Friday, January 18, 2013

Galleries vs. Outdoor Shows

This year I was invited to be in a show at Lark and Key, the show was beautiful, work sold, and I am very happy to be in this gallery. Such a wonderful space, lots of good energy. I was also invited to be in a show at Mudfire down in Decatur. I couldn't get to that show and I haven't seen the gallery, so I can't speak to the gallery itself, but the folks there have been very nice. They did a tremendous job giving me some press, but my pieces, alas, are still there. It's been a year now, so I suppose I need to get them back. I know that I can sell them, my work seems to sell better for some reason when it's attached to me....
 I was also invited to be in a show at Cedar Creek Gallery. Same thing, really nice people, work didn't sell. Got it back, sold it myself.
I get a check every month from The Bascom in Highlands, so I am very happy with that relationship, and Sarah at NC Crafts just supports me no matter what and most months I get a check from her. I was in The Collectors Gallery in Raleigh, but sadly they closed. I am also now in Saxapahaw Artists Gallery but too soon to tell how that is going.
All in all, I am happy with the galleries I am working with and hope to continue those relationships. Every gallery that I have had any dealings with has been really great.
I was invited to be in The Winter Show at the Greenhill Center in Greensboro this year and I was honored to have been asked. I got a call last week from them saying I could pick up my work from the show. What? My pieces didn't sell? They were two of the nicest pieces I made this year, ugh.... I got a little teary, seriously bummed out, and on the hour drive to Greensboro, I considered everything from quitting clay altogether to running my car of the road (not really, but don't you want to do that some days with this clay business?!) so I'm driving to Greensboro in the fog and the rain, getting more and more depressed, but then remembering all the pieces I DID sell this year, mostly of my own doing from a show I did or an order from my studio, and things started looking a little better. Then when I got to Greenhill, most of the show was still up, and there were many many pieces that had not sold. Not just mine, I wasn't alone, heart is feeling better. And then I looked at the artists that were in this show. Was I really in a show with these people. Seriously? I'm feeling a little impressed with myself. I saw a documentary recently on Sylvia Heyden, the 86 year old weaver. There were two of her pieces on the wall, $4500 each, not sold. By the time I left with my box and my barns, I wasn't bummed anymore and had an hours drive back home to think about this emotional roller coaster business I have gotten myself into.
Last year, I had terrible luck with outdoor shows. It wasn't the sales exactly, it was the weather. Every show I signed up for got rained out and I lost my entry fee. So much wasted time and money. The one indoor show, the CDCG was a complete waste of time. My studio tour was great, less than last year, but still good.
So here's what I'm thinking. In order to make this work, it seems that I need a little bit of everything and I need to sell in various venues. Barns for nice galleries and shows, jewelry and small items for Etsy,  less expensive items for outdoor shows. Last year I was single minded, making barns, that was about it. I was focused on work for galleries and my big indoor show. Sales were fine but there was a huge group I was missing, the $50 and under customers, like me. I waited until late in the year to start making smaller items and they all sold quickly, In looking back over receipts and photos from 2011 and 2010, I was reminded that I did pretty well at Shakori and a couple of the other outdoor shows I did. I know I said I wasn't going to do it, but I sent in my application for Shakori and for one other outdoor show for spring. Lesson learned in never saying never! Shakori is just four days of fun, no matter what so there is no harm there. I will have a good time if I sell work or not, and the other outdoor show fee is reasonable and if it rains I won't lose a lot. And it is an art show, not food, music, and kitch.
I also resigned from the CDCG board that I just got voted on to and have decided to sit that one out this year. I love the artists and the people that run that show, I don't particularly care for the attendees so much. They come to look at beautiful art, but they sure weren't buying a lot of it. I also don't care for the booth fee and barely breaking even.
I will do the studio tour again, it's fun, it's successful and it is a great way to end the year.
So, as I review the past three years as I have seriously set out to sell my work, I think for the most part it has been a success. It's been bumpy at times, I have been elated, depressed, touched by some of my customers commissions, I have met some very wonderful people, and I have learned a lot about myself and my work. I'm looking forward to moving ahead with this knowledge and growing my business and my art even more. The most important thing I have learned is you just have to show up. And you have to offer something that you love and you are proud to put out there. To me, craftsmanship has become very important and my quality control hammer gets a lot of use!
I also realize that if I am going to sell work, I can't just rely on galleries. I am going to have to suck it up and do some shows. I don't really want to, but that is the reality of not having a retail shop here. I gotta go where there are customers, at least for awhile. I will not, however, be entering shows that you have to pay a jury fee for, or pay to enter (except for a reasonable booth fee that I tend to myself).
One last thing. I am starting off the new year with a commitment to do props for a spring play at the ArtsCenter. I really miss the theater, I had some time available and the show is a musical about Walt Whitman, so I said yes. I love that they still call me to do shows and I am happy I have some time to go back to what I really love doing. I also dressed my loom yesterday, we have snow on the ground and it is really cold, so 'm staying in and doing some weaving today.
It looks like this will be a year of variety. A little clay work, different shows, different work, some weaving, and some prop design sprinkled in to keep things interesting. Last year I was focused, single minded and worked really hard. This year it looks like I might be all over the place, but who cares? I'm going to have some fun!

