Lets get down to business

6 April 2017

A short while ago I saw a little debate on Facebook. A textile artist was asking for advice. How should she  'sell her work more successfully'? How did others find Etsy (or Folksy) or were they using other platforms to sell their work.

The little debate also then touched upon the sort of work she made - 'stuff to sell' or 'art for it's own sake'.

And this got me thinking - and boy is this a big subject.

What is the difference between Art and Craft?  If you follow that previous link, there is a wonderful comment from Tracy Fiegl "Comparing art to craft is like comparing philosophy to engineering: they're two seperate ways of looking at the same thing. To me art is communication of an idea or an emotion, while craft is the physical manipulation of material. An object can easily be both, either or neither."

I very much like that definition.

Meanwhile, this debate (the difference between Art and Craft) has been raging for decades. I remember hearing a presentation by Grayson Perry talking using the analogy of setting sail on the ocean of Art from the estuaries of Craft. There is a sailing analogy here. The implication is that it is safe in the Craft environment. You can hone your skills,  and maybe even be pretty successful but the Ocean of Art is a big leap of faith - a leap into the wider environment. There may be more risks but there could also be more reward. And its s a less structured environment - un-chartered waters if you like. (By the way, I really wanted to share that with you, but I have hunted across YouTube and the internet and just can't find the clip I am referring to!)

Now, I am not sure if this analogy is helpful to everyone. For me, though, I find it a very useful way to think about what I am doing.

I go through phases where I am quite happy splashing about in the estuary of craft. I am doing a little series of lampshades at the moment. They are pretty, they are functional, they are fun to make and I hope they will also be commercially well received. But, do you know what - they are not 'art'.

For me, art demands an intellectual rigour that you don't need to apply when just doing 'craft'. This is where the estuary/ocean analogy is so helpful. You don't need great navigation skills to cross the estuary but you do to cross the ocean.

But, it doesn't matter if you are in the 'estuary of craft' or the 'ocean of art' - you still need to take a professional approach to your work if you intend to sell it. (If you are on the Gosport Ferry - a 4 minute trip across Portsmouth Harbour - you still want to know its a professional operation and that you are not going to be getting wet half way across because someone forgot to pump the bilges! )

So, rank amateurs - time to up your game.

Now, confession time - I am a bit of a rank amateur.

But I recognise this in myself. And it is because I have a full time day job.  I could do much more to sell my work, but boy, do I need more hours in the day or the ability to function on only 3 hours sleep.

But that is not an excuse - just a realisation of "Iam where I am".

I have mulled over the Etsy/Folksy problem. Should I go with them or perhaps another e-commerce platform?  Well, I could take a day or two out, improve my photography and set up my online shop.

But I have to be honest with myself. It's not just about the time taken to create the sales environment in the first place.  I am not sure I would be able to process orders very quickly.  In the fast 21st Century world, I need to recognise that people expect a fast turnaround. They place an order and they expect it to be despatched that day - professionally wrapped and presented for it's onward journey, perhaps with little touches like ribbons or 'thank you' cards etc. So, while it is very tempting, in all honesty I don't think an online e-commerce platform is right for me.

So, how am I going to sell my work?

I have decided - I need to focus on a few selected face to face events each year.

And it would be great to find another gallery to take my work.  I don't mind paying the commission for someone else to provide the post sales service.

So for 2017 I am doing two Open Studios ( Bucks Open Studios in Milton Keynes, and Hampshire Open Studios with my great friends Rob and Andy, in Gosport) and The Workshop Sale in London in December.

But what about a gallery? 

I have sold through a gallery before - with mixed success. 'Mixed' because I think the gallery was finding its way.  I would like another gallery who could stock my work from time to time, but not demand 're-stocking.  This is simply because the day job ( which I do love and which pays some significant bills) means that I cannot always guarantee being able to meet deadlines. I wish I was super human - but I'm not. I need my sleep and my dogs need their walks! 

This is a very useful blog. 10 very useful tips and an insight into the working of a successful gallery. And here are the ten tips for approaching a gallery. 

