Don’t forget to pack joy when you travel or do a show–my latest article at Fine Art Views.
Category Archives: craft shows
My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!
Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.
It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.
We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.
Artists and craftspeople are no exception.
People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.
Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.
Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.
But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.
And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?
It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.
If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.
Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!
Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.
But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.
They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.
The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.
I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.
I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.
Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.
As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.
When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.
After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.
And then I went back to square one.
I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.
Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.
And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.
Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.
We humans can–and do–choose differently.
We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.
We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.
And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.
So make your art.
Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.
Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.
Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.
Decide what you want, right here, right now.
And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.
When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”
(This post was originally published December 11, 2002.)
“Be careful what you wish for….” This has to be my least-favorite proverb in the world. It’s like those folktales about fools wasting silly wishes (“The Sausage“) and bargains with the devil (“The Monkey’s Paw.”) People get their wishes granted, but live to regret it.
Making wishes is dangerous business, these stories seem to warn us. You can wish for the most wonderful thing in the world and the powers that be will twist it against you. Fairies’ gold turned to dry leaves in the morning light.
It takes the very joy out of wishing, doesn’t it? And what a depressing view of the universe! “The universe likes nothing better than to give with one hand and take away with the other.” Yow!
Taken another way, though, this proverb is actually excellent advice. Instead of a dour caution, see it as an challenge to dig deep into your heart, to what you really want.
When we regret a wish we’ve been granted, it’s often because we unconsciously limited the dream before it left our heart. We down-sized it to increase our chances of getting something. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We’re afraid to ask for too much.
Because we don’t really believe our wishes can come true.
You can see this limiting process at work when people take their first tentative steps in their work. I did it. You’ve probably done it, too. You ask for so little. Then when you get it, it’s just not enough. Or it’s just all wrong.
Years ago, I reclaimed my artistic self. (I know, I know, it sounds like I picked up my dry cleaning….)
I didn’t ask for much. I attended a seminar for women artists. I told a roomful of strangers my dream was to make wonderful little toys—tiny dolls, knitted sheep—that you could hold in your hand and marvel at. I wanted to make things that made people happy.
It’s a nice thought. But in reality, I couldn’t imagine affecting people in a more profound way than to appeal to their sense of playfulness.
I didn’t think I had anything deeper or more substantial in me.
So I wished for a way to sell lots of my little toys. Of course, each one took a minimum of two hours to make. And I wanted to make sure they would sell, so I kept the price really low.
After doing some very small local craft shows, I got my heart’s desire. A local store requested four dozen sheep, and of course, they wanted them yesterday.
I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but knitting sheep.
At first it was fun. Each sheep was so cute! But after five in a row, the joy faltered. It was… Hmmmm… Let’s just say that knitting little sheep—lots of little sheep—gets boring fast.
After twelve, I never wanted to see another skein of cream-colored yarn again. At #24, all I could think of was, “Twenty-four down, twenty-four to go.” By #42, I was sick unto death of little knitted sheep.
And I still had to sew them up, and tie little tiny bells on each one.
I managed to squeak out all 48. And swore I’d never make another.
I kept one or two of my stash, because they are so darned cute. And also as a reminder of a lesson learned.
Because in addition to all that knitting, I messed up on figuring my wholesale price. I’d simply cut my retail price in half. So I got $5 per sheep. Ouch. I probably made less than $2 an hour, after my cost for materials.
I didn’t see this granted wish as a disappointment. Okay, I’ll be honest. At first I did.
But then I saw it as a blessing. Thank heavens I hadn’t gotten more orders!
So here’s what I learned from this experience:
I learned production work was not for me. I learned how to establish a decent wholesale price. And at least I had $240 in my pocket, enough money to finance my next endeavors. (Hint: I did NOT buy yarn to make more sheep.)
As time went by, this process occurred over and over.
More ideas and more opportunities crossed my path. Each time I’d think, “Maybe this is the thing that will take off!” They always did—just enough to buy more supplies and make my hobby pay for itself—but not in the way I’d hoped. I followed them til they either petered out or til they grew into something that took me too far away from my heart’s desire. Then I’d let go, and move on.
