Getting out There
I recently took a look around my house and have come to the conclusion that I am running out of space to display my carvings. I have been a rather prolific young carver and it has only taken me three years to reach this point. I have taken over two walls in my kitchen and they are now covered with hanging carvings. My standing carvings are being displayed on top of one desk and a large kitchen hutch. Carvings are now being stacked up on shelves in the basement.
I have made many, many ornaments which are in boxes on shelves. Yet I keep right on carving, completing one or two smaller carvings a week and always have larger carvings being worked on. Where am I going to put all of this stuff? What am I going to do with it all? I personally have visions or claiming every nook and cranny in my house for my carvings. I think it would make for a very interesting house but my family is not buying this plan. So, what do I do with all these carvings? Each year I have given away more carvings than I can count for Christmas and birthday presents. I have donated carvings to raise money for my woodcarving clubs but yet the problem persists. I have no more room to display any carvings. I hate to be stacking them up, knowing that eventually they will become damaged if they are not displayed or stored adequately. I have come to the conclusion that I must begin to try to sell some carvings, if only to make room for the next generations of carvings. I have been a very secluded carver and not many people outside of my immediate friends and family circle, even know that I carve.
How do you get your name “out there”? First off, you must actively show your carvings to everyone that comes to your home or studio. I was recently loading my car up with some finished carvings to take to show off at a woodcarving roundup. My next door neighbor asked what I had there and after looking for a minute or so, he commissioned me to do a carving of a magician. I also had a block party recently and needed to carry something into my house, an architect who lives down the block offered to help. Again one minute after seeing my carvings in the kitchen, he wanted me to do a carving for him and also inquired as to when I would begin giving classes as he is most interested in learning. Friends and family who have been to my house are my biggest customers right now. There are people out there who are willing to pay cash for a custom woodcarving. You just have to introduce them to your work and if it appeals to them, they will buy. Woodcarving will not appeal to everyone. Be prepared for negative comments.
We play a game called “King of the block” at our annual block party. It is usually a simple game of darts or a beanbag toss with houses competing against other houses in an elimination tournament until 2 houses go head to head in the finals. I usually carve a plaque to be given to the winner. This year’s plaque was one of my finest yet, when they announced the winner over the DJ’s sound system they half jokingly said that he had won a “block of wood”. Never mind all the wonderful comments that I received about this carving, it was the “block of wood” comment that stayed with me. As artists, we are especially susceptible to criticism. Because our carvings and other artwork come from a personal place inside of us, a criticism of our work is viewed as a personal attack on us. As someone points out the shortcomings in our work, we can’t help but feel that they are pointing out our shortcomings. No matter how you actually feel about the unkind comments that are directed at you or your work, do not defend yourself. You may soon find yourself in an argument. Let your work speak for itself. Defending it won’t make it any more worthy of selling. It won’t make your work worthy art and in fact, if there are interested parties around you, you may turn them off to your work because of your combatative nature. Bad art makes noise, good art makes a statement. You must understand that woodcarvings will never be considered art by a lot of people. You need to learn to ignore statements made out of ignorance and concentrate on the people who do show an appreciation for your work. Perhaps it is only 10 percent of people who would be willing to commission a work or shell out their hard earned money to buy an existing carving. They are out there; you just need to connect with them.
How do you connect with strangers? Be prepared to do a lot of work to reach that 10%. First I suggest that you either make up your own business cards or have some professionally printed. Business cards are a quick, cheap and easy way to get your name out there. Every time the subject of woodcarving comes up in conversation give out a card. What’s that you say? Woodcarving is not a frequent topic of conversation? It is your job to make sure that it is. Bring it up at every opportunity you can and then hand out your card. A lot of carvers find that word of mouth is their best business tool, so use it. Open your mouth. Be enthusiastic about what you do.
The Evolution of a Business Card
My first business card design was plain and simple. It tells who I am and what I do along with my contact information
This second design incorporates color and some pictures of my work
My third Business card design not only includes color and pictures of my carvings, but it is now modeled after my website pages and my new website address is included. It also now contains my artist statement, which basically tells why I do what I do. It is printed on both sides on glossy card stock. This design will probably serve me well for the next few years or until the scope of my business changes. I can always reprint this design replacing the pictures with newer carvings as I continue to improve my work.
