The hidden cost
"How much!?" my neighbouring stallholder at the market has wide eyes when I tell her how much just one roll of framing tape costs. This is the tape I use to seal up the back of framed pictures that people buy at exhibitions or at fairs. (it's about £7.50 for a roll to answer her question).
We're talking about how the little buzz you get from making a sale at a show can quickly fizzle out if you calculate the actual profit that sale has made you. People look at a print and think- well it's just paper.. why so expensive!? Well! It's not a glamorous or popular thing to talk about... but since many people ask...!
Taking just that print as an example.. yes, it's paper. (Archival art rag paper which costs rather a lot).
It's also the mount that has been hand cut for it by a professional.
It's also the permanent museum grade ink that made the giclee print, and the very expensive huge printer, and the team of people who processed my order, resized the artwork, cut it, mounted it, packaged it and then the postage to have it sent to me.
It's also the time it took me to get to a stage where I was good enough to create something worth reproducing... the hours and ink and paper spent on the various attempts at painting that image before.
The hours spent photographing, editing and re-editing the image ready to send to the printers (and the camera and computer used to do so).
The cellophane wrapper which is protecting it, the custom made stamp which has put my logo on the back of it, the business card nestled inside, the custom price sticker and the price I paid to be at said marke
t or show today. Also the table and tablecloth it is standing on (or the print rack you've found it in), the time and fuel spent to get to the event, the recycled paper bag it's going to go in, the website you might look at later... I mean, I could go on but I'm sure you're already bored.
Being self employed and being lucky enough to work from home is amazing, but pricing work is incredibly tricky. There are so many rules on what does and doesn't constitute a 'business expense', and only extreme discipline can tell you what sliver of your home electricity, heating and internet bills were used on your work. Same goes for fuel, car repairs, even trying to work out how much time you've spent in a day can be difficult when you flip flop between answering a work call and walking the dog (or mostly doing both!). Working hours can start at 7am and end when you turn off your phone at night just before bed. Even then, I'll lie there thinking about everything I have to do the next day- there's no office to 'leave work behind' at.
Every time I get a print order it'll cost me up to £600. Just buying envelopes costs be £50 a pop and I may as well have a diamond membership at the Post Office.
I've always said I want my work to be reasonable and affordable for anyone- I don't think owning some unique art should be an exclusive club, leaving those of us on a budget with a series of identikit pictures that may as well be posters from IKEA or the Range... so I keep my profits low, although the chap at the market who tutted 'Far too expensive' at my £55 framed print might not believe me. (Though I have also had many people telling me it's far too cheap- always after they've bought something of course!)
There isn't a magic formula for pricing work- I don't have a set profit margin per item or even necessarily know exactly how much I have really made after a show! I know what I need to make per month to survive, but every month is totally different.
The best way for me is to just think- what would I be content with for this item, for my time, experience, materials and effort. What feels fair to me? And hopefully, it feels fair to you too.