HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #20: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

I am reprinting an article I wrote a few years ago (July 13, 2019), because it’s worth repeating. AND should be in this series. What a coincidence that I came across it on Pinterest. And an hour after I read all the bitter, disappointed comments collected for our recent open studio event, Art at the Source.

Creating our artwork takes time. Getting good at it takes time. So does an open studio! And giving up after one slow event–especially in these strange times, when EVERYONE is struggling….well, I’ll just keep my mouth shut. For now.

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission to “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #19: Why Should I Have an Open Studio Anyway??

 

I’ve made very few “people” figures in my art. But my handprints appear all over the place!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

I was thinking about my dad today.

Yeah, partly because it was Fathers Day. And mostly because of the grief I’m reading/hearing about how unsuccessful people were with our recent Art at the Source open studio event this month.

My dad was a diligent worker. He took over the family business (a dairy biz, processing milk into ice cream, cream, and…well, milk), incorporating a dariy bar, and eventuallly a family restaurant. (My first job was washing dishes there, when I was in…4th grade??) Then he sold the biz and became a state dairy inspector. (He sure liked cows.)

He also loved flowers. Our house was surrounded by rigid rows of organized, meticulously-spaced flowers. In the spring, he would give each of us kids a soup spoon, and we would dutifully plant daisies, marigolds, and petunias. He diligently watered all our houseplants daily, too.

But when he retired, he also took up woodworking. He spent days in his garage workshop, planing, mitering, sanding, staining. He made furniture for me and all my sibs over the years.

And if you expressed delight or sang his praises, he would also diligently point out every error he’d made in the making. (It helped me to NOT do this with my own work!)

What does this have to do with having an open studio?

I don’t believe he ever sold a single piece of his work.

He’d made his money WORKING all his life. His gardening and woodworking was for FUN–relaxation and enjoyment. He called it his hobby.

Hobby, vocation, and avocation. What’s the diff??

I used to have a distinction between avocation and hobby, but the older I get, I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter so much to me, either.

Here’s what my dad taught me: Find a way to earn a living. You can be an artist when you retire.

What I taught my kids: Do what you love, and the money will follow. (Robin and Doug, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Love, Mum)

What I wish I’d told my kids, and what I’m telling you today:

Do the work that supports your lifestyle. At best, it’s work you enjoy. Hopefully, you don’t hate it, or at least don’t dislike it too much. Hopefully, it’s something you’re good at, that you’re proud of, and it’s wonderful if it pays well, too.

But if it’s not the work of your heart, make room for THAT in your life, too. It will help you manage everything else.

My dad never sold a single piece of his woodwork. They were always gifts, or filling requests for furniture–coffee tables, sofa tables, display pedestals, coat racks, etc.–for friends and family.

In my art career, financially, I had some good years, some really good years, and some years that totally tanked. Most of those tank years were obviously the result of events totally out of my control: 9/11, war in the Mideast, inflation/recession, pandemic. We’re right back there, today, and there’s no escaping the consequences that affect our entire planet.

And yet, I was surprised at how much people complained (in an online forum) about their open studio event this year. Surprised at how many people are considering not joining next year. Astonished at how some people are considering actually walking away from their art-making. “What’s the use?!” (Why can’t I make that shoulder-shrug emoji??)

TBH, I was a little down that last day, too. Until I started to write about it. Writing helps me sort out the dust bunnies in my brain, and get to center of my  (he)art.

What helps YOU get centered again? I’d love to hear!

My take-away:

There is no figuring out exactly what will make us rich. I can’t even figure out how to cover the cost of my materials anymore.

Won’t stop me.

There is no single, sure path to fame and fortune.

I’m pretty sure I don’t even WANT to be famous anymore.

It takes time to build an audience, especially when our work is really out-of-the-box.

I tried through shows (wholesale and retail), art fairs, and open studios. I learned that it time and engagement for people to really see what I was doing, what my story was, and how labor-intensive my process was.

Open studios are the best at this! See my workspace, look at my tools and materials, let me show you what inspires me….

I stepped away from wholesale shows, and eventually made all my income from one major fine craft show in New Hampshire, and two open studio tours. They, too, started out slow. My visitors steadily grew, though there were still set-backs, dips, etc.

Then I moved to California, and had to start all over. Again.

How do I feel about that?

I’m actually okay.

Today, I can sell my work online, though it’s almost always to current customers and people who have followed my work for YEARS. (Again: Connection, achieved by outreach and availability.)

Today, I can easily share the backstory, my creation story, my inspiration, process, and animal stories. especially in my studio.

Today, I am reminded of my most recent open studio event, too. Yes, a little disappointed in the number of visitors, and that my sales were low.

And then I remember the blessings in my life:

I HAVE A STUDIO. I can do the work of my heart.

I have people who love my work. Maybe they can’t afford to buy it. Maybe they’ve downsized, and don’t have room for it.

But they can still come and look at it, and marvel, and engage with me.

I can encourage people to make room in their life for what brings them joy.

And I can write about it, hoping to do the same for YOU.

The good part in that forum thread: Some people griped, but when they realized so many other people were feeling the same way–in other words, it wasn’t just them–they got more clarity.

They, too, found the good stuff amidst the pile of disappointment. They got their mojo back. They will continue to make their art. Yay!

I think of my dad. I’m sure he would have been happy to make some money from his late-in-life hobby.

But that wasn’t WHY he did it.

He did it because it kept him busy (he hated doing nothing). He did it because he could make something for people he loved. He got better at it (because he was a bit of a perfectionist.) (DAISIES AND MARIGOLDS ALL IN A ROW.) It was flexible: He could work all day, or he could stop at any time and go for a drive with my mom.

It made him feel like he still had something to offer the world.

In my open studio, I listened to people telling me about their new life paths, their new interests and pastimes, their latest life disruption, their still-painful losses and sorrows.

My creative space became a safe place to share stories of hope, dreams, sadness, and joy. And healing.

My creative work carries stories of how every person has a place in the world. Including me. Including you.

I just realized my studio is my own unique version of a miniature Lascaux Cave.

The art of the Lascaux Cave was not about achieving fame or fortune.

The Ice Age was coming to an end, and so a people’s entire way of life was, too. They didn’t gather to start a war, or to assess blame. They gathered as a community, hoping to find a way through to the other side. And each handprint represents a single person present.

I can’t even imagine putting a price tag on that.

Today, try not to measure your sucess with only money.

Today, see your true value in the world, made with the work of your hands, and of your heart.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

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 #15: What’s Old is New Again

From the beginning to today, my little horses have evolved in many ways. I love them all!

In my last post, I shared how simply rearranging our work can result in visitors/customers “seeing” a work they haven’t seen before.

There’s another side to “old work”, though, that I share with you today:

Your old work still has value.

Here’s the long story:

My artifacts have evolved over the years, changing for the better (I hope!) in every stage. I loved each “stage” for what it was.

But when I look back at those earlier pieces, I feel embarrassed. How could I have thought these were the best I could do?? Should I just get rid of them all? Discount them and move them on?

I hate discounting my own work, as it implies it does not have the same value it had originally. It could make buyers feel if they wait long enough, the price could come down.

Now, of course, I realize that as my prices have risen over the years, even when selling it for the same original price, it will look like a bargain.

