Pricing art commissions is confusing for everyone, and it’s tempting to look for a pricing formula as if that alone holds the answer. Sadly, this is a myth. The art world plays in a different way, even so, if you need a quick pricing guide try this:
Art prices are calculated by your choice of medium, your targeted demographic, and your personal following. Larger art generally sells for more money than smaller works, regardless of time and talent. Artists also price commissions by the square inch, or by an hourly rate.
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but there are guidelines that will help. I’ve been selling my art since the early 80s, yes I’m that old, and this post is my advice.
(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)
Pricing Formulas For Beginners
OK, so you’re a newbie, you haven’t got a clue, and you want a formula anyway. Fair enough, try this then:
Yearly income required + expenses ÷ ‘X’ paintings per year.
How many saleable works of art can you practically produce per week? If the answer is 1 then, in theory, you can sell 52 paintings per year.
But of course, it’s not really so simple, because you should be selling prints too, plus some paintings will never sell, we all have off days. Not only that, unless you have a waiting list, you’ll be doing commissions only as they come along.
Let’s face it, you don’t want to work 52 weeks a year in any job.
So let’s take a look at things in a little more depth.
Pricing Your Art in Square Inches
The idea is simple, you set ‘X’ pounds or dollars per square inch and price accordingly. All you do is times the width by the height and voila! It makes sense right? Well in a way, it’s true that people will pay by size.
Unfortunately, you still have to figure the set dollar amount per inch, and that’s totally arbitrary. Two artists with different styles and techniques will set different rates. We are all unique.
It’s guesswork. When you are a beginner with no sales record to fall back on, all you can do is make up the price and start from there.
Say you have a painting measuring 10″ x 12″ and price it at $5 per square inch. It’s worth $600 by your calculations. Does that sound right for the time it took and your skill level?
Sticking to your formula a 6″ x 8″ painting will cost $240 and a 20″ x 24″ painting will cost $2400. This is regardless of how much time it took to paint.
This is a handy guide: What Size of Art Sells Best?
And none of this takes into account how each painting will be judged on its own merits. It’s all subjective, some art will sell and others not.
For a formula to have any value, all the paintings must conform to a consistent theme, style, and medium. Where does that leave you if you try something new?
It makes more sense to calculate the price of an art print by formula because it’s a fixed product with a retail price, where true costs can be determined and time is not a factor.
Here’s another take on pricing from a slightly different perspective. This Skillshare class is worth checking out. It has extremely positive reviews.
Pricing Art Commissions by The Hour
How long does it take to make a piece of art? Good question. That’s almost like asking how long is a piece of string.
Can you see yourself painting by formula and completing every painting within a set number of hours? I’ve tried it myself, and I can tell you from experience, that it’s damned hard work.
We all have different mindsets, styles, and aptitudes. Each artist must determine their own individual capabilities. The number of paintings you think you can paint is likely to be way off the mark.
Life gets in the way of crude formulas. Basing your art on an hourly wage takes no account of life dramas, and your best-laid plans will inevitably backfire.
That forces you to compensate for downturns and rainy days by hiking your hourly rates. Can you see how a simple formula can get complicated very quickly?
The truth is, one artist might take months to do a painting, while another, making a different type of art, will only need a few hours. Logically an artist, who takes a long time to complete their work, will not be able to charge a true hourly rate. It’ll be too expensive.
By contrast, prolific painters, who can churn out their art, can get away with overcharging. There’s no fairness in the art market.
Pricing Your Original Art For Beginners
When I first started out as a freelance artist, I hit on the (daft) idea of producing high-quality artwork at a lower price point. I had to paint 5 pictures a week assuming that 3 would be saleable. That’s a lot of work and unsurprisingly I burned out.
Note I said ‘saleable’, and that’s important because you’ll never sell everything you make, that’s just a fact of life.
The advantages of painting quickly are:
- Higher turnover of sales
- It’s more immediate and fun
- It’s less important if you paint a dud
The disadvantages of painting quickly are:
- Easy to burn out
- You end up painting by formula
- The quality suffers
Let’s suppose that you are not so prolific, let’s say you can produce one painting a week.
Assuming you need $40,000 per annum and sell one quality painting per week, the average selling price for each picture would need to be $769 to reach your target. That’s if you sell all 52 originals.
