HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #18: The Power of Connection and Community

First day of Art at the Source was so slow, I got this necklace made!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It really, really helps if money is not the only measure of your “success”.*

*Thank you forever, Alisha Vincent!

On the brink of the last weekend of our Sonoma County Art at the Source Open Studio Tour.

I posted on Facebook mentioning that my first weekend was rather slow, with a pic of a necklace I made during the lulls. Another participant shared their studio visitor numbers, which were higher than mine.

Here’s why that didn’t bother me at all:

First, numbers come and numbers go. The first two years I did an open studio in New Hampshire, no one came. (I was the only participant in my neck of the woods.) It was a little discouraging but my studio was clean, and I got a lot of new work done.

The third year, my studio was filled to the gills with visitors, and it never stopped until we left New Hampshire.

Second, an original founder and long-time AATS participant (30 years?) who’s well-known in these parts, and whose work is popular, said numbers come and go, rise and fall, over the years, and usually for no discernible reason. “I don’t worry about it,” she said. “It is what it is, and I’m comfortable with that.” Thank you, Sally Baker! (She’s a true grown-up.)

Third, though my numbers were low, those visitors were amazing, each and every one. One woman brought me a box of beautiful abalone shells!

My last point is one that just came to me today:

My visitors created their own in-house community, in my studio, during the tour!

Somehow, I ended up showing two visitors the lovely gift of abalone shells. They were so amazed, I ended up giving each of them one! It just felt like the right thing to do. They were delighted. I know they’ll be back someday.

One long-time fan came in, we had a nice chat, and she gave me an idea for one-on-one mentoring/tutoring with polymer clay. While she was still there, another long-time fan and her studio-mate came in. The three of them hit it off. I offered them comfy chairs, and they sat in a little circle and talked avidly for awhile. (It was still a slow day, people could get around them easily, and I was totally okay with that.) It was wonderful to see new friendships created, right there in front of me!

Another visitor talked about losing a sibling last year, and then the tears came. On impulse, I opened one of my storage drawers and gave them an older bear artifact.  Then I gave them a card with the bear’s story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

(No, I don’t just hand out free stuff to people randomly. There’s just something inside me that says, “They need this….”)

It took me a few days to see what was happening.

These people all had at least one thing in common: They like my work. Some LOVE my work.

They felt safe enough in my sacred creative space to open their hearts, to my stories, to my work, to me. And also to others in that space.

It was amazing.

I’m still unwrapping that, figuring out why it affected me so deeply. But in the end, I can just say I’m glad this all happened.

Oh, I also made a few sales, enough to restock new supplies for my next projects.  Some weird questions got asked, some people weren’t interested and left quickly. Tomorrow’s going to be really really hot, and I don’t have any thoughts about what that will look like.

But I’m not worried.

I’ve already had my share of beautiful little miracles. And I’m grateful for them all.

It’s not always about numbers.

It’s not always about the money. 

It’s about using our creativity to bring out the best in ourselves, and in others. We are truly blessed to be able to do this with the work of our heart.

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #17 Tears for Fears: What if someone steals my stuff??”

Yeah, I could worry constantly about theft. But I actively try NOT to.

Hah! I TOLD you a series is rarely ever “done”!

Just before our latest county open studio event (LINK), an artist reached out with a terrific question: What if someone were to steal their work?

In this case, it was a portfolio of very small “studies”, their way of experimenting before taking on a large project. These studies could easily be pilfered. Should they be worried?

Yes. No. Maybe?

Unless we make huge stone sculptures that have to be hauled away in a wheelbarrow (or similar), yes, we are all potential victims of theft. And you know who is the MOST vulnerable creative/maker for theft? Jewelers, especially those working in precious metals/gemstones. When they do major shows, they often take down their ENTIRE INVENTORY every night. And set it up all over again the next day. OMG!)

But making that the biggest issue with opening our open studio is a sure-fire way to unconsciously let every single visitor know you do not trust them. And that will destroy the very reason open studios are so powerful:

Our visitors want to know more about our work–and US.

Treating each person as a possible thief, destroys any potential connection. Which defeats the entire purpose of inviting them into our creative space.

How do I know? This happened to me, as a studio visitor.

In this case, the person was open to my previous suggestion, ideas for having samples, tools, etc. that are okay for visitors to touch or hold. People are extremely experienced about being told NOT to touch in so many environments. Providing a display, something they CAN touch, is powerful!

Hence this person’s idea of presenting a portfolio of small studies, which they would hate to lose.

Here were my thoughts. (Be sure to add yours in the comments!)

Fears of having our work stolen cements everybody to the ground, as in, a bad way. We all worry about such things. In my lifetime, I don’t recall a single thing being taken, but I have so much stuff, I probably wouldn’t notice if it were missing 🥴
If the worry about losing your portfolio is giving you nightmares, consider a way to display it so that it’s not a small thing somebody could pocket easily.
I’m not a painter, so I don’t know if you’re talking about individual sketches, first drafts, or illustrations in a notebook, etc. You can send me more details and we can figure out a way to keep your work safe.
Maybe only exhibit a few of the pictures you were experimenting with, or have all of them on display in a case, or hang on the wall.
But what’s more important than that is being comfortable with people in our sacred creative space.
I have not had any (okay, not MANY) issues with people being rude, aggressive, sneaky, etc. and I’ve learned over the years that being afraid of these things create anxiety.  And that anxiety can destroy our ability to connect with other people. Yes I have a story about that! 🥴😄
I visited someone’s studio who was obviously afraid of me stealing something. I loved their work, but their suspicious demeanor and them trailing me around their studio made me very uncomfortable. I finally left as soon as I could.
People meeting us in our studio, seeing our work in person, engaging with us, learning more about our process, our inspiration, our techniques, our story, is the single most powerful way for us to gain an audience.
I don’t want to dismiss your fears as being totally unnecessary, but the chances of someone stealing something major from you are pretty slim.
And your fear of having something stolen will create a barrier between you and the very people you want to connect with.
So for your sake, try to set your fears aside.
Consider some of the suggestions about securing your portfolio so no one can just simply walk off with it.
If you can, it’s always nice to have an assistant available, someone who can take care of processing sales, wrapping and packaging, someone who can keep an eye out and help allay your fears.

Yes, they wrote back to let me know they found this helpful. Yay! In fact, it’s not something that’s been an issue in their own art career. Just something that popped up and got stuck in their head. And they already had a helper lined up, and came up with a display plan that worked for them.

And of course, after talking to them, I began to worry about MY work being stolen! (Fears are an easily-transmissible disease with no vaccine….) (Okay, there IS a vaccine: Embrace it, tell it we know it’s doing its job–keeping us safe–and say “Thank you!” Then tell it to scram until it’s time for dinner….)

Next article: How to prevent visitors from throwing cake at our artwork. (JUST KIDDING!!! I have no idea how to stop people from doing that. Apparently, neither does the Louvre….)

How have YOU secured your valuables, and still provided a comfortable place for visitors to engage with you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #16: People Still Love Our Older Work

I’ve gotten good feedback on this section of my “How To” open studio series, about having respect for our older work here and here. I’m glad it’s landed in just the right place, at just the right time, for so many artists, too! (THANK YOU, everybody who let me know that.)

Here’s another story I’d completely forgotten about the value of our older work:

Years ago, when I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I often visited the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. It was among the very first fairs featuring artwork I ever attended. (I grew up in a very small town in mid-Michigan, in a rural community. I didn’t know anybody who actually ‘made art’.) Also, that city event also involved three different art organizations, but in the general public’s mind, it was just one big, wonderful opportunity to see hundreds of artists over a three-day period.

I think this was my first experience with the Fair, and I found a young woman whose work I fell in love with. I don’t remember much…it involved hearts, it was colorful and lovely, she was friendly and excited at how well her work was selling, etc. Unfortunately, it was out of my price range. But I told her how much I loved it, took her card, and told her I’d be back to buy a piece next year. (I THINK the piece I wanted was $150, a lot for me, and a lot back in the mid-70’s!)

I set aside a little money each month and counted the days til the next Fair.

At last the next year’s Fair began, and I found her booth as soon as I could.

But everything had changed. Everything.

Her work had changed completely. (Still 2D, but different subjects, color schemes, size, etc.) Her prices had tripled. Worse, even her demeanor was different.

The excited, happy person was gone. She was snooty, aloof, dismissive of her older work. When I asked if she still had work from last year, she went on a rant about how she was done with that, and she was having much more success with her new work. She was never going back to the “heart” stuff. She was also dismissive of my budget, which had taken me a year to accumulate. She now had “real” collectors who were willing to pay much more for her work.

In short, she made it very clear she had no interest in me as a potential customer.

I walked away almost in tears, and never visited her booth again.

But as I look back, I see I’ve learned a lot from that second encounter, as devastating as it felt at the time.

Can you see all the insights, too?

I know the “hearts” theme sounds trite, but it wasn’t. They were my favorite artwork in the entire fair. Sure, I might have ‘outgrown’ it eventually, as some works of art don’t speak to us forever. But I do still have many of my oldest pieces I’ve collected over the years, and still treasure them. Very few of them have been given away.

That person’s newer work might have been ‘better’, but not for me. It might have made more money for her, but not from me. She may have believed her attitude was more ‘professional’, but not in my opinion.

She made her older work, and loved it when she made it.

One year later, it was worth nothing to her.

And one year later, I meant nothing to her.

In my last two articles on this topic of our older work, I noted what my friend said: We loved it when we made it, it was our best effort at the time, and there were people who also loved it, and bought it, and treasured it.

Just because it’s older, we’re older, our work is better, doesn’t mean it no longer has value. It will still speak to someone, it will still be cherished, and we may have moved on, but it still has its place in the world.

In fact, I’ve made a practice of updating and refreshing older work, and repurposing the artifacts I made years ago. A horse pendant that wasn’t ‘balanced’ can go into a fiber piece. An artifact that didn’t make it as a centerpiece can now be placed inside one of my shrines, its imperfections giving it even more ‘authenticity’ to its air of antiquity.

And if you need/want another reminder about how our customers feel about our older work, check out this post from a year ago. (It’s the one about an artist that shifted gears so monumentally, his customers were left totally in the dark.) (His attitude was much, much kinder, though.)  USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL

Short story? Yes, we grow as creatives, we get better, we change and morph, and so does our creative work.

But each stage of our journey has its value, its admirers, and its place in the world.

Don’t dis yourself, your work, and especially not your customers!

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #12: How to Get People OUT of Your Booth

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth or open studio, so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

There are many kinds of visitors who will come to our open studios. the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to, nor should you, boot every non-customer out of your studio! Not every transaction is about money, and not every comment is meant as a slam, not by a long shot. Revisit “the stupid question”, for example.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. (I wrote this before the TV series, “What We Do In The Shadows”!) If they aren’t driving other customers out of your studio, they are practically driving you out of your studio.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.

To save myself some time this morning, I’ll just point you to a wealth of information on this topic that I’ve written about for years: How to get people OUT of your booth

Short story: Not everyone is your customer.

That’s okay, of course. Most open studios and other events are as much about creating connections as they are about sales. Our open studio events are the most powerful, as we are on our home turf, in our sacred creative space. They get to see who we are, and hopefully learn what our artwork is all about.

And for the same reasons, this is why we can’t let people s*** in our space, either.

But there will be people who may go beyond all boundaries, from slightly-aggressive to downright boring as all get-out. The people who know, deep down, that we are a captive audience.

I get as annoyed as anyone when this happens. And yet, when I take a moment or two (or a thousand), I can get back to my happy place. Maybe they are lonely. Or lost (figuratively.) Or desperate for attention. Or need to one-up me because they are envious. Maybe they are wistful, wishing they could have a studio, a creative outlet, work that they put aside, a decision they regret but can’t fix.

These fears, feelings of superiority (or inadequacy), anger, sadness, can manifest in so many ways, from the Design Diva who will micromanage their custom order to within an inch of (your) life, to realizing your good “friend” isn’t really your friend at all.

Here’s one big tips to help you get through:

Use your words. In almost every situation, from visitors who demand a lot of your time at the expense of other visitors, to well-meaning friends who want to catch up, these three words can be a lifesaver: “After the show…” 

“Yes, after the show I’ll be able to offer classes, so add your email address to my sign-up form so I can let you know.”

“I’d love to grab coffee and catch up with you after the show, when I’m not so busy!”

“Yes, I’m happy to share the info of where to learn more about polymer clay, email me after the show.”

You are setting boundaries while still remaining available emotionally for people you care about (and those you don’t), people you want to be available for (or not), when you can be available.

Why does this work? Reasons here: Why Distraction Works

All of these suggestions and strategies echo words of wisdom my best-ever boss made oh, about 45 years ago:

“If you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.”

