The Price of Painted Stained Glass – It’s Not a One-Off Job

Last words before the summer holiday

I must be brief today because I must pack our bags and head off with my family for a week’s holiday on the rugged and dramatic coast of southern Wales.

All the same, I see from many comments on my last post how one particular question needs more attention.

Therefore even here, where we focus on glass painting techniques – even here, I won’t apologize for returning to the topic of price.

Price is one way of standing behind the value of your work. That’s why it’s so important we also discuss it here.

Pricing – why the traditional model is wrong

So let’s say you’ve painted a beautiful stained glass panel.

How do you go about pricing it for sale?

The picture just below contains a vital clue:

Costing: this illusion helps cast light on it

Consider this illusion …

We discussed it last week in a very different context. Today you’ll see how it’s also relevant to price.

Now the usual way of thinking suggests there are two big mistakes you must avoid.

When you under-price your work, you will maybe lose respect in other people’s eyes, you undermine the value of the object, and you maybe also make it harder for other makers to earn an honest living.

When you over-price your work, you will maybe starve, you might appear greedy, and you can harm your future credibility.

Now that’s all clear and simple, isn’t it?

The trouble is, it’s too clear and simple.

The trouble is, it suggests price is an objective form of measurement, like establishing the weight of something:

How to price your work - this is one approach. But is it too simple?

How to price your work – this is one approach. But is it too simple?

When anyone thinks of price as an objective scale of value, just two things can happen.

Remember, this is the real world we’re talking about – not some textbook example of perfectly rational and presumably bloodless decision-makers.

Either this happens:

Option #1 - your client scr!ws you

Option #1 – your client wins

Or this:

Option #2 - you scr!w your client

Option #2 – you win

But I reckon this whole model is mistaken, because price isn’t objective like that.

And the only economists who disagree are the mathematical geeks who brought you the ongoing financial crisis of 2008.

People like to think price is objective because they like to think they’re better than they are at making decisions about how to spend their money.

But the truth is, we all need a lot more information than a simple price-tag.

We all need a lot more help.

Supermarkets are absolute geniuses at hiding the help they give. They are so talented it might often be called manipulation. Words like “new” and “original”. Smells like “fresh” bread (when it isn’t). Colours and shapes of “fresh” vegetables (when they aren’t). The relative sizes of different boxes (actually hiding the true contents). Special offers like two-for-one. Bottom shelf vs. top-shelf positioning. And so on …

This is all very complicated for the likes of me and you.

After all, we’re “makers”, we’re practitioners of a craft, some of us are artists, mostly we don’t mass-produce anything (though David and I do have something of an assembly line for all the inscriptions in the tycoon’s 16 stained glass skylights …).

What this often means is many makers don’t want to work hard at pricing.

And the reason is, they prefer to work hard at making.

But the problem is, anyone who doesn’t work hard at pricing will find they lose control of how other people see their work.

Like I said, we all need a lot of help when it comes to agreeing to pay a given price for something. And either you, the maker, provide this help. Or someone / something else will do it for you, with potentially disastrous results.

An example – think long and hard about the clubs you join

Now the point here is to talk honestly about us, about Williams & Byrne – about the studio we run. Because, just like you can learn from our techniques, so you can also learn from our experience.

So here’s a true story …

When we started out, we joined a guild.

It was and is a very good guild.

Everyone is vetted. This ensures high standards across all the makers.

But two things combined to make life difficult for us.

First, this guild is a club of local makers.

Second, we ourselves specialize in architectural stained glass – really big pieces, we don’t make things that people can pick up and take away the same day.

So when this guild held its annual fair, we found ourselves standing next to basket-makers, or weavers, or jewellers, and so on.

And visitors found this confusing, because they had actually come to shop.

At first we tried to get around this problem by making sample panels and displaying them on light-boxes.

But visitors also found this confusing, because the basket-maker’s basket cost £25, the weaver’s blanket cost £49, the jeweller’s ring cost £86, and our painted stained glass panel cost … £725.

