Artist-Customer Satisfaction, Easy As ABC 123


I live and work at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  A  half a mile inland from a sheltering bay, I sometimes have the pleasant experience of days which are not wholly foggy, but are surely not sunny. Coastal weather.

A recent day was Neither-Nor,  switching camps several times. I lunched with some creative clay friends and the conversation returned like the perennially teasing fog bank to the subject of how to find selling opportunities which suited our artistic styles, our out-of-pocketbooks and, most importantly, our temperaments. The rub was how to not waste time and money on the false starts:  the places where we and our creations are not loved and understood and consequently don’t tend to sell at any price. The questions and answers were as nebulous as fog.

It got me thinking about the Circle of Artmaking, of which I consider active selling one of the more puzzling arc segments . For one thing,  it’s crucial to the circle only if an artist chooses it to be – all sorts of wonderful  and profound art is never offered for sale. So what changes if the Circle is widened to include the marketplace? Pretty much everything and nothing.

Over the past five years I have constantly narrowed my scope of endeavor and rigorously back-edited my inventory in order to concentrate on the stuff that my Muses keep chattering on and on and on about.  I did not do that primarily in order to sell more (even if I hoped I would,)  because it’s clear that I’ve created a niche collection that absolutely NO-ONE is out there looking for. And yet, when I step into the right selling arena, when the right tribe encounters my works, they admire, want and often buy them with a knowing smile. (And welcome to my Secret Collector’s Club!)

My clay colleagues and their snappy works happily share similar slivers of uniqueness: nobody really wants what we have….until they see it somewhere right.  We’re not for everyone and truly don’t want to be. We just want to complete the circle, cover our costs and get that bone of validation for our efforts.

And when it works, it’s easy as ABC 123

ABC rests with the artist:

A –  Make the The Right Work

B –  Offer it for sale – at the Right Price –  in The Right Arena

C – To the The Right Person(s)

We could stop Right Here and call it a lifetime’s quest to define our ABCs adequately.  We could sigh that it’s too foggy to pin down, a moving target and so on, but actually it helps to forge onward to the parts not in our control: 123.

123 describes the Right Person(s) as having:

1 –   the ability to resonate with my Point of View and Voice in Clay, especially with Humor and Irony

2  – the capacity to purchase my work; as in having the Space and the Budget for it, or a Reason/Intent to Buy

3 – a Developing Connection to me, whether real or imagined.

My first buyers were family (Thanks, Mom!) and friends, then clay colleagues. Then a complete stranger bought something, which is always a turning point.  Then some of those strangers actually returned and bought more, a nearly shocking development. This made them Collectors and often, friends. This is also when I could begin to see who was resonating with what I was doing and in what way. THAT’S who I want to put my work in front of, not everybody!

Must I always throw my art into the general and aimless marketplace like so much spaghetti against the wall? NO! It’s better to get clear on who buys what, when and how and where is their natural habitat? I’m still defining that and sense that I always will be, but I have some important clues I’m following up on. Sometimes the habitat is online, and I suspect there are other emerging realms in this fast-evolving world. Agility and awareness, as fluid as the fog bank.

Up top is a photo of what I want more of in terms of Artist-Customer satisfaction. This man was in my booth, all smiles the whole time. He asked about and appreciated nearly everything. It seemed the more I answered his questions, the happier he got. We both lit up. Playfully  and easily he selected two pieces and took them home. Continuing to play he sent me the photo below. Thank you Eric Cummins for being the Poster Child for my Secret Collector’s Club and helping me understand what we both want more of!


-Liz Crain, who takes heart in the fact that this nebulous marketing arc of the Circle of Artmaking is a hot topic for many, from her lunch partners to such deep-thinking writers as Roy Harris in his book The Great Debate About Art (tangentially, to get the party started) and, to one of my favorites, Seth Godin who exhorts us to “make a list of the differences and the extremes [of your “brand”] and start with that. A brand that stands for what all brands stand for stands for nothing much.”




The Iceberg Concept of Pricing Your Art


An utterly silly photo about a very apropos analogy 


 I wanted an iceberg image to illustrate this journal entry about art pricing, but I didn’t want to use stock graphics or to draw one.  Everytime I considered something else, I balked.  It had to be an iceberg.  So, being fresh out of tickets for a North Atlantic cruise, I improvised.  Turns out the head-of-iceberg-lettuce-as-stand-in-for-iceberg-metaphor works even better, as we shall see.

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For What It’s Worth

Ceramic Pabst Beer Can on Nest of Rusty Shot up Cans


For what it’s worth, I’ve been making artstuff out of clay since 1999 or so and have been earnestly involved in selling it since 2007. You’d think by now I would have an accurate sense of what prices to ask. You would think. But I don’t. What I always suspected, and now am completely sure of, is that monetary value is squidgy and at best thinly related to the highly subjective valuation of a work of art. Throughout the art world, price is often nebulous, magically derived, and certainly very negotiable. And Ceramics carries another challenge because of the FineArt/FineCraft pricing disconnect. Let’s look at all this a little more personally.

