WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Yes, You Have One!

We all have a story that tells us how to live, and who we are.

There were so many beautiful, thoughtful, passionate responses to the last post, I have to write more on the topic.

There were so many threads to follow, too! Copying hit a nerve, on both sides. Some echoed the plaints of many, that they don’t have a story. Some had a story, but didn’t think it was “big enough”. And others were afraid to share theirs.

I don’t have all the answers. I can offer insights I’ve gained, insights gleaned sometimes easily, sometimes painfully, on my own journey as an artist. And I will continue to share those with you as this series continues.

Today, let’s start with how I know you already have a story:

You are a human being.

Over the centuries, there have been many definitions of what it means to be human. From “Man is the animal who uses tools” to “Man is the only animal that blushes–or needs to” (Mark Twain) and “Man is the only animal that uses Mastercard”, we strive to understand what sets us apart from other living things.

I believe we are the animals who tell stories.

We tell stories about everything. Why we don’t think we are pretty. Why our life sucks. Why we were late to that appointment. Why we deserve a raise, or a vacation, or that outrageously expensive pair of boots.

We have stories about why our mom loved our brothers more, why it’s a good thing to believe in God, why someone else is successful and we’re not, and why we’re successful and other people aren’t.

Whether you tell a funny story about your childhood or the sad story of how your first big relationship ended, you are telling a story.

And if you get to a point in life where you are able to dig deeper, when you feel brave enough, or desperate enough, or simply tired of all the b/s you give yourself…

…You will find a story about why you make the art you do.

My gripe is, sometimes we settle for the easy story and don’t go any deeper. That’s why when a creative person says “I just love color!” I cringe. Who doesn’t love color??

Luann's wall o'fabric

But we all gotta start somewhere.

Here’s your incentive to go deeper:

When you start to know your story well enough to share it with others, you will strengthen the connections they form with your work.

Because no matter how unique your story is, and no matter how ordinary your story is, there are people who will relate to it. It will resonate with something in them. It will inspire them. It will make them laugh–or gasp–in recognition.

So let’s get started.

Your homework for today, if you don’t think you have a story about your art, is to write down what you do have. We’ll start there, and we’ll poke at it, and see what happens next.

Get out your pointy sticks!

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EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 3

Your homework, before/after you read this article today, is to take eight minutes and listen to this podcast:

Listen to music excerpt and composer David Lang’s statement by clicking Listen to the whole show on this page. (8 minutes, if you skip the fund raising and stuff at the end.)

After that, if you want to listen to the entire composition without the artist’s comments, you can click on Listen to David Lang’s piece – Départs (18’14”) at the bottom of this page. (18 minutes)

Lang was commissioned to create a very special work of music, to quote the intro at WNYC “Radiolab”:

Imagine that you’re a composer. Imagine getting this commission: “Please write us a song that will allow family members to face the death of a loved one…” Well, composer David Lang had to do just that when a hospital in Garches, France, asked him to write music for their morgue, or “Salle Des Departs.”

Sounds morbid. But this piece is so poignant, I’ve listened to it a dozen times already. (Thank you to Heather Lawless for sharing this example in her recent workshop on artist statements at the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, NH.)

Lang’s comments do not comprise a formal “artist statement”. But the story this artist tells about his work, contains the elements of a powerful artist statement.

Lang does not focus on describing his techniques.

He tells enough about his process to make you want to listen more closely to the music. Akin to one definition of a good artist statement, that it “makes you want to go back and look at the art again.”

He tells why composing this piece meant so much to him. “I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for this opportunity…”

He tells a simple, honest, personal story–about death, loss and grieving–that anyone can relate to.

He shares the effects he used to compose the piece: Music that “cannot be performed live, that is beyond the ability of human beings to perform.” Music he hopes “no one should ever actually have to hear.” These are not semantic word play; they are powerful metaphors for the grief born of of any death–but especially sudden, tragic death.

His goal was to create an environment that, unlike most music, does not tell the listener how to feel or how to act. Instead, it gives permission for the audience to define their own experience. “Here is my contribution. Now I leave you so you can make your own.”

It’s possible someone else might intuitively understand everything he says from the music alone. But I couldn’t. If I’d heard this piece alone, I might think it was pretty, even beautiful.

The power of the artist’s words makes the experience richer, more poignant, and more meaningful. I felt like this artist was taking something deeply important for him, and sharing it with me. I felt that sharing, that connection–and it moved me.

Now, for the artists who want the work to speak for itself, no comment needed from them…. Okay. If you want to split hairs, then yes, Lang says his music does not tell the listener how to feel.

