This past weekend, I participated in a retail art/craft show. I’ve done them for a living for almost 20 years. Some shows are good, some not. This one, run by a respected promoter, was dim. At best.
A good sign that show doesn’t have a good turnout is not having to wait in the ladies room. I never had to wait. No once. And my sales showed the lowered attendance. For the first time in ten years, I didn’t make my show fees back in sales. I planned to sell my outdoor tent, and it sold, which boosted sales, but that doesn’t count, really.
Not doing well at a show is an invitation to doubt. Doubt shows up as negative self-talk, gremlins that chatter unceasingly while there is no one in the booth. That was a long time this weekend. Negative self talk starts small, with the idea that my work is slipping. Then the chorus of “what else are you bad at?” starts in, and by early afternoon of the first day of a three-day show, my gremlins were yelling that the quality of my work is horrible, that I was foolish to think my product had value, and no one would ever, purchase another piece.
It took effort to pull myself away from those voices that I hate, but will listen to. I’ll bet you have the same problem when self-doubt begins to nag at you, don’t you?
In the middle of all that noise in my head, I pulled myself up out of it and began to look at the audience. Not only was attendance light, the audience was all wrong for my product. These weren’t people interested in handmade paper, journals, or notecards. These were people looking for bargains. These were people strolling and shopping. Many were on their cell phones. A number of people didn’t believe me when I said I make paper from plants. One told me it was impossible.
Another said “no one cares about art anymore.” That phrase may have been true for her, but sweeping statements generally are more telling about the speaker than the product.
As hard as it was to focus on the real issue, I forced myself to. First, the checklist–my product is made with attention to quality and creativity. I have had success with it when in front of the right audience. The audience was not right for my product at this show. That meant that I was on the right track but at the wrong station. Handmade, quality work doesn’t come at bargain prices. It was as if I were selling flowers at the butcher shop. The wrong product at the wrong place. But that left me with three days of failure.
I needed a way to focus on what would work. I made notes on exercises to include in the journaling classes I’m starting. I thought of some items I could add to the website–another size of journal cover, and then add some covers that I make for those people who don’t want to make their own.
The show has been over for six hours now. I was not the only one whose show didn’t work well, but I am a person who has a list of improvements, ideas and plans for moving forward with the product. No one promised me a life of ease as an artist. And doubt is still waiting for me to look its way to nip my ankles. But knowing that self-doubt will chew a hole in your soul if you listen, I chose to focus on next steps. It wasn’t easy, but I left the show with my head up and excited about tomorrow.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com