Galleries vs Festivals and our Future

I’ve been doing a lot of really Deep Thinking.

Galleries vs. Shows is a big question in my mind right now.  Do I REALLY want to be in more galleries?  The galleries do all the work, display my work, maybe advertise it, and they are taking all the risks. They have a lot invested in me and a number of other artists.  For that I get 50%, or in the case of my most recent check, 30% because the buyer bought “more than one piece.”  I was not contacted on this, and I took the entire “hit”.    (RANT ALERT!  It was an out of state gallery.  They no longer represent me, as of 30 minutes after the arrival of my check.   So I didn’t even cover the cost of my supplies in this one.  I guess you win some and you lose some.  After checking my contract, discounts were addressed, “with the permission of the artist”, which they never got my permission on this.   I understand they have all the bills, but it didn’t seem fair, whereas most galleries are very fair.)  There are some galleries who are really feeling the pinch, and just scraping by, and doing what they have to do to keep the doors open for all of us.  I understand and appreciate that.   The economy has played a huge part in the art jewelry market, and I’m sad that my friends with galleries are hurting.  But it seems like the check is never really what I am expecting.  Sure, it’s an ego thing that lasts for a few minutes when I get asked into some well known gallery, but in this case, that feeling didn’t replace the price of my materials.

On the other hand:  I apply to a show,  have photos made, (they aren’t cheap) pay the jury fee, ($25-50.00),  pay the fee to be in the show, ($300-700.00), buy a tent,  (not the $199.00 one that won’t stand up to the Colorado winds, but the EZ Up Express II, the $359.99.00 one with the sides and a roller bag,   http://www.EZUpdirect.com),  spend $200.00 for  mammoth sized weights to keep my “stuff” from blowing away,  buy display materials  (the shows are getting so uppity that the jewelery booths are looking like some portable mall store and you look like one of the Beverly Hillbillies if you don’t have all the glitz, halogon lights, pro panels etc), have postcards and business cards made, travel to the show, and either get a motel room or buy a 5th wheel ($48,000.00, or $85,000.00 if you have to buy the big truck, too!)  set up, stand there in the heat, cold, rain, snow, wind, dust (pick one) and smile while I’m dying to take a break, put up with hoards of people in your booth, or stand there wondering why no one is stopping, then take down everything when I’m dog-tired,  (sometimes in the aforementioned rain, snow, wind, etc), lug the mammoth weights, tent, and pricy display cases to the car,  repack, drive home, and I get 100% of the money.

It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  Galleries win hands down.  Still, all that said, I do get really excited when I get into a dynamo show.

I like doing shows for the first 6 hours.  I don’t like having no customer contact through the gallery.  It’s a real toss-up.  Sometimes I really miss the old days of the hippie art festivals, the Rhinebeck Craft Shows of the 1970s, everyone  in tie-dyed t-shirts and their treasures spread out on a wobbly card table for the world to see.  Not that I was into jewelry or art at that time… I was off digging square holes somewhere in the world then.  But  it’s my idealized version, a nostalgic look back and maybe a sanitized version,  of what really went on.

But now that back to basics really appeals to me.  Am I the only one who feels this way?  Bruce Metcalf wrote about so many of the shows looking so glitzy and so much the same. Is that true?   The big shows like the Buyers Market of American Craft  was just not a good fit for me, though they are for some of my closest friends. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a show where a bunch of friends just get together, and put on a nice art show?  I’m  thinking this indie-craft  (independent-craft)  market really has some valid points.

But what has become glaringly apparent in the last few months is how much I make my jewelry just for the pure joy of the process.  I’m at the point that I don’t do it for money, though I do feel the need to sell something to justify my rabid purchases of Gary B. and Clamshell stones. And metal.  OK, more tools, too.    If it sells, hey, that’s really great but I’m not beating myself up anymore if something doesn’t sell.   I enjoy the process. Many of my friends buy my pieces, and I am in a co-op gallery where I get a very fair per-centage of the sale price.  I like this grass-roots feeling of all this.  I am the one maker, only one person,  I own my own multi-dollar company, and I am the premier, outstanding jeweler on my block.  And I like it that way.    I don’t know if I still have that need to set the world on fire, jewelry-wise.   I am enjoying my teaching and writing so much, but I do want to share what I make with the world, just for the joy of being out there with the artists. It makes me feel creative, a part of something really cool.  If I’m successful at a show, Ok, if not, well, it wasn’t the right fit for me.   So I have mixed feelings.  All of life is a trade-off , and I dont know which way to go, thought I have some strong leanings.  Does anyone else feel these confusing feelings? I can’t be the only one who feels this.

