This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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.
Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!
As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!
Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’. I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.
I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:
- I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
- I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
- I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
- I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
- I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.
Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.
- We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
- If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
- I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
- Not all rewards in life are about money.
- It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
- There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.
Now for the downside: Setbacks!
- Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
- Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
- Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.
The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.
Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)
Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.
But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)
It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)
In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…
It mattered to me.
It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.
And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that. There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud. There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.
Still, I persist.
And now, here comes kindness….
My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.
It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.
But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.
By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.
And that makes it all worthwhile.
In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.
It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!
I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.
What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!
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!
What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck
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!
Some things in life–kids; dogs; art–just don’t much much sense. Until you look back and try to imagine your life without them.
My husband and I, we weren’t too wild about kids–until we had kids.
We weren’t too crazy about dogs, either–until we got a dog.
So what, you say? What does this have to do with art?
I’m saying there are some things you can’t make a rational decision about. Until you jump in and embrace them fully.
Kids. Dogs. Art.
Stand on the outside, and it doesn’t look very practical. It’s all very well to say “Follow your bliss, and the money will follow.” It’s another thing to wonder just how you’ll pay the mortgage with that fancy art degree you just got.
If you’re on the outside looking in, it’s very easy to say, “Well, there’s just no way.”
Some people take a quick peek, but say, “Well, it’s just not a good time. Maybe next year.” To which my mother wisely said, “It’s never a good time to have children.”
This was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Because once you step inside that world, you will somehow find a way to make it work.
Because you have to.
Some of us cobble it together. We work part-time at our art, and have a day job somewhere else. We take on other creative ways to generate income: Teaching, writing, consulting. Or we work full-time at our craft while a spouse, hopefully following their passion, carries the bulk of the financial load. Some of us do a lot of production work that pays for the big intuitive projects, the ‘big art’, that may or may not ever sell. Some of us actually hire other people to help us get our vision out into the world, and we end up running a real business with real employees and sick days and benefits packages.
It’s all okay.
The important thing is, we knew deep down inside we had to do this–and we do it.
Something inside said, “If you don’t do this, there’s a chance you won’t miss it.
But there’s a bigger chance you’ll passed by the opportunity to experience something really, really important.”
Art isn’t for everyone. Just like kids and dogs aren’t for everyone.
But once you embrace that destiny, there’s a good chance you’ll find you can’t imagine your life without it.
Deciding if you should do a wholesale show.
When people ask if they should do this big-name show or that new wholesale show, I think of that old song by musician David Bromberg….
“A man should never gamble
more than he can stand to lose….”
(From his song, “Diamond Lil” on the Demons in Disguise album.)
This question came up again in a forum I frequent, and this is my response:
I haven’t done the ACRE show in a few years–I did their first show in Las Vegas, and stopped doing wholesale shows soon after, after about seven years of doing shows like BMAC (wholesale), ACC Baltimore (wholesale/retail) & ACRE Las Vegas (wholesale).
Here are some points to consider:
1) Wholesale shows are EXPENSIVE. And even a good wholesale show is with an established reputation and good management, is not a sure thing. Used to be, but not any more.
2) First year shows are notoriously dicey. An artist friend with 30 years in the biz recently told me, “Never do a first year show or a show you can’t drive to.” I’ve learned the hard way this is excellent advice on both counts.
Wholesale buyers are still being cautious, and buyers at first year shows are the most cautious. Adding travel costs and shipping costs (for your booth) on top of that and you can easily spend $5,000 on a show with no guarantee you’ll get the orders to even recoup your investment (let alone enough to make a profit.) I don’t know where you live, but that’s something to consider.
3) Who are your customers? Who do you hope to find there? Years ago a good wholesale show would draw from stores and galleries across the country. Now, more buyers tend to stick close to home. So there MIGHT be buyers from all over, but it’s MORE LIKELY the buyers will be local. So…are stores in Orlando and Florida your target audience?
4) Have you done any shows at all? Even smaller, local ones, just to tweak your booth, display, selling skills, support materials?
I’m all for people going for their dreams and dreaming big. But you say you’ve only been in business a few months, and you’re still in the process of “building a website, creating a collection”, etc. Doing a wholesale show is a huge outlay in money, time, energy.
Are you–and your business–ready??
You might be one of those people we read about who takes that leap and flies. But doing a wholesale show is a HUGE leap, one that’s daunting even for people who already have some experience doing small shows, doing wholesale, etc.
Almost all shows across the country, retail and wholesale, have taken a hit in attendance and sales. And $3,000 is a lot of money. So…..
5) Can you afford to gamble $3,000–and lose?
My advice: I think the smarter bet is to take advantage of the Visiting Artist/ABI program. I was actually a guest faculty member for ABI, and it’s a good deal.
The critique will be helpful (though remember, even expert advice is still just one person’s opinion). They can advise you on all kinds of wholesale matters: Are you sure you’re making an adequate profit on your product? Do you have reliable sources for supplies? (If one critical supplier drops out, can you still make your product?) Are you solid on your production schedule and shipping procedures? Are you familiar with industry standards re: billing, payment, terms, etc.? Do you know how to qualify your buyers?
