Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All this takes effort, you know.

I mentioned in my last post about pricing- and value. I've talked about this before but in a rather mystical way. This time I want to talk about it in more practical terms.

There's a lot to say on the subject of pricing, but I want to focus on a subject that often gets left out, so let's make this first post about 'effort'. Merle and I have been back-and-forthing in my inbox about pricing and if there's (more than) one thing we agree on it's that people don't realise the effort that goes into a handmade product.

Most of us factor in price of materials and time taken to actually make the product, but what about all the driving, walking, rummaging through baskets, sifting through filthy boxes full of rusty junk, getting lost on the way to garage sales, getting up at the crack of dawn in the middle of winter to go to the car boot sales, admission prices to junk markets, food while you're out there, your partner moaning they're tired/bored/hungry, kids harassing you and touching all that delicate china that people seem to need to display within grasping distance of a 3 year old...all that is effort! Sometimes fun, but always effort.

To use an example, I'll show you a typical breakdown of what goes into every wrist cuff of mine:

1. Find vintage lace and hardware - This isn't very easy here in Australia- flea markets and antique malls are few and far between, and what there is of them is often mostly 'obvious' stuff- the kind of things that people can obviously use or admire (read: the kind of thing that's worth money). Stall holders (bless them all) don't really understand why anyone would want an old ledger that's been written in, faded funfair tickets or broken jewellery- let alone scratched buttons and rust-stained lace! So I have a few options:

+ Buy things online: Upside is there's a lot of great stuff! Downside is that due to the currency conversion and high shipping costs it can be expensive, and therefore makes my end product higher in price. There are Australian sellers on eBay but due to the rarity of this stuff here bidders come out of the woodwork (often in the last 10 seconds...grrr) so it can be a real bloodbath!

+ Out on the streets: Thrift shops are the best bet since flea markets are pretty much non-existent. You can get lucky in thrifts (a Georgian heart pendant for $1 is my greatest achievement so far, and that's mine forever!) but it's getting harder and harder to find legitimate vintage/quality jewellery (I don't use plastic or cheap 'five and dime' stuff). Junk/antique shops are the next contender; I very luckily have just found a place locally here, run by a lady who's husband restores old sewing machines so she has a lot of stuff that comes in the drawers of his acquisitions. The down side to these places is they only sell 'shiny' things- it's rare to find worn out things the way I want them.

2.Cleaning, sorting, 'harvesting' - Once I've found my bits and pieces it's time to prepare them- very rarely do I get something I can just dump on the desk ready for use. After cleaning (and some stuff can really reek!) necklaces have to be taken apart, beads un-strung, sequins un-threaded from clothing etc. In the case of finding bags of mixed goods they need to be sorted through into piles of wanted and not wanted (to go on eBay- selling off part of what you buy is a good way to recover costs!) and from there the cleaning and harvesting continues.

3. Fabric preperation - To get the unique look of my wrist cuffs I dye fabric trims and laces, often in very experimental ways using methods I've developed over time. Adding 'corruptors' to the mix, using cold water when hot is required, minimising water use so that the dye is stronger etc...all of this has been developed over time by me. Some of these processes can take up to 3 days to complete depending on the weather- one bucket actually took a week as I was experimenting with soaking fabrics in expired dye. My fabrics and laces all have tiny variations in the staining level that although it might look flat brown from first glance, closer inspection reveals purple patches, streaks where the dye didn't get under folds because I didn't stir it enough or I sat objects on the lace etc. It's these deliberate methods that give the uneven result that really makes the lace more special than an ordinary brown dyed piece.

In line with my eco policy I don't use the washer or dryer for my dyeing- it's all buckets and sunshine -and sometimes rain! Soon I'll be implementing eco dyes and that's going to take more effort than things now, but it's better for the planet. Also it's now nearly winter here and the sunshine is on low supply, so my days of dying lace are much less likely than a few months ago, and it's likely my stores will drop as the winter deepens.

After factoring in cost of dye, I have to think about this lace and fabric as an end product- not only have I found this stuff and probably stripped it from clothing, but I've just dyed it as well. I could sell it as is and still require a profit for all that work!

3a - There's a sub-plot to fabric preparation that involves the other handmade elements of my work- paper backed glass pendants, book scrap buttons, polymer clay details... (Ahh..a new element, images coming soon!) For a lot of you out there it probably means collaging for slide pendants, stamping and moulding PMC, making bezels etc. All these things that we could theoretically sell as handmade supplies, yet we make them so we can further put them in other things we make! We must be crazy.

4. Building the cuff - Now it's down to business! Laying out fabrics and laces, ripping bits off other bits, layering same or contrast colours, digging through cases and boxes and scrap containers for that 'perfect' bit. This can take hours and is surprisingly harder than one might think. I often do 4 or 5 at a time to keep my hours down (reduce labour costs) but sometimes that can hamper you if you end up losing your temper over a cuff that won't get with the program! (There's always one.)

