So lately I've been thinking. A lot. These grey, cold, foggy days have meant much cosying-in and introspection. Sometimes about little things, sometimes about bigger plans. And often - especially during my working day - about business.
I'm not business-minded at all. But I'm slowly learning to be. There have been some tough (and expensive) lessons learned so far, but learning I am. Particularly about the value of the work I produce and my time.
I recently reconsidered the pricing on my commissioned paintings, the watercolour personalised ones. Because - having spoken to several friends and fellow artists - I was charging far too little, to the point where I was paying myself below the minimum wage. Yes, I know I'm doing something I love. But it's also my job, and a job needs to pay the bills.
So here's why handmade costs more: we small creative outfits don't mass-produce things. The customer sees the finished product. They don't see the research, notes, books filled with preliminary sketches. Or the number of hours it takes to draw detailed lettering and studies, the playing with paint colours to get exactly the right shade (all the photos in this post are of 'scrap' work, part of the whole making process). The time spent ordering supplies and carefully packaging finished work. The cost of materials, sourcing and going out to buy them.
I also spend a lot of time answering queries. Or putting together stock lists, taking additional photographs, emailing back and forth. It's not unusual to put several hours into a single enquiry or potential order, only for the customer to then disappear without so much as an explanation.
Of course, I don't mind if people make enquiries and choose not to buy. It's something I do myself. It's what commerce, retail is all about: choice. And of course I respect that. But these things do eat into my time, and that time is precious as it's when I get to do my work (whilst Joe's at school - attempting anything work-related when he's at home is just not an option). It can also happen during the evenings or at weekends. Family time is just as precious and I need to set boundaries. It's very hard not to get excited when people want to order things, so it's all too easy to enter into dialogue and try to accommodate them when I should have switched off for the night.
Sometimes it's disheartening when you're at a craft market and people baulk at buying a Christmas card priced at £2. But that's another lesson I've learned: choose your markets well. Because by the time you've paid for your table, spent hours making products to sell, transported everything there, built your display (with prices and signage), and packed it all up again at the end of the day... well, more often than not you're lucky if you manage to break even.
I've seen so many hand-made things for sale in the local library or at craft fairs, and the makers mustn't be making any money at all. Beautiful, carefully and intricately-crafted items priced so cheaply. Perhaps it's because we're so used to the whole throwaway society thing where people pay (and expect to pay) next to nothing for their goods.
Selling through galleries and shops, too: often this is on a sale-or-return basis and a maker will be charged a commission of 30%, often 50%. Understandable, of course - they have overheads to pay - but again this can minimise your profits. It's usually a matter of getting your work out there, getting established, and accepting that you're working for the love of it.
Another example is printmaking: for monoprints I will go out and collect plants, bring them home to identify and press, then weeks later start the printing process. For each saleable print there will be several which don't work. I keep them all anyway, because (silly as it sounds) I get attached. And they get attached - to the walls of my workroom, to the fridge.
You see, that's the thing: we makers put our hearts and souls into what we do. We care about customer service, about people getting what they want. We put in long hours and we have stories. Our work (hopefully) reflects our passion.
I didn't want this post to sound like a big whinge-fest, not at all. I love what I do. After more careers than you can wave a stick at, I've found The One. I'm excited about the future and what it will bring. I find myself writing things down, planning and plotting, late into the night. And I enjoy that. There are so many things I want to try.
But I have to value my work for what it's worth, or other people won't either.
There is definitely a move towards an appreciation for the handmade and the handcrafted. Let's hope it continues and that we can celebrate the makers.