LEARNING TO SEE #6: Finding Our (Silent) Voice

Social media can help boost our confidence and marketing skills.

(8 minute read)

A few weeks ago, in my Fine Art Views column, I mentioned in passing the power of hiring a “sales agent” when we give presentations and/or demonstrations. A commenter on my blog (where I republish my Fine Art Views articles) leaped at this. Although they have actually worked as a salesperson for a company, they found themselves unable to use the same skills with their own art biz. They asked for advice in ‘hiring’ such an assistant to represent them

I promised them I would talk about this, so this one’s for you, Wendy!

Again, selling and marketing our own work can feel like bragging. This repels many artists from talking with customers. A lot of people are introverts, which compounds the problem. (I’m half-and-half, according to the now-disproven Briggs-Meyers assessment, and in this shut-down, I’ve reverted to full-time introvert!)

There are three important ideas to help us get out of this self-made prison:

When others sing your praises, it can be seen as validation by your potential new customers.

Sharing your process isn’t bragging, and neither is telling your story.

Social media is the perfect antidote for introverted/shy people.

I hired friends to “sell” for me when I took on a ‘demo booth’ at my biggest show in New Hampshire, the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. That was because a consultant explained why the transition of ‘demonstrator/teacher’ to ‘salesperson’ was such a deal-breaker, as we segue from “maker” to “seller”.

Most of my friends were not experienced with selling. At first, they asked me what I wanted them to tell my customers and potential new clients. But aside from lending them my Bruce Baker’s CD on selling, I asked them to simply share what they loved about my work. And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments were seen as an authentic validation of my work.

That’s why a sales assistant at shows and open studios can be so helpful and empowering. Not because they will have better sales skills, but because they are seen as a sort of validation for us, and our work: We really are who we say we are.

But that’s not actionable nor practical for all sales/open studio/art reception events. So let’s look at the second point.

Most of us are comfortable sharing our process: What media we use, how we use it, what’s special about the way we use it. We can share what we’re trying to capture in our work, and what our work shows.

If we simply add the ‘why’ to all this, that is part of telling our story.

As artists, we aren’t usually trained or taught this part. And yet it is at the heart of everything we do, and why we do it that way.

Some people work quickly. So acrylics may work best for them, since the paint sets so fast. Some people work more slowly, or work their colors more. Oils suit them. Some want to shape with their hands, not a tool. Clay speaks to them. One colored pencil artist chose their medium because it allowed them to work at their kitchen table while their kids napped. It allowed them to pick up right where they left off the day before. Me? I struggled with carving my little artifacts, until I realized my hands wanted to shape, not ‘take away’. (I suck at trimming my bangs, too, because I don’t know when to stop!)

“I love color” is not a ‘why’, because everyone loves color. But why we choose a warm palette, or why we use bold or subtle color, is. If we truly understand the ‘why’ behind our subject matter, that is a powerful story! “I paint winter scenes. I like to find the subtle beauty in this sometimes-dreary season. Because winter holds the often-ignored beginnings of the hope we expect to find when spring follows.”) (For more on how to find your story, check out these blog posts.)

Most of my conversations with visitors, potential customers, and long-time customers are inspired by these very stories. I have signage throughout my studio and booth-space at shows. They cover all the questions I get, from why I work with polymer clay, how I got started with my art, what the common thread is through my entire body of work, and why the Lascaux Cave inspired me from the very beginning. I have signs about the boxes I use in my assemblage work, where I find my unusual fabrics, and why my fiber work is so layered, uneven, and detailed. (It reflects values I found in ancient Japanese scroll paintings, and Amish quilters.) I have a sign about where I get my beaver-chewed sticks, and why I love to use them with my wall hangings.

A few visitors jump right in with questions. But oddly, most people truly browse quietly at first. There’s a lot to look at in my displays! Signs answer most of their questions, and allow them to ‘go deeper’ even before I talk to them. In fact, when they ask me a question, it’s an unconscious signal on their part that they are ready for me to talk to them!

And when I do respond to a visitor’s questions, everyone else in my space stops to listen. Because that same phenomenon is taking place: Listening to me answer someone else’s question feels more authentic! (Weird, but true.)

Last, what everyone is overlooking is how much easier it is to introduce, share, and market our work on social media.

First, we take a picture of our work and upload it to our website. That’s great, for people who already know us and our work. And if you have a FASO site, your audience will receive an automatic announcement that you’ve added now work to your site.

But the point of social media is to help us grow our market by connecting with even more people. And because social media is a solo activity (kinda like working in our studio!), we don’t have to engage in person with people.

