HOW TO SEE THE WORLD Part 1: What Made Me Put On My Rose-Colored Glasses This Week!

Can you tell I’ve been feeling saggy lately? Go figure (says the rest of the world who are also feeling saggy.)

Last week, something happened that made it worse.

I got my husband his dream Christmas gift this year, a little Sharing Library. (It’s like a Little Free Library. Ours is from the same family but a different company, hence “Sharing Library.) It’s been up for six months, and we restock it every week or so. It had just reached the point where people were adding as many books as were taken. Yay!!

Then one morning, my husband sent me this picture while I was at my studio:

No more books :-{Yup. Someone had taken ALL of our books. (Turns out the two remaining were actually left by a neighbor’s kiddo, who saw that they were all gone and generously added two of theirs. Love love love you Nova!)

My heart went to a sad place. Who would do such a thing?? And WHY???

I checked in with NextDoor, and with a Facebook group of fellow Little Free Library members in Santa Rosa.  At least two other people said this had happened to them, too. People shared their thoughts:

 

Was it someone with a mental health issue?

Was it someone who thought “free” meant “take ’em all!”??

Was it someone who realized they could resell them to a used bookstore???

Fortunately, I’d stockpiled some books to move on, and half-filled the library again. But it left me in a bit of a huff. As in, do something kind and look what happens! Ugh.

And then the light poured in.

Someone in the FB group offered to bring us more books. Someone else did, too. Soon we were swamped with offers of books.

One person brought theirs over immediately, and totally restocked the box. I met another person who meant to do the same, and gave me their box to store. More people did the same. Soon people from NextDoor chimed in, too.

Dozens of people offered books, brought books, left books on our porch, and left books on THEIR porch for me to pick up.

We now have enough extra books to fill up that library for months!

So one tiny act of greed/misunderstanding/poopiness resulted in hundreds of words and actions of kindness and generosity.

So what do I want to hold onto this week?

An empty giving library?

Or a little world of good deeds?

Yup. You guessed it!

If this lifts YOUR heart today, too, then I’ve done my work for the day….

When good people do good things.

 

MY QUORA ANSWER TODAY: “What Made You Write That Post Today?”

Today’s answer to a question on Quora:

“What made you write that post today?”

Something happened that triggered me. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way.

It might have been something I read. It might have been something someone said.

It might have been directed at me, or had nothing to do with me.

Or I may be feeling “something” today: Feeling down. Feeling ‘left out’. Feeling ‘less than’.

Or maybe I’m feeling uplifted, relieved, happy.

Maybe I experienced a lovely little miracle, a moment of synchronicity, something that made me pause and go, “WOW!! I needed to hear/see/experience that today!”

In almost every case, writing that post was a way for me to find clarity. Or humor. Or simply peace in my heart.

And whenever that happens, I’ve realized that, if that’s what I experienced today, writing that post was my way of working it through to my highest, best self, again.

And it my words got ME there, then maybe someone, somewhere in the world, would find the same reassurance, the same clarity, the same grounded-ness, for themselves.

Even when I’m feeling down, miffed, angry, sad, scared, left out, unseen, unnecessary, I still want to believe I have a place in the world. That my creative work matters, IF ONLY to help me be a better person in the world.

Sharing those thoughts, those steps, may help someone else feel the same way.

It’s not about the likes, the numbers, the followers, the sales.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about have a voice in the world.

And encouraging others to have theirs, too.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #20: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

I am reprinting an article I wrote a few years ago (July 13, 2019), because it’s worth repeating. AND should be in this series. What a coincidence that I came across it on Pinterest. And an hour after I read all the bitter, disappointed comments collected for our recent open studio event, Art at the Source.

Creating our artwork takes time. Getting good at it takes time. So does an open studio! And giving up after one slow event–especially in these strange times, when EVERYONE is struggling….well, I’ll just keep my mouth shut. For now.

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission to “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #19: Why Should I Have an Open Studio Anyway??

 

I’ve made very few “people” figures in my art. But my handprints appear all over the place!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

I was thinking about my dad today.

Yeah, partly because it was Fathers Day. And mostly because of the grief I’m reading/hearing about how unsuccessful people were with our recent Art at the Source open studio event this month.

My dad was a diligent worker. He took over the family business (a dairy biz, processing milk into ice cream, cream, and…well, milk), incorporating a dariy bar, and eventuallly a family restaurant. (My first job was washing dishes there, when I was in…4th grade??) Then he sold the biz and became a state dairy inspector. (He sure liked cows.)

He also loved flowers. Our house was surrounded by rigid rows of organized, meticulously-spaced flowers. In the spring, he would give each of us kids a soup spoon, and we would dutifully plant daisies, marigolds, and petunias. He diligently watered all our houseplants daily, too.

But when he retired, he also took up woodworking. He spent days in his garage workshop, planing, mitering, sanding, staining. He made furniture for me and all my sibs over the years.

And if you expressed delight or sang his praises, he would also diligently point out every error he’d made in the making. (It helped me to NOT do this with my own work!)

What does this have to do with having an open studio?

I don’t believe he ever sold a single piece of his work.

He’d made his money WORKING all his life. His gardening and woodworking was for FUN–relaxation and enjoyment. He called it his hobby.

Hobby, vocation, and avocation. What’s the diff??

I used to have a distinction between avocation and hobby, but the older I get, I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter so much to me, either.

Here’s what my dad taught me: Find a way to earn a living. You can be an artist when you retire.

What I taught my kids: Do what you love, and the money will follow. (Robin and Doug, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Love, Mum)

What I wish I’d told my kids, and what I’m telling you today:

Do the work that supports your lifestyle. At best, it’s work you enjoy. Hopefully, you don’t hate it, or at least don’t dislike it too much. Hopefully, it’s something you’re good at, that you’re proud of, and it’s wonderful if it pays well, too.

But if it’s not the work of your heart, make room for THAT in your life, too. It will help you manage everything else.

My dad never sold a single piece of his woodwork. They were always gifts, or filling requests for furniture–coffee tables, sofa tables, display pedestals, coat racks, etc.–for friends and family.

In my art career, financially, I had some good years, some really good years, and some years that totally tanked. Most of those tank years were obviously the result of events totally out of my control: 9/11, war in the Mideast, inflation/recession, pandemic. We’re right back there, today, and there’s no escaping the consequences that affect our entire planet.

And yet, I was surprised at how much people complained (in an online forum) about their open studio event this year. Surprised at how many people are considering not joining next year. Astonished at how some people are considering actually walking away from their art-making. “What’s the use?!” (Why can’t I make that shoulder-shrug emoji??)

TBH, I was a little down that last day, too. Until I started to write about it. Writing helps me sort out the dust bunnies in my brain, and get to center of my  (he)art.

What helps YOU get centered again? I’d love to hear!

My take-away:

There is no figuring out exactly what will make us rich. I can’t even figure out how to cover the cost of my materials anymore.

Won’t stop me.

There is no single, sure path to fame and fortune.

I’m pretty sure I don’t even WANT to be famous anymore.

It takes time to build an audience, especially when our work is really out-of-the-box.

I tried through shows (wholesale and retail), art fairs, and open studios. I learned that it time and engagement for people to really see what I was doing, what my story was, and how labor-intensive my process was.

Open studios are the best at this! See my workspace, look at my tools and materials, let me show you what inspires me….

I stepped away from wholesale shows, and eventually made all my income from one major fine craft show in New Hampshire, and two open studio tours. They, too, started out slow. My visitors steadily grew, though there were still set-backs, dips, etc.

Then I moved to California, and had to start all over. Again.

How do I feel about that?

I’m actually okay.

Today, I can sell my work online, though it’s almost always to current customers and people who have followed my work for YEARS. (Again: Connection, achieved by outreach and availability.)

Today, I can easily share the backstory, my creation story, my inspiration, process, and animal stories. especially in my studio.

Today, I am reminded of my most recent open studio event, too. Yes, a little disappointed in the number of visitors, and that my sales were low.

And then I remember the blessings in my life:

I HAVE A STUDIO. I can do the work of my heart.

I have people who love my work. Maybe they can’t afford to buy it. Maybe they’ve downsized, and don’t have room for it.

But they can still come and look at it, and marvel, and engage with me.

I can encourage people to make room in their life for what brings them joy.

And I can write about it, hoping to do the same for YOU.

The good part in that forum thread: Some people griped, but when they realized so many other people were feeling the same way–in other words, it wasn’t just them–they got more clarity.

They, too, found the good stuff amidst the pile of disappointment. They got their mojo back. They will continue to make their art. Yay!

I think of my dad. I’m sure he would have been happy to make some money from his late-in-life hobby.

But that wasn’t WHY he did it.

He did it because it kept him busy (he hated doing nothing). He did it because he could make something for people he loved. He got better at it (because he was a bit of a perfectionist.) (DAISIES AND MARIGOLDS ALL IN A ROW.) It was flexible: He could work all day, or he could stop at any time and go for a drive with my mom.

It made him feel like he still had something to offer the world.

In my open studio, I listened to people telling me about their new life paths, their new interests and pastimes, their latest life disruption, their still-painful losses and sorrows.

My creative space became a safe place to share stories of hope, dreams, sadness, and joy. And healing.

My creative work carries stories of how every person has a place in the world. Including me. Including you.

I just realized my studio is my own unique version of a miniature Lascaux Cave.

The art of the Lascaux Cave was not about achieving fame or fortune.

The Ice Age was coming to an end, and so a people’s entire way of life was, too. They didn’t gather to start a war, or to assess blame. They gathered as a community, hoping to find a way through to the other side. And each handprint represents a single person present.

I can’t even imagine putting a price tag on that.

Today, try not to measure your sucess with only money.

Today, see your true value in the world, made with the work of your hands, and of your heart.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

THE MARSHMALLOW CONUNDRUM

Who knew marshmallows could be so scary??

My favorite marketer blogger let me down today.

They discussed why some people are wealthy. It’s because they made a decision to purchase stock in a new company 20 years ago, instead of spending the money on eating out at a restaurant. As in, wisdom and foresight vs. random self-indulgence. Long-term value over short-term amusement.

They compared to to getting a grilled cheese sandwich today, or being able to get two grilled cheese sandwiches next week. As if the people who invested in Google in 2004 are smarter/better than the people who chose to go out to dinner instead. Twenty years later, the dinner is forgotten, but the shares are worth thousands of dollars.

I get the point (I think.) It takes time for money to grow, and not much time at all to spend it on worthless/useless/petty things instead. The people who are willing to wait, gain more.

Or is it?

It sounds like the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the 1970’s, when 32 children were given a marshmallow, but told they would get TWO marshmallows if they didn’t eat the first one. The study declared that the children who could wait, were more successful in life, their SAT scores were higher, etc. Repeated studies seemed to support the power of delayed gratification.

This is the simplified version, of course, but the one we’re most familiar with: People who have self-discipline do better in life.

Until newer studies found the major flaw in these results:

Children of “lower” social class, who were more vulnerable to food insecurity, whose families were struggling, were the ones who “couldn’t” wait for that second marshmallow.

Not because they aren’t as smart, not because they had no self-discipline, or because they were less patient.

