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Respect Your Collectors Part 4

by Luann Udell on 1/20/2011 9:06:10 AM

This post is by  Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft.  She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry).  Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.  She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art.  She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.


 

Don’t let your cheaper work devalue your finest work.  More papas, few babies.

 

Fourth in a series on how to think about your true collectors.

 

I have a friend who’s been in the fine craft biz for over twenty years.  He’s in the very best shows.  He’s an astute businessman as well as a talented artist.   The first time he came to my open studio, he shared an insight I’d never considered before:

 

Offering too much lower-priced work to attract a wider audience can actually diminish your value for serious collectors.

 

Human nature being what it is, people won’t think your cheaper work is “a bargain”.  They’ll perceive your higher end work as “overpriced.”

 

I favor the “papa/mama/babies” model in my display.  I show one high-end piece—my biggest and best work of the year.  That’s the ‘papa’ piece. I’ll add in three to five mid-range pieces—things that echo the same spirit and flavor but in the $150-$500 range.  These are the ‘mama’ pieces.  Then I fill in with a large selection of items under $150, down to $25.  These are the ‘babies’.

 

The theory is that the ‘papa’ piece is the attention-getting show-stopper.  It rarely sells, but acts as a major draw.  Well-heeled and confident collectors will then readily purchase the ‘mama’ pieces.  People with smaller budgets, or who are unsure of their choices, will load up on the smaller ‘baby’ pieces. 

 

It works pretty well in stores and galleries, where stores have to appeal to a wide range of customers and sizes of pocketbooks.  But is it the right model for an open studio, or a booth at a show?  What are the pros and cons?

 

My friend believes that mixing our high-end and our low-end work sends a bad message to our serious collectors.  It signals confusion on the part of the artist, a lack of focus and intent.

 

Someone who’s thinking about buying a $5,000 or $10,000 piece from you does not want to see a $50 pair of earrings next to that piece.   Their thinking?  “Why should I invest five figures in you, when I can have a piece of you for $50?”  Or worse….”If this  piece is only $50, then that $5,000 piece must be overpriced!”   

 

Eliminate the “babies”?? It’s a hard concept to embrace when times are tough.  Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat.  It’s tempting to stay with the safer strategy of ‘something for everyone’.

 

But building a business model that relies on the sale of lots of $50 has its drawbacks, too. 

 

The biggest drawback?  It’s soul-numbing

 

This is not conjecture.  I’ve been there.  You focus totally on what sells.  It becomes all about the “small”:  Small in price, small in stature, small in risk.

 

Soon you feel your creative self and artistic vision getting small, too. 

 

How to proceed? 

 

Offer fewer “babies”.


In an open studio recently, I simply didn’t have time to set out lots of lower-priced work.  The “mamas” took the place of the “babies”.  I sold more “mamas” than ever!

 

Consider your venues, and these economic times

 

In the past, I could easily do the ‘all papa’ strategy at the tried-and-true big shows in my industry.  The shows had the great reputation and reliable attendance, and targeted the right demographic, for those big, wonderful works.  Money flowed more freely and people loved the attention that came from their spectacular purchases.

 

Things are different now.  Show attendance is down.  People hesitate to flaunt their money when their friends are hurting.  They’re cautious about what they invest in.  Buyers are more comfortable buying on the internet now.  It’s secure and the selection is limitless.  It’s also more discreet.  No need to reveal just how much money they spent on that new piece of art.

 

When money is tight and sales are slow, maintain your confidence in your work.  Focus on keeping your technique sharp.  Be patient. You still need face time with collectors to build a relationship.  But give them more opportunities online to buy.

 

Separate the lines and market them differently. 

 

If, like me, you simply love to make those smaller, lower-priced items, go ahead!  But do consider marketing them differently, or using a different venue for them.  I have one line of jewelry that’s decidedly out-of-sync with my “ancient art” aesthetic.  I now market that under a totally different business name.

 

What is the highest and best use of your time and talent? 

 

I still keep a few smaller, less expensive items available.  But I’ve slowly raised the bar by raising the prices on them.  I’m asking my collectors for a bigger commitment to own one of my pieces.  I’d rather sell one $250 item than ten $25 items. 

