Art Pricing III – Custom art on objects

Art Pricing for commissioned work on objects

The first time I had my hockey goalie mask painted, I wasn’t working as an artist yet. I had bought a brand-new mask. I remember that my budget for the paint job was (arbitrarily chosen, I admit), no more than what I had spent on the mask. After all, in my mind it was just decoration, whereas the function of the mask, to protect my noggin, was worth much more. The idea that the paint job was skilled art work that takes much more time than to create a mass-produced goalie mask and therefore should cost more, never crossed my mind. I looked at the art pricing from the consumer’s perspective, not the artist’s.

A goalie mask will set you back on average around $500. OK, there are more expensive ones and cheaper ones. To paint a goalie mask typically takes me around 2 weeks, including preparation for painting and clear coating. Of course, I don’t work on it a solid 8 hours a day – I’m also a stay-at-home dad and I usually work on more than one project at a time.The artist airbrushing a goalie mask.

If I was to divide the price my customers pay for a goalie mask paint job by the hours I spend on it, it comes to a little over minimum wage. I avoid doing that. It’s depressing. If I priced the paint jobs properly by the hour at what I think it should cost, the cost to paint a goalie mask would be prohibitive for most goalies.

The Art Pricing Value Gap

I call that the art pricing value gap. The difference between what the value of a piece of art should be or is even perceived and what the customer is willing to pay for it.

I think most of my customers would agree after I paint something for them, that the value of the paint job is far higher than what they paid. However, budget constraints simply won’t let them pay that. That’s OK and understandable. We all know this struggle.

So once again, my father’s wise words, that you price an item to what the fool is willing to pay hold up. However, in this case it really backfires.

The value of doing what you enjoy

Why do it then? Well, I could spend my time in an office, making much more than I do, performing a job I don’t want to do, 8 hours a day? Not in corporate America, where you’re required to show your commitment to the company by working many more hours than the regular work week.

Or, I could make a lot less, but do what I want, be my own boss and enjoy what I do and spend more time with my family, which all makes me happy! That’s a choice I made.

Not all jobs are like the goalie masks though. I find that the higher the value of the object you paint, the more people are willing to pay. My motorcycle customers are willing to pay more than my goalie mask people.

Of course, there are occasionally exceptions, but I think many of my colleagues in the custom art world will agree that they prefer not to divide what they get paid by the number of hours they put into a project.

Lastly, my airbrush teacher had looked at it in a positive light: “Every dollar of profit you make, is more than you had in your pocket yesterday”. I’m not so sure that that holds up when you look at your total business accounting, but it puts things nicely in perspective. Enjoy what you do and be grateful for that.

Airbrush equipment I use.

What airbrush equipment do you use?

One of the most common questions of fellow airbrush artists and those wanting to get into airbrushing is what airbrush equipment I use. In a way interesting, because I spend very little time thinking about my tools of the trade. They need to be of good enough quality to do the job, but once I have that, I don’t spend much time looking at the newest or latest & greatest equipment. Also, any new airbrush is an expense I should justify to myself and my company, so I don’t really bother until something breaks.


Let’s start with the airbrush I use. My work horse is the Iwata Eclipse CS. This is a fairly simple airbrush, easy to clean, use and not too many parts, so it can be maintained well. I also have an Iwata Custom Micron, which is a much higher end airbrush with a much smaller nozzle (thinner lines), but I find it requires a lot of maintenance, with a lot of tiny parts and as a result I don’t tend to use it. Speaking of tiny parts: buy spare parts and keep them ready at all times. When you drop a part, you may either not find it, or it’s damaged.

The airbrush - the main piece of airbrush equipment
The Iwata Eclipse

I have a Paasche airbrush that I just can’t get used to, so I also never use that one.

I like gravity fed airbrushes (with the little cup on top), because I never have problems with getting paint out of a bottle and I can reduce the paint on the fly, so I can work with thinner paint and lower air pressure for detail work, or unreduced paint at high pressure for larger areas that need good cover. I also mix paints in the little cup sometimes for fine art work.

However, I can see that if you work in an environment where you need to change colors often and fast (like a t-shirt shop), having several siphon fed airbrushes on the go would work better.

When I’m not using it, my airbrush sits in a glass of a mix of water and brush cleaner or Windex. That way it doesn’t dry out and I don’t have to clean it as often.


My compressor is a Harbor Freight 21 gallon, 125 PSI. It is not oil free. For any paint spraying it’s advisable to use a larger tank compressor, because you keep the air pressure on much longer than for instance when using a nail gun, so you deplete the tank relatively fast. With a small compressor it ends up running all the time to keep up. My experience is that they then burn out.

airbrush compressor
Harbor Freight 125PSI, 2.5HP, 21 Gallon compressor

This sucker is large, so it lives in my garage and I have a hose running from it to my studio. That way I don’t have to listen to it when it kicks in, because most compressors are loud (except the really expensive ones they sell for airbrushing). In the past I used a Porter-Cable 6 gallon pancake compressor, which held out for a really long time too.


I use 3 main brands of paint. All of them are acrylic, water based. They are Createx Auto Air and Wicked airbrush paints and Golden Liquids. I reduce them usually with a few drops of Createx airbrush reducer.

For work on objects I tend to use mostly the Createx products and the Golden Liquid I use more for fine art projects. However, the Golden color range spans the full artist color spectrum and the paint quality is high, so sometimes I also use them for airbrushing on objects.

For switching colors and quick airbrush cleaning I use Windex. You can dilute that if you want to make the bottle last longer. If I have a big hardened paint clog in the airbrush, I use acetone to get rid of it.

I learned to airbrush with House of Kolor automotive paint. A great paint to spray, but I couldn’t stand working with solvents. I also found that for organic and earth colors, they don’t have the color range (say if you wanted to paint an animal or a landscape). It’s designed for automotive use, not really for fine art, so if you’re looking for different umbers, ochre and a Van Dyke brown it’s not your paint.

various pieces of airbrush equipment
Paints, reducer, cleaner, masking tape, brushes, masks, respirator, lazy susan

The other airbrush equipment I use

Every airbrush artist works differently. Some freehand everything, others meticulously create overlapping stencils. If you want to see different ways to do things, I recommend reading Airbrush Action magazine and Youtube.

I tend to work with the airbrush the way I paint. I’m not a huge fan of stencil work, prefer freehand painting and like to detail out with traditional small brushes. I use masks to create hard line when I need them and even with those I basically only use the ones you see in this picture. I don’t buy them, but cut those out using a Silhouette cutter you can purchase at Michaels.

The masking tape you see is a low tack 3M 2080 masking tape from Home Depot. I also sometimes use yellow automotive masking tape, but this is what I use to mask over a painted area, to avoid ripping the paint off. Sometimes I spray a matte Krylon layer as an intra coat clear over the painted area, before applying masking tape.

I’ve trained myself to use a respirator all the time. You get used to it and after a while forget you’re wearing it. You don’t want paint or Windex to enter your lungs.

The last thing is the Ikea Lazy Susan you see under it. For $10 the SNUDDA makes your life so much easier, so you can paint any smaller object from all sides without having to move it.

Airbrush equipment in my studio
My art studio – please excuse the mess

As you can see from this picture of my studio, there’s a lot more crap in here that I haven’t discussed, but if you distill it down to the core. The stuff above is what I really use all the time.

Do you airbrush? What is your go-to equipment?