It was because they had already learned to grab what was available when it was offered. Because that second “reward” might NEVER come.

I never truly believed in the original findings. Something just felt wrong. It felt more like an issue of trust in the people running the experiment than the ability to “go without”. In fact, these kids that “failed” were probably already “going without”. Without the same support, advantages, opportunities that wealthier families offer.

And about stock options vs. a dinner out….

Yeah, we might forget the dinner out, twenty years later. It might be a better choice to invest in our future.

And yet….

What if that dinner is the first date with a person who became our partner? Or the one where our partner asked us to marry them?

What if that dinner was a celebration? A birthday, a milestone reached, a graduation?

What if it was the last time we were able to spend time with a loved one or a dear friend?

What if it was the dinner where you had a huge fight, and realized that was NOT the person you wanted to be with for the rest of your life? A decision you would never regret?

The article probably has a valid point, and maybe it just landed wrong for me today. We’ve all made poor financial decisions we wish we could do over.

And yet…

Investing money has always been a gamble. Some people make good investment decisions, yes. But a lot of those decisions aren’t. We never really know which ones will pay off, and anyone who says otherwise is either very very lucky in theirs, or they’re full of bullshit.

Sorry, I don’t know where I’m going here. Except even gentle criticism about people not making smart decisions about the future drives me crazy. I still remember a coworker 40 years ago. She and her parter had the perfect investment/retirement plan in place with her husband.

But her husband died suddenly way, way before they got there. And she had to keep working long past her retirement years to support herself.

Her greatest regret? That they had put off all their travels and good times, so they would have a rich, perfect retirement.

And then they never had the chance to enjoy it, together.

My own favorite “predicting the future” story is the year where the price of oil skyrocketed (our heating fuel in New Hampshire), and we had to decide whether to prebuy at the current prices, or hope that they would fall before winter. My husband said, “If only I knew what the price of oil was going to be in six months!” And I said, “You and ten billion other people.”

Yes, it’s good to be frugal, and set aside money. Yes, it’s good to have hope in our hearts that things will work out, that everything will be okay, that we will always be safe, that we have everything under control. It’s good to wait, and get that second marshmallow as a reward.

But it’s bad to blame people who have less, who strugle more, who battle discrimination, ridicule, distrust, disgust, and who are never seen for anything more than their gender, skin color, nationality, religion choices.

Only when ALL people have money to invest, when ALL people don’t have to worry about where the next paycheck will come from, when ALL people can have an income, health care, respect, love, when ALL people can feel safe and cared for….

Then, and only then, will I take that investment advice seriously.

Er….pass me that marshmallow, please?

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #18: The Power of Connection and Community

First day of Art at the Source was so slow, I got this necklace made!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It really, really helps if money is not the only measure of your “success”.*

*Thank you forever, Alisha Vincent!

On the brink of the last weekend of our Sonoma County Art at the Source Open Studio Tour.

I posted on Facebook mentioning that my first weekend was rather slow, with a pic of a necklace I made during the lulls. Another participant shared their studio visitor numbers, which were higher than mine.

Here’s why that didn’t bother me at all:

First, numbers come and numbers go. The first two years I did an open studio in New Hampshire, no one came. (I was the only participant in my neck of the woods.) It was a little discouraging but my studio was clean, and I got a lot of new work done.

The third year, my studio was filled to the gills with visitors, and it never stopped until we left New Hampshire.

Second, an original founder and long-time AATS participant (30 years?) who’s well-known in these parts, and whose work is popular, said numbers come and go, rise and fall, over the years, and usually for no discernible reason. “I don’t worry about it,” she said. “It is what it is, and I’m comfortable with that.” Thank you, Sally Baker! (She’s a true grown-up.)

Third, though my numbers were low, those visitors were amazing, each and every one. One woman brought me a box of beautiful abalone shells!

My last point is one that just came to me today:

My visitors created their own in-house community, in my studio, during the tour!

Somehow, I ended up showing two visitors the lovely gift of abalone shells. They were so amazed, I ended up giving each of them one! It just felt like the right thing to do. They were delighted. I know they’ll be back someday.

One long-time fan came in, we had a nice chat, and she gave me an idea for one-on-one mentoring/tutoring with polymer clay. While she was still there, another long-time fan and her studio-mate came in. The three of them hit it off. I offered them comfy chairs, and they sat in a little circle and talked avidly for awhile. (It was still a slow day, people could get around them easily, and I was totally okay with that.) It was wonderful to see new friendships created, right there in front of me!

Another visitor talked about losing a sibling last year, and then the tears came. On impulse, I opened one of my storage drawers and gave them an older bear artifact.  Then I gave them a card with the bear’s story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

(No, I don’t just hand out free stuff to people randomly. There’s just something inside me that says, “They need this….”)

It took me a few days to see what was happening.

These people all had at least one thing in common: They like my work. Some LOVE my work.

They felt safe enough in my sacred creative space to open their hearts, to my stories, to my work, to me. And also to others in that space.

It was amazing.

I’m still unwrapping that, figuring out why it affected me so deeply. But in the end, I can just say I’m glad this all happened.

Oh, I also made a few sales, enough to restock new supplies for my next projects.  Some weird questions got asked, some people weren’t interested and left quickly. Tomorrow’s going to be really really hot, and I don’t have any thoughts about what that will look like.

But I’m not worried.

I’ve already had my share of beautiful little miracles. And I’m grateful for them all.

It’s not always about numbers.

It’s not always about the money. 

It’s about using our creativity to bring out the best in ourselves, and in others. We are truly blessed to be able to do this with the work of our heart.

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #17 Tears for Fears: What if someone steals my stuff??”

Yeah, I could worry constantly about theft. But I actively try NOT to.

Hah! I TOLD you a series is rarely ever “done”!

Just before our latest county open studio event (LINK), an artist reached out with a terrific question: What if someone were to steal their work?

In this case, it was a portfolio of very small “studies”, their way of experimenting before taking on a large project. These studies could easily be pilfered. Should they be worried?

Yes. No. Maybe?

Unless we make huge stone sculptures that have to be hauled away in a wheelbarrow (or similar), yes, we are all potential victims of theft. And you know who is the MOST vulnerable creative/maker for theft? Jewelers, especially those working in precious metals/gemstones. When they do major shows, they often take down their ENTIRE INVENTORY every night. And set it up all over again the next day. OMG!)

But making that the biggest issue with opening our open studio is a sure-fire way to unconsciously let every single visitor know you do not trust them. And that will destroy the very reason open studios are so powerful:

Our visitors want to know more about our work–and US.

Treating each person as a possible thief, destroys any potential connection. Which defeats the entire purpose of inviting them into our creative space.

How do I know? This happened to me, as a studio visitor.

In this case, the person was open to my previous suggestion, ideas for having samples, tools, etc. that are okay for visitors to touch or hold. People are extremely experienced about being told NOT to touch in so many environments. Providing a display, something they CAN touch, is powerful!

Hence this person’s idea of presenting a portfolio of small studies, which they would hate to lose.

Here were my thoughts. (Be sure to add yours in the comments!)

Fears of having our work stolen cements everybody to the ground, as in, a bad way. We all worry about such things. In my lifetime, I don’t recall a single thing being taken, but I have so much stuff, I probably wouldn’t notice if it were missing 🥴
If the worry about losing your portfolio is giving you nightmares, consider a way to display it so that it’s not a small thing somebody could pocket easily.
I’m not a painter, so I don’t know if you’re talking about individual sketches, first drafts, or illustrations in a notebook, etc. You can send me more details and we can figure out a way to keep your work safe.
Maybe only exhibit a few of the pictures you were experimenting with, or have all of them on display in a case, or hang on the wall.
But what’s more important than that is being comfortable with people in our sacred creative space.
I have not had any (okay, not MANY) issues with people being rude, aggressive, sneaky, etc. and I’ve learned over the years that being afraid of these things create anxiety.  And that anxiety can destroy our ability to connect with other people. Yes I have a story about that! 🥴😄
I visited someone’s studio who was obviously afraid of me stealing something. I loved their work, but their suspicious demeanor and them trailing me around their studio made me very uncomfortable. I finally left as soon as I could.
People meeting us in our studio, seeing our work in person, engaging with us, learning more about our process, our inspiration, our techniques, our story, is the single most powerful way for us to gain an audience.
I don’t want to dismiss your fears as being totally unnecessary, but the chances of someone stealing something major from you are pretty slim.
And your fear of having something stolen will create a barrier between you and the very people you want to connect with.
So for your sake, try to set your fears aside.
Consider some of the suggestions about securing your portfolio so no one can just simply walk off with it.
If you can, it’s always nice to have an assistant available, someone who can take care of processing sales, wrapping and packaging, someone who can keep an eye out and help allay your fears.

Yes, they wrote back to let me know they found this helpful. Yay! In fact, it’s not something that’s been an issue in their own art career. Just something that popped up and got stuck in their head. And they already had a helper lined up, and came up with a display plan that worked for them.

And of course, after talking to them, I began to worry about MY work being stolen! (Fears are an easily-transmissible disease with no vaccine….) (Okay, there IS a vaccine: Embrace it, tell it we know it’s doing its job–keeping us safe–and say “Thank you!” Then tell it to scram until it’s time for dinner….)

Next article: How to prevent visitors from throwing cake at our artwork. (JUST KIDDING!!! I have no idea how to stop people from doing that. Apparently, neither does the Louvre….)

How have YOU secured your valuables, and still provided a comfortable place for visitors to engage with you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

ANOTHER QUORA ANSWER on Creativity

Creativity is part of our heritage. Almost everyone has it. It’s just that our definition of creative work has grown more narrow.

When most people talk about “real art”, they’re usually caught up in the work of white European male artists from the last 150 years.

What if our definition of creative work were broader, richer, deeper?

I now define it as any work that we care deeply about, that we pursue with all our heart, because it makes us happy, lifts our spirit, encourages us to be a better person.

And when we share it with the world in any way, it makes someone else happy. And makes the world a better place.

I now see people who take up work that heals, teaches, repairs, restores, caretakes, feeds, nourishes, work that brings joy, laughter, care, forgiveness, and understanding to our world, to be creative people. Whether it’s our professional, vocation, or avocation, whether we earn a living from it or not, if we, and others, and the world are better for it, that’s creative work.

We humans, and our creative work, don’t fit into tidy little boxes. We have a whole universe to fill!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #12: How to Get People OUT of Your Booth

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth or open studio, so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

There are many kinds of visitors who will come to our open studios. the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to, nor should you, boot every non-customer out of your studio! Not every transaction is about money, and not every comment is meant as a slam, not by a long shot. Revisit “the stupid question”, for example.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. (I wrote this before the TV series, “What We Do In The Shadows”!) If they aren’t driving other customers out of your studio, they are practically driving you out of your studio.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.

To save myself some time this morning, I’ll just point you to a wealth of information on this topic that I’ve written about for years: How to get people OUT of your booth

Short story: Not everyone is your customer.

That’s okay, of course. Most open studios and other events are as much about creating connections as they are about sales. Our open studio events are the most powerful, as we are on our home turf, in our sacred creative space. They get to see who we are, and hopefully learn what our artwork is all about.

