There’s only so much that I can realistically post regarding how I’m ‘businessing” my business. I can’t advertise workshops or apply to teach workshops in and around the city. I can’t sell my artwork in person at art and craft fairs, or at arts pop-up shops. There are things that are still within my immediate control. I can keep creating artwork. I can keep working on lessons and workshops that someday I will be able to teach. I can keep working on my website. I can keep writing posts for my website. But I need to be honest, the current trajectory of my business just makes me incredibly depressed. I feel as though I’m failing, and failing rather spectacularly at that. My sales are horrible (I had no sales at all in April). I’m not driving enough people to my site, so my views are also horrible (averaging around three people a day for the months of March and April).
And don’t get me wrong. I know there are definite reasons for why I cannot go out and sell my work and my teaching in person. I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want anyone else to get sick because of me. I know how important it is to continue with social distancing. I’m following the guidelines set by the government and my city to ensure that the spread of the virus is mitigated. I totally agree with these guidelines! Health and safety or not only myself, but the people within the city and country are so much more important than my teaching an art workshop or selling some artwork.
That all being said, I also think it’s important that I acknowledge my personal feelings regarding how my business is just tanking at present. If I don’t take the time now to understand these feelings, they’re just going to get bigger and nastier and so much harder to deal with when I finally have to sit down and sort them all out. By the time I do that, there’s all kinds of damage that more than likely has already been done, and then I have to sort that all out and make the requisite repairs to myself mentally and emotionally.
I’m finding it hard not to spiral downward as it regards my artwork. I find myself saying, “Well…if your artwork was better, you’d have more sales.” and “You’re just not a good artist, and people can see that.” When it’s your artwork that you’re trying to sell, the absence of sales usually means that you’re work is just not good enough to make people want to buy it. These kinds of thoughts are not conducive to building a business.
There’s this particularly nasty little part of my personality that usually starts picking at my insides when the above thoughts start swimming around in my brain. That nasty little part of me that thinks that all of the people who give my artwork thumbs-up’s and hearts and leave me positive comments on Facebook or Instagram (not my fellow art creators on Instagram) are all just lying to me. In the best case, they don’t care for my work, but just leave the positive comments because it’s easy and considered good manners to do so. In the worst case, they’re just yanking me around and giving me positive feedback while laughing behind my back.
Yeah. I know. This nasty little part of my personality suuuuuucks. No matter how much I think I’ve gotten her shrunken down to the most miniscule size, rendering her powerless, she springs back to life and spreads like mold on everything she touches.
I don’t like feeling this way. I feel like a petulant child. I know this will all pass.
There are some things that I’ve been thinking a lot about, entrepreneurially, over the past week or so. The entire planet is having to deal with a new type of semi-permanent ‘normal’ due to the concerns over the spread of Covid-19. It’s still very early in this pandemic, so individual and national situations are fluid, and prone to change almost daily depending upon where you live. For those of us who work from home (my husband) and those of us who have been working on our own entrepreneurial endeavors, little may have changed regarding where we work, but a lot has changed for those who buy our work.
I noticed several weeks ago that some of the artists and makers that I follow had instituted sales in their online shops. Some offered a percentage discount on specific items, others on the final purchase total. There are many artists, creative, and performing artists who support themselves (and family) through gig-work. It seems like the term ‘gig’ has replaced ‘freelance’ in the world today. How many people do you know who have a full-time job and then a side gig? As a full-time employed public school art teacher, I had a side-gig all the time. I created art and sold it at various arts and craft shows in the city I lived in. I did artwork on commission. I took on additional teaching during the summer, to both children and adults. All so I could make ends meet. These gigs allowed me to have some breathing room within my budget. I know that this is not at all uncommon for educators to have gig work. At least in the US where I was living and working.
Covid-19 and the mandatory isolation orders, bans on gatherings of over ten people at a time, as well as other restrictions on travel inside and outside of different countries, have really hit artists, creatives and performing artists hard. A cartoonist that I follow, Adam Ellis (Instagram @adamtots) wrote a little about this. As a cartoonist, he’s had all the gigs he’s had lined up for the next year practically vanish in two weeks. Cons and book signings. Meet and greets. Talks. Meetings. POOF! All gone. He’s asking those who like his work and who want to help support him during this time to head to his merch store where he has a sale going on, or over to Patreon.
I’ve read some negative reactions to posts from artists asking for people to buy their merch or maybe become a patron on Patreon. These reactions give me ‘DeForest Kelley Face’.
