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

A completed commission from artist/writer Ben Zoltak (all image rights retained by Ben Zoltak, contact for commercial use)
A completed commission from artist/writer Ben Zoltak (all image rights retained by Ben Zoltak, contact for commercial use)

The bottomline!!!


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!

If you enjoyed Ben's article, please buy his inspirational eBook!

Your Life As A Painting
Your Life As A Painting

Read more of artist and writer Ben Zoltak as he offers observations and suggestions on how to live a more unique and creative life! Buy this new eBook and begin your potent journey today!

 

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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Comments 44 comments

Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

You offer lots of important well-written advice to all self-employed individuals. Excellent pointers, especially your advice to ask for money down! I know too many artists including commissioned furniture craftsmen, even architects who neglect to ask for (require, actually) a percentage upfront, or at least a "security deposit" that's refundable at project completion. It takes more than talent to make it out there :)


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks GL, refundable at project completion! Why didn't I think of that!? Thanks for the comment, I might add that into my article! Not to mention, I have to use that in my own price quote from now, it should help to close the deal, with another choice at the end.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

Your advice on pricing is very practical, Ben, and most artists are always looking either for suggestions on how to price their art, or validations that their pricing is justifiable.

One misconception about art and artists is that if an artist is good, what they produce must be "easy" for them. The buyer (or relative, as the case may be) believes that talent equals fast and painless, and you should be able to knock out portraits of the whole family by lunch. It becomes necessary to explain that it takes time to get things right, and just because someone is good at something doesn't mean it's easy. (After all, look at LeBron James in the NBA--if playing basketball is so easy, why is he sweating?????)

Thanks again.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Well put Mike. What's more, whenever someone from my family makes a personal request and I hesitate, they think I'm being snobby/aloof (even though almost all of them are better off than me!) you couldn't be more correct about the skills and time involved. Na strovia!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

I have struggled with this issue of pricing my special commissions. No problem at all when I simply donate it to charities! :)


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Peggy W, does that mean you let the charity price your commission? I'm curious, good for you for doing the good work, I like your style!


nikki1 profile image

nikki1 7 years ago

Great hub, thanx for sharing.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks nikki1 !!! I'm glad you liked it!


ralwus 7 years ago

I like how you think. Mine are almost priceless, to me and I really hate to part with them, so one must pay dearly to get one of my 'girls'. Thanks, CC


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

ralwus, you are welcome, and thank you for the kudos!

I'd say about half my work is priceless, and I empathize with you on parting ways. I recently priced out some work and it damn near killed me. I like to imagine a time in the future, some fantasy of having Picasso-like money, where I can pay for publishing my own giant glossy image collection of my art. Then I could sit back and enjoy the reminiscence, although it's never the same as the original.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

I love your ideas for pricing art work, and your painting up top is nice image. Kudos!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks SweetiePie. I do my best to help others move their careers forward as others have helped me in the past and I hope they do the same in the future.

Thanks for stopping by and the kudos.


Sheila Wilson profile image

Sheila Wilson 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

ugh.. pricing my art is always a stressor. I think a lot of artists have difficulty with that process. I have started taking money down to avoid that situation. You've given some good advice. As an ex-Realtor, I can vouch for the "First person to mention money loses" principle.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

I know what you mean Sheila, it's tough for any of us. Taking money down is the best bet I agree. Thanks for the endorsement!


sunforged profile image

sunforged 6 years ago from Sunforged.com

Ben, Really well said..the opening paragraph relating to "others" views on living a life as an artist is great. Just finishing up linking over to this from the art blog. Cheers to your continued success!

I hate parting with originals and I have no problem quoting obscene amounts for my work as part of the bargaining process, I like how you have explained it. Artists def have to value their time and material costs, those that dont, hurt the market for all of us!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Hey Sunforged thanks for the props. Feel free to post a link to your art blog here if you'd like. I will try to find it on my own (probably from your profile?) I hate parting with originals too, especially for pennies eh? Thank you for your vote of confidence my friend!


blackmarx profile image

blackmarx 6 years ago from Rice Lake, WI

great idea. I usually just charge $20 per hour. I like the idea of money up front.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks man, I've used hourly before too, I guess it depends on the project.


lwlanhai profile image

lwlanhai 6 years ago from xiamen,china

you done good job of art, but as we know there are quite more saler purchase cheap oil painting from us and sale in your country, then the price of yours have to be down.

I appreciate ur works which is all painting according to what u think, i think u insist on yourself is right.


Alladream74 profile image

Alladream74 6 years ago from Oakland, California

Thanks Ben. I am a painter too-mid career. I find your advice to be sound.You may check out my work at www.mavedzenge.com if you wish


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Alladream, I checked out your art, well done. My wife saw the gallery set up from across the room and liked the way the scroll worked too, well done. I tried to leave a comment on your blog there but couldn't figure it out?


