Smaller pieces for sale

I wrote three posts not too long ago about making smaller pieces for sale. Before I went on my mammoth cycling trip I mounted six of them on large pieces of mountboard, enclosed a label, then wrapped the finished pieces in heavy duty florists’ cellophane. This entailed the purchase of new supplies:

  • Mountboard, obviously, but also some thinner card to tape onto the back of the pieces so that the underside of the embroidery is concealed
  • Double sided sticky tape, heavy duty so that the pieces won’t fall to bits
  • Cellophane

I did quite a bit of research on sourcing materials of the right quality. All these new supplies were quite costly, but I don’t want the presentation of these pieces to look cheap. Fortunately, I already had a mount cutter (which is what gives you the nice bevelled edge); I bought it several years ago on a whim, never knowing how useful it would turn out to be. Accurate measurement is, obviously, really important. I work with a centimetre ruler (not inches, even though when I was at school we still used imperial measurement only and it took me many years to come round to metric measurement) and I measure everything at least twice before I cut. Even with a fair bit of care, I did make the odd mistake, but I found that, as with all repetitive tasks, I got better at it the more I did.

After the cycling trip, I mounted four smaller pieces on some of the smaller offcuts of mountboard that I had left over. I’ve got plenty of mountboard left over for the next time I do this exercise. Here is one of the smaller pieces. all wrapped up: Smaller piece for sale

You’ll see that it really is quite small, but what I was aiming for was a range of items at different prices, so as to appeal (I hope) to as broad a group as possible. In total I have mounted 10 pieces and the price range is from £10 for the smallest pieces, up to a maximum of £40. These prices in no way reflect the massive amount of work involved – but see my earlier post on that topic…

I’m hoping that these will be sufficiently appealing to sell. Although, actually, I’m rather fond of some of them, so if they come winging their way back to me I might put one or two on my own walls.


So, yes, pricing. I knew I’d have to think about this sooner or later if I hoped to sell work. Not everyone wants to sell work, of course, and I’ve never tried until now. But the Prism exhibition provides exhibitors with the opportunity to sell pieces of work in the exhibition, plus items in the exhibition shop. So I’ve had to turn my attention to the important question of ‘how much?’ It’s actually not the first time I’ve considered pricing. I’m the author of an accountancy textbook for use in universities, and I decided when planning the content of the book, some fifteen years ago, that I would include a chapter on pricing. The chapter kicks off with an economist’s  supply/demand graph – which is helpful to illustrate the selling of, say, toothpaste in a competitive market, but doesn’t have any use for the sale of one-off items such as artwork. I then go on to consider the question of how producers decide on prices and then I have a quick waltz around (this is only an introductory textbook and pricing is far from being my speciality) two approaches that I think have some relevance for what I’m talking about here: market-based pricing and cost-based pricing.

Very broadly speaking:

  • Cost-based pricing fixes the price of a product by reference to the cost of supplying it.
  • Market-based pricing fixes the price of a product by reference to what the market will bear.

I’ve seen a couple of good attempts recently to apply cost-based pricing to one-off items produced as art, but then mediated by the market-based approach. For example, recently, Helen Conway produced a detailed blog post on the subject which is full of useful thoughts and descriptions of how she does it. She sets out four basic principles (good idea, this), for example: ‘Principle no 1: I am not dependent on selling my art but I still want to price it as if I were running a full time working studio’. If you want to read the others, jump over there to Helen’s blog and take a look. She explains it all very well. Helen then applies a formula:

(Cost + hourly wage) x gallery commission = starting point

‘What? An hourly wage?’ you may be thinking. But, yes, that’s a sensible approach, especially in the light of principle no 1 above. This treats what you do like a business; obviously, it’s not the only valid approach. You may be happy never to sell and  to go to the grave as an unsung genius, leaving a house full of valuable artworks that your legatees can flog and get rich on; if so this discussion is not of great relevance to you.

The cost and gallery commission elements of the formula are relatively easy – the commission is what it is, and you should have some idea of the cost of production if you’re going to adopt a business-like footing. If you take the unsung genius approach it really doesn’t matter what you do. Or don’t do. Helen has various good ideas about how to establish an hourly wage that values your time appropriately. Realistically, I know that many artists struggling to get by, feel that they are doing well if they generate the minimum wage from their activities. But, we can dream. Helen does not, as far as I can see, include any allowance for pension costs, but I think you would need this for completeness if you were following this approach. And especially if you were planning a life-time career as an artist. (Just an accountant-like thought).