And yet also understand that we can all be annoying sometimes, and not everyone is trying to be annoying. (Er…I’m beginning to wonder if I’m more annoying than I realize…)

Last, a very dirty trick, but it can work:

If someone is being a total poo, and nothing I’ve tried has moved them on, I will encourage them to check out another artist’s studio. And it’s often an artist I don’t like. (Okay, I’ve done this maybe three times in my entire art career of 20 years. But I have to admit, it was very satisfying.) (I mean, I also send wonderful visitors to another artist who I DO like, too, if I think they’ll enjoy that artist’s work.) For all you difficult artists, be warned! (JUST KIDDING!) (Not.)

I know I’ve linked to a slew of articles here today. But trust me, I can guarantee you have–or will–meet at least one of these people at any art event you host or attend. Knowing how to deal with it is  powerful protective armor.

And the better you manage it, the better your studio experience will be for everyone involved.

If you’d like most of those articles in one place, you can buy my ebook on Amazon. (Maybe I should do a book on open studios?)

I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

If you found this helpful, let me know! And if you know someone else who might find it useful, pass the link to this article to them. The best gift you can give a writer is to help them grow their audience.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #10: Discounts: Yes or No?

Everybody loves a bargain, right?

That’s why we artists buy our supply in bulk, so we get those volume discounts. And back in the recession of 2008, all kinds of businesses, desperate for income, offered discounts to their customers.

Should artists offer discounts??

It depends. And mostly it depends on how, when, and why you offer them.

Me? The one and only time I ever offered a discount (during that same recession), it backfired. It turns out the customer asked for one, “just because” they’d read that Macy’s was offering discounts. And it turns out they just “threw it out there”, and would have bought the artwork at full price. IF only I hadn’t been feeling desperate and said, “Sure!” Oy vey.

If you believe that discounts work for you, no argument here. Just some clarity about the downside, and suggestions for actions that might work better.

  1. Is cheaper always better? If it’s really “all about the price”, then trust me, your potential customer can find something similar for less. And when they do, they won’t be back. The measure of our work is how well-made it is, how much skill goes into it, and how unique it is. The story behind it, YOUR story, your personal vision. If it’s something anyone can make, there’s someone who does/will, and then it really is all about the price.  And if you say it’s worth $100, but you’re willing to take $80, then what is it really worth?? Know the value of the work you do.
  2. Can you afford to offer a discount?  When we figure our actual cost in creating a work of art, we think about the cost-of-goods-sold: Our materials, our tools, etc. Most artists also factor in time, which makes sense. Except maybe it takes YOU ten hours to paint that piece, and another artist can do it in two hours. And if that other artist has a long history of followers and sales, maybe they have repeat customers who have truly earned a reward now and then. (More suggestions about this below.) And if they support themselves with their work, have to pay for a studio space, the cost of participating in events, exhibitions, shows, etc. the prices will of course be higher. Take into account the amount of money from sales that you’ll pay income taxes on, too.
  3. Are your prices already too low? When I first set prices for my work, I wasn’t in any galleries or stores. My prices actually reflected my wholesale price. Once I was represented by galleries, I realized that I would get only 50%-60% of my retail price. So my prices went up. Because….
  4. Are you respecting your galleries? Galleries are a powerful way to get our work in front of potential customers who can’t come to our studios.  This means we have to respect galleries for what they do for us. If we discount prices in our studio, and a gallery finds out, that could be the end of your relationship with them. Galleries, on the other hand, and with your permission, could offer their faithful customers a discount. Some even offer to take it out of their own commission. Make sure you let them know if this is acceptable, and definitely let them know if it isn’t! Even they do take it out of their profit. Again, what’s the message here? “We’re so desperate to sell this artist’s work, we’ll cut our losses!” Ouch.
  5. Will a discount help me close the sale? Maybe. Tempting, right? Let’s talk about WHO gets a discount first. I would advise not offering one to a new customer. First, it’s not fair to your loyal customers, especially those who have collected your work for years. And yes, they might find out! I’ve found that people who get a bargain love to brag about it. And with social media marketing so popular now, your loyal customer might very well come across that post. The trust and integrity we’ve worked so hard to build is gone in an instant. If anyone deserves a discount, it’s our repeat customers!
  6. Do discounts work? I believe they can help us make small gains in sales when we are starting out, when all our customers are new. But it kinda goes against what our work stands for: Handmade, artisan-made, implies our work reflects skill, quality, and integrity (ours)–not something you can find at a dollar store, where items are mass-produced, often in countries that don’t pay makers well, and are discounted once the shelves have to be cleared.. Discounts can work against our “brand” as someone who creates a unique body of work.
  7. But I believe discounts work! Okay. But BE PREPARED. First, before you offer a discount, check with them what they’re looking for. My first (and last) discount, I offered 25%. (I was desperate.) Turns out they were hoping for 10%. Whoops. Second, factor discounts into your pricing. Always make sure you will still make a profit, even with a discount offer. It’s like “free shipping”. It feels less expensive, but you actually factored the shipping cost into your price, right?
  8. But what about loyal, repeat customers? Two thoughts on that: First, I’ve learned the hard way that even a stated “one-time discount” offer registers as “forever” to our customers. “But last year you gave me a 10% discount!” “Your ad said 25% off!” (Yep, that was 6 months ago…) Instead/second, offer another incentive: If you have prints or cards featuring your work, offer those instead. Or offer smaller work to the purchase that can be added with a discount. (Smaller means a smaller amount of money ceded, or it could be a one-off you are ready to pass on to a worthy person anyway.) Or a coupon for a manageable amount to use on their next purchase. (Again, even a “one-time” coupon will register as “forever.” It’s just a human thing…) Offer a one-off, stand-alone workm a direction you experimented with, but decided not to pursue. For one new collector, I offered to come to their home and talk about the piece for a small gathering of their friends. (It closed the deal, but they didn’t take me up on it.) I have a fellow artist who borrowed my car to deliver larger works to their customers. (Only twice, I have a boxy car, and they came to my rescue several times in difficult situations at my old studio. I’m glad to repay their kindness by helping them offer an incentive to a customer!)
  9. Is it really about the price? It’s common to assume that when a potential customer is hesitant about purchasing our work, it’s about the price. That’s when some of us jump to a conclusion, and offer a discount. But over the years, I’ve found that isn’t so. If someone is obviously interested in an item, I’ve shared the story, I’ve answered there questions, and they’re still hesitant, I’ve learned to as this simple question: What’s holding you back?  Turns out it’s something totally different: “Will it go with the new rug in my living room?” “Can I fit it in my car?” “I want it, but my budget is short this month–will they accept a layaway?” Easy solutions to address!
  10. How a challenge can work even better than a discount. When someone asks if you can discount a work of art, try this highly effective counteroffer: “No, but if….”

Examples: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This work represents a lot of time, skill, and care. It’s a high-quality piece that will bring you joy for a lifetime, and no one else does anything quite like I do. But if you purchase it today, I’ll give you a free copy of a magazine that did an article on me and this very piece!”

No, I don’t discount my work. But if you decide to take it today, I’ll be happy to give a free artist presentation to your coworkers/friends and family/favorite club/guild/association.”

No, this is one of my best pieces, and it’s fairly-priced. But if you take it home today, I’ll hold your credit card information for a week while you decide. If you return it within a week, no charge. And if you don’t return it, I’ll process that charge on (date).” The woman I offered this to? I wrapped it up, gave her all the postcards, story cards, etc. I include with a sale, and gave her the bag. And as she left, she whispered, “I don’t think this is coming back!” It didn’t. (I still waited a week, though!)

For a gallery/store: “No, my prices accurately reflect the value of my work, in time and materials. But if you place your order today, I’ll rearrange my shipping schedule to accomodate your upcoming gallery event.”

The last reason I rarely offer discounts (and usually only on older pieces that have ‘aged out’ of my collection)? Because I felt like I wasn’t respecting my own artwork. If I can’t respect what I do, why do I think others should?

Do you discount your work? How? When? And for whom? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear your strategy!

If you found this article helpful, let me know! And share it with others you think would find it useful, too.

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #6: Kids and Art and Food

This article originally appeared on my blog five years ago, but I’ve updated it with more examples of where my decisions came from.

I had an open studio last weekend (5 years ago), a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.

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

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

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

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

You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine.

The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holyone artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.

First, the food thing.

I quit offering food, drinks, and especially alcohol, in my open studio events because I don’t need to anymore.

It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping their wife’s/partner’s purchases. But there are better ways to break the ice.

And food can be a distraction. In fact, it got to the point at events in my old studio location where the only real reason people came was to eat and drink.

An example that proves my case? My husband and I attended such an open studio event there after I left. In one large studio was a big exhibit of artwork. In the middle of the room was a table filled with wine and food (chips, dip, etc.), with some stools tucked under the table. My husband promptly pulled out a stool, sat down at the table, and proceeded to tuck in a huge amount of chips and dip. He completely misread the room on that one. (I pulled him away and explained it wasn’t like sitting at the bar of a restaurant witha  bowl of chips.) (In his defense, he was hungry!)

Also, there can be negative aspects to serving alcohol at a public event, especially if people are driving afterwards. I don’t know the liquor laws in Sonoma County. But artist Caren Catterall, who co-chaired with me on the mentoring committee at Art At The Source in 2021, mentioned that serving alcohol is not recommended, due to potential liability issues.  She’s good at this stuff, so I encourage you to follow her advice.

As for food in open studios, for years I prepared a feast of snacky thingies, coffee, tea, etc. for guests. But people rarely partook of any of it. So a few hours of food prep did result in lots of great left-overs for my family, but otherwise served no real purpose. Because….I found a better way to engage visitors.

Instead, I tell them it’s okay to touch my art work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else. (JON!!)

So why do I welcome kids in my art space?

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

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

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

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

Finally, the education bit.  Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, and “no kids!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.

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

I’m baffled by this. When did “regular people” ever appreciate fine craft or art?? Especially our currently very narrow definition of it!

I know this from personal experience. I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.

When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing with pencils and crayons, and paper mache, and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations. There was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teachers simply didn’t have the time/bandwidth/resources for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (One teacher was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year. With all the games, training, after-school stuff, when would they ever have time to dig deeper into art?) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go.  (Not sports, though.) I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as home ec (aka, “basic life skills”) and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.

Second, We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade crafts, handwork, and fine art. People can easily find all kinds of creative work, in stores, in stores with galleries, online. Instagram feels made for creative work! It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.

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

Yup. Us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block. (Remember Rik Olson’s shadowbox display, with samples of his materials, tools, and a little work-in-progress? Brilliant!)

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

I love my Moo cards for many, many reasons!

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

I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth!  Send your pics, and I’ll add them!

Melinda Labarge makes these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!
Melinda Labarge, fiber artist, made these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #4a: How to Respond to the Stupid Question(s)

In my last article, The Stupid Question, I explained how actually treating this as a stupid question hurts our connection to our visitors. Today I share some suggestions to answer them better!

Some common questions for me:

“What are these made of?” My response is usually intuitively based. I’ll mention the polymer clay, but especially when I started out, when I simply said, “They’re polymer clay!”, most people would put the item back down. (It was not considered a legitimate “art material” back in the day. And back in the day, a lot of media were not considered “real art materials”, as this article shows: SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Other People Are Listening!

First, it’s more powerful to share WHY you use your medium-of-choice. I’m not a painter, but the one time I tried, I realized I would never paint with acrylics. They set too fast, and I tend to rework and make adjustments every step of the way in my making process. I couldn’t keep up with the drying time of acrylics. You’ve also either deliberately or instinctively chosen a medium that works for you.

So instead, share that: What is it about your chosen medium that fits your process, your style, even your personality?

What are the benefits of your medium? Mine is that, unlike ivory and bone, no animals are harmed by my process. (That’s been a pretty powerful detail for my visitors and customers!)

And though most of the materials available to creatives today are often ranked in terms of “quality”, after you read the above article, I hope you’ll see that that isn’t really relative anymore.

“How long does it take you to make this?”  Aha! The one we all get! (DO NOT SAY, IT’S TAKEN ME 30 YEARS TO MAKE THAT!)  In my case, I ask if they are familiar with making puff pastry or Samauri sword making. Always gets a chuckle without insulting them, and almost everyone is familiar with one or the other. I compare those layering processes with my faux ivory process, which involves mixing the colors, conditioning the clay, creating  multiple layers, ending up with a block of layered faux ivory clay. And say, “And THEN I start shaping my artifacts.” This is almost always followed by a gasp of how complicated this process is. I follow up with how I fire them, how I use a scrimshaw technique to bring out the details, how I sand and buff them to a shine.

Not one person has ever noticed that I never say exactly how long that takes me. 

You can do something similar. Explain what catches your eye when you decide to paint a landscape, what you try to capture in a portrait, what your aesthetic is in your glass/pottery/wood work, etc. How you capture that in your work, what the steps are in your process, etc.

“Do you actually do any work in here??” I get asked that a lot! Including my most recent open studio event, when I was literally sitting at a table working to finish an item that had to be delivered to a gallery the next day.

I don’t know why people ask this. Is it because my “creative mess” is out there? Or because during open studios, I try to set out 90% of my work, so it looks like there’s nowhere for me to actually work? Is it because even on ordinary days, it kinda looks like a gallery, or store? (I hear that a lot, too.)