So what do you think?.

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16 Responses

  1. Hi, Lexi: LOLLOLLOL! Been there, done that! Experienced the whole thing, everything you written. I feel your pain.

    Don’t know why you purchased mammoth weights when it is so easy to make your own. PVC drain pipe, cut in sections, a bag of cement and an eye bolts with nuts. Hang with a bungee cord.

    You have to pick your shows. Experience will eventually dictate the best ones to be in. We’ve been to some real bummers. I would stay away from juried shows. They may be prestigious, but you have to sell a lot of items to come close to breaking even. You have to have a lot of inexpensive items to go along with the the higher priced ones. You may not want to be bothered with making the lower priced items, but this is where you make the money. Unless you can make sales at least twice your expenses, it’s not the show for you.

    The same for galleries. You got a raw deal from that one that charged extra commission. Some up-scale galleries will charge 60-70 percent. I would say they can go on with their nose in the air. I don’t need you. You have to read their contract and make sure you’re not going to nipped in the pocket book.

    Another thing with galleries. They can tend to favor certain artists and not promote your work. Some won’t accept work that is similar to that of another artist. Even though that may not be the case. They simply don’t want another artist competing with a favorite, usually a local artist.

    Make sure you know what provisions are made for a lost or stolen item.

    Hugs, John

    • HI John–You can quit laughing now, thank you, very much, (grinning here). I’m not a newbie at this, I’ve been doing shows and galleries for 24 years. I’m frustrated. I do have the PVC pipes, (they’re still very heavy to haul) and also a set of 5 gallon water jugs, which at least don’t have to be hauled away from a show, there is usually some place to dispose of the water.
      I’ve done every kind of show, from being set up next to the lady selling banana nut muffins (twice) to those that look like a high priced gallery. I had several years of picking fabulous shows, making $15,000 at one Labor Day show, 1996. Yes, that was before the downturn. And I have also made $2000.00 at one show with nothing but $20.00 earrings in 1988. Both of those shows cost me about $200.00 to be in. I do contend that juried shows are better for me. But do I want to continue to lug around all my stuff? I just think this indie-craft market might be worth exploring, and I’m not sure how to get into it. They seem much younger than me. Some how I was too academic for the craft explosion of the 70’s and to old for this one. I’m not against galleries or the big shows. I’m just trying to figure out where I go now. And if the gallery had contacted me and asked if I would consent to a lower price, we could have come to an amicable agreement. My consignment contract is about 3 pages, and very specific about everything you mentioned. I didn’t fall off the pump jack yesterday. But you know me, I’m working on a solution. Maybe this is the beginning of a new movement among artists. I have discussed this with some of my friends, and so many of us feel something needs to be done, but don’t know what. So I’m putting it out there. We’re artists and very creative. We can do this. Your opinions are very valid. Keep thinking.
      Hugs,
      Lexi

  2. Hi Lexi,

    Kathleen Krucoff posted your blog on facebook and I read it – I could relate to everything you wrote. I decided to focus more on teaching rather than the ups and downs of selling my art hoping it would take the pressure off in terms of my art sales. I have also had frustration beyond belief with the main gallery that sells my work (she takes 50% and discounts at her discretion per our agreement so I end up not much!) but I made the decision that it was worth it just to be connected to the gallery.

    I have done the ridiculously expensive 3 day weekend juried art shows (booth setup, travel expenses not to mention art expenses) and I try to tell myself to go into the show with no expectations and then find a way to make it fun. Maybe because I don’t do that many weekend shows I still can handle it but it truly is exhausting. I don’t know what the answer is but for me I am hoping teaching more and showing less leads to the positive energy I need to keep the cycle going.

    Take care,
    Robin

    • Robin–thank you for your reply. You and I think very similarly. I have been teaching for a long time, and I do believe that I enjoy it more. Thank you for your view-point.
      I love teaching, and hope you will enjoy it as much as I do. I am starting to believe that the teaching has more “staying power”. Please keep me posted on what you are doing, and if I can help you any way with teaching, I am here for you.
      Hugs,
      Lexi

  3. O.K. no more laughing. We quit doing outdoor shows when we reached 65, me and 55, Daryl. Sold all our stuff. We did indoor shows. No more lugging displays, canopies, etc. The indoor shows already had display equipment set up. Nice. No lights to lug, either. No juried shows. We occasionally look back on “the good old days” and wonder how we survived the weather and all the hassles.

