Blog / 2021 / Why Artists Charge More for Custom Art

October 17, 2021

[video transcript]

My advice for setting prices is summed up here, and this post reveals how understanding why it’s hard to price art can make a difference. If you’re curious about what you need to succeed at commission work, check out this article.

You can hire me if you want more personalized advice about the intersection between art and money. If you want to know more about how commissions work chez Gwenn, check out this page!

Badlands National Park, strange and beautiful landscape in South Dakota
Gwenn Seemel
Cloudy Goodlands (Badlands National Park, South Dakota)
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
7 x 11 inches

Both the Badlands painting and the Devil’s Tower one are from my COVID cross-country trip and they’re each for sale for $140 plus shipping—see all currently available artworks. There are prints and pretty things with the Badlands here and with the whale ballet here.

surreal art of the Devils Tower in Wyoming and humpback whales
Gwenn Seemel
Intervention (Devil’s Tower, Wyoming)
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
7 x 11 inches

When I coach artists, there is one question that comes up more than any other and it is the question of how to price your art. And I’ve got lots of advice to give on how you might got about determining a monetary value for your work, but none of it really matters. The only thing that counts when you’re pricing your art is your confidence, not in your art, but in the price that you’re putting on your art. Because no matter what price you put on your artwork, there’s going to be people who say that it’s too high, and there’s going to be that say that it’s too low.

Because the intersection between art and money is a squishy place. That said, there is a little bit of the squishy place that I think is not debatable. And that is the question of pricing custom art.

Custom art should always be more expensive, because, when you commit to creating an artwork for a client, you are locking in your creativity. You’re locking it in in terms of timeline, creating it by a certain time. You’re locking it in in terms of specifications about color or composition.

You’re locking it in in the sense that you’re saying: ya, I’m actually going to finish it. Because I don’t know about you, but when I am making art for myself that I might then put onto the open market, sometimes I get bored of an image or it’s not working the way I want, and I just stop working on it. And you can’t really do that when you’re making custom art, if you don’t want to damage your reputation.

As an example there’s this piece. This is a piece that I made for myself. It’s not custom art, but just to give you an example it is a painting on paper, which I usually do pretty quickly, so I charge around $140 for this size of an artwork on paper. But that’s if I’m making it for myself. If I were to make a very similar image but custom for a specific client, I would charge at least $200.

And then there’s this piece: same size, painting on paper. Yet again, made it for myself, not custom art, so I’m selling it for $140. But if I was to make a painting like this one for a client, I would charge way more than even $200. The reason for that is that there are a lot of subjects in this painting. It’s not just the Devil’s Tower; it’s not just a landscape. There are whales that are in the composition, and when you add subjects you are adding complexity to a composition, because the space between the subjects has to be managed and understood. So if someone were to commission me to make an artwork with multiple subjects, the price goes up quite a lot because the work that needs to go into it gets a lot bigger.

The art and money intersection, very squishy place, and I don’t think it’s going to unsquish any time soon. But what I hope for you is that you find a way to be a little less squishy about it. I hope you find some solidity, a certainty in the prices that you choose—and, especially when it comes to custom work, the higher prices that you choose. Please make them higher!

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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