Here’s what I’ve forgotten: When we get asked a specific question a lot, one good way to explore it is to ask the person why they ask! That’s my goal for my next open studio. To laugh and say this:

“Yes, I do ALL my work in here! I get asked that question a lot. May I ask what made you ask?”

This is an excellent strategy to get an answer I’ve only been making assumptions about. And as you can see, our assumptions can dump both us and our visitors into a bad place. When I get more insight into this particular one, I’ll come back and add it to this.

“Where do you get your ideas?” This is your chance to talk about what inspires and intrigues you, what draws you to a certain subject, or certain body of work. For many of us, it’s closely related to our creation story. (Mine is!)

“Where do you get your materials from?” Mine are wide and varied, but even if you use a single medium, you can share a) why you use the brand you prefer; b) you can share your favorite art supply source (especially local ones, who will appreciate that!); c) if they’re eclectic and unusual, share how you got drawn into that medium, and (again) why. If it’s wood, for example, what are your favorites? Why? Is it the characteristics of a specific tree? The history of the tree? One woodworker asked me for assistance years ago for their artist statement. They were focused on the process. Way too focused. But as we dug deeper, they shared the resilience of wood, how even damaged trees (by fire, insects,  etc.) still have beauty. A metaphor for the human condition, I told him, sharing some suggestions, and encouraged them to use it in their artist statement. (It was published in a magazine years ago, and it still moves me to tears when I read it.)

Also, if a person is interested in your work and materials, this might also indicate they’d be interested in classes. And when you ask if they’d like to hear about the classes you offer, that’s the perfect time to find out where they’re from, and to get their email/snail mail address. (See how much easier it is to get this information once they’ve started to engage with you more deeply?)

Signs are wonderful! They anwer questions, engage introverts, and help us multistask with visitors.

Again, if the questions get tiresome, and/or you have too many people in your studio to explain over and over, signage is your best friend. Some people actually prefer reading more information about you and your work. But if you’re engaged deeply with someone, say, wrapping up their purchase, etc. you can always point a person with a question to your sign that answers it. They’ll appreciate it.

I have signs about my stick collection, my fabric collection, the boxes I use in my shrine series, my inspiration and ideas, my artist statement, the stories behind each of my animal artifacts, and more. They add a whole nother layer of exploration in my studio.

They can do the same for you.

If you’d like to dig deeper into questions and signs, here are some articles that might be of interest: Questions You Don’t Have to Answer (Lots of goodies in there!)

Feel free to share the questions you get, especially the ones you struggle with. There are so many ways to turn them around! And other people might have the exact strategy that works for you. The power of sharing….

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #3: How NOT To Annoy Visitors

(This article includes elements of a post in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series, “Leave Me Alone!”) (Actually, read “LEAVE ME ALONE” first, I’d forgotten this incident. But it fully explains all my frustrations about how we’re “supposed” to interact with visitors and potential customers.)

I know plenty of talented, experienced, act-like-adults artists who have strong opinions on how we should greet visitors to our studio, and how to talk with them.

Frankly, because of my own personal experience as a shopper/browser/highly-evolved hunter-gatherer, at stores, at fairs, at open studios, their suggestions make me want to scream. (But maybe not you, so go with what works for you, okay? The people who made them said it worked for them, so it may resonate with you as well.)

When I enter a store, especially one I’ve never been in before, the last question I want to hear 2 seconds after entering is, “May I help you?” Or, “Are you looking for something special today?”

I’m sure you hear this all the time, too. And what do you say in response? I’m betting it’s some version of, “No thanks, just looking.”

But even other questions can be annoying, or perplexing. One suggestion was, “Have you seen some good art today?”

Sounds okay, right?

Me? When someone has been interested in my work enough to come to MY studio, why on earth would I get them started talking about someone ELSE’S studio??

I asked the person about this and they said it worked for them. So if it appeals to you, go with it.

But here’s the thing. Now imagine that you’re at a show with hundreds of other exhibitors, or part of an open studio tour with the same. And every time you enter someone’s studio, they ask something similar. Even something as neutral as “How’s your day going?” gets frustrating after you’ve heard it twelve times in a day. (I hear silent screaming. Let me give you a minute. Okay!)

Other suggestions are similar, but all of them are, in one word, a distraction. Making idle chit-chat is not why they came to see us. (YES, we need to ask them where they’re from, or how they heard about us, and especially if they’d like to sign up for our newsletter/event notifications. But wait until you have a stronger connection with them first. Wait until they’ve explored a bit first. Why? Keep reading!)

When people enter a new space–a store, a show booth, a studio–they need a few seconds to land. They look in (at a booth) or around (in a store or studio) and figure out if it’s where they want to be. Give them those few seconds, before you pelt them with questions. (See examples below)

Bruce framed this approach as eliminating pressure. Visitors, customers, shoppers, don’t like pressure. Pressure can break every connection that is formed in those precious few seconds.

If we ask them that question about other people’s studios, about how their day is going, where they’re from, etc. please know that probably every other artist on the tour has asked them something similar.

If we ask them if they are looking for something in particular, or if they need help, or if they have any questions (they just got here!!), even why they chose to come to your studio, remember: These are either pointless questions, or coming too soon. They will say, “No thank you, just looking.”

If you were a store, they would look, and leave.

Instead, greet/welcome them. Introduce yourself and your work in one or two sententences. “Hi, I’m Luann, welcome! My work is inspired by prehistoric cave art. I make all my own artifacts that look like ivory, bone, shell, and stone.” Make a list of what you’d like to say, practice it so it feels second-nature, and keep it short.

I add, “It’s okay to touch things, pick them up, open drawers. Make yourself at home….”

Here comes the magical part. In his seminars, Bruce says there is one little word that turns everything around:

“….and if you have any questions, just let me know.”

If. IF. IF.

A powerful little word that turns that whole dynamic around.

It allows that maybe they won’t have questions, and that’s okay. It allows them to determine how they’re going to spend their time in our space. Signage can give them information that lets them go deeper into the “how” and the “why” behind our work. (More on signage coming up next!)

It removes the pressue.

They will say, “Thank you!” With enthusiasm. And they will dig in. (In a good way.)

Now, some visitors are out-going, and they pepper you with questions. Great!

Some visitors just want to look around first. Great! In fact, I use lots of signs in my studio, so people who aren’t ready, aren’t eager to talk with me, can still get answers to their questions. And if there’s someone asking me questions, everyone else will listen to my responses.

People are going to ask a lot of questions, and the simplest ones are about the “how”, the “where”, and the “what”. Be prepared! What is your process? What are your materials? Where do you get them? Where did you learn how to do this? and so on.

Over time, you’ll see a pattern of common questions. For me, it’s “What are these made of??” I don’t mind answering the same questions over and over, but some artists do. If that’s you, write up a succinct description of your process and inspiration, print them out, and frame them for visitors to read. (I use these frames, which are less than $4 each, but you can find them in smaller quantities, or split the pack with other artists if you don’t need 6 or 12.)

Even more powerful is sharing your creation story, the moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, and say. Here’s an article about how to find your creation story, and here, and why they matter.

You assignment is to do some deep thinking about you and your artwork. Then come up with a couple sentences to introduce yourself and your work.

Be ready for all the questions you’ll get, and direct people to your signage if you’re out of steam or simply engaged with another visitor in the moment.

The next article is about what people will do when they are ready for you to talk to them. And the danger of misinterpreting their intentions, which can blow you both out of the water.  Stay tuned!

Questions? Comments? Happy to hear ’em! Remember, if you have a question, someone else probably does, too. So you’re not only helping me do better, you’re helping someone else!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: #1 Make Your Space Safe For Visitors

(This article is adapted from my series GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD, #3 Alice’s Tiny Doors.  Also #2 Let Me In! I was going to add more….Okay, there are TONS of stuff about layout in that series, check it out! All the information that can apply to open studios AND show booths.)

Before I forget, an excellent book by Paco Underhill, WHY WE BUY: The Science of Shopping is a game-changer. Underhill actually watched people shopping, caught moments when people stopped, turned around, put an item down, you name it. And then they figured out WHY those people didn’t/wouldn’t make that purchase. It’s an easy read, it’s a quick read, and it’s worth its weight in gold. Grab a copy asap!

Back to open studio stuff. When setting up or adapting your work space for visitors, make sure it is a) safe; b) accessible; and c) accommodating. And by ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’, consider not only the obvious dangers, but what triggers the unconscious human behaviors that are meant to keep us safe, but may disrupt our visitors’ looking/shopping.

  1. Keep your floor safe for visitors.
    1. If you have rugs, check that there are no curled-up edges or corners people might trip on.
    2. Don’t let electrical cords trip people. If some have to cross a visitor’s path, check out covers for those cords. They still have a trip factor, but they’re easier to see, won’t pull down whatever the cord is attached to if someone DOES trip (as a trippy cord might), and flatter covers will obviously work better than ones that are high highly-“domed” or angled.
    3. Unplug any power equipment you use that could be dangerous for visitors: saws, sanders, buffers, etc. Most people wouldn’t dream of deliberately turning them on, but I learned my lesson after an absent-minded visitor turned on my Foredam buffer out of curiosity. (No one was hurt, thank goodness!) If you have tools, chemicals, etc. that are sharp/dangerous, but you are okay with people seeing them, just put them out of reach, especially if children are present.
    4. Watch for slippery places: Spilled drinks, grease, etc. Be ready to clean them up quickly if they occur.
    5. See #3.2 below about what can escape our notice if we’re not paying attention, or if a visitor is deeply absorbed with looking at our work.
  2. Do a safety check. Remember that lights get hot (although with new LED lighting, this is less of a danger nowadays.) Make sure any halogen lighting you use will not make any contact with fabrics, flammables, nor customers.
  3. Don’t put your artwork, or anything not important to your display, on the floor except that rug, for many reasons:
    1. What you put on the floor looks like you don’t treasure it.
    2. People’s feet stick out from their bodies. That’s why our kitchens have toe-kicks. Anything below waist-level might not ‘register’ in our brains, which is why we often trip or hit a table with splayed-legs. (I’m CONSTANTLY hitting my knees walking around our bed, because the footboard is too low to “register” in my unconscious brain, even though I walk around that bed EVERY SINGLE DAY.) And if people are deeply engaged with our work, they may not notice something that sticks out.
    3. People hate, hate, HATE bending over to look at something. And many people are at that age when even if we CAN squat down, we have to think really hard about getting back up.
  4. Be aware of tight spaces and dead-ends in your studio layout. This is really trickly, but once you watch people avoiding certain areas of your studio, it gets easier to catch. People unconsciously avoid areas they may feel ‘trapped’ in. They may avoid a dark section, again unconsciously. (This is why an unlit studio with dramatic lighting for your artwork is not a good idea.) Apparently this is a wonderful way for a gallery to showcase a painting that a customer is very interested in, but for general display, bad lighting and dark places will not serve your visitors.
  5. Beware the Butt Brush! Narrow spaces and aisles can create what Underhill refers to as “The Butt Brush”. This happens when aisles are too narrow and someone brushes someone else from behind as they attempt to pass buy. The reaction of the brushed person is profound and extreme–they immediately stop shopping. It is an especially powerful reaction in women. So by all means, if you want women to stop looking at your work and walk away, make sure they are getting brushed and bumped from behind as people scootch by. (I’ve experienced this myself and it is deeply instinctual.)
  6. How to avoid the “bull in the china shop” scenario. Avoid any display or setup in your space that could be unstable, fragile, easily knocked over, etc. If people touch a pair of earrings and the display stand falls over, it will freak them out. If they lean on a jewelry case and it rocks, it will freak them out. If a branch holding Christmas ornaments is sticking out and snags their shirt as they walk by, it freaks them out. Especially if it causes damage.
  7. Guide people subtly with your display layout, and use visual cues to move them through your space. Arrange your work so that one display leads to the next. Signage, dashes of color in a neutral display, lighting, work angled in interesting ways–all of these are so much more conducive to shopping than narrow paths and rigid layouts. (More on display in the next article!)
  8. Make it clear what’s for sale, and what isn’t. (You can check out GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product for more details.) Short story: This is harder to do in a studio, because it’s not like a booth or shop that’s dedicated to selling. It’s also our workspace, our creative space, our inspirational place. It holds our supplies, our tools, our work-in-progress, the bowls of fruit and china we stage to create a still life, etc. I make little signs out of pieces of matboard that say, “For Display Only” on any items that aren’t for sale. NFS for “Not For Sale” works, too. Not everything has to be priced, of course, but price tags do help letting visitors know what’s definitely for sale.

I’m gonna give you a break and stop here. We never get it all right the first time, but use every opportunity to take note of where trouble spots (and troubling spots) are as people move around your space.

Did I miss something? Send your questions, if you have one, someone else needs to know, too!

Stay tuned for my next article on setting up our art display! Arrange Your Art There are some pros and cons to the traditional thinking about this, you get to choose which one resonates with YOU.

