NEWSLETTERS 101 #9: Share Your Studio
by Luann Udell
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 it’s tiny adjustments that bring about desired outcomes.
I’ve written a series of articles on my blog about the conversations I overhear while working out at the gym.
This isn’t quite the gym you’re thinking of. The physical therapy group I use also provides an independent gym program: When a client completes their physical therapy plan of care, they can chose to continue using the facility’s equipment on their own. I follow an exercise plan created especially for me by their PT or athletic trainer. The advantages are, it’s inexpensive, I receive continued monitoring by the staff, I get regular updates to the exercise plan, and I’ve found wonderful social connections. I love these guys! (Er…I’m from the Midwest, so “guys” means men AND women.)
Many of the articles in this gym series are insights I’ve gained from overhearing remarks and conversations between therapists and clients. (I never reveal health issues, therapy, nor treatment, not even the gender of those involved.) These observations spawn many “aha!” moments in my growth as an artist.
I’ve also watched many young people, people who want to pursue physical therapy, observing and ‘shadowing’ the therapists, accumulating hours for their own degree programs in this field. I love to ask each one of these observers, at the end of their time, a simple question:
“What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your observations here? Something you did not, or could not learn or observe in the classroom?”
Surprisingly (or not!), every single person has learned something different.
The most recent observer noticed two things, and today’s article is about her first “surprise”.
They watched one therapist working with a client. The client tried an exercise the therapist had given them, to help restore strength and function to a weak muscle. The therapist watched and then said, “Okay, when you do this exercise, you need to rotate your foot slightly, to here (gently repositioning the foot) to target this specific muscle we’re working on. Otherwise, you’re engaging and working a different muscle, and you won’t gain the results we need.”
I asked the student why that was surprising. They replied, “I had no idea that such tiny adjustments could alter the outcome of the therapy.”
What a subtle observation! I have no doubt this young person will become an excellent therapist in the years ahead.
How does this relate to artists? So glad you asked!
To start with, keen observation is the very heart of an artist. There is something we “see” in the world around us, whether it’s a beautiful landscape, the way whiskers in an animal portrait catch the light (from a comment by a reader a few weeks ago!), the colors we hope to capture in a vessel’s glaze. A split second of action, or the deep emotion of the moment we hope to freeze in a photograph. The intoxicating aroma of a new perfume, or the feel of a handwoven shawl, the tacit feel of a hand-carved object. All these are tiny details, aspects of the world we notice that many do not. These details are the things we yearn to recreate, or capture, or echo in our own work. Then our mission, and hope, is to share these observations with an audience.
Yep. I’m that person at the ocean, looking at…..rocks. Every. Single. Rock.
Then there is the power of those tiny details in our work. These details are exactly what my audience loves about my work: How it looks, how it feels, are all small pleasures they experience, and enjoy. Every one of you has something, often tiny, often overlooked, that you pay deep attention to, to help you connect YOUR work with YOUR audience, too.
There are the tiny skills we acquire, sometimes over years, sometimes over a lifetime—how to utilize an ordinary pencil to its deepest purpose, to recreate a three-dimensional object, or an intricate pattern, a shadow, or a splash of light. Something most people use (if ever) for their shopping list hanging on the fridge, becomes a powerful tool in the hands of an expert. And the same for manipulating paint, paper, clay, metal, fiber. If you’ve ever watched a potter centering clay, then pulling up a form, you know the magic of what looks like the clay forming itself into a beautiful shape. It looks so effortless, yet if you’ve ever tried it yourself, you immediately appreciate the incredible skill and interplay of arms, hands, fingers needed to get it just right.
We use another set of tiny skills in the ways we let the world know what we’ve made. Advertising, marketing, doing shows, open studios, demonstrations, word-of-mouth, business cards, are all ventures comprised of a million tiny, individual, focused decisions, actions, and steps. Don’t we know it! From deciding which images to use in our self-promotions to what shows and galleries we should consider, all break down into very tiny steps: Researching that gallery online. Visiting that show. Posting our work on social media. Filling in our calendar with deadlines. Skip some of these tiny steps and skills, and you may end up spending a lot of time and money on a show that does absolutely nothing for your art business. Just like my column on why our work costs so much, for every hour we spend “on the stage”, there are thousands of hours, spent on just as many teensy tiny tasks that helped us get there.
Is social media become a daunting task for you? I’ve learned that simply posting a single image (and comment) to Instagram is a tiny, efficient way to keep my work in the visual stream. I’ve set up my account to repost to Facebook and Twitter. My blog is set up the same way. I may not have the time to devote hours to social media daily, nor do I want to. But this is a very small effort that feels rewarding.
We know the power of committing some small part of our day to the service of our art, every day. It’s so easy to look at our to-do list, and promise to do our work “tomorrow”. But very tiny adjustments can help. Just as simply putting on our gym shoes can help us be more vigilant about exercising, I find that setting something I need to take to my studio (a piece of fabric, a string of beads, a half-finished artifact) on the kitchen counter the night before helps solidify my plans for the day.
And last but not least, very tiny revisions to how we approach customers can create great changes in our connections.
We now know that the greeting, “Can I help you?” will be usually be met with a “No, thank you, just looking.” While the greeting, “IF I can help you, just let me know!” will be met with a heartfelt, “Why, thank you!!” and the visitor digging in for a really GOOD look.
We know that saying, “It took me 39 years to make that pot!” may get a laugh, but not a connection. But saying, “As a child, I was very close to my mother, who was a potter, and I used to sit and watch her in the studio while she worked. I’ve been fascinated with clay ever since, and I’ve been working with it for over forty years. And when I make a beautiful pot, I think of her…..” may start a rich conversation.
We’ve learned to identify the questions that deserve a good answer, and the ones that really don’t. We know how to tell the people who are really are our allies, and the people who will never be—and that this is not our fault.
As artists, we all know the power of those very tiny adjustments can make all the difference in ourselves, our art—and the world.
Etsy has its ups and downs, but it still works well for makers.
Like most creative people, I love making my art and craft.
Like most creative people, I love putting my work out into the world.
Like most creative people, I love it when my work connects with other people.
And like most creative people, I love it when other people love my work enough to buy it.
I’ve had a shop on Etsy for years now. At first, didn’t work well for me for selling my jewelry and mixed media work. To be honest, I didn’t put the time into it. I was doing well selling through stores and galleries, with my open studio events, and at League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. (Which is going on right now, without me!)
So I used Etsy to sell odd stuff. Jewelry supplies I didn’t use anymore, a batch of collectible pottery I needed to move on before moving to California, other odds and ends.
Then we…well, we moved to California. And suddenly, I not only had to introduce my work to an entirely new audience, I had to find a way to let people on the East Coast to continue to collect my work.
I revamped my Etsy site. I updated my listings, and sales have been good.
Around the same time, Amazon announced it was creating a new option for handmade sellers on their site. I toyed with the decision to try it. In the end, I didn’t. Here’s why:
Been there. Done that. Never got the t-shirt.
Several years ago, Amazon launched a very similar Etsy-ish option called A Thousand Markets. I jumped on board, spent hours building my site, uploading images, entering descriptions, all the time-consuming stuff that goes into setting up shop.
And a year later, Amazon sold the kit-and-kaboodle to Bonanza.com.
