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.
MASTERING SELF PROMOTION
The purpose of this blog is to give you, the artist,* the tools you need to promote your work in a professional manner. I don’t presume to know all the answers, but I would like to share with you the information and resources I have been compiling along with occasional insights from my personal experiences. All the resources here are free. Some of the information you will find are the how and why of:
- writing an artist bio, statement, resume and press release.
- speaking about your work.
- navigating many of the online social media options.
- digital photography and videos.
- tapestry finishing and presentation.
- postcards, brochures, business cards and other printed promotional materials.
- the business of selling: dealing with galleries, craft shows, pricing, selling online, commissions, writing contracts as well as packing and shipping locally and internationally.
- the business of art: branding, forming a business, dealing with taxes and funding in the form of grants and crowd sourcing as well as time management.
You will find information on art theory, relevant books and online classes, residencies and other related links. You can use the comment area to ‘converse’ with others, sharing your experiences and posing questions. This is a long term project that I will slowly add to. I hope you will also be a part of the growth of this site. Please use comments to share your experiences: both what has worked and what has not worked for you.
Sarah Warren is an accomplished tapestry weaver and has been showing and selling her work in craft shows for over 10 years. I had the pleasure of interviewing her in my studio this fall. In this video interview Sarah shares her expertise and experience on choosing and working at a craft show. She gives pointers on things like choosing a booth, hanging your work and how to deal with potential customers.
(The image above is the link).
And what you need to know.
By Rebecca Mezoff
Why you need a website.
Anyone who wants to have a public platform these days has to have a website. I believe that applies to artists as well. If you have artwork that you want to get into the public eye, whether through showing or selling, you have to showcase it online. Think of it as your portfolio. In the days before the internet we had portfolios that were paper: large-format photos in fancy bound sleeves which we’d show to anyone we wanted to appreciate our work. We had small flip books in our bags for surprise interest at the coffee shop. Remember those?
All that is obsolete now. Your website is your portfolio. You must have one and you should also have a pocket full of business cards that have your name and your URL on it. You never know when someone will ask you what you do and be interested in tapestry. Keep photos on your phone, show the interested party a few, then hand them a business card and tell them they can see the rest of your portfolio there.
What is the first thing you do when you see an amazing piece of work in person or on the web? You probably google the artist if you want to know more about them. You might even do this when you are standing in front of the piece. Now imagine you were a collector interested in buying that piece you just saw and you googled the artist and found nothing. Perhaps you can buy the piece right from the show, but why would you if you can’t find out anything about the artist? Collectors of art are also often collectors of stories and the people that are attached to them. Websites provide visibility. They tell the world who you are and why you create the art that you do.
So now that you’ve decided to put up a website, where do you start?
You’ll need a URL. That is the address where your website lives. You can get them from any number of places. Your website provider (I talk about Squarespace below) probably offers domain hosting. If not, a service like GoDaddy will get you what you need.
What should your URL be? If you have a very common name, it probably shouldn’t be your name only. Have you ever had the experience of searching for your friend Sally Smith on Facebook? There are hundreds of hits for that name and you might not know which one is your friend. www.sallysmith.com is probably already taken anyway, but if it isn’t, a search for your name isn’t likely to bring up your website with all that competition. If you have an unusual name, by all means use it as part of your URL. Otherwise you can think of a clever name for your site or add a descriptor to your name like www.sallysmithartist.com.
It helps if your URL is easy to remember and type. I started my website over a decade ago and used my name. In the meantime I have bought other URLs and linked them to my site (This is a simple redirection procedure. When someone types in the other URL, they land on www.rebeccamezoff.com). When I’m promoting my content somewhere I don’t think people are going to be able to just click and go to my website, I use an alternate URL, www.tapestryweaving.com. Because no one ever spells Mezoff correctly. If you’re a tapestry weaver, you’ll remember “tapestry weaving.” If I’m giving a community lecture with slides for example and I don’t know if people are going to pick up and retain a business card until they get to a computer, using a URL that is memorable increases the chances they’ll look me up later.
I don’t recommend choosing a free website platform if you can afford something a little better. My website is hosted on Squarespace. I chose it because it looks very professional, they have a wide range of templates, and it is easy to use. There are certainly free website platforms out there, but they tend to look dated and are clumsy. Squarespace charges different amounts based on what you want, but the per-year price is worth it in my opinion. It probably costs less than what you paid for your original paper portfolio and you can update it without incurring more expenses.
I have heard concerns from tapestry weavers that people will copy their work if they put it online. I hate to break it to you, but you have to take the risk. Of course, anything that you put online can be “stolen.” But think about it. How likely is it that anyone on the planet is going to be able to copy a tapestry exactly? It is almost certainly impossible to do. This is a concern you have to let go of. Everything on earth has been done before and the art we make is all derivative in some way. I believe it is better to share your gift with the world than to leave your tapestries stored in a closet. Yes, it is easy to take a photo off someone’s website and repurpose it without credit. This will undoubtedly happen. It is okay. Many more of your images will be shared with proper credit and there are things you can do to make sure that happens.
