Tag Archives: selling

CLIMBING OVER ROAD BLOCKS

One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.

(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)

Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.

If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!

But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??

Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.

Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.

Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.

Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)

The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.

Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.

What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.

Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….

You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.

Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!

I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.

If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.

Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.

And no one succeeds by giving up.

Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.

There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.

I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.

Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.

I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.

She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.

This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.

If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.

Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”

Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.

Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)

It’s a miracle! :^)

Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!

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Filed under art, business, craft, marketing, perseverence, selling to stores, shows, wholesale

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DITCH YOUR SLOWEST SELLER

How your “slowest” seller could actually be your best marketing.

There are two tenets in business that everyone accepts as true:

1. You should figure out what your most popular product is, and sell the heck out of it.

2. You should figure out what your least popular product is, and get rid of it.

In fact, I read it again just a few minutes ago.

Here’s a little story about why you should reconsider step 2.

I’ve been a long-time CVS fan. While waiting for prescriptions to be filled, I would wander the aisles shopping. (In fact, once our insurance company switched to Medco’s online pharmacy, our “miscellaneous” expenditures dropped enormously.)

CVS is losing me as a customer to Walgreen’s. Why?

They no longer carry three products that I love:

a) They no longer carry Physician’s Formula make-up remover lotion
(I LOVE this stuff because it isn’t runny and doesn’t drip like oil versions);

b) Dr. Scholl’s pedicure file (probably because their store brand is cheaper, though not nearly as good);

c) and they don’t carry dental wax (which I want to use to position jewelry for photography.)

Probably because they were slow sellers. Or they had a store brand they wanted to push. I dunno.

But guess where I’m finding these products now?

Yep. Walgreen’s.

Okay, to be perfectly fair, the makeup remover is getting harder to find anywhere. I suspect the product is going through a makeover.

But my point is, wherever these products are, that’s where I’m going to go to get them.

Our local grocery store does the same thing. It introduces new products which I love, and discontinues them when they aren’t big movers.

Other grocery stores pick them up–and that’s where I go to get them. One carries my all-time favorite fruit-infused vinegars. (People, these are amazing to use in homemade salad dressings.) I go to another for my Ghiradelli hot cocoa.

So every month or so, Hanniford’s does not get my $200-$300 grocery bill.

So sometimes your slowest seller can be a draw to very passionate users/buyers. People who will look elsewhere if you drop it, like my favorite pear infused vinegar.

Sometimes an item sells slow because it’s really expensive, or very unusual. It can still be a huge draw to your other work. And it can make the rest of your work seem more affordable. I don’t sell too many $5,000 wall hangings. But when I do a) it’s the equivalent of selling a hundred $50 items, and b) it does a bang-up job of publicity.

My Big $5,000 Wall Hanging (from Niche Magazine, April 2006)

Sometimes a “slow” product will come back around. I hadn’t sold much fish jewelry in years. Maybe their time was over? When I put my “business hat” on, I considered dropping it. When I put my “artist hat” on, I realized it still had a story to tell. And guess what? I’m now selling more fish.

Fish necklace, back in demand!

Or perhaps it just hasn’t had time to catch on yet. I hardly sold any sculptures when I first started out. Just when I was about to lose hope, sales took off. Plus, turns out they fill a major niche as a gift for guys. I would have lost that marketing opportunity if I’d given up too soon.

Maybe your slow seller is something that sets off the rest of your products. Years ago, a friend had a yarn store. She didn’t carry any yellow yarn, because “it didn’t sell.” I showed her an article by a color designer for a local yarn mill. The designer said every line should have a yellow “because it fills out the color wheel, and makes other colors sing.” The store owner added yellow, and her sales rose.

Maybe your slowest seller is a dog* because of very good reasons. It’s out of fashion, you make a better one now, or you can’t even get the supplies to make it anymore.

But unless you’re sure it no longer serves any purpose, consider it a small price to pay for a few very special, very passionate customers.

Because any customer who is passionate about your art is sharing that passion with a lot of other people.

And that’s a good thing.

P.S. I apologize for calling any part of my/your art “a dog”. Just trying to give some good business advice here, as well as good artistic advice.

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Filed under art, body of work, business, craft, marketing, selling

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #13: One Big Break is All You Need

Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!

Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.

When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:

Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.

I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:

Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.

Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.

Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.

One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”

I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..

Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.

Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)

But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. :-)

Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.

In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.

Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.

The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.

My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.

So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:

1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.

Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.

And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.

If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?

So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.

2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.

Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.

We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.

In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.

Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.

Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.

3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.

Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.

At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.

Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.

4. It just may take more time than you think.

Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)

And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.

5. And sometimes it’s just hard.

It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.

But what does your heart say?

Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!

If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)

#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?

Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?

Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.

Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)

Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.

And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….

#6. Are you telling your real story?

Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.

What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”

Tell us why.

Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.

A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?

She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”

Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.

She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.

7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.

It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.

Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.

I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.

And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.

Or what are we here for?

So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.

And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, creativity, depression, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, selling, selling online, telling your story, world peace

BANNER BUY

I subscribe to a newsletter from Rena Klingenberg called Home Jewelry Business Success Tips. I always learn something new.

Last week, I read this article on web banners.

I’d been struggling with making my own banner. I love the one my beloved friend and photographer Jeff Baird had made for me. Unfortunately, I was having trouble formatting it to different applications, and there was no text in it. I always had to add that, sometimes with lamentable results.

I thought I’d play around making my own, but the learning curve was too steep. I just didn’t want to spend the next three weeks on this when I have so many other, more pressing things to take care of.

So I bought a banner from this guy for $30. I’ve never bought graphic services online before and I was a little nervous.

Even though I ordered the banner at the height of Labor Day weekend, Neil got back to me within a day or two. He sent a little survey, so he could get what colors I like, my style, what applications I needed it for, etc.

I’m pleased with the results. (You can see the new banner above.)

I’m pleased that Neil asked detailed questions about how I saw my art, my business, my brand. The results look similar to what I had, just a little fresher. I like that my signature is in there.

Most of all, I like that Neil picked up on something I hadn’t even articulated to him–that I lean towards a “museum-like” aesthetic in my work, in my display, and in my presentation. He liked the gray background Jeff had used in most of my images, and incorporated that into the banner as well.

Neil also featured the horse images prominently. Yes, I do other animals, even non-figural artifacts, and I’m feeling the urge to create some people artifacts now, too. But even when people fall in love with my bears, my otters, my birds, my pods and stones and shells, they still refer to me as “that woman who does the horses.” For better or worse, my horse has become my brand. And I’m secretly glad, because they are the heart stone, the first source, where all my work comes from.