And for the same reasons, this is why we can’t let people s*** in our space, either.

But there will be people who may go beyond all boundaries, from slightly-aggressive to downright boring as all get-out. The people who know, deep down, that we are a captive audience.

I get as annoyed as anyone when this happens. And yet, when I take a moment or two (or a thousand), I can get back to my happy place. Maybe they are lonely. Or lost (figuratively.) Or desperate for attention. Or need to one-up me because they are envious. Maybe they are wistful, wishing they could have a studio, a creative outlet, work that they put aside, a decision they regret but can’t fix.

These fears, feelings of superiority (or inadequacy), anger, sadness, can manifest in so many ways, from the Design Diva who will micromanage their custom order to within an inch of (your) life, to realizing your good “friend” isn’t really your friend at all.

Here’s one big tips to help you get through:

Use your words. In almost every situation, from visitors who demand a lot of your time at the expense of other visitors, to well-meaning friends who want to catch up, these three words can be a lifesaver: “After the show…” 

“Yes, after the show I’ll be able to offer classes, so add your email address to my sign-up form so I can let you know.”

“I’d love to grab coffee and catch up with you after the show, when I’m not so busy!”

“Yes, I’m happy to share the info of where to learn more about polymer clay, email me after the show.”

You are setting boundaries while still remaining available emotionally for people you care about (and those you don’t), people you want to be available for (or not), when you can be available.

Why does this work? Reasons here: Why Distraction Works

All of these suggestions and strategies echo words of wisdom my best-ever boss made oh, about 45 years ago:

“If you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.”

And yet also understand that we can all be annoying sometimes, and not everyone is trying to be annoying. (Er…I’m beginning to wonder if I’m more annoying than I realize…)

Last, a very dirty trick, but it can work:

If someone is being a total poo, and nothing I’ve tried has moved them on, I will encourage them to check out another artist’s studio. And it’s often an artist I don’t like. (Okay, I’ve done this maybe three times in my entire art career of 20 years. But I have to admit, it was very satisfying.) (I mean, I also send wonderful visitors to another artist who I DO like, too, if I think they’ll enjoy that artist’s work.) For all you difficult artists, be warned! (JUST KIDDING!) (Not.)

I know I’ve linked to a slew of articles here today. But trust me, I can guarantee you have–or will–meet at least one of these people at any art event you host or attend. Knowing how to deal with it is  powerful protective armor.

And the better you manage it, the better your studio experience will be for everyone involved.

If you’d like most of those articles in one place, you can buy my ebook on Amazon. (Maybe I should do a book on open studios?)

I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

If you found this helpful, let me know! And if you know someone else who might find it useful, pass the link to this article to them. The best gift you can give a writer is to help them grow their audience.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #11: Demonstrating = Maker vs. Seller

The ‘mudding’ part of my scrimshaw technique that helps my artifacts look like real bone and ivory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When demonstrating your process, share what you want, not what you think you “have to”…

Short story: Demonstrating your process at an open studio can be a powerful incentive for visitors to come. But there’s a delicate balance between “maker” and “seller”, and that can create a disconnect with our audience. Backstory:

I’m a double-juried (in two media) craftsman member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, a well-established, well-respected organization that supports and markets the work of members in many ways: galleries, events, exhibitions, and its prestigious Annual Craftsmen’s Fair held in August every year. (I achieved tenure, so even though I now live a few thousand miles away, I still retain my membership.) I eventually volunteered to become a member of the Fair Committee, because I was so curious about what went on “behind the curtain” to produce these incredible 9-day long event.

One feature of our annual outdoor fair was demo booths. For a reduced rate, a juried craftsman got a super-sized booth (about 20’x30’, if I remember correctly) to not only display their wares, but to do demonstrations of their craft for the public. When I started, there were three such booths at each year’s fair.

And every year we had to beg people to sign up for them.

The reason was, sales at these booths were horrible. Even with the savings and prominent placement on the grounds, people knew they would struggle to make any money that year. It just wasn’t worth it to them.

I can’t remember why I decided it might be something to try, but boy, did I do my research. I checked in with past demonstrators, and asked if it were worthwhile. Almost everyone said, “Not that year, but my sales afterwards steadily climbed!” So, okay, consider it a loss-leader in the short-term, and investment in a bigger audience down the road. I could handle that.

But my superpower is gathering as much information as I can from every conceivable source. And so I also checked in with Bruce Baker, a jewelry-maker and gallery/gift shop owner who traveled across the country for years giving workshops on all things craft/art business related: Display, sales techniques, pricing, etc. (Bruce has retired this part of his biz and returned to jewelry-making full-time, but his CDs live on.) He lived relatively close, so I was able to attend many of his workshops, and even served with him on panel discussions and with traveling craft biz-building workshops for a year.

I called Bruce, and he graciously gave me the insights and advice I was looking for.

My first question was, why do sales tank at demos? He replied that demos tend to be “edu-tainment”: Free, educational and entertaining. And when it’s over, there goes the crowd, on to the next fun thing (music, raffles, food, etc.) So demo booths are unconsciously filed away under “fun to watch” and not “fun to shop”.

Add to that another unconscious element: When the “edu-tainer” artist sees people actively shopping, of course they stand up and move over to assist them. And the “magic” of demonstrating turns into, “Uh-oh, here comes the car salesman pitch!” and people scurry away. “There’s a disconnect,” he explained. “And once that ball is dropped, it’s hard to get back.” Hence, maybe crowds, but no sales.

He shared insights and gave suggestions. Like setting up my demo booth on the outer border of the big tent, so people didn’t have to “commit” to coming inside. “Don’t put it in the back of the booth, because then people have to make a conscious decision to enter a big, dark tent. Put it right there on the fairway!” I did, and it worked.

Second, he said I should NOT do sales. What??

“Not “no sales”. I mean you yourself should not do sales. Hire people to do that,” he said. “Keep that divide between the creative maker and the “car salesman”.” So I hired/bribed/cajoled a team of friends to help. (I lent them all CDs of Bruce’s selling techniques.)

But instead of telling them what I say about my work, I encouraged them to share what they love about my work. I felt it would come across as heart-felt and more authentic, and I was right about that, too!

And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments and enthusiasm were seen as an authentic validation of my work.

The proof of Bruce’s insights? At one point in the week, all my volunteers were at lunch at the same time. (Slow day.) Some people came in, I demo’ed, they watched. And when they started shopping, I walked over to them – and they nearly ran out of the booth! Lesson learned. (No, I’m not that scary in person. The actual dynamic had changed, just as Bruce had described.)

I made my highest sales ever that year, and the next (as I got to choose to demo again, if I wanted to, and I did.) In fact, from that year on, there was actual competition for those sales demo booths, and their number increased to five!

Because every other artisan saw what was happening, and wanted in on that, too.

But one of the biggest hurdles yet remained. And it took a friend’s insight to solve that problem:

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

This has been a “hurt place” for decades for me. My work has been copied for decades. (Although badly, I’m happy to say, though I’m ashamed to admit that.) Showing exactly what I do, and how I do it, felt too risky. The last thing I wanted to do was to unconsciously give others permission to copy. Most of my techniques are well-known and not original to me, though I always share the original artist as a source. What’s truly unique are the the ways I put them together, and the stories I tell through them.

Even more sobering: Think of how explaining a magic trick takes away the ‘magic’. Yeah, no.

Again, just the right person showed up.

I met Alisha Vincent when she was the show manager for the Buyers Market of American Craft (informally called “The Rosen Show” for the company’s owner, Wendy Rosen) and now known as the American Made Show.) She was/still is one of my super heroes in life, for her intelligence, her powers of observation, her wide range of experience in the world, her courage, and her sense of humor. She actually came to NH that year to work in my demo booth, and I am forever grateful she did, for countless reasons.

But especially for today, this one: When I expressed my fears, she was quick to find the solution. “Look at your neighbor,” she said, gesturing toward the guy who made beautiful Shaker boxes in the demo tent next to me. “He says his process has 29 steps.”

“He’s demonstrated nine of those steps.”

Oh. OH. OH!!!!!! Got it!

So when I say “show your process”, know that it means you get to choose how much you share.

Some people do share every single step. Hats off to them! They are secure in the knowledge that their skills have taken time and effort, and are not easily mastered. And that their own aesthetic and color choices are unique to them.

Me, not so much. I totally know this comes from my own insecurities and past experiences.

And so Alisha’s insight helped me pick interesting aspects to demo, but not a start-to-finish process. She helped me find my comfort level, so I could start there and go forward.

If you demonstrate, you get to decide what feels like “too much” vs. what feels like a challenge you can handle.

And as you get comfortable with it, take on the next challenge.

Remember, there are oodles of steps to help us move forward in our art biz.

The gift is, we get to choose what ones, how, how much, how often: A short how-to video playing on a laptop in your studio, or a live demo. (With a sales assistant!) A series of photos showing different stages in your production. Signs for all your tools, materials, equipment, on display, with their purpose and sources. (Again, how much you share is totally up to you.)

And if you offer classes, these little add-ons to your space will give them a powerful incentive to sign up.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me know! If you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)

If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

DEALING WITH FAILURE: Let’s Just Call It Something Else, Okay?

One of my best works of art, one of my favorites, that got a lot of media coverage at the time. And yet it didn’t sell until the year before we left California! Failure? Success? Who can say??
(Reposting this, my fourth blog post, from December 5, 2002. )
Dealing with Failure

A reader saw my story on Meryl Streep (we have so much in common!) She commented she has overcome her inner critic from time to time, had some success—and then encounters failure. In one case, resulting in a large financial loss. It stopped her dead in her tracks. How, she asks, do you buffer failure? Is it a sign that we’re heading down the wrong path?

Buffer failure? Embrace it!

No, I’m not crazy. I hate failure as much as the next person. It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t look good, and it usually doesn’t smell very good, either.

But I’ve learned to call it something else. It is now a “life learning experience.” Or “an experiment.” A “calculated risk.” Or “an opportunity/possibility that has been tried, and simply did not pan out.”

Whatever you called it, you met it, you got through it, and now you have a precious gift. You can decide what you learned from it. And what you learn from it is entirely up to you.

We hear all those stories about Edison trying and discarding 423 different materials before he found one that could successfully be used as a filament in his electric light bulbs. Supposedly, he would say, “I didn’t fail—I found 423 things that didn’t work!” In reality, I doubt he was that chipper at trial #218. I’m sure he had some choice words.

But the important thing to remember is, it wasn’t a failure. It was a process. He didn’t take each failure as a “sign” he should not continue. He took it as a challenge, an opportunity to explore new possibilities.

There’s a book I read awhile back, title escapes me. A collection of stories as told by assorted famous people, on their failures. Yep. Every single one of them had failed somewhere, along their road to success. You don’t take on risk without encountering failure at some point. Not one person achieved their dream by accepting failure. Every single one of them walked around it, climbed over it, punched through it, ignored it, learned from it or changed it into a victory.