Here’s how I found my own truth: From a friend who set me straight.

When I complained that I wasn’t wild about my old work, and felt a little guilty selling it as it felt “less than”, they asked,

“Did you love it when you made it?”

Yes.

“Did people love your old work when it was new?”

Yes.

“Then there will be people who will love it now, too.”

Bam! Mic drop. Clarity restored. (Thank you, Ruth Parent, my good friend!)

I now keep all my old bits to use in newer work. They are stored in a printer’s type tray chest, restored by my son years ago. Visitors are encouraged to open drawers and explore during my studio events.

And by holding on to all my older artifacts, I’ve discovered another insight along the way:

It’s my “relatively-old” work that annoys me, seeing in the moment, now, what I could have done better.

And my “really old” work that I love even more!

I love the fearless outlook on my art career I had then. I had a fabulous photographer, too, who always made my work look incredible. (Thank you and good wishes to you, Jeff Baird, in the Great Beyond. I will miss you and your talents forever.) I sometimes wish I could recapture that old aesthetic, but it’s hard. I am here in the now, right where I belong.

As artists, we fall into the myth that we get better and better at what we do in our making career. Well, we do get better…usually. (Maybe). But it doesn’t mean our work is worth more, will sell more/faster, will be seen as ‘better’. Skills matter, of course. But my own personal lifetime collections of other people’s work, I simply buy what I love, not what’s new, better, etc.

It’s about what speaks to ME.

There are buyers who will appreciate our growing skill level, and our newest work, of course.

Remember, though, there will be plenty of people who have our older work, and still treasure it. And people who will love our old stuff now, too.

So instead of beating yourself up over “old work”, instead of hiding it, put it out there! Especially if your new work is all out in galleries right now.

Tell the story about who you were then, and where you were in your life.

Someone may consider it the perfect piece, for themselves.

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #14: The Need for New. (NOT)

I’ve already made display changes, the result of a major project that took up a lotta space in my studio last year! And that’s a good thing.

 

Short story: Rearrange your work and your studio from time to time.

I told you I wasn’t done with this series!

In a Zoom meeting recently, another artist said they were freaking out a little about not having a lot of new work to exhibit for an upcoming open studio event.

I told them not to worry, and shared my favorite story about that:

I was (still am!) a juried and tenured member of a well-known, highly-respected art organization back in New Hampshire, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. For years, I participated in their annual fair, a ten-day show at a ski resort.

Landscapes change all the time in this area, and I never knew which tent, large or small, near the entrance or far away, or what place on the mountain, I would be assigned to. We had the option to request our favorite spot, but different factors prevailed, so we never knew for sure where we’d end up.

So every year, I was in a different tent, with a different terrain, and different neighbors. The hard part was, I never knew if my booth would be on a slant (ski resort!), in the front or back of a tent, etc. That was the downside.

The upside was, I learned over time what worked best for me and my multi-media work. And hidden gift: I often had to improvise how to set up and arrange my art display. (With jewelry, wall hangings, shrines and sculpture, I had to use walls, pedestals, and display cases.)

Why was this a hidden gift? My display never looked the same way, year to year. So every time someone entered my booth, it was “new” to them.

The proof this works?

I juried into the League with my fiber collage/free-style quilting work in the spring of 1997, I think. I brought one of my handmade artifacts, a horse, with me so they could examine my “buttons” and embellishments more closely.

The jury process took about 10 minutes (woot!) as I waited outside the jury room, and when I was asked back inside, not only had I been accepted, they encouraged me to come back to the next jury session in the fall. Because they all agreed that I should make jewelry with that horse. (I did, and I got in with jewelry, too.) (Thank you, jury team!)

About ten years in, one of my repeat customers/visitors came into my booth and exclaimed, “Wow! You’re making fiber work now! Fabulous!”

Er….as I said, I’d been exhibiting my fiber work for almost a decade! But my jewelry had caught their eye at first, and when they came into my booth, year after year, that is what they paid attention to.

Until that year, for that customer, when something was different–and the fiber work caught their eye.

It could have been a more colorful piece. Or the way the lighting was set up. Or it was hanging above something else that caught their attention. Or…who knows??

The point is, we think we see “everything” when we walk into a space, a booth, a store, etc. But we don’t. We see what catches our eye, and may follow a “narrow” visual path from one item to the next.

In fact, when a customer tells me they’re ready to buy something, but can’t make up their mind which something to buy, I ask them what was the first thing they saw, or touched, in my booth. They point to a piece. I tell them they should consider that piece. They protest that it was a random piece they “just happpened to see”.

I tell them this: Every single person who was intrigued enough to come into my booth, was attracted by something different. 

No two people were drawn in by the same item. 

Which means something signaled to the brain, “Whoa, let’s take a closer look at that!”

Yes, I have a major piece of work at the back of my booth, and at my booth entrance. Standard booth/show set-up procedure. But even so, what pulled people in, and what kept them engaged, was something that appealed to them.

So if you’re worried that you don’t have enough new work in your studio, consider this simple solution: Rearrange your work. If you’ve arranged your work by medium, try to arrange them by color, or theme, or style. Shift groupings around. Bring out older work. (Many customers love our older work! I have a story about that, too.) (Of course.)

It can be harder in our studio/workspace, because it has to actually work as our workspace. But consider small changes that can be easily restored after the open studio event. (I’m thinking I need to do this myself, so thank you, Katie Kruzic for sharing your worries this week!)

You may be surprised who may be excited about a “new piece” you’ve had on display for years.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO Series is complete! (For now….)

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #13: A Book Review of “Open Your Studio”

I’ve come across lots of wisdom in my decades of making and selling my creative work. I still try to look at the advice given by other people, because you never know where a great insight or tip can come from.

Last week, I ordered a highly-tooted book called OPEN YOUR STUDIO: Nine Steps to A Successful Art Event by Melinda Cootsona.  I was curious to explore what other artists thought was a terrific guide to staging our first open studio.

My opinion? 50/50  I give it a C+.

Here are the parts I thought were useful:

  1. Do NOT have a ‘sale’ section or a ‘bargain bin’.  It detracts from the perceived value of our current work, and there are better ways to move older work on. (I agree!)
  2. Be consistent in your pricing. (YES!!) She offers some good pricing strategies, too. (But ONLY for 2D work.)
  3. She offers good suggestions for pricing 2D work with or without frames, a common conundrum in the 2D artworld.
  4. Let there be a little ‘mess’ in your studio. People will find it interesting, like a peek behind the curtain. (I totally agree.)
  5. If you intend to demo during your open studio, have a sales assistant on hand. (Yes!) Otherwise, you can share your process with photos of your production process, or a slide show on a laptop.
  6. It’s good to raise our prices as the demand for our work grows. But have a private reception for your collectors to give them the option to buy your work BEFORE you actually raise your prices. (I love this idea!)
  7. If you are brand-new and need to start a mailing list, she has some good suggestions for that, too, including some I’d never thought of. (Of course, once your reputation and audience is grounded, we can be more selective, if we choose. (This wasn’t mentioned, but either ASK those people if you can sign them up, and/or always give them the option to unsubscribe. It’s really important no one can call you “spam”.)

