Charging By the Hour for Your Artwork

Why You Shouldn’t & Other Things to Consider

Charging by the hour is a sure-fire way for somebody to get ripped off…namely…YOU. But it can go in the other direction too and that would be just as bad if it ruins your reputation. In last week’s post, 3 Ways to Price Your Artwork, I discussed three different methods of pricing your work. Charging by the hour was not one of them. It’s a bad idea. So much so that I will even avoid answering the question of how long it took me to complete a piece.

(Image Credit: Vladimir Mucibabic 123RF.com)

It’s one thing for an admirer to ask how long a piece took you to complete. They are merely curious and in awe of your skill and talent. But it’s another thing entirely if that person is a potential buyer. Most people who are savvy about purchasing art would not ask this question. How long it took to complete is unimportant so long as the art lives up to their expectation, the skill level is obvious, and the materials used are top notch. People who are new to purchasing art ask the question as if you should be charged by the hour and they expect the price to reflect that.

Let’s say you charge $250 for an 8”x10” portrait. That’s in the ballpark of what other artists are charging for similar work. If it takes you 20 hours, you are making $12.50 per hour. If it takes you longer because you’re going for hyper or photorealism, let’s say 40 hours, you’re only making $6.25 per hour. Can you see how you’re the one getting screwed there if you look at it that way? It’s not even minimum wage.

Let’s say I charge what I make per hour at my 9–5. If I charged a hypothetical $25 per hour for a 20-hour project, I’d be charging $500 for the same 8”x10”, way above industry standard. At 40 hours, that’s a whopping $1000…for an 8”x10”! What if you’re a less experienced artist and it just takes you longer? That’s not fair to your client who is paying for extra hours due to your lack of experience.

So what if a potential client asks how long a piece took you to complete? You can answer the way I always do… “Well, I’m not really sure. I always work on 3–4 projects at once, so I’m not keeping track of the time spent on each one.” Or, “Oh, I work on it when I can. I have a 9–5 job so I work on it an hour here, a couple hours there, so I really don’t keep track.” It’s usually enough to get people off the track of you charging by the hour.

  • Your name/reputation

Are you still an unknown? Have you sold anything at all to folks other than your family? Is your work displayed anywhere (other than mom’s refrigerator)? If you’re just starting out, that’s okay. We all had to start somewhere, but you can’t charge top dollar as a newbie, no matter how good you think you are. Even top athletes, celebrities, musicians, etc. didn’t command a premium paycheck from the get-go. Keep it real here. Check out what others are charging for similar work and go low-end in the beginning.

  • Quality of work

Does your work reflect the skills of a beginner or is it exceptional? Do you take care to make your work look professional (no tears, clean margins, free from smudges, etc.)? Take pride in how you present your work. Think of it this way…would you want to buy the chef’s choice in the fanciest restaurant in town if it wasn’t presented well and served on a dirty plate?

  • Quality of Supplies

It’s okay to use student grade supplies for student work. But it isn’t okay if you’re using them to sell work. Student grade art supplies are never made to be long lasting or lightfast/archival. What this means is that supplies that are not lightfast or archival will fade after a few years. Papers that are not archival will yellow with time. Can you imagine how your clients would feel if they paid good money for your art and it faded or yellowed after just a few years? If they hung your work in a sunny area, it could happen even quicker. How would you feel if you were the customer? Yes, these supplies cost more, but your reputation is priceless. Eventually, as you start to raise your prices, you can confidently explain to your customers that you are using top grade supplies to ensure against the piece aging prematurely.

Finally, if you’re just starting out, it’s safer to start off pricing lower (as you should anyway as a newbie). Don’t price high and then lower the price later. Can you imagine if you somehow managed to sell a piece for $1,000, couldn’t sell another, and then significantly lowered your price to entice buyers? The customer who bought the $1,000 piece will be extremely upset. How would you feel if it were you? Realistically, the only way you would safely be able to lower your price would be if you never managed to sell anything at the higher price.

Be patient. I know we all want to make a ton of money selling our work, but all in due time. If you patiently build from the bottom up, building up sales and a clientele, you will gain a rock-solid name and reputation in your genre. Consequently, you will find it much easier to raise your prices, accommodating both your skills and the rising price of art supplies, and your clients won’t mind too much when you do.

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Myra Naito

Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at mnatiodesigns.com/blog/ or follow me @mnaito_fineart .