How top textile artists price their work
This month TextileArtist.org presents the third edition in a series of articles designed to debate the challenges you face every day as artists.
Having dipped into the sketchbooks of a handful of our most popular collaborators and challenged a few others to reveal how they get started on a new piece, it’s now the turn of five more wonderful contributors to walk us through how they price their art.
Do you have a system?
I calculate an initial price by adding materials/other costs + labour, hours x hourly rate + commission if applicable.
What variables do you take into consideration?
Time – this is the biggest factor in pricing most artists work. An hourly rate you are happy with is going to be a personal thing. My work is quite labour intensive, so a high hourly rate is going to make my work very costly. Personally, I set a rate at about three times the minimum wage, which is currently just above £6/hour. Realistically, I’m not going to be on the rate of pay I had during my career in IT, but I’m creatively fulfilled and that’s worth a lot!
Top tip – make a note of the hours you work, it might surprise you! I keep a note of times to hand on a post it, remembering to knock off the time taken to make numerous cups of tea.
My material costs are generally low, as my main component (wire), is bought in bulk, so I make an allowance dependent on the size of the work. I also include a small contribution for design materials for each piece – paper, inks etc.
I use circular knitting needles to make my wire sculptures and they take a lot of punishment, so need replacing regularly, so again make a small allowance against each piece.
My work is heavily research based and if a particular body of work has involved a research trip, I apportion the travel costs across the work. Funded projects, such as my residency at Time and Tide Museum, allow for several days of research, in which case time, accommodation and travel costs are funded, but it’s not always feasible to include all of these in personal projects.
Always included where applicable.
I am in the process of moving my home studio to a narrowboat, so don’t include this at the moment but in the future will need to factor in travel and heating costs.
Decide what you want paying for your work, taking into account the above variables, then add on the commission that will be taken by the gallery and you have your selling price.
How flexible is it?
My work varies considerably in scale, materials, content etc so pricing has to be flexible. I calculate a price, then see where it fits against other work and adjust accordingly. If I’m making a series of work, the first piece will generally take longer as I problem-solve, but I then even out the prices across the series.
Top tip – keep an ongoing easily-accessible list of your work and how much it has sold for and where for quick reference!
I sometimes make smaller, simpler pieces for open studios and gallery shops, that can be sold for a more affordable price, more attractive to an impulse buyer! Often these shops will have set an upper price limit.
Don’t undervalue your work
Prism, the exhibiting group that I belong to, has a shop within the show and many of the exhibitors find this quite a lucrative way of recouping their costs. Some artists work suits this way of working, but not everyone! I tend to sell small working samples via the shop, either card mounted or in inexpensive frames.
Top tip – it’s really important to keep your pricing consistent, so make sure there is a differentiation between smaller shop items and your exhibited work
The bottom line is that I calculate a selling price and then take a view, based on previous work and experience, rounding to the nearest £25.
Top tip – it might be tempting to set a low price in the hope of selling but, in most markets, undervaluing your work will not make the work more attractive and is not sustainable
For more information visit: www.anitabruce.co.uk
The pricing of your work is a difficult and sensitive matter because in general textile art sells for very low prices. I regard it as low when your material costs are just about covered or when you earn pro hour less that a cleaning person would.
Sometimes family and friends appreciate your art but treat it as a hobby and may say things like,
Do me a favor and make an embroidery for my next birthday instead of a bouquet of flowers
They do not realise that they hardly show serious appreciation but are actually behaving, almost insulting. If you’d like your family and friends to have your work and they cannot afford a proper price I believe it is better to give it away as a present instead of charging a very low price.
The reason for low prices is probably because many textile artists consider, or treat, their own work as a lovely hobby and often accept very low prices. Many artists do not take themselves serious. This way these artists help to keep the prices low. Of course, there are exceptions when you are world famous like Tracey Emin or when you do commissions and calculate the costs well in advance.
Things to consider
If you decide about a price the first step is to calculate your real costs, they should include:
- The material involved, for instance, cloth, threads etc. When you use part of your large collection you already have at home you can estimate a general fee for this.
- Presenting your work properly, for instance: backing, framing etc.
- Making: Estimated number of hours involved in making and presenting multiplied with the price pro hour.
