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If money is the ONLY measure of your success, don’t read any further, please!
In my latest article for Fine Art Views, I shared how taking a risk (what seemed to me a very small risk), brought me many benefits (tangible and intangible) for years.
My intention was to share how even small steps outside our comfort zone can have big results. I wanted to share that what most people see is “luck” ignores what underlies “luck”: Preparation, persistence, and recognizing opportunity. If you don’t recognize the opportunity when it appears, you won’t reap the potential rewards.
What started out as a very small thing (submitting an image of my work for the gallery section of a craft book) resulted in an opportunity to write and publish a book.
Most people applauded that concept. But to my surprise, some people focused only on the money.
Exactly how much work did I do for “free”, and how much did I get paid? (In today’s dollars, it would seem modest, but not ridiculously so.)
Am I telling people to work for free for the “exposure”?? (NO.) I did not “donate” to the gallery sections of the book I was in, like charity auctions so many artists are asked to do. I just submitted a photograph for each.
Exactly what did I gain from that decsion? It’s alllll in the article.
Paid projects. Paid to write a book. Foundation for teaching classes. New product lines down the road, even fifteen years later. A reputation for unique work, and for being a reliable writer.
After my work appeared in several books, people started calling me “famous”. (I’m not, of course, but many, many more people were made aware of my work. And many more people recognized my name.)
During open studios, I always have the two dozen or so books I’m in available to new visitors. It always impresses them. (“Hey, working with half a dozen editors across two dozen books? She must be doing something right!”)
I got paid for each project I created. And as I said in the article, they all turned into new lines of work for me. They also became the basis of classes I offer (and I charge for the classes I offer.) So the project books, and my books, offer validation of my skills.
I received a good advance on the book, enough to make it worth my while.
Did I get rich? No. (Although my advance from that book was more than 10x than I’ve made selling my ebooks.)
Did my reputation benefit? Yes, both as an artist and a writer.
Did I get more opportunities to write for pay? Yes.
Did I enjoy it? Very much!
Did other opportunities follow? Yes! My resume was awesome!
Again, if it’s all about the money, and money is THE ONLY CRITERION for whether this risk was “successful” or not….
I have no idea.
My income has gone up and down over the years, as I constantly sorted out what was working and what wasn’t. So any additional income that was still within my skills and interests range was very welcome. One year, making products for a mail order catalog account kept me afloat during a recession.
If I would do it again? In a heartbeat! I listed the benefits in the article. I believe the most important one is how these “risks” broadened my horizons, and widened my world.
Should everybody do this? Of course not! The stamp carver who produced the little booklet on stamp carving would have loved the money. They just didn’t want to commit to a year-long schedule, the amount of writing, etc. They’d written their booklet, and they were done. She gave me her blessing. (Thank you, Julie Hagan Bloch!) My schedule was more flexible, and I love to write!
Do I work for free all the time? Nope. A couple years ago someone reached out to me to write an article for their online publication. They refused to pay me, though they sort of promised I would get paid when their site went viral. (Uh huh…) They used the usual “but you’ll get such great exposure!” But they also kept increasing their demands on what was expected, so I knew it wouldn’t end well. (I started the article but soon walked away. There are warning signs for projects that won’t work to our advantage.)
Do I get paid for everything I do? Nope. There are times where I do stuff for free. I have my own criteria for assessing that. But I never do it when someone demands I do it for the “exposure”, when I sense those warning signs, or when there is absolutely nothing in for me at all, AND I don’t want to do it, period. Give a presentation or talk to art students? Sure! Donate to a charity auction? Only if I get my wholesale price from the sale. And so on.
We all have our unique boundaries, our individual take on where we draw the line between work-for-hire, work-for-free, and the gray areas in-between.
If we insist on being paid for everything, every time, and that is our ONLY criterion for success, we may overlook opportunities that will work in our favor. That is YOUR choice.
But it’s not mine.
