by Michael Damico
I am both an artist and a business owner in the field of fine art and photography. So, people regularly ask me how much to charge for their work. I’ve heard from the gamut of artists, including illustrators, painters, photographers, crafters, performance artists, and more. It all works in the same way. You can take the basics and apply it to just about any kind of art.
Some of what I learned about pricing was through trial and error. But most of it came from my mentor who ran a $50M printing business. He obviously knows what he’s doing, so I’d be a fool to ignore his advice. I have also listened to seasoned artists making upwards of $50,000 for their work. In other words, what I have to say is based on tried and true methods.
But please understand the following about my method: it’s by no means the only way to price your work, nor is it the law. This, if nothing else, is a basic foundation or starting point in being certain that you aren’t loosing money. How much you make above this guide is entirely up to you, the demand for your work, and what your audience wants.
I developed a calculator that I’m providing for free. When you input your information, the calculator will help you arrive at how much you need to make on any given piece of work. It also has a section that will help factor in gallery commissions. I’ve been using it for myself for years and I know you’re going to have fun with it!
Download this calculator.
If you wish to understand the fundamentals behind this pricing strategy then continue reading.
WARNING: Viewer Discretion Advised. The following content contains MATH!
How Much to Charge: Pricing Strategy
When asking how much to charge for your work, consider the formula given to me by my mentor:
- Your first consideration must be your own costs. While there is no need to get complicated, you can certainly get as detailed as you want. But I encourage everyone to start with the basics. Cost can be broken down into 2 main items: one is the overhead costs, and the other is the actual materials used or purchased to create the work. For example, consider overhead like the cost of your equipment. But may also need to consider other expenses like equipment upgrades, electricity, creative space, and even travel. Now consider, for example, material costs including supplies like paints, brushes, film, printing and other professional services like custom framing.
- Now it’s time to factor in a profit on your costs. In other words, if you spent $13 on a project, you don’t want to charge $13. Why? There is no profit. The idea here is to make a profit on your costs, right? I like to think of myself as my own financier (or bank) on any piece I create. Meaning that if I lend out money to buy materials, I want to bring back more than I put out. Also, I want to be able to use that profit to buy more materials to be able to take on more or even bigger projects. You might be wondering if there are any standard percentages to use for pricing your work as you factor in profit on costs. Not exactly, but the general range is typically 15-350%. However, how much you charge is completely up to you. In general, low cost items can be marked up more without being considered over-priced or even harmful to the market. On the other hand, higher cost items work in the opposite way. The markup for those can be less, but you will still see a good dollar amount return on the cost.
- Most importantly, always make something for your time. You need to determine what your time is worth. How many hours did you spend on your project? Again, that can include travel time and even conceptualization if necessary. However you’d like to weigh it, just make sure to do it because your time is valuable.
- Lastly, simply combine the values of costs and time. Let that number rest with you. If your not comfortable then you can always change it. Just know if you go below this number then you are venturing into unsustainable territory. You can always increase your price when you are under a lot of demand or pressure as well. When asking yourself how much to charge for your work, treat yourself like a bank treats money: you need to see some returns on your money spent, and your main employee (you) needs to make some money for the time spent.
Here is an example:
- Cost: You spend $10 in gas driving to collect everything you need, $50 on paint and brushes, and finally $40 on a blank canvas. That’s $100 in costs to make one piece of art. NOTE** For those of you who are more business-minded: Here is a tip on how to factor in your overhead. Let’s say that you have a yearly overhead for your art studio costing you $1200 for the year and lets say you spend 40 hours a month in the studio. That’s an average time of 480 hours a year. That means your studio cost is approximately $2.50 per hour when you are working. So, be sure to factor this into your cost and overhead.
- Markup: For this example, mark up your costs 35%. So that’s $100 x .35 = $35. Now, add it back into your cost $35+$100=$135. (Here’s a shortcut: 100 x 1.35 = 135. Just add “1” in front of the decimal value of the percentage.)
- Time Value: Let’s say you prefer to make $20 per hour for your time and you are keeping track of your time, including driving to get the materials. Now let’s say you discover that you have put in a total of 37 hours on your latest creation. That’s a total value for your time of at least $740 (37 hours X $20 = $740).
- Total amount you need to make: Time + Cost = what you need to make. So, $135 + $740 = $875. Thats the least you need to make.
How to Factor in Gallery Commissions
Okay, so you’ve figured out how much money you need to make from your work. If you want to show your work at a gallery and they get commission for any sales, then you have to adjust the price accordingly. We’ll try to explain this in plain terms, but just know that the calculator does all the math for you.
The reason we even specify this is because many people go about pricing haphazardly. For example, let’s say you want to get $1000 from a painting. But the gallery wants 30%. So, without thinking it through, you simply add 30% to $1000. That’s $300 added in and means the painting will sell for $1300, right? But your math is failing you. Because 30% of $1300 is $390. Which means you only made $910 and that’s $90 SHORT! So, take the time to learn this formula. Although, you can always come back here for a refresher and the calculator!
Don’t freak out. Just scan this part first and then check out the calculator I have shared with you. In the meantime, get ready to do some basic algebra to figure the cost with gallery commission
So, the equation will look something like this: (“X” x 100) / (100 – “Y”) = Retail Price. “X” is the amount you need to make for your work (cost+time). “Y” is the gallery commission in simple numerical terms. For example, 30% would be 100-30.
Here is an example using your value from the exercise above of $875:
- 875 x 100 = 87,500
- Gallery commission is 35%. 100 – 35 = 65
- 87,500/65 = $1,346. Thats your “retail asking price.”
- Because if you now take 35% from $1346, then you’re left with $875 every time.
Confused? Don’t be. We’ve done all the work for you. All you have to do is download this calculator and fill in the blanks with your numbers. It will help whether you are selling at a gallery or privately, say through Etsy or a your own website. NOTE: Depending on your version of Excel, you may need to enable editing. Furthermore, if you do want to sell on Etsy, read here to learn how we can take care of your production needs.
Developing Collectors of Your Work
One final note I’d like to add. When people ask me how much to charge, it’s because their primary objective is to make a sale. Isn’t that right? Even if you’re donating all of your profits to charity, it still comes down to selling your work. Well, I tell everyone that things can change for them if they change their mindset. You see, instead of focusing on selling your work, I encourage everyone to try and develop collectors of their work.
It’s more than a simple word change. It’s a much different approach. Learn more about this in a previous blog post on this very topic. It’s a five part series, but this is a good place to pick up from here.