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Postcards From the Past

by Luann Udell on 5/24/2012 7:47:44 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.



Recently, I had to go looking for an old email.  A really, really old email - what would perhaps be considered an antique email and worth a lot of money, if I could ever find anyone willing to pay for an old email that wasn’t connected with a savings and loan fiasco or an investment brokerage firm.   Maybe if I printed it out on handmade paper…???


Anyway, I came across many old email conversations from the Good Old Days.  You know the days when, if you could even get into the top fine craft shows, your success was almost guaranteed.  When a single boldly done full-page ad in a magazine could generate tons of response, perhaps even measurable in (gasp!) sales dollars.  A time when everyone yearned to have a beautiful handmade website of their work, because then the world would surely beat a path to your door…


It struck me that these little missives are like messages in a bottle, veritable postcards from the past.  Each contains a little whiff of hard-earned wisdom that still resonates today. 


Some others had a distinct whiff of the well-worn “Wish you were here INSTEAD OF ME (because this sucks!!)” school of life.


THE HUMAN GADFLY.  This was a collection of conversations that flew between me and several online forum editors.  We spent hours—days!—discussing the bad behavior of various posters (often anonymous, of course) who made a practice of being snide, sarcastic, and destructive.  We’d talk about their redeemable qualities and planned endless strategies for turning their time-wasting energy around.


Well, it’s ten years later and guess what?  First, not a single one of those  gadflys are still productive, working craftspeople today.  None of them achieved the status and recognition they craved, nor the opportunities they hoped for.  And second, whose time was wasted?  Ours.  Trying to fix the problems they created.  If I knew then what I knew now?  Wait ‘em out til they blow themselves up.  Good advice for dealing with most of the craft world’s less charming personalities.


THE BIG OPPORTUNITY.   We put so much time and energy into getting everything exactly right:  The best booth.  The best booth location, at the best show.  Attracting the best galleries at the best shows to our best booth.  We’d actually gossip about which big-name, career-making gallery’s staff was seen at the show, and when.  Had they made it to our aisle yet?  Were they placing orders with anyone we knew?  OMG, here they were!  Oooohh Noooooohh, they were looking at the other side of the aisle when they walked by—they totally missed my booth!!  Should I run out after them and grab them by the arm and politely drag them back to my booth??    (Someone gently pointed out that we could be arrested for that…)


If I knew then what I know now….


Many of those “star-maker galleries” are gone.  The “sure-thing” show went to “well, MAYBE” shows almost overnight.  We found out there’s NO good booth location at a show with NO buyers.  What I know now is, There is no one thing that will completely guarantee your business success.  And there is no one thing that will completely knock your business out of the water, either.  Those who make it are the ones who don’t give up.  The ones who always strive to find what works for them.  The ones who keep their work and outlook open to change. 


Once you quit, you don’t even have a chance of winning.  Unless you’re willing to start over again. In which case…


YOU CAN ALWAYS START OVER AGAIN.  It’s hard.  But you never start completely from scratch.  You’ve still got the experience, the knowledge and the discipline you’ll need to succeed.  What you won’t  have is the same wide-eyed innocence.  You’ll know just how much work it takes, and that’s what makes it hard.


Other things I’ve learned while scouring the archives:



Get yourself online NOW:  A website, a blog, on Etsy, Bonanza, Art Fire, something.  Don’t wait for the perfect presence, just be present.  If you can’t be found online, then you are invisible to the rest of the world.  But don’t spend a fortune at it.  Who knew in the days of $10,000 websites, you could make one yourself for free on Wordpress someday?? Or have a beautifully designed website in an established art community for $28 a month? (I’m fortunate to be married to my web designer, but I was impressed with the quality of service and design I found at FASO when I joined the team.)


LEAVE NO REGRETS  Do your best work, and always make the work you love.  Because if it doesn’t sell, it’s going to be in your studio looking at you for a long, long time.


