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?

 

 

 

 

Customer Service Still Rules

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

It’s a vital aspect of our art biz we often overlook.

(7 minute read)

Thank you with your patience as I continue to process the more than 100 comments I’ve received (on FAV, on my blog, and in private emails) on my column last week, on why millennials don’t buy our art. There were many thoughtful comments, and some very sad ones, and it will take some time to evaluate them, categorize them, and respond with insights and tips.

A few years ago, I teamed with another artisan for a show. One customer, another artist, bought a pricy piece from my cohort. My own jaw dropped at the price, but it was within reason, considering the time and skill it took to produce.

Less than a month later, the customer contacted them to let them know the jewelry piece broke. They arranged to meet and discuss options.

I happened to meet up with that client before the artisan showed up. The client told me they absolutely loved the piece, and they were heartbroken that it broke. They were desperately hoping it could be repaired. (I thought, “For what you paid for it, I certainly hope so, too!”) After waiting for almost an hour, they had to leave but would be back, and I told them I’d let the artisan know.

When the artist finally showed up, they went berserk. They ranted on about how it wasn’t their (the artisan’s) fault, the customer must have dropped it, there was no way it “just broke”. The artisan was angry and frustrated.

I managed to talk them down before the customer came back, but it was difficult. In the end, I reminded them that the customer had paid a lot of money for that piece, and if the issue weren’t resolved, it could be bad. An unhappy customer can do a lot of damage to our reputation, and the only way to manage it is to deal with it in a way that makes both parties happy.

This month, I made two online purchases from vendors, one for display pieces for my jewelry, the other for some very nice gems for same. Both sent me the wrong items. One was a mistake, the other was due to extremely misleading descriptions and images. And when I alerted each vendor to my situation, I had two completely different responses.

The display vendor totally owned making a mistake. Once they realized what the problem was, they sent me replacements. When I offered to return the original items, they said no worries, they were good, just keep it or pass it on.

The second company denied anything was wrong.

I’d included pictures, I included the description, which clearly showed neither matched the actual product. (I resisted telling them I realized after the fact that they’d actually hijacked the image from another site, it was not their own image.) I said I would like to return the item and get my money back.

The company suggested they’d sent me something better, so why was I complaining. (Um, because it wasn’t what I wanted?) They offered me a 50% refund. I said no, please tell me how to return it.

They refused. I reported the matter to Etsy, and I received a full refund.

Guess which vendor I will buy from again? Yeah.

The first vendor? I left them a glowing review on Etsy. First, I ran the review by them in case it landed wrong with them, but they loved it.

I said it was my second order from them, because I loved the product so much. And when I realized there was a discrepancy, the maker immediately set it right. And that I valued that even more than getting it right the first time. Because, moving forward, I know I can trust that person to do the right thing. I was valued as a customer.

The second vendor? I still have the item, but I still can’t use it. But since I didn’t have to send it back, I am eventually going to leave a very mixed review.

Of course, when we’re dealing with bigger, more expensive investments in art and fine craft, it may require more effort to manage an unhappy customer. But the basics are the same.

Here’s how to meet a customer where they are.

First, understand that in most stores today, we can simply return something, no questions asked. Some businesses don’t even require a sales receipt. Some customers expect the same. So make your return policy crystal clear, and for legal reasons, make it very public, so every purchaser sees it. (Mine says I take returns for exchange towards another purchase only, within 10 days of purchase.)

Second, calm down. Get centered. Don’t make assumptions about what went wrong. Assure them you will listen carefully, and make it right to the best of your ability.

Third, embrace the best reason why an unhappy customer is a blessing:

It’s a chance to discover what went wrong, so we can prevent it from happening again.

The first time I had a return, the customer was upset and defensive. I knew we wouldn’t get anywhere if I went on the defensive, too.

I assured them I could fix it or replace it. Once they were reassured, they calmed down tremendously. They explained they absolutely loved the work, they were just anxious it couldn’t be replaced or restored. Again, once I knew what the problem was, I told them I could fix it.