Along the way I learned a lot about making and selling things. I learned how to sell wholesale to retail stores. I learned about signage and display. I learned how to price my work, how to create a distinctive and original product, how to locate wholesale sources for supplies. I took my profits and reinvested them in my business.
I learned the pros and cons of building a strictly local audience. I learned the potential–and the limits–of advertising. I learned how to promote myself and my work.
I taught classes when I could, but soon learned a little teaching goes a long way for me. I’d rather make more and teach a little. (But I also found I could teach through this blog.)
Finally, I learned what I really wanted, what was truly in my heart.
If you had asked me way back then what I wanted, I would have said, “I want to make something that makes people happy.” I wasn’t digging very deep into what makes me tick.
It turns out there was a story there, a story about how my dreams were echoed in the prehistoric artwork from a cave in France. I thought about why this story was important to me, and how I was going to share that story with the world.
I found a focus and a drive I’d never experienced before. Everything I’d learned about business was now centered on getting my story and my art out into the world.
When I ran into what seemed like insurmountable difficulties, I solved them through perseverance, research and experimentation.
And I loved the entire process. Even the parts that drove me crazy. I was learning so much about myself, my art and my business.
Everything began to fall into place. Opportunities lay everywhere, more than I could take on. Doors opened, people appeared in my life, solutions beckoned.
I still experience failure, but it doesn’t stop me now. It’s a call to evaluate what I really want and whether I’m still on task to achieve it.
I see the presence of something in my life that treasures my creativity, that supports me achieving my dream.
If my true wish had been to sell lots of knitted sheep, there are business models to support that. I could have hired knitters, located a sales rep, done gift shows. But my real wish was to make something totally of myself, so fulfilling and intriguing that I would not tire of the production process; and to make something with such value and power, people would pay a lot to own one.
I had a wish big enough to last me a lifetime. That was the right wish to be granted!
Most small business experts say it can take five years to get a new business off the ground. Even the IRS recognizes that. There’s a lot of learning and failing, growth and change in five years of business….
So look at what you’re doing now. Think about your biggest, deepest wish.
Will you outgrow your current dream? Will you still love it five years from now? If my first wish had been granted five years earlier, I would have outgrown it within six months.
Are you digging deep? Get past the “nice” things to say (“I want to make people happy”) and find your true story. There’s power there.
When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”
This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.
Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”
Don’t leave your early collectors behind.
Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.
In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.
In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.
Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.
I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.
There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.
She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”
I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.
For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.
When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.
To my dismay, things had changed.
Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.
It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.
Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.
The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.
Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.
She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.
She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”
She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.
I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.
Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.
I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.
In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.
At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.
I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.
I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.
I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.
I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.
As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.
I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.
They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.
Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.
But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.
Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.
I’m halfway through my week-long artist-in-residency at The Balsams. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, one of the last of the “grand hotels” so popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This is the second year I’ve been invited to stay and teach little workshops for the guests.
It’s always a big sea change for me. Most of the year I’m usually bopping around my studio, listening to techno music, happily making my little horses and great bears and crafting the most beautiful jewelry and wall hangings I can imagine.
Then I go through utter panic preparing for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s annual fair at Mount Sunapee Resort–digging through the barn attic for my halogen lights, my ProPanel walls, my necklace and earring stands, getting postcards printed and mailed, wailing, “Where did I stash all my extension cords??” and worrying how many trips I will need to make to carry everything up there. My booth does NOT fit into my little Subaru Forester, not by a long shot.
Then nine days at the Fair, with my long-time customers and new collectors stopping by my booth constantly, sharing their stories of the pieces they bought last year, and adding new ones to their collection. Stories of love and hope and laughter and gratitude abound. There are many tears shed, and hugs and good wishes shared. And with luck, enough sales to keep me in business another year.
Then it’s over. We break down the booth in a rush, and I immediately begin to plan and pack for my “Balsams gig”.
It’s a totally different place here. Meals are served in a beautiful ballroom, with glorious views of Dixville Notch and the surrounding forests. Countless staff members make sure every need is met, often before you are aware you even HAVE a need.
