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* * * PUBLISHED * * * My work has been included in Pauline Brown's 'Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques' 2nd Edition, Search Press Classics UK
* * * PUBLISHED * * * Artist Review #3 of a 4 part series in the new issue of A Needle Pulling Thread magazine, Canada
* * * PUBLISHED * * * Stitch (UK) feature article, 'From Sketch to Stitch' Issue #105

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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Rambling... Ramble with me?

I've had so many things on my mind.  I'm trying to organize my career, but unsure of which way to go.  People want me to teach.  People want me to write a book.  People want me to speak.  People want me to make video classes.  I have photos of my work constantly requested for use by books and magazines (which is AWESOME in my opinion!).  People want commissions.  I can do all that, and I can manage all that.  My classes are prepared and my speeches rehearsed.  I know where all my photos are when people ask.  I suppose the thing is - book or video?  I feel like the book will be far more work and investment.  With three kids at home, the videos will never happen.  I suppose that's the universe telling me to wait?

looking up from inside a tipi...  my photo 2011

I have so many ideas, it seems ridiculous at times.  I wonder how I will manage July and August (ie: no time to myself).  I get serious withdrawal when I'm not stitching.  Last summer, I learned to feel satisfied by all the photography I was collecting for future work.  Maybe I'll do a lot more off-line journalling.  Journalling is always good therapy.  20 minutes every morning is like mental cobweb dusting and keeps me clearly on a visible path for the rest of the day.

Having all this week of down time has really forced me to step back and assess.  Bottom line:  I love love love to make my art.  I am equally fulfilled by the reactions that people have to my work, and selling them is easy when I see how cherished my babies will be in their new homes.  I suppose it's like being a surrogate.  It's certainly been an incredible journey to this point.

Since I began, my art has consistently sold.  Each successive show, my prices are set higher.  The last show at Gardenscape was double the prices from last year.  I have nothing left.  It all sold.  I have since had some very serious discussions with various people.  I'm scared to bump it up a notch, but then again, I didn't think my last set of work would sell because I assumed the prices were too high.  I was wrong.  The advice all around was, "double it!  Double your prices!"  Part of me thinks that's ridiculously selfish.  I suppose there's a hint of, 'am I really worth it?' underlying all that as well.  It's a strange dichotomy.

Two people really laid it out for me from a different perspective I had not considered.  One man from the provincial craft council told me, "If you want to make a living at your art, then you HAVE to set the prices accordingly."  (But am I worth it?)  Then last week, a wonderful painter in my class named Elizabeth looked at me over the top of her glasses and waved her finger at me as she talked (can you picture that?  It was serious discussion time... ).  She asked the question, "What do you want to be doing years from now?"  My answer was to sew & get paid for it!  (Total pie-in-the-sky.)   So she said what he said, "Then you need to make sure that you can support yourself from your art and become totally self sufficient."  She is right.  This is now my full time job.  I thought I was flying pulling in $5000 last year.  I'm not flying though.  "You can't support yourself on that kind of a wage!" she said.

Then she said something else - and I really understood, because in the big scheme of things, it's not about me.  It's about all of us.  "When you price your work that low, what does that say to the artisans who are setting their prices to make a living from their work?  You are undercutting them and doing them a dis-service to their livelihood."  I get that so clearly, however I don't know if I would classify my work at their level.  Right?  That's a big leap.  She corrected me, "But you ARE at that level.  What is holding you back?  You've taken chances and proven that people still buy your work.  You ARE that good, and you have this momentum.  You should use it."

I do get it.  There are incredible quilt artists in our guild who sell small works for $25 or $30.  (hehe - you know who you are!)  I have told them, "but you are practically giving your work away - it's worth so much more!".   The truth may be that they have the same self worth issues as the rest of us.  Likewise, it breaks my heart so see crocheted handmade lacework being sold by their makers for 10 cents at garage sales while wood working goes for hundreds.  It's women.  It's money.  It's our shitty sense of self worth.  It's all that rolled into one, and honestly, women kind of suck at this, don't we!?

*** Did you know that the woman who purchased my most expensive piece felt sick about it and asked me if I wanted more money??  ***  These are strange growing pains indeed, and completely unfamiliar territory for me.

Okay... I don't know how to end this post.  Money is such a horrible topic for me, yet my career is my deepest source of joy.  I was planning to journal privately about this on my own, in my head... but I thought we all deserve to crack this topic open and talk about it.  So...  what say you?


