IT CAN WAIT

So a few days ago, I found various lumps that may or may not be cancer. I went into the understandable emotional nosedive. I was on the phone with my doctor’s nurse and heard myself crying and saying, “I’m scared! I’m so scared!” I’m already on my way into that nebulous world of clinic visits, testing, waiting for test results. I’ve been there before. It’s not a fun place to be.

I’m also here, putting my thoughts together to write a column on booth design.

So why am I writing about how to display your work when I should be focusing on whether there’s a chance I won’t be here in a few short years?

Because the cancer can wait.

I don’t mean I’m in control of that. In fact, I’m NOT in control of that. I either have it, or it’s something else. Whatever “it” is will involve weeks of testing, pain, discomfort, waiting, no matter what…and probably there will be no clear answers or final resolution.

But I’m not here on earth to have cancer.

I’m here to do a lot of other things. And I’ve got to focus on doing them as much as I can, as long as I can, until that’s no longer under my control.

I pitched my old column recently to a new magazine editor.  I was asked to describe it.  I wrote, “I write how becoming an artist has made me a better person.” I meant that.

Focusing on making art–and being becoming a martial artist–with passion, and honesty, has helped me become a more authentic person. Someone who things carefully about what I want to say and who I want to be. It’s made me want to share the process, so others, if they are so inclined, can do it, too.

The desire to continue this process, and writing about it, has made me not only a better artist, but a better wife, mother, friend, person.

The threat of cancer has only made that desire burn more fiercely yet.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone, not yet. I hate the drama queen approach to life. I don’t want to drum up a ton of sympathy when it’s not even certain what’s going on.

Yet the last time I tried to carry something like this alone, it got weird. People knew something was terribly wrong–and assumed it was our friendship. Then I had a lot of back story to give out, and a lot of explaining to do. Painful.

And of course, there was the resentment that I hadn’t considered them enough of a friend to tell them. Ouch! In trying to spare people anxiety, I had increased mine (by going it alone) and insulted them.

So this time I’m letting people know.  And letting them know what I need right now.

And letting them know what I don’t need.

I don’t want a lot of cancer stories. Yet. Maybe that will change. But right now, I don’t want to hear the long, involved, courageous battle stories. I don’t feel very courageous. And I’m sorry, but I’m totally involved with MY story.

I don’t want a lot of sympathy, either. A quick hug will do it.

I don’t want people to disappear, either. Some people don’t know what to do. (I’m always one of those people.) They don’t know what I want. Hey, I don’t know, either.

Last night, though, I thought of one thing I do want.

I want authentic moments.

When I’m with people I care about and like, I just want them to be their own selves.

If they are being whiney or pissy or silly, I now have the freedom to tell them that. I don’t mean the cancer trump card–like, “You don’t get to complain, I might have cancer” thing. That’s selfish. People are entitled to their own lives.

I mean I get to encourage people to be their authentic selves. Like “You are so incredible and you have such wonderful gifts–what’s holding you back in this situation from you being the most wonderful “you” you can be?”

Life is short. Life is achingly sweet. Why spend time and energy digging a hole any deeper, when you can dig some steps and get out of the hole?

(I’m so compulsive about my metaphors being perfect, I have to add, “Unless your goal in life is to dig holes”, in which case, keep on digging.)

So this ordeal is not the hole. It’s just a little water in the bottom, encouraging me to dig those steps a little faster.

P.S.  I wrote this a couple weeks ago, when I first got the scary news.  I’m through the first round of testing, and so far the results are encouraging.  Looks like there’s nothing to be scared of, for now.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #13: Stay In Your Booth!

Today’s topic isn’t a no-no in the sense that it will reduce sales. It’s a no-no regarding your professionalism, and consideration for your fellow craftspeople.

Stay in your booth.

You have signed a contract for the use of a 10’x10′ space (or however big a space you paid for.) It’s amazing how many people interpret that to mean “….and whatever else I can get away with.”

It’s 10’x10′. Period. Your booth must fit inside this space. Most commercial booth set-ups are actually a smidgen less than 10’x10′ for this reason.

That means if you construct your own booth, any bolts, bracing, floor plates, light bars, etc. must fit inside your own space–and NOT stick out into your neighbor’s.

