The Challenge of Pricing Botanical Art

September 8, 2012

Sooner or later most of us face the daunting question of what price to put on our art. From beginning artists entering their first GRC exhibits, to those achieving national and international recognition, we’re all challenged by this.

Three members with different perspectives on pricing teamed up for a discussion to give us a deeper understanding about the importance of pricing and the market forces that shape it. They clarified that much of our difficulty with prices comes from the public’s lack of knowledge about botanical art and lack of confidence in its market value. They also stressed that pricing is a very personal decision for each artist, one that no one can decide for you. 

Yara's Pricing Handout

Suz- Pricing Botanical Art  

Suz- Pricing Discussion

Marilyn - Pricing Handout

Yara Anderson, our GRC Exhibits Chair, explained that the non-profit art centers where we exhibit need our prices for insuring our art, even if a work is not for sale. Sales from GRC exhibits are infrequent, but the possibility of sales is very important to the art centers because they incur expenses for our shows. When setting a price, the art center will receive a percentage as a commission.

Yara distributed a handout showing the low, high, and average prices for the last four GRC exhibits. When there’s a large price range, art center directors give her feedback that our members need a better understanding of where we fit into the market. For instance, at the Phipps Center exhibit in 2011, watercolor prices ranged from $200 to $6100. Such widely varied prices undermine our effort to build the public’s confidence in the value of botanical art. Yara asked that if you don’t want to sell a piece, please don’t put an exorbitantly high price on it; just say it’s not for sale. 

Although Suz Galloway is relatively new to botanical art, she has many years of experience as an artist and art teacher, and in the business of art galleries in our region. She also owned a gallery representing regional artists. She gave us a broad context by describing the art market slump in general since the 2008 recession, the focus of serious buyers to shop outside the Midwest, and the widespread confusion between original art, lithographs, and high quality giclées. She also pinpointed challenges specific to botanicals, mostly due to the public’s lack of familiarity with this emerging art form. Original botanical art is so new to art buyers here that they often have sticker shock; they lack confidence that the prices represent real value.

Suz showed us three common ways to think about pricing art. One is by medium, where unfortunately for us watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink are ranked well below oil and acrylic in value. A second way is by size, often used for oil and acrylics, where value is assigned per square inch. This doesn’t help us small-scale artists either! A third way, more relevant for us, is based on fixed costs. This takes into account expenses for materials and framing, and assigns a per-hour value to our time. As an example, Suz compared two of her watercolors that were sized and framed the same. One was a botanical that took 15 hours to paint, and the other was a traditional watercolor that took 4 hours to paint. Using a value of $30 per hour, the botanical piece cost $620 compared to $230 for the other watercolor. 

Lastly, Suz reminded us that galleries have considerable expenses, which they recover through sales commissions. The commissions range from 20-50% in our region, with most on the higher end. Suz’s examples show prices before adding an amount for commissions.

Marilyn Garber brought us a national and international perspective on pricing. She provided information about price ranges and averages at some high-profile shows.  At the 2008 ASBA exhibition the prices ranged from $1,200 to $7,000, with an average of $3,323 (total sales were $45,325). In 2011 the range was $1,250 to $6,900 with an average of $2,718 (total sales were $30,200). The recession probably explains the lower sales in 2011.  

Marilyn then invited us to guess the prices of selected works from the ASBA exhibits. Our guesses ranged widely! It gave us a flavor of how considerations of medium, size, complexity, aesthetics, and artist reputation all influence price.

She compared working on botanical art for a gallery market to working for a collector market. She sees a collector market gradually emerging for botanicals, but not a gallery market. Collectors generally buy botanical art through professional agents (who charge commissions) or directly from artists. The premiere agent for botanical art in the U.S. is Susan Frei Nathan.

During the discussion that followed certain themes emerged. One strong theme was our desire to educate the local public about botanical art. That is part of the GRC’s mission and one of the main goals of our yearly exhibits, which have made a good start. We could do more to help exhibit visitors understand the tremendous time commitment that goes into our work, through signage or other means. That would be an excellent step in explaining why prices are higher than they expect.

Another theme was to build your resumé if you hope to sell your work, since reputation has a big impact on saleability, Take steps to get exposure and gain some recognition. Submit work for respected exhibitions; earn a certificate; become active in the ASBA and participate in its conference portfolio viewings and other opportunities.

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