16 comments:

quilt happy said...

your work is worth every penny you can get for it, so go for it!!!! it takes a whole lot of time to do it charge the way they do in store's buy the hour

Tara said...

One of my students just caught me reading your blog so I started showing him some of you work. He was just dumb-founded by it and exclaimed you should be charging $500 for one of your landscapes.

I really don't know anything about how to price hand-made items, but it's the internet and I'm going to express an uninformed opinion, anyway. ;-) It seems to me that one thing you should consider is the number of hours each piece takes and multiply it by a fair hourly wage. A fair hourly wage will not be minimum wage, either. I have done work as an employee and as a contractor (self-employed). When doing contract work you are usually charging 2-3 times the rate you would receive as an employee. This is because you are paying all overhead costs yourself and not receiving benefits, vacation pay, pension, ei, all that stuff.

I'll bet, just based on an impartial calculation, you'll be quite surprised how much your work is worth.

And on a more personal note, I would like to say "ditto" to everything your classmate Elizabeth said to you, especially, "What is holding you back?" (Should I look at you over the top of my glasses, too?)

You have achieved great success in a short period of time and this may take some getting used to. But your success is well-deserved. I am inspired by you in so many ways. Be proud of yourself and your work.

Bright Blessings - Tara.

Anonymous said...

elizabeth is absolutely right (and, having met her, i can just see her giving you 'the look'!). your work is worth it. i get really pissed off with people who don't understand the concept of paying for time, just because 'their mom did it for nothing' or because it's only sewing/knitting/crocheting/embroidery...
oh don't get me started...
i finally decided to quit selling my work because too many people thought they should pay less than my materials cost...so now my work goes only to people i know will appreciate it...
i don't have the energy or self-appreciation to fight over it....
you go, girl! charge people what your work is worth - and it's a lot!
cheers
molly

Becky said...

A really pertinent topic for me, as I'm considering going back to "work", after making under $1000, trying to sell my sewing work last year. It's so true that women's work is devalued. I was just having the same conversation with my aunt. Same is true with what people pay (mostly women) for childcare and elder care... very little, considering the importance and value of it. Heck, even cooking and cleaning are incredibly important, but so undervalued money-wise. Even in the art and sewing field, it makes me cringe when I see male artists making much more than women who are just as talented.

I also totally understand the "starving artist" stereotype now. It is so hard.

Your work is amazing, and I agree that if it's selling out so fast, keep upping the price.

I know only a little bit about you, but I suspect that you're a bit like me too, and come from a more "humble" background, and could never afford those prices that you're now asking. I'm sure that's part of your "hurdle", and one you need to work out somehow. Growing pains I guess, but you've earned the money you're getting now, and shouldn't feel bad about charging what people will pay!

OK enough of MY rambling... you asked, though, and you know I like to "blabber". ;-).

elle said...

Hmmmm. I know nothing but I do agree that an hourly wage and not minimum wage should definitely be part of the price. Your rise has been swift so I'm sure the learning curve is also steep. Best of luck and darn I shoulda got something way back when! ;^)

Lisa Jeanie said...

Your posts are always inspiring and your "ramblings" reflect your artistic nature. Congratulations. I just got my 1st issue of 'A Needle Pulling Thread' mag. and am enjoying the '...Love Story". I just had to see the article and the Prairie Dress so I subscribed and am not disappointed. The work you do is gorgeous. So glad I found you on the web.

Ellie said...

I can understand your reluctance to up your prices but your work is so full of love and beautiful you really should charge a fair price.
Maybe you could think of an hourly rate and then add a bit. Then work out how long you spend on them.
I've no idea how you put a price on your passion.

HollyM said...

I am very appreciative that you chose to write about this topic on your blog. It is one that makes a lot of us uncomfortable. I use the logic when pricing my pieces, that I do it for fun so why put the prices too high? Of course i know that not really logical, but I'm just getting started and just opened an Etsy shop (with no sales yet) and I'm reluctant to set things too high.
I always imagine that my prices can go up with time as yours have.
I agree we must try not to underprice as that affects the market but also there is perhaps a scale in quality and experience of artists. How do we know when we've reached a level demanding a certain price?
I agree with other commenters that you should be asking more. Darn there goes my chance of ever acquiring one, lol!

Monika Kinner-Whalen / My Sweet Prairie said...