Taking this rational approach, you add together all the costs of making your piece of art, then you add the total (hours spent x hourly wage), then add on the gallery’s commission, and reach a price. So then you go ahead and charge that, right? Well, no. Not so fast. As Helen says, this is a starting point only. Then, you have to think about the market for your product. Artwork is often unique (well, OK, unless you’re selling prints), and that being the case, you don’t, can’t, price it like toothpaste. A final quotation from Helen’s post before I go off on some thoughts of my own: ‘In the art world, it doesn’t work to say, these are my lifestyle needs/ wishes, I want a salary of $x to achieve that and so these are my prices, if the market does not support that price’. Quite so.

So, now, let’s think about this ‘market’ and what you’re actually aiming to sell. What do you buy when you buy a piece of art (assuming it’s not reproduced as a print or photograph) – let’s say a painting? Well, at a basic level you’re buying the object. Part of the price you pay covers the artist’s costs of canvas, stretchers, paints. But this most likely leaves a part of the price for the artist’s time. And what else? Oh, yes, the privilege of owning something that is unique, and of buying into the artist’s reputation. If you buy a Tracy Emin painting, say, only the most trivial element of the price will be accounted for by the cost of canvas etc. The extra that you pay over and above the relatively insignificant tangible elements, depends upon the artist’s reputation. In the act of buying you are simultaneously paying for her accumulated experience, reputation, the joy of owning something unique, and at the same time, you are helping marginally to boost that reputation by being a willing buyer in the market.

So where does that leave a new starter? Well, as a newbie, you don’t have any reputation. Nothing, nada, zilch. (I should say here that Helen Conway is not a new starter by any means: she was writing her blog post in the light of her forthcoming solo exhibition. She has sold work before, and has exhibited widely, so in her chosen field, she has acquired a reputation. By contrast with me, and possibly you). So what are you going to do? You’ve got a choice of approaches, which may, or may not, be encapsulated in one of the following:

  • Being meek: ‘my work isn’t worth anything much and so I should be thrilled to get twenty quid for it, disregarding the fact that it’s taken me 140 hours to make)’
  • Recovering cost at all costs: ‘that’s what it cost to produce, including an hourly wage rate that fairly reflects the value of my time, so that’s what I’m going to charge’
  • Comparison with the best: ‘my work is easily as good as X’s [established artist], so I’m going to charge the same’
  • The hobbyist: ‘I don’t actually need the money, so all that matters is the fact of selling. I’m not bothered about keeping detailed records or about comparisons with professional artists’

Well, where am I with this? I want to avoid the meek approach, as I’d like to think I value myself and what I do a little bit more highly than that. Recovering cost at all costs? To be honest, this is likely to be very difficult for anyone who produces something like hand embroidery – ‘it takes how long???’. Comparison with the best does have something to recommend it. You never know. Perhaps people will fall over themselves to buy my work and I will establish an overnight stellar reputation. But, then again, possibly not.

For me, I can see the appeal of what I’ve called the ‘hobbyist’ approach. I work hard as an accountant, and earn enough to support myself without being obliged to make any extra income from selling artwork. (The trade off, of course, is that I’m very pushed for time). But, on a broader level, is the ‘hobbyist’ approach fair? One reason why artists generally may not earn enough to keep even a modest lifestyle afloat, especially in a field dominated by hobbyists, is that too many people are taking either the meek or hobbyist approach and selling their work for crazy, tiny, prices and professional artists suffer in the comparison.

So, actually, for various reasons, I’m going to try to avoid all four approaches I set out in the bulleted list. One of my basic principles, then, is that I’m not going to sell for buttons a piece that I’ve spent many hours on. I want to value myself more highly than that. It still doesn’t get me to a figure. Cost of materials is not actually a big deal for my pieces that are going into the Prism exhibition. They measure, unframed, 20cm x 20cm so don’t require a lot of materials. But there are some quite significant other costs, e.g. the hanging fee, the commission (a modest 30% which I think is very reasonable, especially for an exhibition in London where I think commercial galleries would charge much more) and cost of framing. I think I do want the price to at least cover these, plus the cost of my going to spend a day in London to help with stewarding. That’s already accumulated quite a lot of cost. Where do market-based comparisons get me? Well, over the years I’ve bought a lot of art. I know artists, whose work I admire very much, who price their work at only modest amounts (in my view). Occasionally, I’ve been amazed that I don’t have to pay more for what I consider to be a very desirable piece.