There’s sometimes a little leeway in the airspace–IF you check first. Even then, you must be thoughtful of what is going to cause problems and what will be okay. A banner above your booth may be fine. A banner that hangs over into the aisle and gently whaps people passing by in the face is not.

Although sometimes shows set height limits for booths, these are often ignored by craftspeople. Sometimes I’m the shortest booth in my row. This usually isn’t a problem, if the backs of the booths towering above me aren’t too ugly. Most of people’s attention does stop at the top of my walls and lights.

Once, though, an artist with a very tall booth behind me got the bright idea to use the BACK of their booth as exhibit space. They put artwork up. (Yes, I know my noun/pronouns don’t match up. I’m going so far to protect their identify, I’m not even mentioning their gender!)

My first clue something was wrong was when a gentleman in my booth looked up, pointed to his wife at something above him–and both of them abruptly left. It happened a few more times. I stepped out from behind my counter–and saw several pieces of artwork displayed prominently above my booth wall.

Not nice. I complained to the show management, and the offending work was taken down.

In fact, this is a good guide for judging if you have crossed the line or not. When someone is in my booth, nothing in your booth should attract them out of it–except, of course, the “regular” view they would have of your booth across the way.

This guideline explains why music could be considered the same kind of infringement, and why some shows ban music being played in your booth.

In a way, it’s too bad–I would love to create a total environment for my booth using music, as I do in my open studio events. But the reality is, it’s hard to do that without at least 3-5 other exhibitors also being able to hear your music (your neighbors and abutters, front and back.) If customers love your music, they will be pulled from your neighbors’ booths into yours. And if they hate your music, you will drive everyone’s customers away.

And if you don’t think that’s a big deal, wait until it happens to you. At another show, someone rows and rows away from me began playing a guitar–and customers streamed from booths all around to go see what was happening.

Also, think how it would sound if everyone played music–even soft music–in their booth. Can you say cacophony? (I can say it, but I couldn’t spell it. I had to look it up.)

Another common “trespassing” offense is exhibitors who use the aisles to display work. If the work is on your booth walls, that’s usually okay. But if you put a rack of clothing out in the aisle, that is usually verboten (or should be.)

Not only does are you taking up more floor space than you paid for, but you are actually affecting the traffic flow of customers in the aisle. People are either slightly blocked by the rack–and pause to look, or even decide to go into the booth. Or worse, they swerve around it–and the swerve can actually move them totally past the entrance to YOUR booth (if you have the misfortune to be next to this craftsperson.)

Even sitting on a chair in front of your booth has this effect. In fact, it can be worse. I’ve stood at the end of a row of booths and watched people apparently swerve nonchalantly around a seated artist.

I say “apparently” because several things are actually going on. They are not only avoiding the artist’s physical space, but his emotional space. When you walk around someone, you tend to avoid eye contact–like maneuvering down a crowded sidewalk. It’s the way we peacefully navigate in crowded spaces. We avert our eyes slightly, murmur an apology if necessary–“…’scuse me, pardon me”–and move on.

Except when people avoid eye contact, they tend to look away–and miss looking at the booth next to that artist’s booth. Ta da! Your six seconds of opportunity to visually attract people into your booth is gone. Six seconds or LESS, because that’s how much time it takes to walk past a booth.

The rack people usually know exactly what they are doing. In fact, at one show I did, the person (not coincidentally, a buy-sell guy) asked to put a rack in my booth and offered me $10 for every garment I sold. (I thought it was odd at the time–I was very green–and said no. Now I know how totally bozo that request was!)

Although usually high-end shows, don’t allow racks in the aisle, the first artist to ever block entrance to my booth was a very famous artist, who does all the top shows. The rack actually extended several feet across my booth. (**fume**)  This person ought to have known better.

Show management is usually good about trying to keep the aisles clear, for fire safety rules if nothing else. If you’ve asked the person nicely to move the rack, and get no response, show management will handle that one for you.

The chair people….I dunno, I don’t have a great solution for that one. Except to ask nicely if they would move to the other side of their booth, away from your side. I’ve done this before, and it works reasonably well. At outdoor shows, it’s possible to sit outside the aisle, and then everyone is happy (and the aisles are clear.) Again, sometimes show rules come right out and say “no chairs in the aisles”, and again, they will handle this if asked.

