You're creating art. You have the passion, you have the skills. Why not make some money out of it then? It's a good idea, right? A lot of people live from creating art, and even more earn some money on the side by taking commissions. You should give it a shot!
So... How much money is your art worth?
It's a hard question to answer for those who are just starting their adventure with selling and creating art for money. Is its worth equal to the price of the materials you used? Is it equal to the value of the time you've spent on creating it? What about the emotional value you put into it? Should your education influence your prices?
No matter if art is your job, hobby or a pastime, you should never undervalue it. In this article I will try to give some tips as to how assess the value of your artwork and touch the problem of too low prices.
We're in it for the money.
Let's be honest - if you're reading this then you probably want to know how much you could earn. The more the better, right? True, but you need to be aware that majority of your clients will want the exact opposite - to pay as little as possible. Your task will be to balance the two out so your clients are happy with the price and you get your well deserved money. Let's start from the basics.
- You are a worker. Artists (just like tailors, carpenters or masons) provide basic products for others to admire, use or build upon. Your work is as important as anyone's else, and as such should be valued.
- As a worker you commit time and energy into creation. You are basically selling your skills and hours of your life so someone can get a piece of artwork. You will need to give a monetary value to those skills and hours if you want to earn money.
- In every part of the world the cost of living and work is different. The price of your time (and by extension also your art) will strongly depend on the minimum wage in your country.
I strongly believe that no matter how much experience you have or how young you are, you deserve to be paid at least the minimum wage for your honest work. Go ahead - look up the minimum wage in your country. Check how much is that per hour of work. That's the bare minimum you should take for hour of creating your work. The piece takes you more than an hour? It should cost two times as much then! Not a penny less!
If you agree and want to earn even more skip the next fragment. If you don't then stay with me for a moment longer and we'll go through all the popular arguments against it.
The reasons why you're valuable
I don't think art in general is worth all that much.
Artistic skills are VERY valuable. In the country I live in the problem of undervaluing art is so far-reaching that the word "artist" itself became a colloquial name for someone who is unreasonably extravagant, silly and flippant. It's not true at all. The fact you have a good eye-hand coordination AND an imagination good enough to create anything is very valuable. Gigantic industries are based on people who create art. Can you imagine movies without someone coming up with the visuals, costumes or scenography? What about advertisements? What if all books suddenly had no illustrations? What about gaming? Fashion? Art is a very big part of many businesses and should be treated like that.
Your skills are very valuable no matter what anyone else thinks!
I don't have the experience to ask for such an amount.
Of course, at the very start you probably won't be able to charge as much as people who work in the industry for 10+ years now, but it doesn't mean you should work for kibble. Don't be afraid. Everyone was "just starting" at some point. Can you imagine a medical doctor, who just got his degree, working for a few cents per hour even though he's fresh on the market? A baker who sells bread for one cent a loaf because his bakery just opened?
If you're just starting, then yes, your prices will probably be lower than those of people who already make art for a living. That doesn't mean you should work for less than bare minimum.
It's only a hobby.
The situation changes though when someone asks you to paint something very specific just for them. From the ideological point of view you are now employed by that person and shouldn't be treated like a slave. Taking commissions usually means you won't create what you want but what others want. It means that your price includes not only the art and time you sacrifice to create it but also all the revisions, corrections and changes, which sometimes can be harder than the main task.
Hobby or not, don't let anyone make you a slave.
I need to have a portfolio/commission examples first.
Yes. Yes, you do. A strong portfolio is very important if you want to get into the art industry. That doesn't mean you should work for free though. A good personal illustration that you put your heart into is worth much more than a private commission of someone's OC that you struggle with. Private commissioners usually don't care if you were hired by someone before and people from the industry care (or don't care at all) only about published commercial projects you contributed to.
It's better to create your portfolio with utmost care so people want to buy what you actually enjoy creating, than to lower your prices just so you can pump commissioned pieces into your gallery in hope it will help you gain new clients. It won't.
Come on. An image like that can't be worth more than a can of soda!
A lot of young artists don't know the worth of their work simply because they've never worked before. Of course I'm not talking about the occasional work they might be involved in but the regular 8-9 hours a day for 5 days a week most adults have to do. The idea of the minimum wage was quite abstract to me as well before I started working.
Why does a can of soda cost less than art? Because it's made in millions of copies by machines. It's not customized. It's not unique. It isn't revised while being created. It's not made specifically for one person and their needs. Any bit of personalization would make its cost to skyrocket. If you intend to sell the same piece of art in millions of copies then, of course, by all means lower its price so it reaches as many customers as possible. If you're going to get paid only once though, think about it for a moment and join us back in the next part of the article.
