NEWSLETTERS 101 #18: Love (and Art) in the Time of Covid-19

Bear tells me, "Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep." Perfect advice for 2021!
Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.” Perfect advice for 2021!

There’s no perfect way to get through 2020 and beyond. So just do what works for YOU! 

(8 minute read)

I’ve never sought out positions on boards or steering committees, despite being involved with quite a few art organizations in my life.

I don’t have a “head” for leadership. I hate bossing people around. I mean, I love having my own way, but when I think I know what’s best for others, I fail miserably.

But over the years, I have volunteered for many these same orgs. Oh, I’ll complain along with everyone else about rules and regulations, how things are done, etc. But then I realize that the best way to find out the WHY is to join that committee, and learn.

I love peeking behind the curtain to see what’s going on!

It’s tempered my entire approach about shows, galleries, art groups, organizations, etc. And it also gives me a new perspective about the people who complain, but never take the time to find out WHY.

 My all-time favorite was sitting next to another fine craftsperson at a gathering during a major show, and listening to them complain non-stop about the committee I served on. After addressing almost all of their complaints, with the stories behind the decisions, I said, “Hey, you should join us, maybe you have some great suggestions for us!” (I said this with a straight face, too.)

They said, “How much do they pay you to serve?”

I nearly died laughing.

Apparently, it had never occurred to them that committees in art organizations are rarely, if ever, compensated for the dozens, or even hundreds of hours they put in, as a volunteer.

This year, despite my misgivings, I did join as a member of a steering committee. I’ve been given a relatively-easy committee to head, one that I actually might be okay with.

It was eye-opening on so many levels.

First, I was truly impressed by the quality of work this group does to pull off some pretty major events here in Northern California. I couldn’t believe all the details, permutations, roles these people played, how well they remembered every step of the process, and how quickly they reviewed and updated them.

Me? I forgot this article was due yesterday.

 I couldn’t help wondering what I brought to the table, if anything.

I soon found out. I had to take part in a phone tree to make sure artists had gotten the invitation to participate in our next event, an open studio tour mid-year, in 2021.

I hate making phone calls. I don’t even call friends or family members. (I just found out this year this is a major sign that I am an introvert at heart, though I can fake extrovert for short periods.)

I didn’t know what to expect, but I got the whole gamut of responses.

This year’s event had been cancelled shortly before it took place, due to (duh) Covid-19. Every effort was made to offer refunds for those who opted out, and a lot of planning and work went into making it a virtual event. An entirely new website was created, the event was pushed back and combined with a similar event. I was asked to volunteer with that, and put in easily 50 hours of work.

I made zero sales. I did two more virtual events that same month, and they all tanked for me.

Many of the artists I called had had the same experience (without the volunteer time.) Some accepted the new normal going forward. Some weren’t sure if they were willing to commit. And a few were quite angry over how this year’s event (that was cancelled) was handled.

I get it. I really do. And yet…

I chose to look at the gifts instead of the loss.

 Years ago, I did some major wholesale and retail high-end craft shows on the East Coast. I knew I had to put in a few years for each one before they would pay off.

But first came 9/11. Sales tanked for everyone. And every year after that, it seemed like a couple months before that show, we would invade some country in the Mid-East. I barely paid for my expenses. My last year, all three major wholesale shows tanked and I was in debt up to my eyeballs.

It was hard. But I learned so much.

I learned that there is no guaranteed success with any business venture we undertake. Even my writing, which used to bring in $300-$450/per article, tanked. I now make about 10% of that, and most of those opportunities have disappeared anyway.

I learned it takes time to build an audience, even in “normal” times. My very first open studio in New Hampshire, with a prestigious art group, I had zero visitors. The second year I had one, a nice young man who was very stoned. We had a very nice chat. I hope he remembers that! The third year, my studio was packed every day, and I made about a third of my income from one event.

I learned that an event with a catalog costs a lot of money. In those days, before the internet became a key component of my marketing, I would place ads in magazines associated with those events. It cost a minimum of $350 for one quarter-page ad, in a magazine that had a shelf life on 1-4 weeks.