Another way you should stay in your booth is vocally. When you are talking to your customers, it’s easy to get excited. And some of us do get a little exuberant–and loud. Please, please, lower your voice. Do try to remember that this really isn’t fair to your neighbors who are also trying to talk about their work. It’s a small space–even if you want to talk to one person so that the person browsing in the other corner can hear you, it doesn’t take much volume in a 10’x10′ space. If people three booths down can hear everything you’re saying, you are being too loud.

One artist near me was so exuberant one year, customers came while they were away from the booth–and I could do their pitch for them perfectly. (Okay, that should NOT be read as encouragement to bellow. I’m not going to do that for you if you keep it up.)

Another way to stay in the booth is to keep your bad mood and complaints to yourself. Let me say that again, in big, bold letters:

KEEP YOUR BAD MOOD AND COMPLAINTS TO YOURSELF.

I am astonished at artists who rant at the drop of a hat, especially during a fair. It’s bad enough to have to be around people like this in any circumstances. Set-up and breakdown are stressful enough. We all have our moments, of course. But someone who is unhappy and determined that everyone else needs to know that, is a total downer.

It’s hard enough to listen to this before and after a show. But during a show, it’s criminal. Nothing breaks a happy fair shopping mode than listening to someone else complain.

If you are a show complainer, you may think your fellow artisans are admiring you for your amazing insights and cutting words. They aren’t. They are sitting there wishing, hoping, praying that you will suddenly be struck down with laryngitis. Or worse.

Because you are bringing everybody down, down, down. And “down” people do not buy stuff.

Save it for later. Save it for drinks with friends. Organize a meeting and get your complaints in a row. Hey, bring some solutions, too! Those are always helpful.

If you must complain, do it Q-U-I-E-T-L-Y, so the only shopping mood destroyed is the one in your own booth. Please, please, please, don’t muck up ours.

Which brings me to the last “stay in your booth”, which is simply, “stay in your booth”.

I’m so guilty of this. I’m so used to the flexibility of my life, being able to move in and out of my studio at will. Staying in my booth all day, every minute, especially at my nine day retail show, is really, really hard.

But it never fails. The minute I leave, someone who came in especially to see me invariably drops in. And I’m not there. “Where were you??!!” hisses my daughter when I come wandering back.

It’s so hard. There are so many temptations, so many lovely things to look at, so many delightful fellow craftspeople to catch up with. I love schmoozing with people, and many are folks I only see at shows.

But try to remember why you are here. This is your big chance to see your customers, those wonderful people who think your work is marvelous, and prove it by buying it. Customers are the people who make it possible for you to even make this work, by providing you with income so you can stay home and make it. Customers are the people who come back in with stories of how your work has made them happy, beautified their home, enriched their lives. They are the ones who bring you photos of your work on their mantelpiece, and bring their friends in to meet you.

This is their time.

I’m really trying to make time for fellow craftspeople after the show, getting together for dinner, etc. It’s hard–they are so interesting!–but it has to be done.

Of course, we could always solve this problem the obvious way–and simply go to a show occasionally as a customer!

Make the most of your show hours. And be a good booth neighbor.

Stay in your booth.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #12: Drama Queen Flowers

I can’t think of big huge categories to talk about anymore. Let’s talk about flowers in your booth.

WHAT BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS!

I am so conflicted about flowers. I love them. They add a festive note to your booth, to be sure.

But they can be a huge distraction, too.

Some common mistakes with flowers:

1) Common flowers. Some flowers just scream “grocery store purchase!” Skip the mums.

2) Fake flowers. We’re trying to sell art here. Or fine craft. Or at the very least, handmade stuff. What do plastic flowers say??!!

3) The wrong color flowers. Make sure they fit in with your color scheme. It’s amazing, but an “off” color in your arrangement can really grab the eye in a not-good way. (Yes, I have made this mistake.)

4) Overkill. Too many flowers. It looks like you’re actually selling flowers. Or the flowers overwhelm the vase they’re in. Potters do this sometimes–the flowers are more attractive than the pots. (This is not a slight to potters, just that they’ve picked flowers that are not fitting in with their work.)

5) Underkill. (I know, there’s no such word, but I couldn’t resist.) Scraggly, ungenerous displays spread too thinly throughout your booth. Potters do this all the time, too. They show dozens and dozens of vases, and want to show that the pieces are, indeed, vases. So they take one or two nice bouquets and break them apart, sticking a few stems in each vase.