A price to satisfy them all
The minimum wage won't earn you much. At most it will precisely null out with the time and effort you put into your work. It's basically the price of art that could be made by anyone. Just like anyone who's any good at what they're doing, you should rise the price the more experienced you get, the more known you are, and the more work you currently have. There are artists out there who work for 5USD an hour, 10USD, 20USD or even over 100USD. It's now up to you to set your price point at which you feel the most comfortable.
Setting an hourly price might, once again, be difficult. How are you supposed to know where to start or where to stop? There are two methods to deal with it.
#1 - Start low and build up
A few years back, when I was taking my very first commissions on dA I really undervalued my art. I asked for 20USD for works that took me over 8 hours of work (2,5USD/h) which was much too little even considering how inexperienced I was and the fact I live in eastern Europe where prices are much lower. Why was it too little? First of all I came across a few traps of the too low pricing. Oddly enough the first was... the lack of clients.
Believe it or not, too low prices scare people away! Would you buy a car for 50USD? Of course you would if you saw and tested it first. Otherwise it would sound a bit too good to be true, right? The same is with art. Some prices either feel fishy or imply that there's something wrong with the art itself. People think that for such a low price you might be adding some costs later on, send them only a small version or gods know what else!
The other problem were returning clients. After buying art from me some came back for more after a while. As a growing artist I raised my prices since then and my clients felt cheated on. I got into a few very unpleasant situations trying to explain to my ignorant clients that since the last time they've commissioned me I got much better and offered a product of higher quality. Few listened but a lot of them publicly complained... and scared away potential clients.
Another problem you might encounter is too slow price growth or even stagnation. It's a very serious issue for those who feel insecure about their art.
Do yourself a favor - set your price at a level you think is fair... and then add a few bucks. I'm serious. Go on, add those few dollars more because you're worth that much. In our efforts to be fair we usually overestimate how fast we work and don't realize how many revisions some clients want. Too low price might really come back and bite you in the ass if you're not careful enough.
If you add a buck or two with every commission batch then you'll soon reach a level you're satisfied with. If you're lucky enough you'll be able to charge even more once you find your place in the market and create yourself a niche to draw clients from.
#2 - Start high and don't give a fuck
This method works good with those who are experienced in creating art but never tried selling their works. If you already have a distinctive style, a unique technique or great ideas just slap a big price on your art. If you advertise enough there are going to be people out there who will want to buy it from you. It often requires a lot of confidence, patience and an outgoing personality but can bring incredible profits and prestige. Not for those in need of fast money.
If the plan doesn't work, lowering the prices might not work immediately... or work like a charm if you plan it right! It's definitely a high risk - high reward strategy.
I AM STILL LOST
Lurk around a bit and check price lists of other people that are at your level of work. Use it as a guideline. Beware of the underpricing artists though! Remember not to go below the minimum wage and check twice to make sure you didn't stumble upon someone who's undervaluing themselves! Also remember to check if they're from the same continent as you are, having in mind that somewhere else in the world prices might be much lower.
Check how much time a given piece takes you. It will make pricing it a bit easier.
Structure your prices. Check what takes you a significant amount of time to create and make it a step in your pricing ladder.
And if you're still not confident about your art... then just keep practicing! Invest the time others use for advertising their commissions and creating art for others into developing your skills.
You might also want to read a bit more about pricing your art. Here are a few places you should visit:
Pricing Your Art by Ellen 'the Alaskan' Million
Commission - Approach and Pricing Guide by cyphervisor
How to price your artwork for freelance work by Teshia Lyndall
Why is undercharging a bad idea? by Katie Hofgard
BONUS ROUND - How can anything be TOO cheap?
The practice of lowering the price to ridiculous levels in hope of getting clients is not only a very wrong approach that hurts you - the artist who decides to work for less - but also all the artists that come after you and do the exact same thing. Imagine this: artist A is new to the market and decides to check someone's price list. To get clients A makes his prices lower than that. Another artist appears - B. B checks A's price list and makes their prices even lower than that. Do you see where this is going? It causes a never-ending spiral of lowering prices that for some is very hard to escape from even after their skills get better and they gain more experience. This is the very reason a lot of artists live on the verge of poverty.
It gets worse though. A much more serious problem arises because of offering too low prices - people believing that art has little to no worth. At some point the idea of working for kibble starts to spread among the clients who then force other artists to work for as little too. The drop in the monetary value also diminishes the cultural value of art. Paintings become worth as little as doodles on napkins, sculptures are treated as a waste of space used only as a pigeon toilet, papercraft is nothing more than a pastime for kids.
Don't allow anyone to dictate the worth of your work. If you are someone who enjoys art but isn't a creator, appreciate the young artist and give them a tip. Those few bucks more and a few nice words make a big difference.