Sunday, 19 February 2012

There's more to art than ...

I’m putting a photo of my latest piece here – it has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of this post.

I have always enjoyed making things. Knitting, and to a lesser extent crochet, came first, I started making jewelry a few years ago.  Jewelry has allowed me a much higher degree of creative exploration and expression than I have found in other crafty endeavors.

It was only last year that I started selling my pieces with any serious intent. Putting a price on my work has forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with creativity (at least in respect of making jewelry).  Whilst before I made simply for pleasure now there is an element of financial gain (actually it’s more a case of trying to offset financial loss given my addiction to supplies, books, tools etc etc). 

How to price things is one of the first challenges to be faced. There’s plenty of helpful advice for sellers - most of which suggest coming up with a reasonable hourly rate of pay for your time, calculating the amount of time a piece takes to make and then adding the cost of materials. This all makes sense but occasionally my pieces will take many many hours (even a few days) to complete and there is no way I could realistically reflect this in the price.  As a seller (and let's be clear here I do want to sell my work) I understand that, in order to be vaguely competitive, I have to not only benchmark my prices against what others are charging, I also need to have some kind of price consistency across my range.  Sometimes this means selling a piece for less than I ‘should’.   Having been involved with a local art show (and having an artist husband) I know how agonising the question of what to charge can be.

Did you see I used the word ‘competitive above?  I hate the idea of competing with other sellers and I have found, at least on etsy, the seller community to be incredibly warm and supportive.  But, if we are honest about it we are, at least at some level, competing with each other.  After all, there are only so many customers out there.  This doesn't mean being all cutthroat and nasty but it does mean taking some proactive steps - etsy is a huge marketplace and getting yourself noticed is the next challenge.  Unless you are selling something super rare the chances are that an average buyer will get hundreds if not thousands of results when they do a search for, well pretty much anything. So, sellers will need to explore a range of marketing and promotional options including etsy based features like showcase and/or search ads (both of which I have tried and found pretty useless by the way – maybe I’m using them wrong), using supporting social media like twitter and facebook and low tech options like cold calling and handing out good old fashioned business cards.

I surely don’t mean to moan about this – after all no one is forcing me to do this and, in fact, a lot of this additional stuff can be good fun.  I love listing something and then seeing how long it takes to get views and hearts. But I guess I am trying to point out that, in addition to the making, there is a boatload of additional ‘stuff’ that goes on in the background and that, even for the most successful sellers, the financial rewards are likely to be, comparatively speaking, relatively small. No wonder then that the joy of making something beautiful can get lost sometimes.

I'm sorry to rant on about things as unpalatable as marketing and money. But, I think it's important to reflect on the fact that these issues do play some kind of a role in the creative process and are, to a greater or lesser extent, a part of the process (if you intend to  try your hand at selling  that is - if not you can just skip right on by this post).

Nowadays when I look at the work of my fellow etsians I have some inkling of what sits behind a piece of work and I marvel not just at the artist’s creative talent but also at their ability to keep on bringing it.

‘til next time.


  1. Love your thoughts on this..after 3 years on etsy I do agree. Just one point..I think your creations fall into the 'rare' category you mentioned..(i.e. higher value) That jewelery 'niche' of repossessed, up-cycled pieces using those odd, rare, ancient,castoff bits and treasures..spun together with dreams and sorrows, magic and wondrous inspiration be them tribal assemblages or that always have some story to tell really not that large. My fav list includes perhaps 30 odd artist shops...and you are near the top..:)
    Reaching the select clients for these unique beauties I don't think is easy..sales and discounts definitely not the least for me. Art on sale? I tend to think it devalues it.
    Just my thoughts..your work is wonderfully inspiring.

    1. I'm the same with only a few shops that I visit on a really regular basis, eagerly awaiting the newest creation to be listed. I think our ability (or need?) to tell stories and weave a narrative around us is what makes us human. Part of the reward for me, in addition to selling the odd piece, is connecting with fellow artists like yourself.

  2. Never sell one of your pieces for lower than you think it "should" be. I, too, have spent hours, days, sometimes weeks on a single jewellery piece and then go on to listing it at a lower price because I felt it would be out of reach for most folks. But then I suffered - couldn`t purchase those strand of beads I was eyeballing, or the 100 feet of wire I needed. All the time, energy, sweat and sometimes blood just seems to evaporate into oblivion when an item is scooped up with hardly any profit being accrued. Not to mention, having to wrap, package, and label envelopes and finally leaving the house (risking your life!) to ship the darn thing. These are all hours of your life that can not be replaced, so don`t be afraid to charge accordingly! Your work is well worth it.

  3. There's such an interesting psychology around pricing, isn't there. The question I was most commonly asked by artists exhibiting their work at our local show was 'how much should I charge?' and I would always say to them pretty much what you said to me. But, do I always follow my own (and your) advice? No, and I'm not sure exactly why.

  4. Oh Kate - pricing is such an exasperating topic, isn't it? so difficult... I know I agonize over it, knowing full well most people do not value something that is too 'cheaply' available... but on the other hand, too high a price... Then there is all the extra time spent for listing, packaging, sourcing supplies - only someone that makes jewelry can really appreciate all the effort that goes into it.
    I love your latest piece (drool...) and am so glad I can connect with such talented people this way.

    1. thanks stregata, reading people's comments to this post has been really interesting and it's clear that it's something we all struggle with.

  5. Kate, I am sure there is a solution, and when I've found it, I'll let you know.
    Only kidding.

    I am here to let you know that you won the Versatile Blogger Award. You can read more about it on my blog.

    1. thanks for nominating me. I've just updated my blog and nominated some fellow bloggers (noticed when I went to leave comments on their blogs that I had inadvertently doubled up with you on some of them - sure it doesn't matter though). Kate

  6. I have been selling on etsy for 10 months now. It was antique pieces and not things I made. I have just starting to make stuff and the time involved is hours and hours. Not to mention of course the cost of supplies. I figure I’m new, so my prices have to be less than others even though I might take a lot more time because of my inexperience.
    But I can’t price things the same as you...I guess I just feel that once its made, that’s it really...move it on hopefully to get the money to buy more stuff...We are not going to make a fortune at this...I figure it’s just a way to pay for my supply and bead jones.

  7. I know what you mean. It's not always reasonable or practical to equate the price of a finished piece to the time taken to complete it. I think your work is really beautiful by the way.

  8. Hi Kate,
    Inevitable that I would end up here, as we seem to frequent the same places - and, in fact, nominate the same people for awards!!!
    I started out trying to sell my finished jewelry, and still can't comfortably price it, so now I've turned my hand to making ceramic focal beads - and as it turns out, they're even harder to price, given the ludicrous amount of time I put into them!! The biggest shift has been my expectation of the whole thing. What price do I put on being able to spend my time doing something I love (regardless of all the associated bits I don't love!)? It'd be wonderful to make a reasonable amount of money from this, but it's actually become a bigger thrill when someone enjoys my vision.
    I do think that pricing for the etsy market is probably harder than most though, because of the mixture of hobbyists and people wanting to really sell, and also that there are possibly more sellers than buyers.
    Funny old game! By the way, I adore all your pieces, and were I not broke, I'd happily pay what you charge for them!
    Petra x

  9. Hi Petra - the connection between art and commerce is never a very comfortable one. I, like you, derive as much if not more pleasure from connecting with fellow artists and being part of a genuine community.
    Love your beads by the way and if ever you see anything of mine you really like I'd be happy to trade with you. Kate x