Some of the negative reactions are centered around the fact that there are thousands and thousands of people who have been laid-off or let go from their jobs because of the closure of many types of businesses due to social distancing and isolation in place because of the spread of Covid-19. These people are justifiably scared about what is happening right now. They may have no money coming in and no savings to rely on. They may feel that it’s in poor taste or just rude for an artist to be asking for a ‘hand-out’ when they don’t know how they are going to pay their rent and buy food for the next month. (Interesting side note: artists do have to pay rent, eat, and pay bills too.)
But I’m getting a little off-track. Back to my point.
As much as the global pandemic is punching a big, fat hole in Adam Ellis’s ability to create, sell and promote his work, he’s in a better situation than I am by comparison. I’m a one-horse operation. I make the art. I sell the art. I create the workshop. I teach the workshop. My profits are infinitesimal by comparison. My range of products and the appeal of those products are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction when looked at in the larger Etsy-sized picture of artists, makers and creators working in the same vein or with the same themes as I do. There are doll artists who sell their work steadily and well, but still are not making enough money to live on. I’m much, much, much smaller than they are.
Full disclosure: I’ve sold four dolls over the last month and I am over-the-moon thankful (Seriously, deliriously, insanely, made-me-do-a-little-dance-in-my-living-room thankful to those buyers!!!) for those three sales. My profits for those sales were around 250€ combined over a thirty day period. If my husband were not working his buns off to support the two of us, we would have no place to live, no money to eat, nothing. Plans that I had made regarding art workshops has had to be back-burnered for now. This leaves my physical artwork as what I can offer for sale.
Perhaps there are some people who think, that if I cannot seem to sell my artwork, then the market has spoken. It’s told me that my work is bad and no one wants to buy it. So I should close up shop and go do something where I can make money, like…teaching workshops maybe? Or maybe I should just go an get any kind of job? What kind should I get? Maybe I would I sell more artwork if I decided to have a sale? What if I offered a discount? Or a BOGO? It’s tempting. I know that there are people who are more likely to purchase my artwork when I cut the price by almost half. But then what? Will people then expect me to sell my artwork for less on a regular basis once the sale is over?
I’ve always had a problem pricing my artwork. When I finally do arrive at a price, it’s been thoroughly thought about, discussed, thought about some more, discussed more (with my husband, and other respected friends) and finally decided upon. I’ve always thought that what I create, and the way in which I create it, isn’t exactly special. As an art teacher, I truly believe that every student I teach (child and adult) can accomplish the same levels of creativity and personally pleasing end product that I do. What I do is not rocket surgery. Because of this belief, I tend to undervalue what I create. So once all the sweating, fretting, discussions and debates have concluded, and a price is arrived upon. That’s the price of the work.
This may seem as though I’m being a total jerk. “This is what I will sell my work for and I will not take a single cent less!” But, would you question a physician or a lawyer about how much they charge? What about the mechanic who works on your car? Or the plumber who makes the poo go down the toilet instead of up and out of the toilet? There is this perception that an artist can be haggled with regarding the price of their work. There is this idea that because art is subjective, and capitalism is king in the US, that it’s perfectly acceptable to start haggling, or to just demand a lower price for artwork. The work of a physician or lawyer, that’s all objective. The value of their work is established. Their work is required for society to function well. The message is: medicine and law are necessary; art is not necessary.
Given the current state of the world, I’m also just cheeky enough to ask, how much art — movies, television, music, games, reading, sewing, knitting — etc., etc., — and including cooking, baking, drawing, writing, singing, playing an instrument — has the average human being done while they have been in isolation or quarantine? How long would it take people to start climbing the walls if they didn’t have art to keep them at least a little sane during all the scary weird happenings going on in the world around them?
Again. I digress.
So. I will not be offering any sales or discounts on the artwork that I’m selling for the foreseeable future. I do know that those fluid situations I spoke up previously may require me to change this, and in the back of my mind, I cannot rule it out completely. As a one-horse operation, with a very limited and specialized line of products, I simply cannot afford to. I’m learning what my value is as a individual and as an artist. It’s been hard-won knowledge and I am not ready to set it aside just yet.
This all being said, and if you’re still reading, go take a look at the artwork I have for sale.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Wednesday.
This post brought to you by the following links:
Read a little about the late and very great, DeForest Kelley! He had one of THE BEST lines EVER in any Star Trek movie: “It’s like the goddamned Spanish Inquisition down here!” (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home 1986)
Adam Ellis is funny and weird and wonderful. I’m sure that most of those reading this post have come across his work somewhere on the Internet or via Buzzfeed. If you’ve read it for free, then you could toss a coin or two his way!