Many supermarkets and smaller stores have bulletin boards for the use of their customers. Stick your card up on each board that you see. Usually there is a lack of push pins on these boards, so get in the habit of keeping some small nails in your wallet or purse. Nails are flatter than push pins and can easily be kept in a wallet. Business cards are limited however, in that they may get your name out there a bit but they will not introduce people to your work. Have a good quality picture of your best carving put on your business card. Most people’s first impressions of woodcarvings are wood whittlings. A picture of your work will let them know that you do serious woodcarving or sculpture. It is also a good idea to keep a completed carving in your car so that you can show it off, readily, when you steer the conversation to carving. Most people will wait the minute or two it takes you to run out to your car and get your carving. Allow them to hold it and examine it. I truly believe that the spirit of the wood can only be felt by touching, so unless the carving is of an extremely delicate nature, encourage people to handle it. Make sure that you let them know that you can produce a custom carving that will be to their liking.
Another thing that I have heard some carvers do in the beginning is to carve in your local park. Sit on a bench or a rock and carve away. Most likely someone will be interested in what you are doing and will approach you, especially children. Their parents will follow them. If you come back often enough, some people will become familiar with you and will engage you in further conversation. Hand out your card. Invite those who are serious to stop at your home to see your carvings.
One of the first tenets of a successful business is to advertise. As your business grows it will be important to pick and chose the proper venues to advertise in. What if you are just starting out and there is no budget for advertising? There are lots of free or nearly free forms of advertising. Do you know that your local newspapers and TV stations are always on the lookout for interesting local human interest stories? Get up the guts to make a few simple phone calls. Rarely will the local media turn you down. As a worst case scenario they will put your name on file and eventually will get in touch with you when they have some slow news days. A nice little story about you and your carvings can have your phone ringing off the hook; most will be from friends and family wanting to share your fame. But you just never know who is out there reading that newspaper or watching that TV station. If nothing else comes of it, at least you can clip the article out or a reference to the TV show and use it in your own promotions. Not to mention that it will look impressive on your carving resume. There are many, many magazines being published these days, and most, if not all, encourage individual submissions. Pick and choose those publications that you think would expose you and your work to your target audience. Carver Cathy Krumrei submitted pictures of her unique birdhouses to a bird and garden magazine and made many sales because of it. Teri Embrey of Santa carving fame had her work included in an edition of Better Homes and Gardens Santa publication and her sales soared. Classical carvers who do architectural carvings should be submitting things to popular architectural and design magazines. They will not run a free advertisement for you but you can write up an article about some interesting aspect of designing or carving. Write it as an educational article and include lots of pictures of your own work crediting your business. Always include your contact information. As far as submitting your carvings and carving related articles to woodcarving magazines, understand that the only people that you will be targeting will be other woodcarvers. You may inspire a few other carvers but you probably won’t make any sales from it. Depending on the magazines that you select and the type of article that you decide to write, you may even find yourself being paid for something that started as a way to get some free publicity. What’s better than that?
Another way to get some free advertising is to donate items for good causes. Again you must pick and choose carefully. I recall some carver who was solicited over the phone by a charity that she was not familiar with. They asked if she would donate a carving to them. What do you do in such a situation? Most of us are not just carving to give our work away freely. Ask yourself some questions. What do you know about the charity? How does donating a carving to this particular charity benefit you? What types of people will this charity expose your work to? Never donate to a cause that you really don’t believe in yourself. Don’t donate items that you have lying around on a shelf. Make something specifically for the particular charity that you wish to get involved in. Make sure it is representative of the type of carvings that you mainly do and wish to promote and make sure that it is a very well done carving. Civic minded people with money are connected to most charities. You want them to see your best work, not something that you just grabbed off your shelf because you didn’t feel that it would sell. Personally I never give money or carvings away to any charity that solicits me, whether by phone, mail or e-mail. I prefer to pick and chose the charities that I wish to donate things to, for my own personal reasons. I also do not contribute to any of them consistently. If you keep giving, they will keep asking but if you don’t give a second time, you are eventually removed from their mailing lists. Charity auctions and benefits are given lots of press coverage and can bring you needed exposure.
