Pricing textile art
One of the main conundrums that arises from the familiar ‘Craft Vs Art’ debate is how to price textile art. Even within established groups of well-respected practitioners pricing varies wildly.
How can you possibly be objective about your own work? And how on earth do you assess its ‘value’? It must be tempting to base your price-point on intangibles like how much angst you went through in the creative process or how much of a personal connection you feel to a particular piece. But these can never provide true justification for plucking a figure out of the air!
For an artist just starting out it’s important to realise that to begin with the monetary ‘value’ of your art isn’t a direct reflection of your worth or talent as a practitioner; nothing is worth anything until it sells!
In this article, we’ll explore 3 methods for pricing textile art. The first is based on costs, the second on market, and the third on perceived value; my aim is that you’ll be able to identify the one that best suits your current position and put it into practice.
When you’re first starting out as a textile artist, your work will have no perceived value at all; you don’t yet have any credentials and potential buyers don’t know you or your art. Therefore the easiest way to come up with pricing for your work is to calculate your costs as accurately as possible and add a mark-up to ensure some profit. It’s tricky, but ideally the creative process of starting a new piece will be balanced with a business-like approach to recording the facts and figures.
Materials and supplies
First of all what is your expenditure related to materials? How much do your supplies cost? Ideally record everything you buy, as you buy it – from dyes and thread through to replacement parts for your sewing machine.
What are you worth?
Then there is the cost of your time. Only you can make a decision what that is worth, but I’d recommend setting an hourly rate and keeping good records of how much time you spend on a particular piece of work. When you first start out, be realistic. Textile art is time consuming and a high hourly rate may mean your final piece is too expensive for people to consider buying.
You may also want to include a reasonable percentage of your day-to-day expenses, such as studio rent, electricity and heating charges, marketing efforts and admin costs.
Making a profit
Once you have arrived at a figure for your costs, you need to ensure you will make at least some profit, even when starting out. Perhaps to begin with you’ll be happy to recoup the cost of your time and materials, but as you sell more, try and add a profit-margin outside of those considerations.
Once you are a little more established, you can begin to consider pricing your work based more on what is going on in your particular market or its perceived value.
Knowing your market inside out
To begin with you’ll need a good idea of where your work fits (is it high-end craft or fine art for example?) and what the current trends are in this sector. Here are a few ways to evaluate this:
What are comparable artists charging?
Consider your position in the art world in comparison to other artists working in textiles or mixed-media. Research artists who:
- Work in a similar medium to you
- Produce work of a comparable style
- Have a similar range of experience and accomplishments
- Have a comparable reputation and profile
- Have exhibited in similar venues
- Are aiming at a comparable customer base
Once you have assessed where you fit into the picture, try and be competitive; yes it sounds corporate but you are in competition with other artists and one way to make your work more attractive is its price. Please don’t ignore what makes you unique in other ways though; that will create a far more compelling reason for people to buy your art than a few pounds saving!
What are buyers willing to pay?
When researching art in a similar bracket to yours make sure you’re also looking at which pieces the comparable artists are actually selling. They may produce work ranging from £100-£10,000, but only actually sell pieces priced between £100 and £1,000. It might be clever to pitch the majority of your work in this ballpark.
Where are your buyers?
The price you set for your work will vary depending on whether you are selling locally, nationally or internationally. Also consider the arenas in which your art sells; if your main platform is Etsy, don’t waste time analysing art being sold in high-end galleries.
What do people looking for a piece of textile art place ‘value’ on? Identifying to what degree you and your work fulfills their requirements will give you a good guide for pricing. It’s tricky to evaluate your own perceived ‘value’ as an artist, but try and be as objective as possible when answering the following questions:
- How unique or different is your work within the niche of textile art?
- What benefits or features does a person receive by purchasing your art?
- How extensive and impressive is your resume?
- Is your sales history solid?
Once you have a few sales under your belt, you can start to reassess your work’s ‘value’ by asking past buyers what appealed to them and why they purchased a particular piece. Knowing what your customers place the most worth on will help you market and sell your work.
Remember that ‘value’ is extremely subjective; some people will buy your art and feel they are getting a bargain whilst others couldn’t possibly conceive of spending anything like the amount you’re asking – and that’s more likely to do with their own financial situation than how much value they place on what you’ve created.
More tips for pricing textile art
- Don’t focus solely on the world of textiles when researching how to price your work. Think about other niches you can fit into. TextileArtist.org interviewee Dave Lieske stitches portraits that appeal to fans of Hip Hop; it would be neglectful for him to ignore this market.
