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The business of art pottery

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After reading what I can find about the business of becoming a professional or para-professional artist/potter, I'm still fuzzy on some things.

 

How is the market for art pottery? Compared to more traditional stuff.

How would building up an art pottery business differ from building a more traditional pottery business?

 

So... what do you think?

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The basics of business are the same whether you are selling widgets or pottery.

Recognize who your potential customer might be, make a product they want, control your costs and price it for profit.

So, if you are aiming at the capital "A" Art market, do your research and define your customer.

 

Who are these Galleries, what are they hot on right now ... how do they want to be approached for potential representation?

Take a look at who they represent. Does your work meet those levels whatever they might be?

Can you make a living at it? If you make pieces worth $10,000 and can sell 6 per year that's $60,000 of which you get maybe $30,000 after commission ... now you pay your expenses and you might net $20,000 ... Can you live on that per year while you make the next ones?

 

In the "Art" market the sun doesn't shine on the same dog forever ... So what do you fall back on when you are out of style? How hard are you willing to work and push yourself ... How willing are you to produce work to fit the market ... How well can you take criticism ... How many famous people do you know who will put in a good word for you at the top Galleries?

 

Not saying it can't be done ... obviously people are doing it every day ... with preparation and hard work you could be next.

keramist likes this

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Okay, I flood the market with widgets: AKA Yarn Bowls and Pho Bowls. I've tapped a market which will work for a while until every Pho eater and Knitter in Skagit County will flinch back in horror at yet another offering from yours truly. But, I also make fragile and exquisite pots for rich people to put on their mantle pieces. As in most things in life: it's a balance. I've seen a couple of postings here and there from potters who have "aspirations and ambitions" but have fallen into the ways of making mugs which sell. These mugs sell very well indeed, but the makers are unhappy because they don't feel that their potential is being realised. What is this all about? I am happy as a clam at high tide to get down to my local Farmers Market on a Saturday and flog bowls and utilitarian ware. But I also like the "otherness" of what I do in chancing my hand by entering juried shows and so forth. I think conscientiously working the juried show circuit is excellent advice from Chris Campbell -- get a good CV going. Develop a Five Year Plan. If you are still earning a salary from another profession -- you need to develop this patience and foresight. Discipline. Kill your telly. Take on a potter's life.

keramist likes this

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My personal experience has been to diversify a bit. We've all heard that it's not good to put all your eggs into 1 basket, and I have truly come to embrace that. After owning a and running a Landscape design/installation business for 6 years, My partner and I found out how exposed we were when the real estate market took a turn in 2007. People just weren't spending money on their yards anymore, and We had built up a small business that was totally reliant upon more and more customers coming my way. In the end, too much overhead and too specialized to do well in a market that changed out of our favor, and although we stayed busy longer than most of our competition, in the end we knew what we had to do- Sell it.

 

Most of us do other things to make money, whether it is all our income or only a small fraction of it. I have had the dream like so many potters and artists and writers and poets out there that one day I will be able to make all my income from my art, but I am now feeling a bit differently about that. I think what I want is to make MOST all my money from my art, that way I can spend MOST all my time doing what I love, but having another skill to fall back on, like for me, landscape design and consultation, is a bit of insurance. I advertise my landscape services, but take the jobs only when I feel I need the money.

 

Furthermore, within my ceramic work, I have diversified. I have taken it in the gut (almost literally) to invest the time to develop a line of architectural ceramics and market them to the fields that are looking for these products (Designers, Architects, Some contractors). I also do a lot of functional ware because I love making it. I do wholesale orders and work as many shows as I can. And lastly I work on MY WORK, that is, the work I would be making if money meant nothing. This is the work I do for show in Galleries and enter contests with. In the end, keeping things diversified helps me to feel more balanced. At times I really wish I only did one thing, because it would be so much easier, but I know what I have committed to keeps me more stable and more interested/committed over time (ie. I don't get bored with any one thing.)

Dinah likes this

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About your question if pottery business is like any other business, I think it is, I just have a different approach than most. Most say to give the market what they want, but if I did that, I would be making and selling nothing but turtles, geckos, hibiscus flowers, palm trees, and surfboards to attach to all my work. I would encourage you not to make what the market is buying so much, but make what you make, make it the best you possibly can, sell it as if it IS the best, BUT FIND THE MARKET THAT WANTS WHAT YOU ARE MAKING. Not selling out is far more rewarding in the long run, because selling out, usually turns what you use to love to do into another "job" or "9-5" that you now feel you have to do to pay the bills.

 

Put in the time, research, outreach and footwork in to find the market that wants what you are making, and in the end you will be happier. It takes longer, it is more difficult, but in the end, you are fed as an artist by selling what you are passionate about rather than what people buy lots of, and by doing so, you can make a name for yourself.

 

-Tim

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How is the market for art pottery? Compared to more traditional stuff.

Amy Meya and Cathy Brosky answer this questions last month in

the Arts Business Institute blog. The artists are profiled and discuss

how they sell to galleries and save on expenses doing wholesale

shows. Their work is good "art pottery" sculptural, not functional

and sells well with production and limited edition galleries.

While some of their pieces go into the thousands... they both

rely on a "sweet spot" price point in the wholesale $150-300

range (that's a guestimate).

 

Amy and Cathy both do great wall tile

installations, and Cathy has wonderful sculpture... some table top

or pedestal, the one she did (as a team effort) for NCECA was over 10ft tall.

 

 

They both come from Kansas City, are great friends and travel buddies...

it saves them a bunch on expenses. Both artists are alumni of

the Arts Business Institute (Scottsdale/Phoenix in Oct) (Philly in Feb).

