We talk to ceramicist Beccy Ridsdel about the business behind her practice and discover that, like many makers, she worries that by selling her ceramics it might start to feel like ‘work’ and her love of making could be overwhelmed by commercial pressures. She also shares her formula for pricing work based on an ideal annual income…
How did you start your business, and how has it developed since then?
I started my business in a ramshackle way just making my ceramics and putting it out there to see what people thought. Since then I’ve tightened up my practices and, with the help of a friend who is an accountant, I’ve been keeping closer track of how long I spend in the workshop and what I’m doing when I’m in there. It’s a huge mental leap to turn something you love into a business because there is this massive fear that it will become ‘work’ and then somehow you’ll hate it. I’m not even sure I’m quite there, even though I keep quite regular workshop hours and people buy my things!
How and where do you currently sell your work?
I currently sell my work at Studio Eleven in Hull and Priestley’s in York. Online I only sell through Folksy but I also use the widgets on my website and Facebook pages.
A lot of ceramicists and artists struggle to price their work. Have you worked out an effective method for pricing?
Yes, it was drummed in to us at uni by our wonderful tutor Avril Cheetham. I have an hourly rate which is based on how much I need to earn per year and then divided by the number of hours I can work in a week. Then I keep track of how long I spend on each piece and price accordingly. I also keep an eye on how much the market charges for similar things – it’s no good to charge wildly over or under the market rate, and if prices for materials go up, so must the final price. It’s slightly more complicated than that but in general it works for me (as long as I keep up the time sheets!)
There’s a conceptual element to a lot of your work. Do you think that makes it harder to sell on a site like Folksy where people might be more used to functional ceramics?
I think ceramics that are conceptual always have a slight disadvantage to utilitarian work because people often expect ceramics to work and sometimes they ask the question “but… what is it for?” Having said that, Folksy has so many wonderful artists and a reputation for highlighting the wonderful and interesting, as well as the beautiful, that it’s a great place for people like me to sell.
Do you consider your market and audience when you create your work?
A little but I wouldn’t want to make things only because I thought they would sell – then it really would seem like ‘work’. I think it’s really important to make the things you love because that’s the only way to stay happy. I think it also reinforces your brand – if you make things you love you will always have a style that’s your own and you’ll attract buyers of a similar mindset.
How do you promote your work?
I use social media a lot because it’s such an immediate relationship with the people who want to know about me and my work. I think I could be much better at self-promotion though!
Which social media channel do you prefer and why?
I use Facebook very often because I prefer a more informal, friendly outlet for my work. I love my website as a digital portfolio but it can feel like quite a static thing and I like the dynamic, immediate world of Facebook.
What’s the hardest part about making and selling your work?
The hours are very long! It’s not a nine-to-five job really because things need doing when they need doing. It the clay slabs take a few hours to firm up then you have to wait for that to happen. Ceramics goes at its own pace. The other hard thing is recognising that you can’t always be making nice things – you have to do boring admin sometimes. That might be sorting out the phone bill or buying bubblewrap or talking to suppliers, or if you’re lucky, sending a parcel to America!
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
I’d love to be making my ceramics full-time and not fitting in around my day job (which I do love, but it’s not really where I want to be forever).