Look, these people aren’t really smarter, more beautiful, more creative, more talented, more anything than you or me. They’re people. Real people. They’re just incredibly persistent. Their common denominator was once they knew what their heart’s desire was, they kept after it. Just like me and Meryl, talkin’ down that buzzy whiney voice and doin’ the work.

It’s not easy. And it doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. I’ve had to work at not giving up. And I’ve had to work at growing a new attitude about “failure.”

I don’t put it in terms at “what did I do wrong?” I think “What did I do well? And how could I do better? What did I learn? And do I have to do that same thing again to learn that particular lesson? Or is it okay to move on to try something else?”

My first few small town craft shows were “failures.” It would have been so easy to get discouraged. Fortunately, I was committed to making what I loved, not making what would sell at a church craft fair. I realized my work was not the bargain gift item one expects to find at such a show. Although, oddly, after every show, someone would call me and buy one of my very expensive pieces (around $125 at the time.) The lesson I learned was to find a better venue for my work.

I’m still recovering from a more recent, bigger “failure.” I tried a new summer wholesale show, traditionally more of a gift market. I not only did the show, I redid my booth—new floors, new walls, new lighting. I even took a larger booth space. I did the work—did two pre-show, advertising, updated my catalog, sent out my newsletter to customers and hot prospects, created new products. I set up my booth, put on my professional artist clothes, and went to work.

I bombed.

I wrote enough new orders to cover some of my expenses, but not the major improvements I’d made. And many of those new accounts, because the economy still sagged, ended up modifying their orders downwards as the months went by.

Did I fail? To be honest, it sure felt like it at the time!

A fellow exhibitor at the show asked me how I did, and I started to list all the pluses from the show. He cut me short and said, “Why don’t you just be honest and admit it sucked?!” I didn’t know what to say. Was I being a Pollyanna?

To help me put it in perspective, another friend in the biz said, “Is money the only measure of your success?”

Wow. I had to think about that. Yes, I eventually want to be financially successful with my art and business, and I consistently act and plan accordingly. But I also evaluate my progress by other standards. Money is an important measure, but not the only one.

I took a reasonable risk—to introduce my work to a new audience and to try a new booth design/layout.

What did I do well? The pre-show preparations were excellent, the booth was great. The improvements were pricey but they are a long-term investment in my business.

Everyone loved the work, so I know it’s viable. Most of my press kits were taken from the media room—always a good sign! I picked up a dozen new accounts. I made valuable connections, including an editor at a highly respected trade magazine who was fascinated by my work. The new director of an arts foundation, referred to me by a mutual friend, found me, lined me up for a show and has proven to be a source of valuable experience and information about my targeted market. My booth neighbor was curating her first show at the museum where she works, and invited me to exhibit in their first high-end craft show. A favor for a friend at the show with equipment problems netted me his lovely glasswork in return. My daughter, assisting me for the first time, bought a faux-leopard skin cowboy hat from another exhibitor—oh my!), met the charming teenage sons of another exhibitor, and was in seventh heaven.

We had a great time.

And how could I do better? I honestly can’t think of a single thing I could have done better.

What was under my control, and what was not?

Sad to say, the economy is not under my control.

In hindsight, would I have skipped the show? Well, I’m not sure. I think I would have done it, and perhaps triaged the booth improvements. But maybe not. Doing the show forced me to make those improvements, and though it would have been nice to recoup their expense with that show, I know I eventually will.

What did I learn? I learned that something awful can happen, and it was okay. I survived. No one got hurt, no one died.

I’ve weathered my first truly bad show, and lived to tell the tale. I didn’t accept it as a sign my dream was unattainable. I kept the good stuff, I examined the bad stuff, then tossed it. Dug in and got back to work. In August, I did another show, made some slight adjustments to my business model (took more custom orders, learned a new technique for closing high-end sales) and did my best retail show ever.

Buffer failure? No. You don’t get anywhere with that approach. Sometimes the manure life deals you is fertilizer for your garden to come.

*Update for today: I am so glad I found this article today! I’ve been feeling like a failure lately, in so many ways. Which just goes to show you, it will always, always be with us.

But we get to decide, whether we give in, give up, go away…

Or can we choose to simply keep trying.

Because I still love what I do, even though I make even less money at it than I did all those years ago.

Because I can still do it.

Because I want to keep making art. Because I have to do the work of my heart.

It’s who I am. And who I want to be in the world.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #10: Discounts: Yes or No?

Everybody loves a bargain, right?

That’s why we artists buy our supply in bulk, so we get those volume discounts. And back in the recession of 2008, all kinds of businesses, desperate for income, offered discounts to their customers.

Should artists offer discounts??

It depends. And mostly it depends on how, when, and why you offer them.

Me? The one and only time I ever offered a discount (during that same recession), it backfired. It turns out the customer asked for one, “just because” they’d read that Macy’s was offering discounts. And it turns out they just “threw it out there”, and would have bought the artwork at full price. IF only I hadn’t been feeling desperate and said, “Sure!” Oy vey.

If you believe that discounts work for you, no argument here. Just some clarity about the downside, and suggestions for actions that might work better.

  1. Is cheaper always better? If it’s really “all about the price”, then trust me, your potential customer can find something similar for less. And when they do, they won’t be back. The measure of our work is how well-made it is, how much skill goes into it, and how unique it is. The story behind it, YOUR story, your personal vision. If it’s something anyone can make, there’s someone who does/will, and then it really is all about the price.  And if you say it’s worth $100, but you’re willing to take $80, then what is it really worth?? Know the value of the work you do.
  2. Can you afford to offer a discount?  When we figure our actual cost in creating a work of art, we think about the cost-of-goods-sold: Our materials, our tools, etc. Most artists also factor in time, which makes sense. Except maybe it takes YOU ten hours to paint that piece, and another artist can do it in two hours. And if that other artist has a long history of followers and sales, maybe they have repeat customers who have truly earned a reward now and then. (More suggestions about this below.) And if they support themselves with their work, have to pay for a studio space, the cost of participating in events, exhibitions, shows, etc. the prices will of course be higher. Take into account the amount of money from sales that you’ll pay income taxes on, too.
  3. Are your prices already too low? When I first set prices for my work, I wasn’t in any galleries or stores. My prices actually reflected my wholesale price. Once I was represented by galleries, I realized that I would get only 50%-60% of my retail price. So my prices went up. Because….
  4. Are you respecting your galleries? Galleries are a powerful way to get our work in front of potential customers who can’t come to our studios.  This means we have to respect galleries for what they do for us. If we discount prices in our studio, and a gallery finds out, that could be the end of your relationship with them. Galleries, on the other hand, and with your permission, could offer their faithful customers a discount. Some even offer to take it out of their own commission. Make sure you let them know if this is acceptable, and definitely let them know if it isn’t! Even they do take it out of their profit. Again, what’s the message here? “We’re so desperate to sell this artist’s work, we’ll cut our losses!” Ouch.
  5. Will a discount help me close the sale? Maybe. Tempting, right? Let’s talk about WHO gets a discount first. I would advise not offering one to a new customer. First, it’s not fair to your loyal customers, especially those who have collected your work for years. And yes, they might find out! I’ve found that people who get a bargain love to brag about it. And with social media marketing so popular now, your loyal customer might very well come across that post. The trust and integrity we’ve worked so hard to build is gone in an instant. If anyone deserves a discount, it’s our repeat customers!
  6. Do discounts work? I believe they can help us make small gains in sales when we are starting out, when all our customers are new. But it kinda goes against what our work stands for: Handmade, artisan-made, implies our work reflects skill, quality, and integrity (ours)–not something you can find at a dollar store, where items are mass-produced, often in countries that don’t pay makers well, and are discounted once the shelves have to be cleared.. Discounts can work against our “brand” as someone who creates a unique body of work.
  7. But I believe discounts work! Okay. But BE PREPARED. First, before you offer a discount, check with them what they’re looking for. My first (and last) discount, I offered 25%. (I was desperate.) Turns out they were hoping for 10%. Whoops. Second, factor discounts into your pricing. Always make sure you will still make a profit, even with a discount offer. It’s like “free shipping”. It feels less expensive, but you actually factored the shipping cost into your price, right?
  8. But what about loyal, repeat customers? Two thoughts on that: First, I’ve learned the hard way that even a stated “one-time discount” offer registers as “forever” to our customers. “But last year you gave me a 10% discount!” “Your ad said 25% off!” (Yep, that was 6 months ago…) Instead/second, offer another incentive: If you have prints or cards featuring your work, offer those instead. Or offer smaller work to the purchase that can be added with a discount. (Smaller means a smaller amount of money ceded, or it could be a one-off you are ready to pass on to a worthy person anyway.) Or a coupon for a manageable amount to use on their next purchase. (Again, even a “one-time” coupon will register as “forever.” It’s just a human thing…) Offer a one-off, stand-alone workm a direction you experimented with, but decided not to pursue. For one new collector, I offered to come to their home and talk about the piece for a small gathering of their friends. (It closed the deal, but they didn’t take me up on it.) I have a fellow artist who borrowed my car to deliver larger works to their customers. (Only twice, I have a boxy car, and they came to my rescue several times in difficult situations at my old studio. I’m glad to repay their kindness by helping them offer an incentive to a customer!)
  9. Is it really about the price? It’s common to assume that when a potential customer is hesitant about purchasing our work, it’s about the price. That’s when some of us jump to a conclusion, and offer a discount. But over the years, I’ve found that isn’t so. If someone is obviously interested in an item, I’ve shared the story, I’ve answered there questions, and they’re still hesitant, I’ve learned to as this simple question: What’s holding you back?  Turns out it’s something totally different: “Will it go with the new rug in my living room?” “Can I fit it in my car?” “I want it, but my budget is short this month–will they accept a layaway?” Easy solutions to address!
  10. How a challenge can work even better than a discount. When someone asks if you can discount a work of art, try this highly effective counteroffer: “No, but if….”

Examples: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This work represents a lot of time, skill, and care. It’s a high-quality piece that will bring you joy for a lifetime, and no one else does anything quite like I do. But if you purchase it today, I’ll give you a free copy of a magazine that did an article on me and this very piece!”

No, I don’t discount my work. But if you decide to take it today, I’ll be happy to give a free artist presentation to your coworkers/friends and family/favorite club/guild/association.”

No, this is one of my best pieces, and it’s fairly-priced. But if you take it home today, I’ll hold your credit card information for a week while you decide. If you return it within a week, no charge. And if you don’t return it, I’ll process that charge on (date).” The woman I offered this to? I wrapped it up, gave her all the postcards, story cards, etc. I include with a sale, and gave her the bag. And as she left, she whispered, “I don’t think this is coming back!” It didn’t. (I still waited a week, though!)

For a gallery/store: “No, my prices accurately reflect the value of my work, in time and materials. But if you place your order today, I’ll rearrange my shipping schedule to accomodate your upcoming gallery event.”

The last reason I rarely offer discounts (and usually only on older pieces that have ‘aged out’ of my collection)? Because I felt like I wasn’t respecting my own artwork. If I can’t respect what I do, why do I think others should?

Do you discount your work? How? When? And for whom? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear your strategy!

If you found this article helpful, let me know! And share it with others you think would find it useful, too.