What was not useful or just plain head-smacking:

  1. Most of the suggestions revolve around 2D artwork. She mentions ceramics and jewelry in passing, but no real insights about pricing, etc. There’s ONE picture of a box maker’s display, but it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Something that looks like a newbie at their very first show. (Yes, I made a similar mistake at my first show, but now that I know better, I DO better, AND I tell OTHERS how to do better.)
  2. She actively negotiates her prices if a visitor askes for a discount. No. No. NO. First, the person who deserves a discount is a loyal customer, not a newbie who just walked in the door. (Doesn’t it annoy you when your favorite magazine/newspaper consistently offers great rates to a NEW subscriber? And not to people (YOU) who have subscribed for years? Rethink this, please!) Also, there are ways to sweeten the deal without compromising the stated value of our work.
  3. There is absolutely nothing about how to engage visitors, how to make them comfortable in our space, how to talk with them, etc.
  4. There’s nothing about the power of a good artist statement. A great artist statement has the power of engaging someone who isn’t even that interested in our work, if it makes them go back and look at our work a second time…
  5. We’re encouraged to post our event on social media, but no suggestions on how to make that engaging for our audience there. Same with press releases, etc.

After I read the book, I went back to read the reviews on Amazon. As expected, this is a great little book if you have never sold your work or held an open studio before. and IF you are a 2D artist.

But the insights about credit cards, promoting our event, the encouragement to actively discount our work, and the total lack of anything useful for selling work that isn’t 2D, was massively disappointing.

It’s definitely worth a read for the good stuff. I found a copy on Bookfinder.com at a great price. So check it out, then let me know what YOU think!

 

 

 

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 #11: Demonstrating = Maker vs. Seller

The ‘mudding’ part of my scrimshaw technique that helps my artifacts look like real bone and ivory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When demonstrating your process, share what you want, not what you think you “have to”…

Short story: Demonstrating your process at an open studio can be a powerful incentive for visitors to come. But there’s a delicate balance between “maker” and “seller”, and that can create a disconnect with our audience. Backstory:

I’m a double-juried (in two media) craftsman member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, a well-established, well-respected organization that supports and markets the work of members in many ways: galleries, events, exhibitions, and its prestigious Annual Craftsmen’s Fair held in August every year. (I achieved tenure, so even though I now live a few thousand miles away, I still retain my membership.) I eventually volunteered to become a member of the Fair Committee, because I was so curious about what went on “behind the curtain” to produce these incredible 9-day long event.

One feature of our annual outdoor fair was demo booths. For a reduced rate, a juried craftsman got a super-sized booth (about 20’x30’, if I remember correctly) to not only display their wares, but to do demonstrations of their craft for the public. When I started, there were three such booths at each year’s fair.

And every year we had to beg people to sign up for them.

The reason was, sales at these booths were horrible. Even with the savings and prominent placement on the grounds, people knew they would struggle to make any money that year. It just wasn’t worth it to them.

I can’t remember why I decided it might be something to try, but boy, did I do my research. I checked in with past demonstrators, and asked if it were worthwhile. Almost everyone said, “Not that year, but my sales afterwards steadily climbed!” So, okay, consider it a loss-leader in the short-term, and investment in a bigger audience down the road. I could handle that.

But my superpower is gathering as much information as I can from every conceivable source. And so I also checked in with Bruce Baker, a jewelry-maker and gallery/gift shop owner who traveled across the country for years giving workshops on all things craft/art business related: Display, sales techniques, pricing, etc. (Bruce has retired this part of his biz and returned to jewelry-making full-time, but his CDs live on.) He lived relatively close, so I was able to attend many of his workshops, and even served with him on panel discussions and with traveling craft biz-building workshops for a year.

I called Bruce, and he graciously gave me the insights and advice I was looking for.

My first question was, why do sales tank at demos? He replied that demos tend to be “edu-tainment”: Free, educational and entertaining. And when it’s over, there goes the crowd, on to the next fun thing (music, raffles, food, etc.) So demo booths are unconsciously filed away under “fun to watch” and not “fun to shop”.

Add to that another unconscious element: When the “edu-tainer” artist sees people actively shopping, of course they stand up and move over to assist them. And the “magic” of demonstrating turns into, “Uh-oh, here comes the car salesman pitch!” and people scurry away. “There’s a disconnect,” he explained. “And once that ball is dropped, it’s hard to get back.” Hence, maybe crowds, but no sales.

He shared insights and gave suggestions. Like setting up my demo booth on the outer border of the big tent, so people didn’t have to “commit” to coming inside. “Don’t put it in the back of the booth, because then people have to make a conscious decision to enter a big, dark tent. Put it right there on the fairway!” I did, and it worked.

Second, he said I should NOT do sales. What??

“Not “no sales”. I mean you yourself should not do sales. Hire people to do that,” he said. “Keep that divide between the creative maker and the “car salesman”.” So I hired/bribed/cajoled a team of friends to help. (I lent them all CDs of Bruce’s selling techniques.)

But instead of telling them what I say about my work, I encouraged them to share what they love about my work. I felt it would come across as heart-felt and more authentic, and I was right about that, too!

And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments and enthusiasm were seen as an authentic validation of my work.

The proof of Bruce’s insights? At one point in the week, all my volunteers were at lunch at the same time. (Slow day.) Some people came in, I demo’ed, they watched. And when they started shopping, I walked over to them – and they nearly ran out of the booth! Lesson learned. (No, I’m not that scary in person. The actual dynamic had changed, just as Bruce had described.)

I made my highest sales ever that year, and the next (as I got to choose to demo again, if I wanted to, and I did.) In fact, from that year on, there was actual competition for those sales demo booths, and their number increased to five!

Because every other artisan saw what was happening, and wanted in on that, too.

But one of the biggest hurdles yet remained. And it took a friend’s insight to solve that problem:

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

This has been a “hurt place” for decades for me. My work has been copied for decades. (Although badly, I’m happy to say, though I’m ashamed to admit that.) Showing exactly what I do, and how I do it, felt too risky. The last thing I wanted to do was to unconsciously give others permission to copy. Most of my techniques are well-known and not original to me, though I always share the original artist as a source. What’s truly unique are the the ways I put them together, and the stories I tell through them.

Even more sobering: Think of how explaining a magic trick takes away the ‘magic’. Yeah, no.

Again, just the right person showed up.

I met Alisha Vincent when she was the show manager for the Buyers Market of American Craft (informally called “The Rosen Show” for the company’s owner, Wendy Rosen) and now known as the American Made Show.) She was/still is one of my super heroes in life, for her intelligence, her powers of observation, her wide range of experience in the world, her courage, and her sense of humor. She actually came to NH that year to work in my demo booth, and I am forever grateful she did, for countless reasons.

But especially for today, this one: When I expressed my fears, she was quick to find the solution. “Look at your neighbor,” she said, gesturing toward the guy who made beautiful Shaker boxes in the demo tent next to me. “He says his process has 29 steps.”

“He’s demonstrated nine of those steps.”

Oh. OH. OH!!!!!! Got it!

So when I say “show your process”, know that it means you get to choose how much you share.

Some people do share every single step. Hats off to them! They are secure in the knowledge that their skills have taken time and effort, and are not easily mastered. And that their own aesthetic and color choices are unique to them.

Me, not so much. I totally know this comes from my own insecurities and past experiences.

