Pricing your art can be a struggle, especially if what you make varies a lot from piece to piece. It’s probably one of the biggest challenges we face as freelance artists, because there’s no right or wrong answer. Every project is different, every client is different, and our lives and circumstances change day to day. And I think I can speak for most of us when I say– We are always afraid to charge “too much”. I had to learn the hard way that pricing your art adequately matters.
Up until just recently, I was charging way too little for my work. But I can only now look back and realize that.
After college, I was sort of just getting my feet wet with the whole commissions thing, and just getting one at all felt like enough gratification! It took years of hard work for me to notice that I didn’t like the feeling I had when all was said and done. I’d have so much fun during the process, making the art, handing it off to the elated client, experiencing all that joy. And then what. And then I have about enough money to spend on some groceries. Probably not organic.
Let me tell you guys something else– you are getting totally taken advantage of when you accept doing work for free or for too low. (Of course there are exceptions but I’m talking about mostly clients who are strangers). The client will probably suck to work with. Point blank. They don’t value your work, which means they don’t value your time, and don’t respect you in general. Even if they really like and want the art, chances are they have no idea the time and effort and talent that goes into it. They’re going to be weird to communicate with and they are going to piss you off and you’ll wish you never did it in the first place.
Pricing your art too low will make you unhappy.
You’re probably thinking, “hmm there must be a story here”.
The last time I did something for free for a stranger (we met very serendipitously and they found out I was an artist), this person wanted me to make a logo. They said they couldn’t afford to pay. I thought to my young self, “Well this could be the start of doing logo commissions! I’ll put this in my portfolio!”. They told me how they wanted it to look. I spent a lot of time working on it.
We planned to meet again to look at the first iteration together. They wanted me to meet them all the way across town. Fine. They were late. Fine. They were 10 minutes late. Fine. They were an hour late. I’m heated. They pull up casually, look at the work, say they like it but don’t want it anymore, they act like we are just going to kick it for the day, and then I was out. Total waste of time, energy, and talent.
Some other lesson-learned stories include: me doing murals on every wall and ceiling of a kids’ room for a few bills and getting offered Chinese takeout to make up for it, and me doing an elaborate portrait for the price of a pair of mediocre pants.
I’m not saying all freebie gigs are like this, but chances are, if they expect free work, it will not be a professional worthwhile transaction– because they aren’t professional worthwhile people. This is why pricing your art properly is so crucial.
Once you start having multiple bad experiences with commissions, you realize you’re over it. You want to be satisfied and you want an even exchange. You’re going to start pricing your art higher.
I was worried that if I charge too much, I won’t get any clients. It’s the opposite. You get better clients. You’ll get the people who value your work and have the means to pay accordingly, and the personality to be professional about it. You filter out people you don’t want to work with anyway. And your value goes up.
I was dog sitting for a neighbor and he wanted a painting of his sweet pup that I loved dearly. I thought to myself “Okay, I know that we have this connection and he is a neighbor and friend, but I need to be professional– this is my job.” I even took into account the fact that he also paid me to dog sit regularly, but that I needed to separate that from the circumstance. No discounts, no freebies. So I told him: “$1400”. No questions asked and he was stoked about it. That was a big deal for me at the time. I had just elevated.
Another time, someone wanted to commission me for a small embroidered patch. He had seen my previous work and knew what I was capable of. “$100”. Again, no questions asked except when he could make the deposit. He even voluntarily sent me mockups of the design.
Both of the above commissions went shockingly smoothly and the clients were wonderful to work with. Both of these pieces also took many hours, and I felt that I could charge even more for similar future commissions. It’s still part of the learning process of pricing your art.
My 1 rule of thumb for pricing your art is:
Charge what you would be satisfied with.
It’s simple, but powerful. While there’s no singular guide for pricing your art, this rule always helps me come to a decision. Would I be happy with $___? No? Charge more.
Your talent, all the time you’ve put into your skill, and your energy are all priceless. Charge accordingly.
Share your stories with us and we might repost to our blog!
–Haley Davis, founder