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #9: Keep Hope in Your Heart!

Bear has a powerful story for you today!

It takes time to build a following, especially with your first open studio event. Be patient. Persevere. And don’t give up so soon!

I’m trying not to bury the lede today, so let me get this right out there, now.

Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.

This powerful words came up in a conversation with Tenae Stewart a year or so ago. You can access more of Tenae Stewart‘s wisdom here.

In fact, even as I read her creation story, I realize this is just the person who can validate my message today:

It takes time to build a following.

Back in New Hampshire, I joined my first open studio tour. I already had an audience from doing the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, and both events with the same art organization. It covered all of New Hampshire (which is a pretty small state!) but I was sure it would be a great event.

The first year, I had ZERO visitors. None. Nada.

I was disheartened, but it only cost $95 to participate (no catalog like Sonoma County’s Art at the Source and Art Trails, which is the biggest cost for these events.)

I had a second tour in the fall, with another org. Same. Hmmm….what was I doing wrong??

The second year with the League tour, I had one visitor. A (very stoned) young man who just happened to be walking by and saw my open studio sign. He was delightful to talk with, we had a rich conversation, and I hope I encouraged him to follow his own creative path.

Did I quit? Nope. And here’s why I’m glad I didn’t:

Every year after that, with every open studio event (including a new tour, and a tour another artist and I started for our own city), my studio was packed. I eventually made as much income from two open studio tours and the League Fair, as I had doing 3 national wholesale and retail shows across the country. Which, btw, costs thousands of dollars to participate in, plus shipping my inventory, my booth, traveling to those events, and staying in hotels, etc.

When I look back, I understand why my first two years were slow. New Hampshire is a small state, but I was the only participant in the southwest section of the state. Once more artists in my area starting joining, my visitor numbers grew.

When people finally realized how interesting my stuidio was, they didn’t want to miss a chance to see it again, and again.

Even those first two “empty” years had value: They made me clean my studio!

I also learned why some people don’t come to our studio and gallery events:

  1. They look too “special”. I was talking to an editor of our (then) local newspaper one day. (We met as parents waiting on the playground for our elementary school kids to get out of school.) I started talking about an upcoming local gallery exhibit featuring my work, and he exclaimed, “You mean ANYONE can go to those events?? I thought only collectors could attend!” (I assured him we did not check IDs at the door. He attended (t)his very first gallery event and had a terrific time!)
  2. Promote only one event at a time. Urgency is a powerful motivator for people to visit our event.  My first mistake was sending out a postcard with three different art events I was in, trying to save money on postage. No one came to any of them. My editor for a magazine I was writing for at the time exclaimed, “No! Every musician knows you only promote ONE event at a time!” (He’s a musician!) He explains that people’s minds reason thusly: “Oh, this looks interesting! But I have to do X this weekend, so I’ll go to the next one.” The next event pops up, and they say, “Oh rats, I was gonna go for a bike ride this weekend. I’ll just go NEXT weekend.” And the last weekend goes by, and they go, “Rats, I forgot! Oh well, maybe next year.”
  3. My work is out-of-the-box, and it takes TIME for people to see who I am, and the value of what I do. I’ve never fit into boxes, not even “mixed media” (which actually means different kinds of PAINT in 2d work.) People new to my work are often confused, until I share that all my media are combined by the same STORY.
  4. You just don’t like open studios, and it shows. You got mad at the stupid question, you didn’t meet people where they are, you don’t really like having people in your studio.

Reasons why the cost of joining an open studio tour shouldn’t hold you back, especially for Art at the Source and Sonoma County Art Trails. (They’re pricey, but the catalogs are fabulous. I still have the one from our visit to California a year before we decided to move here in 2014.):

  1. Your entry fee is the cost of ONE quarter-page ad in a magazine that might hang around for a month, or even a week. That catalog is a year-round keeper. That’s quite the affordable advertising/marketing budget!
  2. Know that art events aren’t about making money TODAY. It breaks my heart when I encourage people to participate in such an event, and then they walk away because not many people came. Or they didn’t make any sales. Or they believe it’s not worth the time and effort.

We need to see open studio events as an important, powerful step in growing an audience for our work. Our studio, our sacred, creative space, is where people meet their art heroes: Us!

In our online culture today, we see “influencers” as the new normal. These are the folks who are famous, who want to be famous, who achieved fame through a confluence of factors, sometimes carefully calculated, sometimes random. They have hundreds, thousands, millions of followers.

And if we’re honest, we secretly hope we can be just like them.

It’s only when I dig deeper into my own yearnings of being famous, rich with the proceeds of my work, that I realize I don’t actually want that!

I want to be seen as someone who has a different view of their place in the world. Someone who shares their work, their experience, their insights, with honesty and integrity.

Someone who, as hard as it can feel sometimes, knows at heart that it’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

It’s easy to get lost in the ropey jungle of who is a “real” artist. It’s even worse when we get lost in the definition of who is a “successful artist”.

What is the measure of our success?

If an oil painting can sell for $10,000, am I a failure if I only make a couple hundred dollars with a necklace that took me almost the same amount of time to make, using handmade and expensive materials?  (No, it’s no one’s fault (certainly not mine!) that some art media are considered more valuable than others.)

If I get an invitation to join a new gallery run by someone who loves my work, but my sales are still modest, is that not worth very much? (Yes, it’s worth it. Just the words this new gallery owner shared with me: “People who don’t really know that much about art, don’t think your work is “real art”. But the people who do? They are totally intrigued and amazed by your work!” This made my year!)

If someone’s heart is lifted because my studio, and my engagement with them, and my encouragement inspires them to take up their creative work again, is there a price tag on that? (No. It’s priceless!)

If a customer with not so much money takes a decade to buy even a minor piece, was that work the wait? (Yes! It means my work matters to them, enough that they stay determined to own a piece someday.)

If only a few people come to our event, that’s still a start.

If they signed up for your email alerts, that means they want to come back.

If they want to come back, they may bring a friend with them next time.

If they come back again, they really enjoy your studio, your art, and YOU.

If they keep coming back, they will either buy a piece eventually, or buy a piece for a friend who will love it. And maybe both of them will come back to buy more.

Some of our fans will share their experience on social media. This is the most important “advertising” of all. Because anyone can buy an ad. But we can’t buy praise and enthusiasm. Testimonials, online reviews like Yelp, etc. reflect not just our artistic skills, but also our connectivity with our clients, visitors, buyers, etc.

One artist in last year’s open studio tour was reluctant to try again. I really, really wish I’d reached out to them this year. There were work-arounds to their issues that could have been solved. Perhaps simply having their own event could have resolved some of their issues, too. Oh well. Maybe next year.

But here’s my biggest, best reasons I will continue to do open studios, even if I never make another dime from them:

My visitors are a powerful, in-person, in the moment reminder of how fortunate I am. 

I have a lovely space to make my work. I am very fortunate!

I have learned so much from making my work, and sharing it with the world, regardless of how much I actually make from it. I’m a better person for it.

I love what I do, from writing stuff like this for you today (and getting clear in my own head!), to making thank-you pearl earrings for the people who work at homeless shelters and those who rescue wild birds and opossums. Do I make money doing this? Nope. Not a cent. (And when I once whined about how nobody ever thanks me for doing this, my wise daughter who works in a similar “care” field said, “Mama, trust me on this. They ARE grateful, grateful that you see what they do, how hard it is, and they are glad you ‘see’ them. You don’t need a thank-you.” Her point was, the more overloaded and overwhelmed they are with their work, the less bandwidth they have to even write a thank-you note. Lesson learned!)

So approach your open studio event with an open heart, and no expectation of “instant sucess”.

Embrace what it brings you, no matter how small. Keep notes on the insights, the comments that lift your heart, the interactions that were gratifying and powerful.

Know that even sharing your space with a visitor can make a huge difference in their life, even if we can never know for sure.

And consider expanding your own unique version of “success” in life.

HOLY COW!! I randomly opened up an old RadioUserland post the other day, and found these two articles! I’d totally forgotten about them… More insights, more encouragement for YOU (and me today.) Dealing With Failure and Be Careful What You Wish For!

If you’d like to read more about this line of thinking, check here: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/category/what-is-the-measure-of-your-success/

If you enjoyed this article, or have questions or comments, let me know!

And if you know someone who needs a little encouragement in life, send this to them!

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #8: How Not to Write an Artist Statement

(Disclaimer: You may not agree with my take on this subject. No worries, do what works for you! But do consider this approach if you want your artist statement to stand out from the crowd.)

I’ve written a lot about artist statements. A LOT.

This is one of my favorites.

OK, like a parent asked to choose their favorite child, I love ’em all! They all have a nugget of truth. But this one combines my frustration with most artists’s statements, the lack of creativity, the banality, the focus on materials and process over our story, yadda yadda yadda.

I know this is a huge homework assignment. But at least one of these articles could get you to reconsider taking on the “traditional” artist statement.

And again, check out ArtyBollocks.com for starters. It will prove that “arty” “pretentious” “obscure” artist statements are ridiculous, I hope. Here’s another fun site if your creative work takes a different form: The New Age Bullshit Generator

And this artist’s response to generic artist statements is good, too. Thanks and a hat tip to Beth Secor!

You may be tempted to use a template to create an artist statement. It may feel safe, and easy. And if it gets you started, okay then. But as a friend told me years ago, “You cannot fill in the blanks with passion.” (Wherever you are in the world, thank you Nicci Walker!)

You may be tempted to use hoity-toity words and phrases, (aka “artspeak”) like other famous artists. But this article on the down side of IAE (International Art English) is terrific at uncovering the very (pretentious) aspects that could alienate our potential audience. (My hat’s off to you, too, Carol Ober!)

Avoid anything that reeks of complacency:

“I love color”.  Um….who doesn’t love color??

“I am drawn to light and color”. Um…even worse? How can anyone capture an image of anything without light? (More on this to follow….)

“I am inspired by nature…” Um. So is every single landscape painter ever. And probably 95% of the rest of the world.

“I explore form and composition…”  Just stop right there. Every painting has forms, shapes, lines in it.

I could go on, but it drives me nuts. These are just a few sentences that most artists believe makes them “unique”. But they’re just the opposite. They sound like every other artist on the planet. Case in point: I could say this about my art, and I’m willing to bet that my work looks nothing like yours.

When artists list the “famous artists” they’ve studied with, I want to pull my hair. All it means is, you had enough money to pay their fees. I get that really popular famous artists can be very selective about who gets into their classes. But I also know that a “famous artist” in one part of the world may be totally unknown in another part. When I moved to California in 2014, I knew only two artists in Sonoma County. Actually, in all of California. And neither of them are painters. (Okay, Jane Garabaldi and Marge Margulies, and only because we were all in the same gallery in New England.) (And yes, they are both stellar at their work!)

An artist statement is not the place to brag about your art degrees, your reputation, to explain your how-to process in-depth.

It’s about sharing something about you, and your work, that will make your visitors want to go back and look at your artwork again.

JoAnne Russo, a highly-acclaimed Vermont basketmaker, was the first person to share this insight with me. I was already doing that, but this made it clear why we cannot afford to muck up this important piece of paper. Because even if our work doesn’t blow them away, our artist statement can.

