Being Exceptional

by Lisa Call on June 5, 2007

in Archive, Being an Artist

Sailboat Quilt - Linoleum Block Cut Images with Fabric Paint

I haven’t done much artwork lately as I’ve been busy with end of the year activities for my kids. This year in addition to performances, graduations, parties, etc I also volunteered to make a quilt for my daughter’s teacher. As you may recall I made a quilt for the school’s silent auction back in April and the teacher’s quilt looks very similar to the sailboat auction quilt. I used commercial batik fabrics for the teacher’s quilt so it’s not quite as bright but same layout and size.

Above is a picture of the back of the quilt. This is typically what the backs of my quilts look like. At least the very few bed quilts I make. I never buy large pieces of fabric so I always have to piece the backs together, which I sometime think looks better than the front.

I occasionally do this for my contemporary work but not as often as I will dye large pieces of fabric for the backs of my artwork.

I took inventory on how I’m doing on my goals for the amount of artwork I’d like to complete in 2007 and honestly – it’s not looking good. At the end of March I was on track with 9 completed pieces and things looked great but I completed only 1 large quilt in April and no pieces finished in May. So I’m a bit panicked about June. Can I catch up? Well no – I can’t finish 8 quilts this month but next monday the kids are off to camp or their dad’s house for 2 weeks so I’m planning on really buckling down and my goal is to complete 5 pieces in June. Not the 18 quilts I’d like to have finished by end of June but not bad.

I have been doing okay on my business goals, I’m still behind but I’ve definitely focused on the business side of art more this year than any other so that feels great. I have a couple big items, a press release and my first studio newsletter, that I hope to get out within the next 2 weeks and then I’ll feel pretty good about things.

[If you haven’t signed up yet and are interested check out the info on my studio newsletter.]

As this is the first year I’ve tried to sell my artwork I’ve tried out a variety of plans. The last few days I’ve been thinking about my etsy shop and wondering if it’s really worth the effort. The only piece I’ve sold on etsy so far was to a friend of mine. After thinking I’ve decided that I really didn’t put much effort into it and I should give it a real shot. So I’m going to try. If after 6 months of honest effort it doesn’t work I’ll bail out, but I have to first really put in my best effort before declaring it a failure.

Reading a post on Seth Godin’s blog from a few days ago about different types of marketing. It’s pretty clear that I’m marketing to a few. He claims this is mostly about being exceptional and standing out, which is definitely part of the equation.

I certainly believe my work is exceptional. My work is interesting original designs, meticulously made with top quality materials and precision techniques that I have perfected over the last 25 years. So the thing I will need to figure out is how to stand out as exceptional in the sea of etsy, where there are 200,000 artists and craftfolks looking to sell their work. I definitely have my work cut out for me.

If I thought I could get away with it I’d probably just say “I’d rather be in my studio“, but that is just an excuse. Time to step up to the marketing thing because someday I’d sure like to stop being a software engineer in addition to a full time artist.


Kesha Bruce June 6, 2007 at 12:24 am

It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one struggling with the business end of artmaking.

As far as trying to stand out on Etsy—I wouldn’t worry too much about making that a goal. It seems like your time would be better spent by building your own list of collectors. Etsy could just be yet another marketing tool and a selling platform. I don’t think anybody’s gettin’ rich on Etsy.

But hey—there’s always a first!

gillian June 6, 2007 at 2:20 am

I wonder whether etsy itself generates sales or whether it is, in effect, a shopfront and sales mechanism that you need to promote through all the channels you can muster.

In terms of what Kesha said, etsy may be a selling platform, and not a marketing tool. Marketing through other channels can take a LOT of effort. Your press release and newsletter could be part of that.

I’d suggest that you just put the minimum into etsy so it functions as a shopfront. It is handy to have a place you can point people towards, if it takes a minimum of effort to maintain.

Do they provide you with sales information for all of etsy? What price brackets to etsy buyers cluster in? That would give you some guide to the price point you need to produce for. If you walked into a shop and asked them to stock your items, they might be able to give you some price guidelines.

Another question is ‘how high up the art chain does etsy go?’. If it mainly caters for craft items, then your objects probably don’t fit there – unless you are comfy with producing some intriguing placemats and drink coasters.

I have not yet learned to look for quality art objects on etsy. With respect to art, I prefer to see the live object before I buy it.

Have you written a marketing plan? Do you have a clear idea of the characteristics of buyers of art quilts? … I’m rambling… enjoying your blog.

Sarah Jayne June 6, 2007 at 5:29 am

I love the back of your quilt – I’m sure the front is even better. The backs of my quilts often end up like this as I like to make sure I don’t have too much left over. Calico is always a good filler too.
I’m really impressed with you setting yourself goals – this is something I must start trying to do as otherwise I think you can just float around and not get a great sense of achievement.
I think selling pieces of art is difficult. Unless you understand some of the process you won’t appreciate the time and effort and therefore won’t see how cost is built up. ALthough we sell on a very different scale to yourself (a sale table at our local village show) it can be difficult to know where to pitch the price – I’m always being told not to undersell work – it’s a difficult decision.

