Key Financial and Marketing Concepts for Artists, Bakers, & Creators

The goal of this post is to make pricing and yearly income of a creative career easier to define. My earlier post “Artist Earning Potential“ is geared towards younger artists entering the field. This post is for those in the trenches with me! I will use the careers of a sculptor and a home bakery to cover aspects of artists and craftsmen and where there is overlap. You can read just the Sculptor’s approach or Baker’s approach if desired. For the duration of our career, all of us ask ourselves these basic questions:

  1. What do I charge my customer?

    Sculptor’s Approach

    My basic answer to this is to gauge your price vs. the amount of sales made every 6 months. Your price must cover your materials used plus a profit to cover the time it takes to make and show the artwork. If you are selling too low, just to make sales, there is no point in selling. You are slowly bleeding away your own finance.

    If you are selling a lot but you have nothing to show, your price is too low. If nothing sells AND potential clients quiver at the price, then they didn’t agree with the evaluation or simply can not afford it. Notice I did not say, “Too Expensive“. Artists have to be aware of whom their market is and where their art must to for them to see it. Aka location, location, location!The next questions will help define how we can set a FAIR and rational starting price.

    Baker’s Approach

    With selling quantity is as important as quality, I like to think about finding the sweet spot. The sweet spot, no pun intended, allows you to deliver a quality product that gives you a healthy return on your investment. This may be a combination of buying your most used ingredients/supplies at wholesale prices, offer your finished goods in trade to offset value, or finding the best rate shipping for your local area.

    Some small businesses forget to factor things like shipping and packaging into their costs and end up losing much more money than they thought it would. I.E. if a $35 box of cookies bubble wrap, box, and shipping costs is $15, the revenue is $20, leaving profit floating around $5-$10. $10/$35 is a 28% return on the investment. In other words, every $35,000 the company earns, $25,000 covers expenses and the owner/employees reap only a $10,000 profit. For this reason, be accurate to a teaspoon on the cost to make each cupcake or cookie.

  2. What is my time worth?

    Sculptor’s & Baker’s Approach

    This question is actually not for us. Very little of what we do can be estimated by time. We are business owners and operators so our materials and expenses guide our price evaluation.

  3. Do I aim for the catch-all low priced market or the higher end market?

    Sculptor’s Approach

    This question is based off a few factors: size of creation, actual quality of aesthetic, and quality of materials (archival and light fast properties) are the main drivers of this question. With that said, many artists still misinterpret the proportion of each factor. The reality is, many artists use cheaper materials but don’t realize in 5 years the painting may be too faded to be recognized as the same artwork. A sculptor’s quality of aesthetic simply put means, is the viewer pulled to the sculpture? Enough to ask the price? Size is more clear cut. The bigger or even the more micro and delicate, the more you can garner.

    Baker’s Approach

    Do you want to be the home based Walmart bakery that makes big sheet cakes for kid’s parties? Or are elegant lavender macaroons the only cookie in your kitchen? With food and crafts, the ask amount is usually within $5. A cheap 6 pack of cupcakes may be $5.(Each cupcake at 0.83 cents) Simple white cake and blue icing. A 4 pack of dense red velvet cupcakes with a thick cream cheese icing may be $12. (Each cupcake at $3.00) The skill level and quality of ingredients is very noticeable, yet the baker can exceed the $2.13 jump to a better product. The answer comes to testing prices to find our sweet spot that allows their to be profit at the end of EVERY transaction.

  4. What is/Where is my market?

    Sculptor’s Approach

    Most artists after a few years, have shown in coffee shops, local libraries, friend’s events, lower end galleries and through social media. As I mentioned earlier, location is the biggest driver of your price, especially long term. Displaying in museums and larger city events allows you room to raise your price and your stature. But if it is hard for someone to understand how you go to such an inflated price, they will simply walk away. For example, most coffee shop goers are not bringing thousands of dollars into the coffee shop to buy obscure poorly lit art. To better understand, do you consider collecting large paintings when you need coffee before work?

    Now that we understand the mindset of someone in this location, how can we cater to them? maybe a small print rack next to the counter? Some trinkets that were made with left over material so there is no loss if nothing sells. Always look how to make an opportunity successful but know when to cut your losses or just say “no thank you” to an opportunity.

    Baker’s Approach

    For a baker or a food related small company, the desirable look is really the main selling point. If it looks like your first batch of cookies ever, keep refining your skills before going to market. Same goes for leather workers, soap makers, and the like. Second most important, is your ability to deliver on time and keeping great client relationships.

    Some companies focus on catering larger events, birthday parties, work functions, or anytime treats. Your type of treat and the price you want to charge will force you, in a healthy manner, into your niche. For example, if you love making current holiday cookies, don’t worry about catering to someone who needs a birthday cake. Better yet, refer them to another baker! Keep the wealth in the family, I like to think.

Don't Just make Art for Art Shows/Festivals!

This message is very important to me. I think this is something every self-proclaimed professional artist must overcome before others agree that they have reached a new height of professionalism. This is the key to making this shift whether you make weird art, have no sales as of now, or make performance and political art.

You must make art every day. 35 hours a week. NOT 35 hours if I can or if I’m feeling it. You must take this on as a full time job. Many artists I meet only make art when they have an art show coming up. If they feel some kind of monetary pressure or personal goal to of the show, they will make 20 mediocre paintings in 2 months in order to fill the space. Then the downward cycle begins again.

  1. The artist makes 20 new paintings for the theme of their art show.

  2. Only one painting sold and the artist assumes it was a pity purchase. Three people laughed at the prices in front of them, knowing they were the artist.

  3. The artist goes home with their 19 paintings and they decide they don’t feel inspired enough to make art for 3 months.

  4. A year later the artist enters a new art show and repeats the process over again, whist never promoting their older work, improving their older work, (yes it is okay to continue painting old paintings if no nostalgia is stopping you) or making new work.

The constant honing of your craft is the same reason kids go to school day after day. Learning has to happen in such small chunks of time for us, it will take us roughly 10,000+ hours or a decade of deliberate practice and study to attain a mastery over any skill. So don’t just try to make art for art shows. The real secret is that you sell most of your work IN BETWEEN art shows. When people are ready and can afford a bigger purchase. Unfortunately, they don’t make money on our time scale. So don’t give up and continue to make great work.