It’s a hotly-debated issue in the art world. Think about it. You might spend 100 hours knitting that shawl. If you charge a mere $10/hr, that shawl costs $1000! And that doesn’t include materials, overhead, or a markup for retail vs. wholesale. Ridiculous.
But in “regular jobs”, you get paid by the hour. You earn based on the time you put in. That’s a concept we developed during the Industrial Era. I don’t want to sound preachy, but things used to be based on the value of the product. First we traded… maybe 4 chickens for a donkey. Then we started using currency (we never stopped trading, for the record – still do it today) but still based things on the value of the product, not the value of the labor.
But ignoring all of that, the bigger problem comes in when you think about skill. How long does it take a knitter with 20 years experience to make that shawl? Potentially half the time it takes a new knitter to make the same shawl. But if they are both using time as a factor in their pricing, the unskilled knitter would make way more than the knitter with 20 years of experience.
And that just doesn’t make sense.
As customers in the art world, we want the artist or craftsman to be skilled. It might not matter in some instances, but innately we hope that the artist is talented. And even better if they can create quickly and get the art to us faster!
So why would we reward that unskilled knitter for possessing qualities that are the opposite of what we are looking for?
I will clarify here, anticipating some strongly-worded emails, that I totally support people learning new skills and selling their work. Many of my clients are actually new to their medium and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they should have room to raise their prices because their work isn’t ready to be sold at the same prices as an established artist in their medium. They should start out lower, taking the time to improve their work until it’s worth the higher prices.
There’s a whole different blog post about to come pouring out of my mouth (fingers?) here about undercharging and how it hurts the art market as a whole. But perhaps I’ll leave that for another time. Instead, I think I’d like to leave you with some direction. Would you like that? Yeah, I thought so.
People don’t care about how long it took you to make their new necklace (unless it takes longer to get to them, which makes them angry). They care that it’s gorgeous and well-constructed and made of quality beads where the enamel won’t wear off in a week. So when you go to price your work, stop adding time into your formula. Instead, focus on quality.
Most of the time your materials will take care of themselves in your formula because more expensive materials are usually better quality. Done. But beauty and construction. Those are things you’ll have to start establishing benchmarks for. Perhaps you look at shape and color and use those as main determinates. Whatever it is, make sure you pay attention to quality of material, beauty, and construction when finalizing a price on any piece.
And one last thing! Never be so scared to price “incorrectly” that you don’t put your piece up for sale. You can always change a price unless the piece sells. You can always rework your pricing formula. You can always revisit how you feel about pricing. Don’t let it be an excuse for not getting your work out there and into the hands of that one person whose life it could change.