 

 

YES, COMMON QUESTIONS NEED GREAT ANSWERS! (Need Your Help Today)

This is just about the ‘neatest’ my desk gets. Ever. (Can you tell I just push things out of the way or stack stuff up, so I have six square inches to work in?)

 

 

First, a shout-out to other artists for sharing their experiences and insights, which have led me through many dark places in my artistic life.

I mean, not the unasked for opinions and advice-giving. Nor the people who “know better” on how I should make/what I should make. Trust me, I got this. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, what a ‘good’ challenge is and what isn’t, etc.

One terrific game-changer was insights for open studios and art events, on how to respond to the questions we get asked, over and over and over again.

Some of my personal favorites are gathered in my columns Questions You Don’t Have to Answer.

Bruce Baker, a jewelry artist and gallery owner, was also a great workshop/educator back in the day. I listened to his highly-informative tapes (then CDs) on my way to fine craft shows. (Looks like his podcasts might still be available at this CraftCast website.)

One of my favorite topics consisted of how to respond in a courteous, professional, and kind, compassionate way when booth or studio visitors ask those common questions.

Too often, we make assumption about people’s intentions. We can respond with frustration, exasperation, even anger and resentment. Or just as bad, making their question into a joke that turns back on them. (“How long does it take you to make that?” “It took me 40 years to make that!” Ugh.)

I’ve been the recipient of such rudeness, when I asked an artist a question about their work: Were these items wood or metal? (Not allowed to touch, no information about the work, terrible artist statement, etc.) How was I to know they got asked that question all the time? They gave me a disgusted look, crossed their arms, and turned their back to me.

I left without buying the artwork I’d had my eye on. Did not want that energy in my home.

Bruce expanded on the example.  “How long…?” His take? We assume people want to know how much money we’re are making an hour. Maybe. (Many customers don’t realize we have to base our retail price on what the item’s wholesale price will be.) But one day, when someone asked him that question, he responded with, “People ask me that all the time. Why do you ask?” And the person responded with, “I’ve always wanted to pursue a craft myself, and now I have the time to do so. So I was just curious what that part of your life is like?”  IOW, “what is it like to be an artist, to make this work? Can I do this? Will I ever be this good at it??”

That’s not a put-down. It’s a conversation-opener! I’ve had a lot of people collect my work because they love it, they like/respect me, and my work reminds them of me encouraging them to do the work of their heart. (They may also be delighted to sign up for my introductory classes I hope to offer next year!)

And of course, when something is as time-consuming as my work is, when I share that process, they almost always go into jaw-dropping mode. They have even more respect for what I put into it to achieve the results I want.

Another way to respond to common question is to make a sign. Bruce mentioned this in his CDs, and it work! I have lots of signs in my studio, ranging from “Where do you get your fabrics?” to “Why do you have so many sticks??” Some people read them, some people don’t. But depending how busy I am, how crowded my studio is (pre- and hopefully post Covid!), and how much brain capacity I have available, I can go into story-telling mode or direct them to the appropriate sign.

So here’s where you can help me today. Because I constantly get this particular question in my studio, in every single studio I’ve ever had:

“Do you actually do any WORK in here??”

If you see clamps on something, yes, I’m making something in here!

Of course, I respond politely and cheerfully, and acknowledge, “Yeah, I get asked that a lot!” and point out my work surfaces, etc.  I do have a lot of finished work on display. My work has always sold slowly (but steadily, so yeah, it can look like a “store”.) (I prefer “gallery”, of course!)

But during my last open studio, I actually dialed down on visitors. First because Covid rates were sky-rocketing again. Partly because I’m traveling to see my brand-new grandson soon, and Covid is a “gift” I don’t want to give to him. And also because I was invited to be in not one, but two gallery shows. Work was to be delivered a few days after the open studio event was over. I had to hunker down and finish some of the new shrine series I’ve been working, to meet those deadlines.

So the first day I had visitors, I was at one of my workstations, actively finishing two shrines: Painting, mounting tiny sculptures, labeling, etc.

And one person turned to me and said, “Do you actually do any WORK in here??”

My face, when I get asked this question.

I am a human bean. My first instinct was to scream, “What the h*** do you think I’m doing right now?!”

Instead, my usual response. Laugh, say yes, I do all my work in here. Here are my tools, here’s my equipment, here’s a work-in-progress, etc.

Next time, I gonna take Bruce’s advice, and ask them why they ask.

 

Til then, I’m curious: Do people ask you this, too?

If so, do you have a friendly, welcoming response?

(NOT what you would read in the Facebook group, “S*** Overheard at Art Festivalss”, which may feel satisfying, but can also shut down a conversation with a visitor who could be a real customer someday. Even if someone really means to be an a**h***, remember: Other people are listening, and we do not want to make them afraid to ask what might be a “stupid” question.)

Send me your commments, I’d love to hear them! One request: No snark, no sarcasm, no making fun of the person who asks.

And I will also take my own advice, and make a sign.

And now for the ‘ifs’…..

If you know someone who might enjoy this, pass it on!

If someone sent you this newsletter, and you found it helpful, sign up for more at my website at LuannUdell.com

 

 

 

 

NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS) 101 #24 and a half: Don’t Do This!

NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS) 101 #24 and a half: Don’t Do This!

When it comes to email newsletters, asking for permission is a heckuva lot more professional than asking for forgiveness!

(4 minute read)

Show your subscribers that you "give a hoot"!

A couple of things that really bug me popped up in my email inbox lately. They are related, but separate.

And I realized, if they annoy me, they will probably annoy your fans, too.

The first one is:

Don’t cc everyone on your email list! Use bcc instead, please!

Lately, I’ve been added to some unusual email lists, ones I didn’t sign up for. (More on that below.) They were mostly friends who wanted to ‘get the word out’ about something specific.

They included everyone’s email address in the “cc” section.

This may seem like a harmless issue, or perhaps even too picky.

But this IS an issue for several reasons:

  • Some of those people might be very protective of their privacy and contact info. And you just shared it with dozens, maybe hundreds of people they don’t even know.
  • Someone may be protective of their privacy because of abuse, physical harm they’ve suffered, scammers, etc.
  • There may be someone in that group they want to avoid, for many reasons, large and small.
  • And some people may be tempted to do the second thing I hate:

Please don’t sign me up for your email newsletters unless I specifically ASK to be signed up.

When people ask a question about my articles, I usually ask them to send an example. And since I’ve been writing about email newsletters, that’s what I get.

Except, many people signed me up for their newsletters, permanently.

And other people included in that “cc list” may do that, too.

I know for sure this is what happened to me. I signed up for a workshop a couple years ago, with a local artist hosting a meet-up for a nationally-based art consultant. The consultant and the host sent updates. I ended up not being able to attend.

But the host added me to their email newsletter. And that really, really annoyed me! I signed up for something they were hosting, not for their work.

Now, emails don’t take up much space on our desktops, nor even our laptops. They are usually very small in size. So deleting them doesn’t really save any space.

And I’m not one of those people who deletes everything (except accidentally!), and I usually keep stuff I think I might want to refer back to someday.

But:

  • It’s still a lot of stuff in my inbox, and can be distracting if I don’t have time to read them.
  • Though I support everyone’s creative work, that doesn’t mean I want to hear from them every week.
  • And there are people I simply don’t like, who I’d rather not hear from.
  • I hesitate to unsubscribe, for the reasons I listed above. Though I know I shouldn’t get upset when some people unsubscribe from MY newsletters, it makes me hesitate to unsubscribe, even from the folks I don’t like.

So don’t put your email subscribers in this position.

I know sometimes we have to go out on a limb in order to build our email list, especially at the beginning. Every article about email newsletters suggests great ways to get people on board, telling us reaching out to friends, family, customers, studio visitors, etc.

I know it’s easy to unsubscribe, too.

I know it’s easy to ask for forgiveness rather than to ask for permission.

But there are consequences.

FASO’s email newsletter service is very ethical. Even when you add someone who’s TOLD me they want to sign up, it will still ask that person if I have that permission. Unsubscribing is clear and easy, and sometimes people will even share why they’ve made that decision.

Most of the ‘professional level’ email programs follow the same guidelines.

But when it comes to forgiveness vs. permission, go with the latter. Please.

Protect your followers’ privacy, and respect their boundaries.

Use “bcc”, and only sign up those who ASK.

As always, your shares and comments are welcome!

Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com. I repost my FAV articles on my blog, so if you have trouble leaving a comment at FAV, you can subscribe to my blog here and/or leave a comment on my blog.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, here are all my articles at FineArtViews.com.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #21: Share Your Customer Service!

Some roadblocks to my latest Shrine Series resolved, full steam ahead!
Some roadblocks to my latest Shrine Series resolved, full steam ahead!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #21: Share Your Customer Service

How a family-run business has made me a lifelong customer!

(4 minute read)

You get a pass today. I started today’s column on a different note, getting all the details just right. Which meant, of course, that it ran on and on. Then I accidentally deleted it. So…a shorter read today!

I wanted to share a new topic idea for your email newsletters that your readers will appreciate.

A project dear to my heart has been blocked for years. I ran into a few roadblocks on a new series of box shrine. I was using a silicon construction adhesive to join the boxes. It worked until it didn’t, and I was at a loss of where to go next.

I came up with two different solutions: Mechanical connections (which was a whole nother can of worms, until I worked my way through them, too) and epoxy.

I bought a tube from a local hardware store. But it went south the first time I tried to use it, and in frustration I reached out to the company. I described what happened, asked if it were shelf-life related (yup, some glues and epoxies have a shelf-life.) And waited for a reply.

My experience with customer service regarding defective products hasn’t been good.

I fill out all the forms online, then wait weeks for a response. IF I ever even get a response. (This is my usual experience, especially from companies too big to care  very much.)

So I nearly dropped my teeth when the company care rep for J-B Weld responded the next day. In less than 24 hours. (They’re in an earlier time zone, so it was impossible for them to respond any earlier.) The rep not only responded quickly, he sent me about a dozen tubes of epoxy, fresh from their factory line. Some were the same I’d purchased, but he added a variety of others for me to experiment with. For free.

He refused my offer to pay for them. And when I followed up a few weeks later, sharing my success with some the glues, but the same issue with others, he promised to send even more glue! Even after we realized part of the problem was the temperature in my studio (it’s usually 48 degrees in the winter until my space heater gets going), he still made it his personal mission to help me get my project moving forward.

As you can imagine, I am now a life-long customer!

Why am I sharing this today?

The first reason is obvious: Good customer service is vital for any business, and small businesses often do it better than mega-businesses. As artists, we need to understand this, too. I’m not suggesting you overwhelm your collectors with free epoxy. I mean, art. But when something goes wrong, I do my best to make their experience as positive as possible. Listening carefully, sorting out the options, and making things right.

The second is just what I’m doing here: Sharing my powerfully-positive experience with you. Letting you know that, whatever your need for epoxy, this is a company who stands behind their products. They want to know if you have a problem, and they want to help you fix it.

And your experience is something you can share in your email newsletters.

A lot of artists subscribe to my blog and newsletter, and of course, to Fine Art Views. Sharing what manufacturers you can trust is a gift to them. For my collectors, they may benefit, too. But it also shows them I really get what great customer service looks like.

Sure, there will always be that rare client who we can never make happy. And I sincerely hope you don’t buy some J-B Weld epoxy just so you can complain and ask for a box of more epoxy, free.

But they reached out to me, quickly, with full support. They believe in their products, and acted accordingly.

Just as we do the best work we can, and work to fix it if something goes wrong, with our own collectors.

And that’s the third reason to share: Do we want our customers to complain about how we handled an issue? Or do we want them to sing our praises?

We can share our own story/stories about how we created the perfect experience with a customer, or we can share our own personal experience, like the one I had with J-B Weld.

So today, I’m giving a shout-out to Chris Fox at J-B Weld (thank you, Chris!), who figured out what the problem actually was, so I can move forward.

And you get yet another idea of what to share in your next email newsletter!

Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

Share this Fine Art Views article, or view more like it my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

Sharing may seem like bragging. But it isn’t, and here’s why…

(6 minute read)

In last week’s post, I shared some of the basics of creating an email newsletter about our art. In the articles ahead, we’ll explore them, and address our fears/doubts/am-I-doing-it-wrong moments.

One person shared their own fear: What if I sound like a narcissist?

This one was easy: If you’re worried about sounding like a narcissist, then you aren’t a narcissist. Because a true narcissists doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong! They truly believe they are better than everyone else in the world, and don’t understand why that bothers other people.

But I get that this might be a big concern for many of us, especially those who were subtly (or blatantly) encouraged not to be “too much” in our culture: Don’t brag. Don’t show off. Be quiet. Keep out of the spotlight. Be humble. Be all this, to the point of making ourselves so small, we can barely breathe.

I also believe this is why so many of us find doing our own art marketing so hard. We’ve incorporated those ancient beliefs that tooting our own horn is just not ‘nice’. We wish someone else would do it for us.

And so many artists end up not doing it at all.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between bragging, and self-confidence. And self-confidence is healthier than self-denigration!

