25 RANDOM THINGS ABOUT YOU: How to Write a Better Artist Statement

Use a silly little Facebook game to put more passion in your artist statement.

An article in our local newspaper discussed the current Facebook phenomenon, “25 Random Things About Me”. Apparently, it’s the most popular Facebook “Notes” feature of all time.

Why??

The article suggests it proves that we all love to talk about ourselves, especially the younger generation usually found on Facebook. (Although it turns out every age group on Facebook, including mine, is hopping on the “25 Random Things” list. I’m always amused at how we talk about other generations’ differences as if they were a different species…)

Emily Nussbaum, editor-at-large for New York magazine, says the most decisive difference is that the Facebook generation “assumes they have an audience”: They have a mental image of a large group of people interested in postings such as “25 Random Things.” Part of their identity rests on an invisible entourage that accompanies them everywhere.

It’s also an exercise to creatively select “facts” about ourselves that puts us in the best possible light. A little humor, and voila! A captivating mini-bio that reveals us as a delightful individual.

Is that so awful?

“Random Things” lister (Joe) Diorio has his own theory about why the lists and commentaries have become so popular. It has a piquant irony: “We spend so much of our lives online with Facebook, LinkedIn, and we spend so much time connected that we feel disconnected. So we tell people these little things, to feel more connected. We put a piece of ourselves out there, to give it a try.”

Isn’t this what art is all about? To connect what is in our heart to a larger audience?

Look, it IS hard to “stand out” in a world of a bajillion people. I’m a fairly outgoing person with a variety of ways to connect to my environment–parent, artist, assorted pastimes, social networks. In my own smallish town of Keene, NH, there are 25,000 people. What percentage of those people actually know who I am? Or care?

And yet to effectively market my art, to create an audience for the work I feel compelled to make, I may need to forge connections across a whole region, a country, perhaps over several continents.

So how do I make my work, and myself, stand out? How do I connect meaningfully with a larger audience?

We always assume it’s only about the quality of the work. Is it?

Good work helps. Great photography (so people can see our good work) helps. Publicity, self-promotion, advertising, exposure/exhibiting all help.

But what always grabs me is a good artist statement–an exquisite example of creative non-fiction. The ultimate “25 Random Things” list.

It should be true. But specific enough tell us something. “I just love color” or “I just love music” doesn’t tell me a single damn thing about your work.

It can be about your education or training. But that can’t be the whole thing. Typical artist statements often list the other, more famous artists someone studied under. To me that reads as, “I’m ALMOST as good as they are, but my work is a lot cheaper!”

It should be so well written as to be elegant. More often, it’s full of jargon and buzzwords (aka “artspeak”) that simply hides who you really are and what you’re really doing.

Here’s what I think it should be:

It should be aspects of the world at large that you experience through the lens of your unique perspective, your individual experience–in a way that explores, reveals and creates wonder in your audience.

It’s your honest, thoughtful explanation of why you create the work you do.

And why we should care.

Because that’s part of our human nature–to be interesting to other people. And to be interested in other people. We are social animals, after all, from the exuberant “look at me!” to the thoughtful “I never thought of it that way before….”

But if really connect with an audience, you have to dig a little deeper. Reveal a little more. Be a little more honest. Be more real.

Show us something human.

To quote the article again:

That communal aspect is what so much commentary misses about “25 Random Things.” It’s not just a list; it’s a communal exercise. Posters post, and friends comment.

What’s that commentary like? An unscientific survey of more than 30 such lists has yet to uncover anything vicious or unkind. Mostly, the virtual community is, in Nussbaum’s words, “surprisingly supportive, sweet, even encouraging.” It is nurturing, a thing friends do.

And that’s what I love about the 25 Things.

Every time someone I “know” writes one, I’m amazed at what I read. New facets of their personality, their history, their hopes, fears and dreams are revealed. They seem deeper and richer to me. I’m in awe of what has been shared.

I feel more connected.

I care.

Don’t be afraid to do this with your audience, your customers. Give them something real about you to connect with.

Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it, is to compile your own 25 Random Things list about you as an artist. I compiled such a list for my biz awhile back. In it are some of the stories that compel me to make my art.

