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OK I didn't want to high jack a thread but we really hit on something of tremendous interest to me. I think business is a decent place to ask/discuss this because it goes to the heart of being viable in the selling of your work and that does matter to me.

I completely understand the point of developing a particular style  and sticking with it. I have researched and tried to conform. Continuity and consistency seems to be the leading points. People will come to recognize you as an artist based on the style you develop. You will better develop an expertise and a clearer artistic voice. Put a booth together with multiple styles and it will confuse your customers and it makes you look amateurish.  Your style sets you apart from other artist and defines your... bla bla bla.

But seriously, why? 

Pottery itself is redefined now. It's no longer a core industry but a labor of artistic toil. The only reason to make pottery is because you want to  express yourself through process, output or both. If I was a painter I would work in pencil, watercolor and oil. I might plop all three on a canvas just to be arrogant.

As a potter I want to work in low, mid, high, reduction, oxidation. I want to eventually cover all the firing techniques and as I become proficient I want to build out my line with forms from all of them. I want to add Egyptian paste jewelry (cool history).  I want to mix functional and non functional.

I want to express myself and from the few dozen low revenue shows I have done I think it would work and to be honest if done well I think it would have vastly increased my revenue at every one of these types of shows. I get that the high end art shows might/would shun me but who's kidding who I am not going to be doing many, if any, of those shows in any numbers any time soon. 

I seriously don't see how developing and selling same style mugs, bowls, plates etc. is going to make me any more successful.  Why do so many feel you cannot develop a following of cutomers who like to see different styles under one tent.   

Would love to hear input positive and negative.

Why do we as 2018 potters have to be boxed in to a choice for the rest of our careers?   

Edited by Stephen
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1st let me say having a bank of ceramic knowledge to draw on is very important (low fire,highfire,oxidation electric gas, wood-salt, making plaster molds making glazes ,kiln building plumbing electrical etc etc etc all comes from my collage and start up years .That  was 40 years ago-since then my style has progressed and been refined but what I have found true is my customers can add something next year or 10 years to whatever they have and it works-Glazes change over time as the materials change as my use and my additions of new and taking away glazes goes thru cycles but the overall thing is they can draw from my work and add it to what they have it matches to some degree.

I have a customer base in many cities and they can come too my booth 5 years later and add towhead they bout then and it works -its not tight like commercial work but close enough.

You do not have to take this approach you can offer it all-low high -wood oxidation ,reduction but what I found is the public is easily confused .I keep my salt work when I have some to sell on a separate rack away from my porcelain for example.I had more than one promoter tell me over my career that I had to many colors and just to have a few. Thats not my approach .

Look at Mea's work and you will see this color theme at work and it works well for her.

For me mine is variety of color-for some it confusing and they pass me by.Most want choice in my booth or that who I'm marking to` is another way to think about it. For me its always been about using lots of color.

The product line I speak about is a consistent  style -for me its many colors-but the work is solid and you can by some now and add some later and it all works.

I have found painters do not do was well as painters at shows-just my experience-most go thru phases with oil or w watercolor but the ones who are all over the board do less well. Same with photographers -the theme works well in most all art fields.

The public gets its to some degree. The  shotgun approach to work is fine in school while learning but the market place is where the rubber meets the road and its not well received  I have found.

thats my 2 cents and its different for everyone

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Stephen, you have articulated perfectly the very essence of the struggle I have been having since resuming working in clay a couple of years ago.  I have always been eclectic and all over the place when making art, whether painting, photography, mixed mediums, clay, or twigs and string.  I don't want fame or fortune-just want to pay for the clay & materials,  and I don't care about accolades.  AND YET...I too have gotten the message that a degree of refinement, consistency of style, identifiable approach, and a basic uniformity of forms is generally desired in "the market" (not speaking of the expert/high end arena).  So I have come to figure that if I want to garner enough spendoolies to at least break even, I best  reign it in a bit and tend to the marketing aspect of selling my work. 

To do that, for 2018 at least, I have decided to take my basic "doing whatever I want however I want"  approach to my clay pieces, and select a core group of forms and techniques, a limited palette of glazes, and ID a few target audiences for roughly-defined "lines" of merchandise. It's driving me nuts...I feel viscerally uncomfortable when not roughly tearing/free-forming, making "excessively" heavy ware and not doing my usual slop & mop glaze treatment.  AND YET...I have to admit that my work seems to be getting more refined/commercial and people seem to really like it (more). "But seriously, why? "

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Some of it I think is narrowing the field. Because of the huge learning curve that ceramics has, you can either do a lot of different things poorly (in relation to your own skills, not comparing to other people), or you can do fewer things with more skill and understanding, and efficiency. 