I have no complaints about Bonanza itself. The tranfer was fairly seamless, considering. It has a lot of not-handmade stuff, but so do all these sites. I won’t complain about low sales, because again, I didn’t put that much time into it.
What I hated was choosing Amazon. And then being flung into another site entirely.
So I’ve stayed with Etsy. I have no regrets.
And now I’m even happier I didn’t choose Amazon again.
ECommerceBytes is….well, an e-commerce newsletter published by Ina Steiner that comes out several times a week. Most of the news is about updates and issues with Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy. It’s an interesting read even for small fry like moi.
Recently, it shared an article comparing sales at the new Amazon handmade to Etsy.
Amazon lost. Big-time.
Of course, Etsy has the history, and Amazon’s newest venture is….well, new. It may build, over time.
And I firmly believe wherever you put your time and efforts, your collectors will follow you. (I don’t rely on attracting people who are totally unfamiliar with my work. My work isn’t cheap, and it’s not usually an impulse buy.)
But I will always remember how 1,000 Markets disappeared, seemingly overnight. I still remember what that felt like, how much extra work I had to put in, and the switch in image I had to deal with.
I remember how I felt I was an early adapter, working with Amazon to make this new thing succeed. I remember feeling like I was a part of something new, something wonderful.
And then it was gone.
So I’m sticking with Etsy.
Many of us feel Etsy is over-the-hill. But in talking with new collectors, young and old, I find that many are still ‘discovering’ Etsy for the first time. (And they love it.)
I know artists who have left Etsy and set up their own online shops, or who use some of the other well-known sites, like Artfire (and, hey, Bonanza.) I know they have good reasons.
But for me, for now, the old reliable is better than the new and glitzy.
If you are considering the switch, go for it, and let me know how it works out.
But hold on to your Etsy shop until you’re sure you’ve got what’s best for you.
Resources for you to explore:
Now that I reread that title, it looks like I’m saying I’m too hot (as in physically desirable) to blog. I’m not. I’m too hot (temperature-wise) to blog.
So I’m doing the lazy blog thing and giving you a good summer rerun.
Actually, I look kinda hot in that photo. But I don’t look like that anymore. Sorry!! And….
Today I saw an update in my inbox from Cynthia Tinapple’s delightful blog, It was titled Polymer Artifacts so of course I had to take a peek.
Even more delightful, it turns out it’s about MY polymer artifacts!!
It’s an honor to be featured in PCD, as Cynthia scopes out the best work in polymer clay around the world. Thank you, Cynthia!
There’s a nice balance between focusing your work and being inspired by others’ work. The last few years, I’ve been hunkered down, focusing on keeping my vision clear, and trying not to envy the incredible work being made by other artists. Lately, I realized I’ve hunkered down too much. Cynthia’s blog helps me see a bigger picture of the world. It’s time to explore and see what else is out there.
I also see it’s time to update my images on my website. My beloved photographer, Jeff Baird, died of lung cancer three years ago. I owe a big chunk of my success to his beautiful images of my work. It’s been hard to admit that he’s gone, and I’ve been reluctant to switch out the pics. But Jeff would be the first one to tell me it’s time to do that. Wherever you are, Jeff, know that you are deeply missed.
My nephew is getting married today in Chicago. He’s the first grandchild in our family, and the first one to get married, too. I wanted to be there.
(This is a long shaggy dog story about poor customer service, so if you’re not in the mood, just scroll down to the last few paragraphs.)
So I spent hours researching flight schedules and ticket prices. Found a great deal on Spirit, non-stop (bonus!) and acceptable times. (We live two hours from various airports, so 6 a.m. flights are not an option….)
I made my sisters & sisters-in-law (old and new) jewelry two days before. I went over my wardrobe the night before. I packed my bags, got a good night’s sleep, and printed out my boarding pass.
In hindsight, maybe I should have foreseen where this was all heading when I realized I had to pay an extra $70 to carry on ONE bag ($35 each way.) And to ensure an aisle seat (knee surgery last month, remember?), I had to pay an extra $20. So the “bargain fare” was beginning to look less and less like a bargain.
Oh, well. It was worth it, right?
We left for the airport with my husband in good time to catch my flight.
My husband dropped me off at the terminal for Spirit, and that’s where the real fun began.
I had a mental hiccup–do you have to check in if you already have your boarding pass? I asked one of the “line helpers” at a neighboring airline.
“You with United? No? You have to go over there for Spirit.” I told him it was a pretty generic question, but he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t “his” customer, so he just insisted I go somewhere else. Of course, I realized after one quick look at the ticket kiosk that I was all set. As I walked away, he followed me, saying repeatedly, “Miss! Did you get the answer to your question? Can I help you?” Well, thank you for the help–NOT.
I went through one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen, with a nervous gentleman behind who kept trying to nudge me forward or snake around me. He finally succeeded in doing so, only to be pulled from the line to be searched. HA!
I found my gate and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.
Finally, one of the other passengers went up to ask what was going on. Guess what? Our flight was cancelled. When were they going to announce it? In a little while. Why? There was bad weather in Chicago (which I found out later was not so bad and didn’t last long.) Our flight was not delayed, or rescheduled. Just cancelled. There would be no rebookings til the next day, in the afternoon. AFTER the wedding.
A bunch of us tried to find a new flight, but it was difficult. I realized I’d be arriving very late, if at all, and exhausted (still recovering from surgery, not much stamina.) I decided to just get a refund and go home. I’m glad I did, because I saw the other passenger two hours later, still trying to rebook her flight with another airline, with no success.
I called the hotel to cancel my reservation–I only had a couple hours before a penalty fee would kick in. I was put on hold several times. The agent asked for my confirmation code eight times. (No exaggeration.) She kept asking when I would be arriving. I kept reminding her I was cancelling. She kept putting me on hold to “check with a supervisor.” After being kept on hold for 10 minutes, I hung up and used my smartphone to cancel the reservation on their website. It took me one minute.
I decided to have lunch while waiting for Jon to come pick me up. I went to the only restaurant outside the secured area. I asked the man at the cash register if it was self-serve or table service. (It looked like both, and I wanted to be served.) “We have table service,” he said. “Sit anywhere!” I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. After fifteen minutes, (and after several larger groups were seated after me, and waited on before me), I decided to just get a salad to go and eat it in the hallway. I picked a packaged salad and waited at the cash register. And waited. And waited. Near me were a group of waiters chatting. I waited about five minutes, then turned and walked out. As I walked out, one of them ran after me, saying, “Miss, can I help you? Miss! Did you want something??”
I got a quick sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts. (I was desperate.) Jon soon arrived, and we started home.
We decided to stop in Jaffrey and eat at a very nice inn. It was lovely. We sat on the screened-in porch and watched the world go by.
After a few minutes, I left to go use the restroom. Jon said it was kind of hidden, and to just ask one of the staff. After wandering through a few rooms, I saw a waiters station with three staff members talking. I waited til I caught the eye of one of the waiters and said, “Can you tell me where the restroom is?”
And he said, “Yes.”
I waited. He waited. I waited. He waited.
I know he thought he was being funny. I know he didn’t know I’d already had a 10 hour day full of waiting, disappointment, rude and pompous air terminal employees, and a long, hot drive still ahead of us. I know it was a joke.