Every effort is made to keep the “real world” at bay, and provide as wonderful an experience as possible, with as little visible effort as possible. And many, many people work here to make that happen, from the incredibly talented team of chefs to the guy who found me table lamps for my class table, from the doormen who greet each arriving guest and carry their baggage to their rooms to the musicians who play during dinner and also double as sales clerks in their off-stage hours.
It’s a little daunting to be in the midst of so much luxury and service, especially when my own breakfast the last few weeks has been a box of cinnamon Pop Tarts; it seems unreal to be dressed up every day in my “artist” clothes when normally I live in cut-offs and t-shirts. It’s different to be teaching kids how to make polymer beads and buttons in between tee times and riding lessons instead of making my own art and hoping I sell enough necklaces to pay for my own riding lessons back home. My husband came up with me this year to bike and hike in the White Mountains. But he stays with friends or at local motels–because even with a reduced room rate for him, we can’t afford for him to stay here with me.
But finally, I get it.
I hear the stories behind some of the people I’ve met here and there; I hear about this one whose beloved aunt nearly died last week during surgery; a grandchild born with unbearable health issues; the person who has just finished chemo, and another recovering from debilitating injuries. Life doesn’t care who you are or how much money you make, it just happens–good and bad, wonderful and sad.
Then I remember the words of Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian, whose book of memoirs, “Composed”, was published earlier this year. She writes with dignity and respect, in words so graceful and elegant and so full of compassion, that I am moved to tears:
You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…
Little courtesies and small kindnesses….. They abound all around me this week.
And suddenly, I realize it isn’t about who has what and who doesn’t have enough. Suddenly, I realize that we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive or unshaken.
And that all we really need and crave is love, and acceptance. We all yearn for the recognition that inside each of us is something unique and wonderful that just needs a little opportunity to shine in the world.
That we all have a story to tell.
And somehow, though I don’t always understand how or why I can make that happen, that’s my job today–to help someone make something that brings a little joy, to give something that lets someone else know “I hear your story, and I care”.
It’s my job today to provide a little experience a family can treasure for years to come, and to be a small part of those memories. To share the joy that comes from making something with your own hands.
And it’s my job today to keep making art–my little horses, my great bears, my sweet birds and happy dogs–that causes someone else’s heart to leap up and want to sing, just a little, just for today.
And that’s when I know I really am at home and at peace, here at The Balsams.
When is a stupid question from a customer not a stupid question? You can read my latest column at the Fine Art Views website here.
A great tip on customer care just in time for your summer shows!
Deciding if you should do a wholesale show.
When people ask if they should do this big-name show or that new wholesale show, I think of that old song by musician David Bromberg….
“A man should never gamble
more than he can stand to lose….”
(From his song, “Diamond Lil” on the Demons in Disguise album.)
This question came up again in a forum I frequent, and this is my response:
I haven’t done the ACRE show in a few years–I did their first show in Las Vegas, and stopped doing wholesale shows soon after, after about seven years of doing shows like BMAC (wholesale), ACC Baltimore (wholesale/retail) & ACRE Las Vegas (wholesale).
Here are some points to consider:
1) Wholesale shows are EXPENSIVE. And even a good wholesale show is with an established reputation and good management, is not a sure thing. Used to be, but not any more.
2) First year shows are notoriously dicey. An artist friend with 30 years in the biz recently told me, “Never do a first year show or a show you can’t drive to.” I’ve learned the hard way this is excellent advice on both counts.
Wholesale buyers are still being cautious, and buyers at first year shows are the most cautious. Adding travel costs and shipping costs (for your booth) on top of that and you can easily spend $5,000 on a show with no guarantee you’ll get the orders to even recoup your investment (let alone enough to make a profit.) I don’t know where you live, but that’s something to consider.
3) Who are your customers? Who do you hope to find there? Years ago a good wholesale show would draw from stores and galleries across the country. Now, more buyers tend to stick close to home. So there MIGHT be buyers from all over, but it’s MORE LIKELY the buyers will be local. So…are stores in Orlando and Florida your target audience?