They are "real" ceramic artists... not living off a trust fund pretending

to be in business. They are both serious artists, making a decent

living with their work!

 

Best Wishes... email me if you have any individual questions!

 

Artist Profile: Amy Meya

Artist Profile: Cathy Brosky

 

 

 

 

 

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I completely agree with Tim. The "Art or fine Craft marketplace" is less than 5% of the

US population, 2% or even less for non-functional sculptural work. The wonderful

thing about the current marketplace, is that even in an economic slump, you can

find your "niche"... there are wonderful resources so you can find collectors by

their specific interest. One big mistake is to think that all the customers for

"good" work are wealthy... not true! The biggest problem for most artists is

that they try to earn a living within a 20 mile radius of their studio... or travel

to mediocre shows where costs are high and returns are low. Selling nationwide

is the best way to find those great collectors... they have identified the dealers

who know their tastes.

 

The best buyers are most often the most educated not the most well-heeled.

This is one of my favorite topics to chat about!

 

The Arts Business Institute blog offers studio solutions 3x every week.

Happy hunting!

 

Wendy Rosen

Facebook

AmericanCraft.com

American Made Alliance

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"In the "Art" market the sun doesn't shine on the same dog forever"

"Not saying it can't be done ... obviously people are doing it every day

with preparation and hard work you could be next."

 

 

Chris, I know very few ceramic artists who have made a living in

just one narrow slice of the marketplace. The art success guru

and marketing wizard Dale Chihuly does it all... from paper note cards,

kiddie art supplies, to production and sculpture in EVERY price point.

 

He does everything but teach (for money) and sell equipment.

Learn from the masters... study the marketing strategies of Dali,

Picasso, Christo, and even William Morris (the one from the 1800's).

 

The stories are incredible! (I plan to blog about it when I get time

this winter...)

 

Wendy Rosen

Arts Business Institute, Founder

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Hi Wendy ... Good to see you on the forum!

 

I always recommend the Arts Business Institute to any artist who is serious about financial success. One weekend can save about four years of floundering and making costly mistakes! I've attended two sessions and learned so much!

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I'm attempting to concentrate this coming year on producing prototype models to have an art

business: simply, practical art pottery that I'd possibly have reproduced

by method of molds, and i'm not really a production potter. I have been scoping out the

business stuff.

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Wendy said "The best buyers are most often the most educated not the most well-heeled."

 

I completely agree with this. Often people with lots of money have the worst taste. But education does create better customers.

 

My thoughts about fine art vs functional craft these days .... I was in a show this past weekend that was mostly a fine arts festival. Mostly wall art and fine art sculptures, maybe 30 - 40% was functional crafts. People were buying the pottery, glass, jewelry, clothing like crazy. It was a good show for some of the fine artists too, I saw lots of large framed originals walking away with their new owners. But I also saw lots of fine artists looking sad, some with zero sales. Hoping customers will call them later. This was in an upscale location, there was no lack of money or education. I did have one couple say to me "we are trying hard to only buy functional things from now on." So from my point of view, right now the functional crafts have some advantage over fine arts.

 

Mea

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My wife and I visited the show Mea is talking about, and it did appear that many of the fine artists were suffering at that show. But, then, many of the fine artists in the show brought their dramatic, large scale works; meaning, they brought big canvases, big sculptures, and big mixed media projects. Flashy. The kind of work that suits large houses and dramatic decoration. I've been to this show three years running, and I felt the same way about the show this time as I have every time. Much of the fine art does not suit me, in my older, smaller, town-house style co-op unit. I've bought fine art there before, but it was usually smaller things that fit where I live. Even with the best artists at that festival, I can rarely imagine their work in my house because it needs lots of space. There are a lot of large homes in the area, but I wonder how the slump in sales for the large homes might be slowing the demand for certain kinds of fine art.

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I managed a seasonal art gallery for many years and was always put off by a customer asking if a work of art they were interested in would appreciate in value. I'd explain to them that the reason to buy art was not that it would appreciate in value but that they appreciated the art! Read what Chris wrote again. It is all too true that those with wealth are too often afraid to buy art just because they like a piece and could live with it for the rest of their lives. You shouldn't be buying art to match your sofa or because it fills a certain shelf and if they want to make an investment, they should maybe try stock trading? Far as I'm concerned, the only reason to buy art is because you covet it and the thought of it being displayed anywhere besides your home is outrageous!

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Wendy, I think Dale Chihuly is a great example of a financially successful artist. And you're right he does do all kinds of work to fill the pricepoints, but what I think he does even better is something we are all overlooking........network. Unfortunately for most all of us, we would rather be making what we love to make rather than working the business end of things, but networking is so, so important for any successful business. I find this is true even on the extremely low end of things like farmers markets. If I take the time to meet with, have discussions with, and ultimately become friends with a lot of the the other vendors, they will steer customers who may have missed my booth back to me, and I will do the same for them. We all appreciate and trust personal references more than a shot in the dark, so when it comes down to it, the more people you know and respect inside and even outside your industry, the more business you will generate for yourself. So applying the same idea to the very large end of things Like Chihuly has done (Large Sculpture installations) will only help your chances of success. Being good at what you make sure helps too :)

 

How many times have you walked into a large hotel lobby, friends house or waiting room and seen really really terrible art? Like not just not your taste bad, but really ugly, badly designed or crafted art? I know I have many many times, so it goes to show that it's who you know not how good you are (unfortunately) a lot of the time.

 

 

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Good point, same issue in furniture and object design. Solution: one should network and get to know these decorators and advisers - to get shortlisted and recommended.

Sadly, the wealthy have decorators who tell them what they like ... Or advisors who tell them what pieces will appreciate $$ over the years.

 

buckeye likes this

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