Pricing a Theatre Mask: Starters Guide

Being an artist is a full-time job where you must wear many faces—creator, promoter, manager, and salesperson, among others. Setting realistic expectations and being honest is crucial to your success and well-being.

This is a starter’s guide and a place to begin your journey. These strategies worked for me when I was starting out as a mask maker, and they can provide you with a solid foundation.

When pricing your masks, it’s essential to cover all costs, reflect the quality and uniqueness of your creation, and achieve a fair profit. This involves considering material costs, labour, and overhead and conducting thorough market research.

Remember, it’s not just about making art but valuing your craft and ensuring its sustainability. It’s also important to tailor this basic formula to your specific needs. The most critical advice I can give you is to copyright protect your work the best you can and continually reinvest it into your business. The money you invest isn’t a piggy bank for you to dip into when you want extra cash; it’s a way of building sustainability into your business model. Reinvesting allows you to grow, expand, upgrade your equipment, and take workshops to improve your skills.

This guide is a good starting point, but remember, an artist’s journey is unique and personal. Tailor these principles to fit your vision and goals and continually seek ways to protect and reinvest in your craft. Doing so creates a sustainable and thriving business that honours your art and dedication.

Here’s a guide to get you started on how to approach this:

1. Material Costs

Calculate the total cost of all materials used in making the mask. This includes:

  • Base materials (e.g., paper, glue, silicone)
  • Decorative elements (e.g., paint, fabric, feathers)
  • Tools and equipment costs (if significant and not part of regular overhead)

2. Labour Costs

  • Determine the time to make the mask from start to finish and assign an hourly rate to your labour. Consider your skill level, experience, and the intricacy of the work.
  • Example: If it takes 10 hours to make a mask and your hourly rate is $25, the labour cost would be $250.
  • Remember, a teacher’s fee is different from labour costs. If you’re teaching mask-making, you’ll need to determine a fair rate for your teaching time, which may be higher due to the added value of your expertise and guidance.
  • Example: If you teach a mask-making workshop that lasts 5 hours, your teaching rate might range from $50 to $100 per hour, depending on your years of experience. Thus, the teacher’s fee would range from $250 to $500. This reflects the value of your time and knowledge as an instructor.

This is an important topic that deserves a blog post. I will discuss it in greater detail in a future post.

Remember you are deserving of a livable wage and you should be paying yourself accordingly so that you can continue to work as an artist and thrive.

3. Overhead Costs

Factor in overhead costs such as:

  • Utilities (electricity, water)
  • Rent (if you use a separate studio)
  • Wear and tear on tools

4. Market Research

Research similar products in the market to understand the pricing range. Look at:

  • The quality and detail of similar masks
  • The reputation of the makers
  • Where they are sold (e.g., online platforms, specialty shops)

5. Profit Margin

Decide on a profit margin that reflects the value of your craftsmanship and allows your business to grow. This is typically a percentage added to your costs.

Example: If your total cost (materials + labour + overhead) is $300, and you want a 50% profit margin, you would add $150 (50% of $300), making the initial price $450.

Next, factor in the average shipping cost. Assuming the average shipping cost is $100, you would add this to the initial price, resulting in a final price of $550.

It’s essential to factor the shipping cost into your pricing.

This is impossible to know upfront as shipping costs change daily, so you must find an average cost and add that to your mask price. This will take some learning. I find it easiest to call the postal office and ask them. This will also differ depending on your country and whether you’re shipping the mask(s) within or outside your country.

I live in Canada, and shipping outside is often costly. Most clients don’t factor in shipping into their budget or undervalue what shipping will be. So, this is one of the first things you should consider before taking a job. I have had horrible experiences shipping my work outside of Canada; this comes with the job. There is no way around it; I find it very stressful and anxiety-inducing to go through the long process of creating my masks only to have them lost or, worse, show up to the client’s place crushed or warped.

Once, my masks were held up in customs for months because I insured the parcel for its worth. Despite the client showing up to the warehouse where the masks were on their end, they got sent back to me, taking several more months to get back to me, and they were crushed to the point of destruction. I lost a valuable customer, a commission, opportunities, and all the work and effort I put into the masks. Ultimately, I was compensated for the shipping cost, and the artwork was a write-off.

