Grabbing The Tiger By The Tail: Pricing Tapestry
by Barbara Burns on June 9, 2017
Pricing our work can be more difficult than any other aspect of marketing. There are no lessons or guidelines for this. No roadmap to follow from beginner to professional level.
I have seen work in tapestry exhibits where the pricing ranged from very low, to very high. This was part of the impetus for this blog. I want to share with you how our peers are dealing with pricing. I hope this will serve as a guide, or a starting place for several aspects of pricing. So, with some help, I created a pricing questionnaire. I tried to choose people to send it to who are serious about weaving and are either interested in selling or have a track record of selling their work. Many names you are familiar with, some wished to be anonymous. From over 70 questionnaires sent out, I received 38 back. Of those 38, 37 have sold work. Not everyone answered every question, this is reflected in the numbers. Some information may surprise you. Other things you may have guessed would be true.
I want to thank all of the people who participated in filling out the questionnaire. It took a leap of faith to share what they did. I know all who read this post will not only appreciate the candid information, but will gain precious information on how to deal with pricing.
Here are the results of the data.
What system do you use to price your work?
- Pricing by square foot, cm, meter etc.: 20
- Priced individually, not based on the previous choice: 7
- Combination of the above: 9
- Never sold 1
- Other: 1 This person bases her pricing on 3 criterion 1. Where she is in her career. 2. The time it takes to weave and 3. What she would pay.
As you can see the majority base pricing on area. But there’s more:
Other factors taken into consideration. Pricing adjusted accordingly:
- Add on for framing: 30
- Add for shipping: 29
- Tax included in price: 21
- Tax added on top: 10
- Complexity: 21
- Time: 21
- Fineness of the weaving (sett): 19
- Commission priced the same as speculative work: 18
- Commission prices vary from speculative work: 16 (I will have a separate post on dealing with commissions).
- Materials: 19 (One person dyes her yarn and marks up based on materials + time for the dyeing.)
- Overhead: 9
- Hand delivery: Yes: 7 Depends on other factors: 20
- Handling: 8
- Travel: 6
I would add: Increase the price on a specific piece if it has won an award.
“My prices raise slightly with every new solo show, around once a year.”
“My prices are calculated by a combination of both of the above, taking into account size, complexity and that ineffable ‘something’ that elevates a particular work. Some things we put a lot of time into are still not that good.”
“It’s a combination, I do try to price my tapestries so that smaller ones cost less than bigger ones, but I also take into account the complexity, the resolution (warps/wefts per inch), and the overall quality (as in how satisfied I am with the design and execution). Also the age, I start to lower some of the prices when they get really old.Totally subjective, and totally emotional: How much money it would take for me to be happy to part with the tapestry.”
“What the client can afford. I am willing to do a small piece and charge less if I know the client appreciates the medium and the work that goes into it and could not afford more.”
“For exhibition pieces and small pieces for general sale, I calculate a price that the market will bear while also taking into account the costs per square meter. I think it is important to look at your customer and the market for your work. It is important to be realistic about what our customers are likely to pay. What the market in each country will bear. When we start out we may not be able to get the high prices that we will achieve when we are more well known and have established a reputation.”
“If I am particularly attached to a piece or think it is exceptional, I’ll increase the price. Very small pieces cost more per square foot as they take much more time to weave per area.”
One person adds an additional 30% for work over 24 inches wide because warping is more difficult for her. Another weaver increases the multiplier as the size goes up.
On average how many tapestries do you sell in a year?
- One to two per year: 17
- Two to three per year: 2
- Three to Four per year: 0
- Four to Five per year: 1
- More than 5 per year: 3
“…the number of tapestries I sell per year varies tremendously with both exhibition opportunities and the size of the work. Last year I sold about 15 pieces, but all were small. The year before I sold about 7 medium sized pieces. Other years I sell one large one and make more money than all the others.”
Where do you sell your work?
