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underselling other artists because you can--was payment for pots

updated mon 24 jun 02


Tony Ferguson on thu 20 jun 02


This is a subject of much debate and concern for us full time potters who do
not have a spouse contributing income to the family. I was just talking
about this with a glass artist at our local third thursday potluck (I would
encourage everyone to do this--once a month get together with local artists
and have a potuck/party and rotate households--lots of fun and great in many
ways--keeps communication going, sharing of marketing, techniques, shows,
etc). Anyway, we were saying how it really pisses us off when people
undersell because they have a spouse, or are subsidized by a partron or
other, rich, etc.

I was telling her about a show I was at and a guy was selling his pots for
$5 & $10. Well, I know him and he is subsidized. Now he defended and said
it was market research, but it really makes it hard for those of us who are
feeding our kids and paying our bills with pot money and it also hurts the
art and craft of clay in general when people think they shouldn't have to
pay much for our works. Now, personally, my work is not $5 & $10 work and
would not probably attract the "cheapy" folk--but it is the larger principal
here I am trying to get at.

I reiterated to my glass artist friend that all retail and industry and
standard set prices for similiar objects--i.e. if we all put our foot down
and said the minimum we can sell _________ is for $20. Now are talking
about raising our scrapping of living wage that we all have somehow,
somewhere been brainwashed into thinking that being makers of utilitarian
ware it is supposed to be cheap. Will I say check your local shops and see
what decaled rug rat mug goes for $20. Now I like the rug rats, but I am
not a rug rat nor do I want to be seen as the rug rat of clay. Nor do I
believe any of you want to be seen as the rug rat of the arts and crafts,
being potters and selling our works inexpensively. I like what Warren
McKenzie has done for our community in general but it easy to expouse that
pots should be cheap when you have a university income and pension. We all
need each other--but come on, don't you think your work is worth more?

So what's my point: think about raising your prices, everyone, and the
choices consumers make will be more aesthetic and less blue light special.
Together we could raise our income, educate about the value of what we do
and the work and save our backs and bones a bit more.

Thank you.

Tony Ferguson
Stoneware, Porcelain, Raku
315 N. Lake Ave
Apt 312
Duluth, MN 55806

----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Mills"
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2002 4:06 PM
Subject: Re: Payment for pots

> Amen!
> In message , Tony Ferguson writes
> Snip>
> > Ask for what you need and a little more and if you are
> >not making your living exclusively from your art, be considerate to the
> >who is and don't undersell him or her. This really pisses us off.
> > >
> >Thank you.
> >
> >Tony Ferguson
> >Stoneware, Porcelain, Raku
> >
> >218-727-6339
> >315 N. Lake Ave
> >Apt 312
> >Duluth, MN 55806
> >----- Original Message -----
> >> Recently I made a couple of bowls, and a couple of mugs for a customer.
> >> told her the cost was $50 for the set, and she told me I was too cheap.
> >> She insisted on paying me $75. Was I supposed to accept it. I did,
> >> wrote out the check, but I feel a little cheesy.
> --
> Steve Mills
> Bath
> UK
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KLeSueur@AOL.COM on fri 21 jun 02


There will always be other potters selling their work for less. Sometimes substantially. Some of my prices tend to be lower than many other potters for like items of similar quality. Sometimes, however, my prices are higher for certain items. My total family income is derived from the sale of pots. Efficiencies effect my prices.

There are several ways to deal with customer inquiries as to why your work costs more. Not a good way is to point out that YOU have to make a living at it or that it is "hand-made". Most don't care. What they do care about is that YOUR pots are better designed, better quality. There is a reason they are standing in your booth wanting to buy your pots. I usually explain the the price the other potter is charging is a good price and if they LIKE the piece they should buy it. "But, I like your's!" Well, that's why mine is more expensive. It takes more time to make a piece that stands out from the average. As a result it costs more. They usually will accept that explanation.

Kathi LeSueur

Rowdy Dragon Pottery on fri 21 jun 02

I read Tony Ferguson's post at just the right time. In an hour or so I
load up my van for this afternoon's load-in for the Fremont Fair in
Seattle. It will be my first time there. I did not want to do the event
because it has a reputation as a bargain hunters venue. But I did not get
into my higher priority events and need the cash flow. Let me rephrase
that: desperately need the cash flow if I want to eat in the next few days.

One promise I made to myself a year ago when I began marketing was that I
would not undersell myself. So I will not drop my prices for this--or any
other--event. I hope that my marketing strategy will make me a little less
vulnerable to give-away potters. I've designed my marketing plan with a
higher end focus and with a items that in type and decoration are less
likely to be comparison shopped. Where other have mugs, I have tumblers,
and so forth.My pots are affordable and priced within the general local
market. But my booth is designed around several large platters, with nary
a mug in sight. Yes, lots of vases, serving dishes, etc, but nary a mug in
sight. And while customers do ask if I have it in blue, my dark bodied
soda fired ware with trailed slip moves off the shelves quickly.

