Financial Wake Up Call

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Heh, somehow I get the feeling this little blog is going to become the dumping ground for my thoughts, my experiences, my triumphs and insecurities. Being able to express your thoughts and impressions on your work and your business, even if its just typing the words out on a screen, is incredibly cathartic. I find myself severely lacking in personal relationships in my life, which means I severely lack people that I can talk to and work things out with. Makes it very hard when I'm holding all this weight on my own shoulders. So, I'm hoping this little blog here will prove to be a helpful resource in allowing me to dump my experiences, both good and bad, in some place where I can look back and read it, and where others may read it and offer helpful advice, or take comfort in the fact that they're not the only ones struggling with these issues.

This week has been both good and bad. And I'm not sure which out-weighs the other.

I had the opportunity to enter 2 works of art into the Lehi Round Up Art Show, which is part of the bigger Round Up festival they hold each year. And I was thrilled to find out that one of my sculptures won Best in Show, and my other was given an Honorable Mention.

It was an incredibly exciting experience. But at the same time, it was incredibly sobering.

You see... pricing has been the BANE of my small business since I established it.

Hell, pricing has been my bane for as long as people have been asking me how much I'd sell my work for.

Because how do you judge how much your work is worth? How do you know if what you price is too expensive, or not expensive enough? There's not exactly an 'Artists Guide to Pricing' book that I can run out and get. I try looking up similar work online, but I find I have a hard time finding comparable items. And as someone who was raised in a conservative, non-artsy family, who's finances have never been top notch, its very hard to judge the worth of my ability and my work when I'm doing it from the perspective of someone who doesn't have a lot of money and can't afford to spend that much money.

And so I've struggled. A lot.

I've tried varying prices on my work, and find myself on an emotional roller coaster. Because there are times that I look at something and think "that price is definitely worth it", and then I turn around and look at it and think "what am I doing??? That is worth so much more!"

It doesn't help that my closest advisers on my business (aka, my parents) look at my pricing and go "Why on earth is that so expensive? Nobody is going to buy that! You are being greedy!"

Note, neither of them are artist types, and thus they don't buy art. Both are very conservative with money. Neither of them have ever really paid attention to how much quality artwork costs because its just not their thing.

And so I find myself struggling as I'm pulled in different directions. Am I being too greedy? Am I underselling myself? What will people buy? What am I worth? What is my work worth? How do I know where to turn, what to do, who to ask, what do I reference?

I can't tell you how many times I've sat here in tears, unable to decide what the best course of action is in this situation.

But... This week has proven to be a bit of an epiphany for me.

Going back to what I'd said above... I'd entered 2 pieces in a local art show. Tonight was the artists reception, and as I wandered around the small room, observing the various paintings, I looked at the tags and the prices that they'd been marked for. I chatted a bit with the Arts Council head man... and he said something to me that just made me heart sick. He asked "I love your sculpture... but don't you think you're pricing it a bit low?"

It was a sculpture of a flying pig. About the size of a small cat, crouched in a stalking position. I had designed it with a tribal theme. I'd used a patina to turn its body a mottled brown. I then decorated its face and legs with blue 'war paint', gave it a painted spear, and added red coral beads and earrings to complete the look. It must've taken me a good 7-8hrs to craft. The design and patterns were my own original creations. It's a very fun piece, and one I"m very proud of.

And I had priced it at $175

I knew in my gut that, that price wasn't right when I marked it down on that entry form. And hearing the Art Director ask me that, and having walked around the room and looked at paintings far simpler then my design that were going for 4x the cost of what I'd marked.... it was like taking a fist to my gut. It made me heart sick realizing that I'd been so concerned with trying to find ways to make my work affordable and trying to figure out how and where I could sell my work in an effort to make my little business work, that I'd under priced myself, my ability, and my work so badly.

Now, this is hardly a new thought. In fact, its been on my mind a lot lately, especially this week. And I think that may have been why it hit me so hard.

It was certainly a wake-up call to the position I'd gotten myself into.

I've been so concerned with how I can make my work sell, that I didn't realize that I was committing financial suicide. I was setting up my shop for failure because I was downgrading my work so badly, and under selling myself so much, that I couldn't have kept things going like that. Especially considering that sales are few and far between... I cannot afford to sell my work for dirt cheap... because if I only sell 1 item in a 2-3 week period... its got to bring in enough money to make up for the fact that I didn't have other sales. And its got to pay for all the time and energy I am putting into my shop. Because I don't just sit there and create the art... I also manage the finances. I manage sales and advertising. I go out and buy the supplies. I have to provide my own insurance. I have to do all the leg work needed to show my work off at venues, and take it to shops, or galleries, or what have you. Every piece I sell not only compensates me for the time I spent on it, but also on all the time I spend doing the more mundane aspects of my business.

It still makes me nauseous thinking about it, and it certainly hurts knowing I'd devalued my craft so badly. But its also been a necessary hurt. Because, while I still find myself feeling unsure about how I should price my items... I'm also thinking a lot clearer and more objectively about my work and what I have to do. And I'm starting to feel a much stronger resolve about what I should be expecting, and what I should be aiming for. Because if my shop fails... which I'm hoping it won't... then by god, it won't be because I committed financial suicide by devaluing the quality of my craft and making it impossible to support myself on.

I am NOT a retail store. I don't have an army of machines cranking out all the parts and pieces to my sculptures and assembling them all for me. And so I cannot be pricing my work based off of a dirt cheap retail store. And people cannot expect me to sell my work cheap as dirt. And that is something I need to really take to heart and remember as I keep heading into this.


Katy L's picture

Buyers buy a product. They

Buyers buy a product. They don't care that you have to provide your own insurance or what ever. They will not pay for your education, school loans or anything else (like a doctor). Most artists have a second job just because of things like that. Unless you have a steady income, you shouldn't quit your day job (as they say).

I do not know what the usual pricing policy is for the kind of metal work you do, but in lost wax bronzes the habit is usually to take the production costs, X2, then add on the gallery commission (or marketing if you sell through a website only). With that, you should be able to make another cast (or another piece of art) and get the same amount of profit, and then pay the seller as well. (Hopefully they are doing something for their money).

As far as whether you are devaluing your own work. There are many "amateur" and "hobby" artists who are not serious and are less interested in making money than showing in some "hobby" type gallery. Many have real jobs and sell things for the fun of it, usually for cut rate prices. These people are the ones who give people the idea that 40$ is a good price for a painting.

A truly good artist is noticed immediately by fellow artists and gains respect. This respect is communicated to galleries, collectors, potential buyers. After many years of this, as well as the influence the "very good" artist has over his/her fellow artists, the value of the artist's work goes up. Value going up is a direct correlation to peer respect. The artist becomes important to the peer community, to the city, local area and region, and some to the world or hemisphere... because those collectors, galleries, museums and so on give this artist special recognition.

For some people this sequence is immediate, and for some it takes many years. If a man of some standing and esteem in the art community said you are undervaluing your work, you probably are.

Anyway, that is my jab at it. If you want to chat about this further by all means, PM me. I am not an expert by any means.

www.crlarkinart.com