29 May 2007

how much

As promised, I am back to talk about pricing. I have thought about it over the past couple of weeks (and taken copious notes on the subject). I realized that this is an enormous topic, one that should not be summed up on one person’s blog post. With that said I’ll get down to business. Oh and one more thing. I am only stating my views on the topic of pricing. These are some of the rules of thumb that I have learned from others along the way and through my own experience. I salute and honor all creativity however one expresses it and feel it all has value. How much is it worth monetarily in the that big world out there… Well lets try and figure that out together.

My first bit of advice is to find your category. By this I mean, are you a career Artist, will you be making work for the rest of your life? Are you a Fine Artist/Craftsperson? Are you “crafty” meaning you love to make crafts in your spare time, you are not making this your life’s work, but you would like to sell what you make. These are important things to figure out. When pricing (and placing) work these things do matter. For instance, I do believe a person who is dedicated to lifelong career of being an Artist, who consistently and systematically works to build a career, has a regular studio practice and has ongoing shows does articulate a level of commitment that imbues value to their work differently than say those of the weekend crafter. It is only one factor though. We can factor in education as well, though the jury is out (my own personal jury) on this as I do whole heartedly embrace the Outsider Artists of the world and don’t believe it is entirely necessary for all people to jump through the flaming hoops of the Artistic academia, to prove that they are “real” Artists. Though education can’t be overlooked (it does show commitment). Those of us who have passed through those hoops and felt the flames of heat on our backs, can’t deny it’s influence on our development as Artists and take that aspect of our commitment seriously. In some circles your work won't be considered if you do not have the academic degrees to back it up. Next, how long have you been making your work? Are you just starting out? Have you been at it for two, ten, fifteen…twenty years? How long have you been showing and selling your work? Have you been published? Once you have figured this out then that will help you place yourself in your category.

Second, figure out your costs. This is the nitty gritty. Expenses, I mean all expenses, materials, time, rent, photography, travel and everything that goes into making your work. Once you figure out the costs figure out how much time it takes you to make your work. It may vary from piece to piece but get a general idea of the time you spend making your work. Then give yourself an hourly wage for that time. Now this is a tricky one. This might be heavily influenced by where you live and cost of living in your area. I, for example, live in a very expensive place, which translates to a higher hourly wage for cost of living. Do the math figure out (as close as possible) the costs to make a piece.

Third, do some research. Find out what others are charging for an item comparable to yours and by made by people in your category. Look in stores and galleries, take a look at what is being sold online. Take note of the pricing. This can get confusing too, but I do believe if you have figured out your category, taken into consideration where you are at in your career, know your costs for producing the work and how things are priced out there in the world you will get a clearer idea for pricing your own work. Also take into consideration that you might be selling the work at wholesale prices, which constitutes fifty to sixty percent of the retail selling price.

With that said, there are a lot of mixed messages out there. It used to be (as I like to say in the olden’ days, which really was not so long ago…ten, fifteen years ago) that the boundaries of Artist and the value of work were much more clearly delineated. The Internet and things like Etsy are quickly blurring those boundaries. Suddenly everyone who has ever done anything creative is an Artist. Well yes and no. Just because I make a spreadsheet on my computer and do an analysis of my production costs, does that make me a financial guru? No, it means I did it because I can (and I have a computer program to help) but not because I am an expert in the field. There is a distinct difference.

Okay, now that we have category, costs, done our research on what the going rate is for something of equal value, figure out a fair price that will pay you for your time and cover your costs. I would also like to emphasize that it is very important to give yourself room to grow with your prices. Don’t price yourself too high at first. If you are just starting out it is acceptable that your work be slightly lower than that of the going rate. If you find after doing your cost analysis that it is not possible for you to recoup your expenses as well as pay yourself then maybe consider not making that work to sell. Sometimes we love exquisite materials, which in turn give us exquisite prices or the amount of labor it takes to execute the piece makes it impossible for us to sell the work for what it is worth. If that is so then I would consider making this type of work for special occasions such as a show or a special order from someone who understands the value and is willing to pay for the added cost.

People will (and should) look at your history as an Artist. Emerging Artists are not expected and should not have the same prices as mid career or mature Artists. You think my prices are high, take a look at Ruth Duckworth, she asks $1200 one of her cups and so she should, her work is phenomenal and she has the resume to back it. I have a long way to go before I can ask for prices like that. I have to earn it, prove my commitment and most of all, make good work. However it is never in your best interest to lower your prices after you’ve put your work out there. It devalues your work. Also, don’t under price yourself. By doing so you not only do a disservice to yourself but to other Artists in your category as well. Once you put your work out there with a price tag on it, you become part of a greater community and it is very, VERY, important to value yourself, your work and in doing so you uphold the same ideal for your peers. I feel very strongly about Artists getting paid for their time. Too often it is assumed that we do what we do because it is “fun” and in turn is translated, as “you should do it for free.” We all know the truth, so many of you have written to me with your truth and the reality of that truth is that until we take ourselves seriously no one else will.