This has been one of the most controversial posts I’ve ever written, which surprises me. I have been asked to defend the premise of this story over and over. I have had my integrity, my life experience, and my veracity challenged. (Usually people complained vigorously about how long my articles are.) (So I’m gonna wrap this up!)
Now….Did you know I don’t get paid to blog? :^D
Yes, I do get paid to write for Fine Art Views weekly. (I have permission to replublish those articles here.) But it’s not nearly what I used to get for ONE article when I wrote for magazines.
So, if I ONLY did things I love when I’m paid for them, you wouldn’t be reading this today. :^)
IF my writing has meant something to you…
If you ever felt like what I wrote has inspired you, enlightened you, educated you, shored you up when you felt the world does not want the work of your heart…
If you love the fact that I’ve openly shared for almost 16 years, what I’ve learned by being an artist, writer, martial artist, dog owner, wall climber, hospice volunteer, teacher, mother, etc….and shared it with you, not only because I have to write…
Because I hope someone, anyone, will find joy, learn, heal, be brave, be heard….at no cost to you….
How would you feel if I’d never started a blog?
Er…You can send me a check in any amount anytime. It will most be appreciated!
P.S. I got a few grumpy comments on this article, from people complaining I was giving my work away. I wasn’t. I got free publicity by submitting work to the book galleries, I was paid very well for the projects, and I received a decent advance for the book I wrote. Did I get rich? Nope. Not much of the work I do pays very well, and that’s even more true today. But it was enough, it was enjoyable, I met amazing people, and it broadened my horizons in uncountable ways. I’m grateful, and I’m glad I did it!
(Spoiler alert: The choices are small, but many. And you have to keep at it!)
Years ago, I sat on a panel of artists and crafts industry professionals, speaking on various issues and answering questions from the audience.
Near the end, an artist badgered me unmercifully, repeatedly asking me to reveal my marketing “secrets” for the entire audience to hear.
I felt extremely uncomfortable, even resentful, about the demands for several reasons.
First, I wasn’t even sure what was being asked. A list of all my marketing efforts for the past 18 months to promote my artwork? For the last 8 years? The efforts before or after 9/11, the dot com crash and the recession? Did they want to hear all my mistakes, too? Or just my successes? Did they want to hear what I learned? Or what I’m learning now?
How much time do you have?!
I was also frustrated because I had no context for the person asking the questions. I had no idea what their work is like, where they are now in their business plan (or if they even HAVE a business plan) and what they are willing to do to succeed. I had no idea what their personal, financial and professional goals are for their art/business. I had no idea who their market is and what they’ve done to target it or even identify it. How do I know what will be of use to someone else unless I understand where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go?
Finally, I was confused by the assumption that I’ve figured it all out and can neatly box it up and simply give it to someone else. I’m still learning, changing, growing as an artist. I have no idea if I’m even thinking the right way about MY marketing plan. How on earth do I put all this in context for THEM?
But I also felt vaguely guilty. After all, wasn’t the panel discussion a culmination of an entire weekend doing just that?–helping others take their next step by sharing my own experiences and learning? Hadn’t I already mentored a number of people here, and at previous conferences, offering insights and advice freely? Don’t I do that daily with my blog, in my magazine articles, and in other professional development classes I teach?
So why was I feeling intense resistance to this artist’s demands?
I’m been thinking about why these scenarios seemed so vastly different, why I would respond wholeheartedly in one instance and clam up in another.
The next day, as I ate breakfast, I read an article about long-term weight loss in the April 2006 issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine. The article was called “Secrets of Thin People” by Lorie Parch. And I had my “aha” moment.
The demanding person was asking me for my “secret diet” for losing weight.
And I don’t HAVE a secret diet for losing weight.
What I DO have is results from deciding from time to time that I needed to change the daily choices I make in my diet, my activities and my attitude–to achieve a different outcome in my life.
What I feel comfortable sharing is how I got from a person who constantly made unhealthy choices, to a person who (periodically) will make consistent, healthier choices–which, as a consequence, RESULTS in me being thinner. (Er….now and then.)