The look is one of a person who collects so many vases, they no longer have enough money to spend on flowers to put in them.

6) Too, too beautiful. This is the worst thing. You have only a single beautiful display of flowers, and you don’t sell vases, you are just decorating your booth.

The problem here is, the flowers are the most eye-catching thing about your booth.

Some people think this is a way of pulling people into your booth. Yes, it works. The catch is, WHO are you pulling into your booth?

People who love flowers, that’s who.

One year I spent big money to have a local artist make me a gorgeous arrangement for my booth. The colors were great, it looked great in my booth. And I got lots of people coming in, asking me all kinds of questions.

About the flowers.

They’d ask if I’d grown the flowers. When I said no, they asked who did. I told them about the fabulous flower person in my home town. They’d ask about the flowers (miniature gladiolas.) Where did I get them? Did I have a garden? They’d tell me about their gardens and gladiolas.

Which led to long, involved conversations with people who actually had very little interest in my work.

If I were a gardener who was selling flowers, it would have been great. But I’m not.

By the second day, I got it. I took the lovely flowers home to grace my home. I substituted a plain vase of dried reeds. You can see this vase in the back left hand corner of my booth here.

It was just as good a “prop” for my little environmental display in that corner, but it did NOT distract from the art anymore.

Even if you are at a wholesale show, where presumably buyers are a little more focused, an incredible display of flowers can be a huge distraction.

I saw one jeweler at a high-end show who had the most fantastic display of orchids. As I walked by her booth (we were on the same aisle), those orchids caught my eye every single time. I kept going into her booth to look at her work–and all I could look at was the damn orchids. It was like an enchantment.

Lose the drama queen flowers.

And just in case you think I’m exaggerating….

Two years ago, AmericanStyle magazine did a huge article on me and my studio. Page after glorious page of images of my work, my worktable, the artwork in my home. Lots of pictures of me, me at work, me next to a fabulous wall hanging.

The photo shoot, which you can read about here was a day-long affair. The photographer brought two bunches of tulips from a flower shop in his neighborhood. They were the only tulips he could find in Boston, and because they were not fresh, they were cheap. We used them in several shots–in my studio, in my home–switching the vases around, etc.

I cleaned my house for weeks. My studio looked fabulous! You could see the floor!! There were no shoes or dirty laundry piles in my home. We looked civilized! Or at least like we had no kids or pets. My artwork looked incredible!

I have a jillion copies of the article, and I show it proudly to anyone who visits my studio. I even made a poster out of it.

And there’s always someone who says, “Where did you get those lovely tulips?!”

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #11: That Free Milk Thing

Today I’ll share some of the perils of selling and demonstrating in the same booth. The subtitle refers to that old adage, “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?” My titles are getting convoluted, aren’t they?

Our state craft guild has a special kind of booth situation available to exhibitors at our annual craft fair. It is a combination sales and demonstration booth, and it’s HUGE–20’x30′. It’s unusual because usually demonstration booths (which have a greatly reduced booth fee or even pay the craftsperson to demo) are not allowed to actually sell product. In this booth option, we pay a greatly reduced fee, but we are allowed to demo and sell our work.

Traditionally, sales suffer greatly in this hybrid mode. Bruce Baker talks about this in his booth design CD. Once you start demonstrating, people expect to be entertained and educated–edutainment. It can be hard to turn that passive “amuse me” energy around back into active shopping. It can be done, but it’s hard.

Whenever Bruce says this, or when I mention it to other craftspeople, there are always some who protest that they are highly successful demonstrating and selling their work at the same time. But to me, it sounds like the people who claim they sell well enough without taking credit cards. Ask them again a month after they have a merchant service account. They grab your arm and gasp, “I had no idea…!!

In other words, you may be doing well enough, but you could be doing even better. (For those of you who are not selling your work, it’s like someone who buys their first microwave after never having had one before…. Sure, you can get along without one, but you just don’t know what you’re missing.)

To support this observation, traditionally our fair committee had to beg people to do the sales-demo tents. No one wanted to do it because sales were so poor in those tents (even though they are on the “main drag” of the fair.”

It got so bad, some people were allowed to do the same demonstration two years, three, even four years running–and more. (It’s supposed to one-to-two-year-max, temptingly large space at an unusually low price, to offset poor sales.) Often our pool of applicants was new exhibitors who simply couldn’t afford a full booth fee.

