How Much Should You Pay An Artist for Artwork? — Distill Creative (2023)

I’m kicking off season two of the First Coat podcast! This season I’ll be sharing more about how I do what I do: curate and project manage site-specific artworks. This first episode is about how much you should pay an artist.

How Much Should You Pay An Artist?

One question I often get asked is how much to pay an artist for a project and how much should you pay for a piece of art. My short answer is as much as you possibly can. My long answer is, it depends on the project, the artist, the size of the work, the type of work, the location of the work and the artist, the timeline, and the expectations you have of the artist, like if you expect them to get a particular insurance for the project. Just to be clear -- you should always pay artists for their work.

Pricing art is hard. Paying an artist for their work does not need to be.

One way to create more equity and inclusion in the public art world is to be more transparent to the public and to the artists about what you are willing to pay and what you have paid in the past. The more information funders and artists have about the real cost of art project, the easier it is for both parties to make judgements about their own work or project. You can share this via a blog post on your website that celebrates the artist and artwork, and gives more details about the project, including the price. This transparency will help others be more realistic about the price of a work and also push others to pay their artists a fair wage for their time, experience, and artwork.

Artwork in public space is hard to price because there are many different types -- theres's street art, done for free, there's street art that is paid for by big corporations, there's guerrilla art done for free, there's guerrilla art paid for by big corporations, there's public art paid for by a local arts organization, there's public art paid for by multiple large foundations, and on and on.

Then there's the artist situation -- in order get more diversity of the types of artists doing art in public space, we need to allow more artists to get in the game. It's hard to get that first public project if you need to have examples of similar work and haven't done a public project. This, I think, pushes artists to do work for free or for cheap, which is bad for the artist and for the work.

There's also the overarching issue that artists are often not paid for their work. I see artwork being used all the time with no payment, and often not even any credit, going to the artist. Just look through your Instagram feed -- see artwork that someone is sharing but not even crediting to the artist? What about a photograph someone is using as a reference to do a digital illustration? Or open your email, there's probably an image in a newsletter that doesn't even have a credit for the artist. This is all bad because it devalues an artist’s work and makes it seem ok to just share someone's work without crediting or paying for it.

I recently had one of my artworks featured in a newsletter and the writer of the newsletter paid me $150 for licensing the work. She had a call out for artists with clear expectations and a straight-forward fee. This is how it should be! I was thrilled to be in her newsletter, and even more thrilled that she is doing it right. (Check out the Ann Friedman weekly newsletter that my artwork was in here).

If you are an artist trying to figure out how much to price your work, I would suggest doing some research with reputable sources about strategy (this varies). Look at the prices of other artists doing work at a similar level and style as you. How do you see these prices? Go to their art exhibitions and ask the gallery for a prices list (or email if it's an online show). Reach out to other artists in your community and get their thoughts. This will all help you figure out your own pricing strategy, which is really quite specific to your art and your practice. I myself and still learning about how to price my own artwork and how and when I want to sell my own work.

What are some projects you could be paying an artist for:

Paying an artist, especially Black, Indigenous, People of Color, for their work is great way to support artists. If you have some money to spare, consider hiring an artist for a small project. If you need assistance curating or project managing an art commission, check out our art consulting services. Here are some ideas;

So how do you figure out how much to pay an artist?

First, you should do your research. How much have other people paid an artist for a similar artwork or project? A little bit of google searching can get you to a ballpark range. If you need help with this, we can help you out.

When doing this research, make sure to take into account the following items:

  • the artist

  • the size of the work

  • the type of work

  • the location

  • the expectations of the artist

  • who is paying for the work

These elements all go into how much a project might cost. Funding source is really important to scrutinize because often a big site-specific project will have multiple funding sources and require multiple meetings and a lot of figuring out, all things that should increase the price of the project, but don't always.

Once you have a general price range, think about how your project fits into this and what your budget might be. Put together a preliminary budget that includes: art fee (what is paid to the artist to cover their labor and artwork), materials, installation (anything you need for install, like a lift), insurance, consulting fees (if you need to hire a curator or project manager, like us!), and optionally: permit fees, food/lodging (if the artist is out of town), and anything else you think you might need for this project. If you need help, we can do this for you.

Another way to go about this is to start with the budget you have in mind and then work backwards. Out of that pot of money, how might you break it down into all the buckets you need to pay for?

Once you have an idea of what the project might cost, you can reach out to the artists you have in mind, share your project details including budget, ask them if they are interested in the project, and, if so, what their price range would be. Artists price themselves in a wide variety of ways. Some may have something ready (perhaps it's a $1,500 fee for them to make a design for your mural), some may have a price per foot cost, some may charge hourly, some may have no idea. Many will (and should! I tell all artists to do this) ask you what your budget is if you haven't already told them. Sharing the budget early on is important, even if you are giving a range. You don't want to waste their time if you can't afford them.

Artists who are just starting out will be less expensive than a more established artist. Keep this in mind if you hire an artist over an over again -- their prices will likely increase as they grow more experienced. This normal and you should expect to pay more as you are getting more even if it is the same artist. This is also how the artwork works, generally, artists start out unknown and with low prices and over time, as more of their work is bought, their prices increase. Sometimes this gets out of control and often the crazy high prices you see don't actually go to the artist because it is for artwork bought at an auction, but this is a whole other topic for another day.