Once they were truly at peace, then I asked what had happened.

They admitted there was a little “flex” in the little horse pendant. When they were anxious, they would bend it back and forth a little.

And eventually, it broke.

I tried not to laugh. I did tell them it didn’t matter, I would still fix it. But even metal will break if bent in such a way repeatedly. And when I sent the repaired horse (made into a pin, so they could still wear it) and the replacement horse (this is when I learned to make them thicker, with no “flex”, I included a letter explaining why I couldn’t make that horse into a necklace again, how I was able to make another horse that look very much like, and to please refrain from bending it, in a light-hearted manner).

My fellow artisan didn’t do as well.

The customer/artist is someone I know, and the next time I saw them, I asked them how it went with the artisan.

They said it was pretty clear the artisan wasn’t happy. It was awkward, and in the end, the customer had to exchange the piece for something else, something they didn’t love nearly as much.

They also said they would never buy anything from them again. They aren’t vindictive, but they also know a lot of people in our community. A lot of people.

Sometimes we have to learn the lesson the hard way.

I learned that most people bought my work because they loved it. When it didn’t work out, there were specific reasons.

When I worked with them on those, we both found a solution that worked for both of us.

In that first customer who broke the horse, they loved the piece with all their heart. They wore it every day. It gave them serenity when they were anxious. What a tribute to my work, is how I chose to view it.

Yes, there are some difficult people out there who will never be happy. Again, I’ve learned to simply get the work back, refund their money (I can choose to do that, though legally I’m covered by my prominently-displayed return policy) and return them to the river to go mess with someone else.

But there are also people who genuinely love and appreciate us for what we do, who invest their own hard-earned money for the work of our heart. We owe it to them to make sure that wonderful exchange stays positive, and compassionate.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out some Yelp reviews. Perhaps your favorite restaurant, or your favorite shop, or any biz you know has a good ethic around its products/services and their customers. There will almost always be a snarky comment. See how the business handles it. (These days, some businesses will simply delete the customer’s remark and block them from the site. But it’s better if they address the concern, either by explaining what really happened, or by sharing what they did to settle the issue, though the buyer wasn’t having it.)

And if you have a great return policy, share it! Explain how it’s worked for you (or not) and how you got there.

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 me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Ice Is Your Best Friend!

Luann Udell shares how we can choose to reply positively to the naysayers.

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

The things people say about our work, and what we can CHOOSE to say back.

 (6 minute read)

 This “ice” remark is one I hear almost every day at the physical therapy place/independent gym where I work out.

When we are injured, sore, aching, our first instinct is to apply heat. A heating pad feels wonderful. And it can help, if we don’t overdo it. But ice is actually even more healing and therapeutic, especially as our first go-to therapy. Granted, it feels better on a hot summer day than a cold winter one, but it really does help.

How does this metaphor apply to our creative work?

There are certain things that never change in our artistic lives. There will be people who love our work and let us know. And there will be people who don’t care for our work, and they are eager to let us know it.

When things are slow at art fairs and fine craft shows, exhibitors often gather in small groups to chat and compare notes. One of the most popular topics is the rude things visitors say about our work.

When someone attacks our artistic skills, process, subject matter, integrity, how we choose to respond says much about us.

Instinct kicks in:

Our first response is usually surprise: “Wha…?”

Our second is disbelief: “Why would you even say that?!”

The third is anger: “Why, you…!!!!”

These are normal, human responses, hardwired in us to protect us from danger. And when someone goes out of their way to be offensive, when all they have to do is simply walk away and go find work they like better, this can register in our lizard brain as “dangerous”.

If we respond instinctively, we jack up the heat.

Instead, in the long run, it’s better to “stay cool” and apply ice.

The thing is, there are many reasons people say such things:

Curiosity: Your work is “speaking” to them, though they may not be sure why. They want to know more.

Ignorance: They don’t know what they’re looking at, nor where it fits in their world.

Entitlement: “I will be the judge of your worthiness.”, “I am a better artist than you!”