So, what do you do when this happens? There are a few things that can be done to avoid or deal with this, which you should discuss and be upfront with your client from the first conversation. If you’re shipping your work to another country, always ship it overnight or the fastest way possible. This will cost you more, Yes! But it will keep you from losing your mind and reduce the amount of anxiety while it’s in transit.

Ensure the client knows they are buying a mask from an artist outside their country and make them aware of the shipping issues that may happen, like shipping delays and the loss of their parcel. These are issues out of your control. I always try to ship my work out two weeks before the client needs the mask(s). If a delay happens, the client will get their mask(s) around when needed or within a few days before or after.

When making the mask, I create a silicone press mold for the clay form of the client’s mask, and I make two copies. If it gets lost in transit, you can go straight to the painting and detailing of the backup mask and have the replacement in the mail within days. You will be out of the cost of one mask, but you will keep your client. I also keep the mould, make my version of the mask, and have it up for sale if there is no disclosure agreement contract.

After a year, I contact the client and see how the mask(s) worked out for them and let them know I have the mold for sale should they wish to purchase it and buy the copyright to it so they can reproduce the masks for themselves should they need a replacement of their mask(s) in the future.

This is always a good idea if you know the masks are for theatre companies who tour with the masks you made. If the show is popular, it will be a good investment for them. If they say no to the leasing option, recommend that they buy a copy of your mask if they can afford it. Then, let them know within a set number of months, you will be making copies of the masks for the public to buy, much like a print run on paintings, and then you will be destroying the mould, and they will not be able to make carbon copies of the masks for future use. This is an excellent practice if you’re working for large theatre companies, and this will help free up space in your studio or house.

The second option is recommending another fellow mask maker for the commission. This helps with networking and supporting fellow creatives.  Also, they may live in the client’s country, making mask purchases easier and faster to ship. I know this seems counterintuitive Because one part of the job is to help the client connect with other trusted mask artists. It’s good for networking and can create collaborative opportunities with other artists worldwide, which could bring you more work in the future. I have had this happen a few times, which has always lessened my work and stress load.

In cases where a fellow mask maker brings me a contract, I always send that artist a 5-10% finder’s fee, depending on the size of the contract, as a thank you for sending me work. A finder’s fee creates good work karma in the industry, and it ensures the right mask maker gets the work. We are a global network, after all, and we are connected by our passion for mask-making.

Pricing Strategy

I initially followed the standard way of pricing my work like painters, usually framing x3. However, this was not a very good method for pricing masks. I researched and talked to other mask makers to see how they charge for their work. I found that many of them do not have a method. So, I relied on my value system and tried to make it reflect closer to my needs and cost of living. I then compared it to other artists doing work and masks similar to mine.

But this is an ever-changing market, and the numbers change with each commission, so in short, these are just starting guidelines. It’s really up to you to play around and find out what you need to charge.

That’s why asking the client their total budget is always a good idea before you quote them a price. There is a lot of nuance involved in this process. Not all commissions are equal, which is confirmed when working for theatre companies, the movie industry, or personal commissions.

My only advice is to be upfront and honest with what you need the job to pay for yourself to feel well compensated and be clear with the client. If you can’t do the job within their budget, you need to change your strategy and offer the client an alternative, cheaper style of mask(s) to reach a cost agreement or walk away from the contract. But even then, I would recommend another artist to the client so you can keep open communications.

The most important thing is to make sure you feel good about the sale and project before putting all that on your plate.

Regarding finder’s fees, this is something I came up with after years of working and collaborating with other artists. It’s a way of keeping networking connections alive and making sure that clients are in contact with the right people, especially when it comes to a client who would like me to reproduce a historical, cultural mask specific to other cultures outside of your own, like Indigenous peoples’ masks, Japan’s Noh masks, African masks, and any other culture’s traditional masks. This is a choice I’ve made and an ethical form of mask-making; it’s important not to cross some lines or justify this as a type of cultural appreciation when it’s just appropriation for profit.

