Let’s talk money! It’s an awkward and uncomfortable topic for many, and one I have to discuss often with potential clients so let’s just get stuck in!
I’m one of many, many small creative business’ who go to fetes and fairs, have market stalls and therefore get to interact with potential customers face to face, and it’s after one of these days where I’m writing this post . It is really wonderful to have people come and see your work in person and it’s fabulous to have some of those people tell us they love our work, then there are others…
who exclaim, loudly, “How much?!”, ha – and trust me I understand the reaction, so let me explain the why behind the price tag – from the hours and hours it takes, to the materials I use and the behind the scenes people rarely see.
My coloured pencil work can take up to 20+ hours, depending on size, colour and subject. It’s such a labour intensive craft and unfortunately with my realistic style of work there are no shortcuts – I can’t speed up the process (though I’m wildly skilled at slowing it down). But, who can sit and draw for 20 hours straight?! I’ve found I can just about draw for 2-3 hour stints and then I need a break because hand cramps and eye strain are all too common. I can only draw for 5-6 hours a day – so a 20 hour drawing will take over 3 days to complete.
Now, let’s talk materials. I use archival quality pencils and papers. The pencils can cost £1.70, £2 or £3 per pencil! Because of the details in my work I have to use sharp pencils – so these pricey pencils can disappear real quick with a sharpener, of which I have 3 different ones for 4 different brands of pencils – all of which need blades replacing often and these little costs add up quick.
I use LOTS of different coloured pencils, 388 pencils across 4 brands to be exact… plus backups. Depending on what I’m drawing I can often use 50+ pencils per drawing!
BEHIND THE SCENES
So that’s time and materials… but I still have to communicate with customers on the best type of reference photos, pose and size choices. Sometimes we can go back and forth for weeks searching for the best photos. Then, for each commission I set up a PayPal invoice and personalised commission agreement. Once their commission hits my desk and I start drawing, I make sure to keep each client updated with emailed work in progress photos as their pet portrait comes to life, all little admin tasks that take up time.
Alongside all of the drawing, emails, material sourcing and admin, I also need to keep up appearances on social media drumming up interest and hoping to attract commissions – social media alone feels like a full time job! Small businesses have to try to keep “engagement” up on their posts so the algorithm will be our friend and our followers will actually see our posts – if there’s one thing you can do to help your favourite creators for FREE, its interact with them online!
I need and use tech bits and bobs; Mac, hard-drive, iPad, printer, scanner, GoPro, DSLR camera, daylight lamp…
Then there’s the cost of packaging, stickers, tissue paper, compostable bags, acid free backing boards. You get the idea, when you commission a portrait you’re not just purchasing that one bit of paper. You’re buying the hours and hours of prep, the years of practice and experimentation. You’re supporting a small business, sometimes just ONE person like me who does the whole lot, from start to finish, from taking your order to running it to the post office.
We wear a lot of hats, whilst spinning a lot of plates. We are marketers, social media managers and accountants. We are customer service and we are material researchers and buyers, stock takers and stall organisers.
Supporting the small businesses that you love doesn’t have to mean buying something, the free acts of liking, sharing and commenting on social media posts boosts engagement and does wonders for us!