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A Year Like No Other: Highlights, Hard Knocks and Epiphanies

Studio Dedication Altar Items and planning pages


Each December I take a moment to reflect on the past year and try to peer into the next. It’s an agenda-less non-ritual with a few symbolic visuals, good smells, candles, flowers, and cowbells. This year I carried objects of continuing fascination to my (slab-roller) altar. I also brought my lists: 2016’s Successes and Suckages and 2017’s Future Games. This writing is intended to be my last post for this year, so I will dwell on 2016’s Gumbo of the Sublime and see you back here bright and early in 2017 to discuss what else I can see on the creative horizon and how you and I can meet there.

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Spice Tins

Vintage Spice Tins tell stories. Stories of home cooking and flavors, time of year, sense of place. Stories of adventure, travel and satisfaction. All in a few square inches of space. These ceramic tins intend to not only fool the eyes, they augment those vintage tales in artistic ways because when I design and hand-decorate them I quite often create my own version of the contents, mostly tongue in cheek or ironic. From rusty familiar brands to the esoteric, with their small focused glimpses they call up personal journeys.


Unweaving a Rainbow: What Makes Something Beautiful?

Investigate Everything!

Some of you might not want to parse out what makes one thing more beautiful than another. I completely understand. Keats complained that Newton had “destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism.”

I’m here to meld that duality and I contend further that prism and poetry can co-exist fruitfully. In fact, in order to make my best art, I require that generation of The Third which emerges from Opposites.

I’ve tried the romance of just messing around with the crayons, the keyboard, and the clay, rather juvenilely hoping that the lightening bolt of genius will make a lucky strike. (Even sometimes thinking it actually did, for me.) Ultimately, though, it’s like playing Blackjack: while the odds are better than most games of chance, they still are in the House’s favor, not mine.

Goal-less and right-brained fooling around is creatively essential, but it is a warm-up: the beginning doodle, the free-write, the initial pinching, coiling and rolling. It so rarely makes it to that zen place of offhanded perfection, as much as we might be glancing over our shoulders to see if it did.

To take my craft into beauty and excellence –leaving the lightening bolts to shock themselves –I explored the nature of the creative process, studied Color Theories and The Principles and Elements of Art until I felt conversant and sometimes even fluent.

In other words, I got scientific and it helped. Now I could not only wonder at the rainbow’s glories, I could unweave it and put it back together in my own poetic way.

When I changed my art-making from 2D mixed media to 3D ceramics, a whole new set of loveliness standards came into play. What about Line and Form in Space? What about that Viewer in motion around the piece – or actually using it? What about Front, Side and Back? Top and Bottom?

So…. besides sticking to the work in my studio evolving my efforts, besides near constant conversations with mentors, colleagues, fellow enthusiasts and supporters, besides Art History courses and museum gallery visits, and besides deep thought on what motivates and thrills me, I read books.

And here are those that I deliciously don’t quite understand, but every time I delve through them, a little more is revealed:

The Nature and Art of Workmanship and The Nature and Aesthetics of Design, both by woodworker David Pye. If you click on the links, you will get descriptions and reviews. (Don’t miss the one for the Design book by wiredweird! I can’t describe the power of this book any better.)

Li: Dynamic Form in Nature by David Wade

And two exploring the realms of Sacred Geometry, whose philosophies lie at the heart of my seeking the Music of the Spheres in all I do.

Sacred Geometry by Miranda Lundy

The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture by Gyorgy Doczi. The cover of my edition gives a hint of how the author connects the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci sequence to both the natural and visual world: with the language of mathematics.

Certain proportions occur over and over again joining unity and diversity

Herein lie richly illustrated pages with examples from plants, crafts, animals, Art: both ancient and modern, writing, the human body, music and more, all pointed toward a revelation of cosmic order so universal the author coined a new word for it Dinergy. “…Made up of two Greek words: dia — ‘across, through, opposite;’ and ‘energy.'”

A sample page.

So this is why Acoma Pottery is so pleasing! (Hint: maybe)

So what makes something beautiful? It’s surely not book learning and the methods of parsing, unweaving, reducing and dissecting! I don’t play around with numbers at all, I make art.

Rather, it’s about understanding that essential beauty’s out there, we’re all capable of perceiving it and here’s a Tiny Bit o’ Why. We may wildly disagree on specifics because there are many ways these patterns manifest.

Time, place, culture, narrative and materials don’t matter, yet there it is: A certainty of visual knowing instinctive and true.

