Why we don’t charge more

happy holiday blooms by Celandine

happy holiday blooms by Celandine

Read any artist advice blog and at some point you will be told to raise your prices. Whatever you’re charging – double it! You’re charging too little. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t take on clients with high demands for low pay. Pull yourself together, man. You’re worth so much more!!!

So what’s wrong with us? Why are we not listening?

Here’s what I think. Yes, artists often feel pressured to take on low-paying jobs to make ends meet, or to get more visibility (that never works, you guys), or to build up their credibility by extending their client list. But there’s an undercurrent that often gets ignored. What is the one thing that every artist runs into pretty much daily?  Discouragement.

Your mom thinks you’re nuts for wanting to make a living off of doodling.

Your friends’ eyes glaze over when  you talk about your art. Occasionally someone asks if you’ve had any luck yet getting a real job.

Your PoD stores combined bring you a monthly income of $23,65.

You see amazing work put out by other artists every day and sigh.

You enter tons of design contests, and your greatest accomplishment so far is to lose spectacularly. (I managed to enter two where I never made top fifty) You look at the winning pieces and feel either outclassed, or totally confused.

Most of the companies you approach with a pitch e-mail never bother to respond.

Most potential clients that do contact you never write back after you send your price quote.

So when someone finally wants what you’re making, if you’d just cut them a bit of a better deal, it takes a boulder of self-confidence to say no. Especially since the original price you quoted is most likely something you pretty much made up.

I think we need to recognize the fact that valuing art is hard, especially if your experience is limited. The same piece of art can bring you a very different amount of profit depending on who you sell it to. Not to mention the terms you negotiate. So realizing this huge flux in the different visual art markets, it’s not odd that we keep questioning our prices.

The way to fight this demon is with knowledge. Read everything you can on art pricing, especially articles written by experienced artists and industry experts. When a client makes an offer you’re not sure of, run it past a few artist friends and see how it sounds to them. Consider the client’s offer in your own wider context – if all your clients paid you the same as these guys, could you make ends meet? Could you afford the lifestyle you’re aiming for? Calculate your ideal price and compare it to the industry standards in your field – are they in the same ballpark? If you can’t work out the industry standards, play Secret Shopper and ask some artists you admire for price quotes. And in the end, grit your teeth and stand your ground. And always remember this bit of math – if you double your price and lose half your clients, you’re making the same amount of money and investing half the effort. Jackpot!!

What’s your experience with pricing your work – does it give you nightmares? What’s the toughest thing about it? Share in the comments!!

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8 thoughts on “Why we don’t charge more

    • Very true. It’s a subtle balance between how highly we value our product and what the market is willing to pay. But learning your own value sometimes takes time – we need to remember that’s also part of the journey.

  1. Hi Celandine, Your blogs always touch my heart . You are an awesome writer and indeed an awesome artist too. Love your work ! Stay Blessed ! 🙂
    What if one has been concentrating in learning and following the art as a passion ,’ just passion’ and no formal degrees in art . One fine day one realises that one needs to make this passion a source to earn one’s livelyhood . One finds oneself total naive in this world… , where to begin ….., what to follow…., what to charge….. !!!!! One finds , time and life, both short, to try out all those countless options available ……!!!! .

    • Dear Gunjan,

      Thanks so much for your kind words!!

      I think that in today’s age of information sharing a formal degree in art is becoming less important than ever. Maybe it was never that important to begin with. Out of the really successful and brilliant artists and designers I admire, about half have formal art training and the other half learned on their own. Even if you learned something art-related in college that is no guarantee that you will be successful as an independent artist. We’re all learning daily!

      The key things for me are:

      a) find as much information as you can – there is so much free stuff. Lynda.com, Skillshare.com (not free but a low monthly fee for access to all of their classes), and a lot of the places that deliver expensive paid courses also put out a lot of free content that can benefit you greatly.

      b) It’s so important to connect to other people who are going through the same thing, because they will have lots of advice for you and will enjoy sharing experiences. Look for Facebook groups that revolve around art and design. There’s a closed group called Pattern Playground I can recommend you to if you’re interested to join – it’s a bunch of very enthusiastic pattern designers and illustrators who love to share resources and help each other out.

      c) You have to start before you’re ready. Start doing things the best way you know how and the knowledge will follow – when you get things wrong on the first few jobs you will learn from experience 🙂 None of us really know what we’re doing – we just get better at guessing as we gain experience.

      Finally – arm yourself with determination and don’t give up when it feels like nothing is happening. It’s a slow process, but a very rewarding one!! Hugs!!

      L

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