Pricing artwork – the lessons I learnt from chocolate cake (by Jani)

I’ve already written about ways to go about pricing your work as an artist.

Here I want to talk about the tendency to think, when selling art, you should under price work you are selling in order to sell it.

There’s a belief that people shop mainly on price, that people will buy something if it’s cheap enough.

Now, I am not a business advisor or financial professional, let’s get this straight.

But I have co-run a successful, growing business for well over five years in a high risk industry* AND made a living from art and teaching art.
The Art House opened in 2008 and there has been a recession the whole time we’ve been open (gosh, it’s gone on long!) and the business was

at pretty much failure point when we took it on.

So, we have learnt in a hands-on way, very quickly, how to make pricing work.
The Art House has never sought to make low cost our main appeal.  Our food and drink – and the other things we sell, too – are of a far, far higher quality than you get in most places.

We believe that ‘cheap food’ costs society and the planet.  So we don’t sell it.  We sell good food made with lots of love and care, and it shows.  Our food bill is our single biggest expense, costing between £700 and £1000 a week.  All of that money goes to local growers, an organic food co-op or local shops.  A tiny percentage of emergency supplies have to come from Waitrose or the co-operative, both supermarkets with values closer to ours than the others.
Through the five years we have been going, we have agonized every time we’ve had to raise prices.

But here’s the thing.  Every time we have, our income has gone UP.  The number of customers has continued to go UP.  Our community and business have GROWN.

Putting prices up has worked.  Charging what we are worth has worked.

We don’t overcharge.  We are not unusually expensive for a cafe, but we’re not cheaper than other cafes and we’ve never tried to be.  When you visit, you will get exactly what you pay for.

Charging what we are worth, instead of trying to be the cheapest, means we can serve more people, do more good stuff, touch more lives, get more creativity happening.

It all goes back into this good stuff, as a not-for-profit, none of it is going into some greedy pocket.

Pricing well has worked by offering something that is worth MORE than people are paying, by offering fantastic value for money, by being affordable without being cheap.  Here’s how it’s done:-
– We have a strong ethic and mission, which our generous customers are happy to support and become part of.

– Our food is darn tootin’ good and we make sure we communicate that.  People can enjoy the fact that their meal is of the highest possible organic and ethical standard.  This improves the flavour.  Fact.
– We have always kept some affordable options, including (but not limited to) the kiddies menu.  We also have a ‘Friends of The Art House’ card which gives a 25% discount, and a crew discount card. This means that nobody is excluded who wants to enjoy what we offer, and we support our biggest supporters and those who invest in us, but also……
– We have premium options, too.  The local beers, the carefully chosen organic wine, the generous main courses with seasonal organic salads (no plain old LTC – lettucetomatocucumber – here), our amazing warm roast veggie wrap…… the dark chocolate cake, made with an obscene amount of fair trade, organic actual chocolate in the cake itself, with more chocolate grated over the top, by hand.  I am making myself hungry.  In short, people can treat themselves to something special here.
– The experience of eating here is a WHOLE experience.  People eat out, for the most part, as an occasional and special treat.  We make sure the space is fun, quirky, clean, interesting for people who come… there is good music playing, a variety of seating, and the crew are jolly nice.  It’s worth paying for.

Photo by Mike Daish

– There are extras.  Art, crafts, events, doodle books, board games, a preloved clothes shop, a community noticeboard and leaflet point, a toybox, frequent entertainment, a piano, books to read whilst you are here and books to take away by donation.  Your soup has a heart on it. Tea in quirky pots, coffee in insulated cafetieres (so your coffee stays warm whilst you peruse the art).  When you pay for a meal here, you get far more for your money than a plate of food or tea and cake.

– People can stay as long as they wish.  They can have meetings, discussions, groups, spread out on a large table and do brainstorms or drawings, use Wifi – many freelancers come and work in the space every day.
– We have a reach far beyond our four walls.  People can and do engage with us from all over the world.  You can feel a part of our community even if you visit once a year, through staying in touch on social media, through our mailing list, blog and website.  
Excellent value.  Not ‘cheap’.  There’s a difference.  
So, if you’re an artist, you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with you.
I believe it’s the same theory.
Offer good value without being cheap.
Communicate your value, add something extra, make your customers realise how special your work is.  How special THEY are to you, as well!
Handmade art and craft, or live music and performance, or any first-hand art experience is something of the highest value of all.  Human connection.  The most precious of all things.
The important thing is to make sure that’s the experience your customer is getting, and that they know that is what they are getting.
‘African Ancestral Call’
Copyright Kwame Bakoji

Example. Bik and I bought an original painting, ‘Ancestral Voices’ by Kwame Bakoji a few years back.  It hangs in our
living room, a unique and lovely object in itself.

