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  • Writer's pictureSean Burnley

Pricing Your Artwork—What's It Worth?

Okay let’s talk about pricing your artwork. It’s a big topic I know and one that always causes us to cringe. It’s probably the most difficult thing to do as an artist. I think we all struggle with this one. I can tell you I’ve had years of practice and years of selling my art to arrive at where I am today in my pricing.

As a graphic designer, I have an hourly rate which I’m flexible with depending on the size of the client and the scope of the work. As a custom airbrush artist creating automotive graphics, I usually have a set price based on my years of experience in this field. And as I fine artist, I am still new to determining my value but I’m beginning to dial it in. Pricing fine art in particular is tied to name recognition. For beginning artists I think it’s wise to price lower as you build your portfolio, client base, and name.

Over the years, artists have come up with lots of formulas in order to price their work. Many visual artist use the square inch method. Some have an hourly rate plus materials. Some just make it up as they go without any form of structure. In the graphic design industry it’s common to have an hourly rate, while in illustration industry is often based on a set budget or price. Just knowing a market and general pricing is important.

So how do you price your artwork? It’s an emotional thing for many of us. I mean it’s like how do you put a price on your baby? And for some of us, our work feels like our baby and that’s what makes it so difficult. We are so tied to the art that were producing, so emotionally invested, that we have a hard time separating ourselves from what we are selling. In many ways it’s a reflection of what we think we are worth as a human. But it really comes down to what you think your art is worth to someone else. You could ask 10 different people what they think of your price. Some will say you’re charging too much. Some will say you’re not charging enough. And some might say they think the price is just right... and those are your buyers. So at the end of the day you have to be comfortable and feel good about your pricing. That means not having regrets when you sell your art and not feeling like you’ve cheated yourself, not to mention not feeling like you cheated your buyer. I’ve actually had people tell me my work “is worth it” but they can’t afford it, which to me was a subtle indicator they thought I charge too much.

Not long ago on an open Internet discussion platform, I had an interaction with another artist. This dealt with creating renderings for customers’ vehicles. This artist was bragging that they do renderings for $25. Since this was in an open forum and feeling the need, I chimed in, “I wouldn’t even pick up my pencil for $25.” Slightly confrontational on my part to be sure. This artist was quick to respond that he works in the tattoo shop and that when it’s slow or he has nothing to do he works on renderings. So for him it’s just extra cash when he would not be working. From my perspective, he was doing himself (and artists everywhere) a disservice. Spending a minimum of 8 to 10 hours sometimes upwards of 15 - 20 hours to render out someone’s vehicle makes this worth so much more to me. But that’s me. Plus I look at the fact that I’ve been drawing somewhere around 50+ years and I have quite a bit of experience to contribute. So through my lens, this artist was not charging nearly enough. But he was perfectly happy with that and I suspect he probably wasn’t spending more than a couple of hours on his renderings. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You get what you pay for?”

I think when it comes to pricing, We for sure need to consider the material costs going into what we’re producing. So knowing the cost of say canvas and paints has to be part of your final price. Another thing to consider is the client’s budget. I will often ask someone do they have a budget before starting a project. That lets me know what the client’s expectation of price already is in their mind. The client will often say I don’t know what something like this should cost but I promise you, in their head they already have a number that they know is their ceiling so you can know pretty quickly if you’ve passed that. The moment you give them a price they make a decision whether that’s too much in their own mind. So knowing what a client thinks their budget is ahead of time can cut to the chase. Also, if their budget is lower than what I would normally price a work, I can consider if I can cut some corners. It’s a way to get the work and make the client happy while feeling okay about the price myself.

If a client tells me they were thinking $100 to do a portrait of their family and I know I’m going to spend many days if not weeks on the art, I know that’s not worth it to me. Another unfortunate fact is the public has this idea that because artist enjoy creating art, they should not get paid much for their skills they’ve developed. And as artist we don’t do ourselves any favors basically giving away our time and talents that we’ve spent years developing. And if the client is simply clueless about a budget, I will just give the number that I think is appropriate for the average project. I believe in “value” pricing. And what that means is knowing what value I put on the finished art as opposed to having an hourly rate for instance. I have to be okay with it otherwise I’m hurting myself.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to ‘something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.’ So you have to find the sweet spot whereby you as the artist feels good about the pricing and the client feels good about paying it. Win-Win. Don’t sell yourself short in thinking your art is not worth much but at the same time don’t have such a high opinion of yourself and work that you overprice either. Know what you are worth to your potential clients. It isn’t easy and it takes time but you will eventually find that sweet spot. Now go create something beautiful and sell it to that person who will truly appreciate it.

—Sean Burnley

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