And what’s the result of all these musings? I’m a complete unknown, I’ve lavished lots and lots of time on my pieces, I don’t want to be meek or to be a hobbyist. In the end I thought about setting a price of £300 per framed piece. Then, in a fit of appalled modesty (meek, meek), I reduced that to £250. So if I sell all three pieces, I make £750 gross, out of which comes the commission and various unavoidable costs like framing (which was £33 per piece – very reasonable indeed for a very good finish). I haven’t even started on how I priced the shop items – I might write another post on that.

So, what do you think? Any comments, views? If you sell work, how do you fix on a price? Do you recognise yourself as Meek Pricer, or a Hobbyist? Or none of the above?

Making cards

This week I’ve been busy making cards for the Prism exhibition at Hoxton. Just to remind you – this exhibition opens on blocks_image_1_11st June. Please see the reminder flyer. Because of being away on my cycle trip (which I wrote about in an earlier post) I didn’t really have time to sort out the printing of greetings cards, so I decided to make my own, using a small piece of embroidery in the same general series as the ‘Cochineal Dream’ pieces that are going on show. These were the tiny bits of embroidery that I was doing in odd moments when I wasn’t cycling or doing something cycling related (like washing knickers and socks in washbasins in French hotels, drinking beer, booking a room in a suitable place for the next day etc). So this week, with the exhibition coming up so rapidly, I had to concentrate on getting ready. I’ve already written about preparing small pieces for sale, but these pieces for the cards are even smaller.

I bought greetings card blanks from Hobbycraft (which is probably known to most of my readers in the UK – not sure what the equivalent is elsewhere), and cellophane sleeves to put the cards in, from the same shop. All the little pieces are slightly different in size, so I had to measure each, cut out a little window in the card, stick the piece down using double sided tape, then cover up the messy back with another piece of card. Then I wrote my website address on the back of the card in pencil, then put them into the cellophane sleeves. Finally, I printed some sticky labels to go on the outside of the cellophane wrapper, showing my name, website address again, with a space for the price. I’m going to write about pricing in a separate post as I have a number of thoughts on the subject that I’d quite like to share with you.

Altogether I made 18 cards, and the photograph shows a selection of them, wrapped and ready to go.Selection of cards I do hope that, if you’re anyway near London in the early part of June, you’ll get to the exhibition. I’m looking forward to seeing it. Exhibitors are asked to go on a rota for stewarding and helping in the shop. I will be there all day on Wednesday 8th June and I would love to meet some readers of this blog if you’re passing. Hoxton isn’t that hard to get to. If you’re not familiar with London, go to the Transport for London website which is brilliant, and which will show you the best way to get there from your starting point elsewhere in London. For me it’s Northern Line to Old Street, then a 55 bus, but you may be able to use the Overground to go to Hoxton station which is right opposite the exhibition.



Embroidery on a bike

Well, it’s not actually embroidery on a bike – that would be silly. To be more precise, this is about carrying the materials for embroidery on a bike. Husband and I have recently completed a very long bike ride indeed, from Worcester in England to Prades near Perpignan in the South of France where we often go on holiday. This was a mad enterprise, really, especially for a person like myself unused to great feats of physical exertion. I didn’t tell very many people about it before we left, because I was by no means certain that I would finish it, or even get very far. But, much to my surprise, I did finish it. Woo hoo.

I was riding a hybrid bike (hybrid, that is, between road bike and mountain bike) which is useful if you’re covering varied types of terrain as we were. It’s not the lightest bike on earth and nor is it a particularly expensive bike. I was carrying two Ortlieb pannier bags attached to a rear pannier rack. These had to contain everything I’d need for four to six weeks cycling. We were staying in chambres d’hotes and bed and breakfast places along the way so didn’t need to carry camping equipment as some brave long-distance cyclists do. But the bags did have to contain useful stuff like spare tyres, inner tubes, pump and basic toolkit as well as clothing sufficient to cover a range of scenarios (keeping the rain off, keeping us warm, having something halfway decent to wear for dinner, spare cycling clothes, maps, iPad, chargers etc). This was all carefully thought out and planned for before the trip, to try to keep the weight down to a minimum.

