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 #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 #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: Introduction

When I stepped up to the plate with my art, I was an eager beaver student. I started with small local art fairs, but within a few years, I did the the wholesale fine craft show circuit (introducing my work to gallery owners, publications, etc.), then moved up to a large retail show (the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, arguably the oldest art show in the nation), and then a few high-end shows.

I did years of shows before I did open studio events! But doing shows taught me a lot: How to display my work, how to price my work, how to greet customers, how to process sales, etc.

Within a few years of doing open studio tours, I dropped all my big shows (except for the Craftsmen’s Fair) and focused on those in-person studio visitors.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this, too. This series will walk you through the basics, the fine points, what I’ve learned from other artists, what I’ve learned from seminars led by Bruce Baker, visitors, and loyal customers. (Yes, your customers can be fonts of wisdom, too!)

Now, most of us want to be “real artists”. What does that mean? Well, we need an art degree, a resume, a list of galleries that represent our work, a list of exhibitions we’ve participated in, a (e)mail list of customers, press releases and publications (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) that have featured our work. Oh, and the awards we’ve won, and prices that reflect the popularity of our work. And a successful open studio event is one where we had a ton of sales.

Right?

WRONG.

Everything about those assumptions is wrong.

You do not need an art degree to be a “real artist”. (I don’t have one.) You don’t need a resume. (I had one, but I don’t maintain it anymore.) I still have some galleries back on the East Coast that carry my work, and I’m in several here in Sonoma County. (I hope to find more, but that’s not my main goal for now.) I’ve won awards, but I don’t care so much about winning anymore. I’ve been featured in newspapers, magazines, books, etc., but I don’t pursue that so much, either. The common advice I see everywhere about how to greet and engage customers has never worked for me. And the money? It’s ranged from pretty good to pretty dismal, as 9/ll, the recession of 2008, moving to the West Coast, etc. etc. have all taken their toll.

Ask me if I care. (You’re right! The answer is “nope”.)

The single most important thing a “real artist” can do is:

Make the work of their heart.

Tell their story.

Share their art with the world.

Money is great! But the truth is, not very many people make a living from their artwork/creative work. Yes, sometimes they’re not ‘doing it right’, but this is also a time in history where people in my age group (YES, BOOMERS!) are the biggest demographic in our country. (We probably outnumber our customers.)

And the research I did for a series of articles for Fine Art Views a few years ago, about why millennials don’t by our art, was truly educational for me. Tastes have changed, our collectors’ homes may be already filled with art (mine is!) younger folks may be just starting families, careers, etc. and not have the budget for our work, yadda yadda yadda ad nauseum.

So we may be competing for BUYERS.

But there is no limit on building our AUDIENCE.

And eventually, some folks in our audience will become buyers.

I tend to be wordy (ahem), but Tenae Stewart, who worked at Sebastopol Center for the Arts a few years ago, told me shared seven little words with me that summarized this entire series:

Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.

This has been my entire art career, in seven words. The reasons doing shows was hard is, my work is out of the box. (Some people even tell me to my face it’s not “real art”. Okay. But I don’t care.) It takes awhile for people to figure out what they’re looking at, why it calls to them.

Some people look, and walk away.

Others? They lean in.

And if don’t screw up my interactions with them, they will come back. They will bring a friend. They will sign up for my blog/newsletters. They will find something new and interesting every single time they come to my studio. Someday, they’ll buy a piece. And some people will keep on collecting our work, year after year.

And the biggest reason why open studios are such powerful audience-builders?

Because our studios, our sacred creative spaces, are where the magic happens.

As Bruce Baker said in a seminar years ago, “To regular people, artists are the ones who ran away to join the circus!”

We are outliers, out-of-the-box people. We took a risk to do what we do, not like taking a job where we know what we’re supposed to do, and getting a paycheck (and benefits) for it. We followed our dream, and made it real.

I believe we all have a creative force within us, but the magical myth of “real artists” still intrigues the rest of the world.

And for those people who didn’t find the encouragement to follow their heart, who don’t believe they’re ‘good enough’, who don’t think they have enough room to have a real maker space, who believe some people are simply born with talent and others (themselves!) aren’t….

Our studios can inspire them to take up their own creative journey.