- Title your file with your name and the title of the piece.
- Use captions on your site as these often stay with the image if it is saved to a site like Pinterest.
- And always resize images when you put them on the web. If you downsize them so that they still look great on the screen but are unprintable, you’ve gone a long way to prevent your work from being used in ways you don’t want it to be.
Now the bad news.
Just making a website doesn’t mean people will find it. You actually have to teach the world wide web to hit on your site. This is done by making sure your site is linked other places. Make sure you include your URL on everything. Put it on your business cards, put it in your email footer, mention it every time you write anything online, and have your friends mention you on their websites. Get an Artist Page through the American Tapestry Alliance and make sure your website is linked.
Other ways you can help Google find you is to create content that continually changes. If you put a website up and then never update it or provide new content, it won’t rank well in searches. Writing a blog is a great way to have frequent new content and provide something that people want to see. Blogging is a big undertaking and you do have to commit to keeping it up at regular intervals. I’d suggest no less than once a month and more if possible. If blogging is not for you, at least have a News page where you update information about shows and anything else pertaining to your work and what your website is about. Do this regularly! There is nothing worse than going to a website to see an artist’s latest work and seeing that they haven’t updated it since 2015. Get a Pinterest account and make sure the photos on your blog are pinned. Make a YouTube video and put it on your website. Make sure to link to your YouTube channel and ask people to subscribe. If you use Facebook, find ways to link to your website. Ask people to share your content.
Having a website doesn’t have to be a tech nightmare. There are many people out there who will do the whole thing for you if you don’t want to learn to manage it yourself. This is a more expensive option, but having a website is mandatory if you want to sell anything at all, including art. And even if your goal isn’t selling, having a website is a wonderful way to get your work out into the world so people can share it and talk about it.
When she wasn’t digging in the sand in her backyard in New Mexico, Rebecca Mezoff grew up making dolls out of her dad’s old socks. Now she makes large-format tapestries and is often found weaving in her pajamas which she affectionately calls her “home pants.” Rebecca teaches tapestry weaving online and occasionally leaves the studio to teach weavers in the real world. Her current work focuses on human perception and the long scale of geologic time. Her studio is in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can find out more about her online courses and all things tapestry on her website and blog at http://www.rebeccamezoff.com/.
Donna Loraine Contractor is an award winning tapestry artist. Her work is exemplified by strong colors, gradations, geometrics and hand dyed yarns. She sells her work in galleries, art and craft shows. In this interview Donna speaks about some of the nuts and bolts of choosing and doing shows, where you are the gallerist meeting and talking to the public.
What led you to do your first craft show?
I knew I needed many sources of income to make it as an artist, and I wanted it clear from the beginning that I was not just a weaver, but a Fine Art, Tapestry Weaver.
I began doing craft and art shows because I really had to understand who my market was. I wanted to make large, striking geometric style tapestries that would sell at high price points. This meant I was in competition with “Fine Art” painters etc., whose large works also had high price points. Knowing who you are trying to sell to and who your competition is, is the first step in choosing which shows to do, as well as what your signature style and design will be.
How long have you been doing craft shows?
I started weaving in 1980 when I apprenticed at the Santa Fe Weaving Center. I mostly did production cloth weaving. Then I started to weave rugs and taught myself tapestry. (I was also a production potter at the same time.) I started to put my tapestries in galleries in 1988 and won my first public art competition in 1991. That same year I did my first outdoor Art show. I only do indoor shows now. I had 2 kids in the midst of all this, one in 1981 and one in 1991 and I also lived in India for 4 years on and off (1982-1988) where I did production pottery and helped in a craft cooperative.
My first gallery was in Santa Fe. I just kept going into the gallery. I made friends with the workers and owner and then asked about showing my work. The second gallery had a policy of new artists bringing their work on the first Friday of each month to be reviewed for inclusion in the gallery. You dropped your work off at noon and returned at 4:00 to see whether your work was accpeted.
How do you choose a show to exhibit in?
Back when I started doing Art and Craft Fairs and Shows in 1991, there were a lot of other tapestry artists. Now I am usually the only one. When I think of doing a new show, I go to it several times. The first time I see if my work is a good fit. I look to see if any other higher end art is being exhibited. And, if so, whether it is selling? I converse with the artists, look to see how the show is set up, and how many sales are taking place. If I find a match, I enter. My work is higher priced, so I do best in top notch shows where clients have money. I don’t do well at shows with lots of artists selling souvenirs cheaply.
What is the application process like?
When I did my first show we sent slides. Now the application process is much easier. Many shows use Call For Entry or Juried Fine Art Services, both online. You create a portfolio and a statement and usually you can enter shows by a few clicks and pay with PayPal.
What are the costs involved in doing a craft show?