Here is one with a similar theme and style – and it is for sale, if you click it you can find out more (:

We bought more than a painting.  

We bought things money can’t really buy….. but the painting is soaked with them and fills our living room with…..

– the experience and flavour of another culture.
– another person’s life experience and story.
– the memory of the lovely opening night for the exhibition.
– the reminder of Kwame’s amazing smile and hearty laugh, he is just one of the smilest, happiest people I have ever met.
– continued contact with the artist as a friend and musician.
– the feeling of supporting a fellow artist.
Kwame in his studio

So, here comes the point of all this………………..

My experience has been that I’ve always sold more art for a better price, to people I have met or connected with in some way.

I’ve sold more art when I’ve told it’s story and mine in a good artist’s statement.  When I’ve put a photo of myself painting next to the painting for sale.  When I’ve shared my process, shown work as it’s being made, step by step.  When I’ve taken the time and trouble to engage properly with my audience and remembered they are not just buying a physical object from me.  That a painting is not just another piece of decor for their house, to go with the sofa (though it may, of course, go with the sofa!!).  

They are paying for a connection, for something deep and real and true.
They are taking part in a profound, sacred exchange.  Their money (it’s just a measure of energy, n’est-ce pas?) supports me as an artist, my art enriches their lives.  Both of us are enriched.  A circle of giving.

Just like The Art House.  Our community support us, we support them, it’s a symbiosis.   A natural thing.  Organic, just like the cake.

I sell more work (and we get more customers!) when I remember this meaningful exchange, beyond commerce, beyond commercialism.
When you sell a unique piece of art, or perform, or sell a CD, or a book of poems, you are giving deeply of yourself.  If you can get this across to your audience, you can charge what you are worth and make a living from what you love.
It may (will) take a little longer.
It will certainly take a lot more time and energy from you, especially to start with.
It will be SO much more fulfilling than slapping a cheap price tag on something to sell it quickly to somebody who doesn’t really appreciate it.  You will feel supported, clean and blessed.

Take some time now to examine the value of your work.

Let go of your own need, any sense of entitlement or desire to make money.  That isn’t why people will buy from you.  Look at what you will be giving somebody in exchange for paying you for your art.

Sit down now for a bit and write down all the things somebody gets when they pay for your art.  Feel free to share it in the comments section, or on your own blog, or with me on Facebook.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Blooming Creatives – do what you love, earn what you need

Want support with selling your art?

My ‘Blooming Creatives’ business program starts in July 2013.  This will be a group, limited to around 30 people, working together with me in an online group (with the option to meet up at The Art House).

We will be going through the stages of growing a creative business.  The programme lasts 3 months, with a bonus month at the end to catch up and move ahead!    

To apply and get your name on the pre-registration list for this, please fill in your details on the form below.  Fill out my online form to apply, I will notify you when the start date is set and let you know payment options for this programme.


If you are still in the early stages and unsure Blooming Creatives is for you, try my eCourse ‘Follow the Butterflies’ which takes you on an 8 week journey to pursue your creative dreams.

The next group journey starts on 1 June and you can find out all about it here.

* (the Office for National Statistics in 2008 reported 22,000 new hospitality businesses, but 22,000 also folded in that year – not all the same ones, obviously!). The failure rate is quoted as high as one third within the first year, although the myth of the 90% failure rate makes it seem even more risky to open a cafe than it actually is!  

Did you like this post? Then please comment below and share it along!   Sharing and connection are so delicious.   Don’t forget to check out my free goodies to help you with your creative journey.  You can also link up with me on Facebook and Twitter.   If you liked this post, please join my mailing list, hunny bunny! Gosh, it’s so easy.

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    About arthousesouthampton

    The Art House is a not-for-profit café, gallery and arts venue in the centre of Southampton. We are a place you can meet new people, meet up with friends or just come in by yourself. Our licensed café offers delicious organic lunches, Fairtrade tea and homemade cake. We also have a busy programme of events, workshops, and art exhibitions, a clothing and crafts boutique and lots more. Most of our crew are volunteers and you might even want to apply to join them. Come along and enjoy our unique, community run space.
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