My old banner will be at my website for a short while, if you’d like to compare the two.

And as always, lemme know what you think, okay?

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Filed under art, banner, business, craft, marketing, resources, selling, selling online, style, time management

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #5: My Art Speaks for Itself

Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.

We all know the scene:

Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”

If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.

Here’s my own personal observation:

Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.

Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.

There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.

Here are some ways not to talk about your art:

PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.

Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.

Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.

Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.

And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.

Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.

I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”

Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)

ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.

RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.

FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.

I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.

All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….

Why?

I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.

So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?

Most importantly… Why should your audience care??

I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.

When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)

They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.

That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.

Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.

And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.

How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.

If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.

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Filed under art, artist statement, booth behavior, craft, customer care, marketing, mental attitude, myths about artists, press release, self promotion, selling, telling your story

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #4: Artists Are Not Business People

Myth: Artists are not business people.
Reality: Successful artists have good business skills, or they marry*/partner with/hire people who do.

(This marriage tip courtesy of Wendy Rosen of The Rosen Group in Baltimore MD.)

A common myth about artists is that they are not good at the business end of making and selling art. The reality is, the better you are at the business skills necessary to promote and market your art, the better chance you have at being a successful artist.

I have a theory about artists and their lack of business skills. I think we tend to not like skills like math (balancing checkbooks, statistics, recording expenses). When it came to math, I liked story problems–if Bill and Jane decide to buy a house, and their options for borrowing money are a loan with an interest rate of 9.8% and no points, or a loan with an interest rate of 7.2% and 3 points, which is better? Because I liked to think, “Well, how much money does Bill make, and what if Jane has gone back to school to get a teaching certificate? And what if Bill gets a better job offer–is there a chance they might have to move in two years, and sell their house in a buyer’s market? Do they also like expensive cars, or do they shop at Salvation Army? Do they fight about how much to tip the waitress at a posh restaurant? Are these two even compatible enough to make a marriage work??” (You see the story potential here?)

Artists think they won’t need to take typing classes because they’re not going to be a secretary when they grow up. (We could not foresee the Internet and the importance of keyboard skills in 1968.) Talking about net profit and gross profit seemed, well, gross.

So we decided we would be artists. Famous artists. Successful artists! So successful that galleries would take care of all that bookkeeping stuff and marketing stuff for us. We would simply show up at the opening receptions in our cool black clothing, sip white wine and schmooze with our collectors.

That worked well enough for a fortunate few, for a few good decades. And then times changed. We grew up and realized we needed to pay mortgages, have health insurance, put kids through college. The artists who stuck it out had to learn how to sell, how to market, how to maintain positive cash flow.

And many of us found that these weren’t such awful skills to learn, and acquire, after all.

The same way artists are made, not born, business skills can be LEARNED and the incentive is huge. The more you understand the consequences of your business decisions, the better your decisions get.

Days of galleries “handling” all your business matters are gone, and as the Bernie Madoffs of the world should have taught us, good riddance. We’ve learned the hard way that galleries can go out of business (taking your art with them). We’ve learned that locking totally into wholesale strategies can also lock down your artistic aspirations, when galleries only want the work that sells. Even if we did embrace the business side of our art, strategies that worked beautifully in the 80’s and 90’s don’t work so well in the post 9/11 economy.

It’s always good to to know your bottom line. We need to know how to sell work, if only to understand why people buy it in the first place, and what they need to know in order to buy it. (More about that in Myth #5)

Marketing, promotion, sales, research and product development, teaching, writing–these are all business of art/craft skills that are good tools for a successful artist to keep in her toolbox.

Why was Picasso famous? Most people assume it’s because he was such a great artist. Well, yes, he was. But there were other artists of his time who were better at drawing. Other artists who were more skilled with color. Other artists who were better at all kinds of artistic things.

But Picasso was a master business person. Because he was a master at self-promotion and publicity, he was able to translate his name into the name everyone comes up with when asked to name an artist.

I read a story years ago about Picasso owing his tailor a large sum of money. He wrote the man a check. Then suggested the tailor not cash it because someday his (Picasso’s) signature would be worth more than the check was written for.

Not all of us will end up that famous (or with that much chutzpah. But learning appropriate business skills to get your art out into the world goes a long way to ensuring your efforts will come to fruition.

In fact, I’ve found I enjoy many of the business aspects of my art biz more than I thought. Because they are a labor of love. I choose, knowing the consequences, good and bad, of each informed decision. Gambling on formerly “sure thing” avenues is no longer part of my marketing strategy. I constantly forced to think hard about who my target audience is, and why they buy my art.

And I think I’m a better artist for it.

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Filed under art, business, career, choices, craft, marketing, mental attitude, myths about artists, self promotion, selling

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #3: Artists Starve in Garrets

MYTH: “There’s no money in art, you’ll starve!”
Fact: There are ways to supplement your income or even support a family making art.

Here’s the third myth from my series called, “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Being A SUCCESSFUL Artist”. “Artists Starve in Garrets.” (What IS a garret??) Corollary: “Real artists don’t care about money” and “You have to sell out in order to sell your art”.

Yes, real artists DO care about money. They have to eat and pay taxes and live somewhere just like us. They may even want to eat out or see a movie from time to time, or go on a vacation. Or have nice clothes. They may even (horrors!) want to send their kids to college, or go to France. And see the works of artists there who may or may not have starved in garrets.

There is nothing wrong with wanting compensation for your skill and hard work, whether your work is laying bricks, raising potatoes, putting together a corporate merger, or creating a beautiful pot or painting. We do many things out of love and skill, but we don’t tell our dentist, “I know how much you love your work, so you don’t expect to be PAID for removing that impacted molar, do you?”

There’s also nothing wrong with people wanting to pay you for your art. Just as we long to have a nice lawn, pretty flowers in our garden, matching towels in our bathrooms and a really really big flat screen TV, many of us long to have attractive and/or meaningful things in our homes.

Hence, many people who cannot make the art you make, will want to pay you so they can own some of yours.

It’s a thrill when someone else loves your work so much, they are willing to part with their own hard-earned money for it. It is the ultimate compliment. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

You can make a living with art. You can make a living selling the art you want to make—IF you take the time to find your audience. It helps to recognize that the business of art is just that–a business. You are creating a product just as if you were in the business of writing a white paper for a venture capital company, or raising corn, or making and selling food at a restaurant. We’ll look again at ways to look at art-making as a business, but for now, try to lose the idea that making art to sell is somehow WRONG.

