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

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

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

(8 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nearly died laughing.

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

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

It was eye-opening on so many levels.

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

Me? I forgot this article was due yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it. I really do. And yet…

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

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

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

It was hard. But I learned so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are YOUR hopes and dreams for 2021?

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

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

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

Sharing may seem like bragging. But it isn’t, and here’s why…

(6 minute read)

In last week’s post, I shared some of the basics of creating an email newsletter about our art. In the articles ahead, we’ll explore them, and address our fears/doubts/am-I-doing-it-wrong moments.

One person shared their own fear: What if I sound like a narcissist?

This one was easy: If you’re worried about sounding like a narcissist, then you aren’t a narcissist. Because a true narcissists doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong! They truly believe they are better than everyone else in the world, and don’t understand why that bothers other people.

But I get that this might be a big concern for many of us, especially those who were subtly (or blatantly) encouraged not to be “too much” in our culture: Don’t brag. Don’t show off. Be quiet. Keep out of the spotlight. Be humble. Be all this, to the point of making ourselves so small, we can barely breathe.

I also believe this is why so many of us find doing our own art marketing so hard. We’ve incorporated those ancient beliefs that tooting our own horn is just not ‘nice’. We wish someone else would do it for us.

And so many artists end up not doing it at all.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between bragging, and self-confidence. And self-confidence is healthier than self-denigration!

Like any other skill in life, practice helps. Start with a short little newsletter to your audience. Pick one thing that’s going on with you in your artist life this month/week/day.

Let’s start with that ‘talking to a good friend’ analogy I mentioned in last week’s article.

Imagine you have a meet-up with a person you really like, and they really like you, and you haven’t seen them for a while, what would you talk about?

HOW would you talk?

Would it be a monologue? Would it only be about the stuff you’re proud of? Would your intention be to make yourself bigger than/better than your friend? Because bragging is a way to make other people feel less-than.

Or would you share your successes and breakthroughs in manageable “bites”, with gratitude for your good fortune, with joy for what you’ve accomplished, knowing they will be genuinely happy for your success?

If you were working on a new project, and it didn’t work out the way you intended, would you only complain about everything that went wrong? Whine about all the people who made it worse? Blame your shortcomings on others?

Or would you make it into a funny story that makes you both giggle? Or share how you worked through the hard parts and found a way through, knowing your friend would be happy you did?

Do you strive to present the “perfect life”, like a social media ‘influencer’, carefully editing out anything that would mar your dream world? (If so, you’d better treat your friend to their meal.)

Or would you go back and forth, sharing the ups and downs, checking in with them about what they’re up to, how their getting through, and sharing what’s worked for you that MIGHT work for them, too?

I’ve read some newsletters that truly brag, the sender actively applauding themselves, congratulating themselves on how amazing they are, how talented, how rich, etc.

Bragging implies that rewards, success, wealth, and influence are a finite ‘pie’. And if their share of the pie is huge, that means there’s less for everyone else.

But what if we simply acknowledging our gifts: The skills we’ve worked hard to acquire. The time we’ve carved out for ourselves, to make this work.

What if we let people have a peek into our life: Share our creative process. How we get our ideas? How we know when a piece is ‘done’? What if we thank the people who have supported our work by purchasing it?

That’s not ‘bragging’. That’s owning our own life, honoring our unique journey. Achieving what we’ve practiced and prepared for. Sharing our dreams and goals.

We get to do that.

We can share how we get ‘set back’, and how we found the courage to move forward again. It will encourage someone else to find their courageous heart, too.

We can tell how we got stuck somewhere in our latest project, and how we found our way through. It will let others know there are always things that get in the way, and help them not be discouraged, too.

We can write about something funny and charming that happened, and it will make someone else smile, too.

Acknowledging our gifts and being genuinely grateful for them is not evil. Self-confidence is not evil. There are ways to let people know that EVERYONE has a gift. This one just happens to be yours.

The pie is infinite. And if our slice is huge, that means there’s plenty for everyone else, too.

I love this paragraph from an article I found while checking my own assumptions about bragging vs. self-confidence today:

“That’s one reason many of us don’t like to show off. We live in a highly competitive world, and we don’t want someone else to feel badly just because we’re feeling good. But sometimes that concern stops us from sharing good things that our friends, families and colleagues would actually like to know. And of course, in the workplace, there’s a fine line between showing off and genuinely outlining accomplishments that can help you move forward professionally.”

(F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W.)

“Don’t let that concern stop you from sharing good things….” Yep, there’s my entire column today in 20 words or less.

Granted, a newsletter can feel like a one-sided conversation. But it really isn’t. It’s a way of sharing aspects of our life that people wouldn’t otherwise see. Letting others in on that is courageous. Powerful. And good.

So once more, with feeling: Imagine someone who wants the best for you. Someone who loves you for who you are, and what you do. Someone who has found joy in your work, and wants to see/hear/learn MORE about what we’re up to.

Write them a letter.

Then sit back and let the magic of authentic connection, grow.

Next week, I’ll share some ideas of what to write about. In the meantime, if you’ve already found your ‘happy place’ with your newsletters, share some of your insights. Other people will be so grateful! If you’ve received a newsletter from someone else, and it spoke to you, share a) what it was that made you feel connected, and b) how it could work for YOU.

And last, if you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Luann Udell, artist/writer

“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts:
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber works inspired by ancient art.”

