There was a time not so very long ago when we were all very excited about a new website called Etsy that had just been started. It was going to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of the creative soul. The early days featured handmade soaps, quilts,clothing,artwork and jewelry in very small quantities.For the brave who were willing to add their work online it felt like you were sharing your creations with your friends. People ate it up. Suddenly owning something handmade or original took on a special quality. Heck even Oprah thought it was cool. Small independent artisans found a home to share their work on a national level and sales took off. For some of us though we were pretty skeptical of the whole thing and we waited a bit to see what it was all going to be but for many an entire new industry was born.
Then 2008 happened and suddenly people discovered that you could put anything on Etsy and sell it. For the artisans who actually really made their work an alarm went up. Surely Etsy was going to police this right? As the years went on the foreign distributors flooded the site and it began to look less and less like the handmade channel it started out to be. Sites like Regretsy popped up to draw attention to the mess it had become.
Still so many of us hung in there sharing our work, mostly because it was an affordable way to share out work. About a year ago we began to slowly move away from the site leaving only greeting cards and a few older pieces on there. I guess we just didn't want to believe that the site was worth letting go of since we had always managed to find new customers along the way. Then the notice arrived today.
It was really a simple message but it said so much. Basically Etsy let us know that starting now they don't care how goods arrive on their site. Nope, you can have someone else make your stuff. You can get it in any country you want, doesn't matter. Essentially handmade is all over. So for us Etsy is all over. We struggle every day to explain to people that everything we make is made by hand. Every stencil is cut by hand. Every color is printed by hand. Handmade means a lot to us.
It should mean something to the people who visit Etsy and we hope they will come to our website to find us. Or maybe Etsy will change their minds.
Unlike a painter, each of the pieces in our booth takes at least a month to create and will take years to sell out. So many times at a show Steve and I will look at the booth of a fellow artist as he/she sells a large painting that we know may have taken as little as a week to create and wonder if we should rethink the medium of printmaking. One unlikely benefit for us however is that we spend a lot of time with our work. They take on a special connection as we spend every week explaining their meaning each week on the road. Many of the pieces come from photographs that we take during our travels or they could come from a composite of images that Steve has collected over time. However, every once in awhile there are certain pictures that have a special meaning to us. They come from a place of deeper meaning and they reflect a part of our lives that is marked in time. Recently we sold out of a such a piece of special significance and it seemed like a good time to share the life cycle of one of these pieces so I give you: The Life of "The Cherry Thief".
Anyone who has ever had to move during a traumatic time in their lives can attest there are always sights and sounds that connect us to those times. It can be the music that we listened to, the food we had to eat, the sight of the buildings around us. No matter how old we get we can still close our eyes and see, hear, or smell the very thing that reminds us of that time. Leaving the desert Southwest and moving to Seattle was probably one of those times for our children.
In 1997, I was promoted and transferred in my job to Seattle from a small independent office in Flagstaff, AZ. My children had been living on 3 acres in the mountains with farm animals, a massive garden, and wide open skies. They were 9 and 11. For the first year we had rented a house in the middle of the suburbs of Seattle, surrounded by lots of houses. The first month it poured rain every day. There were lots of other kids around but they were still in school and so in the beginning our children were anything but happy. There was one glimmer of hope. The house had a tiny yard with fruit trees! My son was fascinated. Are there going to really be cherries in our backyard? Oh yes, we assured him, give it time but there would be cherries. It became his mission to watch the trees. Everyday the same question, the same response. As the cherries ripened his excitement grew. The other trees showed the promise of fruit but the cherries... Well, you all can guess the outcome of the story as the pesky crows had also been watching the trees as well and the day the cherries were ready, Nic woke up to see the cherries all gone.
"The Cherry Thief "was created to memorialize the moment and made it's debut later that year. At the time Steve only did a few shows in the summer locally so he only sold a few pieces in the beginning. This piece turned out to be significant because it also was the first bird piece and began a series of successful wildlife pieces to come. Over the years as more wildlife work came along "The Cherry Thief" always stayed popular. It seemed to spark a feeling in people about a similar experience they might have had with crows. Ironically in recent years we began to see images of crows with cherries in various art forms at the many shows we do. We have even had people ask us if all the artists are doing the same thing for a reason.