And re: “selling out”…making modifications (temporary or otherwise) in order to make your art more marketable is good business sense. NOT selling out.

There is no right or wrong way to approach the business of selling your art. There are CONSEQUENCES that result from your choices, however. Be aware and prepared for those consequences.

For example, some people want to make something that sells easily and quickly. They study the market to see what’s hot or trendy and what’s selling. That gives them a good shot to get their business up and running fast.

There are consequences for choosing this business model. First, fads come and go seemingly overnight. They are bell-curved in nature—a very few people buy the idea at first, followed by a small but growing swell of followers. Then the boom hits and EVERYBODY wants one. Soon, though, the boom ebbs, and you are left with stock that’s out of date. By the time you get through a season, it’s time to completely redesign your work.

Also, do you think you’re the only person who noticed what was selling? Your competition is right at your heels, sometimes in the booth next to you. It’s hard to create a look that’s significantly different from hundreds of other artists working in the same fad.

Plus you are not really creating something that comes from your heart, from where YOU stand in the world. You are constantly looking out into the world and following someone else’s lead.

On the other hand, some people are determined to only create work that totally pleases them. They are the people who are determined to crochet granny square vests in neon acrylic yarn. Since this look is actually coming back, I’ll just go on to say this proves my next point: You CAN sell crocheted vests made of granny squares in synthetic neon-colored yarn if you can wait long enough to grow an audience for it.

The advantage is you will be working very close to your “greatest vision” for your art. It will be highly individual in nature and a unique expression of your vision. It will be difficult for anyone else to copy or follow in your footsteps.

The consequence here is it can take time, a long, long time, to develop a following for something. If you don’t care about getting cash flow going, or are extremely patient and unconcerned with the opinion of others, then you can afford to work this way.

But as in real life, you don’t have just two choices. Just like most decisions in life, you can construct something that lies somewhere in the middle.

Somewhere in the middle could look like this: You spend the time developing a highly personal body of work, work that has your distinctive and individual mark in it.

You invest the necessary time developing that style. At the same time, you find ways to connect it to a larger audience than your current audience of one (you.) You either offer less-involved versions that appeal to more people. Or you find ways to tweak it in small ways that don’t dilute the artwork’s vision itself, that makes it more marketable.

You still have the strength and power of a unique body of work, sacrificing more time and effort to develop your ultimate audience. But you also have something that’s somewhat marketable in the meantime, and bringing in cash flow so you can continue to grow.

Another approach could be to start smaller. You make something that IS trendy, or simple, or just fun to make. It’s not super-special, you just like doing it.

You sell some here, you sell some there, and over time, your audience grows. The fad goes away, but your work has evolved past that. As you go, you constantly tweak it here and there, adding touches that are unique to YOU.

Your interest pulls you to explore farther and farther. Your work becomes even more an extension of you. Your audience comes along gradually, growing larger and more appreciative.

One day, you realize your work has slowly evolved into something that is still recognizable but so distinctively YOU that anyone could look at it and say, “That’s a Joanna Smith!” On your journey, along the way, you made a million little choices by following your heart, resulting in a body of work only YOU could have made.

The point is you don’t have to choose between selling out and not selling at all. Life is rarely about black-and-white choices. It’s about finding the way BETWEEN you can live with. Sometimes through compromise and negotiation. Sometimes through small, unconscious changes. But always in balance.

P.S. A garret comes from an old French word, refers to the space inside/under the roof a building, and is simply a very classy way of saying “attic”….

Caveat: A friend who’s a lot of research about “successful” artists found that many don’t really make a living from their work. Some of the names would surprise you. Some are supported by spouses or trust funds. Some rely on academic careers for their bread-and-butter. On the other hand, I DO know people who support families while making work they love. Yet some people wouldn’t call them “artists”.

The moral of the story here: Don’t let anyone else define “success” for you! It will be different for each of us. And there is room in the world for all of our versions.

For a pithier (and funnier) version of this philosophy, see this post at the IttyBiz blog.

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Filed under art, body of work, business, choices, craft, myths about artists, selling

CUSTOMER CARE: Feel the Love

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.

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CUSTOMER CARE: Repair the Goods, Repair the Relationship

What you do for customer care AFTER the sale is important, too!

A question came up in an online forum the other day. People shared their business policy for repairs.

Nobody likes to hear their work didn’t hold up. My heart always sinks when I get a request from a store or customer to repair a piece. I feel slightly guilty. I take pride in my work and always stress the fact that my work is well-made. In fact, my original studio name was Durable Goods. A broken piece feels like I’ve misled the customer.

It doesn’t help that sometimes the customer is already upset and defensive. “It just broke!” is what I usually hear. Who wants to hear that about our product?? Not me.

It helps to take a deep breath and listen with your heart.

I’ve come to realize a few things about the repair process. First, even expensive, commercially-made jewelry isn’t necessarily impervious to harm. A fine gold chain breaks when a jumping dog snags it, diamonds fall out of their settings and rings drop down the garbage disposal. My jewelry is as well-made as I can make it, but things do wear out, get lost, break down. I don’t need to get defensive if one of my pieces gets broken.

I’ve also come to realize that customers often start out on the offensive because they expect to be given a hard time.

Isn’t that awful?? They love my work, they paid their hard-earned money for it, they wore it every day, it broke, they want to get it fixed so they can wear it some more.

And they think I’m going to be snotty about it. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from other small businesses and vendors when they have issues with a purchase.

The solution is to immediately reassure them that they will be taken care of. And to offer exquisite customer care.

My first response is, “I’m so sorry that happened! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me make it right for you so you can wear it again.”

As soon as they realize I will listen, and sympathize, and then resolve the issue, they calm down. They are relieved and grateful they will be taken care of.

As they describe or show the damage (depending on whether they’ve called or come to my booth at a show), I assess what has to be done. I offer options–repair, replace, restring, etc.

After I’ve assured them the piece can be repaired, then it’s time to gently find out how the damage occurred.

This will give valuable information about whether the damage is their “fault” or mine. This is not to assess blame. It’s to determine whether I need to make changes in my process, or if this is a “teachable moment” for the customer.

Here’s how I think about it:

If I had TONS of repairs, then it might be MY problem.

