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underselling--unfortunately long ramble

updated tue 25 jun 02


RPeckham@COOKSONELECTRONICS.COM on mon 24 jun 02

Unfortunately we are involved with a career that people pay to do.

When I graduated from college, I didn't know what to do for a living. I
knew it wasn't engineering, I hated school. I liked psychology in school,
so I tried working with autistic people. Did it for a year, and worked
right along other people with their masters degree, and 10 years
experience for $8/hr. Fun stuff, couldn't think about supporting a family

I then tried working on wooden yachts. Like working with wood, immensely
satisfying, but only $8/hr. I looked at people who were in their 60's,
and had been doing it their whole lives, and they were making $20/hr
supporting a whole shop, living on a dark leaky boat with their whole
family. Very fun job, but I saw too many years of poverty to get to their
level of subsistance.

I started to realize that there is alot of competition for jobs that are
pleasing. If something is so much fun, that people will pay to do it,
there will be some tough competition, and relatively low wages.

One thing about clay is that reputation, name, and skill level are
important. Why else would somebody pay $25000 for an Otto Heino vase. As
time goes on, you build a name, and a reputation, and you develop skills
that you can bank on.

I agree with Dave Hendley, the people who make $5 mugs are selling $5
mugs. A potter who is selling their mug for $20 is competing with the $5
mug person as much as they are competing with the $1.50 mug at Job Lot.
People are not buying our stuff because they need it, they are buying it
because they want it. Where wants are concerned money is not always an
issue. Otherwise why would anyone in their right mind by a potter's large
mixing bowl for $95 when they can get a whole set of buffalo ware mixing
bowls from William Sonoma for $18. People place a value on things they
want. A potter selling mugs for $5 can probably get only $5 for his mug.
3 months earlier he was probably making pottery for a huge loss, now maybe
he can buy some new clay to keep going, or maybe a new trimming tool. I
guarantee by the time he can make a hoof mug like Dave's he will not
charge $5 for it.

I also firmly believe that Cheap ass potters help the public begin the
odyssey into collecting, and using handmade pottery. Someone not likely
to pay $20-30 for a mug, might pay $5. He may like the way the glaze
swirls, and notice a fingerprint, and cherish it. Now they are hooked.

I earn a good living with my day job, and yes I do subsidize my work. I
do sell my work. I sell to keep my house from becoming overwhelmed, and
also to start to pay for materials, and resources used. I charge for what
I think my work is worth. It is starting to get fairly decent, so I
charge fairly decent prices. It is not as bad as the $5 mug guy, but not
as good as Tony C's work. I price somewhere in between. When I become
good enough to sell my work for good prices, I will quit my day job, and
make pottery. For now I know my work is not good enough to make a
living, so I keep a day job. Fairly simple equation.

Just like Engineering. When I started I was not good. I got $27000 a
year. I was not competing with the $75,000 a year engineer. I had my
place, and was worth what I was paid. Now it is different, I know what I
am doing, and am relatively good at what I do. I don't snub the new guy
just because he is only asking $50k a year. He doesn't threaten me, or
diminish my value.

I do however agree that we should not "dump" our work on the public. It
is a disservice to our fellow potters. The same group who offer continual
help, and support to us beginners. Just charge what you think it is
worth. If people tell you your prices are too low raise them, etc.

If I couldn't sell my work, I would still do it, I would just dump it in a
hole in the back yard when my house got too full. That is the problem
with doing something for a living that is pleasing to your soul. There
are always people who would do it for free, people giving away, dumping it
at sales, packing in boxes, recycling, or throwing their stuff away just
to make room to make more. To make a living in clay you cannot compete
with them, any more than you can compete with the local Job Lot, or
Christmas Tree Shop, where you can get a large selection of plates, and
mugs for under $5, most under $2.

The value you put into your work. The skill you have gained from years of
hard work. The time it takes to make, fire, test etc. etc. etc. The
reputation, and image you present. That is what you are selling. The
whole individually presented package. Large mug made from clay dug from
your backyard, glazed with bottles you picked up on the road, and mixed
with clay, and ash, and fired in a wood kiln that you made, with wood you
cut down. That is what doesn't come with a $5 mug that a beginner makes,
or a $1.50 mug that is mass produced, or a large planter made in china.
The whole story, the individuality, the person.

I get $12-$20 for a mug. Just started doing this a couple of years ago,
never studied it in school, nobody knows who I am. I buy all my clay
"pre-mixed" in a bag. I even use almost exclusively commercial glazes,
only two that I mix myself, but they are other people's glazes as well.
Have a few I have modified for effect, and sometimes wedge a bunch of
assorted stuff in my clay. Have an electric kiln, want to build a wood
kiln, but haven't bought the book yet. It will take me a long time to
really compete with David Hendley, or Tony Clennell, so why in the world
would my work be priced like theirs.

I would think potters would be more upset if I was an unskilled,
untalented con-artist who was able to get $400 for a block of clay that I
put a firecracker in, or shot with my gun.

That's what bothers me in my day job. People who suck, and get paid more
than me.