- Studio: 30
- Gallery: 24
- website: 10
- Through an art consultant: 6
- Craft shows: 4
- Through interior designers: 3
- Through am architect: 3
- Tapestry exhibits: 3
- Online: 2
- Public art programs: 1
- Word of mouth: 1
- Hanging in home: 1
- To students: 1
- Through own business: 1
I find it very interesting that the majority of work has sold from people’s studios. Galleries are second and websites are a distant third. Take this with a grain of salt though. Many people don’t put prices on their websites, that may affect sales.
“I have sold occasional pieces from art exhibitions and one commission came through an architect. I haven’t had much luck with my website and am not very good at marketing my work. I have not had a commission since I moved to the North Island as I do not have a public studio here like I had in Christchurch.”
“I do not sell my tapestries very often as in New Zealand there is not much awareness of tapestry and our population is very small, though in saying that I have sold numerous works over the years. They sold easily when my work was cheaper but now that I am charging the proper prices for it, I find it is not so easy to sell. It is really difficult to tap into a market where the people can afford to pay the proper prices for a work.”
Do you post prices on your website?
- Yes: 8
- No: 19 ( Six of these nineteen are either planning to post prices or are considering it. So the numbers could change as much as: 14: yes 13: no, based on the comments in the questionnaire.)
Reasons people gave to not post prices on their website:
- …relatively small community and feel vulnerable publicizing the “value” of my work to anyone who happens to be cruising the internet.
- Historically, I have not, but will at some point in the future
- I want interested parties to inquire based on their response to the work, not on its price.
- I feel strongly that potential buyers should see my work “live” so that they know what they are getting. If it is a repeat customer or someone who has seen me at an arts fair, then I am willing to do business with them “on line.”
- Currently my tapestries are not for sale.
- Because each project is so different. I don’t discuss price on initial contact, it requires consideration. It can be difficult this way but is fairer and you have to reassure the client of your good intentions.
- Haven’t gotten around to it. Plus, in the last years I have had a lot of shows and for shows I need to have stockpiled work and it can be awkward to borrow work back. This can be a conundrum — shows bring publicity and are, apparently, the artist’s goal. On the other hand, they make it hard to sell. Some galleries will have the work for sale but, because they are non-profit (or something) they will not post prices on the wall (there is usually a list in an office somewhere), which can make it awkward for any but the most determined to buy, a strange system.
- It’s way more important to me to show work than to sell it.
- Not primarily a selling website, I prefer to have personal contact
- I am reconsidering this policy. I need to redo my website. Right now it is a showcase for my work and no distinction is made if the tapestry is for sale. I want to change this.
- I prefer to have a customer contact me. It gives me an opportunity to get to know them a little and possible influence the outcome.
I do not consider my website an avenue for selling work, that is, I don’t consider that I make my personal work as a commercial operation.
- My website is primarily a reference for those interested in tapestry and wishing to see what sort of work I have done. I don’t post a price for individual pieces because I don’t expect to sell directly from the website and don’t have an interest in selling online.
- I may reconsider this. While I was teaching it was more important for me to show rather than sell.
- Because the price varies, if it is available in a gallery who take 60% commission then the price on the website would be much less implying a lack of consistency in pricing.
- No, but shortly I will be.
- I want the work to speak for itself. My website is not sales website.
- My website is under construction at the moment but I hope to sell from an online shop.
- At this point my web site is not set up for this. I have the website for people to see my work. I have included contact information. My recent commission was a contact through my web site via ATA web page.
From one person who has prices on her website:
“I have a shop section for small works under 500, those have prices, but not the larger works. Most aren’t in my studio so collectors can get that info through galleries”.
How does your tapestry income relate to your expenses?
- less than one quarter: 22
- about one quarter: 3
- Supports themselves through tapestry: 3
Who are the buyers?
- Friends and family: 23
- Other artists: 21
- Art collectors: 17
- Public buildings/Percent for the arts programs: 12
- Corporate: 10
- Churches: 2
Other ways you make money related to tapestry?