A lot of repairs indicates I have to review my product and perhaps make adjustments. Maybe I need to look at my construction techniques and ask myself why I was getting so many returns. Is the stringing material durable enough? Was the glue old? (Even epoxies have a shelf life.) When I was just starting out selling jewelry, I thought I could save money by using cheap spring clasps for my necklaces. The clasps didn’t hold up. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of returns for repairs. That was a valuable lesson. I now only work with high-quality components.

If I DON’T have a lot of repairs, then providing free (or at least cheerful) repairs is the best customer service I can give.

Either the customer loved the item enough to wear it often and is disappointed she can’t anymore or she paid a lot for item and didn’t get the usage out of it she expected.

Either way, she has paid me a very high compliment–loving my work, and investing in my work.

Either way, a repair will make her very, very happy, and willing to buy from me again.

A refusal will upset her and you can bet she will let everybody know about it.

So what do I mean by a “teachable moment”?

If I’ve put the customer at ease by reassuring her I will take care of her, and it turns out the damage is not my fault, then there’s an opportunity to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A customer indignantly said the artifact on her necklace “just broke.” I immediately told her I was sorry. I asked her to send it to me immediately, and I would either repair or replace it. I apologized for the inconvenience, and she grew calmer. We talked more. She told me she desperately hoped I could fix it, because she loved the artifact (a horse.) Under gentle questioning, she admitted that when she was nervous, she liked to “flex” a flat artifact pendant I’d made. That “flexing” eventually caused the artifact to break.

Her initial defensive attitude was because she thought I would not help her if she admitted she’d broken it, and she was distraught because she loved it so much.

I made her a new, thicker pendant, jokingly telling her “no more flexing!” Because she loved the original artifact so much, I glued it back together, put a backing layer of polymer on it to strengthen it, and made it into a pin.

When I’m feeling defensive, this is important to keep in mind: An item that breaks with overuse means the item was being worn, and worn a lot. One woman told me she never took off the silk cord necklace she’d bought from me. She even wore it swimming, and showered in it.

It took some doing to convince her that silk cord won’t hold up under that kind of usage. But that was just proof of how much she loved it. And I still restrung her necklace. Free.

Last, when you have wholesale customers and get a customer repair request, remember you are actually dealing with two customers–their customer, and the store owner/buyer/manager. When you show your willingness to stand behind your work, you make it easier for the store to do their work–selling your stuff.

Just my humble opinion, and experience. And of course, there are exceptions.

We’ve all had the occasional customer who simply can’t be satisfied. It happens rarely in face-to-face encounters. It’s more common with online sales if you don’t already have a relationship with the customer. When you feel you’ve gone above and beyond, and the customer is still not happy, it may be worth your while to simply take the item back and refund their money.

And if your materials are very expensive, then of course you may have to charge a reasonable fee for repairs regardless of why they are needed.

But even if you must charge for repairs, these are still ways you can make your customer feel treasured. Listening and taking care of your customers after the sale–offering support and non-judgmental service–is excellent customer service indeed.

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Filed under art, business, craft, customer care, jewelry, listening, mental attitude, selling

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #5

Our stories are already inside us, waiting to come out. All we need is a truly sympathetic listener who will allow that to happen.

Fifth in a series of how to use that 25 Random Things list to write your artist statement.

“They have ears, but hear not….” Psalms 115:6

I marvel every day how we listen–and don’t listen–to each other.

We may think we are listening. But how often do we jump in with, “Oh, that happened to my cousin!”. Or, “I know just how you feel…” Or, “Speaking of cancer, did you know the ancient Greeks thought cancer was caused by eating too many crabs, and that’s why the astrological sign of the crab is also called cancer?” I made that last bit up, by the way, but we all know friends who do that. We do that, too.

We can’t even bear to simply let someone cry. We jump in to soothe and comfort–“It’s okay. It’s all right”–even though it obviously isn’t. Sometimes a hug is appropriate, of course. But sometimes, we’ve cut the person short because their pain is more than we can bear.

Allowing someone to tell their story, giving someone the time and support to really think about what is in their heart, and letting that come out, without comment or interruption, is a powerful gift.

I learned about this technique of really, really listening to someone, from Deborah Kruger. I took a workshop from her called “Empowerment for Women in the Arts”, where we learned how to form small support groups for each other, groups where we could freely share, in safety and kindness, our highest vision for our art.

Interestingly, it looks like we’ll be practicing the same skill in my hospice training.

Why should we learn to be good listeners today? So you can get to the bottom of why you make the stuff you do.

It can be a little tricky of you’ve never done this before, but it’s a great technique if you’ve tamped down your passion for so long, even you don’t know what it is. It might take a few tries, but if you are willing to do the hard work of really saying what is in your heart, you will find what lies there.

This exercise works well with 2-3 people. You can take turns listening to each other. All you you need to be on the same page. You need to be a good listener, and you need to find a good listener. That’s why I move back and forth between “you” and “them” in this article.

Find someone who loves you and/or loves what you do. Someone who truly wants you to succeed with your art, who wants only good things for you.

Find someone who has not a shred of jealousy or back-stabbing or passive aggression. Someone who, if you say, “I once threw up on someone” they’d say, “Yeah, hey, that was me but I know it was an accident and I still love you” and not “Um…yeah…look, I just remembered another appointment, can we do this later?”

Explain what your working on. They are going to hold your feet to the fire until you confess what it is you deeply, truly care about.

And they are going to do it with perfect kindness and perfect support.

Make sure they understand they are NOT to tell you “what you should do” or what they think. There will be no giving of advice today. They can only ask questions that force you to step up to the plate, questions that probe deeper until you hit your inner truth.

Oh! If you have another trusted friend who can take notes, that would help. But in a pinch, you can either tape this conversation or let your friend write your responses down. But it has to be quick–the PROCESS, the conversation is more important than getting it down perfectly. Although, sometimes asking for more clarity, or repeating what you think you’ve heard before you write it down, is a good listening tactic, too. (see Rule #2 below)

THE RULES: (and these are important)

1) The only response the listener can make is signs of loving acceptance.

We often stood up and held hands, but the important thing is eye contact and a smiling face or a calm face. (I tend to frown when I’m listening really hard, and I have to consciously control that when it’s my turn to listen.) No hugs til the end. Tears are okay.

2) No dialog!

The only questions you can ask are to ask for more information about something the speaker has said. And do that minimally. Just use it to clarify, or to move the narrative along, or help the speaker refocus if they get off course.

