About nine months ago, I decided to try building a tiny custom artwork business called Likeness Portraits. I’ve always liked to draw, but have never fancied myself some future Great Artist. Throughout my life, I’ve had handfuls of people ask me if they could commission a piece of artwork, and usually I just did it for free or avoided the question. The idea of charging anything for a drawing made me nervous. What if it sucked? Drawing is fun! It’s not about money! (Cue the many reasons people, especially women, often feel less than confident about the value of their creativity.)
Having zero clue how long making art took me, I set a custom digital illustration at roughly $60, give or take a couple variables. I figured one would take me about an hour or two, three at most.
I kicked off the art business at the same time that I started doing freelance ad creative work, for which I charged hourly. I began cataloging how long this work took me, and how much my time was worth.
I didn’t expect to get many art commissions, but I did do better than I expected, usually having between one and three per month. A couple people reached out to me and told me that my prices were too low. A couple other people who commissioned pieces offered to pay more for various features, like adding a dog or an extra person. I kept my prices steady, however, acknowledging that I’m not up to the hourly rate for art that I am for ad creative work. I’d been doing that for seven years, and art just as a hobby up until this year.
Then I stumbled on a Facebook thread in a creative group where people were trying to set prices for their own custom illustrations. Someone made an argument that setting your prices too low hurts all other artists, especially POC artists. This had never occurred to me, as my justification would have always just been, “But I’m worse than all of you!” Nonetheless, this sat at the back of my brain for awhile.
Then I started actually quantifying how long an average custom illustration took me. Rather than taking 1-3 hours, it was usually more like 5 to 6. That comes out to a rate of about $10 per hour. As much as I love drawing and am indeed learning how to get better, that’s pretty low.
Doing custom illustrations did prove very valuable to me. I really do think I have gotten better, at digital illustrations, but also at actual painting. I painted a watercolor the other day that was incredibly fun. But before I accept any more commissions, I need to raise my prices to a more typical range. If I end up getting far fewer commissions, I’ll lower them again. But past a certain price point, the profit isn’t necessarily worth the time I put into each piece.
If anyone really wants a commission and just can’t afford my prices, feel free to hit me up and maybe we can figure something out. For now I think the higher prices are more fair, not just to me, but to the other artists who want to charge a living wage for what they do.