    We did o.k. until suddenly things changed and sales went into a decline.

    I don’t know what to suggest as times have changed. Especially with this latest Wall Street fiasco.

    On another note, what is your opinion on the new Jewelry Making Daily? I’m not impressed.

    Hugs,
    John

    • Hey John–give it some time–it’s been up for 2 days! LOL What don’t you like about it? I think the forum is good, though I was on a forum about 5 years ago and it got extremely nasty. I hope this won’t happen with this one. You can download projects, though you have been a subscriber, and have seen most of the projects. There will soon be some projects that have not been in the magazine. There are going to be videos, and more new stuff coming that will be available online. Pleas give me your thoughts on how to make it better. And have you done anything with those round stones?
      More hugs,
      Lexi

  4. I’ll send you an email in a day or two. Stones are still waiting for me to get off my rear and do something.

    Hugs,

    John

  5. Hi Lexi!

    You have addressed something that I think is a growing concern in the art community. And I definitely think that you are on the right track with the indie-craft (independent-craft) market.

    There has to be a better way to market and sell. People are always looking for the next innovation. How did eBay get its start? And to follow on its heels, Etsy, 1000 Markets, Art Fire, Artful Home, etc.

    Now it is time for a new era…and I think you could be on the “bleeding edge” of figuring out what that is with the indie-craft concept. Artists are hungry for a new approach. An avenue where they retain more from the results of their hard efforts. When like-minded artisans band together, I think the end result will be astounding and others will clamor to join forces.

    Change is coming. I have sensed it. You have a gift for finding the right opportunity at the right time. I know we’ll talk more about this topic. In the meantime, you have shared a thought provoking subject and I look forward to seeing what others think too.

    Thank you Lexi!

    • Kathleen–thank you for your well thought out answer. I don’t know if I’m on the edge of this or not, I’m sure artists have been talking about it for a number of years, if not since the Middle Ages. But it just seems that every artists I talk with lately is saying the same thing. So I feel a “Climate Change” coming in the artist community. I don’t know where we are headed, but something’s happening.
      Love,
      Lexi

  6. Hi Lexi,

    I agree it is hard to know which way to go in these times. I have also been doing art festivals for the past few years. I couldn’t have started at a worse time with the recession, however what I really like about them is the ability to meet the people who buy my art and it’s usually a fun experience even if hard work. I have met some wonderful other artists at the shows, had lots of laughs and actually come out with a small profit. The best way I have found to sell my art so far is through Open Studio events. The first one I did in Ottawa was with a group of artists who all lived in the same area. It was a walking tour and many artists showed in their gardens. On the Saturday night we all had a pot luck dinner togather whcih was great fun too. I did really well at that but unfortuately moved to the UK shortly after. I was part of a large tour in York, in the UK, too and once again had very good sales. With one of my friends there who was a potter, we organized our own open studio in my house, promoted it and it was very successful. We would have continued doing it each year to build up a clientelle but once again we moved. Now that I am in Toronto, where I intend to stay for many years, I hope to find a group of like minded artists and either be a part of a group studio tour or just do two a year by myself perhaps with a guest artist. I will also combine it with teaching and I’ll promote the classes at the festivals and open studios. I think that going forward many artists will take control of their sales in this way.

    I think that the gallery who took a larger percentage for selling two works was extremely greedy. They should have been pleased to get the 50% from both works and if they had to discount to get the sale they should have born the cost.

    • Hi Susanne and welcome to my blog! It’s so nice to hear from you and for you to take the time to write. You have lived in of my favorite places, York. It is beautiful there, vry green and full of plants and flowers. Very colorful.
      I certainly agree with you about a studio tour. An art in the garden tour is even more lovely. There are many of those in northern New Mexico where I like to visit. Fall seems to be the best time for them there, and I hope we can get a group of people to participate in going to Taos, or Dixon, NM this year. Unfortunately they are not practical for many people because of the demographics in the US. Most of us live too far apart, especially our west. Your idea of doing one by yourself or with another artist, basically a home show, really struck a chord. Kathleen and I have been discussing that option. We both like that idea. Thank you for bringing up those points. I’m sure they will get many people to start thinking.
      And yes, the gallery was very greedy, but they are looking to expand, and I guess the artists will pay for the expansion.
      Please keep in touch. We love new ideas.