- A contribution to your cost of administration.
- A contribution to the costs of your PC/MAC, studio, and equipment.
- A contribution to your own PR, mainly photos and time invested. Customers appreciate when you are well known and appreciate articles in art magazines etc. But even when magazines invite you it takes a lot of time and investment in very good, if not professional, photographs. Being active on Social Media costs time.
- An extra fee when you are almost famous, this is difficult to calculate and depends on prizes won, articles in the art press, special honors, exhibiting in important exhibitions, museums etc.
- A fee for your original artistic concept.
- A mark up on your calculated price for PR and selling, similar to a gallery. This is often an extra 30 to 100% addition to the calculated costs. Keep in mind when you sell via a gallery that most galleries like you to sell for the same price when you sell directly to a customer. On the other hand, customers often prefer to buy directly from the artist to avoid the gallery markup and save some money.
Final sales price
This way of calculating will usually result in a fairly high price. Although I believe this will result in a fair price. I also know that not many customers are prepared to pay this. Of course, it is up to you to choose to lower your price to a price that customers are willing to pay. But when you want to make a living from your art you cannot leave out too many items!
For the future you may consider if you can lower your prices by speeding up your work process by maybe involving more machines, producing abroad in cheap labour countries etc.
You can also try to create a market for all kind of related products like postcards, calendars or producing more copies of your work. An interesting example of an artist who managed to create her own market is Jessie Chorley. Jessie manages to make a business of her work. I assume she put a lot of effort in keeping in contact with her fans and I also assume she still works very hard.
For more information visit: www.tillekeschwarz.com
Unpredictable twists and turns
Do you have a system?
Honest answer up until now, NO. But your invitation to contribute to this aspect got me thinking.
Perhaps I do have a very flexible system firstly of assessing how attached I am to a body of work and to what extent am I interested in actually selling the work.
To explain this better, an overview of my methods of production would help understand this dilemma.
I develop unique multiples, variable editions, a series of works that are variations on the theme.
So initially I will spend a great deal of time researching, experimenting and developing the prototype of the series till it develops a distinct voice. Invariably these preliminary works are very precious to me, are unique, and if I can bear to let them go, then I will overprice them, as I am not so keen to sell them. These works remain very important in the development of the series, and I also feel obliged to only relinquish them to a public collection, if they are interested and often the price is on application (POA).
The subsequent trajectories that the work then takes, becomes easier to make or reproduce, and I do not need that much time executing them, both mentally & physically.
There are many works in my repertoire, that I call unresolved works (URWs), purely because I am still undecided whether I want anyone to see the work yet. Very rarely do I abandon any work that I have started. The URWs join a pool of works in progress which take very interesting unpredicted twists & turns.
When an artist/artisan tried to calculate the hours spent making work, they seldom remember to calculate the hours, days, weeks, months, years spent creating the original concept behind the actual work. For me, this part of the mental process & experimentation outweighs the actual part of the production of the resolved work.
Who is the target buyer?
Is the work made for public collections or private individuals? Is it for commercial venture or to gain archival or historical value.
Most galleries take approximately 50% commission, so it is important to think ahead, even if the initial sales might be sold directly with no commission incurred. Buyers & gallerists prefer to see consistency in pricing.
If the work is to be framed, then always remember to take into account the cost incurred in postage & packing. I work a lot with stitched paper, which is easy to mail out. But I rarely mail out framed work for obvious reasons: breakable glass & cost, export & import restrictions if taken on a sale or return policy.
This is especially important to international buyers, whether it affects them receiving work. So it is imperative to work out whether there are size restrictions in certain countries receiving parcels. I have had work leave the UK, and then had them returned from China.
Have spoken about trying to keep consistency in pricing, hers is a contradictory statement; if the work subsequently has won prizes or awards then I am tempted to increase it!
Rare and sentimental materials
I have used precious substances (24 carat gold clips, rare parchment, vellum, eel skins, antique & vintage found works) or materials of personal or historical significance.
