Selling Your Art Work

2019 has been an interesting year and we are only in June! A few unexpected / unplanned opportunities presented themselves with surprising results (good and bad), so as Surrey Artists’ Open Studios draws to a close this seems like a good time to chat about the pros and cons of trying to make a living from handmade textiles and to reflect on what went well and not so well.

As some of you may know, I gave up the day job 18 months ago to focus on felt-making full time. I knew the first few years would be financially hard so I saved diligently before taking that leap into the unknown. I am really glad I did, it is really tough trying to earn a living from textile art.

Contemporary Textiles Fair

The major benefit of no longer working for an employer is that I can be very flexible and consider opportunities that previously would have required me to sacrifice some of my annual leave allowance. One such opportunity was the Contemporary Textiles Fair in Teddington. This is a well known (in the UK at least), annual event, that generally gets good write ups, this combined with a business mentor encouraging me to take my one-of-a-kind products and bespoke commissions to “high end” fairs meant I was less anxious than perhaps I should have been about covering the £220 stand fee.

While I enjoyed the show, it was incredibly well organised and I met lots of really lovely textile enthusiasts, I didn’t sell enough work to cover the stand fee, and when you factor in the 3 days I spent at the show and the fuel travelling back and forth each day I made quite a substantial loss. Sadly, most of the other artists sharing my aisle reported the same. That said, I know some artists have been attending this event for years and are happy with their sales but I do worry that CTF will not continue for much longer if so few of the exhibitors are making a profit. Perhaps I should adopt the view of the stall-holder opposite my stand, she felt the stand fee was a reasonable price for the exposure / marketing opportunity. Personally I think a magazine advert would be better use of my time and money, what do you think?

The 3x Rule

Personally I use the 3x rule to decide if a show is worth doing again, if my total sales are at least 3x the value of the table / stall fee + travel and accommodation costs (if applicable), I will look to repeat the same event. Those sales should include commissions from people who saw your work but contacted you after the event too.

If my takings are less than 2x the table fee, I have effectively given up all the time I spent making what I sold and the cost of the materials, not to mention the hours spent setting up and manning the event to the organisers for free. That may be acceptable if you are just selling as a hobby but if it is your main source of income, it is utterly unsustainable.

How do you decide if you will repeat a fair or event again? Have you taken part in a show where you had poor sales but still returned the following year? Did you fair any better?

How do you decide which fairs and events to take part in?

Local Exhibitions

In April I entered a piece into a local exhibition, up until now I have always shied away from exhibitions and galleries that charge a significant commission. In part because I worry that if I increase my prices to cover the commission no-one will part with that much money but also because if it doesn’t sell during the exhibition I feel obliged to keep it on sale at the inflated price. Galleries understandably don’t like it if you have similar (or the same piece) for sale in your own shop for half the price that they are charging. This means I will only consider entering pieces into exhibitions that are truly one-of–a-kind. AppART was a good choice for me, the exhibition site is less than 10 miles away and the commission fees were 35% plus a £10 hanging fee.

Tropical Reef by Teri Berry

I entered my Tropical Reef hanging that some of you might recognise from earlier posts, and it sold! 🙂 What’s more, the lady who bought it found me in the Open Studios brochure and paid me a visit, how lovely is that! 🙂

This is one event I will definitely apply to again next year, I am already percolating ideas for felt sculptures to submit.

Working Outside the Box

Sometimes opportunities present themselves where the WIIFM* isn’t immediately obvious or you do something for fun or charity not expecting any reward.

A good example of this is a local art group (Pirbright Art Club) I joined a few months ago, I enjoy painting and drawing and while I don’t think I am good enough to make a living from it (60% of what I paint goes in the recycling or is cut up to make greetings cards) it has become my hobby now my other hobby (felt-making) has become my day job 🙂

When I joined I thought I might make a few friends and pick up some painting tips but was asked if my felt dragons, could be included in a dragon-themed exhibition, I had no idea when I made them that this event was on the cards. How is that for serendipity in action?!