So when I learned that a catalog accompanied my participation in this event, for the same money, a ‘magazine’ with a shelf life of a YEAR, I considered it a bargain.

 A great show/event catalog is worth its weight in gold.

 I’ve also learned that when we pay our fees, that money is used almost instantly to pay for all the resources: Design work for website modifications and ads and the catalogs, salaries (salaries for non-profits are usually at below-market rates compared to commercial businesses), etc. When an event is cancelled, the org does not get that money back. Design costs alone for this year’s catalog were almost $10,000, not including printing.

Our org has learned what works and what doesn’t with this process. Everyone involved has worked really, really hard to not only keep the organization going (which supports so many different kinds of creative work), but to improve the experience for its artist members.

And here we are today, at Fine Art Views, which dedicated all its efforts towards assisting us with the “new normal” and focusing on social media marketing.

It can work. For one thing, I had an uptick in sales in August, a very nice uptick. I couldn’t figure out where they came from, as none of them came through any of the online events. All of them came from my Etsy shop. Finally, I realized they were from my audience in NH! I haven’t been back in person to do the show. But since the entire show was virtual this year, I was at the same “level” as everyone else. I am so grateful to the League of NH Craftsmen!

In short (I know, it’s too late to make this short!) things are different. “Sure things” aren’t solid right now. Sales are off, it’s hard to connect with people/customers in person, and we all hate the loss of paying customers, and hate not knowing how, or when this will all get better.

But in a way, my life as a creative has ALWAYS been all over the map.

I’m grateful these art orgs are trying to stay in place, so they can be a support and outlet for us. I’m in awe at the people who work so hard to keep us moving forward, from a non-profit’s show committee, to the team at FASO.

I’m grateful I have an online shop, my own website, and system for marketing my art online.

I’m proud to be contributing to the safety of our country and part of a culture that values customer safety over profits.

I know if I can’t sell my work, 10,000 years from now, archeologists will have a blast when they unearth my studio.

I feel lucky that I still have a studio to go to, especially during these dark cold winter months.

And I am grateful that I can still make my work, because it brings me joy when I finish my latest projects.

As I shared some of these insights I’ve had over the years, many people softened re: their anger, their fear, their uncertainty. (That, or I bored them to tears and they said they’d consider joining just to get me off the phone!)

What are YOUR tiny blessings you’ve found in the moment? What have YOU learned in a lifetime of making your art? Doing shows? Sharing your art with the world?

What have YOU done to show your appreciation for what others have done for you, and for your passion for making art?

What are YOUR hopes and dreams for 2021?

If you enjoyed this article, if you enjoyed this article, share it! Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com. 

APOLLO 13, FREE ADVICE, AND YOU: What a Failed Moon Landing Mission Can Teach Us During These Hard Times

What a Failed Moon Landing Mission Can Teach Us During These Hard Times.
What a Failed Moon Landing Mission Can Teach Us During These Hard Times.

APOLLO 13, FREE ADVICE, AND YOU

Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews | Luann Udell

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

What a Failed Moon Landing Mission Can Teach Us During These Hard Times.

 (5 minute read)

 We interrupt this series Newsletters 101 for this public service announcement…

 All Fine Art Views writers have been encouraged to focus on online marketing/social media marketing during the pandemic. It gets harder to keep that up as time goes on. I’m weary of it, and I’m sure you are, too.

This week, I struggled to think of a fresh idea for a column.

So here we are in a situation that has not happened since the Spanish Flu, more than 100 years ago. It has changed everything, worldwide. Everyone on this planet has been affected, some more harshly than others, for many different reasons.

For artists, that means virtual events instead of gallery shows, open studios, or art fairs. For many of us, it means not even being able to go to the studio. Sales have fallen drastically. And there’s no end in sight, yet.

Yesterday, for some reason I can’t even remember, I paged through my daily schedule/to-do list notebook. On September 7, I’d written a few thoughts from one of my favorite advice columnists, Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post newspaper. (I think I must have gone on a Hax spree through the archives, because the mention of Apollo 13 was actually from her April 4, 2017 column.)

