Ethan’s latest blog got me to thinking (scary huh?).
I started to comment in his blog, then it dawned on me that I should make the comments in my own blog, then it can count on my number of postings. Ha. Could I really be that competitive? Nah, it is just fun.
Very good topic he covered. I discovered several years ago that if I wanted to make a living at this journey, I had to make things that others couldn’t, or wouldn’t make, and charge more than they would.
If I can sell at the same show something similar to another guy that is living on his retirement savings, then his price can be lower than mine.
Case in Point: I attended a carving/sculpture show and found some tremendous talent, much better than I can do. Mostly, the carvers were all retirement age, or older. There were staff walking sticks with wood spirit faces carved in them that make my canes I have made look pretty poor. They also had carving and folk art all the way down the shaft. The price on most of these staffs were in $25-$30 each range. And, they were not selling. Not more than 2 blocks from the convention center, I sell my canes regularly at a store for more than $200. Their work is better, but mine sells higher. Why? It is fun to ponder, huh? Canes seem to sell to a different market and at a higher price, and are used for different reasons. Something about the product/market in that gem. At the same show, there was a guy that does some of the best Scrimshaw art I have seen. His price for a scrimshawn pocketknife with a couple of deer running on one side was $30. The cost of the knife for him to engrave on was around $30.00. He was basically just trying to get his money back on the knife, and he hadn’t sold any of them. He was pretty disappointed, and so I tried to change the subject and discuss the quality of his work.
My desire to find a niche I can afford to live on has meant that I had to challenge myself in learning new skills and invest in tools that others didn’t have.
I have never been in a Woodworkers Guild, but several from around Kansas have invited me, calling, emailing, and requesting that I join. I don’t really have time to do that right now, but I know I would enjoy the fellowship as you do Ethan.
What I am interested in joining is a Guild of professionals that all work together to sell their work, and share with each other. For instance, if a gallery works great for one guy, maybe it will for another and they help each other, sharing the contacts and greasing the skids for the new guy.
One time a couple of years ago, another wood artist that I know loaded up their van and headed to Santa Fe out of desperation to see if they could find a gallery to sell their work. They contacted me to see if they could hand out my brochures, or show some of my work. I wasn’t organized quick enough to get them more than a few brochures before they headed out, but I deeply appreciated their thought and effort toward me. A few months later, I called to follow up on what they learned. They had found a gallery and unloaded their van full of stock, but they couldn’t get the money out of the gallery for the items that have sold, and it was a 30 hour round trip back to get the rest of it. They were in a pickle, so to speak. I wasn’t too interested in chasing after that gallery for sure.
So far, I haven’t found the type of Professional Guild Group that I am looking for. My fellow woodart friends and I talk about it, but no one takes the initiative to organize it. An example is a group in Missouri (www.bestofmissourihands.com) that works together. I could join their group and attend their yearly convention and meetings, but since I live in Kansas, I can’t use any of their benefits, gallery contacts, or other helps. Rats.
What works in Missouri ought to work in Kansas, or the Mid-West, or the whole USA, or the whole world, but someone has to organize it, and that is, quite frankly, not my Gift. I can cast vision, dream, talk a lot, write too much, and pontificate, but when it comes time to do administrative work, I’m all left thumbs (no insult intended to left handed people- you are great!).
However, I am starting to see this kind of help through the personal email service here at Lumberjocks, and it is starting to fill that niche that I had been looking for in a professional guild.
We don’t meet in person, but meeting daily online. A fellow lumberjocks is currently helping me with finding a gallery in the Northwest where he says my work would be popular. That kind of help is a huge benefit to me, and I will be following up with his suggestions. In turn, I would do the same for others, but nothing much sells in Kansas. I still have to do the work and photography, and application writing, but he gave me the contact names of the galleries and their jury process instructions. Now, I need to do the work of making the contact.
In comment to Ethan’s adventure listening to the nice man talk about his toy horse business, there are several prinicples I have had to learn, mostly the hard way.
1a) Selling my work doesn’t make me better, just allows me to spend more time doing what I love.
1b) It doesn’t matter what the price is, my self esteem is not a component of what someone is willing to pay for my work. Sure, the more the pay, the more I feel good about myself. But the reverse is true as well. So, to protect myself emotionally, I have to find my self esteem in who I am, not how much someone is willing pay for my art
Case in point, I saved a beautiful little oil painting from the trash by paying $0.25 for it at a local thrift store. It was painted in 1974 by a woman I have never heard of. The painting is of a spot I am familiar, and has good memories for me, and it is well painted. I couldn’t resist the price, and felt that I owed it to the artist to snap it up and save it from the trash, where all things end up in thrift stores that don’t sell for a quarter after a few weeks. It brightens a spot on my shop wall, although it would look just as nice in the house. The cost of the art has no bearing on the art, or the artist’s ability. I have seen napkin sketches on the Antique Roadshow by Andy Warhol where he spent about 10 seconds drawing a butterfly and flower that my 5 year old does better. But, Warhol’s work is now worth $30,000 to someone.
2) I don’t have a retirement pension, government support, grants, or any other means of support, so because it costs money to live in this world, my time has a value, and so I must charge out my time in my woodworking. I have been trying to get a certain amount of pay per week, and per month, regardless of the hours I have had to work to make it. I hope over time, I can cut back on the hours, there is more to life, and I need a balance sometimes. For others, they do woodworking for the love of the craft, or the joy it brings others. I know people that never sell anything, but give it all away for the joy they get in giving. I know people that never give, or sell anything, and it all hangs in their house, cluttering it to the point it is overwhelming. When questioned, they can’t part with any of it, and I understand that as well. I can encourage them that others would buy their work, but selling it isn’t a thing they want. The Late Grandma Moses, the famous folk art painter, was never a good artist. Her paintings are very primitive, and she had a hard time finding anyone to buy any of it. She stuck her neck out a little and hung some of them in a local drug store for a couple of bucks each. Going back to the “Miraculous Discovering” theme, a New York art dealer stopped in the drug store while passing through town on the way to somewhere important. The rest is history.
3) Making woodworking items specifically to sell, is a different venture than just doing woodworking. It doesn’t make it better, just different. Recently another lumberjock indicated that he made $300 in 4 days work, and that was a good amount for him. I’m glad for him, but I can’t keep ahead of my bills unless I make $200 a day, and I live cheap. I think it just has to do with the point that each of us are in in our lives. I saw a guy taking barnwood and making cheap birdhouses out of them with just a few boards and a nail gun. I scoffed in my heart, but, I watched him all day carry new stock in load, after load, after load, after load, all day from his huge trailer to his booth at an open crafts fair. After watching him do this and adding up the sales in my head, I think he probably made more on that one Saturday selling bird houses to ladies at an open crafts fair than I make in a whole year. Yet, I don’t want to make what he makes. That is his deal, and I have mine, they just have different markets.
I could talk more, but then Dick would tell me it was too long. So, I will continue this thought in another posting some time.
Thanks for your feedback Dick, I do appreciate it,
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com