Category Archives: Words

Peddling My Wares

Almost all of the plans that I had created for the upcoming year in my entrepreneurial plan have gone sideways. I don’t feel as though I should be whinging and whining about the fact that teaching must be put on hold for me. It’s not as though my art lessons will go moldy while waiting for a date in the future in which I can have at least ten people in a room who can be closer than two meters apart. They’ll keep.

I have two other ways at my disposal to further grow my business: my artwork and patterns.

Presently, physical product, my artwork, is what I have been advertising for sale. I have many pieces up for sale on this website. I am selling some work here and there, but not at any type of consistent rate. Every sale is celebrated, but I would really like to have some consistency regarding the amount of artwork that I sell. The infrequent sales could be due to many different things that are out of my control. The current situation in the world regarding COVID-19. Potential customers being wary of spending money on something that isn’t a necessity. The fact that I live in Finland and shipping outside the EU can be a little lengthy and expensive. There’s always the possibility that there aren’t a lot of people who like my work, but that’s a different more wibbly-wobbly-emotional-artist-thing for another time and another post entirely.

I’ve talked previously about why at this point I’m not having a sale on my work. This decision isn’t carved in stone and at some time in the future may be up for change.

I have also looked into adding onto my website, creating a store front with a check-out and more typical online store presence. At this point, I’m just not selling enough art to do that. I cannot afford it the upgrade. This leaves me with the selling of patterns.

I’ve never been abject to selling patterns. I suppose what I worry about most is that there are people out in the world who will use a pattern that is not of their own design to create work and then sell it as their own creation. That does bother me. Which then brings me to another challenge; do I make patterns for work that I have already created (20 cm and 10 cm cloth dolls; 6 cm Little Lady dolls; tiny animal dolls?) or do I design a completely new and different doll specifically geared toward pattern sales?

I do have some patterns ‘in the can’ so to speak. These are patterns that I can easily offer for download. My hesitance is offering them for sale again is due more to the abject feeling of failure I felt when these patterns did not sell well when they were first created. What were those reasons? Was I attempting to market these patterns at the wrong time? Was I simply in the wrong place? Were the patterns just really horrible and bad and that’s why no one wanted to buy them?

As an artist and as a budding entrepreneur, there are many things I like about being both. The feeling of control that I have regarding what I make, how I make it and when I make it being first and foremost. When I do sell work, I know that I have worked hard for what I have earned. It even makes the small amount that I earn from my artwork feel immensely gratifying. As I have detailed above, there are always things that are out of my control. These situations require flexibility and the ability to change course quickly. It’s interesting that these qualities are also ones that I utilized a great deal as an art teacher in the public schools!

I feel as though I’ve been trying to talk myself into selling patterns here on my website throughout this entire post! To be honest, I suppose that is in small part, true. I have a few ideas in the fire and I think I need to finally make some decisions and move forward with them.

(Inhales deeply through the nose)

Okay. Let’s get this pattern thing going.

 

Tiny Elephants

I feel rather uniquely well-suited to remaining at home and limiting my time outside of the house to one grocery store trip per week. I do have some things coming up that require me to leave the house this week. It makes me a little nervous, but I’m confident that my chances of becoming ill are significantly less here in central Finland than in other parts of the world. It seems like every morning, the numbers of people diagnosed with COVID-19 just keep going up and up and up. The virus seems to be galloping through the population. It’s scary.

I’m trying to keep my own anxiety down to a dull roar. Making art has always been my preferred method of therapy, so that’s what I’m doing. I made two elephants yesterday. I’ve never had any reason or need to make elephants. I just wanted to see if I could. I basically created a problem for myself, and then made attempts to solve it. Making a tiny elephant or two was something that I could be in complete control of. There were no other people outside myself that were controlling it. It was all me. I called all the shots. I was the one who made the decision to use the materials that I thought would work the best. I’m the person who decided how to alter the pattern for the second elephant so that the ears would fold and kind of droop the way I thought they should.

When I’m making something, there is something about the act of creating. It’s the opposite of destruction. It’s ordered. Methodical. On the surface, not at all chaotic, or at least not the worst parts of the concept of chaos (panic, fear, non-thinking). This brings to mind “I thought I could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of me” from the song Hunter by Björk. Somehow, I always change the word ‘freedom‘ to ‘chaos‘ in my mind. There must be something Freudian about that, I’m sure. But I digress.