This brings me to an element that we often omit more than effort. Talent. I'll talk about it more in another post but talent- real talent- is a rare thing. I'm talking about the ability us artists have to look at something and see it in a way that's different enough from the norm to make it our own. I'm talking about (cliché time) 'unique vision' -not just following guides in DIY books. (Though believe me, there are a lot of people that can't do that either. I could tell you a story about a woman I met a few months ago who didn't even have the skills to wrap a gravy boat in some newspaper for me, but let's leave that for the 'people are *this* dumb' posts!)

Talent is just as much a valid aspect of your pricing as materials and labour. Keep that in mind.

6.The sweat This is the bit that involves many hours of sitting around staring at the TV or the wall of the studio. This is the bit where you're tediously stitching and stitching, tangling your cotton, stabbing yourself in the finger, etc. Not just stitching together laces and fabrics, but sewing on buttons and buckles and God knows what, and backing the things and finally adding snaps or elastic loops.

7.Afterwork - No it ain't done yet! Just because your product is finished, doesn't mean time and effort is. Now you have to photograph the bugger, which means setting up your props and table and tripod and etc outside or near a window with plenty of natural light. (The flash is your enemy, I'll do a post on good photography one day!) When that's done there's always a certain amount of post-processing your images will need- colour adjustments most likely since I've never met a purple I can shoot accurately, no matter how fancy my white balance.

Don't forget - and this might seem obvious to some- to factor in the time it takes for you to list your work on Etsy (or where ever you sell), the fees that it costs to do so AND the fees it will incur once you've sold it.

8. Because one day... some obviously deranged person comes along and falls in love with your work, and lo- they pay the price you asked for it! MADNESS! But the work isn't over. Now you have to package the piece as well. This is a tricky game which deserves it's own post- packaging is just as much a part of your business as the actual item is- and it costs time and money to find a style that works for you and represents your business- and then source all the stuff!

See? By now you might have realised that there's much more work in your work than you thought. In fact even more than you thought- half of this came to me as I was writing and let me tell you, I didn't realise how much I slave for this 'art lark'! It is a very pleasurable slaving though.

But that's the thing- finding the middle ground between pricing yourself out of the market and doing it for the love is hard, but it's there, and once you find it everything else will be easier. You can say 'oh but listing it all like this makes it look like such a bother, but it's not.' And you're right- to us it's not. It's what we love, we do it every day because it's inside us and needs to come out. But to other people it would be a bother- they don't have time to put into what we create, that's why they buy it from us.

Let's sum it up- if someone wanted me to make them a wrist cuff; find the materials, clean them up, dye them, lay them together so they looked good, sew them together, photograph it, list it, process the order, pack it in an envelope and take it to the post office. And all for $50. I'd tell them where to stick their $50, and you'd do the same! But I do it now. The most expensive cuff in my shop right now is $US32, and that works out at $AU50. Considering all that above, that should be the cheapest.

As a gift to someone you love you'd gladly do it for free, but that's a gift of love, not a means of income. Because you're also running a business. Aren't you? Is that what you're in it for, in the long run? Do you eventually (if not now) need this art lark to actually pay the bills, put food on the table, clothes on your loved ones, a roof over your head? Sure there are other means of income for artists- holding workshops, publishing books, writing magazine articles and being featured in the latest issue of Artful Blogging... *cough*

Look- I know this doesn't make it any easier to price your stuff, in fact it might just make it harder. But it might also help you concrete that your stuff really is worth what you secretly want to charge. And that's the biggest hurdle of all- to convince yourself that you are worth the price. Your time, effort, materials, labour, packaging, hours spent swearing over a red hot lightbox...all these things matter but none more so than your own talent.

I can spout on about this all day (and by the length of this blog post, I feel like I have) but I have just as hard a time pricing my stuff than you have with yours. Maybe we should price each other's stuff! But see- even that would be difficult, since we don't know how much goes into the little steps. Only you know what your stuff is really worth- and you do know, deep down- and once you have the confidence to believe it there are plenty of people out there who will agree -and pay it.

Now go and raise your prices. :P


Jeannine said...

Ahhh. How refreshing it is to read all of this! Yes, pricing is such a difficult point for me. . . But this post gives me courage!

Heather said...

Amen! It does take a lot of time to make quality items. At the moment my measure is: Is the price worth my time? Usually I give a very modest estimation.
Although Ive had mostly gracious experiences at craft shows, I have had the odd one or two "well, I'd take it if it werent SO expensive..." As if I manufactured this painting in China and not with my own two little hands ;)

You are worth the time you spend on your items! They are so beautiful!~

grecian goldsmith said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post...

RowanDeVoe said...

This is just an awesome post Penny! You really broke it all done and so beautifully illustrated! A lot of the steps are taken for granted or skipped over by many of us-like the packaging for me-that is something I just love to do and it comes easy. But, all the wrapping tissue and paper and ribbon and my business cards and the time it takes to get everything in an envelope or tube takes time and money!