The Jerk is one of those movies that I watch when I really need to laugh. I hope that you can find it somewhere to watch because it’s just…completely stupid and funny. I shouldn’t admit it, but I sometimes sing the thermos song to myself.
Hello! I have finished six tiny bears and have added them to the dolls that I have for sale! They are 30€ each, plus shipping (I ship world wide!). These bear dolls are aggressively cute, even if I do say so myself! Each doll is approximately 6.5 cm (approx. 2.5 inches) tall including the base (made from part of a bottle cork). The dolls can be removed from the base, and have posable arms and legs. They are not intended for children under the age of five. Please contact me via Facebook Messenger, Instagram direct message or email (Katiekinsman.firstname.lastname@example.org) if you wish to purchase one of these tiny bears! First come, first serve!
“A kind fairy, in my absence, had surely dropped the required suggestion on my pillow; for as I lay down it came quietly and naturally to my mind: Those who want situations advertise; you must advertise…” (Jane Eyre, Ch. 10)
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. I think I’ve read and re-read it a dozen times. There were times when I knew I was going to have a very long wait at a governmental office or at an airport, and if I had nothing else I was reading at the time, I would grab my worn copy off the shelf and stuff it in my bag to keep me occupied while I waited. I’ve seen several adaptations. Each of them use this above quote in different ways. Sometimes it’s Jane’s friend Helen who tells her that they must advertise, and in other versions, it happens a little more like it does in the book. Regardless of how it’s portrayed on screen, the fact that Jane looked at her current situation (teaching at Lowood School) and knew she didn’t want to be there anymore. She had no family or friends upon whom she could depend to help her find a suitable position either. She could only depend upon herself to find that suitable situation and to do that, she would have to advertise.
Now, remember, this book was published in 1847. Women had very few options when it came to employment. Teacher. Governess. Prostitute. And even those jobs that were not related to sex work were not always well thought of. Jane was a teacher, so she had a somewhat respectable means of supporting herself, but she was a no-body without a means of formal introduction to a potential employer. This meant that she was going to have to do something that wasn’t normal or lady-like: she was going to advertise for a position herself.
I kind of feel like I’m walking around in this passage of the book. I’m a no-body, from no-where, whose artwork means nothing to anyone. The difference between myself and Jane is that I have a very supportive husband (we just celebrated our 9th anniversary yesterday) and amazing friends that have been incredibly supportive of me. I also have organizations like Työbileet and Zonta International (which has helped me with tools and supplies for the teaching of art workshops here in Finland).
I’m so grateful and happy that I have the ability to teach art workshops. Having the tools and materials I need, and the ability to find more materials at low cost (Second hand shops, recycled and up-cycled materials, and Flying Tiger), makes me a much more marketable for the teaching of art workshops in a wide variety of subjects and mediums.
My challenge right now is: where do I advertise? Remember, I’m an English speaker, who has a loose grasp of conversation and art instruction in Finnish. I understand much more Finnish than I can speak, thanks to all plethora of compound words in the Finnish language. But still, I’m not fluent. By any stretch of the imagination! I want to teach art! I just need to advertise. Where?
I’ve done some research, looking at traditional types of print advertising in newspapers like Suur-Jyväskylän Lehti, but I’m not sure that the teaching portion of my business is quite ready for that. Part of the reason is the type of advertisement I would like is not within my budget. Hmmm…I don’t trust those free classified ad sites as far as I can throw them. They just seem a little hinky. This leaves me with not a whole lot of options. As I see it, the following are my best bets at present
It’s not the greatest option, but it’s free, and I am part of several groups dedicated to foreigners within Finland. English is the language used by the participants. I have advertised, i.e., created posts, about courses that I have offered through other educational institutions. The benefit of advertising for myself and the workshops I can teach, is that I’m in control. The cons are, I’m in control and I’m still pretty limited in my advertising reach. Part of me really hopes that there is some word of mouth that happens that can help me!
If you’re here and reading, then I’ve made contact with you! Hey! Would you like to have some private art instruction? Are you looking for someone who can set-up and instruct an open studio for a public event? Would you perhaps be in need of someone to teach a group of children art at an event? Contact me through the contact form and we can meet up and talk about it!
If you’re here, more than likely, you read about this blog post on Instagram. Again. I’m available for teaching art to children and adults! Contact me!
