Monday, September 24, 2012

The Price of Lampwork

A lampworking friend of mine was threatening to sell her torch yesterday. Why? Well...the answer is simple and it isn't. The simple part is that she hasn't had sales for a couple months and she needs the income.

The difficult part has to do with pricing. There are some lampworkers...and to be honest, other types of beadmakers, jewelry designers, and artisans in every medium, who are WAY undervaluing their work.

Places like Etsy are a great venue. However, each seller is competing with thousands of sellers in their category. Some sell to support themselves as their sole income. Some sell for fun. Most people fall somewhere in between. 

With so much competition, prices are dropping. With so many hobbyists trying to make a buck or two, prices are dropping. With people stressed out about not getting sales or views, prices are dropping. This hurts everyone. Especially those who aren't charging appropriately for their work. 

Let's do some simple math using this Nightmare Insomnia focal

nightmare insomnia jennifer cameron glass addictions

-Minimum torch time to create: 1 hour (often more)
-Amount of time to remove bead from mandrel and clean: at least 5 minutes
-Amount of time to photograph, edit photos, and list: 30 minutes (when everything goes exactly as planned)

So as you can see, I'm in it for a MINIMUM of 1 hour 35 minutes. At $35 for this focal, that comes out to about $23.33/hour salary. 

However, the times I gave are minimums. It usually takes more than that. My "salary" does not include cost of materials:

-Fine silver (99.9% silver) foil AND mesh was used in this bead
-electricity to run the oxygen concentrator, kiln, ventilation, lights, heat/AC, dremel, computer
-the gas to create the flame used to melt the glass
-cost to list the bead
-shipping materials
-free shipping if sent to the US or Canada
-business cards and inserts
-gas to drive to the Post Office if shipping out of United States
-wear and tear on expensive studio equipment

Listing all this here makes my $35 bead seem pretty darn inexpensive...

Even if someone is doing this for fun or to make a couple bucks here or there, the point is to make money. Not lose money. The fact is those who are selling their work at a negative value once time + cost of materials are taken into account, do not value their time, their money, or themselves enough to sell for an appropriate amount. 

This same lampworking friend mentioned a male family member telling her once that "any profession dominated by women will always be underpaid because women have no sense of the value of their time." 

That is just sad. If we don't value and protect our time and resources, no one else will either. 

Now go forth and show the world you value your time and work by pricing your creations appropriately!

-Jen Cameron


  1. Oh, but we do have a sense of the value... it's just that most women are too terrified to say it [the real price] out loud, in fear of hearing the horrid word 'No way'!
    Great article!

    1. It's true that women are afraid of the word no...afraid to hear it, afraid to say it. But it's only a word and a buyer will come along :-)

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your point of view about pricing. It is very important to value our time and our creativity. Hopefully many more will do so. And there are many that do already.

  3. OH I was just sad until I read the family member's "quote". Yikes. I do my very best to explain the cost of things in terms of the customer's job. While they're holding that piece of jewelry they want but think is "too expensive", I ask about how they would feel about their boss asking them to do the same quality work, but at a lesser wage than they knew they should get. That works more often than not (some realize then they need to get their resume out there!).

  4. Pricing is one of my hardest things to do with my pottery. If I put in my time/materials/overhead, the price is higher than anyone is willing to pay. That being said, there are also different markets & you can charge what the market will bear. Perceived value. It can all be so confusing! I usually price by committee... ask a few fellow artists what they think & go with the most popular or reasonable price.

  5. Love it, Jen. I began to take notes to write an article like this years ago. At the end I was pretty sad to realize that I would be lucky to keep half the price of the bead as profit- remember, you've got to pay taxes on your wages too.
    I never thought about a field dominated by women- that's sad, but most likely true. Actually, I don't think it's because we don't have a sense of the value of our time- I think it's more that we are used to being paid less.