That’s not an easy task.
Selling 2 paintings per week will still mean you have to sell each one for $385. The price itself is not so high but you must paint and sell 2 works of art per week, every week.
That’s assuming, of course, that you are selling them yourself. If a gallery represents you they’ll want their cut, so you must factor in gallery prices. A gallery commission is normally 50% and that will double the retail price.
This will interest you: Selling Your Art in Galleries, Is It Worth It?
So if that’s the case what about those artists who are too slow and can’t produce enough work?
These are the pros and cons of painting slowly:
The advantages of painting slowly are:
- You can paint your best work
- The results are more satisfying
- You can make prints to sell
The disadvantages of painting slowly are:
- It takes forever to build a portfolio
- Originals earn a poor hourly rate
- Painting a dud will cost you more
As a beginner, there is only one practical answer to your problems. You paint pictures only to make them into art prints, and any original pieces that sell are a bonus. This allows you to scale your art business plus wait for potential buyers who are happy to pay a premium.
It takes the pressure off.
How to Price Your Art as an Emerging Artist
You adjust your prices until you hit a sweet spot. There are no hard and fast ‘rules’. Your work has no intrinsic value, it’s worth what you can get for it, that’s all. Cruel but true.
Your starting prices should be low at first and gradually increase as you make new sales. When your art sales drop, you’ve reached your peak price.
Admittedly, that’s far easier to do when you’re pricing art prints, but that’s the principle.
Whatever you do, don’t do it the other way around. If you start with high prices and sell very few, not only will you be upset that the world doesn’t value your work, but you’ll also upset any existing customer who bought your work at a higher price.
No one wants to see something reduced after they paid a higher price, especially artwork. It’s more personal. On the other hand, no one minds when they see your art is worth more than they paid,
It’s simple psychology.
When you hit on the perfect price, don’t apologize! The price is what you set and there is no need to defend it.
Your art is worth what you say it’s worth, as long as the public agrees with you. You’re not selling an essential item, art is a discretionary spend.
Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by ideas of ethical profit margins. If you can make 1000% then go ahead and make it. Look at it this way, if you buy something for $1 and sell it for $5, your profit is a staggering 500%. but so what? you’ve only made a $4 profit.
Likewise, you might sell a limited edition print for £100 which costs you £5 to produce. That’s a totally obscene 2000% mark-up, but you might only sell one a week.
Your dream might well be to sell 20 limited editions per week. Is that fraud? Of course not, you created that image. It didn’t, and couldn’t, exist without you. You are a talented artist, willing to put in the time and effort to make a beautiful work of art. It’s special and you should be rewarded.
If you are serious about making a living as an artist, Brooke has an insanely popular class on Skillshare (affiliate). Over 30,000 students!.
Pricing Your Art Prints For Beginners
There are so many variables to take into account when deciding upon a price structure.
Before you price your art you must know:
- Who are your customers?
- What kind of disposable income do they have?
- What are your overheads?
The first thing is to determine how much money you need and work backward.
I’m British so let’s say, for argument’s sake, I could live on about £25.000 per year. I add my fixed overheads, let’s say another £5000 for transport, rent, licenses, material costs, insurance, printing costs, etc. I will need to make at least £30,000.
You know how much each print costs. Let’s say you pay £1 per print and think £10 is a reasonable price to charge. That leaves you with £9 in profit.
If you divide £30,000 by £9, you must sell just over 3,330 prints per year.
That works out at selling 64 prints per week, or about 10 a day. Put it another way, you need to earn £82 per day and that is perfectly achievable.
Top Tip: Buyers love a bargain. If you sell £10 prints, you could offer 2 for £15. Most people will grab the offer and instead of a £9 profit, you now have a £13 profit. This works brilliantly. It’s a classic upsell.
This is how you work out the viability of your business. You would also have to factor in your tax liability. That will vary from country to country, so you’ll have to work that out for yourself.
That’s not as scary as it sounds. Remember as a professional artist, you are self-employed and able to offset expenses. You have fixed costs but you can also invest in your business to reduce your tax burden.
My subject matter is wildlife so I was able to claim my overseas travel costs as a business expense. Why not? If I had a good year I’d spend more money on my trip and deduct it. Happy days.