One or two applicants might be more established exhibitors who figured they could take a hit for one year, in order to boost their visibility and reputation for years to come. When I interviewed these past participants in the program, they always said they did not do well sales-wise, but it was worth it for the increased sales in later years.

The year I decided to do a sales-demo tent, I actually made an appointment for a consult with Bruce. He gave me some valuable insights in addition to those I’d absorbed from his CDs on selling and booth display.

My sales-demo booth provided record sales for me at that show two years in a row. In fact, I was doing so well that we now have a huge pool of applicants every year for those tents.

What other exhibitors saw those two years was a constant crowd of visitors–and buyers. They saw people actively shopping almost every time they went by the booth.

Unfortunately, though I made it look “easy”, a lot of work and thought went into that design process.

The biggest design problem was how to handle a space that was as big as SIX regular booths. I followed most of the guidelines in the other essays in this series. Here are a few issues specific to sales-demo booths.

DON’T LEAVE ME!!

Most people have the right idea of separating the sales process from the demonstrating process. But many exhibitors carry that to an extreme. The booth ends up looking like the brains of those unfortunate people who have continuous seizures, where the surgeons actually disconnect the two halves of the patient’s brain.

The exhibitor splits the booth right down the middle. On one side is the craftsperson, making his stuff. On the other side is a little store where you can buy the stuff he’s making.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any intuitive flow between the two. You have to leave one world and enter the other. The most extreme case I saw, the divide was so physically complete, you had to actually leave the booth on the demonstration side, and re-enter it on the little store side.

Please do not make people leave your booth and come back again in order to buy something from you. Can you see this in a regular store?

Customer: “Oh, look, I just love this! I’m going to get it! Do you take Visa?”

Sales clerk: “Why, yes, we do! Now, you just run across the street with this to the other store, and they’ll ring it up for you.”

I know it’s “only a few feet” in a tent, but it is halfway around the world psychologically.

How did I bridge the gap between these two worlds?

With traffic flow, signage and display.

TELL, TELL, TELL

As I talked during my demonstration, people listened. In fact, we soon found there were two kinds of people to be found in my tent: Those who came in only to watch and listen–and a totally different group who came in to listen as they shopped.

Oh, and I didn’t have to speak loudly, either, as some exhibitors do during a show. Research shows we are hard-wired genetically to hear the human voice–which is one of the reasons you can hear a single opera singer over an entire orchestra. (Isn’t that COOL??!) So please only raise your normal speaking voice a notch or two, even in this very large space, okay?

I had my demo area right up near the front of the booth. Bruce suggested this, so people didn’t have to commit to even coming far into the booth to see if what I was doing would interest them. They could hang out for a few seconds, then choose if I were engaging enough to stick around.

If they chose to stay, they had several options.

They could sit and watch and listen. But immediately off to one side, there were a series of display areas. These were filled with interesting supplies–piles of fabrics, strands of trade beads, baskets of buttons. A stash of beaver-chewed sticks and antlers. Books showing examples of cave art.

It was visually dense and appealing–like my work! Appealing, colorful, touchable, FUN.

I had signs. Everywhere! Signs explaining what everything was and how I used it in my art. It had the feel of a museum display, except people could actually touch the fabrics and play with the beads.

As people followed this “trail of interest” around the perimeter of the tent, they came to a few environmental settings of my art–a large wall hanging on a “wall”, with a beautiful table underneath, flanked by vases of flowers and my sculptures. “This is what I look like in your home” was the message.

Finally, the whole thing segued into a true shopping experience. The rest of the booth looked like a gallery, with islands of shelving filled with jewelry and sculpture, and more wall hangings on the walls. Lots of lights kept the space bright and easily viewed.

For those more eager to get to the shopping part, the center and front of the booth, right next to the demo area, was set up for sales, too.

People could also come into the booth at multiple points. But once inside, everything was different enough that they wanted to see the entire booth before they left.

BE THE ARTIST

This is one of the few opportunities for you, the artist, to totally immerse yourself in that role. Yes! Your dream, to simply sit and create, and let someone else sell for you!

Use it.

When I am in my regular booth, it’s simple to talk about the work, how I make it, why I make it, and sell it to people who connect with that. When I am demonstrating, the move to selling mode is a total “spiritual disconnect” with most people.

