Monday, July 25, 2011

a shift

I've been putting off listing my new pieces online - I didn't touch the pottery last week.  It has been sitting on a sideboard in the dining room, staring balefully at me every time I walk past.  I feel a little at odds with it and with my work as a whole, but I'm beginning to come to terms with it. 

For the past ten years I've been making pots.  I've been selling them at a price with which I feel comfortable.  I've reasoned that I can pay myself a certain rate per hour and factor the cost of my work by that rate- and it covers my expenses.  I've prided myself on making useful and above all, affordable work.  A lovely but expensive mug won't get used, I thought.  I want my work to be used and enjoyed every day.  So, as the costs of materials and utilities went up (oh, you should see my electric bill when I'm firing a lot), my prices stayed relatively even.  Over the years my coffee mugs have gone from $15-18, but nothing drastic.  I also know that as a, um, impoverished sort of person, money is tight, and that's almost universal right now.  $30 cup, or $30 for lunches for my family for a week.  I know the answer to that question.

This year, my wholesale orders have jumped.  You probably know how that goes, right?  I get $9 for that $18 mug?  Um, not so appealing.  So the mugs that my wholesale clients sell are higher priced, and if I sell those same mugs, I match their price so as not to undercut them.  I've tried to keep my prices at a level that I'd pay, but I've been uneasy about it.  I have a beautiful cup that I bought for well over $50.  A guest in my home asked about it when we were having tea and wanted to use it.  She asked me (because she was a very good, close friend, and we've dispensed with those barriers) about its price and promptly put it back on the shelf.  I understand that reaction, and it isn't one I'd like to see with my work.  There's a flip side to that- under-pricing work makes it disposable.  I get that, too.

BUT.  I'm experiencing a shift.  This work, like the cup above, is still pretty affordable.  But it is significantly more expensive than one of my botanical cups.  So I've put off listing the bowls and platters and pitchers, items that are regularly more expensive anyway, because I've been worried about (speaking collectively here) your reaction.  Not that it isn't good enough to fetch the price that I ask, and not that I don't deserve to be compensated for my work, but I've just been nervous.  This week I'm going to start listing them.  They do me absolutely no good sitting in my dining room, staring at me.  Actually, less good, because they're likely to get broken where they are now.  So these pieces will be special*.  They'll cost more.  But they take more time, more skill, more firings.  I think they're worth more.  I feel mostly good about this decision.

Several of these cups are already up on Etsy.  The one pictured above is going to its new home tomorrow.  The mugs that I used for my invitation will go up in another few weeks- they need another glazing and firing.  I won't be around here much over the next two weeks.  We're wrapping up summer, working hard, and sneaking in a beach trip before school begins.  I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer, too.

*They're also special because I'm setting aside a bit of each sale to finance my own urban bee hive next year.  And they're the pieces I'm making for my first invitational show this fall.  And they're special because I love them in a way that I don't love my other work.  Maybe because Melissa means "honey bee", maybe because I'm drawing them.  I'm not sure. 


Sarah Jackson said...

I think it's wholly appropriate to charge more for these pieces. The wholesale vs. retail thing is so hard when you make work the way that you do.

I had total itchy finger over at Etsy, but I'm keeping my special order in mind. But man, do I want one of those mugs for myself. :)

Mama Urchin said...

I imagine pricing is one of the hardest things about selling your work. I don't envy you there at all. I do not know what the magic price is but I will say that your work has value, don't underestimate the cost of your careful attention to all that you do.

And I love those bees.

Cornelia said...

I have been thinking a lot about value, and so I appreciate your musings. I think, "Can I ask $48 for something for which I paid $2 at the flea market?". How do I come up with that number? How did the lady at the flea market come up with hers? I guess I've been learning not only that value can be arbitrary, but that I am to participate in assigning value to items. This drives home the point to me that value is not inherent. It doesn't live in the object, but in whatever willingness someone has to fork over for it. I guess I've always know this from basic economics, but it almost seems ludicrous to me that I can participate and that I can *dare* someone to pay me 24x the original price for something. It makes me feel powerful; it makes me feel bad.

But that is for the vintage wares I'm hawking. Don't handmade items like yours have an inherent value beyond the price of what they cost to make? How do you put a price on creativity and beauty? How do you price something which is the product of particular values? The product of human care, attention, and time? Sorry for the deep is 430am and I am awake, pondering all of this and wondering how, if our country's economy continues to falter, we will change our systems of assigning value and what that will mean for artisans/artists like you and scroungers and pickers like me.

amy h said...

I have noticed in the past that you've priced your work lower than many other potters I follow. I understand your reasoning, but there are reasons so many new housewares are cheap -- and many of those reasons aren't pretty. You don't need to be competing with that. I have two handmade mugs for which I paid around $40 and $75. We aren't rich people. I tend to hoard birthday/Christmas money gifts for these sorts of things. Then I use them every day and cherish them, and, uh, cry when they break and remember them fondly. The guests can use the vintage. :)

rebecca said...

go for it! i think you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. also, i believe that the story (funding your hive) that comes along with the purchase of the bee pieces will be a positive influence.

i often forget, as an artist, that not everyone can do what we do and many are willing to pay for that fact. i am forever underestimating myself and my art's value.

Shannon said...

You should never be apprehensive about selling your work for an appropriate price. While I understand there are those people who don't know the time and cost associated with something like you produce, those who seek your work out do, and won't flinch. Artwork such as yours is beautiful and functional, so much the better.