I think I’ll be revisiting this list from time to time. I think it will continue to change as I get closer to discovering what makes me tick. As I get more clear about what it is I want to say. As I get closer to figuring out what it is I want to contribute to the world.

As I begin to understand how truly and completely fallible, lovable, annoying, loving, inspirational, wicked, kind, forgiving….how human…I really am.

WHY IT MATTERS THAT YOUR ART MATTERS

A few weeks ago I read two articles at the Rosen Group’s Market Insider online newsletter.

The first is a challenge question to ask yourself in these hard times.

The second, Brain Fuel: A Higher Purpose is an inspirational article on why it is important to stick with your principles, your art, your talent and your mission.

Good stuff. Check it out.

YOGA FOR THE REST OF US

If you’re near an issue yesterday’s The New York Times, check out this article, The Enlightened Path, With a Rubber Duck by Abby Ellin, or read it here online.

It’s a great article about how yoga can be part of your real everyday life, which is a good thing.

Yes, that’s me, quoted near the bottom of the first page!

Actually, I’m not sure I’m actually in the print version, but we’re going to go looking for it soon.

I know it’s not really about my art–it’s about how I feel about yoga. Which translate to what I feel about life in general we’re supposed to be–being serious, being focused, being spiritual–are important.

But it’s also “just us” out there, trying to do the best we can. “Serious” for serious’s sake doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. (Did I really say ‘serious for serious’s sake?? OMG!) Let me rephrase: “Serious” doesn’t have to be “somber”.

And it does say “artist” right behind my name.

And maybe someday it will be about my art.

What a great way to start the new year!

INTERNET MARKETING AND ME

Once again, I’ve been inspired by thinking about someone else’s problem.

Someone posted on a professional forum awhile back. They’re just starting to sell their work online, and they’re having trouble with keywords for search engine optimization..

Their art is unique and indescribable. It takes a lot of words to even begin to describe it. So how do they compress information about this incredibly unusual work into a few keywords that will shoot them to the top of a Google search?

Thinking about an answer helped me a lot.

I started setting up my first Etsy shop last night. Filling out all the boxes (a welcome section, an intro section, etc.) quickly overwhelmed me.

I struggled over how to introduce myself to an audience who has no idea what I do or how or why I do it.

Then I realized that’s not what I have to do.

There are two approaches to selling your artwork on the Internet:

1) Marketing and selling to people who don’t know your work.
2) Marketing and selling to people who do.

In the first case, your focus is figuring out how to rise, even for an instant, above a sea of other artists and competitors, all hawking their unique, unusual, desirable work. That’s what the artist on that forum was trying to do.

In the second case, you already have an audience–your current customers. That’s who I want to to sell to.

I thought to myself, “These people are not strangers to me.”

My customers already follow my work and my writing. We’ve met and talked, at shows and online.

They already admire my work and want collect it. They may even already know what they want to buy. They don’t want to wait another year for my next retail show. They want to buy it now. They’ve hinted, nudged and outright bonked me on the head to start selling online. They’re waiting for me to get going, because the holidays are coming and they know what they want to give–and get!–for Christmas.

My initial marketing plan is simply letting them know they can now buy from me online, anytime, day or night, winter, summer and fall.

I don’t have to work my way through the tens of thousands of other vendors on Etsy. I just have to let my collectors know I’m there.

Of course, as time goes on, perhaps my marketing will grow and change. But so will my work, and so will my customer base.

The internet will never totally replace personal interactions at shows or open studios. But the internet can support, and encourage, and expand upon that.

And once those bonds have been formed, it’s up to me to make it easier for the people who love my work, to have it.

P.S. If you are someone who loves my work, I would welcome any suggestions about what you’d like (or expect) to see in my Etsy shop (both artwork and words). It’s great to have your perspective!

TWITTERING

I’ve just discovered Twitter. Check it out and see if it’s something you’d be interested in. Here’s a good place to find out how it works.

It’s sort of like instant messaging for larger groups of people. Or micro-blogging. Posts have to be super-short–I think it’s 140 characters. But you can post as often as you like, or need. You can follow other people, and other people can elect to follow you.