4) Have you done any shows at all? Even smaller, local ones, just to tweak your booth, display, selling skills, support materials?
I’m all for people going for their dreams and dreaming big. But you say you’ve only been in business a few months, and you’re still in the process of “building a website, creating a collection”, etc. Doing a wholesale show is a huge outlay in money, time, energy.
Are you–and your business–ready??
You might be one of those people we read about who takes that leap and flies. But doing a wholesale show is a HUGE leap, one that’s daunting even for people who already have some experience doing small shows, doing wholesale, etc.
Almost all shows across the country, retail and wholesale, have taken a hit in attendance and sales. And $3,000 is a lot of money. So…..
5) Can you afford to gamble $3,000–and lose?
My advice: I think the smarter bet is to take advantage of the Visiting Artist/ABI program. I was actually a guest faculty member for ABI, and it’s a good deal.
The critique will be helpful (though remember, even expert advice is still just one person’s opinion). They can advise you on all kinds of wholesale matters: Are you sure you’re making an adequate profit on your product? Do you have reliable sources for supplies? (If one critical supplier drops out, can you still make your product?) Are you solid on your production schedule and shipping procedures? Are you familiar with industry standards re: billing, payment, terms, etc.? Do you know how to qualify your buyers?
And you will get a chance to actually visit the show.FWIW, I think the most educational thing any craftsperson can do (who wants to do a wholesale show) is to VISIT THE SHOW FIRST. You’ll get to see what the deal is, you’ll be able to see how many buyers show up, and you’ll get to talk to exhibitors (if they are not busy and if they are willing, of course).
I wrote a entire series on how to wholesale on my old blog, but this new series I did on how to “half wholesale”–get started building your wholesale biz before doing a major show, may be more helpful to you. You can see links to both series here.
And all this information was before selling on the Internet became a “big deal”! Add in all you know now about websites and selling in your own online store, and you’ll be off to a good start
Something snapped loose inside me in the last few days, design-wise.
I’ve made lots of the usual items for the upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair–very simple and inexpensive animal necklace for the young and the new collector, braided leather cord necklaces for men, etc. And I have lots of pretty new items, too.
But suddenly, things got wild.
Last night I made the most wonderful earrings. They are so amazing, I put them on and have been wearing them ever since. I think I’m keeping them!
I’m really feelin’ the cave these days…. And it feels deep, and rich.
This sends another shiver down my spine…. The second artifacts I made were fossil fish. The story I made for them was that they were trapped in layers of sediment, dreaming of forgotten oceans. “Where is the water they were promised?” I wrote in the little gift cards for them.
How eerie to think that these ancient people perhaps also made stories about these creatures trapped in the stone. Stories that were important enough to include the fossil images in their art.
I can’t even begin to think about what this all means. Perhaps it means nothing. But the on-going synchronicity of it all brings me, metaphorically, humbly, gratefully, to my knees.
I’ve been working night and day on these new earrings. I’ve been making astonishing necklaces for awhile now. I realized I needed to make some astonishing earrings, too.
These came to me as I was thinking about my shaman necklace series. Suddenly, I realized I could get a little crazy with shaman earrings.
And who said they have to match?? I’ve had customers asking for unmatched earrings for ages. Folks, I’m ready for you this year!
A few years ago, I began a series of “Shaman Necklaces”, inspired by neolithic artifacts. I wanted big, bold pieces, and I wanted them to look OLD.
I decided to attach the artifacts with leather cord. But I had no idea how to tie them so they would look nifty. My daughter’s boyfriend at the time, an Eagle scout, suggested the collar and capstan knot.
He couldn’t quite remember how to tie it, though, so I searched for it on the internet. And found this amazing video.
So a big shout-out to the Marinews website in Australia and Andy’s World of Knots animated tutorials.
I absolutely love watching these knot videos, though some of them make me dizzy. And I couldn’t have made my beautiful necklaces without them. I actually had to modify the technique a little, since I needed to connect two objects together.
Why did I think of this today? Because I’ve been working on simpler, less expensive versions for the League of NH Craftsmen’s 77th Annual Fair next month.