But while I agree with Tony wholeheartedly, I want to suggest that we
remember that our competition is other potters only narrowly. If it can be
bought with the same discretionary income, it is our competition. So
tomorrow my competition will be the papermaker in the next both, the
Ninetendo game that the kid begged for three times this morning, the
silversmith at the far end of the fair, the travel agent, etc. So my job
is to make my pots immediately appealing and to interact with visitors in
ways that help them see the value in my pots. If I do that, I should
succeed even if a give-away potter is across the street.

We'll see what the weekend brings.

Neil Berkowitz

Jocelyn McAuley on fri 21 jun 02

Thanks for bringing up the subject of potters gouging other potters Tony.

This was brought up at Nancy Markoe's discussion "Making Work and Making a
Profit" at NCECA. Specifically the realm of glass art was shown as an
example of an artistic medium in which such selling practices are not
tolerated. As Wendy Rosen put it (paraphrased) if a part-time or
"hobbyist" glass artist showed up at a glass retail event attempting to
sell their work at wholesale or even under-wholesale prices, they would be
run out bythe other artists. Glass artists aren't willing to put up with
this gouging.

What is ment by this phrase "not tolerated", I'm not sure! An artistic
mob? How do we as artists help use peer pressure to protect our

As a ceramic artist who has a non-art full time job, I am fully aware of
this issue, and plan on considering it greatly when I price my work for
sale. It's hard though.

What has helped me understand how not to fall into the trap of
underpricing work was an explanation of retail vs wholesale
pricing. Nancy Markoe and Wendy Rosen did a wonderful job of explaining
this at NCECA.

I look forward to seeing others responses to this thread.


Jocelyn McAuley ><<'>
Eugene, Oregon

Lois Ruben Aronow on fri 21 jun 02

This is a very provocative topic for me for several reasons. I did my
I did my first crafts show this past weekend. It was a big one - the
Lincoln Center Crafts Show - here in NYC. 6 or 7 booths down from me
was this lovely japanese man who was selling his beautiful pots for
very very little. I mean like $12 for a shino plate. $10 tea bowls.
$8 little cups. You get the picture. He and his wife told me it was
his first show and they didn't know how to price. Well, I did hear
people in my booth comparing prices, even though the work was vastly
different. And it was MY first show too! Bottom line was that he
really raked it in on quantity. Did better than any other potter
there, and better than most potters I know in recent years who have
done the show. I did poorly on the first day. Lowered my prices the
second and did much better. =20

My studio mate and I have been having the pricing debate for a while,
as she thinks I underprice my work. My personal feeling is that I
compete with K-Mart and Pottery Barn as well as other potters. I
have also gone around to many of the design stores in NY who carry
pottery (yes, handmade) to see what they charge. I try and set my
prices at what I think people will pay. IMHO, The market sets the
price; I just go along with it. A look around this particular crafts
show tells me my prices are right in the middle. Not high, not low.
I'm keeping them where *I* feel comfortable. I'd rather sell 5 vases
at $65 that 2 at $80. Maybe I'll raise them at some point, but right
now this works for me. =20

But here's what angers me - I am one of those "subsidized" potters. I
REALLY resent that phrase. I am not "subsidized". I am starting a
new business, like any other. Yes, I am fortunate we can live on my
husbands income alone. This means he is a supportive spouse, not a
"subsidiser". My being a potter allows me to pick my son up at
school, be around for the kids, be around for my husband (who commutes
3 1/2 hours a day) and generally run the house. All this while trying
to makes pots and be profitable at it. I find it hard to believe that
anyone who goes through all the work of selling their wares
(especially the work of doing it at a crafts fair) does it for the fun
of it, which is basically what's being implied. I'm not setting my
prices higher to help other potters, as I have been told I should do.
I just want to sell pots, and lots of 'em. =20

Does one potter really owe the others a living? Everyone's work is
different, some requiring more work than others. Everyone's lifestyle
is different. Everyone's economic situation is different. I love
making pots almost as much as I love my children, and I can't imagine
doing anything else. I also think my chances of getting rich doing it
(or even "comfortable") are about as good as if I played the lottery.
Which reminds me, the mega-millions is up to $50M this week.

Lois Ruben Aronow

=46ine Craft Porcelain - Newly updated!