It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s like a tiny window into other people’s world. Crafted Webmaster Nicolette Tallmadge has interesting things to say about the Twitter phenomenon. (I always find interesting things at Nicolette’s website, and I hope you’ll check her out.

I’ve already found that people who constantly self-promote themselves are kinda boring. That could be an easy trap to fall into! On the other hand, it could be a great way to create instant news or announcements to your customers and blog followers. And it’s really fun to see the smaller details in a friend or family member’s life in real time….

If Twitter is just one more thing on your plate, don’t do it! But if you have a minute to sign up and try it out, let me know how it works for you.

CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip#4: Magazine Drop

I’m a magazine fanatic–can’t get enough of them. I love getting stuff in the mail. Especially a pristine issue of a magazine that promises to help you change your life in seven easy steps.

I love them all: Home magazines. Art magazines. Craft magazines. Business magazines. Craft business magazines. News magazines. Essay magazines. Environmental magazines. Lifestyle magazines. Women’s magazines. I love O and W, and MSL. My secret guilty pleasure is People magazine at my dentist’s office. (“I’m not ready for my cleaning, I have to find out what Britney did next!”) (And why can’t she spell her name right??)

I pore over the articles and dog-ear the ones that especially speak to me. I drool over the photo layouts, dreaming that someday my hair/body/home/wardrobe/closet could look just like theirs.

I save magazines, going back to read and reread those same articles. If they are “how-to” or craft magazines, I keep them until the projects and styles are so outdated, they’re retro.

Consequently, I’m always drowning in magazines. As I clean my attic, I find boxes, laundry baskets and suitcases filled with magazines. Yes, suitcases. You know those stacks of vintage suitcases you see in home style magazines? The stacks that make great end tables? You’re supposed to get “extra storage” outta them by stuffing your magazines inside the suitcases? Well, do they ever say what you’re supposed to do when those suitcases are full??

Now it’s time to move those wonderful issues on to some other unsuspecting…er…deserving…person.

Sometimes I find homes for them on Freecycle. Sometimes they get stashed out in the garage til I figure out what to do with them. Then, after they’ve been dripped on, tripped over and ripped up, I haul them out to the recycling bin. (The cardboard boxes won’t hold up under those conditions, hence the laundry baskets….)

But there’s one way to move magazines on that feels a little Robin Hood-ish, a little outlaw-ish….

I sneak them into public waiting rooms.

This idea came to me after spending eons of time in our local clinic last winter. I went through an endless period of testing, follow-up testing, surgeries, surgical follow-ups and check-ups. I felt like I was spending 90% of my time in waiting rooms.

And there was never anything interesting to read.

The worst was the pediatrician’s office. Okay, that wasn’t for me, that was for one of my kids. But I couldn’t get into the baby mags (my youngest is 16) and I couldn’t even bear to look at the pregnancy mags. (And oddly, the best magazine selection was in the orthopedics department’s waiting room….. What’s up with that?!)

It was then the connection was made in my brain. Hmmmm…..dearth of magazines….plethora of magazines…yessss!

So on my next visit, I brought an armload of my own magazines. And surreptitiously left them behind.

I even snuck in a few issues of the now-defunct CraftsBusiness magazine, the on I wrote a regular column for. Self-promotion! AmericanStyle, if your subscription rate suddenly spikes, you have me to thank for it.

I know they must be appreciated, because the last time I had to wait for a doctor’s appointment, I was surprised to see they had some good magazines to read.

Then I realized they were the ones I’d left the last time I was there.

I happily settled in to reread those great articles until the nurse came for me.

Now I carry a small bag of magazines in my car, ready to leave a few behind wherever I go. I’m taking some today to my appointment for new tires.

I will bet you a silk pajama they won’t have More or Country Living in their waiting room….

But there will be after I leave.

P.S. If you worry about possible repercussions, remove your subscription label from each copy before you leave them. Although why letting bad people know I subscribe to Mare Englebreit’s Home Companion would leave me more vulnerable to a potential home invasion, I have no idea.

P.S.S. Dube’s Tire loved the magazine donation!