The act of creation, breathing life into something that on the surface, seems lifeless it’s a divine act. Rooted in the past and looking, hoping, striding towards the future. Acts of creation come in as many different forms as there are individual people on the planet. I make art. What I create perhaps seems to some people as trivial. I make dolls. This is where I have to start internally fending off “Katie doesn’t make friends. She “makes” friends.” that at times in the past has gotten the better of me. Is this an attempt to make my acts of creation seem childish, meaningless, small and inconsequential? No act of creation is too small. Small things have a way of growing into larger things over time. At least, if they are carefully nurtured.

Times like the ones in which we are currently living is a time in which all of that nurture can begin to pay off. Not necessarily pay off in the monetary sense, but more in terms of the mental and emotional sense. I’ve said this so many times before; making art keeps me intact, mentally and emotionally. I feel fortunate that my personal methods of self-soothing and self-medicating are potentially far less destructive than alcohol or illegal substances. (Okay. I do want coffee. I’m a huge fan and require two cups prior to 12 in order to function without a headache. Here, go listen to the Descendants sing about coffee, live and from the album I would think that the entire country of Finland might feel the same?)

COVID-19 is scary. At times, it can be huge-Godzilla-sized-scary. An individual person can feel helpless and without control of their life. They can’t go to work. They can’t get together with friends and family. Some are in full quarantine, while other people are dealing with being in isolation, either state or self-imposed. Children are out of school and at home. There are bills that need to be paid and perhaps no money coming in. Or even scarier, you are one of those people deemed ‘essential’ and you are at work, serving the public by doing your job. (Thank you for doing this. You are an amazing person and you deserve more consideration and compensation for your service to the communities in which you live and work.) This is all weird and scary and dangerous.

Take it all in. Acknowledge what is going on. What you are in control of and what you are not in control of. Be honest. Look inward. Find yourself. Make art.

I’m not at all trivializing the danger that many people are in, especially those essential workers. It may seem like I’m saying, “Hey! Make some arts and crafts and everything will be okey-dokey! All your worries will just vanish!” No. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that being creative, making art can help a person deal with all of the scary-weird-crazy that seems to be happening in the world. A person can find one tiny area of their life in which they have control. No one else can tell them what to do or how to do it or where to go, or where to stay…it’s just them and the art. It may be only for a few minutes per day. Singing a song. Take a picture. Writing down their thoughts. Drawing a picture. Cooking a meal. Dance a dance. Planting some seeds. These small acts of creativity can grow into larger ones that help keep a person intact mentally and emotionally. COVID-19 will still be there after the art is created. Your mind will be different. You will be more yourself and feel as though, even though things suck right now, that you can get through it. You will get through this and it will change you.

So, I make tiny elephants. After I post this online, I’m going to make a third tiny elephant. I feel as though the pattern and the sequence of construction will be in the final form once I’ve completed it. Who knows what will come of my tiny elephant dolls and pattern? Maybe they will grow larger?

Thanks for reading, and I will see you next Monday.

Links:

A song by The Double Clicks, “Tiny Paper Elephant” seems to be a good song for everything that’s happening in the world right now. Listen to their other songs too. I love the Double Clicks! They’re amazing!

I know that the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear has become quite popular right now. I’m a sci-fi fan and have actually read all six Dune books. (You can stop after the third book.) Here are two different versions. One from the really not-so-great David Lynch version, (some great casting, especially Sian Phillips) and one that’s a musical version from Akira the Don and Comic Girl 19. It might also be a good time to read the books, but remember! Stop after the third book! I mean it!

I’ve been watching/listening to a lot of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 over the past two weeks. It’s wonderfully funny and goofy. Right now, some people need that more than anything.

I’m a Jerk.

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.

The Bugs are Taking Over!

I usually post here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With the Tuesday post being more of a rambling, personal and artistic stream-of-consciousness kind of post, and the Thursday post all about the business, marketing and entrepreneurial part of trying to sell my artwork and my art workshops and teaching abilities. I’ve been wanting to change around my established posting days for a while, and right now this seems like a good time to do it. From this point forward, I intend to post on Mondays (rambling stream-of-consciousness posts), Wednesdays (business, marketing and entrepreneurial posts), Fridays (about the artwork that I am currently creating) and Sundays (photo posts). As always, what works will stay, what doesn’t work will be changed. 