We get to be alone with ourselves. Not worrying about what to say. Not worrying about how to handle a comment that puts us on the spot. Not feeling like we have to fill that awkward silence. Not actually “talking” at all!

So here we go!

First, we simply take a pretty good pic of our work. (Some people even post work-in-process images, which almost always catches people’s interest.)

Our next step is to upload our image to social media. I take it everywhere: Instagram can be set to repost to Facebook, Facebook can be set to repost on Twitter, etc. But you can choose to start slowly if that helps you get started. Instagram is perfect for visual artists, because it’s all about images. (Short videos can be used, too.) Conversations don’t usually go on and on, either. People either like it or they pass it by.

But don’t let it just sit there! Share something about the piece: What the subject is about, what’s different or intriguing to YOU about it, where you made it, where it’s going (a show? Your website? Your Etsy shop? A custom piece?) You can share what media you used, and why you choose it for that particular piece. You can share the title and dimensions, too. If I’ve also added it to my shop, I add a link to it there.

Remember: For mostly-introverted/shy/retiring/not into sales-talk folks, we are not actually ‘talking’ to anyone, not in person, anyway. And I’m guessing most people would be more interested in seeing your work than in what you had for lunch at that local restaurant!

You are just ‘talking to the void’ at this point. You are not bragging. You are not being pushy. You are simply sharing.

Although, yes, we are actually also promoting our work, we are not acting like those online “influencers” who are always selling themselves (and the products they are comped for promoting.) What we do on social media is more authentic. People see that. We’re not ‘twisting their arm’ to buy it. In fact, saying they can’t have it because it’s a custom work can actually boost the appeal!

If someone asks a question we can’t (or don’t want) to answer (yet), we don’t have to respond to a comment in the moment. We can hold off until we know what we want to say. (You can read more about this strategy in my blog series, “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer”.)

And if we run into that totally obnoxious human being who feels compelled to explain why they DON’T like it (who asked you??), or if they try to piggyback on your post to divert readers to their own site, you can simply delete their comment. (Another superpower of social media!)

In short, marketing on social media means you are not dealing with people in person, which is where most of our reserve/shyness/awkwardness hamstrings us. You are alone, at your desk/phone, simply sharing something that has brought you joy, with others, so they can have some of that joy, too. (Okay, if that includes a pic of the entrée you had for dinner at that fancy restaurant, I won’t complain.)

This is why social media is the best way for shy people to get up and do what needs to be done. (Apologies to Garrison Keillor of the radio show, ‘Prairie Home Companion.’)

And trust me, like everything in life, things get better with practice. Once you start sharing your work, it gets easier. Your fans will be there, cheering you on. You can ask them to pass it on to someone else who might love it, too. The praise will give you a lift, and also more confidence.

And soon that big ol’ rock is just rolling down the hill all by itself.

Try it. Keep at it. Get better at it. Do it more often. Share it. Sound familiar? It’s the exact same advice we took to become artists.

If this article helps you with your social media marketing, let me know! If you have your own success story/strategy, share that in the comments.

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!

LEARNING TO SEE #3 Shift Your Viewpoint

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

Sometimes changing our perspective helps us see better.

I’ve been making little animal artifacts for more than two decades. I make them one at a time, shaping each lump of layered clay by hand.

I use various tools, repurposed, handmade, found in situ, to add details and designs. But I only use my hands for the actual forming.

They’ve changed a lot over the years. The bears got less “formidable” and a little sweeter. They have ears now, and a tail, too. The birds now have real eyes instead of dots. They look more alive.

All my animals are more three-dimensional. When I first made them, they were button-like adornments on my 2-D fiber collage work. Now they are thicker, rounder.

Even my horses have changed. Sometimes they reflected real changes in my life, like the year or two when I had several big surgeries: They lost their signature ‘handprint’! It took awhile for me to figure out why. I finally realized I was in so much discomfort, I didn’t want to be “touched”, and neither did they! (Bears started out with handprints, but then they “told” me they were not domesticate animals, so ix-nay on the handprint thing.)

At some point, there was another shift in my horses. For some reason I still can’t figure out, they became shorter. Not as in “less tall”, but as in “less long”. In a way, they couldn’t be ridden.

It took a long time to see that. The turning point came when I made a necklace for a wise woman in my life. She’d picked a horse from my stash, one that spoke to her. But when I tried to turn it into a pendant, I couldn’t get it to “hang” right. It was “front heavy”, and I could not fix that.