- When you start to experience a consistent degree of success and have a proven track record of sales for at least a year, you might want to consider raising your prices. If you sell at least half of what you make, try an increase by 10% each year. But don’t raise prices based on whimsy – justify the increase based on facts.
- Be consistent with your pricing. Don’t price one piece at £800 and another of comparable size and structure at £2500 just because you prefer it.
- If you’re selling on the internet, consider including postage and packaging in the base price; ‘free’ shipping can be very appealing to potential buyers.
- Price your textile art based on what complete strangers will pay for it, not what Great Aunt Maude gave you for one of your early pieces.
- When exhibiting in a group-show, try and submit work that falls in a similar price range to that of the other artists. An item that is disproportionately expensive will induce ‘sticker shock’ and most likely not result in a sale.
- Displaying prices in your online gallery can be an indicator of trustworthiness. Being cryptic by not divulging how much a piece costs can seem like you’re playing a game and that you’ll charge differently depending on how much you currently need the cash! It can also discourage people from getting in touch for fear of embarrassment that they won’t be able to follow through with the sale due to the piece being over their budget.
- Remember that market conditions change; you’d be well advised to adapt to the ups and downs that will occur.
- Have something for everyone. You may have avid fans who simply can’t afford to buy your most expensive work. If you create smaller pieces to satisfy the demand, these people will stick with you and become your loyal advocates (and if and when they have the money, invest in a larger, more expensive piece of work).
- A great way to reward and encourage loyalty is to offer discounts to repeat buyers, but be sure not to devalue your work by offering constant promotions.
Putting these tips for pricing textile art into action will place you in a stronger position for justifying the value of your work and hopefully result in more sales. And remember sales create sales. Good luck!
How do you come up with a price for your work? Share your tips in the comments section below.
18 comments on “Pricing textile art”
Some good tips there, Joe! But, I think most of us cannot sell our work, even based on the beginner level tips that you give. Specifically, that wholesale should be cost of supplies + labor + profit x 2. Most of us don’t do that doubling and cannot wholesale because it would limit our market so much that only really high end places could sell it and it’s tough to get into those circles.
Selling online has enabled us to cut out the “middle man” and go directly to a wider audience, too. It all depends on what the product is and it helps if some of the steps can be automated. For example, if you weave scarves, load the loom for several scarves, not just one. If you make quilts and use certain colors and sizes often, organize left-over fabrics so that they can be used easily on another project.
Ariane Mariane shared some of her experiences as a felter in France in this post:
http://www.tafalist.com/the-price-we-pay It can be heartbreaking to hear the stories of what people have to go through in order to keep doing what they love and to make a living at it.
I think a helpful exercise is to work backwards: look at how much you need to make a year in order to live the lifestyle you want. Then, break that down into months and figure out how many things you would need to sell in order to meet those bills. I have made small runs of pillows, hats and bags in the past and figured out how many I would need to produce in order to get a decent salary. I figured that I would need to have at least three times the product I wanted to sell in stock in order to give people choices. If you sell on Etsy, for example, and only have one page of goods, shoppers might not see you as a serious shop or they might not see anything that grabs them. I decided that I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to make things that interested me, where I could enjoy the process and then, if they sold, great, if not, oh, well… So, I created a “job” for myself with TAFA and my other online work.
I keep track of how much time I spend on a piece and then multiply that by $15. I’ve been doing that for many years and feel like I need to move it up to $20/hr. I don’t charge for materials as most of what I use is recycled or found in thrift stores, but I do add on the cost if there is a specific investment that I have to purchase for a piece (batting, for example). If you have a defined style of work, you can figure out a cost per square inch or centimeter and go that way. The Amish base their quilt prices on how many bobbins of thread they use for a piece.
Remember that you can always go down on piece, but that it is harder to go up in prices. If you sell everything you make right away, it’s a sign that you can definitely raise your prices. Go up 10% every six months until you find a comfort zone where you are selling, but also have stock.
Those of you who work on labor intensive pieces might benefit by working with a rep and then you would need to figure in the cut that they would get, often around 20%. If you get the right one who shares your aesthetic choices, it can help cut down on your marketing time and give you relief.
I have also seen a lot of people advertising past work as examples of commissions or orders they are willing to take. This way, you don’t have to invest in the time making the product until you have a definite sale. You just have to be careful to manage your time well and only take orders if you can really fulfill them.
