Ask A Gallery Owner | Making Square Inch Pricing Work for Smaller Pieces

Square inch pricing

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I highly recommend pricing based on size, generally square inches. But what if you do work in both large and small sizes? How do you make sure your large work isn’t priced too high and your smaller work isn’t priced too low? I answer this and other price-related questions in the following email exchange:

Hi Jason,

I bought and read your informative book. My question is why do artists have to price by square inch? I have an elaborate system that accounts for the fact that small paintings take almost as much time as larger ones. I am changing my prices for my website (per square inch) and find that the small paintings are hardly worth doing (though I enjoy painting them). Since I am in several galleries, I will need to inform them of the new Lower prices for the small pieces. The medium sized and large pieces are priced correctly.

Thank you,

Elizabeth

My response:

Elizabeth,

Thanks for reading the book and for the question. What you are describing is correct, and many of the artists I work with will have a graduated pricing schedule where the smallest work is priced at a higher per square inch price than large pieces.

Tell me about the formula you were using previously – perhaps it is consistent enough that it can make sense for your work.

Jason

Her response:

Hi Jason,

I was glad to hear that some of your artists use a graduated pricing system. I am back to that system myself as I am a slow painter. (My system starts with a 10″X12″ painting at $7.9 per square inch and goes to a 48″X60″ painting at $3.4 per square inch. This is $950 for the smaller painting and $9500 for the largest. I can send you details if this is something that you can use.).

On a related subject, you say to price high. This is probably my 4th recession and I have never lowered my prices until now. This is the first time that 2 of my 4 galleries have asked all their artists to lower prices as they say that this helps them sell.

Galleries are now making artists pay for frames and then taking half of this for the gallery. In effect, it is now a 60/40 split with the artist getting the 40%. And I was with a gallery that added the shipping price to the painting price and took that for themselves. To show you how long I have been with galleries, I used to get 60% and my frame cost back so the new business model is getting hard to swallow.

Your book mentions how you rate the importance of biographical statements, portfolios, etc. I, and probably many artists use the website as my portfolio as it includes the elements you mentioned. In my experience, most gallery owners have not cared much about a biographical statement. In fact, I made a little notebook with reviews and newspaper clippings of photographs about shows, and past series. I thought that if I were a gallery owner, I would at least read this once to acquaint myself with the history of the article. Only one gallery owner read this, and told me that the most interesting thing that he told collectors was that I used to do sculpture- which explained my desire to paint sculptural flowers, etc. No one else was the least bit interested. You can see that your book has stirred up some comments from me. I hope that you have the time to write back as I appreciate that you are a person with experience in both worlds.

Thank you so much,

Elizabeth

My Response:

Thanks Elizabeth,

And I think the formula you are using sounds very reasonable.

While I know these are difficult times and that many artists have lowered prices, I have seen only limited response to price reductions. While I don’t discourage it if the artist feels it might help, I find that it usually doesn’t. Most buyers aren’t hemming and hawing over a couple of hundred dollars, the argument they are having with themselves is whether they can buy art at all. Hopefully as the economy improves we’ll start getting more to answer “yes.”

Just as an aside, my two best selling artists continue to be my most expensive artists.

I am surprised also that your galleries aren’t putting more effort into getting to know their artists. It doesn’t always close the sale for me to be able to create interest and give information about the artist, but it often helps in the process. Consider taking the gallery owners or staff to lunch and telling them about yourself so they can at least have that basis for sharing information about you.

Keep in touch.

Jason

Your Thoughts on Pricing

Do you use a variation on square inch pricing or some other method? Have you ever lowered your prices? What was the result?

Cover image features art by Xanadu artist Dave Newman

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

22 Comments

  1. Hi Jason.

    Thank you, so much for taking time to answer our questions! There are not too many people who could give a qualified advice and I’m afraid to damage my reputation by a wrong decision. I have a question about pricing too.