 

Interestingly, when I look back at my sales over the last 15 years, I’m not selling more items.  I’m selling more expensive items.  The demand has remained constant but there’s less resistance to my prices.  The energy is better, too.  People don’t buy my work because ‘it’s a deal’They buy it because they love it and they see it as worthy of owning.

 

By valuing my time and my skill, I’ve encouraged others to have respect for my work.

 

YOUR audience is self-selected; that works in your favor! 

 

A store or gallery has to appeal to anyone who walks by.  They don’t care which artist’s work sells, as long as the customer buys something. 

 

As an artist, I have a style, an aesthetic and a story that connects people to my work.  If the buyer wants to buy my work, I have more leverage.

 

Is the “just papas, a few mamas, no babies” approach for everyone?  Of course not.  Have I embraced it 100%?  Nope.  But I’m inching my way there.

 

And let me be clear:  This is me in my “business hat” talking. 

 

I’d never disdain someone who loved my work but cannot afford a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to invest.  I love my ‘smaller’ collectors. I’m just as grateful for them as I am for my ‘bigger’ collectors. 

 

My prices aren’t arbitrary.  I’m confident they reflect the skill, time and passion necessary to create each piece.  In fact, many collectors start small and then move on to more expensive pieces.

 

I would never twist a collector’s arm to buy more than they are comfortable with.  I’m honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on my work.  I love it when customers come back the year after they invest in a major piece and tell me how much joy it’s giving them.

 

Ask your true collectors to step up to the plate and commit to you.  The worst they can say is ‘no’. 

 

And it’s wonderful when they say ‘yes’.

 



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Related Posts:

Respect Your Collectors Part 2

Respect Your Collectors Part 3

Respect Your Collectors Part 1


Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews | sell art 

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 35 Comments

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
via canvoo.com
Luann, thanks for a great article. Your approach is excellent, yet another "tool" for the "toolkit"


Tom Hlas
via canvoo.com
Very well said, Luann. I like the papa/mama/babies analogy. It really helps bring your point home. Thanks for giving me lots to think about as I continue to explore and refine my marketing and exhibiting adventures. - Tom Hlas

Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com
Hello Luann...

Very good post...the only part I disagree with is where you wrote that buyers are more comfortable buying art on the internet.

I do not see that at all. Maybe because I take my art to the public by doing outdoor art shows and also by participating in benefit art shows...or artist group shows.

I happen to sell more of my work at the outdoor art shows and benefit shows than anywhere else.

I do have work in galleries also and absolutely do direct my buyers/art collectors to those art galleries that represent my work.

As for pricing the work at the art shows, I do agree that one can have their work priced too low and it does look bad.
That kind of pricing is not too well liked at the outdoor art shows where you are surrounded by other exhibiting artists. It is very much frowned upon because it makes it difficult for us all.
The customer has to learn, appreciate and know the real value of art,,,and if the artist creating the art does not respect that value, then what?

I know of some artists who brag about how many paintings they sell....well, if you happen to check out their prices that could explain it. In those cases I do not know how they ever get ahead.
That is telling art collectors that your work is not worth its true value and they look at it more as a deal when they might be eyeing up a more expensive painting by a different artist that they would rather have three booths away.....They settle for less because you made it less.
What is that teaching the collector about collecting art? Looking for bargains? If they are looking for bargains, then go to a flea market or e-bay or a place like that. The respect will be a bit lacking.

At the same time, I agree there should be the different price ranges made available to the public without lowering the integrity of the art world.

YES, I agree ..the worse they can say is "No" to a price they may not be able to afford...but it is wonderful when they say "Yes."
AND eventually, they will save that money and commit to a purchase pf your work sooner or later
because you demanded respect for your work and yourself.

Sharon Weaver
via canvoo.com
In a time when many artists are living off smaller "painting a day" pieces, this is an eye opening article. The long term implications of this strategy are great but too many artists need sales now. Perhaps the implementation of this is what will separate the field in the future.

Kim VanDerHoek
via canvoo.com
Your quote, "Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat," has applied to me during this recession. I found that separating out my art and selling a few small paintings that are studies has helped see my business through this economy. Pricing is always a tough thing to figure out and I think about my decisions in this area of the art business a lot.

Karen Winters
via canvoo.com
This ties together so well with yesterday's guest article which mentioned selling on Ebay among other topics. Very important food for thought, thanks.

