So, here I am, the day after my second artisan fair, or more specifically, my second Market Collective. I have to say, if my first one was...ok...this one went much, much better. Money aside, I had way more activity at my booth, where the first attempt at christmas, I would tend to go about an hour at times without any engagement, and even more so without any purchases. So what was the difference? I think there were multiple factors, and I will try to go over them, albeit I can only speak anecdotally, and not empirically. Before I start, I would also like to mention that it would be impossible for me to do any of this without my loving wife. She is as much a part of this as I am.
As I said above, this wasn't my first rodeo. This is now my second go, and a lot of the mistakes I made with setup in December I managed to eliminate. In fact, I totally streamlined my setup. I was pretty much up and ready to go in 90 minutes, and took my whole booth down in 45 minutes. The first year took me at least 3 hours to get everything the way I wanted it, and it took me at least 90 minutes to take it all down. The funny thing is, I could still do better. I saw some great setups this year and got a lot of ideas, took photos of what I think were clever setups, and took notes. I plan to borrow a little bit from everywhere. I noticed great arrangements of booths, maximizing the space that artisans had to the fullest potential, great communication ideas like sandwich boards for pricing, and even more hanging solutions that I hadn't thought of! So I continue to learn, and will hopefully do even better, and learn even more the next time around!
Ok, this is a pretty important part. I had a lot more space to work with. I went one booth size up. This allowed me to have a table, and this is actually where I made a huge part of my sales. I was able to use my "pinnacle" pieces to draw people in, and then display some of my new work on the table to sell them on new items once they are on the line, and often, if I didn't have something to offer someone here, they suddenly noticed the magazine stand of bird prints at the side of the booth, which then of course leads to he print stand with the larger work. There was just a heck of a lot more rhythm to the booth.
What would I change? I would like to upgrade my sign to a retractable banner. I would also like to clean up my hanging setup with boards that hide the metal racks. My signage was also kind of an after thought, and I'd like to clean that up. Basically, I would tighten things up to add a layer of professionalism.
I'm an unknown artist. Why should people invest in my work? These are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself when you move from hobbyist to amateur or professional artist. I think my work is good, otherwise I would never have the guts to go out and try to sell it, but I also have to be reasonable. In an ideal world, I could spend a ton of money on high quality, cotton rag, paper prints, but the reality is, people don't want to spend 25 dollars on a relatively unknown artist's 8x10" prints. However, printing good quality work on cheaper paper (that is still fully archival and great quality) and selling that same work for more than half the price, well now suddenly you have a product that people want. You also have a print that is a lot more on point with what others are selling for, and thus more competitive. In fact I would say the average price for an 8x10" print at Market Collective is around $15, and the average for an 11x14" print is around $20 - 25. I was selling for $10 and $20 respectively. So I kept my prints on the low end of average, which I really think helped people over the hump, and also, allowed them to buy more of my work, and that's REALLY important. If you have 3 prints from an artist, suddenly you're a collector. You want to know, does this artist have a website? Is this artist very active? What's your Instagram? I've invested 40 of my hard earned dollars into your work, and I want to know what you're up to and where you're going. I really like your work, I couldn't afford an original, but as I follow you grow, maybe I feel like I want an original when the time is right and I have more disposable income.
I think it's more important to grow relationships with people than maximizing your profits. I want people to follow the work, it encourages me to strive forward and is far more rewarding than making a quick buck. A couple of times, I heard a couple people tell me my larger prints were under-priced, but now I have about 20 large prints in people's homes versus the 2 or 3 I sold for 30% more at Christmas. I have 10 great horned owl prints hanging in people's homes now versus 0 at Christmas, and this is one of my "pinnacle" pieces. It is one of the images I have created that seems to resonate with a huge cross section of people. That's most likely 10 new followers.
Often times, especially during the early hours of the market you will get interested customers. Then just as it looks like they're about to clean your booth out they say: "Ok, thanks, I'll be back later."
