Thursday, September 30, 2010

Treasury Features and Thanks

A blogger friend of mine (thanks, dear Nicole) regulary posts on treasuries in which she has been included and has showcased a few of my collections. I think that's a lovely idea, and I've decided to follow suit as a way to say thanks to those who take the time to curate lovely collections on Etsy and who have included me in their treasuries. To see the collection up close, follow the link by clicking on the title of the treasury.

Starting with Blackstar's collection... Autumn's Earth Tones

Katie has featured my Touch the Earth medicince bag, made for holding sacred treasures on life's journey. It's made from rusty-brown sueded leather. It measures approximately 3 x 3 1/2 inches and is stitched with strong, black waxed thread in an X pattern. It is handbeaded with jasper, jade, serpentine, green shell, and glass seed beads. It includes a sueded leather strap that allows the owner to hang it from a belt loop.

One of my favorite items in Katie's shop is this little lovely: a handknotted necklace featuring cubes of palmwood and horn and jet black beads. It's beautifully earthy and tribal, don't you think?

Next is another autumn beauty, this one by Gwen of dancingintherains, simply titled Autumn.

Gwen has featured my Le Chat painting, a little 6 x 12 oil on professional canvas with edges painted and wire on the back, ready to be hung.

Gwen makes some fabulous fabric items and she also has a thing for cats! One of my favorites in her shop is Mr. White with scarf... he's all ready for autumn! This cheerful cat shape plush is a great companion. He is made of cotton laine (cotton wool) with hand sewn face, his body stuffed with polyester fiber. He has a scarf which is removable. He is soft, 10 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide.

Mr. White leads nicely into this gorgeous collection, Off White is Just Right, by MazzyJewelryDesigns.

Erika has featured my Sing scrimshaw bookmark.
It's made from a recycled ivory piano key and is etched in the traditional scrimshaw method. It measures 4 x 1/2 inches and is adorned with leather and a turquoise and brown porcelain bead along with a river stone lampworked glass bead.

A favorite of mine in Erika's shop are these very romantic earrings... smoky quartz all wrapped up in sterling silver, perfectly titled Starlight. So pretty!

And one more treasury to showcase here today, a wintry collection by Poppyswickedgarden, aptly titled A Chill in the Air.

Poppy has featured my As the Crow Flies painting, an oil on professional 12 x 12 canvas. As always, the edges are painted and it's wired and ready for your wall!

Poppy has a few shops on Etsy, but in her poppywickedgarden shop, she has some really cool accessories and clothing. Here's one item I'd like to have in my closet... Timeless Love Arm Warmers. They are approximately 15" long and made from lovely white textured knit. She's finished them with elegant white lace trim and ruffle edging. I think they're gorgeous, don't you?

Thanks to these talented curators for sharing their collections on Etsy! There will be more posts like this one to come, as a way to share these beautiful treasuries and to show my appreciation. Until then, remember to buy handmade and remember to enjoy the beauty of life all around you!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Country Roads Exhibit

Lest you think I have been remiss, lazy, or up to no good... here's a little post to let you know I have been busy preparing for a solo art exhibit at the Stokes County Arts Council's Apple Gallery. I hung the show last week, took a few photos, and am preparing this week for the opening reception which takes place this Friday evening. I worked with the owner of the cafe next door to the gallery, and she will be open that evening for dinner and I've solicited one of my good friends who is also a fabulous musician to play that evening in the cafe. So it'll be a hot time on the streets of our little Stokes County town! Music, food, and art... all in one fell swoop! I'm sincerely hoping for a good crowd because we need some action 'round here!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Price of Art

Ah... how much is someone willing to pay to own a piece of your art? If we had the answer to that, wouldn't our lives as artists be so much easier? It's a sure thing that women will buy jewelry and that men will buy jewelry for their women (although it's not a sure thing for some men to pick out the right thing... just ask my friend Carolyn whose husband has a tendency to buy his firecracker of a wife all manner of conservative pieces!). But at what price will they buy a truly unique and one-of-a-kind necklace, such as this one by LittleGreenRoom?