And so Alisha’s insight helped me pick interesting aspects to demo, but not a start-to-finish process. She helped me find my comfort level, so I could start there and go forward.

If you demonstrate, you get to decide what feels like “too much” vs. what feels like a challenge you can handle.

And as you get comfortable with it, take on the next challenge.

Remember, there are oodles of steps to help us move forward in our art biz.

The gift is, we get to choose what ones, how, how much, how often: A short how-to video playing on a laptop in your studio, or a live demo. (With a sales assistant!) A series of photos showing different stages in your production. Signs for all your tools, materials, equipment, on display, with their purpose and sources. (Again, how much you share is totally up to you.)

And if you offer classes, these little add-ons to your space will give them a powerful incentive to sign up.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me know! If you’d like to read more, you can 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!

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 #9: Keep Hope in Your Heart!

Bear has a powerful story for you today!

It takes time to build a following, especially with your first open studio event. Be patient. Persevere. And don’t give up so soon!

I’m trying not to bury the lede today, so let me get this right out there, now.

Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.

This powerful words came up in a conversation with Tenae Stewart a year or so ago. You can access more of Tenae Stewart‘s wisdom here.

In fact, even as I read her creation story, I realize this is just the person who can validate my message today:

It takes time to build a following.

Back in New Hampshire, I joined my first open studio tour. I already had an audience from doing the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, and both events with the same art organization. It covered all of New Hampshire (which is a pretty small state!) but I was sure it would be a great event.

The first year, I had ZERO visitors. None. Nada.

I was disheartened, but it only cost $95 to participate (no catalog like Sonoma County’s Art at the Source and Art Trails, which is the biggest cost for these events.)

I had a second tour in the fall, with another org. Same. Hmmm….what was I doing wrong??

The second year with the League tour, I had one visitor. A (very stoned) young man who just happened to be walking by and saw my open studio sign. He was delightful to talk with, we had a rich conversation, and I hope I encouraged him to follow his own creative path.

Did I quit? Nope. And here’s why I’m glad I didn’t:

Every year after that, with every open studio event (including a new tour, and a tour another artist and I started for our own city), my studio was packed. I eventually made as much income from two open studio tours and the League Fair, as I had doing 3 national wholesale and retail shows across the country. Which, btw, costs thousands of dollars to participate in, plus shipping my inventory, my booth, traveling to those events, and staying in hotels, etc.

When I look back, I understand why my first two years were slow. New Hampshire is a small state, but I was the only participant in the southwest section of the state. Once more artists in my area starting joining, my visitor numbers grew.

When people finally realized how interesting my stuidio was, they didn’t want to miss a chance to see it again, and again.

Even those first two “empty” years had value: They made me clean my studio!

I also learned why some people don’t come to our studio and gallery events:

  1. They look too “special”. I was talking to an editor of our (then) local newspaper one day. (We met as parents waiting on the playground for our elementary school kids to get out of school.) I started talking about an upcoming local gallery exhibit featuring my work, and he exclaimed, “You mean ANYONE can go to those events?? I thought only collectors could attend!” (I assured him we did not check IDs at the door. He attended (t)his very first gallery event and had a terrific time!)
  2. Promote only one event at a time. Urgency is a powerful motivator for people to visit our event.  My first mistake was sending out a postcard with three different art events I was in, trying to save money on postage. No one came to any of them. My editor for a magazine I was writing for at the time exclaimed, “No! Every musician knows you only promote ONE event at a time!” (He’s a musician!) He explains that people’s minds reason thusly: “Oh, this looks interesting! But I have to do X this weekend, so I’ll go to the next one.” The next event pops up, and they say, “Oh rats, I was gonna go for a bike ride this weekend. I’ll just go NEXT weekend.” And the last weekend goes by, and they go, “Rats, I forgot! Oh well, maybe next year.”
  3. My work is out-of-the-box, and it takes TIME for people to see who I am, and the value of what I do. I’ve never fit into boxes, not even “mixed media” (which actually means different kinds of PAINT in 2d work.) People new to my work are often confused, until I share that all my media are combined by the same STORY.
  4. You just don’t like open studios, and it shows. You got mad at the stupid question, you didn’t meet people where they are, you don’t really like having people in your studio.

Reasons why the cost of joining an open studio tour shouldn’t hold you back, especially for Art at the Source and Sonoma County Art Trails. (They’re pricey, but the catalogs are fabulous. I still have the one from our visit to California a year before we decided to move here in 2014.):

  1. Your entry fee is the cost of ONE quarter-page ad in a magazine that might hang around for a month, or even a week. That catalog is a year-round keeper. That’s quite the affordable advertising/marketing budget!
  2. Know that art events aren’t about making money TODAY. It breaks my heart when I encourage people to participate in such an event, and then they walk away because not many people came. Or they didn’t make any sales. Or they believe it’s not worth the time and effort.

We need to see open studio events as an important, powerful step in growing an audience for our work. Our studio, our sacred, creative space, is where people meet their art heroes: Us!

In our online culture today, we see “influencers” as the new normal. These are the folks who are famous, who want to be famous, who achieved fame through a confluence of factors, sometimes carefully calculated, sometimes random. They have hundreds, thousands, millions of followers.

And if we’re honest, we secretly hope we can be just like them.

It’s only when I dig deeper into my own yearnings of being famous, rich with the proceeds of my work, that I realize I don’t actually want that!

I want to be seen as someone who has a different view of their place in the world. Someone who shares their work, their experience, their insights, with honesty and integrity.

Someone who, as hard as it can feel sometimes, knows at heart that it’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

It’s easy to get lost in the ropey jungle of who is a “real” artist. It’s even worse when we get lost in the definition of who is a “successful artist”.

What is the measure of our success?

If an oil painting can sell for $10,000, am I a failure if I only make a couple hundred dollars with a necklace that took me almost the same amount of time to make, using handmade and expensive materials?  (No, it’s no one’s fault (certainly not mine!) that some art media are considered more valuable than others.)

If I get an invitation to join a new gallery run by someone who loves my work, but my sales are still modest, is that not worth very much? (Yes, it’s worth it. Just the words this new gallery owner shared with me: “People who don’t really know that much about art, don’t think your work is “real art”. But the people who do? They are totally intrigued and amazed by your work!” This made my year!)

If someone’s heart is lifted because my studio, and my engagement with them, and my encouragement inspires them to take up their creative work again, is there a price tag on that? (No. It’s priceless!)

If a customer with not so much money takes a decade to buy even a minor piece, was that work the wait? (Yes! It means my work matters to them, enough that they stay determined to own a piece someday.)

If only a few people come to our event, that’s still a start.

If they signed up for your email alerts, that means they want to come back.

If they want to come back, they may bring a friend with them next time.

If they come back again, they really enjoy your studio, your art, and YOU.

If they keep coming back, they will either buy a piece eventually, or buy a piece for a friend who will love it. And maybe both of them will come back to buy more.

Some of our fans will share their experience on social media. This is the most important “advertising” of all. Because anyone can buy an ad. But we can’t buy praise and enthusiasm. Testimonials, online reviews like Yelp, etc. reflect not just our artistic skills, but also our connectivity with our clients, visitors, buyers, etc.

One artist in last year’s open studio tour was reluctant to try again. I really, really wish I’d reached out to them this year. There were work-arounds to their issues that could have been solved. Perhaps simply having their own event could have resolved some of their issues, too. Oh well. Maybe next year.

