How much to ask for a painting?

Illustrator/visual artist/designer/author (for the past 23 years) Marloes De Vries answers questions about illustration, being an artist or creative life in general. → Ask a question here.

Hi Marloes,

I have started painting (oils), but how do you determine the selling price for a painting? I find this tricky, and find it unprofessional to ask people what they are willing to give for it. And I’m not famous 😉 So that has an impact too. But just the cost of making it, I don’t think it’s worth it.
I have a lifetime of experience as an illustrator myself, so novice illustrator I am definitely not. I can give a price ‘by feel’, but it feels so unsubstantiated. Curious what your thoughts on this are!


Bella

Dear Bella,

A very good question: asking fair prices for your work is very important, especially if you are a female artist (article: ‘The $192 Billion Gender Gap In Art‘ on Forbes). Although I graduated from art school in 2007, I have only been working mainly as an autonomous artist since 2020. So I share with you what I have learned so far, but know that I am still learning about this topic. In fact, I am currently working with a business expert on art to educate myself further. Please also note that my calculations are based on living and working in the Netherlands, as are the tax/VAT rates.

Good that you point out that you don’t think just the making costs are worth it. If you do, you will be bankrupt in no time. You will make a loss as an entrepreneur, because you have to pay VAT and income tax, among other things. Does a painting cost you €25 in canvas, brushes and paint and do you charge €25 for it? Then you pay 9% VAT (art rate) and at least 37% income tax. You will then be left with €14.45, so you will be more than €10 down.
Besides, it doesn’t come across as professional/qualitative to ask only the making price: if something is very cheap, we quickly think it can’t really be valuable. So your prices directly reflect on how professional you look.

There are a number of ways to calculate the price of your painting. Below, I have explained three of them.

Method 1: art-formula

There is a well-known formula widely used by Dutch artists and galleries. I adopted this way from Marca van den Broek († 2020).

(width + height in cm) x artist experience x cost factor* = price of painting

Width + height in cm
This goes without saying: the dimensions of your painting in centimetres.

Artist experience
This represents your experience and fame. However, there are several sources online with slightly different figures in combination with experience, so check what suits you best.

  • 1: absolute beginner (without education)
  • 2: amateur artist or student at an academy or in art education
  • 3: good amateur artist or advanced student
  • 4: recently graduated art school student or autodidact with professional knowledge and skills
  • 5: artist with several years of experience
  • 6-8: artist with several years of experience and constancy, or individuality (own style)
  • 9-12: professional artist who is regionally known
  • 12-17: professional artist who is nationally known
  • 17-23: renowned artist known in their home country and known in neighbouring countries
  • 23-30: renowned artist known in their home country and abroad
  • >30: renowned artist with continental or world fame

Condsider your experience as an illustrator
What makes the artist factor tricky for artists like you and me is that we became autonomous artists via a different route. Do our years as illustrators count towards our experience or not? I discussed this with several experts in the artist profession and we all agree: the experience you have as an illustrator/graphic designer/photographer does count, because you are an artist anyway, whether autonomous or applied. Your previous field has helped you become the artist you are today. It makes you experienced in making colour combinations and compositions, you know what works and what doesn’t and makes you professional.

* Cost factor (optional)
Whether you include this depends on your expenses per painting. For example, if you work with expensive materials such as gold leaf, it is smart to add an extra factor. But also if you use cheap material like a graphite pencil, or because you made a super-fast sketch. Then you can, for example, calculate a factor of 0.5 for a pencil drawing or a quick work. Or up to a factor of 1.5 for an oil painting or work in an expensive frame.
For most paintings, the cost factor is 1 and you have a fair price that way. You only change the factor if you feel the work is worth just a little more or less than your standard paintings, or if you are using a very particularly expensive or time-consuming technique.

Calculation example:
Suppose you are a painter with several years of experience, your own style and in your hometown you already have name recognition: you give yourself level 8. Your work is 30 x 50 cm, and the cost factor is 1 because you work with acrylic paint on canvas.
Your price then becomes: (30 + 50) x 8 x 1 = € 640 (excl. 9% VAT).

In countries like the United States and United Kingdom they tend to work with square inch prices. More about those methods can be found here.