The scribe/recorder can only ask a question, with the speaker’s permission, and with the same guidelines, and only if everyone really seems stuck.

But…(and this is really important):

3) Give them time to answer.

We’re so used to giving pat answers, or short answers, because we’re not used to someone listening so carefully, to being so fully present. Silence is okay. You’ll be surprised how many speakers will pick up the thread on their own, once they realize the listener is not going to jump in and take it for themselves.

4) All of this is done in safety.

What goes on here is private. The speaker must know and believe that what they say will not be repeated, nor even referred to again, without their express permission. We all know about attorney-client privilege and doctor-patient privilege. That’s how you’re going to think about this process, okay?

5) Give enough time to answer, but timed so you have to focus.

The first time is rough, because the process is so different than any way we’ve ever talked with each other before. But half an hour should be enough time to some part of our story out.

6) Practice.

This exercise gets easier with practice. If you can’t quite “get there” with your first try, then try again another time.

In the workshops I took with Deborah, we asked four questions that led to a plan of action. For the purpose of finding the heart of your artist statement, we’re just going for one really great question:

Why do you make the art you make?

Yep, it’s that “why? why? why?” thing again. Why? Because it works.

We are looking for your artist statement, your mission statement. Literally, your reason d’etre, your “reason to be”. Why you are here, on this planet, why you are here at this point in time, why you are living this life of yours, to make this art.

(Relax. It sounds hard, and it is, but it’s exhilarating, too.)

A good warm-up question is: “Tell me what’s special about your art” (Note to questioner: Almost every artist will answer this question with an explanation of their techniques. Take good notes here, because this is a way of waffling. But it CAN lead to some good, honest answers later.

Other questions you can explore:

How to people respond to your art? Why do you think they respond that way?

What kind of people love your work enough to buy it? Why do you think THEY respond that way?

When did you start making this work? (Questioner: If something traumatic started this, take notes and follow this thread. Because something changed in order for this to happen, and that’s important.)

Why did you start making it? Was it required for a class? Did you do it with someone else, say a relative who showed you how?

Why do you make that? Why do you use those materials, those techniques?

Any time you get some adademic-bs or artist-speak (“I love to explore the interstices that occur between the full saturation of colored edge and line…”) or a cliche (“I just love color!”) start applying pressure.

This is where it gets hard.

I can’t give your questioner hard-and-fast rules about where to press and where to back off. But a sensitive person will know where you are bull-shitting about your answers, fobbing them off with a glib answer or a smart answer instead of a deep, rich answer.

You may feel angry at the person for pressing you–that’s a good sign! You may be scared at first and get defensive. The questioner can decide whether to keep pressing or “move sideways”, anything to get you past those defenses.

Because what you are defending yourself against is expressing the thing that really means something to you, and you are afraid to say it because people might laugh at you.

Social scientists say we fear humiliation more than almost anything else in life. Sometimes we fear it more than we crave success.

I believe the reason we fudge our artist statements, and why we find it hard to talk about this stuff, is we are afraid of looking like an idiot.

What you must understand is…that’s okay.

It’s part of the human experience. And we are human.

So at this point, where you are fudging and avoiding and getting defensive and hostile, your listener needs to go for the big guns.

And bring out that WHY word, over and over and over til you give it up:

The real reason you feel compelled to make the work you do.

They’ll know it when they see it, and hear it. And you will, too.

Because you-the-artist will act differently, and speak differently.

You may stand straighter (if you do this exercise standing up). I’ve seen some people literally “step up” and take a step forward.

Your voice may deepen. You may talk faster if you’re a slow talker, or slow down if you’re normally articulate.

But the clincher is when you, or your listener feel a shiver run down your spine, or a thrill in your heart.

You will have spoken your truth.

And when you speak your truth, from your heart, people hear that. They FEEL that.

Congratulations! You now have the heart of your artist statement.

I’ve done workshops using this technique to get at the heart of artists’ stories. I could always tell when we’d struck gold:

“I had a baby, I nearly died, and everything changed.”

“My grandmother took care of me because my parents couldn’t, and grandma taught me how to do this. And when I make this work, I still feel her love and kindness in my heart.”

“I lost my husband, my job, and my house. I had nothing left, except this… And it saved my life.”

These are the moments in life where something important happened, whether we knew it at the time, or not. But these moments are part of who we are, as human beings. They may be moments of love, or joy. They may be moments of yearning. They may be moments of self-discovery and survival. Whatever they are, your art is a response, or an outcome, of these moments.

Other human beings will respond to that, and respect it. Other people will connect with that–“Me, too!”–and be inspired. Or consoled. Or empowered.

Telling your story helps others to discover their story. And the connection continues.

We’ll talk more about how you can edit this and round it out with other random, interesting things about you to make a powerful statement about you and your work.

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Filed under art, artist statement, business, craft, inspiration, life, listening, self promotion, telling your story

FAKING IT

CHANGE is not just for “other people”–you can do it, too.

There was an incredible program on BBC years ago called “Faking It’. Actually, it looks like it’s still around.

A person from one walk of life would be dropped into another, for a month. A male ballet dancer trained to be a professional wrestler. An upper class class college student became a bouncer at a bar in a rough section of London. An exotic dancer learned how to ride horses hunt class. A shy Indian woman became a newscaster.

For four weeks, they were immersed in a new culture, with new expectations, often the antithesis of what they knew. The student, who was gay, found himself training with coaches who hated homosexuals. I still remember the scene where one trainer’s girlfriend boxed with him–and beat the pants off him. The dancer, terrified of injuries that could derail his career, was tossed and pitched across the ring in complicated take-downs.

The show was intensely watchable. You felt for the newest candidate, totally submersed in a new culture, terrified and overwhelmed. Tempers flew as coaches demanded top performances, and many tears were shed.

But amid the tears and frustration and fear, something marvelous happened.

They all transformed themselves. Each and every one.

And came out better for it.

The shy woman, who’d never even raised her hand in school, learned how to face a camera and report the news with confidence. The gay student not only found new courage, he also transformed the people around him. They marveled at his hard work and endearing personality, became his supporters, and learned to accept his homosexuality. The exotic dancer found her athleticism and excellent balance served her well as a rider. The classical ballet dancer learned inner strength he never knew he had. .

They all learned what they were really capable of. They all developed a healthy sense of self-confidence.

The final test at the end of each show was, could they “pass” as their new personae in front of three judges. And they all won, or nearly so.

Later, the crew revisited these “students of life”, to see how permanent the experience had been.