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

Oops! Forgot to publish this last Tuesday. So now you’ll get TWO articles on writing email newsletters this week! Because tomorrow is my NEXT Fine Art Views post…..

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

(6 minute read)

Someone wrote back to me today, telling me how much they enjoyed my email newsletter. They said it gave them hope that they could make theirs better. Yippee! I love it when I can encourage people to take one step forward. I know it will lead to many more.

I’m not the perfect newsletter writer. But I’m happy to share more insights on what might work for YOU.

What’s my secret sauce?

  1. Be authentic. I write like I’m talking to a good friend. (You can now skip this entire article if you’re out of time, because that’s the heart of my advice.)

 

  1. Be positive. So, not the friend where I cuss and swear about something frustrating that happened to me at the supermarket. I stick with positive news. No politics. No complaining.

 

  1. Don’t be boring. And not like the letters we had to write for elementary school English class. (As in, “Hello, how are you? I am fine! Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What did YOU have for lunch?”) I share something I’m excited about, something interesting I’m working on.

 

  1. Don’t be pompous. If making people feel smaller works for you, okay, I guess. But I prefer reading about the people who make me feel like I have a voice in the world, too. (Again with the ‘friend’ thing…)

 

  1. Act like you care. I write as if I’m talking with someone I care about. Someone who hasn’t heard from me in a few weeks, someone who really likes me, and who loves my work.

 

  1. Share your news. Then I tell them what’s up. What I’ve done, what I’ll be doing, and oh, you might be interested in this thing I made/wrote. And I ask them to let me know what they think. (More on this in the weeks to come.)

 

  1. Think about what YOU like to hear in emails. I think about what I like when I get other people’s emails. So in the next few weeks, take note of what newsletters YOU get. What do you like about them? Which ones do you stop and read right away? Why?? What’s in them that makes you happy? Inspired? Thoughtful?

 

  1. Don’t make it all about the money. I consider the things I DON’T like to see in other people’s emails. Repetition. Always about sales. Acting like a TV commercial. Creating false urgency. (Even a call to action does not always have to be about buying something.)

 

  1. Remember that when people sign up for our newsletter, it means they WANT to know more. They want to know what makes us tick. How (and why) we do what we do. How we found our way forward, and how they can, too.

 

Otoh, I think about the people who put me on their email list without checking with me first. DON’T DO THIS!

 

  1. Be casual. Perhaps this advice is not ‘professional’. Perhaps people who are famous artists do it differently. After all, they may have a prestigious clientele, people who would willingly pay $25,000-$100,000 or more for their artwork.

 

But that’s not me. So I do it differently.

 

  1. We’re visual artists. Include pictures! This would be so much harder if we were musicians….

 

  1. Remember, all customers are fans, but not all fans are customers. I’m writing to people who may not be able to afford my work. And people who have collected my work for decades. And everyone in between. In my newsletter, everyone is worthy.

 

  1. Let people know who you are. The people I’m writing for are people I saw regularly back in New Hampshire, and people who may have never met me. People who come to every open studio, and people who have never been to my studio. Some of them are on the East Coast, some are on the West Coast, and some are in the middle. So we can’t even talk about the weather! But what they all have in common is wanting to know more about us, about our work, about our journey.

 

  1. There’s too often, and not enough. Too long, and too short. Etc. (You get to choose.)* Because I don’t want to inundate people with my writing, I used to limit my email newsletter to ‘events’, just like I did with my snail mail mailing list. Here’s my booth number at that fair, here are the dates of my open studio, etc.

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and artist newsletters myself. Some write every day. Some write once a week, and some write once a year. Some are so long, I never stop to read them. Some are so interesting, I drop whatever I’m doing to read them.

When I unsubscribe from a newsletter, it’s because a) I’m no longer interested in what they’re sharing with me; b) I’m not buying what they’re selling; c) I never signed up for their newsletter in the first place.

My point here is, there is no single right-or-wrong way to write a newsletter. Except, too boring, too repetitive, and waaaaaay too long. (I’m lookin’ at MYELF here…)

You might be disciplined enough to send one every week, or every month. Or you might be like me, skipping a month or two, then sending three in a week.

If people like what you’re saying, they won’t care. If they don’t, they’ll find any excuse to unsubscribe. And like people that say mean things to us, it’s more about them than it is about us.

  1. Email newsletters are soooo much easier/quicker/cheaper than snail mail mailings to stay in touch with our followers. Back then, it was expensive to mail thousands of people, even just a postcard. So I never sent a newsletter for any other reason.

Now, all I have to do is type, and add some good pictures, and hit ‘send’. Yay! I just saved $600!!

Last, here’s something I’ve learned this year:

  1. Newsletters level the playing field between extroverts and introverts. More on this to come!

 

*Now my caveat: There are people who offer different advice about newsletters. They have more expertise than I do, and perhaps even statistics to back them up. Please, feel free to skip my advice if/when it conflicts with theirs.

But if this appeals to you, stay tuned for more columns ahead, where I’ll share some ideas about things we can write about, and why newsletters can be a powerful tool for introverts.

Share your own stories in the comments! What newsletter did you create that got the best response from your audience, and what do you think was the reason why? Where do you get stuck when creating a newsletter? What’s your greatest fear? (Hint: Getting our work out into the world is a hero’s journey. Newsletters are much less strenuous!)

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 of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.