You know that kind I’m talking about, the kind that go on the bulletin boards at coffee shops, art supply stores, on university campuses, libraries, etc. I keep reminding myself, ‘I have to advertise.‘ I can’t just start at the top, right? I’ll just need to make some really attractive flyers to get people to look at them for long enough to me to get my name and that I teach art into their heads!
This has been pacing around in the back of my mind for some time. I watch several dozen YouTubers on a regular basis and I know how hard it is to break through the algorithm. If I do use YouTube, it would be something that I direct people to from other platforms like this website, Facebook or Instagram. I’m not super-comfortable being on camera, so I would have to really think about what I was uploading and why.
I still can’t believe that I have so many problems marketing and promoting myself as an artist and as an art teacher. What makes this even worse is that I have a BFA in graphic design. I love design and I love illustration. I just cannot seem to advertise myself, my art and my accomplishments with any degree of comfort. Sometimes I just want to post a sign like the one below:
I don’t think this would go over very well as a good advertising for myself or my artwork. Oh well. I suppose I have to get all of the bad advertising ideas out before I can come up with some better ones!
(I realized, last night that I had forgotten to post my regular Tuesday journal blog post on my website. It honestly slipped my mind. I had plans for Monday that got postponed until Tuesday, so I was doing some of the things on Tuesday that I had planned for Monday…so, I guess I felt like I had two Mondays? The weather here in Finland isn’t doing me any favors at the moment either, as it’s cold, damp and overcast, with the daily temperatures in the positives. This means it’s time for some barometric pressure headaches. They suck. Right now, it feels like someone is pinching and pulling the bridge of my nose, while simultaneously pounding nails into various points from my temples to the back of my head. My eyes hurt every time I move them. Bleh. Hopefully the ibuprofin will kick in soon. Anyway, on with the post!)
I’ve had competing urges over the years. One is to categorize myself and my artwork, and the second is to scrunch-up my face and declare that wish to remain outside of any type of categorization. The problem with this is that I already have self-categorized my artwork, and what the rest of the world (art world, craft world, people who are completely outside those worlds, etc.) thinks of my artwork is much more complicated. Where these two conflicting categorizations prove the most difficult for me is when it comes to the marketing of my artwork.
I am an artist. I identify myself first and foremost as an artist. This is something that has not changed much over the years, with the exception of adding ‘art teacher’ to it. I am an artist and art teacher. This is correct. I feels right. They are essential parts of who I am as a human being. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and so forth and so on, ad infinitum. You have heard all of this from me before. A lot.
I had a bit of an epiphany several days ago after some conversations with my husband (Berin Kinsman) regarding the problems I feel as though I am having in marketing myself as an artist (with artwork to sell) and an art teacher (with workshops to teach). Part of the reason for the conversations was a prompt from Meet the Maker, ‘Love to Make’ from day eight of the challenge. I had taken some pictures of pieces that I had created that were in many ways very different. They were all examples of the element of experimentation that is an integral component in my love of making the artwork that I create.
I love to experiment. My curiosity drives this love of experimentation. I think it also is a big part of why I’m such a magpie, using all kinds of different materials that I either pick out of the recycling or find at second hand shops. There are some tools, materials and supplies that I purchase ‘new’. I just bought some felt at Eurokangas earlier in the week, as well as some lovely decorated papers. The fact that I can do this does not prevent me from buying a shirt at a second shop and taking it apart for the fabric and buttons or saving the foil wrapping of chocolate bars and mailing circulars to use in my artwork.
Part of the difficulty of working with materials that are kind of finite. I can’t just go to the corner shop and pick up the lavender yarn that I found at a second hand shop a few weeks ago. Sometimes that materials, especially the fibers and threads, at second hand stores are from the stashes of people who purchased them twenty years ago or more. My chances of finding more of the insanely lovely yellow thread (on a wooden spool!) that was of Finnish manufacture, around the early 1960’s, is almost zero. Once these materials are used up. There simply is no more of it. Each of the dolls I create is made more one-of-a-kind because of the supplies that I use.
The other part, the mental one, is that I tend to create my work in groups. I get an idea. I start creating a pattern, and choose my colors. The materials are gathered. I sit down and start making. Before I know it, I’ve created dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of pieces working within a theme, and with some of those finite supplies described above. I usually have a a technique I want to try, or am trying to figure out how to make the materials and supplies I have do the thing I want them to do. Most of the time, the materials and supplies start asserting their own will, and compromises are struck between what I want to do and what they will do. I continue working. I refine ideas. I change around the sequence of construction. I add elements. I subtract elements. I note changes I want to make in subsequent pieces. I keep making the art over and over and over again until I feel as though I’ve exhausted the possibilities within the work itself.