Envy/Insecurity: “I can’t sit with the fact that YOU are an artist at this show, and I’m not!”

Antagonism/conflict lovers: They are deliberately looking to start a fight.

When we are attacked, we look for ways to defend ourselves.

There are groups on Facebook and other social media that relish this challenge. Everyone shares their awful stories about the horrible things toxic people have said. And everyone shares their funny/slamming/mocking responses in return.

We do this to minimalize the damage to our own ego. We find sympathy and support in our peer group. We share and memorize witty or snarky ways to respond, or even ask/tell them to leave our booth. Hurrah! We showed them!

I love reading the stories and the comments, and responses. I’m human, too!

But years ago, when I first started out, I sensed something “off” with this approach. It felt “hot”, and we were focusing on how to make it “hotter”.

It put me in a hard placeI felt encouraged to be my worst self, too.

I don’t want to believe people are deliberately cruel. I don’t want to be on the defensive. Taking the offensive feels like falling to their level. And it all circled around to watching out for the next attack.

Not a happy place for an artist to be. I don’t like who I am when I get in that space. All the joy I get from making my work is siphoned off.

Starting out in my industry, I was fortunate. I had the benefit of people who took a higher road, and a more effective approach. They generously shared their tact, and tactics, ways to take the conversation to a more productive place.

They showed me the power of “staying cool.”

There are ways to frame our responses that a) reduce the heat in the conversation; b) show that we can stay calm and centered; c) show mercy for the folks who truly didn’t mean to insult us; d) keep the conversation going on a better plane, or shut it down gently; e) remind us that other people are listening.

 When someone says, “My son makes these!” we can respond with, “That’s lovely! What shows does he do?” or “What galleries is he in?”

When someone says, “I just don’t think these are very well-made.” We can respond with, “My work is not for everyone, but the people who do like it, love it very much.”

When someone says, for the millionth time, “What are these made of?”, that’s an opportunity to expand the conversation and/or show them the sign that explains my process. (Because this gentle, well-intention question is actually them giving me permission to talk with them, and help them go deeper into my work.)

Everything changed when I stopped being annoyed by customer resistance to “plastic clay” and shared the reaons why I chose it as my medium.

Instead of being annoyed by folks who questioned my choice of media,

I promoted its advantages for my work. It worked!

If someone complains about our prices being too high, we may hear “Your work isn’t worth it.” But what they might be saying is, “I love it, but I will never be able to afford it.” (My great layaway plan can help here!)

The times I’ve had to deflect very toxic people when there are other people in my space, after the VTP leave, my other visitors always say, “WOW, you were so gracious with that *******!”

My main reason for choosing to respond this way? I feel like I’m being my highest, best self.

It’s really hard. But it’s its own reward. I’m not knocked off my pedestal (for very long, anyway), I gain the respect of my real customers, and I show that it’s okay to ask a question that might appear awkward/ignorant–because I will do my best to respond with respect and a peaceful heart.

In fact, often after an incident like this, everyone else in the room opens up with their own questions. I’ve shown I welcome the engagement, and I won’t easily take offense if they “phrase it wrong.” I’ve created a safe environment for them, and they can relax and open up.

 Truth is, truly angry/envious/aggressive people are looking for a fight. But we don’t have to automatically give them one. As a friend told me years ago, “You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to!”

If you do shows where you encounter a lot of these people, consider that you might be in the wrong shows.

If you believe your work is worth every penny of your prices, be prepared to show how much effort, time, and skill goes into it.

Forgive the nay-sayers. Forgiveness isn’t about letting them off the hook, or ignoring what they’re doing. It’s a way of letting us off the hook. We can stand back and realize we did not deserve their ire, and we don’t have to hold on to it. As I read in an old notebook last night, “Don’t let anyone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”

Of course, this assumes you want to be a force for good in the world. That you care about who you are and what you do. That you are constantly trying to be better at it.

When it comes to dealing with difficult people, just remember: Ice is your best friend.

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