And you will get a chance to actually visit the show.FWIW, I think the most educational thing any craftsperson can do (who wants to do a wholesale show) is to VISIT THE SHOW FIRST. You’ll get to see what the deal is, you’ll be able to see how many buyers show up, and you’ll get to talk to exhibitors (if they are not busy and if they are willing, of course).
I wrote a entire series on how to wholesale on my old blog, but this new series I did on how to “half wholesale”–get started building your wholesale biz before doing a major show, may be more helpful to you. You can see links to both series here.
And all this information was before selling on the Internet became a “big deal”! Add in all you know now about websites and selling in your own online store, and you’ll be off to a good start
The rewards of writing a book go way, way past the money stuff.
A fellow craftsperson wrote me recently. She’s been asked by a publisher to write a book! Excited and a wee bit overwhelmed, she asked if I had any suggestions or comments.
You know me. I got a million of ’em.
But for your sake, and for the sake of the customer who is waiting patiently for me to ship their order to them this week, I will be succinct.
Yes, I wrote a book on carving stamps. It was the first of its kind, and I’m still proud of it. I’d love to write more books someday. (Anybody out there in the book publishing world listening? Helloooooo….?)
If you are considering writing a book–especially if a publisher has approached YOU about writing a book–
Why especially if a publisher asks you? Because half the work is done. You don’t have to send out dozens of book proposals and then wait for all the rejections. You don’t have to second-guess what kind of book they’re looking for. You don’t have to prove yourself–they’re already into you!
Don’t expect to get rich from it, or even make very much. It’s possible, of course, but not likely.
However, the publicity, the credentialing, the excitement, the entire experience, will be worth it.
So how much money are we talking about?
You will be given an advance to start writing the book. An advance is money paid out by the publisher before actual publication, in anticipation of what the book will bring in dollar-wise.
As the book sells, your advance is deducted from the royalties due you. If the book outsells their expectations, you get a royalty check. If the book doesn’t sell well, you keep your advance but you don’t get any more money.
I was paid an advance of a couple thousand dollars for my book. Now, this was before publishing took a major hit and before we bailed out a lotta banks for a few billion dollars. I don’t know if that is industry standard anymore or not.
Despite good sales, I’ve not received a penny more in royalties. I am not the Harry Potter of craft book authors.
The advance was good money for me, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
But more than just the money, I’ve gained a lot in exposure, in web presence, in credibility as an author for writing that book. I got more writing gigs because of it.
And this was for a book that wasn’t even about my main art form. It was about my art hobby. If you are asked to do a book on your own art medium, you would benefit even more. I would have gotten a lot more mileage from my book if stamp carving had been my major art form, or if I’d written a book about my wall hangings or polymer work.
When you’re finally asked, is it scary? Oh, yeah. Exciting, wonderful, and yes, also daunting. Kinda like having a baby.
Things to keep in mind:
An editor will work along with you, so you don’t have to “construct” the entire project yourself.
Publishers also usually do their own photography, so no need to worry about that.
They may have a specific “recipe” or format in mind for the book–is it part of a series of other crafts? This will help you select projects, etc.
Most importantly, there’s another reason writing a book is like having a baby:
You really can’t change your mind halfway through.
A lot of people START books.
A publisher’s biggest fear is that you will not FINISH the book.
They lose a ton of money if they invest an editor, time, money and space in their publishing schedule…. then the author freaks out and refuses to complete the project.
So….Do everything you can to meet deadlines and work with their schedule. If you renege on the deal, you will find it difficult–if not impossible–to ever work with that publisher again. Probably any publisher. Word does get around….
Cooperate with their proposed format. The publisher asked me to write a book for their Weekend Crafter series. I got carried away. I was determined to write the compleat work on stamp carving (and no, didn’t spell that wrong, look it up. I think I scared my editor with all my grand ideas for additions and “improvements”, til she gently reined me in with the response, “You need to save that for your next book.”
Good communication is key.
One last tip:
Don’t be afraid to let the real “you” shine through. Whatever is distinctive about your personality–your quirky sense of humor, your way of turning a phrase–it is an asset. (Unless you’re mean.) Don’t get so caught up in the “professional artist” thing that you sacrifice your blithe spirit in the process.
And one last thought:
It may seem like a big, daunting project. But you will be working on it one section, one project, one chapter, one deadline at a time. Just like eating an elephant, you will take it one bite at a time.
In the end, it will be worth it in so many ways, things that will last long after the book is out.
I still get a kick out of people who show up at my shows, or my open studios, with a copy of my book in hand, and ask me to sign it.
I still love looking up the reviews of my book, and reading the wonderful things people said about it, and about me.
I still feel a frisson of pride when I come across my book on a store shelf, or when I display it in my studio.
I love mentioning oh-so-casually that I’m an author. I love remarking that both my husband and I are published writers, and our kids have had their work published in before they were out of elementary school. (Doug and Robin’s carved stamps appeared in another Lark book.)
I admit it, I am a small person at heart when it comes to being proud of my book.
Caveat: This was my book writing experience. Your mileage may vary. Your experience may be even nicer, or maybe not so nice.
But I still think it’s worth doing.