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One of my hats that didn't sell. Big disappointment.

I was frustrated and discouraged. I lay in bed wide awake, tossing and turning, my mind spiraling down into those dark places that are so easy to find at 3:00 am. I was doubting myself; questioning my desire to create a following for my crocheted items. Am I delusional thinking people will pay for these? Yes, it’s possible  In the dark next to my blissfully sleeping husband, I felt alone, uncertain and a little angry.

It’s early in the new year. The holidays are over and like many local artists in my town, I made a number of items to sell at a special holiday event at our local visual arts center. This is the third year I’ve done this, and every year I make a few more hats and scarves to combine with those that didn’t sell the previous year. And every year, I sell a little more including some that were made the year before. I make a little more money (sharing the proceeds 60/40 with the nonprofit arts center). This year I netted $175. A nice little chunk to help pay for more yarn and buttons. All good so far. But there is a downside, and I think you know what it is.

As much as we say our art is a labor of love, that it’s the journey not the destination, there are times I want more. A little more money, a little more recognition is the form of sales, a little more positive feedback. If I was brave enough to calculate the cost of materials and my time, I’m afraid I would discover that third-world villagers are making more than me. I feel shallow writing this, because I do get a great deal of personal satisfaction from designing and crocheting each and every original item. Do I want to continue, or just limit myself to simple patterns that will appeal to the masses? (This is a rich topic much debated by artists, but let’s save that for next time.)

In my darkest hour (3:00 am), I wasn’t sure what I wanted. In the morning I would have to go through the returned items to see what didn’t sell. I vowed not to be demoralized. After my coffee and pancakes the next morning, I opened the plastic tub and pulled out each item. Some of the remainders did not surprise me. Others were my “babies”–special creations that I felt sure would cause someone else to swoon. I almost felt angry with the items in the box before me as if they had let me down rather than the whims and tight budgets of the general public.

Oh well. Maybe it’s time to set up my etsy page or have a clearance sale for my Facebook friends. With these two thoughts in mind, I ended up taking new pictures of each item, often putting them on myself, striking a goofy pose and hoping for the best with my iPod camera (See picture. Can you tell I was awake all night?). I loaded the images onto my laptop and wrote short descriptions for each one. And that’s when it got interesting.

As I handled each hat and considered the materials and extra touches, I started falling in love again. I remembered why the color or the pattern excited me, and why I thought it would excite someone else as well. Soon, I was actually loving my creative self a little more and thinking that maybe I’m not so bad at this after all. I now feel like tackling the next project instead of proceeding with my middle-of-the-night decision to turn all my hats into potholders and sell off my roomful of yarn, hooks, buttons and bows.

What I’ve learned:

  1. Don’t trust decisions you make in the middle to the night (unless that is your normal time to be awake). Wait until the sun comes up.
  2. Lack of sales doesn’t always mean the product is bad. You are creating original pieces with colors and designs of your own choosing. Not everyone is going to wear what you make or even like it. That’s what makes it special. The stuff everyone likes can be found at Target or Walmart. Listen and trust your creative vision. Someone, somewhere will share it too.
  3. Trust your vision, but follow current trends and tastes. Doilies like grandma made probably aren’t going to sell in a trendy urban shop. And, slouchy hats with a skull pattern may not fly at the church bazaar. Know what sells in your area, but don’t be afraid to experiment with color combinations and styles from around the globe. And, check what’s selling at Target and Walmart, then make it your own.

Have you ever had a similar experience? How do you deal with the risk and rejection that comes with selling your creations? Thanks for listening. Now let me hear from you.

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One thought on “Falling in love again

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