In other words, I get bored. I make a thing until I get bored with it, and am seduced by a new idea or thought that I feel like I could form into something interesting. The ‘interesting’ should be construed as learning a new technique, or solving some kind of challenge in using a type of material I have and really want to use in some way. This means I will furiously make a thing until I don’t want to anymore. Then I’m done with it and am on to something else. It’s rather dog and butterfly of me. I’m completely focused and working on a series of pieces. Eyes and nose down. Ignoring everything else, until…I’m not. Once that new idea is seen, I’m off chasing it. And I’m done making the previous art work.
While Berin and I were talking, he pointed out that he, as a writer, works to create products expressly to sell. I create artwork because I have to. The thought of selling it, comes second. It’s not the reason for the creation. While this allows me a great deal of creative freedom, it makes successfully marketing my work to potential buyers much more difficult. As an art teacher, this ability to change the lessons, materials, ages taught, etc., work from a marketing standpoint, because what I am selling is my ability as a teacher of art first, and what the participant in the workshop will learn and make a very close second. Being flexible and well-versed in teaching methodologies as well as tools, technique and materials usage, is what a good art teacher should be.
As an artist, and an artist that is essentially a great big nobody from nowhere in the larger art world, my ever-changing series or groups of artwork, can be off-putting to a potential buyer. I cannot be depended upon to create a specific type or style of artwork for any set length of time.
I had been mulling over ways in which I thought perhaps I could alter the Little Ladies to make them sell better. Alterations that would make these tiny dolls more attractive to a wider-variety of potential customers. I found myself internally hesitating at each of these ideas. I felt that these alterations would make my artwork more derivative and less referential. I would be doing something that I felt had already been done, and done better by others as well. The purpose of these Little Ladies is tied so tightly to my own childhood and the toys I had and loved. Most importantly, as an adult, revisiting these things from my childhood, I am able to create what I wanted to be able to create when I was little. I wanted to alter those toys and dolls I had to better fit what I needed them to be within my tiny, little-kid Katie world that is decades past.
I feel as though it comes from a place of privilege that I can say, “Oh. I won’t compromise my artistic principles or my artistic vision!” I can honestly say, if I weren’t married, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss making alterations to my work that would make it more marketable to a greater number of people. Not everyone has the luxury of not selling the work that they create. Every piece created is a monetary investment in a future that hopefully sees its purchase. These are those artists and craftspeople who hustle. And I admire their abilities, because they’ve got things figured out that I am still stumbling through.
Now that I know that I’m kind of working at marketing my work is a rather challenging manner (the cart before the horse?) I need to be creative and figure out how to make it work for me. The artwork comes first, with no thought of who would buy it or how it can be used. And the marketing aspects coming second.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.
Participating in Meet the Maker March is forcing me to think about some areas of my own entrepreneurial plans that aren’t as solid as I once thought they were. In the past, this type of realization might cause me to panic, but it’s not. In fact, there’s no panic at all, merely some annoyance at the fact that I have areas within my plan that have not completely gelled. Perhaps a little annoyance at the fact that I have to come up with some kind of answer or solution for them as well, but I kind of figure that is part and parcel of being a one-horse small art business!
During the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I fit (I wrote a blog post about it) in an amongst other groups of artists, creators and makers. Where do I fit mentally? Creatively? Where does my artwork fit in the incredibly large, and ever-growing sea of artists, creators and makers who are trying to sell their art and/or craft? That last one, regarding where my artwork fits, from the standpoint of marketability, as a generator of that modicum of income I would like to be able to achieve…that is the point in which I don’t feel as though I have everything quite figured out yet. There are still areas that are more or less ‘un-gelled’.
In the post that I wrote previously, I talked mostly about wanting/needing to fit in with creative people, to find that community in which I could feel as though I was creatively and emotionally supported. What I’m talking about here is how do I categorize myself and my artwork for in the entrepreneurial arena?
If you’ve not familiar with exactly how large this creator-maker-artistic sales arena is, it is huge, like, Godzilla-sized huge, and sometimes just as pants-sh!tingly terrifying to contemplate as an insignificant little one-horse shop, like I am. I stand in awe of the creators and makers out there who are busting their butts as they hustle and work hard every day just to keep up with the ebbs and flows of this market. I admire them, while at the same time, I know I cannot be like them.