I often use antique & vintage found works. I used vintage clip-on collars for the TOP 10 White Collar Crime Series-Power of Ten at the Stroud International Textile Festival. The artist book was acquired for the Tate Britain collection. I used Beryl Dean’s (author of many books on ecclesiastical embroidery) own silks for an ecclesiastical embroidery for EBB & FLOW at the Grimsby Minster 2015. My husband’s ties and fragments of my wedding & engagement sarees for a quilt: Family Ties, featured in the editorial of the national quilt championships brochure 2001. Etc…
I work in series of modules that develop over time. I then start thinking of placing them together as multiple units: diptychs, triptychs etc. They interlock, speak to each other, work better as a whole. They can be resequenced, re-aligned etc. So that I even start pricing them, as such, where units bought together makes it a more attractive purchase as multiple units, than single modules.
I stitch mainly on prints, either on paper, fabric, leather etc. So this enables me to produce work in editions, by using the plates, screens several times. I unlike, most traditional printmakers, prefer to make, each print slightly different to the other. Unless of course, it is a commission.
I ran the Print Collectors Club for the RE for several years, and also make an annual box set for the Victoria & Albert Museum, and other print exchange programs both nationally and internationally. So if it a series is produced in a smaller number, then the price of each work is considerably more than if the edition were to be produced in a larger number. For the obvious reasons, that smaller edition works would be rarer than more abundant, widely dispersed bigger editions.
So if it a series is produced in a smaller number, then the price of each work is considerably more than if the edition were to be produced in a larger number. For the obvious reasons, that smaller edition works would be rarer than more abundant, widely dispersed bigger editions.Images from Top Ten White Collar Crime part of The Power of Ten exhibition, Stroud International Textile festival.
For more information visit: www.saatchiart.com/sumiperera
The value of everything and the price of nothing
I don’t know anyone who makes work, that I admire, who sits comfortably with pricing what they produce. There is a crazy, irrational awkwardness that means my reaction to pricing something can shift between ‘it’s totally priceless’ and ‘oh my goodness how can anyone want to buy that, sure I will just give it to anyone who seems remotely interested in it in order to get rid of it’. The perception of its value can shift in a matter of seconds.
Recently my work has encompassed commissions, fashion fabrics, bespoke costumes, large and small wall hung textiles and accessory products such as scarves and cushions. I have to confess to a certain jealousy of several of my more successful friends who have a narrower but well-developed product and have established a clearer price structure. They make work at a standard range of sizes, materials, effort and the market has proved that the price they have worked out sits comfortably with their patrons.
Reputation is everything. People are buying a part of your creative soul as much as a collection of atoms they consider attractive. Promoting yourself, your achievements, testimonials from clients and a professional web presence can all add to the opinion others have of you and your work. I always have to take into consideration where and how I am selling work. If
I always have to take into consideration where and how I am selling work. If it’s off a battered trestle table in a car boot sale people will not expect to pay the same as in a prestigious gallery!
Ideally, we can work to a business formula of :
Cost Price = materials + (time x hourly rate)
Here you arrive at the price it has cost you to actually make the work and then factor in any gallery commission and of course the magical, mythical beast that is ‘PROFIT’.
Some things to keep you awake at night?
A certain level of insecurity tends to drive most textile artists when it comes to what they do and this is epitomised through the most basic ones concerning the worth of what we do. So, what actually is your hourly rate? How does that reflect the level of skill and hours of training/practice it has taken you to acquire this level of skill? Is what you do unique or could you actually hire someone else to do it for you? Of course, this doesn’t acknowledge research/development investment in making the work. Goosebumps on the back of the neck at this point!
The cost price formula sounds so simple but it rarely works out as eloquently as that! I suppose the question is ‘if you are selling work, what does that actually mean?’ Is this your sole business and therefore needs to provide an income that will pay for the toilet rolls, TV License and days when you just can’t do anything productive or is this a way to supplement your income and try and recoup your investment in the work? Have you had to pay for a stand in a craft fair, petrol to get you there, cups of tea and chocolate biscuits for long-suffering friends who helped you get it in the car, for promotion or indeed gallery commission?
There is deep soul searching questions of what and why you are making what you do. Is it to fulfill your own creative desires, and therefore maybe no one should buy it, or as a commission or even as a repeated product?