This post goes further: This is How to Price Art Prints: Practical Advice for Beginners
My example is a crude ballpoint figure for selling one standard-sized print, unmounted and unframed. It doesn’t take into account, multi-buys, upsells, or selling other products. Nor does it include any art commissions or selling originals.
All in all selling prints for a living is within reach for any artist with a reasonable work ethic. If you want to know how to do it, it’s all written down.
Selling Limited Edition vs Open Edition Prints
I sell both and cover all bases. Open edition prints (unlimited) are my bread and butter sales. They constitute the bulk of my sales and income. If however, I didn’t sell limited edition prints, I would be leaving money on the table.
Some potential clients only want something exclusive. They don’t want anything mass-produced. That being said, only a few people can afford the original, and that’s where limited editions work so well.
The printing game is tricky so read this first: How to Make Prints of Your Art
Limited editions also work as an upsell. A customer who is torn between liking two prints, one an open and the other a limited edition print, is likely to choose the cheaper option. A good salesman will offer a deal to sell both.
Let’s say you sell an open edition for $8 and a limited edition for $25. Imagine the reaction when you offer them both for $25. Sounds crazy right? No, it makes perfect sense, and here’s why.
If each print costs $2 each to produce you are most likely to sell the cheaper print for a $6 profit. By offering both for $25 your customer doesn’t have to make a decision and you make a $21 profit.
Would you rather have $6 or $21? It’s a no-brainer. You’re happy and your customer has a ‘free’ print so they are happy too. That, my friend, is how you sell.
Here are a few selling tips: How to Sell More Art: 10 Selling Tips For Artists
The Advantages of Selling Limited Edition Prints:
- High-profit margins
- Elevates the perceived value of your work
- Great as an upsell
The Disadvantages of Selling Limited Edition Prints:
- Your bestsellers will run out
- Slower turnover
- Choosing the right image is a gamble
The Advantages of Selling Open Edition Prints
- Bestsellers will sell for years
- You can repurpose the image for different products
- You can sell in bulk
The Disadvantages of Selling Open Edition Prints:
- You must have a high turnover to succeed
- You must buy your prints in bulk to get a cheap deal
- Storage problems
There’s more to it: What Are Limited Edition Prints and Do Artists Really Need Them?
I should make it clear that your daily income is an average figure taken across the year. Obviously, you will have peaks and troughs. Some days you’ll earn more and others less.
Your income will be higher on weekends, holidays, and during events. It will nose dive at other times. Trade is seasonal. Your cash flow will be inconsistent, but as long as you do the hours you’ll get there in the end.
This is a very popular course with very good reviews. Foncho has had over 56,000 students on Domestika (affiliate). That’s impressive.
Pricing Your Art Commissions
For most artists seeking out and accepting art commissions is a vital part of the job, but it can easily turn into a frustrating dead end.
Let’s be honest how many potential clients will ever give you the freedom to do as you please? They won’t, they have an idea and then want you to interpret their idea in your own way. In other words, you’re expected to imagine what they are imagining!
Right from the outset, you have to deal with false expectations and unrealistic demands and the only way to deal with that is to set out some clear guidelines upfront.
Before you undertake any work, you must discuss what you can and can’t do and the costs involved.
You must determine:
- The quality of the reference photo
- The expected size
- The medium
- The delivery time
- The price with or without a frame
- How many, if any, alterations you are prepared to make
- The price per portrait, not per photo
- The deposit
- The final price
So How Do You Price Your Art Commissions?
Well for a start only you can figure out how long the job will take. When I took art commissions, I would allow one day. If I screwed up and it took two days, it was my loss.
There are no rules dictating the price of a commission, but you can get a ballpark figure by seeking out comparable artists doing similar work, or even base it on the average hourly rate in the industry.
Bear in mind that similar artists may well be more established than you are, Your fellow artist might have a larger fan base, and consequently, command higher prices. At least it will give you an idea of what to charge.
Another way of looking at the same question is to ask yourself what you are prepared to work for if someone offered you an unrelated day job, right now. What figure would make you say ‘Yes I’ll do it’.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of underselling yourself. A fair price is one that both parties feel comfortable with. If you take on a job with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach you will resent the commission.
I look at my work as a skill worth paying for. I want more than a minimum wage, I want to feel valued and respected. As a professional, experienced artist, I want a good return for a bespoke piece.