- Lecturing: 23
- Teaching: 21
- Selling tapestry materials and equipment: 4
- Run projects in schools: 1
- Make instructional comics: 1
- Run a tapestry tour: 1
- Grants: 1
- Own a gallery: 1
- Writing: 1
Why would a work not be for sale?
- Emotional attachment: 14
- Given as gifts: 3
- Saving for a specific exhibit: 2
- Choosing not to sell yet: 1
- Wanted for a museum: 1
Some good quotes.
“I find it hard to compete with those that underprice their work.”
“I find it hard to work to a formula when pricing work. Sometimes with my personal work there is an emotional attachment that adds to its value. I’m very bad at putting a price on it. With commissioned Community pieces there has always been a budget set beforehand and I work to that amount.”
“It is hard and doesn’t seem to get easier over the years. I sell very little and know I need to spend more time on promotion. An aspect of art life that I do not like at all.”
“It’s a bit of a mystery and look forward to hearing other people’s ideas on it. I have a feeling that my prices are too high for the people I know, and too low for the serious, crazy art world. A strange place to be.”
When asked to give specific pricing strategies:
“$850/sf(US) I set a price decades ago based on materials, time and overhead. I make a cost of living increase yearly or bi-yearly. Some tapestries obviously are more labor-intensive than others, and my price reflects an average.”
“Here are some prices for a variety of medium/large sized works. All are sett at 8-9 epi Complexity varies.”
60″ x 24″ – $8500 10 sf $850/sf
52″ x 28″ – $11,000 10.11 sf $1088/sf
54″ x 34″ – $14,000 12.75 sf $1098/sf
48″ x 40″ – $12,500 13.33 sf $937/sf
26″ x 30″ – $7,000 5.4 sf $1296/sf
“Years of tracking hours led to a $200.00/sq. ft. This is the absolute base price that I expect to get. Gallery percentages are added to that. Further adjustments depend on the particular piece.”
“Basic formula is work hours x wage + work hours x studio costs + materials = total cost. Work hours include every project phase from initial meeting to final installation.”
“Studio costs vary as I have lived in many places. Always have kept a home studio. Costs are based on studio square footage and the percent of usual household expenses needed to maintain the studio. As reported on Federal tax forms.”
“I stated three levels of prices based on techniques (tapestry or inlay), complexity of design and cost of materials (wool for tapestry or cotton/silk), based on anticipated time needed to complete.”
“$2,000 Canadian per square foot. This was a price set by a commercial gallery I was connected with a while ago so it includes a commission of 50%. I have not raised my price in the past decade.”
“After many years of using the same price I have finally raised it to $400/sf. As I indicated, it is a starting point which goes up if the design is more complex, or there are special materials. (I’m bad at keeping track of hours so I do not factor that in!)”
“Mostly my work is miniature with a fine warp sett, mounted (sewn by me) onto archival mount-board & framed behind glass. Using the criteria mentioned above & a bit of guidance from my gallery ‘usually’ cost at AUD$550 for 10 x 20cm (approximately).”
“Some examples from my current price list for new pieces.”
6 x 6 (unframed) $250 .25sf $1000/sf
8 x 9 (unframed) $550 .5sf $1100/sf
10 x 10 (framed by me) $700 .69sf $1014/sf
21 x 33 (not framed) $5,200 4.8sf $1083/sf
“My standard charge is $700 per square foot for direct sales for works of average complexity. The charge for warp sets higher than 8 epi would be higher. These prices include labor and materials and delivery to sites within two hours’ drive of Gig Harbor. For gallery sales I charge the gallery my standard price plus their commission fee.”
“I consider the time it takes to create a tapestry the most important factor in how I price my work.