In online stores and websites, such as Etsy and Artfire, there are uncounted numbers of jewelry-makers. I'm included in there. When I opened my Etsy shop about 20 months ago, I listed mostly earrings and necklaces. I foolishly hadn't done much research on the site. The majority of my sales have been, you guessed it, jewelry, though most of my listings are now paintings. I have since discovered that when you do a search for any kind of tag, the majority of items that come up are some form of jewelry. For example, I just did a search under the Jewelry section, and here's the number of listings that came up: 1,570,053 items in Jewelry . That means 39,352 pages of jewelry listings!!
Check out this link to see what I'm talking about!

On Etsy, you can see similar work all over the place. This is due at times to what the market wants and it's due sometimes, unfortunately, to some sellers copying the work of others. You can find jewelry in all price ranges and styles, and typically the work that is priced higher is, of course, higher quality, better crafted, and with a unique style that utilizes unique materials. But of the jewelry that is fairly and reasonably priced, some of these makers have their own definite style in the way they create or in the photography of their work, so often you can see their listings, even if there may be other work in the same vein, and you know the shop before you even see the name. Such is the case of ErikaPrice whose bright and colorful work is often photographed on piano keys. And there is the work of Littlebugjewelry, pictured here. I am not a wearer of rings, but I am sorely tempted when I see a listing such as this one! These are usually the jewelers who are able to make sales. And these makers also list EVERY day. But sometimes even the work of these makers and sellers can be mixed in with that of others whose work is quite similar. It's a hard row to hoe if you're a jewelry maker on Etsy, especially if you're fairly new to the game. You better have something that stands out, that is marked as your own, and that is priced right if you want to make the sales. And once you have loyal and happy customers, you'll probably do just fine. It's getting to that point that can be so difficult.

There are lots of visual artists on Etsy as well, but when you do a search for Paintings, you get this: 164,486 items in Art which is quite a few less than Jewelry! Still, the same is true for this category. Certain artists/sellers have a definite style or theme which is recognizable and often these are the ones who show up in treasuries, which help to get your shop noticed, or seen on the Front Page, or listed in Etsy Finds or on the Storque. Many of these artists have discovered that the best way to make sales is to sell prints of their original work because prints are, of course, much more affordable. This is a step that I have not taken and am not planning to take in the near future, though I have been asked to do so. I firmly believe that art should be one of a kind and while reproductions of masterpieces sell as posters and prints so that people can display them prominently in their homes or offices, I would rather support working artists and see their originals hanging on the walls of businesses and homes.

I know that everybody sees art in a different way, and some may prefer painstakingly realistic work that appears to be a photograph over something that is abstract or even something that is somewhat realistic but bolder in color or style. As an artist, I have to make a choice: do I paint what is in my heart and soul, hoping that it speaks to a potentional buyer... or do I paint what the market says to paint, believing that a typical buyer will open the wallet for such a piece? Since my home and studio are full of my own paintings, guess which direction I have so far chosen? Of course, there is marketing, and I admit that I am just not very good with that. My skills as a painter are not top-notch, so I will never command top dollar for my work, as many successful and wonderful painters can and do. But I will also not give my work away in the sense that I will not price it so low that I may as well list it for free. Some artists do this; some are not very good artists, some are pretty decent artists. Whether or not you pour out your soul on the canvas or if you just paint something that feels good to you, you have purchased canvas, brushes and palette knives (and if you paint, you know that brushes can be an exorbitant expense), tubes of paints (again, some are much more expensive than others), painting agents, cleaning materials, varnish, framing materials, easels, drawing pads for your sketches, and perhaps other things as well. And you have spent time creating something visual for others to enjoy or reflect upon or question or cry over or any other emotional response to it. So you should value your work in that regard and keep that in mind when pricing it, believing that you should be paid for that effort as well as recovering your cost for materials.

