brushes, and software, but also the more obscure expenses such as maintenance and upgrades, travel, space, and electricity.
- Consider your time. It’s valuable.
- Always make a profit on your cost. So if you spend $10, then you don’t charge $10 because there is no profit there.
- Always make something for your time. Where are you in the scale of valuing your time? Now combine the expenses of costs and time. Those need to see some returns, just like a bank. In fact, treat yourself the way a bank treats money.
Again, it’s entirely up to you how complex you get with this formula, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Anywhere from 10-30% is industry standard for your cost mark-up in the art business, but it’s your decision. Simply approach pricing with some kind of system to get a foundation established, at least enough to know that you’re sustainable.
Continue on to Part 2: Consider Your Objectives.