Pat June 6, 2007 at 8:50 am

When we were in Ohio we stopped at the Decorative Arts Center in Lancaster to view the curated show there — and saw your three pieces hanging. My husband’s comment was that you were obviously a “mature” artist, a compliment from him. That said, would your time be better spent in finding good gallery representation? Maybe being exceptional needs the match of an exceptional selling venue.

jafabrit June 7, 2007 at 5:43 am

Your post is a really good read on how to find that balance between creating and the business side of it. Not an easy task! Just wanted to pop in and let you know I enjoy your blog and keeping up with what is going on with you art wise.

cynthia June 7, 2007 at 6:37 pm

As far as Etsy goes, I was just found some stats: 2 out of 5 items sell. 1000 new sellers have been signing up every month. While I am by no means a stellar example, I see Etsy as one selling venue among many for me. I think items under 50$ sell well. That’s not to say that more expensive items don’t sell. You must have good (multiple) photographs and you must list regularly. With so many sellers, you items will get buried pretty quickly. I was recently reading the Etsy forums and many successful sellers say the same thing – YOU have to market your shop. You just can’t expect people to find your work. That means mentioning your Etsy shop for your smaller items regularly in your marketing materials.

I disagree with Gillian in that I do think there is quality art available. But, Etsy was started as a place to sell hand made crafts and that includes a wide range of items from your crocheted coasters to jewelry to wonderful paintings. Buying anything online requires a leap of faith.

I’m not discounting a quality gallery – but sheesh a 50/50 split commission makes fine art work that much more expensive for the buyer – not to mention the seller.

I do believe that making a living as an artist in this day in age involves multiple streams of income. Etsy is just one of those streams. Most of my buyers have come from my blog, come to think of it. There are exceptions, but….

On another note, the teacher receiveing your quilt is very, very lucky!! As to your business goals, my god woman, you have a full time job outside of being an artist. I know how tired I am and I don’t have a full time job outside of professional mom and artist! You must being running on super turbo energy food or something. I was just thinking to myself that I need an administrative assistant to handle all the “other stuff” that has to be done.

cynthia June 7, 2007 at 6:38 pm

Gee, don’t you have grammar check?? Typos…

cynthia June 7, 2007 at 6:40 pm

Not you, but me.

Lisa Call June 8, 2007 at 4:02 pm

I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this matter. I’ve had most of them myself and I bounce back and forth on what to do. Just make the big work and go with a gallery – or try to make some art for the masses and sell on etsy. Such a dilemma. But I’ll give it a shot – to see if I like it and if it pays off. Everyone does make good points.

Gillian you are definitely right I need to have a good plan for this. And while I don’t have a full marketing plan (I know – I should) I have put some thought into the entire process and have a bunch of goals worked out for this. I do know I’ll probably try a lot of things that will fail and I’ll have to back up and try another road but the marketing for sales is new this year so I have to do a bit of hands on research.

Pat – tell you husband thanks. I wish I could have met him at QN. In 2009 for sure!

Jafabrit – thank you much. I think I sound more balanced in the blog than my head feels. It definitely is a challenge – a huge one.

Cynthia – I think you are an amazing example of someone really going for it and being successful as a self represented artist. You are my roll model for the etsy world! Don’t worry about the typos – I always have some in my comments and posts no matter how much I work to remove them.

Sarah Jayne – thanks. It took me years to settle on my prices. I’m very comfortable with them now but it sure took a long time to come to my approach to pricing. I should do a post on that some day.

Kesha – I think there are a lot of folks looking to sell higher end work on etsy. I’ve seen quite a few and while still a minority but at least I’m not the only one. I suspect noone is getting rich but I think there are some making a decent living. I don’t expect etsy to be a major component of my approach to selling my work, but I do see it as part of my approach. If it works out.

Olga June 11, 2007 at 1:21 am

Have you ever thought about product placement? In house style magazines, in TV glam houses, even in window or other displays of what might seem as totally unrelated product like ceramics, but which are of equal quality and need a background which compliments and complements them appropriately. I suspect that etsy is a ho-hum outlet for work of your quality, but good luck.

Diane Clancy June 13, 2007 at 3:13 pm

Sorry to be so tardy in replying .. but here I am.

First, I love the back of that quilt! The front must be gorgeous.

Since it cost such a little amount to keep your things at Etsy, why not keep your shop there? And keep pointing to it in different ways. I encourage you to look into I think they are honest people. They specialize more in originals and I think your work might be a big hit. It is newer so has fewer people. It is also in England so the money exchange makes your work and better buy for them (you can sell in US dollars and they do the conversion.)

Good luck with your quliting goals …

I think there are a lot of us who are working very hard to try to figure out to market effectively and make a living from our passion.

I am so pleased that we as artists are so generous with each other with info – that moves me a lot!

~ Diane Clancy

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