RosWebbART profile image

RosWebbART 6 years ago from Ireland

This is great advice Ben ; I have had a few commissions and always under priced them. Your work is wonderful; love it!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you kindly Miss RosWebb, I am roundly flattered by your expression, you are an Irish sweetheart for saying so!!!


Kris 6 years ago

thank you so much, I added your useful article on my art tutorials blog


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Kris! I like the way your site looks, personal and creative. I couldn't find the exact blog with the link?

This was the closest I could find???

http://www.handmadenation.it/list.htm


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks bill! I do my best to give a solid quote. I realize more and more, that older artists spend so much time in their formative years not getting paid, that eventually they demand more to catch up for all that time lost.

Thanks for reading.

Ben


Kelsey Buckner 5 years ago

hey there...I would really like a bit more advice if you could help me out. my email is gelage@gmail.com

I will give you further specifics. I am commissioned for four VERY large pieces. insight would be cool. if you could drop me an email I will give you some specifics. thank you

-Kelsey Buckner


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Kelsey, I'll drop you a line. Bigger is better in my book.

Ben


Blake Flannery profile image

Blake Flannery 5 years ago from United States

As a different type of artist (music), I found value in reading this. I am not a natural negotiator. I would rather spend my energy creating. It sounds like I, unfortunately, am doing everything wrong. I write and record custom songs and then let people decide if and how much they want to pay me for them. I definitely know what it feels like to put in 20-40 hours and not get paid. I have songs like your painting about the couch.

Too bad there isn't a "HubPages" for the other arts right? Hey maybe we could start one. Free music and art monetized by Adsense and an awesome community of artists.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Blake, it's an honor to have a real life HubPages success story commenting on one of my articles. I'm all ears about a new creative project, keep me posted!

Ben


Edoka Writes profile image

Edoka Writes 5 years ago

Very useful info! Thanks! I'll have my husband, an artist, read it too.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

That's great Edoka, I hope your husband finds it useful, I certainly have.

Warm regards,

Ben


sarasmile 5 years ago

Your idea to get money down is a good one, especially as you still have to pay for materials whether the client decides they can afford the work or not. If the client makes a down payment then it gives them something to think about as being worked on for them as well. Without a down payment they can forget about you the moment they walk out the door. This is something that I found with designing modern furniture, you simply have to get some money up front. http://www.italydesign.com/ ~modern furniture


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks sarasmile, I hear that again and again from artists and people in all walks of business. Getting a down payment is a way to positively engage the buyer with the artist. Oftentimes people do forget, usually by no fault of their own, that you have been working away diligently.

Thanks for stopping by,

Ben


4wardthinker profile image

4wardthinker 5 years ago from Sierra Nevada CA

This is a good way to think about pricing. I just joined an art club yesterday and someone asked me if I would sell them one of my paintings. I was so surprised that the only answer I could come up with was "Um?" Thanks for addressing this problem.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

I told your story to my daughter and we both had a good laugh 4wardthinker, I have been in your shoes with pricing and paintings many a time. "Ums" have been uttered. I like that on another response to this hub article another artist was asked: how long did it take you to create this (art) ?

Her reply was something to the effect, 55 years! She makes a valid point, how long you've been working at a craft or trade or art also delineates pricing to a degree.

Best,

Ben


The Frog Princess profile image

The Frog Princess 5 years ago from Florence area of the Great Pee Dee of South Carolina

I have many hours learning a new style of painting and now I do know how to price these pieces. thanks


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Glad I can help Frog Princess. Also, after writing this piece, I have been reminded by veteran artists' that those with years and years of experience can charge more because of the many, many hours of unpaid work. I am in that camp, though I have yet to find the demand to match those unpaid times.

Ah well, I don't give up easy either!

Cheers,

Ben


Montse RSA 5 years ago

you have answered a question i didn't even know how to ask... (that line about pricing has helped me alot)

KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you kindly Montse, it seems to be an epic struggle for many of us, this art career. But we don't give up easy do we?...

Thank you also for the kind compliment.

Ben


TheTruthasIseeit profile image

TheTruthasIseeit 5 years ago from Virginia

I really enjoyed this article, for reasons already stated in previous comments. Voted up and interesting. Good luck with your art career!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks The TAISI! I try very hard to sell myself, as some art community people have guided me to do. Alas, I guess my work is pretty eccentric, or not too commercially viable, I like to think I'm waiting for the world to catch up...I know that sounds arrogant but it's been my experience.

Thank you for the warm encouragement.

Ben


Vanessa van Eeghen 3 years ago

Thanks Ben! Great advise. Do you use a form to submit a quote to a customer on a commission? If so, can you share it?????


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 3 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Sorry Vanessa I have no such form. But my experience has been that between private parties, any sort of informal typed correspondence will work. Include a date, your numbers and any contingencies you might feel could occur. If it is a public contract you are vying for, many have an established form available from their agency.

Hope this helps. Remember oftentimes price quotes will go back and forth several times in a natural progression.

Best,

Ben

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