Bernard is practicing his elevator spiel on Howard and Walter. I’m not sure that they are really ‘into’ what Bernard has to say.

The last two weeks or so has been a bit of a blur for me. The whole world seems to have been up-ended for just about everyone. I work from home, as does my husband. Self-isolating is not as much of a burden upon either one of us, as it might be to many, many other people in the world. My husband has done a fantastic job of making sure that we have food to eat, with the intent of only going to the grocery store once a week. He’s always said that as long as he has an internet connection, he can work. This is exactly what he’s done. I have plenty of art supplies and tools. I’ve always been tremendously good at being a self-entertaining, and largely self-contained entity, so staying home isn’t so bad for me.

What has taken a bit of a smack are the plans I had for advertising the art workshops that I am available to teach to individuals, as well as small and large groups of people. That whole idea has had to take a backseat in my entrepreneurial plans for now. It’s disappointing, but looked at from a wider, more community-based perspective, I do not want anyone to become ill or potentially die because I just had to teach a workshop. So, they are on hold for now. They’re shelf-stable. Nothing will spoil. I’ll get to teach again in the future.

I’ve been working on some ideas for another project, as well as making some new tiny dolls; bunnies and bears. Last night, I created a tiny duck (I named him Bernard this morning). I’ve done some work on the website, hopefully to make it a little easier to navigate. I’ve also investigated adding an actual shop to the website, but at present, I’m not quite ready for it. I should have a steadier rate of sales before I do that. Right now, I’m still kind of in the ‘feast or famine’ part of my business plan. This indicates that I need to work on my marketing and advertising, so that people actually know that I have artwork for sale on my website.

I am so flippin’ bad at selling myself though! I keep telling myself that I need to take every opportunity to utilize the ‘shameless plug’ (insert the sound of a little bell here — ding!) to get my name and my artwork out there for people to see and perhaps purchase. This is not natural for me. I tend to want to blend into the background when it comes time to be the center of attention, with the weird exception of teaching. I’m completely and totally comfortable in front of a classroom of student teaching. Give me thirty squirmy seven-year-olds and I am in my element. Ask me to give a self-promotional 30 second elevator spiel to three people and I’m a knot of unbelievable tension and fear. I truly understand the fight or flight response in these situations.

There are some key differences between teaching art and talking to people I don’t know about my artwork, and maybe why they should perhaps sign-up for my art workshop or buy my artwork. The key component is control. In the classroom, I have a lot of control over the physical space, the objects within the space, the way the time is spent within the space, etc. When teaching children, there is a lot of implied control simply because I’m an adult and they are children. Children are expected to obey an adult in a position of authority. I’m also working, teaching, within a realm that I find incredibly comfortable, art and creativity. In some instances, I as the adult am there to assuage the fears of children who may not have the real world experience to deal with new and unexpected situations, materials, spaces, thoughts and ideas. Because of my comfort with the level of control over various aspects of teaching art to students in the classroom, I’m more comfortable letting students push boundaries, get a little messy and a little loud. If things get a little out of control, I know how do deal with it. A sharp look at a student, a vocal indicator, “Hey! We need to bring the noise down a little everyone!” or a practiced reaction to an accident, “Okay. Go get the paper towels by the sink and a box of baby wipes. Let’s clean this up.” This also relies of the students in my classroom knowing that what to expect from me as a teacher, mentally and emotionally, as well as their levels of familiarity with the space, the supplies and the general course of any given lesson taught.

When speaking with someone, often times a total stranger, about my artwork, my creative process, my theories on creativity, etc., I’m dealing with a lot of unknowns. If we use the elevator metaphor, I’ve never met these people. I don’t know if they have any experience with art, or creating anything at all, ever. Maybe their art teacher made them cry, or someone called them a crappy artist when they were a kid. I have no understanding of how they interpret the concept of a doll, or how I have fused them to core parts of my internal mental and emotional self. I have no idea if they will even respond to the way in which I speak about the world or my art. They are giant, blank, scary, tall, scary people who I feel are more than likely judging the holy crap out of me based solely on my physical appearance. So I choke. I often times head down the path of self-deprecation, which down-sells me and my work, and does nothing to make me seem like i have any idea of who I am or what I’m doing.

