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BUSINESS / The Art of Pricing Artwork

business lillian hetet - owen Jul 07, 2017

This is a question that most artists, artisans and craftspeople struggle with.

Our family has grappled with this question for decades and come up with an approach that seems to work.

As a former owner of several gift shops and a gallery for more than a decade, I have my own inside know-how about pricing that I'd like to share.

But before I get to that, let me ask you: how do you price your artwork? your carving, weaving, painting, tā moko, jewellery or whatever it is you are making?

Is it an ad hoc affair:

A cousin wants a patu to give to his son turning 21. You pluck a figure out of thin air - one that's less than you'd really like but one that you think your cousin can afford (and won't criticise you for). You end up just covering your costs.

A friend admires a kete you've finished and asks "how much?" You give it to her.
Someone tells you that you'd sell heaps of your stuff at the market so you book a stall, get up with the birds, set up, sit down, wait . . . maybe you sell some of your cheaper priced items but most punters admire and walk on by. Who knows why. You end up packing it back in your car at the end of the day and storing it in the corner of your lounge or shed or bedroom.
So, what's an artist to do?

Here's the first question you really need to ask your self before you price your work.

Why am I making this?

That question sets in motion a train of events that leads to a specific set of outcomes.

For example, if you answer "my own artistic, creative satisfaction" - that's awesome.
It probably doesn't matter to you whether your creation ends up on your wall or the wall of one of your friends and family you give it to. You've derived the pleasure from the experience of creating a piece and that's priceless. Giving your artwork away to someone else to enjoy is probably an added pleasure. It's a win, win, win in this instance.

However, if your answer is something like "because I want to fund my hobby" - in other words you want your passion to pay for itself  then when someone asks you "how much?" you are likely to say X dollars - where X is the cost of materials.

On the other hand, if your answer is "I want to earn some money to supplement my income" then the pricing formula is going to look more like:  Cost of Materials + something toward my time + something for my skill.

In which case you're going to need to think about what your time is worth and how much people are willing to pay for your 'skills'.

If you're a novice you can't really charge too much for 'skills' yet because you're still perfecting them. Nevertheless the skills you have acquired so far are worth something to someone who doesn't have them (remember that friend who can't weave but would like to have a piece of your weaving).

Finally, if your why is "I want to make a living" or "I've spent three years learning and acquiring skills and knowledge and I want people to pay me what my work is worth" then this is an entirely different kettle of fish.

I'll cover the last two scenarios in my next few blogposts. 

Please comment below if you have feedback or questions about this post.

Kia Ora!

Lillian (Hetet) Owen