The Price of Craft & How I Became Apprenticed to Myself

A guest post by Chantelle Brightbill of Clothscape.

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Visit any online crafts forum and you will see that one of the most hotly debated topics is pricing.

How can you learn to price appropriately? There are many formulas floating around out there, this one from the Fine Craft Guild is good. But the variable that gives us all the most problems is the hourly wage. We ask ourselves ‘If I set it low am I undervaluing myself? But is my work really worth a higher price?’ There is such a large emotional component.

Like most new pro artisans I started selling by valuing my labor at only a few dollars an hour. I had some experience at making my craft, and none at selling it, but I figured I would learn as I went. In essence I apprenticed myself.

the process of apprenticeship

I was familiar with the concept, after completing an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking (furniture making) in Australia, in the late 90’s. By drawing on my experiences as an apprentice, I have gradually increased the wage I pay myself, and minimized the soul searching and guilt.

As an apprentice I had to complete classes at a technical college in order to move to the next year, and receive higher wages. We had ‘book’ classes learning history, drafting, estimating and materials. But for me the real focus was the shop projects: pieces of furniture we were required to make. I looked forward to these assignments with a mixture of dread and excitement. I knew I was going to be challenged and exhausted by these projects. But I was also going to learn at the feet of masters.

The skills of my teachers constantly amazed me. I remember my teacher simultaneously teaching a class and hand cutting a perfect dovetail joint. In about 10 minutes. I was constantly inspired to improve my own skills.

we need a push

How is this relevant to you as an artisan – or even an employee? Well after I had completed those shop pieces I felt great, I could see what I had learned and I definitely felt like I deserved a raise. Most of us need that psychological push to pay ourselves a higher wage. To graduate from first year to second year apprentice, or from apprentice to journeyman. Or even from journeyman to master.

So challenge yourself.

If you feel guilty about raising prices, make a ‘graduation piece’ or cornerstone project that pushes your skills to the limit, and demands all you have to give creatively. Don’t think about whether it will sell. Ideally it will be something that you keep for yourself, as an artistic record of progress. Show it to friends and colleagues who you can trust to appreciate the skill involved, and give honest feedback.

You will likely see you moved along your own apprenticeship path, and deserve a raise. I like to challenge myself in this way every now and then, to give me a real sense of how far I have come as an artist, and it helps me see how far I have to go. Do I need to ‘sit at the feet of a master’ and take a class, or be mentored? Am I moving in a new direction? What does my piece mean in relation to my product range, is it time to change the line up? Answering these questions helps me grow as an artist.

So where am I now? I currently see myself as at a journeyman level, but I aim to one day move on up to that hallowed hall of masters, and be confidently paying myself the corresponding wage.

Chantelle Brightbill is a quilter and textile artist creating under her label Clothscape.

9 thoughts on “The Price of Craft & How I Became Apprenticed to Myself

  1. This is such a great way of looking at the pricing problem, and takes a lot of the pressure off.
    It also prevents the problem of setting your prices too high and having to lower them – which is so demotiving to yourself & your customers.

  2. First off I would loke to thank you for this post. The apprenticeship is an excellent reference. I know I would not think of paying myself for what I have worked for at my job due to the schooling, and many years of experience but this is exactly the right mind frame when it comes to the learning curve. It always makes me smile to know that even though I may not be foraging the path, I am on the path, thanks again Tara.

  3. What a great apprentice.Chantelle worked for me & it was a joy to see her always reaching upward to a higher level.Now her skills are being applied in other projects.Very proud Dad.Coonamble N.S.W. Australia.

  4. interesting topic, this and your underselling article from December are things I have been thinking about, I used to look in stores and online to compare prices to items I make but then it would make me feel guilty for overpricing but it really is no comparison, people assume just because i can make it, it will be cheaper. so I have started non compromised, non guilt pricing, I no longer look for what the store bought price is. If ( when) my friends ask for something made I no longer accept money from them only barters- it really gives them something to think about as what is the value/ time spent, this has worked well

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