Unfortunately, I was in no mood.
I turned around and walked out.
Of course, he came chasing after me. “It was a joke, I’m so sorry, the restroom is right there!”
We finished our meal, paid and left.
On the way home, I thought about the day’s events.
I wanted to be at that wedding. I tried hard to be at that wedding.
It’s nobody’s fault that I can’t be there, but it’s certainly not mine. All day long, I dealt with people who were paid to serve me, paid to assist me, paid to give me excellent customer service.
Very, very few of them did.
At one of the fanciest restaurants in the region, I was humiliated. I just wanted to know where I could pee. I politely asked a paid employee for assistance. All he had to do was point and say, “Right there” and I would have been content. Instead, at the end of a very long, exhausting day, I was made the butt of his little joke.
In fact, the best customer service I received that day was from the two cheerful, accommodating women at Dunkin’ Donuts. They were making minimum wage, and they barely spoke English. But that didn’t stop them from making sure my coffee was exactly the way I wanted it. (And yes, I gave them a big tip.)
So here’s the customer service point:
Whenever I write or talk about giving great customer service at a show, in your booth, when I write about how to answer customers’ questions about your work or your product, there’s always someone who insists that a funny, snappy answer is a good thing. When you ask, “How long did it take you to make this?” they respond, “It took me 30 years to make that!” I am here to tell you, it’s not funny to the person who asked you a question.
As a person who was exhausted, in need, and paying a lot of money to have a nice dinner, I just did not appreciate the “joke”.
In fact, I contend it’s not “a joke” nor “funny” to the person who’s at your mercy. It’s condescending at best, and passive-aggressive at worst.
Please. Don’t do this to your customers.
The best service I received that day was from a woman at Dunkin’ Donuts who barely spoke English. She simply kept asking if my order was “okay?” until I said yes. She put more cream in my coffee, gave me more napkins for my sandwich, till I was “okay!” Taking care of me wasn’t “beneath her”. She didn’t even need to smile or crack jokes. She simply took her job seriously, and I am grateful.
All the customer service advice in the world comes down to this, and it’s really very simple.
Treat your customers as treasured guests (until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt they don’t deserve it, and even them, simply move them on.) Okay, maybe they are stupid. But more likely, they are confused, overwhelmed or exhausted.
If you want your customers to become owners, treat them with courtesy. With kindness. With respect.
That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?
Last week I attended an amazing presentation by integral coach Lyedie Geer. Her website is here. The focus was time management for creative people.
Now, fifteen years ago, when I first started my artistic journey, I was on fire with professionalism. I was determined not to be that “spacey artist” with no concept of time or discipline.
I was very good at it, too. I entered juried shows early. I had a binder of my galleries, their complete contact info, my shipments to them, their terms, etc. Correspondence was carefully filed in each of their folders. My slides were labeled and up-to-date, and I had duplicates ready on a moment’s notice for any occasion. My Rolodex was full with fellow artists, show management, photographers (I had a photographer and a back-up photographer), suppliers. You name it, I had their name and phone number.
My editor at Lark Books called once, and in an hour, I’d produced every single source and resource we talked about. “Oh my GOD, you’re so organized!” she exclaimed.
Then something happened.
I can’t remember what set it off, but things…changed. I wasn’t frantic about recognition. I didn’t care about publicity or awards. I wasn’t willing to do ANYTHING to keep my income stream going.
I rode more. I wrote more. I dropped everything to be with my family or a friend in need, even when the “need” was a drink. I took in homeless puppies. I volunteered more. I took hospice training.
I paid more attention to other things: The change of seasons. Walks with my husband. Phone calls from my daughter. Driver’s Ed with my son.
The concept of time management began to annoy me. Oh, sure, I understood I could get so much more done if I actually MANAGED my time instead of letting it manage me.
But that just didn’t seem as urgent anymore. I still care deeply about my art and my art business. I just felt that more was being called for of me.
I wanted to explore that call. And everything is different.
So I attended the seminar with extreme prejudice. Borderline hostility, in fact. I assumed we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I expected we would be urged to be more ‘professional’ in our dealings.
I was prepared to be bored stiff and MAYBE take away a nice idea or two. My only defense is I was also willing to be proved wrong, which is why I even went in the first place.
Well, Lyedie blew my socks off.
Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals.
Like Bruce Baker, her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt.
Some people are monochronic, she said. Time is rigid and linear. There are rules, and expectations. This goes HERE, and that goes THERE.
Creative people are polychronic. Time is fluid, priorities are in constant flux.
To maximize our skills and impact, TIME is not the thing to be managed, but our AWARENESS.
It’s not so much about artists learning to be better businesspeople, or learning how to squish ourselves into a better business model. In fact, the monochronic world is the one that needs to adjust, and flex, and support the polychronic.
Because our creative self–WHAT WE ARE–is what’s of value to the world
And the world needs us now. Badly.
There was more, so much more. A lot of it is science-based, on what we now know about creative people, and how creative thinking works. It’s also full of hope, and wonder, and connection, and everything human. It will take time for me to process exactly what this means for me in the days–years!–ahead.
It’s simply powerful stuff.
Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) applauded when she finished.
I highly recommend Lyedie to any organization that offers professional development for creative people–your local art organization, your professional guilds, art schools. Her insights can offer benefit to creative people at every level of development, from rank beginner to accomplished professional.
In fact, as I face another dramatic surgery in the weeks ahead (total knee replacement surgery, eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) I plan to meet with Lyedie. I want a ‘life intention’ jump start.
As I recuperate, I want something pulling me away from the pain and frustration of recovery, to the rich new path I believe lies ahead. It may not LOOK much different, on the surface. But I’m hoping for a ‘unified field theory’ for myself, a way to examine, evaluate, and include all the paths and projects on my plate.
I don’t want to feel distracted and unfocused anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty about my messy studio. I don’t want to feel anxious about the new work that’s in my head, that I can’t quite get out into the world yet. I don’t want to feel like I love so many aspects of my creative self, yet feel that none of them the full attention they deserve.
I want to feel that, whatever I’m doing, whatever has my attention, and my awareness, is what I should be doing. I want to feel that there is a place for me in the world, and a need for what I have to offer.
I’ll keep you posted! And in the meantime, see if you can get your group to host a seminar with Lyedie. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
I’m having one of those days.
I was going to goof off and enjoy this fiercely windy and sunny day.
But no. My good friend Bonnie Blandford posted a link to a great list of things to do to be the best artist you can be. Drat.
So I started clearing a surface so I could get busy with my next project. That lasted two minutes.
Got lost in sorting and reorganizing. Oops! I’m out of this widget. Order it now while I’m thinking about it.
An hour later. Surface still not cleared. Great art put on hold. Again.
I try again.
This time I found a metal box full of special orders and repairs from my really big show last August. Uh oh.
Now, there are a few things you need to know about how I do business, and how I treat my collectors.
When something breaks, I fix it.
When someone wants something different, I make it.
When something gets lost, I replace it. Free. Well. I’ll replace an earring, but I’m not going to replace, say, a lost wall hanging.
So I always have a stack of these ‘special projects’ after the show. This year, I had almost two dozen on my plate. Er…in my box.
It’s not my nature, really. After three days of set-up, nine days of selling and standing–in August, in the heat, which I H*A*T*E–the last thing I want to do is all the things that seem to point out my failure.
