I have owned and operated a glassblowing studio and gallery for almost 20 years now

As I approach the twilight of my career as a professional artist I am finding that I have much to say. Even though I never achieved much high level attention as an artist, I have owned and operated a glassblowing studio and gallery for almost 20 years now. I have had to design my “art business” to cover all of my expenses, renting a facility, studio construction build out three different locations, fuel and consumables, paying those that help me, marketing, maintaining  an internet presence, bookkeeping and all the bills that happen in creating compelling art for sale.

My wife and I have been doing this work for near 20 years now. We are not in debt, we are lucky enough to be able to pay all our own bills, without asking for a “handout” and we even get to take a vacation a couple of times a year. I think that we have been very successful as working artists.

I also believe that twenty years of dealing with everything from less than honest workers/assistants, challenging projects and the learning curve of making and selling unique one of a kind artworks, not to mention surviving being forced to reopen in a new location after our studio gallery was closed by a fire in a neighboring business, qualifies us as pillars of strength and resilience and a great resource for people who “think” that they want to create art as a livelihood. As the saying goes, “been there, done that.”

Why is it that some artists do very well at a show and others at the very same show, not so good?

This past month we were blessed to participate in two successful local art shows, ArtWalk in Carlsbad and Art in the Garden in Escondido. Although there seems to be a trend that art show attendance is down, we were visited by many friends and patrons during both shows and experienced brisk sales.

As I always do, I walked the show to visit with my fellow artist friends and see how everyone did with sales at the show. I feel compelled to point out that both shows were curated very well and all the artwork on display was very good to fantastic. As I walked the shows I became aware that while some artists were very pleased with the results of their efforts, others were upset and angry at the promoters because the attendance did not meet their expectations.

I would like to point out that it takes so much more than high quality artwork to be successful as an independent artist. Compelling work is just the starting point. I am not really qualified to comment on how to understand what work qualifies as great artwork and what work is simply “artistic.” But I do know quite a bit about all of the other aspects that are required for success.

Engage your audience

During my walk around I ask all artists the same questions and I take some time to assessment their display and presentation. Following are just some thoughts about on the difference between an artist’s success and failure at an art show. Before closing let me start with this. If you are sitting in your chair in the back of your booth in the shade and not paying attention to the people who are interested in your art, you blew it from the get go. Those people, your audience, are on a serious quest to find a treasure and it is your job to convince them that it is your artwork that is the best find of the show. So, get off your ass and engage your audience. Find out who they are and why they came to the show. Do they collect specific art or artists, what kind of art do they like and what do they not like. Ask some questions and then give them an opportunity to answer without fear of your judgement, and then listen carefully to their stories. I once took a sales training course which said “ask the right questions and the customer will give you all the information you need to close the sale.” And yes, if you are a professional, it is about the sales.

Until next time…

I’m thinking that this is a good place to stop here for the moment. In the posts that will follow I’ll try to revisit this topic and offer time tested proven ways to increase your opportunity of finding success as a working artist. Look for my thoughts on who is responsible for what and comments about engagement. Until then, go create some beauty, the world is in desperate need of your talents.

I hope to write this as a series with this being just the first installment. If you like what you read please follow me and recommend my blog to your artist friends and even to your patrons. If you don’t like what you read, I certainly do not mean to offend anyone.