    1. I am in denial about taxes. Our tax rate is high. Often I think I should just quit selling when I consider taxes in the formula.

    2. I'm sadly very familiar with the concept of lower pay for a woman-dominated profession. I've been a librarian the last 20+ years. Never mind the degrees and experience required, it never makes the pay ranges that other fields do requiring similar education and experience. There have traditionally been many more women than men in the field, and that keeps the pay and value down --teachers and nurses seem to have the same problem in this regard. Like art, I think we tend to find personal value in doing these types of jobs as well, I'm not sure if that plays a role or not...

  6. Part of the issue is that some of us are hobbyists and some are supporting ourselves with our art. As a hobbyist, I'm not particularly concerned about making money from my time; I just want to get my materials and costs out of it, with perhaps a small profit. Someone who's supporting herself with her art can't look at it that way.

    Where I think artists hurt themselves, also, is in looking at the issue as purely one of time and materials. It just doesn't work that way. It's also a matter of what the market will allow. If there's not a market for a given product, the rest doesn't matter. I've watched a lot of people nearly starve to death because they refuse to face this reality. If you can't get $50 for a bead, then you must try to get $35 or $40 for it. And if you can't get that, you've got to go lower. If you can't afford to do that, you have some unfortunate realities to face.

    In May,we had an estate sale at my parents' home, and many really lovely, valuable items went for far less than what was paid for them, even though they were in pristine condition. It's a market issue. We all know there's no difference, really, between a new crystal bowl and a used one that has no chips, etc. Had we stubbornly insisted on getting a price anywhere what a new item would sell for, we'd have 99% of the items left -- and no money.

    "What the market will bear" is an essential part of the equation that artists don't want to deal with. It isn't just those who are underselling their products that bring prices down. It's lots of things, and it's a really complex situation. Convenience stores charge far more than their costs for soft drinks, because we will pay that for them. They get it. Most artists don't.

    1. I and most artists I know do consider what the market will bear. If a bead I make takes me 3 hours, but most lampworkers could make it in 1.5 hours, I will charge the 1.5 hour rate because I know no one in their right mind will pay for 3 hours of work on that bead. The other option is to keep/gift it. I would rather have the joy of donating/gifting/keeping something I've made than to sell it at a loss. When you can't even cover the cost of your materials in your pricing structure, you shouldn't be selling.

      I also don't think an estate sale is quite the same thing. It's kind of like a garage sale. And anyone who thinks they are going to get full price for stuff, even stuff that has never been used, still has the tags,'s not going to happen due to the nature of the buying something someone has already owned.

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  8. I have been trying to cut my production time for over two decades so as to stay competitive , what once took me two hours may only take 45 min , I am competing with people who haven't repeated the design in order to be more efficient , My work hasn't risen in price for 15 of those years . and I get both opinions coming at me , that Im too cheep and also that its too high ,I some times think the spread of etsy over the Galleries has added to the cheapening of small Glass Art , Of course I've not done etsy so maybe Im closed minded about this . I dont see allot of serious time investment in many peoples work either , most of what I see on these sites are seemingly quick production work or a hobbyist, which I think is part of why we do it because it is a wonderful pastime , there is the rub, we ultimatley do it because we love it, dont get in it to get rich that's for sure,We do demos all day at The Ozark Folk Center to people who have never seen it before , hoping that the knowledge of how hard it can be and how much practice it takes will sink in as they say "what kind of paint is that on that bead !" Then when you tell them that each colour is a new layer of glass melted and so on yada yada , then they can barely believe it , so we are dealing with a serious limited glass awareness , everyone always says " are you blowing that " and I want to gag , as some how thats the only thing the general public seems to know about glass art .The Fact that our work is smaller also is not the dominant paradigm , the amount of work in a smaller piece is just as much in some cases and just a s valuable as a larger piece , but the average person only thinks n bigger is better terms ,So many cultural norms that almost needs a pry bar to open the mind to how unlimited the micro world can be .So if I send the ISGB postcard with them after their mind has been opened that's my payment these days!

