LEARNING TO SEE #15: Not All Advice Is Equal

My latest marketing insight? Long-time customers are REALLY interested in NEW work. I get a little hung up on the horses and bears, but foxes, dogs, and owls are getting lots of comments!

LEARNING TO SEE #15: Not All Advice Is Equal

And even bad advice can help us move forward!

(6 minute read)

Last week, I signed up for my very first Art Marketing Program (AMP) webinar, hosted by FASO’s marketing guy, Dave Geada.

These sessions are long, which makes it hard to fit into my work day. Unlike the rest of my family, I don’t do podcasts well. Listening to them, that is. When I’m creating, words interrupt my concentration, even words in songs.

But I made the time, and I’m glad I did!

If you haven’t worked with Dave, or tried any of those recorded videos, do try them. He’s focused, insightful, explains all the ‘why’s’ behind it all, and even how important the ‘WHY’ behind the art we make, is. (Hint: Because it’s the heart of everything we do.)

I’m already overloaded with those action steps, so much that I almost wrote my column about ‘little steps forward’ today. Next time! Because I also dropped in on my first conversation in the (art marketing discussion forum), and found what needs to be addressed first:

Not all advice is equal. And not all advice works for everyone.

There is fact-based data, there are expert opinions based on experience, and then there’s advice.

Fact-based data comes from someone actually measuring results for any given marketing strategy. This was former Fine Art Views columnist Lori Woodward’s superpower. She would dig in and test a strategy, then share her findings.

But not all fact-based date is equal, either. Let’s take search engine optimization (SEO.) We are hammered constantly to pay/hire someone to show us how we can improve our ranking in search engine results. One of Dave’s strongest points is that most SEO suggestions work for retailers: People who sell stuff. Their strategy is to get billions of ‘hits’, hoping a small fraction of those people will click and actually buy something.

But artists are makers. We don’t need a billion clicks. We need a passionate following, people who love our work, to buy from us over and over again. That may be a small percentage of our audience, which is also much smaller than say, Amazon. So the numbers aren’t as relevant, and SEO is less important. Whew! That’s about a jillion SEO marketing ‘come-on’ emails I can delete from my inbox today!

Next, the expert opinion. This is usually from someone who’s had success in whatever we’re involved in. When we needed a babysitter for our kids, who do we ask to find one? Other people with kids. There are ‘experts’ in every aspect of our lives, ranging from car mechanics, doctors, marketing gurus, and other artists.

But even expert advice may not work for everyone. First, goals may be different. Second, their experience may be different. Someone who is a famous oil painter may not actually have good insights into me selling my assemblages or jewelry. Or the way that person achieved fame and fortune may go against my principles, time available, and my budget.

And of course, it’s highly possible that person isn’t really as successful as they seem to be. (My favorite Anne Lamott quote: “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.) Years ago, when I was doing fine craft wholesale shows, there were some folks who asserted that they made a great living with their work. Another craftsperson did some deep research and found some interesting results: Many of those people a) inherited wealth; b) had a spouse who was in highly-paid profession; c) or they had a second ‘career’ on the side, like flipping houses, for example. Famous writers sometimes reveal their income doesn’t all come from their books being published. Their income also relies on teaching workshops and speaking engagements. Many artists do the same!

And last, there’s just plain ol’ advice. The random things people will tell us that have nothing to do with our story, our preferred medium, work process, style, aesthetic.

Me? I get a lot of advice, especially when I don’t ask for it! Sometimes it’s so off-base, it’s gob-smacking. And yet sometimes, it’s intriguing, and pulls something new out of me, maybe even something completely different than what the advice-giver was thinking.

In the end, we get to pick what works for us.

In my humble experience, if it resonates with me, that’s my signal that I should at least try it. And if my shoulders try to cover my ears, that’s my signal that I should just set it aside. Not all advice is perfect for every single situation/person. Nobody is right all the time.

As I said, even “bad” advice may still provide a powerful insight. First, it’s good to recognize that most advice comes from others wanting to help us do better. Knowing others care is sweet!

Second, we can examine our reactions when it lands badly, asking ourselves, “What is it about that suggestion that makes me cringe?” Exploring why we react the way we do can give us insights into our own blind spots, weaknesses, insecurities.

Third, sometimes advice is a no-brainer. In this particular session, Dave walked through several artists’ websites, pointing out fairly simple ways we can improve our website visitors’ experience. My notebook is filled with notes—hope I can read them! (I was writing pretty fast. So much information!) Yeah, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things I could/should do to improve my site. My next step is figuring out my next step! I’ll be sharing my experience and insights with you along the way. (Which, of course, may work for you, or may not. I’m not even an expert!)

The biggest insight for me was why people are online, on social media, in the first place. (Answer: Boredom, loneliness, connection.) (Unless I messed up my notes….?) He also confirmed Clint Watson’s assertion that our email newsletters are our most powerful tool to grow our audience, and why. (Answer: Because people check their email even more often than they check out their social media.) He noted that we can focus on just Instagram, Facebook, and our email newsletter. (Whew! Goodbye, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Twitter!)

So be sure to check out Dave’s webinars. You can find the basic playbook/eBook under the “Art Marketing” tab on the FASO site. Consider joining FASO for your artist website, because in addition to all the aspects that work for ARTISTS, you will have complete access to these webinars (including recordings of past events.) You can spend as little as $12/month for a FASO website, which I’m guessing would be less than the cost of SEO advice from internet marketers who have no idea what works for artists in the first place.

And remember, begin with advice that works for YOU. Even if you hate it, explore why you hate it. And when you get overwhelmed, remember my advice: Baby steps! One at a time, at your own pace.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more at FineArtViews.com, Dave’s articles at same, my articles there, Clint’s insights on email newsletters, other art marketing topics, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Well, that should keep you busy for a few days! Until next week, take exquisite care of yourself during these trying times.

LEARNING TO SEE #12: BEST. FASO WEBSITE FEATURE. EVER!!!!

My current best-selling artifact necklace. Which I never would have realized, except for this amazing FASO feature!

This article first appeared on Fine Art Views, an online art marketing newsletter hosted by Fine Art Studios Online, a website dedicated to artists and creatives. If you have trouble commenting here, try commenting there! 

LEARNING TO SEE #12: BEST. FASO WEBSITE FEATURE. EVER!!!!

(6 minute read)

It’s been right under my nose, but I just found it a few weeks ago. And I’m kicking myself I didn’t ‘get it’ sooner, but I’m glad I finally have!

Backstory: I have faithfully market my work online. I have a separate, professional page on Facebook. I’ve blogged since 2002. I have an Instagram account (which I set up to repost on Facebook), and my blog posts repost on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumbler. I’m on LinkedIn, and I’m diligent about updating my artist profiles on the websites of the professional organizations I belong to. I’ve been on Etsy since 2008, with the philosophy that I am not marketing to Etsy buyers, I’m giving my own customers a place to see and buy new work.

But overall, my online sales have been pretty meager. Most of my sales, even gallery sales, don’t measure up to my open studio events and the top shows I used to do.

I’d come to believe that my sales soar only when people meet me, and my work, in person. I believe in my ability to create connection on whatever level someone feels comfortable with, when people actually visit my booth or studio.

And moving to California five years ago felt like starting over, in every way. Finding a new studio, finding those important, respected art events, finding new galleries for my work, was a little daunting.

But I found the events that have slowly rebuilt a new audience, and I’ve been accepted by some great galleries here in Sonoma County.

And then the pandemic hit. Everything that was anything is now kinda nothin’.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve always thought of my website as a billboard on the internet highway. Full of art images, a place where people can go to find out who I am and what I do, if they make the time. But sales? Nah.

Etsy makes it easy for me to print mailing labels and ship my work, so why do I need that on my website? I used my FASO site for my newsletter (which had a learning curve, but I think I’ve got it down now.) But that’s about it.

Then recently, I realized I hadn’t updated my “Works” page in quite a while. Things are slow, so I thought I’d spend some time taking care of that.

So I uploaded a few images….

And two items sold immediately.

Wha….?! (In a good way!)

Oddly, I’d seen a few emails as a result of this automatic, alert-your-customers email service. I’d respond to people with a thank you. But I didn’t get how it worked, how they’d found that image. I didn’t even think to inquire about it.

That whack-a-mole sound you hear is me, smacking my head bigtime.

Since then, I now regularly post new work on my FASO, and email alerts are sent to all my email newsletter subscribers. I get wonderful comments, and respond to each one.

And almost everything I’ve uploaded has sold. Sometimes before I can even get it uploaded to Instagram! (I create a new listing on my Etsy page, then upload it to my FASO “new works” section, with a link to my Etsy listing for more images and for purchase, then repost on IG with same, which reposts to Facebook…have I lost you? Trust me, I understand!)

Then I read the Fine Art Views article by Jeanne Rossier Smith about her huge increase in sales, using not just this ‘new work’ email alerts, but also an AMP (Art Marketing Playbook) seminar. AHA! Just found the source for these videos:  https://data.fineartstudioonline.com/boldbrush/video/free And the playbook! https://data.fineartstudioonline.com/offers/amp/?download=y

Re: more information on the automatic alert thingie, I suck at giving step-by-step instructions, except in person, when I’m teaching. In fact, I don’t even know if I signed up for this marketing feature, or if it’s simply part-and-parcel of a FASO website. I finally checked with my editor, and this is what she shared with me:

  1. “The AMP program is free to all FASO paying members (so everyone on a FASO plan, except those with a FREE plan- only used for the contest & ads). You can find all you need to know about AMP and our new marketing platform, right from you FASO control panel by clicking on the Marketing tab and then choosing one of the options. We have free videos on AMP & webinars.
  2. For our art alert featurethis is not extra at this time, most paying plans currently have this feature available during Covid-19. We just sent out a FASO member newsletter about this  https://data.fineartstudioonline.com/nl/?nid=167771

 

Other caveats: I also offer a peek on my website, and republish all the relevant information, but redirect people to my Etsy shop. My jewelry ranges from $75-$350. I know most paintings sell for much more!