And yes, people listening to it in the room would not hear his words and thoughts overlaid. The music would, indeed, have to “speak for itself”.

But the intended audience is in extreme circumstances, not a concert hall. They are in a situation few of us would wish upon our worst enemy–the last chance to say goodbye to a loved one who will never hear it.

We, the ones with the luxury of sitting back, safely at a distance, and only imagining the horrible circumstances under which we would hear this music, are only fooling ourselves with that academic argument.

When we are afraid to talk about our work in this way, when we focus on technique (“I used a #10 camel’s hair brush on gessoed linen canvas”) or our education (“I studied at this university, or under this famous artist…”), when we resort to cliche’ (“I just love color!”), when when we say nothing and insist our art “speaks for itself”, we shortchange our audience.

We leave them to make their own connection. But we’ve eliminated the human interaction. We say, “No need for me to reveal myself as human, or as a feeling/caring/grieving/loving/being person. You either get it or you don’t. So there!”

I believe, as artists, we can do better than this. I believe our responsibility to our customer, to our audience, to the world, is deeper than this.

There are those who will simply not agree with me, and that’s okay. (Just don’t write to tell me, okay? Not today. Not about this.) Maybe my hospice training is removing another protective layer off my psyche. Maybe my age is showing here. Maybe I’ve always been “too sensitive” for my own good.

There’s a time and a place for more formal, stuffy artist statements, I get that. And hey, I’m still nudging closer to my own truth. Haven’t gotten it down to half a page yet.

But to quote one of my favorite writers….(I love Anne Lamotte and I welcome the opportunity to throw her words at you today):

….Then two things happened. One was that I got obsessed with something my best friend had said right before she died, when she was in a wheelchair, wearing a wig to cover her baldness, weighing almost no pounds, but very serene, very alive. We were at Macy’s. I was modeling a short dress for her that I thought my boyfriend would like. But then I asked whether it made me look big in the hips, and Pammy said, as clear and kind as a woman can be, “Annie? You really don’t have that kind of time.” I just got it. I got it deep in my being. And all of a sudden, two years ago, it began ringing through the chambers of my head again: You don’t have that kind of time.

You really don’t have that kind of time.

We do not know when our last day on earth will be. Maybe we got fifty years, maybe fifty weeks. Maybe ten minutes. There is a certain clarity when we do, and that is one of the many gifts of hospice.

Say what you mean to say. Make the work that is important to you. Share it with the world in a meaningful way. We’re big enough, we’re strong enough.

That’s why we were given the gift of being creative.

And so I say to you all, “Artist! Embrace the power of thy ample heart!”

RISING PRICES

A topic came up on a discussion forum recently, about how to handle customer comments when your prices go up.

We’ve all had this experience ourselves. Not just at the gas pumps, but across the board. I went to pick up a print job for my show postcards a few weeks ago, and the cost had nearly doubled. (To be fair, I always thought their prices were unbelievably low to begin with.)

How you handle this can determine whether you keep or lose a customer. Sympathy is good. An action plan is even better!

The last time this happened to me, it was with a big ticket item (a wall hanging.) The customer was disappointed because she had planned to buy one every year for the past three years–but my prices kept going up.

When the customer expressed genuine disappointment, I had an answer ready.

I explained that my work was getting more complex and more labor intensive. I pointed out that the smaller ones sold quickly, leaving me with larger pieces by the time I got to this particular show.

My action plan? I said I would work to get her a wall hanging this year, whether it was a smaller, custom order in her price range or a layaway plan for the one she wanted.

She chose the former. We discussed what it would take to make “the perfect piece” for her, and she left her deposit payment.

It took her almost a year to pay for it, but she was very happy with the arrangement. I remember the day I called her to tell her it was on its way to her. She was so excited! (I still have her thank you letter posted on my bulletin board.)

I think when you offer a solid explanation, genuine sympathy for their expectations being dashed, and a good action plan for getting them on-board, you might still be able to turn that initial disappointment into a sale. I wouldn’t ignore that. I’d acknowledge it and try to work with it.

Times are harder all the way around, but it’s encouraging people when still want your work. It means they’ve formed a meaningful connection for it. That’s what we need to focus on–how to acknowledge and respect that desire and how keep it burning.

Years ago, way before I became an artist myself, I admired an artist’s work at a local show. I loved her work and I loved her enthusiasm and upbeat personality. I planned to save and buy a piece at the next show.

But when I found her the following year, she’d raised her prices a lot. (A lot.)

I expressed disappointment–I really liked her work, but now it seemed beyond reach.

