SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

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

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

Share what you want, not what you think you “have to”

Some thoughts on what to write about, photo, and share on social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not “no sales”. I mean you yourself should not do sales. Hire people to do that,” he said. “Keep that divide between the creative maker and the “car salesman”.” So I hired/bribed/cajoled a team of friends to help. (I lent them all CDs of Bruce’s selling techniques. But instead of telling them what I say about my work, I encouraged them to share what they love about my work. I felt it would come across as heart-felt and more authentic, and I was right.)

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

I made my highest sales ever that year, and the next (as I got to choose to demo again, if I wanted to, and I did.) In fact, from that year on, there was actually competition for those sales demo booths, and their number increased to five! Because every other artisan saw what was happening, and wanted in on that, too.

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

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

This has been a “hurt place” for decades for me. My work has been copied (although badly, I’m ashamed to admit I’m happy to say). Showing exactly what I do, and how I do it, felt too risky. Also, think of how explaining a magic trick takes away the magic. The last thing I wanted to do was to unconsciously give others permission to copy. (Most of my techniques are well-known and not original to me, but the way I put them together and the stories I tell are.)

Again, just the right person showed up.

I met Alisha Vincent when she was the show manager for the Buyers Market of American Craft (informally called “The Rosen Show” for the company’s owner, Wendy Rosen) and now known as the American Made Show.) She was/still is one of my super heroes in life, for her intelligence, her powers of observation, her wide range of experience in the world, her courage, and her sense of humor. She actually came to NH that year to work in my demo booth, and I am forever grateful she did, for countless reasons. But especially for today, this one: When I expressed my fears, she was quick to find the solution. “Look at your neighbor,” she said, gesturing toward the guy who made beautiful Shaker boxes in the tent next to me. “He says his process has 29 steps.”

“He’s demonstrated nine of those steps.”

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

Next week, I’ll share the other learning points from this experience we can apply to social media. For today, just this:  When I say “show your process”, know that it means you can choose how much to share.

Take pictures (or ask someone to help with that) that show your work (and you, if you like) at various stages of your process. Share, with comments. (I did this with my email newsletter recently, and the response was the best I’d ever gotten.)

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

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

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

That’s the big idea for you, today. There will tons of insights, advice, statistics, and information about art marketing in the weeks ahead on Fine Art Views.

Keep note of the ones that interest you.

Note what feels like “too much” vs. what feels like a challenge you can handle.

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

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

The gift is, we get to choose what ones, how, how much, how often.

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

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

What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck

What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck

Luck = Preparation plus persistence plus opportunity.

This is one of my favorite personal stories….

Years ago, I belonged to a discussion forum (remember them?!) of stamp carvers. We used soft vinyl materials used in erasers (sort of a really soft linoleum, not as slippery) to make our work. Our skills ranged from newbies to people who actually worked as book illustrators.

It was a lively, talented group, supportive of each other, full of suggestions, materials testing, and inspiration.

One day, an editor from a craft book publishing company* joined our group. They announced they were looking for “gallery images” of our work, to feature in their latest craft book. (Aka, “a call to artists”, defined by AmericansfortheArts.org as “A Call for Artists is an opportunity notice that gives artists the information they need to know in order to apply to be considered for the project. Issuing a Call for Artists is a standard practice of the public art field.”

At first, people were thrilled. But then reality set in: We would have our work published, with credits. But we would not be paid.

People ranted about this, even though I later found out it is a common practice in the art-and-craft book industry. In the end, only a handful of us submitted work.

There were guidelines and deadlines, which we all met. The results? Our work was published! It felt pretty good to own such a book, it was wonderful to be able to say, “Look, my work was featured in this book!” The validation was powerful.

A few months later, the editor submitted another call for entries. The same little group responded, and the rest of the group continued to gripe. “It’s not fair that we aren’t paid for our work!” I figured I’d never made a cent from my prints—they were always for myself or a gift for someone. So nothing + nothing didn’t seem too awful.

And now our work was featured in two books!

This continued for about a year. Even the little group dwindled a bit, but I loved the “exposure”. I know the saying, “Artists die from too much exposure!” In this case, I still owned my stamp and held copyrights to my images, so what the heck?

I developed a relationship with this editor, a talented artist in their own right. We became friends. It helped that they loved my work! But they also appreciated the fact that I made their job easier. I met deadlines, my work was different from other people’s work, and whenever they called, I dropped what I was doing to talk with them.

Eventually, they asked if I would like to submit project for other books. (Multi-media work gave me an edge! I could do stamps, fiber, collage, jewelry, etc.) Over the next few years, my work appeared in around a dozen books published by Lark Books.

At one point, I got a call to submit a painted glass project. I said, “Oh, gosh, no, that’s too far afield for me!” They said that was fine, they had other people in line, including one person who was shipping a lot of painted glass pieces.

About six weeks later, they called in a panic. That person’s shipment had arrived totally smashed, the final deadline was looming, and that artist couldn’t possibly create enough new pieces in time. Could I, would I pleeeeeeeeeeze pretty please make a piece?

Of course, I said yes.

I found some stacking clear glass plates, in three different sizes at a thrift shop, traced images of my Lascaux series stamp carvings on the bottoms, and painted them with acrylic paints. Soon I had a ring of red stags and running horses on them. It looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself! (Sadly, one broke years later, and I gave the rest to a friend before we moved to California.)

You can imagine how grateful my editor was!

Sure enough, in a few months, they reached out to me again. They wanted to publish the first mass-market craft book on rubberstamp carving.

And they wanted ME to write it!

Let’s make this big enough so you can see my name!  :^)

Now, there were other stamp carvers who were more skilled than I was. There was a well-known stamp carver who had already self-published a beautiful little booklet on the same. I actually recommended that person for the job, and reached out to them, too. I didn’t want to step on any toes or disrespect their efforts, or this opportunity.

But they were not interested! “I am just not up to that!” they replied. “I can’t commit to all the deadlines, the amount of work….  Thank you for reaching out, but you do it, with my blessings!”

And so I did.

It was an amazing experience. I was assigned another editor, and they were amazing, too. It was a long process, with me writing the intro, all the lessons, carving stamps illustrating all the “stages” of stamp carving production, and compiling the resources section.

Lark Books flew me to their headquarters in Asheville, North Caroline, so I could be photographed “carving” stamps. (That is, my hands were photographed! Yes, I am now a hand model!) (Er….not anymore, actually.) I got to meet both editors, I got to explore Asheville (the first time I’d ever seen outdoor seating at restaurants!), and….

I am now a published author.

Thanks to this opportunity, I was the first person to write a mass-market book on rubberstamp carving. There have been more (and some of my work appeared in one of them), and they are even better, more on-trend.

But here’s the lesson:

When it came time for the gallery section, I reached out again to that same discussion group, inviting them to submit their work for inclusion.

The response?

“You’re writing a book on stamp carving?? You’re SO LUCKY!!”

*Thanks and a hat tip to Katherine Aimone and Joanne O’Sullivan of Lark Books. I am forever grateful for the opportunities you provided to make this all happen!

 

P.S. I got a few grumpy comments on this article, from people complaining I was giving my work away. I wasn’t. I got free publicity by submitting work to the book galleries, I was paid very well for the projects, and I received a decent advance for the book I wrote.  Did I get rich? Nope. Not much of the work I do pays very well, and that’s even more true today. But it was enough, it was enjoyable, I met amazing people, and it broadened my horizons in uncountable ways. I’m grateful, and I’m glad I did it!