When I first started exhibiting my work as an artist, I was afraid to charge a fair price for my work. Like many women, I didn’t think I deserved to be paid for work that was so fulfilling. Never mind that doctors, engineers, lawyers and computer program designers also love their work and get paid well, I didn’t have the nerve.
Waiting on the Shelf
I had created an elaborate, contemporary necklace; it has taken about 20 hours. Scared that it wouldn’t sell, I put a price tag of $60 on it. The first show I took it to, it got lots of looks, but didn’t sell. The same happened at the next four shows. Secretly, I wanted to mark it down or take it apart.
Putting a Price Tag on the Work
Then one show, I was across from Mary, a watercolorist and collage artist. She came to my booth and looked at the necklace. “Why isn’t it priced much higher?”
for sale sign “No one will buy it if it’s higher,” I said.
Mary looked at me. “You did the work. You don’t know what other people consider ‘too much money.’ In any case, the price needs to be higher. How many hours did you spend on it?”
“About 20,” I admitted.
“You are going to mark that necklace up to $200,” Mary said.
I gasped. “Who will buy it?”
“That’s not your problem,” Mary said. “You are still getting paid only $10 an hour. But just to prove to you that good work gets paid, mark up the necklace to $200. If it doesn’t sell by the end of the show, I will buy the necklace from you for $200. OK?”
I couldn’t lose. I marked up the necklace.
Twenty minutes later it sold.
I learned the lesson that quality work deserves the price it took to create it.
In the intervening years, I have done the same thing for many starting artists. I have purchased only one item in all the years I’ve told artists it’s OK to get paid for creative work.
Your Time, Your Worth
It was a great feeling to see artists believe in themselves. We don’t teach art in schools, so an artist has to do the artistic, emotional, and business training all alone. It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to.
The biggest fear is to charge for time. In years past, women did needlework or other art after all the work was done. Women produced quilts, rugs, tablecloths and other useful items because they were needed. But they made them beautiful to satisfy a need for. . .well, beauty. Today, we charge for time. When we work more than we expect, it’s called “overtime.” We say “time is money,” and “you can’t buy back time,” but women are still reluctant to charge for their time making art.
It’s time we get over that.
My car mechanic charges plenty for time. So does the plumber, who installed a $39 part for $356 because the time he came was at night. On a Sunday. And I felt lucky. Art may not be the furnace, but it fuels so much more of our lives.
–For more on creativity, visit Quinn McDonald’s website.