Like any other skill in life, practice helps. Start with a short little newsletter to your audience. Pick one thing that’s going on with you in your artist life this month/week/day.

Let’s start with that ‘talking to a good friend’ analogy I mentioned in last week’s article.

Imagine you have a meet-up with a person you really like, and they really like you, and you haven’t seen them for a while, what would you talk about?

HOW would you talk?

Would it be a monologue? Would it only be about the stuff you’re proud of? Would your intention be to make yourself bigger than/better than your friend? Because bragging is a way to make other people feel less-than.

Or would you share your successes and breakthroughs in manageable “bites”, with gratitude for your good fortune, with joy for what you’ve accomplished, knowing they will be genuinely happy for your success?

If you were working on a new project, and it didn’t work out the way you intended, would you only complain about everything that went wrong? Whine about all the people who made it worse? Blame your shortcomings on others?

Or would you make it into a funny story that makes you both giggle? Or share how you worked through the hard parts and found a way through, knowing your friend would be happy you did?

Do you strive to present the “perfect life”, like a social media ‘influencer’, carefully editing out anything that would mar your dream world? (If so, you’d better treat your friend to their meal.)

Or would you go back and forth, sharing the ups and downs, checking in with them about what they’re up to, how their getting through, and sharing what’s worked for you that MIGHT work for them, too?

I’ve read some newsletters that truly brag, the sender actively applauding themselves, congratulating themselves on how amazing they are, how talented, how rich, etc.

Bragging implies that rewards, success, wealth, and influence are a finite ‘pie’. And if their share of the pie is huge, that means there’s less for everyone else.

But what if we simply acknowledging our gifts: The skills we’ve worked hard to acquire. The time we’ve carved out for ourselves, to make this work.

What if we let people have a peek into our life: Share our creative process. How we get our ideas? How we know when a piece is ‘done’? What if we thank the people who have supported our work by purchasing it?

That’s not ‘bragging’. That’s owning our own life, honoring our unique journey. Achieving what we’ve practiced and prepared for. Sharing our dreams and goals.

We get to do that.

We can share how we get ‘set back’, and how we found the courage to move forward again. It will encourage someone else to find their courageous heart, too.

We can tell how we got stuck somewhere in our latest project, and how we found our way through. It will let others know there are always things that get in the way, and help them not be discouraged, too.

We can write about something funny and charming that happened, and it will make someone else smile, too.

Acknowledging our gifts and being genuinely grateful for them is not evil. Self-confidence is not evil. There are ways to let people know that EVERYONE has a gift. This one just happens to be yours.

The pie is infinite. And if our slice is huge, that means there’s plenty for everyone else, too.

I love this paragraph from an article I found while checking my own assumptions about bragging vs. self-confidence today:

“That’s one reason many of us don’t like to show off. We live in a highly competitive world, and we don’t want someone else to feel badly just because we’re feeling good. But sometimes that concern stops us from sharing good things that our friends, families and colleagues would actually like to know. And of course, in the workplace, there’s a fine line between showing off and genuinely outlining accomplishments that can help you move forward professionally.”

(F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W.)

“Don’t let that concern stop you from sharing good things….” Yep, there’s my entire column today in 20 words or less.

Granted, a newsletter can feel like a one-sided conversation. But it really isn’t. It’s a way of sharing aspects of our life that people wouldn’t otherwise see. Letting others in on that is courageous. Powerful. And good.

So once more, with feeling: Imagine someone who wants the best for you. Someone who loves you for who you are, and what you do. Someone who has found joy in your work, and wants to see/hear/learn MORE about what we’re up to.

Write them a letter.

Then sit back and let the magic of authentic connection, grow.

Next week, I’ll share some ideas of what to write about. In the meantime, if you’ve already found your ‘happy place’ with your newsletters, share some of your insights. Other people will be so grateful! If you’ve received a newsletter from someone else, and it spoke to you, share a) what it was that made you feel connected, and b) how it could work for YOU.

And last, if you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Luann Udell, artist/writer

“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts:
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber works inspired by ancient art.”

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

Oops! Forgot to publish this last Tuesday. So now you’ll get TWO articles on writing email newsletters this week! Because tomorrow is my NEXT Fine Art Views post…..

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

(6 minute read)

Someone wrote back to me today, telling me how much they enjoyed my email newsletter. They said it gave them hope that they could make theirs better. Yippee! I love it when I can encourage people to take one step forward. I know it will lead to many more.

I’m not the perfect newsletter writer. But I’m happy to share more insights on what might work for YOU.

What’s my secret sauce?

  1. Be authentic. I write like I’m talking to a good friend. (You can now skip this entire article if you’re out of time, because that’s the heart of my advice.)

 

  1. Be positive. So, not the friend where I cuss and swear about something frustrating that happened to me at the supermarket. I stick with positive news. No politics. No complaining.

 

  1. Don’t be boring. And not like the letters we had to write for elementary school English class. (As in, “Hello, how are you? I am fine! Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What did YOU have for lunch?”) I share something I’m excited about, something interesting I’m working on.

 

  1. Don’t be pompous. If making people feel smaller works for you, okay, I guess. But I prefer reading about the people who make me feel like I have a voice in the world, too. (Again with the ‘friend’ thing…)

 

  1. Act like you care. I write as if I’m talking with someone I care about. Someone who hasn’t heard from me in a few weeks, someone who really likes me, and who loves my work.

 

  1. Share your news. Then I tell them what’s up. What I’ve done, what I’ll be doing, and oh, you might be interested in this thing I made/wrote. And I ask them to let me know what they think. (More on this in the weeks to come.)

 

  1. Think about what YOU like to hear in emails. I think about what I like when I get other people’s emails. So in the next few weeks, take note of what newsletters YOU get. What do you like about them? Which ones do you stop and read right away? Why?? What’s in them that makes you happy? Inspired? Thoughtful?

 

  1. Don’t make it all about the money. I consider the things I DON’T like to see in other people’s emails. Repetition. Always about sales. Acting like a TV commercial. Creating false urgency. (Even a call to action does not always have to be about buying something.)

 

  1. Remember that when people sign up for our newsletter, it means they WANT to know more. They want to know what makes us tick. How (and why) we do what we do. How we found our way forward, and how they can, too.

 

Otoh, I think about the people who put me on their email list without checking with me first. DON’T DO THIS!

 

  1. Be casual. Perhaps this advice is not ‘professional’. Perhaps people who are famous artists do it differently. After all, they may have a prestigious clientele, people who would willingly pay $25,000-$100,000 or more for their artwork.

 

But that’s not me. So I do it differently.

 

  1. We’re visual artists. Include pictures! This would be so much harder if we were musicians….

 

  1. Remember, all customers are fans, but not all fans are customers. I’m writing to people who may not be able to afford my work. And people who have collected my work for decades. And everyone in between. In my newsletter, everyone is worthy.

 

  1. Let people know who you are. The people I’m writing for are people I saw regularly back in New Hampshire, and people who may have never met me. People who come to every open studio, and people who have never been to my studio. Some of them are on the East Coast, some are on the West Coast, and some are in the middle. So we can’t even talk about the weather! But what they all have in common is wanting to know more about us, about our work, about our journey.

 

  1. There’s too often, and not enough. Too long, and too short. Etc. (You get to choose.)* Because I don’t want to inundate people with my writing, I used to limit my email newsletter to ‘events’, just like I did with my snail mail mailing list. Here’s my booth number at that fair, here are the dates of my open studio, etc.

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and artist newsletters myself. Some write every day. Some write once a week, and some write once a year. Some are so long, I never stop to read them. Some are so interesting, I drop whatever I’m doing to read them.

When I unsubscribe from a newsletter, it’s because a) I’m no longer interested in what they’re sharing with me; b) I’m not buying what they’re selling; c) I never signed up for their newsletter in the first place.

My point here is, there is no single right-or-wrong way to write a newsletter. Except, too boring, too repetitive, and waaaaaay too long. (I’m lookin’ at MYELF here…)

You might be disciplined enough to send one every week, or every month. Or you might be like me, skipping a month or two, then sending three in a week.

If people like what you’re saying, they won’t care. If they don’t, they’ll find any excuse to unsubscribe. And like people that say mean things to us, it’s more about them than it is about us.

  1. Email newsletters are soooo much easier/quicker/cheaper than snail mail mailings to stay in touch with our followers. Back then, it was expensive to mail thousands of people, even just a postcard. So I never sent a newsletter for any other reason.

Now, all I have to do is type, and add some good pictures, and hit ‘send’. Yay! I just saved $600!!

Last, here’s something I’ve learned this year:

  1. Newsletters level the playing field between extroverts and introverts. More on this to come!

 

*Now my caveat: There are people who offer different advice about newsletters. They have more expertise than I do, and perhaps even statistics to back them up. Please, feel free to skip my advice if/when it conflicts with theirs.

But if this appeals to you, stay tuned for more columns ahead, where I’ll share some ideas about things we can write about, and why newsletters can be a powerful tool for introverts.

Share your own stories in the comments! What newsletter did you create that got the best response from your audience, and what do you think was the reason why? Where do you get stuck when creating a newsletter? What’s your greatest fear? (Hint: Getting our work out into the world is a hero’s journey. Newsletters are much less strenuous!)

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

A TALE OF TWO STICKS: The “Perfect” One vs. “What Works”

A sad story with a happy ending.

A long-time admirer contacted me earlier this month, looking for the perfect wall hanging for their home. After many emails and sent images, they decided on a framed fragment:

One of three framed fiber “fragments” in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they had their heart set on a wall HANGING. Would I be willing to turn this into one?

Well, sure! The framed version would be harder to ship, I haven’t made hangings in awhile, and this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. A practice piece, if you will.

It took many, many more hours of work than I’d anticipated. Still, if I charged by the hour, all of my work  would have to sell for several thousand dollars. Which didn’t seem fair….

I added a backing to the fragment, created a hanger for the back, and searched my extensive stick collection for the perfect stick. It has to be the right length to work with, a shape that works with each fragment, etc.

Surprisingly (not!), I always find only one stick that meets my needs.

I found it! A beach-combing find from the Sonoma coast. I test all my sticks before I use them in a piece, to make sure they aren’t too brittle or fragile. This one passed the test–I thought.

The Perfect Stick.

 

 

 

 

 

It was already worn smooth by waves, it had beautiful branches, it sanded up easily. After waxing and buffing it to a soft gleam, I got to work drilling holes for the ties that would secure the fiber fragment to it, the beaded side “drapes”, and the cord to hang it all with.

For some reason, my new power drill didn’t work very well. Maybe my drill bits are dull? So I used my little hand drill (pin vise) to make the holes. Yep, more hours….

I put almost 8 hours on drilling the holes, stringing the color-coordinated glass beads for the drapes, attaching the fragment to the stick, and adding the beads that adorn the hanger. I’m pretty fussy about the beading. I use a lot of antique glass trade beads in my work, and many of them have really big holes. I have a stash of smaller beads I use to fill the holes so the beads set evenly.

After it was all put together, I picked it up to take a photo…..

And the stick broke.

It broke where I’d drilled a hole. Fortunately, it was a clean break. I was able to glue it back together (with construction adhesive!), restring that part, and wound some cord around it for support. Part of my aesthetic is creating the look of a well-worn, often mended piece of art. So it fit right in!

I clamped the repair and let it sit a full 24 hours, like the instructions said. Came back to the studio, gently tested the repair–good!

I picked it up to photo it. And it broke in my hand again.

This time, the wood shattered. So I was back to square one. (Okay, square three, but it sure felt like ‘one’.)

It took awhile, but I found another, completely different stick that I loved.

The new perfect stick!

It has a sad history. Bark beetles are highly-destructive, destroying millions of acres of forests.

 

 

 

 

And yet, the damaged wood is hauntingly beautiful.

In New Hampshire, I looked for beaver-chewed sticks. The chew-markes look like writing, strange writing to be sure. They became part of my story, echoing the mystery of the cave paintings of Lascaux in my art: A message that was not addressed to us, a message we cannot read.

The trails made by bark beetles echo that story.

I’ve collected a lot of their chewed sticks from the coast, too. The good part is, the beetles are long gone and probably long-dead, too.

I didn’t realize the stick looked like one of my carved pods until I took this picture. The pod just happened to be sitting on the counter. Fate? Kismet? Lucky chance???

I sanded the stick carefully, and wiped it clean. I painted it black to back-fill the little chewed channels, then wiped off the excess. Then waxed it with brown Brio wax, and buffed it, then drilled more holes.

 

Finally, it was done!

The finished piece. Finally!

Today I’ll find the right-sized box to pack it up and ship it to its happy new owner. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought, but I never regret a profound learning experience. Well. I regret them in the moment. But I’ll get over it.

My little journey from “the perfect stick” to one that many people would consider as a tragedy (destruction of national forests) and trash (a bug did this? WTF!!!) has me thinking again about my art process and my stories.

I obsess about getting everything exactly right, in an imperfect way. Asymmetrical yet balanced. Ordered color palettes.