If you want a head start before this series begins, check out my series on creating a successful booth environment in this series, GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD.  Booths are harder for us than an open studio, because we have to get the parts together, schlep it across town (or, as I did, across the country), set it up, wait for people to find us, realize we left a critical thing back home, break it all down and pack it up, and schlep home again.

Open studios? It’s like getting your house ready for a party! A lot of work, but not nearly as hard as big shows.

So take a peek at that series, check in to see the latest posts, and if you have questions, send ’em to me! I’ll either let you know the anwers are coming, or I’ll write some new ones.

Either way, don’t panic. You got this. I’ve got your back

Stay tuned for my next article in this series!

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My face, when I get asked this question.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the ‘ifs’…..

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

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

 

 

 

 

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART

 

 

I miss my old studio in NH, but not the winters!

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART: Open Studios Help Me Be a Better Person in the World.

People visit our studios for many different reasons, and all of it is good!

(This article originally ran in Crafts Business magazine, Feb/Mar 2005. Still holds true today, with a few minor edits!)

You know what we hope for when we open our studio to the public, especially in December. We hope everyone in town decides our work will make the perfect Christmas/holiday present. We hope hordes of shoppers will descend upon us, buying up everything in sight.

It doesn’t quite work that way, though. In fact, this was my fourth open studio of the year, and true to form, there was no form. No rhyme nor reason, either. Like life itself, it was the usual mix of the predictable and unpredictable.

There was the unexpected spat with my teenage daughter. She used to beg me to let her help with these events. Now she wants to hang out with her boyfriend this weekend, instead. Her boyfriend! Heck, I gave her life! (Just kidding.) (NOT.) I won the battle this year, but I foresee humiliating defeat in the years ahead. Time to look for a new show assistant? (n.b., this turned out not to be true, and my daughter joined me for shows until she left for college, and beyond.)

Then, moments before we opened, I got a phone call. An eager customer asking for last-minute directions? Yay! Yes, she was asking for directions, but no, she was not an eager customer. She had a box of sewing goods she thought I might be interested in buying. (This is just one of my pet peeves as an artist: People trying to sell me something during an event where I’m trying to sell something, especially an event like the major shows I did that cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars to participate in. I can attract a Mary Kay consultant from 500 miles away just by setting up my booth.)

I felt a sharp retort bubbling up, but held it back. I offered them an appointment for the day after the open studio.

Saturday morning was brisk. One shopper spent quite a bit of time browsing. First they wanted to buy a rubberstamp I’d carved. (Nope, not for sale.) Then they wanted my handmade buttons. (Nope, not for sale.) “One of those people!” I thought to myself. But again, I told myself, “Be nice, be nice.” I’m glad I held my tongue, because eventually they bought several items that made up half my sales for the weekend!

There was the art teacher who wanted me to tell them exactly how I make my artifacts, so they could use it as a school art project. (I get that all the time, too.) My response is to either give them online resources for working with polymer clay, or point them to my book shelf and the comfy chair corner, and to let them sign up for notices when I offer classes on polymer work.

There was the couple who traveled for hours to visit my studio. There was the person who happened to be walking by, saw my sign, and came in. The person who showed up to ask if I could replace their lost earrings they’d purchased a few years ago. (Yes, I will replace the first lost earring free, but not the second!) There was the person who decided they couldn’t live without purchasing another necklace from me. (I LOVE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS!)

There was the person who couldn’t find anything of interest at all in my entire studio, except my private collection of turquoise nuggets. One person came by only to visit my guinea pig, who was part of my promotion to encourage families to visit. (They made me promise to come and visit their guinea pig someday.)Our new neighbors dropped by. The boy spent the entire time rubberstamping a card calling for a victory against a rival hockey team, while the mom and daughter oooh-ed and ahhhh-ed over every single piece of my jewelry. Something for everyone!

Finally, as the last hour of the last day of the event drew to a close, there was one woman who had stayed forever, looking at everything but buying nothing. She finally asked hesitantly if I would look at her artwork.

I was totally exhausted. Again, I could feel that sharp retort rising to the surface…

But I resisted.

The look on her face. I know that look. I remember it well. It’s on the face of the kid on the outside of the candy store window, looking in at all the wonderful sweets they can’t afford and can never have. I used to have it, too, when the idea of being a “real artist” seemed like an impossible dream. I remembered, too, all the kind and wonderful people who helped me along the way, offering encouragement, insights, and support. They were the ones who told me, “You come on in here! Step up!”

