If someone were to ask me what my least favorite part of being an artist and designer is, it would without a doubt be pricing work. Putting a price on a piece of artwork or a design service is always a difficult and complicated process for me. It involves when & where I am working, what I am working on, and how long it takes. In addition to keeping track of your hours and what work you are doing, ultimately you have to come up with an hourly rate also. The question then becomes “how much is my work/my time worth?” And if this sounds like a difficult question to answer, it is. You must factor in the quality of your work, the size and scope of the project, the amount of detail required, materials used, your level of expertise, amount of experience, your education, any research that you have done, how efficiently you work, and so on. The problem is, once you have factored in everything involved in producing your work and have multiplied it by a reasonable hourly rate, you are almost always going to end up with an astronomical figure that no client or customer is likely to pay. On the other hand, if you charge a minimal amount (minimum wage or less) you will end up with a dollar amount that will better suit the customer/client. In doing this, however, you have just shortchanged yourself and devalued your own work.
Pricing is a push-and-pull between offending the customer with a high price and hurting yourself with a low price. Although you do not want to sell yourself short, you also do not want to lose sales. So it is important to think about all of the factors listed above, but to also be realistic in what you ask for. A painting that you sell in the street to a passerby is probably not going to be priced the same as one that is in a juried show in a gallery. It is also a good idea to look at your prices from the perspective of the potential buyer.
Intellectually and emotionally, pricing work wears me out and ties my brain into a dull, aching knot. My art and design work are the products of my mind, the fruits of my labor. I liken the creative process to giving birth, and the products I design and the artwork that is made are like my babies. How then, do I put a price on them?! As I said, it is difficult and complicated.
I have spent more hours deliberating over pricing than I care to calculate. I have tried to see the situation from as many perspectives as possible. The closest example to how it feels pricing one’s work though comes from a song called Bird On The Wire, written by Leonard Cohen. I was introduced to the song via Johnny Cash, who covered it a couple of times while he was working with Rick Rubin late in his career. It is the simplest and purest expression I know of the weighing of the mind that happens while considering pricing work. Below are the four lines from the song that ring most true to my ear:
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”