The repairs say, “You didn’t make it strong enough!” Fail.
The replacements say, “I shouldn’t have fallen out!” Fail.
The custom work says, “I don’t see anything I like!” Fail.
Now add: Two customers who cancelled their layaways right after the show. And the one special order I didn’t do, which angered one customer.
On top of that, add the six-months-from-hell I wrote about recently, and my upcoming knee surgery (which will make me put my life and art on hold, yet again, for months and months) and I get a little weepy.
I am very very good at feeling guilty and useless. I excel at feeling sorry for myself.
So I looked at that box and knew I had to deal with it.
To my surprise, I had actually completed…everything.
I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Probably that perfectionist thing that still raises its ugly head from time to time.
But it doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve my art. It takes away all the joy. It makes me forget why I do this.
Time to be kind and rewind.
I thought about the two dozen projects and repairs I DID complete, and all the happy responses I’d gotten back.
The repairs say, “I wore this until it fell apart. It’s my favorite necklace.” Success.
The replacements say, “I can’t believe you can make another one, and you’re not charging me!” Success.
The custom work says, “I love what you do, and I want one, I just need it in a different size/style/color.” Success.
I thought back to the angry customer. When I apologized, she calmed down. When I told her what had been going on, she sympathized. She said no worries, she’ll be back next year to look again.
And now that I think on it…last year, a customer commented in passing that she had lost everything she owned, in a major house fire. And I gave her a new piece–a big one–on the spot.
Am I a saint? Nope. Am I perfect? HA!
What I am is 100% human, through and through.
And I’m feeling better already.
N.B., if you have similar issues with repairs and special orders, one way to eliminate a lot of hassle is this: DO NOT TAKE ANY $$$ UPFRONT. I may take a check or write out a charge slip. But I don’t cash the check, or run the charge, til the order is ready to ship. That way, if something comes up and everything falls apart (like it did for me), your customer isn’t trying to get their money back–a far more complicated, and serious proposition.
And a little something extra that says “Thank you for your patience” goes a loooong way to smoothing over your (hopefully rare) goofs, too.
Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?
And here’s a tongue-in-cheek article by Robert Genn on how the Art Marketing Board of Canada can help you price your artwork.
Tell Me A Story: Novelty
by Luann Udell
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column “Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Remember, to ordinary people, We are the people who ran away to join the circus.
Use the magic.
We humans love the odd and the curious.
The Guinness Book of Records. The story in your local newspaper about the calf born with two heads or the gardener who grew a monster-sized squash. The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs TV program with Mike Rowe, who volunteers to try out the nation’s dirtiest, most disgusting work. And P.T. Barnum’s famous (or infamous) sideshow attractions. The proverbial “man bites dog” (vs. the boring and predictable “dog bites man”) stories.
What’s at the root of all these?
Although many of you have been inspired by this series of articles on using news values in your marketing, I know some are unconvinced of their value, and grumbling on the sidelines.
I know if some have protested the value of using sex and romance as a story hook, the idea of using novelty in our self-promotion (press releases, artist statement, advertising, etc.) will make them grind their teeth. I can hear it now….
“I’m a serious artist! I don’t want to even be considered in the same (news) ballpark as giant squash and weirdo publicity stunts!”
You—and I—are proud of our business skills, our hard-won credentials, the prestigious exhibits our work has appeared in—and rightly so. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today, and we want to be taken seriously as artists.
We aren’t some ‘novelty act’ scrounging for a sound bite on the radio or conniving for a mention in the ‘weird news’ section of the newspaper.
Maybe. And…maybe not.
Consider this: In other people’s eyes, our very existence is the novelty.
I’ve sat through many, many seminars conducted by nationally-known speaker Bruce Baker, who talks about displaying and selling art and fine craft. Bruce is a compelling and entertaining speaker who’s spoken to tens of thousands of artists over the years, sharing his insights and observations on marketing. He has a knack for turning a phrase, and one of my favorites is this one:
“Above all, you as artists and craftspeople must remember: To the ordinary public, you are the people who ran away to join the circus!”
He means that our customers, the general public, and yes, sometimes our mothers, think of us as odd and highly unusual people. We didn’t grow up to be insurance salesmen or doctors or shop clerks or teachers. (Or, if those are our ‘day jobs’, they don’t completely define us.)
We are wild and crazy artists.
Oh, yes, we may be successful at what we do, and we may be as disciplined as a brain surgeon when it comes to refining our skills; we may be as focused as a CPA about our bottom line; we may be as dedicated as a teacher and as creative as…well, an artist.
But we did something most people only dream about—we ‘ran away’ from the ordinary life, and did something wonderful.
We work for ourselves, not a corporation or a boss. We set our own hours, create our own practice, follow our own professional goals.
Every day, we create something astonishing out of simple, common materials: A little paint, a few pencils, a glop of clay, a piece of wood.
We make something that looks so real, you want to reach into the canvas and stroke it. We create something that wasn’t there before, perhaps not even imagined before. Our work is found throughout human history, from the earliest dawn of prehistory to the newest 3D movie magic in the theater.
Sometimes the meaning of our work is crystal clear, at times so mysterious others can only guess at the story. When our work is good, it can transport people to another time, another place, another attitude, a deeper understanding and appreciation of their world.
It’s like we’re magicians. It’s like we’re…circus people! Off in our own world, traveling from show to show, creating marvels and miracles, and leaving our mark in people’s homes, in public places, in museums.
We ARE the novelty.
Put some of that magic, that awe, that suspension of belief into your writing. Use the special!
Now, of course, there are more ordinary uses of novelty. (A strange sentence, yes?) Perhaps, even among artists, you are different.
You may grind your own paints or use egg tempura in your murals.
You may specialize in painting airplane nose cone art, or balloon animal art, or other esoteric subject matter.
Perhaps, like Andy Goldsworthy, you’ve pioneered or popularized an unusual or ephemeral art form.
Or you’re the sidewalk artist who incorporates striking optical illusions in your chalk paintings.
Maybe you were an early adapter of the ATC (artist trading card) phenomenon, or the Painting a Day movement. What caught people’s attention was the novelty of the idea, the discipline of daily creation, the accessibility of small works and the (initially) low prices of such work. And, of course, the new idea—the novelty—of being able to view and trade or purchase such works on EBay.
Scratch the normal surface of what it is you do, and how you do it, and why you do it, and see if novelty is a story hook worth your consideration.
And even if it isn’t, understand that you yourself are also a novelty.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
There’s an online jewelry biz newsletter I subscribe to called Home Jewelry Business Success Tips. The site is owned and manged by jewelry designer Rena Klingenberg.
I like the chatty newsletters Rena sends out, with suggestions for trends, booth design and jewelry display. The site is especially helpful for new and fledgling designers, giving them a safe place to share ideas, designs and support.
I sometimes chime in with answers to questions, and sometimes when I chime in at length, Rena turns my comments into mini-columns. And that’s what I’m sharing with you today.
So for your entertainment and edification, I present to you my illustrated article on
what to do with a billion beads my bead organizing tips.
Some folks might well ask, “Luann, er, aren’t you supposed to be cleaning your studio today? Why are you writing an article about bead storage when you just told us last week your work table is buried under twelve layers of stuff?” Well, all I will say is our family’s favorite retort when we were losing an argument: “Well, poop on you!” (I know, my mother would be appalled….)
