Friday, June 26, 2009

What do I want to make an hour?

This entry is prompted by a question from my last blog. Wow, it has taken me some time to figure out how to say it, so I thought I would just post some of my thoughts. I know that whatever I say, some folks will think it too much and some will think it too little.
To begin to be compensated for the experience, sweat, and physicality of being a potter, I would like to be making $20 an hour. It's not chicken feed and it's not caviar fare.

Now, I know these things:

  1. Health insurance could eat up to 1/3 of that salary. I now have it through my husband's group plan. We have experienced enough illness and medical expenses from his kidney transplant that I can not imagine being without health insurance. I really do not consider it a luxury and it frightens the daylights out of me that so many artists go without it.
  2. Any money I make, I have to allow that I will be paying 16% approx. as a self-employed person for social security. So that comes off the top and reduces that $20 down to $16.80 or so.
  3. I will not be working at artist wages 40 hours a week. Much of my time is spent answering the phone, typing invoices, mixing glazes, recycling clay, changing the light bulbs and air conditioner filters, cleaning the toilets, etc. How to balance this is a mystery to me.
  4. I have a personal goal to get to $50,000 a year in sales in the near future. I am not there yet by a long shot and I would not be able to afford to pay myself that $20 an hour weekly wage because the expenses/costs of doing business are more than $8400 a year. Just my power, water and phone bill run $325 a month, not including any property/car insurance, rent, business licenses, internet web hosting, email programs, postage, clay and glaze materials, gas, boxes, bubble wrap, etc.......
  5. I do understand all the arguments that we are not making "needed" things. Yet we are surrounded by "unneeded" things that people choose to spend their discretionary monies on. To name a few: cigarettes, body art, paintings, music, television, movies. I happen to think that my pottery is just as important as the local tatoo artist's work. I have no idea what a good tatoo art makes. I do know my son has dropped some money on body art and it's not cheap. I'm not sure I even know how to spell it right!
  6. Part of what I want is to create a decent living wage as an example to up and coming artists that they can choose to work at something they love and get paid for. I really hate being embarrassed when someone asks me if "They can make a good living at pottery?" I feel like I am not doing it now. So one of the steps for me is to identify my true costs and look at this profession like a business, then set goals of income and wages, work towards those and then up the ante to higher stakes.

That's all I can handle on the subject for now. You can comment back with any ideas you have on how insane or sane some of this is.


Patricia Griffin Ceramics said...

The reality of the money issue is really daunting. Another potter has several recent posts where she has lined out what she actually makes per hour. Check out Lucy Fagella's blog post:

brandon phillips said...

my way of figuring is a little different. you could kill yourself nickle and diming over every piece. I figure what I need to make in a given month or quarter and work from there. On average I know how much salable product I can get from a firing so I know how many pots to make. I generally know what pots sell best in whatever region I'm going to be showing, though this can surprise you sometimes.

I don't make pots fulltime all year so efficiency is the key. when i'm actually working on pots my goal is to on average work on $3-400 worth of pots per hour. This sounds like a lot of work and also like I make a lot, but its not, I'll explain. Throwing 20 mugs per hour @$18 each=$360. Attaching handles, trimming feet, trimming lids, slipping, glazing, etc are all extra processes. On average each piece has 5 seperate times that I'm doing something to the piece. $360/5 = $72/hour average. Still sounds like a lot of $$$ but actually making work is about 1/3 - 1/2 of the time actually spent doing potery related work(prepping/firing kilns, paperwork, travelling/sitting shows, etc.) This comes out to approx. $24-36/hour. Throughout the year I average 20-30 hours per week on pottery related activity. Of course all my pottery/show expenses need to be subtracted so my ending wage is probably close to 20/hour...but of course this isn't for 40 hours per week. For where we live and our lifestyle this is adequate(though more $ is always nice!) I could easily make more pots but right now I don't have the market to sell them. I'm considering wholesale...but that per hour rate can drop pretty fast doing that. Making twice as many pots for 1.5 times the money is not worth it to me, there is such a fine line between making it and being destitute and I don't want to be tiptoeing that line.

I should mention that my wife has health insurance through her job, i'm not covered. It's a risk we've chosen to take for awhile. We have the typical mortgage, car payment, student loan payments along with utilities that we have to pay every month. I make anywhere from 800-1200/month(during the school year) teaching depending on how many classes I have...they also pay for my raw materials because of the low pay. I like to think of my material costs just being drafted from my paycheck.

That is just my take on things. With handmade pots where everything is so different I don't think it's efficient to figure a price-per-piece. If I'm doing a dinnerware set for someone it is made and fired along with the rest of my pots. I don't do special firings for commissions, especially with my large kiln, this would kill me! If it will be 2 months before my kiln is full then they have to wait 2 months.

I don't mean this to be offensive in any way but...Lucy Fagella's dinnerware system is not efficient by any means(not to mention her math and logic are flawed.) Lucy makes fantastic pots but she clearly spends too much time on them for the price she charges...this is all too common.

I'd better stop now!

Linda Starr said...

Hi Vicky, Patricia and I are on the same wave length, I also posted Lucy's link's for you on Ron's blog.

I figure price per piece on how long it takes to make and how intricate the design is. I know I personally cannot make enough cups, dinner sets, or bowls to average $20 an hour for fulltime work unless I slipcast, slump or hump mold them. If I need volume to earn the income, then I am not opposed to having a line of wares manufactured (but by someone else using my design) so I can concentrate on designing and creating the time consuming pieces which I hope to sell at a higher price each. I'd rather make three or four large bowls and platters in one day than 40 mugs. I prefer to sell to individuals rather than wholesale. As Brandon said retail brings more income than wholesale. I think at least $20 per hour would be reasonable but more would be better because there is always depreciation of equipment and unexpected things which come up. Hey a vacation and workshops would be nice to be included in there too, not to mention retirement.

Unknown said...

Funny I just posted a blog about how I make a living.. the things that have worked for me. I'd be interested in your feedback and interpretations. Seems to be a lot of financial introspection going around the potters blogs :)

The original is posted at, but it will eventually make it around to

crossposting takes time :)

Vicki Gill, potter said...

Thanks for all your comments. Will look at all the links. I know in the end I have to find what works for me and my own personal goals, but it is nice to have reference points from others on what is working for them.