is one of the most complicated topics to discuss. When I went to the first Industry Workshops that took place in London I took care to talk about it in an open Q&A at the end of the second day. My question was simple. "How do I know how to value my work", my question was also followed by an argument related to the complexity of price fixing when you're "just starting", take it as early first 2 years of freelance. This was very important for me, since by then I was through my 3rd year of freelancing and I've been through the worst times in those rough first 2 years. The complication rises when your portfolio quality starts to adjust to a mid tier market client and becomes appealing to a more massive crowd. But you're still considered as a mid-low rank artist and many of those potential clients are not willing to pay much for the work, and at the same time hope for a high quality of work.
Portfolio pieces usually by then, come from a personal area. They're generally not related to client work and we usually take a huge amount of time to finish them as "the best work we've ever done". The problem with this is that clients do want this quality of work, but are unwilling to pay for the time it takes and you end up working for less than you would want.
The amount of payment is not the problem by itself as many would argue, but the time spent on every piece that gets that payment. For example, imagine a young starting artist to be charging $250 USD per illustration. This illustration is a simple character, not too detailed (fitting to the experience of the artist) and a simple background (blurred general landscape, skies and clouds... you get the idea). But the client is not willing to go above $100 USD (which is a quite common price I've experienced at this stage). So... let's do math.
For $100 USD per image, let's say this is a constant (something that rarely happens at this stage of said young artist) In order to make $1.000 USD a month he would have to make 10 illustrations a month, which means that every week he would have to create 2.5 images if not 3. That's almost 2 days per image if you count Saturdays as a week day, and only one day to rest. Also, let's count that client's response needs to be as quick as possible in order to make this thing possible.
In realistic terms if the client takes 1-2 days to answer the corrections and updates, it would be impossible for this young artist to create such an amount of work without losing his mental stability by the end of the second week. And let's not forget about studies. Not only he needs to pay rent and buy groceries, he needs to get out of this hole of low tier wages to climb up to better payments that can give him sustainability, mental stability, and time for studying. But there's not time for studying unless he sacrifices Sundays. By then, this young artist will be stressed, amazingly depressed because of its underachieving exploits and thinking seriously on going back to his parents basement, if he hasn't already.
This is quite an exaggerated example, I know. But it happens. I've seen colleagues go through this and get stuck through a couple of years working for the same low paying client and not advancing much in their art, while others simply skip this part and "jump the fence", sort to say, to the next better barn, that's gonna allow them to work less and get payed better. I do take this period quite critically, since it's sort of a real race towards stability.
But many artists that do come from an educational background that has to do with the actual career path they've chosen to pursue, don't experience much of these issues. But many of us, also, didn't have that choice or that chance to choose an adequate education. Those people, who didn't have the chance to be ready by the end of said schooling, tend to learn the rough way. The way I've been describing. By themselves, at home, spending money in online education, and hours and hours of dedication every day for years.
The answer I got from the workshop at the end of my questioning was very vague, but they did answer: "You have to compare yourself with your peers". It's not much, but it works. When you look to the side and you see other low tier artists already working hard with their low wages, in the other extreme high level artists charging what they want, you have a huge middle ground to mess with. But the question remains. How do I know how to value my work, where is that sweet spot to make people like my work, and pay for it without making them scare away.
My answer to this so far is "I don't know", the reason for that is that there's no straight answer, because it takes time and it depends on every artist. I might say though they're different variables that can aid you organize your price. The way I've been doing this is the following:
I divide my price in 3 different main topics.
Design value: (what's my value as an artist) This is sort of a price that has to do with my self value and related to my peers, how do I compare in a very crude way, if I'm worse or better. I'm not saying that through this I get to decide who is better than me or worse than me, but the point is made when you charge less than Donato Giancola and more than a kid that just left school and doesn't quite know fundamentals. There's an ethical value to this element too. You can't charge less than the kid, cause than you'll end up taking the kid's potential work, if not, creating the conscience that there are better artists willing to work for less. Neglecting the young artist's work and making him go through a longer period of study and no monetary gain whatsoever.
Time: how much time is the work going to take, there's a difference if the work is gonna take me a single day (simple group of sketches) or a couple of months or more (book covers, advertisement work, etc). That time has to be paid for the only reason of becoming sustainable during said time. This is the most general basic term for "complexity of the work". In my first years I used to value my work in different topics. A popular technique, that you can still see around community galleries (such as Deviant Art) where artists have a list of prices for different types of commissions (sketches, head shot, waist up colored portrait, full body, scene, etc.), which in my opinion is a effective way of getting work, but grows rather short for more complex types of freelance, said 7 inside full page book illustrations, that some of them have multiple characters and some others don't.
Use: There's a difference in price, if there's a very exited young fantasy writer trying to get his first book self published and wants a cover from you, than the big publisher company based in London that's gonna make millions of copies plus merchandising and advertisement with said image. There are many forums out there that touch these sort of topics in a more specific way, with some calculations and average wages. Also I do recommend talking to more experienced illustrators that have been doing this for way longer than me. At least this is what I do.
I'm gonna be posting a Part 2 of this blog entry later (maybe) with more specific data and some calculations of my own in order to create a better idea on how to price fix a specific image through a very clear example. I'm gonna try to get as much data as I can and post it openly. In the meantime I might post some other thoughts and records.