Tag Archives: Artist Advice

It’s never not about marketing. (More things they don’t tell you about being an artist.)

It’s been 3-and-a-little-bit years now that I have been doing this gig as a full-time artist instead of trying to squeeze in some art around a full-time job. There are a lot of things about it that I love and I am feeling like my system (Etsy + teaching + exhibiting/grant projects) is working for me and my little business is keeping me busy and sustaining itself. Let’s be honest, I am not making enough to retire on, but I am making enough to not need to wonder if I need to be out job hunting because I need the steady paycheck.

But one of the big surprises for me in this journey is realizing just how much of my time I spend marketing myself. (Spoiler alert: It’s way more time than I spend making art.)

The idea of going to a cocktail party and having to make small talk with people I don’t know is about the most horrible way I can think of to spend an evening. I hesitate to fall into the introvert/extrovert cliché, but I absolutely don’t enjoy social gatherings meant for networking. I would rather stay home and scrub the bathroom, seriously. But I have realized that as an independent artist, I pretty much need to spend some part of every week (probably more realistically, every day) in interacting with somebody I don’t know and telling them about me. Posting something to Instagram. Writing an engaging post on Facebook. Remembering to tweet something. Writing something thoughtful for my blog. Adding something to my Etsy shop. Planning out a newsletter. Going to a meeting. Pitching a new class. It’s like a series of tiny little cocktail parties looking for someone who’d like to chat. Every day.

Because the only way I get to DO projects/classes/sales is by connecting with someone and getting my stuff in front of them.

According to all of the marketing gurus and “10 steps to being a successful artist” posts out there, I am pretty much doing all of the right things. I have an email list. I have an up-to-date website. I post on social media as much as I can stand to. I co-wrote a book. It’s even ranked #15 on Amazon’s best seller list for Books > Crafts, Hobbies & Home > Crafts & Hobbies > Needlecrafts & Textile Crafts > Fiber Arts & Textiles. (Which sounds more impressive than it is, I think.) I do the rounds of local shows and have taught at a bunch of national fiber art conferences. I’m doing the stuff I am supposed to be doing. (I’m not always doing it great, but I am doing it.)

There is a marketing tenant that says that 80% of your social media presence should be “lifestyle”. Things that are related to the brand you want to convey but aren’t all all “me me ME!” posts. People get bored with “buy my thing” posts all the time, so you have to engage them in other ways. I totally get that. I unfollow accounts that are constant sales announcements and I bet you do too. But there is also another marketing rule that says you have to get your stuff in front of people 7 times before it makes an impact. ie. You would have to see my zipper bags on Instagram seven times before you would be motivated to do something (click through, buy one, share it or whatever) If we do the math on all of that quick, that means I need to post 28 things that are not zipper bags (and not necessarily about me but about the lifestyle) for every 7 posts that are that zipper bag. I am just exhausted typing that sentence.

Instagram and Facebook have also recently tweaked their algorithms for what posts you get to see as a follower of someone. Both are favoring posts that generate interactions. Instagram even goes so far to say “meaningful interactions”, which means a comment of more than 4 words and not just “great post!” or “love it!” You have to actually type a complete sentence. On average when I post something, only about 20% of my followers see it. I think. (It’s difficult to track down a real number and understand what all of the stats are really telling you.) And according to the new Instagram info, if the 20% of the people that see that post don’t interact with it, the algorithm won’t bother to show it to the rest of you. Don’t you love algorithms?!?

Why am I telling you all about this? Because I really think it’s important to be real as an artist. I think it’s easy to be just getting started trying to get your art out there and to get really discouraged. It is HARD to put yourself out there and have it feel like no one cares. I know so many people who enthusiastically started an Etsy shop only to get discouraged after four months and let it drift off into internet-oblivion because they couldn’t get any momentum. I get discouraged too. All. The. Time. So many feeds are so highly curated, polished, and perfected that it makes many things look easy. And those “10 step” marketing plans make it seem like if only you followed directions, you too would be an instant success.

What might not be obvious is that the perfect looking picture that you are seeing in your feed could only be making it to 10 people. You probably don’t think about it when you click, but every time you click that “like” button on one of my posts, I see every one of those clicks. I get a report of stats and percentages and engagement and so on from every one of those platforms telling me how many of you are willing to chat at the cocktail party. By liking something, you are telling the dumb algorithm that maybe it should show that post to other people who follow me too. Basically the algorithms favor the people who are already established. Instagram and YouTube even limit features available to you if you have fewer than a certain number of followers. That means if I don’t already have lots of people liking and commenting, then it won’t show it to other people who might want to like and comment. The algorithm makes it harder. It’s not just you doing it wrong.