I have been lucky to have art friends around me who will say, "that is priced to low!". And, I have a good friend who likes to try and explain my artistic process by telling folks to "pull up a chair! each piece starts with a 312 step process but don't worry! she says it's easy and fun!". Now I get it-before I was just thinking that was the way everyone did things, but I think we all have a different kind of brain-kind of well, *special*.

I love all these images-your photos are always so lush and gorgeous and that IS a whole other story!
Take care!

Leona said...

Hmm, I've been that obviously deranged person three times now where your work is concerned! :)

What a fantastic insight you have into the work of an artist. It certainly makes me feel less guilty about the prices I put on my own work! Thank you!

Kayla coo said...

Very interesting topic and I agree with you that we under estimate the time we spend on making and then the time it takes to sell it!
Thank you for your insight.x

greavesdesign said...

fantastic read; so true and close to my heart in fact. I also go to any and all lengths to procure the most evocative (to me) fragments for my work. be it lace, buttons, trim... whatever. I am already at that point in inspiration mode, jumping ahead in my creative being to how these might all come together. the heart beats faster, the anticipation to get home and start constructing...

there is actually no 'price' that can reflect the work you or other fine artists put in. all we can hope is to connect to enough people who 'get it' so that we can make enough to thrive.

I'm so glad you wrote this though. A peek into your world is fascinating and I really get what you are saying.

It's all about the passion we (artists) feel for what we do and there being no place for comprises.

fanciful said...

WAIT- how about all the time it took to make just so-so stuff that never sold as you taught yourself how to make things and even what your own style was? I've put so much time into trying this and that until I ever started finding my "thing." Then I list things for somewhere near what I think all the effort is worth- and no one EVER buys it for that price. As it doesn't sell I bring the price down little by little (much easier for less-recently finished little babies...) until it's ridiculous and I just want all this stuff out of my house, so I sell it for much less than it's worth...
Plus, it took forever to start making even slightly decent pictures, it's still what I procrastinate the most, cuz I don't have natural light....
But, jeez, I love it so friggin' much!

Anonymous said...

So glad to share pages with you in the latest issue of Artful Blogging Magazine. Your article is beautiful.

nina said...

very, very VERY well said, and i commend you for taking the time to arrange photographs and edit them to illustrate your point. you are so right - not many people outside of the artists' world realize the time that goes into every.single.step of creating what we do. i have a terminally ill dial up connection, that goes in slow fits and starts for me, and one day i spent (i'm not making this up) 10 hours trying to list that many things on etsy. by days' end, long after dark, i was exhausted. then there is the topic of blogging to announce your wares - this can take another three or four or five hours, depending on how many (finished) photographs i am trying to load. my prices are quite steep, but when you consider the money spent on found objects and the time that is involved, that price doesn't seem nearly so ridiculous. there are people who purchase my things, and there are quite a few who don't. but, it is the making of it, the expression of myself, the reward of seeing the finished product, the double reward of having others like the product as well that keeps me going, doing what i do. i've noticed a considerable slowing in sales with this economic state we are in (world wide, from what i hear), and the slowing gives me bouts of crippling self doubts; but i continue to express myself, in words and in work, because it is the only thing my heart and soul and abilities allow me to do.
i follow your blog because your work and your feelings about life truly do resonate with me - i onlhy wish we didn't live across the world from one another, because i'd be asking you over for tea. xx

R2artstudio said...

Thank for posting all the steps involved in pricing artwork. Some things I never thought about. I have followed your work, fabric, dyeing, collage and photography, for a while, and love everything. I am definitely looking forward to your post about taking pictures. Yours always seem to pull me in. Again, thank you.

carole said...

I read your blog about creating your cuffs and I understand about the rarity of items.
Come to my blog and enter my Give Away. If you are one of the two winners you would get some neat stuff from me : )
I understand about the cost of shipping and the conversion rates. I have a friend in Australia and we always figure something out : )
You create some awesome pieces!!!

Debby said...

I have enjoyed reading your post, so many things one doesn't think about. Your work is beautiful.

Mermaid Queen said...

Great Post! And what about the price of wear and tear on your poor little body? I'm in physical therapy (I must be a lot older than you :) for all the leaning over I do all day when soldering. My eyesite is starting to go, and I'm inhaling fumes at times that I shouldn't be when I neglect to wear a mask. Anyway, all for the love of art!
Take care,

ArtSnark said...

Phew. great post. Made me tired just reading it ;D

Margaret said...

Having just finally taken the leap and opened an Etsy shop, this was wonderful to read. Your pieces are very fairly priced and really gorgeous.

kate fern said...

I just blog-hopped here, I never read your blog before and this is a wonderful read.

Kayla Christine said...

Have you ever been to a store called The Container Store? They have awesome organizational containers and boxes and shelving and so much more! you should check it out for your projects!

Nicomi "Nix" Turner said...

Dreamy colors.

Anonymous said...


Medyum said...

Have you ever been to a store called The Container Store? They have awesome organizational containers and boxes and shelving and so much more! you should check it out for your projects!