Many years ago, a certain art professor showed his portfolio slides to a class I attended, as a sample of how to put together a body of work for presentation. His beautiful ceramic perfume bottles were quite impressive and skillfully made. Along with the images were prices for each item, which averaged in the range of $600 each, which was his example of pricing to the class.
Not long ago, I happened to speak with an artist who by chance got the same talk from the same art professor with the same slides. She, however, had the presence of mind to raise her hand and ask "How many of these perfume bottles have you sold?" The answer: Zero.
In contrast, I once exhibited at a retail fair where the craftswoman in an adjacent booth was selling handmade jewelry using polymer material. Customers were swarming her booth, snapping up unbelievable deals on handmade work. Her prices were too good to be true, and it was baffling whether she was sneaking into a craft fair with imported buy/sell merchandise or just didn't know how to price.
Curious, I befriended her and asked her frankly how she could afford to sell her work at such low prices. She confessed she wanted so badly to sell her jewelry that she charged almost nothing for her time.
Constant orders for her underpriced goods were overwhelming her, and she had developed severe physical problems from repetitive motion. In fact, her arms were often numb from overuse, and she had to sleep in a recliner just to avoid being in constant pain.
This craftswoman was obviously making very little money, suffering from overwork, and hurting other exhibitors who were pricing their work reasonably. Had she given thought to the realities of the marketplace and the costs involved in doing business, she would have raised her prices significantly and made a better profit on less work.
Likewise, the art professor had no idea of what the market would bear for his work. Perhaps he didn't worry about making sales due to his teaching position, but had he been a production potter, he quickly would have adjusted his prices to be more reasonable.
Both overpricing and underpricing your art or craft work is a losing proposition. If you are just starting out, you may be unclear on how to price your work. Avoid pricing from an emotional perspective. Do your homework on what similar goods are selling for to get a rough idea. Then carefully evaluate your materials cost, hours involved and the per hour rate you need to make. Don't forget costs such as taxes, shipping, administrative time and transportation costs. Then – add in a healthy increase, because running a business is always more expensive than you think.
You will quickly find when crunching the numbers if your pricing structure is working for you. Even though less experienced artists and craftspeople will usually make less income, don't sell yourself short or rationalize why you are working for almost nothing. Likewise, avoid charging exorbitant prices that will ensure your sales are almost non-existent. Both situations can take all the fun out of running your art or craft business.
Have you experienced the consequences of over or under-pricing your work? What's your story?
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Carolyn Edlund spent twenty years running her own production studio, designing and making handmade ceramic jewelry. During this time her and her staff took part in over 200 art shows and had 1000+ accounts with stores, catalogs, etc.
After closing her studio in 2001, she went on the road representing art publishing companies, and greeting card and paper lines featuring artist's work, earning "Rep of the Year" status by opening a record number of retail accounts. This experience gave her a focused perspective on the business of art, an understanding of retailers' needs, and the realities of the marketplace.
She now runs Artsy Shark, a site that includes hundreds of articles and interviews with experts in all fields of art and crafts. Go check it out!