I can also offer free shipping for my most of my items, and Etsy allows me to purchase postage and labels for below-market prices. So your results may vary.

But I’m also realize it’s time to educate myself about what advantages my FASO site might offer when it comes to sales and shipping.

I’ve also wondered if the corona virus is making people more aware of their mortality, and ours Maybe they’re afraid I’ll die from Covid-19, and there will be no more little horse necklaces for sale…?? (Morbid, but true?)

But in short, everything Jeanne Rossier Smith said rings true.

When it comes to social marketing, here are some ‘tried and true’ insights to get rid of:

Sales aren’t actually about how many ‘likes’ our posts get. It’s not about ‘branding’, and ‘driving people to our websites’. (Cattle herd terms.) Yes, doing good work helps, but we don’t have to be one of the top ten artists in the country.

We just have to make our work. We have to get it out there. We have to engage meaningfully with our admirers and collectors, with integrity and authenticity.

Maybe I’ll even get a little ‘pushier’. When I’m speaking in person with a potential buyer, I ask that same question Jeanne mentioned: What spoke to you about this piece? It’s time for me to ask that in an email, or even a phone call.

I have started mentioning to people that if they see the dog/fox/otter/bear/horse that speaks to them, they should jump on it, because they’ve been selling quickly. It’s actually true, so I don’t feel like I’m twisting arms (which I HATE.)

And I love that Jeanne had such success and shared that with us, too.

So take advantage of everything a FASO website has to offer. FASO knows what an artist needs, based on the owner’s own experience as an artist, a gallery owner, and a collector. (Thank you, Clint!) And it shows.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more at Fine Art Views and my blog or email newsletter. If you know someone who enjoyed it, pass it on! And if someone sent this to you, and you enjoyed it, ditto!

 

 

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Change: The Movie (The Move continues)

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

My head’s been in a whirl the last few months. I think I’ve entered that stage in a move where it feels like my life feels like a dream. Not the great glow-y kind. The kind where I find myself picking up dog poop and I keep finding hamburger patties in the dirt and I think, “Geez, this is weird. Wait a minute…..Am I dreaming?!” (I was.)

On one hand, there’s all the wonderful, heady stuff that comes from a major life change (the good ones, that is.) We go for a drive and suddenly remember this is an incredibly beautiful area, and the ocean is half an hour away. There are the marvelous moments, like learning our resident hummingbird darts into his nighttime resting spot in our little tree in front of our front porch, at exactly the same time (relative to sunset) every night. We sit and watch for him almost every night, and get a tiny frisson of joy when we catch him in the act. (It helps that he sits in exactly the same branchlet on the tree, too.)

On the other hand, there is the sudden realization that there’s no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go out for a drink!” Not that I could, anyway. Since we’ve been here, I can barely stay up past 9 p.m. Sooo…no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go to Happy Hour for a drink!”

I miss lakes, and rivers. There are lakes and rivers here, but not so much after four years of drought. I miss thunderstorms.

(OTOOH, I don’t miss mosquitoes, black flies, humidity, nor the season of funny smells.)

A few days ago, I had the scariest change of all.

I should preface this by saying my “year” tends to begin and end at my birthday. That sounds pompous, and I don’t mean it that way, really, I don’t. It’s just that when I realized the cave of Lascaux was discovered very nearly on my birth date, and other big events that cause me to stop and gasp (my birthday is 9/11), I often have reason to stop and take my measure. This month has been the same.

I was making a ‘batch’ of horses, as I usually do. Over the years, I built up to making my animal totems in batches of up to, oh, a couple dozen or so at a shot. It made for real efficiency, shaping them all, doing all the manes at once, all the eyes at once, all the markings, etc. (Even in a good sales year, I average about $2 an hour. Maybe I should go work at McDonald’s…..) (Nah.)

Lately, the batches have gotten smaller, down to one dozen, then half a dozen.

This time, I stopped at one.  A feeling of revulsion overcame me. I was overwhelmed with this awful, awful thought:

I didn’t want to make any more batches of little horses.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. WHAT??!! What…is up with THAT??!!

But instead of panicking (what would I do without the heartstone of my work??!), I got quiet. I asked myself, where is this coming from? And what do I mean by that?

And thank the powers that be, it came to me:

I want to make one little horse at a time.

And so I did. I made two little horses that day. Each one, totally one at a time. Each got its own shaping, then its mane, then its eyes and nose, etc.

I then made other artifacts that take less ‘soul’, if you will, easier work, and popped the whole bunch in the convenction oven in my home studio.

This may not seem like a big change to you. It sure started out as a big change, but ended up being a very small change.

Or is it?

My horses have always ended up as completely individual and unique. For years, I’ve been telling folks how collectors look for ‘their horse’ when shopping.

I don’t know how to explain this, except that this, for some reason, feels even more important than ever. So important, I felt the need to slow down, to get calm, to get centered. To really see the power, and the blessing, inherent in everything I do.

There’s something growing here in California, something big. When people are attracted to my work, they fall hard. The things they tell me about it, are powerful. My internet sales are growing, from people back in New England who are either missing my work, or have recently discovered it. More and more people are telling me about how the work feels, on many levels.

It’s scary. Someone asked me why, and I couldn’t say. It’s something about, with my work having that power, comes great responsibility, something I don’t know how to handle personally. It feels like the time a bigger-than-life visitor exclaimed, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!” when he first saw my work–like my work is bigger than I am. I’m not putting that right, but it was exciting, and wonderful, and scary at the same time. It was a powerful experience, and propelled me forward in ways I could not have imagined.

Something like that may be growing now. All I can do is listen. Pay attention.

The past year was all about realizing the harm brought into the world by people who don’t know what they don’t know.

I wonder what this next year holds for me.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Student

Beginnings, middles, and endings. All have something to teach us, to expand our understanding and broaden our horizons–if we just take the time to listen.

Lessons From the Gym: The Student

by Luann Udell on 5/7/2015

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

 The insights and ideas continue to flow at the gym, and this week is no exception. Today’s thoughts came from someone who will be leaving soon–the intern.

 There are many professions aligned with the health industry that, after meeting the educational criteria, also require an internship–a period of in-the-field training, under the supervision of a licensed professional, to gain the insights and knowledge that can’t be learned any other way, except in the field.

 There’s such a student now, in the last stages of their credentialing. They’ve been working alongside one of the physical therapists as long as I’ve been there. And in another week or so, they’ll move on.

 I asked them what were the most important things they’ve learned in their internship. Their answer might surprise you.

 “I think watching everyone here interacting with their clients has been eye-opening. Each client is different, personality-wise, and the therapists here always meet them where they’re at. Some people are more assertive, some are overwhelmed… You need to take that into consideration when you’re working with clients. I’ll have two people, back-to-back with the exact same issue–but the approach and the treatment won’t be the same, because this person needs to go slower, or needs more encouragement, and that one wants to be challenged. I know HOW to treat their issues, from my schooling. But this part of the healing–I had no idea! And it’s so powerful…”

 A thoughtful and insightful reply, on so many levels.

 And how does it connect to making and marketing our art?

 I immediately thought of how artists can use this same principle. We learn to interact with customers by meeting them where THEY’RE at.  (And by ‘customers’, I mean ANYONE who’s in a position to buy/support/market our art–buyers, gallery owners, journalists, etc.)

Over time, we may realize that some are assertive and confident, and we adopt a certain style of response with more energy. Others are more contemplative, quiet, not wanting a lot of interaction until they’ve processed what they’re looking at. They will read every sign in your display and look at every piece of work. They don’t want to be pressured, but they don’t want to be ignored, either. Others will stride in, look around, and exclaim, “Wow, this is GREAT! Tell me about it!”  You need to immediately jump on board, or they will lose interest and walk away. Overwhelming an introvert or underwhelming an extrovert can seriously hamper our efforts to connect others with our art. Knowing how to match our interactions with the situation, in the moment, is a powerful tool.

Then I considered the notion of apprenticeships in the arts and crafts. It used to be the main method of education for artists and craftspeople. Now, not so much. Oh, there are still plenty of workshops and classes. But the idea of working long-term with a master, while not rare, is certainly not the norm these days.  Even then, perhaps much of the focus is on technique–not the bigger but less-obvious insights of how to connect to our own artistic vision and purpose.

I think, though, that instinctively, we DO seek out those people who offer us something else besides technique and practical knowledge (which are valuable in their own right). Just the fact that FASO has articles like these, where we can all share insights about what makes us tick (with our art), and what rules are solid (“Do the work!”) and which aren’t (“It’s actually OK to just walk into a gallery and ask to show them your work!”) show how important this is for many of us, in all stages of our professional life.

 In fact, for me, becoming an artist really opened my eyes to the idea of being a life-long student–a student of life.  That’s what my writing (as much of my creative process as my artwork) is all about: Sharing what I’ve learned, with others who’d like to know.