Other things to keep in mind when paying an artist

When figuring out how much you should budget for a particular project, you should also keep in mind everything you are asking of the artist, or creative, who you will hire for the project. Beyond the actual artwork and items listed above, some key items to consider are time, urgency, expertise, and complexity.


What am I actually asking them to do? What do I require for them to do this project?

If you are asking someone to create a site-specific project that will, at minimum, require a site visit, a few meetings, a design, edits to their design, installation, coordination for install, etc., then you should take into account all of the time it takes for them to do this work.


What is my timeline? How much time does it take to deal with me? How quickly do I expect an artist to respond to my emails?

If you are working on a very quick timeline and you expect overnight turnarounds, you should pay more. Artists may be fine with this, but they will likely need to move other projects around to make your project work and they need to be compensated for this. Make sure the artist knows about this urgency up front.


Are you looking to hire someone with a high level of skill and/or someone who is well known?

Either of these things mean you will need to pay more. Well known artists are not always the most skilled. I think people tend to pay more for artists who are trending, which I think is unfair to artists who are just as skilled but may not have millions of Instagram followers.It's up to you to choose an artist who is the best fit for your project. Either way, pay them for what they bring to the table.


How complex is your project? Is this paint on a wall or does it require lots of tech or other expertise?

If your project requires a lot of figuring out, due to the site, the materials, or the project itself, you should be prepared to pay more.

Often, we assume an artist can just make something quickly and does not have anything else going on in their art, work, or personal lives. I noticed this with the Black Lives Matter murals -- they were being put up (seemingly and literally) overnight which was amazing. However, in the cases where murals were not 100% grassroots projects, by which I mean done by artist on their own timeframe, I sensed unrealistic expectations and low pay from funders. I also heard stories of brands expecting to get work for free in exchange for exposure, which is extremely insulting, especially when proclaiming to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

It is simply rude to approach an artist and expect them to do something really quickly for you. For free or cheap.

I can't say this enough: Pay artists. Pay artists. Pay artists.

I think businesses often underprice artwork or art projects done by artist because they think that an artist is just sitting around waiting for someone to call them to make them something or that an artist should be happy just to make money on something. As an artist myself, I know this is not the case. To be an artist, you have to constantly be making or thinking about your work. You go into the studio to work on your art, even if you aren't getting paid for it, even if you don't feel like it, even if all you do is sit there and look at recent work. This is all part of making art. Even a day job is part of making art as it influences the work and is often part of an artist's process.

This is why you should pay artists as much as you can.

The price you pay not only covers the artwork that you are buying or that they are creating for you, but it also contributes to the overhead costs of an artist, which includes pretty much everything they do.

Another reason people don't pay artists as much as they should, or at all, is because they do not value it. If you don't think artwork is valuable, then think about the reasons you are looking for artwork in the first place. Are you trying to make a place more welcoming? Or make your website look more original? How much is that worth to you? This can help reframe how you think about artwork -- if you are considering having it at all, it must be worth something. If you think it is not worth that much, try doing it yourself. You will probably see very quickly how hard it is and be willing to pay someone who has the talent and expertise to do the project. Or, maybe you want to make art yourself! Go for it!

Artists should be paid. Pay them as much as you possibly can.

How much have you paid an artist for a recent project? Share your own experience in the comments below!

Looking for an art consultant for your art or culture project? Contact us!

Your Host | Stephanie Eche, CEO & Founder of Distill Creative

Stephanie Eche is an artist and art consultant based in Brooklyn, NYC.
Stephanie on Instagram (@distillcreative or @stephanie_eche), Twitter (@stephanie_eche), YouTube (Distill Creative), LinkedIn, and check out her art website.

Support First Coat by backing us on our Patreon.

Learn more about Distill Creative’s art consulting services for businesses and real estate developers.

Are you an artist? Sign up for our Distill Directory and you’ll be considered for art commissions and future projects.


How much should an artist charge for artwork? ›

Pay yourself a reasonable hourly wage, add the cost of materials and make that your asking price. For example, if materials cost $50, you take 20 hours to make the art, and you pay yourself $20 an hour to make it, then you price the art at $450 ($20 X 20 hours + $50 cost of materials).

How much do people pay for custom art? ›

Most artists charge a fixed price per square inch on the canvas and multiply that dollar amount by the size of the canvas. For example, an average price point is $1 per square inch. If you request a 16" x 20" art piece, that is an area of 320 inches. 320 x $1 per square inch is $320.

How much should artists be paid? ›

As a general rule, you should at least pay yourself minimum wage. If you feel your time is worth £15 per hour and you spent three hours creating a piece, then you can charge £45 just for the time.

How do you ask an artist how much they charge? ›

Once you have an idea of what the project might cost, you can reach out to the artists you have in mind, share your project details including budget, ask them if they are interested in the project, and, if so, what their price range would be. Artists price themselves in a wide variety of ways.

How much do oil paintings sell for? ›

For emerging new artist could be in the lower end, ranging from the $500 to $10,000 depending on the size and subject matter, for the mid-career artists who are already established, their prices range in the thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars and lastly the original oil painting art of very established and ...

How do you price freelance art work? ›

Hourly/Daily Pricing

Just keep in mind that, depending on the size of the job, you'll charge hourly, daily, or even a weekly price. Generally speaking, you should work out your daily rate based on an 8 hour day. So let's say your hourly rate is $40/hour, your daily rate would be $320 per day.


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