I make very labor intensive installations with paper, fabric, metal, and other materials. I exhibit my work a lot in Baltimore, DC, and New York but I don’t sell much, especially to individuals.
For several years, some friends of my parents have come to my shows and asked me to make a piece of work for their home. They have said that I can make whatever I want, just that it needs to fit a specific, large space in their house, which is beautiful. They seem very eager to help support me as an artist, and have even offered to give me some money to get started.
I would love to do the project. However, I am terrified to negotiate this financial situation and I keep avoiding their request because I don’t know what to tell them.
I need to figure this out and have the conversation, but I have no idea of how much to charge them. They seem to be able to afford my work – their house is quite large, but I do not think they typically purchase original art. I don’t want to give them what I consider to be a fair price and then have our relationship be uncomfortable because they are shocked and don’t want to pay it.
I think this is a great chance to improve the quality and professionalism of my art practice. I feel like once I make a deal, I can break down a wall I have built for myself that prevents me from doing this more. As much as I need it to, art still does not equal money in my brain.
Any insights you have are much appreciated!
Dear Installation Artist,
This sounds terrifying but awesome. I think you are right to be cautious and do your research before negotiating with this couple. No matter how good their intentions are, they may be shocked by how much your work costs. This does not mean you should price your work too cheaply, but it does mean the conversation may be uncomfortable or present surprises. It is essential that you are prepared to calmly answer their questions.
One way to start out is to research comparable work. Can you find work by another artist who uses similar materials and/or process and find out their prices? This at least gives you a ballpark to start with.
For the materials, labor, and time involved, in addition to your exhibition record, a fair price could be anywhere between 4 – 10 g’s. When having the pricing conversation with this couple, it could make sense to make 3 different mock-ups for them… Ask them for a few photos of the space in the house with dimensions so that you can Photoshop similar pieces of your work into the images for them to see what it could look like.
Create a 4 g version, a 7 g version, and a 10 g one and then they get to choose which one they prefer. What’s the difference between the three options? Maybe just the size? It could also involve different materials and different levels of detail, which translates into time. Stress that you’re making it specifically for them and the piece will take their considerations into the process.
Giving them options puts the onus on them. Also – this is what realtors do. They show a client 3 houses: one is way too expensive, one is way too cheap and gross, and the last one is ‘just right.’
Make the middle option be your target price. It’s probably the one they will choose.
After you reach a decision with them, draw up a contract of sales that spells it all out. It states that you will begin working on it after you receive the first half of the $$ and it should be done in X amount of time. You will receive the 2nd half of payment when you come to install. You are happy to do maintenance on the piece over time as necessary.
Just remind yourself that they love your work. They want to own it in their home. They can afford it. And if it’s too much money for them, then it’s not meant to be. You’re not going to do this work at a loss to yourself.
Good luck!!!!!! It’s an awesome opportunity. At this point you’ve played hard to get and they still want you. Definitely follow up with them before the offer gets stale.