All had changed their lives.

The dancer performed his ballet with new spirit and enthusiasm. The exotic dancer returned to her world, but with new goals. Now her money was going to put her through college, and she made time to ride regularly. She dreams of owning her own horse some day.

They were either better at what they did, or they were doing something else, something they’d never dreamed of if they hadn’t learned to believe in themselves.

I constantly hear from people asking for advice or insight about their own art careers. At some point, the person always says, “I just can’t…..(fill in the blank)”

“I just can’t sell my own work. I’m no good at it.”

“I just can’t write my own artist statement. Do you have a template I could use?”

“I just can’t do shows/make cold calls to stores/figure out what my market is….”

Yes, you can.

When someone says, “I don’t know how to do that!” or “I’m no good at that!”, I always say, “Well, we’re not born knowing how to play the piano.”

It takes practice.

It takes perseverance.

It takes courage.

And sometimes, we have to fake it til we make it.

If a young gay man can learn to walk through a homophobic culture with pride and real peace in his heart, if a young stripper can find a way to keep horses in her life forever while she earns money to go to college (the first to do so in her family), if a shy woman can learn to stand up and speak with the power of her true self, if a chubby woman whose only “sport” is walking can learn to climb a rock wall and practice Tae Kwon Do, and take up her art at age 40 with two young children…

Then you can learn how to sell your work. You can learn how to market it. You can learn how to write about it. You can learn how to find the watch spring in your soul that makes you tick, that makes you create the wonderful work you make, that makes you sing the way you do, that makes you, well…you.

Yes, you can.

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GOALS OR GOAL-LESS

I’m still not done “processing” my session with life coach Quinn McDonald of QuinnCreative. But today I found a blog post by another good friend and jewelry artist, Kerin Rose. In her essay My 2 Cents, she shares her thoughts, based on her long teaching career, on the dangers of artists setting goals.

All I’m gonna say is that Quinn’s insights led me to a similar place. Which led me to my story about Will and the Mermaid.

As I fiber artist, I have to be amazed by the different threads that are already weaving my life back together.

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Jewelry Display #5: Organic Design

By “organic”, I don’t mean your jewelry display has to be crunchy-granola, or even of natural materials. What I mean is, choose display that supports the style of your jewelry. Or choose display that falls away so completely, only your jewelry is noticeable.

Avoid display that overwhelms your jewelry. You’ll know this is happening when people try to buy your display fixtures! They really can’t tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

When this happens, some craftspeople bemoan how stupid their customers are. But that’s not the case.

If your customers really can’t tell, then you have confused them. It’s your job to make the distinction clear, not their job to stand in your booth and wonder if you make and sell earrings, or if you make and sell very cool earring holders.

Avoid display that takes your work down a notch in materials or quality. Display that looks cheap will not reflect well on your hard work and creativity. You can make great display with inexpensive materials , but be sure it looks classy !

Notice when your display materials is working against your story or aesthetic. When I first started out, I used more wood fixtures for display–until people began asking me if I were making my artifacts out of wood.

Now, this is not to denigrate wood carvers, but “wood” does not normally translate into “ancient artifacts”. (Yes, people have been carving wood for ages, but it doesn’t usually last 15,000 except under unusual conditions.

If I wanted people to think I was using fossil ivory or bone or antler, then I needed to eliminate a possible comparison to wood. That’s why I’ll occasionally include deer antlers in my display. Not too much–just enough to suggest animal material rather than plant material. Something that could have endured over thousands of years instead of only hundreds.

“Organic” can actually be “techno”, if that’s your jewelry style, if the display seems like a natural extension of your work. The danger here is going too far with it.

At a major trade show, I saw a new exhibitor with extraordinary handmade cases. Made with ordinary metal hardware combined in a highly creative way, they were absolutely stunning.

They were so stunning that, though people flocked in from the aisles for a closer look, the cases actually overwhelmed her jewelry. Her jewelry was okay, but not nearly as “cutting edge” as her cases. In fact, in comparison to her cases, I was mildly disappointed in her jewelry designs. I don’t think I would have felt this way if her cases hadn’t been so wonderful.

As I looked, I heard her answer another viewer for probably the hundredth time about how she made her cases, and no, the cases were not for sale, and no, she was not taking orders for the cases, she made jewelry.

Of course, if you find yourself in this situation, maybe you could seriously consider a new career in making cases!

The concept of “organic display” is why the typical jewelry store displays like these and these don’t usually work so well with handmade jewelry.

What do they look like? They look like displays you’d see in commercial jewelry stores (where, unless it’s artisan-owned, much of the jewelry is ready-made) and department stores.

They are not usually associated with unusual, handcrafted or unique jewelry. They don’t accentuate what’s wonderful about your work. They just look too ordinary. And yet they can be so obtrusive, they won’t “disappear” and let your work shine.

They’re not totally useless–I like to include a few of these “traditional” pieces in my display, just to mix it up a bit.

You can do the experiment for yourself: The next time you set up your jewelry for your booth, take a few pictures from different angles. Preferably from where a potential customer would walk down the aisle and first see your booth.

If all you see are rows and rows of identical standard units*, ask yourself if this is really the best way for folks to understand what is wonderful about your work.

*(With apologies to the perfectly-nice people who make this jewelry for resale. It probably works for them and their market. But hopefully our market is different.)

Remember, especially when times are hard, people still love to shop. But they also try to avoid temptation. It’s so easy to run through a show and quickly eliminate an ordinary-looking booth by dismissing it as “just another jewelry booth.” I’ve done it.

Let your display stand out enough to pull them in.

But then let your work do the shining.

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #3: How Sweet It Is…

Candy, that is.  And today’s display idea is a candy dish from a dollar store.

I think this cost me about $6 or $7. I’ve started seeing similar items elsewhere, too, so keep lookout if you think it might work for you.

Here’s what it could look like as jewelry display. (I know, I know, my photography is awful. That’s why I’m a fiber artist, dude!)

Actually this was a real rush set-up, just to give you a way to look at “ordinary items” with an eye for display. What I like about this candy dish thingie is a) it breaks down into parts, so it’s easy to transport; b) it has different levels; and c) it was cheap!

To make it lighter/easier to pack or ship, you could look for baskets to substitute for the dishes.

Utilizing different eye levels in your display is a quick and easy way to add interest and movement.