Nor was it any use at all to explain this beautiful stained glass panel was part of a limited edition, numbered, and individually signed by us.

In truth, nothing we (“Williams & Byrne“) could do would ever counter-balance all the “help” and “guidance” that was coming from the wider context of the fair and all the other exhibitors, plus the information put out by the guild of which we were signed-up members.

In truth, we had joined the guild because it seemed a cost-effective way of getting our name around without spending a lot of time proving to people that the work we do is absolutely worth the big prices we charge.

Our laziness.

Our mistake.

Our responsibility.

That’s why this illusion – though on one level it’s all about colour – is also relevant to how you price your work:

Stained glass painting - how to price your work

Stained glass painting – this is what happens if you don’t work very hard to supply all the information people need

Fact is, both A and B are exactly the same shade of grey. But your eye and brain are fooled by other information like the tower and its shadow.

Same with how you price your work.

If you just use a costing formula, you risk losing control of how people see the things you make.

And yes, I do know there is a common idea that high prices command respect.

But I don’t think it’s true. Or rather, it misses out a vital ingredient – because high prices command only respect when they also come with high value. And whatever ‘value’ means here, it’s been worked at. Worked at long and hard. Even supermarkets know that. Or rather, especially supermarkets know that. Which is why they are successful despite selling a lot of truly awful food.

So my advice is, don’t make the mistake of simply calculating the price you charge.

If you have the skill to paint beautiful stained glass, then you must also take the time and find the energy to create the whole context in which your price is seen.

It’s a harsh and busy world. No one will care about beauty, or even recognize it, unless you make them understand why they should.

Now if you like article, I absolutely hope you already get our regular email newsletter. It’s free and packed with techniques. So if you don’t already get it, you’re missing out – that’s not a good idea when all around you the world is going crazy and things aren’t getting any easier. So get it here and start learning the tips and techniques we only send to people on our list.


Stephen Byrne


P.S. I think this gives the background to the truth of Carl’s comment last week that “One has to think highly of himself – or no one will” – the price you charge for your work (along with the work itself) is part of who you are. I also think it provides useful insight into why Sue’s tutors appeared to suggest there was some kind of secret formula to pricing which they just weren’t prepared to divulge. There is no secret formula. Yes indeed, you need to know your costs. But you also have to understand that the price of your work is something which, as a result of all the other work you do, is something you must first create – and then command.

P.P.S. There is obviously a lot more to say about price. We’ve lots more useful anecdotes and discoveries to relate.

P.P.P.S. One last thing – we won’t be writing any more posts until September. It’s important you know this, otherwise you’ll wonder what’s going on (especially with the way things are right now). First, like I said, I’m away for a week; then so is David. Second, both of us will take time out for the rest of the month to think up new ideas to share with you. Yes, that’s another way we have of being professional in how we work with you: we take time out in order to do our best for you.

25 thoughts on “The Price of Painted Stained Glass – It’s Not a One-Off Job

  1. Stephen, have a wonderful time in Wales … I am taking myself to Italy (to Assisi and Ravenna).

    Talk to you in September!

  2. Dear Stephen,

    Let me first wish you and your family a very happy holiday.

    And thanks again for your useful advice in so many ways, from technical to financial.

    Let me tell you a true story:

    When I had my very first batik exhibition at the Municipal Museum in our town, I had to think hard about pricing. There were several points to consider:

    1. I had had only 8 lessons (from an Indonesian artist of great repute);
    2. It was this artist who had arranged the exhibition for me;
    3. I knew that my work was far from perfect … I could see the mistakes, but I still loved my work;
    4. I had no experience whatsoever, and I found the calculation in my artist’s handbook not very helpful.

    So – hesitantly – I thought up prices that were high in my own mind. And I believed nobody would give me those prices. I did not mind: I thought I would just take my pieces back home and enjoy them.

    Next thing that happened: the Director of the museum gave me a phone call: would I please come down and discuss PRICES with him. I thought I had been too greedy, but I felt that I just was not willing to bring my prices down!!!