And this is true for other arts and yes, even crafts. I have found one seller on Etsy who may as well list items for free. Taking her materials and time into account, as well as the fees on Etsy and Paypal, she cannot possibly make money with what she is selling. It's true that she uses her designs over and over again and there isn't too much in them that is unique or original; they are very traditional for the particular medium that she works in. Because I work in this medium, I know the amount of time involved and I know the expenses of the materials, and I know that she can't be making much money, no matter how many sales she makes (and she makes quite a lot). While I know an artist can never be paid a fair sum for the hours spent creating a piece of art, her pay rate must be about $5 an hour. What is the point of that? My husband's response to this is that creating art is sometimes a wealthy person's pastime.

And when she, or any seller, is listing things for such a ridiculously low price, one that makes other artists cringe, does she not realize that she makes it harder for those of us who are working in the same medium but creating one-of-a-kind pieces, more unique, more organic, more fluid, to make any sales? Someone will ask, "Why should I buy this piece at this higher cost when I can get this one which is much cheaper?" Why exactly?

A buyer has to know the difference between art with a soul and art that is merely created for a quick sale. Unfortunately, especially in today's economy, many people don't understand the difference and many people don't care. We cannot count on most buyers understanding the difference in craft, skill, quality and design, and we certainly cannot count on other sellers to be fair with their pricing. Perhaps they do not value what they do as creators; perhaps they do not make their living with their art. Perhaps they just do not think about the actual market value. Perhaps they never think about the community of artists.

My husband, who is a custom knifemaker and makes everything himself, including Damascus steel, had a booth at a knife show last year and one of the sellers was a foreign couple who was selling Damascus knives. John asked him about his work and learned that he and his son make the damascus steel themselves. They were not making many sales because they were foreigners of the type that many folks are currently afraid of, and for that John felt rather sad. But John was aghast at the low price on those knives. Sure, he said, they were not the best made knives, but the damascus steel was nicely done. He said he could've bought the lot of them and taken them to the Blade Show in Atlanta and sold them for twice as much as he paid, making a nice and easy profit. That's how inexpensive they were. To be fair, John said this couple probably just didn't understand the market value; perhaps they were from a country where one is used to working long and hard and just barely making a living. But it's another case of selling way below market value and making it hard for anyone else who is trying to get a fair price on a custom product.

So we are left with some decisions. Do we continue to create art that is a part of our being? Do we continue to make art that is unique, somehow different, art that we think others may be drawn to in some way? Do we continue to try to sell that art? Do we price it so that it sells quickly, even if it means making a very small margin of profit? These are things that I have been pondering for a while, and granted, my creativity goes in many directions. I could give up one or two paths on that journey quite easily (and actually I have, for the most part, given up my beaded jewelry. I will still try to sell my inventory, but I'll not be spending money to create any new pieces; in fact, it sounds like time for a giveaway... so stay tuned!). But I'm interested in what others have to say on this topic. So please share your thoughts!

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Not Easy Being an Artist

Being an artist is not an easy career. It was hard enough for the likes of those, like dear Vincent, who didn't have to contend with all the technologially savvy folks in the world today. And when you add the idea of online stores, along with craft shows perhaps and local marketing... well, being an artist becomes a lot more challenging, and yes, sometimes difficult. Let's think through what is involved in this particular profession.

1. The actual creativity side... Sure, this is what everyone thinks of when you tell them you are "an artist." People have a rose-colored vision of somebody who works in a pleasant, sun-lit space playing around with pretty colors and paints and metals and beads or any such medium, listening to music and always smiling. That creative aspect is the reason we become artists: the pull, the absolute desire to create; the need to express what is inside our soul, heart, and mind; the need for our hands to make something beautiful or maybe not so beautiful, depending on what the story is; the unexplainable draw to get out to the studio alone and let those feelings fly. It is the "fun" side of being an artist, but it is a definite need and it can also be quite frustrating at times.

2. The marketing side... Okay, so you've created your art. How do you price it? How do you sell it? Two tricky dilemmas that each artist must work out on his or her own terms. Pricing is not easy, especially when you are fairly new to the game. And after you've priced, now what to do with your art? You can sell locally, wholesale or on commission. But first you must get out there and beat the pavement looking for the shops or galleries where you work will fit in. You can join an artist community or organization... highly recommended... so that you can learn of opportunities and you can do joint shows. You can build a website to showcase your work, adding Buy It Now opportunities for viewers if you desire. You can join any number of online communities already set up to help you sell your art... Ebay, Artfire, Etsy, etc. Some artists also market their work through other online social media... Twitter, Facebook, or oh so many more. Just remember that for each way an artist chooses to market, there is much, much time involved.

