Pamela Palma and I had a great conversation about her work and how she has handled promotion and marketing. You can listen to the conversation here.
I asked Marilyn Rea-Menzies to write about her experience with marketing and promoting her tapestries. I think you will find her story a worthwhile read. Barbara Burns
In early 1991 I took a trip from Picton, New Zealand, where I was living at the time, to Christchurch, NZ. I sat outside the Arts Centre of Christchurch with a student of mine and said to her that one day I would have a studio here. It took about seven years for that dream to come to fruition, and in mid 1998 I shifted my looms into a brand new studio in the Artist Quarter of the Arts Centre. The Arts Centre of Christchurch is situated in beautiful Neo-Gothic Buildings which had once housed the University of Canterbury. When the university relocated out into the suburbs in the late 1970’s/80’s a group of interested people canvased the City Council to turn the buildings into an Arts Centre. This was done and from that time on it became a great tourist destination integral to the heart of the city. The Artist’s Quarter consisted of a group of studios for Craft/Artists and featured weavers, quilters, woodworkers and potters, bookmakers and the occasional painter. It became very popular with visitors and I worked in my studio there until the earthquake of February 2011 damaged the buildings so badly that the Arts Centre was closed. It is only just now, in 2018, starting to open once again.
I really enjoyed working in the Arts Centre in my public studio. I worked pretty much every day, though did take some time out now and again. The Arts Centre was open seven days a week and we were expected to keep our studios open for all of that time. That didn’t bother me too much as I am never happier than when I am working in my studio. Tourists and other visitors to Christchurch could come into the studio and see the work, see the processes in action and just chat, maybe buy some art work or commission something for their homes. It was through having a public studio that I was able to attract tapestry commissions, which kept me busy. I earned most of my income throughout those years. I am very much a people person so I did enjoy the contact with people and never minded them watching me work. There were some funny times though, such as the day a woman poked her face through the door, took one look and sniffed “Tedious!!!!!” then disappeared very quickly.
Working in a public studio also gave me opportunities to meet people I would never have met otherwise. I had Chelsea Clinton and her grandmother in my studio one day when her father was visiting Christchurch on a public visit as President of the United States. Chelsea sat at my loom and did a little bit of weaving on the Millennium Tapestry which was being woven at that time. It was a big thrill and I promised her I would never use her photograph for publicity purposes and of course, I never did. Helen Clark the Prime Minister of New Zealand was in my studio twice over that period, once to cut the Millennium Tapestry from the loom and celebrate that event.
When a visitor to my studio expressed interest in commissioning a tapestry, I would spend time with them, explaining the process and techniques of tapestry weaving. I would show them photographs of my past work and what others had commissioned, talk to them about what they liked, what sort of subject matter they would be interested in and ask them to send me photographs that I could work from. I would often request a photograph of the space where they would potentially hang the work and ask also what size they would expect the tapestry to be to fit nicely into their space. Once I had received all the information I needed, I would work on a design concept, often two or three concepts, send them to the client and they would choose the one they liked the best. Along with the concept I would send them a quote for the cost of the work, the time it would take to weave and all details of how it would be woven, the sett, colours, types of yarns, etc. I would also ask them to pay 25% of the cost of the work upfront,
25% half way through, and the 50% balance on completion of the work. The clients were always happy with this process for payment and it worked well. Throughout the weaving process the clients could visit the studio at any time if they lived locally, or if they lived away, I would send the progress photographs from time to time and keep in touch. Occasionally the client would also come and sit down at the loom and do a little bit of the weaving themselves. I felt that when this was possible it would give them a personal investment in the work and they really enjoyed doing this. They would also be invited to cut the tapestry from the loom when the weaving was finished, another way of involving them personally in the work. I did enjoy doing commissioned work and I only once had a client who was not happy with the finished product. Luckily it was only a small work and I actually wove a second one for her in a different colour way. She was happy with that and I was able to sell the first piece to another client, so that turned out okay in the end.
Since my shift to Hamilton I have not sold much of my work, no tapestries, but just the odd painting occasionally. I am a super annuitant (retired) now, at the age of 74, and I am still able to earn some extra income from teaching drawing and tapestry too. I have two flatmates that help me pay the rent.
I do not have a Gallery representing me, but at present I am working on a major body of work for an exhibition in October of this year. This exhibition will include tapestries, drawings and paintings, and will take place at the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville. Working in a private studio and not taking commissions has given me the opportunity to develop my own themes and hopefully extend my practice in other ways as well. I am hoping that this exhibition will give me a greater profile amongst the Art World in the North Island, as my work is not so well known here as it is in Christchurch.
