Focus on Great River Chapter

The Challenge of Pricing Botanical Art

By Jane Hancock

Sooner or later most of us face the daunting question of what price to put on our art. From beginning artists to those achieving national and international recognition, we’ve all been challenged by this.
 
Three members of the Great River Chapter with different perspectives teamed up for a panel discussion in September 2012 to give us a deeper understanding of the forces that shape art prices. They clarified that much of our difficulty comes from the fact that botanical art is an emerging art form that the public still knows little about in the Midwest. With so little knowledge, the public lacks confidence in its market value. The panelists also stressed that pricing is a very personal decision for each artist, one that no one else can decide for you.
 
Our Exhibits Chair, Yara Anderson, gave us a perspective based on our local chapter exhibits. Sales from our exhibits are infrequent, but the possibility of sales is very important to the art centers that host us because they incur expenses for our shows. When setting a price for a piece to be exhibited, we must take into account that the art centers will receive a percentage as a commission. 
 
Yara provided information about the low, high, and average prices set by our members for the last four years’ exhibits. Sometimes the price range has been very wide; for example, one year, watercolor prices ranged from $200 to $6100. Art center directors see such extreme variations as a sign that we need a better understanding of where we fit into the market. Such wide variations can weaken our effort to build confidence in the value of botanical art.  
 
Suz Galloway has many years of experience as an artist and art teacher, and in the art gallery business in our region both as an owner and as a buyer. She described some of the general challenges of selling art, including the art market slump since the 2008 recession; the focus of serious art buyers to shop on the coasts instead of the Midwest; and the widespread confusion between original art, high quality giclées, and cheap prints. She also pinpointed challenges specific to botanicals, primarily due to the public’s lack of familiarity with the intensive time commitment needed for working in this genre. Original botanical art is so new to art buyers that they often have sticker shock; they lack confidence that the prices represent real value.
 
Suz described three common approaches to 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 oils 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, and adding in the other expenses, the botanical piece would 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 per cent, with most on the higher end. Suz’s examples show prices before adding an amount for gallery commissions.
 
Of course, all approaches to pricing need to be tempered by awareness of market conditions. Marilyn Garber brought us a national and international perspective on the pricing and markets for botanicals. Works shown in national exhibits in recent years have tended to range from around $1200 up to around $7000. Marilyn helped us understand how various factors of medium, size, complexity, aesthetics, and artist reputation all influence price.
 
She differentiated working on botanical art for a gallery market from working for a collector market. She sees a collector market gradually emerging for botanicals, but has not seen a gallery market emerge in the Midwest. Collectors generally buy botanical art through professional agents (who charge commissions) or directly from artists.  
 
During the group discussion that followed certain themes emerged. One strong theme was our desire to educate the local public about botanical art. This is part of our chapter’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 the public generally expects.
 
Another theme was to build your resumé if you hope to sell your work, since artist reputation has a big impact on marketability. 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.

 

  • Geranium maculatum Wild Geranium Watercolor 16" x 20" (c) 2010 Marilyn Garber 2010 Prints sold locally, all direct sales to clients.
  • Tulipa Tulip Watercolor 16" x 20" (c) 2013 Marilyn Garber Original and prints sold locally, all direct sales to clients.

  • Betula spp  and Rhamnus carthartica Birch and Buckthorn Watercolor 15.5" x 25" (c) 2012 Mary Anne O'Malley Sold from an exhibit in New York, directly to a client
  • Daucus carota and Cichorium intybus Queen Anne's Lace and Wild Chicory Watercolor 16" X 20” (c) 2012 Kathy Creger Commissioned directly from the artist by a client in the Midwest
  • Polyporus alveolaris Hexagonal-pored polypore Transparent watercolor and graphite pencil
 


8 1/2" x 13"
 (c) 2011 Suz Galloway
  • Fall Runoff 
Botanical Name: Not applicable 
Common Name: Not applicable Transparent watercolor 
7 1/2" x 11"

 (c) 2011 Suz Galloway
  • Great River Chapter members discuss pricing, L to R Yara Anderson, Suz Galloway, Marilyn Garber. Photo by Nancy Gehrig.