What to charge for a portrait?
January 29, 2008 9:37 PM   Subscribe

What to charge for art?

A guy I work with saw a painting of mine, and requested a portrait of himself. I did it for him for free--partly because I needed the practice, and enjoyed getting the chance to get my stuff out there. Also, it seemed like it might lead to other things, given I work in an arts organization.

So my co-worker liked the painting, and so far so good: now he's hooking me up with other opportunities. He says the wife of a local mover-shaker might enjoy having a painting of himself as a surprise on his birthday. He's going to chat with the wife, and he anticipates she'll ask for a ballpark figure for the proposed piece.

I've never done anything on commission, and frankly haven't sold much of my work. I don't really know what things go for, but I'm figuring I might as for $250 for a smaller piece, and $400 or $500 for a larger one (I don't know the canvas sizes by inches, but a large one would be not quite as large as a large-screen television. The long side would be 35 to 40 inches, I guess. God I'm lame!)

Anyway, I'm wondering what you would charge for an acrylic or oil portrait in a larger size. I'm relatively new at this stuff, and not well-known even locally as an artist. I'm uncomfortable with the money aspect of this whole thing. My DH says I should go for it--these people can well afford higher prices, etc. Advice from artists--and anyone else who wants to chime in--appreciated!
posted by frosty_hut to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I do commission audio work, so in the sense that both of them are artistic it is related. When starting out, here is what I did: Figure out the cost of materials for the project, and figure out how many hours it will take you. Figure out what hourly rate you want to work for, and combine that all together. Throw on another 10% just for good measure or to cover possible extra expenses. This will give you a number that you should be comfortable working for. If they are not willing to pay that price, you should also feel comfortable walking away: You have already figured out the hourly wage you are comfortable working for, and shouldn't feel bad if you refuse to work for less.

This will get you through your first few gigs, and if your work is good enough, you can start increasing your price to match the demand.

This is what I did, and now have figured out a comfortable price structure for my audio work. For visual work I know things are different than in the audio world, but considering you are doing custom work I think it still applies.
posted by markblasco at 10:01 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just my random datapoint that may or may not be helpful - An artist friend of mine once told me that the going rate was $3/square inch. I have no idea if that's even in the ball park of the industry or not, but I figured she'd know way better than me, obviously. It sounded high to me, but I'm a cheapskate and definitely not artistic (most of my 'art' comes from IKEA). She usually does acrylic and oil paintings on rather large canvases, and has always dreamed of her own show - but I don't know if she's ever sold any of her own work.
posted by cgg at 10:12 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's tricky charging by the number of hours you work, because you'll find that some of your best work is the quickest. Charge by size. Hours will average out. What you're figuring above sounds good for a start.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:32 PM on January 29, 2008

Frosty, I have to ask: is this the co-worker "Giles" who was pressuring you to do a nude portrait?
posted by arnicae at 10:32 PM on January 29, 2008

I felt the same way about doing contract work for the first time. I think you're gonna feel weird about charging money for your work until you get used to doing it. I say charge what you feel comfortable charging this time (even if by any objective standard it's way too low) then charge more next time, because you'll feel more secure about doing it once you see that your work does indeed have value and people will pay money for it and not feel cheated by you. Congratulations!
posted by Hildago at 10:44 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by brain cloud at 11:30 PM on January 29, 2008

At minimum, you should calculate the cost of your materials to know what your absolute lowest price is.
posted by Pants! at 12:06 AM on January 30, 2008

I do the occasional commissioned drawing, and I'd second markblasco's advice as a good guideline.
posted by Drexen at 2:57 AM on January 30, 2008

In doing commissions it's also a good idea to charge 1/3 up front, on agreeing to do the piece, another third after the client has approved a drawing or comp and the last third on delivery. There is no such thing as a "going rate" - it's all about what you can command for your work. Someone just starting out is obviously less able to charge a high fee than someone who is internationally known for their portraits. Markblasco's suggestions about basing your fee on materials, estimated time and desired hourly water are right on. You shouldn't undercharge for your work. It's not unreasonable to choose to give work away or discount it under some circumstances but don't set a rate at which you'll regret doing the work.
posted by leslies at 5:49 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

yes, was it giles???
posted by sully75 at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for these great suggestions, this definitely gives me a place to start. I'll try to go forth and conquer (or something)!

Yeah, it's so funny, I never think anyone is following my story, but this is in fact "Giles," the guy who was originally batting around the nude portrait idea. At some point he settled on a clothed version, and it's been really lucky for me...The portrait I did for him is something he can show other people, after all, and he's been doing just that. He knows a lot of artists and art patrons in town, and is providing me with some valuable connections just on the basis of this one piece.

I'm scared -- historically haven't been a people person at all -- but I'm getting out there, showing my stuff and trying new things. This is good for me. I"ll let you know how this new one turns out. Thanks again for your help, support and advice!
posted by frosty_hut at 8:35 AM on January 30, 2008

I'm doing the same thing with photography at the moment. And I'm sort of similar, personality wise.

I was showing my portfolio (perhaps for the first time) to a pro that I was trying to get some assisting work from. I kept commenting on the pictures...this one could be better this way, I was trying to do this here...etc. Finally he's like "never criticize your own work in front of anyone". I mean, like...duh. But I still was doing it. So I've stopped that. I'm trying to get rid of anything I'm not 100% convinced of myself, but whatevers in there, when I show it, I just sit there and shut up and let people look.

Good luck!!
posted by sully75 at 8:38 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Note to cgg--I'll bet your friend is more than ready to do a show. It sounds like she has a body of work put together. I've been thinking about that, too, for future. Don't have any gallery connections at the moment, but I was wondering if it would be possible to just rent out a space, hang some stuff and invite people in? It would be an expensive party, but it might generate some interest...
posted by frosty_hut at 8:44 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Sully75, that's GREAT advice. Thank you ^_^
posted by frosty_hut at 8:45 AM on January 30, 2008

Frosty, we've been watching with popcorn and a soda! You have really intriguing questions that as early as last year led me to say: who is this frosty_hut. She sounds like a cool chick.
posted by arnicae at 8:49 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

What to charge is a combination of the market, the expectation from the buyer, and the cost of the artist's time. I like the idea of factoring in an amount per hour, not because it will be accurate but because it helps you think about the cost of your time (something that artists rarely do). And that is linked to self-worth. "Selling a painting" and the thrill that comes with it is nice but selling a painting and getting a fair price for what you spent your time and your talent to complete is more important.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Taken -- It's so subjective, isn't it? I can't really quantify my talent in dollars, but the market (if I do this enough) probably will. Still, it's somehow separate from-- and yet related to-- self-esteem in a weird way. You're right: a fair price is important.

Hi arnicae, you're cool too! ^_^ I don't know if weird things happen to me more than other people, or I just have a certain spin on them. I do know I'd die if I couldn't laugh...I'm thinking of putting together a graphic novel featuring characters based on people I run into and am (fortunately or unfortunately) related to. Heavily disguised, of course. I'll let you know if I get up the courage to do it...

Thanks to all for your superhelpful responses. Never found a forum better than this.
posted by frosty_hut at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2008

haha- DO it, frosty! I'll buy a copy.
posted by arnicae at 4:16 PM on January 31, 2008

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