“How do you justify your prices?” ~ Facing a direct and probing question!

Recently, I was asked just that!  During an exhibit of my paintings (including a variety of genres) ranging in price from $950 to $10,000, I was mingling with the onlookers when one interested viewer asked me if I was the artist. After saying I was, I continued to walk through the exhibit with the gentleman as he proceeded to ask me about my art and myself.  

From the beginning of our conversation I realized he was well educated, knowledgeable about art, and a curious fellow.  As he asked me to tell him about myself, he proceeded to lead me over to my painting of the Charles W. Morgan, the last of the great American whaling ships.  The scene is of the ship docked at Chubb’s Wharf, part of the Mystic Seaport, and was the highest priced painting in my exhibit. 

Mystic Flagships  by William R. Beebe, 22 x 24, oil on board, $10,000

Mystic Flagships by William R. Beebe, 22 x 24, oil on board, $10,000

He not only was familiar with the ship, but had lived in Mystic, CT for years.  As we chatted, he shared with me his local knowledge and his love of the sea. I enjoyed our conversation.  

Then he looked up at the painting and asked in a polite but very direct manner, “Tell me, in a market where maritime paintings are everywhere, how do you differentiate yourself from other artists?  How do you justify your prices?” The follow-up question was, “Do you price your paintings by the hour?”

He wasn’t being rude, he just seemed very curious.  

I must admit I was a little taken back.  I had gone from exchanging pleasantries with art lovers, thanking them for their nice comments about my work to a heady question like “how do you justify your prices?”

This question is even more difficult for someone like me.  I’m not one to say that I am better than someone else, or that I am the best maritime artist out there, or that my prices should be higher!  So how do you answer that kind of question with any humility???

I started by saying, “That’s an interesting question,” giving myself a little extra time to ponder my answer. Then I shared the fact that my maritime work has been juried into an Annual International Marine Art Exhibition and an Annual Modern Marine Masters Exhibition at the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport.  I also mentioned that this particular painting, Mystic Flagships, had been invited to be a part of the Celebrating the Charles W. Morgan Exhibition also at the Maritime Gallery in Mystic. I was glad I was able to answer his question and explain a few of the variables I consider when working on pricing my work.

I have pondered over the last couple of days all the things I could have said. I began to speculate that many people must wonder how an artist prices his or her work.  It’s not a quick easy answer, at least not in my case.  

So here goes… In my case, I’ve been painting for over 25 years now.  When I first started painting, my wife and I would go into a number of galleries, size up the competition and study their prices.  Then I had to determine what I thought my paintings could sell for.  I had to become, as much as possible, an impartial judge and price my paintings fairly.  It had to be a price that a gallery would be happy with and a price that I would be willing to sell it for.  

After being accepted into a number of galleries, then it came down to were they selling or not?  Fortunately, in my case, my work sold.  As they continued to sell and the demand increased the prices gradually went up.  

At this point, I was growing a following and had collectors interested in my work.  At one point in my career, I was all sold out and couldn’t paint fast enough.  I was hired by MBNA, the credit card company, to be their resident artist, which took my name recognition up along with the value of my art.

My maritime work, purchased by MBNA, became part of a very impressive collection, including some modern marine masters and important works by some of the most recognized maritime painters of the past. 

I have entered a number of juried Maritime shows and have exhibited in several museum exhibitions.  I was awarded a Merit award when my painting entitled The J & E Riggin was on exhibit at the Coos Bay Oregon Museum in their 12th Annual Maritime Art Exhibition.

The J & E Riggin   by William R. Beebe, Merit Award Winner,  NFS

The J & E Riggin by William R. Beebe, Merit Award Winner,  NFS

In the end, longevity helps you establish a track record. Collectors over the years have invested in my work and current and future prices have to be calculated accordingly, with some sensitivity to market conditions.  

Prices are sometimes affected by having studied under a well-known artist, or because one attended a prestigious art school.  But for most of us who have been in the business a long time, the price on a painting is based on mastering one’s skills and creating your own unique style.  

I hope this explanation is helpful to those of you who have always wondered about how an artist prices his or her work.  Hopefully it will be helpful too for those of you interested in purchasing art. 

Thank you, as always, for your interest in my paintings, whether it is Maritime, Aviary, or my Landscape paintings.  Thank you, too, for reading my journal and for all of your encouraging words through Facebook and my website.

One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What's next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What's next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe