KIDS AND ART

Find a way to welcome these younger visitors to your work, your vision, and the world of art. It pays off for everyone.

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I absolutely love my MOO mini business cards, for lots of reasons!

I had an open studio last weekend, a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.

I spent the week before clearing clutter, arranging and pricing new work,dusting (I decided to call it ‘patina’ instead), in preparation. True to form, I was also making new work up to the day before. I get my best ideas with the pressure of a deadline!

There are two things I did/didn’t do that may astound you.

I DON’T offer refreshments for visitors in this studio.

I DO provide small gifts for children, and encourage them to touch my work.

You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine. The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holyone artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.

I quit offering food in my show booth because I don’t need it anymore. It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping the wife’s purchases. But now, instead, when I greet visitors, I tell them it’s okay to touch the work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else.

So why do I welcome kids in my art space?

Because it is an act of generosity, compassion, good will, and education. And it’s the best gift I can offer visitors, especially those who are new to my work.

First, welcoming kids means you are also welcoming their parents, or grandparents. Few places accomodate kids. Find a way to do that, and you’ll earn the undying gratitude of their accompanying grown-ups.

Second, being open to kids lets the grown-ups actually shop. If not today, then when the kids are older.

Third, the peace of mind you create in your space expands to all your booth/studio visitors. When others hear you giving permission to engage, they relax, too.

Finally, the education bit.  Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.

I cannot tell you how many creative people tell me that “people don’t appreciate fine art/fine craft” anymore. Or how  “schools don’t teach that appreciation to young people anymore.”

I’m baffled by this. When did regularpeople ever appreciate fine craft or art?? I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.

When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing and paper mache and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations, there was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teacher simply didn’t have the time for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (She was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year.) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go. I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as “home ec” and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.

We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade and fine art. People can easily find craft and art online. It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.

So who will teach the art-makers of the future? Who will share the vision, and encourage the connection for the collectors and admirers of tomorrow?

Yup. Us.

When we engage people with our work, we share something powerful. Inspiration, artistic vision, professional goals, our process, our materials (and why we choose them) are ways to educate (gently), connect (authentically), and encourage our audience to buy and collect handmade. People are genuinely hungry for this.

I get that not all work is touchable, or safe for young ones to handle. I’m fortunate that my artifacts are sturdy. In fact, their touchability is a strong selling point, too.  But we’re creative people. We should be able to come up with ideas that work.

I have several. I keep a box of shiny, pretty beads on hand. I’ll ask young ones to pick one, and then offer to make a necklace for them, using inexpensive cording and slip knots.

I keep some samples of animal artifacts on hand, too. I’ll ask a youngster if they’d like to hold a bear or a horse (or a bird or a fish). They’re so unnerved, they’re usually speechless, but also intrigued! I let them hold the animal while their parents look around, and retrieve it when they leave. Parents are so grateful!

I freely hand out business cards with images of my work on them, or old show postcards. Again, a well-appreciated gift, and also a reminder of their visit to my space.

Touch is such a compelling instinct for all humans, not just young ones. So much so that Bruce Baker, noted speaker on professional development skills for artists, advises, if your work is too delicate to touch) having a sample of your work on hand that is touchable, even for grown-ups: A sample of the handmade paper you work with for people to stroke, or a piece of the roving you turn into handspun yarn. For fine 2D art, perhaps a scrap of paper with a bright daub of paint on it, or the experimental work you made to figure out color mixes, cut up into pieces for them use as a book mark.

Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block.

At the very least, try business cards featuring images of your work. Moo is an online printing company that offers small business cards. They cost more than other brands (watch for their sales!), but you can customize them to the point where you can order 100 cards with 100 different images of your work. So cool to say to a child, “Would you like a picture of a bunny, or a bird?”!

It’s worth brainstorming about how other art and craft media could be presented in small samples or even inexpensive “gifts” to kids. I’d love to hear your current strategies, ideas, and suggestions in the comment section!

P.S. I can’t seem to post images in the comments section, but I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth!  Send your pics, and I’ll add them!

Melinda Labarge makes these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!

Melinda Labarge makes these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!