And I still need to check the video to refresh my memory! Thank goodness lives don’t depend on what I do…..
I’ve done the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, or “Sunapee” as we Leaguers call it somewhat affectionately, for eleven years now. Twelve, if you count the year I exhibited but didn’t have a booth.
It kinda wrecks summer. Just as school gets out and the weather gets nice and things slow down, just as I’m sitting in a sidewalk cafe enjoying a well-earned margarita, just as I’m wondering what to do with all my free time, I realize….
It’s time to ramp up inventory for the fair.
It’s time to make sure I have enough gift boxes, labels, working booth lights, spare parts and wall hangings for this nine-day show.
It’s time, in short, to PANIC.
I hate the panic. I hate the hot. (I’m actually not wild about summer. I hate bugs and sun.) I hate the realization that I forgot to order more clasps, wire, chain, polymer clay. I hate worrying about everything I have to pull together to make it work.
Fortunately, I love my customers. And I love making my stuff.
I also love the creative energy that wells up in response to my panic. Suddenly, there are simply too many wonderful ideas and new ideas to work on.
Anything to keep from thinking about the more boring tasks, like updating my mailing list. And looking for those boxes. And wondering if I have ALL the parts to my booth this year. And trying to remember where I put the light bulbs I bought last year when I realized I didn’t have enough the day before set-up???
Yes, making otters and stones and earrings and necklaces is much more fun!
I love playing with these new riverstone beads I’ve made….
I drag out all my little storage cases of handmade beads, including teeny tiny beads I use as accents.
I love how all my artifacts look gathered together. I tend to make little “arrangements” with them in between projects. But when it’s time to put designs together, it’s better if they’re neatly sorted.
I love to see all the little animal artifacts gathered into “herds”. Of course, it’s not so fun to pick all the chains apart after!
So there you have it, a little peek into my studio today. I’ve having a little trouble putting the photos where I want them. So if you’re confused, trust me, it isn’t YOU.
Aren’t you glad I didn’t show you the four foot tall pile of papers waiting to be filed?
One of the nicest perks about being a craftsperson is trading stuff with other artists.
At its best, you get wonderful, beautiful works of art you might never afford on your own. I have some lovely pieces from top-notch artists, items that are totally out of my price range. And my own work now graces the homes of those very same artists.
It’s also a great way to “pay” the people who help me out by working in my booth at shows. Sometimes they fall in love with the work of another craftsman. Trading my work for that often works better for me than paying my assistant outright.
At its worst, however, there is embarrassment, frustration and hurt feelings. What can go wrong? Let me count the ways….
It’s not your style.
Someone asks you if you’d like to trade, you say yes, and then realize their work is not to your taste. You get to their booth and realize there is nothing there you want. (You can get around this by using their stuff as gifts for other people, but it’s just not as much fun as an “emotionally balanced” swap.)
It’s not to your standards. It’s just not as well-made or executed as you thought.
It’s not comparable in price. By that I mean you may not want to trade one of your $600 wall hangings for fifty $10 mugs, no matter how lovely they are. Or vice versa.
It may be unrealistic in price. Or the work might be hugely overpriced, something that sometimes happens with new craftspeople. They see something in the marketplace priced at $1,000 and think, “Oh, I can sell mine for that, too!” Maybe yes. Maybe…not.
Someone very new to the industry once offered their product in trade, naming a price equal to one of my $600 wall hangings. They really wanted a fiber piece, and insisted it was a fair trade.
In a nice way, I demurred but they persisted. They just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Finally, I said, “Look, your work is nice but I’ve exhibited and sold my work for over a decade. I’ve won awards. I’ve been published. This is the going price for this piece. I know I can sell it for this much money. It’s proven itself in the marketplace.
You’re just starting out, you’ve never exhibited or sold your work, you just made this and put a price on it. It’s not a medium I like or collect. So it may very well be worth that much–but not to me.“
Fortunately, he got it, and we’ve stayed friends. Whew!
Bottom line–You just don’t want their stuff.
But even when you DO want their stuff, things can still go terribly wrong. Perhaps because….
