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How to Charge for Commission

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Oh that thrilling feeling when someone asks you if you do commissions. It’s the most exciting moment that if you are like me, very quickly turns into panic when the person asks the dreaded “How much do you charge?”

Artist looks down while painting in the studio.
Working on a painting for my shop.

If you charge too much, they might think you are an egomaniac. Who do you think you ARE after all? If you charge too little, you risk ending up making well below minimum wage (art takes TIME). The worst case scenario of charging too little, (it has happened to me) once you purchase materials and shipping, not making any money at all.

I’ve asked my friends who are professional artists how they calculate what to charge for commissions and they all responded with pretty much the same answer- “UGH. I never know what to charge” or “I don’t do commissions- I never make enough because I am afraid to quote too high.”

I decided that commission was going to be a big part of starting my art business. It is the fastest way to pay back the startup costs of selling art prints. Plus, I like doing custom pieces for people! I end up painting subjects that I never would have considered painting otherwise.

In the first week of launching my website, I got a bunch of requests for custom work, so I decided I needed to figure out my system for what I would charge. There are several popular methods that artists use. I will outline each of them and then describe what I decided works best for me.

Commissioned Painting of puggle in art studio
A commissioned painting of Remy the puggle. I love doing pet portraits.

Art by the Inch

Some artists find the easiest method to charge is by the inch. For example, a Multiply the painting’s width by its length to arrive at the total in square inches. Then multiply that number by a set dollar amount that you feel is appropriate. Add in the cost of materials and voila. Then calculate your cost of canvas and framing, and then double that number.

This method is great for established artists who know exactly what their reputation is worth and have the brand to sustain it.

Art by the Hour

An easy enough method is to charge by the hour. Like so many other professions, it’s pretty simple to say “Okay this painting will take me 10 hours, and I charge $35 an hour.” Add in materials and boom. Easy. Send your client an invoice and call it a day.The issue with this method is if you are like me- sometimes that 10 hours can easily turn into 15. This can lead to rushing through the work, or more likely bringing that hourly rate way down.

Mary Jane drinks gin at her art table in her studio while painting commission
This is me drinking gin because I was on hour 12ish of a commission that should have taken 8.

My Method

To be honest, I am still working on my method of how I price my custom paintings. Clients typically request portraits of their pets. Because I have done so many in my career, I have a pretty good idea of how many hours it will take. I stock up on materials when they go on sale, so I have the canvas’s ready to go in my studio. This way, depending on the complexity of a piece, I offer a standard size for a flat price. For example, for a one subject pet portrait on a 14X16 canvas in acrylic, will usually run around $200. I know about how many hours this should take to paint and how much it will cost to ship. I ALSO know who my target audience is, and they are not wealthy art collectors. My clients are typically late 20s- mid 30’s millennials on that “Ill never pay back my student loans” budget. Its important to me that my art is accessible, so I’m not interested in over-charging.

Larger pieces that take a lot of planning with ambitious concepts or very specific requests do take much more time and materials. I still struggle to price the larger pieces, so that is when I lean more on an hourly rate plus materials.

custom Painting of dog framed in loft apartment
A commission of Dexter. I do paint more than dogs FYI

The most important thing I’ve learned in selling my art is to never undervalue your work. If everyone could do it, they would! You have a skill that has taken you thousands of hours to perfect. That is AMAZING. When your plumber fixes your toilet, do you say “I was hoping you would do it for $25 per hour instead of $85 per hour.” Hell no. You say thanks for knowing how to fix that toilet because I do not know how to, here is your money.”

In summary, artists are to canvas what plumbers are to toilets. Idk. you get it. thanks for reading now lets get this bread!

xoxo gossip girl


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