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.
Sometimes an austerity budget is a hidden blessing!
In last week’s column, I talked how we can get distracted with shiny new toys in our art biz: The latest brush craze, the hottest craft tools, the newest technique, can give us a lot of joy and amusement, and offer inspiration and new ideas. BUT they can also pull us off-course and dilute our true story. I said, “Those special karate shoes won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for class.”
Like all my advice, you should only cherry-pick the bits that work for YOU. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to advice. And as several people pointed out, it IS fun to try new ideas, new palettes, new tools, new techniques. Fun is a good thing.
Of course it is! And I encourage you to try this when it feels like time to take a little break from your usual routine, and change things up a bit.
My caveat was, sometimes the “little bit of fun” turns into a death-spiral of spending and distraction. Getting caught up in classes could mean less time to actually do your own work.
My own trap is getting pulled off-course in admiring the work of others, and not focusing on what’s unique about the work I do. I admire what they do, I want to do it, too. And then I realize that in order to “make it mine” I can’t just imitate what they do. I have to transform it for myself, to reflect MY vision and aesthetics–and story.
So for those who realized they are dealing with the caveat, as promised, here is a solution–temporary or permanent, YOU DECIDE–that I used a few years ago:
Put yourself on a (tools/techniques/class/materials) diet.
I went through a period after the recession where sales fell, galleries hunkered down (or closed forever), and it felt like no one wanted my work. (Yes, I made a world-wide economic event all about me. Go figure.) :^)
I was in business debt up to my eyeballs due to three consecutive high-end shows retail/wholesale shows with poor sales. I had no money for new supplies, no budget for more big shows, no resources to indulge in new distractions.
At first I had no idea how to move forward. But I came up with a year-long plan, and it worked!
I resolved to make it through the year with what I had on hand.
I took an informal inventory of the supplies and materials I had on hand. (I say “informal” because mixed media artists can never rarely completely inventory all the bits and pieces they use in their work.)
1. What did I ABSOLUTELY NEED to keep making my work?
I let go of what I wish I had, what “everybody else” had, what I thought would be fun to have. Bare bones budget, baby.
2. What did I ABSOLUTELY NEED to get me through the next year?
Instead of stocking up every chance I got, I realized I had enough supplies on hand to make it through at least a year.
One of my biggest pitfalls is buying in bulk. It’s a lot cheaper per piece, of course. But if I only need 100 widgets for $50, that’s doable with my restricted budget. 1,000 widgets for $400 is still $350 more that I don’t have.
3. What did I have on hand that could be put to better use?
E.g., what can be repurposed, traded, or even sold (to make money to spend on something more useful?) Years before, I bought a slew of quality ear wires that were just too small for my purposes. I found I could reshape them into useful “dangles” and decorative bits for a new line.
In other words, NO NEW SUPPLIES could come into the building without paying for itself upfront. NO NEW MATERIALS could be purchased until I’d exhausted the ones I already had. NO NEW CLASSES could be taken until I had a project in the works that decidedly NEEDED that technique/process to create. Even then, I’d stop: Do I HAVE to take a class? Can I learn what I need online? From a book? From a LIBRARY book?? From a friend???
I also swallowed my pride–just for a year–and focused on my best sellers and my lower-priced work, the work that was the easiest to make and get out there. Not as a permanent thing, but as a rescue strategy. It felt restrictive, and small. But it also felt necessary to help dig myself out of the hole I’d gotten myself into. Knowing it was a temporary “narrow focus” really helped.
I took on a very cool mail order catalog client. It was hard. It meant mass-producing certain jewelry items in a short amount of time. But it also meant a few big production week, and then a very big check (for me!) a few months later. (Again, even a year going into production mode for some of my pieces resulted in sacrificing something. Not quality, exactly, but….energy. I look back at those pieces from that period, and I can tell the difference.)
And when I did make a sale, I applied every single penny to my more-money-than-I-make-in-a-year credit card balance.
Within two years, I paid it off.
- Some commitments to big change mean a lifetime commitment. In this case, not. It helped knowing it was a period with a beginning and an end.
- It also helped seeing results. I did not go deeper into debt. I could look at my card statements and see the balance going down a little bit every month.
- Austerity became my friend. I got used to not buying everything I thought I “had” to have. (For a while. Back in it now! Gotta go back on that diet!)
- It felt good not to add more pressure to an already-difficult situation. Examples: Not taking time for classes I didn’t really need, meant more time to focus on my own work.
- Using up the materials I already had on hand meant I freed up a little storage space. And not buying materials I didn’t need right away meant not having to FIND more storage space.
- The biggest advantage? I didn’t spend enormous amounts of money on a “new thing”, only to find out it wasn’t MY thing in the first place.
I cannot tell you how many times I see new artists (and experienced artists venturing into new places) invest heavily in everything they think they need to “do it right”. They get caught up in “doing it right the FIRST TIME”.
That can be a very expensive mind-set.
The person who decides they want to be a potter who invests in brand new, high-end kiln, throwing wheel, (the best!) and tools and glazes, and remodels their garage or basement for a studio—who then realizes a) it’s too much time and work to actually make stuff every day, or b) they actually prefer a different medium, or c) they actually want to focus on making pinch pots instead. (No wheel necessary.)
The person who TOOK OUT A SECOND MORTGAGE ON THEIR HOME to buy a complete professional craft show booth for those really big trade shows, a van/trailer to haul the thing, display structures, lighting, etc., etc., only to find out they did not have the kind of products wanted by fine craft and gift stores, nor could they produce them in a timely manner, nor price them reasonably for wholesale/consignment.
These enthusiastic, well-meaning artisans thought they knew what they wanted, and jumped in over their head, emotionally and financially. Some people have no regrets about this, or can afford it easily. Most of us can’t.
Again, this is not to say, don’t be bold, don’t be brave, don’t commit.
It means, when you realize this is an issue, stop. Slow down. Rethink.
Last, think about the deeper reason why we overspend on stuff we really don’t need: Mental/spiritual turmoil. Fear of missing out (FOMO). The myth of scarcity. (“If I don’t buy these NOW, I’ll never find another source.”)
My life is in turmoil right now. As if this past year weren’t difficult enough, I might have to give up my current studio and find another. The last month has been a freaky one, and guess what I realized as I wrote this article?
I’ve been compensating by overstocking up on the components I want for my “new big idea.” They are items I am repurposing from vintage items, so hard to find (feeding my “myth of scarcity” fear). I probably need a couple dozen, yet I in the last month I’ve tracked down and bought enough to last my lifetime.
So distraction, envy, FOMO,
If you’re determined to invest in those high-tech karate/biking/sports shoes, knowing they will make a difference….
Make sure they’re the right size. The right fit. And don’t buy more than you really need.
If they really do help you have more fun, expand the horizons that need to be explored, help you perform better, and help you make the best work of your heart, then that is money well-spent!