What does a portrait cost?

By far, the most common question I'm asked is, "How much will a portrait cost?" and I think pricing artwork is something many artists struggle with. The topic comes up frequently on artist forums, along with the question of whether it's even possible to be a full-time artist and still pay the bills. I hope this post helps customers to understand the real costs behind my artwork and also helps other artists with their own pricing structures.

Being an artist full-time is something I've always dreamed of - who wouldn't want to do 'colouring in' for a living? Unfortunately, those dreams come brimming with fear of financial insecurity and self-doubt.

To take that leap of faith, getting the pricing right is clearly very important. When I set my pricing structure, there were two approaches I considered. Firstly, to look at what other artists charge and set my prices where I think I sit best in the market, and secondly, to look at the amount of time I invest in a picture and ensure I cover my costs to the point that I can actually afford to spend my time creating portraits. If I can't complete that circle, I have no hope of making it work.

While working full time, I was finding it nearly impossible to take art seriously as I just didn't have enough spare hours to dedicate. To move into the realms of professional artistry, the only feasible approach I could take was therefore to ensure my time and costs were covered, and hope my valuation sat within the ball park of what enough people are prepared to pay.

So, what are the costs of producing my artwork?

1. Time: Each portrait takes me many hours to draw; from around 10-12 hours for the smallest sizes up to many days or weeks for the largest of pictures. One rule of thumb is that the larger the portrait, the longer it takes and therefore a sliding price scale according to size makes sense. My most recent portrait however, wasn't a huge picture, the image was approximately 8"x10" but it had lots of detail and therefore still racked up over 30 hours.

Time spent on essential activities such as marketing and planning mounts up all too quickly, for which there is no directly associated income. Social media, website updates and research can all be quite time consuming.

2. Materials: The end consumer product may only be a mounted and packaged sheet of paper but art materials can be quite expensive - pencils and papers are not made equally! As a perfectionist, substandard materials are out of the question. The cost to my business is the art tools in my collection, whether I've used them on this piece of artwork or another. Thus far, I've been too scared to add up what I've spent on art materials over the years. I also have an eye on a couple of new pastel pencil sets to join me on my foray into coloured work (along with the right papers for the new tools of course), which will make quite a dent!

3. Marketing and sales: An online presence is a necessity for small businesses in the art world. Although many of my commissions are generated via word of mouth, potential customers still need to view examples of my work and the most effective way to show people is via the internet. My website has proven invaluable, and social media has also been a great way of attracting new customers.

Happily, social media accounts are free to set up, although I'm still trying to fully understand how to use them to their full potential! I'm fortunate, so far, to have gained most of my social following organically, which has kept advertising costs relatively low. Marketing mainly online, means the overheads are the website fees, listing fees and transaction fees, that all mount up.

Now, I know that my style of art is particularly time consuming and that I'm not particularly cut out for other, faster styles. The bottom line is that in producing commissioned work alone, my hourly rate would be totally illegal if I was employing someone else and really isn't that viable. When I started out professionally, to have a hope of financial stability, I needed to try to tip the balance and am trying to do so through sales of prints alongside commissions. I'm slowly building my portfolio of reproductions and available prints can be found in my shop.

So taking all the above into consideration, I set up my current pricing for portrait commissions, which can be found here: janeblairart.co.uk/commissions and is reviewed regularly. My aim is to provide the lowest viable price.

Will being an artist make me rich? Definitely not while I'm alive, and still very unlikely when I'm dead!

Would it be easier to work full-time and go back to doing this as a hobby? Financially, yes, of course. I'd also get holiday pay and sick pay. However, I currently get to spend most of my time doing something I love, so work doesn't really feel like work and therefore the number of hours I spend creating artwork doesn't really matter to me. What's more, I now get to choose when I work and I am genuinely in love with my short commute downstairs!

I'm also fortunate enough to have an understanding and patient husband who is continually supportive, so I don't stress too much when things are quiet or when I have a portrait that I know will be incredibly time consuming. Without this, I would never be brave enough to take the leap, for which I am forever grateful.