Petunia – the Flowery Sea Dragon
Bunsen – the Flame-throwing Dragon

No sales came from this exhibition but I did gain some more exposure, it was free to enter and Bunsen and Petunia had a fun day out together 🙂

Open Studio Events

I wrote a post on hosting an open studio event last year, I will not repeat the tips from that post but you can read it here if you are interested. This year I tried some new approaches, in particular, studio trails.

This is where a group of artists who live geographically close to each other (the closer the better, walking distance is ideal but not always possible) get together to create a trail map. They then encourage their visitors to visit the other studios on the map, including yours, a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” sort of arrangement.

While the trail worked to some extent, I had about a dozen visitors who said they were following the trail, I think the biggest benefit is from networking with other local artists rather than an increase in visitor numbers. This is already starting to present teaching and exhibition opportunities that I would not have been aware of without my new network of fellow artists.

I offered a few teaching sessions during the days when my studio space was closed to the public, strangely everyone wanted to make a nuno-felted scarf on the same day, I could have filled this class several times over but only had space for 2 students. Sarah and Pene were the quickest to book their spots and both did remarkably well with what is quite an advanced technique, Sarah had never made felt before!

Sarah chose a geometric pattern
Close up of the gorgeous colours in Sarah’s scarf
While Pene was inspired by the jewel-like colours in a Tiffany lampshade

Of course Bunsen and Petunia stole the show, although only one gentleman was brave enough to try Bunsen on while Petunia kept a watchful eye on her friend from the windowsill….

This was only my second year of taking part in Open Studios and it was even more successful this year; this event is definitely going in the diary for next summer!

What is your experience of selling face to face? Do you have any tips to share? How do you choose which fairs and events to take part in?

It’s only 6 months to Christmas…… 😉

*WIIFM – What’s in it for me?

Introducing Petunia and Friends

I first saw the masks of Gladys Paulus 4 or 5 years ago and was instantly mesmerised, to me, the photo below is iconic of her work, stunning felt, photographed in curious and inspiring ways.

When I started to see photos of her students’ work appearing online I KNEW this was a workshop I HAD TO take. Gladys has a young family so understandably limits her teaching schedule to only a handful of events each year, she also teaches internationally, this means there are typically only 1 or 2 dates each year when she is teaching in the UK. Not surprisingly, her workshops sell out pretty quickly, having been pipped to the post on 2 previous occasions I wasted no time when she announced there would be a fantasy mask workshop at the beginning of April. Cheerfully glossing over the health warnings and assertions that it would be very hard work that came with the sign-up form, I suspect I was the first person to book a place! 🙂

In preparation for the workshop, Gladys asked us to collect photos / create drawings from different angles of what we would like to make. I knew I wanted to make something based on a leafy sea-dragon, a very flamboyant relative of the seahorse, and found lots of photos from the front, a few from the side but none from behind. I attempted to sketch what I thought it might look like but found that almost impossible.

In a moment of epiphany I remembered I had a bag of clay left over from my diploma in art and design course. Would it have dried out and be unworkable?

It was perfect! Still soft and malleable, it was a delight to work with and it was strangely cathartic to see my leafy sea-dragon evolve as I worked the clay.

Until finally, a flowery-sea-dragon was born…

And of course, the all important view from behind 🙂

I went back to sketching based on on the model, as you can see I was already brainstorming possible names; one of my instagram followers suggested with a nose so large, she should be a perfumer.

It turned out I wasn’t the only one who made a clay model before the workshop, Suzie did too, only she went a few steps further, glazing and firing her work:

Carolyn also made a super-cute needle-felted model of her gargoyle.

Gladys commented that we were the first group to make models in preparation for the class making it all the more interesting that the 3 of us had done so independently of each other. Great minds eh? 🙂

With nervous anticipation (I had waited over 3 years to take this workshop) I filled the car with as much wool and felting paraphernalia as I could cram in, carefully perching my fragile clay model on the pile in the front seat, and made the 2.5 hour drive to Felt in the Factory on the Welsh border.