Bruce Baker, noted speaker on selling and marketing craft, commented on artists and display years ago. He said, “Artists tend to line everything up–paintings, jewerly, pots. It’s so boring!” I thought it was an odd thing to say at the time. Aren’t artists creative?? Don’t we like wild and crazy??

But I started looking at booths and displays more closely, and he’s right. We may be wild/crazy/reckless/ambitious/outre/color-outside-the-lines with our art. But we tend to be very rigid and linear in our display.

Vary the levels a little, set some things off-kilter, work with small groupings and assemblages. See for yourself if it helps generate more interest in your display.

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #2: Mix It Up!

I found a cool item this weekend at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s a black metal tree for hanging jewelry called (appropriately enough) “Hannah jewelry tree.”

Since this is an item that’s made with jewelry display in mind, it doesn’t take any tweeking to use with your wares. It could work with a lot of different design styles. It could probably be painted if you wanted a different look. Maybe it would even work for displaying ornaments.

It does have drawbacks. It would be a bear to pack if you have “away” shows. (If you intend to do that, hang on the the box and packing materials it comes in.)

It doesn’t hold a ton of pieces, either. That can work to your advantage, though, since most craftspeople, especially jewelry people, usually have too much stuff.

Another reason not to go overboard with this display is that reaching into its branches could be intimidating to your customers. Jewelry, especially fashion jewelry, usually sells better when people can touch it and pick it up to look at it easily. People hesitate to touch displays that look tricky to navigate, or tippy. (No one likes being “the oaf” in a booth….!!)

I still thought it was interesting enough to snag a couple and do the experiment. Here’s an impromptu shot of a mix of displays to show you how different ones can work together.

I actually saw a variation on this tree recently, at a Marshall’s store. The base was a large, polished “bole” of wood, and the tree was more….tree-ish. More leaves and such. Heavier, too. And more expensive! I think the BB&B version is nicer because it’s simpler and lends itself more to display.

I’ll share more unusual items for jewelry display soon. If you’re the kind of person who likes to “read ahead, you can see the rest of the images in this series at Flickr. How do I know that’s you? Because that’s what I always do!

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #1: Thinking Outside the Box

When it comes to displaying your handcrafted jewelry, you have a lot of choices. There are tons of commercially-made products available to you. The choices can be overwhelming.

They range in price from the incredibly cheap to the ridiculously expensive. (By the way, those inexpensive stands are cute, but not very stable. If you use them, you might want to attach them to a larger base of some kind.)

You can find displays made of white leather, black steel, wood and plastic. You can find display stands with feathers, glitter, sequins and in twelve colors. You can find styles like contemporary, country, funky, whimsical, Victorian, romantic, techno, whatever your little heart desires.

There’s a fine line between displaying your work creatively without overpowering the work. I’ve seen displays so elaborate, it was hard to tell what was being sold–the jewelry or the display.

But simple, repetitive display can be boring. I’ve seen displays so monotonous I didn’t even want to stop to look them. One awful example is a common one: Row upon row of white necklace bust stands lined up in a straight line, every one holding a single necklace, each necklace the exact length and design.

It’s mind-numbing to see these “jewelry soldiers on parade”. And yet it’s possibly the single most common jewelry display I see at craft fairs.

One problem with jewelry is, if you display it on an upright display (like the white necklace busts) so people can see it from the aisles, it’s hard for people to actually look at the work easily. You have to sort of bend over to get it back at eye level.

If you display it at a good viewing level, and laid flat (on velvet pads, for example), it’s easier for people to look at. But it’s hard to catch the attention of people out in the aisle. They may not even be able to tell what you’re selling. (Good over-sized photos/posters of your work on your walls can help overcome this.)

Even if you find the perfect commercial display product, if it’s too popular, your display ends up looking like everyone else’s.

I’d like to show you some ways to mix up your display, using commercial and non-commercial display products. Some weren’t even meant to display jewelry at all.

Excuse the not-ready-for-prime-time photography and set-ups. I just wanted to give you some quick examples of non-traditional display pieces and ways to mix and match components without your display looking all over the map.

This vertical necklace stand by Vilmain is one of my favorite display units. It’s upright, stable and holds several necklaces. It’s relatively flat for easy packing and shipping to shows outside your area. It’s pretty sturdy–no fussy little parts to break off or get bent. The black painted steel is neutral, and allows your jewelry to take center stage. It could work with many different styles, including contemporary, funky, elegant, or whatever-style-you’d-call-my-work. (I’ve been told it’s “post-modern”, which sounds ever-so-cool, but I’m still not sure what that actually means…)

The next image shows my Ancient Bull Pendant necklace on a similar stand. It’s the same material and color as the Vilmain stand, and does a decent job showcasing my bigger, bolder designs.

But this second jewelry stand isn’t a necklace display at all. In fact, it’s something I purchased at T.J. Maxx. It originally held two pieces of shaped glass, which sort of formed a vase. I would take a picture of it in it’s original state, but I’ve ditched the glass already. Hey, I found something very similar here. I just love that Google “image” feature….

I guess they weren’t too popular, because they were marked down to less than $10. A month later, I found the same item at Marshalls’ and they had been marked down, too. I bought about four of them, and use them interspersed with other display pieces.

I’m off to pick up the images for my new Etsy shop. I’ll pick up this thread tomorrow with more tips and examples of how to mix up your jewelry display.

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MY EARS AND YOURS

My main frenzy for clearing out and decluttering has dropped off a little. But the tendency is still there, and I continue to purge in smaller “bites”. (That’s a weird sentence. Sorry.)

A few days ago I attacked my personal jewelry stash on my bedroom dresser. I picked out all the pieces I love and wear, and put them in my collection of vintage 1940’s jewelry boxes. The rest came down to my studio to be cleaned and sold, or stripped for parts.

I came across several pairs of large sterling silver hoop earrings. I absolutely love ‘em, and I had three pairs to prove it.

But I never wear them. As I cleaned the tarnish off, I wondered why?

When I put them on, one look in the mirror reminded me. I’m convinced that my ears lie too close to my head. So when I wear hoops, they stick out and look like a second pair of ears.

I started to put them in the “sell” pile, but stopped.

Every so often I get a few people in my booth or at an open studio tell me they can’t wear a particular style of jewelry because of something odd about their body.

Their neck is too short, their ears are crooked, their shoulders are too big, their neck is too thin. Then they put that piece of jewelry on to prove it to me.

They look beautiful.