I can still remember her obnoxious, hoity-toity attitude which made me feel like a crumb. (I think maybe she’d been “discovered” in the meantime–this was the ’80’s!) She made it clear she couldn’t be bothered with such a small potato like me anymore, because she was in the big-time.

Even years later when I made more money and could have afforded her work, I didn’t care to.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #3: It Broke!!

Third in series of how to move certain people out of your booth at a craft show.

The next kind of “undesirable person” is actually very a little different. First, because they used to be a highly desirable person–a former customer. Second, because it’s not actually about getting them out of your booth. It’s more about getting them turned around.

It’s the person who bursts into your booth (why is it always when you have a bunch of customers??) carrying a piece of jewelry they bought from you last year, and exclaiming (and why is it always in a very loud voice??), “I bought this necklace from you last year, and it just broke for no reason!!

This is awful on so many levels. Where do I start?

It’s awful to go through all that time and effort and energy to sell my work, only to find out that person is unhappy with it. It just sucks bigtime.

Then there’s the terrible thought that you’ve made something that didn’t hold up. What does that say about my claims of using high-quality materials, having strong technical skills, and making good work?

Finally, here I am with a booth full of potential new customers, who are watching this little melodrama unfold with ‘bated breath. Here is the artist herself assuring us her work is beautiful, of good quality and will make you happy for years to come. Here is a customer who believed the artist last year, who spent good money on the artist’s work. And now this same customer is decidedly unhappy, waving a broken whatsit around in her hand, claiming it “just fell apart” and confronting the artist. Oh my, this is better than Jerry Springer!

First things first.

Realize the piece has “failed” because they loved it so much, they it wore it a lot.

Realize their consternation is because they are unhappy because they can’t wear it.

Realize the unhappy person may also have marshaled a lot of negative energy because she is unsure of her reception. She doesn’t know how she will be treated.

Most of us have experienced about the runaround we get when we are unhappy with a service or product. We are often met with indifference, or defensiveness, or disbelief about what happened.

She is afraid she will treated the same way.

And, worse, every single person in your booth is now thinking, “That customer could be me next year!!” They are watching and listening to see what you will do.

A lot is riding on what you chose to do next.

Do not–do not–go to the unhappy place. The place where you are embarrassed, defensive, angry, upset. Do. Not. Go. There.

It is so tempting to be defensive or to blame the customer. And I have to say here, in 75%-85% of the pieces I get back that need repair, it is not because of any flaw in my design or work, nor the quality of my components. In fact, the number one cause of damage to my jewelry is from the piece being worn to death. (Several customers have told me they wear my silk cord necklaces everywhere and never take them 0ff–lap swimming, into the shower, into the ocean. Oh dear….)

You must bring all your resources to bear to turn this situation, and this customer, around.

If you can hold those thoughts in your head, if you can see all the threads while you are being flooded with embarrassment and your pride is taking a beating, you will be okay. Not just okay–you can turn this whole scenario into an extremely powerful marketing opportunity.

You can show the world who you are. Or, at least, you can show the world the person you’d like to be.

The first thing out of your mouth absolutely must be the apology.

“I’m so sorry!”

Sincerely, heartfelt, sad. You must acknowledge that your customer is unhappy, distraught, disappointed, with absolutely no judgment or defensiveness. This is the only way to defuse the situation so you can figure out what your next steps will be.

In fact, I can say these words sincerely, because even while I am being flooded with dismay, with defensiveness, with resentment (because I am a small and insecure person at heart, just like anyone else), I can honestly say, “I am so sorry you are coming into my booth and waving that broken necklace around and making me out to be an incompetent, disreputable artist.” “I am so sorry there is a booth full of people watching us right now!” “I am so sorry you found me!!” And if I’m honest, “I’m so sorry I might have screwed up!!”

Nonetheless, an apology is needed, there is no need to say those thoughts out loud, and apologizing will smooth the way for everything to follow. You will feel better you did not bark first, ask questions later. And everyone will start to relax.

The next step is reassurance. You will take care of this. You will fix it. It will be okay. “As I told you when you bought your necklace last year, my work is guaranteed. I use good components and I stand by my work. I’m sure I can fix it.”

Not only that, I often thank the person for bringing the piece back to me. “I am so glad you like my work so much. Thank you for bringing it back so I can make this right!” And I apologize again for the inconvenience to them: “I’m so sorry you had to bring it back. Let’s look at it.”

There! The message is, “Even if something goes wrong, it will still be okay.” Again, everyone in your booth takes a deep breath. No Jerry Springer-style fistfights today!

