How To Price Your Work (and Not Accidentally Screw Yourself Over in the Process)

“Brown Jug with Onions and Probably Tomatoes” charcoal on paper $425

Show of hands: Who has their own tried-and-true, successfully-used-every-time, numerical system for pricing the art that they make (professionally or as a hobby)?

I’m going to go ahead and assume that the painters that are doing this as their only job not only have a system worked out, but also have a good handle on getting done their taxes as an “entrepreneur” (you lucky devils, you). But I’ll bet a stack of my unfinished paintings that the rest of pretty much everyone is looking down a dark hole of uncertainty whenever it even gets brought up: PRICING YOUR OWN WORK (dun dun duhn).

The answer here is that there are many different options; I’ve heard dozens of different equations, and frankly, it’s all going to come down to YOU, the artist, to decide what something is worth. Here’s what it’s NOT worth:

  • Your work is not worth its emotional value to you. I know it’s a portrait of your mother. No one except maybe your family wants to pay monies for a portrait of your mother.
  • Your work’s worth is not based on your personal worth as a human. Pricing something low or high based on “what I feel like I’m worth” is a pretty poor standard of pricing, even if you think highly of yourself (and sometimes that’ll screw you over even worse).
  • Your work is not worth selling yourself short just to sell it. If you honest to God did in fact put the hours into a piece that you stretched a canvas for, slapped a considerable amount of paint onto, and then even framed, the price of the piece should reflect all of that and no less.

Now that we know what not to do, let’s look at some pricing options – for there are several!

Price By the Hour

(What I’m Worth Per Hour As a Painter) x (Number of WORKING HOURS) + Supplies = PRICE
Some painters I know multiply this final amount by a certain percent (even doubling the final number) based on extra factors like medium, surface, or even time of year

This is an excellent way to work if you see yourself finishing things on a project-by-project basis and/or you make things that are not strictly 2D pieces; it is also the preferred method for many artists. If you choose to work this way, consider how much you value your own time. In other words, how much are your services worth – as a painter, as a maker – by the hour? If you don’t know where to start, consider that having NO skills whatsoever at anything will get you minimum wage, which is roughly $7-something per hour. Consider also what these skilled professionals (people who show up to a building to do a job they were hired to do specifically for their professional skill level and credentials, ie: the crème de la crème) make roughly by the hour:

Architect: $38 per hour
Fashion Designer: $30 per hour
Book/Magazine Editor: $26 per hour
Graphic Designer: $21 per hour
House Painter: $17 per hour
(from AboutCareers)

The idea is to figure out what your skills are worth based on the hour; no one is going to tell you what that is, so do your research. If you have some credentials and clients already, you can charge more per hour than someone who’s never sold a piece. It’s entirely up to you: be realistic, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot. (When I charge by the hour, I typically charge anywhere from $25-30 on a project-by-project basis.)

The hours you work include but are not limited to: canvas construction, editing the piece on your computer, going to the store for supplies, etc. IT DOES NOT include: coffee/cigarette breaks or time sitting in front of your piece on your phone. Clock in mentally, and keep a running tally of hours per piece.

Add to this any supplies used: paint, new brushes you needed, canvas, frame, hanging fixtures, anything you used that you will no longer have.

Lot of math, and a lot of numbers to keep a running track of. It’s great if you’re, say, making a video or sculpture, or you’re doing a single illustration for a client that they’ll be using on a website. If your work is mainly traditional and your pieces are flat and tangible (or if you have a lot of them and you can’t quite remember how many hours any one of them really took!), it may be a better idea to try the next option.

Price by the Square Inch

(Height) x (Length) x (How Much You Charge Per Square Inch) + (Supplies) = PRICE

This method doesn’t keep a running tally of hours, but instead will take SIZE into account in its place. It’s generally considered that a larger piece should cost more than a smaller piece, assuming you’re putting the same amount of work into each piece you do (which may or may not be the case for you personally). If all of your work stays in the same ballpark of size, then this is an easy option to crank out cohesive sales and make easily quantifiable pitches to clients. If, however, your sizes are all over the board, your prices will be too; it’ll be confusing to your customers, and hard to keep track of. Here’s an example if I were to charge $5 per square inch:

(8″ x 10″) x $5 = $400
(34″ x 34″) x $5 = $5,780

It looks really bogus and shifty for your prices to be so mismatched, but the choice is of course yours; if your prices are all on a wall at a gallery or show, it’s going to look very conspicuous. Of course in this case, you could always choose the last option:

Price by the Linear Inch

(Height) + (Length) x (How Much You Charge Per Linear Inch) + (Supplies) = PRICE

This is an excellent way to price pieces that you’re cranking out in the studio, especially when you don’t have an eye on a clock and you put the same effort into each painting you do. If you typically work in whatever size moves you at the moment, this is a great way to keep your prices looking cohesive, and is especially helpful for pricing a whole room full of art. Here’s an example of pricing your work at $20 per linear inch:

(8″ + 10″) x $20 = $360
(34″ + 34″) x $20 = $1,320

Nice and simple.

“Two Uraskys and Egg” oil on masonite 20×24″ $800

For my 2D work, I will typically charge by the linear inch based on the medium I used and the surface I used it on (I charge more for an oil painting on canvas than I do a charcoal drawing on paper; painting is much more taxing). If, however, someone asks me to build something or make something unconventional, I most likely will charge them for my services by the hour.

You don’t have to just price the one way, you see: YOU’RE THE BOSS!

In any case, do you use a different method to price YOUR work? Comment below in the doobly-doo and explain how you do it and why it benefits your working style!

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