I can with perfect honesty say I have never looked at a person wearing jewelry and thought, “Her neck is too short to wear that.” I have never ever noticed that someone’s ears are crooked. (I only notice if their ears are missing…)

I rarely notice if people have big feet or not. I don’t even remember ever looking at someone’s feet–until they say they have big feet, and then, of course, we all look.

The shopper won’t believe me, of course. I might just be trying to sell her something. So I ask other customers. Sure enough, everyone chimes in with positive feedback.

Of course, we’re ALL shaped a little differently. And we’re all beautiful in different ways. I’m always taken aback to hear a woman I think is drop-dead gorgeous complain about her nails, or her ankles, or her eyebrows. My daughter, who exudes health and confidence, told me recently her hair is too thin to wear in braids.

She looks adorable in braids.

I don’t know where this comes from. I don’t know why we do it. I don’t know how to make that critical little voice go away.

But I took a deep breath, and left the hoop earrings in.

If I side-swipe someone with them today, okay, I’ll take them off.

But maybe I’ll buy some more, too. Some really, really BIG ones.

p.s. Oh, I forgot–hoops get in the way when I’m on the phone. I just tried to call someone and the earring hit the “end” button. That’s why I don’t where them at home.

And the latest p.s. I just saw an magazine ad in OPRAH magazine featuring Catherine Zeta Jones (for Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Fragrance) and she’s wearing big hoop earrings and one is sticking straight out! And it accentuates the lovely curve of her neck….

That does it, I’m gonna wear my whoppin’ big hoops somewhere tonight!

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INTERNET MARKETING AND ME

Once again, I’ve been inspired by thinking about someone else’s problem.

Someone posted on a professional forum awhile back. They’re just starting to sell their work online, and they’re having trouble with keywords for search engine optimization..

Their art is unique and indescribable. It takes a lot of words to even begin to describe it. So how do they compress information about this incredibly unusual work into a few keywords that will shoot them to the top of a Google search?

Thinking about an answer helped me a lot.

I started setting up my first Etsy shop last night. Filling out all the boxes (a welcome section, an intro section, etc.) quickly overwhelmed me.

I struggled over how to introduce myself to an audience who has no idea what I do or how or why I do it.

Then I realized that’s not what I have to do.

There are two approaches to selling your artwork on the Internet:

1) Marketing and selling to people who don’t know your work.
2) Marketing and selling to people who do.

In the first case, your focus is figuring out how to rise, even for an instant, above a sea of other artists and competitors, all hawking their unique, unusual, desirable work. That’s what the artist on that forum was trying to do.

In the second case, you already have an audience–your current customers. That’s who I want to to sell to.

I thought to myself, “These people are not strangers to me.”

My customers already follow my work and my writing. We’ve met and talked, at shows and online.

They already admire my work and want collect it. They may even already know what they want to buy. They don’t want to wait another year for my next retail show. They want to buy it now. They’ve hinted, nudged and outright bonked me on the head to start selling online. They’re waiting for me to get going, because the holidays are coming and they know what they want to give–and get!–for Christmas.

My initial marketing plan is simply letting them know they can now buy from me online, anytime, day or night, winter, summer and fall.

I don’t have to work my way through the tens of thousands of other vendors on Etsy. I just have to let my collectors know I’m there.

Of course, as time goes on, perhaps my marketing will grow and change. But so will my work, and so will my customer base.

The internet will never totally replace personal interactions at shows or open studios. But the internet can support, and encourage, and expand upon that.

And once those bonds have been formed, it’s up to me to make it easier for the people who love my work, to have it.

P.S. If you are someone who loves my work, I would welcome any suggestions about what you’d like (or expect) to see in my Etsy shop (both artwork and words). It’s great to have your perspective!

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HOT TIP 4 PROPANEL OWNERS

I’m all set up for the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair–our 75th!! (yay!!!) It’s going smoothly so far, which I hope means I’ve finally experienced enough booth emergencies in my life to be ready for anything.

I broke down and invested in MD Propanels a few years ago, and though I’ve managed to have some “emergencies” with them, too, they have still made my show life infinitely easier.

Now they’ve added a cool new add-on called Quick Shelves which I highly recommend.

Why, can’t you already order Propanels with shelves, you may ask? Yes! But you have to specially order which panels you want made with the slots inside for the shelves and shelf brackets. And if you are like me, plan and plan as you might, you can never actually tell exactly where you want the damn shelves to go. So you set up your booth and either a) lose track of which panels have the slotted things in them and get them in the wrong place, or b) keep track of them and get them in the right place, but change your mind.

With the Quick Shelf, you can either mount the shelf as you put up a panel (any panel); or you can set up your booth, decide where you want the shelves, and go back and put the shelf in. (My method, of course!) (Are you surprised??)

I’m not sure how much weight they’re rated for. But when they’re installed, any weight pushes the bracket more firmly into the wall. So I believe they’re pretty sturdy.

I think they’re great, and I think you will, too!

Not affiliated with MD Propanel, just another happy customer.

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APOLOGIES, APOLOGIES

I know many people are waiting to hear about my trip to England and Wales. I even started a spirited account of our low-key, non-touristy meanderings about the island.

But I forgot that I had an “artist of the month” commitment a few days after we returned. Yeow!

It took a lot of time to prep, and almost as long to get there. Littleton, NH is up there! (Check a map. It’s in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire.) I was at the beautiful League of NH Craftsmen-Littleton gallery.

Beth and Michelle, the gallery managers, are delightful people (talented artists in their own right, too). They made the artist demonstration day as pain-free as possible for me. They even bought me breakfast–and lunch! (I adore people who feed me.) I had a ripping good time, met a lot of customers, and got to talk all day about my work.

And now I’m in over my head getting ready for my big retail show, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

As you can guess, after all my surgeries, injuries, wild mood swings and everything else, I am so not ready this year. Consequently, I’ve been working like a busy beaver filling in the gaps of my inventory. (Where did all the polymer earrings go?? When did I sell all the bear earrings??? Where is the feral necklace???!!!)

So don’t worry, I am hard at work, and enjoying it for the first time in eight months. My new little otter pendants are looking pretty cute. (You can also read the story behind my animal motifs on the same page as the otter pics.)

And the biggest news of all….

As soon as I’m done with this fair, I’m going to work on a new retail gallery for my work. It’s time. (All of you readers and supporters who’ve given me the big nudge from time to time, thank you!!

And now, enough exclamation points. It’s time I got back to work. I’ll write as I can, because it’s hard for me to stay quiet for very long.

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