Here’s my best example: At an art exhibit years ago, I saw what I thought was an awful work of art. Crumpled foil, squished fabric. WTF?? I thought.

Then I read their artist statement, and I almost cried.

It was made by a woman who had been a talented painter for most of her life. Now, in her final years, she had lost her sight and could no longer paint.

But in her heart, she still wanted to “make”. She still wanted to share the things that fascinated her. She was still an artist, even though vast changes had to be made in how she created it.

So she worked with interesting bits of materials with great texture, arranging them in ways that literally and figuratively “felt right”, and urged people to touch them.

OMG. OMG. She wanted to still have her voice in the world. And even going blind was not going to stop her. 

Yes. I went back and looked at her work again.

Instead of seeing someone who had no idea how to make “real art”, I saw someone with so much courage, so strong in their heart, that even losing their superpower–a great painter–shewhat believed she still had something to share with the world.

My next example was an artist statement I wrote for a woodworker the year before we moved to California. Here’s my rant about that experience. 

The part I wrote that they didn’t value?

Like people, trees respond to what happens to hem. What they live through creates their character. Sunlight and soil, ice and wind…all these things leave their unique mark on the inside. I work wood’s diverse color, grain, and texture, patiently and meticulously, to real the “inside story”.  And like people, the story hidden beneath the bark is beautiful, unique, and forever astonishing.

In fact, just read that article if you’re short on time and don’t have the bandwidth right now to go deeper. (And to be fair, that person did include that part in their statement. I didn’t know until a few years later, when their work was featured in a magazine.

Yes, your process is important. But keep it simple.

Yes, your education helped you get to where you are today. I get it.

Yes, art degrees mean you were serious about your work from an early age. Good on you! But not all of us had that privilege or option.

The most powerful story we can tell about our work is why it matters. To US.

It could have been a life-long passion, or it could have been a treasure we buried out of perceived necessity. Until we realized how vital it was to our soul.

Be willing to go deep, to share who you really are, and how your art helped you discover what really matters to you.

Trust me. And trust yourself: If you’re doing it right, they will want to see more of your artwork, your studio, and you.

Questions? Comments? Bring ’em on! I’ll do my best to answer them.

(No snark, please. Feel free to gritch on your own platform, okay?)

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #7 Fresh Take On Refreshment Takers

In my previous article, I shared why I don’t serve food or drinks anymore at my open studio events. Now I’ll share a story about a visitor who seemed to only show up for the food.

This person is…well, a little different from most of my studio visitors. They always arrive early, are very quiet, and spend a lot of time looking at my work. When I engage them in conversation, they talk in a very loud voice. I would use the term “on the spectrum”, except a spectrum is a true range of all colors, attributes, etc. So technically, we’re all on the sprectrum somewhere. (Thanks to commedian Matt Ruby for this wonderful insight!)

They’ve attended every art event involving open studios I’ve been in, in several different locations, all walkable.

And almost everyone on all the open studio events I’ve been on, is very familiar with them. The general impression is, this person only shows up to take advantage of the free food and drinks.

And yet they always show up at my events, too, knowing there won’t be the “free lunch” thing. They sign up for my emails and give their snail mail address for catalogs, every single time, too.

Obviously, they don’t want to be left out.

Once, out of curiosity, I asked them what their creative work was.

I got the usual reply: “Oh, I’m not creative.”

That’s a conversation-opener for me. Because all humans have a creative gene, and there are many ways to be creative, if we lift those very narrow boundaries about who is-or-isn’t-a-real-artist.

We talked a little more. (It wasn’t busy, I had time to explore who this person really is.) They said they’d taken an art class, they’d made a painting, which they loved, and they wanted to be an artist, too. I told her I’d love to see their piece, and to bring it the next time they came to my open studio.

To my surprise, a few months later, they did!

They were a little nervous about showing it to me. If I had to make up a story about that, it would be that they know they are ‘different’, they know people aren’t eager to engage with them, and they might be worried I would go into full art critic mode. But I didn’t.

Of course it was amateur-ish, something I would have done in high school. (I loved to doodle and draw, (still do!) but realistic drawing and painting are not my thing.) But it wasn’t horrible, either. It was simply someone’s first attempt at making art, no better and no worse than my first attempt to paint, or yours.

I could also tell it was very dear to them.

I praised the aspects that drew my attention, and encouraged them to pursue this. I suggested they get an inexpensive frame for it. “You can hang it on a wall and see it every day,” I said. “And I hope it inspires you to keep making stuff. We all get better when we keep making, that’s how we all get better at it.” If art classes were inconvenient or too expensive, they could also start by getting some instructive books from the library. Or simply start sketching what they see every day: Trees. Flowers. Birds. People. Pets. Finding what catches their eye, and play with it.

They left with a very happy heart.

The next time they came up in conversation with my fellow open studio group, when it got to the part where “it’s all about the food”, I shared my experience. Yes, obviously they really enjoy the food!

But they are also yearning to do what those of us with studios do, with our own hunger: To make something we love. To make something so often, so regularly, that we get good at it. And when we’re ready, to find a way to share it with others.

That’s what they want, too. And that’s why they show up at all our open studios:

We are their art heroes.

It’s human to make assumptions about people. It’s normal to be uneasy about someone whose behaviors aren’t “normal”. It’s good to be cautious when engaging with someone whose problems/issues seem unusual, and to disengage with someone whose behavior is threatening. Trust your instincts.

And yet, a previous studio visitor’s ramped-up emotions taught me a valuable lesson in what it is to be human. How even a teensy bit of compassion, of being willing to go a little deeper, can create, at the very least, a tiny miracle (which is often just a “change in perception”, as a good friend once told me) can help us make the world a (slightly) better place for everyone.

I haven’t seen the hungry visitor since the pandemic shutdowns. I hope they are okay.

I hope they were encouraged by our conversation. I hope they continue to take a class or two (if they can afford it), or get those library how-to book loaners if they can’t.

I hope they know that regardless of their talent (or lack of it), their skills (same), it’s okay to pursue what they love, what they admire in other artists, and simply do it.

I hope they come back some day.

Because I hope with all my heart that they’re still trying, yearning, hoping to be a “real artist”…

Just like all their art heroes they visit.

Not all of our visitors are art collectors. Not all of our visitors can afford our work, even if they love it. And there are many different reasons our visitors are attracted to our studio in the first place. For many, like this person, there’s a yearning in them they don’t understand, that they don’t believe is worth pursuing, because they aren’t good enough.

Consciously or unconsciously, they come to us for hope.

For some reason, I thought of two articles I wrote years ago as I wrote this one. I have no idea why, except one of them is called Hungry Art (as this person was ‘hungry’ for seeing art, and hopefully making their own.) And the other one popped up as I searched for that one (thank you, Karen Cooper!) as someone I don’t even know found one of my articles helpful when they hit a slippery spot. That article is called Sipping From the Fire Hose. So there we have the cure for hunger, and the power of drinks.

And the powerful reminder that when we share our art, our words, our creativity with the world, it will meet someone who needs to hear it, right where they are, that day.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #3: How NOT To Annoy Visitors

(This article includes elements of a post in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series, “Leave Me Alone!”) (Actually, read “LEAVE ME ALONE” first, I’d forgotten this incident. But it fully explains all my frustrations about how we’re “supposed” to interact with visitors and potential customers.)

I know plenty of talented, experienced, act-like-adults artists who have strong opinions on how we should greet visitors to our studio, and how to talk with them.

Frankly, because of my own personal experience as a shopper/browser/highly-evolved hunter-gatherer, at stores, at fairs, at open studios, their suggestions make me want to scream. (But maybe not you, so go with what works for you, okay? The people who made them said it worked for them, so it may resonate with you as well.)

When I enter a store, especially one I’ve never been in before, the last question I want to hear 2 seconds after entering is, “May I help you?” Or, “Are you looking for something special today?”

I’m sure you hear this all the time, too. And what do you say in response? I’m betting it’s some version of, “No thanks, just looking.”

But even other questions can be annoying, or perplexing. One suggestion was, “Have you seen some good art today?”

Sounds okay, right?

Me? When someone has been interested in my work enough to come to MY studio, why on earth would I get them started talking about someone ELSE’S studio??

I asked the person about this and they said it worked for them. So if it appeals to you, go with it.

But here’s the thing. Now imagine that you’re at a show with hundreds of other exhibitors, or part of an open studio tour with the same. And every time you enter someone’s studio, they ask something similar. Even something as neutral as “How’s your day going?” gets frustrating after you’ve heard it twelve times in a day. (I hear silent screaming. Let me give you a minute. Okay!)

Other suggestions are similar, but all of them are, in one word, a distraction. Making idle chit-chat is not why they came to see us. (YES, we need to ask them where they’re from, or how they heard about us, and especially if they’d like to sign up for our newsletter/event notifications. But wait until you have a stronger connection with them first. Wait until they’ve explored a bit first. Why? Keep reading!)

When people enter a new space–a store, a show booth, a studio–they need a few seconds to land. They look in (at a booth) or around (in a store or studio) and figure out if it’s where they want to be. Give them those few seconds, before you pelt them with questions. (See examples below)

Bruce framed this approach as eliminating pressure. Visitors, customers, shoppers, don’t like pressure. Pressure can break every connection that is formed in those precious few seconds.

If we ask them that question about other people’s studios, about how their day is going, where they’re from, etc. please know that probably every other artist on the tour has asked them something similar.

If we ask them if they are looking for something in particular, or if they need help, or if they have any questions (they just got here!!), even why they chose to come to your studio, remember: These are either pointless questions, or coming too soon. They will say, “No thank you, just looking.”

If you were a store, they would look, and leave.

Instead, greet/welcome them. Introduce yourself and your work in one or two sententences. “Hi, I’m Luann, welcome! My work is inspired by prehistoric cave art. I make all my own artifacts that look like ivory, bone, shell, and stone.” Make a list of what you’d like to say, practice it so it feels second-nature, and keep it short.

I add, “It’s okay to touch things, pick them up, open drawers. Make yourself at home….”

Here comes the magical part. In his seminars, Bruce says there is one little word that turns everything around:

“….and if you have any questions, just let me know.”

If. IF. IF.

A powerful little word that turns that whole dynamic around.

It allows that maybe they won’t have questions, and that’s okay. It allows them to determine how they’re going to spend their time in our space. Signage can give them information that lets them go deeper into the “how” and the “why” behind our work. (More on signage coming up next!)

It removes the pressue.

They will say, “Thank you!” With enthusiasm. And they will dig in. (In a good way.)

Now, some visitors are out-going, and they pepper you with questions. Great!

Some visitors just want to look around first. Great! In fact, I use lots of signs in my studio, so people who aren’t ready, aren’t eager to talk with me, can still get answers to their questions. And if there’s someone asking me questions, everyone else will listen to my responses.

People are going to ask a lot of questions, and the simplest ones are about the “how”, the “where”, and the “what”. Be prepared! What is your process? What are your materials? Where do you get them? Where did you learn how to do this? and so on.

