Pricing your work is one of the hardest things to do as an artist. It’s something I’ve struggled with and I still find it difficult to decide how much I should charge for a portrait. Artists chronically undersell themselves, often learning less than minimum wage. There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that if you’re like me, you are nagged by constant self-doubt. That voice of doubt likes to make you think that your work isn’t good enough to be charging reasonable prices, or even charging for it at all. Especially if you’re online and you see all the other amazing artists out there, it can be very intimidating to start charging for your work.
Another problem with pricing is that for most of us, art is what we love doing. If no one was paying us we’d still be drawing. That’s still true for me — if I have a break in commissions I work on my own projects or draw something just for fun. For some reason, there’s a philosophy that if we’re having fun doing work, we shouldn’t get paid for it.
The third reason is a bit of a false one, and it’s very much related to that self-doubt. We assume that with too high prices, we’ll shut ourself out of the market and no one will buy our work. It’s better to have lots of commissions at lower prices than none at all at higher prices, right?
Let’s talk about each of these points, and figure out which are worth thinking about and which are not.
Is your work good enough to charge for? Well, the simplest answer is that if someone is willing to pay for it, you can charge for it. That being said, take a look at other artists online who do work similar to yours at the same skill level. If you’re just starting out, it makes sense to charge less than an established artist who’s been working for years on building their skills and portfolio.
The second point — that artists like drawing so we shouldn’t be paid for it — is just bogus. I love teaching people how to train their dogs, and I would be very annoyed if someone told me I shouldn’t be paid just because I like my job. No matter how much fun you have drawing, you’re putting time, materials, and tons of effort into each piece you make, and you should be compensated for it. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to use this argument to make you feel like you shouldn’t charge for your work.
The third point, about the market for commissioned art, is a little more complex. The thought here is that if someone is charging $30 for a portrait, and I charge $400, there’s no way I’ll be able to compete with their prices. The funny thing is, you won’t be competing with them. The prices are so different, you’re in a completely different market. Your target audience is different, and so don’t worry if you see portraits available for rock bottom prices. You do want to make sure your prices aren’t outrageously out of the norm — if you’re charging $1000 for a portrait and others with your skill level are charging $200, that might be a bit of a hard sell.
So what should you charge for your work? How do you justify your prices?
First, do market research! Look around and see what others are charging. Try your best to be objective here, even asking friends and others to help you find artists that are similar. That will give you an idea of a market price for the type of work you are doing.
Second, decide what you want to get paid for your work. Are you doing art as a hobby? Part-time job? Full-time job? What do you need to earn from your art to support yourself? Then calculate your goal price based on that. You may not be able to charge that price right away if you’re just starting out, but you can have it as a goal.
Third, how much does it cost to make a piece? How much do the paper, paints, or pencils cost? Don’t forget to include the materials in your calculations, because the costs certainly add up!
Fourth, how much time does it take to finish a commission? I don’t like using estimates here, because it’s easy to forget a few minutes here or there. I actually track each hour I spend on a commission, because data collection is the first step. I have little circles on my daily to do list that let me track how much time I spend on each piece.
Once you have an average time per commission, you can calculate an hourly rate. It takes me roughly 20 hours for an 8×10 coloured pencil commission, and I was charging $250 for one. That’s $12.50/hr, far less than I should be making based on my skills and the number of years I’ve spent developing my skill. So I raised my prices, because I’ve spent three years working on developing my coloured pencil skills and now should be earning more than $12.50/hr.
Although there’s no easy solution or clear answer to how much you should be charging for your work, hopefully that gives you a place to start with pricing. Just remember: we all struggle with this part! You’re not alone.