 Finally, I realized that the Student also has something to teach US. Through them, we get to look at what we’re doing with new, fresh eyes. The exhilaration, the wonder, the excitement of those first few years of making our art–remember? When everything was possible, and nothing stood in our way.  This enormous body of knowledge and skill we’ve acquired over the years, something we perhaps have begun to take for granted–we get to see it from their perspective, as a massive achievement, something we can be proud of.

 Beginnings, middles, and endings. All have something to teach us, to expand our understanding and broaden our horizons–if we just take the time to listen.

OVERHEARD CONVERSATIONS: How to Be a Better Matchmaker

Overheard Conversations: How to Be a Better Matchmaker

by Luann Udell on 4/23/2015 7:54:01 AM

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

  Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match….but what’s the catch??

Today’s lesson didn’t come from the gym, although it was another conversation I overheard this week.

Person A told their friend, Person B, about an opportunity they might be interested in. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to call them Ann and Bob.)

Ann knew Bob was looking for an opportunity just like this. Ann listed the reasons why this might be just what he was looking for–the price, the time, the location, the trade-offs. Bob listened enthusiastically.

Ann also knows a lot about Bob–his strengths (and weaknesses), his habits, his way of doing things.

So, although Bob was saying “yes”, she asked him an unusual question before taking the matter any further.

“On a scale of one-to-ten,” she said, “How committed are you to this opportunity?”

Bob was taken aback. He said, “Wow, you sound like a nurse! ‘How bad is the pain, on a scale of one-to-ten?’ Heh heh!”

But Ann stood her ground. “Look,” she said. “Before I approach the guy about talking to you, I need to know how seriously you are considering this.”

Bob quickly replied, “Nine!” and that’s the last of the conversation I heard. I had to get back to my studio.

Ann’s question stayed with me. Obviously, she didn’t want to go out on a limb to introduce the opportunity-holder to Bob. If Bob is truly eager to act, it will benefit all three of them. But if Bob isn’t really interested, it will be lose-lose-lose, a waste of time and energy for everyone involved.

“On a scale of one-to-ten….”  What a wonderful, non-confrontational question to ask, to qualify the ‘buyer’.

How many times have we been in situations like this, acting as the agent of change for someone else? For the sake of clarity, let’s continue this as us trying to do something for someone else. But picture it the other way, too–someone trying to do something for us.

We recommend a gallery to a fellow artist. Or we think a friend might like another artist’s work, and urge the artist to contact that friend. Or we think we know the perfect space for someone who says they need a studio. A customer is waxing enthusiastic about our artwork, and we want to get it into their hands/home/heart.

In every case, we see ourselves as ‘helping’ someone out, doing them a favor out of the goodness of our heart. We’re simply giving them what they want, right?  We’re trying to match up their need with the right opportunity.

Sometimes, it is a simple thing. That space really is perfect for them, they really are looking for that opportunity, they really do want that painting–and the matchmaking is complete.

Often, however, there are reasons why it just won’t work for that person. The cost might be out of their range. They’re actually not ready to take that step. They’re just not into doing anymore shows, right now, or not interested in doing the gallery thing.

In fact, more often that not, what people say is holding them back, isn’t. Either they’re not ready to say why, or they just don’t know.

Whatever the reason, without us knowing what they’re really thinking, this might result in us giving even stronger encouragement, to the point of arm-twisting. And when they don’t take us up on our offer/favor/opportunity, we might get frustrated and annoyed.

Now imagine the situation reversed. Usually, when someone offers me something like this, I appreciate their intentions. I try to stay open rather than squish their offer with a fast ‘no’.

 But eventually, I need to also be clear about how serious I am about following their suggestion(s).

 “On a scale of one-to-ten”…. What a nice way for all of us to get clear on what we really want! And on what we’re willing/not willing to do to get it.

 Now instead of yes-or-no, we can talk about where we are on that scale. “One, two, three” means “no way!”. “Three, four, five” could mean “probably not, but I’m still listening.” “Six, seven, eight” means “Mmmmm….I’m open to negotiation”. And “nine or ten” means, “let’s make it happen!”

 See? Sometimes crunching the numbers makes a great match!

JUDGES AND JURORS or Knowing When To Break The Rules

If you’re an exhibiting artist, try breaking this rule. My latest column at Fine Art Views, a blog about marketing art, may surprise you!

Last week, artist Sharon Weaver wrote a column for FineArtViews about entering art competitions. It was a good flow chart for your decision-making process.

In addition to the excellent reasons Sharon gave, there’s another big reason to enter an art competition: To get your work in front of a particular judge/juror.

(I’m going to use “juror” for both terms, because your work will be juried into these shows, and then judged for awards on its merits. The same person may fulfill both functions, but not necessarily.)

The juror may be an established, well-known artist. They may be the owner or manager of a prestigious gallery. They may be a curator associated with an art museum, or an independent curator. Or an art reviewer, an art dealer, art critic, art consultant or art appraiser. Depending on your professional goals for your work, this may be a golden opportunity to have your work seen by this particular juror. That alone may be worth the price of admission. It often is for me!

And consequently, that is also an excellent reason to contact the juror after the show—especially if you receive an award.

But…and here’s the kicker…

You should also contact the juror even if you didn’t win an award, and even if you did NOT get juried into the show!

Read the rest of this article here…

QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: “Do You Have a Website?”

Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?

Don't be too quick to hand these out!

DYING OF EXPOSURE

When asked for a donation for a fundraiser, ask yourself what you’re REALLY giving away.

This is a reprint of an article I wrote five years ago. My good friend and fellow artist Nicole Caulfield came across it after a discussion about artists donating artwork. It still stands today, so here it is.

DONATION

A thread came up on a discussion forum earlier this week, about whether, and how, artists should donate their work to auctions for charity.

There was an earnest discussion about who donates to what, and how. But nobody pointed out the downsides.

It can cheapen your work.

For most artists and craftspeople, our cost of materials (except for gold and precious stones) are negligible. Our prices depend on our creativity, our time, our skill–and what people will pay for our work.

At an auction, what people will pay can be a disaster.

Because most people attend such charity auctions to get a deal.

If you don’t believe me, ask a gallery.

I did. They said they BEG their artists not to donate work, for this exact reason. Of course, they have something at stake–they want to represent your and hopefully be the only one in the area to represent you. But they also are vested in having your work GAIN value, not lose value.

It’s funny, doctors are not asked to contribute medical services, and teachers are not asked to donate tutoring. I’ve never seen lawyers donate free legal advice. They may do pro bono work, but that’s not what they donate to auctions. Not to say it’s NEVER done, but I’ve not seen it. I believe this says something about the perceived value of our work–because artists get hit up a LOT for donations.

“Struggling artists” (including musicians) are often encouraged to donate for the “exposure” the event will create for them. To quote Jack White, artist and author of books about the marketing of art, “Artists die of exposure.”

My personal experience shows what kind of “exposure” you are risking. Take this chance to learn from someone else’s (mine!) mistake for a change.

I donated a wall hanging to a prestigious benefit auction in Boston. The show was filled with work by well-known book illustrators. (By the way, illustrators–who make commissioned art for use in books–have already been paid for their artwork.)

I attended the event, excited about connecting with art lovers who might be intrigued by my work. It turns out it wasn’t really an art show. Ski trips, wine cases and gift certificates were also being auctioned off.

I overheard countless conversations by the attendees that distressed me. (I knew some of them and I knew how much money they made) They were chortling about how cheaply they could bid on their favorite items in the silent auction. One woman had her eye on a beautiful handmade quilt, with exquisite piecing and sewing. She absolutely loved it. It was wonderful!

She also didn’t want to bid more than $40 on it.

I left before my work came up for bids.

A year later, a couple with the winning bid on my wall hanging came to my booth at a craft fair. Okay! This was it! It was working! Now they were going to become my collectors!

Not. They’d come to brag to me how cheaply they’d won it.

They weren’t even looking for me. They’d come to the fair on a whim, for the first time. They just happened to walk by my booth and recognized my work.

My booth was full of customers. The couple told me (loudly, of course) about their experience. “We got it for $35!!”, they exclaimed. (This was a small wall hanging valued at $350.) They couldn’t believe their good fortune. “It was so beautiful, and nobody else bid on it!” They went on and on about how excited they were to get “such a deal!”

Then they left. They didn’t even buying a tie tack.

The silence in my booth was deafening.

They meant well, I suppose, but it was humiliating.

So much for “exposure”. My work had been “exposed” as being worth $35. A hall full of people had watched as my work was devalued and ignored, with a repeat performance there in my booth.

I didn’t acquire a new customer, because they didn’t buy anything else, and I never saw them again.

I didn’t even have the tax write-off for the act, because tax law clearly states ARTISTS can only write off the cost of materials in the piece. Only people who actually BUY your art and donate it can write off the full value of the work.

And I cringe every time I think of them showing off the work in their home to visitors. “Guess how much we paid for this!” they probably chortle gleefully. “Only $35!!” What a steal! What a bargain!

OUCH. NOT how I want to be remembered.

That was years ago, and I’ve learned my lesson. I now carefully consider how and when I contribute my work.

Ask any gallery that represents artists, and they will tell you the same thing. Those auctions may be dedicated to “a good cause”, but people buy for one reason–they’re getting a deal. A bargain. Is that how you want your work to be marketed?

The ONLY time I saw this work was with an artist whose work and reputation were already strong–a strong collector base already well-established. His work was in demand because he was already at full production.

His piece started a bidding war, and went for MORE than the stated value. But his was the ONLY painting out of HUNDREDS of donated works that did so. Everyone–I mean EVERYONE–else’s work went for a fraction of the stated value.