    This is what happened: This Director said that my prices were so low that the visitors would not believe that this was art. He was also afraid that he would get lots of would-be artists who would come to ask if they might exhibit their work in the museum as one would not have to be a great artist to be allowed to show his or her work there. He was afraid he would lose his credibility if he accepted my prices.

    He asked if he might put the ‘correct’ prices on my work.

    I was flabbergasted but very grateful that he would take the pricing off my hands.

    When, at last, my batiks were put on show, the prices were at least double the prices I had put on them myself. But the Museum director had obviously been right, for ALL of my work was sold and nobody grumbled about the prices.

    KInd regards, and till September!
    (I look forward to a continuation of your tips and your email-talks.)

    • Hello Ellen,

      Good story – as is Cleone’s below – thank you for sharing it with all of us. It shows many important things. One of them is how – as the optical illusion also suggests – context is very important, because the museum provided a context within which people were obliged to see your work.

      By contrast, I know many incidents where people have decided to exhibit their work in local restaurants and coffee shops. Their hopes were always disappointed. The contrast between £1.50 for a cup of tea and £225 for a painting was just too excessive, even though the paintings were under-priced at £225 …

      All the best,

  3. Hi Stephen!

    Thank you so much for your latest news. This has been very interesting and enlightening in an area I find a bit of a minefield. Lots to consider here thanks very much.

    Have a great holiday and I look forward to your next newsletter.

  4. Stephen, have a wonderful vacation!

    I’d like to relate a cautionary tale that you might get a laugh from.

    In 1980 a friend told a priest friend of his that I did stained glass. The priest invited me to his church and asked how much I would charge for 3 windows, 3′ by 2′ feet each.

    I said “I don’t know, father – $200 a piece”.

    The next thing I knew there were 3 priests at my house discussing plans. I got an artist friend to give me 3 ten-minute sketches and another friend to help me install. I payed both generously and went in the hole. I found out later that a professional sudio wanted $2000 for the 3 windows.

    My friends thought the church gave me great wealth and that I had ripped them off. Ah woe. The windows are very beautiful 30 years later – so no regrets.


  5. David, Stephen,

    Have fun and enjoy your holiday. Come fresh with new ideas and get ready to share it with us we’ll be waiting.

    And many thanks for the so many nice ideas and usful posts you’ve shared with us.

  6. Hello Stephen and David,

    Thanks again sharing your knowledge with us. Have a nice and very happy holiday.

    Here, I’m working half-a-day on quotations to make stained glass for two houses, and I had a lot to think about after your last two articles!

    All the best,

  7. Thank you again. You posts keep me excited and enthusiastic even when days are gray. Have a wonderful holiday and look forward to hearing from you in September.

  8. Like Ellen I have a similar story to tell. It is about a well-known potter who was asked to have an exhibition in Japan. Two Japanese businessmen flew over from Japan in order to select work and discuss prices. After some conversation and business talk the two men went into a huddle and whispered together for what seemed like ages. The potter was convinced that they were discussing his prices and that they would find them too high. They returned and were very apologetic.

    “Please Mr———, we beg to inform you that you ask too little – your prices must be raised!”

    Have a good holiday.

  9. Hi Stephen and David,
    Its good to have a break, and regenerate like Dr Who.
    Just a thought you may consider these aspects, most of the programmes I am downloading at the moment are to my iPhone as apps. They are the future in communication and may prove powerful for art and artists.
    Also, as you have a loyal following of artists would you be prepared to host and manage another web site where you could display your work and ours thereby giving us recognition, for a little fee? of course.
    Yes I am in the CGS but don’t see the opportunities to sell your works or feedback on your work from like artists.

    Regarding your excellent discussions on sales, I agree that it is the context that gets people into a buying frame and sets the price, however away from the galleries I find it is the drip drip sales technology that eventually works. Few people will purchase on a single viewing they have to get to the stage where they don’t want to lose the chance to own the item then its a “must have” moment that makes the pricing easier.

    All the best to you two and our little band of artists

  10. Hello,

    I think price is about perception.