I had an exchange with another maker recently regarding the element of time and how it’s used as a creator. Specifically, the amount of time that is spent creating the artwork that we each sell. This maker said that they had worked to cut down on the amount of time devoted to the creation of their work, so that they could create work at a price point low. When I really thought about it, I seem to create and sell in almost diametrical opposition.
All artists and creators, after a certain amount of experience, can gauge how long it will take them to accomplish a task required by their craft or art form. How long to rough cut the wood for a set of chairs. How long to prep the loom for a weaving. How long and what ingredients are required to bake and decorate a wedding cake. How many Berol Prismacolour pencils in peacock green will be needed to finish the background of that illustration. How long it will take to crochet a queen-size blanket. For me, how much felt to do I need and how long will it take me to knock together a 6 cm doll? What can I essentially ‘batch’? Like covering the bases or braiding the yarns that go around the edges. I’ve got a pretty good sense of time when it comes to these sorts of tasks and batching does make them go faster. But reducing the amount of time that I spend on the creation of a piece of art so that I may lower a potential selling price never enters my mind.
Time for me is an essential component of the price of the artwork. Yeah. There are parts that I can make go more quickly, but then there are other parts of creation that just take time. If you have seen my artwork, I do a lot of embroidery work in and on all of my pieces, even those that are papier maché. To reduce the amount of time spent on my artwork would require me to fundamentally alter the artwork in a manner that I do not find creatively satisfying in the least. I could make strictly papier maché dolls and completely forgo any surface decoration, either in pencil, paint or embroidery. I could make tiny dolls with clothing that has no embellishment. No embroidery. No crochet work. No bases for display. I could do that. But I don’t want to.
That last comment makes me sound like a petulant three-year-old! “I don’t wanna!” accompanying by little clenched fists and stampy little feet. Here’s the thing that I realized as it regards where my artwork fits in this sea of artists, creators and makers: I have my own visions of my own artwork and create using those visions and with the aid of the influences of my personal past and the larger world I was formed it (I’m a Gen X-er). I think part of my difficulty is that I’m trying to force my work into a category in which it does not belong. I am first and foremost, an artist. I love being an artist. I revel in wallowing and mucking-about in my own personal artwork creation on a daily basis. I strive to be uniquely myself in my actions and products as an artist. I have constructed my entire life around being able to create artwork. I have made specific decisions regarding this. I have had to forego some parts of what some might think of as a more normalized life, in favor of giving myself the ability to let art take precedence before anything else. It is one of my strongest internal driving forces.
I suppose what it all boils down to for all of those potential buyers of art an craft work is whether they would prefer an apple or an orange. It’s just a matter of preference. Sometimes the price point is a major factor in their choice, sometimes it isn’t. I know who I am, and I feel like this Meet the Maker challenge is helping me get those weird un-gelled areas figured out for myself and this can only be a good thing for me as an artist and as an entrepreneur.
This post got a little strange, so thank you for reading! Here are some links to things that have been rattling-around in my brain for the past week or so, each making their own contributions to the verbosity of the above post:
My previous Thursday Business Post dealt with the sales, or non-sales for the most part, of the Creative Experiment dolls. I’d decided to offer about a dozen for sale to see what kinds of responses I receive. Showing my work is always, always, always a white-knuckle-thrill-ride of insanely irrational emotions that are deeply entangled in my personal sense of self-worth not only as an artist, but as a human being. If you’ve followed me on Instagram, you know that I rarely if ever post photos of myself. I’m not comfortable taking selfies. I don’t like having my photo taken. It makes me cringe. I show my artwork. That’s the me that I want people to see and connect with. Weird. I know. Believe me, I know!
I decided that I needed to make an honest effort to sell some of the Creative Experiment dolls. There is no way that I will ever know if there are people who want to buy them unless I put a price on them and offer them for sale. I’ve chosen sixteen dolls to offer. I created a gallery with names, dimensions and descriptions of each of the dolls, as well as a FAQ about purchasing, shipping, etc. as well.
I know it doesn’t seem like much of an effort to create a gallery with some prices and put it on my website that frankly, at this point, does not have loads of traffic, but I have to start somewhere, right? I’m a one-horse business. I do everything myself, with occasional feedback and assistance with business and marketing from my husband and friends who work in entrepreneurial education. I don’t have a marketing budget. I need to take advantage of every no-cost and low-cost option available to me. Please don’t misunderstand me as whining, moaning and complaining about this. It’s simply how it is. I want to be honest with anyone who’s comes upon my website. And if you’ve read any posts of mine, you know, I’ll spill my guts at the blink of an eye!