Some stats – we covered just short of 2,000 kilometres in 31 days. This included a couple of days off, so our average rate of progress per day was around 67km, with some wide variations (the longest distance covered in a day was 97km). The weather was very poor for much of the trip. The English section was made very difficult by strong winds which were almost always against us. And it was perishing cold for much of the trip in both England and France. I’d taken my three season cycling gloves along because I supposed there would be a few days when I might need them; in the event I used them almost every day.

I don’t like to undertake any trip without something to sew, and I put a lot of thought into this beforehand. Think about it for a moment: what would you take if the weight was a big issue?

And what did I actually take? Well, I took two pieces of lightweight calico, each measuring about 18 inches square. I tacked some other lightweight materials to them in places – little oddments of linen, silk, cotton etc. A 6 inch hoop. A small square of felt with half a dozen needles of different sizes. And then threads. I decided to stick with five main colour groups – yellows and browns, pale greens, greys, whites and pinks, intended to coordinate or contrast with the appliqued materials. I put these thread groups into five small ziplock bags, packaged inside a rather larger ziplock bag. Another larger ziplock bag contained the hoop and appliqued calico, the felt with needles and my small embroidery scissors. And that was it. I weighed it all and it came to less than 1lb (450grams) and I felt that I was prepared and willing to carry this amount of extra weight so as to be sure of having something to stitch when time allowed. Here is the yellow and brown selection in its ziplock bag:Yello threads in ziplock bag

And the photograph below shows the selection of threads laid out on a table:Yellow threads spread out

How much did I do? Well, en route, I was just exhausted for the first week or so and would just fall asleep at the first possible opportunity. However, as the trip went on I did find some spare minutes every now and then, and on the rest days I managed to put in a couple of hours or so. Once we arrived at our destination I had determined that I was going to spend a lot of time stitching, and I did. Was there anything I really wanted that I hadn’t taken with me? Well, actually, no. I’d planned this carefully, and in any case, it’s always helpful to have a few constraints in materials supplies. I’m so pleased I took the materials with me – I wouldn’t have liked to go for almost six weeks in total without having something to stitch.

So, you see, it can be done. If any of you are inclined to take a lengthy cycle ride or any other type of endeavour where your baggage is severely limited, rest assured that you can get some stitching done…  Has anyone else done anything like this? Drop me a line or a comment if you have.

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum

I meant to write about Helmshore Mills Textile Museum a while back, when we visited it in March. I have lived in Lancashire since I was a young woman and, to my shame, had never got round to visiting the museum. Some of you may know from personal experience how this happens. When I lived in central London I rarely stirred myself to visit galleries even though they were pretty much on the doorstep. These days, when it is much more difficult, I regularly go to great effort and expense to go to London.

The thing that goaded me into actually visiting Helmshore Mills was news of its imminent closure as a result of funding cuts. It was threatened with closure on 31st March 2016, so we decided one day to make the effort and just go before the opportunity disappeared, possibly forever. Well, it was enthralling and I’m so pleased I didn’t miss it. You can read about it here and here, or if you’re in the area you could go and see it as there’s now been a reprieve until September. Helmshore Mills was both a spinning and weaving mill, for both wool and cotton, at various points in its history, but latterly was a spinning mill until its closure in 1978. There is a big exhibition about the history and development of spinning and weaving and then you move upstairs to where the machines are still in place and are still working for demonstration purposes. Unfortunately, the day we went, the big spinning mule machine (see photo below) was not working, so we saw only part of the demonstration. Still, even the bit we did see helped me to understand the nature of the processes which were dirty, noisy and dangerous. The place was a death trap where people, including children in the earlier part of its history, could be crushed by machinery, lose fingers and limbs and inhale sufficient cotton lint to kill them from respiratory diseases. In order to keep the cotton sufficiently flexible the factory had to be kept humid and at a high temperature, so working conditions were distinctly unpleasant. Helmshore mill spinning mule

The machine in the picture is the spinning mule which was developed from Hargreaves’ spinning Jenny. The machine required constant attention from the workers to keep it clear of snags and problems. I won’t attempt to describe how it works – but have a look at the Wikipedia page if you’re interested, where there is a video of the machine in motion.

Having now got my act together to visit this outstanding museum I am most put out that it is quite likely to close because of lack of funding. This is a really significant part of our heritage. Indeed, given the spread of these machines around the world, it’s really a heritage site of international importance. I’ve signed a petition to try to keep it open. And I will be visiting the related Queen Street Museum in Burnley before the end of September closure date. Queen Street is the weaving museum and I’m sure it will be worth the trip.