Comments are like a gift. I read every comment. I try to respond to every one. (I don’t always catch them, but I try.) A share of a post is like winning the prize on a scratch off lottery ticket. Why? Because that part of the job is way harder than making the art. Your share just bought drinks at the cocktail party for 200 people I’ve never met before. Woohoo! I am putting together a set of new classes right now and the part I worry about isn’t the prep, the teaching, the photos or the pricing, but the marketing. How do I get the word out there to the right people that this thing is happening?

I want to know. What’s the hardest part of getting your art out there? What do you wish was just a little easier?

 

 

 

An introvert’s guide to surviving an art show

A friend posted a comment on something I wrote on Facebook:

I want to have a booth at a show, but I am nervous that I will not be charming enough. Any tips for being yourself And an introvert and a good salesperson for the crafts you love to make?

That seemed like an awesome thing to think about and share what I do. I am a major introvert. When I say that, I always have students from my classes say “There’s no way you’re an introvert.” but it’s really true. When I am in front of a class, I can turn off the introvert for a while and I enjoy it, but I have a timer and it runs out. I get what I call a “teaching hangover”, especially when I teach in the evenings where I need several hours to unwind and reset before I can sleep or deal with people again. It’s a different feeling than just being tired. I feel prickly and scatterbrained and I crave silence. (It’s a lot like the onset of a migraine now that I think of it.) I need to get that out of my system before I can do anything else. So a class that goes until 9 pm means I will be up until 2 am before I feel like I can relax again. I know that about myself, so I have come with a lot of ways to make it work.

When you’re an introvert, showing your art at a show is pretty much you having to be “on” for 8 or 10 hours straight, which is so hard to do. The reason people come to art shows is because they are interested in handmade items and they are interested in meeting the artists that make them. That means you. My last post was all about how that interaction with the artist can make all the difference in both positive and negative ways. So here are a few ways I deal with being an introvert and surviving a long show day and making sure I am being the best ambassador for my art.

Meet your neighbors

One of the first things I do is try to meet the people that are set up on either side of me. Especially if you are staffing your booth by yourself, it’s nice to feel like you have a couple of friends who are in the same boat. It makes it feel less awkward to borrow a sharpie or masking tape from them and you have someone to eye-roll with when things are slow. Chances are good that everything is going to be crowded (because it always is) and you are going to be encroaching on each other’s space in some way. That’s a lot easier to tolerate from a friend when you are crawling under their table to find your water bottle or their customers are standing in the way of your display and chatting.

Don’t forget fuel

It’s tempting to get a giant latte loaded with sugar and figure that caffeinated energy will carry you through your introvertness. And that works to a point. But around Hour 3 when you are jittery and the sugar has crashed, your ability to cope with crowds of people is toast. It’s going to be loud and you will get thirsty from talking a lot. Water is good. I am not really excited about plain water, so I drink a lot of tea. I have decided that almonds, apples & cheese are pretty much the perfect show snack. Cut everything up into small pieces. Stash it in a container under the table. You don’t want anything that makes your fingers messy and you want to be able to eat it in a couple of bites. You might get a break, but you might not. And I don’t know about you, but if I am hungry, I am even less interested in talking to people and they stress me out more.

Be present

The simplest version of this one is “don’t sit down”. It’s tempting to make yourself a home base where you feel comfortable watching people come in to your booth, but you are out of the way. But the problem is that when you sit down, you are tempted to pull out your phone or your knitting or something to keep yourself busy. Then you are looking down and not making eye contact. And then you look busy and someone with a question might not want to interrupt because it looks like you are counting stitches. And we introverts don’t want to be interrupted, so this one just perpetuates itself. A tall stool or chair helps with this, so you can literally sit and not have to be on your feet all day, but you are still at eye level with the people who are shopping and not tempted to hide in your phone. My phone battery is iffy so there is no surfing for me or my Square checkout might not make it through the day. I always wear a bracelet to fidget with even though I would love to have my knitting to fidget with instead. Being present also means not letting yourself get monopolized. I overheard several unhappy comments from customers at my last show because one of my neighbors had a huge bunch of friends in the booth chatting with each other. No one else could get in to look and the artist was completely unaware.

Don’t get trapped

This one is about your booth design. It took me a while to figure out the simple design of “here’s a table with all of my stuff and I stand behind the table” totally makes me feel trapped. I am constantly on display along with my art right in front of all of those people, aka the Introverts Nightmare. I now try to make a booth where I have several places to stand, including out in the aisle. I want to be able to see my things at all times, but I want to be able to move around and not have me or the customer feel like we are watching each other. I think it also helps to wear a nametag so that no matter where I stand people can figure out that I belong to the booth. Some shows really don’t lend themselves to this, but give your design some creative thinking. I have seriously taped out the space with masking tape on my livingroom floor and mocked up the booth before I go.