Consistency and specificity is important to successfully marketing anything, not just pottery. Different kinds of work will appeal to different people, and if you keep having to change the group you're trying to sell to in order to offload what you make, to educate each and every buyer about each and every piece....that's a lot of energy spent that could be used to better effect, I think. Focusing on a type of work that you can live with, and grow and develop over time is working smarter, not harder.  Even production potters I know evolve their lines over time, they doesn't stay static.  You keep what works, and discard what doesn't. 

Edited by Callie Beller Diesel
Added one idea.
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If you don't focus, you won't excel at any particular technique. You'll be 'okay' at several things, master of none.  Like Mark said, it's important to have a well rounded base of knowledge, but you need to narrow it down to truly excel. I agree with everyone else about the public being easily confused. It's draining enough to explain what I make, without having to explain 6 different techniques to every customer.

Don't confuse repetition and consistency with lack of change. Even if you're only working in cone 6 with porcelain, your pots will evolve- you'll develop new pots and new glazes, you'll retire old forms and glazes that you're tired of or that don't sell well, you'll gain new inspiration that will lead you in different directions, etc. But it doesn't happen all at once- it's an evolution, which takes time. You have to settle in and work through each period, exhausting the possibilities before moving on. I'm currently making a new body of work that is different than what I've been making for the last few years, but it's a logical evolutionary step, still very much 'me', but new and exciting.

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This evolution is not so much about Marketing and Sales as it is about the voyage of discovery that learning your craft is ... and finding where you fit into the picture.

I very strongly recommend that every new potter tries every possible technique that pops into their heads ... jump in, enjoy and grab every lesson from it you can. This learning by doing builds your knowledge base with clay ... every success and failure teaches you something you will remember and apply later on. There are no wasted digressions when learning a craft ... that is part of the joy of it.

Because one day you will get smacked upside the head with the one that grabs you ... the one you cannot let go of and that is one great day. You think that you have narrowed your sights but when you get into it, it keeps expanding and the options improbably grow rather than shrink. The more you know, the more you don't know.

This is the sweet spot that so many artists want to reach ... their style, their voice ... and I submit, there is no straight road to it. If you look at the work of any artist in any field you might not recognize their early work at all ... but only sometimes see little clues to where they finally end up.

This is why experienced Gallery owners, judges, editors, collectors, customers etc., etc.,  value the importance of seeing a cohesive line of work ... it is an exciting signpost of someone who has reached a certain point in their career. They bet on the fact that there is more where that came from and they will be able to provide it to their customers as well. They love to see an artist grow within it ... like great jazz, play riffs around it. It is why they stay interested in working with these artists.

That said, it is not something you HAVE TO DO.  If you want to make everything and try everything then do it. Learn all you can and move on to the next thing. Just realize that this wide variety of items speaks for you just as a cohesive line says something else.

Like everything else with clay ... it all depends on what you want to do next.

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You get better at what you do the most and the longest. I certainly wont tell you not to keep on doing exactly what you are doing. Out of what you do will come WHAT YOU DO. How could it be any other way? I cant speak from a pottery perspective because I don't even have my own line yet (still working on it, and will be tweaking forever probably haha) but I can speak from a consumer perspective. If you give people too many choices, they generally will not choose. That's been proven by people who get paid waaaaaaaay more than I do,  to study consumer habits and what sells and why and what doesn't sell and why. And take into account gas stations and convenience stores. All laid out generally the same. I remember a time when Quick Trip / Racetrack / Wal-Mart  / Target, they were there but every store was different, you had to walk around and find things, doable but not ideal. Now I can go to any one of these places, walk directly to what I want, pick it up and go check out. Then also there is the familiarity concept that ties in with that. Humans are creatures of habit, we generally park in the same spots, we generally say hello to those we are familiar with. Sure we may strike up a conversation with a stranger but chances are better with the person we know better. We gravitate towards familiarity. We have jingles that go along with a product to further engrain a name or a slogan so you are more likely to choose it. I find the subject and the psychology behind it absolutely fascinating. Added bonus, when you learn the techniques people use to try to sell you things, or persuade you of something, you get to make more informed choices rather than just because it "feels" some kind of way. There are TED talks on marketing, books, all sorts of strange and fascinating things out there to learn about how our brains work and how we make decisions.

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I am listening and really do hear the wisdom of this group and I know the overall consensus is right, sigh.  