There are pros and cons to being a ‘local artist’, and many artists opt to ‘get out of Denver’ as quickly as they can. But there are deep reasons to building a local audience first.
I got an email newsletter from artist and writer Robert Genn. I always enjoy his thoughts on making and selling art. He’s a good writer, and a thoughtful one.
Today (insert link here) he tells why he decided to skip a local market, and developed more distant venues to sell his paintings.
I felt the same way when I started out with my art. I feared that ancient ponies and bone awls would never find a hold in a traditional New England marketplace. I did a few local shows, just to prove to myself I needed to go further afield. And then I did just that.
But I’m here today to eat my words. (I do that a lot.) There are lots of good reasons to start local. And I’ll give you suggestions on how to make it work.
You’ll learn how to talk about your work.
“I hate talking about my work!” “I don’t know what to say.” “My work speaks for itself.” “I’m shy–I just can’t talk to people!” I’ve heard–and said–these words so many times. Let’s cut to the chase. Art rarely ‘sells itself’. Somebody has to talk about it. If it’s not you, then it has to be your gallery or sales rep.
And how are they going to know what to say about it unless you give them a clue? If a thousand artists paint a picture of a tree in a field, then how will someone decide yours is the one that goes home with them?
If you believe that artistically knowledgeable people can tell the difference between your tree and 99 others, or a thousand others, or 10,000, then you’re going to have to be the absolute best painter out there.
In reality, many collectors aren’t looking for ‘the best out there’. They want to believe the one they like best, is the best one.
And your job is to tell them why your painting is the best for them.
You can do it with credentialing–art school degrees, awards, honors, solo shows, etc. You can do it with publicity–press releases, getting your work published and exhibited, etc.
The easiest thing, of course, is to just tell them. You share your technique, your process, your story. Whatever works best to connect them to your work. (You know I vote for ‘story’, but if it feels safer to start with ‘process’, go for it.)
Of course, a gallery will do this for you. But who tells the gallery? Yup. Y-O-U. I got practice talking to my customers. By the time I talked to gallery owners, I was comfortable and confident.
You’ll discover what people love about your work.
I talked easily and readily about why I loved my work, once I got used to the notion. It’s when I shut up and listened that I found out why others loved it.
What other people say about your work is powerful. People overhearing someone else saying something wonderful, is even more powerful.
People saw things in my work that astonished me. As they told me how it affected them, what it meant to them, I became even more dedicated to making it. I realized I need to make it. And others need to see it.
That’s hard to do when your work–and your audience–is a thousand miles away.
And it’s powerful to be able to say to a prospective gallery, “This is what people say about my work….”
You’ll perfect your booth, your display, your signage, your entire presentation.
Let’s say you do get that perfect out-of-state show with the oh-so-sophisticated audience, or the super duper gallery with the big name artists roster. What will they say when they see your awkward framing? Your lack of support materials?
What do you do when your far from home and realize you’re missing a critical piece of your booth? It’s one thing to run home and grab it. It’s another to be looking for the nearest Home Depot at night, in a cab.
Doing local shows was an education. I learned the hard way how to streamline my set-up and breakdown (as much as I can with jewelry cases, table top AND wall displayed items!) I learned they hard way what was essential and what wasn’t. I learned through practice the best ways to display my work.
And then I did my first big out-of-state show. When I did, I hit the ground running. (Well. Running, yes. But there was still a lot I had to learn!)
You’ll generate enough money to keep going.
Getting into an out-of-state art exhibit was exhilarating. It forced me to get good images of my work, and to go looking for opportunity.
But it wasn’t great for sales.
It was a small but steady stream of local sales that kept me going. My local collectors supported me just enough for me to always take the next step. And that was really all I needed.
You’ll learn that you are responsible for your success.
Local market or farther afield, it still takes dedication and work to build your name as an artist. It’s easy to say, “Oh, no one around here appreciates good art” or “People here are too cheap to buy real art.”
I would have an easier time believing that, if I didn’t hear artists from around the world say this. All. THE. TIME.
We all like to blame others when our efforts don’t fly. I do! I want to blame everybody except myself.
I know we can’t control everything. I know we can’t command success. I know sometimes even the best efforts fail.
But we are responsible for doing the best we can.
As I learned how to do better–as I knew better–I did better, and I got better. My presentation improved. My ideas grew. My self-promotion got better. I learned how to believe in myself, and my art.
And I found it a lot easier to learn how to do that, with local venues and local customers.
The biggest reason I’m glad I started local?
When times got hard, I had a safety net.
When the recession hit, and the sales at big shows fell off, when galleries were closing left and right, my local audience saved my ass.
In all the years I’d bemoaned the lack of a ‘local audience’, my small band of collectors and supporters was actually growing quietly and steadily.
My open studios became more successful. My sales at state craft venues climbed–the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair; the League shops: the Sharon Arts Center. Each year, just as sales tapered off at one venue, another would leap ahead. (For various reasons, my work tends to ‘cycle’ in popularity. Instead of despairing when sales falter, I now know to sit tight and come back with new work in a year or two.)
I now feel honored and supported by my local community.
As I said in my article about local self-promotion, publicizing your successes goes a long way to building that local audience. But I’ve learned it’s well worth the effort.
With the ease of discovering new markets and venues on the Internet, I don’t feel any artist is limited anymore to a local market. But I wouldn’t discount them, either.
Put your eggs in both baskets, and see what happens.
It’s been a long time since I last had my artwork professionally photographed. I’ve written before about my friend and photographer Jeff Baird, who died of lung cancer almost two years ago.
Digital cameras make it easy to take our own great pictures. Even technically-challenged moi can now set up a jewelry shot, touch it up a bit, and upload it to my online store or blog.
But sometimes you just need something more.
You need seriously good jury shots. Or a dynamite shot for a new ad. Or an image you can blow up to poster size and it still holds the detail.
That’s when you need the services of a good professional photographer. And I think I’ve found one!
I met Ed when he and a friend started up the brand new Creative Professionals Guild of New Hampshire a year ago. Creative professionals encompasses all kinds of commercial artists: Photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, copy writers, and web designers. We just put on our very first show, “@Work, @Play”, and it’s already a huge success.
He offered to shoot my work, and I jumped at the chance to work with him.
My work is always a challenge to shoot the first time, but Ed jumped right in with skill and enthusiasm. Watching him work is amazing! I know how to fiddle around with my pictures. But he sees things I’m not even aware of until he points them out.
Yet he listened to my suggestions, even looking over what Jeff had done over the years. I found him easy to be with, good-humored and relaxed, yet efficient and detail-driven.
When we introduced ourselves at the first Guild meeting, I asked Ed what he felt his strengths were as a commercial photographer. He said, “I’m incredibly easy to get along with, and I’m a good listener. That’s really important when you’re going to spend a day in the studio with a photographer, working to get everything just right.” I can personally vouch for that!
Ed is experienced, his rates are reasonable, he’s just building his business here in Keene NH so he has openings in his schedule, and I personally vouch for him. He does clothing, food, portraits, product photography, landscapes, buildings–you name it, he does it. Give him a call when you need really great photography for those important marketing opportunities.
