The first time I ever shipped a tapestry overseas was in 2006. I have to tell you it was with a bit of trepidation. I didn’t know if I would ever see my work again. I thought it was going to be expensive and was concerned about it getting through customs and back again. All these years later I have shipped work almost a dozen times to seven different countries on three continents. I’ve learned a few things that I can share.
One of my greatest and most expensive lessons relates to insurance. I shipped a tapestry to Serbia. I made the mistake of insuring it for the retail price. When I heard the cost of the shipping I almost fell over, but I paid it. Aside from the obvious issue of cost, I should have done one of two things:
1. Insure for the wholesale cost.
2. Go with the minimum insurance that comes with the shipping price.
You would only get the wholesale price if you sold the work, so why insure for retail? (See Methods Of Pricing). The second option: Go with the minimum insurance is what I now do. I have been told that when you insure for a large sum of money it is like a red flag to customs. I have had venues specifically say not to insure. They believe that this helps work move more smoothly through customs. I know it is a risk and I am willing to take it. If you are not, use option #1 or insure for what you are willing to take if your work is lost.
Pay attention to holidays. I recently shipped a tapestry to the Ukraine around Easter time. I paid for 3-5 day shipping, but because of a long Easter holiday in the Ukraine it wasn’t received for two weeks. I should have either shipped sooner or not wasted my money on the faster arrival. I would have known about the holiday delay if I had thought to ask the venue how it affected them before I shipped my work or looked it up online. You can actually find a holiday calendar for most countries.
I store my work in muslin bags that I make for each piece. On the bag, written in indelible marker, is the title of the piece and my name. When I ship work I place the piece, which is in the muslin bag, into a plastic bag that is then sealed. I use paper packing to stuff in the box and keep work from moving around. I also place packing paper top and bottom to pad the work on the ends. I make sure the box is larger than the tapestry so I can pad on all sides. Don’t use peanuts! Everyone hates them and customs may not put them back which leaves your work unprotected.
I use heavy cardboard boxes since work is shipped two times, there and back. I don’t recommend tubes. I once used a tube for a piece that was shipped to the UK. When it was returned the tube had obviously been opened, in customs I imagine. The plastic cap ends were missing and in their place was cellophane tape. I know that a small item I should have received was missing. At least with a box, the ends are integral with the rest of the package, so no lost caps. FedEx has a triangular box that is good for rolled tapestries.
Often the venue you are shipping to will send you detailed instructions regarding shipping and labeling. Sometimes they specify the carrier you should or should not use. One thing I have seen a few times is to write: “RETURNING TO ORIGINATOR” or something similar on the outside of the package. This is for customs. Some countries will try to charge a VAT tax. The happened to me once when I didn’t write: “RETURNING TO ORIGINATOR” on my box. The UK wanted to charge me VAT tax. Fortunately I shipped with FedEx and they handled the problem for me.
I have seen this go two ways. I shipped a piece to the Ukraine from the US. The venue specified using the US post office to ship. They gave me the pricing for different weights and I just had to weigh my box and buy the return label. Then, by the instructions of the venue I wired them the money for the return shipping. Unfortunately, this is an expensive way to go. My bank charged $40 US for the wire.
If you can use FedEx or your local postal service you just pay the return shipping up front and put the label in the box. If you have an account with them, it is even easier. Again, the venue will tell you what you should do. Always follow their instructions to the letter.
Make sure you have a tracking number and keep it safe until you have confirmation from the venue that the package arrived.
You do occasionally hear about someone who has lost work but I believe this is quite rare.
For more detailed information the website Art Business Info For Artists is an excellent resource put together by an artist.
I thought it would be interesting to have a place to write about my personal experiences with marketing and promoting my work. I’ll add to this as time goes by so you can follow along with my progress with selling my work.
September 2016: After an unsuccessful summer season trying to sell my tapestries in galleries I decided to take a class about using social media. I learned about Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram. I already had a webpage so I did have an online presence. Why do more?
I want to sell my tapestries. My work has been in numerous exhibits where I live, in Maine as well as internationally. I had three solo or joint shows in Maine over the summer of 2016. I sold nothing in those shows! Why? There are several factors I considered. Price, the work itself and market.
Beginning with price, if I go to low I’m not just hurting myself, but I’m hurting my fellow weavers by undercutting them. Low prices can be a problem in other ways. I was told a story about an artist who had a show of his work. A woman came into the gallery and wanted to purchase one of his pieces. The price tag said $1000. The artist realized there was a typo, the correct price, he said was $100. The woman left the gallery without purchasing the piece. She wanted an expensive piece of art and at $100 the work was devalued and she didn’t want it. I’m still trying to figure out my prices. Once I do I will post them on my website.
The next element I considered is the work. My tapestries are figurative. I was told by a respected gallerists portraits are harder to sell. I once tried to weave a landscape and ended up with a portrait. I’m not inclined to change what I weave just to make sales.
Market, now that I can do something about, but how do I get my work in front of buyers? Not just any buyer though, I need people who are interested in my medium and my subject. My work has been in exhibits in many places including the US, Europe, the UK and Australia, but have sold very little. Why? Well, some shows the work isn’t for sale and others, I don’t know. What I do know is that all the people who have bought my work have been women between about 50 and 75 who have experience in fiber in some way, weaving, spinning, knitting, seriously or for enjoyment. How do I get to that audience? That’s where social media comes in.
So now it’s a year later and I’m looking back wondering if it was worth the effort to invest all this time into social media. I have two Facebook pages, business and personal (FaceBook requires a personal page to open a business page), a LinkedIn page, Instagram and now this blog. What results can I see? As of today I have 206 Instagram followers, 193 connections in LinkedIn and 742 FaceBook friends.and growing. I only use these resources for “business” and try to be friendly and positive. My plan with these tools was to get a wider, broader reach out into the world for my tapestries. How have I benefitted from this? I’m part of a very large, international community of tapestry weavers, something I value and my name is becoming known. I have even pushed outside the circle of tapestry to other fiber oriented people. Just in the last week I have been asked by two different places to teach tapestry. Vavstuga, a Swedish weaving school in Massachusetts has booked me to teach a beginning tapestry class in June and I was asked to teach a master class in the UK! I believe neither of these opportunities would have come my way without my postings about workshops I’m teaching elsewhere. I love teaching but my goal is to sell my work. I see this as the beginning of things to come. I hope I’m right.
I haven’t sold anything using social media yet, but I haven’t tried either. I have heard of people selling art on Facebook and Instagram. I’m planning to try one or both venues. As I make my way into this maze I’ll keep you posted with my results. My conundrum though is whether to look for a gallery while I’m exploring online sales. One of the problems with the galleries that I’ve experienced is they didn’t know anything about tapestry. Who best to speak about your own work but the artist. Which leads me to the idea of doing craft shows, a subject for another time. I just did a video interview with Sara Warren, a veteran of craft shows with a good track record of sales. Watch for that video. Sara was very informative and I learned a lot from speaking with her.
Until next time, Barbara Burns