Pricing For Creatives: How To Price Quote An Art Commission
How much will it cost me?
When I meet someone from around the world, someone not from my home country of the USA and I tell them I am an artist they tend to ask a question that my countrymen don't often ask. Namely they ask, what is your art about? In my country people sometimes get around to asking that question, but more often they ask, how do you make a living as an artist? Or how much does your art cost? It can be daunting at times to jump right into bottom line figures for creatives who feel the entire reason they pursue artistic endeavors is because they don't want to fill their heads with the trappings of commodity or materialism. But talk to an artist who has lived in this money-driven world for awhile and you'll find they aren't afraid to throw some numbers at you. As well they shouldn't, the so called starving artist is just another stereo-type that the world would do well to be rid of completely. Artists need to gain vigor when speaking about the worth of their art.
The first person to mention money loses.
For any artist out there who has trouble pricing work that someone wants to pay them to make, I offer my experience and how I come up with a beginning value. One last word before I flesh out my full solution. A conservative money maker once gave me advice about negotiating that I will offer to you here and now. The first person to mention money loses. So before you go fumbling out some dollar figure try to encourage the potential commissioner of your art with some details about your creative technique or something other than monetary dialogue. It invests the listener in you so that when the time to talk turkey comes around, they're already halfway sold. Also, if they bring out a number first, you can then counter knowing what realm their budget is in, thereby hedging your number just a bit higher but not alienating them with an outrageous budget.
I am an oil painter so the commission example I will use will be for more or less traditional stretched canvas paintings. If you are a sculptor or printer or any other sort of artist I'm sure you can extrapolate from what I've said about paintings, and apply it to your trade. After you've gone back and fourth with your future commissioner about what they would like in a painting, what colors they lean towards, what the composition might consist of, what aesthetic direction you'd like to take, now comes the moment to bring up money. Or better still, they will ask, "So how much will this cost?" If it's an email communique, or voice mail messages sent back and fourth you have time to really weigh out the variables. If it's a conversation though, be on your toes! You don't want to give your time away.
The top of the line answer to the bottom line question
The best way to expedite a number in your head from my point of view is to consider what it would take to make the art they want. Then, figure how many studio hours it would take to make it, more or less. Now figure where you are in your art career and in a realistic world what is the minimum you would need to make annually to live and work comfortably. In American dollars, many of us would be overjoyed to make $30,000/year especially if we are just begining. If you have a reputation for, or better still, a demand for your work, you may visualize yourself making 40-100K/annually. So now take that annual salary and divide it by the time it would take to make that art and that many similar pieces to get to your total annual amount.
For example, if you needed to make $30,000 a year, and you
figure you could make 60 paintings similarly in that year if you could
get the commissions, then that painting would cost $500. If you think
there's a lot more effort and time involved in what they would like, and
you were able to garner a years worth of those types of commissions,
but you know you could realistically only get 30 done in a year then
$1000 per painting would get you to your 30K mark. Once you run those
numbers in your head a few times you'll find it's a little easier to
spout off some bottom line prices for people. Mainly, it's good to go
into a meeting or conversation about commissions with expectations of
what you would like to make in a year. I hope this helps clear the fog a
bit. Feel free to explain this method to your buyer, people like to
know why a + b = c, don't you? Otherwise buyers feel that they're being
taken for a ride because you saw them pull up to the cafe in a Mercedes
or you noticed their Rolex watch or something. In this way, you have a
tangible formula to price your art.
I had a conversation with a fella one time about art for the home, and he said to me, "why would anyone want a static painting for a $1000 when they could buy a flat screen television for the same price?" This is a valid question and there is a quick and easy come back to that. A television will last 5-15 years or so, depending on how much of a technophile you are and your need to upgrade. An oil painting, and many other types of art, will last a hundred or hundreds of years! Most televisions wouldn't be considered heirlooms, many pieces of art are considered to gain in value over time. So feel free to use this analogy when posed with that or a similar question.
Money down is earnest for you and your buyer
One last caveat to pricing and selling on commission that you should please remember is this: initial money must be put down, earnest money or a down payment. I had the terrible experience as an artist of going to a details meeting with a potential client. Spent several hours going over their sketches, my sketches and then more details. We both agreed that I could get started right away. A month went by and somewhere around 60-70 studio hours and voila! I had a beautiful oil painting involving several likeness' of members of a rockabilly band, and a bikini girl riding a rocket! A real hot dish let me tell you! Anyway, when I presented the painting, even though we had originally agreed to a modest sum of $500, the fella said he couldn't pay for it. He was very gracious and said it was a terrific painting at an affordable price, but he just didn't have the money for it. Now it sits above my couch, a great conversation piece and a reminder of why I always get money down. Lastly, when there is money put down it immediately shifts some of the responsibility onto the buyer. So now you both are involved, the artist isn't incurring all of the risk.
Best of luck! I am always accepting commissions. As of this writing I am working on three and there's always room for more. Keep in mind that once you have one going, try to keep the pot boiling as they say! Please let me know of your success or failures with my quoting system. If you don't make the sale keep your chin up! You still have gained an experience that will add value to your art career over time. Art is for everyone!
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Experience & Credentials...
Update December 19, 2012
Since writing this essay I have received feedback, and a good schooling!...From artists in the same trade as I, that is, career artists, public artists. Many can agree on one thing, this trade can be a struggle to say the least. Many artists also agree, that the more experienced and more credentialed an artist gets, the more they can charge proportionately. This is because for many artists, there are hours, months and years dedicated to art making that is donated, or is done on the cheap, or is done under the tireless stereotype of "getting your name out there" which for some backwards reason is expected of artists, but not of plumbers and politicians. That being said, when working with a more credentialed or experienced artist, they charge higher rates and percentages because you are also paying for all of that volunteered time of their past which brings you to the level of work they are offering. I hope this helps artists, patrons and committee members while working together to rationally pay for an artists trade.
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