Practical Guide: Pricing Public Commissions for Artists
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Know the budget for public art commissions
  2. Calculate the cost of materials and equipment
  3. Factor in labor and time
  4. Consider the size and scale of the project
  5. Take into account your experience and reputation
  6. Account for transportation costs
  7. Plan for maintenance and conservation costs
  8. Include a contingency plan in your budget
  9. How to negotiate the price
  10. Additional tips for pricing public art commissions

Stepping into the world of public art commissions can feel like navigating a maze. One of the most common questions artists ask is, "how to price painting for public art commission?" This guide is here to provide you with practical steps to answer that question and help you price your artwork effectively.

Know the budget for public art commissions

First things first - it's important to have a clear picture of the budget for public art commissions. This knowledge can be the compass that guides your pricing strategy. Here's a simple breakdown to help you understand:

  • Public Funding: Most public art commissions are funded by the government or non-profit organizations. The budget for these projects is often predetermined. You can find this information in the call for artists or request for proposal (RFP) documents.
  • Private Commissions: When it comes to private commissions, the budget may not be as clear cut. Here, it's important to have an open conversation with the client about their budget. Remember, it's not just about what they can afford but also about what your work is worth.
  • Community Projects: Community-based art projects often work with tighter budgets. They rely heavily on grants and donations. In such cases, you might need to adjust your pricing, but without undervaluing your work.

Understanding the budget for different types of public art commissions gives you a starting point. It helps you gauge how to price your painting for a public art commission. But remember, this is just the first step. There are many other factors to consider, which we will explore in the following sections.

Calculate the cost of materials and equipment

Next up, let's talk about materials and equipment. It might seem simple, but this step is like a puzzle—each piece plays an important role in forming the bigger picture. Here's a practical way to go about it:

  • Materials: Whether it's paint, brushes, canvases, or other supplies, each material contributes to the overall cost. Make sure to keep a record of everything you use and its price. Also, consider the longevity and quality of the materials. Higher-quality materials may cost more, but they can also enhance the final result and last longer.
  • Equipment: Don't forget about the tools of your trade. Whether it's a ladder, scaffold, projector, or even a rented studio space, these all come with costs. Similar to materials, quality matters here too. Good equipment can make your work easier and more efficient, which could save you time and money in the long run.
  • Waste: Art isn't always a clean process. There can be waste, and that should be factored into your cost too. This could be unused paint, torn canvases, broken brushes, or even cleaning supplies used to keep your workspace tidy.

By keeping a detailed record of your materials and equipment, you can ensure you're not underpricing your work. And remember, these costs aren't static—they can change based on the project, the scale, and even where you're located. So, it's important to review and update these costs regularly to ensure your pricing stays accurate.

Factor in labor and time

Let's now turn our attention to something that's often overlooked: your time. As an artist, your time is valuable, and it should be reflected in your pricing. Here's how to consider it:

  • Preparation Time: Before you even touch a brush to a canvas, there's a lot of prep work. Researching, sketching, preparing your workspace, mixing paints, all these tasks take time. Don't sell yourself short by not including this in your pricing.
  • Execution Time: This is the time spent actually creating the artwork. It's more than just the hours you spend painting—it should also include any time spent correcting mistakes, waiting for paint to dry, or making adjustments.
  • Post-Project Time: The work doesn't stop after the last brush stroke. There's clean up, packaging, transportation, and setup if the artwork is being displayed somewhere specific. All these tasks eat into your time and should be considered.

So, as you calculate your labor costs, remember to include every minute you spend on a project, not just the time spent painting. And don't forget to pay yourself a fair wage. This isn't just a hobby—it's your livelihood. So, when you ask yourself "how to price painting for public art commission?" remember that your labor and time are a significant part of the answer.

Consider the size and scale of the project

Size matters, doesn't it? Especially when it comes to public art commissions. The size and scale of the project can directly impact the price, so you need to factor it in.

  • Size of the Canvas: A larger canvas naturally requires more materials, more time, and more effort. So, it makes perfect sense that a larger artwork would command a higher price. Don't be shy about charging more for larger pieces—it's not just about the physical size, it's about the impact it makes in the space.
  • Complexity of the Design: A simple, minimalist design might not take as long or require as many resources as a complex, intricate piece. If a project requires a lot of detailed work or intricate designs, you should charge accordingly.
  • Site Specific Challenges: If the artwork is to be installed in a public location or outdoors, there may be additional challenges to consider. For instance, you may need special equipment or permits, or there might be access issues that make the project more difficult. These challenges should be factored into your pricing.

Remember, a bigger, more complex project doesn't just mean more work—it often means a higher profile and more visibility for you as an artist. So, when considering "how to price painting for public art commission?" don't underestimate the value of the size and scale of the project.

Take into account your experience and reputation

You've worked hard to get where you are, haven't you? Your experience and reputation in the art world can and should play a role in your pricing. This doesn't mean you should overcharge, but you should also avoid underselling your talent and expertise.

  • Your Experience: If you're a seasoned artist with years of experience under your belt, you've likely learned techniques and skills that a newer artist may not have. Your expertise has value, and it's perfectly reasonable to factor this into your pricing.
  • Your Reputation: If you've built up a good reputation in the art world, you've probably invested a lot of time and effort into doing so. A strong reputation can increase demand for your work, which in turn can justify a higher price tag.

Don't forget: Art isn't just about creating beautiful pieces—it's also about the artist's story. Your experience and reputation are part of that story, and can add significant value to your work.