Since you made the darn thing, you should be able to quickly tell what happened. Did the clasp fail? Was a knot improperly glued? Did the cord break? How will you fix it? Let the person know that you know what you’re doing. “Oh, I see what happened! This is an older clasp–I used to use these when I first started out, but then I switched to a better style. I’ll be happy to replace that for you! Let me take this back to my studio. I can fix it after the show (you knew that was coming, right?) and I will mail it back to you free of charge for your trouble.”

(I don’t advise trying to make even a simple repair at the show, unless you are absolutely sure it will work. First, it ties you up and takes you away from selling. Second, if you can’t make it work, you just come off looking a little worse.)

This inspection also gives you a chance to talk up your work. That older clasp, for example. Did she buy it recently? From you directly, or from a store or gallery? If she bought it from you, you can say, “Wow, that must have been awhile back–when did you get it?” If it’s a long time, you can say, “So you are an early collector of my work! I’m so delighted–thank you! And you been wearing it every day since? WOW!!” and so on.

If she bought it from a nice gallery, you can talk up the gallery: “Oh, yeah, that is a really great gallery! Very prestigious–they carry beautiful work by some of the top artists in the country. I’m honored they carry my work. Hey, you mean you picked my jewelry out of all the gorgeous work in that store?! I’m flattered!”

These things come easily for me because I am honored, and I am flattered, and I am grateful. I’m getting past the defensiveness, and connecting to the good and the positive and the powerful in this whole transaction.

That is what I want everyone in the booth to be aware of. That’s what I want the customer to be aware of.

There! You have shown this customer, and every potential customer in your booth, that you excel at customer service.

But what if it isn’t your fault? What if you can tell the piece has been mishandled, mistreated or misused?

Doesn’t matter. You do not want to assign “blame” just yet. You want to turn this episode into a positive experience. And interrogating the customer about how it broke will out her on the defensive again.

If I’m alone in my booth, I might take on this next step. Otherwise, I wait until after the show, either after I’ve made the repair (so I can call with the good news) or when I’m about to start with the repair, depending on what I suspect is the cause of the damage.

This is when you can begin a gentle, non-threatening chain of questioning to find out what really happened when the jewelry “just broke for no reason.”

First, I tell them the good news–it’s on its way back. I tell them what I did to repair it. (I also include an invoice with the piece, listing the repairs and services, with a cost, even if I end up noting “no charge”. I want people to appreciate the value of what I’ve given them. For example, “Restring and replace missing pearls and crystals, replace broken lobster clasp: Labor 1/2 hour @ $25/hr (no charge); Materials $8 (no charge), return shipping USPS Priority Mail $4.60 (no charge), etc.)

Then I ask them if they can answer a few questions for me. I tell them it’s an opportunity to learn more about what went wrong. Then I can make the appropriate changes in my designs to prevent it from happening again. It’s purely an information-gathering exercise.

By being genuinely curious, non-judgmental and without assessing blame, and because the customer now knows the piece is on its way back to them, they may now be more willing to say what happened.

For example, one woman confessed her dog used to jump up and snag her necklace repeatedly–until it broke. (I asked her if she wanted a stronger cord or a shorter length.)

One woman slept with hers on, every night.

Another woman confessed that when she was nervous, she would “flex the horse pendant” (there is sometimes a bit of “give” in the longer or larger pendants.) During a particularly stressful week, she bent and flexed the horse repeatedly–until it broke in two. (I couldn’t salvage the pendant–I made it into a pin instead, and made her a new one.)

Then there was that line of pearl-and-crystal silk cord necklaces I made that everyone wore so much, the silk cord would literally rot and fall apart. I don’t know how many of those damn things I’ve restrung, usually free of charge or for a nominal fee.

And I have a standard policy of replacing the first lost earring free of charge.

I know some craftspeople think my repair and replacement policy is ridiculous or extravagant. Sometimes, I think so, too. After all, it really isn’t gold or precious stones. It is polymer clay, and delicate silk cord, and antique glass beads. It’s priced accordingly. And all jewelry will tarnish or break or pull apart if it’s dipped repeatedly in a swimming pool or yanked by small children and large dogs.

But I see these incidents as teachable moments. It’s an opportunity to explain that, though my jewelry works hard and is meant last, it really does need a little bit of care and good treatment. That even silver jewelry can get tarnished and corroded, that gold chains can break when grabbed, that glass and pottery sculptures break when dropped. They end up seeing that they have some responsibility, too, to keeping my artwork in good condition, rather than seeing it as somehow flawed or defective if they don’t.