We get asked a lot about how long it takes for a piece to sell out and it really varies. These days we make very small editions and so it will not take as long as it did with "The Cherry Thief" where we made 40. This piece sold slowly but steadily until this past year and then it went a little crazy. We were asked last year to be included in an exhibition at the Portland International Airport on Printmaking. "The Cherry Thief" was there and we got calls constantly about it, selling quite a few of them. Like a lot of our pieces, there are times they just take off and everyone wants them. For that we are grateful.
So it is ironic that a few weeks ago we closed the chapter on "The Cherry Thief". We still have one framed one and my heart says we should keep it. We left Seattle to move back to Arizona this year and closed that chapter too. Maybe we should sent the artwork to Nic. Then he will always remember the day the crow stole his cherries.
(Steve is trying his hand at the blog this time so here goes)
Well, twelve art festivals and thousands of miles later one thing remains the same...I have know idea what to expect from one show to the next. While most shows have been pretty consistent, I still get amazed when I hear people in our booth say "the economy must really be hurting you guys..." and the next person comes in and buys several pieces at a time and always asking if we have anything larger!? The last few shows, it seemed to be the norm as a couple of our neighbors were selling very large canvas' and sculptures
for $2,500. to $15,000....all weekend long.
We don't have anything in those price ranges, for a couple of reasons. One being that we don't have really large pieces and everything is printed in limited editions....multiple originals for lack of a better description. I actually had a lady in Texas who wanted to buy the entire edition of a new piece so no one else would have it! While we have never had that happen, we would have considered it but, in the end her husband talked her out of it, common sense prevailed .
As, a print maker I suppose I could create larger pieces but that would require a major investment in frames, fabric, and larger substrates to print on....not mention a larger studio and work surface. The other ideas, were a triptych or simply work on a Mono print. Not impossible, just something to think about this winter. ..
We do a lot of shows with many artists that we see all year long. Some artists sell small inexpensive items and they have to sell a lot of things to make a lot of money but then we have friends that only have to sell one or two things and can have a $10-20,000 show. For us we are really in the middle. We sell original artwork but its not in the thousands of dollars so we don't attract the high dollar customer that can come in and essentially buy our whole booth. What we do have are moments of joy at selling young couples their first piece of original art. It has happened so often that a few years ago we decided to start a payment plan so that more young people could start buying original works of art instead of reproductions. The payment plan has led us to some wonderful encounters with people and recently we were fortunate to be able to be part of a great surprise.
The wife of one of these couples who had bought from us before and loved the work called me to ask if she could buy one of our newest pieces for her husband and together we arranged a plan not only for paying for the piece but to bring it to the art show where they come to see us each year that was a few months away. When the day came she arrived with her husband and he walked into our booth and asked if we still had this new piece and I said " Yes, we do" and showed it to him already wrapped up. He said, "Oh too bad somebody bought it, someday..." and I said" Okay, "Today, its yours". He said " Oh yeah, right". To which we all said. "Really, it's yours". His look was priceless. He had no idea and was just thrilled.
To be able to be part of the surprise and to know that we could help Tracy make this possible made us very happy and really makes us feel so luck y to do what we get to do in our lives now.
It has been awhile since I have posted anything and I have been struggling to decide how to approach the subject of Sunday art buyers. It has always amused me when someone asks for a discount because it is Sunday. For us each day is another opportunity to sell our work and it is never the last day for us. Our lives frankly don't include a day off very often and over the past two years I think we sometimes don't even know what day it is. I wonder sometimes what people really think when they see us at the shows. Do they understand what it takes for us to be there? Most of the time to be at any show requires a process that begins a good six months before. We are spending money early on just to apply to all the shows we do. Then we begin the anxious wait to hear if we are invited to a show or not. There are great shows that we simply can't ever get into and there are shows that even though we feel good about participating that we still must do the dance.There are a few months of the year when all we do is apply,wait and then have to pay for booth fees. It is a never ending job application and it is always a nerve-wracking time for us.
Once we are accepted and have paid the fees we still have to figure out how to get there and where we can stay that won't cut into our expenses too badly. We have friends who simply sleep in their vans but we have never gone that route. Just before the show we spend at least a full day packing up the van, always trying to guess what pieces will appeal at each show. Do we bring birds this time? Do we have a corner booth so we can display more? Then in many cases we start driving, and driving for days to get to the location of the show. We eat frugally and sleep in the least expensive hotels we can find. Once we arrive we may have to set up our booth in the dark of night,early in the morning or in the middle of a hot and windy day. We spend hours setting everything up, ever cautious about the weather.