In discussing how good marriages aren’t about a perfect fit, but are about couples working with what they’ve got, Hax said this:

“In a memorable part of (the movie) “Apollo 13,” engineers have to build a carbon-dioxide filter with only material (the astronauts have) on hand. That applies to marriage, too: Understand what you need, see what you actually have, then try to build something that works.”

Let me repeat that:

Understand what you need. See what you actually have. Try to build something that works.

Bingo!

What do we need right now?

What we need is connection with our audience. Yes, we want sales, too. But that comes from the connection, right?

What do we actually have?

Let’s see…. Open studios? Nope. Gallery shows? Nope. Art fairs? Nope.

What’s left?

Social media.

 Facebook. Instagram. Email. Our websites. Virtual events.

This is why we’ve been asked to focus on social media insights for you. It’s all we got!

So what can we do with it? What can we build that will work?

 We can create a website.

We can create a website on a platform that is specially built for artists. (FASO!)

It will showcase our art, yes. But we can also tell our creation story, how we came to do what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.

We can create email newsletters that lets our audience stay up-to-date about what we’re up to.

We can show stages of where we are with our new works-in-progress. Instagram is PERFECT for this! This week, I had a breakthrough that’s held me back on several big projects for years. I’ve been posting updates on IG. (Okay, today I realized I haven’t actually solved the holding-me-back thing, but I’m excited by how close I am to fixing it!)

We can share on Facebook, especially our business page. We can share updates, thoughts, stories, images, etc. (And you can post on Instagram, and have it re-posted on Facebook.)

Virtual events are more common. Do they work? Yes and no. I participated in three virtual events in August and September. I didn’t think I’d made any significant sales, especially with the two that took place here in California. But afterwards, I realized this strong uptick in several larger-than-normal online sales during that period came from…a virtual event in New Hampshire!

The people that have followed me for years suddenly leaped at the chance to buy my work, and it was very satisfying. (The sales didn’t occur through the online channels of those events, which is what threw me. People found me there, then went to my online store and made their purchases directly from me.) These virtual events didn’t cost much, and I consider what fees I did pay, as my online marketing budget.

Social media marketing is what will get us through this ‘new normal’, until something like the ‘old normal’ returns.

And yet, from some of the comments made during this time, Fine Art Views readers often remind me how tired they are with all this focus on social media.

I try to remember to check back on where commenters are coming from, so I check their website and their work. Seems like the unhappiest folks didn’t have an online store/shop, or even prices on their work. Some don’t even have a website.

In my volunteer work for one major virtual event, I created captions/sentences for over 140 artists, describing their work, their inspiration, and what made their work unique.

I was shocked how many of them didn’t have a website. Or they didn’t have a correct link to their website. (I had to Google them.) Or they only had a bare-bones website, not even featuring more than one image of their work.

So many people had ‘resumes’ instead of actual artist statements. I had to dig deep to find anything of interest to say about their work, or simply go with what I thought of their work. (Don’t worry, I was kind to everyone.)

So many people didn’t have any social media accounts—no Facebook, no Instagram, even though Instagram, based on images, feels made for visual artists.

Even in

I know hundreds of artists and craftspeople. Yet in my own email feed, I get email newsletters from less than a handful of fellow artists. And some of those are not newsletters I signed up for.  They got my address from events I signed up for, or a group activity I was in. (DO NOT sign up people without their permission!)

And some artists didn’t even share their email address.

To continue the metaphor, if these folks were astronauts, they’d be dying for lack of oxygen.

Now, if your intention during this pandemic is to step back, focus on your work, and let go of sales and marketing until the ‘old normal’ is back, it’s okay, and I don’t blame you. It’s definitely a great time to dig in and make our art. Fewer distractions, fewer obligations, and I can’t go thrift shopping. (Did I say that out loud??)

But if you want to boldly go where you’ve never gone before, now is the time to bump up your social media marketing game.

Don’t complain, up your game!

If you enjoyed this article, share it! Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.