I often hear people say "add up the costs of your materials, then make sure you pay yourself an hourly wage, and this is how to determine the prices for your pots," and I think "It doesn't work that way." It's not a normal job like graphic design, where you are entitled to compensation. There are countless intangible factors that determine the value of your work, and "time" might be the least important. So to presume an hourly wage for yourself is just plain foolish.
So I am proposing that professional craftspeople join me in taking a different point of view of the "hourly wage" subject. Instead of pondering what I should earn per hour, I am going to calculate what I did earn.
Here's my methodology ... whenever possible I will separate pottery sales into quantifiable portions. I will keep track of the time I spend to complete the work. I will subtract any applicable expenses from the sales amount, then divide what remains by the number of hours spent.
The "quantifiable portions" will include wholesale orders, retail art shows and festivals, open houses, registries, etc. (Maybe I'll even settle the debate between the predictable volumes/lower prices of wholesale, vs. the unpredictable sales/higher prices/longer hours of retail?)
How I price my pots ... it's a long-term process, and definitely not based on a presumptuous hourly wage, which as I expressed before, is a dim idea. New pot designs start as low-priced prototypes. The prices and designs of good sellers grow over time. Slow sellers are eliminated. I compare new pot designs with the price points of my established good sellers. I also compare my prices with other potters who are working at the same level as me. I don't want to overprice, because I think a handmade pot should be affordable to average people. However, I am more careful not to underprice my pots. Underpricing is indulgent and amateurish, and harmful to other professional potters.
Now on to the calculation ... this first calculation is for a large wholesale order. It is the largest order I wrote at the Buyers Market in February. It contains a good mix of low, medium, and high priced items, therefore it should be a good measure of wholesaling in general.
I kept track of the time spent working on it, including the following tasks:
• preparing clay (recycling, pugging, wedging)
• building pots (throwing trimming, altering, hand-building)
• loading and unloading the kiln
• studio cleanup
• applying hang tags to finished pots
• packing for delivery
I did not track the time spent on tasks that didn't specifically apply to this order, such as mixing glazes, or the afternoon I spent carrying a year's supply of clay down the stairs into my basement studio.
From the total dollar value of the order, I subtracted the following expenses which I could quantify:
• shipping boxes
• a percentage of my Buyers Market expenses, equal to the percentage of Buyers Market sales that this order represented (by far this was the biggest expense related to this order)
I did not subtract the following expenses which I could not quantify:
• equipment use and maintenance
• bubble wrap and packing peanuts (some purchased, some recycled)
The dollar amount that remained was divided by the total hours spent. And in the end, I made $24.74 per hour. My official response to this is "not too shabby!" I feared that I was making less than minimum wage, but the real answer is nowhere close to that. The answer fits my self-evaluation as an up-and-coming, but bona fide professional potter. My time has a good value, but the value has room to grow, as do my work efficiencies, craft skill, and business development.
One final note about calculating my hourly value ... this is not a job that I can do for 8 hours a day like a normal job. The longest I was able to work in one day is 5.5 hours, and at that point my elbows and hamstrings were aching! My usual workday is more like 3 or 4 hours. So that's another issue I need to address ... how to reduce the physical strain of making pots in order to be more productive per day. (Then again, having worked in the corporate world, I know that many people with 8 hour-per-day jobs don't spend 5.5 of them productively, so maybe I shouldn't worry about that.)
Coming soon ... I will repeat this calculation for other wholesale orders over the next few months. Maybe different types of orders will have a different results, or I will get better as the year goes on.