OPEN STUDIO on Saturday August 3 (First Saturday!)

I will be open from noon to 4 this Saturday, August 3.

I think there will be other artists in my building at 33Arts at 3840 Finley AVE (aka “The Barracks”, a former naval air base recently transformed into artist studios.) “First Saturday” is a monthly event, started with Studio Santa Rosa, the art studios in the building across the parking lot from us.

So you get two buildings full of art for the price of one! Er….the event is free, of course.

I have new work in jewelry, but I’m preparing to restock five galleries in New Hampshire (part of the League of NH Craftsmen’s network).

Come tell me if I’ve managed to provide a cohesive body of work for each one! Oh, and one pair of earrings is for my sister back in Michigan, so you can’t have those. (But I can always make you a similar pair.)

New handprint earrings! Yes, those are my handprints! No, I dont have tiny hands.
Earrings for my sis! (But I made more…)

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/

HOW NOT TO SAY HELLO

 

There are polite greetings, there are annoying meaningless greetings, and then there’s true engagement. You choose!

Recently my husband and I visited a chic little town north of us. A friend had mentioned some gorgeous galleries that might be a good fit for my work, and both of us wanted a pleasant road trip.

Things started out well, but ended….well, rather badly on several issues.

First, as we crossed a street, I tripped and fell on a complicated section of curb. (Very high and uneven curb, above an equally-uneven sort of culvert-shaped road edge.) I took a serious fall, wrenching my knee, straining my back, and smashing my glasses, which also gave me quite a headache.

We found a delightful hardware store nearby, and the clerk gave me excellent customer service. She walked me over to the glue section and helped me select the right glue to repair my glasses. It didn’t work, but I have no complaints, because she “met me where I was” and did her best to help me move forward.

We continued on to a beautiful gallery. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the fall. I tried to focus on the artwork, but I was suffering. My back was spasming, my shoulder and knees hurt, my head and nose hurt.

The gallery attendant was busy and didn’t look up when we entered. That’s actually a good thing, giving people a minute to “land” once they walk into your booth, studio, or gallery space.

But what happened next was a travesty of good customer service.

They said, “How are you today?”

I was struck speechless. My bad. I wanted to say, “Fine, thank you!” But the reality of that fall was kicking in, and I was momentarily confused. I didn’t want to say, “Not well.” But mostly, I didn’t want to engage in small talk.

So I hesitated. And things went downhill from there.

The person seemed to take offense. They repeated the question again, louder. This was annoying. Because of this, I admit, I was unsure how to respond, and didn’t. (I was thinking, “Really? I have to take care of YOU?!”)

And while I gathered my wits and words to defuse the situation, they grew angrier still.

They threw their hands up in the air dramatically and snapped, “Fine! I get it! You’re on vacation and you don’t want to be bothered!”

Okay, that pissed me off. What an assumption to make on their part! And how not to win over a customer, on their part!

I politely said, “I apologize, I took a terrible fall on the sidewalk a little bit ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty distracted right now.”

Of course, they were embarrassed, and instantly apologized. But the damage was done.

Anyone who gets offended because a visitor doesn’t want to respond to empty greetings and conversation is not going to represent me or my artwork.

Anybody who leaps to conclusions about why someone is quiet, or reluctant to engage (what if I didn’t speak English?? What if I were hard of hearing? What if I had cognitive issues?), and anyone who responds in anger within ten seconds of this interaction, is simply not someone I want to have a conversation with.

And many of us do this all the time. We pressure people to engage in meaningless conversations, thinking we are doing it right.

Consider your visitors’ journey to see you. If you are doing a show, they may have wandered into a dozen or more, maybe even 50 or 100 booths before they get to yours.

And every single booth holder has greeted them with phrases like these:

“How are you today?”

“Nice weather today, isn’t it?”

“Are you enjoying the show?”

Or we jump into asking for too much information right off the bat:

“How many years have you been coming to this show?”