  9. Good points all around. I had to learn that my jewelry is not for everyone. Sometimes it is not even for me! I am not my best client. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't price my pieces that are truly labor intensive and one of a kind at the price that it is supposed to be. I use a lot of art beads in my work and that raises the value. I do try to compensate and make a variety of price points as well as being careful to not load up a piece with all art beads. But ultimately I have to make what my heart tells me, and I won't bow down on price. I would rather work smarter for that one sale then make a dozen at a lower and unrealistic price. And when I get that reaction from someone that my prices are too high I know that it is not for that person and I am okay with that. I just need to be patient and that person will be found. Thanks for the great post. Enjoy the day. Erin

  10. This is a really interesting post, and something I hadn't really thought about. I'm definitely a hobbyist, since I have a career I enjoy that pays much better than "artist" (which I don't necessarily think is a good thing --what we decide to pay different people in difference careers is a whole 'nother ball of wax). But I also don't use expensive materials in the jewelry I (attempt to) sell. If I buy an expensive bead or clasp, it's for something I'm making for myself or for a gift. Using less expensive materials allows me to keep the prices lower. (There is a huge difference in equipment, time, and materials, in creating lampwork vs. creating polymer clay beads. This is why, while I love the lampwork, I'll stick with PC for what I'm creating to sell.)

    The reason I'm attempting to sell at all is because I love creating the jewelry, and I can't wear it all. (I also am donating much of it.) Another reason I've listed things it because it's such a great feeling to realize that you created something that someone else (who doesn't know you) likes enough to want to buy!

  11. OK, then let me use a different example.

    Even though I have more disposable income than a lot of people do (my husband and I have no children, and that frees up a lot of cash), there are still limits to what I will pay. One of my favorite artists, whose work I love, has a price point of well over $100 on her pieces. I own one of her necklaces and I'm crazy about it. I don't think her pieces are overpriced, given the artistry, the materials, and the time that goes into them. I may well buy another at some point, but not soon. I do, however, buy other artisan-made pieces in the $50 range, and have several from one artist in particular. Her materials are less costly and her pieces go together more quickly, so her prices are appropriate, too. There is an element that goes into the pricing of products that has nothing to do with time or cost of materials, and those who don't take that into consideration, will be very frustrated when trying to sell their work.

  12. There is a balance between what an artist perceives the value to be and what the market will bear. I sell my beads at bead shows and my finished items at craft shows, and I can tell you, the economy is kicking my butt, especially in the last couple months. People just can't bring themselves to spend money on a bead or a piece of jewelry, no matter how reasonable the price is.

    Ten years ago, when I started making beads, folks were talking about fairness in pricing. You can only do what is fair for you and hope that your work is innovative and desirable enough that buyers will recognize your art as valuable--and that the person who sees the value has the money to buy. Be true to yourself, your vision, your art, and the money will follow. Don't worry about what the other guy is doing--it's a waste of time.

    I'm struggling on etsy, too, btw. I need to do a better job stocking my shop and working my mailing list--maybe those are things that others can do, too. I am highly distractable, and with shows coming up, I lose my focus on etsy. Today is a new today ... maybe if I get the cake topper done ... ;-)

    Nolly Gelsinger

  13. I can agree with some of what Jenny is saying in that some are forms will never pay a reasonable salary which is why those same art forms are sadly dying. Take tatting for instance. I know a tatter that does lovely work but because a machine can make something that people think is a suitable substitute they are not willing to pay for her work. I think she may get 50 cents an hour. For this reason when I'm making things to sell I factor in how much time it will take me and think to myself "will people pay me for that time"? I am a jewelry maker, primarily with wire and there are some things that I will never get paid what they are worth so I make them as gifts or for myself but never for sale. It's something all artists should consider when trying to make a living. This is where the hobbyists make that decision to only get a pittance of what it is worth just simply because they enjoy making the item and something back is better than nothing.