Costs for a high end show will be more for both the entry fee and the booth fees. If shows are local, it’s easier to keep the other costs down. I did my first out of state show, BAM (Bellevue Arts Museum) in Washington State in 2015. I had hotel costs and meals. Luckily, I had a big sale so I ended up with a profit, but it was a gamble, as all shows are.
What is your price range? Is there a price point that sells best for you?
My usual price point range is $150- $7,200. Some years all my small pieces sell, some years just a big one. One year I had sales at all price points. (It was a very good show.)
How do you arrange your booth?
There are lots of artists who try to make a gallery look in their very small, usually 10’x10’ booth. I believe the first hurdle is to get people in the booth. The work might not appeal to as many as you would like, so I pack it in, but curated, like I would design a piece of art.
How are your sales? Are they consistent?
I have had only one show, which is closed now, that was consistent, not only in sales but for commission work, for most of the year. This is another aspect of doing shows, perseverance is a must. You have to build a presence over several years. A lot of it is making connections, filling your mailing list, both email and snail mail. You have to follow up with any people who were more than idly interested. You may never know that because you did that show a sale was made at the gallery, or when that interested person finds your card again and calls you up and buys a piece from your studio or places that commission order.
Do you find particular styles or types of compositions sell better for you than others?
I have a signature style that I showcase in different series. Some people like my Feng Shui pieces while computer geeks love my math tapestries. In this way I extend the audience group for my work. Since my work is a bit pricey, I find that clients with the money to afford them tend toward abstract more than realistic, representational art.
Do you find that you have to educate the public about what tapestry is before you can make a sale, or do they buy your work just because they like the piece? Perhaps both?
I have had clients who really needed to know all about the concepts in the design. The more I told them, the more interested in purchasing the piece they became. But I’ve also had clients who just did not want to talk at all. They knew what they liked. “Here is your payment, thanks and goodbye.” And others that were intent on collecting me as well!
How do you bring customers into your booth?
I actually use the line: “Because they are wool they are touchable.” Only select people get this line, but no kids or eaters. I also ask where they are from, etc. If they are still hesitant to come in I invite them to turn the pieces over and see how they are all finished on both sides. That usually gets them right in.
Do you demonstrate tapestry at shows?
I never do demos as they just distract people from the work I’m trying to sell.
Do you have repeat customers?
I do have a rather large group of collectors of my work who own multiple pieces, (my best collector owns 17, next up has 8). These people get a special invitation on the postcard or email blast I send out. I offer them a collector’s discount and sometimes I offer a discount off any tapestry over $1000. I also personalize the show’s postcard with a picture of my work and a note. Art shows are really my main source for contact information from interested potential clients.
Do you try to engage people who come into your booth? If so, how do you do this?
I really think that telling your story as an artist is very important when you are trying to make a living from selling tapestries. Art shows put you in front of the public and allow you to do that. If you are an extreme introvert you can learn to do this. There are many professional development classes that give you the tips and confidence to succeed at participating in art shows.
What is your sales strategy? Do you have one?
When someone comes into the booth I start casually to see what their purpose is: simply liking my work, looking for an art piece for a particular spot, another weaver? It’s usually not too hard to figure this out. I have often had weavers come into my booth that eventually take my classes. If they have space for art I ask them: “Do you have a particular spot in your home that you are looking to fill with a piece of art?” These are the ones I make sure I spend some time with. I have them sign my guest book with their contact info, give them lots of cards and send them a thanks-for-coming note afterwards.
How did you get your work in galleries?
Recently, a lot of galleries have closed their doors. I have three galleries now, and one I’ve been with for over 20 years. The other two were from recommendations by friends to the owners. Cold calls almost never work.
Do you make your living from tapestry?
Yes, I make a living at my art, but not just at craft and art shows and fairs. I teach, I enter and win Public Art Competitions (I have won 35-40 so far in my career and my tapestries are in public buildings throughout the state of New Mexico.) I also have galleries that represent me and I sell thru my website and social media.
Which social media do you use?
I use Facebook only. I need a place for image AND story. I do most of my student connections thru Facebook and about 1/3 of my sales. My website has given me mostly commissions and a few students. Often it helps a client identify what they think they saw at a show and are interested in. So they all work together really.
How do you use social media to sell?
I do progress posts of tapestries. Because of my production background, as well as my belief in a more-bang-for-the-buck style of design, I am able to complete large tapestries rather quickly. I usually catch someone’s interest while a tapestry is being made, which leads to sales.
Who would you recommend craft shows to?
Craft shows are not for the faint of heart or anyone with reduced stamina due to illness. They are usually three day selling affairs that start early and end late, (the BAM Show I did was 9:00 – 9:00 Friday to Sunday). It’s a one day set up (they used to have 2 days). I had no help at my last show. I have a small car, so I did 2 trips, one with my booth walls, (pro panels) and the next all the work, flooring, table, chair, and it was 104 degrees. Luckily it was a local show very close to my home.
If you would like to see more of Donna’s work you can find her website here.