Boy Scout Woodcarving merit badge
Approach your local parks dept about doing some nature carvings for the parks. Also approach your local zoos. Approach your local school systems. There are grants available which can pay you to create community beautification projects. While you’re there, ask them about starting up a woodcarving program which can eventually produce income for you. Get in touch with your local Boy Scout troops, they are always looking for help with the scouts carving merit badge. Whatever you do, just get you and your work out there, in any way you can. Don’t be discouraged by the initial
I hear it is one of the hardest things for a carver to “come out of the closet” in their own community. It takes a bit of courage and planning. Too many carvers do one or two shows that don’t give them good results and then they quit. It may take many years for you to find the right venues to try to sell your carvings. If one type of show doesn’t work for you, try another. Shows and showing is not just throwing your stuff down on a table and then sitting your butt in a chair for the rest of the day and then complaining that no one was interested in buying any carvings. I hear it over and over again; people are just not interested in carvings. Not true, not true, not true. People are very interested in carving once you get them to think about it. I have connected with more people because of my carvings than with any thing else I’ve ever tried to do.
Targeting the right audience is the most important thing to consider when trying to make a name for yourself. You can display carvings worth thousands of dollars and you will get a few oohs and ahs, but if you’re selling at the neighborhood church Christmas fair, you will get no buyers. Like wise with selling $ 5 ornaments at a high end art fair. Spend a few years doing a variety of different types of shows to learn which ones you will have a chance of being moderately successful at. If you come in with the attitude that you will do one or two shows and will make a killing because your carvings are so much better than what everyone else is selling, better that you just stay home to save yourself the crushing disappointment. Selling at craft shows as a business is just like having a store on a city street. You must invest not only your time and talent in it but also some of your money. The biggest expense will probably be for your tent. Buy a decent commercial grade one. Trying to get away with a cheap tent is a big mistake. It will not go to waste and can always be resold or used for family picnics and barbeques. I have even heard of one carver who sets his tent up in his backyard and uses it as a good weather carving studio. People will get to know you after doing shows for the second, third and fourth time. Consistency and reputations sell. Fly-by-nights don’t. A nice display that shows your work off properly is also very important. Take a professional approach to selling and people will at the very least, take notice.
My website Banner
In today’s world, I think it is important for an artist interested in selling, to set up a website. I used to think that you had to be a big business to spend the money needed to have your own site, but that is not true at all. There are companies that offer free web pages for personal use. The problem with them is that their name usually becomes part of your websites address. It makes you look cheap and your web page is usually very limited in allowable space. If you just look around and do a little research you can find companies that will register your website name for less than $10 a year. Hosting can be found for as little as $4 a month. The server I use charges $10 a month for an amount of space that I can’t fathom ever filling up. My website which consists of over 60 pages at this point cost approximately $11 a month in total and I am at this point only using 10% of my available space. I don’t think that there is any excuse for a serious carver or artist not to have one. At one show I attended a man was displaying high priced mosaics and as I found it interesting, I listened in to a few of his sales pitches. People were asking him if he had a website. He didn’t but was telling them that he soon would have one set up. He directed them to his business card which had his phone number on it. It is speculation on my part but I do think he may have lost a few customers, there and then. People are funny sometimes and it is so much easier for them to view your work and check out your pricing anonymously over the internet. If I was interested in purchasing a mosaic from him I would need to call him and make arrangements to come view his work in person. Who knows how many times we would have to get together just to decide what type of mosaic he was going to make for me? A website can save a tremendous amount of time in any artists life. It will cut down on the amount of time put into any project, which will then translate to fewer hours that need to be charged when pricing your work. A potential customer can look through your website gallery at their leisure and if you set your site up correctly, most of their questions about your work can be answered. You don’t need to make an appointment with them and spend half a day showing your work and explaining all its nuances. A website, after its initial setup can free your time so that you can devote yourself to creating.