Strong words, I know. And this is not an iron-clad rule for me.

I’m much more willing to contribute money or time to a cause dear to my heart. There are a few organizations I have supported with donations of artwork.

But I’ve also learned to say no graciously.

Here are guidelines that help me narrow the field that might also help YOU.

If your aim is to gain “exposure” (and I’ve already cautioned you how this can backfire), then at least donate something people will SEE. Now, if I donate anything, I donate jewelry, because at least someone will WEAR it. If it generates comments, perhaps the person will rave about the piece instead of raving about how cheaply they got it…

I pick fundraisers I care deeply about. And I let them know I’ve made an exception for them because of that. (This also controls how often my work is seen at charity auctions.)

Better yet is to suggest a CUSTOMER donate your work.

Or to offer to donate a portion of your profits to the cause. I’ve made special pieces with this in mind. I displayed them with a sign saying, “Profits from this pin are donated to such-and-such organization”. This is win/win–for you, for the charity, even for the customer. Your work holds its full value, the charity gets its donation, the customer gets to participate.

Or donate something free WITH PURCHASE. A free bracelet with the purchase of a necklace. Or a free sculpture with the purchase of a wall hanging.

Or offer a ONE-TIME discount. Bruce Baker, speaker and writer on the business of craft, cautions that customers tend to view even “one-time” discounts as PERMANENT discounts. I tried it once, and he’s right. But it’s still an option.

At the very least, offer to provide the item for your wholesale price. That is, the charity acquires it for what a store would pay for it. And set a minimum bid. More and more art organizations are using this model for their auctions, because it’s more artist-friendly. One person from such an art org confided in me, “We realized that saying we supported artists, then constantly asking them to donate work, was a contradiction of our mission statement!” Yes.

How do you say no to such requests graciously?

Tell them you get asked so often for such contributions, you now contribute once or twice a year to carefully-considered causes. You consider all requests, then make your decision in….pick a month or two. Say, June and December. And you are very sorry, but you’ve already made your decision for the year.

If you like the organization, ask them to submit a request in time for next year’s selection process.

Buy an ad in their event program. It will get you the same exposure and you won’t be donating your work at bargain prices.

Or send them a check. At least that’s tax deductible.

SELLING YOUR WORK: Far Afield? Or Close to Home?

There are pros and cons to being a ‘local artist’, and many artists opt to ‘get out of Denver’ as quickly as they can. But there are deep reasons to building a local audience first.

I got an email newsletter from artist and writer Robert Genn. I always enjoy his thoughts on making and selling art. He’s a good writer, and a thoughtful one.

Today (insert link here) he tells why he decided to skip a local market, and developed more distant venues to sell his paintings.

I felt the same way when I started out with my art. I feared that ancient ponies and bone awls would never find a hold in a traditional New England marketplace. I did a few local shows, just to prove to myself I needed to go further afield. And then I did just that.

But I’m here today to eat my words. (I do that a lot.) There are lots of good reasons to start local. And I’ll give you suggestions on how to make it work.

You’ll learn how to talk about your work.

“I hate talking about my work!” “I don’t know what to say.” “My work speaks for itself.” “I’m shy–I just can’t talk to people!” I’ve heard–and said–these words so many times. Let’s cut to the chase. Art rarely ‘sells itself’. Somebody has to talk about it. If it’s not you, then it has to be your gallery or sales rep.

And how are they going to know what to say about it unless you give them a clue? If a thousand artists paint a picture of a tree in a field, then how will someone decide yours is the one that goes home with them?

If you believe that artistically knowledgeable people can tell the difference between your tree and 99 others, or a thousand others, or 10,000, then you’re going to have to be the absolute best painter out there.

In reality, many collectors aren’t looking for ‘the best out there’. They want to believe the one they like best, is the best one.

And your job is to tell them why your painting is the best for them.

You can do it with credentialing–art school degrees, awards, honors, solo shows, etc. You can do it with publicity–press releases, getting your work published and exhibited, etc.

The easiest thing, of course, is to just tell them. You share your technique, your process, your story. Whatever works best to connect them to your work. (You know I vote for ‘story’, but if it feels safer to start with ‘process’, go for it.)

Of course, a gallery will do this for you. But who tells the gallery? Yup. Y-O-U. I got practice talking to my customers. By the time I talked to gallery owners, I was comfortable and confident.

You’ll discover what people love about your work.

I talked easily and readily about why I loved my work, once I got used to the notion. It’s when I shut up and listened that I found out why others loved it.

What other people say about your work is powerful. People overhearing someone else saying something wonderful, is even more powerful.

People saw things in my work that astonished me. As they told me how it affected them, what it meant to them, I became even more dedicated to making it. I realized I need to make it. And others need to see it.

That’s hard to do when your work–and your audience–is a thousand miles away.

And it’s powerful to be able to say to a prospective gallery, “This is what people say about my work….”

You’ll perfect your booth, your display, your signage, your entire presentation.

Let’s say you do get that perfect out-of-state show with the oh-so-sophisticated audience, or the super duper gallery with the big name artists roster. What will they say when they see your awkward framing? Your lack of support materials?

What do you do when your far from home and realize you’re missing a critical piece of your booth? It’s one thing to run home and grab it. It’s another to be looking for the nearest Home Depot at night, in a cab.

Doing local shows was an education. I learned the hard way how to streamline my set-up and breakdown (as much as I can with jewelry cases, table top AND wall displayed items!) I learned they hard way what was essential and what wasn’t. I learned through practice the best ways to display my work.

And then I did my first big out-of-state show. When I did, I hit the ground running. (Well. Running, yes. But there was still a lot I had to learn!)

You’ll generate enough money to keep going.

Getting into an out-of-state art exhibit was exhilarating. It forced me to get good images of my work, and to go looking for opportunity.

But it wasn’t great for sales.

It was a small but steady stream of local sales that kept me going. My local collectors supported me just enough for me to always take the next step. And that was really all I needed.

You’ll learn that you are responsible for your success.

Local market or farther afield, it still takes dedication and work to build your name as an artist. It’s easy to say, “Oh, no one around here appreciates good art” or “People here are too cheap to buy real art.”

I would have an easier time believing that, if I didn’t hear artists from around the world say this. All. THE. TIME.

We all like to blame others when our efforts don’t fly. I do! I want to blame everybody except myself.

I know we can’t control everything. I know we can’t command success. I know sometimes even the best efforts fail.

But we are responsible for doing the best we can.

As I learned how to do better–as I knew better–I did better, and I got better. My presentation improved. My ideas grew. My self-promotion got better. I learned how to believe in myself, and my art.

And I found it a lot easier to learn how to do that, with local venues and local customers.

The biggest reason I’m glad I started local?

When times got hard, I had a safety net.

When the recession hit, and the sales at big shows fell off, when galleries were closing left and right, my local audience saved my ass.

In all the years I’d bemoaned the lack of a ‘local audience’, my small band of collectors and supporters was actually growing quietly and steadily.

My open studios became more successful. My sales at state craft venues climbed–the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair; the League shops: the Sharon Arts Center. Each year, just as sales tapered off at one venue, another would leap ahead. (For various reasons, my work tends to ‘cycle’ in popularity. Instead of despairing when sales falter, I now know to sit tight and come back with new work in a year or two.)

I now feel honored and supported by my local community.

As I said in my article about local self-promotion, publicizing your successes goes a long way to building that local audience. But I’ve learned it’s well worth the effort.

With the ease of discovering new markets and venues on the Internet, I don’t feel any artist is limited anymore to a local market. But I wouldn’t discount them, either.

Put your eggs in both baskets, and see what happens.

FEAR AND ART

Let fear enlighten you, not enslave you.

(This post was written just before we invaded Afghanistan. Or Iraq. I can’t remember now.)

A poster on a discussion forum put into words what all of us have been feeling lately, but hate to admit out loud. The artist had a show coming up soon. Should they cancel it because of the impending war? Maybe no one would show up.

Many of us chimed in with a resounding “no!”, stressing the need to live life as normally as possible until forced to do otherwise.

The discussion eventually meandered into a discussion of other things. But the original post got me thinking about fear and anxiety in general.

Some of my favorite books about getting control of your life, have the word “fear” in them.

Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway) by Susan Jeffers, is a pragmatic book about recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety/discomfort that comes from taking risks and making changes–but not letting that anxiety stop you.

Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel, I’ve read in chunks and bits, with some good sections about overcoming the obstacles to creativity. (The guy is more long-winded than I am, but there’s some good stuff in there.)

Another book I highly recommend is Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It proposes that being creative is all about having fear and self-doubt. So embrace and move through them–it’s part of the territory. Just don’t give in to them.

The last is not a “creativity” book at all. It’s The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. In a nutshell, the book is about the knowing the difference between general, free-floating anxiety vs. the genuine fear that alerts us we are truly in danger.

When we are in real danger, we sense it, whether we acknowledge the signals or not. We know that strange guy who offered to help us made us uneasy. We know there’s something about that new person we’re dating that just isn’t right. We may tamp down that feeling because of social conditioning or magical thinking, but we do have it.

Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious. It keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash. It makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent. It makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time. It keeps us from dangling our feet over the edge of our inner tube while floating in the ocean. (Jaws, anyone?)

Statistics show us that we are more likely to die from a bee sting than a shark attack. Yet we don’t flee at the sight of a flower-filled meadow. If you look at cold hard facts, we are much more likely to buy the farm every day when we belt ourselves into our cars and head out to work or the mall: Car accidents kill more people each year than the total number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam war. Yet I know of no one who has stopped driving their car because of the risk of an accident.

