How to tell a “Story” and Price Craftwork

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I came across a very good website by a craftsman named Robin Wood. He is a woodturner.  He makes “Beautifully Handcrafted Woodwear” Now I have seen many woodturning websites and consequently I have seen many turned bowls but personally I have not thought to buy one.

Upon seeing this fellow’s site and reading his “story” I found myself wanting to buy wooded bowls – no kidding – no exaggeration. Reading about him and why he makes bowls actually made me want to buy one (or many).

We all know about how important the story is …yada…yada….yada. But it can actually work. However, what I take away from this it that it is a compelling story about WHY he makes bowls instead of making anything else. Not a flowery, poetic piece on what inspires him on a personal, emotional, psychological level (who really cares about that except you) – simply an explanation.  It works but don’t take my word for it have a look:

 

“Few people know the pleasure of eating from wood, it is quiet, soft, warm and somehow compatible with good natural food in a way that hard ceramic never can be. My aim now is simply to make the very best wooden bowls and plates that bring a little quiet beauty into everyday life, I hope you enjoy using them as much as I enjoy making them…….

…….I studied medieval bowls and viking bowls, made bowls for the Tower of London and for Ridley Scott but most important I test drive them every day in my own kitchen. These are designs that work and they are made like things used to be made so that they last  and age beautifully. I make them for people who love good food and want to serve it on wholesome tableware.”

Robin Wood Bowl

 

Who knew a bowl could be such a wonderful, sensory and historic thing! apparently he can’t keep up with the demand for his product. Granted a bit of that was from his home page and the other bit was from his “story” page but never-the-less you get the idea. I think that if you are making abstract art you may need to get a little more abstract in your story but for the many craftspeople who are making useful objects it might be argued that clear honest language works much better than a lot of complicated psychology.

Robin Wood Spoons

 

 

 

Having said all that, this post was meant to be about pricing too and Robin Wood also has a very good article on that subject. Here is a snippet:

 

“….The supply curve works like this, if the price goes up supply goes up, in the world say of potatoes if the price goes up farmers switch to growing them, if the price drops supply drops. Demand works the other way as the price goes up demand falls off. There is a point where supply meets demand which gives us the normal price for the product. This works with potatoes where increasing supply is easy, it doesn’t work for Ferraris, Saville Row suits or unique hand crafted goods because supply is very limited and can not go up.

RobinWood

If supply is very limited then when price goes up perhaps surprisingly demand goes up too. This only works if your product is sexy and desirable or if there are no easy alternatives. So it works say for oil and old art paintings, it may not work for a relatively ordinary stoneware mug unless you can convince people there is something extra special about your mugs. If people really want one of yours then price becomes less relevant The other key thing to note is that price is always dependant on context and this is a key one for craftspeople.

Context is crucial, we all know that work looks better and sells for more if it is on a white cube under a spotlight in a gallery than if it is dumped on an wrinkled tablecloth at the local craft market…….”

 

His website is worth browsing through for many reasons – the way he writes about what he does, the topical blog posts, not to mention the great little sayings on his images such as:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

– William Morris

or

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on”
– Albert Einstein

Have a look at Robin Wood’s website yourself and see what you think.

 

ALSO:

Here is a fascinating video from his website. It was taken in a glass making factory in India and I have juxtaposed it against a short video about glass blowing in Toronto. Made in co-operation with Harbourfront Centre. The glass blowers are Aaron Oussoren & Sally McCubbin.

This is an excerpt from Robin Wood’s blog where he talks about the video made in India. He and I have very different perspectives on this. Here is what he sees:

“This film has some of the most amazing handwork I have ever seen. Filmed in India in 1971 it shows handwork in large glass factories. The skill level, the amazing flow of bodies around the factory all carrying hot glass, the total internalisation of skill so that they can work three pieces of hot glass simultaneously and still have time for the eyes to be watching the camera whilst the hands work. Just mind boggling, we 21st century craftspeople are just playing.”

What I see however, is people working in subhuman conditions – dangerous and extremely hot – without protective clothing of any kind – and we won’t even talk about the children running around. Of course they have skill (those without skill wouldn’t have survived without injury for long). But what I see is exactly what we don’t ever want our artisans to become – virtually slave labour in factories mass producing products – we want to move beyond mass-production – but where there is mass production let it be with machines!

This is what could happen (heaven forbid) if we let the value of handmade objects become degraded in value/price. “Handcrafted” is not the same thing as mass produced by hand.