That insight, when shared with her, ended up giving her tremendous insight into her own turning point in life. As in, a big decision she’d made had thrown her life out of balance. (Which was a tiny miracle in its own right! Once she “saw” that, she changed her mind, with amazingly powerful results.)

It also made me look at that batch of horses and see the imbalance.

I’d used a large black, faux soapstone horse to make a large Shaman necklace. (I try to make one every year or two, to remind myself to “go big” in my work, even though I only sell one ocassionally.) It was on display in my studio. I decided to photo it to list in my Etsy shop.

When I saw the photo, it was easy to see the difference in how much my horses have changed in four years!

It took awhile for me to really SEE the difference!

I still love those “stubby” horses, and so do a lot of people. But I can’t keep making them that way.

So I made a new big horse, in a green shade of faux soapstone. I love how it looks!

Of course, there are lots of tricks to “seeing” our work in a different way, one that can help us more easily see the errors in composition, lighting, color choices, etc. We can not only take a quick photo, we can hold it up to a mirror, or view it upside down. I once asked former Fine Art Views author-and-artist Lori Woodward to look at a large wall hanging I’d made.  Something was ‘off’ but I couldn’t see it. She saw it instantly! (Fortunately it was an easy fix!) Thank you, Lori!

And just like we can improve how we really “see” our art, we can improve how we see ourselves. And not just ourselves, but how we view our art, how we can encourage others to “see” it, and how we “see” ourselves in the world.

This is crucial to extending our online marketing, too.

I remember the first workshop I ever took on marketing and self-promotion, at a polymer clay guild in Keene, NH. A member’s spouse was in marketing, and his presentation was mind-blowing!

The first question he asked was, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about selling?”

Most of the responses were eye-opening. “It’s like a used car salesman’s pitch!” “You gotta twist people’s arms to get them to buy something!” “First you bait the hook and then they bite and you reel them in!”

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, “First I make something, with all my skills, and time. Then I show it to someone else, and tell my story. Then they take their hard-earned money that they earned with their skills, and time, and we trade.”

Needless to say, I got an A! (Figuratively speaking.)

Many people today still hesitate to self-promote, especially if we weren’t raised to put ourselves out there. Posting on social media can feel like “bragging”. Asking a good price for our work can feel “pretentious”. Even calling ourselves a “real artist” can feel presumptuous.

But we are simply people who are just like everybody else. We have things we really care about, we choose a creative path we really love, we make stuff that makes us happy, and we do our best work.

The next step is simply sharing our work with the world. Sharing with images (if our work is visual), or words (if our work is a poem, or story), or recordings (if our work is musical, or verbal), or videos (if our work involves movement, such as dance, or acting, etc.)

If nothing happens, that doesn’t mean our work is no good. It can simply mean we haven’t found our audience–yet!

And getting it out into the world is a huge part of that process. From email newsletters, to tiny short films on Instagram, to sharing our latest artwork (or column!) on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. is how people get to see it.

The beauty of social media is, you don’t have to wait for a publisher to choose your work, or a gallery to represent you, or a record producer to record your music, or a studio to hire you as an actor. In fact, the chances of any of these typical ‘markers of success’ may improve simply from our own efforts to show the world what we do.

So maybe we can learn to see ourselves better, too.

We can choose to see ourselves as a human who has chosen visual work as their favorite format. A human who has chosen oils, or acrylics, or colored pencil, or clay, or bronze, or fiber, or any of the thousands of “media” that are creative paths.

We can choose to see ourselves, and our art, as worthy. As ‘good enough’, right now, and ‘even better’ down the road.

As a dear friend said years ago, when I said how embarrassed I was by my earlier work, “Did people love what you made then?” (Um…yes.) “Did they buy it?” (Yeah….?) “Then there will be people who will still love them, too.” (Thank you, Ruth P.!)

We get to choose. We can accept, and respect, every step of our creative journey. Or, like I did this week, we can update, rotate, recreate, refresh, or even set aside the work that doesn’t reflect our best.

There’s no right-or-wrong there. Just what we want to do.

That’s the insight I gained today, by looking at my life’s work from a different perspective. Looking backwards (like a mirror) at where I started, where I’ve been, where I am.

And forward, to where I’m going next.

Do you have artwork you still love, even decades later? Can you still feel the fierce joy it brought you then? Are there pieces you’ve reworked for the better? Are you open to finding out what you can do better in the months ahead?

And can you find yourself worthy of respect for what you do? So you can share it with the world with pride, and joy? Let me know in the comments!

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

I love this necklace even more. And the “old” horse has been returned to my stash for a future project, perhaps.