There were 7 students on the course, all lovely, very experienced felt-makers. Two had flown over from Canada (they did not know each other before the workshop), now that is dedication! The first day started with introductions and how to design and plan your mask template before creating the template.

Templates made, we started laying out the wool by the end of day 1 and this continued for the next two days interspersed with making prefelts and some rubbing. I am so glad most of us were staying at Felt in the Factory or nearby as we worked until 10pm most evenings and coming in an hour or 2 before class officially started again to work on our creations. Did I mention that the sign up form included a health warning regarding the level of fitness required? I thought it was exaggerated but we really did end up spending 12+ hours each day on our feet, only stopping to eat and sleep. The ever-helpful Nina provided a constant supply of tea, coffee and cake while we worked, ensuring the meal breaks were kept to a minimum.

I think most of us went through quite an emotional journey with our masks, starting with excitement and a little trepidation at the scale of the task to despair that it would always be a twisted misshapen mess to finally the joy and fulfilment as it finally started to resemble the sketches and photos it was created from. For some of us even even the animal that we thought we were working on morphed into something else, when I bumped into Nickie at the Contemporary Textiles Fair she said she would make a dragon, by the end of the week it was a griffin, I will let you decide which it is….

At the end of our 5 days together everyone left with sore hands, a mask they could be proud of and a big smile on their face. I think all of us have continued working on our masterpieces since we departed.

I think I am the only one to name my new pet, perhaps you can help suggest some names? Introducing…..

Carolyn’s gargoyle
I’m sure gargoyles should be frightening but I think he is gorgeously huggable 🙂
Nickie’s dragoniffin
Suzie’s Ram’s Head – Work in Progress
Finished!
Suzie Gutteridge

www.suziegutteridge.com
Petunia – my Flowery Sea-Dragon

If you are interested in taking this workshop I recommend signing up to Gladys’ newsletter on her webpage so you are notified as soon as the next class dates are released.

Happy felting!

Felting for Embroidery – Part 2

Several people have requested an update following this post that I wrote following a felt-making session I led for the Farnborough Embroiderer’s Guild. We met the following month with the intention of adding some stitching to the pieces we had made and these are the results. They are all work in progress so please don’t judge them too harshly (not that you would, I know 🙂 ).

What do you think? Do you have a favourite?

London Hat Week

It has been and exciting couple of months in the London craft world, first we had Collect at the end of February, then the Contemporary Textiles Fair in March and most recently London Hat week. It has been a real treat on so many different levels! I would have dearly loved to try some of these hats on, if the organisers allowed that I am sure the atmosphere in the exhibition would be buzzing with giggles and laughter 🙂

There were literally hundreds of hats on display under the “World Garden” theme so I have selected just a handful of my favourites to share with you here, starting with those made from felted wool, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did…

Las Vegas Creamsicle by FeltHappiness
Beech Glade by The Crafty Beggars
Wendell’s Tussock by The Crafty Beggars
I love their clever use of wool locks to create a very wearable tuft of grass!
The Animation from Within by Anna Utko
This was a very deserving winner of HatTalk prize
The label said it was inspired by feeling emotions and finding your inner balance
Urban Garden by Antonela K Millinery
It is hard to see with the dark background but the felt of this top hat is lacy and see-through, a curious idea but as someone who wears hats to conceal my “bad-hair-days” it might be missing the point! 🙂
Tango by Jilby
I have often seen needle-felted fruit and vegetables on Pinterest and wondered what people do with them, now I know! 🙂
Winter by Sherry Richardson
I was immediately drawn to the ethereal nature of this hat made from sinamay and crin.
Crista Galli by Nikole Tursi
This hat is modelled on the Ceibo, the national flower of Argentina and is quite breathtaking to look at
Crista Galli from a different angle
Irony – Ration of Thorns by ITAM Designs
I’m still not sure if I am drawn to or repulsed by this hat, the black spidery tendrils leave me a little bit frightened but morbidly fascinated at the same time
Nature’s Way by Hat Trick
Autumn Days by Fascinators of Flair
Made in Holland by Marianne Jongkind Hoeden
This hat made me do a double-take, initially it looks like a large hat to fit a large head but then you realise it must have a double shell to accommodate a normal size head. The visual trickery appeals to my sense of humour.
The Rose Trellis by Wendy Scully Millinery
Life Scenery by Suteni
Butchart Gardens by Sova Design Millinery
I love the Ann Boleyn style hat form body of this headpiece.
Fiona by Vivian Blooms
The shadows cast by this hat are magical aren’t they?
Peacock by Verna Wass Millinery
I so want to see airline cabin crew wearing these!
Peacock from a different angle
Shura by Viviane Go
This hat fascinated me, wondering first if it was a creature? I settled on it being an armadillo only to then read the label and discover it was a Pangolin. Then came the question of how one would wear it, I concluded the tail would have to sit across your mouth and the point would sit over your nose, like a very ornate balaclava.
Even though it isn’t made from wool I think this was my favourite hat in the exhibition.