There are two ways to get yourself a website. You can pay a designer to make you one or you can create your own site. In the future your site will have to be constantly updated. You can pay the designer on a continuing basis or as a fee for service as needed. The better option is that you can take some time and learn to create your own site. I thought was going to be another daunting project but in a few short weeks I taught myself all I needed to know to build my webpage. There are plenty of free sites that will take you step by step through creating your site. You can also try to barter your work for the services of a nice web designer. Bartering is not dead in this day and age. Before you create a site or have one created for you, be sure to look around at hundreds of different sites. Note down the sites that are appealing to you and why. Do they use bold colors? Are they formal or informal? Are they easy to navigate? Can you understand what their main purpose is? Also write down your reasons for not liking certain sites. You can come up with a general idea of what you want your website to look like. When your website is up and running, start submitting the address to all the search engines that you can find. Then do a search for different types of internet directories and add your site into these.
Once you have a website set up, make sure that you include the address on your business card and on all carving correspondence. While I have heard that most carvers don’t make many sales through their websites, it is a great way to show your work off. You can display all of the carvings that have already sold so that a potential customer can see that your work does sell and they can see the full range of your work. It also makes you look a bit more professional if you’ve taken the time to set a site up.
As an artist, it is important to network within the artistic community. There are many artists who have been out there for years, testing the waters. They have already been through the beginning stages of an artist’s career. They have struggled with displaying their work and know what sells where. You can benefit from their experiences if you only ask. Yes there are those artists who fiercely safeguard their own selling secrets but I have found that most people are willing to share their knowledge. Once you get some of them talking, you will probably be told more than you ever wanted to know, but take good notes; their advise may come in handy down the line somewhere. There are no reliable paths that lead directly to success but you can better decide where to put your energy, which venues may be more accepting of your work and how to go about targeting your potential customers.
There are lots of free places in your own community where you can display your work. Libraries, banks, post offices, colleges larger legal, medical and corporate offices are good places to start. They are all community supporting institutions and most will be willing to set up small displays. All of these places have good foot traffic and your work will be seen by people that you would otherwise not reach. The key point is that you will reach more people with your work when your work is readily available to be seen. The more people you reach, the greater chance you have of attracting the “right’ people to your work. You also give the added benefit of exposing the greater public to the idea of woodcarving as an art. Wood carving has always been a well respected art in other parts of the world. Americans need to be reminded of its value.
There is also another thing that needs to be said in terms of displaying and selling your work. Make sure that you are producing quality carvings before you put them out on display for the public to see. Perhaps you are not really ready yet. Perhaps, right now your place really is at the local little craft fairs charging little fair prices. Be happy with that and make a few dollars to help support your hobby. If you have aspirations of carving bigger and better items and selling them for higher prices, consider the small fairs as a part of your carving education. I have seen people who have only been carving for a year or so, express disappointment with their experiences in sales. Suppose they are carving wood spirits in cottonwood bark. They ask around of other carvers, trying to fix a price at which to sell their wood spirits. What they don’t understand is that they are not as accomplished as someone who has been selling wood spirits for years. They cannot begin selling their carvings at “the going rate” until they are carving a quality item. Some people have such bad experiences at their first show that they never try selling to the public again. They will immediately blame their failure on people’s lack of interest in carving or that most people are looking for a bargain. What they don’t do, is take the responsibility for the failure on their own shoulders. If I were just opening a pizzeria, I wouldn’t expect to turn a profit on the first day, or even the first month. Carving, as a business, is to be looked at like any other business. How much of your time and talent have you invested in it? How much money have you invested in your display? Is your display well thought out and pleasing to the eye? Did you attempt to talk to each and every potential customer? Did you try to find out why people didn’t buy your carvings? Did you look and act like a professional? Did you encourage people to touch your work, to pick up and examine the workmanship of your carvings? Did you just throw your carvings out on a table and expect them to sell? Did you dare to put a “do not touch” sign in front of your carvings? Did you give people the impression that you didn’t want to be bothered by having to talk to them? Did you, and this is important, smile? Did you then go and try to discourage another young carver who is thinking about selling?