  14. People tend to think of "time" as something with no value. The hours they put into their job are different (to them) because they don't also see income from the output in addition to that time.
    A very good example is from the time I worked in a fiber arts shop. I had MANY offers from customers that went like this:
    "If I buy the yarn and the pattern, will you knit this sweater for me?"
    You can insert all sorts of things for yarn and sweater, some large projects, some small. Occasionally I'd get an offer of a little cash on top of the materials for incentive. I'd point out that the number of hours that the project would take, then how I would not be able to work on any other items in the mean time, then quote an hourly rate. I never failed to get a stunned look when they found that they would have to actually pay for me time.
    I never did have anyone ask me to make their project after they found out my time wasn't free. Not once.
    When you price a bead or piece of jewelry, don't look at it as "How much do I want for making this item?" I ask yourself "How much would it I want to make it AGAIN"
    I still find myself undervaluing items I have finished because I'm done with it and want to move on. But to do it again? That's when I start applying a real, fair value.

  15. There's a balance between what I think is the value of my work and what the buyers can pay. When friends look at the prices of my jewelry, I joke that I get my beads wholesale--but a spaghetti fork with two handmade beads should retail at $80, not $40. At my craft shows, I just can't command that--and a spaghetti fork is not exactly fine art!

    Ten years ago, when I was a new beadmaker and new to WetCanvas as well, there was an ongoing conversation about fair pricing. I see it's still going strong. Back then, common wisdom said $1/minute and I'm still using that benchmark. My beads are more complicated than they were, so that has compensated for the time value of money.

    I do bead shows and craft shows and I can tell you, this economy is kicking my butt, especially in the last couple of months. In the last couple of months, my receipts are half of what they used to be, and if you talk with someone who's been on the circuit longer that I have, you'll hear that sales are down 60-70% or more.

    This is what I know: Focus on your work, get better at what you do, take the paths that make you happy, and the money will follow.

    Try suscribing to the handmadeology site ... they have some good ideas. I've just started reading their emails again; I could do my etsy marketing a whole lot better.

    Nolly Gelsinger

    1. I thought my first post was lost in space ... sorry to be repetitive!

  16. I have long felt that arts that are dominated by women are undervalued, not because we don't know our worth, necessarily, but because we have been relegated to the realm of craft, rather than art. Even glass beadmaking, beaded jewelry, metal clay, and more traditionally crochet, knit, quilts are called crafts, women are called artisans or crafters, but seldom artists. Even women in the fine art field are called WOMEN artists. All these phrases are elements in devaluing art that belongs to women.

    I first realized it when I received two quilts made by my great grandmother Barbara, meticulously made from the worn out clothing of my grandmother and her sisters. One is in a double wedding ring pattern, and it requires many, many tiny pieces of fabric carefully sized and sewn on an antique Singer pedal sewing machine. It was art, to me, of a truly high level, also because she was repurposing clothing, mostly because there was no money to do it any other way. I have seriously heard people say that they would never buy quilts like this for $500-$1000 because they could get one "almost as good" for $79 at WalMart.

    My mother crocheted amazing things, my Aunt Irene embroidered and had such a color sense, her shading would make you cry. Aunt Alice did crewel work and knitting to perfection. I was in awe. Then I went to an antique swap meet and saw intricate doilies priced at 29 cents each. It broke my heart.

    Keep valuing your art at a fair price. I know there are times when we all just need the money, so those might be time to put out something more commercial, or something simple and low-priced. But never, ever, if you can at all humanly do it, undervalue your art or yourselves! there is no such thing as a woman artist. Artists are artists, period.