The person is whacko. (Sorry, no other way to put it.) One of my most excruciating trades was a woman who approached me at a wholesale show, asking to trade some jewelry for her beautiful fabric purses. I knew her work and loved it. I went to her booth, selected a purse (checking again to make sure that was okay with her) and invited her back to choose her goodies. She chose several pieces and left.
What’s embarrassing about that?, you may well ask. Well, a few hours later, she stomped into my booth with my jewelry and tersely demanded the bags back, saying she’d “changed her mind”. I never found out what that was about, but it felt awful.
Whatever the circumstances, when things are out of balance, it gets difficult. There you are, standing there stammering like an idiot, trying to figure out how to get out of the swap. And everyone feels bad.
Here’s a simply way to set the stage so everyone can feel good about a trade:
Say NO first.
If I am asked to trade, I always start off by thanking the person for wanting to trade, what an honor, etc. Then I say no.
It may look like this:
I’m so honored you want to trade–I’m delighted you like my work! And I really, really wish I could. Unfortunately, I’m extremely strapped for cash this season. So I can’t do any trading at this show. I’m so sorry!
I always offer a discount to fellow exhibitors and show employees, always, so I let them know that, too
Then when I get a chance, I come over to look at their stuff.
If my answer is still “no”–If it’s not my taste, or if I can’t use it for gifts, whatever, I just make cooing noises (“So pretty! Maybe next year….”) and leave.
If it’s something I want I say “yes.” “You know, I really shouldn’t because I’m so broke–but I just LOVE your stuff, so if you still want to trade, I’d be willing to trade with YOU!”
See how much better that sounds?
Saying “NO”, then “YES” works better than saying “YES”, then “NO”.
If I initiate the trade, I don’t ask outright, forcing them to say “yes” or “no” on the spot. I’ll say, “If you’d be interested in trading, let me know.” And then I leave so they don’t have to respond.
In fact, it’s even better if they’re busy with a customer, or not even in their booth. I’ll discreetly leave a business card or postcard at their booth. The card has an image of my work and my booth number, and “Do you trade?” I don’t follow up. If the person wants to trade, they can respond. If not, I’ll never know if it was because they didn’t want to or they didn’t have time, or they couldn’t afford to.
The “left card” approach works for me because it gives the person an idea of what I do. They have time to think about it. And they can come by and browse without pressure.
I like these approaches because….
Nobody’s feelings are hurt if I (or they) don’t want to trade. Everyone involved gets a graceful “out” if they need it.
When I say no and then “change my mind”, it’s an even greater compliment to the person I’m trading with. (“I won’t trade with just anyone, but I’d love to trade with YOU!”)
Even if I don’t want to trade this time, I’ve left the door open for future trades. (Because you never know….!!)
The biggest benefit of all?
I can’t afford to trade with everyone and anyone. I do always need cash.
It’s also easy to modify–I can say, “I can’t afford trade a $600 wall hanging this year, but I could do a trade in the $100 range….” Or do a partial trade, $100-$200 in trade and the balance in cash. Whatever.
And if any trade-willing fellow exhibitors are reading this, OY!!!! My secret is out!!!
Concrete advice on how to get more done in a hurry, with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek, published Thursday in the Fine Art Views newsletter.
I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.
A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?
Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.
But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000″ up to “over $1,000,000″.
The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.
Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.
But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.
And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….
Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.
The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.
Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.
I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!
My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.
If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.
Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.
When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.
And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.
I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.
P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.
I leave in a moment to set up my booth for The Orchard School Crafts Fair 2009.
I’ll be selling a wonderful selection of jewelry, for women, teens & men, and maybe a small sculpture or two for that certain great guy you need a special present for.
There will be great food, great music, a silent auction with wonderful items to bid on, good crafts and good company.
Tonight, December 11, is Preview Night. The Fair opens tomorrow, Saturday December 12, at 9:30 a.m. and goes until 4:30 p.m.
Hope to see you there!
Never forget the love you have for what you do. Remember the blessing of being able to make what you make.