Some artists work on a number of strategies. There are the big things, that are mammoth tasks as a labour of love or for commission and these may be funded by more ‘bread and butter’ works that can be produced with relative ease and can definitely make a profit. Reproducing textiles on cards or other products may be a way of allowing more people who love the work but can’t afford the real works may also be worth considering.
Know what you are selling
I find that my drawings are much easier for me to price than my textiles. Primarily as the size and time spent are quite consistent, and most importantly customers seem to understand what goes into them a little easier.
For my textile work, it can range in scale, process and materials. There could be something very large that has been digitally printed at a base price per meter, whilst others that use vintage fabrics or details whilst others have a base material cost of only a few pounds but took several hundred hours to produce.
The first rule of costing is knowing what you are selling. Is it a one–off that couldn’t be reproduced or is that you arent interested in making another one the same? For example, with my scarves, I try to be very clear on whether something is a limited edition or unique. All the expensive bits (whether it’s your time or the base materials) need to be made evident to the person buying it.
Communicating this to them is often a challenge. It is important that all this is declared as a benefit rather than in a defensive way. Saying ‘it took me forever’ with a scowl on your face will not instill confidence in anyone to hand over the money! When I’m in the middle of producing something I know it has a life of its own and will demand attention until it’s done and loses interest in me. Almost impossible to produce it within a time limit. When the work is for exhibition the costing is often in retrospect.
The value of time
The second rule of costing is to remember to price things as if you were making them again from scratch, not how long they took you the first time. Should someone pay for your indecision and wrong turns? Sometimes I find little treasures to work on and I need to remember that it is the price if I were to source it again not the few pounds I may have paid to rescue it from a charity shop somewhere.
In order to arrive at a calculation of time it would take to remake it’s important to know how long it did take in the first place and then ‘adjust’ accordingly.
I have learned over the years that the most helpful thing I can do for when it comes to trying to calculate the price of something is to keep a record of JUST how long I really spent on it. Once its made it’s easy to forget the ‘difficult’ labour and to calculate dishonestly… ‘it couldn’t possibly have taken me this long?”. We can all be guilty of denial… who ate all the chocolate biscuits? Surely I only had one of them? Sometimes I have a little notebook at my side, sometimes I make notes using my phone, but however I do it a tally of the time spent is essential.
Hand sewing, in particular, can leach time from my life and I look up to realise several hours have gone by. I often work whilst watching DVD box sets and that helps me to keep an eye on the time involved (one episode, two episodes…. three seasons etc?)
However I arrive at a price it then needs to be tested against the market. Research is essential. Your customers will be well informed. They will know the price your competitors sell things for and judge if yours is better value or not based on that.
For instance, let’s say you make a beautiful hand embroidered cushion. It is a gem of an 18-inch cushion with the added benefits of being one off, a pure silk backing, beautifully constructed with interesting edges and handmade tassels and feather filled but if it took 30 hours and you pay yourself at least minimum wage it could come out at a whopping £500. Will anyone buy a cushion at that price? What price would they pay and then if you are running a business what can you do to make your product at a price that will allow you a profit?
Everyone loves a bargain. As we aware often the ‘sales’ or ‘special offers’ we are so used to seeing are carefully constructed. Were the goods ever actually on sale at that astronomical original price?
Charles Revlon is often quoted as saying:
In the factory, we make cosmetics, in the store we sell hope.
Communicating the ‘benfits’ someone gets by supporting an artist or craftsperson, of how much more special the artwork they are buying from you is than something mass produced from a high street chain store are all part of our ongoing battle.
Often having the opportunity for the public to see how you work and begin to understand what goes into the work you make can be really helpful. You could understand a video diary of a work in progress on a blog or even a demonstration. Once people see the magic happen in front of their eyes it always makes them appreciate what you make all the more.
Building confidence and educating your buyers in you as a brand is also something worth considering. Being consistent is important. There is nothing worse than a customer seeing something similar to what they have bought being sold somewhere else at a vastly different price.
What happens if something happens to the thing you have sold? Have you been clear about how to care for it? Is the wear and tear your fault? Is your work colourfast and if not did you give the buyer sufficient warning about how light might affect it?