    My work was probably priced on the high end from the beginning, because I started showing with an established gallery in a well known art district. And I do everything I can to back it up: national juried shows, art groups, etc (not to mention my best quality for every painting). That gallery no longer represent me, and started showing with 3 new galleries and a few more are interested in my work, but they suggest to lower prices about 25% and say that they almost guarantee good sales if I do. I’ve read that it is not good for artist’s career to go down once the price was set, but in the same time I feel that I’m loosing good opportunities. Is it OK to lower them after 10 year in the market? And if yes – how much lower? Personally I would prefer to sell more then to wait for that special collector. But do I owe it to the people who have paid for my work to honour their investment? I’ve read a lot of articles that contradict each other and I thought I’d ask a professional.

    Thank you in advance!
    Natalie

  2. I find pricing varies mostly with the place. The galleries in California have higher prices than the Utah galleries, for example. I have always used a square inch model for pricing, which seems consistent and fair, with slight adjustments for the places, as I’ve explained. I separately add the price of framing, which automatically adjusts for size. That seems fair, too. Pricing is always a challenge. I appreciate the insights shared here.
    Linda

  3. The suggestion to take gallery owners or staff to lunch was a big surprise, actually more of a shock. Is it truly a sincere belief that an artist should do this? I’d really like to know because it seems out of touch with an artist’s life.

    My question is sincere. From the artist’s perspective, my hope is that that the gallery/artist relationship might be more symbiotic so that the artist does not now also have to arrange luncheons to “wine and dine” them. We are not at the scale of ad executives trying to land a big account for a corporation.

    Could not an owner and/or staff (whomever will be the ones that are actually going to be in the gallery to have the opportunity to make the sale) schedule the appropriate time together to have that chat with the artist when they meet with them to discuss selling or to view their artwork?

    Even better, could they not provide a warm welcome greeting by offering a cup of tea or coffee along with that chat?

    For the serious entrepreneurial artist managing everything for their business, we are pushed to maximum modern-day limits. The painting is about 10%, at best, of an artist’s time considering other important tasks and details such as the follow-through of impeccable finishing and framing, creating and managing a website, creating and posting online promos, social media connections, creating and giving workshops or lessons and promoting those, client or collector updates, shows, association memberships, endeavours for gallery representation, accounting, etc., the list is endless.

    We want our art out shared out there and look to galleries as part of our business plan. I am serious and respectful in my question. Is this now also something we need to do as part of that plan?

  4. Pricing, I am sure varies greatly based on the market you are in. I live and display mostly in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois and in general the prices here are very low, other than one established highly respected gallery. There are so many talented artists just out of school willing to sell their 24″ by 24″ for $150-200. I have tried to explain to them how this is way too low, but the common answer is, “If the price is too low, why hasn’t it sold yet?”
    And the normal price I have to charge for a 12″ by 12″ original is $99 while my larger pieces go for $499 or less. This is definitely a buyer’s market. My main success is in selling prints or cards made from my paintings, as the average consumer will rarely spend over $25-50 here. So instead of selling a $400 painting I sell 20 prints of it @$25 (and I still have the original). 1-phil-strang.pixels.com

    1. I can agree with you on this. While I’m not yet in any gallery, it is my goal. I am, however in Art shows here in very rural Northern NY. I have my pieces priced for the market in the areas I have my paintings…a small town, a larger town. While they’re priced the same…square inch pricing…my prices are in no way high compared to being in a gallery. I have even gotten comments from the owner of one business that, especially this year, prices on all their works are coming down. The artists want them to sell. So, I’m totally confused. Am I pricing correctly? Am I too high or too low?

  5. Hi, Jason,
    A little over a year ago, a well known artist who likes my work asked why I wasn’t charging more for my paintings. I work on gallery wrap canvas or cradled birch and had moved away from framing because it’s expensive. (The day I decided to stop framing was when I walked into my framer’s shop and found one of my pieces being reframed.)

    The sizes of my pieces normally range from 18 x 24 to 36 x 48. When I was asked about my pricing, I was charging $1.00 per square inch; I now multiply that figure by 2.0. And for giclees, I charge by the square inch and multiply by 1.2. My sales went up.