Mercy Langford on fri 21 jun 02

I find this issue fascinating and agree that by no means should we give our
items away. However If some of you would be so kind as to point out how you
price your items? Other than the price of your supplies how do you calculate
a potter's hourly rate? 25 and hour?50? More-if any one has a clear view
that would be haelpful for newcomers to know how to value their items and
sell at an appropriate price- Mercy

primalmommy on sat 22 jun 02

I have been reading these posts and it strikes me how emotional they can
be. You can sense the anger of people trying to support themselves in
competition with "hobbyists", and the defensiveness of serious potters
who feel they're being belittled because they are not relying on pottery
for their sole support.

It seems clear to me that if we don't value what we do, we can't expect
a public hypnotized by marketing and accustomed to cheap sweatshop
merchandise to take us seriously either. If you want to get rid of what
you make and don't care about the money, make mugs for soup kitchens,
donate to old folks homes, give work away to strangers, random acts of
kindness. Then you aren't undercutting your fellow potters.

Consumers buy expensive perfume and "real" jewelry BECAUSE it is
expensive and they wish to treat themselves to luxuries. If I want a
bargain colander I go to a garage sale, not an art fair. People who want
to have handcrafted, artistic works of beauty expect to pay for it, and
are reassured by the steep price tag that they're taking home something
of value.

But this issue of who is subsidized and whether it makes you more or
less a serious potter is impossibly complex and laden with value
judgements. I guess you could say I am "subsidized" because my husband
brings home the paycheck... but it could also be argued that since I
worked to put him through school, then quit a job I loved to raise and
homeschool our children, providing home and meals and garden and
handling the finances, appointments and details, that I am "subsidizing"
his goal of pursuing the career he has chosen -- something he couldn't
afford to do if I wasn't here doing my part. I have kept my vow never to
take a dime from the household budget to support my studio, and now I
can occasionally dip into the studio money when the household account
runs low... but none of the financial part determines my skill (or lack
of it) as a potter, and if I were to let my feelings get hurt by this
kind of discussion, well, shame on me.

The whole idea of validity based on whether pottery is your entire
source of income is silly, and was never the point anyway. Price wars
aside, money is no yardstick of a potter's worth. If you are a potter
living in a shack with 7 kids, should we buy your work instead of the
potter's who is single, living in a nice condo? If you make so much
money on your pots that you no longer need the income, are you suddenly
a hobbyist? What if you are a great, productive potter but a crappy
business person and you lose your shirt? I am sure there are
independently wealthy potters who pour heart and soul into their work,
and folks trying to make a living as potters who apathetically churn out
mediocre work. Nothing is black and white, especially in this weird
culture where some folks feel rich because their kids have shoes, and
some feel poor because they can't afford a third sports car.

We can't expect the public to know -- or care -- enough to shop
according to the economic need of the potter. To a certain extent, the
amount of time spent potting should determine the quality of the work,
and (assuming an educated consumer) nobody will have to wear a T-shirt
saying "help me pay my rent, buy a $14 coffee mug". But as potters we
can respect the craft and our fellow craftspeople enough to price our
work in the same range of those around us... even if it means risking a
bruised ego if folks walk past yours and buy someone else's. If your
work is not as high quality as the potters around you, don't lower the
prices -- go home and make more pots and improve the quality before you
try to sell with the big dogs.

My advice for beginners setting prices is pretty basic: figure out your
average monthly expenses (down to a portion of the utilities, if you
work from home, materials, workshops, books, mileage, etc.) and figure
out how many hours a month you spend making pots. Then you know you have
to make X an hour to break even. I keep that number in mind to figure
out things like "how much time can I spend decorating this piece?" (If
it's several hours, will it sell for that price?) Or, "how many students
do I need in a class to make it worth teaching?" I'm not saying the
meter is running every time I sit down with the clay, or that I never
spend days on a pot that probably will never be offered for sale.. but
that time is "research and development" and is accounted for in the "how
many hours" column.

The "break even" amount is useful because it tells you how much of the
price you choose is actually profit. When you adjust your prices to
match those of potters in your area (or at the same show), you have the
magic number in your head that you can't go below. And of course you can
sell some quick and easy pots for a bit more to make up for the
labor-of-love pots you spent too many hours on, if it all averages out
in the end. As a relative beginner myself I don't pretend to have this
figured out like the pros do, but it's a place to start.

Yours, Kelly in Ohio... back on the once-familiar soap box, pretending
you all need me to tell you how it REALLY is. Too hot here to sleep so
I'm catching up on clayart, which has taken a back seat to my garden for
a few weeks... Looking forward to the ACC workshop in July and Texas
sized work. I'm asking hubby for a little steamer trunk for my birthday
to fly my Clennell-inspired pots home from Tennessee... assuming they
survive critque-by-hammer.

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