How to Half Wholesale: #10 Work with Ads

Ninth in a series on how to grow your wholesale accounts in a less majorly way….

If you have deep pockets and lots of patience, you can use advertising to grow your wholesale business.

The problem with most advertising is: 1) It’s expensive; 2) You usually have to do a lot of it, consistently, to get results; 3) Most artists advertise in the wrong places; and 4) It can be hard to tell if it’s actually doing you any good or not. Oh, and 5) Most people don’t read ads….or don’t remember them if they do.

Having said all those disclaimers, I have heard of advertising campaigns that broke all the rules and were outrageously successful.

My favorite is a jewelry artist who was persuaded by her PR consultant to drop a big bundle of cash on one big, splashy, full-page ad in a leading trade magazine just before the three biggest wholesale shows of the season. It was a colorful, trendy, incredibly beautiful shot of her jewelry–and it worked. The assumption from stores was, she must already be successful to be able to afford that kind of advertising. She wrote great orders at all her shows.

But of course, for those of you who think this might work for you, be forewarned that 1) she spent a lot of money on that ad. A lot of money…..; 2) she was able to “follow up” immediately because she also spent the big bucks to be at the shows where the buyers were; and 3) she had very low price points to begin with. (Her wholesale prices averaged under $15 wholesale.)

If you go the paid advertising route, the deal is you must be prepared to do it regularly, in well-targeted venues, and be able to track the responses each ad generates (perhaps by coding the contact info in the ad, or keeping track of the reader response cards from the magazine.

Standard wisdom was, bigger is better. Go with the biggest ad space you can afford. And great images are a must.

But nothing is written in stone anymore. Some research shows that using ordinary classifieds in those same magazines can produce good results, too.

And of course, the internet is changing everything. It looks like advertising on the web is finally effective. Though which, where and why is still not known….

In short, advertising to me has always seemed like a giant crap shoot. Some people win big, others get nowhere, and it can be almost impossible to tell who will get what. And now it’s an even bigger crap shoot.

I’ve used some advertising in the past, usually for very specific events–advertising my new work in a trade publication, show guide or buyers guide that will be distributed at the show I’m doing, for example. I do it periodically for name recognition (and after this year, to let people know I’m still alive and kicking!)

My best advice on advertising is, if you’re going to do it, try doing it where no one else is doing it.

Target those unusual venues and publications that isn’t obvious to every other artist and craftsperson out there. Do your homework! If it’s a magazines, get the demographics for their audience. If you make cat jewelry, maybe you could target a magazine that targets pet boutiques rather than the usual craft store or gift shop crowd. Instead of a buyer think, “Oh, yet another cat jewelry artist”, they might think, “Oh wow, more cat jewelry! Gotta get me some….”

I still believe that new product releases and press releases will get you more mileage on a limited budget. However, this approach do take more time and thought and preparation.

But as Greg Brown says, “Time ain’t money when all you got is time”, so if your overall budget is limited, do not break the bank to splurge on a last-gasp advertising campaign.

WHO IS YOUR CUSTOMER?

I subscribe to a newsletter put out by Aletta de Wal, and this month’s issue was a good one. It’s called “Discover Your Audience” and you can read it here. Aletta offers good tips on identifying your target audience.

I recommend this article because I think many of us make this mistake:

We lock ourselves in our studios, making our art. But then we have no idea who it’s for.

In fact, ask most artists who their customer is, and they’ll describe someone very much like themselves.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford my own work. If I didn’t make my own wall hangings, I probably wouldn’t have one. (Well, I do have layaway….)

This may be why some artists underprice their work. They can’t imagine a customer who has a bigger budget than they do. They think, “Well, I wouldn’t/couldn’t pay that much for this item, so I’ll price it lower.” When in fact, they may be underpricing the piece for an audience that could afford it… (Overpricing your work comes from an entirely different mindset. Overpricing occurs when you overvalue your time or overestimate your skill level, your reputation or the uniqueness of your product.)

So who is my customer? I’ll admit, I still sometimes have a hard time visualizing my target customer.

