On pricing (and asking for discounts)

Scenes from a work day

Sometimes I have a hard time pricing my work. For one thing, this is a hobby I’ve had most of my life. How do you put a price on something you love? How do you put a price on something you’d be doing anyway? How do you put a price on something you can’t stop yourself from wanting to do? How do you accurately price something that takes hours to do, but for most of those hours you’re not actively working on it?

Let’s take making these mermaids. Each mermaid, regardless of size, takes about the same amount of time to pour. Mixing the slip, gathering the molds together, cleaning the molds, putting straps around them, and pouring them takes about half an hour of active work. Add on another half hour of letting them set, and topping off the slip if necessary. During that second half hour I’m usually cleaning ceramics I’ve poured the week before. Flipping and draining the molds and setting them back to drip, dry, and set takes maybe another ten to fifteen minutes of active work. Then they have to set anywhere between five and ten hours, depending on how humid the day is. I usually, at that point, move on to something else.

When it’s time to open the molds, that’s about a half hour’s worth of work for all the molds I have on my pouring station. After I pop everything out, it needs to sit for a few days and dry. When I go to clean them, it might take fifteen to twenty minutes per piece to get the mold lines completely cleaned off and any imperfections cleaned. This is the point where if anything breaks, it’s going to; and then it’s back to stage one.

After the piece is cleaned, I load it in the kiln. For an entire kiln to be filled, carrying everything delicately across the house (also a good opportunity for things to break, should I trip over a cat/dog/myself), that might take about fifteen minutes. Bisque firing the kiln takes nine hours, and while I do like to be home during those nine hours just in case, it’s not like I have to sit and watch the kiln. I’m always working on other things there.

Emptying the kiln (and photographing it, and blogging it, and posting about it) takes about another … let’s say half an hour, when you also factor in there bringing all the pieces inside.

Then comes painting and glazing. Glazing an object a single color takes two to three coats (two if it’s white, three if it’s any other color). Actual glazing might take five minutes per coat, depending on the size of the piece. Then it has to dry for between two to six hours, depending on humidity, before putting another coat on it.

Painting takes twice as long; for painting, you also need between one and three coats of paint, depending on the look you’re going for (light/watercolor or deep/uniform). Then you still need to glaze it. So a glazed piece might take two days to finish, and a painted piece might take four — except that if you’re painting a piece, it’s probably because it’s detailed, and detail work takes longer – and sometimes I don’t have that many hours. All of these mermaids together took about three hours per coat of paint, and I decided to stop with two coats — so that’s six hours of work (and in this photo I also had not yet started on the fish). But I didn’t have six hours all at once (and don’t forget they had to dry for about five or six hours in between coats) so it was more like an hour one day, two hours the next day, one hour the next day, and so on. I think I’ve had these on my desk for two weeks now. (If you think that’s long, I’ve had some zombie gnomes on my desk since last October — they keep getting pushed aside for other things!)

So at the point these are in the photos, I have about nine hours of active work invested in them, and not counting days of having to put them aside for other things, almost four days of passive work (waiting for greenware to dry, the kiln to fire, and in between coats of paint). I still need to glaze them (about half an hour of work and four to six hours of waiting) and load them in the kiln and fire them (about eight hours) and then unload the kiln, take an overall photo, blog and post about it, and then photograph each item, and write the listing (if it’s a new item). All of that takes maybe about an hour per item, to photograph and write about it.

So let’s say the average painted-and-glazed ceramic item takes me 12 hours of active work. If I want to get paid $10/hour, you’d think I’d ask for $120 per piece. At least. Because that’s just my time, not even materials (price of mold/price of slip/price of paints, glazes, brushes/electricity to fire kiln). Factor in that and it might move to $150, at least. HAHAHAH. Except I ain’t sellin’ in no New York gallery, I sell online and in person at craft shows. And I think I just totally depressed myself writing that sentence. Because in reality, I can expect to get between $25 and $45 for those mermaids.

And yet, people constantly want to discuss discounts with me. “What’s the best price you could do on that?” Well, technically, the best price would be $120. But I grok that you’re asking me for a discount, not asking me for what can keep food on my table. Not that I mind giving discounts all the time, mind you – special things like thank-you gift certificates to long-standing customers, anniversary sales, “I need to move some stuff” sales, “I need a new computer” sales, things like that. But random, never-before-purchased customers who want a discount because they’re ordering two mugs instead of one? If you’ve ever done that to an artist/maker, I hope you’ve read through this blog entry and reevaluated your action.

And if you are an artist/maker, I hope reading through this and thinking about the time I take in relationship to the time you take, has maybe helped you to justify some of your prices. I know writing things like this out help me to evaluate the choices I’ve made, and make me take another look at some of the things I have for sale and what I’m charging for them.

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