As I point out to people on almost a daily basis. I can put in the same amount of time and as much effort into making my own work, and sell the prints for years to come, or I can make a single commission and make less money.
Point this out to your prospect and your higher rates become much more reasonable.
Take my advice and accept only those jobs that are low risk and can be accomplished within your chosen parameters.
…and stick to it.
Don’t give choices. Offer a ‘take it or leave it’ service and that way you will limit your problems.
Set one rate for all, with a price list if you can, and if you get a ton of work, create a waiting list.
How Your Medium Affects The Price of Your Art
Believe it or not, there is a hierarchy of mediums and that affects the price you can ask for your work.
You must price your art accordingly.
You can’t command the same prices for pastels as you can for watercolors and they aren’t as popular as acrylics which in turn are worth less than oil paintings.
It is less rigid these days, but still, the perception remains in the eyes of the public (and galleries) that some mediums are worth more than others.
As a graphite artist, I’m almost at the bottom of the pile, on a par with digital artists probably!
Don’t listen to the ‘experts’ who assure you they love black and white. It’s a niche andvery few galleries will want to risk it on their valuable wall space.
Why do I draw then? I’m colorblind. Hey, you play the hand you’re dealt with!
Time is Money in the Art Business
There is no getting around the obvious limitations of your time. Everything comes down to the amount of time it takes to get your work done.
One crafty way of helping yourself, if you are a slow worker, is to modify your compositional style. A good starting point is to leave a white background, and there are very good reasons why this is a good idea.
A single subject with a clean white background can be framed in any size. If it’s easier to frame, it’s easier to sell.
Think about it, all that white space has value. The public will pay more for a bigger picture, even if half the picture is blank paper. A creative composition can put money in your pocket.
As a print, the image increases in value for the same reasons, you can frame it in multiple ways to suit the needs of your customers, plus you can also offer it as an image on different products. You are not confined to wall art.
The extra time it takes you to paint or draw a detailed background may not be worth it.
I know this will defeat the whole point of making art for some people, and I get it, but it sure makes sense on a purely commercial basis.
Sadly, your time has little bearing on the value of your work. A piece that took a week can retail for the same money as something else which took just a few hours. The public doesn’t care.
The public rarely appreciates the differences in skill levels between artists. If they do, then the added time it takes to reach that higher level, is not understood.
There is a misconception that if you excel at something then it must be ‘easy’. Someone who is able to paint fluidly and at speed may well have spent half a lifetime getting to that point, but the public is oblivious.
All the public sees are the results and that is what they are buying into. They look at the image and make their instant judgment. It’s other artists who look at the process.
That’s why some 5-minute doodle can outsell a highly accomplished piece of work. It’s the difference between ‘quirky and fun’ and right for the intended space, as opposed to ‘crafted and clever’ and out of place entirely.
On the whole, it’s the image and not the skill that sells. There is no appreciable premium for the time it takes.
Pricing Art Commissions: Final Thoughts
If there was a proven formula for pricing art commissions then I’d have found it by now.
Art is worth what the buyer is happy to pay and that’s a matter of trial and error. Sorry, there is no magic bullet.
So many variables exist that influence the asking price that one size can never fit all. All these factors come into play:
- Client list
- Customer Demographic
And last but not least… Price Your Art With Confidence!
Katy has a popular class on Domestika (affiliate). It’s worth having a look. She has 98% positive reviews
If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit: (Amazon affiliate links)
- Pentel Mechanical Pencils 0.3mm
- Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
- Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper
- Jakar Battery Eraser
- Tombo Mono Eraser Pen
- Faber Castell Putty Eraser
- Blu Tack
- French Box Easel
I cover everything you need to know in this guide. You should check it out if you want to make money selling your art in a no-nonsense way:
If you found this article helpful you might like these:
- What Kind of Art Sells Best? The Secrets Revealed
- How to Find Your Art Style: It’s Easier Than You Think
- How to Negotiate the Price of Your Art Prints and Make Money
- Can You Copy Art and Sell a Painting of a Painting? I Found Out
- How Much Do Greeting Card Companies Pay Artists? A Concise Guide
- What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart
- 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)
Plus find an ONLINE COURSE that suits you.