I know some of my customers appreciate fine craft, fiber art and/or art history. I have yet to meet an archaeologist who doesn’t like my work. People who love horses, bears, fish, etc. often like my work because it’s different than other jewelry and art with those animal motifs.

But that’s not very focused.

I’m getting better. In fact, at a show, my daughter can often tell who’s going to love my jewelry and who isn’t, though that doesn’t always translate into who will actually buy it. But loving it is the first step, and she has a sense of who that is. These women often come in with beautiful, dramatic jewelry or clothing–not diamonds and gold, but ethnic, handmade, eclectic stuff. Native American work, perhaps.

The year I did the ACC Baltimore fine craft show, I discovered customers who loved Wendy Ellertson’s work also loved mine. What’s the common thread there?

We are also still pleasantly surprised from time to time, and there are other “hooks” to my work that attract people. I find people who are going through transition, gathering courage to enter a new phase in life or taking that next “big step” forward, are often attracted to the stories in my work.

Thinking about the kinds of homes where my fiber wall hangings would look good lead me to believe traditional New England decor may not be a good fit. So obviously I have much more to learn.

Why is it good to know who your customer is?

Because when you promote your work, you need to know what venues also target your audience. When it’s time to buy advertising, send press releases, apply to shows and target galleries, you must determine if their target audience is also your target audience.

For example, one common mistake I see is artists who purchase ad space in magazines that target….other artists! Now, perhaps your target audience is other artists, in which case that’s a good choice. But if it isn’t, check the demographics of the magazine to make sure art collectors and galleries are part of its audience, too. Want to be sure? Call up one of your target galleries, and ask if they read that magazine. If the answer is no, you may want to rethink those ad dollars.

Knowing who your customer is helps focus your marketing efforts.

A SIX-YEAR-OLD CAN DO IT…You Can, Too!

Gulping my coffee this morning, watching the latest storm roll over Keene, New Hampshire, and reading our very own local newspaper, The Keene Sentinel. The Sentinel is noted for being the fifth oldest continuously published newspaper in the U.S..

I’m intrigued by an article in the business section. It’s by Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (Aside: Milwaukee is another cold, cold city. I Googled the latitudes of both cities and found that Milwaukee is at 43.04N and Keene is at 42.933N. Brrrr!)

You can read the entire article here. It’s about a professor of marketing who conducts market research with methods that resemble psychoanalysis.

So what does a marketing research technique that uncovers the real reason “real men” buy power tools have to do with your business in art and craft?

Because the most powerful technique they used was “…a rigorous format that includes repeatedly asking “Why?” like a persistent 6-year-old.”

Does this technique sound familiar?

I’ve never heard of the ZMET technique, though I hope to learn more. I discovered the power of “why” almost eight years ago, at a gallery talk for a juried art show I was in.

I’d never been to one before, and hoped to hear what drove the passions of my fellow exhibitors. I was disappointed to hear a lot of acadamese instead. In my ignorance and eagerness to learn what “real artists” thought, I kept pressing the speakers, asking “why” over and over. To a photographer who used images from a sole Greek island as her subject, I asked, “But why this island? And why this particular point in history?”, she finally revealed her personal and heartfelt inspiration. To a fiber artist who had used unusual materials to construct a coat with an “inside story”, the question revealed what that inside story was–and it was powerful.

It was a hard process, and not appealing to everyone–the newspaper review of the show later referred to me as “the persistent woman in the audience who kept asking ‘why?'” But every single artist came up to me afterwards and thanked me. One said, “You know, at first I was annoyed that you kept asking. But then it all came pouring out…. I never really knew before what drove my work. And now I do.” Another said, “I never realized the power of speaking my own story, my own truth, til you pushed me there. Thank you!”

I have used this technique when teaching artists how to write effective artist statements. I’ve used it in workshops to develop a story hook for press releases. I use it simply talking to people who pique my interest, wanting to find out what makes them tick.

I have never been disappointed by the answers I get to this question.

Who knew that simple question of a six-year-old could teach us so much?

Another PR TIP 4 U: Wooden Horse Magazine

I’ve been a subscriber to a free e-newsletter from Wooden Horse Magazine for years. It’s filled with information about new magazines, editorial changes, and news about magazine publishing in general.

