Now that I have been in business as an artist for nearly two years, I decided that I have learned enough at this point to possibly pass on some "words of wisdom" about marketing oneself as an artist. By no means am I suggesting I am an expert at marketing--I still have tons to learn. But, I thought I would pass on the strategies that have helped me thus far. I call this blog, "Part I," because I realized it was getting very long and that maybe I should break up my suggestions into two or more parts! Here are my current suggestions:
(1) Make a product about which you are passionate. It was a very slow rise to selling in my Etsy shop. I remember another Etsy seller indicating to me that I might have to make more of what the general public wants, rather than what I like. I have come to totally disagree with that statement. I think that if you don't really enjoy what you make, then it will show in your product and in your sales attitude. I think your product must be an emotional outpouring of your personal creativity. If you are passionate enough about it, others will become passionate too. There will always be people for whom your product is not a good fit and that's okay!
(2) Experiment a lot with how to fasten things together so that they are permanently adhered. Obviously, the better quality and more staying power your product will have, the more marketable it will be. I learned through experimentation that often glue alone is not enough. I have come to screw, nut, bolt, wire and even solder my pieces together whenever possible. The next best product is using a metal epoxy. It is like a clay putty that you blend together until it looks all one color, and then you can form it at the juncture of two pieces and it will set and harden within 20 minutes. I always use this to adhere my china doll heads to their bodies. This is particularly good because their necks are often broken and I can fill in the space that is left as a result. Also, I often use it on the feet of my creatures. My last resort, but one that I often still have to use, is E6000 glue, a very NASTY smelling industrial strength glue that even says on the bottle, "causes liver cancer" (oh my!). I had some failings with that glue at the beginning and have now learned, "always follow the instructions!!!!" Yes, I would be too lazy to adhere it to the two different surfaces, wait 3 minutes and then press together. This really is essential to form a permanent bond. Also, you must let it set for at least 24 hours.
(3) Believe in yourself!! I cannot stress this enough. I create a product that is quite quirky, sometimes creepy or macabre, and sometimes cute and whimsical. Most people agree that it is "unique" or "different." I have found, while selling face-to-face at craft fairs, that some people absolutely love my work and can't praise it enough. Others just glance at my booth and walk away. I cannot let that discourage me. You couldn't possibly please everybody no matter what you make. The key is to love your own creations and when someone shows interest, help them to love them as well! I tend to sell best when I am present because I can explain the materials I used, how I came up with the idea or the design of the piece, and finally how I came to name it. Bringing each piece to life is what draws people in. Even if they don't buy this time, they may in the future. I always bring an e-mail sign-up sheet to every fair and ask if they'd like to be notified of my progress and any future fairs. I also write out a sales slip for each person with their name and contact information so that I can use that later to market to them.
(4) Create an artist support group. I am profoundly lucky to be in one for the past 1 1/2 years. We have 6 members, but often only 4 are present. We meet once per month in the evenings, taking turns hosting in one of our homes. Of course we provide wine and snacks and good companionship. Every meeting we each have a chance to reveal the ups and downs of the past month and then hone in on what we want to accomplish by the next meeting. This holds us each accountable and helps motivate us to continually progress. We learn so much from each other, such as how to use social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogs) to market ourselves and expose the general public to our work. We are each other's cheerleaders, providing much needed support and encouragement. As a group, we have also hosted a couple of smaller artisan fairs, inviting other artists in and getting the word out to the public (via Facebook, Craig's List, signage, mailing postcards, etc.). We also started a Facebook page called, "local Artists 119" (119 is a major road running through Groton and Pepperell, two country towns where we all live, 45 miles Northwest of Boston).
(5) Figure out your target audience and find ways to gain access to them. This has been a bit of a hit or miss process for me, but I'm getting more and more savvy with it. When I first started out, I opened up a couple of small booths in antiques stores and signed up for some local fairs. Because I live in a fairly country setting in conservative New England and I make mostly one-of-a-kind, higher-priced quirky sculptural art, this was not a good fit for me. I remember leaving a couple of fairs literally having sold only a couple of Christmas cone ornaments! What I had to keep reminding myself, though, was that it was an invaluable learning experience. I learned how to quickly set up my booth and take it down, how to interact with potential customers, and what kind of pieces drew more people in. I also met other artist vendors who gave me tips on possible shows that would work for me. When I was at Brimfield Antiques Fair in May 2015, I brought some of my pieces over to the Vintage Bazaar booth and showed them directly to the juror and event planner for that show, Devon Allen. She loved my pieces and told me I was accepted! So, I use every opportunity at shows to market myself for future events. I have showed at two Vintage Bazaars now and at one of them I met Cari Cucksey from Cash & Cari fame on HGTV. She loved my work so much that she invited me to sell at her 2-month long Holly, Michigan pop-up store, RePurpose! What an honor! I always thought that NYC would be a perfect match for my work, since New Yorkers tend to like one-of-a-kind art and many like quirky, whimsical pieces, not to mention their likelihood of a decent disposable income! So, I've honed in on getting my foot in the door there as much as possible, despite initially having no contacts, friends, or family there and having to drive 5 hours each way. So far, the pay off has been incredible. My first step was to try to get into one of the BWAC Gallery juried shows in Brooklyn. I was turned down on my first attempt with the show, "Recycle," but persevered and was accepted into the show, "Really Affordable Art." in October, 2015. I used the fact that I was going to be in the NYC area for the gallery opening to contact Stefanie Levinson, the buyer at The American Folk Art Museum Gift Shop in Lincoln Square. Although I didn't hear from Stefanie before I was in NYC, she did call me the day I returned home and said she loved my work! She bought some pieces wholesale for her shop (which sold fairly quickly) and then I was invited to sell at the Fab Folk Fest inside the museum in December 2015. That was my absolute best show yet, selling 15 of my assemblage pieces! Now I have an ongoing relationship with the gift shop which buys a few of my items every few months. The latest exciting news for me was I was just accepted into a juried show, The 23rd Annual Bedford, Barrow, & Commerce Block Association Fine Arts and Crafts Fair on Saturday, May 21, 2016. This will be a full day fair in Greenwich Village, NYC!
