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.

I WONDER WHAT LUANN’S UP TO?

Oh, yeah! She has that Open Studio thing next weekend!

Yes! Yes, I do. And you’re invited!

I’m on the Fall Foliage Art Studio Tour (aka “FFAST”). Next weekend, Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13, from 10-5, here at 271 Roxbury ST in Keene NH. (1/2 mile east of downtown Keene, long tall white house with pillars, studio is in the big red barn at the end of the driveway.)

Me and my studio, we clean up good!
Me and my studio, we clean up good!

Come see new work: Refurbished antique box displays with art jewelry and sculpture. You can wear it, and you can display it, it looks GREAT either way.

The art-in-a-box presentation has been getting rave reviews!
The art-in-a-box presentation has been getting rave reviews!

Every time I set them up, it changes. Fun!
Every time I set them up, it changes. Fun!

In addition to the my usual work, I will have work for sale I don’t have at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair (aka “Sunapee Fair”)–monoprints, gemstone jewelry, vintage button jewelry.

I will demonstrate simple jewelry-making techniques. In fact, if you have a favorite piece of jewelry that’s broken or you’ve lost a favorite earring, bring in the survivor. Maybe I can turn it into a pendant or a bracelet for you.

I always have interesting snacks (rarely healthy, but I may have some carrots & stuff for you more disciplined folks.) And I always have coffee, hot cider, tea and W*I*N*E.

We are moving to California, hopefully before next winter. I can’t possibly move my entire studio. So there will also be some sale items, giveaways, odds and ends for sale. If we drink enough wine, who knows what I’ll be selling?? :^)

Come browse, hang out, chat while I work, eat, drink, the merry-making thing. Bring your friends! Bring your co-workers! Bring your family! Bring your dogs! (Wait. Don’t bring dogs.)

See…All my scissors in one place!

These aren't actually ALL my scissors. Just the big ones. Yes, I have more.
These aren’t actually ALL my scissors. Just the big ones. Yes, I have more.

See….More beads and buttons that you’ve ever seen! See…A clean studio! (No fair peeking behind stuff or underneath stuff.)

Buttons?  Yeah, I got buttons.
Buttons? Yeah, I got buttons.

Yes, Bunster is still with us. She’s not loose in the studio too more–she kept running into things. But you can still visit her in her big comfy cage and feed her Cheerios.

I'm so blessed to still have Bunster! She still loves her Cheerios.
I’m so blessed to still have Bunster! She still loves her Cheerios.

Hope you can come!

BE AN ART HERO. JOIN AN OPEN STUDIO TOUR.

Rarely this clean, but always interesting--my studio.
Rarely this clean, but always interesting–my studio.

Last year, a fellow artist and I put on Keene’s very first open studio tour, the Keene Art Tour.

Few things in life are harder than getting a couple dozen artists together (figuratively), collecting checks (Paypal button next year!), gathering images and artist statements for the brochure (“Just take it from my website!”) and everything else entailed in creating a city-wide event. Fortunately, it was hugely successful, for visitors and artists alike.

The only thing harder?

Doing it again.

Artists forget how good the crowds were, how much they sold and how much fun they had. That’s normal. Artists, being human beings, are sort of hard-wired to only remember the hard work, the studio cleaning, and how much we hassled them for said images, statements and money.

I’m learning that as a show organizer, “getting an early start” this year really means, “Let’s spend longer trying to get the same components together as last year.” That’s a good lesson to learn.

Some of the cold feet-itis is understandable, too. The last few years have been hard for creative folks. Some have hunkered down, some have moved on, some have diversified, and others are in that awful stage known as “transition”–moving on from what we’ve done while not quite knowing what’s next. Change is hard, and rarely fun.

“I don’t have anything to sell!” says one artist. Another says, “The kind of work I do, I don’t have ‘things’ to sell. So why would I want to have an open studio??” “I don’t have any new work!” says another. “I might be busy that weekend. When do I have to let you know?” (The answer to this question, by the way, is “Two months ago.”)

So here’s my response to all these questions:

An Open Studio isn’t just about selling your work. It’s about telling your story.

It’s the strongest way to form a powerful connection not only with new customers, but also with current customers, your community, and with future artists. And it’s a way to revitalize your own connection with your art.

There’s one artist who does murals for public places. No ‘things’ to sell in their studio, so they don’t want to participate.

What a lost opportunity! Now, I have no desire to buy a mural. But I’ve always wondered what’s entailed. How did they get started doing this? How do they find out about proposals for public art, especially internationally? What is the design process like? Do they hire other people to help? How long does it take to paint a mural? What kind of paint do they use? How long does a mural last? Where is their work displayed? Do you get to travel a lot? What are the fun parts? What are the downsides? What the heck does their life LOOK like???

There’s a couple who are working on a graphic novel. No ‘art’ to show in their studio. People would be bored.

Really? I can think of a few dozen young artists who would give anything to know that that process looks like. How do you get started? Are you self-published or are you working with a publisher? What does that look like? Do you do the writing and the drawing, or do you collaborate? Is it possible to make a living doing this? Do you teach classes?

There’s an artist in transition who needs to sell their old work before they can can make new work. And they’re not very far along in the new work.

Artists go through transitions? Just like other people?? Is it hard? What made you stop making your old work? What would you like to do next? What do you think will stay the same, and what will change? What inspires you and sustains you through this difficult time?

There’s someone who has new galleries, and may not have any work available for sale.

Actually, this is one of the best problems to have. Do you have earlier work that you’ve kept? Do you have works in progress? And the finished pieces you’re ready to ship–can we just LOOK at them? If I want one, can I commission you to make one? There’s a waiting list?? Oh my gosh, I better get my order in NOW!

Meanwhile, in your horde of visitors (and everyone had hordes of visitors), there are people who wish they could do what you do. They want to meet the people who ran away to join the circus. You are actually in your studio, making incredible stuff every day–how fabulous! Be their art hero.

There are people in transition who need to know there’s a ‘there’ after ‘here right now.’ That perseverance and vision and hard work will get us through. Be their art hero.

There are people who hope someday to be in your shoes. There are artists-in-waiting who need to know that it’s possible to have that life, to make their own work, to carve out a place in the world for themselves. You are living proof that it can happen. Be their life hero.

There are all kinds of creative folks in a community, artists of all sorts who make this town a better, richer, more beautiful place to live. We do more than just fill art galleries or people’s homes with our work. We teach, inspire, enrich, model our values to our community. Be that community hero.

Open your work space, that incredible place where the magic happens, where your vision for your art becomes a reality. Let people see what your life looks like, for two precious days in November. Be that art hero.

Give yourself the gift of seeing yourself through other people’s eyes–the people who see you as creative, gifted, exciting, interesting, fortunate, blessed. Because we are. It’s easy to forget that in the slog of making our way in the world. Let our community help you remember.

Be your own hero.