Pricing my work has always been difficult for me. Here in New Zealand we do not have a history of tapestry weaving, and most people think cross stitch and embroidery is tapestry, so my work is always difficult to sell. I am not very good at trying to sell it either. I do not create my work with selling in mind, as I think that can stop an artist from producing work that is important and has something to say. Most people, I find, want to buy the ‘pretty pictures,’ landscapes and such, and it is often only the collectors and galleries that will purchase more serious work. The Christchurch Art Gallery purchased two of my collaborative tapestries in 2005 and that was great. This happened because the director at the time had a real interest in textiles, hence the sale of my work.
I do have Facebook and Instagram and of course, my website, but I have had no luck in selling from any of these. I have found that they are great for making contact with other artists but as I am not sure how to promote the work well on these sites, I have made no sales. I have been looking for an agent, for someone who has these skills to sell my work for me, but that has not eventuated either. New Zealand is a small market and I have not had the recognition amongst those who can afford to buy expensive tapestries, to enable me to sell them easily. It has been a feast or a famine for me since I decided back in 1985 to become a full-time artist specializing in tapestry. I have had some very good commissions for public art works in the past, and these have enabled me to keep working. I have lived alone since I left my husband in 1985 and made that decision to make tapestry and art my life’s work, and it has been a bit of a struggle at times, but I have no regrets about that choice at all.
My website needs upgrading as I am unable to go into it myself and make any changes and this is not satisfactory. I have started to develop a new website, but it is often put into the ‘too hard basket.’ When I do manage to create a new website, I think that I would not put the prices on the website but have them POA, Price on application, as once a price is stated so publicly then it must remain at that price and cannot really be changed, no matter the circumstances. In conclusion, I have been weaving tapestries now for 38 years with hardly any time without something on my loom, and I feel it is a bit of an obsession, but hopefully a healthy one. Being an artist has helped to keep me well and healthy and I hope to have many more years to produce more good work.
Marilyn Rea-Menzies lives and works in New Zealand. Marilyn says about tapestry: The architectural process of building the tapestry, actually constructing the fabric and image together so that the two are physically and visually inseparable, relates very strongly to the process of constructing and building our lives and our living and working spaces.
I fell into it accidentally. I thought documenting my process would be a good idea. Maybe I heard or read that it was a good thing to do, I really don’t remember. I’ve been saving my old tapestry cartoons and everything that went into the design process since my first tapestry. I have a file drawer full of manilla envelopes stuffed with all manner of papers from each design. Even the ones I decided not to weave. You never know.
Last year I took a class in making and editing videos. Then I bought a new camera that takes great photos and especially great videos. I had a good time recording the process of designing, dyeing and weaving for my corset project. I made three videos, each documenting different aspects of the process along with lots of photos. The natural next step was to post each video as I made them onto my website. Now that I’m almost finished with the corset I have created a page with my collection of documentation.
Documenting your process is different from documenting your work. Many of us do that already. We have photos of each of our tapestries which we use to enter into shows and put on our websites for example. Documenting your process is recording the steps you go through to create a design and a tapestry. It is a chronicle of the raw materials that leads to your finished work.
I’ve learned that documenting your process has several benefits. It can help you reflect on your process and think objectively about what you’ve created. It allows you to contemplate the direction you’re headed in and to assess the implications of current, as well as future work. Documenting your process is a great way to stay in touch with your commitment and inspirations for wanting to be an artist, and with what art-making ultimately means to you.
On a larger scale your work will be more likely to be taken seriously by museums, galleries and collectors if that’s the direction you’re striving to go in. It’s also important for someone doing research about an artist to have a wealth of documentation to draw upon. Like I said, you never know.
Documentation is also great for use in social media. My weaving can be so slow and intermittent that for me, it’s ridiculous, if not impossible to post my daily or weekly progress, not to mention a bit boring. Think about what you like to look at, that’s likely what people who follow you want to see. I love to see how another artist/weaver’s process develops. It also gives more meaning to a work when you can see the development of an idea and sometimes sparks an idea in me to work on.
There are many ways to document your process. It can be as simple as a series of photographs with your phone or camera and put it in a folder, be it digital or manila. If you want to be a little more high tech the iPhone 8 has a time lapse app that captures lots of photos over a period of time, and then assembles them together to create seamless video footage that appears sped up. It’s the opposite of slow motion videos where time appears to be moving more slowly. You can take short videos and upload them directly to Facebook, Instagram or Vimeo for instance and link them to your webpage if you have one. Or start your own blog and use it as an art journal that you share with others. All this helps to develop a following of people interested in what you are doing and perhaps buying your work if that’s what you want to do. It also builds community.
When you’re ready to begin the documentation process, be sure to consider the viewer. Don’t get bogged down in personal details. You can make this process a daily or weekly habit when you set a time to document your process. Here is an example of how I have used documentation on my website. Here are two sites that can help you on your way: Documentation for Artists and Suggestions For Explaining Your Art to Viewers
If you’re already documenting or just starting please share it with us in the comments section.
