Money and Knives

graduation day in Bulgaria
graduation day in Bulgaria

When I returned to America, I decided it was time to sell my mother’s things. Boxes of dishes, clothes, books, art supplies, papers, and odds and ends were piled and crammed in my bedroom in my father’s house.

The boxes had once gone from floor to ceiling with only a path to my bed kept clear. Over the years I’d rummaged through them, each time taking away a few things and a later a few more things. With each visit it got easier to remove another layer.

Now I was back after two years away and about to get married. What I couldn’t take with me to Texas would be sold.

Sitting on the floor, I struggled with what to sell things for. I made wild guesses. Fifty cents for a coffee mug and five dollars for a set of oil paints. Every few minutes I repeated what my mother often said, “Do you own it or does it own you?”

Among her things was a hunting knife in a leather sheath. I guessed her ex-boyfriend had given it to her. What do I know or care about knives?

One man who showed up to the yard sale was my dad’s mechanic and the husband of my step-mom’s friend. This man liked to lean in too close to any woman and he didn’t bath every day. Nor did he wear anything under his shorts. He liked to make excuses to visit my step-mother when my dad wasn’t home. She never let him in the house, and one day she suspected him of slashing her tire because she’d turned him away.

He bought the knife.

The night after my yard sale he called me. “Yes?” I said, making a point of saying neither hello nor how are you.

“That knife you sold me,” he said.


“Well, I went and took it down to…”

I stopped listening. I wondered what I could say that my dad, if he overheard, wouldn’t think rude. Then I heard the man say, “$200.”

“What?” I asked.

“I sold it,” he said, “for $200. and made myself some money. What do you think of that?”

I thought he was an ass and I was an idiot. “That’s great,” I said. He began to talk again.

“I’ve really got to go,” I said, and hung up.

I’m still not good at putting prices on things. several people have told me how to figure out prices, and what they say makes perfect sense. Think about materials and labor and the marketplace.

The formula isn’t hard. Feeling I have a right to use the formula is another matter all together. I’m going to sell my art work at an art festival in April and I’m going to have to have prices. I’m going to have to sit there as if I expect it reasonable for someone to give me money for my art.

Why is dealing with money hard?

How do you deal with money and your art? How do you feel asking a price? If it doesn’t bother you, why not?

6 thoughts on “Money and Knives

  1. Well, let’s see. There’s the emotional asking price and the rational asking price. There’s the price that will sell it quickly so you don’t have to linger with the emotions. There’s the price that will always feel like too much for your first sold works of art, but will always be too little. That never fails. The easiest price to estimate is the stuff you are totally unattached to at your neighbor’s yard sale, or at any of the box stores you shop at. Emotional attachment is both priceless and very expensive.

  2. The money thing is hard, maybe, because we’re not used to doing stuff we get paid for and actually WANT to do. Maybe it seems too much like asking the universe to put a cherry on top of an already tasty sundae.

    All the writing I’ve done for $ has been priced according to whatever somebody said they’d pay me; I never had to set me own price from scratch (although I’ve used somebody else’s offer as a starting point, then gone back-and-forth). Striking a balance between over- and under-valuing the work seems to me like it must be one of the hardest things about doing art/writing as a business. Unless you can tackle it even roughly on a time-and-materials-and-marketplace basis, anything else is just a wild guess.

    It’ll probably be tempting, once you’ve got a price tag written up, to want to yank it if the piece doesn’t sell right away. Don’t do that, though. 🙂

  3. Squirrel, oh, that emotional attachment. But I can’t make the art without it.

    JES, I can only imagine what kind of basket case I’m going to be during the festival.

    shelli, let it go–why is that hard?

  4. This is my bugaboo, and I know it comes from being my father’s daughter. And from being raised poor. I got his issues with art and commerce. Got to work so as not to pass them on to my own kids.

    What I’m doing is looking at shops on etsy that I respect and pricing the way they do. They’re more established than I am, mostly, but I don’t want to undervalue or overvalue. I’ve been reading the etsy forums and the discussion on setting prices, and they say pay yourself an hourly wage, as well as the price of materials. Plus, your own attachment and evaluation of the work can go into the price. What hourly wage is fair? 20$/hr? 10$/hr? minimum wage? How often do we paint for free? Oh, who knows.

    There are some pieces that I just don’t want to sell, because they mean too much to me. But thanks to technology, we have prints!

    And writing? writing? ahhh. I don’t want to talk about it.

  5. christy jean

    I have no idea how to price art. I do know, however, that your art is much better than some I’ve seen being sold in Austin. Stick to the formula, and make sure you pay yourself on the higher end!!

    As for your story, what kind of friends did your step-mother have? What a creep!

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