      Hugs,
      Lexi

  7. Lexi,
    Hey! I took your soldering class in SantaFe at the Bead Fest in March. I really enjoyed it. I have gotten a torch and my next purchase is one of your soldering stations.
    In my area we do not have many galleries, but I have been lucky to have found a gift shop in a new state park Lodge that buys my work. Which is wonderful, because they pay me up front and I do not have to wait for it to sell. I do have to discount it, which is okay, I still make a little. But, I started about 2 years ago, doing home parties and that has worked out real good for my business. I have tried the outdoor and indoor festival shows and they are more work then profit. People in our area just do not have the extra income to spend on a luxury such as jewelry.
    I wanted to also tell you that I enjoyed your article in April issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
    Sherry

    • Sherry—-HOW ARE YOU!? Great to hear from you. Yes, I was just exaspearated the other day, and just spoke my mind. I’m so glad you are being successful at a retail outlet, which yes, you do have to discount the pieces a bit, but being that they pay up front, that’s great. Usually, thats what’s better about consigment, you get a bit more, but it looks like that’s not the general case anymore with most consignment galleries taking 50%.

      Thank you for the nice comments about the workshop and about my piece in April’s Lapidary Journal. I hope you like my piece in the June issue, its photo etching with a beautiful green parrot wing (chrysocola) stone. It was inspired mostly by my trip to Santa Fe to teach at Beadfest. I had such a great time with you all, and it was a lot of info to throw at you for only a 3 hour session. You guys were real troopers. Also, please know, if you ever have a jewelry question, please don’t hesitate to either ask on this blog or email me. And the solder stations are selling very well since they appeared in the May issue of Lapidary Journal.

      Thank you for writing and for you comments. Good luck with your sales. Please keep in touch.
      Hugs,
      Lei

  8. Hi Lexi,

    I discovered your blog this morning when I searched for the “best rolling mill for jewelry artists” Thanks for your comprehensive list of tools for a beginning jewelry studio.

    When I read your post on Galleries vs Festivals and our Future, it resonated with me. I am new to this business, but have experienced so much of what you described. With a 25 year career in Interior Design, and that many years of carrying around large rolls of drawings all day on a jobsite, not to mention traveling out of state with large amounts of samples which had to be set up and then packed back up again, after presentations that often lasted 6-8 hours, I thought that selling jewelry would be less back-breaking, and perhaps less frustrating.

    I have to tell you that just THINKING about an outdoor festival makes me cringe. I have participated in only a couple of smaller ones, but just the work involved in setting up and taking down and taking down the tent and transporting things to and from my vehicle, not to mention dealing with the weather, has been enough to curb my desire to do any more outdoor events. I find indoor events to be less stressful, but have decided to be more selective. Yes, I know that sounds strange to some, when the object is to sell more jewelry, but I have determined that the most important thing about my making and selling jewelry is me, and the satisfaction I get from it.

    Last year was my first full year of making jewelry (primarily strung items), so I tried out a lot of things- small outdoor festivals (stressful on mind and body), indoor festivals (lower priced items sold best), lobby shows, selling from my own website (only had one sale from a family member and takes a lot of work to keep it updated), home shows, kid’s jewelry parties, fundraisers. I found out a lot about myself: I love talking to customers; I believe that each piece of jewelry has an owner that will come to claim it; I love when I make a custom item and a customer is satisfied; I love seeing people wear my jewelry; I love selling in a relaxed atmosphere; I appreciate when people take the time to look at my jewelry and talk to me, even if they don’t buy anything; I can only do so much custom work before I feel depleted- I have to find time to make my own creations.