They also have a data base of over 2,000 print magazines in the U.S. and Canada, with editorial contact info included.

I just found out (duh!) that you can get a day’s access (24 hours) to their magazine data base for…$1.99 a day!

I found this out after e-mailing Meg Weaver, the owner, and asking her about what it would cost to use their lists. I was worried about the expense for a small business like me.

I’ve decided even I can afford two bucks.

You don’t even have to subscribe to the newsletter to use this feature. You simply click the “order” button on the home page, select the “Wooden Horse magazine data base”, and you are offered a variety of options–from a single day’s access to a long-term subscription.

She said there are also search features to help you focus your target magazines/audiences.

Meg says although this is not a one-time usage thing (like when you rent a mailing list, you can only actually use the list for one mailing), things like the editorial contact info can change pretty quickly–so it can be worthwhile to simply pay another $1.99 for a new search when you need it.

This is a great and time-saving way to get a grip on the magazines out there that appeal to your target audience. I’m a magazine-reading queen bee and thought I was on top of the magazine market. Yet when I flew to Las Vegas for the ACRE show last year, a short layover in Utah showed I wasn’t as in-the-know as I thought. At the newsstand were there were easily a dozen magazines about western homes and western lifestyle I’d never even heard of before.

Using a data base like this is quicker than doing your own lengthy internet search and retyping all the info you find. It’s also cheaper than flying to the airports in the regions of your target audience. If you want, you can follow up with a visit the websites of the magazines you select, to make sure their mission statement and content is a good match to your work.

I am NOT affiliated with Wooden Horse or Meg Weaver in any way, just a satisfied subscriber and a soon-to-be customer.

Oh, and feel free to use my name if you talk to them. They’ll love to know how you heard about them.

HOT PR TIPS 4 U

Today is one of those days where I can’t type much. So instead, let me point you to a great article on getting the most from your e-mail press releases:

Bill Stoller’s Great Email Publicity Technique

And my second tip for you today is to continue on to check out the resource where Bill posted this great article:

The Switchboards. A large, active, very net-savvy group of new-wave craft entrepeneuers with a snappy, lively forum full of tips and useful information for growing your business. One of my favorite bookmarked forums.

Be glad I’m not writing more today, my typing is getting worse (because my latest ginormous hand bandage is slipping..!!)

WAS IT A GOOD SHOW?

How do you determine if you’ve had a good show?

Is it just about the money?

Years ago, when I started doing shows, the director of a big show said to me thoughtfully, “You are someone who measures your success in many ways besides just money.”

She’s right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Money is important. Critical. And I love money as much as the next person.

Money gives you access to certain kinds of choices in life. Money isn’t everything, but it can be a nice thing. A very nice thing….

But some success is not about money.

For me, there other ways to determine a “good show.”
Here are some ways I measure my success:

Did I make enough money? (and enough money to do WHAT?)

I do want sales at a show. I want good sales. No–make that great sales. I want people to see my work as desirable and valuable. I want them to feel that exchanging their precious time they’ve spent working and being paid, is worth my precious time and creativity. That transaction–trading time/resources for time/resources, using money as a measuring stick–is what selling is all about.What’s it worth to you?

So the money is important, because when I come home from a show, I can measure how important my work was to the audience at that show. And that measure helps me determine whether that show is a good venue for my work or not.

I felt frustrated while I was there. To be told your work is powerful, incredible, even more beautiful and compelling “in person” is very cool. But as I walked by the beamers and Lexi in the parking lot to the hall every morning, I found it hard to believe people really couldn’t afford $55 for a pair of my earrings.

I think something else is holding people back from buying my work. I haven’t figured out what that is yet. Wrong show? (It was a hugely respected and recommended show. What happened??) Wrong time? (I think people need to buy my work for themselves first. Then come back another year to buy it as presents for others.) Wrong coast? (Go west, girl….) I dunno.

So here’s the pattern of my life right now: These new shows provide me enough money to recoup my investment, pay down my business debt a little–but not enough to lock me into doing that show again. Just enough money to keep me going, not enough to keep me going down this particular path.

I feel gently shepherded into figuring out a different way to do this. Maybe more shows is not that way.