I closed my doors (urr.. tent flaps) a year ago now and should be back up as a part timer in a few weeks. Everything feels new and with my reduced part time schedule I started re-thinking what has been my emerging lineup over the past three seasons.   I have a few hundred pots boxed and was hitting stride pushing about 80 pots through a week. Was tough with one 7cf 1027 for bisque and glaze. Production routine was so important, now it's not.

If I had made it then I don't think I would be at this crossroads because I would just be, well producing :-)

Not really into fate but I think I will try and roll all of the wonderful advice above with a bit of change, just not as drastic as my original post. I have about 10 forms represented that I feel are where they need to be. I am going back through those boxes and will likely cull another 10-15% to really get it down to nothing but really solid work.  I am pretty good at culling the work but I must admit as a fledgling business I started letting through a few pieces here and there that I was on the fence about and will pull out. 

 

12 hours ago, Chris Campbell said:

That said, it is not something you HAVE TO DO.  If you want to make everything and try everything then do it. Learn all you can and move on to the next thing. Just realize that this wide variety of items speaks for you just as a cohesive line says something else.

 

14 hours ago, Mark C. said:

I keep my salt work when I have some to sell on a separate rack away from my porcelain for example

 I really have rolled these two statements around in my head since Chris and Mark posted. I see 35-50 pots tops a week with the new reduced schedule. My existing 300 or so pots are  porcelain and I like the work and will keep making it but I am going to start adding some work with emphasis on the additional effects I can achieve in my oxidation environment along with Egyptian paste in my smaller test kiln and I am going to re-design my booth to work with this. I think large informative signs will help in conveying the different processes and may help pull things back together as a somewhat cohesive pottery booth albeit one with multiple styles. 

Many of the shows I do are somewhere between fairs and art shows. If they have done a good job keeping out buy/sell then its mostly a line up of makers in the area with artist booths in the mix. I seldom see more than another one or two potters.  I think with a good booth I can make this work and have some punch with both a good solid functional line and some separated pots of different styles.

Ya know I really think that a good form off the wheel is a good form. That skill is the bedrock of my work and I am not all over the place with that and will just keep getting in the daily reps. Production I am convinced is the best path to taking my pottery to the highest and best level it can go.  Mugs for example as a hobbyist probably had almost an hour invested by the time they hit the shelf glazed but as a full timer that ended up around 15 minutes with maybe an extra 5 when I added badges and the form is better. I plan to keep up this push even though I no longer depend on pottery for food (which was a great motivator when tired).

Thanks everyone! 

Edited by Stephen

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1 hour ago, Stephen said:

 I think large informative signs will help in conveying the different processes and may help pull things back together as a somewhat cohesive pottery

Sorry but this was my morning smile ... people DO NOT READ ... nope, you can mark a simple exit and they will ask which way is out. 

I saw a show ( City in the Sky ... really good ) on how Atlanta airport moves people through it with pictures and subtle cues of pavement changes and patterns. Trying to move them using printed words slows the whole process down too much.

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Exactly Chris,

The price of banners is really so low that I want to really increase the use of them.  I want my booth to have more backstory about it. I'm thinking a series of enlarged studio images with captions talking about the process but the pictures being informative enough that just glancing at the banners will convey the story and drive home the point that it's handmade. I might even have a couple of my old pads with earphones setting out with some video's for anyone whose interested.

Pottery is cool and at the shows I do a lot of folks don't really get it. I mean they do but they don't. I know some people break through this barrier by having a wheel set up. Don't see myself doing this as just too much to do that and try and run the booth too but its that feel I want to get going. Now that I don't need the volume I will be concentrating on higher dollar pots and I want the booth to feel more expensive if that makes sense.  Although these are not high-end art shows, people are spending money and they are buying gifts. i always feel like my booth is just blending in too much. I want more pop but in a good way. 

 

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I hate to break this to you Stephan but most people don't care how's it made, they only care if they like it. For those that like it what you have to do is make it easy for them to buy it.

IMO a banner with a Visa, MasterCard American Express and PayPal logos would do more to help sales than a banner with muddy hands on a wheel forming a pot or a picture of your brand new shinny kiln.

Its also IMO that the images you describe would do more to distract buyers than help sales.

Edited by RonSa

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Ya know Ron I just have to disagree on that one.

I've only done few dozen shows but It's been my experience that people that like pottery do care. Even at my worst shows, the folks that come into my booth are by and large folks that like handmade, probably like pottery and the process matters to them and they pay more because of it and many feel very positive about supporting an artist/potter directly.

