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I'm an engineer by trade, but I dabble in watercolor painting on the side. My boss saw one of my paintings and later sat me down to ask if I would do one of his house. He's moving and it has sentimental value, etc. He made it clear he was willing to compensate me for it, and so I said yes, but we never really discussed a price.

Now I'm at the point where it's almost done, but I don't know how to approach him about paying for it. Normally I would charge $500 (it's 12"x16"). I thought about just asking for half that, but I'm still unsure. He doesn't strike me as very art savvy, only to say that he might be shocked if I asked $500 for it. He's a nice guy but the type that you don't want to bug when he's in a bad mood.

If I give a "boss's discount," does it come off as slimy to mention what I would normally charge?

Any suggestions on how to approach this would be greatly appreciated!

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    My cynical thought would be to charge time (at your fully burdened rate, not the number on your paycheck) and materials. – Dan Neely Apr 12 '15 at 18:52
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    I don't see how this is related to the workplace. How would the answer be different if this were an acquaintence instead of your boss? – DJClayworth Apr 12 '15 at 20:14
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    Its related to the workplace because it is his boss. It addresses the topic of non-work related business dealings with work-related people. – Kent A. Apr 12 '15 at 20:20
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    I think it is related to who you sell it to -- the guy who has a lot of control over your evaluations, work assignments, and general career trajectory while at that company may well warrant special considerations. – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '15 at 21:22
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    I think this is on topic as it relates to negotiating price after work has been started with the extra sticking point of a relationship that the OP does not want to go sour. While there may be a bit of opinion this is still an answerable question as it is more How do I instead of What do I do. – RubberChickenLeader Apr 13 '15 at 14:21
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As mentioned in another answer, you're doing a bit of damage control now, as price really should've been discussed beforehand.

If you start off by simply mentioning your price (or start the negotiation with any "reasonable" amount), you risk your boss thinking that you have unreasonable expectations, and possibly resenting you for feeling forced to pay that for the painting (even if he doesn't say anything about it).

If you let him lead with an amount, you of course risk being greatly under-compensated, which is perhaps not such a high cost considering the alternative. You could tell him that you're not really sure what to charge (which is true, but might be difficult to sell if he knows you have sold other paintings) and what he thinks it's worth or what he's willing to pay. If he gives a price that's actually higher than your usual price, you could just ask for $500 and tell him that's what you usually charge (probably not a good idea if you said you're not sure what to charge). If you choose to take the higher amount without saying anything, you risk him finding out you usually charge less later, which might not turn out well for you. You'd need a bit of negotiation skills and he needs a bit of knowledge of the price of paintings for this one to work, but switching to one of the other options is fairly easy in some cases.

Another option is to tell him it's a gift, but this (along with, to a lesser extent, leading with an amount he believes to be too little) may come across as an attempt at bribery.

If you could find some vaguely comparable favor to trade for it (you'll have to figure out what though) (yes, borrowing this idea from Mark) - that could significantly blur the lines of value and might end up with both of you totally happy.

You could also consider presenting him with a price range, which includes your target price (somewhere in the middle or upper part of the range). You could, for example, tell him that a painting of this size usually goes for about $250-$750. If he seems fine with it, you could probably proceed to tell him you usually charged $500. If he seems shocked by even those numbers, you could quickly add something like "... but you can have this one for $100" (although, if you're not careful, it could come across as if you're trying to give him a "bargain", in a bad way).

No clear winner (in my opinion), just comparing some alternatives.


For future cases (where you discuss the price beforehand), I'd personally just charge the usual rate, but feel free to give a bit of a discount if you wish, or even negotiate the price. It's much less important to get the price right before anyone's agreed to or done anything.

  • For future cases, I woudl tell him waht I usually charge and tehn tell him that he gets the bosses and friends discount if Iwas plannign to give a discount. It sounds better to pay 400 if you know the work usually goes for 500 and if you are just told 400 with no context. – HLGEM Apr 13 '15 at 15:19
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It's a hard spot to be in, and discussing the cost ahead of time will definitely help you avoid such situations in the future.

I think the solution that will ruffle the least amount of feathers overall would be for you to ask your boss to pay you whatever he feels it's worth to him. (You run the risk that you will not be fairly compensated for your work. But it was you who started working before cost was discussed.)

There are three likely outcomes.

