Are you an artist or a hobbyist?
If you’re a hobbyist, quit reading. This article isn’t for you.
Now if you’re an artist, keep reading. I’ll tell you how to price your paintings when you’re just starting out.
To be clear, there’s nothing at all wrong with being a hobbyist. I’m a hobbyist musician. I’m actually very, very good on the electric guitar.
But as an artist, this is my day job. If I don’t make money from my artwork, I can’t pay the bills.
Now, you don’t have to quit your day job to call yourself an artist. You need to eat. You simply keep your day job until you make enough money where you can quit it. Because an artist is a calling. You’re either an artist or you’re not.
So once again, this article is for artists, especially beginning artists.
Everyone starts somewhere
There’s no shame at all being a beginner. Everyone starts somewhere.
My first few paintings in galleries were priced at $660 each (there were 3 of them).
I got these instructions from the owner of the gallery. I asked him how much I should charge.
Unfortunately, you still have to deal with two things.
- They need to sell before you get paid.
- Even after you sell, the gallery gets to keep their take (which usually ranges from 40-60%).
Fair? That’s how it goes.
The gallery needs to make money as well. After all, they’re both hosting your paintings and paying to keep the lights on so people can come by to see your paintings.
How to price your paintings when you’re just starting out
When I explain to friends the difference between a hobbyist and an artist, I don’t pull punches. I tell it as it is.
When someone buys an artist’s painting, she has special instructions to her heirs before she dies. This is how to take care of it. This is how much the painting is worth. Don’t sell it for anything less if you decide to sell it.
When someone buys a hobbyist’s painting, her heirs may keep it for sentimental value. They may garage sale it. They may keep the frame for a better painting. Or, they may just throw it out.
So if you’re an artist, you need to charge a real price because even your beginning paintings will eventually be worth something.
Cost of supplies + labor
So here’s the formula the gallery owner gave me. It’s simply cost of supplies + labor.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll charge minimum wage for your hours. To keep it simple (math isn’t exactly my strong suit), I’ll say minimum wage in your neck of the woods is $10/hr. And you spent 20 hours on the painting. That’s $200 for labor.
Now let’s factor in the cost. Did you use a model? If so, then how much did you pay the model for that pose? Let’s just say you had one model and she was $100/hr, and you spent one hour on the pose. You’re now up to $300 for your painting.
How much did the frame cost?
Oh wow! Nice frame. $200. You’re now up to $500 for your painting.
What about materials? Canvas + paints. Let’s put that at $50 (an estimate plus or minus $10 but it’s a pretty fair estimate).
So price the painting at $550.
It takes a month for the painting to sell and the gallery takes half. The gallery gives you $275.
Yes, you lost money. But that’s how it is in the beginning. This is why so many artists quit too soon. The talent was there but the desire to eat overtook the desire to keep going.
You need to keep going
OK, you’ve called yourself an artist. You starved for a bit. Then you quit?
Don’t be a wuss.
You need to keep going and get past this stage. This stage will last awhile but eventually you’ll be able to price your paintings for more.
You’ll also find that there are other ways to make money besides selling your paintings in galleries.
But that’s another article for another day. For now, at least you know the method to price your paintings when you’re a beginning artist.