I think most people don't know much about the process and hence seldom ask much about it. Most customers I also think like to have good packaging with cards etc for gifts. They want the recipient to know they bought handmade and didn't just grab a $5 mug at a big box store.  

now one of the kilns is fairly shiny but I will use the older worn looking one for my shots ;)

Edited by Stephen

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A few things I know is the people do not read signs-I keep two-one on each side of me  on my booth sections(every section has this sign on it ) they say microwaveable,dishwasher safe.

I cannot tell you how many hundred thousand times folks ask these questions and 98% never read the signs.People do not read -you have to tell them the sign is there-I just point at it-That may seem crass but you do this for 45 years and you may also start pointing to.

Very few persons  overall have ever asked how things are made-I do like the querries but they are rare indeed.

I think people as Rosa says buy because they like it-not much more than that.

With salt or wood pots I also have sign about the process but I have to tell them as they never read it. The process is not why they buy it.

They buy it because they like it.I know this to be a fact for my work.

design, color function and price points its why they buy.

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...oh boy Steph, a theoretical box o worms you opened, eh?

I get your concern, as I have the same. Since I haven't actually gone Full Monty on the shows idea yet, I vacillate and am trying to suss out where I fit in this new/old crafty world.

Style is fashion, fashion fades, style is a both original and mundane at the same time.  People like order, same things, lots of them in all sizes. 'I made this! This is MY style'...( maybe it will become trendy!).

Trendiness falls out of style, becomes old fashion after a while. Fortunately for us, the new trend now is 'handmade' items. That too will fall out of fashion...we'll go 180 again to where everything will be Sharper Image, just watch.

We can pay attention to what's selling and slam up a bunch of the same shlock and sell sell sell. Depends on what your goal is. There are choices, it's free will, but how constrained does one want to be.  I pay attention to what others do, but that's part of self-education, it's interesting.

Yeah, one can make a certain style (just browse Pinterest!). That's one way of doing it.  Get really technically anal about the process. I like that sort of thing, but I'm not very good at doing it.  It's almost like having to be the drummer in the band. Keeping the beat. Me, I can't keep a beat more than a few bars...so I groove around in an offbeat world, making everything different, all of the time.  Call it amatuer-ish or lack of focus. I don't care really. It doesn't matter. I mess with clay because I like to.

I may have mentioned this before, but, lately the pieces I've sold were the best (and highest priced) ones, not the little production bits. At the little show last month, I got the best compliment ever from an elderly woman who had been a potter. so she knew what she was looking at. I was explaining how I was doing pottery back when I was in my twenties. She said to me "But you weren't doing work like this in your twenties. Your work is mature".

Made my day...

 

Edited by Rex Johnson
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Agree, people don’t read signs, I think most customers get a kind of tunnel vision, focus in on what they are looking at and concentrate on that without seeing what could be right next to it. I was trying out a new line last summer, wanted to see how it would do before scaling up production, line of driftwood pieces with porcelain sea urchins, starfish, octopus tentacles, shells etc. Had a separate display for this work, not with my regular pots (have to say that given the recent comments on mixed styles) with a sign saying ‘Porcelain & Driftwood”. At a guess I would say about 1/2 the comments I got were, “what are these made from?” Also had a couple bright bunnies saying they could just take real ones and put them on driftwood, hmmm, seem to remember another thread with customers comments that elicited a head shake.

I still get asked about lead and the odd person asking about cadmium but not about my process unless it’s another potter or someone taking ceramics classes.

I don’t think style in our work is something most potters deliberately set out to make. I believe we develop our own style after making a truckload of pots.  I’m not looking to make trendy or fashionable pots, rather,  pots that reflect my minimalist sense of taste and have enough customers to know there are others who also appreciate this aesthetic.

 

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ha, ha yeah I'm good at that.

I certainly don't want to argue with folks like Mark and Ron that have been doing this much longer than me. At my shows I get a lot of folks that specifically buy handmade and like to support artist, or at least they say they do. 

I do know since I have been back I have seen several threads on how handmade is in right now and everyone is doing a lot better at shows and shops than they had been doing over the past few years so that seems to support my position somewhat. I mean handmade matters or it doesn't.  I know 20-25 years ago my wife and I and all of her family were combing fairs for handmade pottery and it mattered to us. I've still got some $50 cups from late 80's that we couldn't afford to prove it.  Now for the last 20 we have bought much more but that doesn't count because my wife was potting and I am fairly sure her interest in pottery stems from all of those years of buying handmade pottery.   