We’ve been living through a worldwide sluggish or poor economy and I have been seeing lots of signs of recovery and that more people are buying art and handmade products again. Art is always the first to suffer when things are going bad around the world, so it’s really encouraging to see so many people finding an audience for what they do.
Oh, and about having something for everyone…. I don’t think that is a big motivator for those of us who are makers. I think that you should really focus on doing what you love and if it is all high end and hard to sell, keep working on a body of work until you can exhibit, publish and create a name for yourself. (You might have to get a part-time job while you do that!) If you want to have lower end products, you can consider having cards, posters, and other commercial products made from your designs.
It’s a tough, competitive world out there, but if you stick to it, learn and practice good ways of presenting your work, you will find your audience. If you sell online, I cannot stress how important it is to have excellent photos that appeal to a wide audience (don’t hang whatever you made on a bush…).
May you prosper and find fulfillment in what you do!
Thanks once again for adding such brilliant value to this conversation Rachel. I can see how some of my suggestions may seem a little naive. I spoke to a few artists to arrive at them, but mainly those working on time-intensive pieces of ‘art’ in the traditional sense. And they are only intended as suggestions – clearly there are no hard and fast rules to this stuff – each individual must find what works for them.
I think the term ‘wholesale’ is probably confusing and I may go back and edit that; I think if selling directly (on the internet for example) that would be the final price, but if selling through a gallery the price needs to take into account their commission.
I love the tip about showing old pieces as examples for commissions – very smart and a great way to ensure you’ll make some return.
I think my point about making something for everyone is actually in line with what you say; that ‘something’ may well be postcards, prints, posters, or (as I mention) smaller less time consuming pieces of actual textile art. Wouldn’t it be preferable to be earning some income from this stuff whilst creating your larger pieces for love rather than having to spend time in an unrelated day job? Of course, for many the reality will be that they’ll need to do both at least for a while.
Thanks again Rachel – always great to hear your thoughts and so brilliant for our readers to get another take on it.
Joel, great article, thank you and I think you make a great point about including ‘low end’ pieces in a portfolio. You’re right. People might love the work, but maybe can’t afford the higher end pieces. Makes great sense.
That was a really thoughtful and helpful post. I have a wedding business. Pricing is difficult, but at least I have all the competition to compare with. The art I do on top of this is much harder, so I appreciate the help you’ve offered here. Thank you and good luck :O)
Oh I would love sitting around a table with you guys – Joe and Rachel- and talking about this eternal question – how to price our work! The most interesting paragraph for me here is this one:
“Making a profit
Once you have arrived at a figure for your costs, you need to ensure you will make at least some profit, even when starting out, otherwise you are a hobbyist and not a professional. A good general rule of thumb is to double your cost price to arrive at your wholesale price.!”
I think the main problem by selling on the internet is that there is a mix of hobbyist, those who are hobbyist but would like to earn a living and those who decided to concentrate on their art and who have to make money with their work to survive. These “real” professionals are the one who are struggling and as being one of these I really think you always should considering being able to allow 50% discount for retailers (this is the only point I don’t agree with you Rahcel!).
But of course you are right Rachel – by selling on internet, we are more and more selling to the final client and could do lower prcies – but if you offer retail prices to the end consumer you never will sell “in real life” and even worsen you will oblige the “real shops” to close. Is this it in our interest? – I don’t’ thing so!
I often wonder if I shouldn’t break my prices in half to get some money in because there are bills to pay. But I’m persuaded by doing this, I will kill my business. My latest “idea” is inspired by what I see happing in “real shops” – they are promoting all the time for some reason. This what I decided to do for my online business: I’m actually running a 30% off promotion for my latest creation: top hats. I absolutley want to price them a way which allows me to sell them on wholesale. The hitch is this make them at least 50% more expensive than “similar” items sold on Etsy (especially as it’s hard to discuss quality when you only can show photos of your work). With my promoting offer of 30% I look for a way cut the problem in half…
The promotion isn’t just à 30% off promo – to get these 30%, my clients have to send me a picture with their Ariane Mariane creation and allow me to use it for publicity and are also encouraged to share the picture on their social media if they have. I consider this way there is an exchange which justifies a lower price and it’s really very helpful, when customers spread the word about you work.
I really hope more and more people will be aware that low pricing is killing professional work.
Wonderful points Ariane. I agree with so much of what you say. I guess my evaluation in the article is a little optimistic and maybe idealistic.
