Art for a peaceful and flourishing world

What’s In The Price Of A Painting?

With my painting Our Journey in Toledo, Spain, for the Dreams and Divinities Show.

With my painting Our Journey in Toledo, Spain, for the Dreams and Divinities Show.

Before I was an artist, I, too, thought that it is just outrageous that anyone would put these price tags on a bit of paint on canvas.

Now that I make a living from my art, I realize everything that goes into selling a painting and you will see that a lot more goes into the final product.

 The common question: In the same line of classic question, people will often ask “how long did it take you to make this painting?”. It is obvious to me that they are trying to do the math and think as they walk away “Oh! She is charging $100 an hour! What a rip off!”

The answers:

1. The expenses

Let’s talk about the work that goes into just making it to a show with our paintings. Nobody realise that we put out thousands of dollars before we even sell one piece of artwork. If it is an indoor show, fees are usually from $800 and up to $5,000. If it is an outdoor show, fees are still from $300 to $500 but we have to also invest in a canopy, display, signage, sometimes rental of a trailer or a truck. As an example of these expenses, I bought the best canopy and spent $2,000 on it. Next there is gas, hotel and food bills as most shows are far from home. If the show is an international show, you can imagine what the artist has to spend  to get to the show with his/her paintings. I take between 20 and 30 paintings to a regular show and all of them are framed. The cost of the frames adds another $3,000 to $5,000 I have to put out before I have even sold one piece.

 2. The time

Next we also have to take in account our time. Any professional will get paid for their time spent on the service they provide to a client. Nowadays service fees for an accountant, a graphic designer, a marketer, a plumber, a mechanic etc… are from $60 to $100 an hour at least. For an artist, the time spent on each painting and many more hours of collateral jobs go into making it a career.

Just for attending a show the artist must spend time: preparing, packing, driving, setting up, being at the show, taking down, driving back. For a 2-day show, I will put in an average 30 to 40 hours of my time from preparation to follow up tasks.

Now you can add up everything I have mentioned and you can see that artist charge a fair amount for their work and investment

3. The wild card

I should also mention that being an artist is unlike any other job. You never know when you will be paid. It happened to all of us artists to put all the time and money I have explained above into a show and sell nothing. Now for the next show we are not talking about trying to cover the expenses of that one weekend but also of the past weekend or an unsuccessful solo show we had put on.

In fact this is part of the risks and uncertainties,  difficulties for projecting a  budget, of anyone that works as an independent.

4. Behind the scenes

So far I just talked about the time and money spent going to shows but there are many other aspects of the job that many overlook. Most artists have a website and this costs money and time to run; there are also all the other activities necessary to make our art known and available to potential clients such as blogging (here I am now!), social networking, newsletters, research online, applying to shows, entering contests and awards, applying for grants, networking, attending events, taking courses to further our art education and techniques, preparing portfolios, writing letters and emails to gallery owners and other related professionals, and accounting! Most professional artists agree that 80% goes into all this ‘behind the scenes’ work, and 20% is actually painting.

So the day we sell a painting we finally get paid for all these hours too, and you can see that we need to be compensated for a lot more than our time painting and our art supplies.

5. Now let’s do some math

I also have to mention that when a painting is sold in a gallery, only %50 or less goes to the artist. It is fair as they save us all the time and trouble of looking for clients and going to shows. It can also be seen that when we sell directly, 50-60% of the painting’s price covers the extra expenses and time we had to put out going to shows.

So when we sell a $3,000 painting, it is really only $1,500 going to pay the direct work put in the painting. If I spent 30 hours on the painting, which is not a huge amount of time as many paintings take much longer than that to complete, these 30h paintings usually also mean 120h of ‘behind the scenes’ work. The $1,500 is now divided by 150 hours of work, when you purchase a $3,000 painting the artist is actually not being paid more than $10 an hour!!!

I hope this article brought some appreciation and understanding of the seemingly large price tag on original artwork! The good part is that we do not really need to explain this to those who are really interested in our art. Fortunately there are enough people who greatly appreciate our work and do not question the value of what we offer the world!

To see Gaia Orion’s art visit

1 Comment

  1. You don’t need to explain it to me … I’m a musician ….
    I also love your work and think it is worth every cent!!
    L 🙂

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This