My advice to the original poster was:

I hesitate to add my two cents’ worth on this issue, since I don’t do many shows. But I think if you start making decisions based on fear and anxiety, you are heading down a slippery slope. Yes, it’s natural to worry about current events. Almost impossible not to. But when you start making business decisions based on “what if?”… well, “What if…?” can kill every effort you make to grow your business.

One way to think of this is: What’s the worst that could happen? If you bombed at this show, would it bring your business to a halt?

And if so, don’t you really take that chance at every show you do? Your thinking is, “We might be at war, and maybe no one will come.” What about, “It might rain and everyone would stay home.” Or maybe “There might be a strong wind, and my tent might blow away!” Or “The stock market might crash, and no one will be able to afford my work.” All those events are possibilities, too. (And actually, all of them did, indeed, come to pass.) You plan for them as best you can, evaluate the real, tangible risks–and then decide.

I’d say, unless the show promoters cancel the show, it would be good business to show up as you contracted to do. If, after doing a few shows, you decide current events are impacting your bottom line severely, then that’s the time to sit down and re-evaluate how you’re going to restructure your business to accommodate that.

It takes a certain amount of determination to turn this free-floating anxiety around, unless you’re by nature an optimist. And I’m not. I’m a born pessimist. And turning this attitude around is not a one-shot deal. I have to revisit it again, and again, and again. And sometimes I still need someone else to point it out to me. And sometimes, by reassuring someone else, I find I’ve reassured myself.

Some tips that have helped me:

Read a book, forum or article about dealing with fear. It sometimes helps to realize you are not the only person who’s feeling this way!

Find people whose judgment you’ve come to trust, and check in with them. Not someone you ought to trust, someone you’ve learned you can trust. Someone who’s earned your trust. For decisions about my kids and their growing need for personal responsibility and freedom, I have a very small collection of parents whose opinion I value. I know they have similar values, I know they respect my values, and I’ve learned to trust how they come to their decisions. They don’t belittle my concerns or beliefs, they just tell me how they got to their decision.

I’ve learned not to expect everything from one person, too. I’ve learned that I have parent-decision type friends, business/art type friends, family-dynamic expert type friends, etc. Find those solid people in every one of your life sectors. And when one of them goes through their own difficult times, recognize when they are not able to help you with that area (temporarily or permantly.) In other words, constantly evaluate your support structure.

Learn from yourself. Keep track of the times you’ve successfully battled anxiety, and remind yourself of those times. For myself, I find it immensely helpful to write about my anxieties. I keep a daily handwritten journal. I would die of embarrassment if anyone read of anything I’ve written there–I complain and swear a lot! But I also find that making my anxiety concrete by describing exactly what I’m afraid of, is the first step to working through it.

Get absurdly reasonable. Seek professional help if you have to. One strategy is called cognitive therapy, was hugely helpful for me. Here’s an example:

A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”

Therapist: “Well…what would the logical consequences of this event be?” (An illogical conclusion might be, “I’ll become a bag lady!” That’s possible, but is it probable?)

Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I’d have to sell my house.”

Therapist: “So what would happen then?”

Patient: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”

Therapist: “And what would that mean?”

Patient: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”

Therapist: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”

Patient: “Oh. Okay. So I guess that wouldn’t be so terrible…”

This is a simple version, of course. And we all know some people do have worse consequences. But for most of us, yes, losing our job might been living in a place with tinier rooms. Been there, done that. Survived.

Recognize, as de Becker points out, that anxiety drains our batteries, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared for real danger when it crosses our path. Recognize that anxiety is our engine racing without engaging the clutch–it doesn’t take us anywhere, it’s just noisy and uses up a lot of gas.

Consider medication. I know this is not for everyone, and it doesn’t “fix” everything. But I found that a very low dose of anti-depressant was enough to take the crippling knife edge of anxiety away. Now I do less obsessing, and gentler fretting. (This was after trying exercise, massage, meditation, yoga, tai chi and my favorite, lots and lots of red wine.) (I still like these things, but I’m saner now. Really.)

Last, embrace your fears. Being involved in hospice has healed a lot of things. I’m not fear-less by any stretch of the imagination (and boy, can I stretch it!). When it comes to change, I still drag my feet. I still hate touching seaweed when I’m swimming.

But I’ve learned that many of the things I used to be afraid of, are simply not as bad as I’d imagined.

I accept some anxiety and fear as part of being human. They are my small, often annoying, ever-nagging companions. Even as I sit here, I am worrying about….ten different things. No, twelve. But I also look out the window and marvel at the first spring rain. I am so grateful for all the blessings in my life. I listen to the sound of my breath moving in and out, so regular and easy.

Life may be long or short, hard or sweet, with joyful ups and crazy downs A few little moments of terror and wonder thrown in. Usually a good mix. And it’s good to simply be alive, to savor this moment, with a little peace in my heart.

I wish the same for you.

CLIMBING OVER ROAD BLOCKS

One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.

(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)

Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.

If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!

But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??

Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.

Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.

Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.

Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)

The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.

Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.

What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.

Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….

You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.

Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!

I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.

If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.

Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.

And no one succeeds by giving up.

Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.

There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.

I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.

Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.

I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.

She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.

This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.

If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.

Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”

Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.

Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)

It’s a miracle! :^)

Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR–You Might Get It!

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

(This post was originally published December 11, 2002.)

“Be careful what you wish for….” This has to be my least-favorite proverb in the world. It’s like those folktales about fools wasting silly wishes (“The Sausage“) and bargains with the devil (“The Monkey’s Paw.”) People get their wishes granted, but live to regret it.

Making wishes is dangerous business, these stories seem to warn us. You can wish for the most wonderful thing in the world and the powers that be will twist it against you. Fairies’ gold turned to dry leaves in the morning light.

It takes the very joy out of wishing, doesn’t it? And what a depressing view of the universe! “The universe likes nothing better than to give with one hand and take away with the other.” Yow!

Taken another way, though, this proverb is actually excellent advice. Instead of a dour caution, see it as an challenge to dig deep into your heart, to what you really want.

When we regret a wish we’ve been granted, it’s often because we unconsciously limited the dream before it left our heart. We down-sized it to increase our chances of getting something. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We’re afraid to ask for too much.

Because we don’t really believe our wishes can come true.

You can see this limiting process at work when people take their first tentative steps in their work. I did it. You’ve probably done it, too. You ask for so little. Then when you get it, it’s just not enough. Or it’s just all wrong.

Years ago, I reclaimed my artistic self. (I know, I know, it sounds like I picked up my dry cleaning….)

I didn’t ask for much. I attended a seminar for women artists. I told a roomful of strangers my dream was to make wonderful little toys—tiny dolls, knitted sheep—that you could hold in your hand and marvel at. I wanted to make things that made people happy.

It’s a nice thought. But in reality, I couldn’t imagine affecting people in a more profound way than to appeal to their sense of playfulness.

I didn’t think I had anything deeper or more substantial in me.

So I wished for a way to sell lots of my little toys. Of course, each one took a minimum of two hours to make. And I wanted to make sure they would sell, so I kept the price really low.

After doing some very small local craft shows, I got my heart’s desire. A local store requested four dozen sheep, and of course, they wanted them yesterday.

I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but knitting sheep.

At first it was fun. Each sheep was so cute! But after five in a row, the joy faltered. It was… Hmmmm… Let’s just say that knitting little sheep—lots of little sheep—gets boring fast.

After twelve, I never wanted to see another skein of cream-colored yarn again. At #24, all I could think of was, “Twenty-four down, twenty-four to go.” By #42, I was sick unto death of little knitted sheep.

And I still had to sew them up, and tie little tiny bells on each one.

I managed to squeak out all 48. And swore I’d never make another.

I kept one or two of my stash, because they are so darned cute. And also as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Because in addition to all that knitting, I messed up on figuring my wholesale price. I’d simply cut my retail price in half. So I got $5 per sheep. Ouch. I probably made less than $2 an hour, after my cost for materials.

I didn’t see this granted wish as a disappointment. Okay, I’ll be honest. At first I did.

But then I saw it as a blessing. Thank heavens I hadn’t gotten more orders!

So here’s what I learned from this experience:

I learned production work was not for me. I learned how to establish a decent wholesale price. And at least I had $240 in my pocket, enough money to finance my next endeavors. (Hint: I did NOT buy yarn to make more sheep.)

As time went by, this process occurred over and over.

More ideas and more opportunities crossed my path. Each time I’d think, “Maybe this is the thing that will take off!” They always did—just enough to buy more supplies and make my hobby pay for itself—but not in the way I’d hoped. I followed them til they either petered out or til they grew into something that took me too far away from my heart’s desire. Then I’d let go, and move on.

Along the way I learned a lot about making and selling things. I learned how to sell wholesale to retail stores. I learned about signage and display. I learned how to price my work, how to create a distinctive and original product, how to locate wholesale sources for supplies. I took my profits and reinvested them in my business.

I learned the pros and cons of building a strictly local audience. I learned the potential–and the limits–of advertising. I learned how to promote myself and my work.

I taught classes when I could, but soon learned a little teaching goes a long way for me. I’d rather make more and teach a little. (But I also found I could teach through this blog.)

Finally, I learned what I really wanted, what was truly in my heart.

If you had asked me way back then what I wanted, I would have said, “I want to make something that makes people happy.” I wasn’t digging very deep into what makes me tick.