This phenomenon was so visibly profound, my sales team finally told me to stay in my chair when people were in the booth. The mere act of me rising from my demonstration station was enough to send people running from the booth. (Okay, I heard that in the back row!) My sales team even brought potential customers over to my demo table with questions, rather than call me over to them.

It was a subtle but powerful thing: Here is the artist at work. We will have an audience with the artist. We will approach with respect, catch her at a good point, and ask her about this wonderful piece she made.

I’m not saying I sat in my chair hoity-toity with an attitude. If you’ve ever been in my booth, you know me better than that! I’m just saying there was a palpable difference in artists between actually making art and actually selling art–and customers were sensitive to that difference.

In fact, I think when some artists say they hate the selling or business side of their art, they are having a hard time transitioning to that aspect. When we can embrace the creative aspect of selling–as the end result of making stuff–we can perhaps feel more comfortable with it.

Because selling is really just getting our precious work into the hands of people who love it but can’t make it themselves–and so they are willing to trade their time (in the form of money they’ve earned) for our time (the time we spent making it.) Pricing is just establishing the ratio whose time is worth what.

The change in energy from showing/sharing to selling was palpable, even if I knew I was just getting up to offer assistance or answer a question.

TRAINING DAY

So hire–and TRAIN–a sales force. I hired a team of five people to split shifts and work the entire fair for me. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a nine-day show. Every day, I had at least two other people working that booth with me.

First, I picked people who were….I was going to say “people people”, but that just sounds silly. People who were good with other people. This is not a job for terminally shy people! They don’t have to be extroverts, but they have to comfortable in their own skin so they don’t make your customers feel awkward. (You know the kind of person I mean.)

If they’ve had any sales or marketing experience, that helps. And if you ask around, you’ll be surprised how many people do.

Be careful about picking spouses or family members. Best case, they love you so much, they may hound people to buy your work. Not good. Worst case, they don’t really want to do it but can’t say no.

Be careful about picking friends who are also artists. They must be able to set their own art aside and sell yours! You’d be amazed how hard this can be for people. Don’t hold it against them–but if they can’t do it, don’t ask them to! This is YOUR time and YOUR real estate–not theirs. They must not lead conversations around to THEIR work or use precious selling time to market THEIR art. (Hint: If they wear THEIR jewelry or clothing while selling in your booth, big red warning light there.)

I invited them over for dinner before the show. I gave each person a packet of information about me and my work, prices, magazine articles, etc. The purpose was not for them to memorize everything, but to familiarize them with my work and story.

I gave them talking points and selling points. But in the end I told them, “Tell customers why YOU like my work. If what you say is true for you, they will sense that. And that will be more powerful than any prepared sales spiel I could give you.”

So they shared with each other what they loved about my work. BTW, I learned a lot from this, too! They told me great things about my work I’d never thought of.

Then I gave each of them Bruce Baker’s CD on selling craft. I suggested they simply listen to it as they did dishes or on a long drive. If they had time to listen a few times, that would be great. And I included this “listening time” in the number of hours I was paying them for. Though Bruce is so easy to listen to, some of them said they listened for fun.

My investment in this sales team resulted in doubling my sales at this show.

The first year I did this, I couldn’t afford to pay my team what they were worth in cash. So I offered minimum wage and a generous trade option. They could chose the money and $x in goods, or $3x in straight goods. Or if they found another artist’s work at the show they loved, I would offer to trade my work with that artist.

The first year, everyone chose the trading for my work, and one person took me up on trading with another artist. The second year, everyone simply wanted my work. That worked out well for me! But do give people the money option, because some people simply need the cash.

I also bought everyone’s food at the show, and had them over again for dinner after the show. This “wrap-up” dinner was great! Once again, they shared observations about my work, and customer dynamics, that were extremely helpful.

Once again, I hope some of my personal experiences help you rethink what’s not working for you now.

And as always, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change it–unless you think it could be better.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product

Have you ever walked by a booth and couldn’t quite tell what they were selling?

Worse, maybe the booth was full of people, which intrigued you. But the booth was so full, you couldn’t get in. And you couldn’t see the product for the crowd. “I’ll come back,” you may have thought.

But with no visual clue to even remind you later, you probably didn’t.

This is the booth with the Mystery Product.

