Clay Culture: Hourly Earnings Update

1 Rhee renovated her basement studio in 2013. The larger, brighter space now lends itself to more productivity, and is ideal for hosting an annual open studio event.


Wondering how much money you actually make selling pots–after accounting for labor, materials, show fees, marketing, selling, packing, shipping, travel, general paperwork, etc? Mea Rhee wanted to know and figured out her earning in 2010. Here’s an update on her project.

The Hourly Earnings Project was a year-long analysis of my pottery business, conducted in 2010. I tracked my income earned and my time spent, and calculated how much I was earning per hour as a potter. I also compared the hourly earnings values for various revenue sources. I recorded it all on my blog, and it was published in Ceramics Monthly in the summer of 2011. This is a follow-up to that project, detailing how my business has progressed in the four years since. My business operates at a much higher level now. In 2010, I made enough income to support myself financially while living on a very shoestring budget. I was happy to give up my expendable-income lifestyle in exchange for working as a full-time potter. I was not expecting to return to the income that I earned in my previous career as a graphic designer. It turns out I was wrong.

Shifting Revenue Streams

The most important change that this project initiated was a shift away from wholesale work and toward retail (art festival) work. My analysis showed that retail work yielded 32% more income than wholesale ($32/hour vs. $24/hour). In 2010, my income was split almost exactly in half between wholesale and retail. I stopped attending wholesale trade shows, and now only solicit orders directly from my favorite gallery accounts. I progressively added more retail events, from 6 shows in 2010, to 14 in 2014. My current wholesale income represents only 13% of my gross. And my total gross has more than doubled in four years. I should mention that I live in a region where art festivals are very strong. And I enjoy doing them. I know these factors don’t exist for everyone. Variety of Pots On the subject of everyday vs. fancy, the analysis revealed that higher-priced, upscale pots yield a better hourly earnings value for my time. This bummed me out a little, because I prefer making everyday functional pots. How has this influenced my business? It hasn’t. I have basically ignored this finding. I still make some of my upscale line of work, but it’s a small percentage. I know that it still yields a higher hourly earnings value, because of the ratio of time spent to dollar-value produced; however, I’m still committed to everyday pieces as the bulk of my work. Despite my drive to be analytical and to maximize earnings, this was something I was not willing to change.

2 Textured jars with wire handles, to 5.5 in. (14 cm) in height.

Special Events

My holiday open house continues to be my most important event of the year. Not just for income, but for the value of letting customers see inside my studio. I can tell how much they enjoy the behind-the-scenes access. I’ve learned that weather plays an important role in December events, which I can’t control. I’ve also learned that I prefer to work alone, rather than having a guest artist, so I can have all the space to myself. My conclusion from The Hourly Earnings Project was to limit this event to once a year, so I don’t over-harvest my mailing list. I’m sticking to that. Besides, I don’t want to deep clean my studio more often than that.

3 Everyday functional wares still dominate Rhee's work. The chopstick bowls sell for $40 each.

4 Rhee continues to make her “fancy” work, but it is only a small percentage of her line. Her 14-inch serving bowl is priced at $225.

Online Presence

I launched my online store in December 2011, and calculated its hourly earnings value over the subsequent year—this came after the Ceramics Monthly article. Online sales have almost the same hourly earnings value as art festival sales. However, the volume of online selling is so low. And the process of packing and shipping was disruptive to my crowded production schedule. I planned to keep the store open anyway, but I lost interest by the middle of 2013. Now, the store is closed most of the time. When my last show of the year is over, I open the online store for the last two weeks of December. I don’t mind the packing and shipping when it is confined to a few days. Overall, I’m happy with these boundaries, and it seems to work for the customers too.

5 Updated 2015 Hourly Earnings Project analysis.

The Power of Analysis

One last reminder about this project; my findings are not meant to apply to anyone’s pottery business but mine. I am not sending the message “wholesale is bad, retail is good” or “fancy is bad, functional is good.” These are the right choices for my goals and my circumstances. My message is to take the time to figure out for yourself where to spend your energy. Don’t guess, figure it out. A year of analysis, followed by some basic shifts in work priorities, made a dramatic difference for me.

the author Mea Rhee lives and works in Silver Spring, Maryland. To see more of her work, visit

Subscriber Extras: Archive Article


Click here to read the archive article, The Hourly Earnings Project, which originally appeared in the June/July/August 2011 issue.




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