How to add materials to art cost

Hi everyone!

I’m Lina, and I’m new here, and semi-new to the artist community. I only just recently started selling my art on Etsy, and I have been wondering how to add my materials to overall cost. I just recently found an app that allows me to “clock in” and “clock out” on different projects. SO right now I’m doing the hourly wage + materials method in pricing my artwork. But I’m confused on the materials part.

For instance, I realized that if I charge per sheet of cold press paper, it will take me thirty sold paintings before I make my money back again for a pad of paper. I feel like I won’t even sell that much in a year haha!

Micron pens are another story. I just did a piece that used up two of them and so I wonder if I should charge for both pens. I’m afraid to, as it will raise my cost and nobody wants to spend a lot on art from an artist who is just getting started in the business.

My only real problem with this is I’m not making enough to cover costs of materials and I’m often sitting here wishing I could buy this paint brush, or this tube of watercolor, but can’t because I can’t afford it. Is that just the artist’s life?

So I guess I’m just looking for you guys to tell me how you price based on materials, whether you charge per canvas/sheet of paper, or whether you charge for the whole pad. How you factor in things like tube paint and pens, paintbrushes, other tools, etc.

It depends on whether you’re approaching it as a business or as a hobby. If as a business, determining operating costs (supplies, work space, travel, fees, promotion, etc.) is the starting point–and the value of your time is then added. Some price paintings consistently by setting a price per square inch that covers costs and profit.
If it’s a hobby, even a serious one, then you do it regardless of whether or not it pays for itself, and charge whatever the market will bear for your particular work. Few artists make a living wage.


Oh I don’t expect to make a living wage. I’m a stay at home mom and would simply like to “help out” with family expenses/bills etc.

My goal is to make a profit (even a small one), but still also be able to pay for materials.

I read that a lot of “beginners” start with the time per hour + cost of materials formula. And for now that works for me. I just would like to know how you guys factor in your materials.

Typically my materials for say, an 8x10-inch painting amount to about $1 for the panel (I use birch wood), maybe $2 for the paint. So, I don’t have a lot invested there. The more important thing for me is to remember the commissions I have to pay (DPW plus PayPal). Then I figure in a dollar per square inch rather than an hourly amount. It’s going to work out roughly the same over time and makes it easier to price. I suppose you should also think about the $12.95 monthly fee as well. If you sell 5 paintings here a month, that’s about $2.50 per painting.

So, for an 8x10, that’s about $6 for materials and fees. If the it sells for say, $100 (not my typical price but as an example), that’s an additional $6 in commissions. I clear $88. If that painting took a couple of hours to paint, that’s $44 per hour. Not bad for doing something on the side.


Lina, you are mistaken if you think that calculating your cost of materials plus your hourly rate will give you a realistic idea of what your paintings will sell for.

A beginner, a full-time professional artist and a nationally acclaimed “star” artist may each pay the same for the materials, and each may spend the same number of hours creating a painting, but the beginner might get $100 for her painting, the professional might get $1,000, and the star might get $10,000.

It has more to do with the quality of your work, your track record, and your reputation than time and materials. And we’ve all had the experience that sometimes a painting comes together quickly, and other times it takes twice as long to finish one - yet if they are the same size they will probably sell for the same price. Time does not equal quality. Sometimes laboring too long over a painting just makes it worse.

So figuring the cost of your materials and time and subtracting that from your income will tell you whether you are making a profit or loss - but it won’t tell you what to charge for your paintings. The market will determine that. Typically beginners operate at a loss (or only earn 10 cents per hour) at first, but as their work improves and they begin to get a reputation they can gradually raise their prices and eventually earn enough to pay for materials and earn a few $$.

At the beginning you will probably not sell enough to even pay for your materials, much less bring in extra income. But think of the materials and time as an investment in your education and professional growth. Do the best you can with what you can afford now, and keep on creating art. Eventually you can get good enough to actually make some money. Good luck.


Kentobrew: Thanks so much for breaking it down for me! That helps tremendously!


I think I’m figuring it out. I have yet to post a piece worth 100 dollars. I don’t think I’m there yet. I did just sell my most expensive painting this morning, however, so I feel like I’m getting closer.