Anyway, banners are cheap and even if they don't increase sales I seriously doubt they will decrease them and they will make me feel more proactive  :-) 

Edited by Stephen

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The worst thing you can do for your web site is make it busy. Give people enough information to make an informed decision about their purchase, but no more. Yes, have a page dedicated to explaining the process, your studio, a picture of your dog, etc. But don't put all that info everywhere. One of the most common comments I get about my web site is that it's simple and easy to navigate. People don't want to read a lot, and they don't want to have to hunt for the info they're looking for. They don't go to a web site to spend a lot of time looking around. They're looking for a specific thing, and if it's difficult to find, they'll move on.

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1 hour ago, Stephen said:

Anyway, banners are cheap and even if they don't increase sales I seriously doubt they will decrease them and they will make me feel more proactive  :-) 

These are not good decision-making processes. Doing shows is enough work already. Don’t it make more work for yourself just to feel like you deserve more reward. That doesn’t reap any rewards. Making your display busier and busier will absolutely hurt your sales. Focus on things that really matter (improving your pots, building a customer base, getting into better shows), and on making the process easier not harder. 

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I do not think it will hurt you.

I have a reputation of getting out of show Quik. Less is better for me.I have a sign in booth thats put up with two clamps its just over 2x2 feet.

My mental state is about 3 -3.30pm on Sunday, as soon as show slows down. I pack loose ends-all the small signs on each rack that nobody reads-I start packing my top shelve items)tall forms like canister sets soon all the top shelves are bare and no ones they where there.

The more stuff I  have the more I need to pack up. Packup is an art in itself-we have not ever covered this much here.If I get out before jeweler I'm right on track. Double booths are another thing.

I do 3 of those per year as well.I need help on those doubles

.

Edited by Mark C.
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52 minutes ago, Stephen said:

Well I really don't think adding a couple of display signs with enlarged images of my studio process to my booth is going to be a big negative.

Maybe: maybe not.  And you're right, if you wait for a vistaprint sale, it can be an inexpensive experiment.  Sometimes we have to make our own observations.

That said, do you want people noticing your display, or would you rather they noticed your work? 

Marketing art is still marketing. You just need to select your methods more carefully than, say, someone selling tires or food or luxury vacations. Certain principles though, apply across the board. Making your sales pitch concise and very clear in a short amount of time is one of them. As is specifically identifying who you're selling to.

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On 1/9/2018 at 7:11 PM, Stephen said:

But seriously, why? 

I think the main reason not to have competing styles is that you end up competing with yourself. I don't have experience selling in a booth but I do have experience shopping in them. The one thing I will say is that when I walk past a booth that I think is interesting enough to walk into, there is a key factor in me making a purchase. That factor is the limitation of my options. Give me too many options and I am indecisive, give me too little and I won't find anything I like, give me just the right amount with no distractions and I will make a purchase, usually with a decent price elasticity.

If I walk into a booth it is because I liked something about the pots on display that drew me in. When I walk into the booth I should see more of the things that drew me in, not lots of different things and styles. The thing that draws people in is what they are looking for. When you walk past a candy store and they have windows full of delicious chocolates, how many times do you go in and buy something like ice cream? 

This applies to almost anything. It is the reason people usually try to match furniture or paint on the walls or just anything really. I am sure you have walked into a house that was completely chaotic, some people don't care but they are the minority of the human race. There is even a culture about it called Feng Shui(had to look it up). Random chaos drives people away. It is the reason you can look at a picture with a bunch of zebra and instantly find the one with the stripes going the wrong way. Our minds are made to see these conflicts and notice them as a danger. 

If you want an example of this. Go to a restaurant and turn a chair upside down on a table. Just wait and see how many people walk in who don't work there and take the chair down and put it like all the rest of them. People can't handle it. I used to do this type of stuff when I was a mischief-making teenager. My son who is 7 will walk by an aisle in the grocery store and fix a box of cereal because it isn't facing the same as the others. Some people are worse than others, but in general, we are all prone to this.

I wasn't going to post here because I don't sell in booths, or much at all, but I didn't see anyone posting from the perspective of the buyer walking by. Which is most of my experience. Anywhoo. I should get back to work!

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Sadly, none of us is the special exemption to the rules of commerce.

People do not want to see how hard you work, how long it took, what your studio looks like, what throwing looks like ... save your money and keep that filler stuff for your website ... customers look at your work and decide if it is worth their money.

Scary huh? They look at your work and decide if it is worth spending their hard earned money on.

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