As an art teacher, I feel so at home in front of a bunch of kids. I feel like I can show more of my true self to them than I can to some adults. I can be goofy and fun with kids. When you do that with some adults, they think you’re a weirdo. I’m an endlessly curious person who has reveled in a lifetime of learning and exploration of all kinds of different thoughts, ideas, concepts and creations. Some of my own creations, some by others. There is always something new to learn and explore and sometimes I feel as though some of the adults I encounter have kind of put the learning and exploring away as part of their childhood. That perhaps, because I make artwork, I make dolls, it looks as though I’m a child playing, and children are simple, therefore I must somehow too be simple? I’m not sure. These things run through my head as I’m trying not to choke on my fear when presenting myself as an artist who makes dolls to scary adult people I do not know.

So, where does this leave me? Well, I do know what’s going on inside my own head, that’s one. Knowing that I have these thoughts and feelings is the first of many steps in figuring out how to deal with my own internal difficulties. I have been working on some online advertisements for my website, and my artwork. Creating a wording that strikes the right balance between quirky enough to get a persons attention and being out-right weird as all get out has been an interesting exercise for me marketing wise.

I don’t think that these advertisements are earth-shatteringly amazing or anything. I don’t think they have to be either. As always, I’m trying to build upon successes, and learn from my mistakes. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Monday.

Musical Links:

There have been times in my life when the words of either Henry Rollins, Elvis Costello or David Byrne flash to the forefront of my mind, offering some sort of wisdom to get through a given situation, or simply to offer a sense of artistic solidarity during a trying event in my life. I’ve been an Elvis Costello fan since I first heard My Aim is True. He is a masterful lyricist who packs every single song so tightly with lyrics that I swear you can’t wedge another syllable in, lest the whole thing blow apart. If you’ve never heard of him, give him a listen. I’ve always personally thought that everyone should have his first three albums in their collections, but I’m a fan.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions Fish n’ Chip Paper (Trust, 1981)

Elvis Costello and the Attractions  Radio, Radio (1978)

Elvis Costello Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs are Taking Over) (Mighty Like a Rose, 1991)

You Must Advertise

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

Facebook:

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!

Website:

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!

Instagram:

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!

Flyers:

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!

YouTube:

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!

 

Candle Holder

St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order. There is a story about how he made a bothersome devil and/or demon monkey-ape ‘be still’ and hold his candle while he worked.

(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.

Apples and Oranges

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:

Todd Rundgren: ‘Day Job

Henri Tajfel: Social Identity Theory (Research Gate; Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology)

Santigold: L.E.S. Artistes

Pixies: Debaser (Which I cannot listen to at anything less than ear-splitting levels)

Henry Rollins: The One Decision that Changed My Life Forever

 

Time

I make my own sketchbooks and notebooks. Rarely do I purchase them. I make them to my personal specifications and they serve my creative needs well.

I wrote yesterday about participating in this years Meet the Makers challenge on Instagram. Yesterdays prompt was ‘Time’. Time seems to be something I always feel in short supply of as an artist. I feel extremely fortunate to not suffer from artist block. Time for me is short, but I have more ideas than I can possibly create in my head and in my sketch and notebooks.

I mentioned in my Instagram post that I have been told “You have a lot of time on your hands!” in the past by some people looking at, or experiencing my artwork for the first time. I said that I kind of smile and shrug it off in my post, but it goes deeper than that. I smile and shrug it off to the face of the person or people who are saying this to me because I don’t think that they have any kind of ill intent towards me or my artwork. I don’t think they are trying to demean me in any way, as if by saying the aforementioned phrase, the true meaning is, “Wow. You have nothing real or worthwhile in your life. No husband. No kids. No real job. No house to take care of. No one and no thing that demands your immediate attention all of the time. Oh. And cats don’t count. They just make you sadder and more pathetic.” Yes. I know. I kind of go off on a bit of a tangent with the reading between the lines. There are reasons why I do this, even if it is just internally: I’m a woman and I’ve been ‘Queen Bee’d’ since I was a kid; I had a caregiver that is the absolute monarch of passive-aggressiveness, meaning, I learned from The Master of the craft from an early age, and I’m weirdly sensitive, even though I seem like I just smile and shrug it off, while at the same time I’m screaming like a banshee in my head.