It turns out there was a story there, a story about how my dreams were echoed in the prehistoric artwork from a cave in France. I thought about why this story was important to me, and how I was going to share that story with the world.

I found a focus and a drive I’d never experienced before. Everything I’d learned about business was now centered on getting my story and my art out into the world.

When I ran into what seemed like insurmountable difficulties, I solved them through perseverance, research and experimentation.

And I loved the entire process. Even the parts that drove me crazy. I was learning so much about myself, my art and my business.

Everything began to fall into place. Opportunities lay everywhere, more than I could take on. Doors opened, people appeared in my life, solutions beckoned.

I still experience failure, but it doesn’t stop me now. It’s a call to evaluate what I really want and whether I’m still on task to achieve it.

I see the presence of something in my life that treasures my creativity, that supports me achieving my dream.

If my true wish had been to sell lots of knitted sheep, there are business models to support that. I could have hired knitters, located a sales rep, done gift shows. But my real wish was to make something totally of myself, so fulfilling and intriguing that I would not tire of the production process; and to make something with such value and power, people would pay a lot to own one.

I had a wish big enough to last me a lifetime. That was the right wish to be granted!

Most small business experts say it can take five years to get a new business off the ground. Even the IRS recognizes that. There’s a lot of learning and failing, growth and change in five years of business….

So look at what you’re doing now. Think about your biggest, deepest wish.

Will you outgrow your current dream? Will you still love it five years from now? If my first wish had been granted five years earlier, I would have outgrown it within six months.

Are you digging deep? Get past the “nice” things to say (“I want to make people happy”) and find your true story. There’s power there.

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

MY BUSY, BUSY LIFE

My Busy, Busy Life
by Luann Udell

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

As modern day artists, we are blessed to have access to all kinds of information about how to make, exhibit, market and sell our art. Art books, art galleries, art magazines, art blogs, art consultants, art reviewers, all give us excellent inspiration, advice, venues and opportunities. The internet puts all this information right at our fingertips and speeds up the entire research process.

Just in case we still have trouble, we don’t have to look far for help. Today in my e-mailbox I have at least a dozen offers from different internet gurus selling their services to help me market my business in all kinds of ways.

The one that caught my eye this morning was about getting things done. Today’s topic was making decisions. Faced with so many opportunities and possibilities, we often still find ourselves paralyzed and unable to move forward. The key, this particular guru claimed, is not enough information.

Hmmmmm, I thought. Not enough information? Or…too much?

Years ago, I was one of those people who researched my budding art career to the max. I was like a sponge, soaking up everything I could get my hands on, any information that could tell me how to stay inspired; how to find galleries to represent me; how to get my work published.

This approach is effective, too. Sometimes you play the numbers—apply to enough exhibitions, for example, and even if you only get into one or two a year, it will quickly add up to an impressive resume. Or you can fine-tune your approach—vetting galleries thoroughly before applying to them, targeting specific jury members or show curators, etc.

As I look back on this busy, busy time, I think I also wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. To me, that meant treating my art as a business, with success attained by achieving measurable goals on a regular basis.

I was such a go-getter, I frightened my peer groups. I was fierce in my pursuit of success.

I was also totally stressed, determined not to let a single opportunity slip by me. I got up early and left my work late, trying to cram 24 hours of business into 12, every single day. Keeping track of all the potential exhibits, shows, galleries and other opportunities was job enough for two or three people–not just a single artist who also had to make the actual artwork.

Then the bottom fell out of the handcraft marketplace. And all my determination and energy, my organizational skills and my beautiful work, suddenly they were getting me nowhere.

I kept trying the same old things, working even harder. I kept trying to figure out what to do next, as if the effects of a recession meant I was “doing something wrong.” Eventually I realized I was throwing good money after bad, as the old reliable venues continued to worsen and fall away completely. A good wholesale show can net enough sales to carry you over a year. A bad one, at $5,000 a pop in fees and expenses, can drive you quickly in bankruptcy.

I was left with a handful of galleries, no more big shows, a dwindling customer base, and a huge mountain of business debt.

So. In a culture where money is the coin of the realm, where money is often the easiest measure of our success….

What does it mean when nobody is buying our art?

It can feel like either your work is no good, or that nobody wants it, or both.

To survive as an artist, I had to change something–fast!

I had to do some deep thinking about WHY I made art, and WHO I was making it for. I had to find a way to stay the course, even when it seemed like the world did not want or need my art.

I realized, finally, that maybe it seemed like the world didn’t want my art–today.

But I needed to make it.

So I let my focus drift. I stopped looking for the “one big thing” or “the next really great show” that would make me successful. I began to see “success” in a very different way. This will be different for everyone, of course. I’m still on that journey, too, so don’t ask too many pointed questions yet! :^)

I grew grateful for the people who still wanted it, even when it was hard for them to buy it. I realized I was learning a lot about myself in the process of making art. I began to share that with people, in my booth at shows, on my blog—and people responded to that.

I began to soften my focus. I even let go of the money thing. I quit pounding on doors. I stopped adding shows to my schedule and even dropped some major ones. I fell off the advertising bandwagon, simply alerting my current customer base when I was doing a show or having an open studio.

I became more comfortable with NOT KNOWING. Not knowing what to do next. Not knowing how much money I could expect to make from any venue or show. Not knowing what where this will all lead.

Instead of looking for the next “big thing”, I focused on making the next $100, slowly chipping away at my business debt.

And a funny thing happened.

My work slowly, but steadily, began to sell again.

Even as galleries cut back on their inventory, others clamored for it. Even as some shut down, others opened. Customers who had not made a purchase in years, suddenly needed a piece of my jewelry or fiber art in their lives. Internet sales picked up.

Within a year I was able to pay down my debt, and have enough money left over to take me through the upcoming year.

Why? I’m not sure. Something of the passion I put into my work, and the place it has in my life, was resonating with other people who wanted the same thing. A reason not to DO, but to BE. Telling that story and letting people respond.

I’d love to say I figured out that this new kind of relationships were key to this new business/life model. But I didn’t. It just happened when I quit struggling so hard. It happened when I let go of controlling everything so well.

I just fell into it by wanted something deeper than simple monetary success. By being open to a different opportunity. And that has started me down a whole other kind of journey with my art.

In fact, during my open studio last week, a customer said something wonderful about my work, how highly personal and original it is. I said, “Yes, when I first started out, I knew not everyone would want my work. And I still know not everyone needs it….” Before I could say any more, she raised a finger and said, “They don’t know they need it….YET.”

Oh, and the example given in the highly-focused email I got today? It was about managing your email. Yep. An entire article on how to manage all that stuff in your inbox.

Me? I think I’ll just let the in box sit for awhile. And go make something beautiful today.

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MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR OPEN STUDIO

Making the Most of Your Open Studio
by Luann Udell on 10/14/2010 10:08:54 AM

With permission from Fine Art Views, the art blog I write for, I’m reprinting today’s blog post here on MY blog! :^)

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

I just finished a two-day open studio event, as part of a group that began a few years ago here in New Hampshire. I’ve done other open studios, on my own and as part of larger groups. This particular one is a good one to consider for what works and what doesn’t; we’re a small group (25 artists) and we’ve built it from scratch. It was our third tour and we finally started to see the results of all our hard work.

In the past two years, I felt fortunate if I made enough sales to meet expenses. I had to find other ways to value the experience beyond sales.

Of course, there’s the reward of having a clean studio. In the two weeks I deep-cleaned my space, I finally found all my scissors. And discovered I have not one, not two, but FOUR paper cutters. (Yes, I gave one away.)

I’ve come to appreciate the emotional rewards of hosting such an event. It can be a great way to thank current customers—they love an invitation to see you in your little world!

I discovered the joy of sharing my space with a compatible artist and friend. We tag-teamed the set-up, food and demonstrations. The good energy we created was palpable.

I found new collectors, and met more people who support what I’m doing. I reconnected with long-lost friends and made new ones. A small get-together is planned for like-minded stamp carvers. A defunct artist support group now plans to get back together.

There’s no single right way to have an open studio, of course, and some people prefer not to do them at all. Sometimes our galleries encourage these events, knowing that creating that relationship between artist and collector will benefit all concerned. And sometimes our galleries don’t like it at all.

Here are some thoughts on what worked for us and how to keep everybody happy. It’s not comprehensive, but it may give you insights on aspects of planning that are often overlooked.

Feel free to add your thoughts and share your experiences, too!

It takes time.

You might get lucky and have a stellar event your first time out. I did in years when money was flowing more freely. Nowadays, it can take time. Sometimes you just have to keep doing an event until it gains momentum. That seemed to be the case with our tour.

Piggy-back on another tour/event/holiday.

There’s another more established art tour in our area that runs on the same weekend. Some of their members were miffed we did ours the same time. Others were thrilled. They knew that more options generates more opportunities. Yes, some of their “frequent fliers” tried our tour this year—some of these visitors said they simply wanted to try something new. Next year, our “regulars” will surely try theirs. It’s win/win for everyone.

We also picked a popular regional holiday weekend (Columbus Day) which is perfect for enjoying the fall foliage in New England. People are out and about and looking for things to do. “What a beautiful vista…. Hey! There’s a sign for an art studio tour. Let’s go see some artists!”

Which brings us to…

Marketing is important.

Our signs brought a lot of people in. We had great advertising, too, and snagged some good publicity (free!) in the form of newspaper articles, too. But signs hammer the point home. My husband drove around the area that weekend for a rock climbing venture. He commented that he saw our signs everywhere!