“How did you hear about this event?”

“I work with stoneware fired to cone 10 with copper oxide glaze.” (I have no idea if that even makes sense, which should tell you something. I collect a lot of pottery, and I don’t know, or care, about the conage or the glazage…. I just know if I find it beautiful or not, and if I can afford it.)

By the time our studio/booth visitors get to us, they are tired of talking about the weather, they want to wear a sign that says, “I’m fine, thank you”, and what they really want to hear about your pottery is, is it lead-free, and will it go in the oven.

What’s a better way to engage a visitor?

Don’t pressure them.

After a they take a few seconds to look around, and decide if they want to stay, you do a brief introduction of yourself, the setting, the work, etc. (“Brief” is the operative word here!)

When someone enters my booth or studio, I give them that moment to settle in, a quick hello if anything.

Then when they “collect themselves”, I say, “I’m Luann, and this is all my work, jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures. I make all the artifacts you see here that look like bone or ivory. It’s okay to touch the pieces, it’s okay to pick things up, and if you have any questions, I’m right here.”

Their response?

“THANK YOU!!!”

Always. They have been acknowledged, they are not being forced into silly non-conversations, they have been given permission to relax and enjoy my space.

And so they dig in, and start looking.

Then I shut up and go back to work.

“Work” being relative term. I work on something simple I can pick up and set down at a second’s notice. I am “engaged”, but also “available”.

This is all I want to share today. There’s a lot more on how to proceed, when to talk, what to talk about, what not to talk about. There’s knowing that when people are ready to talk, they will ask a “stupid question” that may feel annoying to us, but is simply their way of saying, “It’s okay to talk to me now, and I want to know more about what you do!”

For example, if someone says, “How long does it take you to make that?” the worst answer you can give is, “It took me 30 years to make that!” (And saying it works because people laugh when you say it, is not understanding that people laugh when we embarrass them. Because you just made fun of their ignorance, and they KNOW that.)

So for today, think about a softer way to address visitors.

Something that doesn’t force a person in pain to put on a cheerful face. And doesn’t force them to apologize to YOU when you take offense, if they don’t.

Think of a simple greeting that doesn’t put them on the spot. An opening that doesn’t force them to respond, or engage. An introduction that allows them to explore your work, and to approach you confidently when they are ready to talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FULTON CROSSING OPEN STUDIO this Friday, 2/17 from 5-8pm

OPEN STUDIO for SOFA ART WALK

My brand new studio door. The studio is new, the door sign is new, and the door is freshly painted. So...new studio door!
My brand new studio door. The studio is new, the door sign is new, and the door is freshly painted. So…new studio door!
There are so many reasons why artists and other creative types should have open studios. You’d be surprised how many of them aren’t about the money.

Our big move to California last September upended a lot of things for both my husband and I. For me, I missed the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, which generates almost half my annual income for me. I’m also missing the FFAST open studio tour, and the Keene Art Tour, which I co-founded a few years ago.

I left without saying goodby to many lovely, loyal friends, collectors and patrons of my art.

And arrived in Santa Rosa where nobody knows my name. (OK, you folks in the back row saying, “Oh, WE know who you are, you smart aleck…”)

Today is the SOFA Art Walk, and my first really truly open studio, in my brand new space, filled to the brim with artwork, displays, and supplies.

I’ve been worried about the lack of traffic that usually happens down my little alley. I was worried about the massive construction project going on in the cafe around the corner from me, and the fact that Atlas Coffee won’t even be open this weekend. I’m worried my new visitors will suffer sticker shock. I’m worried about…..

Luann. STOP.

Finally, my right brain kicks in. Just as reasonable as my left brain, too.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter how many passers-by I attract to my studio today. Walk-ins were not how I grew my audience in Keene, NH.