I did look at her artwork. It had promise. I told her that, what I liked, what could be better, made a few suggestions for better presentation, and told her to keep making her art. I was so tired, I don’t even remember most of what I told her. But I remember she was happy when she left, so I must have been kind.

The woman with the box of sewing goods? She showed up right on time the next day. It was a wonderful collection of vintage sewing goods, just the sort of thing I’m always on the look-out for, and the price was right, too. I bought it all, and we both were very happy.

Open studios are a miniature version of our own life. When we make what we love, we are restored to our highest, best self. When we share it with others, in any way (not just sales!), it brings joy to others. Encouraging everyone to make room to do the work they love is good for everyone.

And we always have the power of choices. We can choose to react with frustration, resentment, anger, fear, disappointment….

Or we can choose to believe we can be a force for good in the world. To believe we all have a right to be here. To believe we can all benefit in making the work that matters to us. To offer the same encouragement and recognition we needed so badly when we first started our own art journey

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #6: A New Social Media Opportunity!

Our in-person studio visits are a powerful way to connect with our audience and potential collectors. And now there’s a new platform to make that even easier!

 An artist has solved a huge dilemma around our quirky art studio hours…

 (4 minute read)

 In last week’s column about recognizing our “team”, I shared how we can connect and benefit from our contacts who have skills we lack—and need!

This week, I’m delighted to share a new website that resolves one of my greatest problems as a professional artist: It provides our audience and people who don’t know us yet with the means to visit our studio.

A long-time reader reached out to me a couple weeks ago. Bill Snider is an artist who’s created StudioDoorz, a website featuring a listing of participating artists’ studios across the country, and around the world.  His project was featured in the 12/03/2020 issue of Boulder, CO’s newspaper, Daily Camera.

It’s pretty small right now, with just under a couple hundred participants right now. But it’s a major accomplishment, with the potential for huge growth.

Because one of my biggest pet peeves with Yelp, Google Business listings, Google Maps, and most of the open studio events I’ve been in, is that their listings don’t accommodate “open by appointment” for our business hours.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. (When I was in a more public studio, I used, “Open by chance or by appointment”, but in my current situation, I have to know you’re coming in order to even let you into the building.)

And yet artist studios deserve this option.

We’re a small business, with just as much of a presence as a burger joint or a swanky restaurant.

But very few of us keep “regular business hours”.

I’ve asked orgs that publish catalogs for their open studio events to add something, a brief comment or a symbol, that lets people know if an artist can offer an appointment for a studio visit. (Maybe next year? I hope!)

Bill and I are on the same page with this. When people visit our studio, it can be the most powerful way for new visitors to experience, and connect with, our art.

They not only get to see so much of our artwork, they get to meet us. They get to see who we are. We get to have deep conversations about the why and the how of our work. They get to see our sacred creative space.

My work rarely sells at a one-off event. It’s different, it’s not cheap, and it can take people awhile to understand what they’re looking at. Literally! At my very first small art show in Keene NH, visitors who were intrigued would stare deeply at my work. After a bit, I would ask, “What do you think?” They always answered, “It’s beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

From the very beginning, that taught me something important:

Yes, there are plenty of people who couldn’t care less about my work. But there are also plenty of people who do, and even some who love it enough to buy it.

But it takes time. And as a friend told me last year, “Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Galleries help, of course, and social media marketing is an increasingly good way to get our work out into the world.

But a studio visit is the icing on the cakeIt creates the most personal, intimate way to engage a potential collector (or passionate admirer) with our work.

Bill has created a website that works like Yelp/Google for artists. Visitors who are traveling, tourists, etc. can use the site to find artists in a specific area or city, or even country.

They can read the artists’ statement/bio/resume. They can view the work.

And they can contact the artist through the website to make a studio appointment, either ahead of time or in the moment.

Now, this isn’t like using Facebook, where anyone and everyone can see our posts. It’s not like an open studio event, which can attract dozens, or even hundreds of visitors, but only take place once or twice a year. It’s not like “First Friday” or whatever, when all galleries and studios in a city are open, (which can quickly wear down the novelty of such events.)

Instead, if someone is traveling to “wine country” in Sonoma County, and they are also interested in art, they can search for that area on StudioDoorz, explore the artists that are compelling to them, and arrange for a studio visit.

I’m so excited about this new website, I joined in a heartbeat. The cost is a mere $5/month, or $50 for a year’s subscription.