  1. He will offer you a value that is much lower than what you have in mind. Let this be a lesson to you that if you're going to be in the business of selling your craft, the price should be negotiated ahead of time. (Sounds harsh, not trying to be, but I've been there myself.)

  2. He will offer you more than you expected. Feel free to accept it, or to set him straight and take a payment that you feel comfortable taking, based on your valuation of your work. (I have had this happen as well.)_

  3. He will say that he has no idea what the value would be. You would then say that commissioned works of this size and quality often cost around $500. If he is comfortable with that, he will pay it. If not (and you will be able to tell), you can decide whether to offer a smaller fee (and Option 1 now applies to you).

Good luck!

  • if Option 1: put it on your website portfolio and tell him you'd expect it to sell for $500 for any interested bidder. – TemplateRex Apr 13 '15 at 6:45
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    I support Kent's answer because every penny above or below his expectations will cost you relationship. It is a sensitive matter, because if your boss won't feel happy, he will never look at you the same way again. It does not matter, if you are right or your price is fair, your relationship will be damaged because of his experience. You could however ask for a personal favor in return, instead of money. Stuff like, teach me golf, lend me your Ferrari or whatever he has to offer and you would enjoy. – Mark Apr 13 '15 at 11:09
  • This is a great answer for the OP's case where price was never discussed. Ideally, though, price should be discussed well before the painting is finished. – David K Apr 13 '15 at 12:37
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    I'm not sure how many people would know the cost for a 12x16" painting. Me? I would have thought $50 was on the high side. But, I don't buy much art. This is the right answer, let the boss pick a price and call it a Learning Experience in how the OP should discuss price before hand next time. – NotMe Apr 14 '15 at 1:58
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First of all I would discuss it as soon as possible, preferably before you even show him the work. That way you emphasize that you are doing the assignment especially for him, rather than him being a potential buyer of some piece.

When you discuss it, perhaps you can find a way to ease into the topic. Ask him how much he paid for any other paintings, if he already bought something he should not be shocked, otherwise you can build up to the price.

Example of the 'negotiation' introduction:

Well, I spent about 300 on materials, and given the time spent I would charge around 500 if I sold it to a stranger. So, can we agree on 400?

It can be tempting to pump up the numbers a bit, but as he may find out sometime, it is probably not worth it.


Sidenotes:

  1. Painting is your hobby that you do besides your dayjob. Therefore I do not think it is reasonably at all to look at your regular hourly rate to determine the price a painting should go for.
  2. If you give your boss maximum discount, you do him a favor. If you don't give him any discount, he is basically doing you a favor. As such it seems reasonable to aim somewhere inbetween.
  3. If you just lower the number (to 300 for example), that may not help much. To someone who does not know about art 500 may be 'a lot of money', and 300 can still be 'a lot of money'. So don't just lower the number, but make sure to avoid sticker shock.
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Suppose that this isn't your boss that you're painting for. At that point, what would you normally charge someone that commissioned a painting for you? If it were a close friend or acquaintance, then what discount would you offer them?

Value your time fairly and charge according to the effort it took to produce the painting in the first place; this includes total labor and materials. If you're honest about it, then there shouldn't be any issues between you and your client.

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    Of course there can be issues if you and your client don't value your time the same or they underestimate the amount of time or money spent (not unlikely if they don't know much about the craft, as is likely the case here). This can be an especially significant problem if you only start talking price after you're (pretty much) done, as you've already spent the time and money and risk either too little compensation or having someone resent you for feeling forced to pay too much, even if they don't say anything about it. This resentment can be especially problematic if it's your boss. – Dukeling Apr 13 '15 at 10:42
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I think it is really simple. Tell him that you worked on it for X hours. Then here is a link to some other things I have done (hopefully with a few mentioning price).

Then simply say, "Please just pay me what you think is fair."

If he pays too low. Who cares? Even if he said $1, do you want to argue with the person that could give you a slight increase because he likes you every year? (that would be multiples of this painting cost) This is a win-win situation if you play it right. Giving your boss a deal makes a happy boss. He will surely understand at some point and feel bad for not paying in full or understand he got a friend discount. Either way I don't see this being bad for you, unless you act different around him because he paid less or gossip about the price he paid.

If he pays too high say, "Hey Don, I appreciate it. But even though I put extra time into yours I can't accept more than $500 because that is what I normally charge and I really liked doing something for a coworker. If you want to do something extra, please just refer people to me." This is a win-win situation too.

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