GRATITUDE

Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!

I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.

I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:

People like you must create.

If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.

(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)

Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is  hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)

There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.

Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.

Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.

So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work.  A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.

I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)

Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????

So…I upped my game.

I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.

I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.

I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.

I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.

What happened?

Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.

The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.

A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.

And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)

But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.

Wow. Just…..wow.

Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.

But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”

But this time, I read that email. And something told me….

Be in this moment.

Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.

This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.

Take note of this moment.

I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.

When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.

Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.

Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.

And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.

The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)

I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.

And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.

And I found the book.*

So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.

I did my little ceremony.

But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….

“Thank you.”

In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….

Take a minute to give thanks.

To count your blessings.

To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.

And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.

Now…go to your studio and make stuff.

 

*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.

(OH,  and you can see my Etsy shop here.)

 

SELLING YOUR WORK: What’s the Best Way to Sell?

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

(Spoiler alert: No. Easy. Answers.)

Since I started my art biz 25 years ago, I’ve explored almost every permutation of selling my artwork that you can imagine:

  • Selling from my studio.
  • Small shows/fairs, indoor and outdoor.
  • Big BIG national wholesale and retail shows.
  • A shop. (I do get some walk-in business now.)
  • A blog with a link to my shop and website
  • A website with a link to my shop.
  • A website with a shop. (This one is still in beta mode for me.)
  • Galleries.
  • Mail-order catalog companies.
  • Sales reps.

They all drive me crazy. One big show was okay for wholesale, but I ended up hating making the same things over and over and over and… One big retail show was by biggest income boost. But it was a huge amount of work, it’s now on the other side of the country, and major shows can easily cost a couple thousand dollars in fees (not including travel, hotels, meals, advertising, shipping inventory, etc.) I hate outdoor shows, because…well, just because. I never do well at small shows. I’ve never sold a work at an exhibition. (Most artists don’t.)

booth photo
Such a simple streamlined booth! Three days to set up. OY!

So that leaves walk-ins, new consignment galleries, and online sales.

My Etsy shop was closed for several months last year. First there were wildfires. Then I had surgery. Then we traveled back east for the holidays. And worst of all, my online inventory was woefully out of date. But the even bigger worst problem was, not knowing where all my work was, if it wasn’t in the studio.

My work is now carried by six galleries, five local galleries (all in different towns with different audiences) and one back in New Hampshire. I’ve had more, in the past, but when I got to the point of wholesaling directly to stores, galleries, and mail-order catalogs, I restricted myself to a handful of consignment galleries within the League of NH Craftsmen.

Sales from galleries have always been iffy for me. One gallery went from being my all-time best with sales, to the worst, within a month. (A gallery manager who LOVED my work left, replaced by one who didn’t dislike my work. And yes, that can make a huge difference!)

My gallery sales here in California have limped along, except for one that’s done very well (for me!) this year. And then December sales skyrocketed across the board. I had my biggest single gallery sale ever from one gallery that hadn’t sold anything up to that point. My January consignment checks have been extremely helpful for my bottom line!

But it was time to do over my Etsy shop, available 24/7 and to anyone all over the world. So I spent over 45 hours photographing work, editing images, uploading them, writing descriptions, tagging, and publishing a whopping 35 items.

Then I spent several hours updating my email newsletter list, creating that same newsletter, uploading more images, proofing, test-mailing and finally mailing an announcement that my Etsy shop was up and running again.

Four things happened:

  1. I realized I had a dead link and a spelling error in my carefully-edited and checked newsletter. Somewhere along the line, I confused a draft with my finished copy, or probably forgot to SAVE a draft. Embarrassing. Oh well.
  2. Almost half my list opened my email.
  3. Pretty good percentage, actually. One person immediately made a purchase. (Yay!)
  4. And one person wrote to ask why I wasn’t posting prices/selling on my website?

At first I was a little irked. All that work, and a complaint about where my “shop” is??  (Lizard brain in overdrive mode.)

My better-self brain kicked in. I immediately realized this was a perfectly reasonable question. Why wasn’t I using the sales potential on my FASO site? So I wrote back with this: “That’s an excellent question, and I’ll be thinking about the possibilities. I put prices up on some items because I want to give people an idea of what to expect. But the actual shopping experience is so much easier on Etsy!