Who did I meet? What did people say?

I met a woman with Native American heritage on both sides of her family, who fell in love with my work. She said it reminded her of her culture in spirit, but definitely did not trespass on it. Definitely something different going on! That’s important for me to know.

And she said, “When I look at these pieces, I feel such peace. They are peaceful works.” When she said this, a thrill went through my heart. I can sense another “new story” coming through….

I met Loretta Lam, a polymer clay artist and faithful reader. She also said something I needed to hear. I’d told her I worry that when people see how crabby and un-hero-like I am in real life, they’ll quit reading my blog. “…you should rest easy. You are exactly like your writing. Charming, funny, real. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to release your inner self to cyberspace….” Thank you, Loretta!

I also met jewelry designer Jill Schwartz who is as delightful as her jewelry. I can’t get into her site, but here is a picture of some of her designs. One of the few things I bought at the show was a pair of her new earrings.

What did I learn?

Craftspeople are amazing people.

I’m humbled by how brave and hardworking these people are. They slog these booths and boxes of product from show to show, in old vans and funky trucks, like large wheeled turtles, constantly on the move looking for a good show. It’s getting harder, and yet they don’t give up. They talk constantly, sharing suggestions (“That might be a good show for you!”), experiences and resources.

It is such hard work, and fired by such incredible passion underneath. From the silliest sachet to the most beautiful silver jewelry, from recycled sail cloth bags to handmade Santas, every single vendor believes in their product and loves their work.

I am humbled by their determination. I am proud to be part of such a community.

I’m also blown away by how much they want me to figure this out. They genuinely respect my work and what I’m trying to do, and they want me to succeed. I feel like the hero in a storybook, battling my demons and monsters, and they cheer me on. Not all of their suggestions are on target. In fact, some of their suggestions are downright odd. But I’m always deeply moved by their good intentions.

People have incredible things to say about my work.

And the things they say inspire me to keep on doing it.

I need this feedback loop from my audience, even if shows are not the most lucrative way to get it. As soon as I find another way of connecting–web sales, more gallery representation, public speaking, writing a book–the show mode will fade away.

One artist said, “I checked out the artist list before the show to check out my ‘competition.’ Yours was the only work I found utterly intriguing–I had to come down and see it in person!” When I asked her whether it measured up, she said thoughtfully, “It’s even more amazing, though different. Polymer doesn’t translate well to photography. Your work is beautiful on-line, but it has a more academic nature there–like real museum-quality artifacts. In person, it’s still beautiful and has quality–but it’s also…..accessible. Richer. Warmer. More human. Even playful. Yet even more powerful…”

Wow!!

What is my next step?

It’s time to do that PR thing, targeting a western audience and an audience that can be inspired and motivated by my journey. Part of their support will always be collecting my art.

But there will be ways to get my work out there, too–speaking engagements? A book? I think I have another book in me, but not a craft book. It might indeed be a book on booth design. Or another kind of book altogether. Perhaps something to encourage people to start their own artistic journeys.

Blogging has been excellent preparation for that–daily practice, working through what I have to offer and what I want to say.

Anything else?

Oh, and I also learned I can put up a booth in four hours. And break down in two. I would have said that was utterly impossible six months ago. That was important for me to learn. Already, as I face the challenges of my next show and setting up yet a different booth (6’x15′??!!) I feel myself feeling relaxed instead of panicked. Challenged instead of overwhelmed.

So was it a good show?

I know what I think. What do you think?

PRESS RELEASES FOR ARTISTS

Just to make it a little easier for you, here is a link to some links to past articles I’ve on creating publicity for yourself with press releases:

PUBLICITY 101: A List of Articles on Self Promotion

As always, feel free to read and peruse for your own use.. I teach workshops on this topic for the Arts Business Institute and have presented this material for various arts organizations. So sharing what I’ve learned is part of my livelihood as an artist. Enjoy!

WHY, WHY, WHY?? How to Write a Stronger Artist Statement

I’ve just finished the final edits for an article I wrote for FiberArts magazine. You can learn more about the magazine here.