  6. Hi Jason,
    I used to use the square inch formula and it was complicated to price small works vs large works. Now I use linear inches (as suggested by Carolyn Edlund of Artsy Shark). This give me one price per linear inch that works fo all sizes.
    Also, I have never lowered my prices, in fact I just gave myself a small raise (price increase) that my gallery owner said I deserved!
    Thanks,
    Janet

    1. I’d love information on comparing Square inch pricing to linear inch pricing. I’ve considered changing to linear because it seems to put a “more reasonable ” price on the larger pieces. And keeping square inch pricing for the smaller ones. Do you keep the dollar amount the same throughout the pricing for larger sizes?

      1. Yes, I keep the same price per inch using the linear format up to a 30×40 canvas size. I rarely paint larger than that and if I do it’s generally a commission which I quote separately anyway.
        If you are familiar with excel, you can use a simple formula and try out different price points and compare it to your square inch pricing to compare the two methods.

  7. Most of my paintings are on the large size so I charge by the sq. foot. It takes me well over a 100 hours to do one and it would be hard for me to charge by the hour.
    I set my price by the sq. foot to keep it fair. I came up with $250.00 per sq. foot. That breaks down to around $1.75 per inch and i think that is fair no mater what size it is.
    I only want to make sure the buyer really wants it and will treasure it as much as I do.

  8. This was super helpful for me to read – including everyone’s comments! I have been pricing all my work- large and small – at $2.5 per square inch plus adding in framing costs x2 and it seems to be a good formula. I don’t frame everything, but what I do frame, I want to be reimbursed for 100%.

    Galleries are happy with the prices, and things sell. However, recently I realized that (like someone here) my small pieces take nearly as long as the large pieces and I was considering how to manage that without overpricing my large works.

    I’m definitely going to consider a graduated scale. I’d love to keep this dialogue open as it is mysterious how art is priced, especially now that there are so many different ways/places to show and sell art. I’ve basically taken down my online shop as it just gets too complicated when juggling with 4-5 galleries who also have online presence. Would love another blog post on how to manage that…

    thanks for all the insights!

  9. Great article, question and follow-up question. It is sad that Elizabeth’s galleries do not educate themselves about their artists. Having worked in a gallery in the past, I was required to be familiar with and investigate info on each artist. It is hard to remember it all so if I saw someone showing interest in a particular artist I would quickly skim the binder we kept for each artist before approaching the client. The galleries that represent my artwork seem to be knowledgeable about me and my process as well, so I am comfortable that they certainly earn their 50/50 split. I like your idea of taking the staff to lunch or some sort of “get to know you” arrangement (via Zoom?). I find that frequent communication helps my gallery relationships.

    Regarding pricing, I have struggled with the same issues. This is how I handle it: I, too, create “minis” as well as regular sized pieces. I recently raised the price of my minis by $50 because the cost of the cradled wooden box they are mounted on went up – the galleries said it wouldn’t hurt sales. I left the price of larger sized works as is. (Larger works are framed, not mounted.) Though not entirely, this past year the majority of my sales are minis. I am represented in high-end tourist areas so a memento is often what the client is looking for. This is also why I seek representation in such areas, as my established prices began in these markets, so lowering my prices for another lower priced region is not an option for reasons mentioned above in Natalie’s question.

    I compute the square inch pricing on the image size, however the resulting price includes my framing. My minis (5” x 6” image size ) are priced at $8.3/sq.in. and larger paintings (10 x 11 up to 16 x 24 image size) are $7.5/sq.in.

    I consult with my galleries before making a decision, I keep my pricing the same in all sales situations, I keep in contact with and communicate with my galleries fairly often. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, but seem to get smoothed over eventually.

