The biggest problems mural artists encounter is setting a price and sticking to it. However, if you undervalue your work, then so will your customers. There is no universal rule that artist must starve. If you are afraid to charge what you are worth, then you should reconsider being a mural artist because it is hard physical work and lack sufficient pay will burn you out quickly.
Pay per hour:
You need to know what you want to make an hour. A new muralist who is a decent painter should start at approximately $30.00 and hour. After a couple years experience, your hourly rate should be up to at least $50.00 an hour. Experienced and confident mural artist make upwards of $100.00 an hour. Yes, as a professional artist, you are worth just as much as your plumber or dentist, if not a lot more. Personally, I charge higher for in home murals and a lot less for murals on canvas done in my home studio. The reason I drop my price for canvas murals is that I PREFER doing them in private, and then having them installed over painting the murals on site.
The problem with asking for hourly pay:
The problem with requesting hourly pay may turn clients off because they have no idea how long you will take to paint the mural. You can give a maximum and minimum price set in stone to calm their fears. If you can give references who will say that you stick to your quotes, then you can gain your customers confidence. Another option is to translate your hourly rate into a square foot price.
Transferring your hourly rate into a square foot price.
To transfer your desired hourly rate into a square foot price, you need to be able to determine how long it will take you to complete the mural, based on the size and amount of detail the customer desires. Here is an example of my rates for murals done in the home.
Low detail mural $10.00 per square foot
Medium detail mural $15.00 per square foot
Highly detailed mural $20.00 per square foot.
These stated prices should be attached to photos of what you, the artist, consider a low, medium, and highly detailed mural.
I calculate my mural rates in the following way: I know it takes me four hours to complete a 4 X 5 ft. low detailed mural. 4 X 5 = 20 sq ft. I divide the $200.00 I expect to make in those four hours by the 20 square feet I will be painting, giving me Square foot price of 10.00. Likewise, a highly detailed mural of the same size will take me 8 hours to complete. If I divide the $400.00 I intend to make for that amount of time, my square foot rate is $20.00.
To determine your square foot price, you will need to time yourself while painting a low detail, medium detail and high detail mural. Allow for reasonable breaks to rest your arms and to set up and clean up. Do not time your lunch breaks. Do each mural in the same minimum size you are willing to paint. Multiply the time you spent painting by your hourly rate: time X hourly rate = hourly pay. Next divide your hourly pay by the number of completed square feet in your mural: Hourly pay / complete sq feet = price per square foot.
Once you have your standard charges set, (and they should be set in stone) you need to take into account things that will slow you down and charge extra for them. Here is what I do:
Add an additional $2.00 per square foot for ceiling or any work I have to do on a ladder.
Insist the customer has the base color paint pre-painted or charge a flat rate fee to paint it myself $50.00 for a small area, or $300.00 for the full room.
Charge an extra $1.00 per hour if you have to maneuver around furniture.
With the exception of charging extra for ceiling or ladder work, my purpose in these extra charges are to get them to pre-paint or move their furniture.
Other things you need to be aware of:
When charging customers by the square foot, a customer will inevitably envision a 4X5 square foot area as a 6 X 8 square foot area. When you quote the mural price, bring a measuring take with you to show exactly how big the proposed mural will be. Bring it with you again when it is time to paint the mural, to draw the boundaries as they will tell you that it is too small. If you have started painting, and they ask you make it bigger, or add more characters, STOP what you are doing and have them sign a rider agreeing to pay for the extra time that changing the mural will take you. You can continue to charge by square foot at this point, but unless you are firm and charge for your time at this point, you will find that you have painted a full wall at a 4 x 5 price and your hourly rate will have shrunk to minimum wage.