But here’s my biggest, best reasons I will continue to do open studios, even if I never make another dime from them:

My visitors are a powerful, in-person, in the moment reminder of how fortunate I am. 

I have a lovely space to make my work. I am very fortunate!

I have learned so much from making my work, and sharing it with the world, regardless of how much I actually make from it. I’m a better person for it.

I love what I do, from writing stuff like this for you today (and getting clear in my own head!), to making thank-you pearl earrings for the people who work at homeless shelters and those who rescue wild birds and opossums. Do I make money doing this? Nope. Not a cent. (And when I once whined about how nobody ever thanks me for doing this, my wise daughter who works in a similar “care” field said, “Mama, trust me on this. They ARE grateful, grateful that you see what they do, how hard it is, and they are glad you ‘see’ them. You don’t need a thank-you.” Her point was, the more overloaded and overwhelmed they are with their work, the less bandwidth they have to even write a thank-you note. Lesson learned!)

So approach your open studio event with an open heart, and no expectation of “instant sucess”.

Embrace what it brings you, no matter how small. Keep notes on the insights, the comments that lift your heart, the interactions that were gratifying and powerful.

Know that even sharing your space with a visitor can make a huge difference in their life, even if we can never know for sure.

And consider expanding your own unique version of “success” in life.

HOLY COW!! I randomly opened up an old RadioUserland post the other day, and found these two articles! I’d totally forgotten about them… More insights, more encouragement for YOU (and me today.) Dealing With Failure and Be Careful What You Wish For!

If you’d like to read more about this line of thinking, check here: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/category/what-is-the-measure-of-your-success/

If you enjoyed this article, or have questions or comments, let me know!

And if you know someone who needs a little encouragement in life, send this to them!

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #8: A Few More Visitor Tips For You

(Originally published on Fine Art Views. Based on helping a friend enhance their show experience, but much of it applies to our open studio conversations, too!)

This article has tips on how to engage visitors, how NOT to engage visitors, and how to make clear what is and isn’t for sale (and why).

A fellow craftsperson asked for my help awhile back.  They’d had a few bad shows back-to-back.  Something was lacking, but they didn’t know what.

I asked to see a picture of their space and they sent me some pics.   Right away, I saw some things that could be changed that would make their booth more attractive and functional.

We set up part of their booth in my driveway to experiment with layout.  We talked about how to greet people when they enter your booth.  How to create—and support—an environment that lets people browse and shop comfortably.  How to display work so people can immediately see what you do and what you’re selling.  How to tell people what they’re looking at.  How to streamline and integrate your display so people “get” your message.

My friend is an outgoing person who’s comfortable in their space.  They’re savvy about marketing and serious about their business.  Even so, there were a few things in their approach that tend to shut down the sales process quickly.

Worse, these are actions most artists think they’re supposed to do.

I have an advantage, in a way.  My personality type almost equally balanced between introvert and extrovert.  Being too isolated too long drives me bonkers.  But being too outgoing too long sometimes drains my battery. I need downtime to recharge.  The advantage?  I’m very aware when I’m in my please-don’t-bug-me stage, and when I’m in my “you-are-my-new-best-friend!” phase.  And I’m also very aware of what bugs me in both of those modes.

As artists in our sales mode, we think we’re supposed to greet everyone immediately and fervently.  We think we’ll bond by complimenting a visitor’s clothing or jewelry.  We try to connect by commenting on the weather, the show or some other small talk.  We want people to know about our product, whether it’s a landscape painting, a turned wood bowl or button earrings. And so we jump right in and tell them all about it.

And then, when they do ask us a question, we make a joke so that we’ll really set them at ease.  And often, the joke is at their expense.

All of this sets my teeth on edge.  Especially when I’m in my quiet mode.

Remember this:  We are not here to make a bunch of new friends. 

I don’t mean this to sound clinical or cold.  I say it so we understand how we can act in ways that support what we’re really in this event for.

We’re here so people can see, and buy, our artwork.  

If they become good friends and passionate collectors in the process, that’s wonderful.  But until they decide that’s the relationship they want, all small talk is just that—small talk—that interferes with what they came to the show to do….

Shop.

The main reason people go to art fairs, craft shows, and open studios, is to shop, in all its phases and levels.  They may actively shop.  They may say they’re “just looking”—until the find the thing that they just can’t pass by.  They want to browse, and look, and admire, or decide they’re not interested, and leave without interference. They may decide they like our work, and us, which is perfect! They will be back, whether they make a purchase or not, today or later.

If they show interest, that’s the start of a connection.  Then we’re here to build and strengthen that connection.  If we succeed in creating a strong connection—whether it’s through name-branding, quality, value, shared ideals, common purpose, magnetic personality, whatever—then an exchange is made:  Their hard-earned money for our well-made artwork.

My point (and I do have one, to quote Ellen) is that you do not want to interrupt their shopping process with meaningless chatter.  You do not want to interrupt the shopping process with questions that have nothing to do with their shopping.  You do not want to interrupt the shopping process with a question they can answer “no” to.  (The biggie?  “May I help you?”  “No, thanks, just looking.”  Bing!  You’re nullified.)

Meaningless chatter?  Trust me, almost anything you’re going to ask a browser is something they’ve heard in every single booth-or-studio before they got to yours.  When I’m shopping, I hate to be interrupted to answer questions like, “So, are you from this area?”  Or “Are you looking for anything special?”  Or “Did you see these widgets over here?  I just started making these last week!”  Or “How are you enjoying the show-0r-tour?”

When I’m shopping, I want to focus on looking, not chatting about meaningless stuff.

When the shoe is on the other foot, it’s obvious to me this tactic isn’t productive.  When I’m selling at a show or in my studio, I’ve noticed that if I comment on a person’s shirt or purse, the ensuing conversation is all about their shirt.  Or their purse.  If I ask them how they’re enjoying the show, then we talk about the show.  Ditto the weather.  Like my friend, you may say things like this in an honest attempt to show people that you are likeable and personable.  But it simply comes across as annoying at best, or self-serving, distracting and insincere at worst.

When people enter your booth, give them a moment to settle.  I read recently that when we go through an entrance or a door, our brains do a “data dump” of where we’ve come from, to make room for new information in our new location.  (Hence, the endless comedy of going to a room to look for something, and forgetting what we’re looking for.)

I think this happens to people coming into your booth space.  Something about your work or display pulls people in from the aisle, your image in that catalog drew them in, or they simply stop at every booth or studio to investigate.  They need a few seconds to grasp what they’re looking at.  Give them a few beat to settle, then greet them.

I do not stand staring at them as they enter.  I try to have simple little tasks to work on—making price tags, dusting frames, restocking some items.  I look up and smile, and greet them simply.   “Hi, I’m Luann, and this is my work (spreading my hand).  (One or two sentence summary about your work. More on this later!) If you have any questions, just let me know, I’m just making up some tags.”  The pressure is off.  You are available, but not hovering over them. They don’t have to answer dumb questions.  They don’t have to chit-chat.  They don’t have to listen to a full-blown sales pitch.

They can just look. Yay!!

Some people take a quick look, decide my work is not for them, and leave.  Others stay.  If you let them, they’ll settle in for a good long look.