I’ve put in a few examples of Ed’s work. I’m very happy with our first session. I know there will be many more to come.
P.S. This is what I REALLY love about working with Ed. That fabulous rich rust colored background? It’s…. rust! A sheet of steel he bent to make that graduated-color look. We were looking for backgrounds and he pulled out a piece of steel, the back of which had rusted beautifully. I said, “Wow, that’s really cool lookin’!” He said, “Yeah! Let’s try it out!”
Let fear enlighten you, not enslave you.
(This post was written just before we invaded Afghanistan. Or Iraq. I can’t remember now.)
A poster on a discussion forum put into words what all of us have been feeling lately, but hate to admit out loud. The artist had a show coming up soon. Should they cancel it because of the impending war? Maybe no one would show up.
Many of us chimed in with a resounding “no!”, stressing the need to live life as normally as possible until forced to do otherwise.
The discussion eventually meandered into a discussion of other things. But the original post got me thinking about fear and anxiety in general.
Some of my favorite books about getting control of your life, have the word “fear” in them.
Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway) by Susan Jeffers, is a pragmatic book about recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety/discomfort that comes from taking risks and making changes–but not letting that anxiety stop you.
Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel, I’ve read in chunks and bits, with some good sections about overcoming the obstacles to creativity. (The guy is more long-winded than I am, but there’s some good stuff in there.)
Another book I highly recommend is Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It proposes that being creative is all about having fear and self-doubt. So embrace and move through them–it’s part of the territory. Just don’t give in to them.
The last is not a “creativity” book at all. It’s The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. In a nutshell, the book is about the knowing the difference between general, free-floating anxiety vs. the genuine fear that alerts us we are truly in danger.
When we are in real danger, we sense it, whether we acknowledge the signals or not. We know that strange guy who offered to help us made us uneasy. We know there’s something about that new person we’re dating that just isn’t right. We may tamp down that feeling because of social conditioning or magical thinking, but we do have it.
Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious. It keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash. It makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent. It makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time. It keeps us from dangling our feet over the edge of our inner tube while floating in the ocean. (Jaws, anyone?)
Statistics show us that we are more likely to die from a bee sting than a shark attack. Yet we don’t flee at the sight of a flower-filled meadow. If you look at cold hard facts, we are much more likely to buy the farm every day when we belt ourselves into our cars and head out to work or the mall: Car accidents kill more people each year than the total number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam war. Yet I know of no one who has stopped driving their car because of the risk of an accident.
My advice to the original poster was:
I hesitate to add my two cents’ worth on this issue, since I don’t do many shows. But I think if you start making decisions based on fear and anxiety, you are heading down a slippery slope. Yes, it’s natural to worry about current events. Almost impossible not to. But when you start making business decisions based on “what if?”… well, “What if…?” can kill every effort you make to grow your business.
One way to think of this is: What’s the worst that could happen? If you bombed at this show, would it bring your business to a halt?
And if so, don’t you really take that chance at every show you do? Your thinking is, “We might be at war, and maybe no one will come.” What about, “It might rain and everyone would stay home.” Or maybe “There might be a strong wind, and my tent might blow away!” Or “The stock market might crash, and no one will be able to afford my work.” All those events are possibilities, too. (And actually, all of them did, indeed, come to pass.) You plan for them as best you can, evaluate the real, tangible risks–and then decide.
I’d say, unless the show promoters cancel the show, it would be good business to show up as you contracted to do. If, after doing a few shows, you decide current events are impacting your bottom line severely, then that’s the time to sit down and re-evaluate how you’re going to restructure your business to accommodate that.
It takes a certain amount of determination to turn this free-floating anxiety around, unless you’re by nature an optimist. And I’m not. I’m a born pessimist. And turning this attitude around is not a one-shot deal. I have to revisit it again, and again, and again. And sometimes I still need someone else to point it out to me. And sometimes, by reassuring someone else, I find I’ve reassured myself.
Some tips that have helped me:
Read a book, forum or article about dealing with fear. It sometimes helps to realize you are not the only person who’s feeling this way!
Find people whose judgment you’ve come to trust, and check in with them. Not someone you ought to trust, someone you’ve learned you can trust. Someone who’s earned your trust. For decisions about my kids and their growing need for personal responsibility and freedom, I have a very small collection of parents whose opinion I value. I know they have similar values, I know they respect my values, and I’ve learned to trust how they come to their decisions. They don’t belittle my concerns or beliefs, they just tell me how they got to their decision.
I’ve learned not to expect everything from one person, too. I’ve learned that I have parent-decision type friends, business/art type friends, family-dynamic expert type friends, etc. Find those solid people in every one of your life sectors. And when one of them goes through their own difficult times, recognize when they are not able to help you with that area (temporarily or permantly.) In other words, constantly evaluate your support structure.
Learn from yourself. Keep track of the times you’ve successfully battled anxiety, and remind yourself of those times. For myself, I find it immensely helpful to write about my anxieties. I keep a daily handwritten journal. I would die of embarrassment if anyone read of anything I’ve written there–I complain and swear a lot! But I also find that making my anxiety concrete by describing exactly what I’m afraid of, is the first step to working through it.
Get absurdly reasonable. Seek professional help if you have to. One strategy is called cognitive therapy, was hugely helpful for me. Here’s an example:
A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”
Therapist: “Well…what would the logical consequences of this event be?” (An illogical conclusion might be, “I’ll become a bag lady!” That’s possible, but is it probable?)
Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”
Therapist: “So what would happen then?”
Patient: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”
Therapist: “So what would happen then?”
Patient: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”
Therapist: “So what would happen then?”
Patient: “I’d have to sell my house.”
Therapist: “So what would happen then?”
Patient: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”
Therapist: “And what would that mean?”
Patient: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”
Therapist: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”
Patient: “Oh. Okay. So I guess that wouldn’t be so terrible…”
This is a simple version, of course. And we all know some people do have worse consequences. But for most of us, yes, losing our job might been living in a place with tinier rooms. Been there, done that. Survived.
Recognize, as de Becker points out, that anxiety drains our batteries, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared for real danger when it crosses our path. Recognize that anxiety is our engine racing without engaging the clutch–it doesn’t take us anywhere, it’s just noisy and uses up a lot of gas.
Consider medication. I know this is not for everyone, and it doesn’t “fix” everything. But I found that a very low dose of anti-depressant was enough to take the crippling knife edge of anxiety away. Now I do less obsessing, and gentler fretting. (This was after trying exercise, massage, meditation, yoga, tai chi and my favorite, lots and lots of red wine.) (I still like these things, but I’m saner now. Really.)
Last, embrace your fears. Being involved in hospice has healed a lot of things. I’m not fear-less by any stretch of the imagination (and boy, can I stretch it!). When it comes to change, I still drag my feet. I still hate touching seaweed when I’m swimming.
But I’ve learned that many of the things I used to be afraid of, are simply not as bad as I’d imagined.
I accept some anxiety and fear as part of being human. They are my small, often annoying, ever-nagging companions. Even as I sit here, I am worrying about….ten different things. No, twelve. But I also look out the window and marvel at the first spring rain. I am so grateful for all the blessings in my life. I listen to the sound of my breath moving in and out, so regular and easy.