Sometimes, even if it’s a lot of work and not my fault, I still don’t charge for repairs. The woman who “flexed her horse”? She and her husband, an archaeologist who had actually been in the Lascaux cave, bought four necklaces (one for her, three for their daughters and daughter-in-law) and a small wall hanging that year. There was no way I was going to nickel-and-dime her on that repair/replacement.

And when these customers have calmed down, when they realize they are going to have their beloved piece back and they realize they will be able to wear it again, the things they say then make it all worthwhile.

“Oh my God, I’m so relieved!” one woman exclaimed. “It is absolutely my favorite piece of jewelry. I want to wear it every day–I never want to take it off! I was so upset when I broke it, I cried.”

Now isn’t that the best testimonial an artist could ask for? That is what I want everyone else in the booth to hear.
And here’s where this good energy can take you. Last week, when I was having a very bad day about all my injuries and setbacks, feeling very very sorry for myself, I got a packet in the mail. It was from a customer, one I’d done a repair for on one of these afore-mentioned pearl-and-crystal silk cord necklaces.”Damn!” I thought. “It broke again, and she wants me to fix it!” I opened the packet to find…

A copy of her latest music CD.

With a portrait of her on the back, wearing…my necklace.

And a little handwritten note thanking me once more for fixing her necklace, which she love, love, loves.

Isn’t that a lovely reward for good customer service?

P.S. Just to let you know, not all of my customers who need work repaired act this way. Most are genuinely anguished and apologetic when they bring a damaged piece in. This is just how to handle it when you get someone who doesn’t yet know what exquisite care you are going to give them!

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #2: Shadow Artists

Second in a series of people you need to get out of your booth at a craft show–fast!

Oddly, the next group of people I’d like to talk about are the people who wish they were you.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, described a type of person she called the “shadow artist”. A shadow artist is someone who is an artistic, creative person themselves, who chooses instead to stand in the shadow of someone who is perceived to be a “real” artist. The shadow artist may play a supportive or secondary role in the arts, working for groups that promote artists, or even marrying an artist.

Being a shadow artist can be a sad and painful thing. These people may have never been encouraged to explore their artist self. They may have been told they weren’t good enough. Yet something in them hungers for art, and draws them near others who have it.

Many artists are former shadow artists. I was.

Many of your best customers and supporters are shadow artists. They celebrate what you do. They cheer you on. They delight in you doing what they feel they are not capable of doing themselves.

Many shadow artists are still positive, constructive people. They learn to channel all their creative energy into helping others. They do amazing work, supporting artists and the arts with their time, their money, their patronage. Many of our art guilds, organizations and schools would not be nearly as effective without them.

But they may still be unhappy. Deep down, they may feel the loss of not living the life they would like for themselves.

Consequently, some shadow artists are not positive or supportive people. They may be jealous or resentful of the very artists they say they appreciate and support.

They may even be artists at some level already–but jealous of people they perceive to be “more successful” or “more artistic” than themselves. The pain of seeing others live the life they want so badly for themselves spills over onto other people.

Sometimes it spills right over into your booth. Not good.

I know, because as hard as it is to admit it, that was me, too.

So as much as this type of person annoys and irritates me, I have a soft spot in my heart for them. I’ve been there. I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like.

But I still have low tolerance for their behavior, especially in my booth.

How will this person act in your booth?

You may hear someone like this making snide little comments to a friend as they peruse your work. They may hint the quality isn’t what it should be. At a wholesale show, a buyer may be overly fussy and particular about your work, insinuating that most pieces are just not quite good enough for their store, handpicking through your samples. They may make disparaging comments about your color choices, your materials, your design choices.

Retail customers may imply that they could do your work–the “I can make that!” people. Anything that makes them look good and you look not-so-good.

Now, hey, it’s human nature to think this way sometimes, and I groan and roll my eyes at what passes for “art” and “fine craft” all the time.

But not in someone else’s booth. Not where they can see me and hear me. That’s just rude.

I’ve found a few ways to deal with this kind of behavior. Please feel free to add your own tactics in the comment section.

One way to handle it is to ignore it completely, especially if there is no one else in your booth. There’s simply no way to interact that won’t put you on the short end of the stick emotionally. Recognizing this behavior for what it is–passive-aggressive, hard to pin down, hard to argue with–can help you decide to ignore it.

Resist responding in anger. Either the person doesn’t realize they come across that way, in which case your response will seem unjustified, or they do mean it, and they get a rise out of you. Getting angry in your booth is just bad, bad, bad for you, your booth, your business. People will sense it long after the offender is gone. Resist making comments about that person to the next visitor, too. Otherwise, they worry you’ll be talking about them next!