There’s a point, too, where it feels right to say quietly, “It’s okay to touch.”  People are always surprised—and delighted—to hear this.  They always say, “Thank you!” and start picking pieces up. *(see below for funny story about touching.)

How do I know when it’s time to start my sales piece?

When they ask me a question.

When they ask me a question, they are giving me permission to talk to them.  From there on, I follow their lead.  If you relax into yourself, and watch, you can tell who needs a quiet voice and gentle questions.  You can tell who’s hungry for more information and camaraderie.  You respond with bigger energy to outgoing people, and quiet energy to reserved people.

It’s a delicate dance.

Remember that whenever you talk to someone in your booth, other people are listening.  They may even prefer to get your information “second-hand”, without having to actively talk themselves.

The last big no-no:  Please do NOT make a joke at your customer’s expense.  Yes, you will say that your punch line (“How long does it take me to make that?”  “It took me 30 years to make that!”) gets a laugh every time.  I’m here to tell you, your visitor is probably laughing out of embarrassment. You’ve made a joke at their expense.  If you make a joke about anything that makes the person feel stupid, or defensive, or flat-footed, you have created a disconnect.  Even a small disconnect is not good. And it may be very difficult to repair it.  If other people in your booth are listening, it’s even worse.  Because they won’t want to volunteer to be the butt of your joke, either.

Here’s one example:  My friend makes many of her own “cake stands” to display her pieces.  But one of them was a gift from her mother, and one of them held her own wedding cake.  Sometimes people ask to buy them.  Her response?  “Sure!  This one is $25, this one is $500, and this one is $1,000.”  They went on to explain that the second and third one aren’t really for sale.

They’ve created a situation where the customer knows that’s a ridiculous answer—why would a cake stand cost $1,000??–but has no idea what’s going on.  They sense they’re being set up, and sure enough, they are.  They may laugh with relief, they may laugh because it’s funny.  But for a moment, they felt stupid and on the outside.

Why would you want to make your customer feel that way?

I suggested they turn that whole scene around.  It’s simple enough:  Label the one that’s for sale, and label the two that aren’t as NFS (Not For Sale).  If people ask why those two aren’t for sale, tell them the story first:  “This one I made, this one is a gift from my mother, etc.”  THEN tell them the punch line:  “So I like to say, this one is $25, this one is $500….”  That way, your customer is in on the joke—not the butt of it.  You still get to be funny, but not at their expense.

So is it okay to make small talk?

When it’s not busy in our booth, you’re bored stiff, the person seems open to chatting and apparently—or obviously—is not interested in our work.  Even then, it can backfire.  I wrote a whole series of articles about how to get some people out of your booth.  (It’s a Kindle book, too!) One of them was about the non-purchasing customer who wants to be your new best friend and talk your ear off.

When is it okay to ask them how they’re enjoying the event?  As you’re wrapping up their purchase, when you’re getting their contact information, as you process their sale.  “Are you from this area?” because if they are, you can ask if you add them to your mailing list (for open studio catalogs), their email address (so you can alert them to future events, sales, classes, etc.) and if they aren’t, they might be interested in making future purchases from your website (email newsletter.)

I leave a sign-up sheet out, with the same info, and with business cards and postcards they can take, too.

When is it okay to ask them how they feel about the weather?  I have no idea.  Maybe if it’s raining and you are selling umbrellas?

When YOU are visiting a booth or studio, when YOU are browsing or shopping, what are YOUR pet peeves?  Maybe we can find ways to turn them around to our advantage when we’re the vendors!

*I used to have a sign that said “Please touch” or “It’s okay to touch”. One visitor was obviously intrigued with my work, but kept their hands behind their back. I said, “It’s okay to pick that item up” and they said, “Oh NO, the sign says ‘Don’t touch’!” Too funny! But that’s when I realized we’re all so used to NOT being allowed to touch, that people glanced at that sign, saw ‘touch’ and assumed it was yet another “hands off” sign. It made me kinda sad. But it also encouraged me to TELL people it was okay. That was even more effective and powerful. Lesson learned!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #8: How Not to Write an Artist Statement

(Disclaimer: You may not agree with my take on this subject. No worries, do what works for you! But do consider this approach if you want your artist statement to stand out from the crowd.)

I’ve written a lot about artist statements. A LOT.

This is one of my favorites.

OK, like a parent asked to choose their favorite child, I love ’em all! They all have a nugget of truth. But this one combines my frustration with most artists’s statements, the lack of creativity, the banality, the focus on materials and process over our story, yadda yadda yadda.

I know this is a huge homework assignment. But at least one of these articles could get you to reconsider taking on the “traditional” artist statement.

And again, check out ArtyBollocks.com for starters. It will prove that “arty” “pretentious” “obscure” artist statements are ridiculous, I hope. Here’s another fun site if your creative work takes a different form: The New Age Bullshit Generator

And this artist’s response to generic artist statements is good, too. Thanks and a hat tip to Beth Secor!

You may be tempted to use a template to create an artist statement. It may feel safe, and easy. And if it gets you started, okay then. But as a friend told me years ago, “You cannot fill in the blanks with passion.” (Wherever you are in the world, thank you Nicci Walker!)

You may be tempted to use hoity-toity words and phrases, (aka “artspeak”) like other famous artists. But this article on the down side of IAE (International Art English) is terrific at uncovering the very (pretentious) aspects that could alienate our potential audience. (My hat’s off to you, too, Carol Ober!)

Avoid anything that reeks of complacency:

“I love color”.  Um….who doesn’t love color??

“I am drawn to light and color”. Um…even worse? How can anyone capture an image of anything without light? (More on this to follow….)

“I am inspired by nature…” Um. So is every single landscape painter ever. And probably 95% of the rest of the world.

“I explore form and composition…”  Just stop right there. Every painting has forms, shapes, lines in it.

I could go on, but it drives me nuts. These are just a few sentences that most artists believe makes them “unique”. But they’re just the opposite. They sound like every other artist on the planet. Case in point: I could say this about my art, and I’m willing to bet that my work looks nothing like yours.

When artists list the “famous artists” they’ve studied with, I want to pull my hair. All it means is, you had enough money to pay their fees. I get that really popular famous artists can be very selective about who gets into their classes. But I also know that a “famous artist” in one part of the world may be totally unknown in another part. When I moved to California in 2014, I knew only two artists in Sonoma County. Actually, in all of California. And neither of them are painters. (Okay, Jane Garabaldi and Marge Margulies, and only because we were all in the same gallery in New England.) (And yes, they are both stellar at their work!)

An artist statement is not the place to brag about your art degrees, your reputation, to explain your how-to process in-depth.

It’s about sharing something about you, and your work, that will make your visitors want to go back and look at your artwork again.

JoAnne Russo, a highly-acclaimed Vermont basketmaker, was the first person to share this insight with me. I was already doing that, but this made it clear why we cannot afford to muck up this important piece of paper. Because even if our work doesn’t blow them away, our artist statement can.

Here’s my best example: At an art exhibit years ago, I saw what I thought was an awful work of art. Crumpled foil, squished fabric. WTF?? I thought.

Then I read their artist statement, and I almost cried.

It was made by a woman who had been a talented painter for most of her life. Now, in her final years, she had lost her sight and could no longer paint.

