Tuesday, March 09, 2010

taking the leap: when to start selling your work

I'm continuing my series today on making pottery-- or any art-- a business. If you haven't read my five pieces of sage advice yet, you can read them right here. Today I'm going to write about point #2: Don't sell mediocre work just because you can. And I'm going to add an addendum to that statement: Don't wait until your work is perfect before you start selling.

I often think about what I would have done if things like Etsy were around when I first started making pottery. From the start, people liked my work. My first studio was an incredible selling venue: a garage studio situated right along the ocean in Santa Cruz where dozens of people walked by every day. I kept the garage door open while I worked so I could get some light and see the ocean. People always stopped by and wanted to buy things or place orders, but I wasn't interested in that, yet. I was still learning, and I was advancing so rapidly that when I looked at something I made a month before, I cringed, because what I was making 4 weeks later was so much better. I always gave my work away because frankly, I wanted to get rid of it so I could make more and better work. Trying to sell it would have meant I would quickly be buried under a mountain of my own mediocre pottery.

I think people have a right to sell whatever they want on Etsy or similar venues, and I see a fair amount of work being sold that I think looks like beginner work. But if your desire is to turn your art into a business, I think it's important to consider when is the appropriate time to launch your work into the marketplace. Artists need space to develop without the outside world piping in their opinion about what you are making. If your artwork is still in process of finding its voice, I really believe that turning it out for public consumption interrupts your personal artistic journey. Your art is your precious baby, protect it until it's ready to face the public.

At the same time, public feedback can be an incredible spur to making better and more sophisticated work. If your goal is to sell your work, you don't want to wait too long to begin selling or continually use your fear about getting feedback from the public-- not your mother-- to hold you back from getting out there in the marketplace. It takes an incredible amount of courage to set up that first table and start selling, and you will learn so much about your own work as you watch people pick it up and interact with it. Don't let your fear deprive yourself of that learning experience.

There is no magic formula to when your work is "good enough" for the marketplace, and it is true that most artists will continue to improve throughout much of their career. I still consider myself a student of pottery, I'm learning and -- I hope-- still improving my work. But I do think one needs to be out of that rapid growth and improvement stage, where from month to month your work looks markedly better, before you start selling. I laugh when I see pottery that I made in my beginner years in my friend's houses. I love that I can still see it, and they keep it as evidence of where I came from. I don't know if I would laugh if I saw images of it on the web, or if it were part of my "sold" items in my Etsy shop.

Being able to sell your work is definitely validation that your efforts can bear fruit in the form of money, but it does not make you a better artist than you were yesterday, nor does it make you less of an artist to not sell your work . It's a personal decision whether and when to sell your work, no one else beside yourself can tell you when you are ready.

This blog post is a great example of putting things out there before they are ready for the public. I heavily edited it after publishing, so you may want to hit that "refresh" button to make sure you are reading my final version!