Surprised by Sales (Lori Woodward)

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FineArtViews Daily Newsletter | Wednesday, August 17, 2011 | Issue 1004
 • Surprised by Sales  (Lori Woodward)
 • Embrace Yourself (Carolyn Henderson), Revisited
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Surprised by Sales
by Lori Woodward
Dear ,
Today's post is by Lori Woodward, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  She has been a member of the Putney Painters since 2004, a small invitational group of painters who are mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
This past Saturday, my husband and I were looking for something fun to do, so we decided to drive to the Sunapee Crafts Fair. What we found there was intriguing and entertaining but most of all, SURPRISING. We were not planning on buying anything, but we did.
With over 200 exhibitors of fine craft – juried into the league of NH craftsmen, it takes well over 2 hours to visit the entire offering.
Our excursion contained many surprises. With the current, slowing economy and consequent slowdown of art sales, I was expecting to see poor attendance and empty booths, but when we arrived, we had to park in a distant parking lot because 2 other lots were completely full. Furthermore, even with a $10 attendance fee, the park was jam-packed. So much so, that one could feel rather claustrophobic while walking within the tent aisles.
One of the vendors, a potter, who "throws" sets of ceramic house-hold items, attracted my attention because I had my eye out for a creamer pitcher. At this booth, I saw one that was just the right size, but the sign over it stated that it was a maple syrup pitcher. I hadn't said a word, but the look on my face must have communicated my dilemma because the artisan immediately walked over to me and explained that it can also be used as a creamer; she presented a few of them as maple syrup pitchers because they're microwaveable – meaning warm syrup. This makes great sense for New Englanders.
Not that I was planning on it, but I ended up buying a conglomeration of her pottery for my newly renovated kitchen. So there - I bought something I was not particularly planning on! The bigger surprise came when I asked if she could hold our bag of goods while we meandered through the rest of the show. She replied, "Why... Of course I will!" Then, she wrote my name on the bag and placed it with about 15 other full bags of purchased pottery. This woman was selling up a storm – good for her!
As my hubby and I continued through the tents and booths, I began to notice sales patterns. While some booths were full and people seemed excited about what they were seeing, other booths were empty and lonely. Aside from how the artisans were engaging with the public or not, I noted that the most popular items really stood out from the crowd in terms of quality AND uniqueness.
It didn't seem to matter how pricey the wares were when they were truly unique. It helped doubly if they couldn't be easily copied or crafted by event visitors. For example, one of the first booths that stopped us “in our tracks”: handmade baskets that took on the shape of pottery. The woven wood was ultra thin and only 1/8” or smaller in width. Furthermore, the woman who constructed these baskets actually begins the process with logs from her farmland. She shreds the wood into thinner and smaller strands until they are tiny. Then she dies some of the strands of wood to make intricate woven patterns.
We asked her not only about her process, but how her sales were going in the slow economy.  She happily exclaimed that she was having her best sales this year and that her highest priced pieces were the first to sell. Again, I was surprised.
Another artisan – who makes hand braided rugs from wool cloth explained her process. Although she teaches, it takes more than a casual interest to construct one of these carpets and the materials are expensive. This makes her finished work valueble to those who want unique wool carpets and have no interest in dedicating the time it would take to contruct one on their own. Each braided carpet is made to order... costing in the thousands of dollars, and yet, this woman has had situations where one person would order several carpets. Again, surprisingly money didn't seem to be an issue.
So what about the vendors that weren't selling? Certainly there were a few that had nice merchandise but were not trying to engage the public in any way, but what about those whose work didn't seem to attract a crowd even if they were trying? I concluded that this second group of vendors were not selling because there was nothing unique about their art. Even though the materials may be expensive and the items were well made, if they didn't look significantly different than other artisans who made the same type of items, no one seemed interested. My guess is that if you put all of them into one booth, you would not be able to tell one maker from the others. Although slightly depressing, the fact remains that if something similar (even though inferior) is made in China, and available at department stores, it probably won't be selling to diserning eyes at this classy fair. Collectors seemed to be looking for something that is not commonly seen.
This got me thinking about my own work - paintings. I've studied hard and gotten to the point where the quality is there, but is it memorable? Does it make a lasting visual impact and stand out indelibly in a collector's memory, or has it become “run of the mill”, looking a lot like many other paintings?
Although it's a buyers' market and the money is still flowing, collectors are getting more selective when it comes to parting with their discretionary funds. Each of us needs to find a way to make our work stick in the minds of those who view it. My paintings must look quantitatively different in some way than hundreds of other paintings on the market. I'm not sure my work is there yet.
How do I do that? First, I need to maintain the quality – exhibiting the fact that I know what I'm doing. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I must strive to develop some unique aspect in my work that makes it... well... mine! I need to have the guts to break away from the crowd. I'm a traditional painter, so I'm not talking about getting bizarre, but in some way, experimenting with what I already do well to make my work something worth talking about – something worth remembering.
The day after the show, I was speaking to a friend (non-artist) who attended the show on a different day. It was not at all surprising that she remembered the same artists' works that I did. We both remembered the wooden, translucent lampshades. Incidentally, our own Fine Art Views' writer, Luann Udell, was working her booth at this fair and she was in the process of making a sale when I walked up to say hi. Her booth was packed and she was so busy that I really couldn't interrupt her. Go Luann!!!
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The Myth of Selling Art
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Avoid Saturating Your Market
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Copyright 2011 - Lori Woodward


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Embrace Yourself (Carolyn Henderson), Revisited
Here are the first five comments regarding yesterday's article:
Sharon Weaver
I remember when I first started to enter art competitions and I missed a deadline. I was very upset with myself but soon realized that there were a dozen more down the road to enter. It was no big deal and I started an Events Calendar with deadlines, entry fees and submission needs all easily listed. Since then I have only missed entering shows which I decide not to enter. I have also double booked a painting in two different shows at the time. OOps! I decided to wait and see which proved to be the right strategy. The second venue called me to apologized. They had to eliminate one of the paintings due to a display problem. Without putting myself through any stress the problem had miraculously taken care of itself.
George De Chiara
I'm glad I'm not the only one who forgets to mail off paintings in time to not have to pay the extra charge. Every time I swear I'll do better next time, sometimes I do, sometimes..well, you know, I'll pay the extra charge.
Since you mentioned the dog will eat almost anything - I've noticed that if our 22 month old drops it, the dogs will eat it - no matter what. I've even seem them eat lettuce.
Teresa Tromp
Great article, Carolyn.
I think it is so important to humble yourself when in error. That way people feel some compassion for us when we mess up, and want to help us.
If I start blaming other people for my mistake, I don't blame them if they want to see me suffer a little.
Back to the couponing in your article.
I watched that couponing show a couple of times on TV. (Yes, I was painting while watching!)
These people are obsessed with couponing. One women took her husband to the grocery store with her as she bought 4 carts worth of groceries. You know she bought 75 jars of mustard, just because she had coupons for 75 jars of mustard. Her husband told her he didn't even like mustard. Imagine mustard on everything, because now we have to eat all this mustard!!! That was enough of that show for me. Back to CSI.
Carolyn Henderson
Sharon: What a relief to have the problem solved! I, too, have set up a double date for Steve later this fall. Should be fun to see how we accomplish the feat.
George: This is scarier: if the dog drops something, then the 22-month-old picks it up.
I've noticed that our dogs, too, will eat anything, as long as some other animal wants it as well.
Teresa: 75 containers of anything is too much. Mustard!
geri degruy
i so appreciate your reassurance here and the reminder to not take things too seriously. even more, i enjoy your humor. thanks carolyn!
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