    But, even in accountancy textbooks, I see pricing formulas that look like : Materials + x hours labour at standard hourly rate + profit = price. I bet the number of hours needed to make a Chanel suit are roughly the same as a M&S suit. But the prices are wildly different. A lot of the difference is down to perception.

    It makes me sad that many deliver “Harrods” quality goods at “Primark” prices, because it means that their customers will tend to think that their work is worthless.

    Every time I sell at a craft fair, I always get people who say my work is too expensive, people who wouldn’t look twice at things that are so cheap, and a fair number who buy. The price is the same, it is only their opinion that is different.

    I asked advice from gallery owners. They gave me the courage to charge higher prices than I initially thought possible. They know the market, and helped me attract people who rate my work, and are prepared to pay for it.

    I also researched on the net to see what the competition charges.

    I know people who charge low prices and then say – oh it doesn’t matter as long as I get back most of the cost of the materials, it is only a hobby after all. I think this is mainly due to a lack of confidence in their talent. They enjoy their hobby much more when they charge a fair rate, because it is a real boost when someone is prepared to say “I value your work”.

    • True, in many senses, the willingness to pay is one important measure of how people value the work.

      I wonder, though, about other measures. I know many people who quilt, stitch and sew who only make items as gifts because they feel that no one would actually buy them for a price that approximates their true value. Yet, given as gifts, the objects somehow retain their full value despite having not been exchanged for anything except love and fellowship and heartfelt appreciation.

      • Fair enough to wonder about other measures than price, John – and I am sure that most “makers” are aware of at least some of them – but I’d just say that here the discussion is about price, and (indeed) its irrationality. The point is, I think, that even though price is by definition a quantity, it is all the same a quantity which human brains are ill-judged to judge objectively.

  11. Thank you for the informative newsletters, Stephen. I can relate to underselling stained glass and mosaics, but I am on a learning journey.

    Enjoy your holiday!

  12. Stephen and David,

    Have a great holiday and enjoy your families.

    I will look forward to new messages in September! These stories are a great help to see the way others look at not only the way to put a price on a creation but the underlying reasoning of self-worth.

    As always, you inspire!!

  13. Have a great holiday both of you!!! I am grateful for all the tips and e-courses you have loaded for us. I live in India and am so inspired by your creations. I am a stained glass artist myself, and, after seeing your work, all I have been busy with is looking for a break when i can fly and join your class. God bless both of you and your great creations!!!

    Warm regards,

    • Hi Sonia,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found us – we like meeting people! Also, we like getting to know people better, because it all helps our understanding of what it is you want to know more about. So please keep in touch and always say when we can help with anything.

      Best wishes,

  14. Thank you again for all your wonderful advice. Have a safe and happy holiday. Look forward to hearing from you in the fall. Cheers Liz

  15. Loved the quote from B-J’s diary: we’ve all been there!

    Good advice as always.

    Have a wonderful holiday.


  16. Never try to sell your stuff at markets. People go to markets to get things cheap, not to find quality.

    You need to price your work so it seems like rather a lot to your clients, not to you. I always remind myself that I could never afford to buy half the leadlights I’ve sold!

    And also be aware of that old line about never turning down a chance to do someone a favour. There’s been a lot of little jobs I’ve done, repairs or small commissions, that are really not worth doing for the amount you can charge with clear conscience. Usually it’s a repair for someone obviously fairly skint who clearly can’t afford a dozen hours of your time. Other times it’s someone looking for three square inches of glass that you happen to have in your scrap bin. But I’ve stopped keeping track of the amount of good business been generated through those kinds of ‘favours’ done for people. That’s how you generate much of the word of mouth that leads to you being recommended for major commissions.

    So if the price you calculate as fair and reasonable for a big job seems rather too high, you probably need to add at least 20% more, because chances are the kind of person commissioning stained glass windows won’t even flinch, being well accustomed to getting bills of that order.

    But on the other hand, if it feels like the fair and reasonable price for a little job is way way too high, you probably need to charge maybe less than a quarter of that amount, because most people like nothing more than being done a favour they can repay. And that word of mouth they give in repayment is beyond price.

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