Depending on the perspective, telling me that I can’t do something can be the best or worst possible thing that you can tell me. It will light a fire under me just as fast, if not faster than high praise can. I am about to attempt my first solo exhibition of my work. I am in the thinking phases of this right now but with the show 10 days away I am also do a lot of the prep work. I understand that I have chosen a small local county fair to make my first splash in. Do I seriously believe that anyone is going to buy my best pieces, the ones with the high prices on them? No, I don’t. I am making moderately priced items to sell alongside the higher quality carvings. I am making lots of ornaments which I can offer cheaply. I am using a scroll saw and stack cutting ornaments so that I can afford to sell them at low prices. I have also used my routers to make some quick signs. I am showing that not only can I carve but that I am a versatile woodworker, who uses lots of tools in my workshop. I have purchased a quality canopy and am now building things for my display, lattice walls for displaying hangings, dowel trees for displaying ornaments, getting nice fabric to cover my tables and I have put together a photo album of things that I have sold for people to look through. I have gotten proper commission forms and receipt books and plan to look professional. I plan to be demonstrating in front of my tent for most of the time my work is on display. A lot of work for one show? Not true, it’s a small amount of work to do to invest in other shows that I will do in the future. My success or failure at this first show will not be judged on a monetary basis, but on how much interest I can generate. I may hook someone who will not buy anything this time but will bring some money with them next time, remembering my work. There is a general “3 minute rule” in business. If you can keep someone looking at your work and talking to you for at least three minutes, chances are that you’ve hooked them. That may or may not translate into sales as sales are much more complicated, but there will be someone looking at my display and talking to me while I carve. Which stand would you be more drawn to, the stand that is empty, with the artist sitting reading a book, or the stand where people are browsing about and asking questions?
First showings are not so much concerned with sales but with gaining experience as a showman. Like everything else in life, you will only get out of it what you put into it. Leave your egos home and bring your best work. No one is going to fall instantly in love with your carvings and buy you out. That just isn’t going to happen until you have established your reputation. And most likely it won’t happen then, either. You must ask yourself why you didn’t have much success when you tried to market your carvings. Can you admit that the fault lies with you, and not other people?
While it is true I am very busy and contemplative in preparing for my first show, the predominant emotion I am feeling is uncertainty. I am anxious and nervous. What will the reaction of the public be? Will I have prepared enough? Can I pretend to be a professional? Are my items of a good quality and am I displaying enough different types of work? Will my display be pleasing to the eye and interesting? As I dig down into my soul, the truth of it is that my carvings and the effort I am putting into my display are merely distractions from the larger question, the only question that really matters. Will people like me? That’s what is really going on. I am about to put myself “out there”, perhaps it is only in a small local way, but this is where I must be successful first, in my own home town. If your neighbors don’t like you, strangers won’t. All art comes from ego, whether it is an external or internal ego. All the work I am doing is to make me, standing in my display, look better. This is me. This is my work. This is my display. That is the order it goes in. I don’t think that there is any artist who has ever showed their work, who will disagree with me. Let us first come to a meeting of the minds about art. Art is not work, it is play for the mind, soul and hands. Every artist has a huge ego in presuming that he should be able to spend his time playing all day while the masses of people punch time clocks for someone else. Marketing is the true work involved in being an artist. Get it through your head that you must punch your imaginary clock and get yourself to work, for hours each day. Only then can you be allowed to play. It is only right and it is essential that you work in some way just to consider yourself a productive human being. I can indulge myself to my hearts content and carve all day if I like, but my grumbling stomach tells me I won’t eat unless I do the work to sell my carvings.
The opportunity to do my first solo selling show came unexpectantly out of right field one day. One of the women that I carve with came into our meeting one day and sat next to me. She told me that she had shown my website to her daughter and that her daughter was impressed with my work. She then handed me an application to be a vendor at our local county fair. She explained that her daughter was on the committee for the county fair and had been showing my work to other members of the committee. I was being given an opportunity for a spot at a 75% discount on the full price for a spot. I took the paper home and filed it away with all my bills, noting that the deadline for the application was 2 weeks away. I played with the idea in my head for days. Was I ready to do a solo show? Up until this time I had only shown my work publicly once. My other carving club, the Woodcarvers of Queens, is an annually invited guest at the Queens county fair. About 30 of us get together. We are situated inside a large tent. We share this space with the county fairs vegetable entries. We basically just bring our carvings and tools with us, spread them out on tables in front of us and spend the day carving and chatting with our friends. People file past all day, do a little ooh and aahing and then head over to check out the prize winning tomatoes. Very few sales are made at the Queens county fair as it is primarily an exhibition and demonstration of woodcarving. It serves as a great way to introduce the public to the art of woodcarving. Doing a solo show would involve a lot more. I would have to put an entire display together myself. I couldn’t count on the tomatoes to pull people into my tent. Could I pull it off?