Your best weapons, believe it or not, are your good humor, your patience, your professionalism, sincerity (yes, sincerity) and the fact that it’s Y*O*U who is at the show, not them.

Bruce Baker recently suggested two good responses for the “I can make this!” crowd. Both have to be done with good humor and as much sincerity as you can muster.

When someone starts hinting or making comments that they could do the same work, simply say politely, “Well, these are for the people who aren’t as creative as you!” I’ve used this statement many times, and it works. It leaves them with absolutely nothing to say. It sounds like you are acknowledging their creativity.

The unspoken point is, that if they were as creative as you, they’d be doing the show, too. You win tons of points for subtlety and restraint. If there are other people in your booth who overhear this, they will actually come up and compliment you on your professional restraint. They’ll marvel that you were able to hold your temper and respond so calmly. I know, because people have done just that.

Another BB suggestion is to respond with total good nature and wide-eyed innocence: “Oh, you’re a potter/jeweler/painter/whatever, too? What shows do you do? What galleries do you sell to?” Again–you must be sincere to make this work. You are gently challenging them to prove they really are at your level.

Most people will back down, mumbling something about being “between studios” or “needing to do more marketing research.” Because, of course, they usually aren’t at a point where they are actually making and selling their work. (This also works for the people who claim their daughter makes the same stuff you do.)

If they claim self-righteously that they make their work for love, not money, keep on pressing with something like, “Oh, so then where do you exhibit your work?”

Then there’s my personal favorite: I take a tough love approach.

I will actually give shadow artists a little lecture about the importance of making their own art. I tune in to that “healing” aspect of my work, by sharing how it came to heal me.

Again, it works best if you are grounded and sincere. And when I do this, I am speaking out of sympathy and love. (If I can’t muster it for the annoying person in my booth, then I do it out of forgiveness for my former, miserable self.)
Without coming out and actually naming what they are doing, I tell them my story of how I got started doing this artwork. I tell them how miserable and jealous I was, sitting on the sidelines, being afraid and critical of everyone else’s artistic efforts–until I finally got into the game myself. I quit being a back seat driver, and started driving my own little art/life car.

I tell them I firmly believe that almost everyone is creative in their own unique way. That everyone has something of value to offer the world. That the world would be a better place if more people had the courage to do just that–figure out what they can offer, then just do it.

I tell them the power of being their authentic self. The healing that comes from being the artist they were meant to be. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.

The story is about me. But it’s still a challenge–and an opportunity, if they see it–for them.

I think when people hear it, they can see themselves, just for a moment. I think, by being honest about the fact that I wasn’t nice person when I was in that horrible little place, it gives them permission to see a new possibility for themselves.

I hope so, anyway.

It usually is enough to at least turn the energy around, to take that negative stuff and turn it into something positive. Most people who can’t deal with it, hunker down and run at this point.

The people who can hear it, are hungry for more. I refer them to my blog, or to Julia Cameron’s books (or other resources), or offer to talk to them more….

(wait for it.)

after the show. (You knew that was coming, right?)

Shine a gentle yet powerful light on these shadow artists, and watch the scary stuff disappear.

P.S. As for the picky, picky buyer at a wholesale show or a store where you’re presenting your work, I’ve found there isn’t much you can do to turn the attitude around. After all, even if you can turn it around on the spot, you still have to trust them to do the right thing and continue to promote and sell your work long after you’ve sold or consigned the work to them. The most effective ploy takes a lot of courage and conviction and belief in your work.

You can choose to pick up your marbles (er, work) and go home.

Simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think my work is right for your store. Thank you for your time.” Pleasantly, professionally.

Surprisingly effective for those buyers hoping to put you on the defensive, because now if they really want your work, they have to cajole you into staying.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #1: The “Free Milk” People

We spend so much time and energy trying to get people into our booth at a craft show, it seems totally counter-intuitive to think about how to get someone out.

Sad to say, there are such times–and such people. Sometimes you just have to pull the plug on someone who has overstayed their visit.

The first scenario? “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?”

There are people who wants your work for free–or worse.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I can almost hear you exclaim. “Who goes to a craft show and expects you to give them your work?!”

Actually, it happens a lot.

Artists at a craft show are kind of a captive audience to this kind of person–we can’t escape our booth, and they know it.

How about the budding craftsperson who wants to know everything about what you do? Where you get your ideas? Where you get your supplies? Who you sell to? What shows you do? How you learned your techniques?