Life may be long or short, hard or sweet, with joyful ups and crazy downs A few little moments of terror and wonder thrown in. Usually a good mix. And it’s good to simply be alive, to savor this moment, with a little peace in my heart.
I wish the same for you.
Don’t let your cheaper work devalue your finest work. More papas, few babies.
Fourth in a series on how to think about your true collectors.
I have a friend who’s been in the fine craft biz for over twenty years. He’s in the very best shows. He’s an astute businessman as well as a talented artist. The first time he came to my open studio, he shared an insight I’d never considered before:
Offering too much lower-priced work to attract a wider audience can actually diminish your value for serious collectors.
Human nature being what it is, people won’t think your cheaper work is “a bargain”. They’ll perceive your higher end work as “overpriced.”
I favor the papa/mama/babies model in my display. I show one high-end piece—my biggest and best work of the year. That’s the ‘papa’ piece. I’ll add in three to five mid-range pieces—things that echo the same spirit and flavor but in the $150-$500 range. These are the ‘mama’ pieces. Then I fill in with a large selection of items under $150, down to $25. These are the ‘babies’.
The theory is that the ‘papa’ piece is the attention-getting show-stopper. It rarely sells, but acts as a major draw. Well-heeled and confident collectors will then readily purchase the ‘mama’ pieces. People with smaller budgets, or who are unsure of their choices, will load up on the smaller ‘baby’ pieces.
It works pretty well in stores and galleries, where stores have to appeal to a wide range of customers and sizes of pocketbooks. But is it the right model for an open studio, or a booth at a show? What are the pros and cons?
My friend believes that mixing our high-end and our low-end work sends a bad message to our serious collectors. It signals confusion on the part of the artist, a lack of focus and intent.
Someone who’s thinking about buying a $5,000 or $10,000 piece from you does not want to see a $50 pair of earrings next to that piece. Their thinking? “Why should I invest five figures in you, when I can have a piece of you for $50?” Or worse….”If this piece is only $50, then that $5,000 piece must be overpriced!”
Eliminate the ‘babies’?? It’s a hard concept to embrace when times are tough. Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat. It’s tempting to stay with the safer strategy of ‘something for everyone’.
But building a business model that relies on the sale of lots of $50 has its drawbacks, too.
The biggest drawback? It’s soul-numbing.
This is not conjecture. I’ve been there. You focus totally on what sells. It becomes all about the “small”: Small in price, small in stature, small in risk.
Soon you feel your creative self and artistic vision getting small, too.
I’ve been there–and I never want to go back.
So….How to proceed?
Offer fewer ‘babies’.
In an open studio recently, I simply didn’t have time to set out lots of lower-priced work. The ‘mamas’ took the place of the ‘babies’.
I sold more ‘mamas’ than ever!
So my advice to you: Consider your venues, and these economic times.
In the past, I could easily do the ‘all papa’ strategy at the tried-and-true big shows in my industry. The shows had the great reputation and reliable attendance, and targeted the right demographic, for those big, wonderful works. Money flowed more freely and people loved the attention that came from their spectacular purchases.
Things are different now. Show attendance is down. People hesitate to flaunt their money when their friends are hurting. They’re cautious about what they invest in.
The internet has changed things: Buyers are more comfortable buying on the internet now. It’s secure and the selection is limitless. It’s also more discreet. No need to reveal just how much money they spent on that new piece of art.
When money is tight and sales are slow, maintain your confidence in your work. Focus on keeping your technique sharp. Be patient. You still need face time with collectors to build a relationship. But also give them more opportunities online to buy.
If you love your lower-end pieces, that’s okay. I love mine, too! Instead of mooshing them in with your finer work, try this: Separate the lines and market them differently.
Or try using a different venue for them. I have one line of jewelry that’s decidedly out-of-sync with my “ancient art” aesthetic. I now market that under a totally different business name.
In the end, we all have to ask ourselves: What is the highest and best use of our time and talent?
I still keep a few smaller, less expensive items available. But I’ve slowly raised the bar by raising the prices on them. I’m asking my collectors for a bigger commitment to own one of my pieces. I’d rather sell one $250 item than ten $25 items. I focus on making those more expensive pieces even more special–more one-of-a-kind, more daring, more unusual.
Interestingly, when I look back at my sales over the last 15 years, I’m not selling more items. I’m selling more expensive items. The demand has remained constant but there’s less resistance to my prices. My friends who assist me in my booth say this all the time. I worry about charging too much. “Luann!” they exclaim. “People know your work is worth it!”
The energy is better, too. People don’t buy my work because ‘it’s a deal’. They buy it because they love it and they see it as worthy of owning.
By valuing my time and my skill, I’ve encouraged others to have respect for my work.
Remember: When we have an open studio, or a solo show, or a booth at a fair, our audience is self-selected; that works in our favor!
A store or gallery has to appeal to anyone who walks by. They don’t care which artist’s work sells, as long as the customer buys something.
As an artist, I have a style, an aesthetic and a story that connects people to my work. If the buyer wants to buy my work, I have more leverage.
Is the just papas, a few mamas, no babies approach for everyone? Of course not. Have I embraced it 100%? Nope. But I’m inching my way there.
And let me be clear: This is me in my “business hat” talking.
I’d never disdain someone who loved my work but cannot afford a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to invest. I love my ‘smaller’ collectors. I’m just as grateful for them as I am for my ‘bigger’ collectors.
My prices aren’t arbitrary. I’m confident they reflect the skill, time and passion necessary to create each piece. In fact, many collectors start small and then move on to more expensive pieces.
I would never twist a collector’s arm to buy more than they are comfortable with. I’m honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on my work. I love it when customers come back the year after they invest in a major piece and tell me how much joy it’s giving them.
Ask your true collectors to step up to the plate and commit to you. The worst they can say is ‘no’.
And it’s simply wonderful when they say ‘yes’.
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”
There’s more than one way to get your art out into the world.
I wrote in my journal this morning, dragging my feet as usual. (I often start out writing “blah blah blah”. No joke.)
I was writing–no, complaining–about not being able to hear myself think over the noise of Jon’s radio. Until I realized it was coverage on the Egyptian people, fighting for the right to govern themselves. Just as I stopped to listen, I heard a woman’s voice saying, “I just want to be a real citizen…”
So then I wrote how embarrassing it was to complain about the noise of freedom….
Then suddenly, I found myself writing, “I want to make a XXXX–for ME!”
(Forgive the mystery, I’m just not ready to talk about these new projects yet. I don’t want the energy of talking about it to replace the energy of doing it.)
Where…did THAT thought come from?
It took me totally by surprise. And I immediately found myself wondering how it could be done as a new product, a new line.
Just as immediately, another thought popped out:
What is it were something I simply made for MYSELF?
I write all the time about respecting your inner spirit, your inner source for ideas and inspiration. I urge others constantly to make the work that makes their heart sing, and worry about finding an audience for it later.
And here I sit, my brain immediately hopping into “How could I sell this?” How embarrassing! (Again.)
So I write, “I don’t have to make something to sell. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I can make it for myself. It’s something I would love to have in my home.”
Buzzy brain bites back: “You HATE it when people refuse to share their art with the world! How come it’s okay for YOU do it??!” (Buzzy Brain is rollin’ today.)