3. The maintenance side... Once you have decided how to go about marketing and selling your work, there's the business aspect of keeping up with those retail stores who are selling your work or of maintaining your online shops, websites, blogs and social media. This is no small task. What does this involve? For retail stores and galleries, it means inventories and checking in every so often, either through phone calls or visits, changing out items seasonally or even more often than that. For blogs and social media, it means posting at regular intervals so that your work is out there and so that your followers will continue to see you in some form or fashion. Posts can be simple (a photograph or two of new work) or more time-consuming (detailed processes or collections). For online stores and shops, a little more is involved. Because people can't actually hold your art in their hand or view it up close and personally, you have to provide would-be buyers with a good look on their computer screen. This entails....
---- Photography... and it better be good. Your product will not sell if your photos are blurry, badly lit, congested with other objects. So you can spend hours, and I mean hours, taking the photos, cropping the photos, adjusting lighting and color, and then uploading the photos to your site.
---- Product description... a tricky and time-consuming aspect. You must create wording that will sell your product. How much do you say? Good question. People need to understand what your art is, why you created it, how it can and should become a part of their life or home. You have to say enough about it, but not too much, and you need to write it using language that is creative, like your art, but also clear and easy to read.
---- Titles... these are also important, and not just in paintings or collages but also for jewelry and other types of art. Titles get people's attention. They can be sweet, bold, unusual, earthy, shocking. And in online shops, they are also used, along with tags, in web searches to help people find your work.
---- Tags... words or phrases that describe your art, whether through color, design, style, materials, emotions, or any number of things. These are used in online searches and in website searches. Create tags well, and your work is found. And yes, this can be another time-consuming area.

4. The packaging side... Once you've sold something online, you must wrap it up for shipping out. You must have supplies on hand to do so: business cards, hang tags, bubble wrap, tissue paper, string, ribbons, gift boxes, shipping envelopes or boxes... it all depends on what you are selling. If I have sold a piece of jewelry, I take extra time to make the packaging quite attractive and even color-coordinated. And I take even more time to decorate the backside of the mailing envelope with my catchphrase "Make a Joyful Noise" complete with birds and music notes. Why? Because I think it's important to make the buyer feel special and to be glad that he or she purchased from me. It's fun to receive a pretty package in the mail and to open up layers of ribbons and tissue paper and organza bags to finally retrieve the piece that was purchased. I have received packages that are nothing special... protectively wrapped, of course, but nothing pretty, nothing fancy. And I have received packages, such as the one pictured here from Etsian GlazedOver, that are so lovingly wrapped with beautiful cards and fun ribbons or personalized in some way. Which do you think is more fun to open?

5. The shipping side... Now that your package has been wrapped in whatever way you choose, it must be shipped. For some, that means the shipping service will come to your home or studio and pick up your package for you. For others, like me, I must make the trek to the Post Office to ship out my package. This can be easy, or it can be difficult, oftentimes depending on the season of the year (gift-giving holidays... eegads!) and sometimes depending on the moods of the postal employees. But whichever, it adds an additional time and cost to the ordeal of selling online.

6. And then there's what I call research... An artist should keep up with what is going on in the world of art and the world of retail. Depending on what you create, you must keep in mind the seasons, the colors of the seasons, what other artists are doing, what is selling. You should acquaint yourself with those whose online shops do quite a bit of business. Follow blogs of artists whose work you admire. An artist can find inspiration in many ways, and seeing what is out there and what is new can sometimes inspire. But if you stumble about blindly, not keeping up with other artists and not finding support in a community, you may be doomed from the start.

So there is the profession of an artist in a nutshell. I know there is much I have left out and much other artists would add. But here you see it isn't easy; it is time-consuming, it can be costly in more ways that simply buying the materials needed for the creativity aspect, and it can be quite frustrating. Why, then, do some folks practically give away their art? More on that in the next post.