Today was the second day of a little holiday market here on San Juan Island. My neighbor hosts this two-day event in her studio in December every year and for the past 5 years I've joined her to sell my beaded jewelry... earrings, fibula pins, bracelets, necklaces, key chains and zipper pulls. Here's one of my recent fibula pins.
Business wasn't good this year. Not many people came and only a few bought. I know... it's probably the economy...
Despite understanding the situation, I still feel a little rejected and hurt, stood-up by my friends and the community. It's gotten me to thinking about the past and what I'm doing... also about a selling-our-art conversation I had with my brother, Thom Atkins, a couple of days ago. Rather than mope around this evening, it occurs to me that I could blog about it... so here you go... some thoughts about beading, money and self-esteem....
Over 20 years ago, I quit my day job and began beading and bead-related pursuits to make a living. I named my mini-micro-business Beads Indeed in the spring of 1988. Like many people into beads, I began with stringing... making multiple-strand and knotted, single-strand necklaces. Here's an example showing the center part of a multiple-strand necklace.
Earlier, in the mid-70's, I pounded, sawed and soldered sterling silver and gold sheet and wire to make rings and other precious metal jewelry. Below are a couple of scanned photos of my work during that time. My best friend, Liz, and I had a shop together. We sold our work at home shows and a few craft shows. Although we did pretty well, I hated and dreaded the selling part of it.
Thick-skinned, like an actor always auditioning for the next part... that's what one has to be to sell and promote one's art. It didn't come naturally to me. I could organize selling events and felt OK about promoting the events. But, when it came to tooting the horn about my own jewelry, I became tongue-tied and stupid-seeming.
So, when I started my bead business, I looked around for other ways to make money... I taught workshops, sold beads, gave slide lectures and eventually began writing books. All the while, my creative needs were largely met by making beady things as examples for my workshops and books, gifts and just for fun. Other than accepting a few commissions, I didn't try to sell my beadwork, which was just great for my personality.
Then, after I moved to San Juan Island, someone asked me to be a guest artist in the Annual Artist Studio Tour, to share her studio and sell my beaded jewelry. I had been cutting back on teaching and felt the need of a bit more income, so I agreed. For a month I produced beaded jewelry like a mad woman to accumulate a sufficient inventory for the event.
It went reasonably well. Yes, I was still tongue-tied, but people bought my work anyway, bless them. After calculating the proceeds, my self-esteem level was pretty high and I readily agreed to do it again the next year... and the next... and the next. Plus a friend in Seattle hosted a show, which I also enjoyed doing.
However, the only way I can see to fully support myself by making jewelry is to sell through galleries and shops. And that, for the most part, only works if one gets into mass production, giving up the luxury and fun of one-of-a-kind pieces. Not for me... the designing part is the most fun... take that away and it would get boring pretty fast.
So I continue to teach and write books, keeping my jewelry production minimal and one-of-a-kind. My studio tour hostess moved off-island, which ended that opportunity. So now I only do this weekend's Christmas-season show and next weekend a studio show in Seattle.
Which brings us to the present again...
One day during the past two weeks, while I was happily creating more beaded jewelry for these two events, I happened to get a phone call from my brother, Thom. He's a beader too... and a quilter... and, in my eyes, quite an accomplished artist. He had just completed a 3-in-a-row-weekends Artist Studio Tour in Santa Cruz, CA where he lives. So we were talking about the good, bad and ugly of selling our work.
He was explaining to me how he needs to sell his work, that it gives him a sense of completion. Anything he makes that is not sold is incomplete. When people buy only the least expensive things and want to bargain with him for a lower price, he feels they don't appreciate his art. His sense of self-esteem is tied up with selling his work and its value is tied to people buying it at a fair price.
While I understand his feelings and have felt this way at times in the past, on that particular day I tried to convince Thom that the journey is the destination... that the payoff for making beaded jewelery is the pleasure of creating it. It doesn't matter, I said, if we sell it or not, if we keep it in boxes or give it away, if everyone buys it or if nobody buys it... none of it matters at all... because we've already received the big payoff!
I felt very noble talking like that. Yes, I thought, it is conceivable that nobody will come to our week-end show and that I will not sell any of these new pieces I am creating. But it doesn't matter... I am having a blast making them and therefore earning the payoff right now!!!! Did you notice my halo?
Well, tonight I am here to confess... the above is a hard position to maintain in the face of very few sales... Somewhere, on the intellectual side of my brain, I still think it's true. But the emotional side wonders why some of my friends didn't come, and why some who did didn't buy anything. The emotional side wants to climb under the covers and never make jewelry again...
I don't know how it will go next Saturday for the studio show in Seattle... I'm a bit scared of another let down... Yet I made a commitment... I will show up and try to remember the golden rule of beadwork... the journey is the destination.
What do you think? Is the real payoff the creative process? How do you deal emotionally with a disappointing sales experience or being rejected by a gallery or for a show? Maybe a few of you could post about this... If/when you do, will you leave a comment here with a link to your post?
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PS. If you're in the Seattle area and would like to come to a fun studio show, with several well-known artists, it's next Saturday, December 13th from 3 to 8 pm in the Lake City Way area. Email me for the exact location.