Selling Yourself Short

I cannot count the times I have heard the following from fellow artists:

“Raise my prices?? But then no one will buy my work! I have to be competitive!”

“I just don’t think I’m good enough to charge more.”

“If I charge less, I’ll sell more!”

I have thought these things myself at one point in my education as an artist. After all, we all start at a level which is inevitably not as good as professional and well-established artists who are painting masterpieces in oil when we’re in class learning about the color wheel and the basics of line, shape, form, etc. When we decide to combine money with art in order to sell our work at this early point in our careers, we look around and decide that it’s better to sell ourselves and our work for cheaper because we think that’s all that people will pay for it.

This works for awhile, as people tend to pay that $25 for a character sketch or a portrait of their dog. It brings in a little extra money for pizza and art supplies. However, as an artist grows and enters the level that their work is taking more time, is of a consistent higher quality, and the artist decides that art is a career and not a hobby, they need to evolve past the point of accepting less. Artists, please get serious about your prices!

When you continue charging less for more, you not only undersell yourself, but make it harder for other artists to make a living and lower the standards and impression that customers have of artwork. This pattern of underselling is especially rampant in the community of fantasy art, my personal port of call. It seems the general attitude is that fantasy art is ‘cliche’ and therefore is not worth as much as fine art displayed in a museum or gallery.

Fellow Fantasy artists, I encourage you to fight this stereotype! Charge what you are worth! Show those who don’t know fantasy art just how talented and professional we can be.

No matter your genre, if you expect to be professional, this means acting professional and pricing professionally. Some may disagree with me and say that pricing competitively is the only way to sell, but when it comes to selling original work, I personally refuse to back down on charging what I’m worth unless I am really not proud of the piece. If I want to make a quick buck, that is what prints and ‘fluff’ pieces are for.

To be certain, it is smart to price your work to be fair for selling to a certain audience. For example, I would not charge more than $100 for a piece at a smaller anime convention, as the general attendee at an anime convention is in their teens, is still dependent on their parents, and is not independently wealthy. On the other hand, larger fantasy conventions tend to attract more eccentric audiences of all ages, including older independently wealthy fans, therefore it is easier to sell a higher priced item. These are just the trends, however! You never can predict when someone will buy a work if they connect with it. I had a person buy a framed print of mine for $80 at an anime convention, a truly surprising thing! This was a print of a piece of mine that hardly EVER sells anywhere else. I tend to fit the pieces to what sells at the convention, which means I will generally have less original work at anime cons, as they are naturally too high priced to sell there due to the fact that they are original paintings.

I myself am at the point where I have now stopped taking commissions unless they are near the prices suggested by the Graphic Artist’s Guild, the organization that sets the standards and ethical guidelines for professional artists. My prices are negotiable based on the budgets of the commissionee but I use the GAG guidelines as a reference point. I did this for many reasons, including the fact I no longer have time to charge less for commissions and also for the fact that the work turned out for these commissions, due to their underpriced nature, was decent, but not what I consider to be portfolio quality with the exception of a very select few. As an emerging professional, I need to pay more attention to building a successful portfolio with work that I have taken great time and care on. This time and care was cut short on my earlier commissions to help them be cost-effective, something which I find myself no longer willing and able to do.

In the end, we must temper competitiveness with fairness to ourselves and to our work. Foster an attitude of positivity and faith in your own talent and success. Be honest to yourself and never sell yourself short. Raise your prices as you develop and grow your talent so that others will not be dragged down by the expectations of buyers who see cheap prices for quality work.

It may be hard to do this at first, but you will be thankful in the future when you finally reach the point where you can be paid fairly and are considered a ‘professional’ in your field instead of yet another starving artist in need of a handout.


  1. Anonymous says:

    From:, Barbara, harpress

    True, true. hat’s a very smart rant and could be extended to more artistic proffesions than only being a sketch artist or painter.

    The more professional I become the more I realise, that sometimes charging less doesn’t allow me to play in some venues, because I will not be recognized as a professional, but as an amateur who makes extra money with her music.

    Of course there are exceptions: friends and charity events, but that’s presents and charity, not work 😉

  2. You’re right – setting low prices for your work gives the impression that you value your work at that price. If you charge more, it shows that you are confident enough in your ability to do so. ‘Artist’ should not be synonymous with ‘poor’.

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