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Pricing Art That Is On Scholarship

Last week we had a lively discussion about what to do when customers request a discount.  In the discussion Michael Kline mentioned a phrase that Mark Shapiro coined for "Those pieces can't be sold for enough money to cover the time and attention one gives, yet are valid to bring to the marketplace."  The phrase is "On Scholarship."  Which is a term I love because it says so much with so little.

About a year ago a customer contacted me and asked me to make him a shaving scuttle.  He described what he wanted the piece to do (keep his shaving soap warm) and what sort of sizes he needed for things like the brush holder.  He was happy with the piece and later contacted me again to design a razor holder for him.  Once more, we discussed his needs and I created the piece for him.

Pottery Razor and toothbrush holder by Lori Buff
Razor, Toothbrush or Paint brush Holders

I enjoyed the challenge of creating a new design, I really like bringing that engineering into my art and I was honored that he liked my work enough to request not just one piece but two.  The thing is, I could not charge him what they cost to make.  I had to sell them at a loss because I spent time working out the pieces and the process of making and glazing them.  These pieces were sold on scholarship.  I had to figure out a fair price for the pieces (fair to me and to the customer) based on how much time and matterials I would use if I produced many more of these pieces.

I suspect all potters have a few of these pieces in their lives.  Either a customer asks for something or we challenge ourselves.  The thing is, we have to take into consideration that we can not always ask for the time spent in designing these pieces, that's part of the education process and it's not fair to charge one customer to foot the bill for the entire education unless we know this is strictly a "one of" piece and we will never make another like this again.

What pieces do you have on scholarship.

Check out the gallery page - Future Relics Gallery by Lori Buff


  1. Basically everything I make is on the scholarship plan, hence the reason I'm not so interested in making for money right now! It takes all the joy out of art.....ugh.
    I truly respect those artists that can earn their living making whatever it is they make. It's a long hard journey that can wear you our mentally and physically. Buyers will just never ever get that.

    1. It is a long hard journey Tracey, but it's been said "better to fail at your own dreams than succeed at someone else's."

  2. This is so true.
    We love a good plan and we love when our customers are happy with what is made. But there have been times that we look at each other and say, never again.

    1. Yes, Meredith, I think most of know that feeling. It's great when it's something that you decided you want to add to your repertoire.


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