I still don’t actually diet nor are all my choices perfect even now. But I’ve been successful in MODIFYING many of my choices slightly over a long period of time. And when I make those modifications, the side effects are, I lose weight, I get more fit, I lower my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy limits, and I walk/talk/carry myself, and care for myself, differently.
(The ONLY physical “shortcut” I’ve taken through the years is, brilliant red hair. Better living through chemicals and all that.)
I’ll share some of the professional, artistic and emotional changes I made years ago that got me where I am today professionally (with apologies to Ms. Parch for using her article for the structure.)
But for today, rest assured there are no “secrets”, no insider information that is being systematically withheld from you.
I know it feels like that sometimes…. It feels like other people KNOW what to do and when to do it.
But that’s not the case.
Success in the arts, like any other success in life, means staying the course. Staying with one course of action until it has a chance to provide results.
One thing that helps you achieve success is getting better at what you do. â
But also recognizing when to switch because it isn’t working for YOU.It means making daily choices, often small choices, that eventually… EVENTUALLY lead to big results.
Because, just like losing weight is an END RESULT of making many different, healthier life choices, being successful is an END RESULT of making many different, “healthier” artistic, professional and personal choices.
When asked for a donation for a fundraiser, ask yourself what you’re REALLY giving away.
This is a reprint of an article I wrote five years ago. My good friend and fellow artist Nicole Caulfield came across it after a discussion about artists donating artwork. It still stands today, so here it is.
A thread came up on a discussion forum earlier this week, about whether, and how, artists should donate their work to auctions for charity.
There was an earnest discussion about who donates to what, and how. But nobody pointed out the downsides.
It can cheapen your work.
For most artists and craftspeople, our cost of materials (except for gold and precious stones) are negligible. Our prices depend on our creativity, our time, our skill–and what people will pay for our work.
At an auction, what people will pay can be a disaster.
Because most people attend such charity auctions to get a deal.
If you don’t believe me, ask a gallery.
I did. They said they BEG their artists not to donate work, for this exact reason. Of course, they have something at stake–they want to represent your and hopefully be the only one in the area to represent you. But they also are vested in having your work GAIN value, not lose value.
It’s funny, doctors are not asked to contribute medical services, and teachers are not asked to donate tutoring. I’ve never seen lawyers donate free legal advice. They may do pro bono work, but that’s not what they donate to auctions. Not to say it’s NEVER done, but I’ve not seen it. I believe this says something about the perceived value of our work–because artists get hit up a LOT for donations.
“Struggling artists” (including musicians) are often encouraged to donate for the “exposure” the event will create for them. To quote Jack White, artist and author of books about the marketing of art, “Artists die of exposure.”
My personal experience shows what kind of “exposure” you are risking. Take this chance to learn from someone else’s (mine!) mistake for a change.
I donated a wall hanging to a prestigious benefit auction in Boston. The show was filled with work by well-known book illustrators. (By the way, illustrators–who make commissioned art for use in books–have already been paid for their artwork.)
I attended the event, excited about connecting with art lovers who might be intrigued by my work. It turns out it wasn’t really an art show. Ski trips, wine cases and gift certificates were also being auctioned off.
I overheard countless conversations by the attendees that distressed me. (I knew some of them and I knew how much money they made) They were chortling about how cheaply they could bid on their favorite items in the silent auction. One woman had her eye on a beautiful handmade quilt, with exquisite piecing and sewing. She absolutely loved it. It was wonderful!
She also didn’t want to bid more than $40 on it.
I left before my work came up for bids.
A year later, a couple with the winning bid on my wall hanging came to my booth at a craft fair. Okay! This was it! It was working! Now they were going to become my collectors!
Not. They’d come to brag to me how cheaply they’d won it.
They weren’t even looking for me. They’d come to the fair on a whim, for the first time. They just happened to walk by my booth and recognized my work.
My booth was full of customers. The couple told me (loudly, of course) about their experience. “We got it for $35!!”, they exclaimed. (This was a small wall hanging valued at $350.) They couldn’t believe their good fortune. “It was so beautiful, and nobody else bid on it!” They went on and on about how excited they were to get “such a deal!”