 

 

Find the story

Ugh. Small talk. Right?

“Let me know if you have any questions.” is a good opening line, but it’s so commonly said that we almost don’t hear it any more. Often the first thing someone says when they walk up to my things is “Pretty fabric” or something like that, so my opening line has become: “Thank you! I design all of these fabrics and have them digitally printed.” At which point they usually look up at me with a confused look on their face (because what I do is unusual) and they ask me a question. “What do you mean digitally printed?” “You designed all of them?” “You can do that?” And now we have a conversation started and it’s the easy conversation. It’s easy to talk about what you do because you love it. You wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. You aren’t selling it at that point, you are sharing your love and enthusiasm for it. And that’s a way more fun conversation than “How much is this?” I also print out a card that talks about what’s unusual about my work and I put it in the display. That’s for the introvert shoppers.

What’s the opening line you can say that invites people to ask you more?

  • Something you can’t tell by looking at it (ie it’s digitally printed)
  • Alternate ways to use it (ie it’s a necktie, but I am a girl and I am wearing one right now)
  • What’s unique about it (ie I use all reclaimed fabrics or recycled silver)

Have a break

Get a friend to come. Leave for 5 minutes and go away from the crowd where you can be “off” for a while. Walk outside or even hide in the bathroom. Anything where you can be anonymous for a couple of minutes will give you a little chance to reset. I rarely have someone stay in the booth with me. There is never enough room and you tend to talk to that person instead of customers. But someone who can drop by for 10 minutes is the best gift you will get all day. It’s always the last thing I think to organize, but it’s so important. Shows will often give free or assistant passes to vendors; this is what you use those for. This person doesn’t need to know how to do anything more than say “The artist stepped away for just a minute and will be back soon.”

Go home and reset

This is important for multi-day shows. I always have invites to go out and grab dinner after a show and I rarely say yes. You need the time in the evening to reset if you are going to do another day at the booth. Have a hot bath, eat something, drink a glass of wine, go to bed early.


I have actually gotten to where there are some art shows that I really enjoy. I know what to expect, I know I will be having the same small talk conversation all day and I still enjoy it. But that’s taken some practice. Your first few shows are going to be exhausting. Making your booth/strategy work for your personality is going to make you feel more confident and even if it feels a little contrived to come up with an “opening line”, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes and it doesn’t feel that way at all.

How to do everything at an art fair (or maybe not)

photo 1This has turned out to be my very busiest time of year.  This last week I travelled to Rapid City SD for the Black Hills Fiber Arts Fair.  It is just the second year for the fair.  I went last year as a visitor and took a class with my mom; this year I taught 4 classes and had a vendor booth.

I do several fiber fairs that are structured like this one:  vendors, classes, other events all packed in to one weekend.  Figuring out what parts you want to do and what you realistically CAN do are two different things.

Classes

photo 4I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to take any classes.  This event was set up to have a “classes day” for the vendors before the event was open to the public, so that you could go take a class without having to have someone watch your booth.  But I was teaching a class then and the schedule worked out that I was overlapping with other classes and one of the events that evening (an opening reception) so I wasn’t able to do either of those things.  It was a great class to teach, so that really worked out just fine.  The rest of the weekend I was either teaching or needing to be in my booth, so no classes for me.

Events each have a personality.  This fair had a pretty laid back policy about checking in for set up and teaching and those kinds of things.  I needed to be a little pro-active about tracking down what I needed (extension cords), improvising name tags (masking tape) and adjusting some lights in the space we were in.  The gallery staff for the venue was outstanding and really helpful. One of my classes had 2 or maybe 3 different times published which was a little confusing, so just being extra prepared and having a “make it work” attitude made the weekend that much nicer.

I packed all of the supplies for my classes into rolling suitcases, packed with big ziploc bags.  I knew I needed to just be able to pop them out and be ready to go since I had limited set up time and more setup meant more time away from my booth.  I stashed the suitcases under my table so I could just grab them and go.

photo 5Vendor Booth

I was super lucky to have my sister and husband who could be booth sitters while I taught the rest of my classes over the weekend.  It really helped that they were both pretty familiar with my items for sale, but there were still lots of people with questions who stopped back to find me later when I was in the booth.  Even a great booth sitter (which mine were) isn’t a substitution for being able to interact with the artist, so I felt a little sad that I was away from my booth for about 8 hours of the event.  I might think next year about requesting that my classes happen during the “slow hours” of the event right at the end of the day.

I forgot my knitting!  One thing I think is really helpful at a fair like this is to have something to do with your hands.  I know how much I hate “pushy salespeople” in a shop and I feel like if I am occupied with a little something, then I make the customers more comfortable looking at things at my booth.  And it gives a really easy start to a conversation with strangers – “Oh, what are you knitting?”  You need a simple project that you can pick up and put down (no lace patterns to count) at any minute and especially something that you can look up and talk and be aware while you are doing it.  I didn’t have a project ready to go and I was antsy without it.