Deborah Weinstein
via canvoo.com
This is an unusually thoughtful, intelligent and helpful essay in its essence, but I had to kind of squint to see beyond the strange choice of words Luann has used to separate her very best work from the rest. Papa - the best? Mama - second best? OK OK, I realize the gender bias is totally irrelevant and unconscious. It's not what the essay is about, and I do not want to start a ruckus. But I gotta tell you - it's still just kind of painful.

Teresa Tromp
via canvoo.com
Luann,
This was a very thought provoking article in many respects. It makes sense, once it is explained. I would naturally think that the smaller, less expensive work would attract people with less money to spend, but they would like a piece of your artwork. When lower priced work is displayed next to work that is higher priced, you might think, what's wrong with the lower priced work. Has it been sitting around for years, or is there a hole in the canvas?
Basically what I think you're saying is leave the babies at home (with a sitter, of course), while the adults go to the party, especially when there is a big fee to get in.

Stede Barber
via canvoo.com
Very timely article, thank you. My thoughts are that whatever work I show, I need to be able to stand behind it 100 percent.

Pricing varies based primarily on size...so the smaller pieces are not lesser quality, simply smaller, and requiring less of my time and materials to create, thus a lower price.

I am curious and would love to know more about actually selling work online...do you have experience with people who haven't seen your work before purchasing it off the web?

Thanks again for an interesting article on a timely topic!

Lorraine Khachatourians
via canvoo.com
This is a very interesting perspective. I like the bears analogy. Timely too. I had ordered some little 4 x 4 inch canvases to do some small paintings for an upcoming show, but they are currently out of stock, so I got out some bigger ones. Maybe the painting gods are telling me something - and now I know how to interpret the signs! Thanks for something new to ponder.

Esther J. Williams
via canvoo.com
LuAnn, I know what you are talking about, in fact, the size and price differences of my art was in my mind yesterday. Lately I have been painting small artworks and they have been selling. But only last year I sold several larger pieces and truly enjoyed going to the bank with that money. And also spending it. These small pieces are getting painful and I am going to abandon them shortly. Not permanently, only enough to allow my full creativity to reach for the stars so to speak on a larger canvas. There will be buyers for them, but I can`t attract a buyer if I don`t paint them and have them ready.

My last small work was a six inch square piece that was a replica of a larger work of art that someone loved, but could not afford it. She wanted the small work at one-fifth the price. But, here is where I got very frustrated while making the smaller piece. I was putting the same amount of sweat, time and energy in that as I did the larger art piece. All in that tiny little space. So, I am actually short changing myself by staying in this small mode. I put the same amount of work into them as the larger pieces because I am thinker bigger. I started off trying to make them quicker and simpler, but this artist perfection syndrome gets in the way. So, either my smaller art prices have to go way up or I am just going to make crude looking work studies and sell them for less. By saying crude, I mean unrefined, not finished like a studio piece. With my pride to paint quality work, I have to walk away from the painting before I really want to stop. I have a few more little works to paint for a show coming up and I am dreading it already.
As self-employed artists we do what we have to do to make it by and go with the flow sometimes, right?



Luann Udell
via canvoo.com
Oh dear, you are all such fast commentators! I'll try to catch up.....

Dear Sandy A-A, so glad your show sales are strong! And yes, I agree with you, two years ago I would have said the same thing--my internet sales were few and far between. But they've been building to a respectable level the last 18 months. It DOES help to build a following with people who have seen the work in person. But I'm glad of the switch, because it's getting much, much harder for me to do shows (for financial, physical and time reasons.)

Sharon W., I think the painting-a-day phenomenon did great things in encouraging people to take a risk and purchase from a "new" artist, working in small and affordable formats. Just suggesting another way to think about selling. There's just no one-size-fits-all approach, especially these days.

Teresa T, you hit it on the head! I REALLY got it when a potential customer actually ASKED me about the price difference. OUCH!!! And I love the "leave the babies with the sitter"--cute! And apt.

Deborah Weinstein, I didn't name the "papa-mama-babies". I first heard of it 15 years ago, and simply referred to it in case others had heard the same terminology. Please feel free to use whichever gender ranking you prefer. :^)

Stede Barder, YES, more and more people who purchase from me on the web have never met me or my work. In fact, my first big sales were from people who knew of me, but had never actually seen the work in person. Which....is amazing, come to think of it! :^) But I've had an online presence for years, so I think most people "know me" in a different sense. Times are a'changing!