THE BLOG TOUR
January 22nd: Molly Elkind: Collage as research
January 23rd: Ellen Bruxvoort – Vlog on Instagram about her design process
January 24th: Tommye Scanlin: Literature as inspiration
January 25th: Debbie Herd: Digital design tools
January 26th: Barbara Burns: Documenting your design for promotion
WIN ONE OF 26 PRIZES!
Follow all the stops on the blog tour to increase your chance to win one of the following
prizes: $50 towards a Mirrix Loom, a Hokett loom kit, a Hokett Tiny Turned Beater, a project
bag from Halcyon Yarn containing rosewood bobbins and a voucher for their online shop, a
voucher for Weaversbazaar’s online shop, a free entry into ATA’s 12th international,
unjuried, small format exhibition and a free one-year membership to ATA.
Here’s how to enter to win. Comment on this blog post then go here to let ATA know that you
commented. The more blog posts you comment on the more chances you have to win so be
sure to follow along. Ellen Bruxvoort is doing an Instagram video for the tour and if you
respond with a photo or video on social media describing how you design tapestry you get
five extra entries in the giveaway. Let the sharing begin!
To win another 5 entries into the giveaway enter to exhibit in The Biggest Little Tapestries
in the World, ATA’s 12th international, unjuried small format exhibition, and then let us know
that you entered by going here by Sunday January 28th. For this exhibition all entries get
accepted to exhibit as long as your tapestry fits within the size requirements!
The Biggest Little Tapestries in the World, ATA’s 12th international, unjuried small format
exhibition is open to all weavers. We invite entries which fit more traditional definitions of
tapestry, and also entries that expand upon the core principles of the medium as they
explore new techniques and processes. Multimedia work is welcome. The Biggest Little
Tapestries in the World! will hang July 2018 at the Northwest Reno Public Library, 2325
Robb Drive. The entry form (intent to participate) is due February 15, 2018. The tapestry,
and an image of the tapestry is not due until March 31, 2018. Find more details here
ABOUT AMERICAN TAPESTRY ALLIANCE
The American Tapestry Alliance is a nonprofit organization that provides programming for
tapestry weavers around the world, including exhibitions (like Tapestry Unlimited), both
juried and unjuried, in museums, art centres and online, along with exhibition catalogues.
They offer workshops, lectures, one-on-one mentoring and online educational articles as
well as awards, including scholarships, membership grants, an international student award,
and the Award of Excellence. They also put out a quarterly newsletter, monthly eNews &
eKudos, an annual digest. Members benefit from personalized artists pages on the ATA
website, online exhibitions, educational articles, access to scholarships and more.
You’re invited to exhibit! The Biggest Little Tapestries in the World, ATA’s 12th international,
unjuried small format exhibition is open to all weavers. We invite entries which fit more
traditional definitions of tapestry, and also entries that expand upon the core principles of the
medium as they explore new techniques and processes. Multimedia work is welcome. The
Biggest Little Tapestries in the World! will hang at the Northwest Reno Public Library, 2325
Robb Drive. The entry form (intent to participate) is due February 15, 2018. The tapestry,
and an image of the tapestry is not due until March 31, 2018. Find more details here
I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Rohde. He is on the Board of Directors of the American Tapestry Alliance and has been weaving since the 1970’s. In this interview Michael speaks about his experience with marketing beginning in the ’70’s up to today. He shares how things have changed since he began promoting his work including what has worked for him and what has not. Michael talks about his experience with galleries, shares some tips he received from people like Jane Sauer and a marketing expert he hired to help him.
This is an audio interview. While you’re listening you can scroll below and look at some of Michael’s weavings.
Elena Zuyok shares her knowledge about content marketing. What is it, how to implement a content marketing plan, and more.
Create, Share & Spread the Word: Content Marketing for Tapestry Weavers and Teachers
A guest post by Elena Zuyok
What is Content Marketing?
Whether you’re a tapestry weaver looking to sell your work or a weaving teacher searching for students, content marketing is a modern marketing concept that’s useful to understand and implement as part of your promotional efforts.
Not long ago, most marketing campaigns fell under what marketers now call outbound marketing. In an outbound marketing campaign a marketer would send out information to a group of people and hope that some of those people would become interested in the product. Let’s say I sell cars. I might send out brochures to people in the area showing them what I have for sale, or maybe I’d take out an advertisement in the local newspaper or on television telling people what great cars I have and why they should buy from me rather than my competitors. Some of the people who were exposed to these marketing efforts might be looking for a car and would stop in to see what I have to offer.
This method has one main problem: people don’t like being advertised to, especially those who aren’t the target audience of an advertisement. People who aren’t looking for a car don’t care that your cars are cheaper or more fuel efficient than the competition and you’re likely wasting your advertising dollars putting your message in front of them. People have also become more savvy at ignoring sales messages. We fast-forward through television ads, throw away junk mail and install ad-blockers on our browsers.