Just because I can recreate other cultures masks, doesn’t mean it’s okay to appropriate another culture’s work for your gain.

If you think I’m on a moral high horse, I urge you to contact a fellow mask maker from the relevant culture and ask for their perspective. This is the best way to gain insight and come to a proper conclusion. If your reaction is, “Why would I do that?” then it’s a strong indication that you know it’s morally wrong in your heart, and you shouldn’t be reproducing those culturally specific masks.

Usually, clients who want this kind of work from me do so because they can’t afford to hire a mask maker from that culture and see me as a cheaper alternative. I would much rather see someone who is trying to make a living preserving their cultural mask-making traditions than make money through appropriation. It’s a matter of self-respect and morality for me. This is something I am personally passionate about.

If you feel too shy to contact another culture to ask questions, gain insight, or seek permission, I invite you to contact me at I can help answer your questions if they involve something I don’t know, or I can help you connect with someone who can.

If you think this isn’t an important topic and feel you should proceed because you can and need the money, I encourage you to reflect deeply on your stance. Appropriating cultural symbols and masks for personal gain disrespect the rich traditions and meanings behind these artifacts and contribute to a broader pattern of exploitation. As AI becomes more integrated into mainstream society and our day-to-day lives, your feelings about the moral grey areas you’re navigating might change. Consider how AI-generated art is starting to impact artists, particularly those who create masks. The technology of 3D scanners, 3D printers, and the potential for one-touch mask-making could disrupt your livelihood in ways you might not yet anticipate.

Just as the marketplace has historically taken so much from cultures in the name of self-promotion and profit, AI might similarly undermine your role as an artist. This parallel is crucial to understand: the same ethical considerations you may overlook today could soon be used against you. By respecting cultural boundaries and advocating for ethical practices, we can collectively push back against the commodification of art and culture, ensuring that all creators are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

6. Uniqueness and Artistic Value

Consider the artistic value and uniqueness of your mask. Theatre masks, especially custom-made or highly detailed, can command higher prices due to their uniqueness and the artisan’s reputation.

7. Target Audience

Identify your target audience and their willingness to pay. Theatre companies, professional actors, and collectors might be willing to pay more for high-quality, unique masks.

8. Pricing Strategy

Decide on a pricing strategy:

  • Cost-plus pricing: Adding a standard markup to the cost of producing the mask.
  • Value-based pricing: Pricing is based on the perceived value to the customer, which might be higher than the cost-plus pricing.

9. Investing Back into Your Art

One of the best advice I would give my younger self is to reinvest a portion of your earnings back into your art. This ensures you always have funds for art supplies and business expenses, allowing you to maintain and improve your craft. Here’s how you can approach this:

  • Allocate a Percentage: Dedicate a specific percentage of your earnings (e.g., 25-35%) to a separate fund for purchasing materials and covering business costs.
  • Budget for Supplies: Regularly update your budget to reflect the costs of materials and tools needed for your work.
  • Plan for Growth: Use part of the reinvested funds to explore new techniques, buy higher-quality materials, or expand your business capabilities.
  • Track Expenses: Keep detailed records of all business-related expenses to help manage your budget and ensure you’re reinvesting wisely.

10. Things I Wish I Knew as a Young Artist

Just like it’s important to reinvest in your mask-making company, ensuring you’re charging the correct amount for your work and knowing when to increase your prices is essential. As an artist, it may seem counterintuitive to charge more, and at times, you might even feel like you’re being greedy. However, gaining insight and knowledge about these subjects will ensure you can continue to work and attract higher-profile clients. This isn’t an insult to your current clients;

you’re offering a premium product, and the simple truth is you need to charge accordingly for your skills, time, and the cost of living. Scraping by and the image of the starving artist is an outdated stereotype that must be unnormalized in society. It’s simply not true, and making life harder on yourself will not make you happier or better as an artist.

Photo By Scott Lough

Finding the happy balance between the cost of your work and its market value takes time. Look for the artists who seem to have the life you want and see what they’re doing, or check what they charge for their masks and use that as a base price framework for your work. The kind of mask-making you do is old-school handmade craftsmanship.