I think wearables offer a slightly different problem as you’ve pointed out; you want your work to sell in shops. This isn’t the case with many artists creating ‘art’ in the more traditional sense.
I suppose what all of this teaches us is that individuals have to find their own way, but I do believe that each artist should have some system in place for pricing even if it doesn’t follow suggestions or guidelines as set out in this or any other article.
Thanks again Ariane – great work you’re producing by the way.
Thanks, Joe and Ariane! I know that I can sometimes go on and on, so thank you for being so supportive. 🙂
One thing that just occurred to me, too, that we haven’t touched on here is the difference in currencies and how that plays in to online sales. We are using a service on Artizan Made (www.artizanmade.com) that allows us to display products that are for sale on Etsy and through other shopping carts, including Ariane’s work. The widget does not do currency conversions and shows the price listed in the original currency. Ariane is selling out of Paris, so she lists in euros and Etsy’s site displays the currency based on the location of the viewer. On our site, the same product shows the original euro price. She has a page on the site and you can see the widget at the bottom of the post: http://artizanmade.com/ariane-mariane/
One of the little hats she is talking about shows $58 on our site. Click and go to Etsy and it is $81.62 there, a significant difference. Hopefully, we can eventually build our own widget, but the problem just underscores limitations that we have on an international scale when it comes to accessing global markets. PayPal, the largest online payment system, does not operate in many South American and African countries, so there are huge numbers of artists who cannot even join a marketplace like Etsy to sell their work directly.
Then, there is the issue of strength of currencies. The US dollar is weak right now which makes it prohibitive for us to buy from European artists (if we are on a budget). But, the advantage for us is that our prices can seem very affordable for Europeans. There is a lot of new wealth in Asia, Russia and South America and as they become more stable, their interest in art and their potential support of it also increases. There is amazing work coming out of the former Soviet countries, both traditional crafts and fine art, but the gaps between incomes, cost of living, and perceived value are enormous. So, that is a huge challenge in terms of pricing, too.
Artsy Shark just had a guest post where the artist shared some of his experience with pricing and closing sales. Some new tidbits that we haven’t covered here: http://www.artsyshark.com/2014/05/22/pricing-and-selling-art-online/
I feel it’s helpful to view pricing of work as part of a realistic feasible business model and make sure it’s in line with your aims – do you want to make a living or just pin money? For example it is possible to cost out an item using the time+materials+labour+profit method which maybe has a high profit margin but when viewed in the context of how you want to run your business/lifestyle may not suit – because maybe you’d have to produce a squillion of them to make an actual living and that would be boring or not allow time for other things and is there an actual market for a squillion of your particular item?
Other streams of income can be part of the plan too such as producing workshops, print on demand items, community projects etc which may then take the pressure off costings at least for a while and ease cash flow problems. But unless viewed in a whole business context which plans for scaleability then pricing too low mean that people remain at “hobbyist” level forever because they haven’t factored in the hidden costs or considered they want to pay themselves a real wage at some point. Writing off costs “for now” may be ok on a small scale but multiplied up then it can start hurting your profits badly.
Hidden costs can erode any profit – for example if you exhibit one artwork at 5 different exhibitions before it sells then the admission/hanging fees and any other costs incurred such as marketing effectively eat away at the profit margin. Each artwork has to work very hard to pay for the overheads and the days spent gathering inspiration/research when you are not actually producing something to sell.
I know it’s boring (and sometimes painful!) but realistic costings, cash flow, profit and loss, income and expenses and forecasting are vital! (that’s the analyst geek in me talking) 🙂
One of my bugbears is how some artists who are caught up pricing their work emotionally and feel like they don’t “deserve” to charge more or are pricing their work to sell regardless of how tiny their profit margin (see hobbyist above) inflict “sticker shock” on other artists who are trying to make a real living and pricing their work accordingly. It can be a tough situation especially in open exhibitions.
I could go on but….
Lots of excellent comments. I found this interesting and helpful recently: http://www.artsyshark.com/2014/05/22/pricing-and-selling-art-online/
OOPS! I see Rachel already posted it! Sorry- missed that!
