A few weeks ago I topped up my stock in a few of the local galleries. After Christmas is a difficult time for artists and stockists – January and February can be flat months for sales as people turn their backs on spending for a few weeks while the bank balance gets back to normal. Spring however brings new opportunities – Easter, Mother’s Day and birthdays can all entice people back to the shops. Most people like me spend the first weeks after Christmas getting our houses in order, stock taking, doing the accounts, preparing tax returns and designing new things for the coming year. But shoppers like to see new things once a new year is underway, whether they’re totally fresh pieces or just old favourites re-imagined in new colours and designs.
(pictured above – some of the lovely things on sale at The Handmade Shop & Gallery, Bury St Edmunds, which also sells my work)
These days we see a lot of memes on platforms like Facebook encouraging us to shop local and support small businesses. Like endless charity adverts, these make us sit up and take notice the first time but the novelty soon wears off and in practice I know that getting people out to buy from local makers anywhere can be an uphill struggle. Its not the fault of the makers. These days the market is awash with great quality art, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, you name it. If anything shoppers have too much choice thanks to places like etsy and ebay. Now more than ever you can snap up affordable, unique pieces of art and design if you only set out to look for it. If only more of us did!
(pictured above, Moth in Bungay and The Giggly Goat, Norwich, both stockists of mine and good examples of small business and craft collectives supporting local artists)
I’ve recently been reading some of those trendy Scandinavian books about simplifying your life and clearing out your clutter. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (Margaretta Magnusson) is my favourite so far, not just because its title raises eyebrows when you’re reading it on the plane. Its actually a really sensible guide to slimming down your worldly goods as you get older and only hanging onto possessions you really need or that make you really happy. I have a lot of this sort of stuff and I must admit that getting rid of unnecessary stuff in my life feels like something I need to do. In a few years time I plan to move full-time to Sweden, so slimming down my possessions wouldn’t be a bad idea. And forcing myself to look at my stuff and ask the question how much do I really love or need this thing also seems like a greener way to live. I’m not a huge environmentalist but living in Sweden, where everything is recycled and people seem to live in a more balanced way, has made me much more aware of how recklessly we use and consume and waste things. So while I’m not suggesting I or anyone else should give up having lovely things I do think we should think more about what we buy and why we buy it. Out with the tat and in with the environmentally friendly, handmade, affordable art!
People often ask me how selling your art this way works but the basics are straightforward. Some stockists will buy things at trade prices or if they’re unsure an item is right for them they might offer you sale or return on goods sold. Some will promote your work on a percentage basis – if it sells in their shop they take a cut of the final price, typically 40% (although with galleries that’s more like 50%). Other shops, especially those that run as artist collectives, will ask you for a fixed fee upfront to rent some shelf or wall space and then take an extra percentage (normally 10%) of any sales you make.
The advantages for the shops are they get to pick and choose what they stock, enjoy full shelves and hopefully make enough from your sales to pay their rent and overheads. You the artist or maker, meanwhile, benefit from their street presence, hopefully their advertising, events and social media threads, and also get to use their selling space as somewhere you can build your brand, experiment with new ideas and, ideally, make some sales. Shops where the stock is curated – ie you need to meet certain standards before you can sell there – are also good because as an artist you know that your work is being showcased alongside beautiful things of the same quality. Most shops have a very finely tuned idea of what sells best and what their customers are looking for and although it might be dispiriting to have your work turned down by a gallery it can often be a good thing. As a maker you need strong, regular sales to keep your business ticking over so finding the right fit of shop or gallery is just as important to you as it is to your stockist.
Its also good for creative types like me, most of whom work from home, to have a community that they can be part of, albeit at a distance. Some of my fellow makers offset their rents by helping to man the shop once or twice a month – a great way to get out of the studio and meet people. And it can be energising seeing what your fellow makers are up to and sharing ideas and tips.
So this is my shout out to makers – maybe we could all try hard to think about only making things that are useful or make us and our customers happy. I know a lot of the people I work with are amazingly good at recycling old things into new and work hard to use recyclable packaging and materials in their work process. And to shoppers I say thank you for supporting artists and makers, please buy responsibly and if you are looking for objects that will last and make a difference you could do worse than buy from us. Every sale we get reminds us why we choose to make a living in such a precarious way and that our work is good enough to be appreciated by strangers. And it warms the heart to know your art is hanging on someone else’s wall or they’re drinking their tea out of one of your handmade mugs.