So, when you're pondering "how to price painting for public art commission?", don't forget to give yourself some credit for all the hard work you've put into building your skills and reputation. You've earned it!

Account for transportation costs

Transporting your artwork isn't as simple as tossing a painting in the back of a car. For public art commissions, you might be dealing with large sculptures, murals, or installations that require special handling. This is why factoring in transportation costs is a must when figuring out how to price painting for public art commission.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the things you might need to consider:

  • Transportation to the site: Depending on the size and nature of your artwork, you might need to rent a truck or even hire a specialized art handling service.
  • Installation costs: Large-scale works might require the use of cranes, scaffolding, or other equipment. You might also need to hire professional installers.
  • Travel expenses: If the commission is in a different city or state, you'll need to factor in your own travel expenses. This could include things like flights, accommodation, and meals.

These costs can add up, so it's important not to overlook them. And remember, every project is different—what worked for one commission might not work for the next. Stay flexible, plan ahead, and make sure you're covering all your bases when it comes to transportation.

Plan for Maintenance and Conservation Costs

Imagine creating a stunning public art piece only for it to deteriorate within a few years due to weather conditions or natural wear and tear. Disheartening, isn't it? That's why it's important to include maintenance and conservation costs when pricing painting for public art commission.

When it comes to public art, it's not just about creating—it's also about preserving. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Material Lifespan: Different materials age differently. While bronze might stand the test of time, certain paints may fade or peel. Consider the durability of your materials and how this might impact future maintenance costs.
  • Environment Factors: Outdoor installations contend with the elements—sun, rain, wind, snow. These conditions will affect how often your artwork needs maintenance.
  • Long-Term Care: Some artworks might need regular cleaning or other kinds of care to keep them looking their best. Think about who will handle this and how much it will cost.

Incorporating these costs upfront may seem like a big ask, but it's actually a win-win situation. You ensure that your artwork is looked after, and the client understands the full value of your work, beyond just the initial creation. So, don't forget to factor these costs into your pricing strategy for public art commissions.

Include a Contingency Plan in Your Budget

Ever heard of Murphy's Law? The idea that "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong"? Well, when it comes to public art commissions, it's wise to keep this law in mind. Unexpected costs can and will pop up in any project, big or small. So, let's talk about how to handle them.

Creating a contingency plan in your budget is like carrying an umbrella on a day with a forecast of "chance of rain". You might not need it, but you'll be glad you have it if it pours.

Here's what you need to keep in mind:

  • Unforeseen Expenses: These are the costs that sneak up on you. Maybe the price of a specific paint color skyrockets, or your equipment breaks down and needs a quick replacement. These surprise costs can add up, so reserve a portion of your budget for them.
  • Project Delays: Weather conditions, equipment delivery delays, or even personal health issues can push your project timeline. This can lead to additional costs. So, plan for the unexpected.
  • Project Changes: Sometimes, mid-way through the project, changes are requested or necessary. These changes can affect your budget, so it's wise to have a buffer set aside.

Remember, a contingency plan isn't about pessimism—it's about preparedness. When you're working out how to price painting for public art commission, be sure to factor in a contingency budget. It shows your professional forethought and will give both you and your client peace of mind.

How to Negotiate the Price

Now, we're stepping into some interesting territory. Negotiating the price for a public art commission can feel like an art in itself. But, don't worry, it just takes a little practice and a good understanding of your worth. Let's explore how to do this effectively.

First things first, remember: your artwork is not a bargain item. It's a unique creation that adds value to the public space. So, when it comes to negotiating, stand your ground. Here are a few key pointers:

  • Know Your Bottom Line: Before entering any negotiation, know the minimum amount you're willing to accept for the project. This should cover all your costs, time, expertise, and a reasonable profit margin.
  • Present Your Calculations: Share your pricing breakdown with the client. Show them how you've calculated materials, labor, and other costs. This transparency can help the client understand your pricing better.
  • Value Your Time: Artists often undervalue their time. Don't fall into this trap. Make sure you're compensated for all the hours you'll spend on the project.
  • Don't Forget Your Value: Your unique skills, experience, and artistic vision bring a lot to the table. Don't undersell yourself.

Remember, negotiation is not about winning or losing. It's about reaching a fair agreement that respects your work and meets the client's needs. So, when figuring out how to price painting for public art commission, keep these points in mind. You're not just selling a product; you're offering a valuable service. Confidence and clarity are your best friends in this process.

Additional Tips for Pricing Public Art Commissions

Alright, let's wrap up with some additional tips. You've got your basic formula for how to price painting for public art commission but there's always room for some bonus advice, right?

  • Do Your Research: Check out other artists with similar experience and style. See what they are charging for similar projects. This can give you a ballpark figure to work with.
  • Be Flexible: While it's important to have a pricing structure, be open to adjust it based on the specific project or client. This flexibility can open doors to exciting opportunities.
  • Keep Records: Document your work process, time spent, materials used, and all costs involved. This can be a lifesaver when pricing future projects.
  • Review and Adjust: Your pricing shouldn't be set in stone. Review it regularly and make adjustments based on your growing experience, market changes, and feedback from clients.

And there you have it! A practical guide on how to price painting for public art commission. Remember, your talent has value and your time is precious. Don't sell yourself short. Happy painting and pricing!

If you found this practical guide on pricing public commissions helpful, don't miss the workshop 'How to Price Yourself as a Creative' by Olivia Ghalioungui. This workshop will further enhance your understanding of pricing strategies and provide valuable insights on establishing a reliable pricing structure for your creative business.