When your work is very small (like jewelry) or your display or display fixtures are as visually domineering as your product (you make picture frames but not the images you display them with, for example) or if your booth is constantly full of people blocking the view from the aisle, it’s important to signal to people outside your booth exactly what it is you’re selling.

I struggle with this constantly. My wall hangings are vibrant and easy to see. But it’s not always obvious what makes them special–the fine detail, the embellishments, the incredible stitching and layering of fabric.

Also, it’s not immediately obvious I also sell jewelry. This is because I love to display my jewelry on tall stands and cases, with the pieces laid on paper backgrounds or display bean bags, as if you were looking down on a museum display.

But this means no one can actually see my jewelry until they come into my booth.

So how do I let people know?

Big, big pictures.

I started using large-format photos as posters early on, and it has helped hugely. My photographer has a huge printer capable of printing out big images of my work. But places like Kinko’s and Staples can do this quite easily, and cheaply, too.

If you don’t have such a resource near you, try on-line vendors. There are a lot of them nowadays! I just googled “poster from photo” and found services starting at under $20 for a 24″x36″ print.

You can use inexpensive and lightweight poster frames to finish off your print. I had my first few professionally framed in black metal frames, the kinds where you buy two sets of two “sides” and screw them together. What are those called???

Your photographer or a graphic arts service can also print out your poster text–it’s good to at least have your name on it–but in a pinch, you can even just print out one huge word at a time on your home computer. (I vacillate between “Luann Udell” and stuff like “Luann Udell fiber and polymer” or “Luann Udell Mixed Media”.)

If you are neat about it, you can just cut and paste the individual words onto your poster since one word printed in a GIANT FONT will obviously fill an entire sheet of paper. (The original cut-and-paste function, pre-computer!) From six feet away, it will look all of a piece.

One or two posters, hung just high enough to be visible over a crowd, will be easily seen from the aisle.

And now everyone will know what you sell.

Many people use one of their jury shots–a straight-on shot of a single item, on a neutral background. But you can get creative here.

An environmental shot shows something in an appropriate environment. This is great for stuff that doesn’t have an immediately discernible scale or purpose, like, say, a floor cloth. It could be a card, a place mat, a rug…. But do a shot of a big floor cloth on a floor in a room, and it instantly reads as “Floor cloth! In YOUR home! Making YOUR home look as great as THIS!”

A model photo of someone wearing your clothing or jewelry is compelling. One big mistake, though, is focusing on the model over the work. Avoid having the model actually looking into the camera, or even looking out. Make sure any lighting highlights the WORK, not the model. Leaf through fashion magazines. Pay attention to what compositions let you focus on the jewelry or clothing, and which are the ones where you find yourself staring at the person wearing them. Avoid shots like the latter.

Detail shots show a small part of your work. Sometimes it’s obvious what you’re selling (clocks!) but what’s charming about them is small (hand painted flowers!) Here’s where the opposite image can help–a beautiful detail shot or close-up. My photographer has a signature photo style–he will intentionally have the image bleed off the edges. Oh! That sounds terrible! I mean he will show the image partly out of the frame. It gets you “closer” to the product, allowing for more detail, but you can still tell what the item is.

One of the most intriguing posters I ever saw was in the booth of an artist who did simple, enigmatic wooden folk dolls. The image was a small grouping of them, but only from the shoulders up. I borrowed this idea for one of my best known images. You can see it here on the far right of the banner: My home page It’s still one of my favorites, too.

In fact, some people use an actual banner in their booth instead of just a single poster or two. I have one, with my name and some images of tiny details of my work. I had a local graphic arts service design A Sign Stop (their site loads slowly in this preview pop-op, try opening in another tabe or window for best results) and I think they did a beautiful job. But I think my posters look more “upscale” and my banner looks more “craft show”. “Banner” just doesn’t say “art gallery”. That’s just IMHO, though. I do use my banner at shows, but above my sales station now.

Lately I’m experimenting with more “vertical” ways of displaying my jewelry. I’m actually thinking of going back to those plain black velvet upright displays. I think a few of them might help signal that there are cool little wearables somewhere in there….

But for now, a couple of great posters–one showing a beautiful detail of my wall hangings, another featuring a glamor shot of my daughter wearing a stunning necklace–will tell the story for me.