I mailed in the application 2 days before the deadline and decided to let fate take its course. What was the worst thing that could happen? I would have to call them a few days before the show and cancel? I was going to try not to do this and was going to be very positive about this. I had 6 weeks to get everything together. First things first, I would need a commercial grade tent. The application for the fair said my spot would be 10’ x 10’. This seemed like a very small spot at first but eventually I realized that the smaller the space, the cozier the display could become and the more control I would have over my items. I began looking for a tent not knowing exactly what I needed at first. But after doing a lot of research I figured out what I needed. My research showed that my tent needed to be white as any other color would cast shading upon the carvings. It needed to be able to set up quickly and possibly by one person. It needed to have 4 detachable walls, legs that were straight up and down and not angled out so that people wouldn’t trip over the legs and so that it would neatly fit into my allotted space. It needed to be able to be either staked down or weighted down, depending on the surface it was being set up on. It needed to be of a good quality, heavy fabric and also be of high quality construction but yet be as light weight as possible. Once I was sure that I had found the right tent I purchased it but that also took up most of my money that I had scraped together for my display.
My sister Katy, my friend Mary and Me, in my display
I figured I would need 3 folding tables, two long tables for displaying and 1 smaller one to use as my business area. I started asking around among my friends and family and finally borrowed 2 long tables from my former sister-in-law and a smaller card table from my next door neighbor. I had a lot of carvings that needed to be hung to be seen properly so I set about building a couple of lattice walls which could be mounted onto the tables. I knew that I was going to make a lot of small ornaments and needed a way to display them. I made a dowel Christmas tree. I also made a set of graduated steps for displaying smaller items. I figured all this would form the basis of my display but yet I would need to dress things up a bit. I went out and bought some pale green fabric to cover my tables and shelves with. I chose pale green after doing a bit of research. Anything too light or too dark would take away from the carvings. Although carvings would show well on lighter colored fabric, they would sink into and perhaps pick up reflections from darker colors. If I choose too light a color it would not provide a homey welcoming feeling. I settled on the pale green fabric because most of my carvings are in the red to brown color range and it would be a nice contrast. I purchased large sheets of fabric, figuring that I would be able to skirt the tables all the way to the floor and then could put my empty boxes and business supplies under them so to give a neat appearance to my display. We would not have access to electricity so I didn’t need to worry about lighting for this display. The white fabric of the tent would allow daylight into my stand. I also bought a small box of brightly colored autumn leaves to spread around the table for effect. I had new business cards printed and made a nice little holder for them. I printed out pictures of some of my past commissions and displayed them in an album for potential customers to flip through. I lined up people who would give me some of their time to be with me for the two day show. Don’t attempt a first show by yourself. Until you learn the ropes, you will be overwhelmed. If I needed to go to the bathroom or leave my booth for some other reason, I would have someone to watch over my carvings. And more importantly I would have someone who could give me instant feedback and help with the actual work of setting up and packing up.
Before I knew it and before I was truly ready for it, I realized I had one week left till show day. Most of the time I am a pretty even-tempered person but stress is something I don’t handle well. I sat down at my kitchen table and started making lists. I would live by those lists for the entire week and when it was over, I would be as prepared as possible. I had so many little things to get finished, so many odds and ends to tie up but as I stuck to my schedule things seemed to be moving along. I had most of the ornaments ready for finishing and was finishing up a few carvings when my scroll saw broke. It really broke and parts would have to be ordered from the dealer. I freaked out. I then received a phone call telling me that one of my helpers would be canceling out on me due to a scheduling conflict. The next day, Tuesday, my brain took this opportunity to do a complete meltdown. I began yelling and screaming at my family, saying ridiculous things to them. I was angry at my self for thinking that I could pull this off. I was angry at everyone for not making this work for me. I just wasn’t ready for it. I woke up Wednesday morning with the solution in hand. I would quit. I wouldn’t do my show. Yes it would be embarrassing, but you know what? People would get over it. I would get over it. At 8 am I made this announcement to my stunned family. Their look of disappointment killed me but they would just have to get over it too. They all went out without saying much of anything to me. I stood in my kitchen sulking, not feeling too good about myself. And then I looked at my carvings. Was I ready to give it all up. Why had I worked so hard learning the craft only to throw it away? Again I became angry, but I was no longer angry with myself. I was defiant. Oh yeah? The world wants to throw curveballs at me? Well damn it, I would catch those curveballs and throw them back, taking the pitcher out at the knees. I didn’t need anybody to help me. This was my work! My Dream! And I would get out there and do what had to be done.