1. Research the Gallery

Yep - totally agree with this one. Your work has to fit. And you have to have some confidence that the gallery owner will like it. There are quite a few independent galleries around, but many I would not approach. The aesthetic is just wrong. 

2. Find out about their application process

Well that makes sense really! 

3. Look at the type of work they sell

Yes, agree with this too - like point 1. 

4. Research their artists

And again ( if your work does not fit there is just no point wasting your or the gallery owners time) 

5. Pricing 

This is a very sensible point. And one I'm very sensitive too. I will always have one price for a piece of work. I'm never going to fiddle about varying prices because of gallery commission. The work has its value, as does the service provided by the gallery. 

6. Framing

Now this is a very tricky one. If you look at the Golden Hare website you will see that Este Macleod (and indeed the other artists stocked there) have a consistent style of framing - and that framing is customised for each and every picture (though I do think that Este Macleod may use standard canvas sizes).

Now this one is a dilemma for me. I always used to pay for individual framing (and indeed still do if the pieces are 'one off' specials') but for other work, particularly the stitched monoprints which usually retail for between £35 and £50 to commission unique frames for each and every work would be just uneconomical. 

So, for a lot of my work, I do buy ready made frames (though not, it should be said, IKEA frames).  I understand where Laura is coming from on this one, but I have to be pragmatic and sensible  on this. For now, at least, I will keep on using the bought frames I use. 

7. Can you keep up with demand? 

Good question! And I have covered this above. I need a gallery that would be relaxed about my sporadic bursts of activity. 

8. Location

This would be a lovely problem to have, galleries clamouring for your work.  Not a problem for me just now! But it makes sense. Be careful and sensitive to the fact that galleries have to make a living too. 

9. Ask other artists

This is a lovely tip - make sure the gallery is not all smoke and mirrors and that they treat their artists fairly. 

10. Be Selfish

And finally, I love this one. It has to be a partnership. You need a gallery to be batting for you too - one that makes an effort to represent your work professionally. 

What fabulous advice. Do go and read Laura's original Blog and, while you are there, have a look around the gallery too. 

Phew - that was a long one. Well done if you got down here to the bottom. Do tell me what you think. 

1 comment

  1. What an excellent post! I've been sitting on it until I had more time to pour over what obviously was going to be a meaty post. Now I've read it and have to say I have not heard the estuary/ocean analogy before but it is such a good one. Sometimes I think "craft" is the place that functional but hand-crafted and/or unique items go. The lovely wooden bowls, the hand-woven rugs, the scarves and bags and, yes, lampshades, that are a cut above what might normally be found on the market for cheap. "Art" on the other hand, does more than catch your eye and your appreciation, but endeavors to capture a moment in time or an emotional response or the interplay of shapes and/or colors. I also like to include the designation "decorative art" as well. Take my Leaf Cluster, which as I am working with it at the moment is not craft but not great art either. It's that in between. If I work with it long enough, I may find myself moving from the decorative to something more artistic. If not, well, it's still a lovely image to work with.

    Good list of things to think about when looking at a gallery. I've heard stories of gallery owners who have accepted an artist's work and then store it in a backroom, never putting it out on display. I don't get that, don't understand what value is in it for them because, as you so rightly say, galleries must sell things in order to keep the doors open. As for framing, I'm a little on the fence. I do my best to come up with as professional of a presentation as I can without breaking the bank on custom framing. I really don't think it has lost me any sales. Like you say, stay away from the obviously cheap frames. At one point I was doing a lot of framing in the Nielson metal frame kits where you can buy the tops and bottoms separately, giving you more flexibility in sizes and not pay a fortune. I think they look great. You might be able to mount some of your monoprints on foam-core that would then slip into those frames easily. The print would float on the board, no glass to worry about.

    I think you are doing well in your feeling out of marketing your work and being realistic about how much you can produce in a given time frame. Etsy used to be a good place but it is not what it started out as and too many people are doing it for fun and so undercut prices. And because they have so much time on their hands, started doing the fancy packaging that now the customer expects. Don't know about Folksy but for me either would have that disadvantage of packaging for shipping in a quick time frame. What little shipping I've done always leaves me a nervous wreck!

    So my reply is nearly as lengthy as your post!


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