I have no glorious expectations of fantastic sales and world-domination for these Creative Experiment dolls. It would be nice to see them go to people who really love them and appreciate the skill, knowledge and ability to create them. So, let’s see what happens, let’s roll the bones.
I spent the greater part of two years working on something I called the Creative Experiment. The experiment was a success. I learned a lot about why and how I create artwork. I pushed myself to let go of some of the creative processes that were no longer proving themselves useful to me. And most importantly, I became much more comfortable within the active creative process without knowing for sure exactly what the end product would look like. I feel as though I built a great deal of personal creative efficacy over the time I spent creating the dolls in the experiment.
Over the past month or so, I couldn’t help but compare the differences in the how the Creative Experiment dolls and the Little Ladies dolls have been received. More to the point, why was there interest in purchasing the Little Lady dolls, but almost none in the Creative Experiment dolls? What mistakes had I made in with the Creative Experiment dolls that I haven’t been making with the Little Lady dolls?
The reason that I want to sort this out is for business reasons. These bodies of work have their similarities and some very distinct differences. The Little Ladies are selling. The Creative Experiment dolls are packed into boxes, to the greater extent, unsold. I need to understand the why and how of this, so that I can identify and fix future mistakes quicker than I have in the past.
There are three main reasons that I think the Creative Experiment dolls did not sell well.
1. No Advertising:
I made absolutely no attempt to market the Creative Experiment dolls. I was at the very beginning of an entrepreneurial course and did not think that I wanted to be in the ‘physical product business’ and chose to focus on developing art seminars and workshops to teach. I didn’t use my website or Instagram to market the Creative Experiment dolls. I think I felt as though if anyone saw photos of these dolls, that they would make an attempt to contact me to inquire about purchasing my work. I think I sporadically added a “contact me if your interesting in purchasing any of my work” to the end of my Instagram posts, but that was so lazy.
I have not sold a single Creative Experiment doll through any internet platform. The few that I’ve sold were to people who knew me personally. I think that my reluctance to advertise or market myself and my work is due in large part to: I don’t want to be perceived as ‘pushy’, and I don’t want to attract attention to myself. Because when you get attention, you don’t always get just positive attention.
I didn’t advertise. I didn’t sell any work. It was my completely my fault. Lesson learned.
2. People Didn’t Like Them:
Okay. On this one, I could simply me making assumptions. I know that the Creative Experiment dolls were not to everyones personal taste. They were a radical change in the direction of the types of dolls that I have made in the past. They were smaller, lacked human like faces (all the parts of the face in the correct places), and were not always humanoid. I gave them holes in their abdomens with screw-top lids (recycled from milk cartons) and buttons in lieu of faces. I can see where some people would find them weird, and off-putting. I can also see where some people would really like them. The people that I think would like them are a fairly small segment of the potential doll-buying community, and very targeted marketing on my part could have helped me get my artwork in front of people who might have been interested in buying it.
I feel as though I let my Dada flag fly when creating the dolls in the Creative Experiment. I worked on instinct. Picking and choosing whatever colors of felt, fibers and threads that I wanted to in that instant and not asking myself why. As the experiment continued, the embroidery and the appliqué work took on a like of it’s own and I just went with it, creatively speaking. I had no real idea of how I would ever sell any of these pieces, even if I wanted to.
I’m sure that there were people who looked at the Creative Experiment dolls and found them creepy as well. There are people who find regular dolls creepy, so I can only imagine what they might have thought of the Creative Experiment dolls.
3. They Aren’t Traditional Dolls:
I suppose what I mean by this, is that they weren’t really like the types of dolls that people were used to seeing. They were called dolls, but perhaps my work didn’t fit into what their idea of a doll is, or their belief in what a dolls primary use is: a toy for children.
I’ve always wanted to ask people about this. Children always seem attracted to my work, no matter what kind of dolls I make. The Creative Experiment dolls were abstracted, colorful and small. It makes perfect sense that children would be attracted to them. Children’s ideas or beliefs about what things are and aren’t supposed to be are not carved in stone. Adults, while they have the ability to think more abstractly, sometimes have beliefs can become more fixed and rigid over time.
