PRICING YOUR PYROGRAPHIC ART WORK - This was an article I wrote back in 2004 & then posted on the Woodburner.com forum in 2006. Since then it has been edited & revised.
This topic has been a discussion that has gone on many times in many groups so I wrote an article about it. At the time I originally wrote the article it focused on Pyrography but the information is relevant to gourd art as well most crafts.
It's hard to really tell someone what their work is worth because people are at different skill levels (beginner to professional). Some of the people charge per square inch but most artists charge for the time spent. The per hour charge would depend on many things: your skill, your geographical area (some areas can get more than others) and what the market will bear. Living in TX when I started burning I was getting about $35-50 for a burning. When I moved to WA state I was selling the same pieces for at least twice that much. Some newer artists starting out are lucky to get $5.00/hour plus add on the materials (i.e.: wood) others who have been doing it a while with an established reputation can get $20.00/hour. And of course there are the famous artists such as Dino Muradian who can get whatever they want!!!!I would suggest perhaps you figure out how much time you think it will take you, add in the cost of the wood and throw out a figure. If they don't faint perhaps you have found the magic figure. It's really a crap shoot when you figure out pricing. It's also how much you want to sell your work and not care so much about the fact that you’re selling it for the equivalent of "slave labor". When I started I sold my work relatively cheap (perhaps $5.00/hour) and I started adjusting my prices as my level of expertise improved and how quickly they sold. If they sell too fast, they are too cheap! I was told at a show last year (2003) by several people that I was giving my work away so again I adjusted my prices. You might not sell as much when your prices are higher but you have to decide if your time is worth it or do you want to sell your burnings.
I'm at the point where I don't care if I sell them. I do them because I love what I'm doing and if it sells great, if not that's ok too. I never was in it for the money, I was doing it because it was "fun". I take commissions of things I like and consider "fun" and others I turn away. When this stops being "fun" and becomes a job I will stop doing it. When I get a commission I tell them what I want and if they don't have heart failure that's great. I don't negotiate my price....just like I don't negotiate my boss reducing my salary.
What I consider when I set a price for a commission is how long will it take me to do this piece (of course you have to have some kind of idea of how long it will take you and this might be a rough estimate if you have never done anything like it before) and what kind of wood am I putting it on. I calculate the cost of the wood and the hours at my hourly rate and then come up with a figure. Hopefully it's one that they will agree to. Then depending on the commission I decide how much of a deposit I require. If it's a personal portrait I require it be paid in full. If it's a generic burning such as one of the Native American pieces I have done over the years, I just get 1/2 up front and the balance when I'm half way through it.
I have a 'base' starting price. Portraits are custom commissioned work that obviously cannot be sold to someone else should the person decide they do not want it when it is finished & I left them know this before I accept the commission. I let them know that I require a retainer of half paid before I start & I will send them updates from time to time. When I’m halfway through they can cancel if they are not happy with it but there will be no refund of the retainer. The balance of the fee is due at this point before I will complete the piece.
Portraits are more expensive than general wildlife or landscape of the same size. This goes without saying and is generally understood by clients. In addition to what I stated above I have set rules for my Portraits... I don't do anything smaller than 8x10" to start...for a single teenager/adult I feel that anything smaller than this is more of a 'picture' than a 'portrait'. Details of expression and personality will not have any 'impact '. As far as pricing by size... try looking at it this way.... say you have a 8x10...and decide to do a portrait of just head and shoulders. You charge $350.00 for the one person, head and shoulders in that size. Then say you have a larger size such as 16x20 with 2 people in it....I would charge $200 for an extra person & perhaps $50 extra for the larger (basic) wood. So, as an example I start with a base price for the size of the wood/canvas/paper, etc. Let’s say my minimum size is 8x10 for one person starting at 350.00 done on basswood. If they want a background... it’s an extra $150.00. If they want an extra person it’s $200. If they want a larger size it’s $50/size (depending on the material used) up to 16x20. If it's done on premium wood I add more to that based on the selected wood.
Again, these are prices on standard wood (such as Basswood)...not exotic woods. Burled wood is perhaps double the price of standard wood. An example is the portrait below that was done on a premium piece of maple burl with color added for accents & today would sell for $500-$600 depending on the region. The bottom line is not price that I'm trying to convey....but rather the size thing.... pricing by the inch or by the size of wood... really works best for me. If you think about it.... you can only get so much in an area of wood.... whether is one barn.... or the barn with animals it doesn't really matter. They take about the same time to do.... so you can price by the piece.... and then add on for extras like backgrounds, special burning of names or lettering, etc. But for the most part.... you can really get so much so just pick the high end of what price you have in mind...and stick to it.
I suggest you go to woodcarving & woodworking shows and see what other people are charging for their work if you are not sure. Think about how does your work compare to theirs (try to be honest with yourself) and price accordingly. In Texas (not major metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Houston, etc). a simple Basswood burning (not a portrait) with bark...8 x l0" are in the 75.00 to 85.00 range for “art” at an intermediate level give or take from what I have seen. Beginners would be about $45.00 to $50.00 in Texas. This is just a general idea based on this geographic area. The price you decide will be a personal choice for you. Without the benefit of seeing your work...the prices I quoted above are for intermediate levels. It’s what you can live with when they take your work away... what sits right with you for your efforts...and how badly do they want it? You must be fair... but always remember... whatever level you are burning at.... your work IS an ORIGINAL... all hand made...no assembly line... that’s worth an extra l5% right there!
This article was written for Pyrography but the same principles apply to other art forms including gourds.
I hope this helps and didn't further confuse the issue for you.