Learn one studio owner’s solution to a perennial question for potters who share firings or community studios firing work by numerous students: what should you charge for firing fees?
While there are many ways to calculate firing fees for pottery studios, we studio owners and operators seem to struggle with how to charge our members and students for firing their pieces. There are countless posts and message boards that pose the same question: How do you charge for firing in your studio and why do you do it that way?
That leads to more and more questions. Should we charge a flat rate? Should we charge separately for bisque and glaze firings? What are studio costs for firing? How big are your kilns? The list is endless!
Firing Fee Box
At my studio, Gailanna Pottery in Macomb, Michigan, I have come up with a way to calculate firing fees for students and members that are firing outside of the scope of our class and membership prices. After a lot of reading, suggestions from peers, figuring, and Google searches, I came up with our firing box and fee schedule.
Our firing fee box consists of a three-sided, three-dimensional grid that gives us the cubic inches or cubic feet for each piece. To make your own, here is what you will need:
3 standard-sized foam poster boards
Tape (a sturdy tape to hold up to studio dust and water) I used blue painters tape because it was what I had here already.
Mark all three boards with 1 inch lines, both vertical and horizontal, forming a grid.
Turn two boards with the gridded insides facing each other and tape the outside long edges together to create a book cover that will open to a 90° angle.
Place the remaining board (the base) so that the gridded side is facing one of the taped boards, and tape the outside bottom edge on the short sides. You should now be able to fold the bottom down and have what looks like the inside of a cube (think geometry).
Label the inches on each board where they are easily seen. We labeled them at each side and marked off 5-inch increments with bolder lines.
Mark the maximum firing height for your kiln (this is the max height you are willing to fire inside of your kiln, not your actual kiln height). I also drew the outline of my kiln shelves on the bottom board for kiln shelf reference when artists are making pieces with a large circumference.
Now that you have your firing fee box, this is how I go about measuring pieces and charging for space in the firing.
Measuring and Charging
Bisque (cone 04) and glaze (cone 6) firings combined with the use of studio glazes is charged at $.06/cubic inch. The $.06/cubic inch is based on electricity during firings, kiln maintenance and replacement costs, space costs, loading and unloading, as well as glaze costs. Those are averaged out per firing/per kiln for a year. There are firing-fee calculators you can use online to determine your base rate.
Here’s an example of how we determine the exact cost of firing a piece: A mug that measures 4 × 3 × 5 = 60 cubic inches. 60 × $.06 = $3.60 for that piece to be both bisque fired and glaze fired, using my studio glazes.
Artists measure their pieces at the greenware stage. I have a triplicate carbon-copy sales ticket booklet that is used to record the name of the artist, the dimensions of each piece and a description. One copy is placed on the pieces, one is kept for their record and once stays in the book. When you choose to settle up on the fees is up to you.
As I developed this system, of course I ran into some questions. Here is how I answered them for my studio:
Q: At what phase do you measure the piece in or do you measure for both firings?
A: Pieces are measured once at the greenware stage, before bisque firing.
Q: What if a piece is not exactly in the inch increments? Do you charge quarter/half inches?
A: If the piece measures anywhere over the inch mark, the measurement is considered to be the next inch. That means, if something measures 4.25 inches, it is charged as 5 inches. The reason? Exceeding an inch mark may not matter as much in smaller pieces, but it certainly does when someone wants to fire a piece that is 22.2 inches high and your max height is 22 inches.
Q: What if someone uses their own glaze and not yours?
A: While this will vary for each studio, I charge the same regardless of whether or not they use my glazes or their own. I don’t want to keep track of that much.
Q: What if someone only wants one firing and not both?
A: We will fire bisque at one rate ($.04/cubic inch). Most studios, including mine, will only fire work made in their studio that is made with clay purchased there as well.
Q: What if someone wants a third firing?
A: I will not refire to cone 6, but I will refire a cone 6 piece to a bisque/overglaze temperature for certain reasons (decals, lusters, etc.) In that case, the third bisque firing is charged additionally.
Q: Is there a minimum fee?
A: Yes. The minimum firing charge starts at $1.00. We do have a bowl that measures 5 × 5 × 4 inches in which to fire smaller items. Anything that fits in that bowl, such as beads or charms (nothing heaped over or sticking out of those dimensions; we use a ruler placed straight across the top to check) is charged at one price. (5 × 5 × 4 inches =100, 100 × $.06=$6.00).
the author Carrie Wiederhold, owner of Gailanna Pottery in Macomb, Michigan, teaches beginner through advanced wheel-throwing classes as well as creates her own work for several juried art shows and markets. She has been working with clay for 13 years. To learn more, visit www.gailanna.com.