Then they left. They didn’t even buying a tie tack.
The silence in my booth was deafening.
They meant well, I suppose, but it was humiliating.
So much for “exposure”. My work had been “exposed” as being worth $35. A hall full of people had watched as my work was devalued and ignored, with a repeat performance there in my booth.
I didn’t acquire a new customer, because they didn’t buy anything else, and I never saw them again.
I didn’t even have the tax write-off for the act, because tax law clearly states ARTISTS can only write off the cost of materials in the piece. Only people who actually BUY your art and donate it can write off the full value of the work.
And I cringe every time I think of them showing off the work in their home to visitors. “Guess how much we paid for this!” they probably chortle gleefully. “Only $35!!” What a steal! What a bargain!
OUCH. NOT how I want to be remembered.
That was years ago, and I’ve learned my lesson. I now carefully consider how and when I contribute my work.
Ask any gallery that represents artists, and they will tell you the same thing. Those auctions may be dedicated to “a good cause”, but people buy for one reason–they’re getting a deal. A bargain. Is that how you want your work to be marketed?
The ONLY time I saw this work was with an artist whose work and reputation were already strong–a strong collector base already well-established. His work was in demand because he was already at full production.
His piece started a bidding war, and went for MORE than the stated value. But his was the ONLY painting out of HUNDREDS of donated works that did so. Everyone–I mean EVERYONE–else’s work went for a fraction of the stated value.
Strong words, I know. And this is not an iron-clad rule for me.
I’m much more willing to contribute money or time to a cause dear to my heart. There are a few organizations I have supported with donations of artwork.
But I’ve also learned to say no graciously.
Here are guidelines that help me narrow the field that might also help YOU.
If your aim is to gain “exposure” (and I’ve already cautioned you how this can backfire), then at least donate something people will SEE. Now, if I donate anything, I donate jewelry, because at least someone will WEAR it. If it generates comments, perhaps the person will rave about the piece instead of raving about how cheaply they got it…
I pick fundraisers I care deeply about. And I let them know I’ve made an exception for them because of that. (This also controls how often my work is seen at charity auctions.)
Better yet is to suggest a CUSTOMER donate your work.
Or to offer to donate a portion of your profits to the cause. I’ve made special pieces with this in mind. I displayed them with a sign saying, “Profits from this pin are donated to such-and-such organization”. This is win/win–for you, for the charity, even for the customer. Your work holds its full value, the charity gets its donation, the customer gets to participate.
Or donate something free WITH PURCHASE. A free bracelet with the purchase of a necklace. Or a free sculpture with the purchase of a wall hanging.
Or offer a ONE-TIME discount. Bruce Baker, speaker and writer on the business of craft, cautions that customers tend to view even “one-time” discounts as PERMANENT discounts. I tried it once, and he’s right. But it’s still an option.
At the very least, offer to provide the item for your wholesale price. That is, the charity acquires it for what a store would pay for it. And set a minimum bid. More and more art organizations are using this model for their auctions, because it’s more artist-friendly. One person from such an art org confided in me, “We realized that saying we supported artists, then constantly asking them to donate work, was a contradiction of our mission statement!” Yes.
How do you say no to such requests graciously?
Tell them you get asked so often for such contributions, you now contribute once or twice a year to carefully-considered causes. You consider all requests, then make your decision in….pick a month or two. Say, June and December. And you are very sorry, but you’ve already made your decision for the year.
If you like the organization, ask them to submit a request in time for next year’s selection process.
Buy an ad in their event program. It will get you the same exposure and you won’t be donating your work at bargain prices.
Or send them a check. At least that’s tax deductible.
Tell Me A Story: Novelty
by Luann Udell
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column “Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Remember, to ordinary people, We are the people who ran away to join the circus.
Use the magic.
We humans love the odd and the curious.