One of my most powerful insights, in my life and in my art, is recognizing when something is ‘good enough’, and letting go of perfection. (As a wise woman once told me just before I began my hospice volunteer training, “When we are a perfectionist, we are ‘full of knowing’, and nothing new can come in.”) (Thank you Quinn!) (Another gift: I didn’t know she’d started a new blog until I linked to hers here.)

We all have visions of what that ‘perfect’ thing is. The perfect job. The perfect marriage. The perfect home.

Then there’s reality. There are the slog jobs, the times in a relationship when things can feel wonky, and homes? Renting here in Northern California, it’s whatever one will let you have pets….

Yet even in the worst of times and places, there is something of value.

Insights. ‘Aha!’ moments. Healing. Reconnection. Beauty. New ways to retell old stories. Seeing our loved ones for who they are, instead of the perfect person we sometimes expect them to be. Learning to see ourselves the same way….

Sometimes the ‘perfect’ needs to make way for something bigger and better, more human. Sometimes, we need to make way for something else.

And sometimes, it makes way for a tiny little beetle, with its own way of creating a powerful story.

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #11: After the Sale

The ultimate in customer care creates powerful connection—and a great reputation!

(7 minute read)

When we left NH going-on-six-years-ago, I also left behind one of the biggest sources of my art biz income: The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair.

It’s a highly-respected show, lasting 9 days in early August. I loved it and dreaded it. Love: Great attendance, returning collectors, meeting up with friends near and far, and solid sales. Dread: It took me three entire days to set up my booth, it could get super hot (yes, it gets hot and HUMID in New England!), and nine days is a looooong fair. Also, storms and high winds can trample attendance. (One tiny gift of the shut-down is that this Fair will be a virtual event this year, and I can participate again. I’m ‘tenured’!)

And the first day usually brought a small wave of items brought to me by collectors, to be repaired.

That can feel daunting!

Over the years, I’ve had to repair a small wall hanging (minor), replace a broken sculpture (major!), and restring/repair/replace broken/damaged/lost jewelry. (Painters are lucky! Do paintings routinely get damaged, and repaired??)

In addition to my embarrassment of having a piece of jewelry breaking in use, some customers (not all!) take on (from experience!) a build-up of indignation. “It just broke!” some would exclaim, even though we all know things don’t just sit there and break.

It’s instinctive to react with indignation. We know we put a lot of work into our…er, work… But let’s not make the situation worse.

Instead, consider WHY they are coming on strong. (This insight was transformative for me!)

It’s because they are afraid you will either a) blame them; b) denigrate them for the damage; c) charge them for repairs; or even d) refuse to deal with them, and tell them to buy another one. (I’ve heard stories of some artists doing all combos of these reactions. I’ve experienced some of this myself, as a collector/buyer. It’s pretty awful.)

So they will build up a head of steam to get through the anticipated push-back.

What does this have to do with marketing our art?

How we handle this will affect our reputation, and possibly our sales, in many ways.

First, if we sell online, there are almost always opportunities to leave reviews on our purchases. An unhappy customer will probably not leave a stellar review. Of course, not all bad reviews are justified, but setting that aside for now as a subject for another day….

Even more importantly, we hope a happy collector will spread the word about our work. But an unhappy customer will definitely spread the word even further. Not just online, but in person, to their friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, and anyone else who will listen, for years to come. Especially if we react badly right off the bat.

Last, when this happens on opening day at the Fair (or any event), usually a lot of other people are listening. How you handle this speaks volumes to them, literally and figuratively.

Here’s how I got to my happy place with all these encounters:

I realized the main problem with my jewelry (which is what most of these situations involve) happened because people loved my work so much, they never took it off.

Some people wore them in hot tubs, where the chemicals involved actually eat the plastic that polymer clay is made of.

Some people wore them in the shower, which is not good for leather cord.

Some people wore them to bed, where the risk of tangling and ‘catching’ on something could break a chain.

Some people soothed themselves with the artifact pendants—holding, bending, (there’s a bit of flex in thin polymer pieces) until it broke.

Sometimes people’s dogs snagged a chain, or (even as I speak today) new puppy chewed on an artifact.

Sometimes a partner buys a gift that lands wrong for the recipient.

Sometimes a cat knocks over a sculpture that shatters.

But in every case—in every single case—these people loved and cherished these items. And they were, at heart, afraid they would never get them back.

Once I recognized their pain and uncertainty, once I learned to see the anxiety behind their initial presentation, I could call on sympathy, on patience, even on pride that my work was so valued.

Here’s how I manage these incidents:

First, reassuring collectors that you care, can work small miracles right at the start. So I always meet these set-backs with kindness and sympathy. “I’m so sorry! I will fix this for you.”

It takes repeating and staying calm and grounded. But eventually, even the angriest (most defensive, usually) customer will hear me, and relax.

I explain what I may have to do: Repair the item, or replace it, and still find a way to return the original to them, if possible/

Once they realize they were being met with consideration and empathy, even the most assertive collector will relax. They know I will take care of them.

Only when we get here, to this place of safety for them, do I gently question what happened. I frame it as gathering information for me, helping me make my work better.

Then I listen, without judgment, and they open up. (That’s how I learned about the flexing, the hot tub, the broken chain, etc.)

In the case of a thin horse artifact caressed to the breaking point, I realized I had to make my animal artifacts thicker and sturdier. So I thanked the collector for sharing what happened, and for giving me this new insight. (I repaired and remade the “thin” horse into a pin, and made a thicker but almost-identical new horse for their necklace.)

For doggie uh-ohs, I’ll ask if they need a sturdier chain, or a leather cord instead. For the broken sculpture (one of my earliest) pushed over by a cat (DARN YOU, KITTY), I realized I’d used a shorter firing time, which made it more brittle—good information to have! (I told them how to repair it, AND sent a replacement.) Boy, I was grateful to learn that lesson, before I made more!

For a lost earring, I usually replace it at no cost the first time. The second time with the same set, I charge half the original price. (Yup, I had a customer who lost an earring three times! Because…she loved them, and wore them every day.) I also sometimes offer to change out the ear wires for lever backs, which are more secure.

See the gift here?

By reframing their experience, their loss, their (unintentional) damaging habits, their fear of being ‘blamed’, their fear of not having something they love, by seeing it as just this—their dismay at the loss of my work, which they love—I’ve not only kept a loyal collector….

I’ve improved my work.

And I’ve strengthened my reputation as a maker who stands behind my work.

I demonstrate my integrity, not just in the face of the best circumstances, but in the worst—when it really counts.

In this world of multi-billionaires, of the growing class of 1%-ers, of incredibly wealthy companies and people who will do anything to stay wealthy and take care of their own, at the expense of everyone else, integrity can be a rare commodity.

And once lost, it can be really hard to get back.

We can learn to see. To see our collectors as people who have put their faith in our art, who treasure it, who love it, and hate to lose it, even to their own accidental actions.

And we can help them see us as artists whose value and character don’t stop at the purchasing point. They can see us as people whose work is not just ‘worth buying’, but ‘worth having’ in their lives, for as long as possible.

Next week, we’ll talk about return policies, and how they can protect us from those (hopefully very few!) customers who abuse that privilege, in a way that benefits both us and our customer. But for now, if you have a story about how you transformed a difficult customer service issue into a positive (and powerful) one, share in the comments. It helps to know we are not alone when this happens. And it helps to see the long-term benefits of honoring those who collect—and support—the work of our hearts.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more at Fine Art Views and my blog or email newsletter. If you know someone who enjoyed it, pass it on! And if someone sent this to you, and you enjoyed it, ditto!

LEARNING TO SEE #6: Finding Our (Silent) Voice

Social media can help boost our confidence and marketing skills.

(8 minute read)

A few weeks ago, in my Fine Art Views column, I mentioned in passing the power of hiring a “sales agent” when we give presentations and/or demonstrations. A commenter on my blog (where I republish my Fine Art Views articles) leaped at this. Although they have actually worked as a salesperson for a company, they found themselves unable to use the same skills with their own art biz. They asked for advice in ‘hiring’ such an assistant to represent them

I promised them I would talk about this, so this one’s for you, Wendy!

Again, selling and marketing our own work can feel like bragging. This repels many artists from talking with customers. A lot of people are introverts, which compounds the problem. (I’m half-and-half, according to the now-disproven Briggs-Meyers assessment, and in this shut-down, I’ve reverted to full-time introvert!)

There are three important ideas to help us get out of this self-made prison:

When others sing your praises, it can be seen as validation by your potential new customers.

Sharing your process isn’t bragging, and neither is telling your story.

Social media is the perfect antidote for introverted/shy people.

I hired friends to “sell” for me when I took on a ‘demo booth’ at my biggest show in New Hampshire, the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. That was because a consultant explained why the transition of ‘demonstrator/teacher’ to ‘salesperson’ was such a deal-breaker, as we segue from “maker” to “seller”.

Most of my friends were not experienced with selling. At first, they asked me what I wanted them to tell my customers and potential new clients. But aside from lending them my Bruce Baker’s CD on selling, I asked them to simply share what they loved about my work. And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments were seen as an authentic validation of my work.

That’s why a sales assistant at shows and open studios can be so helpful and empowering. Not because they will have better sales skills, but because they are seen as a sort of validation for us, and our work: We really are who we say we are.

But that’s not actionable nor practical for all sales/open studio/art reception events. So let’s look at the second point.

Most of us are comfortable sharing our process: What media we use, how we use it, what’s special about the way we use it. We can share what we’re trying to capture in our work, and what our work shows.

If we simply add the ‘why’ to all this, that is part of telling our story.

As artists, we aren’t usually trained or taught this part. And yet it is at the heart of everything we do, and why we do it that way.

Some people work quickly. So acrylics may work best for them, since the paint sets so fast. Some people work more slowly, or work their colors more. Oils suit them. Some want to shape with their hands, not a tool. Clay speaks to them. One colored pencil artist chose their medium because it allowed them to work at their kitchen table while their kids napped. It allowed them to pick up right where they left off the day before. Me? I struggled with carving my little artifacts, until I realized my hands wanted to shape, not ‘take away’. (I suck at trimming my bangs, too, because I don’t know when to stop!)

“I love color” is not a ‘why’, because everyone loves color. But why we choose a warm palette, or why we use bold or subtle color, is. If we truly understand the ‘why’ behind our subject matter, that is a powerful story! “I paint winter scenes. I like to find the subtle beauty in this sometimes-dreary season. Because winter holds the often-ignored beginnings of the hope we expect to find when spring follows.”) (For more on how to find your story, check out these blog posts.)

Most of my conversations with visitors, potential customers, and long-time customers are inspired by these very stories. I have signage throughout my studio and booth-space at shows. They cover all the questions I get, from why I work with polymer clay, how I got started with my art, what the common thread is through my entire body of work, and why the Lascaux Cave inspired me from the very beginning. I have signs about the boxes I use in my assemblage work, where I find my unusual fabrics, and why my fiber work is so layered, uneven, and detailed. (It reflects values I found in ancient Japanese scroll paintings, and Amish quilters.) I have a sign about where I get my beaver-chewed sticks, and why I love to use them with my wall hangings.

A few visitors jump right in with questions. But oddly, most people truly browse quietly at first. There’s a lot to look at in my displays! Signs answer most of their questions, and allow them to ‘go deeper’ even before I talk to them. In fact, when they ask me a question, it’s an unconscious signal on their part that they are ready for me to talk to them!

And when I do respond to a visitor’s questions, everyone else in my space stops to listen. Because that same phenomenon is taking place: Listening to me answer someone else’s question feels more authentic! (Weird, but true.)

Last, what everyone is overlooking is how much easier it is to introduce, share, and market our work on social media.

First, we take a picture of our work and upload it to our website. That’s great, for people who already know us and our work. And if you have a FASO site, your audience will receive an automatic announcement that you’ve added now work to your site.

But the point of social media is to help us grow our market by connecting with even more people. And because social media is a solo activity (kinda like working in our studio!), we don’t have to engage in person with people.

We get to be alone with ourselves. Not worrying about what to say. Not worrying about how to handle a comment that puts us on the spot. Not feeling like we have to fill that awkward silence. Not actually “talking” at all!

So here we go!

First, we simply take a pretty good pic of our work. (Some people even post work-in-process images, which almost always catches people’s interest.)

Our next step is to upload our image to social media. I take it everywhere: Instagram can be set to repost to Facebook, Facebook can be set to repost on Twitter, etc. But you can choose to start slowly if that helps you get started. Instagram is perfect for visual artists, because it’s all about images. (Short videos can be used, too.) Conversations don’t usually go on and on, either. People either like it or they pass it by.

But don’t let it just sit there! Share something about the piece: What the subject is about, what’s different or intriguing to YOU about it, where you made it, where it’s going (a show? Your website? Your Etsy shop? A custom piece?) You can share what media you used, and why you choose it for that particular piece. You can share the title and dimensions, too. If I’ve also added it to my shop, I add a link to it there.

Remember: For mostly-introverted/shy/retiring/not into sales-talk folks, we are not actually ‘talking’ to anyone, not in person, anyway. And I’m guessing most people would be more interested in seeing your work than in what you had for lunch at that local restaurant!

