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Artists, Give Yourself a Raise! Fine Artist Salary Advice (Pt. II)

Bring up the topic of income in the art world and you’re likely to hear a collective groan. There is a definite dearth of resources and transparency available to artists to understand how to price their art – with even less information available for artists on how to get a raise! When running your studio, you are responsible for your own fine artist salary. What tips and tricks can you utilize to make sure over the course of your career you are being paid the right amount for your skills set and market recognition? Besides taking advantage of existing networks such as Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) and similar advocacy groups, there are surprisingly scientific and formulaic approaches you cant take every step of the way to know when to give yourself a fine artist salary increase – a necessary part of respecting your hard work.

Fine Artist Salary Increases: Know How to Grow

fine artist salary
Have Honest Discussions About Your Perceived Market Value

Ready to raise yourself to the next level and give yourself a raise? There are a few factors involved that need to be assessed in order to decide whether to move your pricing up to the next level – and how much your pricing should increase by. First things first: if you are stuck on pricing your artwork there are a few handy formulae from Artist Network and Saatchi Art that can get you started. Basically, by respecting your own time with a built-in hourly rate, understanding what you spend on materials and framing/mounting costs per artwork, and building in incidentals such as marketing and studio space as part of artwork pricing you should reach a baseline artwork price. This will ultimately feed your fine artist salary bottom line. Moving forward, the hardest part of identifying an ideal fine artist salary is actually knowing when to increase your artwork pricing.

One good place to start is to take a look at your own market trends: if you’ve been working as a fine artist for five years,  what were collectors paying for your artwork five years ago, four years ago, last year? Take a look at the trends in your own sales, and if you want to increase sales pricing trends on your work take a bird’s eye view of your place in the art market. Have you been frequently participating in exhibits? Do you have a robust social media presence? Are you a leader in artist groups or a consultant for focus groups around artwork and policy, for example? By presenting an argument to yourself as boss of your studio for a raise and incorporating convincing data such as increased press mentions and/or greater awareness in collector circles, you will be able to better present this to potential collectors of your work. Convince yourself first, then move on to close friends, mentors, and confidantes.

Ascertain from conversations with trusted advisors and peers how you can best present yourself to increase your artwork sales. Finally, be reasonable: if you sold an artwork six months ago that is 30×24″ for $1400, you will have a hard time selling a brand new artwork at the same size for $3500 (barring any extremely precious materials or solo shows at renowned institutions/biennials.) Be reasonable with your price increases and know your artwork value so that you can firmly and unrepentantly quote it out to others.

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Fine Artist Salary Guidelines: Line by Line

Tackle Your Raise with Clients Head-On

In order to effectively give yourself a raise, begin by taking a look at how your time is spent. Do you primarily work on commissions? Are you creating a new series of artworks that you intend to sell over the coming year? Are you consulting with outside sales representatives – art dealers, interior designers, etc.- on specific projects? If you only charge more money for your artworks in order to give yourself a raise, but you primarily work one-on-one to consult on creating new custom artworks for spaces, then you will only see a nominal fine artist salary increase over the coming year. Treat your anticipated salary increase as its own project, and work on it as best fits your learning style. Want to see your income sources visually? Make a pie chart to break down income into percentages. The key element is identifying what categories you will need to increase your pricing across and from there you can ensure that you are increasing artwork pricing and hourly rates for project fees appropriately – the last thing you want is for a collector and a client to discuss your pricing only to find out you have a very low artwork price compared to your hourly rate, and vice versa!

Once you’ve identified where you are going to increase your rates and/or pricing structures, time to identify how much you are increasing fees by. One key aspect of giving yourself a raise is to refer to the cost of living adjustments as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the coming year. Keep in mind many professionals working in the arts and creative industries are trained to undercut ourselves in terms of income, so refer to what you would need to keep pace with projected cost of living increases and make sure to build that into your planned price increases – if you live in major metropolitan areas with higher costs of living you may want to build in extra padding to make sure you’re not left struggling due to higher than average living costs!

You’ve aggregated your own pricing data and compared it with necessary pricing increases to arrive at your magic amount for a fine artist salary raise: congratulations! Now you get to announce it to your clients. Decide whether you want to send via e-newsletter (better for someone who attracts a majority of clients through a web form) or via personal email (for those with a smaller collector/client base). Measure twice and cut once: make sure the email is matter-of-fact, concise, and explains in clear terms the reasons for the cost and/or pricing increase.  You’ll find that a majority of your clients will have a high opinion of you for raising your prices reasonably and thoughtfully and that they will respect for you for taking your work seriously. For those who struggle with your pricing increase, have a heartfelt one on one conversation about reasons behind this adjustment – this should drive the point home that you need to fight for your right to live comfortably, and if not, time to move on to clients who understand your need to make a living!

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Respect Your Collectors

Finally, make sure you are increasing your artwork pricing effectively to make sure your collectors get the best deal. There is a delicate balance to artwork pricing increases: when prices for your artwork go up, collectors who already own your work see it as a good investment. If those price increases are too steep, however, this could serve as a deterrent against collectors making future artwork purchases. Approach peers whom you trust if you’re unsure on exact price point increases. By making sure your collectors see that your star is rising slowly and surely, and by driving home that you are planning for future success by implementing effective fine artist salary pricing strategies today, you will leave a great impression with existing and potential collectors and clients.

Have you successfully navigated a fine artist salary increase? Have advice for other artists ready to make the leap but who may feel stuck? Share your advice in the comments below!

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About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is an independent curator and art critic based in New York, NY. The founder of Antecedent Projects (2014), a sustainable urban curatorial consultancy investigating site-specific heritage, and is Editor-in-Chief, ANTE. Mag. Lambert manages ART360 by Orangenius, an immersive, 3-D art viewing experience, and serves as Managing Editor, Artrepreneur.

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