But in her heart, she still wanted to “make”. She still wanted to share the things that fascinated her. She was still an artist, even though vast changes had to be made in how she created it.

So she worked with interesting bits of materials with great texture, arranging them in ways that literally and figuratively “felt right”, and urged people to touch them.

OMG. OMG. She wanted to still have her voice in the world. And even going blind was not going to stop her. 

Yes. I went back and looked at her work again.

Instead of seeing someone who had no idea how to make “real art”, I saw someone with so much courage, so strong in their heart, that even losing their superpower–a great painter–shewhat believed she still had something to share with the world.

My next example was an artist statement I wrote for a woodworker the year before we moved to California. Here’s my rant about that experience. 

The part I wrote that they didn’t value?

Like people, trees respond to what happens to hem. What they live through creates their character. Sunlight and soil, ice and wind…all these things leave their unique mark on the inside. I work wood’s diverse color, grain, and texture, patiently and meticulously, to real the “inside story”.  And like people, the story hidden beneath the bark is beautiful, unique, and forever astonishing.

In fact, just read that article if you’re short on time and don’t have the bandwidth right now to go deeper. (And to be fair, that person did include that part in their statement. I didn’t know until a few years later, when their work was featured in a magazine.

Yes, your process is important. But keep it simple.

Yes, your education helped you get to where you are today. I get it.

Yes, art degrees mean you were serious about your work from an early age. Good on you! But not all of us had that privilege or option.

The most powerful story we can tell about our work is why it matters. To US.

It could have been a life-long passion, or it could have been a treasure we buried out of perceived necessity. Until we realized how vital it was to our soul.

Be willing to go deep, to share who you really are, and how your art helped you discover what really matters to you.

Trust me. And trust yourself: If you’re doing it right, they will want to see more of your artwork, your studio, and you.

Questions? Comments? Bring ’em on! I’ll do my best to answer them.

(No snark, please. Feel free to gritch on your own platform, okay?)

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #7 Fresh Take On Refreshment Takers

In my previous article, I shared why I don’t serve food or drinks anymore at my open studio events. Now I’ll share a story about a visitor who seemed to only show up for the food.

This person is…well, a little different from most of my studio visitors. They always arrive early, are very quiet, and spend a lot of time looking at my work. When I engage them in conversation, they talk in a very loud voice. I would use the term “on the spectrum”, except a spectrum is a true range of all colors, attributes, etc. So technically, we’re all on the sprectrum somewhere. (Thanks to commedian Matt Ruby for this wonderful insight!)

They’ve attended every art event involving open studios I’ve been in, in several different locations, all walkable.

And almost everyone on all the open studio events I’ve been on, is very familiar with them. The general impression is, this person only shows up to take advantage of the free food and drinks.

And yet they always show up at my events, too, knowing there won’t be the “free lunch” thing. They sign up for my emails and give their snail mail address for catalogs, every single time, too.

Obviously, they don’t want to be left out.

Once, out of curiosity, I asked them what their creative work was.

I got the usual reply: “Oh, I’m not creative.”

That’s a conversation-opener for me. Because all humans have a creative gene, and there are many ways to be creative, if we lift those very narrow boundaries about who is-or-isn’t-a-real-artist.

We talked a little more. (It wasn’t busy, I had time to explore who this person really is.) They said they’d taken an art class, they’d made a painting, which they loved, and they wanted to be an artist, too. I told her I’d love to see their piece, and to bring it the next time they came to my open studio.

To my surprise, a few months later, they did!

They were a little nervous about showing it to me. If I had to make up a story about that, it would be that they know they are ‘different’, they know people aren’t eager to engage with them, and they might be worried I would go into full art critic mode. But I didn’t.

Of course it was amateur-ish, something I would have done in high school. (I loved to doodle and draw, (still do!) but realistic drawing and painting are not my thing.) But it wasn’t horrible, either. It was simply someone’s first attempt at making art, no better and no worse than my first attempt to paint, or yours.

I could also tell it was very dear to them.

I praised the aspects that drew my attention, and encouraged them to pursue this. I suggested they get an inexpensive frame for it. “You can hang it on a wall and see it every day,” I said. “And I hope it inspires you to keep making stuff. We all get better when we keep making, that’s how we all get better at it.” If art classes were inconvenient or too expensive, they could also start by getting some instructive books from the library. Or simply start sketching what they see every day: Trees. Flowers. Birds. People. Pets. Finding what catches their eye, and play with it.

They left with a very happy heart.

The next time they came up in conversation with my fellow open studio group, when it got to the part where “it’s all about the food”, I shared my experience. Yes, obviously they really enjoy the food!

But they are also yearning to do what those of us with studios do, with our own hunger: To make something we love. To make something so often, so regularly, that we get good at it. And when we’re ready, to find a way to share it with others.

That’s what they want, too. And that’s why they show up at all our open studios:

We are their art heroes.

It’s human to make assumptions about people. It’s normal to be uneasy about someone whose behaviors aren’t “normal”. It’s good to be cautious when engaging with someone whose problems/issues seem unusual, and to disengage with someone whose behavior is threatening. Trust your instincts.

And yet, a previous studio visitor’s ramped-up emotions taught me a valuable lesson in what it is to be human. How even a teensy bit of compassion, of being willing to go a little deeper, can create, at the very least, a tiny miracle (which is often just a “change in perception”, as a good friend once told me) can help us make the world a (slightly) better place for everyone.

I haven’t seen the hungry visitor since the pandemic shutdowns. I hope they are okay.

I hope they were encouraged by our conversation. I hope they continue to take a class or two (if they can afford it), or get those library how-to book loaners if they can’t.

I hope they know that regardless of their talent (or lack of it), their skills (same), it’s okay to pursue what they love, what they admire in other artists, and simply do it.

I hope they come back some day.

Because I hope with all my heart that they’re still trying, yearning, hoping to be a “real artist”…

Just like all their art heroes they visit.

Not all of our visitors are art collectors. Not all of our visitors can afford our work, even if they love it. And there are many different reasons our visitors are attracted to our studio in the first place. For many, like this person, there’s a yearning in them they don’t understand, that they don’t believe is worth pursuing, because they aren’t good enough.

Consciously or unconsciously, they come to us for hope.

For some reason, I thought of two articles I wrote years ago as I wrote this one. I have no idea why, except one of them is called Hungry Art (as this person was ‘hungry’ for seeing art, and hopefully making their own.) And the other one popped up as I searched for that one (thank you, Karen Cooper!) as someone I don’t even know found one of my articles helpful when they hit a slippery spot. That article is called Sipping From the Fire Hose. So there we have the cure for hunger, and the power of drinks.

And the powerful reminder that when we share our art, our words, our creativity with the world, it will meet someone who needs to hear it, right where they are, that day.

 

 

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 #5: The Boring But Necessary Legal Stuff

A mentoring committee cohort reminded me today that it’s good to get the more immediate prep stuff for open studios out there early. Good point, Caren! Check out Caren Catterall’s artwork, it’s amazing and she has good stories, too.

Valerie Adams and Caren both have experience with mentoring, both created action sheets, and I’m using some of their suggestions, insights, agendas to fill in the blanks. (Thank you both! I don’t need to reinvent the wheel…!)

First, legal stuff. Collecting sales tax (for state and city/town taxes), a business license (for the same reason), insurance.