That all being said, last year, I wondered how much time I was actually spending creating my artwork. How much time did it actually take to create one of the Creative Experiment dolls? I decided to gather some data and crunch some numbers and see what I could learn.

I recorded my start and end times during periods of work, as well as what exactly I was doing during that specific time. I conducted five separate tests; four with completely original doll designs, and one in which I duplicated a doll form, but created different appliqué and embroidery work on. Upon completion of each doll, I went through my recorded data and came up with how many hours it took me to complete the piece.

Man. I hope my math is correct. I feel like I’m letting everyone look at my homework for third period algebra class.

I then gave myself three separate hourly wages; $20, $10 and $7.25 per hour. As a public school art teacher, I was earning around $22.50 per hour. I chose $20 (17.98€) per hour as my top-end, because of the length of time I have been a practicing artist, as well as my possessing a bachelors degree in art. The $10 (8.99€) per hour, was a kind of middle of the road kind of hourly wage that I have been paid in past employment situations. $7.25 (6.52€) per hour is the US minimum wage. I also used an arbitrary set price for the given doll of $100 (89.90€), and then worked out how much I would be earning per hour, if the doll sold at that price.

I did not figure the price of materials and tools in the creative process. Nor did I include utility usage (water and electricity), or the square footage of my workspace within the residential apartment in which I live. The element of time was my sole concern for this experiment.

I knew that the $20 per hour wage would make my artwork completely unmarketable. No one would buy one of my dolls for $431.60 (21 hours, 58 minutes to complete doll).Perhaps if I were a better known artist, or had the stamp of approval from a gallery, museum or show space, there could be a possibility of selling my work for that price, but the gallery, museum or show space is going to take a chunk of that money. Many artists like myself have difficulty even getting a foot in the door for spaces like this, because we are (as one gallery owner told me years ago), “You are not a proven seller. I can’t risk the floor space on you.” I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing (that’s a topic for another blog post entirely!) but it’s the way that it is for many artists.

The $10 per hour wage was not an attainable price point either. That $431.60 doll, goes down to $251.80 (226.36€) at the aforementioned hourly wage. Still, much too high for many, many people to readily afford. There have been times in the past in which I have broken down the price of a doll into payments for a buyer who really wanted a piece, but that is few and far between. To be honest, I do that for people that are past customers or who I really trust, because I’ve gotten burned on propositions like this in the past. Really, really burned.

The $7.25 minimum wage in the US brings the price further down to $156.45 (140.64€). For a set few people, perhaps the types of people who regularly buy artwork from local or regional artists at galleries and shows could purchase them. But if they don’t like  style of my work, or are part of the ‘niche’ that gets my work, likes my work and wants to own my work, the chances of them putting money down for my work, even at this lowest price, is relatively slim.

When I set an arbitrary price of $100 on this piece, my hourly wage is $4.63 (4.16€) per hour. And remember, I’ve not even factored in the tools, materials, rent and utilities involved in creating the piece of artwork. There is also the personal and professional efficacy (knowledge, experience and ability) involved in the creation of the piece. Nor is there any accounting for the creativity and personal artistic expression accounted for in this calculation.

Now, all of this being said, I do not feel that the world owes me. That the world must buy my artwork. No. Not at all. Nothing is guaranteed like that in life. It would be super-nice if I could occasionally sell my artwork at prices that better reflect my personal investment of time, efficacy, energy, creativity and craftsmanship into the artwork itself. For those reading this, I would hope that the next time you look at the price tag of a piece of artwork in a gallery, or at an arts sale, that you stop and think before rolling your eyes at the high price. Know that there is a lot of furious, dedicated work going on prior to you setting eyes on it. When you buy that artwork, you are buying a part of a persons life. A specific length of time, a period in the evolution of their own unique creative vision, that has come and gone and left the artwork as a mile-marker. If you love the work and can afford it, buy it! If you can’t buy it, but still love it, please tell the artist how much you love it and appreciate their time and energy being spent in the pursuit of making the world more unique and beautiful. Please do not say, “Wow. You have a lot of time on your hands!