Here’s something to consider the next time you feel a sharp retort rising to your lips when someone in your booth asks a “stupid question”. (Which, in case you don’t already know, isn’t so stupid after all.
The times I find it hardest to deal with problem customers, is when I am not in a good space myself.
There will be times in your life when things get hard. When nothing seems to go right. When you body simply can’t do what you ask of it, not the simplest task. When worries about money seem to overwhelm everything else. When your spirit is exhausted.
There will be people in your life who make things difficult. People who are impossible to please. People who are threatened by what you do. People who are envious of what you have.
There will be stages in your life when you question everything about your work. Is it good enough? Is it still my best work? Does the world even want it? Do I still believe in it?
And just like the times when a difficult child needs your love all the more, this is the time to remember the love you have for your art.
Here’s how that happens for me:
I’ve been head-high in frenzied preparations for my upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. On one hand, it’s my tenth year at the Fair, and I pretty much know what to do. On the other hand, every year there’s something major I forget/mess up/leave to the last minute. Every year there’s a big scramble to deal with it, with frantic phone calls, late nights and the inevitable last-minute make-do. (Which almost always seems to work out better than my original intention.)
This year is no exception. But I have some secret weapons.
The first is modern medicine. After waiting years for the brain buzz of menopause to wear off, I realized it wasn’t going away and it wasn’t even getting better. I realized I’ve always had it–it was just getting worse with age. I sought professional help. I’m now seeing an excellent therapist who specializes in working with creative people. And I’m on a very low dosage of anti-anxiety medication. (Don’t worry, not the addictive stuff!)
For the first time in years, I am sometimes sleeping through the night. I don’t wake up in a panic with my heart racing. Get this–my blood pressure (which used to be low normal but has inched upwards for five years) dropped almost 25 points–in a month! My doc isn’t sure why, but she says we’ll take it. (She thinks it may be the relief from constant worrying.)
I feel more at peace with myself. All the issues I knew intellectually how to manage, but couldn’t emotionally let go of, are softening. I know enlightenment can’t be found in a pill bottle, but it sure makes it easier to actually listen to my heart.
The second secret weapon is my work. The Fair is a concrete “deadline” which helps generate creative energy. Simply immersing myself in making new artifacts always centers me. Okay, partly I bury myself in making bears and otters and horses because it’s much more fun than figuring out how to make new covers for my jewelry case pedestals. Procrastination is a powerful tool in my life for getting something else done.
The third secret weapon is the Fair itself. Despite all the hard work getting ready for, and just being at the Fair (3 days of set-up, 9 days of show), there is a lot of good energy at the Fair.
My daughter, to date, has always found time to come and work with me again, even if only for that first, very busy opening weekend. She’s worked in my booth at both retail and wholesale shows for over eight years now. She’s not only very good at it, she’s simply a joy to be with.
There are old friends to catch up with, new exhibitors to meet, wonderful work to see (and buy!), music, wine and the incredible beauty of Mount Sunapee itself.
And my customers are a big secret weapon, too.
Opening day at the Fair is tough. It takes me awhile to get my “sea legs”. (Would that be “Fair legs”??) To get into the rhythm of being “on stage” instead of “in my studio”.
But when I catch the rhythm, I can dance all day. All week!
People who have bought from me for years, come to see what’s new. People who bought something for the first time last year, come back to tell me how much they love it. People bring their friends to introduce them the artist. (Moi. Maybe in my normal hours I look like a dumpy middle-aged woman, but at a show I am an artiste.) People who lost an earring or broke a necklace rush in to see if I can make their favorite piece wonderful and wearable again. People who I encouraged to pursue their own creative destiny stop by to share their own lovely work.
Even years when the Fair is slow, the energy from seeing my old collectors and meeting new ones, is a spiritual high.
In the midst of all this wonderful, powerful energy, I would be a small person to let an off comment or odd interaction here and there, to bring me down.
But I would be human, too. Because that’s what we do–we hang on to the one hurtful comment or ignorant act.
Remember–as artists, we can choose:
We can wallow in indignation and anger.
Or we can remember that the work we do is blessed work. Not only for us, but for the world.