photo: Lark and Key Gallery Charlotte NC


Michèle Hastings said...

Even with a retail shop at our studio, we have to do lots of different things to keep the money flowing. I don't mind sending pots to consignment galleries and paying a commission if they can sell the work. I am a little irritated with shops that take nearly half and sell very little. A couple of those are not getting more work in 2013!
I think you are right about having items $50 and under.When I think about the artists who sell only high end items, they usually also have a university job to supplement their income.
You may not have sold anything at Greenhill, but you got some great exposure with some well known artists, I would call that a success story!

Lori Buff said...

You're playing my song. I have great success at shows but much less in galleries or shows where I drop off pieces and leave. People don't know who we are until they meet us, then they like the work and the person. Doing outdoor shows and festivals can be fun (weather permitting) but it's also lots of work. A mix is the perfect solution.

Unknown said...

I gave up all shows except the ones I organize! Like you, I sell my work best. So, an open studio event in June and a Holiday show in November. Both venues are wonderful- the people come out and spend~ a good combo!

Inbetween I have my little on-site shop and the etsy shop. It's enough for now...but growing the business is in my near future and I am already wondering about how I will do that...

Dennis Allen said...

After a couple of months off in the fall from the MC accident and not getting into a Christmas show and a January exhibition I've been doing some thinking as well.I like doing shows but I need to keep searching out the ones that are a good fit for me.Personally, I get more validation if I meet the buyers too. I think that the experience of the face to face meeting with the artist is a big piece of what we are selling.If it is a good experience people are inclined to buy SOMETHING even if it the least expensive thing in the booth. With a gallery, you are paying for their location and clients. Hopefully some promotion goes with it but you will still sell better if people get to meet you. It gives them a story to tell when people see their purchase. It's not worth as much without the story.Sounds like you are coming up with a pretty good plan.

Hollis Engley said...

I'm still trying to figure out how to do this thing myself, Tracey. I'm not going to apply to the bigger shows here on the Cape this year. There are some other marketing changes I'll make and hope that at the end of the year the bank account doesn't look much smaller. My mantra after ten years of these shows is, "There's gotta be a better way ... " Good luck to you. Your work is too good not to sell.

powen liu 劉博文 said...

Come to visit my studio when you come to Greensboro next time. I didn't sell any work during the Winter show 2 years ago but it lead my works to Greenhill gallery shop. The gallery shop does very good job. I regalrly receive check from them.

Anonymous said...

i so enjoy hearing about your process and ponderings over all of this, especially as i mull over the possibilities for my own work. & i, too, was just asked to do props for the musical fairy tale for our community singing group is doing this spring.

ang design said...

smilink!! you have it trace variety is the spice after all!!
I do admire all those words you know you have a way with them :))

Susan Wells said...

Nothing like reinventing, reworking and re-visioning for a new year! Keeping flexible so you can stay in the studio!

Cat's Ceramics said...

Such wise words from everyone. You've really helped me. Thank you. I have been pondering these very same things at the moment in regards to my work and was hoping I could have a single clear avenue focus but it does seem variety is the way to go and hopefully should be alot more fun!

Tracey Broome said...

Hi everyone thanks for your comments. I'm a little slack getting back with replies, my loom has me in a trance :)
Wise words from all!!!!