“BUT I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS!!”  I found that most relationships that started out rocky, stayed rocky.  People show you who they are, day in and day out.  Believe them.  Nice people don’t “become” annoying over time.  They’re just annoying, self-serving or jealous people you’ve made excuses for, for way way too long.  It’s good business to be pleasant and even-handed with everyone you meet.  But if someone shows you they are not trustworthy, or they constantly put their interests ahead of yours at the tiniest opportunity, then take care.  Do not give them the keys to your house, and do not rely on them for your good reputation.  If someone makes you laugh, fine—enjoy their company occasionally.  But if they are not trustworthy, do not put them in positions of trust and expect them to suddenly be someone they’re not.


Next week:  Exciting lessons learned from having knee replacement surgery!  (Hint:  Always ask for the good drugs, and use them!)   :^)


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Related Posts:

Clintavo's Position on Marketing Art via Facebook and Twitter

Marketing Art On The Internet, Part 2

The Artist / Art Dealer Relationship: Poisoned flowers and the business of art

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | social networking | support local art 

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Lori Woodward
Luann, this is an important post. I'm glad you looked for that old email. It's all so true!

Marsha McDonald

Although we hear it frequently about not giving up, hanging in there and finding a way to make things work, your article really boosted my enthusiasm! You touched on some things I'd not
thought about in a long time - and I need to.

Ingrid Christensen
Everything in this article resonated with me! I love the pragmatic approach you take to the crazy-making business of being an artist.

Carolyn Henderson
Luann: You can't see me, but I am standing before my computer screen, giving you a standing ovation (quietly, because I don't want my family to give me odd stares).

Superb, superb post!

Patrice Federspiel
Aloha Luann, it's always good to hear from you and to totally agree with all that you've said. Thank you for reminding me that persistence is one of the best kept secrets to success and that no one thing can knock me off my game.
Mahalo, Patrice

Marian Fortunati
Yep... We all need to keep on doing our best and staying positive... Letting the anonymous and not so anonymous complainers vent while it washes over our heads and dissipates.... as we stay on... persisting in doing what we enjoy doing so that we can do it better!

Thanks again, Luann!

Sharon Weaver
There is no one thing that will completely guarantee your business success. This is so true. Every step is part of the overall success of your business. Every failure will not sink the ship but only help to understand what does work.

Patricia C Vener
Hello Luann.

Your post made me nod a few times and think a lot. Times change and environments evolve as well. The only constants that make sense are that we do our best work all the time and play nice with everyone. People who don't remember this are setting themselves up for an ultimately unhappy future.

Nina Allen Freeman
Enjoyed your article, Luann. I have a beautiful website and have referred many friends to FASO, but I have a question.
I have recently wondered if I should get my older works off of my website and also take PayPal off. People mostly go to my web site to see my paintings, what I have been doing recently and to learn about my classes I think. I have also been doing a blog that some people say they are interested in reading.
I am concerned with having a web site too junked up and distracting.

What do you think? I have seen some beautiful web sites that just show beautiful works, a page for events and contact the artist and thats it! Maybe a little too minimalist for me but it's something to think about.

Nina, my advice is to keep Paypal and your blog. With Paypal, if you sell just one painting a year from it, it's worth it. My only problem with Paypal is visual - I hate their buttons! Luckily, they let you upload your own custom buttons which means they can be subtle and beautiful. (I'm writing that as much to myself as anyone else, because I haven't done that on our site yet!)

Your blog is important too - that way, people get to know you (and they are great for search engines).

A compromise would be to have just the items you mentioned (artwork, about, events, contact etc.) in the main navigation of your site to get the minimal look and to make sure that the important items are covered. Then you can links to your blog, classes, workshops etc. at the bottom of each page. For example, we have about 300 pages on our site but on the main navigation just four links (who, what, contact and artwork).

We also have a contact form on the bottom of every page - just in case!

Donald Fox
The best advice is often timeless. Whatever the format makes little difference. You've hit on some of the big issues.
Do your best.
Do it often.
Don't quit.

Donna Robillard
Three things that resonated with me in this article are: good manners, persistance and always do your best.


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