So your at an artisan show and you have your booth set up beautifully, each piece displayed perfectly. You have everything ready and you are so excited to see the visitors come in to see your work, and hopefully have a profitable and happy day. You see the crowd coming in through the gate and a few stop by and admire your work, it's going to be a fantastic day! But then it happens, you get one of those questions, you know the kind, the ones that make you cringe as you try to figure out how to respond and not sound unprofessional or irritated.
This is how it goes for any artist or small business owner. We love the public, really we do, after all without you, we wouldn't be able to keep doing what we do, and we actually like to interact with you on a personal level, it's inspiring most of the time. But sometimes you truly can be insulting without meaning to be. You may not realize that what you are asking us is a loaded question, and it may even seem like a perfectly reasonable question to ask. So I am going to give you a little insight as to what questions are questionable and what are better options, so that your experience can be not only informative but also give you some insight to the artist and the work without being insulting and shut out.
1. Do not ask - Will you take this much for that? First and for most, it is not polite to ask an artist to drop their price on an item unless there is a sign saying $45 or BO(Best Offer). As artists, most of us have a very hard time trying to figure out a price and we agonize over it so that we can bring you a reasonable cost and not go out of business. I assure you that in almost every case, the artist is probably not giving you a fair price, but is undercutting themselves with a very small profit. The price of an item doesn't only reflect the materials cost and time on the bench it took to make it. We have overhead, advertising, boxes, bags, business cards, booth rent, display costs and much more, that we have to take into account or we will be unable to continue making and selling our artwork. We are a small business after all.
Do comment - If you truly like a piece of work, but can not afford it, be honest. Tell the artist "I truly love your work( be specific about which piece), but I am unable to spend what it is worth at this time. You can follow that up with asking if the artist has a website or if they ever run promotions or a newsletter that you could sign up for. This not only gets you a possible discount or extra trinket thrown into a purchase right now, but it helps you in the future to get more discounts on more items. It also helps the artist to broaden their customer contact through you, and makes for a very pleasant experience for everyone. An artist who believes you understand the worth of their artwork, is much more appreciative and will show you that appreciation two fold.
2. Do not ask - How long did it take you to make this piece? Although this really sounds like a very simple and innocent question, it can insight a very bad reaction in some cases. Artists can be touchy about this because many times people ask , trying to justify the cost of the item. There are a large number of factors involved in the answer. You see, time included would not only be the actual time on the bench from start to finish, it would be so much more. It sometimes takes years to learn and even longer to perfect a technique. It means the time to design the piece sketching or starting and restarting to get it just right. Time means the prep of all the materials, the assembly and then the final time to inspect and polish the piece. Also the first piece and artist makes and the one hundredth piece will be very different time wise, but the work is generally worth even more if an artist has perfected and become quick with a technique.
Do ask or comment - How long did it take you to learn/perfect this technique? Where/how did learn this technique? Tell me about this piece and it's story. You must have spent a lot of time on this piece. How long have you been doing this type of art work? All these questions are really worth knowing and will usually get the artist talking all about their process and time. It shows that you understand and appreciate the work and the artist, and that will go a very long way in getting your the real answers you want to know.
3. Do not ask- Could you donate a piece of your work to help out our organization and get some great exposure for you? Although this seems perfectly acceptable to ask since you are probably a non-profit program or something very important in helping others, but asking us in our booth is definitely not the right place to bring it up, since we now feel very awkward to discuss it with you in front of other customers. Most artist's have very little profit and they generally set aside a certain amount of our cash flow to go towards advertising and donations ahead of time. Also trying to convince us it is good advertising is unfortunately untrue. Giving away free products does not send people our way, and giving our time up for nothing almost never gives us exposure that brings in customers. It is sad, but true.
Do ask/Do- Give the Artist your card and explain your organization briefly. Then ask if you for a their business card and call another day to make an appointment. When you call bring up your brief meeting so the artist can recall you and how professional you acted. Remember, we are a business and we are currently trying to do business, so we would be much more able to give you our full attention and be more receptive on a scheduled meeting. This kind of approach shows us you respect us, our business and our situation. Also keep in mind we may not be able to give away anything, but perhaps we will be able to give you a wholesale price or maybe work with you on a way to bring our interests together and make it beneficial to both parties. As an example, I know many artists who teach classes with seniors and underprivileged children, who only ask for enough pay to cover the materials cost. This way they can donate their time for free, but do not hurt their business. I also know of a few artists who donate a percentage of their sales to a certain organization every month. This way they can help the organization by making sure this percentage is included in their prices and it helps everyone. We are truly happy to help, but we can not do it if it means our business will suffer.
These are just a couple questions that can make an artist cringe. Let's be honest, Artist's are just like everyone else and we want, like everyone else, to be shown respect and understanding. We are happy to tell you about our work and our selves. We want to help and share that knowledge and understand so that you can appreciate the art we create. But we also want you to remember we are human and we are business owners. Our artwork is our baby and our business is our lively hood. So next time you find yourself about to ask a question, ask yourself, how would I feel if someone asked me this question?
I am an artist/small business owner and I wanted to share with you the struggles we face in this business and an inside view of what we are really thinking sometimes in our crazy, creative minds.