Below you’ll find different insights into pricing + general business tips from our interviews with experts.
Jump to a question:
- What’s your advice to artists about pricing or how to ask for money?
- What are some common problems you see artists struggle with and do you have any advice on how to address them?
- Do you have any tips related to calls for entries, grants + percentage for the arts programs?
- As someone who works with artists frequently, in what areas do you think they could improve?
- How much do you think location matters? Do you feel it’s easier nowadays for artists to live in cheaper places and work online?
- What are some questions you think artist should be asking themselves?
- What are your thoughts on being part of the local community + art scene?
- Are there any places besides traditional art galleries where you’re seeing artists have success selling their work?
What’s your advice to artists about pricing or how to ask for money?
I think being honest and direct upfront is the key. It sounds really hard and it is really hard, but once you start doing it, it gets to be second nature.
We greatly respect when artists will come and be like, All right, where’s my money? Like, right off the bat. Especially in emails, like, Hey, if I’m coming for this, this is what it’s going to cost. I think finding that number and being able to do it is okay. Also understanding that if someone is not willing to pay what you think you’re worth, don’t do it. But be able to negotiate. Understand what your baseline is, what you need to eat, what you need to have in order for it to make sense to you. And that number can fluctuate.
I try not to because I think it’s impossible for me to have an opinion about the value of something that I wasn’t involved in creating.
That said, almost everybody says, What do you think about this price and what do you think about that price? There are times where I might have something to say about it, but for the most part I think artists have a good feeling about the value of their things and an understanding of how they want to be perceived pricewise.
I always wish that I had a better answer. If you make it $50 more, you’ll make more money. If you make it $50 less, you’ll sell a hell of a lot more.
Anything under $400 is achievable for a lot of folks who come to our place if they really like something. But it’s hard for me to know who is going to show up to the gallery and what they perceive the value of the stuff to be.
What are some common problems you see artists struggle with and do you have any advice on how to address them?
Knowing there’s nothing wrong with having constraints. Sometimes artists want to have every opportunity in the world. Unlimited budget and unlimited space. But once you start having some sort of restriction, that necessity, I think, can bring a lot.
There’s a definite focus on being paid a fair dollar amount for your work and being able to understand what that dollar amount is and how to ask for it. Nobody likes asking for money. It’s definitely one of the things that I notice is the most awkward when we’re with artists, which is why we’ve developed a pay-upfront deal, where it’s like, Hey, welcome to Lexington, here’s a check, or, Here’s your per diem. Because you don’t want to have them sitting around going [drums fingers on table], Where’s my money? Because that’s awkward.
I think that the financial aspect will always be the craziest part of it. But you know, for different artists it’s different things. Some of them love to travel, some of them don’t. Some of them love meeting new people, some of them don’t.
Overpreparing for printing. If it’s a reproductive piece, I’ve definitely seen some people get themselves into a hole by making reproductions unnecessarily. Either overestimating what’s going to sell or just thinking, Hey, if I have a piece on the wall and I make a $5 reproduction somebody is going to want a $5 reproduction of it. I don’t think that’s always the case. In fact, I think most of the time it’s not the case and sometimes people can get themselves into a funny spot. My advice is, Hey, if you want to do that, great. Let’s sell the $5 reproduction and, just like the piece on the wall, it’s available to pick up at the end of the show. We’ve had photographers who are doing hand-printed pieces say, I’m going to print all 20 editions, 20 prints of this thing. Then at the end of the show they might be sitting on 20 of them.
So don’t overbear yourself. That’s the nice thing about being in a gallery as opposed to being in an arts festival or something like that. In an arts festival, it’s now or the buyers are gone, right? Here it’s like, we sell it, we can tell them to come get it in three weeks and that’s totally cool.
Do you have any tips related to calls for entries, grants + percentage for the arts programs?
It’s funny because once artists find them, those people can get a ton of gigs. There’re certain organizations that, if you crack that code, they’re going to only want to work with you for a million reasons.
It can be tough to find those sometimes, but it would be really good to remind artists not to just target the big art cities, but also ask, What are the other art cities? What’s going on at the state level versus the city level?
The resource guides are few and far between out there, but realize that the way governments and cities work are generally the same. The way a lot of granting organizations work are generally the same. It’s more about just putting the effort in to go and find them.
In the call for entry I’m also looking at, Is it believable? Aesthetically, does it work? Did it work for me? And where can I put their work? Being very selective in that process.
And then also their approach to applying, their verbiage. What is their Instagram like? What does it feel like? Do they have a good feel about them? Do they look like they’ll be fun to work with and they’ll be in good spirits? Or are they gonna be a prima donna and be difficult, where nothing is good enough type of thing?
With newer people it’s like, Can they pull this off? They can’t be amateur and not able to be self-starters. If I’m going to take that risk on them, are they going to be able to really step up or will I feel like I’m going to have to babysit them the whole time?
So it’s a lot of personality. And even within my crew, my group of friends, a lot of times skill can take a backseat when people are fun to work with.