Sorry to keep adding things! I finally took several steps toward placing myself where I wanted to be by 1) shutting down my Etsy store (well, on semi-permanent vacation JIC!) 2) ceasing to do the “small” works that took so much time and that i could never make money on 3) ceasing doing things I didn’t feel good about because they were based on advice received from others (ie Leisa, you really should do a “body of work” all the same! Leisa! Why don’t you blah, blah, blah….things i tried and tried but never worked anyway…. 4) I finally took the step and put prices on my website, and prices that reflect fair value for the time, materials and costs that went into them and I am curious to see how that will “fare” for me! Will sales increase? Decrease? However, I have already sold more in the last few months then before. I think that each of us has to garner advice, use what parts of that advice is right for us as an individual, be business and social-media savvy, work hard, be passionate, and go forth with positivity. I was trying to fit into everyone’s mold previously and I am much happier and more successful now that I am the individual my work reflects me to be!
Such an interesting conversation! I run a nonprofit art center & work with artists from every media, not just textiles. The most common question I’m asked is, “how do I price my work to sell” – and the “to sell” part is important, not everyone really wants to sell their work or they may be happy to sell just for extra income rather than as the main source. I’m seeing a lot of artists use a price per square inch formula, which can help give some consistency across sizes but isn’t a perfect method. Last weekend we held our annual fine arts festival – the artists that sold well really knew their place in the market, priced to the market and had a variety of price points (prints etc). The artists that didn’t sell well generally overpriced their work. To sell, you need to see your creative practice as a business – it’s not emotional – and that can be hard since we are all attached to the work we create. Getting some objective feedback (which we offer in our org) can be very beneficial; talk to someone who really knows the market well and then take their advice!
Thanks a lot Joe for the article. And thanks to all who have pitched in. This is a million dollar question for all artists like us, who don’t make many sales. For me it’s an ongoing struggle before a show or sending to any gallery. I have got few commissions where price was not a factor, the buyer loved my work so much. And that can be very deceiving too. Having had that happen, sometimes I tend to feel that I underestimate my work but then from other reactions, come back feeling that I have overpriced. The way I work, with lot of collected materials, multitasking a lot, while taking care of the family/household chores, it is almost impossible to time my work.
But having said that, it is always helpful to read whatever I can get hold of to make an assessment. I sometimes wish, I could get them assessed by someone else rather than having me make the decision 🙂
This is such a tricky area. For my “bread and butter’ I make small items ..brooches mainly , and sell both online and in Galleries. I have to keep my online prices as near as I can to the gallery prices because the galleries are good to me and I don’t want to undercut, But sometimes I give discount codes on Facebook or my blog. Most galleries are ok with variable prices (which happens when you set your wholesale price and then they add their particular commission) but I have had dealings with one who thought I ought to have a fixed retail price. That would have meant that in some Galleries my cut would be minute, as their commission is high. So I set what I want and they add, yielding a regular return for me.
For pleasure, and personal development I make wall pieces. I’ve sold from group exhibitions where mine were much more expensive than the other members. The term ‘reassuringly expensive’ sometimes rings true. If someone really wants your work they will pay for it. (Within reason) Its the most humbling and flattering experience to have someone willing to part with their hard earned money in order to live with a piece of my work. Sadly these days Galleries often don’t divulge the name of the buyer. I feel I want to know exactly where my precious pieces have gone.
Your advice to discount to regular collectors is contrary to what all the art marketing specialists recommend (or at least all the art marketing gurus I have consulted). It not only devalues you as an artist, it also devalues your other collectors who are not offered the discount.
Also very few artists actually list the prices of their work on their websites making researching price point comparisons very difficult. I have a very difficult time finding comparison price points as my work sits much more comfortably with painting than it does with textile art and a painting of similar size and quality probably takes about 1/5 of the time to create as my hand embroidered artworks.
Hi Marta. I think discounting from the word go absolutely devalues your artwork, BUT if someone shows loyalty to you and your work, it can actually encourage them to keep buying from you. I’m not talking major reductions – maybe just a 5% show of thanks for their continued support. It won’t work for everyone and what is written in this article is for guidance only.
Pricing on art websites is on the increase – it shows transparency and trustworthiness.
Thanks so much for your comment. All the best, Joe
My work is 2-dimensional and reflects more like traditional art (painting). I price my work by size. For ex., 8″ x 10″ = 80 which I round up to 100 and multiple my 3 = $300. If a gallery wants it, I add their mark up from 30% to 50%. It’s not perfect, but it makes sense to me.
When I am writing a grant, I pay myself at least $25 (U.S./hour). I guess-timate that it will take me at least 100 hours to produce a particular piece = $25/hour x 100 hrs. = $2,500 (U.S.). I also add state and federal tax into my grant request because artists are considered a business — roughly 33%. I add supplies and materials, studio rent, travel costs, etc. for the final grant request.