The article is about exhibition proposals–the “pitch” you make to a venue for a solo exhibition. It’s scheduled to run in the September issue, so put it on your calendars!

I think it’s going to be a slightly different take on similar articles. I actually went “behind the curtains”to see how such proposals are evaluated. I got to see firsthand which ones had pizazz and which ones didn’t–and more importantly, why.

Coincidentally, I also just finished my first proposal for public art. When a federal building project is budgeted, a certain percentage of the money involved is dedicated to providing art to decorate it–an amazing concept, and one that has long interested me.

You can read more about public art here.

Usually the scale is out of my league, and many designated sites are not conducive to fiber (outdoor installations, for example.) But this one was of manageable size. Best of all, I instantly felt it was a good fit for my artwork.
Why? Good question.

I’m not being facetious. When it comes to submitting a great proposal, writing a press release, or creating an astounding artist statement, WHY? is the very best question you can ask.

I found this out a few years ago while teaching a workshop on press kits.

My message was, the whole point of a press release is telling your story and getting it published in a newspaper or magazine.

So how do you tell a compelling story? I started with the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why, and how). That’s easy for most people.

But everyone was getting stuck on “why?”

They couldn’t get past the cliches we fall into when we are afraid to dig deeper.

“Because I just love color.” “I just love fabric.” “I dunno why I do it, I just like doing it.” “It’s so much fun!”

Even more telling, no one got WHY the “why” is so important.

I had a flash of insight.

Why?” is “Why do you care?” And “Why should I care?” (Sounds harsh, but true.)

To temper the process, I would just keep asking “why?” until I got a strong answer.

So I just asked “why?”

I asked “why” over and over and over, until we got to the heart of their story.

It’s simple. And it works.

I’m reading a terrific book called MADE TO STICK by brothers Chip and Dan Heath http://www.madetostick.com/ I was delighted to read the same technique recommended to get to the “core idea” you are trying to sell to people.

I use “sell” loosely, because whatever your product is–a movie, a car, a cleaning service, a painting, a charity–you have to make some connection with your audience in order for them to want it.

That connection, that “story”, can be about value, prestige, entertainment, convenience, whatever.

For most of us, “Why?” will get you to that story faster than the speed of light.

Here’s one example. Years ago, a friend who works with young adults with special needs complained about one former client he worked out with regularly.

His complaints were funny and amusing. But his experience sounded like so much trouble, I wondered why he continued to spend time with this young person.

I kept asking him why. He kept making vague excuses, none of which made sense. I kept saying, “But if this person is SO ANNOYING, why do you continue to do this??”

Finally, our friend burst out, “Because these people are different. They’re a little weird, they’re a little goofy. It can be scary if you don’t understand. In our culture, this tends to set them apart–they get marginalized, they get put aside. “

But the conditions that make them seem “odd” also give them amazing qualities. They have strengths and opportunities to offer us. Their “differences” are just part of the full spectrum of being human.”

I’ve always felt that, if only we could learn to be a little more understanding, a little more tolerant, then all our lives would be so much richer.”

As I heard this story, I felt myself determined to be a little more understanding, a little more tolerant.

The “why” had come through. My friend had made that connection by sharing that true story.

FWIW, in my book, one powerful story comes when we are motivated to be the best kind of person we aspire to be. To see common ground with others, and thus chose to act out of love, courage, passion and grace instead of fear and hate and pettiness.

So here I was with my first public art proposal. I found many of the same principles I’d learned from my research on the exhibition proposal article applied. But the biggest hurdle for me, as I said, was simply “why?”

WHY was my artwork a good fit for their proposal?

Once I answered that question to my satisfaction (and hopefully theirs!), I felt I had a good, strong proposal. I sent it off knowing I’d made my best effort.

Try this, the next time you need to really connect with an audience. Before you write your next artist statement, or submit your next exhibit proposal. Before you do your next show. Before you are interviewed by your local newspaper.

If this gets hard, ask a trusted friend to ask you, and tell them to push until they get the real answer.

Ask yourself “why”.

But ask it more than once.

Keep asking yourself “why?” until you get to the very heart of what motivates you.
Don’t stop til you reach the truth.

Trust me, you will know.