Making for money doesn’t make me happy

4 11 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my creative needs – what they mean, where they belong in my life, what do I want from them… etc.

When I say ‘thinking’ I actually mean struggling with, fighting against, wrestling with, crying over, doing battle with, getting prickled by … you get the point.

The undercurrent has been active for some time now, but really came to the surface recently as I sat at the bench to finish some cufflinks and the most awful thought entered my mind – “I hate this”. It didn’t feel very nice to have this thought; I felt small and deflated. How did I get to the point that I hated something I once loved to bits?

Instead of trying to think it through, I gave up on the logical path and decided to just sit with it and trust the answer will come to me. It did, following two separate conversations with dear art-and-making-loving friends in the same week.

What seems to have happened over the last year is that I’ve somehow migrated from making for the love of it, to making hoping to generate money from it – I’ve often thought my ideal life would be to make a full-time living from making.

Big mistake it turns out. At least for me, and at least for now.

Upon reflection, in the last year or two I’ve been required to price my work (mainly my cufflinks, but also for some exhibitions and commissions). I don’t want to undervalue my work, nor perpetuate the under-valuation of handmade work in general; so I’ve been careful to price reasonably but well.

This has led to me feeling utterly guilty about how much a client / consumer is being asked to pay, and in an effort to reduce that price I’ve been trying to work faster and making small compromises. This has not made me happy – instead of loving what I’m doing, I’ve become far too conscious of time and in a sense making has become an obligation; and sometimes I’m not proud of the outcome.

Perhaps it’s not just me and all makers feel this (especially with respect to production work). Perhaps it’s just me and I’m going about it all wrong.

Anyway, instead of throwing the towel in altogether (believe me, this was an option seriously considered), for now I have decided to continue to make cufflinks. However I’ve decided it’s critical I balance that with a renewed focus on what I want to make, with playful making, decoupled from requiring that my time is compensated or acknowledged by others. Hence my recent rediscovery.

I’m not yet sure where this will take me, but I feel a little more at peace and I’m looking forward to making for the sheer joy of making.

It’s even more interesting that this same thought-battle has come up in my knitting world too.

I’m a member of Ravelry, and recently asked the membership how they price hand-knitted items. The response was fascinating!

Let me give an example first: a pair of socks takes me approximately 18 hours to knit. I buy beautiful yarn, which can be between $25 – $30 per skein (one skein = one pair of socks). There is a theory that the maker should charge at least three times the yarn value for a finished object. Here that would imply $90 for the pair of socks. Now that means less than $3 per hour (ie. $90 – $30(yarn) = $60, divide that by 18 hours). Oh for sure! Just a reminder that minimum wage in Australia is just over $16 per hour.

There’s another theory that you could charge for yarn and then by the yard (most of the crafting sites are American); some say between 10c – 25c per yard. So a pair of socks is approx 350yards; so that’s just under $120 (at 25c). That’s marginally better at just under $5 per hour. But would you pay $120 for a pair of handmade socks?

Now, say that I was to charge minimum wage for my time; that would mean a pair of socks would be $318 (18 hours at $16 + yarn cost). No, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would pay that!

Naturally then, issues about undervaluing and that makers are rarely adequately compensated for their time were voiced – with quite some frustration.

The end result seemed to be that most people found that knitting for monetary compensation killed their love of knitting.

This coalesced for me with my jewellery-making thought process too … interesting how one sphere of your life can have the answers for another.

[Please note: as regular readers know, I make cufflinks for Lord Coconut. He’s a most fabulous gallery practitioner, understands the makers’ practices and dilemmas, and by no means is any of this a reflection on him or the gallery.]


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