Get to work friends!


Briana said...

One of the reasons I don't pursue my own *art* in any financial realm is that because of the medium I work in (thread) it is impossible to command a price that would meet all the criteria you laid out... To many, a piece of lace is still lace, even if it depicts some catchy retro motif and took me months to complete and nearly went blind in the process. The other major reason is because doing it for profit takes the "fun" right out of it for me... I'm not a fine artist but rather a happy hobbyist.

Super solid advice my dear. Someday over a glass of wine and a pot of petunias we can trade war stories about pricing and art.

La Rimule said...

Great ! Thank you for this text !

standing said...

Thank you for your very well stated thoughts on the matter. I have had a difficult relationship with art as commerce and am always looking to grow my base of information.

With a newborn in this life of mine, I am learning how to dream big and slow rather than impulsive explosions of creativity that leave me without path. You are correct to point out commitment as a heavy factor, it is at the end of the day a lot of work to manifest a vision. Thank you for your beautiful pieces.

jen j-m said...

wow, i appreciate this post a lot. lots to think about - i have done much of this work in thinking about how to price things, but not all of it, and not with any of the insight you've provided here.
thank you.

Little Flower Designs said...

thank you so very much for voicing this, it is something i think about all the time and it is so helpful to read how another factors the elements to come up with a number. for me it is sometimes intuitive and the market definitely plays a huge role. i love what i do and will find my way. i've been at it for a long time but the f/t thing definitely changes my views a bit. thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts. much love, linda

Ron said...

Hey Diana, This is a touchy subject for me and I appreciate you putting it out there. I'm not going to get started on all my hang ups on this issue but instead wanted to share a couple things Adreinne Dellinger (who you met at Penland years ago) told me recently.

She said that we have to get over the idea that we have to be able to afford our own work.

Also she belives that the more successful one gets the less hard one should have to work. I think this is true in other careers but craftspeople/artists do not get it.
I saw in American Craft this issue where William Morris is retiring at age 50. Amazing. What a successful art career he has had.
I look forward to more of your posts.

Abby Creek Art said...

Great post, Diana. I've always had an issue with people undervaluing the amount of sweat and effort it takes to produce art. It's so important for an artist to set a high standard for their labor and to feel good about it. Then others will feel good about it too and won't mind paying what the work deserves.

Can't wait to see my cup!

amisha said...

this is such a good and thoughtful post, diana. i am contemplating and planning now opening a little shop for some of my handmade things and as you point out, this is so different from making a living as an artist with the education and experience to back it up. at the same time i'm considering materials, time (oh, time...), and the going rate for various things. it is really tricky. i think that your thoughts on this are so sensible and realistic... considering experience, market, and everything else that goes into these difficult decisions.

angelcitydesigner said...

This is the most thoughtful and well-written info about pricing that I've ever seen. As a ceramics and artist newbie, you've given me lots to consider...

twirlgirl said...

Thanks for an excellent post, Diana. So timely for me as I am in the process of re-evaluating my prices and struggling. I'm a jeweler and have been resistant to pricing above what other artists can afford. You piece has given me some much needed clarity and courage. Thank-you, I love your blog!

Cynthia said...

Thank you for linking to me, Diana - much appreciated!

Ron wrote, "She said that we have to get over the idea that we have to be able to afford our own work."

I just priced all of my work for an outdoor art show I'm in this weekend yesterday, and all along, I asked myself, "Can I afford this, would I pay this?"

This is such a timely discussion for me and one I have been thinking about a lot lately. Thank you for a well thought out analysis - which was easy to read as well.

Congratulations on your Blogaversary! I love Ruth Duckworth and have forwarded the article on to some other ceramicists in the Denver area.

Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for writing this and educating me. I don't sell things I make, but appreciate all of the artists and craftspeople who do. The word that keeps echoing in my mind is Committment. You are so right about that. I have passion and committment and a desire to keep learning and growing in my chosen areas of creativity, but even if that never translates into a business per se, it connects me at an emotional level to the people who make their livings as Artists. I salute you.

(And I love your work).

Kelly Darke said...

this is a very well thought out and organized post about pricing - the subject, I think, will never be completely resolved! you make some very good points about commitment - it can be difficult to be excited and inspired all the time when you're having a difficult time selling your work - but I agree with not lowing prices after you put it out there. it's so important to value your own work. thanks for taking the time to post this : )

tangled stitch said...

Thank you for the wonderful advice. I have never really thought of myself as a fiber artist as I made my living at craft shows(and not very successfully I might add). I recently joined an artist's coop as a fluke and realized that I am an artist and that I have a unique style all my own. I am learning how to value my work and price it accordingly, your lovely blog message made my journey a little bit easier.