Method 2: labourer-formula

This is how most entrepreneurs, from plumbers to architects, calculate their prices:
(hours worked x hourly rate ) + material costs = price

When using this formula, it is important to know what hourly rate is appropriate for you. So you need to know:

  • What your business expenses are on an annual basis (such as studio rent, material costs, work clothes, study costs, bookkeeping costs, insurance, etc.).
  • What amount you need per year to make ends meet privately
  • Pension and disability reserves
  • How many hours per year you can devote to painting

Because you are constantly developing as an artist and your work becomes more valuable over the years, it is important to let your hourly rate grow along with your experience. As an artist, you also spend a lot of time sketching (on location), experimenting, etc. You often don’t count those hours in your painting, but they do count. So make sure you include an average of these hours in your painting, or raise your hourly rate slightly to cover this.
An experienced illustrator/artist might come up with such an amount: (7 hours x €90) + €25 material costs = €655 (excl. 9% VAT).

Disadvantage: price difference small or large canvas
The disadvantage of this method is that the difference in price for your canvases is closer together, in many cases. I myself can easily spend 5 hours working on a 10 x 10 cm canvas, as well as 5 hours on a 30 x 30 cm canvas. In the art world, it is common that the bigger the canvas is, the higher the price.

Method 3: what peers are asking

One tactic I used to price my first collection of paintings was to look at what fellow artists were asking who were at a similar level and had similar experience. For a year (and still today), I kept track of what painters, who, like me, mainly did landscapes, were asking for their work.
In an Excel sheet, I kept track of who the artist was, how big their works were, what materials they used, dates and: whether it was sold through a gallery or by themselves (the latter is important, I will come back to that below).
Because this way I could clearly see what prices different artists were asking for, say, a 30 by 50 cm painting, I could see what kind of prices I could charge.

Disadvantage: chance of keeping artists small
However, this tactic has a big problem: by applying this way, there is a possibility that we will continue to keep ourselves small as (female) artists. As long as you compare, you keep swimming in the same price pond. This is why it is important to also include the prices of, say, male colleagues.

To consider:

Selling paintings through an art gallery

If you sell your paintings through a gallery, 25-50% of the selling price will go to the gallery in question. The nice thing about this is that you will work with the gallery to see what a good price is for your paintings. For instance, there are many galleries that use the art calculation formula with a factor of 20. In that case, that factor mainly says something about the gallery and its reputation, and not necessarily about the artist’s factor.
If your goal is to have a gallery represent you in the future, it is smart to factor this into your price now, even if you are still selling it yourself. This way, the price difference during your transition from ‘sell yourself’ to ‘sell through gallery’ will not be immense, and therefore more logical for buyers.

Packaging and transport of painting

Something I didn’t take into account so much at first is the time and cost involved in packing and shipping your paintings. I personally prefer to have buyers collect paintings, but in my experience, most prefer to have a painting delivered. Warn the buyer that it is riskier to send, as parcels are quite often thrown in the post.

Per painting, I spend about half an hour carefully packing: protective film over the canvas, bubble wrap around it, hard cardboard protecting the canvas on the front and back, and then a transport box. A painting of about 30 x 30 cm me about €15 in packing materials.
Then it has to be taken away to a postal point, which takes me about half an hour in total. Depending on which transport or delivery service you use, these costs are €8 to €250.
So the cost is €15 (excluding 21% VAT), transport costs (€8 to €250 including VAT) and about an hour of labour costs.

I hope this is of some use to you! I wish you much success and pleasure in walking your artistic path.

Kind regards,
Marloes

PS If you are reading this and have any tips on pricing your work, please comment below this post. All advice is welcome!

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2 comments

  1. Great article! I’m like you – I’ve been a graphic designer/illustrator for more than 20 years. Have recently been oil painting on the side for the last 3 or 4 years, and pricing has been a problem. I pretty much always undersell myself so this is really helpful thank you.

    I paint portrait commissions in oil. Is there an extra factor there I wonder? Liaising with client, advice on photos etc. Would be interested to hear your thoughts!

    1. Thanks Tessa! Personally, I’d calculate the hours I’d spend on contact with the client. As designer/illustrator with experience you can probably estimate the time you’d need for that. I’d add an hourly rate for that, and give the client the total price. Commissions take more time so there’s no need to undersell yourself when working with clients. Hope this helps!