Thursday, July 25, 2013

Marzena Ziejka Offers Her Experience With Pricing Tapestries

I have experience selling from two groups: lower pricing to family and friends and the money received mostly went to supplies; I also have sold works as a professional crafts-person. The order for me was not what you might expect the natural progression to be. I moved from group two to group one. Due to my emigration to the U.S. I moved into group one. Now I'm entering a third category, and
dealing with pricing tapestries as art works which has many complexities.

My first experience in the second category of crafts-person was when I worked as a full time weaver at company that made tapestries. We charged only for our craft of making cartoon and weaving, not for art as we were commissioned to realize "other" artist's designs. There was a system of pricing based on complexity of pattern, which fell into 6 classes, and the company charged the client per square meter based on a particular class. Weavers received hourly pay depending on class, plus premium of 20-50% if tapestry was finished before scheduled due date (this was on a sliding scale based on the class that also had incentives for productivity, only the highest classes received up to 50%).

You might ask how the classes were established? When the cartoon was made--lines/outlines described any color change; the cartoonist drew parallel lines in direction as the wefts would be added in decimal spacing (about 4"), and counted all intersections with outlines on each decimal interval. That number was divided by numbers of decimal spacing lines and the final number of average count (of color change) per square decimal was found. For example 4 changes per 4" on average is pretty high in class, and it generally meant that in some areas of tapestry there is not much going on, while other areas are very complicated. To help you visualize I use examples that we all familiar with: highest class is painting "Irises" by Van Gogh, no element skipped, while lowest class could be 'Icarus' by Matisse (when both are the same dimensions).

My salary was very good then--prices of tapestries I made were comparable to those you would find at high end craft fairs.

Then I gained experience within the first category of pricing. After arriving in Chicago I was time-to-time making some works on commission at a friend's request while earning living in completely different field. Usually such commissions meant not good money, but mostly the money was incidental. Just to find some appreciation... I was happy to fulfill the order, and then I collected my reward which was exactly 28 cents per hour. No class associated of course as in my previous work. Some friends, remarkably, still thought that I had overpriced my piece.

Today, I am entering the reality of having to price my work in the realm of art, or the third group. Approaching the how and how much is a very real question for me. I have to answer a lot of my own internal questions about how to price my artwork as an art piece, and I'm learning that my previous experiences here are invalid. Can you imagine a painter who charges by square foot, or by hour? Yep, this would be not an artist painter. Neither would building my very own classes help much.

Elements of previous experiences in the two first groups, are only a part to which I should consider adding entire new bag of qualifications, and some might seem quite elusive. The more I learn the more I understand, but it sometimes feels like the less I know. In addition to the calculation of costs keep in mind sharing profits 50-50 with a gallery (when represented by a gallery they often also collect a commission when you sell direct from your studio, and some go as far as to forbid such sales). But being an artist goes beyond physicality of your pieces. There is much more to be considered, and if you an emerging artist, you can't aspire to prices that long time well known artists might achieve. Maybe for a long time you will only be able to sell it below your total costs, but it is no longer per foot/per hour nor by guilt appraisal. And to get advantage of those elusive elements you have to commit yourself to 24 hours 7 days per week per many years work on being an artist with no guarantee of outcomes at all.

I have still question how to price my work, especially when selling internationally? Recently I asked acclaimed weavers in Poland about prices there as somebody expressed interest in purchasing my piece in Poland. I can't ask what I would have expect for even a low value acrylic painting
same size here, in US, because the market reality is different here from there, and second - I have 'no name'. Wlodzimierz Cygan (winner of many international prizes; reminded me to keep in mind beyond the price to consider including a clause that would ensure that the
work would be available for future exhibitions and that if the piece goes into a prominent collection that that would help raise future value of my works - both of these are crucial for the artist. So at this point in attempting to price this international sale, when I consider myself 'emerging' I might be in the pricing below cost category. I haven't made any formal decision as of yet but pricing your works becomes much more challenging a process in the third category as an unknown emerging artist. But I am enjoying a great deal of input from friends and associates from many parts of the world.

My last subject on this topic is everybody's favorite - taxes! I still have tax questions unanswered when selling internationally. Still digging for answers. Maybe someone has an experience with that they'd like to share?

happy weaving,

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