By the time most people see us at a show we have already incurred a great deal of expense and we put our bright and shiny personalities to work to greet , to explain, and sometimes to discuss why we don't bargain. This is our living, it is not a hobby and every dollar we make goes into producing work, arranging travel and just plain living. We chose this life for many reasons and we are happy living it. The best friends anyone could hope for are usually only a few booths away at any show and we get to meet a lot of very wonderful people.
By the end of the show on Sunday, our work just begins. We have to tear everything down and pack up the van. If we are lucky we are heading to another show in a few days or we prepare for a long drive home. We are thankful for everything that happened over the past few days, even when it's not successful. For us it is just another day and we just get into the groove of what we have to do next. It can be a challenging life at times but it is our life and we are responsible for our successes and our failures. We wouldn't change a thing.
We go to so many shows and sometimes we find ourselves drawn to certain customers that become friends and a bright spot every year when we visit a given city. Dale was one of those people. Every year when we would do the Utah Arts festival we knew that he would be one of the first people we would see and that his beautiful smile and zest for life would set us up for a great weekend. The Utah Arts Festival is a grueling show. It is four days long and it goes from noon to 11 pm. We work hard but it also has provided us with some truly wonderful moments with some very special people. Dale was in a class all his own. He came all four days and he came for the music as much as for the art. Since I love music so much and I reluctantly could never go hear most of it, I seemed to live vicariously through our moments with Dale and his wife Karen. They bought art from us the first year and yet they never missed visiting with us every year after. They saw us throughout the show but we knew they would be the first and the last people we would spend time with during the show. It meant a lot to us, probably more than either of them knew.
This past June, they came as usual but this time Karen took us aside and told us that it was going to be Dale's 60th birthday and to surprise him she wanted to buy him "Beach Patrol", the raven which he had been looking at for years. It would be a surprise and we worked with her to get it to her without his knowledge. We couldn't wait for September to come so that we could hear his reaction to his present. We had no idea that this time we would hear news that would set us back for quite awhile.
Dale received his art on his 60th birthday and was thrilled. One week later he died from heart failure. We sell art for a living but each and every piece we sell we give a little piece of ourselves with it. This time we lost so much because we knew what the world lost that day. Dale is dancing to great music somewhere and we feel blessed to have been a part of his life.
I think the number one question we get asked at every show is "Where are you from?" and yet in many ways it is a question that means nothing. You see we spend our lives on the road for the most part. When we come home we spend our time creating the artwork we display but the inspiration for the work itself comes from the times we spend far from the place we now call home. For many artists we get so little time to actually stay "home" that the question is always a jarring one. Home is a studio, a garage, an open space for building and creating and preparing for the next trip out the door. Does it matter in the big scheme of things where we are from or can the work speak for itself?
Many years ago we moved to Seattle because of a job transfer and now we are selling our house and planning to move back to Arizona. Will people stop buying from us in the Northwest once our address changes? Will more people buy in the Southwest when we do? Does it make the artwork look different based on where an artist is from, really? The artwork should speak for itself and it should be about how it makes the viewer feel, no matter where it is from.
Do customers want to buy "local" and if so, do they understand that most artists would starve if they only did "local" shows. We love the places we visit and at many of the shows we do, we now have customers that we genuinely are excited to see every year just to say hello. We visit many places every year and as we travel to these locations we frequent some very beautiful locations along the way. We are so fortunate to have this luxury to be able to take in such inspiration wherever we go. We aren't from Utah, Oregon, or Texas but there are images in our booth from time we have spent there.
So now that we will be from another new place, when people ask us "Where are you from?" we will answer differently but then we will look at each other, smile and know that really we are still the same people we were before we moved.
I actually began doing art shows way before Steve. In the early 1970's I used to go to art shows in California with my cousin and sell beautiful necklaces made from beads that my aunt brought back from her travels in Africa and parts of Asia. It was so simple then. We just showed up, spread out a blanket and stayed until we sold out or got tired. Everyone around us made what they sold, some of it was fine crafted and some of it was not but I don't think the idea that they didn't make it themselves was ever of question.