I write all the time about the importance of getting our work out into the world. I love Martha Graham’s famous quote on how we are the only people who can express that unique vision, how others need to see it and do the same. (I’ve posted links to other articles I’ve written about her quote at the bottom of this one.)
So where is the power in making something for myself?
Well….a lot of things started out as something for me. That freedom to please only myself, the peace of working out the details in a place free from outside comment or criticism, the power that comes from making work from my heart…that’s always been my modus operandi.
But then I realized there are other ways of getting that energy, that vision, out into the world.
I can write about what I’m doing, and why. (Ta da!)
I can tell others about that process (of working from my heart), and encourage them to do it, too.
And I can let this process help me be a better person.
I can learn to be aware, to be in tune with the creative force of the universe. I can learn to be someone who knows the joy and the passion and the power that comes from doing our heart’s own work.
Down the road, the private work of my heart may well become public. Perhaps a solo exhibition or an installation. Perhaps a book. Maybe even a new product. I have no idea.
But the freedom to simply make something that will please me is my gift to myself today.
And my heart rests easier knowing, somehow, someday, it will also be my gift to the world.
A list of other articles I’ve written with Martha Graham’s wise words you might enjoy:
One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.
(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)
Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.
If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!
But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??
Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.
Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.
Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.
Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)
The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.
Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.
What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.
Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….
You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.
Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!
I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.
If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.
Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.
And no one succeeds by giving up.
Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.
There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.
I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.
Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.
I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.
She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.
This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.
If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.
Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”
Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.
Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)
It’s a miracle! :^)
Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!
When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”
(This post was originally published December 11, 2002.)
“Be careful what you wish for….” This has to be my least-favorite proverb in the world. It’s like those folktales about fools wasting silly wishes (“The Sausage“) and bargains with the devil (“The Monkey’s Paw.”) People get their wishes granted, but live to regret it.
Making wishes is dangerous business, these stories seem to warn us. You can wish for the most wonderful thing in the world and the powers that be will twist it against you. Fairies’ gold turned to dry leaves in the morning light.
It takes the very joy out of wishing, doesn’t it? And what a depressing view of the universe! “The universe likes nothing better than to give with one hand and take away with the other.” Yow!
Taken another way, though, this proverb is actually excellent advice. Instead of a dour caution, see it as an challenge to dig deep into your heart, to what you really want.
When we regret a wish we’ve been granted, it’s often because we unconsciously limited the dream before it left our heart. We down-sized it to increase our chances of getting something. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We’re afraid to ask for too much.
Because we don’t really believe our wishes can come true.
You can see this limiting process at work when people take their first tentative steps in their work. I did it. You’ve probably done it, too. You ask for so little. Then when you get it, it’s just not enough. Or it’s just all wrong.
Years ago, I reclaimed my artistic self. (I know, I know, it sounds like I picked up my dry cleaning….)
I didn’t ask for much. I attended a seminar for women artists. I told a roomful of strangers my dream was to make wonderful little toys—tiny dolls, knitted sheep—that you could hold in your hand and marvel at. I wanted to make things that made people happy.
It’s a nice thought. But in reality, I couldn’t imagine affecting people in a more profound way than to appeal to their sense of playfulness.
I didn’t think I had anything deeper or more substantial in me.
So I wished for a way to sell lots of my little toys. Of course, each one took a minimum of two hours to make. And I wanted to make sure they would sell, so I kept the price really low.
After doing some very small local craft shows, I got my heart’s desire. A local store requested four dozen sheep, and of course, they wanted them yesterday.
I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but knitting sheep.
At first it was fun. Each sheep was so cute! But after five in a row, the joy faltered. It was… Hmmmm… Let’s just say that knitting little sheep—lots of little sheep—gets boring fast.
After twelve, I never wanted to see another skein of cream-colored yarn again. At #24, all I could think of was, “Twenty-four down, twenty-four to go.” By #42, I was sick unto death of little knitted sheep.
And I still had to sew them up, and tie little tiny bells on each one.
I managed to squeak out all 48. And swore I’d never make another.
I kept one or two of my stash, because they are so darned cute. And also as a reminder of a lesson learned.
Because in addition to all that knitting, I messed up on figuring my wholesale price. I’d simply cut my retail price in half. So I got $5 per sheep. Ouch. I probably made less than $2 an hour, after my cost for materials.
I didn’t see this granted wish as a disappointment. Okay, I’ll be honest. At first I did.
But then I saw it as a blessing. Thank heavens I hadn’t gotten more orders!
So here’s what I learned from this experience:
I learned production work was not for me. I learned how to establish a decent wholesale price. And at least I had $240 in my pocket, enough money to finance my next endeavors. (Hint: I did NOT buy yarn to make more sheep.)
As time went by, this process occurred over and over.
More ideas and more opportunities crossed my path. Each time I’d think, “Maybe this is the thing that will take off!” They always did—just enough to buy more supplies and make my hobby pay for itself—but not in the way I’d hoped. I followed them til they either petered out or til they grew into something that took me too far away from my heart’s desire. Then I’d let go, and move on.
Along the way I learned a lot about making and selling things. I learned how to sell wholesale to retail stores. I learned about signage and display. I learned how to price my work, how to create a distinctive and original product, how to locate wholesale sources for supplies. I took my profits and reinvested them in my business.
I learned the pros and cons of building a strictly local audience. I learned the potential–and the limits–of advertising. I learned how to promote myself and my work.
I taught classes when I could, but soon learned a little teaching goes a long way for me. I’d rather make more and teach a little. (But I also found I could teach through this blog.)
Finally, I learned what I really wanted, what was truly in my heart.
If you had asked me way back then what I wanted, I would have said, “I want to make something that makes people happy.” I wasn’t digging very deep into what makes me tick.
It turns out there was a story there, a story about how my dreams were echoed in the prehistoric artwork from a cave in France. I thought about why this story was important to me, and how I was going to share that story with the world.
I found a focus and a drive I’d never experienced before. Everything I’d learned about business was now centered on getting my story and my art out into the world.
When I ran into what seemed like insurmountable difficulties, I solved them through perseverance, research and experimentation.
And I loved the entire process. Even the parts that drove me crazy. I was learning so much about myself, my art and my business.
Everything began to fall into place. Opportunities lay everywhere, more than I could take on. Doors opened, people appeared in my life, solutions beckoned.
I still experience failure, but it doesn’t stop me now. It’s a call to evaluate what I really want and whether I’m still on task to achieve it.
I see the presence of something in my life that treasures my creativity, that supports me achieving my dream.
If my true wish had been to sell lots of knitted sheep, there are business models to support that. I could have hired knitters, located a sales rep, done gift shows. But my real wish was to make something totally of myself, so fulfilling and intriguing that I would not tire of the production process; and to make something with such value and power, people would pay a lot to own one.
I had a wish big enough to last me a lifetime. That was the right wish to be granted!
Most small business experts say it can take five years to get a new business off the ground. Even the IRS recognizes that. There’s a lot of learning and failing, growth and change in five years of business….
So look at what you’re doing now. Think about your biggest, deepest wish.
Will you outgrow your current dream? Will you still love it five years from now? If my first wish had been granted five years earlier, I would have outgrown it within six months.
Are you digging deep? Get past the “nice” things to say (“I want to make people happy”) and find your true story. There’s power there.
When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”