The idea of content, or inbound marketing, is the opposite of this traditional technique. Instead of sending out information about your business and hoping you connect with the right people, you attract the right people to you by creating content that is useful and interesting to your prospective audience. With content marketing, you bring your customers to you not by shouting that your price is lower or your product is better, but by giving them something they want or need for free.
Content marketing has two parts.
The first is creating quality content to get people to pay attention to you and your business. This could be informative ebooks or blog posts or simply content that tells an interesting and entertaining story.
The second is to give that information away in order to establish trust and increase your business’ perceived value. An increase in perceived value typically results in a bump in sales and/or a general rise in visibility.
Why does giving away your content help you? Partly it is because of the psychological principle of reciprocity. This says that when someone receives something from someone for free, they have a tendency to want to give something back in return.
When you give something away and don’t ask for anything in return, potential customers will begin to develop loyalty, which will encourage them to make a purchase or become more involved with you/your business in another way, like by following you on social media, sharing content or images of yours or simply signing up for your newsletter.
Content marketing may be a strategy you’re already implementing. If you’ve written a blog post teaching people about a tapestry technique or have shared images of your work on social media, you’re well on your way to understanding how best to connect with your audience, build trust and sell your wares.
Creating & Implementing a Content Marketing Plan
When deciding what content to give away, first think about who your target audience is. This audience isn’t just your customers, it’s also people who can give you exposure. There may be a lot of people out there who love to see pictures of your work and to learn about how you made it but who could never afford to buy a piece from you or aren’t interested in taking a class. Those people are still important to you and worth making loyal followers because they may share content you have created (blog posts, images on social media, ebooks etc.) and that could be exactly what gets you customers. Word of mouth will always be important to any artist or business.
It can be helpful to come up with personas when trying to understand your audience. These are basically caricatures of your audience that help to remind you of whom you are targeting. Let’s go back to my car salesman analogy. Let’s say my dealership just sells hybrid and electric cars. I know my customers fall into three groups. There’s Family Fran. She’s looking for a fuel-efficient car for her family that will save her money on gas. Then there’s Cool Carl. He wants an electric car because it’s en vogue. There’s also Environmental Ellie. She wants to do everything she can to help save the planet, including buying the right car. Imagining these personas can help me target my content to the right people. They can also help me further break down my marketing. If I can identify that John Smith is a “Cool Carl”, I can try to make sure he’s getting the right content shown to him.
Once you’ve determined who your audience is, it’s time to craft your content. You want to craft a story with your marketing content to begin to build an emotional connection with your audience. Begin to fashion your social presence. Join social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram and start a blog. Share pictures of your work, your process and techniques. Good images are important. So are how-tos, especially if you are a teacher.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re a tapestry teacher looking for students. You decide to make a video of yourself teaching a technique. It may seem counter-intuitive to give away that information, information that you’d normally teach in a class that you’d get paid for, but in the long run it’s building an audience and creating an environment where reciprocity is effortless. Few students will decide not to take a class from you simply because you’ve given them a taste of your teaching. Instead, they’ll be more likely to take a class after sampling what you can do.
Here are a few ideas of content you can give away as a tapestry weaver or teacher:
-Project or technique how-tos in the form of videos, ebooks or blog posts.
-High-quality images of your work.
-Project ideas for aspiring weavers.
-Stories about your work, your inspiration and/or your classes. People love to feel like they know you and to peek inside your life.
Always remember: You don’t want your content to look like advertising. You are looking to give away information that is genuinely helpful to your audience. It needs to be valuable to them for this to work.
Once you’ve figured out who your audience is and what types of content you will create, you want to come up with a plan to decide where and how often you create and share your content. It’s helpful to make a spreadsheet to help keep you on track. Start with something reasonable: maybe one blog post a week, an Instagram post a day, an ebook a month. And then: persist. Content marketing takes time to work. Be consistent and don’t get discouraged.
Content Marketing as a Creator
Content marketing is all about creativity, which makes it a great strategy for artists. Think of it simply as creating, not as selling, and let your personality shine through so you can best connect with your audience. Take your skills as an artist and put them to work crafting your online presence and the content you will use to attract the right customers. Your job as an inbound marketer is to make yourself visible, likable and interesting. This will help you grow a loyal audience who want to consume, and share, the content you are creating.
Elena Zuyok co-runs Mirrix Tapestry & Bead Looms. She lives in Seattle, WA and has a BA in Communication from the University of New Hampshire and an MA in Communication in Digital Media from the University of Washington. While she works at Mirrix full-time, she is passionate about mentoring artists on the subject of marketing. Feel free to email her at email@example.com. You can visit the Mirrix Looms website at www.mirrixlooms.com and see posts by Elena on the Mirrix blog http://blog.mirrixlooms.