Over the years the idea of buying finely made original art in an outdoor setting evolved and suddenly it became more structured. There came a purpose and a sense in the community that when you went to these shows that you were seeing the best the area had to offer in the arts. We all bought white tents, white vans and learned how to take professional photographs of all of our work so that we could be compared against our peers for a chance to have a spot at these coveted venues. There were years when the community went in masses to buy work by the artists and to commune with them to understand the hours of labor that went into each and every piece on display. It was a respected and valued way to make a living.
Then the economy tanked and suddenly a few things began to change that have caused us all to stop and wonder about the future we face as more people decided to join the art show circuit. There are still incredible artists and craftsmen who have chosen to sell their work directly to the public. Yet we are now challenged at these very venues by booths full of "vendors" who sell items that they did not make themselves or they may have initially designed and have now found a way to mass produced on the cheap. The promoters of some of the shows we have historically supported no longer care if the work is original or not or even if the visitor knows that what they are looking at is actually made by the artist or not.
I spent a great many years in the corporate world in sales competing against other companies. What I always knew was that integrity in sales was the most important value I could bring to a customer. As someone who has lived in both the art and corporate world I find the situation I am witnessing these days really interesting. Do the customers we talk to every week really interested in buying from the artist who actually handmade the work or has the retail world now changed things so much that no one cares? I personally faced this challenge a few weeks ago when I bought a garment from a fellow "artist" only to find out later that she didn't make them but bought them from a wholesaler and marked them up to resell at the shows. It made me question so much about how I felt about what we do now and how I should respond to the artist in question.
As customers visiting the shows, it comes down to deciding why you are there I guess. For most people it is just a way to while away an afternoon and maybe purchase a small item to remind you of the day. For the people standing in the 10 x 10 booth spaces however it can mean a great deal more.
Every week that we set up the booth in a new city we look at each other and say the same thing. Will this show bring us visitors that know what a serigraph is? It will make a difference each week in what the show will mean for us by how many times we have to explain the process of making a hand printed screen-print but more importantly it will make a difference in how often we will have to defend the purchase of original printmaking. The increase into the marketplace of giclees has muddied the waters of the original printmaking world and it seems that it has become a real challenge to find a creative way to explain why someone would want a numbered "original" print that is not a reproduction.
If someone knows and understands the work that goes into making a hand cut and hand printed screen print then the reaction is usually quite wonderful and we know that they understand that they are buying a piece of art that will last a lifetime. In the meantime we continue to open up our binder of photos of the steps of the process and start the explanation again.
Recently while talking with a fellow artist we shared this dilemma and he shared an analogy that I think we may continue using for awhile. The next time someone asks us where the "original" is and why the numbered pieces cost so much more than a reproduction I will share that a reproduction is like when you buy your first pieces of furniture in college. You may go to Target or Ikea and the furniture could be made of particle board with maybe some laminate cover on it but that's okay, you aren't planning to keep the furniture for long and it will serve its purpose for it's time just fine. But the fine hand crafted mahogany desk or bed that you decide to buy that you plan to have forever and to ultimately pass on to your children some day? Well, that's a serigraph.
Original artwork is meant to hold on to and to cherish. Buy it for the feeling it gives you from the very first time you saw it and keep it until you are ready to pass it on to someone who will love it as much as you did. Invest in the real thing and if you have to do it in baby steps, that's okay because in the long run it will hopefully last you a lifetime.
"Why do we do it? We must be able to sell this art some other way than by driving so far and for so long?" This conversation popped up more than once this last month on the longest trip we have taken to date. We spent 6,200 miles, slept in 16 different beds in 9 states over a one month period. We saw some beautiful parts of the country and we had days of nothingness as well. Mostly we drove, and drove and listened to the radio (thank goodness for XM Radio). This trip we managed to camp twice and discovered that the state of Texas has some really beautiful campgrounds. Our art show record was quite interesting. We went back to a small but really good show in Southern Utah, then to a new and beautiful show outside of Houston where we won a big award but due to the weather had less than spectacular results, and we ended in wonderful San Antonio where the people loved our colorful artwork. Could we sell this art some other way? Maybe. Would we enjoy doing it this much and get to know our customers the way that we do? Don't think so.