How about the person who only wants to know how you make your stuff, so they can make it, too? (Yes, I’ve actually had people sat this to me outright.) This can be someone who sees themselves as “crafty” and thinks it’s okay to “borrow” your ideas, your designs, your color schemes, etc. They may excuse themselves for many reasons: They don’t intend to sell it, they just want to make one for themselves. Or they do intend to sell it, but only in Connecticut, because you don’t do shows in Connecticut anyway, right?

As for requests to give away my work, I’ve actually had people hint I should lower my prices or give them a deal, or even give them a piece , because they like my work but they think it’s too expensive, or they simply can’t afford it.

Some people simply see everyone as a benign and generous source of all kinds of free information because of the altruistic nature of their calling–education, for one. I hate to malign an entire profession because of a few lazy apples but you need to know: There are a few teachers are so caught up in the nobleness of their education thing, they think the rest of us are happy to share our trade secrets so they (the teacher) can use your ideas and techniques for a class project. They will spend a huge amount of time talking to you, having you convinced you have a new major collector on your hand, only to say cheerfully at the end, “Well, this will make a great lesson plan! Do you have any brochures I can take with me?”

Before I caught on to this, I had one teacher, when I gave her a brochure (thinking she was a really interested customer), who actually said, “Oh, what you’ve written about the Lascaux cave is perfect. I don’t have to change a thing! I can just use this whole text in my lesson plan!” I asked her if she were going to attribute that content to me. She was totally confused. With a smile, I said, “Well, all this material is my original content, developed from my research and endless hours of writing and editing. And of course, it’s copyrighted material.” She stammered an unconvincing, “Of course….sure…” and exited the booth.

Other artists do this to us, too. I know we are all inspired and energized by the creativity of others. And I know there may be nothing truly new under the sun. But when an artist says to you, “I want to change to something easy and quick to do that I can make a lot of money at, and I think I could do what you’re doing. How do you get the horses to look like this?”, your bullshit detector should be going off like a fire alarm in a gunpowder factory.

And if someone steps into your booth with a camera and starts snapping away at your products, you need to find out immediately if they are simply an enthusiastic yet innocent and clueless admirer, or someone swiping your designs.

Before you say, “Surely you exaggerate…?” let me assure that these are all things that have actually happened to me. All the weird questions and statements are that have actually been said to me. These situations tends to happen more at retail shows. At wholesale shows, the buyers are usually pre-qualified. They are there for a purpose, to find products for their store. But this stuff can happen at wholesale shows, too.

What’s going on?

Some people see shows as entertainment or education. They don’t know, or they forget, or they overlook the fact that you have spent a heckuva lot of time, money and energy to be there. As generous as we’d like to be, we must also sell our work so we can afford to keep doing what we’re doing.

We cannot afford to overlook or ignore paying customers at the expense of someone who has no intention of paying for what we have to offer.

There is no right or wrong to all of this. Some people would not be bothered a jot by any of the situations I’ve described, while others would be even less tolerant than I am. It’s totally up to you how much time you want to give to someone, and what your comfort level is. If a show is slow, it’s certainly nice to at least look like you have customers and buyers in your booth.

But if you’ve hit your comfort level, or there are other people, potential paying customers in your booth you need to get to, then it’s time to move these “non-buying” people on.

Now first, how do we identify who is a potential customer who is simply interested in your work, from someone who is looking for the free milk?

And how to we participate in the simple act of sharing our expertise and experiences freely with others, without feeling taken advantage of by those few people that, well, take advantage?

To answer the first question:

People who are really interested in you and your work (and not just what you can do for them) ask you questions–and listen to the answers.

These people are genuinely interested in you and your work (whether or not they are ready, able or willing to buy it just yet.) They want to know more about you and the work.

People who are interested in only what you can do for them, ask questions–and then interrupt to tell you their answers, and their issues, and their work.

Or they argue with everything you say, but those people fall into the “energy vampire” category which we’ll cover later.

Or their questions have everything to do with the “how”, and very little to do with the “why”.

The answer to the second question is, know that you get to decide what you are going to give “free” to people that ask. You get to choose! You can share your time, your expertise, your advice. But it is up to you how much and how detailed.

And most importantly, when you share that. (Hint: After the show!!) (Yes, you are going to hear that over and over today.)

Some things and thoughts that have worked for me:

First, if there is anyone else in your booth who is acting more like a genuine customer, you on your party manners and excuse yourself: “Well, hey, it’s been really nice talking to you, but I have some things I need to get back to.” Move away, greet your other customers, and do your regular booth schtick–offer to answer questions for your new arrivals, adjust your display, keep busy.

If there are no other customers, you can choose how much–or how little–advice/time/information you give away.

