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Artists/Craftspeople: You don’t have to prostitute yourself to sell your work Part II

January 22, 2011

 Continued from previous post

‘… I also feel there are ways to sell our work that not only don’t compromise our integrity but help to build a new, more community based art’.

First of all, I’d like to introduce a term I got from Sir Ken Robinson’s book, ‘The Element’ProAm– ‘a type of amateur that works at increasingly higher standards and generates breakthroughs sometimes greater than those being made by professionals’, (from ‘The Pro-Am Revolution’a report for the British think tank Demos, Charles Leadbeater, Paul Miller).

I think that many of the craftspeople and artists breaking new ground as far as creating a niche for their work are working this way- part time: young mothers or fathers, professionals with other jobs, etc. The ones I’ve observed are not making enough to survive from their work, and most of them haven’t been in business for more than 5 years. But their work is gaining a following and their businesses growing stronger.

Here are some characteristics of their authentic approach to marketing:

THE WORK
-Their work may have started out as a hobby but has gone beyond that in expertise and commitment, so is now a calling.
  They are either professionals or Pro-Ams.

-Their work is handmade, one at a time- so large financial investments in materials are avoided.

-Their work is intensely personal and unique, and in the case of crafts, also reflects contemporary tastes.

-Their work, websites, and packaging are professional but with a warm, personal touch.

MOTIVATION
-They are motivated by a common vision which has to do with love of craft and materials, belief that it has a function, and a strong contemporary approach which lifts art out of the  exclusive gallery world, and craft out of the cutesy hobby sphere.

-They realize that their task isn’t to find the biggest audience but their audience.

-What they make is dictated by how they feel and not only whether it sells well. So when they are tired of making one series or product type, they shift to another
  one for awhile.

LIFESTYLE
-They generally live comparatively simply, not consuming much (except art materials and fellow creatives’ irresistible work!).

-Sometimes their partner provides the main income.

-They group together to share resources, inspiration and they save on publicity.

-They create community both within their art/craft networks and their neighbourhoods by sharing skills and designing events.

MARKETING
-They maintain an online identity linked to many other artists and craftspeople; but also spend time establishing a strong local presence. 

-They invent new forms for selling their work (see Pop-up gallery).

-They gain customers by combining their networks with those of their fellow artists.

And most importantly of all, more important than being on Twitter or Facebook, more important than attending the latest marketing workshop- they just keep showing up for their creative work, day in day out- keeping their blogs to share enthusiasm, new finds, new techniques; attending Etsy forums if they have a shop, doing the marketing things they feel comfortable with consistently.

And so doing, they establish a stable, dependable, unique and identifiable presence which old customers come back to and new customers eventually find. This is the key.

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4 Responses to “Artists/Craftspeople: You don’t have to prostitute yourself to sell your work Part II”


  1. thank you. i think you nailed this one. there are many of us that work a day job, but live art 24 hours a day. te

    • szoutewelle Says:

      thanks for your comment. I was just reading a Dutch article about how artists juggled a day job and their art. There are as many combinations as people, I guess.
      I visited your site and like how you’ve solved the fragility of the Japanese leaf pounding technique by photographing your freshly pounded designs. I made some on cloth last summer, surprisingly the colors are still pretty vibrant.

  2. Bob Ragland Says:

    I have been a nonstarving artist for a number of years. I liked your article. I feel that an artist has to do what ever it takes to be an artist.
    Being inventive about the BUSINESS aspect of the artlife matters.
    I ain’t roling in dough , but I do get to be an artist everyday,ON PURPOSE.
    Real artists proceed to be artful no matter the obstacles.
    Cheers,
    Bob Ragland-Artist

    • szoutewelle Says:

      thanks for writing, Bob. I love the term nonstarving artist. It would be nice if more of us broke through those pervasive archetypes of ,’starving’, ísolated’, ‘misfit’, etc.
      I especially like what you’ve said about being inventive about the business aspect of the artlife. This has been a challenge for me, but I think it has been because before now I couldn’t find an entry point where it was fun! I have a new project I’m excited about and the business part is in service to my ideals, so I can get excited about it.


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