Over time, you’ll see a pattern of common questions. For me, it’s “What are these made of??” I don’t mind answering the same questions over and over, but some artists do. If that’s you, write up a succinct description of your process and inspiration, print them out, and frame them for visitors to read. (I use these frames, which are less than $4 each, but you can find them in smaller quantities, or split the pack with other artists if you don’t need 6 or 12.)

Even more powerful is sharing your creation story, the moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, and say. Here’s an article about how to find your creation story, and here, and why they matter.

You assignment is to do some deep thinking about you and your artwork. Then come up with a couple sentences to introduce yourself and your work.

Be ready for all the questions you’ll get, and direct people to your signage if you’re out of steam or simply engaged with another visitor in the moment.

The next article is about what people will do when they are ready for you to talk to them. And the danger of misinterpreting their intentions, which can blow you both out of the water.  Stay tuned!

Questions? Comments? Happy to hear ’em! Remember, if you have a question, someone else probably does, too. So you’re not only helping me do better, you’re helping someone else!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #2: Arrange Your Artwork

Not only can I combine my different media for display, I can also use the Papa/Mama/Babies technique!

 

Continuing with the series of how to create the best experience for our open studio visitors. ***With an update for Art at the Source artists who are hosting/hosted outside their studio.***

Arranging our artwork can be complicated. Those folks who do one medium are the lucky ones! 2D people need walls/bins/an easel display or two. Jewelers use cases, 3D people need pedestals/shelves, etc. Me? I do all three, so my display can feel overwhelming. But I also have a special advantage.

Let’s start with 2D artwork. I’ve seen experienced 2D mixed-media artists arrange their paintings by medium: All the oils in one spot, all the acrylics in another, all the watercolors, etc.

The issue I have with this is, I doubt our visitors/customers/potential customers wake up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll buy a watercolor today!” Now, for sure they might say, “I think I’m ready to buy Sally Baker’s watercolors today.” (Because Sally’s watercolors are unique and stunning.) And yes, some well-experienced collectors may only collect oils, or acrylics, etc. But most of our visitors just want to see our work, especially if they’ve never seen it in person, or are already familiar with it and want to see our work, our workspace, and/or US.

The second reason this may not work well is from my personal experience. A new-to-the-biz gallery owner I knew opened a gorgeous gallery in a major city near me. They had excellent artists, and the work was displayed beautifully except for one thing: It was all arranged, not just by medium, but by each artist’s work.

That meant all the work of one potter was in one spot. All the work of one jeweler was in another spot, and so on. In a store like Corrick’s in downtown Santa Rosa, this can work, for two reasons: First, people can wander from artist to artist easily, and sometimes two people’s work are combined in a way that makes us appreciate both. Pottery on handmade tables, for example.

In this gallery, the space was more linear in set-up. As I entered the store, I realized I was not there for pottery, nor jewelry that day. It was easy to dash by the first pottery display, then dash by the jewelry, etc. In short, it was way too easy to dismiss and eliminate what I was NOT shopping for that day.

So even if you do have a client who is only interested in oils, they may unconsciously totally ignore the acrilics wall–and miss the work that might truly speak to them.

So from the very beginning, (and because I work in 2D, 3D, jewelry, fiber, polymer clay) I’ve mixed and matched my work. There will be a wall hanging hung above a tall stand holding one of my shaman necklaces, with smaller works–smaller necklaces, earrings, etc. arranged around them. Every arrangement is unique, and visitors will look at them longer because it’s harder to simply eliminate them easily.

***Update for Art at the Source artists. This tour allows artists without studios, or studios that aren’t easily open to the public, to join a host artist at that artist’s studio or place. So obviously, mixing it up may not work for anybody, let alone everybody!

But even here is an interesting opportunity for them. What if…

Every artist contributes one piece to a single display. Instead of a visitor thinking, “Nope, not interested in glass today!” or “I only want to visit X’s space”, there could be an integrated display that demonstrates how these cordinated examples of several artist’s work would look in a home. “Oh, look how wonderful that glass tray looks with that painting!” Or “I never thought of grouping my art collection like that!”

Years ago, I shared my studio space with a friend who did a beautiful portrait of my daughter wearing one of my big shaman necklaces. I think she made it after our open studio collaboration. But if I were in that same place now, I could display that portrait with a display of that necklace, together. I’m pretty sure everyone would see both of those works of art with more appreciation, not only of my friend’s skill, but of my own work as well.***

Another technique that works well, especially for works in one medium, is called “Papa, Mama, Babies”. This is where your biggest, priciest piece (the Papa) is the center of the display, one item. It will command attention from anywhere in the room! Around it (whether on a wall, a tabletop, a case) are several slightly smaller, slightly less expensive pieces (the Mamas). Last are a bigger assortment of very small, very affordable pieces–the Babies.

Your longtop or experienced collectors might go for the Papa, of course. Or it may take years to sell, if it’s out of most people’s price range. But it’s doing its job! It shows what you are capable of, your “go big” moment. The Mamas will attract people with a smaller budget, perhaps to fill in for a collection of your work they already have at home.

The Babies? They are for your potential new customers, or people on a budget, people who are new to buying art, and people who are avid collectors but have no more wall/tabletop space in their homes, either because they already have a lot of art, or they’ve downsized. (That’s me on both counts!) For some artists, this can also include a packaged set of cards with our artwork. (Package them in lots of 4, 5, or 6. Don’t let people get away with buying one card.) (In a nice way, of course!) Plus the more cards your visitors buy, the more likely they are to share them with friends. Who will also be introduced to your art.

Another approach is to prioritize you latest, newest body of work, especially if you are slowly or quickly moving away from the regular work, and exploring something new. An abrupt change in our work can disorient people who have followed us for years. (I have a story about that!) Introducing that change gradually can avoid the shock value of the new. (Not always necessary, of course, but the shock in my story link above could have been avoided.)

Another aspect of our work display…. the power of touch.

I’m fortunate in that my art media are durable and touchable. In fact, I encourage people to pick things up, open drawers, and try jewelry on in my studio. Touch is an important human feature. It’s our very nature to want to touch what is intriguing, beautiful, what speaks to us.

People love my fabric collection…
People love to touch and hold my artifacts. But there are ways to get around this if people can’t do this with YOUR medium, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, many artist work in media that can’t be touched: Paintings, photography, etc.  Or they are too fragile (delicate glass work) or valuable (expensive jewelry), etc.

If this is you, consider proving a little display of what CAN be touched, or examined more closely. Again, one of my favorite displays at Corrick’s art gallery is a little tray showing the tools and materials artist Rik Olson uses for his woodcut prints. It’s educational, and interesting. I’ve never been to his studio, but I hope he has a similar (or even bigger) interactive display there! And back to Sally Baker, she has several wonderful, enticing displays of the lovely salt shakers, dishes, and vases she uses as subjects in her work.

If you do fiber work, consider putting some samples of what you make or use: Strips of wool for rug-hooking, the yarn you’ve spun and braided yourself, a display of the wood you use from a “raw” stump, to slices, to a shaped piece, to a polished/burnished piece. Anything that can be safely handled or simply touched, and also shows the stages of your work process.

One more idea for display, which I got from checking out other artists’ websites: The work is arranged by subject matter: florals, still lifes, animals, portraits, landscapes. (This makes much more sense to me than by medium.) In my home, I set up my collection of 2D work by subject: New England in fall; horses; nature and wildlife; etc., and sometimes by color.

All of these suggestions are not written in stone, and of course, as artists, you should always use what works for YOU. (My ONLY deadfast rule is, no artwork on, or even near the floor. Nobody was to bend over to see your work, it could easily be accidentally kicked by a visitor’s foot, or even trip them, and it sends an unconscious message that you don’t value it yourself.)

But we should also remember that most of our visitors are open-minded and perhaps even a little impulsive about what speaks to them. Oils vs. acrylic, art vs. craft, earth clay vs. polymer clay may (unnecessarily) create divides among artists. But it rarely divides our customers.

Last, let’s talk how much cleaning we should do in our studios.

Mine is always a hot mess. But people love it! I’ve learned to clear enough of my workspaces so it’s not a) dangerous; b) frightening; c) taking up too much space.

But mostly, people love seeing my tools, my materials, my fabric collection, my drawers of artifacts waiting for their special placement in a new piece.

In fact, the biggest reason, IMHO, that new people visit our studios is that they’ve seen something that intrigues them in our work, online, in the preview exhibit, or in a gallery. They want to find out more, about us, our work, our process, even our space. That can also mean showing them a bit of our process (a work in progress, perhaps), a bit of our creative mess (my tools, equipment, extra display items are visible on a higher shelf), our materials (perhaps your paints, brushes, study pieces, etc. would be fun for visitors to see.)

We don’t have to look like a gallery! We just have to make our space look authentic.

When I mentored new artists last year for Art at the Source, each one had concerns about their space. Fortunately, I was able to actually visit their studios at the time. The person who worried her space was too small? That tiny space would encourage and inspire people who didn’t think they had the space for their own studio, perhaps inspire them to rethink their options.

To the person who needed to set up their display in their homes? I helped them remove the distractions (other people’s artwork, etc.), to make clear what was for sale and what wasn’t, and to reposition some furniture so people would avoid the deadends or crowded corners mentioned in my previous article, Make Your Studio Safe for Visitors.

The person who restaged her livelihood workspace for art display? I encouraged their to share a work-in-progress to share her process, and signage to encourage their visitors to “go deeper” because of their powerful story about their work. (More on signage coming soon!)

Our job as artists isn’t just about selling our work. When we share not just our artwork, but our studio, we encourage other people to take up the work of their heart, too. We set a wonderful example that will keep making the world a better place for all of us.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series! How to Talk With Visitors.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: #1 Make Your Space Safe For Visitors

(This article is adapted from my series GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD, #3 Alice’s Tiny Doors.  Also #2 Let Me In! I was going to add more….Okay, there are TONS of stuff about layout in that series, check it out! All the information that can apply to open studios AND show booths.)

Before I forget, an excellent book by Paco Underhill, WHY WE BUY: The Science of Shopping is a game-changer. Underhill actually watched people shopping, caught moments when people stopped, turned around, put an item down, you name it. And then they figured out WHY those people didn’t/wouldn’t make that purchase. It’s an easy read, it’s a quick read, and it’s worth its weight in gold. Grab a copy asap!

Back to open studio stuff. When setting up or adapting your work space for visitors, make sure it is a) safe; b) accessible; and c) accommodating. And by ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’, consider not only the obvious dangers, but what triggers the unconscious human behaviors that are meant to keep us safe, but may disrupt our visitors’ looking/shopping.

