The art show at Evalyn Dunn’s Gallery in Westfield, NJ, was Sunday. How was the show, you ask? (Remember that question, and how difficult I find it to reply?) Short answer: it was a good show, but not because I made so much money. It was a particularly good show because of the intangibles, which are what I learned while interacting, questioning and observing.
I did a sort of post-mortem after a show. What sold? What did not draw interest at all? Did a particular texture or color turn the people on or off? What price point sold better than others? Was the one-of-a-kind work more interesting? Were people willing to spend on a unique piece? Did they want Judaica? Serving pieces? Decorative ware? Did I get names and addresses (email and snail) to add to my mailing list?
Yesterday, I went back to the gallery to help out for a couple of hours. My work is still there for the duration of this week. Susan James, a jeweler who had been in the show, was also helping out. Since the gallery is not usually open Mondays, few customers showed up, and I took the opportunity to rearrange my display. Susan makes her living from her craft all year round, mostly at outdoor shows. She has a sense of what makes a good display. She and Jacie Civins, the owner of the gallery, gave me great feedback, very helpful for my show post-mortem.
By the end of our discussion, I had packed up at least a quarter of the items I had on display. The table and shelves looked better. It now had few multiples of anything. I had shifted groupings by color, instead of by type of object. Jacie pointed to a large vase. “When did that get there?” she asked me. It had been there all along. It was just highlighted now with better placement.
So. "How was the show?"
1) Because each piece has its own carving or a plate fitted especially to suit it, I believed I make one of a kind work. But it didn't necessarily look like it at the show. Because my carved goblets, for example, were of similar size to one another and stood in a row on one shelf, regardless of differences in their carved decoration, if you didn't look closely, you would have assumed they were all alike. This, Susan told me, is not "special." Unless he or she really wants a pair, or a set, a buyer will usually prefer to have "the only one like it" at a show like this. The remedy is to place objects separately, not as a group of similars, and limit their number- otherwise you get a herd effect. A herd effect can be gorgeous; think of a herd of horses running- but conversely, can also can lower the effective beauty of an individual thing.
2) Price should not reflect only the time, effort and cost expended to make the object. That should just be the floor when setting the $$ amount. Charge for the specialness of the piece. If necessary, get a knowledgeable friend or colleague to help. If you are like me, knowing too much about the making process clouds your objectivity.
3) Each item should be what I want to make. There is a buyer somewhere for every single handmade thing, if made well. It's not much use planning too rigidly what to make. Jacie and Susan chose to admire pieces that were quite different from one another's. Susan loved a simple, easy to make bowl with a subtle stony glaze, that was particularly graceful. Jacie liked two carved and complexly colored vase forms.
4) Display: Less Really Is More. Clear up a little. If planning to show 8 teacups and saucers that are the same, make them different colors from one another. Or show only one to three at a time, not ten.
5) Yes, this should be obvious, though it wasn't to me-- Color contrast is extremely important. Ware that is green should not be on a green cloth. Put it on a black cloth. And make more of the ware some other color. Not everyone likes green.
6) Again- color! Develop a good palette for more color! More, more, more color! People have a visceral reaction to red. Or blue. Or pure white. Or variegated golden brown.
7) People actually want to pay more sometimes. If the price is too low, it will seem apparent that as an artist, I do not especially value the objects I make, and neither should the shoppers. Usually, unless it's a mug or a cereal bowl, (and even sometimes then,) a customer has no set of criteria to assess the value of a piece of handmade pottery, except to look at the price tag. If someone wants to give a gift, and the bowl they are looking at is $22, they assume it would be perceived by the recipient as a cheapie gift, and they won't buy it. This is faulty thinking, but common. It does no good to explain that the recipient would not know what the giver had paid. The gift giver will buy a bowl that cost the potter next door just as little to make as your bowl did, but they will assume it is a “better” bowl, because it is marked $42.Think of it this way. If the bowl is beautiful, and I still price it according to the time it took to make and the cost of materials. I am totally ignoring the intangible something that makes a piece special. So remember- a buyer who "gets" that certain "something" in the work will pay real money for it.
Well, it’s been a busy and informative couple of days. As ever, onward and upward