Which was your favourite and why?

Collect 2019

Collect is an annual show of international contemporary craft, organised by by the Crafts Council. I have wanted to attend this event for the last few years but it is only open to the general public for 3 days so has proved very difficult to schedule, this year however, was different and I finally got to go in person and I am so glad I did! It is a great opportunity to talk to other artists about their craft and processes, especially on the top floor which is dedicated to emerging artists rather than the galleries who occupy the ground and first floors.

It is a pretty incredible show, spread over 3 floors of the Saatchi Galleries. You will need at least 3 hours to do it justice, more if you plan to attend any of the talks.

These are just a tiny selection of the pieces that were highlights for me….

Marian Brjlenga’s delicate, spidery textile hanging
Detail of above photo

Her tiny colourful dots were strung together with fine translucent thread allowing them to be suspended several centimetres from the wall, creating subtle shadows behind.

Jerome Blanc’s exquisitely carved wooden bowls
Detail of above photo

The craftsmanship of these bowls was exquisite, with thousands of precisely carved curves producing a mesmerising optical illusion that draws you inevitably to peer into the hole at the centre.

Detail of “Time Space” by Shihoko Fukumoto, indigo dyed weaving

If you look closely you can see a second layer of weaving behind that gives a feeling of depth to a hanging.

Inger Fohanne Rasmussen
Detail of above photo

I was in awe of the neatness of the thousands of stitches employed in Inger’s hanging, this was clearly a labour of love to hand-stitch such a large and detailed hanging.

Lizzie Farey, willow
Lizzie Farey, willow
Susie Freeman – “Pill Bag”

This is one of many works Susie has created that puts pills and medication centre stage. She traps the pills using by knitting with a fine thread. It’s not clear what Susie’s stance is on medication is but her work certainly makes the viewer consider their own relationship with it.

Mathieu Ducournau – threads on canvas
Mathieu Ducournau – threads on canvas
Detail of photo above

Mathieu’s works were incredibly skilful, from a distance they look like oil paintings but as you get closer the messy, tangled weave of coloured threads revel themselves.

Claire Malet – “Winter Sketch”
Vanessa Hogge – “Daphne” and “Chrysanthemum” vases
Zemer Peled – “In Bloom”
Ricardo Tena Chavez – “Unexpected Creatures”
Su-Yeon Kim – “Forrest of Stools”, drawn with melted glass

This sketch caught my eye, initially I though the stools had been hand stitched but as you get closer you can see how each strand has been “drawn” with melted glass.

Charlotte Mary Pack – “100 Elephants”
These were made in one day and represent the number of elephants illegally killed each day.

Charlotte made a time-lapse video of the making of these elephants, it is only 3 minutes long and worth a look – video.

Martha Rieger – each cocoon had a little surprise hidden inside
Detail of photo above

I hear Collect will be moving to a new venue next year, after 10 years at the Saatchi Galleries it will be moving to Somerset House, I am sure the standard of work will continue to be exemplary in their new home.

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