Thursday, 5 June 2014

Why handmade products are "so expensive"

     I started making a "poster" highlighting what is involved behind the scenes in handmade products to hopefully make people more aware,perhaps understand pricing a bit better, and maybe think 

"Oh wow, i didn't realise how much work was involved"

This small poster turned into a short essay that no longer fitted on a poster.
So it's evolved into a blog. A rant, a badly written rant full of angry/frustrated feels. 

Might wanna grab a cuppa before you start. 

For those who can't be bothered reading, here's a comic that sums up a artist life quite accurately

    I may not be well established (yet, hopefully i will be one day) but in the short 6 months that I've been attempting to start a career as a Freelance artist/craftsperson, I've heard/read all kinds of comments others have received about their work, from people who just don't quite understand the volume of work and finances that are involved in creating handmade products.
"I could make that for a few quid"

"That seems overpriced for what it is"

"Will you do it for free, it's just a hobby after all"

     I've so far had many awfy happy repeat customers giving lovely feedback, but reading these comments have made me worry that i too am perhaps charging too high. The majority of comments i get from people are that i should charge much higher as i'm underselling myself. It's a horrible task trying to find a happy medium.

    It might not be like your typical job, in fact it's anything but, we don't have to report back to a "boss" as such. We don't work your typical 9-5 shift, (We don't work when it “suits us” either, which is the illusion most people seem to have). We work ALL the time, personally even if i'm not physically doing work there's barely a moment in the day where the cogs aren't turning thinking of new ideas or how to improve previous projects. Even when i sleep i don't get peace, i often find myself waking up and having to reach for pen&paper or my phone to jot down a idea that's inconveniently popped into my head mid slumber. I even pull inspiration from my dreams, which create some weird and wonderful gems. One of the very few bonuses i've discovered so far is that I don't have to suit up for the day and make myself look like a presentable human being, i can kick about looking like i've been dragged out of a hedge backwards because i don't often have to meet people face to face, which suits my introvert-verging-on-hermit personality.
    What doesn't seem to be taken into account by those outside the creative community is the amount of time, energy and money involved in keeping things running, there's so much more involved than your average Joe seems to think . I've had countless heated discussions with friends and family about the situation and little support from all but a few, and usually coming out with the same old "helpful advice" like the life coach gurus that they are.

"You should just get a normal job like everyone else"
"There'll never be a future, why waste your time?"
"That's not a job, it's just a hobby"

That's all fine and dandy if you're happy being a sheep and conforming to the masses in their vision of the "normal life", I've always strived to do something a bit different, if i fail, i fail. That's my problem, not anyone elses. If things don't work out at least i can wipe the slate clean and be content that i know i really tried, rather than going through my life doing the same mundane tasks day after day wondering "What if".

The very first thing people don't realise (in my case) is the amount of research and planning that has gone on behind the scenes, for literally YEARS, this isn't a spur of the moment decision, this is something i planned to do from a young age, i worked 3 jobs at one stage with barely any sleep, no social life what so ever, rarely even taking a sick day and the once in a blue moon day off, all to scrimp and save every penny so i could try and achieve my dream.

My basic procedure

Research->Design -> Sourcing materials->*Trial&error->*Development->Final concept->*Finishing touches ->Quality check-> P&P
(Not including the *stages in between where time is allowed to contact the client to discuss if the project is meeting their specifications or if they want some changes made)

The basics

A little insight into what is involved in the production and sale of handmade art/craft/design products

(And all the little bits in between that commissions help pay towards keeping running)

Learning skills and techniques - Before you can create anything you need to develop the skills/techniques to do so, we're human too, we had to LEARN how to do what we do just like anybody else. Skills/techniques can take years to even get a slight grasp of. I often hear/read 

"Oh that's easy, i could make that for cheaper". 
O RLY? That's nice, well go on, you do that and tell us how it turns out. 
To start with there is learning from scratch whether it be a new material and figuring out how it works and reacts when used in different ways, or finding the best technique to suit the job at hand.   
 Then the tedious task of learning by doing, mistakes are made, materials and time are wasted, but confronting these and improving from them is key. I personally NEVER add this cost to the seller, this comes out of my own pocket. This is not including the money spent on
educational materials such as books and courses.

Researching - Countless hours spent researching materials, subjects, techniques etc before a project can begin. This not only includes time, but electricity bills, library fees and internet bills

Designing - This is mainly time based (Where the hourly rate gets involved), we often find ourselves losing track of what hour in the day it is, starting work in the morning, playing about with different ideas to provide variety and make sure the client is completely happy, next time we look up it's the early hours of the next morning and we’ve forgotten to eat, drink and realise we’ve been wiggling in our seat for the past 2 hours bursting for the loo
(Calm doon bladder I’ll finish this sketch first).
Labour - This is the most obvious, yet overlooked aspect that i've discovered where i see a lot of 
"I could buy the stuff to make that for cheaper",
 Well yes, you probably could. If that's the way you see it i'll send you the raw materials (e.g. Block of clay and armature wire) and you can do the rest yourself, if that's all you're willing to pay for that's all you'll get. It's the time involved in applying the appropriate skills and techniques to make the finished product. 
    e.g. When you take a car into the garage to get fixed, you're aware you'll have to pay for the parts, and you need the mechanics skills for them to fix it and will have to pay them a hourly rate on top which tends to be the most expensive aspect. It's the same deal when it comes to handmade items, especially custom and unique work, where you're paying for the artists specific skill set/knowledge and their time to make it.

