by Jill Foote-Hutton
In addition to her own studio work, Jill runs the gallery at Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana and works with many artisans about pricing work and all the issues that come along with creativity and commodity.
Pricing Your Work:
two cents worth of observation and advice: There is really a great deal of personal philosophy tied up in pricing one’s work, particularly in ceramics. Usually when artists ask for my input on pricing it makes me cringe. There just is no hard and fast rule. It really helps to be self-aware, even more than it helps to be market aware.
What kind of lifestyle are you looking to lead?
There are makers who target high-end markets and envision themselves as designers as much as potters. They may not have had years of experience in the field yet, but they have determined they want less labor more return. Their mugs start at $75 and go up from there, depending on experience and exposure.
There are makers who believe in self-sufficiency and want to live a more basic, off-the-grid lifestyle. They embrace rustic labor and their mugs can be as low as $25, rarely are the mugs over $45. This philosophy seems to have strong mingei roots. My mentor, Ron Dale, followed this philosophy in pricing functional pots. He would talk about wanting people to feel comfortable using his pots.
Usually both mindsets have a serious set of reckoning tools they adhere to:
- material costs
- resource expenditures (electricity, gas, water, etc.)
- hours invested (from education to studio time)
- facilities overhead (rent studio space? built a studio?)
- loss ratio
- production levels
Who is your audience?
In Red Lodge we have a great little history museum and I saw a Calamity Jane Historical Impersonator who illustrated the importance of knowing your market very succinctly. She began charging $200 per hour for her presentation in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. She found three very disparate responses.
Wyoming: “Well the bank can pitch in this much. The art guild will put up this much. I’ll be able to donate this much. Yes! We’ll find the money and would love to have you.”
Montana: “$200! For one hour?”
Colorado: Not a peep. Not one iota of interest in her presentation. She found out later the Colorado audience thought it couldn’t be very good if it was only $200.
What is your end goal?
- Fame, Glory and Recognition in the Field
- or (Becoming Your Own Greatest Collector)
At some point George Ohr committed to his own visionary status and refused to sell his work for less than what he thought it was worth. He knew he might not get the recognition he thought he deserved until well after his death. Now, Ohr’s work is it’s own economy. Do you have that kind of time and fortitude? George Ohr’s story could have had a very different ending and history wouldn’t call him “Mad” with fondness, rather it would be with derision.
- Building a Sensible Market for Your Work
Relationships are everything. EVERYTHING. Research galleries and find out who their client base is, what their mission is and how thy work for their artists. Then you can make a better presentation of your work and grow a price point as your market develops. Right now the median price for a mug is $55. If you are right out of school, find the gallery that aligns with your work, personality and philosophy and price your mugs below the median. As your work takes hold in the new market you can slowly increase your price point from season to season.
There will be a sweet spot where you can keep up with production, but the work continues to move. A good gallerist will help you figure this out.
As a new maker it can be easy to be in love with your labor and unwilling to let go of an object/s you have invested time, money, sweat and tears into.
Get over it.
Take a long-term view on developing your market. As you continue to better your craft the price point will gradually increase. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to research the galleries you send your portfolio to for review. A maker would be on target presenting to Red Lodge Clay Center if they wanted to showcase new work on a national stage. Our mission is focused on development and education, and that allows us to take a risk on untried products. Artists who need an aggressive gallerist, focused on sales, would not want Red Lodge Clay Center Gallery to be their sole venue. However, sales dependent galleries will sometimes offer artists less opportunities to develop new work.
In short, three things to ask yourself:
- What is your objective as a maker?
- Where are you in the quality level of your work? REALLY.
- Who is your audience?
- If you can be honest with yourself about these things, the task of pricing your work will not be so mystical.