Did I get everybody? Thank you for the thoughtful comments, glad the articles are sparking new ways to think about all this.


Luann Udell
via canvoo.com
Ooops, forgot, Lorraine, you are absolutely right, maybe it WAS Papa Bear, Mama Bears and Baby Bears.

So....how would Goldilocks figure into all this??

Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com
Hmmmm, Luann..... since the name is Goldilocks, wouldn't that name reprsent the Income from the art sales? LOL

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
via canvoo.com
that's what I was thinking too. Goldilocks is definitely your buyers. How do they treat your artwork? Is it too hot? too cold? just right?

Donna Robillard
via canvoo.com
Lot of food for thought. We must always ask ourselves, "how do we value our skill and time," when we price our work.

Jo Allebach
via canvoo.com
This bear analogy is great and adding the Goldilocks (collector) into the mix makes it even more clear.
P.S. My Mamas carry the heaviest dependability factor.

Joanne Benson
via canvoo.com
Great post Luann,
I have stopped selling note cards and small prints for reasons you site. Still clearing out old inventory but not producing new. People will spend $2-20 for a small print or note card with a painting they like but then no incentive to buy original work. I did a painting of a statue that sat outside a friends house....for myself because I liked it....and showed it to her....she wanted to buy it but came upon some financial hardship so I made small matted prints that she could give to family members....and I gave her an extremely discounted price. She indicated that when finances improved she would buy the original....well finances have improved but she is not interested in the original anymore....lesson learned.....

Joanne Benson
via canvoo.com
I forgot to add that I have another friend who said she never makes a print until she sells the original. That is a good strategy as well.

Karen Winters
via canvoo.com
Joanne, I agree with you about not making prints until the originals are gone.

Note cards can be a good thing some times, though. A few months ago a woman approached me at an outdoor art fair with a greeting card she had bought from me three years earlier. She asked it I would paint a large version of the original, which I happily did. (The original painting, from which the card was made, was only a 5 x 7 study, so I didn't feel that I was being disrespectful to the collector who bought that one. She had been holding onto it and looking at it and decided she wanted to enjoy it larger.

Barbara J Carter
via canvoo.com
I think that new artists just starting out need to have baby-bear low-price pieces. Once you're established, you can drop the little stuff and concentrate on bigger, more serious work. But I don't think beginners should do that.

Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com
Karen,
that is a great thing to have had happened. Very cool for the person to come back and order an original. :)

No, I do not think that artists starting out need to have really low prices on their work.

OF course, I don't think they should ask for the same prices that the more seasoned artists ask, but sometimes those artists starting out just ask FAR TOO LOW of a price for their work.
There still has to be good judgement made on the quality of the art work whether starting out or not starting out, established or not.

There has to be a fair asking price no matter what degree of experience the artist has.

AND I do not think that someone starting out should only do 'little stuff' till they are established. There are no set rules in creating art...no matter what level, an artist is free to paint as small or as large as they feel compelled to do.
AND ALL work should be serious. Each painting we do should be a painting that we put forth our best efforts. ..and that is serious.

Barbara J Carter
via canvoo.com
I guess in the interest of brevity I wasn't clear. Of course beginners shouldn't "only" have little stuff available. But I do think they should have SOME. I think Luann's strategy works better if you're better established. That's just my experience, maybe others have seen different.

But I disagree that all work should be serious. I think there's room for frivolity, playfulness, whimsy, lightheartedness, and all sorts of goofiness in art. Quick studies, small, priced low. A quick sketch dashed off in a few minutes. Why not? Don't let anyone tell you what is and isn't art!

Casey Craig
via canvoo.com
Luann I always enjoy reading your posts.

This is a very interesting idea. I price my work by the size and my sizes range from 11x14 inches up to 3x4 ft. It is a sliding scale, so actually the small works are much more per square inch than the larger pieces. Size wise, most of my work sits near the middle. I would do smaller or larger for a special show or commission.

Last weekend I had collectors come to my home to see my work. They ended up buying 2 paintings - one was 30x40 and the other was 12x16...almost my smallest and largest sizes.