  17. What everybody else said...LOL I think we also have the issue that the public sees all of what is made as the same in quality - and so will only pay the lower price. Sadly, we do not help that perception when we run around giving kudos to others for items which are pretty obviously poorly crafted.
    I know we see this as encouragement, which is a *good* and needful thing. But doing this gives others the perception that the poor quality items carry an *acceptable* level of professional quality - especially when those items are offered for sale right after some of us put our de facto seal of approval on them.

    As for women not knowing their worth.... Yes, even into the 21st century, women are dealing with the same attitudes which were prevalent when Charlemagne was Emperor of greater Europe..... and *that* is truly sad.
    Please fool, it isn't that women don't know their worth - it is that traditionally, women have been told by society at large that what they do is a 'calling' or simply an *expected* part of being a wife and mother. It is simply 'what we do' and ALL of it is looked at as being the same in quality and form, because it is 'women's work.'

    Historically, it was to men's direct benefit that women learned all of the 'womanly arts' and were not paid for them. (sewing, embroidery, knitting, virtually all textile embellishment work, as well as anything surrounding cooking, cleaning, small animal care and gardening.) Women were expected to do all of this, AND YET, they needed a DOWRY to get a man of worth to marry them!!!!!

    It was seen as a measure of the *man's* worth that his lady wife and household were so industrious and talented with their needles (or whatever) that all their garments were made and heavily embellished *in-house*. So WHO is it that historically AND traditionally doesn't know the worth of women??????

    So, if historically we have been *expected* to excel at these things and all women *obviously* have the genetic predisposition (????!!??? yes, that is meant to be sarcastic))to be able to achieve them, no wonder we hear things like this from men AND other women. (how many times have you heard 'my Gramma does work like that - I'll get her to make me one'?? Tell the truth, you KNOW you have heard it...)

    Even when the craft and art changes form, the attitudes still hold. We shouldn't be complaining, it is in our genes! LOLOLOLOL

  18. Great article, Jen. Pricing is THE hardest part about making OOAK jewelry for me. More recently, I've found myself saying no. No, I won't sell that for too little. I'll regret it. And one day someone who appreciates the work, the handmade uniqueness, and my art will buy it. I'd rather wait for that day than regret losing it.

    I try to not let price stop my creative flow, but I do focus on making pieces that are inherently more affordable because of the supplies and time that it takes to make. That way I can make sales and not let go of the more expensive pieces at an unfair price.

  19. Bravo Jennifer! I have been saying this for ages, soooo many artists undervalue their work and hurts us all. Hobbyist or not one should value their time. I understand "what the market will bear" however, the market will bear more if they are expected to and will get used to pricing that is truly fair to the artisan.

  20. Fabulous article!
    Something that I struggle with every time that I price my lampwork beads and jewelry. I know exactly the asking price that I am supposed to list for (I use an Excel calculation sheet for pricing my jewelry and use the $60/hour calculation for my lose beads). But then I see all the comparable items on Etsy, and feel sometimes ashamed to ask such a high price.

    I even hear sometimes from my educated buyers comments such as "your beads are on the expensive side". Which makes me question my pricing model.
    But in the end, I guess, it's a matter of waiting for the right customer to come along and appreciate the workmanship, creativity and skills that go into each piece.

    Interestingly, I found that my more expensive items sell better ... maybe I get with the simpler beads lost in a sea of mass imported beads.

  21. I was recently thinking about how time consuming it can be to get just the right picture of an artisan bead to post online...and that isn't usually figured into the cost of "materials". It can be especially time consuming with one-of-a-kind lampwork beads.

  22. Too many people who make things and sell them don't think of it as a business. When you are selling, it is a business. Lower prices don't necessarily mean more sales. If your prices are too low, the customers know you don't value your work. Study the market and find outlets for your work that will support your prices. Flea markets and yard sale customers will never pay good prices. High end show customers will. When someone tells me my prices are too high, I know they will not be one of my customers, and that is fine.