For good images of detail shots, do check out the banner on my home page once more: Banner on my home page You will see close-ups of my fiber work, jewelry and sculptures. If you explore the site, you’ll find many other images that would work well as posters. You’ll see examples of plain jury shots and detail shots in the jewelry section, an environmental shot with detail shots on the wall hangings page. I’ve posted the model shot of my daughter before, but here it is again: Robin looking gorgeous

I hope it inspires you to get creative with your own ideas.

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux

Tatjana – Submitted Aug 31, 2007

I have lost more friends to jealousy than to any other disease.
(quote from Robert Genn’s “Painter’s Keys” website Painter’s Keys archives “Evaluating Art” clickbacks.)

I came across the quote above while browsing through Robert Genn’s newsletter archives. It was so true, it made me almost cry.

There’s something no one will tell you, when you start your journey pursuing your art.

It can get lonely out there.

I don’t believe in the “perfect relationship” anymore. I don’t believe in perfect marriages, perfect families, or perfect friendships. I think we do the best we can, until we learn to do better.

In a perfect world, relationships stretch and grow, accommodating all kinds of stress and obstacles. In reality, I believe sometimes a relationship is “good enough”, until it reaches a crisis that cannot be dealt with.

Jealousy is a big one in friendships.

As you grow in your art and begin to achieve success–whether it’s financial rewards, or professional recognition, whatever–you will lose friends along the way. I am not saying you will lose all your friends. But you may lose some, including some that will surprise and dismay you.

The mentor relationship is especially delicate. I’ve found incredibly generous people who helped me tremendously along the way. Until, that is, I began to surge ahead. I didn’t get ahead by stepping on them–far from it! My greatest sin has been encouraging them to come further on their own journey than they were ready to go.

But the damage is still there.

Outshine your teacher, and it’s the rare person who won’t resent you for it. (Remember, it’s okay to feel resentment–it’s how you act on it that can preserve or wreck that relationship!) It’s astounding how badly some people will choose to act….

I think this tendency is why I get almost obsessive about remembering to thank people. I try to always give credit to people who have shared techniques, insights, support. It’s my way of trying to divert any jealousy they might accrue.

But it only helps to a certain extent. What I’ve found is, you cannot control how another person thinks, feels, acts. They truly have their own journey.

If jealousy raises its ugly green-eyed head in their life, you cannot stop that. If they choose NOT to use that to further their own work, you cannot control that. If they began to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors that undermine your friendship, you will find it difficult to turn that dynamic around.

You will know your gut feeling is right when these friends start saying things like, “Oh, you’re just too sensitive.” Which is another way of saying, “I totally deny your right to HAVE feelings.”

I have frequently referred to a little book called THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison. Here is an entry from my old blog about this delightful little book: THE NIBBLE THEORY: A Big Little Book

If you are a truly independent artist/person who can operate fully without a rich support system of family, friends and peers, you will not need this book.

But for the rest of us, who feel real physical pain at how wrong a friendship can go, you need to read this book. It will help. It will explain.

And in the end, it will help you with your art. Because you will be able to recognize the ways a good friendship can–and SHOULD–support you in making your art. (Hint: It doesn’t have to be the big stuff, either!)

One of the most powerful things anyone ever said about my art was from my sister, who says she knows nothing about art and not much about my world. But when I was having a total lack of confidence in my work, and hesitant to enter it in a exhibition where its chances of acceptance were slim, Susan said something I’ve never forgotten.

“Your job is not to judge what you make. Your job is to make it, and get it out into the world. Others can judge it once it’s out there, but you can’t hold it back by judging it beforehand.”

Talk about channeling Martha Graham! It was an astounding thing for a self-confirmed non-artist to say.

Because Martha Graham said:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening
That is translated through you into action,
And because there is only one of you in all of time
This expression is unique.
And if you block it,
It will never exist through any other medium,
And be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is,
Nor how valuable, or how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to stay open and aware to the urges that motivate you.

I know for some people there will always be conflict: How much art to give up for the sake of friendship. How much friendship to give up for the sake of art.

I still struggle with this.

In the end, I realize I am the only person responsible for my art–I am the only one who can bring it into the world, just as I am the only mother my children will ever have.

My children come first. My art comes first. Friendships have to align themselves somewhere around these non-negotiables.

But I still try to be aware of the different loads my various friendships can handle–and which loads they can’t.

It’s worth a try. It’s part of me to try! But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make me feel like a failed human being anymore.

Just a human being who tried–and failed.