Potters & Sculptors - Making Rock from Mud
I collect art. That is to say I own more art then I have space to display. I would guess some of you have purchased art as well. I don’t mean the prints or the bird houses, I mean the stuff that requires some serious thought because the price demands it. To those out there who buy art I would ask you if you have ever purchased art on line? Anything from Etsy? If you have you are a rarity. I would never buy art online unless I already knew the artist. Period. Online sales is a way for collectors (of your art) to connect to you when they have no other choice. Most collectors will drive hundreds of miles to buy in person rather then buy on line. Never forget that making art is personal, and buying art is even more so. The emotional bond is what makes it art!
Get over this obsession of online sales. If you have a gadget, gimmick or do-dad then go ahead, after all, people buy rings on the home shopping network. But if art is what you do, then get good at it.
The next big step is figuring out what you are after, do you think of yourself as an artist? Are you trying to pay any bills with your art? Why are you even doing this?. More on that later.
I'm not trying to be rude, but who in the world buys 12 place settings for dinner? And 20 sales each month at $50 each..the vast majority of your items on Etsy are under $25. If you are getting a check from Etsy for $1000 a month, you are doing great and I commend you for your sales.
I want to thank all who have contributed to this discussion so far. Most comments are obviously heart felt and offered as insight from experience. Like artists in our neck of the woods, many talk of the web as a tool, another venue for selling, a way to 'be out there' while staying home with the family. For you folks, (AND ME) selling your work is a hobby. I get this. Others say it is just part of their sales, just a piece of their total art income. I understand this as well. If you can boast a $1000 a month from online sales (as some do) you may want to to ask, what is my net? Shipping, time to run to the post office, packaging, ect. So your net is a going to be a bit less then that grand. Factor in materials, time to produce, other costs, and I'd bet we are way less. This isn't enough money to make a dent into your day when your are paying rent, saving for a house, have kids, or need a new car.
I want to get down to the brass tacks (not sure what that means). How do you get serious about selling? I'm not sure if there is a living potter who has gotten rich from their work, but there must be some who have paid their bills and enjoyed a great life. How have they done it? Where did they start and where does the bread and butter of their sales come from?
I have some great stories. The amazing glass artists who was too poor to make money. The painter with more tallent in her little finger then I could ever hope for and why she can't sell. This messy lady new to our studio who can't understand why people "keep buying the damn things".
These stories are true but please keep in mind that this is just a discussion online, opinions and attitudes included, and nothing intended to insult, injure or shake the very fabric of anyone's personal life.
My next post will be a story!
One sale does not equal one item. Most sales are people buying multiple items. My bread and butter on Etsy is wedding platters which are well over $25.
And all you have to do is look at my wedding registries to see that there are currently two brides that have ordered 12 place settings of dinnerware and a third that ordered 8. I have no reason to be misleading here. I don't work for peanuts and if Etsy did not work for me, I wouldn't do it. In the past week, I've had over $400 in sales - I don't know any potters who are living so well that $400 extra in a week wouldn't be appreciated.
I do understand that it is human nature to believe that the way that I choose to live and believe must be "the right way", but there is no right way. We each do what works for us. I choose not to believe than anyone else's path is less than mine. It is merely theirs and mine is mine.
Walk with peace on your path. I am at peace on mine. :-)
I think it is important to look at whether you are actually making money. Having been self-employed my entire adult life, I certainly understand that my gross sales on Etsy do not equal my income. However, if I get a $500 check from a gallery I actually sold $1000 worth of work, so it's tit for tat, right?
So, my $1000 a month or more from Etsy may equal $500 a month in real income, but it is real income that can equal a car payment or a good part of a mortgage or tuition for the kids to go to private school.
As a full time potter, I find I can lean on Etsy when I am not having shows or when galleries are slow and make up any lost income. I don't have the energy to maintain Etsy full time, but I can know that by putting in a hour a day while I sip my coffee, I can make some sales that day while I work. It is my safety net. I know that Etsy does not work this way for everyone, but it is how I have used it.
If you want to sell online, you have to be efficient about your movements, just like you do in production mode. I found that knowing before I list an item how it will ship and that I have boxes on hand is very important. I buy boxes knowing exactly what work will ship in each one - this makes my shipping area neat and efficient. I used to fret an hour over shipping an order - now I can pack a dozen orders in an hour. If I don't know how I will ship an item, it does not go on Etsy.
The cost of packaging is built into the cost of my pieces - just like the price of bags and paper I use at shows is. The hourly wage I pay myself at packing time is built into the cost of my pieces - just like the show hours are. If I am doing everything right and I find that I am not making what I need to make, either my pieces are wrong, my prices are wrong, or the venue is wrong.
Again, I think if you want to be a full-time potter, you cannot rely on any one venue for your work. One gallery alone will not do it, one show a year won't do it, and Etsy alone is very unlikely to do it. However, Etsy, a web site, several galleries, and a few shows a year might be just the right combination to bring a decent income. You have to find the combination that works for your family.
For me - I can't do show every weekend with my young kids. It's not fair of me to ask them to give up their summer for my work. But I can get up an hour before the rest of the house and work on Etsy without any of them paying the price. I can do my favorite big shows and smaller local shows without asking too much of my family. I can build relationships with galleries and make less per piece but with little promotional effort. This combination has allowed us to succeed, to pay off our mortgage, put braces on a kid, and maintain a cabin on the AT. It gives us the freedom to travel, which we did not have when we had a retail space.
