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How to Charge for Art Commissions

by Shaking Bird 11 months ago in how to
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The Basics for Beginners!

Hooray! You're getting commissions! Congratulations, you now get to experience both the thrill of having your skills appreciated, and the paralyzing anxiety of new territory. It's not just about producing a pretty picture anymore. How much do you charge? What about contracts? How to package work for shipping? The list goes on.

If people want to buy your work, you've already accomplished, to whatever extent, the process of blood, sweat and tears to learn how to make your artwork desirable. Selling these masterpieces however, comes with an entirely different skillset, and just as much trial and error. In this article, I'm going to attempt to clarify one of the biggest questions which comes with beginning commission work:

PRICING!

Don't worry, we'll get through this!

A. How do you cover all your bases?

Develop a mindset to always have a game plan if something goes wrong. Clients pull out of projects all the time, require more revisions than you're sometimes willing to give, and demand refunds if they're not happy. And, occasionally, you may have a strong reason to back out of a project yourself. So what do you do to protect yourself from being out of pocket?

I always ask for a nonrefundable, 50% downpayment up front, with the clause that if the client is unhappy, changes their mind, or either one of us pulls out of the project for any reason, both the painting, the downpayment, and the rights to it, all remain with me. If things go well, the second 50% and any additional costs are payed on completion of the project and the client's final approval, but before the artwork changes hands. It doesn't have to be 50%--it could be 30%, 75% or any number--just choose an amount you'd be satisfied with receiving if that's all you are paid in the end.

Additional note: Whether or not you use a contract (let me know if you'd like an article addressing that topic) SAVE all communications! If you talk about things over video or phone call, send the client an email delineating any further agreements not permanently recorded, so that there's a record of the conversation. If there's ever a dispute, you'll need to reference these. You're welcome.

It's not just okay to protect yourself . . . It's absolutely paramount!

B. Don't let yourself be taken advantage of.

This goes beyond undercharging for your work. What about when you get to the end of a commission and the client keeps asking for revision, after revision, after revision? "Add another duck," "Make the collar green," or "Move the tree," etc. Sometimes, it can feel like you're at the mercy of the client's caprice and indecision.

Here's the thing: your time, money and materials are valuable. You don't need to be a doormat. This is your business. I always include a clause in my initial agreement that states "This price includes a reasonable amount of tweaks and revisions. If we end up making significant changes beyond the scope of the original, agreed-upon design of the project, additional charges may accrue." This gives you the breathing room to charge for work beyond the scope of what you were contracted for, and you remain in control of your time and efforts.

Always be up front with your clients. No one likes surprises when it comes to paying for things.

C. Itemize your charges.

Don't forget to state up front what's included in your quote, like shipping, size of piece, medium to be worked in, extra revision fees, labor, materials, or even a "kill fee" (fee for termination of contract) if using. Nobody likes surprises.

Start small and work your way up. Just not too small.

D. How much do you charge?

Ah, that question . . . I'll . . . just . . . *quietly slips out of room*

Just kidding! I'm still here for you!

Unfortunately, there's no cut-and-dried formula which determines exactly what artwork is worth. It's a highly individual market, and you are the ultimate judge. But here are some pointers to get started.

There are different ways to charge for art. Some charge by the hour, per square inch, or by the project as a whole. Your experience level and history of past sales also has a baring on your prices, as established artist can charge more than amateurs. One way is not necessarily better than another, so experiment to see what works for you. Remember to factor in the cost of materials, labor, packing/shipping supplies, and your most valuable commodity: your time. Here's a trick to help feel out an acceptable price range for a piece of art:

Find the minimum wage for your area (I usually calculate by $10 per hour, just because it's an easy number to work with). Determine approximately how many hours you are likely to spend on the work, and multiply it by that wage. Next, realize that you're worth more than minimum wage--that's for retail and fast food! You're an ARTIST for Pete's sake! Own your greatness. Up the price, either by percentage or a lump sum, and then factor in your costs. See what you come up with, and play with it from there. If all your clients back out, consider lowering your prices a bit until you have a steady client base. If your clients say they'd expected to pay more, or (as I've experienced), end up routinely tipping you or giving you bonuses for your work, it might be time to raise your prices. If your workload is on a continual increase, it's also a good time to raise your prices. This means you're in demand!

Be confident: You've done the research on both your art and your market. Don't be discouraged by people who don't respect that. There is always someone who will pay you for what you're worth!!!

That being said, consistence is professional: don't change your price often, unless it seems that it's absolutely necessary, or you will lose credibility. Start low and work your way up, but don't let people take advantage of you, either. Be confident: if you've done the research on both your art and your market, don't be discouraged by people who don't respect that. There is always someone who will pay you for what you're worth!!!

Never accept work for free, even if they promise you great "exposure." (Unless you're choosing to do this for a charity or as a gift, for example). You can't pay bills or buy food with "exposure," and it's not worth it! Ask your plumber or cashier if you can pay in exposure. They'd laugh in your face. You're a highly trained and unique craftsman. Why should you be expected to work for nothing?

Go to galleries and art shows, browse websites for artists with similar offerings to yours, and research what these people are charging for their work. Reach out to people you admire on Facebook and Instagram and ask them what they charge for commissions. Don't be afraid to charge a little high with room for negotiation, too.

Scope out other artists with a similar offering and experience level to yours. What are they charging?

You'll make mistakes, but mistakes are the best teachers! Try a bit of this, and a bit of that, and gradually you'll discover what works. It has taken me years to develop the confidence in pricing that I have today, and I still stumble now and then. The important thing is to embrace the process, and have fun! I wish you the best of luck, you're on your way to becoming a real, working artist! Congratulations, you've got this!

Still have questions? For more advice, art critiques or a friendly chat, connect with me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Shakingbirdart/ or follow me on Instagram @shakingbirdart. I love hearing from you!!!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to support more quality content, please feel free to leave a tip! It helps tremendously. Thank you!

You've got this! Woot woot!

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About the author

Shaking Bird

I'm an artist, an Aspie, a square peg in a world of round holes. Tring to be kind and kind of strange, sometimes making progress, sometimes making a mess, but always trying to improve. I write advice and how-tos for beginning artists.

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