I was spoiled in New Hampshire. No state income tax, and no sales tax. (I still apologize to people when I have to add sales tax to their purchase, and that bewilders them.)

There are two official/legal business documents I had to acquire, both through government agencies, and hence not always intuitive. But I got through it, and you will, too. Most important was a business license. I’m fortunate to live in an actual city, so this was relatively easy to find and navigate: A Santa Rosa business tax certificate. To find yours, just Google “business license” or “seller’s permit” etc. and your city and state. Your search engine will understand what you’re looking for and get you to the right place. Things are pricey in California, and yet a business license here is only $25, and gets renewed annually. There’s an add-on tax for your sales, but it’s not daunting, and it has a cap. And that $25 covers your taxes up to $25,000. (So for me, nothing to worry about. Dang. The plus side of not being a ‘financially successful artist’….)

The two open studio events I participate in requre a local permit to be prominently displayed. I mean, not in your display space, but somewhere people can easily see it. Just like your return policy and custom orders terms.

California also requires a business license from the California Board of Equalization. It’s a little more complicated but not fatal. The reason you need both is because both state and city collect sales taxes on purchases, so you need to report your sales to both. Again, if you forget where this link is, a simple Google search will get you where you need to go.

OR, just ask someone who’s in the same area, and/or in the same biz, or same kind of biz (self-employed, free-lancer, entrepeneur, etc.) for advice about how to get started.

What sales are taxed, and which ones aren’t, is still a puzzler for me, and anyone who has expertise on this, please share your suggestions in the comments. If they fit the bill and you are okay with this, I’ll edit this article to include your advice!

Basically, if my work is sold in a gallery or store, then the sales tax has already been collected. I only need to report that income as…well, taxable income.

In our studios, we need to add up every sale, of course. But one error I made early on was adding the TOTAL dollar amount paid. Later, I realized I was computing tax on the sales tax! In my area, I was adding a little less than 10% in sales tax, so a $200 purchase was actually rung up as $220. I was paying a tax of $22 on an item I’d added $20 tax to.

That $2 isn’t much. But if you’re selling artwork for $10,000, it’s a big difference!

I figured out that multiplying $220 x 91% got me close to the actual taxable amount of $200 again. But going forward, it’s a heckuva lot easier to keep a tally of the actual price of what was sold before adding tax. (Have I confused you? Join the club.)

Next, insurance. I discovered early on that our home insurance covered the studio in our hourse back in New Hampshire, and the same company’s rental insurance covers my studio outside my home. Check your policy, too. If it’s not covered, ask your mentor (for our two open studio tour events) or another artist in your area what they do.

Coincidentally, I found an email about this very issue from a craft business magazine (Handmade Business, formerly known as The Crafts Report) that I used to write for: Handmade Artisan Insurance  The rate seems a little high, but it’s been awhile since I’ve needed extra insurance. Also, these policies cover an entire year, including off-site events (art and craft fairs, for example.) If you don’t intend to open your studio year round (say, by appointment) or don’t do shows, etc., then you might find affordable policies where you only pay for one event. Not my field of expertise, though, and again, the internet is your friend for finding information.  Let me Google that for you 

As I shared in a previous article about signage, to protect yourself from unethical customers, we must also post our terms of service: What we accept in payment (checks, cash, credit cards) and how we will process thos payments (PayPal, Square, Venmo, etc.)  We need a sign prominently displayed on the conditions of our layaway plan, custom orders, and our return policy.

Last, whether or not our studio space is legally “wheelchair accessible” can get confusing. When my studio was at South A Street in downtown Santa Rosa, I simply asked the owner of the coffee shop next to me if my space was accessible. There were no steps, and the door was wide enough for a wheelchair. But he said no, because the floor rugs could jam a wheel, and there was a slight bump in the doorway. Yes, most people could get through (and did!) but technically, I couldn’t claim it as legally accessible. That’s about all I know about this subject, so share your experience and research on this if you can, okay? It’s safer for us to share this if a prospective visitor checks in with us, than to raise their expectations, and then disappoint them if there are barriers we didn’t recognize.

Also, be aware that there are a handful of people who make it a full-time business to seek out businesses that are not technically compliant, and sue the pants off them. My understanding is, unless we have store hours, we don’t have to meet this demand. (Don’t take my word for it, this will take time to research!) But it makes it even more important that we stick to actual legal requirements in describing our accessability.

Whew, I’m done with this part! Fine print, legalities, none of this is my forte, and just researching this stuff enough to share it with you today has drained my batteries. But I hope it’s enough to get you started, and in time to get it all nailed down before your event.

Remember, ask your friends, your fellow artists, other people in your building (the ones who are artists/creatives) for more details.

And also remember, as cumbersome and confusing as some of these requirements might feel, once you get it done, renewing all these legal documents is easy-peasey.

Last, again, if you have strong experience with these topics, and/or professional experience, feel free to share that here! I will bow to your bigger experience and be grateful.

And a P.S. after the “last”…if you find these articles helpful, please pass on a link to them to anyone that mind find them useful, too. And sign up for my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a single one!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #4B: Signs For Your Protection

In my last article, I shared how we can respond positively to “stupid questions” (which aren’t actually stupid, but conversation openers.) I also shared how signs can help with that.

Today’s post is brief. (Quit cheering, please!) 😀

There are signs that are important to protect us from being taken advantage of.

This involves whether or not you take credit cards (and which ones you don’t accept), checks, and/or cash.

Repairs? It’s usually a simple process for me, it reassures new customers they can trust me to do the right thing, and it restores their faith in humanity.

You need your seller’s permit/business license prominently placed, too, if your city requires one. This is new to me in California, as the state I’ved in and built my biz in for almost 30 years did not collect sales tax nor income tax. (I was spoiled!) I still apologize to customers for charging them sales tax. (They are baffled until I explain. And I have to stop apologizing for that.)

Most important: You need a sign that states clearly what your return policy is. Also your commission/special order policy, and the deposit, if required.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn this the hard way. A fellow artist shared a story with me years ago, about a customer who ordered a ton of his work in his studio. Literally, a sale that easily represented a month’s worth of show orders, a year of studio sales. They payed in full, and he shipped the items. He was ecstatic!

Then, a month later, they said they didn’t want them anymore, returned every single item, and demanded a refund.

Turns out they’d had a huge upscale event, and wanted his work to impress their guests. Once the party was over, they didn’t need the fancy artwork anymore.

And because his return policy wasn’t publicly visible, he had no legal grounds for refusing their returns.

He urged all of us to post our return policies, at shows and in our studios. Lesson learned!

Mine says I accept returned works within 10 days of purchase (or received, if it’s shipped), with credit toward their next purchase. It sits where everyone can see it, as soon as they enter my studio.

Special orders and commissions required a 25% non-refundable deposit, and includes one remake. I’ve only had one customer ever challenge that, almost 20 years ago and they kept hinted their partner was a lawyer as a veiled threat. I was actually glad to refund their money because a) I hadn’t even started it yet, a week later; b) I never wanted to deal with them again; c) the bs involved in a legal case was simply not worth it to me.

Most customers are simply people who love your work enough to buy it. But the very few who lack integrity can wreak havoc if we aren’t prepared.

Protect yourself from the users and abusers.

 

 

 

 

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….

 

 

 

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