can we talk about pricing?

i know this is an uncomfortable subject. i hate mixing art and money. well, except when i buy art. but lately i've been obsessing about pricing because i have to put a number on my humble little piece i'm sending up to the Big City. and i have no clue what to base this on. i've done a ton of "market research" if that includes browsing embroidery on etsy and artist's websites, but there is no consistency.

certainly, the intricacy of a piece seems to be a big factor. but there are still many very detailed, lovely pieces on etsy for less than it costs to go out to lunch (a cheap lunch). then there are really very simple pieces with larger price tags to go with the big (artist's) names. should there really be this division between art and craft, production work and gallery work? of course not, but still, work has to find its way within some existing channels, and these channels seem to dictate the price.

so price is really dictated by what the market(s) will bear. on etsy, it doesn't bear much. and in galleries, how many buyers are out there for contemporary needlework? are there at least enough to buy all the great needlework, or are we in the process of creating this market?

i have no delusions that the market will bear what seems fair to me. how do i price my labor, my ideas, my sore fingers? by hours? size? dazzling technique? or perceived awesomeness? it would be nice to sell something some day, i guess, but i have no desire to give my shit away just so i can kill myself stitching faster for less than minimum wage. that's not cool. although i really do understand the temptation to price a piece affordably (and low enough that it might actually sell on etsy). surely all this is related to the feminist themes circling around in needlework debates, but i'm not awake enough to get into all that right now.

some good things: i just finished a freaking awesome new piece. i love it. it's *tiny* and it took *forever*. AND, we gathered up vintage letters for our "STUDIOS" sign from various etsy sellers. we're going to hang them below the existing old and cool "Hotel Hadley" sign. here are their pics (i know i should credit each seller - maybe i'll edit it to add them later).


  1. I'm in a similar position as you, but I think I'm going for ten bucks an hour for each piece. So if it took me ten hours, it's a hundred bucks. And if people don't want to pay that, it's their prerogative, but at least it resembles a reasonable assessment of how much work went into the piece.
    Embroidery, for long standing historical reasons, isn't seen as art, and therefore people baulk at the price, despite the fact that it's extremely labour-intensive. This will change one day... :)

  2. hi jamie, thanks for chiming in. you're definitely helping to have embroidery recognized as art! i think ten bucks an hour is a good start. at least it's fair enough and not giving it away. although that would mean my new little 4x4 inch fox would cost like $400 or something (i spun some of the yarn for it). and that pricing still doesn't give us the value-add of "art," you know? that special something that makes a painting that took 5 hours worth $2500. i guess that requires tapping into the whole gallery world and industry, an animal that's entirely new to me.

  3. Hey, hey! Pricing is a tricky one. Is this art, is a bigger one. I with my art school edu really believe that if you name it art it is art. For myself I ask, did you intend to make a work of art or an interesting piece that showcases your handiwork? Nearly all of my stuff, I don't consider art as it is not contextualized as such. This all gets confusing... I live like a craftsperson but make my works like an artist...ha! I'd like to suggest though, that the handmade marketplace has made this distinction less important by allowing one to share on their own without waiting to find a gallery to represent them. This is really empowering for both craftspeople and artists.
    So really, I feel, you can define your work and set your price how ever you'd like. If you truly want to sell it, I like Jamie's suggestion of a simple algorithm (adjusted to what your pref amount is) but once you set your prices in a zone...whether you consider it craft or art, it's best to not go back down. Artists usually raise their prices as they grow more popular. There is a limit to the supply, and a greater demand.
    Sorry for the HUGE chime in!

  4. Sometimes I feel like it's hard to demand a living wage in the arts because people think it's "fun" for us, and that somehow diminishes the monetary value.

    I'm with Jamie, 10 bucks an hour plus materials. We already get f*cked over enough, we don't need to sweatshop ourselves too! :) But yeah, it does mean that 4"x4" is 400 dollars, I feel your pain. Those masks I made would have to be priced at over a grand because of all the labor. And then when you start doing gallery shows and the commission rate is 30%, it can get even stickier!

    But we have to remember, people will still pay 500 bucks for shoes. The money's there, people who buy art will always buy it. Also, charging a living wage influences the market for everyone else and then they can get some scratch.

    (And then I think, why the eff not 15 bucks an hour? How much does the buyer make an hour? Is that number a refection of their expertise, education, and overhead as well? Why shouldn't mine be?)

  5. I really do not have anything to add. I do agree with the other posters. I wish all of my favorite artists had gallery representation to do the pricing for them.

  6. i'm so glad you all have commented because it's giving me a lot to think about. nicole, the whole thing about art being contextualized is really interesting. i wish you'd say more! it's also odd to me in a way that you don't consider your stuff art, but then again i don't buy into a heirarchy of art and craft - craft kicks ass! i'm not even all that concerned with these definitions but i do wish craft commanded respect and money.

    for sure, the handmade marketplace has helped level this out and make art and craft affordable. it's taken the power to determine prices away from an elite group of gallerists and patrons. i wonder if it's even breaking open the whole structure of what's been deemed "good" or "art" and how that's being reconfigured. the flip side of the empowerment and democratization seems to be the tendency to drive prices down. or maybe not - my perspective is so limited!

    penny, i'm so glad you reminded me about how much people pay for crap. and i'd totally buy a higher hourly rate. damn straight. this question is so maddening - how to value objects and labor in a system where value is entirely skewed by power.

  7. Thank you for posting this topic. Pricing has been on m mind too.

    I feel more confident now to price my work a little higher. I always feel bad when I price pieces, I usually end up changing the price. :-/
    I'm really not good at making those kinds of decisions. The post and the comments here from our fellow embroidery friends has helped me a lot with questions and worries I have been having.