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14 thoughts on “KIDS AND ART

  1. Eeek! I know, I was the one who asked about keeping kids out of my booth… but I’m not anti-kids, really I’m not. What I was worried about at that point, were the parents, actually — the ones who let their kids run wild and handle or grab anything they want with no regard to the items that are getting damaged or dirty.
    But I remember your excellent and clever advice for how to manage that. I’ve used the “did you know there are CHOCOLATE SHEEP?” spiel with a sample of dark-brown fleece several times since then… 😉

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    • First, I’m GLAD you wrote me with that question! I hadn’t thought of addressing it, and your query was just what I needed to pull that original article together. So THANK YOU!!!

      Second, I’m delighted you took my advice to heart and found a way to engage authentically. The chocolate sheep is brilliant!!!

      Yes, there are always a few ‘free-range’ kids who can be overwhelming. But when we have options for turning that behavior around, it’s win win win for all of us.

      So glad you commented today!!!

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      • Oh, good — I’m glad that what I said back then was useful to you. I was cringing at being immortalized (even if only to you and me) as “the lady who wants to get the kids out of her booth”… ;-). I hope your foot is healing well, and I wish I lived somewhere that I could meet you and your little ivory critters in person.

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      • Oh, I’m so glad you wrote back!! Your original request was a reach-out for help, and I’m not only delighted I could help, I’m glad I could reframe it for you. You shouldn’t cringe. I’ve heard craftspeople say AWFUL, AWFUL things about kids. Yours was a great question. Kids are acting out, creating havoc, what do I do?? Some people attack kids for being….well, KIDS. You didn’t do that. You weren’t mean, you were looking for a constructive way to manage a difficult situation. I hope we can meet up sometime, too. Heck, three years ago, we never figured we’d be living in California. Maybe Colorado is next! :^P

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  2. Luann, I agree with everything that you posted. The awful (non) art classes presented in some schools these days are insulting and demeaning to both the kids and the artists. Thank you for a very fine post mentioning the importance in engaging children to enjoy their art experience. I don’t have a teaching degree, but I have taught my craft and more, to all ages, and of course gifted and talented. What a difference, but I don’t want any biases, because even though, there may not be any noticeable art talent there is SOMETHING, that always seems like “magic” when letting children touch what you are showing. Of course, my work is made of textiles, threads and beads and isn’t fragile. I have even kept hand-drawn notes from kids who were part of my teaching, show and tell, etc. You are always “on target” with your subject matter. Thanks for sharing your post. cheers Lynne Sward

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  3. Nicely said. Sorry we missed your studio. Either you were not open on Friday nite or we dallied too long at other galleries. Next time.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • I was in my studio all day Friday, but wasn’t open for First Friday. Several reasons, one of which is, I’m still recovering from foot surgery! I needed to spend the evening icing my foot. :^D Especially with two full days of open studio following.

      I hope we catch up to each other! If you’re in the ‘hood, text or call me. If I’m not already at my studio, I’ll try to meet you there, okay?

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  4. Hello Luann, I keep a bowl of felt acorns on my desk in my booth. I will sell them if people want them but they really are there for children. Kids gravitate to them. I tell their parents they can have one. Sometimes parents faces really light up. It gives children a chance to learn how to practice saying Thank You. Parents appreciate it when they know their children are not a nuisance. Not everything is about making a sale. When anyone leaves my booth happy I’m happy.

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  5. You’re the best, and you keep getting better. Many of us aren’t naturally comfortable around children, so that alone can take some conscious growth, but it’s so worth it.

    This year I was asked to do a bead craft at the local 4-H Fair. I haven’t done a camp-type pony bead project with kids before, but I thought, well, I can do this, and it worked out OK. Using Stretch Magic and plastic pony beads may seem like a big step down from having gems and glass and minerals and art (as I’ve done before), but the “make a free bracelet” aspect was a hit, and of course you get all kinds of conversations, so it’s still a plus for engaging people with art and enouraging young artists.

    I hope they will ask me back next year, and I will bring back as much as I can fit of the minerals-and-gem-beads artsy stuff (and I have giveaways there too, beads and rocks) as well as better info about 4-H for the public.

    It can take some working up to, though. 😀

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    • Lizzie, that was courageous of you to step up to the plate with your project! And I’m glad the kids, and YOU, enjoyed it so much, you’re looking forward to doing it again. Send a pic, I’ll put it in the post!

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