    I realize that I have to find a way of selling my jewelry that uplifts and sustains me, or I might as well go back to making jewelry as a hobby, and find some other way to make a living. When I was practicing Interior Design (we worked on teams, and with client committees), making jewelry was the way I expressed my individual creativity, and I worked on my jewelry at every opportunity. Recently I found that I was spending less and less time in my studio, and determined that I needed to make a change. I started looking at everything I was doing in my jewelry business in a new way. I found that there were three basic categories that everything fell into- ENERGY BOOSTERS, NEUTRAL ITEMS, or ENERGY BUSTERS.
    The other day I was given the opportuntiy to register for a Women’s Empowerment Luncheon as a vendor. They gave vendors the option of reserving a whole table or a half table, participating in the luncheon or not (lunch was $25.00). In the past, I would have not even considerd the half table, or lunch. “I like my table to look “just so”, and I don’t like to share”, is what I told a friend of mine. Guess what! No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than I started re-evaluating my decision. By only doing a half table, I will be much less likely to lug all the display props I have been using. It will give me the opportunity to streamline my display. I’m not dreading the process now. I’m looking forward to a much lighter load, and, I’m also registered for the lunch, where I hope to meet some new people. My energy was boosted by my decision. By the way, this event was made known to me by someone I met at my last low key event. She was someone who stopped at my jewelry table that I had a delightful conversation with. She did not buy anything, but mentioned to me that she had a hard time finding any rings to fit her, because her fingers were so slim. I just happened to be wearing an adjustable ring that I had made out of non-tarnish wire. It was something that I normally would not have worn to a show, but that morning I had had the urge to wear it. I had her try the ring on, and then adjusted it to fit her. She fell in love with it, and didn’t care that it was made from base metal, so I gave it to her. She took my card, and three months later, sent me the information for this show.

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it is also my belief that we are entering a new phase for jewelry sales and marketing. Since I made my decision to take a less stressful approach to sales, and to focus more on the things that I like about making jewelry, I have seen movement in the right direction. When I remember why I started this business in the first place-to do something that I love to do, to have more control over my own life, to have an art/jewelry studio, to work on my own, to be creative, to make jewelry that people will love to wear, and be empowered by, to name a few things, I realize how far from my initial plan I had allowed myself to drift. Not that the plan has to stay exactly the same, but it has to feed the soul, or it’s not worth doing.

    I have reached an age and stage in my life where I’m looking for more. What’s more, so are my friends. One friend has recently determined that what she likes more than anything else is looking at and collecting art. It makes her feel alive. Eventually, she thinks she’d like to have a store, but that is not currently a posibility. She is a big picture type of person, but has decided that she’ll take the advice of her therapist, and start by trying to sell a few pieces through a home show. She has already selected a jewelry artist to represent- me.

    By the way, I love your statement “I own my own multi-dollar company!” Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts.

    Gail

    • Hi Gail- How great to hear from you. Thank you for writing and expressing your viewpoint. I’m beginning to think there are a number of us out there feeling this same way. Since I have decided to cut down on my summer and fall shows, I can’t express the liberation that I feel. I can go to a movie in the afternoon, or have lunch with friends and not kick myself for not being in the studio.
      When I get into my studio I feel refreshed and ready to go to work, and not so stressed to come up with a fresh idea that I just stare at my bench. Your decision to be a part of the luncheon was a great one. One of the things I’ve learned through all these type lunches is that the vendors are interested in just selling, while those who stop and enjoy the gift of friendship that can come from the socialization, well, they are the winners.
      Congratulations on your decision to just give the lady your ringl That spoke volumes about you and look at the payback you got, something totally unexpected. Good luck, and please keep in touch. Know you are on the right track, you are doing what feels best for you I am sure there will be many others who will still enjoy the set up and take down, but for me, and obviously you, too its just not for us right now.

      Good luck, please keep in touch, and PePe Tools makes a wonderful rolling mill that is not too expensive. I have a flat roller, which means it doesn’t have grooves for the wire, because I just buy wire, I don’t roll out my own. I absolutely love my PePe. If you need more info, let me know and I’ll help you any way I can.
      Hugs,
      Lexi

  9. Hi Lexi, yes the same musings here too. I find that nobody sells my art like I do – I sell WAY more than the galleries do simply because people like to buy from the artist IMO.
    I also find that listening to the comments and praise at an art show validates my art as no cheque ever can. Outdoor shows can be so much fun given a beautiful calm day…
    I do very few shows each year and with a couple of exceptions only those I know I’ll do well at. The exceptions are a couple of little local art shows trying to get established; I like to support their endeavors. I figure even if I don’t sell much its Exposure and often a nice relaxing day. All told I do a large spring show, a couple or three small summer shows outdoors and then a big Thanksgiving weekend in October and the final a big two weekend Christmas Show last weekend in Nov, first weekend of December. Teaching takes up the slack and I love teaching as much as I love creating!
    Online sales have been a bust for me – so much time spend on photo shoots, edits and uploads, site design I found I was spending more time on the computer than in my shop!

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