Thanks everyone.
I started low ($30), sold all. Raised the price at the next show, sold all. Doubled the price, sold all. Raised it yet again, and again, and once I sold almost all *prior to the show*... so I definitely didn't start too high. The demand is intense - some pieces had 2 women trying to buy them at the same time! That was difficult to settle. So - I'm often told the rule of thumb is that if they go that fast, you can indeed charge more for your work. It's getting tough to keep up.

Other than that, I have given up on formulas. They change like the wind depending on the quality and demand of the work.

I still have my postcards! They are cheap. : )
And Holly - you might sell more locally than on Etsy. Not much happens for me on Etsy.

: )
good night all
~Monika

Faith said...

I totally agree. You should be selling your work for what you can to make a living at it. It, and you, are worth it. No doubt about it.

That said, it makes me feel a little sad. You are already out of my affordable range and I really, REALLY do like your landscapes. But do NOT use this to undersell yourself. That's just a case of I didn't discover you soon enough. Instead, I will use it to spur my creativity and continue to enjoy seeing your art on your blog and plod away at trying to create my own (which will unlikely be prairies). Mine are certainly not (at this time, since I just started, and perhaps ever) as good as yours, but they are mine and I'll have the joy of making them to make up for anything lacking.

And every time I saw one of your posts on Facebook about selling another landscape I really was so happy for you.

Regina said...

You are right on the mark with women's work being undervalued - foremost, but not only, by women.
I cringe each time I hear "Oh, I just make that in front of the TV", or "it is just reclaimed wool" or the likes to justify ridiculously low prizes.
I have lost sales because my work was not valued, but then I wonder how good the buyer would have cared for my quilt.....

Juanita said...

Hi Monika
Very interesting discussion. I think it is important for us as women to place a fair value on our work. All my pieces are hand stitched and sometimes I try to keep a running tab on the hours I put into a piece then multiply it by an hourly rate (a fairly low one at that). People sometimes gasp at the price anyway and (if they are acquaintances) I might ask if they would be willing to work for minimum wage after 16 years experience...Other friends tell me that if I lowered the price I might sell more pieces. My reply is that it wouldn't be worth selling - I'd rather have it on my wall. An artist friend once said that she looks at her finished painting and if it is really good she prices it higher. She feels that people are paying for her abilities and experience. And I agree. When I was a potter (for many years) there were some people in our guild who lived off their pottery, others who were doing it for a hobby (but were just as good) yet constantly undercut the professionals. It made for some friction and many discussions. Having said all that, the reality is that artwork and especially stitchery (women's work) is not valued as highly as some other abilities - like web design for instance. I always try to make some items that are more accessible for people and I sell items like greeting cards and fabric bookmarks.

Our mantra needs to be "we are worth it!!"

Suztats said...

Lots of good points being made here. One must also consider the time and cost involved in learning one's skills and know that they should also be in the equation.
When someone can earn millions a year because they can hit/kick/or catch a ball, where is the difficulty in charging a suitable price for creating a unique work of art? This also takes talent, as well as hard work.
Women and women's work has always been devalued, firstly by men and secondly by women.( even if a woman is doing the same job as a man, she often must fight to receive the same wage)
If your work is how you make a living, you must be able to make enough to live!
There are many formulas for working out how to price one's work, and it's a shame when some undercut others because they feel their work doesn't deserve the higher prices.
One should consider the cost of the supplies and double it, add in the number of hours it takes to create multiplied by a living wage/hour, add some for the cost of schooling/lessons/classes, add some for artistic talent. And then maybe double that, too!
The fact is that we value something by how much it costs. Not to price your art appropriately devalues your work, your time, your creative talent, and you.
Well, just my 2 cents.......

Christie DescribeHappy said...

What a good topic and food for thought conversation. I had a similar convo with a co-worker over stuff I put in our work art show. I was getting the your worth more speech. Hard for me to process too. And can I tell you... I am just so darn proud to see you though this journey! Your amazing and in my eyes worth everything and more! Really really!! Looking forward to you taking the next leap :)

Pam said...

I don't know what you charge for your art, but here are links to two other fiber/mixed media artists I follow, who are good about sharing their processes with promoting themselves, and valuing their art/ talent.
http://blog.lisacall.com/
http://jeannewilliamson.blogspot.com/

the second has links to many other artist blogs as well.

The hardest part is believing "you" are worth it, and you are. Your artwork is exquisite.

Best wishes for the future.

felicity said...

Thank you for bringing up this topic, Monika! Your post and the comments are fascinating.

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