For me the seductive quality in textiles is in the tactile, of wanting to touch it, but framing behind glass is essential for some buyers. For some there is a nervousness about cloth and its life span whilst others will embrace a different mechanism of hanging or display. Building the cost of this into the price the client pays is something you need to make clear. Increasingly people are selling via the Internet and then postage or delivery needs to be considered. Thinking through all the eventualities before meeting a customer is essential. You don’t want to go back to them and say, ‘oh by the way I need another £10 for postage…’
Increasingly people are selling via the Internet and then postage or delivery needs to be considered. Thinking through all the eventualities before meeting a customer is essential. You don’t want to go back to them and say, ‘oh by the way I need another £10 for postage…’
The easiest pricing for me is for a commission. The negotiations have happened and a fee agreed, so if it takes longer or needs more attention then that is down to me. With commissions, the golden rule is to break your total cost into thirds.
The first third should come up front and cover all your research, development, and materials. The second covers your time, overheads and other expenses and should be paid at a mutually agreed point where the client can see what they are getting and you know for certain you are all on the same page. The final third is due when you deliver the finished work and should really be your profit and investment in development for the next project.
Being transparent in what you want, with realistic deadlines and timeframes and keeping the client informed will all go to make the experience mutually beneficial.
So does anyone want to buy this priceless bit of cloth, buy two get the third free?
For more information visit: www.nigelcheney.com
As I produce work for a number of different contexts – one-offs for exhibition; ‘batch-produced’ items such as table linen and commissions, public and private, I adopt a slightly different strategy for each, but there are a few important things that I always apply regardless:
- Know your overheads. Work out exactly how much it costs to run your studio over the course of a year and then break this down into an hourly rate based on how many working days you ideally would like to work.
- Be consistent. Although different outlets will have different markups or take different commission percentages, you should always try and ensure that the pricing of your work is constant, so that one shop or gallery is not undercutting another. Therefore, take this into account when working out your wholesale price for the seller.
- Don’t undercut a shop or gallery when you sell direct; this is best for both parties.
- Know where your work “sits” in the marketplace. Do lots of research and look at the prices other textile artists sell their work for; consider your experience and reputation.
- Don’t undersell yourself; having too low a price can be counter-productive and undermines other textile artists and makers.
Whilst you do need to know your overheads, cost of materials and hours that go into making a piece of work, I think most textile artists would agree that this doesn’t always make you arrive at a realistic figure, as this kind of work is incredibly labour-intensive, and ultimately the selling price needs to sit comfortably in the marketplace.
However, you need to make a living and pricing work too cheaply will not serve you or other textile artists well in the long run. Different galleries take varying amounts of commission, but it is a good rule of thumb to work to a rate of 50% – if it’s less, that’s a bonus.
For example, if you need to receive £500 for a piece of work, a gallery that takes 50% commission would have a selling price of £1,000 and you’d need to keep this in mind if selling direct. A gallery will only deduct VAT from the commission element but check the commission quoted includes this.
This is very much about accurately costing every stage of your production, as well as materials and overheads. You’ll need to build up a clear picture of how long it takes to carry out each part of the process – include every little thing and check it a few times when doing something new.
For example, if I’m printing a run of tea towels, I’d break down the key stages that are repeated each time, but I also need to factor in my initial design process as well as screen preparation, which obviously happens at the beginning, but which may need to be re-done over time with wear and tear.
With batch-produced items such as tea towels, which I sell direct as well as through retail outlets, you obviously need to factor in the markup, which can be as much as 250-300%, depending on location.
The budget and timescale available are usually known at the outset, so you have to work backwards from that. Again, you need to break down every stage of your process – not just the more easily quantifiable parts – but the research / thinking / exploration and development / making mistakes phases too, which are naturally time-consuming. Remember to also factor in time for traveling to meetings etc. and always build in a 10% contingency for unforeseen circumstances.
Public commissioners are usually able to claim back VAT, so even if you’re not VAT registered, it’s helpful to show the VAT element on any applicable elements when presenting your budget breakdown.
Similarly, show each stage chronologically in the costing, with a description of what’s involved – it helps a client understand the time-consuming and specialist nature of what you do and fosters confidence.
For more information visit: www.joannakinnerslytaylor.com
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