Each mask I make takes about 10,000 pieces of hand-torn paper, and I do not compromise on materials to make masks faster. This is tempting to do in today’s world of rapid-made objects generated with a button, but it’s important to remember that’s not the market you’re after. I want to appeal to people with the same sensibilities about making high-quality, hand-crafted masks in traditional media.

If you want to keep creating this kind of work, you need to build that into the overall pricing of your work.

Recording and Keeping Records

Another thing I wish I had done in my early days was to keep better archives of my work. Keeping records of your work gives you insight and allows you to look back and see the progress of your work over time. Never take what you do and create for granted; this is your creative journey, and you’re building your body of work.

Creatives are good at making new things; for many of us, the thrill of the hunt or creating something new drives us. Once we have completed that, we move on to the next challenge, and looking back, the work from our past can often feel cringeworthy. We remember how good it felt to make that, but now we do better work.

This doesn’t make your past work less valuable, and your work will resonate with people who cherish it the same as your newest works.

This is why learning about protecting your intellectual property is so important. If you work in the movie and theatre industry, you must defend and demand more for your work and keep your design rights. You never know how successful your designs will be, and you may miss out on hundreds, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars and lose the rights to your design. These need to be discussed more, especially in today’s social media era and the rise of AI-generated artwork. I will discuss this in more depth in the future. For now, the real threat is other artists and people exploiting you and your work for their profit, giving you zero credit.

Retaining your copyrights is crucial right now. Value all your work; it’s yours, and you should always be able to decide where it is used, reproduced, repurposed, and how it’s presented.

Build in these options; these should not be foreign ideas or taboo topics to talk about. You must always look out for your best interests. Insist on these things and pick clients accordingly. It may seem scary to say NO and walk away,  but it’s the difference between being able to eat, live indoors, and having a studio and supplies versus struggling. Too often, I see artists hungry for work who say yes to jobs that exploit them, only to make a few dollars and still have to scrape by.

Knowing When to Increase Prices

  • Increased Demand: If your masks are in high demand and you’re struggling to keep up with orders, it may be time to raise prices to match the market demand.
  • Improved Skills or Quality: As your skills improve or you incorporate higher-quality materials into your masks, you can justify increasing your prices to reflect the increased value.
  • Economic Factors: Monitor changes in the cost of materials, inflation, or other economic factors that may impact your production costs. Adjust your prices accordingly to maintain profitability.
  • Market Trends: Monitor the pricing trends in the mask market. If other artisans are raising their prices, it may indicate that customers are willing to pay more for quality work.

Legalities and Ownership

Understanding and protecting your intellectual property is crucial. You own your work and must make it known that you reserve all rights. Consider offering a leasing option for your work, especially if you’re working in the industry. Your designs could be in rotation for years. Also, look into royalty options and profit sharing, but make sure your client is aware that it will cost them leasing rights if they want exclusivity for your designs. This was a lesson I learned the hard way, and it can save you from heartbreak and stress in the future.

  • Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): Movie studios and theatre companies frequently use NDAs to protect their creative work. Familiarize yourself with these agreements, as they ensure that the information you share with collaborators, clients, or manufacturers is kept confidential and not used without your permission.
  • Protection of Intellectual Property: By asserting your ownership rights through copyrights and trademarks, you establish your authority over the design and production of your masks. This protects your creative work and enhances its value in the market.
  • Importance of Documentation: Keep detailed records of your designs, production processes, and sales transactions to establish a clear chain of ownership and protect your intellectual property rights. Consult with legal or intellectual property professionals to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations. By understanding and implementing these legal protections, you can secure your creative work and confidently share it with the world, knowing your rights are safeguarded. Adjust your pricing accordingly to reflect the added value of these protections.

Carefully considering these factors and reinvesting in your work, you can set a fair and profitable price for your theatre masks while ensuring the sustainability and growth of your business. Remember, many of these tasks are challenging, and feeling overwhelmed is natural. Becoming an artist is a process, as is learning to sell and market your work. No one is perfect, and allowing yourself the space to learn and grow is essential. Stay motivated, stay honest with yourself, and embrace the journey. Your dedication will pave the way for your success.


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