It doesn’t matter that Atlas Coffee is closed. The owner has his own dreams, and his own audience. This is when the work had to be done (and you can already see how beautiful the improvements will be.) If anything, people will be just as interested to see the work-in-progress there, though we all miss their coffee. Depending on another small business nearby is not how I grew my audience in Keene.

It doesn’t matter that my prices may seem high. They’ve always been “high”, especially compared to big box stores and other small producers. Low prices and appealing to the masses is not how I grew my audience in Keene.

I think people grew to love my work for many reasons.

I’ve always wanted them to feel comfortable in my studio and in my booth. From the start, I’ve encouraged people to actually touch my work, pick up a little bear, or horse, or fish, and hold it.

I’ve always shared my stories, and my passion for my art. I did learn not to overwhelm people with my yakking (somewhat.) I let them browse, read, ponder. I let them really sink into the work, and wait for them to let me know they want to hear more.

I’ve (mostly) handled even rude and difficult customers (few and far between, thank, goodness!) with courtesy and patience.

I grew my customer base slowly, over the years, with these principles in mind.

And the same will happen here.

In my heart, I know it. As surely as I know, in my heart, that my work has a place in the world.

(And it helps that I also have a really great layaway plan!)

I’m Getting Ready for Art Walk and the Art Tour!

Today fellow artist Tina Siart Boylan and I put together our window for Keene Art Walk (which opens officially this Friday.) Tina is sharing my studio space for the Keene Art Tour, which also starts this weekend–Saturday and Sunday, May 3 & 4, from 10-5.

Tina’s art is different than mine. She paints lush florals, delicate treescapes and small robin’s nests with acrylics on canvas.

But the window came together beautifully.

Our window at The Knitting Knook, right on the circle on downtown Keene.
Our window at The Knitting Knook, right on the circle on downtown Keene.

I hope you’ll join both Tina and I at my studio at 271 Roxbury ST in Keene this Saturday and Sunday, May 3 & 4 from 10-5.

And you can enjoy our window for the entire week, through May 11.

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You can read more about the process of window-sharing here.

TOMORROW IS THE BIG DAY!

Okay, I’m cheating a bit. This is a duplicate post from our Keene Art Tour website post for today.

Hey! I had to write four five articles today. (Ack! I just remembered another one!) Something had to give!

Seriously, if you’re in the area, come on by. If you’re not, pass this on to someone who might like to visit. I can almost guarantee they will not be bored! :^D

Check out the little Keene Art Tour contest hosted by The Keene Sentinel–win a sweet little prize!

Also, a surprise for you… When we drew up our brochure and map, Robert Seaman had bowed out of the tour. When we found out why (he’d moved, and no longer had a public-accessible studio), why, we got him back on as fast as we could! Unfortunately, by the brochure was printed without him.

Bob is a congenial and talented artist, and we treasure his presence on our tour. So when you visit Luann Udell at Stop #7 on the tour, you’ll also see Bob Seaman and his beautiful paintings! (Inquiring minds will want to know where the heck Luann found room in her visually-dense studio for him….)

Bob not only paints, he’s also known as an exemplary teacher at the prestigious Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough.

Stop in to meet both artists–both create many items well under $100 for your delight or for distinctive gifts for the holidays. Talk to Bob about his classes, browse through his prints and more affordable work, or take home an original work of art this weekend. Watch Luann make jewelry, perhaps even a piece made especially for you! (Also check out the prize mentioned above…)

And if you’re STILL not sure, take a virtual visit to Luann’s studio right now!

Beach sculpture II by Robert Seaman.
Beach sculpture II by Robert Seaman.
Sea Glass IV by Robert Seaman
Sea Glass IV by Robert Seaman
Bear Clan: Shaman's Dream fiber wall hanging and sculpture by Luann Udell
Bear Clan: Shaman’s Dream fiber wall hanging and sculpture by Luann Udell
New "ancient glass" jewelry by Luann Udell.
New “ancient glass” jewelry by Luann Udell.