I think the trouble starts as you point out when we start trying to crank out smaller pieces to sell more and end up compromising our creativity or exhausting ourselves as Esther mentioned.

Resist the temptation to undervalue your small work and don't be afraid to paint bigger. Clint's post the other day about 1 vs. 100 ties into this post very nicely.



Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com

When I said serious, it was meant to suggest being serious in doing your best work always.

Sure, it can be quick studies or sketches, etc... but, when I create art, I always look at it as a serious effort because of forever wanting to improve upon my work...and that is indeed very serious to me.
If I don't look at it as being a serious endeavor, the what is the point?

Luann Udell
via canvoo.com
With permission, I'm posting the comment of Timothy East www.timothycartereast.com who emailed me to say:

Luann.....enjoyed todays article. could relate. about midway through 26 shows this past season i was having same dilemma........and i loved my babies.........it was through my babies that i connected to my clients.......my babies are 21/2" x 31/2 inch handmade cards with handmade envelopes.......pressed and pounded[with a hammer] botanicals on watercolor paper. so how much of a distraction were my babies? were they depressing sale of my larger giclee' prints? should i discontinue with the babies? throw them out?........most of these shows are in central indiana.....tough economy.......do i eliminate the most affordable art?.............could not throw them out!.....but what now?

solution[for me]: increase the price of the babies 60 percent. it worked. the babies continued to sell, and so did the larger works. the babies were obviously under valued and under priced. and so at the upgraded price, my clients began to consider a larger, more pricy prints.....instead of 10 babies at a time.

so a basic question is: are your babies under valued?


Luann Udell
via canvoo.com
I like what Tim said. His comment, and several "signs from the universe" later that same day, made me realize my "baby bears" ARE underpriced! So I learned something from my own article. :^)

Joanne B., I feel your pain. That's happened to me, too. But it's a good lesson to learn. BTW, do you offer a layaway plan? I do, and it helps to entice those people who love the work, but can only work with smaller amounts of money at a time. Oh, and I LOVE the suggestion about selling the original first and THEN selling prints. That might work for people who depend more on their print sales.

Karen W., WOW! Good to know it sometimes works the other way!

So many points of view and different experiences! Not everything works the same for everybody. It's great to have lots of strategies and outcomes, so we can all do what works best for each of us! :^)

Sandy Askey-Adams
via canvoo.com
Hello Luann..
Thank you for sharing Timothy's owrk and view point. His work is wonderful!!

BTW, I so offer a lay away plan with monthly payments according to what the customer can afford. I usually write up a sale agreement, etc... and they do not get the paintng until it is paid in full. IF they change their mind, they do not get their money back. Never have they changed their mind.
However, If I know the person well and they need the painting as a GIFT, then I allow them to take the painting and continue on the monthly payment plan.

:)

George De Chiara
via canvoo.com
Hi Luann,
Thanks for posting the comment from Timothy. I've been thinking along these same lines since the holidays. I think my babies are under priced. I've also been trying to work on larger pieces more to build up the mommies and the papa's.



Joanne Benson
via canvoo.com
I like Timothy's advice about looking at how the babies are priced. Something to consider.

Michael Cardosa
via canvoo.com
Hi Luann,

This was a great follow on piece. Now it makes me want to go back and give another look to my pricing!

Thanks again for the insight.

Michael


Sophie
via canvoo.com
I like the take on this, but what about all those older works that have become babies and never sold.....put them in the attic or sell as babies?
I can see that having just mamas and pappas might look better, not too many babies or you undervalue your grownups. But one always has more babies than grownups!

Carol Schmauder
via canvoo.com
I like the "papa", "mama", "babies" idea! Sound advice. Thanks Luann.

Brian Sherwin
via canvoo.com
I've often wondered if the 'painting a day' artists are flooding their future market. For example, if an artist who takes the 'painting a day' approach in the short-term ends up being a wide success with his or her more intricate works of art... will the hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller works work against his or her market in the long-term? This article has me thinking.

I suppose it rests on the direction of the artist though. Some artist may be content marketing himself or herself as offering small affordable art. That may be the goal. That said, if the goal is to really 'make it' with larger works it may not be wise to flood ones market with smaller works. Hmmmmm

Carol Schmauder
via canvoo.com
I liked you papa, mama, babies analogy as well. You bring up some very interesting points. Thanks for the article Luann.










 

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