It’s not a website host, like FASO. It’s not for buying artwork, though we can upload around two dozen images of our studio and our work.

It’s simply a way for someone to explore the area, find the artists there, reach our website, if they want to learn more, and to discover us in a way that would otherwise be almost impossible to do.

Remember that delightful quote from the animated movie Hercules, when Hades (the villain) visits the three Fates (who can see the future)? “Indoor plumbing. It’s gonna be BIG!!”

StudioDoorz.com. It’s gonna be BIG!

Your shares and comments are always appreciated, and often give me great ideas for future articles! If you know someone who would find this article useful, send it on. If someone sent this to you, and you liked it, either subscribe to my blog or my email newsletter at my website, LuannUdell.com!

 

THE THING ABOUT OPEN STUDIOS: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors
Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors

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 “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!

 

p.s. If you know someone who would like this article, pass it on!

p.p.s. If someone shared this article with you, and you enjoyed it, sign up for more like this here: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/

CATCHING YOU UP On My Fine Art Views Columns

Once again, I’ve neglected to post links to my columns at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog. So I’m putting all the links since April 24, 2014, here in one place.
David Letterman counts down from 10. Me? I have a lot of catching up to do.
Pace yourselves!

21) April 24, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It Gets Easier
Insights gained while preparing for a life-changing cross-country move.

20) May 8, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Send Me A Postcard!
Advice on how to build your mailing list.

19) May 22, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: My Customer Base Isn’t Local!
Dispelling some of the myths surrounding open studios.

18) June 5, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: People Around Here Don’t Buy Art
You know who says this? EVERYBODY says this!!! Hint: It’s not true.

17) June 19, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: For Heaven’s Sake, Accept Credit Cards!!
It’s easier than ever to take credit cards, and it WILL increase your sales. Here’s how.

16) July 3, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Timely Time Payment Plan
Trust me, this tip is worth its weight in gold.

15) July 17, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Don’t Say No!
When you and your studio say “NO”, your customers will say “NO” right back.

14) July 31, 2014
TEACHING 101
Tips for improving your teaching skills.

13) August 14, 2014
TEACHING 101: It Gets Better If You Try
You tell your students to practice, right? You should, too!

12) August 28, 2014
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 1
Encountering the difficult personalities in your class.

11) September 11, 2014 MY BIRTHDAY!!!
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 2
Managing the difficult personalities in your classs.

10) September 25, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Most of the things you’re afraid of, aren’t going to happen.

9) October 9, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Settling In, Getting Centered
Things I wish I’d thought of before the actual move….

8) October 23, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: You Can’t Get There From Here
We need a plan to help us get where we want to go. But as our needs change, the way we get there changes, too.

7) November 6, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: I am Blind (er….Lame) and My Dog is Dead
When the blues hit you, mix it with a little green to make turquoise!

6) November 20, 2014
WHEN THANK YOU ISN’T ENOUGH
When you get a compliment from a customer, don’t stop with “thank you.” Turn it into a conversation.

5) December 18, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: California Dreamin’
It turns out my heart knew we were California-bound before my head did.

4) January 1, 2015
YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT TO DO
Time for some tough love!

3) January 15, 2015
BIG EFFIN’ FENCES
What you make, how you make it, and why you make it, matters. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that.

2) January 29, 2015
300
Who’s missing from the history of art?? Everybody but dead European white guys. Let’s change that.

1) February 12, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Hard, Harder, Hardest
When you realize it’s not gonna really be over for a looooooong time…..

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE? Lessons From the Open Studio

Only in my studio can you see the largest collection of beaver-chewed-sticks in NH...maybe the world!!
Only in my studio can you see the largest collection of beaver-chewed-sticks in NH…maybe the world!! (This is just a small sample….)

I’ve heard every excuse in the book on why you don’t want to have an open studio. I’ve used a few of them myself!

But most of them aren’t very good excuses.

So here’s the first in a series of responses to your favorite excuse. Check out my response to “I don’t have a local audience!”, at my bi-weekly column at Fine Art Views.

And if you’re open to it, there will be plenty more to come! Enjoy.

Related posts:
“Be An Art Hero”
Open the Door to Your Studio & Your Heart for The Crafts Report.

More beautiful sticks in my studio. Aren't they amazing?!
More beautiful sticks in my studio. Aren’t they amazing?!
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