You are just ‘talking to the void’ at this point. You are not bragging. You are not being pushy. You are simply sharing.

Although, yes, we are actually also promoting our work, we are not acting like those online “influencers” who are always selling themselves (and the products they are comped for promoting.) What we do on social media is more authentic. People see that. We’re not ‘twisting their arm’ to buy it. In fact, saying they can’t have it because it’s a custom work can actually boost the appeal!

If someone asks a question we can’t (or don’t want) to answer (yet), we don’t have to respond to a comment in the moment. We can hold off until we know what we want to say. (You can read more about this strategy in my blog series, “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer”.)

And if we run into that totally obnoxious human being who feels compelled to explain why they DON’T like it (who asked you??), or if they try to piggyback on your post to divert readers to their own site, you can simply delete their comment. (Another superpower of social media!)

In short, marketing on social media means you are not dealing with people in person, which is where most of our reserve/shyness/awkwardness hamstrings us. You are alone, at your desk/phone, simply sharing something that has brought you joy, with others, so they can have some of that joy, too. (Okay, if that includes a pic of the entrée you had for dinner at that fancy restaurant, I won’t complain.)

This is why social media is the best way for shy people to get up and do what needs to be done. (Apologies to Garrison Keillor of the radio show, ‘Prairie Home Companion.’)

And trust me, like everything in life, things get better with practice. Once you start sharing your work, it gets easier. Your fans will be there, cheering you on. You can ask them to pass it on to someone else who might love it, too. The praise will give you a lift, and also more confidence.

And soon that big ol’ rock is just rolling down the hill all by itself.

Try it. Keep at it. Get better at it. Do it more often. Share it. Sound familiar? It’s the exact same advice we took to become artists.

If this article helps you with your social media marketing, let me know! If you have your own success story/strategy, share that in the comments.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)

 

If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

LEARNING TO SEE #4.5: How NOT to Market Your Work

How can we do better? Be human.
How can we do better? Be human.

LEARNING TO SEE #4.5: How NOT to Market Your Work

It’s critical to keep the “human” in our marketing.

Last week, I wrote about how Steak Umm took the Internet by storm, because a guy incorporated his own personal ethic, authenticity, and inclusion into a national frozen food marketing campaign.

Yes, he wants you to buy their product, and he says so.

Bu he’s going to make your life better even if you don’t.

Let me share the exact opposite of that experience today.

Awhile back, I found a jar of honey at TJ Maxx. (Yep, quite a while back!) My husband uses honey in everything, so I bought it.

He loved it, so I searched for it online to buy more. It was expensive, and so was shipping. So I bought in bulk so as to a) stock up, and b) to meet their minimum order to save on shipping.

Now we’re almost out. So I went back to the website to order more. But they were out of stock.

I searched the entire website, trying to find a way to contact them. Most websites have a way to “sign up” for when items are restocked, but not this one. I couldn’t even find a way to email, call, or fill out a form to get that information. Just a form to sign up for their email newsletter.

I finally found a way to contact them, but it wasn’t easy. I asked how I could find out when they restocked the honey.

A week later (yep, you read that right, too!) I got a response, (Yes, it’s the pandemic. But they were still selling online and still filling orders, so why not responding to a shopper who wants to buy something?)

Here’s their email:

Thank you so much for your email and your interest in our products! I encourage you to follow us on Social Media (Facebook & Instagram) as well as make sure you are signed up for our newsletter because we do have some new products in the pipeline that I think you might be very in.  Thanks again for your continued support of our small business!

See anything wrong with this picture? (Hint: LOTS!)

  • For us grammar nerds, there is no need to capitalize “social media”. Also the incomplete sentence at the end of that first paragraph.
  • There is no mention of “honey”, the one product I inquired about.
  • I was asked to “follow” them on social media, AND subscribe to their newsletter, because
  • They have new products coming soon that I might be interested in (Might.)
  • Which may or may not be “honey”.

So after I showed my “loyalty” by buying a shit-load of their product, at full-market price (did I mention it was expensive?) and trying to order more, and having to spend enough time looking for how to find out when I could buy more (bad website design), and waiting a week for their response with no apology or explanation (email needs no shelter-in-place violation).

I’m being asked to add their newsletter to my email inbox (which I did not sign up for on the website), did not address my request (“Can I sign up for notifications when it’s restocked?”), asked me to follow them on two social media websites (which felt like I had to “prove” my loyalty to their brand) and I still don’t know if or when they will have that dang honey again. And they added me to their newsletter, even though I did not sign up for it!

When I told my husband, he said, “It’s good honey, but really, I don’t care that much. I can get some at Trader Joe’s.”

So this “luxury honey” company just lost a customer. Unless I can find it again at TJ Maxx!

Consider this “marketing strategy” compared to Steak Umm.

Steak Umm guy was transparent. (“Yes, I want you to buy our products.”)

But Steak Umm guy also cared about people over product. We didn’t have to “do” anything to get the information he shared on Twitter.

(“Even if you don’t buy our product, I want you to be safe, and I want you to have good information about this situation to keep you safe.”)

Steak Umm guy didn’t ask us to buy a Steak Umm before we could get this useful and compassionate information. (He asked for us to be kind and patient with people who were “doing it wrong”.)

In fact, while researching this for last week’s column, I discovered Steak Umm also did a marketing campaign along the same lines I did with my series on millennials. They urged people to not judge and ridicule millennials, and to better understand the difficulties those younger generations are dealing with. Hurrah!

Steak Umm treated us like people with needs, who offered to help with those needs, above and beyond their product line.

Honey people just want me to buy more stuff. They don’t care about my needs, they only care about their sales. I only want honey. They want me to buy anything else instead.

The honey company person who emailed me never even used my name.

How can we apply this to our marketing?

When we load an image to our website or other social media, and all we have is an image and a price tag, we are following the honey company protocols.

When a customer asks about our work, and we respond with, “SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER!” we are showing them our priorities matter more than theirs.

We are asking them to trust us before we even give them a reason to.

How can we do better? Be human.

  • When we post an image, we can share a story behind it. “I did this series because of my love for horses. They represent courage in my imagined Paleolithic world.”
  • Give what’s free to online visitors (that’s also free for you): “I wanted to catch the feeling of space, and wonder, the feeling of joy we get from nature, and a sense of wild freedom in this landscape, especially during these hard times.” Or, “I hope this still life gives you the same sense of calm and serenity as I did when I painted it, whether you buy it or not. Enjoy!”
  • We can offer layaway to people who can afford our work, just not right now.
  • We can show appreciation for customers who do buy our work. “I love this piece, and I love that it is going to a loving home! Thank you!” “Let me know if you have questions, or if there’s another, similar work that might work better for you.”
  • Reward loyal customers over new customers. (This is like the magazines and newspapers that offer a huge discount to new customers, rather than loyal readers that have subscribed for years. Yes, it works to get new sales. But trust me, your loyal customers have earned a reward, too.) I had recently raised my prices on certain pieces, but honored the original price to a recent customer who has some major pieces of mine in their collection. They were ecstatic!
  • When people land on your website, their first connection with you should NOT be a request to sign up for your email newsletter. (Even Clint Watson’s series, which focuses on how important our email newsletter is, says he hates that!) You’re showing them you care more about ‘the numbers’ than their needs. Trust me. It’s annoying!
  • Finally, be human. Yes, sales are important. Sales are wonderful. Sales help us either pay the bills or at least help us pay our materials. But sales are a transaction, between one human (us!) and another human (our collectors.) Mutual admiration and respect are critical.*

When we learn to see from a different perspective, when we see people instead of just numbers, when we understand people have to trust us before they spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on our work, then marketing is just another way to help people who will love our work, to find us.

Show them we don’t see them a faceless bucket o’money. I hate the people who dismiss “Lookie Lou’s”** as time-wasters and annoyances.

First, not everyone wants to, nor can, buy our work. And all collectors start out as “Lookie Lou’s”—until they decide to purchase our work.

They arrive, they look, and if they like what they see, and like how you handle their inquiries, if you resist not judging how/when they actually buy something, then they become our passionate audience.

There is not enough money in the world that can “buy” a passionate audience. It can’t be bought. It has to be earned, with respect, integrity, and a viable product.

Tell them, “I see you.” I. See. YOU. And let them see you, too.

Have you formed powerful connections with potential customers, especially during this insane time? Share in the comments! I’d love to hear what worked for you, and so will others.

p.s. *Maybe I will follow them in Instagram. I just checked their account, and found this: “ATTENTION ALL DADS. Your children will not be bringing home homemade Mothers’ Day gifts from school this year. You have less than 15 days. You have been warned.” Ahhhh, that’s better! (Oops, all the other posts are just “buy me”.  Maybe not.)

**I looked up the spelling before I posted this, and it’s spelled every which-way you can imagine!

As always, if this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else's story, someone else's world, and someone else's journey.
There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

(11 minute read)

The next-to-last article in this series about why millennials etc.

We’re on the home stretch!

In my articles, and in the comments section, we’ve shared many fact-based, data-driven evidence about the different world millennials grew up in. It is simply different than the one we grew up in. EVERY generation faces the same challenge: New conditions, new “rules”, new obstacles, new solutions. The bad parts aren’t necessarily our fault, and it’s usually not their fault.

I also shared these setbacks and obstacles with one hope: To soften, and encourage us to change our assumptions and opinions. Only when we open up to seeing life from the other’s person’s point of view can we connect, with compassion and respect.

I knew there could be tremendous pushback against these thoughts, and there was. That’s okay. I will say it again and I will keep on saying it:

My art is not for everyone.

And neither is my writing.

Which means your work is probably not for everyone, either.

I’ll be honest. It’s hard to hear the anger and criticism these articles have generated. Just as it for all of us when someone walks into our booth, and then declares in a loud voice that they don’t like our art, and then proceeds to list the reasons why.

We may be angry, threatened, threatening, sad, resentful. These are human responses, normal responses, when we encounter something that seems harsh, insulting, frightening, upsetting, or baffling. It’s called a flight-or-fight response. It’s almost impossible not to feel these reactions when we experience something that seems to upend everything we thought was true.

But one of my superpowers in life, a hard one to use, but one that’s served me well is this:

We can’t change how we FEEL. But we can choose how we ACT.

This has helped me change my opinion about quite a few big issues in my life. It’s expanded my world view, opened new territories, and inspired me to write so I can share these insights with others who are ready and/or willing to consider them.

Not everyone will. But again, it’s their choice.

So take a deep breath, because today we’ll talk about the most important reason millennials don’t buy our art:

1)    The don’t like your art; or

2)    They don’t like you; or

3)    Both.

Harsh, I know. But take a deep breath, settle your heart, and read on.

Because these are also the reasons why all our non-buyers don’t buy our art, too.

This is the harsh reality of all the endeavors we take up in the world.

There will always be someone who couldn’t care less. There will always be someone who is lukewarm about our work. There will always be someone who doesn’t like it, for all kinds of reasons, reasonable and unreasonable.

But there will also always be someone who loves it. Even if they can’t afford it, or have no room for it, or they aren’t at the point in their life when they can act on their love for it. It won’t matter how good you are, nor how bad we are.

So if someone tells you/lets you know they don’t care for your art, what is your reaction?

Some people get cold and huffy. Some act out on their feelings. There are groups on Facebook for creatives to vent their anger at ignorant, insulting, clueless, gross visitors at fairs and shows. It can be fun to read these stories, because it helps us see this is a pretty common phenomenon. We are NOT THE ONLY ONES who experience rejection, not just from galleries, or juried shows, or guilds/leagues, awards, etc.

But when the stories get toxic, it gets harder to read. Because artists also share their sharp retorts, their indignation, their snarky thoughts about those visitors.

It’s okay. I get it. I love to blort with the best of them.

But what happens is, this turns a potentially powerful human connection into a battleground.

It’s not necessary to get into that fight. In my blog series and eBook “How to Get People OUT of your booth”, I discuss how difficult people can be challenging. But there are diplomatic ways to circumvent their behaviors, ways that help get us to our happy place, so we can deal more effectively with the people who DO enjoy our work.

Because the worst thing that can happen when we “let loose” with anger and bile is this:

OTHER PEOPLE ARE LISTENING.

In encounters where someone has said something rude, mean, whatever, and I meet them with serenity (YES, the serenity is a facade, I’m seething underneath. I’M HUMAN, just like you) other people in my space come up to me after, and say something like, “I can’t believe how kind/patient/powerful you were with that person!”

They now know that even if THEIR question is “dumb” or unintentionally rude, they will still be treated with respect and kindness.

In other words, it is SAFE to interact with me.

When we eagerly jump on others who we believe are behaving badly, there’s a side effect: We contribute to the toxic environment ourselves.

I was lucky. Early on, I held back from “confronting” and “challenging” visitors who were less-than-enthused about my work, (and my writing.) I had the good fortune to live in the same region as Bruce Baker, a former nationally-acclaimed speaker about how to strengthen and improve our creative work on many levels: Booth display, jury slides, signage and customer relations. He drew from his own wisdom gained from doing shows and fairs, but also benefited from other like-mined, experienced artists who shared what had worked for them.