  1. Keep your floor safe for visitors.
    1. If you have rugs, check that there are no curled-up edges or corners people might trip on.
    2. Don’t let electrical cords trip people. If some have to cross a visitor’s path, check out covers for those cords. They still have a trip factor, but they’re easier to see, won’t pull down whatever the cord is attached to if someone DOES trip (as a trippy cord might), and flatter covers will obviously work better than ones that are high highly-“domed” or angled.
    3. Unplug any power equipment you use that could be dangerous for visitors: saws, sanders, buffers, etc. Most people wouldn’t dream of deliberately turning them on, but I learned my lesson after an absent-minded visitor turned on my Foredam buffer out of curiosity. (No one was hurt, thank goodness!) If you have tools, chemicals, etc. that are sharp/dangerous, but you are okay with people seeing them, just put them out of reach, especially if children are present.
    4. Watch for slippery places: Spilled drinks, grease, etc. Be ready to clean them up quickly if they occur.
    5. See #3.2 below about what can escape our notice if we’re not paying attention, or if a visitor is deeply absorbed with looking at our work.
  2. Do a safety check. Remember that lights get hot (although with new LED lighting, this is less of a danger nowadays.) Make sure any halogen lighting you use will not make any contact with fabrics, flammables, nor customers.
  3. Don’t put your artwork, or anything not important to your display, on the floor except that rug, for many reasons:
    1. What you put on the floor looks like you don’t treasure it.
    2. People’s feet stick out from their bodies. That’s why our kitchens have toe-kicks. Anything below waist-level might not ‘register’ in our brains, which is why we often trip or hit a table with splayed-legs. (I’m CONSTANTLY hitting my knees walking around our bed, because the footboard is too low to “register” in my unconscious brain, even though I walk around that bed EVERY SINGLE DAY.) And if people are deeply engaged with our work, they may not notice something that sticks out.
    3. People hate, hate, HATE bending over to look at something. And many people are at that age when even if we CAN squat down, we have to think really hard about getting back up.
  4. Be aware of tight spaces and dead-ends in your studio layout. This is really trickly, but once you watch people avoiding certain areas of your studio, it gets easier to catch. People unconsciously avoid areas they may feel ‘trapped’ in. They may avoid a dark section, again unconsciously. (This is why an unlit studio with dramatic lighting for your artwork is not a good idea.) Apparently this is a wonderful way for a gallery to showcase a painting that a customer is very interested in, but for general display, bad lighting and dark places will not serve your visitors.
  5. Beware the Butt Brush! Narrow spaces and aisles can create what Underhill refers to as “The Butt Brush”. This happens when aisles are too narrow and someone brushes someone else from behind as they attempt to pass buy. The reaction of the brushed person is profound and extreme–they immediately stop shopping. It is an especially powerful reaction in women. So by all means, if you want women to stop looking at your work and walk away, make sure they are getting brushed and bumped from behind as people scootch by. (I’ve experienced this myself and it is deeply instinctual.)
  6. How to avoid the “bull in the china shop” scenario. Avoid any display or setup in your space that could be unstable, fragile, easily knocked over, etc. If people touch a pair of earrings and the display stand falls over, it will freak them out. If they lean on a jewelry case and it rocks, it will freak them out. If a branch holding Christmas ornaments is sticking out and snags their shirt as they walk by, it freaks them out. Especially if it causes damage.
  7. Guide people subtly with your display layout, and use visual cues to move them through your space. Arrange your work so that one display leads to the next. Signage, dashes of color in a neutral display, lighting, work angled in interesting ways–all of these are so much more conducive to shopping than narrow paths and rigid layouts. (More on display in the next article!)
  8. Make it clear what’s for sale, and what isn’t. (You can check out GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product for more details.) Short story: This is harder to do in a studio, because it’s not like a booth or shop that’s dedicated to selling. It’s also our workspace, our creative space, our inspirational place. It holds our supplies, our tools, our work-in-progress, the bowls of fruit and china we stage to create a still life, etc. I make little signs out of pieces of matboard that say, “For Display Only” on any items that aren’t for sale. NFS for “Not For Sale” works, too. Not everything has to be priced, of course, but price tags do help letting visitors know what’s definitely for sale.

I’m gonna give you a break and stop here. We never get it all right the first time, but use every opportunity to take note of where trouble spots (and troubling spots) are as people move around your space.

Did I miss something? Send your questions, if you have one, someone else needs to know, too!

Stay tuned for my next article on setting up our art display! Arrange Your Art There are some pros and cons to the traditional thinking about this, you get to choose which one resonates with YOU.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: Introduction

When I stepped up to the plate with my art, I was an eager beaver student. I started with small local art fairs, but within a few years, I did the the wholesale fine craft show circuit (introducing my work to gallery owners, publications, etc.), then moved up to a large retail show (the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, arguably the oldest art show in the nation), and then a few high-end shows.

I did years of shows before I did open studio events! But doing shows taught me a lot: How to display my work, how to price my work, how to greet customers, how to process sales, etc.

Within a few years of doing open studio tours, I dropped all my big shows (except for the Craftsmen’s Fair) and focused on those in-person studio visitors.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this, too. This series will walk you through the basics, the fine points, what I’ve learned from other artists, what I’ve learned from seminars led by Bruce Baker, visitors, and loyal customers. (Yes, your customers can be fonts of wisdom, too!)

Now, most of us want to be “real artists”. What does that mean? Well, we need an art degree, a resume, a list of galleries that represent our work, a list of exhibitions we’ve participated in, a (e)mail list of customers, press releases and publications (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) that have featured our work. Oh, and the awards we’ve won, and prices that reflect the popularity of our work. And a successful open studio event is one where we had a ton of sales.

Right?

WRONG.

Everything about those assumptions is wrong.

You do not need an art degree to be a “real artist”. (I don’t have one.) You don’t need a resume. (I had one, but I don’t maintain it anymore.) I still have some galleries back on the East Coast that carry my work, and I’m in several here in Sonoma County. (I hope to find more, but that’s not my main goal for now.) I’ve won awards, but I don’t care so much about winning anymore. I’ve been featured in newspapers, magazines, books, etc., but I don’t pursue that so much, either. The common advice I see everywhere about how to greet and engage customers has never worked for me. And the money? It’s ranged from pretty good to pretty dismal, as 9/ll, the recession of 2008, moving to the West Coast, etc. etc. have all taken their toll.

Ask me if I care. (You’re right! The answer is “nope”.)

The single most important thing a “real artist” can do is:

Make the work of their heart.

Tell their story.

Share their art with the world.

Money is great! But the truth is, not very many people make a living from their artwork/creative work. Yes, sometimes they’re not ‘doing it right’, but this is also a time in history where people in my age group (YES, BOOMERS!) are the biggest demographic in our country. (We probably outnumber our customers.)

And the research I did for a series of articles for Fine Art Views a few years ago, about why millennials don’t by our art, was truly educational for me. Tastes have changed, our collectors’ homes may be already filled with art (mine is!) younger folks may be just starting families, careers, etc. and not have the budget for our work, yadda yadda yadda ad nauseum.

So we may be competing for BUYERS.

But there is no limit on building our AUDIENCE.

And eventually, some folks in our audience will become buyers.

I tend to be wordy (ahem), but Tenae Stewart, who worked at Sebastopol Center for the Arts a few years ago, told me shared seven little words with me that summarized this entire series:

Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.

This has been my entire art career, in seven words. The reasons doing shows was hard is, my work is out of the box. (Some people even tell me to my face it’s not “real art”. Okay. But I don’t care.) It takes awhile for people to figure out what they’re looking at, why it calls to them.

Some people look, and walk away.

Others? They lean in.

And if don’t screw up my interactions with them, they will come back. They will bring a friend. They will sign up for my blog/newsletters. They will find something new and interesting every single time they come to my studio. Someday, they’ll buy a piece. And some people will keep on collecting our work, year after year.

And the biggest reason why open studios are such powerful audience-builders?

Because our studios, our sacred creative spaces, are where the magic happens.

As Bruce Baker said in a seminar years ago, “To regular people, artists are the ones who ran away to join the circus!”

We are outliers, out-of-the-box people. We took a risk to do what we do, not like taking a job where we know what we’re supposed to do, and getting a paycheck (and benefits) for it. We followed our dream, and made it real.

I believe we all have a creative force within us, but the magical myth of “real artists” still intrigues the rest of the world.

And for those people who didn’t find the encouragement to follow their heart, who don’t believe they’re ‘good enough’, who don’t think they have enough room to have a real maker space, who believe some people are simply born with talent and others (themselves!) aren’t….

Our studios can inspire them to take up their own creative journey.

If you want a head start before this series begins, check out my series on creating a successful booth environment in this series, GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD.  Booths are harder for us than an open studio, because we have to get the parts together, schlep it across town (or, as I did, across the country), set it up, wait for people to find us, realize we left a critical thing back home, break it all down and pack it up, and schlep home again.

Open studios? It’s like getting your house ready for a party! A lot of work, but not nearly as hard as big shows.

So take a peek at that series, check in to see the latest posts, and if you have questions, send ’em to me! I’ll either let you know the anwers are coming, or I’ll write some new ones.

Either way, don’t panic. You got this. I’ve got your back

Stay tuned for my next article in this series!

 

 

ART IS A MIRROR And Other Moments of Insight and Wisdom Today

I wanted to use an image of the movie itself, but was afraid I could get sued for copyright infringement. So here’s that old pic of me and a baby duck again instead.

I know, I know. I keep harping on the importance of sharing our art with the world.

I still hear from people ocassionally who don’t want to. They are private, their art is a private comfort, no need to make money from it, etc. (For the record, marketing involves sharing out work publicly, but sharing doesn’t have to be about marketing/selling.) Or they don’t think it’s good enough.

I get it. It can be a little scary to post images of our work online, enter a gallery show/exhibition, sell it, etc. Some folks are afraid it will be copied (select “copycats” in my categories section for more articles on this fear.) And if it really isn’t ‘good enough’, it might get trolled.

I’ve also written a lot of articles about the power of sharing our art. I was gonna put a link in here but realized almost every single article I’ve ever written is about this!

Now back to this article: On Christmas Eve, me, my partner and my son watched The Matrix Resurrections.

And I’m still thinking about it.

This time around, Trinity turns out to be the superpower, the true hero. It’s finally her turn to shine. Together, she and Neo are unstoppable.(Here’s another terrific article about the true hero of It’s A Wonderful Life by Monica Hesse in The Washington Post.)

But this article in Entertainment Weekly cover story on The Matrix Resurrections reveals a deeper story about the importance of our art.

Next, and foremost, was the personal story of the Wachowski siblings themselves:

Profound personal change has always been central to the Matrix universe. The Wachowskis came out as trans and underwent gender reassignment surgery in the years since Reloaded and Revolutions both hit theaters in 2003. This awakening may have been an unspoken part of The Matrix since the beginning; Reeves remembers an early draft of the original script that featured a character who entered the Matrix world as a different sex. “I think the studio wasn’t ready for that,” he says.

Lilly Wachowski has stepped back from film-making to focus on her own personal, healing l journey, for now. And Lana Wachowski from the very beginning considered the Matrix series as a metaphor for hers.

“Art is a mirror,” Wachowski writes. “Most will prefer to gaze at the surface but there will be people like me who enjoy what lies behind the looking glass. I made this movie for them.”

For two people who took an extreme challenge to become their true selves, I hope this message encourages all of us do the same: To recognize and honor who we are, to know the power of our choices, to share our gifts with the world, and make it a better place for all.

Our art truly is about the story only we can tell.

My next post coming up soon: Why art in a vacuum isn’t what art is for.

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