Yeah dude, get over it! You're not the only person they came to see, and how often have you bought the first house you looked at, or the first car you test drove, or whatever? They want to know what else is out there, and they every right, and this is where the pricing comes in. Maybe they saw something that they liked as much as your print, but maybe your print was 5 dollars less. And maybe they have enough to buy that print at the other booth, but at your booth, there was two prints they really liked, and they can get both of them for just $5 more than just one print at the other booth. So once again, for me, this really enforces the importance of not overpricing my work and overvaluing myself as an artist.
At Christmas and this Spring, I heard that phrase uttered so many times "I'll be back"...like a Schwarzenegger movie marathon. The difference this time, is that they actually did come back, so much so, that in some cases I didn't recognize the person when they said "I'm back!" I just interacted with so many people this week that sometimes I didn't recognize return customers (at least not at first, but once we started talking, I usually remembered what they were interested in). That means for whatever reason, they went and checked out the other artists in my vein and said, I want what he's got. And I don't think it's because I'm such a great artist. There are a lot of great artists at Market Collective. I just think I had really good price points, and that's not to say I'm undercutting, I'm just offering a lot of different points on the scale.
Offering more diversity of work
Yeah, I started doing linocuts. They're handmade prints, and they're pretty awesome and they add to my diverse price ranges. I would say the average amount someone spends at my booth is around 25 dollars. I will have to go back and check the numbers on Square, but I'm pretty sure that's about right. I had four separate linocut offerings, and I was dead wrong about how they would sell! I made over 100 prints of my 3 sisters, Canmore and chickadee postcard prints and was selling them for $5 each, which is (in my opinion) a great price for a hand crafted print. I had two 8x10" prints, one of a mother bear and her cubs, and one of Mount Rundle, Banff.
I thought those three sisters prints would sell right out. I sold quite a few, no doubt...but not the sell out I thought I would get. I thought the chickadees would sell out...I didn't sell a single one...so weird. I thought people would love the mount Rundle prints. I did not sell a single one. I thought I would have trouble selling the mama bear print...I sold out of 2 formats, and made close to 300$ on this print alone. Don't get me wrong...this is my favourite linocut I've made to date, but I am used to my favourite images not being my hottest sellers, and in this case I was happily surprised, and based on my customers' average purchases at my table, it was at the perfect price point, $20. Which also often led to a 3 sisters print to top it off. Don't get me wrong, I still sold more 3 sisters prints than mamma bear prints, but $5 versus $20...well they just didn't compete. A lot of this is just trial and error and just seeing what people are into. In December, I thought people didn't want bird art, and this time I sold a ton of bird prints. I also sold out of some of my new prints, like the wolf pack print, or the elk print, among others.
People like to connect to a story
Some people are looking for great art. Some are looking for their favourite animal. Some want a story. Linocut bridged a connection to my audience like no other work has before. For starters, a lot of people remember doing it in high school. They remember jabbing themselves in the hand! They remember the blood. They remember how hard it was to do well. Then they look at yours and the beautiful image. Then I pull the block out from behind the table and show them the master copy. I show them the tools used. If they never did Linocut in high school, now they have a greater appreciation for how the works are made and what gives them that unique individuality for each print. In fact, it's the print that feels like an original as each print is a one of kind product. The hand of the artist is in each piece, not simply digitally reproduced.
Another thing I learned from my first collective is to WORK IT! Get your hands dirty! If you're trying to sell drawings, bust out a sketchbook and start drawing. If you're selling watercolours, start watercolouring! People love to see an artist working, the process is engaging and it connects a dot that they often don't get to see. Now suddenly your audience isn't just buying a print to hang up, they have an experience tied to that print. Now your audience has talking piece hanging on her wall. Something he can tell people when they come over for a beer.
below is some of the work I created at Market Collective.
The people and the experience
Stuff like this can get really competitive quickly and lose the fun. In both cases this never really happened to me. Everyone is super supportive, and it's a great, positive environment! As a relative newbie just starting my journey into this world of idea pushers and peddlers, things like this have the ability to create a lot of anxiety. But the people make for a really great experience. All the people I have met have been positive and very encouraging and always making sure to see if everything is going well. It's a great group of people, which is often a character trait of people doing something they love or following their dreams.
