One-of-a-kind or production work? This is something I think every jewelry artist (and other artists) must consider at some point in their career. For so long, my mentality has been that what I create is simply enough no matter what. It makes is special and unique and certainly something my customers look for. This is what keeps my “art cred” in check. I have validity as an artist because no one else can do what I do. In fact, working with metal clay keeps my focus very centered on how my hands and the clay and my brain interact. And then, something fabulous happens and a piece is born!
Except, that there are many, many other jewelry artists that have been successful because they’ve been able to produce quantities of their work. In one way or another. In fact, many jewelry artists call this their “bread and butter” work to keep their business afloat. Not a bad idea, but doesn’t this take away from the unique perspective of my work?
A friend of mine said it very well. “Robin, production is where the money is. I remember getting very upset years ago when someone told me my husband was a production worker, not an artist. He’s an artist who’s able to do production so he can afford to do the art . . .” Wise words from a good friend. Even when we do a production piece each piece is still uniquely made and by our hands. Some jewelry artists actually send their castings or designs to a mass producer. I don’t think that’s something that works for me.
So, the question then becomes, what becomes a production piece? After reading and researching and digging through all kinds of jewelry sites and forums, I believe that for me, the right answer to that question is to design a separate themed line of work that I can easily reproduce in my studio yet keeping each piece still my handmade process.
Now the fun begins. While this won’t redefine my entire body of work, it will allow me to experiment and see how production can work with this separate line. I’ve already created my concept and am working on some prototypes. My hope is that this design will be something that I can translate into different pieces of work from necklaces and bracelets to earrings and charms. The presentation of my design will be unique and maybe there will be “limited editions” of a piece. Right now, my creative juices are flowing and as I develop my technique with this new design, I’m sure I’ll make changes along the way.
The question will always be there–unique v. production . . .but I think that one can do both if done with the main concept of “handmade” in mind. We’ll see what happens!
It’s been quite a while since my last blog which is another indicator of a very slow season for me. While i had a great spring run of shows, the summer has proven the opposite. Despite receiving strong and favorable feedback from all the visits during my shows, very few actually bought. This ended up being the case for many of the artists at each show. Seems like this summer was more entertainment for folks, then serious buying. In this business of the traveling artist, you must be prepared not only for all sorts of weather, but also lack of sales.
No sales? Three sales? These are certainly things I’ve said incredulously while working a 2 or 3 day show. Wow, who would’ve imagined that after all this work, you only had three sales! This is where the rubber meets the road. In other words, as an artist on the show circuit, you MUST enjoy the work. You MUST enjoy the people. Making a profit and a living from this work, is incredibly hard. Especially when you do only one-of-a-kind pieces. So, I tell folks that I love putting my pieces out there for the public to see and hopefully buy. I love interacting with lots of interesting people and telling my story of my art and my processes. I love being outside (inside shows are harder for me!) and I love meeting the weather challenges (or the lighting challenges of an inside show).
What about that profit? Aren’t you at a show to sell? Isn’t that the point?
Yes, it is. But sometimes you are humbled and you are there maybe to do something else. These shows I record as my “marketing” shows. I’ve marketed myself, my work and my pieces. I’ve exchanged my business card, my art statement and my website. I’ve shared my life with fellow artists and spent time with my husband–which we rarely have. So, there is purpose in what I do. It just doesn’t always look like a profit. That is what I hold onto when the shows run dry. This summer there was a drought!
Officially, the fall season starts after Labor Day. September and October hold promise as we enter this next season of shows. It is easy to second-guess your show decisions and your choices. But, as a professional, I have to stay committed to the schedule and to the show and work hard and hope hard. Ultimately, this business for me is so much more than just a profit. It is about the people, the art and the process. It is about the strength God gives me . . the promise of His provision and the active use of my faith.
Sometimes droughts can bring great fruit once the rain begins again. Sometimes you have to re-evaluate the direction you’re in and discover if there are options you haven’t explored before. Thus, begins my next journey and development as an artist trying to make this a serious business.