Think Art Loud

Inspiring, Encouraging, and Promoting the Handmade Arts and Artists

Archive for the ‘Selling Your Art’ Category

When building your art/craft business it is important to have a cohesive body of artwork. Without a cohesive body of artwork, your business won’t be able to be recognized or remembered. This is an easy thing to neglect, especially if you are just starting out. Take a hard, critical look at your art. What do you see? Do all your product lines make sense together? If you took away all the signatures, watermarks, etc. that identify them as having been made by you, would people still be able to recognize it all as being your work? Would you? If not, than you have a problem.

A few years ago, I spoke with some representatives from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) (I was considering their jewelry/metals program); part of my meeting with them involved an unofficial portfolio review. During that review, I was given what is probably the highest complement I have ever been given regarding my jewelry. The gentleman reviewing my work told me that if he were to see my jewelry in a store he would be able to recognize it as mine even without anything identifying it as such. He also, though, gave me a challenge: to expand beyond just chainmaille so, as an artist, I would not simply be remembered as “that chainmaille girl.” This was something I was already planning on doing, however, it presented another problem: how to expand but still maintain a cohesive body of artwork. You see, I have what I like to call “creative claustrophobia:” the fear of being boxed into just one technique/style, or that I’m going to stagnate creatively and be stuck making same thing over and over and over if I don’t push myself to keep learning. However, because I’m ever learning new techniques/styles I am continually having to be careful to not expand so far that my work begins to look muddled and undefined.

This cohesiveness helps to tell your customers what you are about. It plays a major role in how they recognize you and what they will remember. If you have too many dis-separate styles or unrelated products, it confuses your ‘brand’ and people won’t be able to figure out what exactly it is that you do, and if they can’t figure that out they aren’t likely to remember you let alone buy from you. This is why cohesion is important to your brand. Does this mean you have to limit yourself to a minimal of art forms or product types? No, but it does mean you have to find a way to ensure that there is a shared connection between them and that they make sense together. Define what it is your art is about, what makes your work different from others, etc. and keep this in focus as you expand/develop your different lines of work. I specialize in historical inspiration. While I may work with many different styles/techniques, this is the glue that holds them all together. What is your glue? Have you found it yet?

If you sell your artwork or are thinking about selling it, pricing is likely something that you have (or will) struggle with (don’t worry, most everyone does!). Knowing how to price your work cam be a major headache. I’ve struggled with pricing for years, and, while I’d like to say I understand it perfectly now I can’t, but I can say that it does get easier and that I understand it a lot better than I used to.

If you’ve ever looked at a book or website for information on how to price your work, then no doubt you’ve seen all the pricing formulas out there. They’re all some form of materials + hourly wage x markup. Sometimes the emphasis may be on marking the materials way up and then adding in the cost of your time (all of which often gets marked up yet again for the wholesale or retail price). And sometimes the emphasis is more on the value of the time put into the piece. There are many, many different pricing methods but they all involve the value of the time put into the piece and the actual material cost.

Something worth noting is that most all the time, we understand that we need to make back our material costs, but we often neglect to properly compensate for our time. This begs the question that I’ve seen asked over and over on various forums: how much should I charge for my time. Well, there’s really no easy answer to that. Some will tell you that you need to make at least minimum wage. And they’re right, you should NOT be making any less than minimum wage, however, if this is to be your living, you need to be making well above minimum wage.

When it comes to determining a wage per hour, a common mistake that is made is to just pick an hourly wage that sounds good to you. This is a huge mistake and will most often just set you up to fail because it does not account for what you need to make an hour to actually make your business work.  Like many, I started off making this mistake. I thought $10 an hour sounded like a great wage to make, and, in an area where most of the jobs are not much above minimum wage ($7.40 an hour here in Michigan), it was more than a lot of jobs around.  But I didn’t understand then what I do know.  It wasn’t until joining Ganoksin (an online gem and jewelry community) and reading about this very issue there that I saw it explained in such a way that it made perfect sense.

The way it was explained was that we often make the mistake of deciding what we would like to make an hour instead of doing the math to find out what we need to make an hour. To find our what your hourly wage needs to be, you have to add up all of what your expenses are.  What is your cost of living? Your cost of doing business? Taxes? Etc. To know how much you need to charge an hour, you need to know you much you spend yearly.  After you’ve found out what you cost of living  and cost of doing business is add them together this is your (estimated) yearly expenditure.  But you’re not done yet, it is often said to estimate at least 30% of your income will go to income tax so need to factor this in also.  This all just gives you your break-even point, you need to make above this so that 1) you have a profit that can be reinvested back into your business, and 2) you have extra left over that can go into your personal savings to cover unexpected expenditures, fun personal expenditures, etc.  So factor in an additional percentage to get what you need to be making in a year.  Now that you know what you need to make in a year, you can start working backwards to figure out what you need to make in an hour.  When you are self-employed as an artist, you likely will not be working the ‘normal’ 40-hour week that most everyone else works.  On average, an artist will only spend between 20-25 hours a week creating their art, the rest of the time is generally spent taking care of other aspects of the business (marking, promoting, advertising, paper-work, photographing, attending shows, etc.) but the only time that actually makes you money is the time you spend creating each piece.  Find out how many hours on average you spend each week creating your artwork and use this to calculate how many hours you spend in a year creating salable product.  When you have that number you are ready to calculate what your target wage per hour should be, all you need to do now is divide the number you got when you determined how much you need to earn in a year by how many hours you spend creating and you will have your target wage per hour.

I know it sounds complicated, but knowing this information is invaluable when it comes to knowing how well your business is actually doing.  It will save you from a lot of needless headache and heartache later on if you understand how much you actually need to be making in order to have a successful business of selling your artwork and not have to always rely on a secondary source of income.

I hope you find this blog post to be helpful (and understandable) to you and I wish you all the best in going forward and putting that price on your art!

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