How to time and price your artworks
It’s the one most frequent question that’s asked: How to time and price my artwork? Or to be more accurate: How to price my artwork. What do you think it’s worth? How much would you pay for this?
Like any profession, and I mean profession, not just any job (a cashier at a supermarket needs a significantly smaller learning curve that an artist) becoming a professional takes time. If this is what you want to make a living with, remember that you dip into a worldwide unregulated cesspool with insane competition and a gigantic learning curve just to come out on top of everything that is called the art market. If you’re new to that notion, please dig into the following archive as well so you can get ahead of the game.
Changing the way you think about art
Art comes from a passion. Those that do it in an attempt to make easy money drop out soon enough. Unless you’re truly a creative and your heart lies with art, this is not a field meant for you. It lies in the nature of art, but also in the nature of the market. Competition is so fierce that it’s close to impossible to just work from sheer willpower without an affinity with art.
That being said: If you want to start a business in the art world: Treat it as such. Yes, there will always be that passion, and you should do all you can to hone that passion, so make sure to take a break every now and then, and frequently draw something for yourself, something you enjoy.
However, the rest of the time, your art business is just that: A business, and it should be treated that way. This means that you should know how to work with a client and understand what they run into when working with you. You will have to spend time on marketing, client contact, income statements etc. Anything any business owner has to deal with. And as any business does, you should account for that time as well, not just the time you’re drawing.
It would be shortsighted to assume that every artwork takes as long as the other and that every client is as easygoing as the one you has before. This is not the case, and that’s where nuances start to become important.
When to go professional
This is a big topic that is missed by many people. I missed it myself at the start, despite the fact that I was part of many different business startups in the past (just not art related). Because art usually comes from a passion, it’s not perceived as a business. People would just love to be able to make money with art. And somehow, in that, people forget it’s a business. And with any business, this is the rule of thumb:
- It takes at least 2 years, but likely 4 to 6, or even more years to teach yourself everything to run a business. In the case of the art world, this means taking many courses or even following education to learn art fundamentals, how to run a business, marketing, and so on. If you are diligent and have a decent amount of free time you can spend on art, 2 years will get you far.
- The average business takes 5 to 7 years to become sustainable. Some are quicker, but most never get properly off the ground, especially in the art world, this is because of the amount of competition out there.
When to switch from hobbyist to pro
So when should you switch from becoming a hobbyist? After at least 2 years of learning? Ha, no! You should do so as soon as you get a commission in, It doesn’t hurt to try. In my first year of learning, I had many commissions. They were local, but they were a nice extra. But did I really start a business back then? No. I only did so after 5 years in the market. In my particular case, those 5 years was including the studying period as I deliberately kept learning through time and had the ‘luck’ to work in a restaurant during the Corona pandemic. Which for me meant a full year of learning I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Most of which I spent in building up LtL (the site you’re reading now) to get a better grip on the actual market.
In most, if not all countries it’s absolutely fine to earn some extra money as long as you are transparent about it. This means that you can have a side hustle for quite some years before you start your business officially. Doing so will prevent you from making stupid mistakes that may stay with for example Google reviews or something similar for your official company forever. When you finally start your business after some years, you will no longer be overwhelmed by the requests you get, nor will the mistakes you make be so grave that they might cost you your company’s reputation.
How to price my artworks
Yea! Here we have the answer to your question! It’s simple:
Time spent on drawing + time spent on client contact + time spent on company (tax/marketing etc) + money spent on materials/marketing/energy/renting = the price of your art. You should at least be aiming for a minimum wage when you do this calculation.
To make this all a bit simpler: Most people can live on a minimum wage. It gets a bit messy when you have to calculate your energy and renting costs. We won’t be digging into that specifically, But after running through the other steps it should be possible for you to calculate that along if you need to,
Time spent on drawing
The time you spend on drawing is usually the biggest chunk of time. In my case, it accounts for 60 to 70% of my time. The rest is spent on the things mentioned before. However, many artists spend up to 50% of their time on their business, much of which goes to client contact.
Time spent on client contact
You will learn to draw faster over time, but the biggest timesaver is client contact. You can do so by answering questions they might have in a FAQ. Your workflow is another thing you should treat this way. You can even share your Terms and Conditions on your website. If you get questions you can refer to any of the above, or copy and paste the information. This is a gigantic time saver. Since I started doing this I managed to save roughly up to 20% time on my client contact time. This used to be between 30 and 40% before, whereas now it’s about 20%.
Don’t take my numbers for granted though. An average artwork takes me anywhere between 8 and 16 hours to complete. My clients usually are returning clients as well. This means that I often already know what my client is looking for. Also, the nature of my artworks and the time it takes to complete one, means that I have relatively little contact time compared to an artist that takes 2 hours an artwork.