Social & Social Media

I had really good intentions of taking lots of photos and writing up a whole post about the art and the vendors at the show.  Oops.  That didn’t happen!  I have some photos of my booth, but only because my mom took a few.  I really only got to walk around the show in the minutes before we opened to the public and I could chat with other vendors.  I bought one skein of pretty yarn from the booth right across from mine.  I love reading other people’s posts about their visits to events like this, but being able to write one fell down to the bottom of my list of things I needed to do.

I met some really cool people, but I never really had time to chat.  We were each running to teach and then back to our booths and I think next time maybe I will plan an evening for going out for a drink or a meet up for coffee before the event opens.

photo 3

Don’t underestimate the Power of Chocolate

photo 2A very dear friend surprised me by coming to the show to say hi and bringing me a little box of chocolate.  I hadn’t had anything but a granola bar for lunch that day and I was feeling a little worn out after teaching for 4 hours.  Chocolate was exactly what I needed.  Sea salt caramels coated in chocolate can fix anything.

They had a really awesome food vendor at this show from what I heard, but sadly for me, she didn’t have any vegetarian options.  I probably could have gotten a side of potato salad, but I wished that the taco salad option would have included beans instead of meat.  I will put that in the evaluation that I turn in.

Overall…

It was an awesome show for me.  I had 2 shops approach me about carrying my stuff.  I met some awesome people. My classes all went great.  I was invited back to teach again next year.  Sales were even better for me than at a much bigger show I did last year.  All in all, this one gets an A.  Thanks to the staff and volunteers at both the BHFAF and the Dahl Arts Center.  You do a great event!

Things they don’t tell you about being an artist…

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.37.48 PM

I just finished 28 hours of an art show.  That’s probably really 36 hours on my feet on a hard concrete floor once we have set up and tear down.  The experience was amazing and I wouldn’t trade any of those minutes for anything, but chatting with my fellow artists all weekend brought out some things that we agreed they never tell you are part of the job description.

1.  Describe your art in 10 words.

When you meet anyone at an art fair there are about 100 things competing for their attention.  You need to be able to talk about what you do in 10 words or less if you want to start a conversation with someone and talking about your art is why both of you are there, usually.  My phrase for this event was “Let me know if you have questions.  These are all digitally printed fabrics from manipulated photographs.”   Most people would pause for a second (as they made sense of all of those technical sounding words that I just said) and then I would get a big smile and they would say “Oh, that’s really cool!” or “Wow, I’ve never heard of that.”  I had a lot of really great conversations that started just that way.

2.  Cute outfits always include comfortable shoes.

There is just nothing like the 10th hour on your feet in inappropriate shoes.  Danskos will save your life.  Cute dress, tights, danskos, cardigan sweater.  That’s my uniform.  Pockets are also really necessary.

3.  Eat lunch in 2 dozen 2 bite segments.

Almonds, cheese and apple slices are my very favorite show lunch.  You can eat two bites between conversations, and your fingers don’t get messy.  Sometimes you are lucky and you can step away for a few minutes and sometimes you just can’t.  This particular show had a demonstration by the local TeaSource (who will be forever my heroes!) just across an aisle and I can’t tell you how good a hot cup of tea is when you have been talking all day.

4.  You will get sick the week after it is done.

I shook about eleventy-thousand hands and I was already stressed and a little sleep deprived from getting everything ready.  It was inevitable.  I should remember to schedule nothing the week after because that’s exactly what is going to get done:  nothing.

5.  You will have another deadline.

The week I was getting ready for this show (the biggest one I have ever done!) was also the week that the final edit of the manuscript for my book was due.  Yup.  Two deadlines right on top of each other and by the time I realized that they were all going to happen on the same week there was nothing I could do but hang on for the ride.  The universe will sense all of that great creative energy and will throw things at you like crazy.  The best strategy is to just admit that you are insane and not let the stress get to you.  I let some things go, I wrote some emails and apologized for having to delay a few others and I tried to enjoy what I could – these were really GOOD things happening that were making me stressed.

I didn’t really listen to my own best advice, although to be fair, I didn’t know about either the show or the book deadline when I agreed to this week’s project: Black Hills Fiber Arts Fair.  I will be teaching 4 classes and minding a little vendor booth all weekend in Rapid City SD, my hometown.  Hopefully I will be over this cold.  The classes are ones that I know and love and so there is no stress about preparing for any of them.  Just good fun teaching.  If you are in the neighborhood, stop by!  My youngest sister will be minding the booth for me so I can teach one day.  Say hi to her too.

What are your additions to the artist’s job description?  I know you have them.

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