My dowel tree
Make no mistake; my emotional upheaval was a crisis of confidence, something familiar to most artists. My tantrums had wasted a whole day and thrown my schedule way off. I needed to get back to work immediately. I showered, dressed and made a bee line for the store and bought myself a bigger and better scroll saw and when my family returned I was hard at work once again down in the basement. In those three days before the show, I worked from morning to night, taking care of all the little things that needed to be taken care of. I lined up someone else to assist me and began organizing everything. The day before the show found me very peaceful, if not still hard at work. I spent the day packing up all of my items, and going over my check lists, making sure that all my ducks were in a row. I went to bed very tired but optimistic. I was as ready as I was ever going to be and probably more prepared then most had been for their first shows. I tried to sleep that night but do admit to tossing and turning for most of the time.
In the morning my attitude was all business. The jitters were for the most part gone. I arrived 2 hours early at the fairgrounds and used the full 2 hours in setting up my display. I was excited when the public started coming by. It was an overcast day with the remnants of Hurricane Katrina heading out to sea. I planned to do carving demonstrations all day and that’s just what I did, stopping every now and then to talk to potential customers. I didn’t make many sales that day but received lots of compliments on my carvings and my display. I went home a bit disappointed but still was willing to go back for the second day. The second day was magical. The sun was out and shining and people were out and smiling. In the first hour I tripled the previous days sales. Yes, it was going to be a great day. And it was. Yes, I made some money. I covered the cost of my booth and my nice new scroll saw. I was selling my lower priced items that I had specifically made for this reason. By the days end I had sold almost all of them. But things were happening. People were admiring my carvings and asking me for prices. Yes, I could have lowered my prices and made lots more sales, but no, carving is my passion. I was not putting all the hours of work into them to turn around and give them away for free. I would rather hold on to them, then to devalue them. In the last hour of the show I did receive a commission for a custom carving.
The days after my show were full of contemplation. Had it been successful? Was I able to accomplish what I needed to. My resounding answer was yes. No, I had not made a tremendous amount of money, but the recognition far overshadowed the financial aspects. The fair organizers loved me and my work and asked me to be a featured part of a series of six shows that they were putting together and the director of the organization invited me to be a participant in a juried show, which was coming up in a few months. I received an order for a commission and a few days later, someone called me and purchased one of my better carvings. People had taken most of my business cards. Two fellows had spent over an hour talking to me about carving. One woman made a point of thanking me for choosing woodcarving as my form of expression as she had never met another woodcarver since her beloved grandfather died. I felt great to be recognized and respected by strangers.
The carving that was bought 2 days after the show
Most people do not have as much success as I did at my first show. What do I attribute it to? I would not be egotistical enough to think that my work is any better than most other carvers. I think what gave me a big boost was all of the research I had done into marketing and all of the time that I put in to preparing for the show. Presenting yourself as a professional is one of the most important things. I came out in a big way and didn’t just throw my product out there on the table waiting for it to sell itself. That is the difference. I also understand that this is only another baby step in my woodcarving future. My first show only whetted my appetite for the days ahead. My next mission will be to steer my displaying to the right markets and I know that eventually I will find my audience. There will be many more shows and many more cards handed out in my future.
The contrasts between hobby carvers and aspiring artists are many, but primarily hobby carvers do not need to do much more than enjoy what they are doing and perhaps learn more about their craft and improve their work. If this is you and you are happy with what woodcarving does for you, my hat is off to you. It is a hard thing to find satisfaction in life. The life of the aspiring artist is hard. Most people just don’t want to deal with the challenges of marketing. If you are a carver with the urge or need to sell your work, don’t sell yourself short. Put your best foot forward and approach it in a professional manner. Anything less will most likely meet with failure and you will have no one else to blame, but you.