Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tools Of The Trade Part 4: The Price Is Right?

While strategies for pricing a work may not be considered a classic tool used by the artist, the technique of calculating a fair price for a work is an essential tool for any artisan that is in business.  Without an objective method of assessing a price, we run the risk of not being able to afford to continue our artistic pursuits.

As artists, we often struggle with how to price our items since we are creating items from base materials whether they are paint, fabric, stone, or in my case, glass.  Our creations are, hopefully, worth more than the materials we used to create them from, but how much  more?

When I first started out, I had no idea of how to price my work and just kind of did the "Shot In The Dark" method.  I find this tends to be how everyone initially starts pricing their items when they first start out.  At first we're thrilled that anyone would want what we've made.

At my first show that I attended with my lampwork beads, a teenager came up and asked about buying a couple of bead that he wanted.  When he asked the price and I told him, he looked up at me as said, "Why is it so expensive?  It's just sand, isn't it?" 

I didn't know how to respond to him.  I'd just lost a $20 sale and had no idea how to answer him and educate him at the same time.  He'd obviously never been exposed artisan beads and jewelry, and in comparison to the price he could get beads at the craft store, it did seem expensive to him.

After several years of selling my beads and jewelry, I was still guessing at the worth of my work so when I found a class at last year's Bead And Button Show on pricing artist's work, I signed up immediately.   I would highly recommend it for any artists out there who are struggling with pricing there work... and you know who you are!

Finally, someone was going to tell me how much my work was worth  WRONG!  What he did do was give the class a number of factors to consider before pricing our work since everyone in the room worked in a different medium.

The instructor worked in fine jewelry using gold, platinum, diamonds and other expensive materials in the fabrication of his jewelry.  So for him, he needed to really price out how much his material cost was going to be in order to weigh whether or not he would actually complete the work since the materials could end up pricing it right out of the market--no matter how fabulous it would have been.

Fortunately, I work in glass, sterling silver and natural stone instead of gold, platinum and diamonds.  

After spending hours working out formulas, spreadsheets, material pricing, etc., I found that my material costs really didn't impact much of the final price.  The most important factor in pricing my glass work turned out to be my TIME at the torch.

Time turned out to be such a factor, that it is almost the sole basis of pricing my lampwork.  I keep track of the time I work on making the set of beads or a single bead and then multiply it by my hourly wage that I pay myself (pretend you're your own boss), and that's the price of the set.

While lampwork glass can run anywhere from $8 per pound on up past $100 per pound, there really isn't a lot of weight involved in a set of beads. If there is a lot of weight in the beads, such as a large set of tigers, then there is also an equal amount of extra time needed to work and shape that extra glass which can be translated back into time spent in that set.

Well that seems pretty cut and dry and simple doesn't it?  Not so fast.  If I'm working out a new design or trying a technique that I'm not familiar with it may go much slower initially until I get the hang of it.   Is it fair to charge the first few customers of that style twice what it will cost the rest of the customers just because I wasn't as adept at that technique?  Of course not.

If I find that my time is unusually long on a particular bead or set of beads due to technical proficiency, then I examine the finished set and figure out the amount of time it should have taken and price it based upon that instead.

When it comes to pricing my jewelry and gift items that include my beads, then I must include the prices of the silver wire, toggles, findings, stones and other items into the cost of the piece.  Fortunately, I know what those costs are and that is an easy calculation to add them into the formula with the additional time of designing and stringing the items.

I always strive to give all of my customers good value for their money, but at the same time ensure that the prices I charge enable me to continue working in this wonderful medium.

If art was priced solely based upon the materials used, then I could buy a Picaso painting for the few dollars of paint and a canvas that it took to create it.

If I ever get asked again, "It's just sand, isn't it?"  I can guarantee you I'll know how to answer them this time around.

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