The Guinness Book of Records. The story in your local newspaper about the calf born with two heads or the gardener who grew a monster-sized squash. The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs TV program with Mike Rowe, who volunteers to try out the nation’s dirtiest, most disgusting work. And P.T. Barnum’s famous (or infamous) sideshow attractions. The proverbial “man bites dog” (vs. the boring and predictable “dog bites man”) stories.
What’s at the root of all these?
Although many of you have been inspired by this series of articles on using news values in your marketing, I know some are unconvinced of their value, and grumbling on the sidelines.
I know if some have protested the value of using sex and romance as a story hook, the idea of using novelty in our self-promotion (press releases, artist statement, advertising, etc.) will make them grind their teeth. I can hear it now….
“I’m a serious artist! I don’t want to even be considered in the same (news) ballpark as giant squash and weirdo publicity stunts!”
You—and I—are proud of our business skills, our hard-won credentials, the prestigious exhibits our work has appeared in—and rightly so. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today, and we want to be taken seriously as artists.
We aren’t some ‘novelty act’ scrounging for a sound bite on the radio or conniving for a mention in the ‘weird news’ section of the newspaper.
Maybe. And…maybe not.
Consider this: In other people’s eyes, our very existence is the novelty.
I’ve sat through many, many seminars conducted by nationally-known speaker Bruce Baker, who talks about displaying and selling art and fine craft. Bruce is a compelling and entertaining speaker who’s spoken to tens of thousands of artists over the years, sharing his insights and observations on marketing. He has a knack for turning a phrase, and one of my favorites is this one:
“Above all, you as artists and craftspeople must remember: To the ordinary public, you are the people who ran away to join the circus!”
He means that our customers, the general public, and yes, sometimes our mothers, think of us as odd and highly unusual people. We didn’t grow up to be insurance salesmen or doctors or shop clerks or teachers. (Or, if those are our ‘day jobs’, they don’t completely define us.)
We are wild and crazy artists.
Oh, yes, we may be successful at what we do, and we may be as disciplined as a brain surgeon when it comes to refining our skills; we may be as focused as a CPA about our bottom line; we may be as dedicated as a teacher and as creative as…well, an artist.
But we did something most people only dream about—we ‘ran away’ from the ordinary life, and did something wonderful.
We work for ourselves, not a corporation or a boss. We set our own hours, create our own practice, follow our own professional goals.
Every day, we create something astonishing out of simple, common materials: A little paint, a few pencils, a glop of clay, a piece of wood.
We make something that looks so real, you want to reach into the canvas and stroke it. We create something that wasn’t there before, perhaps not even imagined before. Our work is found throughout human history, from the earliest dawn of prehistory to the newest 3D movie magic in the theater.
Sometimes the meaning of our work is crystal clear, at times so mysterious others can only guess at the story. When our work is good, it can transport people to another time, another place, another attitude, a deeper understanding and appreciation of their world.
It’s like we’re magicians. It’s like we’re…circus people! Off in our own world, traveling from show to show, creating marvels and miracles, and leaving our mark in people’s homes, in public places, in museums.
We ARE the novelty.
Put some of that magic, that awe, that suspension of belief into your writing. Use the special!
Now, of course, there are more ordinary uses of novelty. (A strange sentence, yes?) Perhaps, even among artists, you are different.
You may grind your own paints or use egg tempura in your murals.
You may specialize in painting airplane nose cone art, or balloon animal art, or other esoteric subject matter.
Perhaps, like Andy Goldsworthy, you’ve pioneered or popularized an unusual or ephemeral art form.
Or you’re the sidewalk artist who incorporates striking optical illusions in your chalk paintings.
Maybe you were an early adapter of the ATC (artist trading card) phenomenon, or the Painting a Day movement. What caught people’s attention was the novelty of the idea, the discipline of daily creation, the accessibility of small works and the (initially) low prices of such work. And, of course, the new idea—the novelty—of being able to view and trade or purchase such works on EBay.
Scratch the normal surface of what it is you do, and how you do it, and why you do it, and see if novelty is a story hook worth your consideration.
And even if it isn’t, understand that you yourself are also a novelty.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.