If you spend a lot of time in the DA forums, you will see this topic spring up again and again. Whether you want to earn a living doing freelance art, or you just want to do an occasional commission, the following guidelines may help you. For the purposes of this journal I'm going to assume that you developed sufficient skill for potential clients to want to purchase your work. If that is not the case, then get back to studying and practicing
1) Why is it so difficult to choose a price? Why can't someone look at my art and tell me what to charge? Because your ability to sell something is not just a matter of assigning a price based on your skill level! If three people can draw the same drawing with the same level of skill, one might be able to sell the art for $10, another might be able to sell the art for $100 and the third might not be able to sell it at all depending on how good they are at "marketing" (seeking out or attracting the best clients and convincing them to buy from you). An artist's ability to seek out clients, choose the right clients, offer a type of work that will sell for a good price, communicate effectively, and provide value that their competitors cannot match... is difficult to gauge by looking at a few art samples.
2) The starting price you pick right now doesn't have to be the perfect price. You can change it in a week or a month. The important thing is to get started with the process of selling your art. Sell some art then re-evaluate your prices. If art is going to be a career for you, through trial, error, research and skill building, you will probably want to figure out the highest reasonable amount you can charge while still providing a good value to the client so that you get more business.
As an artist, you will find that you can increase your prices if you:
3a) improve your art skills
3b) improve your gallery or portfolio
3c) find clients who are willing to spend more than other clients
3d) improve your ability to convince more clients to buy from you instead of someone else.
3e) offer a product or service that is of a higher quality, harder to find, or of more importance or value to potential clients so you can increase your prices
3f) learn to pick reliable clients who pay promptly and don't require a lot of revisions
3g) clearly describe the work you will provide and then deliver it on time
3h) develop a reputation as someone who is professional, pleasant, reliable and easy to work with
3i) consistently attract enough clients that it won't matter if you lose a few when your prices go up.
4) "Find a starting price"
(Very experienced artists may be able to charge a lot more than beginners because of their skill level, notoriety, or other factors)
For anyone new to freelancing (again assuming that your art is good enough to attract clients), a pretty common way to estimate your price for a piece of art is to pick an hourly rate and multiply that by the (approximate) number of hours that it will take you to complete the art. The number of hours you estimate for the work may just be rough guess, but you will get better at approximating as you complete more and more work. If you are just starting out with freelancing, and you plan to eventually earn a living with art, you should charge at least minimum wage. (Otherwise you might as well get a regular job that doesn't require any special skills!) If you are selling art online or to clients in a particular part of the world, you can probably use the minimum wage rate where the client lives as a starting point (or you can use the minimum wage in your area of the world, or average the two values...). If you KNOW you can charge more than that, do it. Also include the value of any materials used up in the process and the shipping cost if you are mailing a physical piece of art to a client. You can get approximate mailing prices by visiting the website of your post office (in the USA it is postcalc.usps.com/ ).
As I said before, it is not important to figure the exact "right" starting price. You just need to estimate a price, and start trying to sell your work, then adjust your price or your skill level or your selling methods, to find a combination that works for you.
If you can't get people to pay at least "minimum wage" , don't just keep lowering your prices toward zero... instead, improve your art skills and job seeking behaviors to accommodate a reasonable price.
4a) improve your art skills,
4b) improve the appearance of your portfolio/profile,
4c) improve the way you find and apply for jobs,
4d) seek better clients or possibly
4e) provide a different type of art that has less competition or a higher demand.
The more you work, the more you will build up the confidence to insist on a decent pay rate. If you are pretty good, and you work hard, and learn to market yourself, then at some point you will have more job offers than you can handle.
5) Increasing your prices!
If you are able to bring as much work as you can handle, you may be able to increase your price. If you are well known, you may be able to increase your price. If you have very little competition for a particular job, you may be able to increase your price. If you are more skilled than your competition you may be able to increase your price. If your client wants a rush job you may be able to increase your price. If you are already fully booked or you know a particular client is troublesome, you may want to quote a higher price for that particular client instead of just declining the job.
6) Gifts and discounts are okay for friends and family, but clients should pay a reasonable rate. Do you eventually want to earn a living with your art? Your pricing should be a step toward that goal.
7) Find GOOD clients!
The type of clients that demand low prices are either clients who undervalue your work, clients who have an endless string of failed projects so they can't afford to pay well, or clients who are too poor to be a reasonable source of income for you. Successful clients are willing to pay more for good art and reliability, are more likely to be part of a successful venture, and are more likely to seek you out for more paid work. If you apply for enough jobs, you should be able to connect with enough good clients to keep you busy. As your art skills and marketing skills improve, it will become easier for you to find work.
8) "But I'm not good enough!" If you are REALLY not good enough to sell your art then keep working to improve. Evaluate your skill level objectively, get feedback from ARTISTS on individual pieces (deviation thumbshares forum: forum.deviantart.com/showcase/… is good for that) Don't rely on real life friends and family for critiques. Rely on more experienced artists. Work your butt off, and get better. fav.me/d51wa5n. When you are able to bring in as much work as you can handle, then gradually increase your prices. Continue to look for types of work that clients will pay more for, or get better at your current type of work so that clients will pay more. Pricing can be a bit subjective, so the most important thing is to find a starting point and then re-evaluate from time to time (hopefully increasing each time).
9) "No one is asking to buy my work!" Even if your skill level is good enough, don't expect people to come and find you and ask to pay you (at first). What are you doing to promote yourself? Writing "Commissions are open!" in your signature is not enough. Go find jobs! fav.me/d50vith Learn to pick good jobs and avoid bad ones: fav.me/d4xknxo You have to be your own salesperson.
10) Royalties, Profit Sharing, and "Exposure": Usually jobs that offer these types of payment go exactly NOWHERE and pay you exactly NOTHING. You have been warned. On the other hand, if you have an opportunity to work with a reputable published author, a reputable well known company or organization or a reputable charity, then you might actually get some good experience out of it. Just do your research first and weigh the pros and cons.
11) Contests and Speculative work: Many contests held by individuals or "small companies" are simply scams to get free art or drum up ideas that can be used or combined without payment. Contests held by reputable companies may be worthwile. Do your research before entering contests. As a general rule, I'd recommend not bothering with spec work. If you have free time, practice, study, make something nice to improve your portfolio, or search for paid work.
12) I also don't recommend bothering with deviantart points, bitcoins or any other type of non-money payment. [EDIT deviantart points can now be withdrawn through paypal if you received them using the commission widget. Deviantart keeps 20% of the points earned this way, so I would still recommend money over points as a payment type.]
related link: 'Official' Pricing Your Commissions or Artwork Thread
Hope that helps,