Where do I fit?

I decided to join in this year for the Meet the Maker challenge on Instagram. One of the business/entrepreneurial areas I’ve been working on is trying to participate in challenges (or shows, etc.) with other creators. I know that this is an online challenge only, but I thought that it might help me to get over my fears regarding showing my artwork to people that I don’t know. I am on Instagram, and post there almost daily, so it sounds like my fears about finding other creators and showing them my work is something that I’ve already done. But it’s not.

I did a little looking around online to see what kinds of photos current and former participants in the challenge have posted. A great deal of the photos were incredibly awesome. They have great lighting. The work looks amazing. They are composed well. The makers in the photos look so young and pretty and happy. I had the instant, knee-jerk emotional reaction of, “Oh hell. I don’t belong here. These makers are way far out ahead of me with their businesses. I do not belong here.” I was having some severe flashbacks to high school and the cliques and the rigid hierarchy of who was at the top of the social structure, and who was on the bottom. Side note: I was at the bottom.

I still have decided to participate in the challenge, even with my personal insecurities pecking-away at my innards. I know that this month of daily photo challenges is going to be incredibly mentally and emotionally uncomfortable for me at times, but am choosing to do it, because I think that I have some things to learn about myself and how I want/need to interact with creative people other than myself.

Over the past week, I’ve been struck by a sense of longing for something, some kind of situation that I couldn’t readily put my finger on. The Meet the Maker challenge (and a walk with my husband) helped me put this undefined longing into words.

I have a few artists that I communicate with online. These are the artists that I feel as if we have ideas and ways of thinking and creating in common. Some, but not all, work with materials similar to mine. I am so thankful for these artists! They’re lovely people! Lately, I’ve wanted to replicate this kind of interaction, only live and in-person. I’ve looked for a group of doll makers that I could connect with, share ideas and techniques with, etc. I’ve been looking for groups online, in and outside of Finland, hoping that I can find my ‘tribe’ and have been disappointed that I haven’t found anywhere in which I felt as though I belonged. Many of the places are classes or workshops, and I just don’t have 300€ to spend on this kind of activity right now. It began to look pretty bleak and rather depressing for me and any hopes of finding creative people to meet, talk and work with.

My husband pointed out that I seemed to only be looking for people who make dolls, or are doll-adjacent in the their creative endeavors. He was right. I was. I’ve tried joining more traditional doll clubs and societies in the past (United States), but it never seemed to work out. Many of the clubs members wanted to make their dolls using other artists patterns, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make my own dolls. I always felt like the odd person out. So, why was I trying to re-create a situation like this again? It makes no sense.

I tried to remember a time in my past where I felt as though I was part of a larger creative, arts-oriented group of people, and that was when I was teaching elementary art in a fine arts program with almost one-hundred other visual and performing arts teachers. Within that large group, I had close friends and colleagues, each who created a different kind of artwork utilizing a wide variety of art mediums. We each made different types of art, while at the same time taught elementary art. I didn’t need make the same kind of art with them to benefit from their personal art creation. I could learn from each and every one of them, new and interesting ways of seeing the world and creating my personal artwork — and this, all in addition to learning new methods and techniques for teaching art in the classroom as well. I realized that this was the longing that I had; just being around other artists. The medium isn’t the important thing for me, it’s the creativity of thought and the sharing of methods and techniques I missed.

This brings me to the Meet the Maker March 2020. I have no preconceived expectations of ‘finding my tribe’ of creators and artists with whom I can form friendships with. I don’t expect to be published on the Meet the Maker March 2020 website either. Why? Because, realistically, I’m still not sure that I belong in this group, HOWEVER, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? There are things I can learn from the makers in this challenge. Many things. And who knows? Maybe there are some participants who feel like I do? Maybe they will read this and know that it’s okay not to fit everywhere, and that sometimes, it takes time to find your tribe.

So, I will keep on, keepin’ on with this challenge and learn all I can from it.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

 

Sunday 1 March

I’ve seen a number of Finnish Land Squid in my years living here, but none quite like this one. What wonders we can find when the snow begins to melt!