There is also the fact that even if a child really liked one of my Creative Experiment dolls, 40€ or more for a tiny, handmade doll may seem tremendously expensive, especially knowing how hard children can be on toys. And…my dolls are not necessarily toys to begin with anyway.
I’ve made the comparisons and feel as though I have discovered some valid reasons for why I sold so very few of the Creative Experiment dolls. The fact that I didn’t actively try to sell them was the main reason I feel as though they didn’t sell. I will be putting some of them up on my website for sale over the next few weeks. I need to do choose a dozen or so out of the almost two-hundred that I made, shoot some photos and decide on some prices, and then I can see how it all goes. If they still don’t sell, then I guess they just aren’t marketable and I will have to live with that.
Pricing for these dolls is difficult. And if I’m honest, pricing my work is always, always, always difficult for me. Is the price too high? Is the price too small? What will the shipping cost? How do I adequately convey the amount of time, energy and thought it takes to create the doll I am asking 75€ for? I had a few people, years ago, contact me and express interest in a doll, but when I quoted them a price — I think it was 75€, including shipping, I never heard from them again.
I’ll figure it out, I will need to, because I want this business to be a success.
I’m the first to say that the business end of my present (and past) entrepreneurial endeavors are the parts that I personally struggle the most with. There are elements to it that I don’t feel as though a completely understand, no matter how many times I have them explained to me by my insanely patient marketing and business-degree-holding husband. I know that I’m smart enough to handle business and marketing matters. There are specifically two elements that give me agita: discussion regarding money and having to place myself at the forefront of my ‘brand’, i.e., people will actually have to look at me and interact with me. The mention of these two elements makes my heart rate increase.
The bigger part of me just wants to make art and teach art and have someone else handle all of the business money and marketing. But, that’s not the route I’m currently taking. I want to do this as much as I can on my own, but with guidance (as needed) by people like my husband and by the people in groups like Työbileet. (Wow. I’m one of the first videos on the site. Yikes! BAD HAIR!)
That all being said, I’ve actually been trying really hard to pay attention to the business and marketing items in recent months. I’m trying to move at a speed that is comfortable for me. I tend to get overwhelmed with all of the things that need to be done in a business, and for my degree in graphic design, creating my own brand and logos, well, any ability I possess that might be of help with that just goes straight out the window.
I’m much more in my own element, swimming around in all that lovely, expansive, grey area, turning my formless ideas into solid, physical artwork. Those parts of my brain that make me good at creating and teaching art, aren’t always the same things that will help me get more organized and moving toward a business goal when it comes to the business and marketing aspects of my entrepreneurial path.
I have to remind myself that it’s okay that these things make me anxious. But at the same time, I need to figure out how to still do the business and marketing things that have to be done without sending myself into a mental and emotional meltdown. I need to find and then implement things that will acknowledge my fears, and to not allow them to hold me back. Along with the business and marketing, and the creating of the artwork and the designing of art workshops and lessons, I had to also come up with a way to make these things more mentally and emotionally comfortable for me.
Some of the comfortable steps I’ve taken are built on Albert Bandura‘s work on self-efficacy. I’ve created some achievable goals relating to the business and marketing of myself as an artist and an art teacher, and through repeated successes of achieving those goals, I build my professional efficacy related to my business, art creation and teaching. One of the reasons that I’ve begun to post regularly on my website, is because it’s an achievable goal. I post every Tuesday and Thursday. My Tuesday post is a journal-like post, talking mostly about art making and how it makes me who I am as an artist and teacher. My Thursday posts are for talking about the business that I am creating. Posting every week makes me stop and think about what I need to be doing business and marketing-wise. Repeated exposure to these things, coupled with some successes, make business and marketing less anxiety ridden and give me a modicum of success to build future plans upon.
What is a ‘modicum of success’? The goal I set for myself is that I’m contributing more to the household budget, with a little left over for more art supplies for me. So far, I’m hitting that goal. Each time I can contribute for the regular household expenses, I reinforce my internal belief that I can have success at my business. All of these successes, and learning from the points in which I fail, because, lets face it, failure will happen, will help me get back up, dust myself off, and keep going.
I have more plans for things that I want to try in the new year. I have art workshops and classes that I would like to teach. I have new products that I would like to create and offer for sale. I’m excited to start these things, and smart enough to know that I need to take this all at my own pace.
To close out this post, I thought I’d add a little more humor, because why not?
Here is a little advice on success from the great Leslie Jones, one of the funniest people on the planet! Her comedy special Time Machine is hysterical!