  23. More on the previous comment. I run a gallery I buy all the work I sell... I bought some pottery a couple of years ago, there was a huge bowl the artist was retailing it at $34, I thought that was too low, so raised it to $38. Everyone who looked at it commented on the price and put it back... after two summers of that I said OK I'll mark it up to $54 then put it on sale.... well I marked it up but never got around to putting the sale price on it as it sold within 24 hours of raising the price.

    I also find that in the gallery it is much easier to sell my own work than someone elses as people like meeting the artist... which is why a high end show venue works better than an online venue...

  24. Someone above posted: "Be true to yourself, your vision, your art, and the money will follow. Don't worry about what the other guy is doing--it's a waste of time." 

    That is the bottom line. If you decide to compete at a lower price point for high-value work, you have missed the point, lost the game and might as well find another profession. 

    HOWEVER, that being said, it is possible to load balance the type of work you offer in terms of creation time and cost of materials. You can offer a range of work. For example, as a painter, I charge more for a large complex multi-media canvas vs. small prints. This is not new. Artists have been doing this forever. You adjust your offering according to the market you are selling to. For example, for "craft shows", offer lower end pieces that require lest time and lower cost materials (e.g., "prints" not original paintings); reserve your higher end work for galleries and other high-end venues. You do not sacrifice quality and artistic integrity by doing so; i.e., "lower end" does not mean undervalued - it means you are choosing to create works of art that require less investment of your time and materials. This is the artists prerogative. Over time you will attract clients who appreciate your work and even if they cannot afford a higher end piece, will purchase a less expensive piece and come back in the future for your higher end offerings. 

    This applies to any media. Stick to your guns, value your work, develop a range of offerings to be competitive without sacrificing artistic integrity.

  25. Great topic! There have been a lot of great comments made already - so i need not repeat. I like the comments above mine by Karen. I learned many great lessons from owning a retail shop. Some were hard lessons, one of the hardest being to let business be business and not take it personal. It is important for an artist to be true to yourself or you risk loosing yourself along the way. At the same time - in order to make money at your art - you may need to adapt. It is a difficult market and an ever changing market! My best advice, and it has pretty much been said - have a range of products and figure out the best venue for each!

    Dare I even mention the idea of pricing wholesale???? EEK! That means doubling the price you come up with or at least 35% for consignment.

  26. Coming from the nursing profession I am very familiar with a female dominated workplace. Nurses have so much power they are the backbone of the health care profession, but they refuse to use that power. The only time a nurses salary increases is when there is a shortage of nurses, it is never based on their increasing responsibilities.
    It is up to us as lampworkers to help educate the public. I started saying at shows that I have made every bead on the table, I assumed people knew that but they did not. I would say that 50% of my customers put the brakes on when I say that and can't believe it. I have been lucky it is the rare customer that comments on the cost of $20-30 for one bead.
    I figure that the customer that purchases a strand of chinese lampwork for $6 was never my customer to begin with.

  27. Wonderful article Jen and I love the energetic and interesting comments it created!! I had fun reading every one and taking all the information in to ponder. Thanks to everybody!

  28. Great post! My husband and I talk about this all of the time. It's really difficult to compete on line and at shows. I currently rent a small studio to lampwork so I have the addition of rent to pay. I have customer's ask me all of the time, how long did that take you to make? I think that some customers think of their own hourly rate as a basis for the cost of an item and forget all of the other cost involved. It's very frustrating to me. I work in a community with other artist and my friend Elizabeth who is a wonderful weaver told me she tells her customers she tries not to calculate the time it takes her to weave her wraps because if she did she would be earning .10 cents an hour. I try to explain to my customers that visit me at my studio the process and the cost involved and most understand. That's all you can do.

  29. Very interesting post and great comments too. I have to admit I am guilty of making the same mistakes just because I am afraid I will lose income from my Etsy store. After reading this post and all your comments I will definitely try to find the way to change it unless a little bit. Thanks everyone, Eva Cadkova,

  30. A great post! The bit about women undervaluing the worth of their time really hit home!

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