For the customer who claims my work is too expensive, I’ll come right out and ask, “What is your budget?” I show them the less expensive work in that range. If I feel they are quibbling, or are being ridiculous (“Five dollars!”) I simply say, “I’m so glad you like my work, but it’s so labor intensive, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I sometimes even move them on to another artist’s booth with work in that price range.

If they insist they want expensive work, I tell them about my extremely cool layaway plan. They will either step up to the plate–cool! A new collector! Or they will realize you know the value of your work and that you’ve priced it fairly–and that you’re not going to be guilt-tripped into offering a discount.

BTW, if you are an artist who does offer discounts, and that works for you, be sure to ask them first what they are willing to pay. Otherwise, you get into this weird game of trying to guess the most they are willing to pay–you offer a discount and they get to say it’s still too high, and it goes downhill from there.. Get them to commit to an offer they will definitely accept first, then work up from there. OR offer them another piece in that price range.

I sometimes feel it’s justified to have people do some work if they want to learn everything I know. Consequently, I keep a few resources memorized to meet such requests.

For people who want to know where I get my supplies, I tell them to check out the advertisers in trade magazines like Bead and Button Magazine. Websites like Glass Attic are encyclopedic resources for videos, books and classes on polymer clay. You could have ready similar resources for your medium.

For people who are farther along than that, I keep a few good wholesale sources memorized to pass on to them. I have several with a range of wholesale requirements and corresponding price breaks, and the artist can figure out which ones suit where they are now in their career.

I keep the contact info for local teachers who teach classes in simple jewelry-making or introduction to polymer clay. If you teach yourself, offer your own workshops. After the show, of course. Put their name on a separate mailing list for classes.

For the people who insist I teach a class on how to make something that’s too personal, or one of my core products, I tell them that. Again, nicely. If they have a professional bone in their body, they’ll understand. If they don’t, I simply act like they do. I say something like, “You know how it is with art, some things are just too personal and totemic to share right away…”

I also refer people to my blog for information on how to get more publicity, how to decide whether to do wholesale shows, how to design a better booth, etc. Why should I stand in a booth at a show I’ve paid hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to be at, and talk at length, when they could simply read my blog?? If they say they don’t have time, well then, I don’t have time, either. If there are blogs out there you find useful, share them with these people.

For artists (especially ones new to wholesale) who want to know where I sell my work, I offer the name of a store or two I think would be a good fit for them. But I might also ask them for the name of a store, museum or other venue they’ve come across in their travels that would be a good fit for me.

If artists want more feedback on a show, say a wholesale show I’ve done, I can often refer them to specific essays I’ve written on my blog. Of course, the best advice I can give is for them to actually visit and walk the show themselves, so they can decide for themselves.

For the teachers looking for lesson plan material, offer to come in and do a project or artist presentation for their class. There is often a little money in the school budget for things like this, or sometimes grants are available from your craft guilds and state arts and crafts organizations. Of course, if you are willing to donate your time, that’s an option, too…after the show.

Last, I tell people I’m happy to talk with them–but not at the show.

I point out that my first goal at the show has to be to earn money so I can continue to make my beautiful work! They can call or e-mail me after the show. I smile, I stay happy, I maintain a positive atmosphere, I am polite–but I am also firm. Sometimes I have to say “after the show” quite a few times… but you’d be surprised how simply pointing this out to people can snap them out of this mindset.

Now, there are many people who do not actually buy my work, and I am happy to spend a lot of time with. But they have “paid” me in other ways–by collecting my work in the past, by introducing my work to others, by providing me with opportunities, speaking engagements, paid teaching gigs, publicity, or just plain ol’ support and encouragement.

There are many times people ask questions about my work, and I am not bothered or annoyed at all.

It’s not the action–it’s the intention. It’s when I feel the expectation that I am to give it away that I feel the burn.

Know when the intention is not serving you. Learn to recognize when the interaction is not balanced. Know that as long as you stay professional and courteous, it’s simply okay to say that enough is enough, and it’s time to move on.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH

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

I was inspired by Donald Clark’s new column in The Crafts Report called “Just Ask”. Donald is a co-owner of Ferrin Gallery in Northampton, MA, and an author and artist in his own right. He gave a few suggestions for getting rid of a “talker” in your booth–the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

The advice was sound, but you could actually write a book about this topic. So I’ll share some suggestions and insights that have worked for me.

This will be in small doses over several days, as my ability to type is compromised. And I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to boot every non-customer out of your booth! Not every transaction is about money, not by a long shot.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. If they aren’t driving other customers out of your booth, they are practically driving you out of your booth.

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