(6) Create a photographic portfolio with which you can easily walk around a town or city so that if you come across a shop or a gallery that you think might like your work, you can show them photos. If you can have some actual pieces in the car just in case, that's a good idea, too. This strategy is how I got into my first two galleries, K. Newby Gallery in Tubac, Arizona and The Pink Door Gallery in Tucson, Arizona. At first I was showing people photos on my I-Phone, but found that if their vision was anything like mine, the photos were too difficult to see. So eventually I purchased an I-Pad, which helped, but it still took too long to swipe through different photos when I might be dealing with a very busy person who wasn't expecting me and didn't really want to devote the time. So, one of my best marketing tools has become two Shutterfly hardcover books that I created, entitled "The Assemblage Art of Shenna Shepard." Each one shows photos of all assemblage sculptures I made within a one-year period. I've included different angles of each piece, the character name, and a description of the materials used and dimensions. Here are photos from those books:
Those books have gotten my foot in the door a couple of times. When you are essentially going "door to door," the owner wants to tell you to e-mail them--that they don't currently have time. Of course with e-mails, you don't always get a response. However, on two occasions, I had this book in my hand and as they were indicating they were too busy, they stopped mid-sentence and said something like, "Oooh, what is that?" Because they could see the photos on the fronts of the books, it immediately caught their attention. This is how I got my work into the Muse's Gallery in Concord, Massachusetts. I also use these books now at my fairs to show customers my body of work.
(7) Use the Internet in every way possible!!! I cannot stress this enough. My business has been growing steadily in the past few months since I created a website which links to my Etsy shop, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts. My website serves as my own gallery in which I am able to show both pieces currently for sale and ones that have already sold. I recently created a page for New Pieces, where I can showcase all that I've made in the past month. This allows return visitors and collectors to just check that page periodically. I set up a Facebook page (Shenna's Vintage Creations) an Instagram page (shennasvintagecreations) a LinkedIn page (Shenna Shepard) and a Pinterest page (Shenna Shepard). At present, I am primarily focusing on building my following on Facebook and Instagram. With Facebook, pick groups to belong to that have common interests and make sure to post on their pages as well. For example, periodically I post my circus pieces on the Vintage Circus Facebook page, and most recently I've posted on the Assemblage Collage Artists Facebook page. I posted my cat, Wilhelmina VandeMew, on their page 2 days ago and already have 102 likes and 12 nice comments! Most importantly, it led a lot of new people to my website, Etsy shop and Instagram! Social media is an essential way to gain exposure and it's free! On Instagram, there are also some opportunities to showcase your work on other's marketing sites that have a tremendous following. For example, I contacted craftcurate through Instagram and they liked my work so they featured my cat, Wilhelmina VandeMew, 4 days ago and I got 511 likes! And, again, it directed many new people to my website, Etsy shop and Instagram accounts.
I hope the information I've shared is helpful. My next blog will focus in depth on some of my circus pieces.
Shenna, this is great information! First of all, I'm glad to hear of metal epoxy because I am not completely happy with E6000 (I also don't follow instructions, but it's the "strings" E6000 leaves behind that really bug me). Also, these marketing ideas are so helpful. I'm planning to make a really big push on my craft/art after our upcoming move to Britain, so I'll bookmark this page so I can come back to it - it's excellent! I wish you continued good luck!
2/10/2016 10:27:51 am
Val, thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my blog. I'm so glad you found it helpful. I'm curious where you're living now? And where you're moving to in Britain? I lived in England for six months when I was nine years old at Cliveden House in Maidenhead. It is a five-star hotel now, but at that time was the Stanford University campus in England. It is a national trust property and well worth going for a visit if you can manage it!
3/18/2016 07:22:21 pm
This is very, very helpful. I am passionate about my art, so for the first time (I'm 68 outside; 25 inside) I feel like I'm doing a labor of pure love and joy. I am curious how you linked everything--did you set up a website and then n pass tat on to Facebook, etc? I am going to a rodent round-up in April and have rented a table; then another craft fair in May, just for the experience. I feel lucky/blessed to find an outlet for my creativity and the opportunity to sh are it. Thank you.
3/19/2016 08:20:29 am
Diane, thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and I'm so glad you found it helpful! That's so great that at 68 you are pursuing your passion for art! So, I had my Etsy shop for 1 1/2 years before I finally created a Website. The website ended up being the best marketing tool because I had more freedom to link my Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Etsy accounts to it, so I can try to channel people through the Website to the other sites. Whenever I create something new, my process is to first put it on Etsy, then on my Website (and if the person clicks on the photo, it will take them to the Etsy shop where they can purchase it), then I list it on Facebook and then on Instagram. When I get around to it, I then put it on Pinterest. I wish you the best of luck! Best wishes, Shenna
12/4/2016 07:41:24 pm
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I am 61 years old, a wife of 30 years, a mother of a wonderful and independent 23-year-old daughter, a clinical psychologist who treats adults in private practice, and last, but definitely not least, an artist. Whew! That was a mouth full. My passion is creating one-of-a-kind whimsical sculptural animals, dolls, and cake toppers (with a little multi-media collage thrown in for good measure). I hope you enjoy my creations as much as I enjoy making them!