  10. It is important for the artist to establish a realistic pricing structure for their work, and keep it consistent wherever they sell. Don’t make the mistake by immediately telling yourself that this other artist is asking “X” amount, therefore you are going to ask the same thing. There are a lot of factors that go into pricing such as how long you have been selling, the demand for your work, how familiar the public is with your work and your name, etc. If you are new to the market, then keep your work at a modest price. Yes…Some smaller works do require as much time as larger ones, however the public does not really care how much time you put into a work. Size is the key variable for them. Work with the gallery and ask them for their advice if you are not sure. They should know what the public would be willing to pay for your work. Pricing your work too low can deter a sale, because the public perceives it as being of little value. Pricing it too high, and the public thinks you are trying to cheat them. Start with your smallest work and ask what is the minimum amount you would be willing to take for that, after the gallery gets it’s cut. Also consider that the gallery may discount it down to an agreed upon %. After establishing that price ,work with a square inch method to determine the range for your mid sized work. Keep your largest work below the same square inch range. You want to entice the public to purchase your larger work. Once your work is selling consistently then you can raise your prices up more on your larger works. It takes time to establish a market and following for your work, so don’t rush raising your prices too quickly or you may find your sales dropping below your earlier profit margin.

    1. Ray, thank you for this advice. As I mentioned above in another thread, I’m not in galleries yet, but this is my goal. I am currently doing local art shows and have a few of my pieces in shops. The area I live is very rural. And there are times I wonder if people…some people…think my prices are too high. I’ve placed my prices just lower that a few very well known local artists. I am finally beginning to obtain recognition for my work. This is quite thrilling. Also, as I mentioned above, I’m struggling with the question of is there a discrepancy btwn square inch pricing and linear pricing once the sizes get bigger? Maybe I’m still struggling with recognizing my work as valid as professional, and not just small time artist…but I sometimes feel the pricing of square inch for pieces over say, 16 x 20 is a bit too much for the area. Still learning. Maybe it would be a good idea to speak with other, local and more experienced artists to see what they say…especially in reference to prices and our area. Again, thanks for sharing

  11. I am a math nerd, so I price my work on the square inch formula, but with a sliding scale based on overal square inch total: Starting at $5 per sq inch on the smallest pieces (up to 50 sq inches), down to $2 per sq inch on the things over 2000 square inches. I price for frames separately, based on not losing money on the frame on any given piece. One gallery I work with also offers an “unframed” option, so that the buyer can select their own frame, and I can re-use the frame I selected on another piece. For that, I need to take into account the labor to remove the frame.

  12. My work is not size regular. I am pricing by the famous “eyeball sizing.” XSmall, Small, Medium, Large & commissioned which is a set fee for the design of a commission.
    I due agree that small pieces are the hardest to work on and require the most time. However, I do not think clients think about. I may want to clock the hours it takes to make a Xsmall work. People seem a little fooled that size matters so much, However not in art.

  13. Aloha Jason, I create art gourds so pricing by square inch doesn’t make sense. There are basically 3 sizes I work with – should I just go that direction?

  14. What I am curious about is a factor not mentioned here, whether you use square or linear measurements and/or scale the prices.

    What about medium. I paint in three mediums, though mostly oils. Watercolors take the least amount of time for me, followed by pastels, then oils. Depending on your method, oils can take considerably more time. I scale my prices to size and also medium.

    I’m seeing such low per-square-inch prices above that it cause me to wonder who is painting in what medium?

  15. I use a hybrid size-based pricing method, with a sliding scale. I have established prices for a number of benchmark sizes (small, medium & large) over the years based on a combination of what artists with a similar type of work are selling for in the same markets, and my own experience with selling my work. I used to show in galleries, but now my main venues are upscale outdoor art shows across the US, and many of my fellow artists show on the same circuit. My largest sizes are much less expensive per-square-inch than the smallest ones. I figure out the price per square inch for the largest, smallest and medium sizes, and then interpolate between them to set prices for all the other sizes.

    Some rules of thumb:
    1.) Prices are the same to the public regardless of location or venue
    2.) My prices never go down. They either stay the same or go up
    3.) If I need to sell things for lower prices, I do a series of lower-priced work in a different medium. For example, a series of unframed watercolor/gouache sketches on paper as an alternative to my more finished works on canvas

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