The atmosphere that the organizers have created is unreal as well. I've never been to a marketplace that has the same feel. The music, the skate park, etc. It all feels more like a happening rather than just a place to buy stuff. I even get pumped while I'm tending my booth because of the music.
For anyone on the fence about giving this a go, take the plunge! There is room for everyone from amateurs with a fledgling idea to professional entrepreneurs who have gone all in. I think that is what makes the experience so positive and rich. This is a community of people who have become their own brand, and that's a pretty powerful thing. That is why I am proud to look up at my "Fossi Images" sign, because I am joining a club of people who have become their own brand, and selling yourself isn't easy, it requires a huge level of vulnerability that you are willing to expose. It's a risk, and what a beautiful thing that can be!
So this all started one day when i was looking for inks in the art store, and I accidentally stumbled upon the "after thought" that is the printmaking aisle in most art supply stores. Granted, that isn't their fault, I don't think the average shopper is looking for that stuff, and the ones that are are looking for the very entry level stuff for stamp making or silk screening their own t-shirts.
But really, all of this dates back to art school where my love for drawing could only be rivaled by one other department...printmaking. In fact, in my last 2 year of art school, I basically spent all of my time in the silk screening studio where all of my finished pieces were completed. I also took intaglio as an elective in my first year, but I only actually did any relief printing, at Sir Winston Churchill high school in NW Calgary where I was enrolled in the Art IB program.
Come full circle to today, I am posting some of my black and white drawings on Reddit, and a user makes a remark that I should turn it into a woodblock cut. Actually, a great idea. Except, I decide the relatively easy version of that is to get into Linocut. So I go online, try to gather up everything I'll need to start, and I do remember the basics from high school, so I start to wing it, and actually, I am really loving it!
I forgot how much I love printmaking, and relief printing is really easy to do in a home studio, and it suits my style very, very well! So after running a few test prints off some blocks I've carved over the past few weeks I decided that I really need to setup a studio, or I am going to get ink on the carpets! I setup a little makeshift studio in the garage, and so far so good!
My first experiments:
So I've been experimenting with different carving materials, and I will be trying a couple more as well. I have also been researching a lot of other artists online. I have come to learn there is a bit of a balance between "easy cut" blocks versus traditional hard linoleum. While I like the hard stuff for holding a line, I like the soft stuff because it is a lot easier to hand burnish (rub the ink onto the surface of the paper using a flat hard surface like a wooden spoon or a burnishing tool) the soft blocks, but they also don't hold a line as well as the hard stuff. That said, if I avoid fine lines in the drawings for the soft blocks, it's not a big problem.
The middle print above was done on a soft "easy carve" block from Speedball. While it's easy to lose detail, you can still make some really nice images with it, and I am actually really pleased with the 4x6" postcard print of 3 sisters mountain range. The one on the far right is a more traditional mounted block, and the one on the left of the mama bear is actually on a material that I have been unable to find again since my first purchase, but that's ok because I would not get it again as it had some surface imperfections that affected my prints. The mounted block on the right was great to carve on, but also a bit more difficult to hand burnish, but I still really like the results.
What I am hoping for...
My hope is that people have an appreciation for the imperfect, but hand made prints more so than the Giclee prints (which are excellent reproductions of original art, but lack the hand of the artist outside of the original image). With handmade prints, what I like is that the hand of the artist is still present, and I feel the art appreciator shares a deeper connection to the art and artist. Rather than the prints being an after thought to just trying to make money off of an image, the prints themselves are the final product, they are the art!
That said, I still love Giclee prints, I even have some of my own work where I no longer own the original, I just like the added dimension of including handmade, traditional prints to my catalog of work, and I hope you will as well!
For sale at Market Collective May 24-26 at BMO Center in Calgary
If you are interested in any of the work you see, it will be available for sale at Market Collective, just a couple weeks from now. Come down and see me, I will be selling VERY AFFORDABLE hand made prints, some as low as $5!!!