Anyway, I need to take into account the reality of Brazil. It does not do any good for me to have the ideal price and having no one to buy. Last year I attended the exhibition in Edinburgh with 7 more participants at the Cordis Trust Prize. At the time only my work was sold and a gentleman at the exhibition asked me why my price was so cheap. I replied that my price was the price of Brazil. On that occasion 1 pound cost 6 reais. On the other hand, talking to other people at the show they told me that the prices of the other tapestries were very high and so they did not sell.”
“These prices have been a rough rule of thumb for me. All prices are in New Zealand dollars.”
4epi – $300/sf 5epi $400/sf 6epi $500/sf
7 epi $600/sf 8epi $900/sf 9epi $1000/sf
10epi $1200/sf 11epi $1500/sf 12epi $2000/sf
“I adjust these prices according to circumstances.”
Kathe Todd Hooker
“I charge by the inch a 5 inch by 7 inch is about 30.00 per square inch if it in sewing thread. This comes to about $4320/sf.”
“Wool pieces cost out at 400.00-500.00 a square foot for a large piece. Depending on complexity a really complex wool piece can run as much as 600.00-700.00.”
“4.000 – 6.000 Euro pr. square meter 40 Euro pr. hour.”
“Prices range from €1,500 – €3,500 per square meter.”
“Generally $350-600 per square foot.”
“On my recent commission I received $375 per square foot. The yarn was provided by the client and all shipping charges were paid. I do want to clarify a point. I don’t usually price my work on a square foot basis. Over the years I have only calculated price by square foot twice with commissions. The consultant I dealt for the commission is a rug dealer, and this is how he prices his rugs. Perhaps it works better for rugs, but even some of those I’m not sure.”
“I price my pieces like I would price other art work – painting, stitching, etc. It is subjective based on the size, detail and success of the piece also with some consideration for the time. A piece that I considered less successful I would charge less. Another factor is I am at point where I want to move my work to make room for new work.”
“Maybe not very scientific but you would not calculate a famous painter by the square foot. I would like to see tapestry more mainstream in the art world. Progress has been made but for many it falls into the craft world.”
There is quite a large range of prices here, from $200 US/sf to $4320/sf. Take out the highest and lowest prices and the range is $300/sf – $2000/sf. Still a huge difference.
Although many do not do this, if you have work in a gallery and you also sell your work elsewhere, your prices should be the same across the board. Do not undercut your gallery. See Suzanne Pretty’s post on working with galleries.
“I have found that keeping my prices the same, regardless of whether there is a commission is not only the ethical thing to do, it makes my life SO much easier. The price is the price, all I have to do is check my price list. It means that when I sell out of my studio I get more than I would have, and when I sell from a gallery I get less but it evens out. Actually, since I sell from my studio more often than from galleries, it means more money for me.”
For your convenience:
Formula for figuring out square footage.
Length x width (inches) divided by 144 (number of square inches in a square foot) = square feet x $= price x 2 for a 50% commission.
For example a work that is 22 inches by 38 inches: 22 x 38 =836 square inches
836 divided by 144= 5.8 square feet x $500/sf = $2900 x 2 = $5800.
length x width (cm) divided by 1000= square meters x $= price x 2 for 50% commission.
Now that I have read all this data, collated it and created this post I have to go back to my own prices and make some changes. Once I have done this I will be posting prices on my website. I feel that there are many potential buyers that are uncomfortable writing to ask for a price. I’m considering putting prices on my Facebook and Instagram pages as well. I will share what I do in a future post.
As far as how to price I’m considering implementing Marilyn Rea-Menzies’ system of having a starting price for each sett. I do a version of this now. Once I have these prices I can adjust depending on some of the factors in the list below.
Skill level at design, weaving and mounting. Put another way: where I am in my practice.
Power of the image
Whether or not it is a commission
If the tapestry has won an award.
Please feel free to share what you are doing with pricing in the comments section below. If you would like to fill out the questionnaire and be added to this tally you can do so here.
If you want to see more work of the people who participated in the questionnaire, here they are: