How do you determine if you’ve had a good show?

Is it just about the money?

Years ago, when I started doing shows, the director of a big show said to me thoughtfully, “You are someone who measures your success in many ways besides just money.”

She’s right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Money is important. Critical. And I love money as much as the next person.

Money gives you access to certain kinds of choices in life. Money isn’t everything, but it can be a nice thing. A very nice thing….

But some success is not about money.

For me, there other ways to determine a “good show.”
Here are some ways I measure my success:

Did I make enough money? (and enough money to do WHAT?)

I do want sales at a show. I want good sales. No–make that great sales. I want people to see my work as desirable and valuable. I want them to feel that exchanging their precious time they’ve spent working and being paid, is worth my precious time and creativity. That transaction–trading time/resources for time/resources, using money as a measuring stick–is what selling is all about.What’s it worth to you?

So the money is important, because when I come home from a show, I can measure how important my work was to the audience at that show. And that measure helps me determine whether that show is a good venue for my work or not.

I felt frustrated while I was there. To be told your work is powerful, incredible, even more beautiful and compelling “in person” is very cool. But as I walked by the beamers and Lexi in the parking lot to the hall every morning, I found it hard to believe people really couldn’t afford $55 for a pair of my earrings.

I think something else is holding people back from buying my work. I haven’t figured out what that is yet. Wrong show? (It was a hugely respected and recommended show. What happened??) Wrong time? (I think people need to buy my work for themselves first. Then come back another year to buy it as presents for others.) Wrong coast? (Go west, girl….) I dunno.

So here’s the pattern of my life right now: These new shows provide me enough money to recoup my investment, pay down my business debt a little–but not enough to lock me into doing that show again. Just enough money to keep me going, not enough to keep me going down this particular path.

I feel gently shepherded into figuring out a different way to do this. Maybe more shows is not that way.

Who did I meet? What did people say?

I met a woman with Native American heritage on both sides of her family, who fell in love with my work. She said it reminded her of her culture in spirit, but definitely did not trespass on it. Definitely something different going on! That’s important for me to know.

And she said, “When I look at these pieces, I feel such peace. They are peaceful works.” When she said this, a thrill went through my heart. I can sense another “new story” coming through….

I met Loretta Lam, a polymer clay artist and faithful reader. She also said something I needed to hear. I’d told her I worry that when people see how crabby and un-hero-like I am in real life, they’ll quit reading my blog. “…you should rest easy. You are exactly like your writing. Charming, funny, real. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to release your inner self to cyberspace….” Thank you, Loretta!

I also met jewelry designer Jill Schwartz who is as delightful as her jewelry. I can’t get into her site, but here is a picture of some of her designs. One of the few things I bought at the show was a pair of her new earrings.

What did I learn?

Craftspeople are amazing people.

I’m humbled by how brave and hardworking these people are. They slog these booths and boxes of product from show to show, in old vans and funky trucks, like large wheeled turtles, constantly on the move looking for a good show. It’s getting harder, and yet they don’t give up. They talk constantly, sharing suggestions (“That might be a good show for you!”), experiences and resources.

It is such hard work, and fired by such incredible passion underneath. From the silliest sachet to the most beautiful silver jewelry, from recycled sail cloth bags to handmade Santas, every single vendor believes in their product and loves their work.

I am humbled by their determination. I am proud to be part of such a community.

I’m also blown away by how much they want me to figure this out. They genuinely respect my work and what I’m trying to do, and they want me to succeed. I feel like the hero in a storybook, battling my demons and monsters, and they cheer me on. Not all of their suggestions are on target. In fact, some of their suggestions are downright odd. But I’m always deeply moved by their good intentions.

People have incredible things to say about my work.

And the things they say inspire me to keep on doing it.

I need this feedback loop from my audience, even if shows are not the most lucrative way to get it. As soon as I find another way of connecting–web sales, more gallery representation, public speaking, writing a book–the show mode will fade away.

One artist said, “I checked out the artist list before the show to check out my ‘competition.’ Yours was the only work I found utterly intriguing–I had to come down and see it in person!” When I asked her whether it measured up, she said thoughtfully, “It’s even more amazing, though different. Polymer doesn’t translate well to photography. Your work is beautiful on-line, but it has a more academic nature there–like real museum-quality artifacts. In person, it’s still beautiful and has quality–but it’s also…..accessible. Richer. Warmer. More human. Even playful. Yet even more powerful…”


What is my next step?

It’s time to do that PR thing, targeting a western audience and an audience that can be inspired and motivated by my journey. Part of their support will always be collecting my art.

But there will be ways to get my work out there, too–speaking engagements? A book? I think I have another book in me, but not a craft book. It might indeed be a book on booth design. Or another kind of book altogether. Perhaps something to encourage people to start their own artistic journeys.

Blogging has been excellent preparation for that–daily practice, working through what I have to offer and what I want to say.

Anything else?

Oh, and I also learned I can put up a booth in four hours. And break down in two. I would have said that was utterly impossible six months ago. That was important for me to learn. Already, as I face the challenges of my next show and setting up yet a different booth (6’x15′??!!) I feel myself feeling relaxed instead of panicked. Challenged instead of overwhelmed.

So was it a good show?

I know what I think. What do you think?