Wow–This IS a good topic for a column!” (Ta dah!)

The person said they were wondering because most of their artist friends don’t post their prices on their websites, but blogs they’ve read on FASO tells us that we should- so they were confused as to which is the best way to go!

My first reaction is feeling overwhelmed. Selling is a hassle for me. Here’s a starter list:

  • I have multiple “lines” to sell: Jewelry, framed work, sculptures, ranging in price from $45 to $5,000. I don’t have a few dozen, or even a hundred items to track. I have several hundred items, at least. It’s hard to track inventory as it moves from studio to gallery, back home to studio, and out to another gallery, on to an exhibition, and back again. Plus I freshen stock at galleries, refurbish and/or redesign older pieces, etc. I used to be excellent at keeping records when I was wholesaling. But consignment is much more fluid than outright sales.
  • I started out with an Etsy shop. Then took up Amazon’s initial handmade marketplace, Thousand Markets, which was then sold to Bonanza, where I died a slow death, and finally moved everything back to Etsy. Each venue had a different process, different organization, and different modes. Even Etsy has updated since I reopened my shop. Part of my workload last week was updating older items I’d already listed. The thought of mastering yet another venue was uninspiring, to say the least.
  • FASO is one of the best web-hosting sites I’ve ever used, and the FASO team works constantly to provide quality services to their artists. Yet there is still a learning curve for on how to do things (hence my newsletter fiasco). So I hesitate to commit my entire inventory on my website per se.
  • In addition to my website, I have a blog I’ve maintained for 17 years; I now write a weekly column for FAV; I have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. My business profile on Facebook is woefully neglected, and I’m still trying to figure out how to sell on Instagram. Oh, and that email newsletter that I know is so vital to staying in touch with my art audience, and which I mangled so gently. None of them get 100%, because, well, I’d rather MAKE stuff than spend time trying to sell it.
20180119_130253
Wait! Where is this?? In Healdsburg? Fulton Crossing?? At my shop? At that exhibition???

So where did I end up with all this? Here are the important conclusions I’ve arrived at.

  1. I realize I can’t do it all. But I can get better by working on everything a little bit at a time. (Except my column. That HAS to be in by Monday, or else.) This month, new work and Etsy get my best effort.
  2. One important note: I don’t pretend to market to every Etsy buyer. I use Etsy as the easiest place for MY CUSTOMERS to shop. It’s survived longer than any of the other online venues I’ve used. Almost everyone already knows about it. Working out packaging, shipping costs, and creating shipping labels is a breeze. And its payment process is safe and secure.
  3. I realize one reason I need to have prices on my website is, people need to have some idea of what they can expect to pay. And, in fact, half the items I have there ARE priced. But some are not, and I could do better. My resolution is to add 1-3 items a month, with prices, but put the bulk of my efforts into keeping my Etsy site fresh and up-to-date.
  4. My website is a great way to showcase all the elements of my online presence. There you can find “about me”, my blog, samples of my work, and my shop. It’s a way for people to get an idea who I am and what I do.
  5. And my website is also a way to prepare people for my prices

So I don’t have “the best way” to suggest to you about selling. Clint Watson and Lori Woodward are more “science-based” with those topics, and I’ve taken to heart Clint’s advice on really utilizing our email newsletters.

But in the end, it’s what works best for YOU. It’s what you have time for, and what you are willing to make time for. It’s what platforms have proved successful for YOU. It’s what works for you, and what’s not working for you.

So a big “thank you” to the person who inquired about my prices. You were the little kick in the pants I needed today.

I have a little more clarity today on how to move forward this week.

And I hope I’ve given you a little peace of mind about your own sales efforts. Yes, some ways are better than others, but some work better for some people, and some don’t. And nothing works in a vacuum—e.g., without an online presence, without creating some sort of connection to your audience, etc.

Please, feel free to share your own insights and experiences, especially what’s worked for you, and if you have insights on how we all could do better. Inquiring minds want to know!

P.S. I provided the “spoiler alert” because one reader felt deceived that I’d promised them the perfect way to sell, and then I didn’t. Which brings yet another idea for an article, but that’s the way my mind works!