We tried to save money by making our own signs. They are eclectic and fun. But they’re not holding up well and a good wind knocks them off their pinnings. We may end up having signs made commercially—more money, but also more durable. If local politicians running for office can have decent signs, we can, too!

Create a great brochure and an excellent map.

We’re lucky–one of our members had these skills. He designed a lovely brochure using the theme and the rich colors of autumn to tie us all together. It’s bold, bright and professional-looking. He found an extremely affordable online printer and we placed them in key locations all over the area. I heard many compliments about our brochure. It just made us look like we really knew what we were doing! (I’ve included images of it. Forgive my lack of photography skills with glossy paper…) (I forgot to show the map. Trust me, it’s there!)

Tip: Targeting your audience gives you the most bang for your buck. I do a big retail show a month before the tour. I gave every customer a brochure with their purchase and offered them to anyone who expressed a wish to see my studio. Each and every one was delighted with this “personal invitation”. And a lot of them came, too. (I was touched by the collectors who couldn’t come and called to let me know—just as if they’d been invited to a party!)

Work with your galleries.

Some artists have a local gallery that represents them. One particular gallery is not happy when artists sell directly to customers. They believe all sales should go through them. If this happens, try to work out a compromise that keeps everyone happy. One artist only shows and sells work for the open studio that is not in the gallery. This can be work from a different series that’s not compatible with the gallery’s client base, or smaller, lower-priced work (the gallery doesn’t carry her miniatures, for example) or even unframed pieces. They are also more willing to let her sell for very short term events, like our local Art Walk.

You’ll also be wise to never undersell your gallery. That’s almost guaranteed to lose you your place with them. Instead, try the different series/smaller pieces/work-they-don’t-want-to-carry approach.

If your protesting gallery is a major account for you, you might even consider offering them a commission on the work you sell during this event.

Create groups within each location.

Your current customers may feel fine coming to your studio already. New visitors will feel much more comfortable if you have more than one artists in your location. It’s just human nature—multiple options make people feel they’re sure to find something/someone they like! Artists who double up (or even three or four) in a studio consistently report more visitors and more sales than lone artists.

I shared my studio with my friend and fellow artist, Nicole Caulfield. Her work is excellent and appealing, and her personality is, too. We love each other’s work and that showed in the energy level here all weekend. People commented on how wonderful it felt in our space, over and over.

Grouping artists together also allows you to grow your artist list without expanding your tour. We wanted people to visit “all 25 artists” on our tour and created a contest to encourage that. In reality, it would be impossible for someone to do that in two days.

Some folks in our group are talking about limiting the number of artists for that reason. But you want new faces on the tour because…..

Offer variety.

….People love the new. They want to see new artists, new work, new studios. I’m going to suggest to our group that we allow new artists to join a current participating artist in their studio for a year or two. That will allow us to grow our artist list slowly, without adding more stops for a few years. (We’ll be able to reuse our “studio number” signs for a couple years, too!)

Jury your artists (or at least know the quality of their work) for a consistent tour. But don’t worry about having only “proven sellers” on your tour. We have both big names and emerging artists on our tour. People love to see artists at all stages of their careers.

Create variety in your stable of artists, too. Some people get picky about what is “art” and what’s not. By adding a few woodworkers, a potter and a jewelry artist to the tour, we created more buzz for the tour and offered something for everyone. (Why do you think fine art museums have gift shops?)

Let your friends and current customers know. And use social media, too.

I used to do a full postcard mailing for these events. Last year, I finally created an email group for my customers, supporters and friends. A few weeks before the event, I did an email blast and a couple Facebook announcements. I added photos of my studio and images of new work.

I was astonished how well that worked! The times they are a-changin’…..

Be family-friendly.

Me and my buddy Nicole (Nicole's the petite one on the left!)
A display of my artifacts
Nicole worked on a drawing.

I’m always astonished at the folks who can barely tolerate children in their booths or studio. It’s true, usually people with kids are too busy with the kids to actively shop. But it allows people to come who otherwise would have to hire a sitter. We found little things for kids to do and enjoy. Not only were parents and grandparents grateful, I think my friend lined up a few portrait commissions. (She captures children beautifully in her work.)

And tell yourself you are laying the groundwork for a future generation’s appreciation of art and craft.

Remember to have fun.

In our culture, where money is often the measure of our success, it’s good to remember that an open studio doesn’t have to be just about the sales. Yes, I want my work to sell. But I also value the relationships I have with my collectors. At my open studio, they are my guests. Treat your open studio as a way to thank your loyal supporters, consider sales the gravy, and you will never be disappointed.

Yep, that's my work on the cover!

WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….

Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.

A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.

At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…

…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.

Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?

If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!

My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.

Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.

But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.

I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)

They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.

So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.

Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.

I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.

I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.

Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:

This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.

After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?

It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.

My request is simple:

Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)

Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….

Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….

Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….

Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?

Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?

Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?

We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)

So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)

I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.

Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.

So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.

I thank her for loving my work.

And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.

I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….

…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…

…And tell the story only I can tell.

TAGLINES

This is a blog post from my nearly-defunct 1000 Markets store:

I’m often asked about my tag line: “Ancient Stories Retold in Modern Artifacts” What does it mean??

When I first started making my little artifacts, I was inspired by a prehistoric cave in France called the Lascaux cave.

As I made my own little horses, bears, fish, I imagined all kinds of stories about why those ancient people created such work of beauty and power.

Eventually I realized that their stories had become MY story. That all people create stories, no matter how separated they are by time, space, cultural differences.

We all yearn to be connected, to be part of a tribe. Yet we also yearn to discover who we are as individuals. Throughout our lives, we strive to be the person we dream of being–an artist, a singer, a lover, a mother, a hero, whatever we bring to the world that would make it a better place.

This yearning calls to me. And in time, I realized each little animal I made had its own little story to tell me.

And now I share these stories with you. I hope my little artifacts give you the hope, the inspiration, the joy you need to be the person YOU dream of being, every day.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Today’s essay is a rewrite of a column I originally wrote for the September 2004 issue of CraftsBusiness magazine. I’m writing an update for my column in The Crafts Report magazine next month, and wanted to provide the back story. Enjoy!

I can still remember the day I came up with my perfect business name. My tiny business was in its infancy, with great dreams of what was to come. A mail order business? Perhaps a small retail craft gallery?

I wanted a catchy little name that could encompass any possibility. We had a little family joke about any extra cash that came our way. Many people might blow it on an expensive dinner out or concert tickets, but I would joke that I put all my extra money into “durable goods”. So when the time came to register my business name with the State of New Hampshire, I was ready to go.

Our state is small enough to make the trip to the appropriate government offices in person. Determined to snag this name before anyone else thought of it, I waited hours in line to file, then waited for a decision.

I was turned down.

I waited more hours for the person who had made that decision to return from lunch, to find out why.

“It’s not very distinctive,” she declared. “‘Durable Goods’….It doesn’t say what you do. Don’t you think you should have something descriptive, like ‘Luann’s Art Studio’, or ‘Luann’s Craft Shop’? How can you be successful with a name that isn’t about what you DO??”

I thought for a moment, looked her straight in the eye and said, “The Gap?”

Needless to say, she reversed her decision. I was soon out the door with my brand new business name.

Time went on. As my work became more art-like, and I felt more like an artist, I wondered if my wonderful business name was still working for me as it should. I asked other artists, craftspeople and craft retailers for their opinion.

It looked like my attempt to look like a “real business” instead of a one person operation was actually working against me. Customers, even wholesale customers, found it hard to connect my business name with ME, Luann Udell. A “studio” name felt more like a big operation to retail customers, rather than a single artist at work.

It was time for a change.

Thinking of all the extra work involved to change my biz name convinced me I did not need to hurry, though. Until I got my wake-up call from the universe.

One morning I found a very odd message on my answering machine. A frantic woman had called, claiming I had run fraudulent charges through my business on her stolen credit card.

I felt my stomach sink to my feet. With shaky hands, I called the number she’d left. I tried to keep my voice steady and pleasant as I asked for her extension.

She took my call and told me her tale of woe.

Her credit card had been stolen, and thousands of dollars’ worth of charges made. She’d spent days with her credit card company trying to sort the mess out. Over and over, she repeated the name “Durable Goods” as the business these charges had been made to.

I was sympathetic but bewildered. It was a slow time of year for me and I hadn’t taken any credit card orders recently. Her name wasn’t on any of my customer lists. I checked and rechecked, assuring her I would do whatever it took to fix this for her. But I simply couldn’t find a single record of any purchase in her name.

I asked her how she knew I had accepted her credit card number. She said she’d talked extensively to her customer service rep, and he’d repeated the name “Durable Goods” several times. On her own, she’d Googled that, found my website, and contacted me.

A glimmer of understanding dawned. I asked her to repeat exactly what the credit card company rep had said to her. “He said, ‘A charge at Brown’s BackCountry Sports, sporting goods. Black’s Apparel, women’s clothing; and Audio Heaven, durable goods'”, she replied.

Aha!

I explained to her that “sporting goods”, “women’s clothing” and “durable goods” were not the NAMES of the businesses, but the DESCRIPTIONS of the businesses. “Durable Goods” was simply the kind of store her card had been used at.

We called and confirmed it with her credit card company rep. She apologized profusely and hung up. I collapsed back into my chair, highly relieved to be cleared of credit card fraud.

But then I thought of the massive number of fraud and identity theft……

I thought of all the frantic and upset victims trying to sort out all the information passed on to them by their respective credit card companies….

I thought about the tens of thousands of stores selling HDTV’s, computers, stereo equipment, washing machines, computers, all excellent targets for hot cards.