Time spent on tax, marketing, etc.
Depending on the country you live, tax needs to be registered monthly, quarterly or yearly. It serves you best though if you do this on a weekly basis. That way you’re not overwhelmed by all the numbers. Any payment service will give you a nice overview, but any nice overview will be a pain in the butt if you don’t keep track of it.
As it stands now, I don’t do many commissions because mine takes so much time to complete. This means that I also don’t have many transactions going on. It takes me roughly an hour a month to keep track of it all. Once a year everything has to be run through an accountant here in the Netherlands. this costs money and time. This time and money need to come out of your business as well. Remember that you’re not funding a hobby, you’re funding a business.
Marketing is a different story. If you are a very well-established artist, you won’t have to spend any time on marketing. I’m known for my knowledge and have returning customers. At this moment though (October 2022) I can’t consider myself an established artist yet. ‘m expecting this to take another 2 years of mostly increasing my artistic skills and style. Marketing and which includes sharing art on social media takes anywhere between 1 to 4 hours a week. Depending on if I need to fill up slots and how quickly I do so.
Money spent on materials/marketing/renting a place/energy etc.
This one heavily depends on what you do, what services you offer, and how you do so. If you run your business from home, you only have to account for energy prices and material replacements (like a drawing tablet, a mouse, a motherboard, etc). If you rent an office, you have to take that into account as well.
Most artists market for free in channels and on pages that have relevant clients. (E.g.: If you draw cows you join a group with cow lovers). But if you spend money on marketing you don’t only have to account for your time, but also the money you spent on said marketing.
As for materials: I don’t usually deal in materials. I work abroad a lot, so I work with digital files most of the time.
However, if you do deal with materials, you should make sure that your client pays for that as well.
Arguably you can either have them pay the purchase price (The price minus tax, so the amount you pay for it) or with a profit margin.
Whenever I make a drawing for someone and that person wants me to print it for them, I just ask for the purchase price. I already charged for the time spent on the artwork and anything that has to do with the client, I don’t do that extra for the materials I may be using. But, if you are selling postcards, and you need to earn your money through quantity, it’s obviously a no-brainer that you should charge extra for materials.
How to time my artworks
Yea. this one is a bit tricky. Where in the past I would spend 18 hours on an animal portrait, I now take 6 to 10 hours. And even now I expect to become a bit quicker still. This is the other reason why I recommend not to start a company right away and sit out your learning time (anywhere between 2 to 6 years) before you do so. You will become quicker over time. You will learn what your preferences are and how you like to work. So there is no straightforward answer for this one as long as you don’t know at least your style and fundamentals.
Rules of thumb
- Expect to work under your minimum wage for the first few years IF you decide to take on commissions. Generally, I recommend not ever working under a minimum wage. However, if you have to learn on your own, or can get paid for learning while also getting some experience in dealing with a client: Always do the latter.
- At some point, you sped up so much that you will see that you hit a minimum wage. If you fill up all your slots: Up your price. If not: Stick with it so your skills can catch up as well.
- Speed is the first thing that will earn you an extra buck or two. Skill is the next. Yes, to a degree they go hand in hand, but at some point, there is no speeding up anymore. Instead, your skill will increase. Skill = value. Skill = profession. And skill is what brings in the big bucks and makes you stand out from the rest. So as you up your price, keep in mind things such as yearly inflation, any extra costs, and your actual skill. How much that is is up to you to find out. Technically that is as much as you can get away with. If you have a solid waiting list,
Some ideas to time your art
It is impossible to time how long it takes to finish an artwork without a timer of sorts. We get distracted all the time. Taking a break may take longer than expected. A phone call, a message, someone at the door. It accumulates quickly.
Having a timer next to you that you can pause whenever you interrupt your work gives a very solid idea of how long it takes you to finish an artwork. You’d be surprised how little time it actually takes to finish your artwork compared to the time you spent ‘working’.
- Use a timer on your phone or computer to keep track.
- Search for ‘timer’ on Google and one will start for you right away.
- Use a dedicated timer device if that suits you better. And if you’re doing this anyway, take one you can just hit once to both pauses and continue timing.
- Use a program like OSB to record your actual drawing. That way you can time exactly how much time you spend on the artwork but also record your drawing, which you can then share with people around you or on your social media.
Running an artistic business is just like running any other business. Time has to be accounted for, as do investments. Your art may have a specific value depending on your skills, but so does your time. And your time always trumps your skill level. With too little income you are not going to make it anyways. So don’t quit your regular job as long as you can’t make ends meet with just art. As long as you have a long breath and are persistently teaching yourself as well as your business practice, you will make it. It just doesn’t happen overnight.