The trick is to anticipate the questions and comments that might trigger us (the flight-or-fight thing), and practice our best response to them.

Because if someone asks us what we consider a “dumb question”, or says something insulting (whether deliberate or unintentional), and we respond with our “fight” reflex, other people who DO like what they see, will think twice before asking their own questions.

Because once people have entered our booth, once they’ve had a chance to look at our work and decide they kinda like it, once they’re ready to talk, they do the thing that will determine where we both go from here:

THEY ASK A QUESTION.

Maybe they can’t afford it – yet. Maybe it won’t fit in their living room – yet. Maybe it creates yearning whispers of what it might be like to pursue their own work of the heart.

Yes, maybe they’re so clueless about “good booth behavior” that they bungle the question. We can get really good with that, if we are willing to change our own attitude, and meet them halfway. (Or 3/4 of the way!)

If we can do that, a door opens. There is an opportunity for a rich exchange of questions and insights, a chance to either a) inspire a sale, if they’re ready, or b) lay the groundwork for future sales. At the last show I did, the second one after a total flop the year before (5 attendees for the entire day, no sales), a customer approached me and declared, “I saw your work last year, and I COULD NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.” They bought a special item and companion piece for themselves, and pricey gifts for two friends. I could hardly operate my Square, I was so excited!

If I’d harbored resentment about the lack of attendance, if I’d sat around complaining within hearing of guests about the lack of sales, I could have squished that connection forever.

Instead I have a new collector who has already shared their love of my work with their friends, who may also consider buying my work. And share it with THEIR friends.

It all starts with staying calm. Leaning in. Curbing toxic assumptions and impulses. Staying focused on our work, the work we love, the work we make room for every day (if we can) in our lives.

If millennials are not your audience, let it go. We’ve shown that they have perfectly good reasons, just like ANY OTHER people who aren’t.

But if you are committed to blame them (especially for the reasons that are beyond their control, and NOT THEIR FAULT), believe me, they will know.

To all the people who commented with compassion and empathy, to those artists who (mostly) contacted me privately (I’m guessing because they didn’t want to expose themselves to criticism) who ARE MILLENNIALS, THANK YOU! Your experience either confirmed my research, experience, and thoughts, OR you were willing to reconsider what is going on. I’m grateful.

To all the people who disagree, please, as always, do what works for YOU. My advice and words are free, and therefore worth every penny you paid for it. :^)

Next week, I’m going to ask people whose work DOES sell for millennials, what has worked for them. Is it their style? Their subject matter? Their price points? Their willingness to engage and connect? I’ll do my best to collect the people who have already shared, and put that in the article for your convenience (and theirs.)

But I do want to leave you with this last story, which isn’t mine.

It’s my daughter’s.

First, both my kids were the inspiration for me to step up to the plate with my art. When my daughter asked if she could work booth with me at fairs, I agreed. It was a powerful shift in our relationship as she entered one of the most difficult part of her life.

She began her art collection with purchases from my fellow exhibitors, and continues to this day. You may find some valuable insights into millennials and their buying habits this Fine Art Views column from last March.

And here is the “spoiler” from that column:

“My daughter still wants something of beauty that came from another person’s hands, and heart, especially when she started to make and sell her own work.

As she browsed for an urn for the ashes of her stillborn child (Sam died 8 months into her pregnancy), she became frustrated with the same ol’ same ol’ look of them. Nothing felt personal enough, or fit the emotion of the event. When I suggested that a good friend who works with wood might make something especially for her, she lit up. (She found a maker on Etsy who resonated with her.)

This box will be in their home forever, and every time they see it, it will bring a bit of solace amid the sorrow. They may not know, or care to know, the story of the maker. But it holds their own story of this time, and that’s what matters.

I just spoke with my daughter again, and she added more about her purchase.

She wanted something unique, related to cherry blossoms, because that’s around the time of his birthday, when the cherry trees bloom here in Washington, D.C. She wanted wood because it’s warmer. She wanted something personalized and not mass-produced.

She wanted “something that fit us”, her and her partner.

There is appreciation for the maker, as it fits her needs as the collector.

The maker may have no idea of what my daughter and her husband were (and still are) going through.

When I hear people my age disparaging this age group, it breaks my heart.

And when I hear people with their own thoughtful, kind, compassionate, positive, uplifting experiences, my heart is healed.

So when you go to your studio today, when you make that time to do the work that is important to you, know that someone, somewhere, someone will be lifted up.

When you are discouraged because you can’t figure out why your art doesn’t sell, focus first on the fact that it uplifts YOU.

When you put it out into the world, know that someone, somewhere, needed to see it, for reasons we cannot even imagine.

And when you are healed, and share it, someone else will be healed too.

Next week, I’ll compile and curate the ways some of us have found a way to gain millennial collectors. There are some strategies that will work for some of us, but maybe not all.

My only goal was to encourage your heart to open up to new understanding, and new possibilities. To expand our rock-hard definitions and assumptions that not might only hurt others, but might also hurt ourselves.

And to echo the last words of that column I wrote, “So let’s open our hearts, and our minds, to these changes which time will bring.

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

Keep hope in your heart, and be open to new possibilities. And be patient with yourself, as we all navigate these new waters.

Art is part of us, no matter what it is, no matter where, or how, or when we find it. Online markets can be just as powerful as in-person encounters, if not more. (Many in this age group never even think about going to traditional art galleries. Yet.)

And I will hope ALL of our art, mine, and yours, will be “found”, someday, by the people who will love it and enjoy it for the rest of their lives.”

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from from my blog by subscribing (upper right hand corner of this page.)

HOW MUCH IS OUR ART WORTH?

My latest necklace series, featuring gems, semi-precious stones, and real pearls.

A reader left a comment on a recent blog post, and raised a good point about whether our art is affordable, (including mine), and offered their conjecture on why it might not be realistically priced.

I started to reply, but four paragraphs in, I realized it was another post!

Re: Your question about whether the price of our art reflects the artist’s personal desire to be of worth at the expense of getting their work out into the world, and into the hands of a admiring owner.

Welp, yes, both of your points are valid.

ANYTHING we buy reflects the time, the materials, and the quality of the object, whether it’s a BMW, or a pair of pearl earrings from Tiffany’s, or a head of organic lettuce.

ANYTHING we make will appeal to many who can’t afford it.

And yes, sometimes a maker’s price may seem based on nothing but their own thoughts, though my experience is that’s more true of “brand” name products. (See luxury items above.) (Okay, organic lettuce isn’t really a luxury brand. But some folks are willing to pay more for it, and some aren’t.)

As for your thoughts about artists over- valuing their own self-worth, some creatives get to the point where they have to raise their prices. Which is a good thing!

Say we price a painting at $2,000, which is pretty reasonable. If it’s framed, that’s included in the price.

If we sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take up to 50% of that income. (In NYC, just before 9/11, some elite galleries took 60% commissions, with less than half going to the person who made the item.) And we pay income tax on that sale, too.

If I sell online, it takes time to take good-enough images, time to edit and upload them, time to create a listing, and time to prepare the item for shipping. An unbelieveable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much time it took to calculate shipping for various-sized packages to potential customers half a dozen countries around the world. (Thank heavens for Etsy’s new automated shipping calculator!!)

We may rent studio space (I have to, in California, and studio rent is not cheap). If we participate in art tours, I have to cover the fees for that, and I need a business license, and often liability insurance.

If we do shows, we pay those fees, and expenses for traveling to shows. I did that for years. Some of those major shows cost upwards of $2,000 or more to enter. And that doesn’t include the time to get there and back, our hotel stay, our on-the-road meals, in my case, the cost of shipping my inventory and booth since I never had the right vehicle to transport them.) In 2008, I spent over $15,000 on three major shows across the country, and sold about $2000 worth of work. That’s when I stopped doing those shows.

We do our own marketing (photography, ads, design work for postcards, business cards, ads, etc,) or pay someone to do it. We often pay for workshops to get better at our work, and/or better at our marketing.

Now let’s say we have good sales, and eventually the demand exceeds the supply. We can only produce a finite amount of work in a year (unless we hire help, which is a whole nother can of worms.) That means we can increase our income gradually over time, doing the same amount of work and time, only by gradually raising our prices.

It’s not our own sense of self worth. It’s our audience’s sense of our worth.

I’ve been told my prices are too high since I started my art biz almost 30 years ago. I charged $18 for a one-of-a-kind handmade horse artifact pin. And some people complained it was too expensive. As I raised my prices over the years, the comments continued. And yet my sales stayed relatively the same.  Which tells me I have an audience, a small one, who will see its worth, and there will always be people who won’t pay my prices. I have to be okay with that.

Here’s the thing: I believe we simply can’t afford everything we like, and when we find something we like, we either recognize how unique it is–if we don’t buy that one piece, there will never be another exactly like it–and jump. (Which is why I offer layaway.)

Or we unconsciously look for reasons why we shouldn’t get it, such as price. This helps assuage our conscious about saying no. (I’ve done it myself.) There have been things I’ve jumped on, though I didn’t need another one, and the price was high. There have been lower-priced things that weren’t quite enough….and walked away.

I’ve had people with little income who find ways to collect my work, through trades, layaway, or buying a smaller piece.

I’ve had people who live in grand homes and drive pricey cars who say they can’t afford my work. (A lot of my work is still well below $100.) Of course, maybe that’s why they’re so rich! 😀

These aren’t inexpensive. Sterling silver, my handmade horse (tiny!), real pearls and gems and semi-precious stones, and a great deal of time getting the design just right.

Frankly, my work isn’t that expensive relative to the “real art world”. Very few of my major pieces barely even compete with the lowest prices of local painters.

The day a good friend sold a $10,000 piece the first day of an open studio tour but complained sales were flat the rest of the weekend, I had to clutch my coffee mug. I was so envious! And yet, it only took a few seconds to get my heart in the right place to congratulate them. They have skills, they have a terrific reputation for great work, and I love their work. They have found their audience, an audience that truly values their work, and I’m still building mine here in California. That’s all.

Knowing our worth is not a bad thing. And though some artists will over-charge for their work, it’s still up to each of us to determine if it’s worth it for ourselves. 

Now, as for getting our work out into the world:

I do that every day.

My art is hosted at my website, my Etsy shop, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked in, and sometimes Tumblr. Also in galleries in New Hampshire and here in California. I have open studios, and guests are always welcome in my studio. My work is often purchased and given as gifts, which I love, because someone sees something in my work they know someone they care about will truly appreciate.

And every single time I’ve felt desperate for sales, every single time I’ve broken my own rules and offered “a deal”, it’s felt awful. Like I’m selling myself short. And almost every time, the purchaser admits they could actually afford it, they just thought they’d try to dicker to see what happened. And I fell for it.

And every single time I’ve stuck to my guns, politely and with integrity, I’ve been rewarded with a sale, maybe down the road a ways, maybe with another buyer, but still worth it.

And yes, I’ve already had my work found at estate sales and yard sales for a very low price. At first that was a little daunting. But again, every time that happens, the person has loved it so much, they’ve tracked me down to find out more about me, written to tell me how much they love it, and sometimes even purchased another piece.

Some people do literally give away their work, to support causes they believe in, or to simply bring joy to others. I’ve given away work, though never to people who dicker or complain about the price, but to those who I know have been through hell and back, who need the gift of my work to help heal.

I give back in the ways I’ve mentioned, and also through my writing. Through this blog, and I’m a columnist for Fine Art Views. I share what I’ve learned as an artist with others for free. Here’s an interesting fact: When I first started writing a column for a fine craft magazine and other platforms, I made $350-$500 an article. Today I get $45 an article, if anything, and a free website (valued at $35/month. You do the math.

But I still write, because I have to. I have to get my art-and-life lessons out, to get clarity in my head and love in my heart. Also because every single time I publish, I get at least one person who said it was just what they needed to hear that day. So my writing is my (free or almost-free) labor of love.

The last way I get my art out into the world is also powerful.

When I have visitors, especially younger people and millennials (whose buying habits inspired this series of articles), I don’t twist arms to make sales. I let them explore my space, examine my work, hold my work, and read my signs about my inspiration, my insights, my hopes and dreams.

Most can’t afford my work. But for them, the conversation turns into something else.

I ask them about their own creative work. They share what makes them happy, and I encourage them to make room in their life for it, whether they can earn a living with it or not.

It can be painting, cooking, gardening, teaching, construction, singing, any activity that, when shared with the world, makes other people happy, and makes the world a better place. (I tell them my advice is worth every penny they paid for it.)

So it’s okay with me if someone can’t afford my work (in a nice way, I mean.) I get it. It’s okay if they believe my work is overpriced, too. It just may not be worth it to them. It’s okay if they believe I’ve inflated my prices because I have no idea of its real (less-expensive) value. (Well….kind of okay….!)

In the end, I do what I can, I do what I have to, and I do what I love. That’s the best we can do, and that has to be okay.

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

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