I thought about all the stores with the business description “durable goods”….

Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! Within two weeks I had renamed my business to…..Luann Udell.

A last incident made me realize I’d made a smart decision. That same day, I received a phone call on my business line. I chirped, “Durable Goods!”

“What?? Gerbil Goods??” a quavering elderly voice stammered.

I laughed and repeated my name. She’d misdialed, so I helped her sort out the right number and sent her on her way.

My father-in-law said I really should have taken that name. He claimed that Gerbil Goods in Keene, New Hampster was just too good to pass up.

TIME TO SIT ON MY HANDS AGAIN

I write for several venues now. Fortunately, my humorous column at The Crafts Report rarely draws complaints. (Or maybe it does and Jones Publishing is just shielding me from them….??)

There’s another blog I write for every two weeks, usually about getting your art out there. And it seems like every time I write, someone complains I’m not writing about “art”, just about “selling art”. And the monstrous idea of making art “for filthy lucre” raises its ugly head once again.

The idea of “art for art’s sake” is a very common one among many modern artists. I don’t really disagree. I do hold my art passionately, and with integrity, in my heart. Anyone whose read my blog for the last eight years, or heard me talk, or teach, or met me in my booth, knows that. I will always make my art and I will always write, whether I’m paid to or not. (For example, I’m not paid to write this blog and I’ve been doing it for eight years now.)

We all already create our art with passion, with joy and with zest. I often write about my art processes here. At this other site, I figured a bunch of artists might be less interested in my prattling about MY art, and more interested in how to get to get people excited when they prattle about THEIRS.

And most of them appreciate that. I’ve gotten many thoughtful comments and words of thanks for giving people another point of view, for sharing an insight that helps us be more successful artists, or simply more compassionate people.

But art does NOT exist in a vacuum. If our work only sells “if it’s good enough”, and nothing else should matter, that would limit much of the stuff we normally call “art.” And oh, if only it were that easy….

Exhibiting, publishing, marketing, selling are simply venues for getting one’s work out into the world.

I don’t know why our modern times puts such a judgment on that process. When did getting paid to make art get such a bad rap??? Many of the great masters had wealthy patrons or commissions to do their work. The Sistine Chapel was painted on commission, after all. Picasso was not only a famous artist, he is famous BECAUSE he was a master at self-promotion and marketing. Remember the picture he drew to pay his tailor bill? Or the check he wrote and told the recipient if he waited, the signature would be worth more than the amount of the check? Marketing. (See more “myths about artists” here. (I don’t know why all fourteen don’t show up, but if you do a little digging while you go through these, you should be able to find them all.)

Yes, it would be nice if artists only had to sit and paint/carve/sculpt/write/sing all day, and not worry about anything else. I would be terrific if we could all have someone else to promote, market and sell our work. In fact, it would be wonderful! But it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, that’s what that website for artists I write for is for–to help artists exhibit, show, market AND SELL their work.

Saying we shouldn’t care about exhibiting or selling our art is easy. But most of us DO care, very very much. IMHO, many people who say they don’t care of the world sees their work are actually afraid of the world seeing their work. It is so precious to them, they fear and avoid rejection, ridicule, humiliation. Those fears (very human, and very common to us all) are so powerful, the person would rather embrace obscurity than risk it.

And even if we don’t fear these and truly believe our art is ONLY for ourselves, then we inadvertently disconnect art from its very purpose–to enrich the world emotionally and spiritually. The cave paintings of Lascaux weren’t hidden because they were personal. They were protected because they were so powerful. The welfare of the entire community was wrapped up in their creation. Maybe it was hard to get to see them, but they WERE seen. Evidence of torches, evidence of men, women and children (foot prints, hand prints), even doggy foot prints prove that.

A piece of art that is never exhibited, that is not shared, or sold, is a loss to the world, like a song that is never sung, a poem that is never read. Emily Dickinson is often given as an example of a powerful writer whose work was never published and someone who never sought recognition. But she desperately WANTED to be recognized, and she worked hard trying to get her work published. She wanted her art to be visible in the world. And though it didn’t happen til after her death, the world is richer for her words. Her work was certainly “good enough” to make her successful. But for different reasons, that didn’t happen in her lifetime.

My articles serve many purposes. Sometimes I just need to write about an issue to find my way through it. Sometimes I find a deeper truth than what I originally planned. Sometimes I find myself in a hard place; I’ve learned that being honest about that, and sharing that, will sometimes help someone else through the same rough spot.

I ALWAYS try to encourage everyone who makes art, or who wants to make art, to just do it. The world is full of despair and sadness and hardship. Art serves many purposes, but the one I celebrate is its role in healing some of that. Every work that comes from the joy of our creating is an act of love and healing on our part.

Art is a constant reminder that we are all alike, and that we are all very, very different. I like to believe each of us brings something to the world that can be–should be–celebrated.

Some people feel art has a much narrower role, and a sharper definition. They will not be happy with my writing. And being so open about my thoughts will leave me vulnerable to people who are very comfortable with their own rigid guidelines. So be it. I’d rather be open than limited.

Normally, too, I sit on my hands awhile before responding to people. Right now, I’m in between two major gigs–I just finished a nine-day outdoor show (yes, 9 days!!) and I’m packing to leave for a week-long artist-in-residency (7 days). The mind boggles. Perhaps I am not at my most resilient today.

So for the next few weeks, I am totally immersed in the process of showing/talking about/selling my work. The joy of creating has segued into the power of people connecting with and reacting to my work.

It is a different energy, but part and parcel of the entire process.

THE BEST ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

I found this essay by Paul Graham today–advice for young people in high school, leaving high school, getting ready (or not) for college, and actually, for anyone else, too.

And it is exactly what I wish I’d known in high school. And college. And the first 30 or 40 years of my life. (I finally figured it out when I was 42, I think….)

I came across this by way of the Fine Art Views blog. Fine Art Views is a great resource for artists. It’s kind of geared towards 2D artists, but the advice is general enough for all creative folks.

I’m printing it out for my latest high school graduate. Pass it on to someone you know could benefit–it’s good stuff!

A MAN SHOULD NEVER GAMBLE….

Deciding if you should do a wholesale show.

When people ask if they should do this big-name show or that new wholesale show, I think of that old song by musician David Bromberg….

“A man should never gamble
more than he can stand to lose….”

(From his song, “Diamond Lil” on the Demons in Disguise album.)

This question came up again in a forum I frequent, and this is my response:

I haven’t done the ACRE show in a few years–I did their first show in Las Vegas, and stopped doing wholesale shows soon after, after about seven years of doing shows like BMAC (wholesale), ACC Baltimore (wholesale/retail) & ACRE Las Vegas (wholesale).

Here are some points to consider:

1) Wholesale shows are EXPENSIVE. And even a good wholesale show is with an established reputation and good management, is not a sure thing. Used to be, but not any more.

2) First year shows are notoriously dicey. An artist friend with 30 years in the biz recently told me, “Never do a first year show or a show you can’t drive to.” I’ve learned the hard way this is excellent advice on both counts.

Wholesale buyers are still being cautious, and buyers at first year shows are the most cautious. Adding travel costs and shipping costs (for your booth) on top of that and you can easily spend $5,000 on a show with no guarantee you’ll get the orders to even recoup your investment (let alone enough to make a profit.) I don’t know where you live, but that’s something to consider.

3) Who are your customers? Who do you hope to find there? Years ago a good wholesale show would draw from stores and galleries across the country. Now, more buyers tend to stick close to home. So there MIGHT be buyers from all over, but it’s MORE LIKELY the buyers will be local. So…are stores in Orlando and Florida your target audience?

4) Have you done any shows at all? Even smaller, local ones, just to tweak your booth, display, selling skills, support materials?

I’m all for people going for their dreams and dreaming big. But you say you’ve only been in business a few months, and you’re still in the process of “building a website, creating a collection”, etc. Doing a wholesale show is a huge outlay in money, time, energy.

Are you–and your business–ready??

You might be one of those people we read about who takes that leap and flies. But doing a wholesale show is a HUGE leap, one that’s daunting even for people who already have some experience doing small shows, doing wholesale, etc.

Almost all shows across the country, retail and wholesale, have taken a hit in attendance and sales. And $3,000 is a lot of money. So…..

5) Can you afford to gamble $3,000–and lose?

My advice: I think the smarter bet is to take advantage of the Visiting Artist/ABI program. I was actually a guest faculty member for ABI, and it’s a good deal.

The critique will be helpful (though remember, even expert advice is still just one person’s opinion). They can advise you on all kinds of wholesale matters: Are you sure you’re making an adequate profit on your product? Do you have reliable sources for supplies? (If one critical supplier drops out, can you still make your product?) Are you solid on your production schedule and shipping procedures? Are you familiar with industry standards re: billing, payment, terms, etc.? Do you know how to qualify your buyers?

And you will get a chance to actually visit the show.FWIW, I think the most educational thing any craftsperson can do (who wants to do a wholesale show) is to VISIT THE SHOW FIRST. You’ll get to see what the deal is, you’ll be able to see how many buyers show up, and you’ll get to talk to exhibitors (if they are not busy and if they are willing, of course).

I wrote a entire series on how to wholesale on my old blog, but this new series I did on how to “half wholesale”–get started building your wholesale biz before doing a major show, may be more helpful to you. You can see links to both series here.

And all this information was before selling on the Internet became a “big deal”! Add in all you know now about websites and selling in your own online store, and you’ll be off to a good start