Probably everyone who has ever been bitten by the clay bug has asked the question, what is the average potter salary? We all wish it was an easy answer, but unfortunately, there is a lot to account for—labor, materials, show fees, marketing, selling, packing, shipping, travel, general paperwork, etc. Mea Rhee was wondering “how much money does a potter make” (specifically herself!) so she tracked and figured out her hourly earnings in 2010, which she shared in Ceramics Monthly a few years ago.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the June/July/August 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Rhee shares an update to her potter salary article with some of the adjustments she’s needed to make to stay successful. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
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.
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.
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.
When it comes down to it, calculating a potter salary is something each potter should do for themselves. Have you ever tried to calculate your potter salary? What advice do you have for others? We’d love to hear from you, so please share it in the comments below.