I swear this knowing is how I sense when a work is done. There’s an out-breath, a hand relaxation, a satisfaction, all related to the cessation of seeking more for that piece. The rainbow is rewoven for now and I don’t need to measure it to make sure.

5S Methodology, Mise en Place and My New Studio

Hot stuff wall paint is named Briquette

PART ONE: The Set-Up

Legions of artists fantasize about The Perfect Studio. Whatever the particular siting, configuration and appointments, it comes down to it being a vortex of personal creative energy where the conduits of genius become pure and we are blissful.

I’ve walked around a few incredible art-making habitats, many with zen views, which gave my artist’s soul the same frissons as Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight did for me at age 6.

After the thrills, though, come the tidal waves of malicious envy followed by the dirty backwash of self-admonition: “A lot of artists don’t have any studio at all!” The Voice nags. So I go clean and rearrange one more time, dutifully attempting to bloom where I’m planted.

Sometime late last year I got a case of INeedABetterStudio-itis that was not induced by envy or guilt, but by a strong re-conceptualization of how I work best. I noticed things go better for me in my creative space when:

1. It has an open feeling with largish work tables and good task lighting.
2. It has dedicated places for tools, supplies, and other necessaries and they are clearly labeled.
3. I have separate areas for wet clay forming, bone dry and bisque work, and for decorating and photographing work.
4. Deep storage and side activity supplies are not visible.
5. It is inviting and pretty easy to keep clean.
6. There’s a private feeling, separate from my household.

Those were the qualities that I kept seeking in the yellow space, a large back bedroom located off the laundry/pantry pictured below. But, I was asking too much of it. I wanted it to be an active studio as well as a major seasonal storage area, a photography studio, an Etsy Shop inventory and shipping area, a place to stage and prep my outside-the-studio teaching and volunteer projects, an art reference file cabinet and a mini meditation hall. No wonder I had no lasting success in wrassling it into a dream studio!

Free Swimming in the Creative Soup

It was clear, though, that I would not be moving off-site, out in the yard or be converting the living room. What, oh what to do besides more Sisyphean tidying? Eventually it occurred to me I could switch out two rooms by moving the active studio around the corner and down the hall to the off-the-beaten-path red room, taking only the necessaries with me and leaving the other functions behind to be joined by the exercise equipment.

And that is what I did. See the just-moving-in shot at the top of the post.

A few weeks later, I performed a dedication ceremony thanking “the divine cockeyed Genius assigned to my case“, by clearing and blessing the newly-born space.

Flowers, Candles, Oranges, Incense, Salt and Rattles

PART TWO: The Never-ending Conclusion

As I continue to pay attention to what I need in my studio (to make it vortex of personal creative energy by opening the purest conduits to genius and thereby fostering my ultimate bliss,) I make adjustments.

I stand when I work, so I propped the tables up on bedrisers and topped them with HardieBacker board, a smooth and durable work surface. As a bonus, the higher tables make the storage beneath them accessible without groveling.

I can reach everything on all the shelves, no footstool required, and I am able to keep stuff nearest to its likely use.

I swung the decorating table 90 degrees to create more elbow room, found sturdy, stackable clementine boxes to hold everything on the shelves and labeled them, got rid of the odd-shaped wareboards, threw out the broken and moldy and gave away anything not often used.

Albert Einstein, an earthly genius, said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.” In the spirit of simplistic balance, I am scrutinizing my remaining tool collection and questioning why I have 8 cut-off wires, 16 needle tools, 23 ribs, dozens of similar wooden modeling tools, a deep drawer full of sponges and a whopping 212 brushes – I just counted them!

I think the bulk of these need to go. They are going.

In practice, I only use about 20 favorites from all categories, which I keep handy on my right side along with my water tub, spray bottle, sponges, hand towel, brushes, slip container, and a cache of beloved sticks, straightedges and dowels. It’s an artist’s version of a mise en place, which works really well and I have begun to hone.

I now drive a custom cockpit of ceramic creation. Here’s a non-action shot (because an action shot would be less clear.)

A way of working that works

My entire studio is becoming a pretty decent personal version of Japanese workplace organization called 5S Methodology

1. Sorting (Seiri)
2. Setting in order (Seiton)
3. Shining (cleaning) (Seiso)
4. Standardizing (Seiketsu)
5. Sustaining the discipline (Shitsuke)

There are three other Ss that accompany this methodology: Safety, Security, Satisfaction. While they mean something different for factories and schools, I see them more as positive emotive qualities, emanating from the newly organized and clean space, helping me feel professional by fostering my sense of privacy, comfortable confidence and pleasure in my craft.

It’s a practice, this studio functionality perfection biz, but, I swear, now that I don’t need to kick a fire lane in to the work area every time I enter, only to stand there both fog-brained and hyper-distracted – essentially pre-defeated by the disarray – I’m making better art and having a way better time at it too.