What I did in the very, very beginning was talk to my friends who are Etsy artists, and pay attention to what people in the Etsy community are selling their work for. I also follow a few artists who also sell on Etsy and I pay attention to what they sell their originals for as opposed to their prints. I don’t sell my work for as much as they do, because as you said I don’t really have the track record for it, but doing the hourly wage thing seemed to help me get a “ballpark” estimate. That’s all I really needed in the beginning. HOWEVER, my work has now begun to take me much longer, as I have been adding a lot of line work. I’m currently working on a piece that I’ve maybe put 6 hours into. And I don’t know if I’m at that point where I can sell a piece for 50 dollars, so I do get what you are saying.

I think my ultimate goal is to be an illustrator, so I’m more or less trying to build my portfolio at this time, and I’ve been doing art/photography for many years now and have been selling nature photos on various sites, but just recently opened the Etsy and got my business license. So I have been in “the business” for a bit, but I haven’t actually plunged in solo until just recently. I know just how unpredictable it can be! So I am not expecting a living wage, or even a “continuous” wage. But something would be nice haha.

Despite it all, I’ve been making good sales. I sold three pieces last week and three this morning. Because of this, I now have a very nice scanner and plan on adding prints to my Etsy. Still pretty much breaking even, but hey it’s a start!

So I’m almost there, but not quite. Thanks for your information! I’ll keep looking around at what others are selling and keep my prices to where I feel they should be at this point. Even if I bank ten dollars I will be happy haha.

Anyway, this is a book. My only real question in the beginning was how to add materials. Kent broke it down very nicely for me, and I could see that I was adding my material costs correctly. I usually only add about five dollars, sometimes it’s more if I use up more than an entire pen. Which happens a lot lately.

Again thanks for the info everyone! I greatly appreciate it!

Ohhhh I love what you wrote Cynthia! It’s exactly the way I see it too :slight_smile:

Your comments about selling on Etsy and your goal to be an illustrator address another aspect of business - what kind of artist do you want to be, and what is your target market?

One artist may have a goal of eventually being a nationally known fine artist with paintings selling in galleries and gracing the walls of museums. That person will have a totally different business strategy from someone who wants to license their art to companies that will sell thousands of mugs and t-shirts featuring their art. The latter may only make pennies per sale, but with volume sales could earn a good living.

Think about whether the type of art that you are good at and brings you pleasure to create is the type that fits your business goals. If not, you may have to improve your skills in other types of art to fit your business goals, and/or adjust your business objectives to better align with the type of art you create.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. For now, focus on one area and get really good at it - then branch out and see if something else lights your fire. Over the course of your career your art may take side roads and detours. Some of these will be dead ends and others will lead in exciting new directions. Good luck.

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Cynthia: Thanks for the thorough, heartfelt response! :slight_smile:

I already have an idea of where I want to end up, and it’s somewhere around illustration for books and magazines. I follow many illustrators, and admire the work of certain artists like Teagan White and Alexandra Dvornikova, and what they do is they have clients they illustrate for, but also sell prints of their work and sometimes originals. That’s around where I want to be. Someday. When my small child is in school and I have the time for it haha. I’ve also thought about getting my MFA, but not sure yet if it’s even worth it.

I have been looking into agencies that represent illustrators, and I decided to start the Etsy at the beginning of this year after an entire year of contemplation and improving my craft. Basically right now I am just working on building a portfolio, building a social platform, and dipping my toes in the market with my Etsy shop to get an idea of how it works and what others are looking for. I suppose that makes me a commercial artist.

Lately I’ve fallen into a niche of watercolor/gouache and pen and I feel right at home with it. I’ve done some commissions and am now illustrating for a photography magazine and I do like it a lot. I love the deadlines and the collaborations. I love seeing my work next to print.

SOOooo basically my only real concern was how to properly add materials to pricing. If you guys have any advice on how to better price my originals, I’d love to hear it! I am going to be selling prints before the end of this week as well, but as I’ve been seeing, prints have a pretty standard price on the market, whether you’re brand-new at selling or have been for a while (assuming you’re printing from home and not using a service).