Tuesday, October 18, 2011

hey, how much for your livelihood?

Recently I received an email from a potential buyer, asking whether I'd be insulted if he offered me 50% of my asking price for a work, noting 'hey, a sale is better than no sale, right?' I found this email, at most, cheeky and bemusing. I spent quite a bit of time deliberating a response, eventually opting for what I like to call 'graciously bowing out' ––meaning I said 'yeah ... nah' in a very polite and understanding fashion. However, everyone I've discussed it with has had such a strong opinion on the subject that I felt the need to share.
Some suggested responses included:

'fuck you' (a very popular response)
'you can have it for 50% off but you still need to pay the 70% asshole tax'
'sure, we'll cut it in half, just let me know which half you want'

The list goes on (some were too rude to publish). Another acquaintance couldn't understand what the fuss was about, and thought it was nice that 'oh well, at least he asked.' I felt like asking if she would be as flippant if her boss offered her half her wages that week. 

This has been a great discussion point with fellow creatives about what to charge for the awesome stuff that you do. How do you put a price on your creativity? Aside from ensuring that you cover the cost of your materials, how do you explain to someone, 'yeah, I guess you could have done it yourself, but you didn't.' Or how do you demonstrate to someone the man hours that go into an artwork, the tears you cry when you realise it's crap and you have to start all over again (really shit when you need to remove 40 butterfly wings with tweezers and a scalpel), the man hours that go into sourcing the one-of-a-kind materials, the energy that goes into contemplating an idea. Perhaps for some this is a truly romantic, idealised concept, whiling away your days, gazing out the window and drinking cups of tea, while cutely pasting little pictures together, singing a jaunty tune.

When I consider all the costs that need to be accounted for when making a work, I tend to have little conniptions––studio rental, material costs, utility costs, exhibiting costs, framing costs, eating, oh god, EATING! I was joking with a friend the other night about billable hours on top of all those costs. 

'Aw LUCE!' He said, 'don't even THINK about your billable hours, you'll be bankrupt!' 

In a way, he was a little bit right. When I sell a work, it is fantastic. Everyone likes cash for art, right? A sale ensures that I can then front the cash to make another work. Sometimes it contributes to my rent, and recently, it will contribute to servicing my very sad car. It is a pretty cool system really - I'm stoked that there are very wonderful people out there who support the arts.

If you are a creative soul trying to figure out how to charge for your work, there is some excellent advice on the ink and spindle blog. It may not be the right formula for you, but it may remind you that yes, you are pretty awesome, and no, you shouldn't undersell yourself, in fact, you better whack on another 5% because you probably are already underselling yourself. 

I thank my lucky starts that I simply adore what I do, and am happy to work away in the studio until the wee hours to make a piece. And if somebody wants to hang it on their wall, well isn't that just a dandified bonus of joy? It's not for the faint-hearted, but gosh it is worth it.


p.s. In the spirit of sharing and appropriate timing, design sponge have just published biz ladies: 7 myths that make earning ugly. Check it!


  1. You should've said "would you work for someone who said "I'll pay you half the minimum wage. Hey, a job is better than no job!"

  2. Oooh Anna that's a great one! I shall file it away for future use.


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