No worries, Dave. Sometimes asking the hard questions brings a backlash. I think what troubled many posters here is that you asked a hard question and ruled out an answer that has worked for many.
I begged myself to not respond any more to this thread, I stopped the emails coming so I wouldnt be drawn back in... and yet, when I saw I had left this window open... well...
so here is my cyber mouth opening to say... I could very easily live off what I make selling pottery on Etsy. Very easily. My profit monthly is well above what you named. And my bread and butter pieces are small fast sale items that have my heart and soul in them. And I sell NO where other than Etsy. I used to. But when sales started coming in hot and heavy I thought..why would I want to lug things around? I get the same feel good feelings hearing feedback as I did watching someone's face when they saw/touched my work. I'm not sure why this thread has me so riled up other than the insulting to online sellers way it was presented
This is one of the best, and most important discussions that have taken place on the network concerning methods for producing income from your pottery or ceramic sculpture. I hope it continues, and that more discussions with similar depth are forthcoming.
I would like to remind everyone that printed words are perceived differently than spoken words, and lack the extra dimensions of inflection, and accompanying body language that modify spoken interactions. I would ask members to look over their wording choices, and ask themselves if they included loaded words or phrases that might provoke unintended negative, and emotionally escalated responses from the readers. This is not to say we shouldn't challenge each other, but the dialog will be more productive if we conduct it with some sensitivity and respect. If you look at the range of the dialog you can see it moving in an arc through various levels of respect.
I was on the verge of contributing a rant early on, but managed to recognize that it would do more harm than good. Instead, I alerted our etsy potters to the discussion, and asked for their input. The result was a number of experienced observations, providing contrasting opinions that had previously been unspoken. I hope everyone benefits from the range of possibilities that have been posted.
I would like to see more detailed pointers on best practices/methods for marketing art work through all sales venues, which would make this discussion better yet.
A quick response tonight as I'm in pain from the love of my life's todo list.
I want to thank Lisa LaPella (what a cool name) for taking the time to comment and share. I misjudged her and now see the depth in which she considers selling. I would enjoy hearing how you first started selling. Where were you in your art? Was there a point that you made the decision or did it happen over time?
To d gordon, I am thrilled selling on Etsy could (does?) provide more then enough money for you to live on. Keep up the great work! Could you post your Etsy site for me please? I'd love to see what you do. Would you be willing to share what you do or how you approach online sales that allows you such success?
George, your latest comment is spot on. I do have a tendency to use the emotional words before thinking it through. I wonder if the rant has served us better then the sensitive respectful approach but that is neither hear nor there. I will say this again and again, 99% of you have more pottery experience then I, and no doubt 100% have more talent.
Even so I do think I have a pawn in this game. I have sold more art, represented more artists, held more solo shows, even bought more art then most of you. That doesn't mean I have all the answers or in any way have superior ideas, but I have seen a few things you may want to hear about.
Well, even my toes are sore from working the business end of a chipper for seven hours today. (she is a slave driver!) We have been clearing storm debris from this winter. On top of that i'm finding a good whiskey seems to help...go figure.
Don't take this too seriously, enjoy the dialogue and thank Gorge for making it possible.
My Etsy shop is dgordon.etsy.com.
And the "secret to success" is more than likely not going to be very helpful unless you believe in the power of positive thinking. I am a left over "new-ager". I have famed piece of paper that says in large letters "SHE BELIEVED SHE COULD, SO SHE DID". My etsy shop began as nothing more than an inexpensive place to show my work 5 yrs ago. Like you, it never occurred to me that something hand made would sell, certainly not well. Last year I decided I wanted it to. Like I said, nothing I say now will will make sense to a logical ear..........
I did nothing more than believe I could and would succeed. I looked up the etsy top 100 sellers in ceramics. I was close to the bottom of the heap. Every day I looked (and still do) at the person in front of me and believed I would pass them. I pushed my energy, my belief.. out into the Universe. Sounds crazy, even to my ears despite my strong belief. But it worked. It works. I am in a years time, number 17 on the list. There's a million books out there on Visualize what you want. I do.
Wonderfully inspiring Deb! I will take this idea to heart!
There are some great books on "law of attraction" by Abraham-Hicks. Good stuff.
This discussion has become too charged with big egos and bruised ones. I am closing it to additional replies, at least temporarily. Please let me know when and if you think it should be reopened. Consider this a cooling-off period.
I hate doing this kind of thing, but the ongoing snarky postings are intolerable on a network that is all about members supporting and mentoring each other.
imperfect network creator.
Dave's topic generated our most spirited conversation ever on the cone6pots network. Twenty months later, I think the heat has died down around this topic enough that we might be able to continue it in a way that is actually to the benefit of our members. Selling and making money from ceramic art and craft is vitally important to those of us who want to do more than dabble. The question now, is can we get serious about helping each other find viable ways to generate income from the work we love. Dave spent some serious coin establishing a downtown ceramics studio. It would be great to hear back from him on how that enterprise is working out for his bottom line, and is it still a labor of love?