I don’t want anyone who’s going to be like, I feel entitled, I should be in this. That doesn’t sit well with me.
As someone who works with artists frequently, in what areas do you think they could improve?
I think it’s important to make that kind of human friendship connection on top of the business. It changes everything and it’s really cool. That would be my recommendation. Have fun.
There is that human connection, that friendship that can grow into something else that allows you to have a positive experience where it may be like, Okay, it’s 35 degrees out, the lift isn’t working and the paint won’t spray. I don’t have the right color and my shoes are wet. Or an artist is yelling at his agent on the phone and just losing it. We’ve had those days. And the way that we’ve been able to handle that other than pulling our hair out is being like, All right, let’s figure this out. Let’s talk to each other like people instead of like it’s a business. So I think being able to get your work done when it’s a business and being able to hang out.
You know, self-promotion is— there are people who are good at it and there are the rest of us. For me, it’s not fun. I don’t think for a lot of people it’s fun, but it’s something you’ve got to do. And that takes motivation. Motivation to make it work, motivation to talk about it, to self-promote. And maybe also the motivation to have some slight business interest in themselves. If you can’t wrap your head around how the financials of some things work, it’s going to have ramifications. You’re going to get taken advantage of, like a lot of people do, either from commissions from big corporations or even galleries because it’s easier to do if you’re not paying attention to what’s going on.
How much do you think location matters? Do you feel it’s easier nowadays for artists to live in cheaper places and work online?
Unless your art is performance-based, you pretty much can do it anywhere, right?
I think digital is where it’s at. The thing about digital is you can be national and still live in the mountains. If you have internet, you can have an incredible art practice and do amazing stuff all over the world. Android Jones is based out of Lyons, Colorado. He’s one of the preeminent projection mappers and a huge artist. He can have this incredible art practice and do stuff all over the world because he’s got internet, he’s got space for his studio and when he does need to fly somewhere, DIA isn’t that far away.
There is something to be said about working and living anywhere. There is also the question of, How do you afford to be an artist? Where is that money actually coming from? Because to reach a level where you’re full-time and making money off your art can be nearly impossible.
I think the other thing is, Denver also has suburbs around it and they are wonderful opportunities for artists because these municipalities have grown so much, they’re figuring out their own art identity. Places like Westminster are putting together a 1% for art program, which means all of a sudden, whenever they do a building, 1% of that money has to go towards art. Whether it’s a lobby or it’s out front or it’s on the side of a building.
So it’s knowing these other places exist and that there are more opportunities out there.
General advice or thoughts
What are some questions you think artist should be asking themselves?
Ask yourself, What is your end goal? Why do you do what you do? It just comes down to knowing who your audience is and what you want. Keep yourself happy, figure out what you’re doing and how to be able to continue to create, but in a way where you’re not feeling like you’re going to have to give up everything. A good example of that is, there was a music producer I worked with, and he was going to sell his computer to pay rent. I said, If you sell that, how are you going to perform? How are you ever going to make music again? It was one of those moments where rent was more important. Try to avoid getting into those situations by having a day job. Do those things if you need to. Don’t let it get to a point where you’re not going to be able to create because it’s really hard to come back from that. Sometimes that will put you in a great spot to make your best art, but I’d rather never see an artist hit a low that bad and then feel they need to come out from it.
I think the big thing is, think of yourself as a creative. Sometimes artists don’t think of themselves as artists. You may have another job that maybe is your current identity, but you’re still a creative.
Think about how you take that element of you and make it into something you want to do. Don’t lose the fun in making whatever art you make, whether you’re a chef, musician or someone who does a Shakespeare solo piece. Find that thing, do it and find that community.
If you realize you’re not going to make it your living, figure out how you can still be a part of it, you know? And keep it like that. Maybe that’s the right direction to go. Some of the happiest people I know never made it as a band, but they’re still able to go to an open-mic jam night and just have fun with it. That community is what they wanted.
What are your thoughts on being part of the local community + art scene?
Are there any outlets besides traditional art galleries where you’re seeing artists have success selling their work?
Breweries I think are a wonderful resource – for comedians, for musicians, some visual artists, depending on what they’re doing. Maybe they’ll commission a mural, maybe they’ll do a can design.
Really think about, Who are people where art is part of their business operations and could allocate money towards us? Before it was like, I’m going to paint this, I hope someone buys it. And now it’s like—what if you do it like John Fellows? He’s done some interesting brand partnerships. Really think about who fits in with what you’re doing and ask, Where does my art fit best?
When it comes to learning how to do “public art,” they can be very big spends, but for a project like an airport, they’re not going to want to work with someone where this is their first project. But generally, cities will, and sometimes it’s as simple as a mural or a $5,000 pop-up project. Those you find through cities, arts and culture agencies. Or seeing what’s posted on some of the call for entry boards. Utilize those to gain experience and definitely keep an eye out if there’s ever a resource fair that’ll tell you, Come and we’ll teach you, Here is how you properly propose your art for public art and what to expect.