Material costs - This is one of the few parts people tend to slightly understand. Personally i tend to only charge what ever fraction of the materials i will use, but i do know others that charge for full sets of new materials per project. Some things however are still overlooked such as varnish for protecting work or wire for armatures to make sculptures more structurally sound, these things are all taken into account when it comes to setting commission prices.
Cost of tools/Equipment - This can include buying your own, which down the line involves replacement parts or entire tools, electricity to run a majority off them (even the humble glue gun needs to be powered one way or another), when you're using all that potentially dangerous equipment you need to protect yourself eh? So on top of that is safety gear. There are some things that we just cant afford to/have space to own so we have to hire them from others which adds yet more pennies onto the costs.
Photography and Editing: Those pretty polished display pictures you find on our online stores, blogs and catalogue don't come cheap whether we hire out the equipment to use ourselves, hire someone else with their equipment to do it for us or buy our own, we've got to fork out for the physical equipment (Camera, lenses, carry bags, lighting, batteries, memory cards) which can cost from the hundreds to the tens of thousands for the top end gear, we also need computers to upload the images, and pricey software so that we can tweek imperfections in the shot to show you the final product in all its glory. Not to mention time and money spent learning how to use all of these whether it be tedious self-teaching, books, dvds or tuition.
Workspace/studio - Probably one of the more important aspects to us artist as they are our little home from homes (or in my case home in my home aka a corner of the living room) whether it's  renting a space, building our own/converting a room, furnishing the work space, and the maintenance of the area such as replacing bulbs and paint. We have to fund it all. 
Customer service (Consultation/availability/communication) – Many of us creative types are working at ridiculous hours, when you are all tucked up in bed 24/7 we’re working, when you’re getting up for work, we’re still working. 
“Why don’t you just work normal hours like the rest of us then?”  
Unlike your regular office/shop job, our customers can be anywhere in the world, that means different time-zones and those customers also expect the same amount of communication as anyone else. So we stay up, to achieve deadlines and update our clients dotted about the globe, fueled by unhealthy quantities of caffeinated beverages. 
Listing fees – We have to pay fees for you to find our products in online stores (They may say they don’t charge, but believe me they do). There is often a listing fee per individual item, then a percentage is taken off IF the item sells, then for all of us who wish to keep our customers payments secure, another percentage gets taken off by use PayPal and similar services. Then of course after that there is your tax&VAT where applicable. 

Transport/travel costs – We’re ordinary people, not wizards, which some seem to think. We can’t just summon the materials (Or teleport to the post office/customer/exhibition) we have to travel to do so. This requires transportation. This is also the reason some creative types only post on certain days as some of us don’t have a reliable transport route or vehicle. Unfortunately this costs us a pretty penny whether it be bus/taxi/train fares, fuel money for lifts of friends/family or running your own vehicle (Which involves all the fun and games of insurance/tax/mot/parts/fuel and other such money pits)

Postage and shipping – “Postage is HOW MUCH?!” We know, and we feel bad. But we just can’t afford to not take payment for P&P for every single customer. The little extras we add in to make your purchase that little bit extra special and secure enough to survive their journey also add up including boxes/jiffy bags, bubble wrap, tissue paper, gift boxes/bags, business cards, the occassional freebie, THEN postage prices itself.
Advertising – We are our own promoters (Unless we’re lucky enough to have someone else do it for us) we have to design and pay for business cards, posters, space in magazines/websites/shops/public spaces, not to mention website and server costs. This can take up unhealthy amounts of time making sure the widest possible audience can see our creations and have the opportunity to purchase their own.

Anything else? – Well yes actually. These are just the costs behind keeping the creative side of our lives alive and kicking, we often forget about ourselves and that we need to look after too.
These don't include essential living costs that most people in a “normal job” use their wage to pay for, the fun grown up things like rent, bills, food, pets and all their related needs, medical/dental bills. Not to mention luxuries such as spending money for social/leisure activities and god forbid a holiday!
Do you still think handmade commission work from independent artists is too high?

So aye. If you made it this far, Well done, you're a trooper!. 
There's just so much involved behind the scenes especially if you're a lone wolf, that even I myself didn’t think too much about until I took on the challenge.
 Everyone is so used to the same cheap mundane mass produced products being spewed out onto shelves from big name multi-million pound companies, so don't want to pay decent rates for something that can be created just for them

In a “Normal job”
You wouldn't want to be underpaid for all of the above.
You wouldn't be very pleased if your boss turned round after all your hard work and decided they didn't want to pay you this month/at all or said to you "I'll pay you next week when i have money"
You wouldn't expect someone to tell you "You're overpaid" or your boss to decide "they want to suddenly pay you less than you’re due.
You wouldn't ask a big branded shop to sell you their item at a lower price because that’s what you think it is worth.

So why should we be treated like that?

.....The tragic thing is, even after that entire rant i'm still selling sculptures that take up to 10 hours to complete for as little as £15...that's £1.50 per hour not including anything else listed above. BAH!


Want to know more about me and my work?

LinkedIn CVClick Here
Art/Craft FacebookClick Here
Kickstarter projectsClick HereTwitter: @JeniJGuthrie

Where can i buy your work?

Etsy ShopClick Here
Ebay ShopClick Here