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Paying For and Pricing Art: Why It’s Hard and What to Expect

You walk into a restaurant and sit down. The waiter brings you a menu. If it is not a wine or drink list or an expensive restaurant, you expect to see prices next to the menu items. You decide what to order based on what you want to eat and maybe, like most, what it costs. As most people know, there is no negotiating this price. If you can’t afford it, you don’t order it. We have decided to abide by these rules as a society.

When people are selling products (clothing, makeup, food, furniture, whatever) that have already been analyzed by the time they are available for purchase, people have come to accept the price they are listed for.

But what do people do when the product has yet to be created? How do you put a price on something that has yet to be made? For example, how do you price a music video? A short film? A feature film? A logo? These are all kinds of work that takes back-and-forth discussion and understanding before it’s made.

The classic, age-old answer is: “it depends.”

People who are not familiar with the creative process or the work that goes into creating works like these seem to get confused with this answer. They expect a price, at a rate they can expect to pay, and may feel like they are getting swindled if you as an artist are not able to answer this question.

This is the struggle a lot of artists face: pricing unique work that has yet to be created.

Unfortunately, to adapt to the expectations of clients that are a part of this straight-forward society, artists are forced to accommodate to the menu price list format. While I consider myself an artist, I’m aware that I also need to be accommodating to this society of clients if I’m to make any revenue doing what I love. Trust is hard to come by and I get it. If you order a steak dinner, you should get a steak dinner.

I understand that it takes a lot to trust an artist. You are trusting someone else to create a vision you
had that you may not be able or have the means to create. You are enlisting the talent, time, and energy of someone else to execute your vision. If they don’t provide the results you are looking for, like with any other service, you will be disappointed.

But for some reason, there are some clients of the art world who seem to think prices are negotiable and this is what infuriates a lot of people in the artistic community. A client pays for a final product but oftentimes, they don’t see what is occurring behind the scenes in order to make what they want possible.

In order to illustrate what I mean, look at this question:

“I paid you for ____, can’t you throw in ____ as well?”

Examples, I’ve personally witnessed/experienced:

• “I paid you for a logo, can’t you throw in a few more designs as well?”

• “I paid you to use the camera package for one week, can’t you throw in an additional day as well?”

Imagine how bizarre it would be if you applied the sentence to a steak dinner situation:

• “I paid you for a steak dinner, can’t you throw in a lobster as well?”

That’s crazy…right? Like no one should do this and yet it happens all the time.

Art seekers

I promise I’m not trying to attack those who don’t know any better. I’m trying to inform those who don’t.

If you are seeking art to be created by an artist and an artist tells you a price, and you know you can’t afford it, don’t try to negotiate it. You wouldn’t do it at Outback Steakhouse, so why would you do that to an artist? You can always say “no, thanks!”

If you are serious about having something created for yourself or your business, set a budget. Do your research to know what kind of work is offered for a budget of your size. This may be harsh but knowing an artist’s budget and offering them less is an insult.

Be mindful that you are paying for an artist’s:

• Time

• Energy

• Materials

• Educational background

• Professional experience

• Transportation (sometimes)

• And those are just the basics!


Value your work, your talent, and your time. If you do decide to take on a lower paying client, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

Ask yourself:

• Will it expand your portfolio? Will it add something to your portfolio that you don’t already have?

• Is it an easy way to expand your portfolio or will it cost you more than it’s worth?

• Are you doing it as a favor? Or are you expecting something in return? Is the return worth the investment you’re spending on the project?

There are exceptions to every rule and client but as artists, you should value your work and if you find yourself in a situation where it’s not being valued, don’t feel bad for turning down the project. If a client is trying to bring you down on your prices (that have been reasonably assessed by you after careful reflection of your talent, experience, materials used/needed, energy, time, transportation, etc.), don’t feel bad for politely declining the work. You ultimately deserve to work with people who value you.

There is absolutely no denying that navigating the creative industry as a buyer or seller can be dif cult… but keeping an open line of communication, understanding each other’s expectations, and respecting what each party is willing to provide or offer is a great first step.

by Andrea Young, you can find my work at the links below, thank you!



  1. Can’t agree more here. I do work as a professional graphic designer for more than a decade and there are a few tricks to follow upon my sleeve. But the most important one is, a clear contract before you start the project and downpayments before you even begin. Realistically said at least 20%of the project’s value should be paid upfront. Personally, I take 50%.

    Sometimes also it is better to drop the project than waste another minute on someone who does not takes you seriously.

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