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.
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.