Author Archives: Alison Wheeler

3 Conversations That Will Gain You Immediate Respect in the Art World

Artists have always led an interesting life. Back in the days of hired portrait painters, the artists were often not able to support themselves. They had to find a “patron” in order to practice their craft. They studied for years under other painters, learning techniques and styles, and when they came out of apprenticeships, they were without money, a job, or a place to live. They would find wealthy families to work for, often living on site, and painting portraits of family members and the homes they lived in.

This post is about something that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately. I hope this doesn’t come off as a rant, because it’s not supposed to. I’m instead hoping that this can open a few more eyes to our words and how we use them.

The artists life is often looked at as the dream.  “You just get to do what you love all day! Isn’t that great?” Well let me tell you, as great as it sounds, it’s not without its struggles. Just like any job!

 

#1

I want to first point out that this is like any other job, and there are parts we artists enjoy and parts we do not. For instance, by running my own business, I am now my own accountant, secretary, designer, manufacturer, packaging specialist, sales clerk, social media guru, marketing & branding specialist, and product photographer. And these are just the titles I came up with off the top of my head! My life isn’t always filled with blissful days creating whatever comes to mind, it’s dictated by what sells and who orders what.

This may sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. I just want to open up the conversation about the overly romanticized idea of the life of an artist. We do love what we do, or else we wouldn’t do it. But shouldn’t everybody love what they’re doing? You don’t have to love every part of your job, but if you don’t at least have an interest in some of it, what are you doing?

 

#2

The next part to this conversation is the idea of art being a hobby. I often get people who come into my booth at art fairs and rave about pottery, and how they wish they had time for their hobbies, too, because this one time they took a pottery class and made a pinch pot and they still have it and it holds pennies on their dresser and it’s really nicely. Great. I love it. More people should play in clay. It’s therapeutic and downright fun! But let’s not downgrade a profession. We all do it. In an attempt to relate to one another, we all like to compare experiences. But finding a way to still respect what others do for a living is important.

 

#3

This brings us to the last part of this conversation: talent. Talent is a word that gets thrown around in the art world way too casually. I think that most people genuinely think it’s a compliment, and in some ways it is. It says that you’re good at what you do. But (and here’s the part the artists struggle with) it also implies that this is just something you are already good at. You were born with this talent, and it comes easily to you. Calling an artist simply talented often disregards the years and years of studying, working, practicing, and failing that goes along with the profession. Art is learned. I can’t tell you how many pots I’ve smashed in my lifetime (it always feels so great to do it! but that’s a blog post for another time…) because they didn’t turn out in the kiln, or I made them poorly, or I got a bad critique and realized just how ugly they were. I’ve had so many failed pieces in the past that I can’t begin to count them. There were plenty of all nighters in the studio in college that often ended in tears. I’ve attended clay conferences, artist talks, and group critiques. I’ve researched and applied to numerous shows and gallery exhibitions. As an artist, you have to track down your sales. You have to market yourself and your work, and put yourself out there to even get the slightest bit of notice. Customers don’t always come flocking. There is so much more to this career than most people even think about. So to say that an artist is successful based on talent alone really down plays every other part of what they do.

So next time you are at an artists booth or gallery show or run into them at the grocery store, try to find another word to describe what you’re trying to say. Do you think everything they make is great? Tell them they are good at what they do. Do you like their latest work? Tell them the reasons why. Do you love the colors/patterns/textures in a piece? Tell them how creative you thought that part was. I bet you that they’ll be much more interested in having a conversation with you about their work 🙂

Hopefully I didn’t scare anyone off. This isn’t a raging rant, it was meant to be a helpful post that will open the door to a more respectful conversation about artists and their work! Let me know what you think, and artists, what are your thoughts on this subject?

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This post was inspired by someone who recently told me, “your camera takes really nice pictures.” Hmmm…let’s re-think that! 🙂

Art Fairs on a Budget, Part 2: Camping and Cooking

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Hiking at Devil’s Lake last fall.

Good morning! And welcome back to the blog. Today I’m going to share with you two big tips I have for eating while traveling. They may seem sort of obvious, but they are key to saving money while traveling.

I’m a sort-of health nut when it comes to food, although I definitely do have a weakness for french fries…..mmmmm yum…Anyway! I don’t love going out to eat all the time, which is great for saving money, but when you’re traveling that can be the only/easiest option you have.

Tip number one: get a camping cook stove. We have this one, and we love it! Hook it up to a small propane canister and you’re set. You can get it out and make dinner at a rest stop if you need, or you can use it at camp like a mini transportable kitchen 🙂 I like to plan my meals ahead of time when I’m vending at art fairs, because the last thing I want to do after a 10 hour day in the sun is grocery shop and make decisions. My favorite throw together meal is chicken tacos…because I can have everything cut up ahead of time and ready to go, and all I have to do is cook up some chicken and dig in! I’ll bring a cooler with veggies, meat and cheese, and then tortilla shells. I cut up onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and peppers ahead of time and throw them in the cooler in little baggies. Then I saute the chicken, combine it in a shell with the veggies, cheese, and salsa, and bam! Delicious dinner in under 10 min.

Tip number two: get a lunch cooler and bring your own lunches to the show! It can be hard enough to get away from your booth for a quick bathroom break during the day, but trying to stand in a food line at lunch time will be sure to waste at least 20 minutes of your day. Not only are you away from your booth, possibly losing sales (if you don’t have a partner to help out) but you’re also away at a very busy time..for some reason, even though you’d think that shoppers would be eating at lunch time, it’s actually one of the busier times at a lot of art fairs! Bring yourself lots of small things to eat throughout the day, and this way you can be sure to never miss a sale! I like to bring fruit, trail mix, and tuna salad to eat on rice cakes. Yes, I said it. Tuna on rice cakes. It’s surprisingly good! And it can all be prepared ahead of time.

And there you go! Two easy, time saving ways to spend less $$ when you’re traveling for shows 🙂

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Lake Superior, Copper Harbor, MI.

Art Fairs on a Budget, Part 1: Camping!

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Camping at for a show in Charlevoix, at Petoskey State Park in MI (July 2015)

 

Part 1: Camping!

This weekend, I’m vending at a new art fair! It’s called Art on the Bluffs, and it’s held in Columbia, IL (greater St. Louis area). It’s always nerve wracking trying out new shows, but I am definitely looking forward to this weekend. My husband and I are camping there, and will get to explore St. Louis a little bit!

And speaking of camping, it’s the best.

Traveling for work can get expensive, especially when you’re self employed and your employer (you!) has to pay for it all.  I try to save money where ever I can, so that my profit margins from shows are greater. This summer, camping has been my go-to accommodation. I love to travel with my puppy, so camping is easier than finding a pet friendly hotel. David and I have an awesome new tent (thanks REI wedding registry!) and a camp cook stove. All you need is a tent, a mat and a sleeping bag, and maybe a flashlight. I throw in my hammock, a tarp, camping dishes/tupperware, and I also bring a cooler full of food, so I can cook and pack lunches. And there you go! You have a more affordable trip 🙂

Come back next week for Part 2: Meals on the Go!

The Youngest Vendor

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Today I am preparing for the WI Sheep & Wool Festival that’s held annually in Jefferson, WI.  It’s a 3 day fiber festival, and has two barns full of vendors, various food trucks, knitting and other fiber workshops, and even a sheep dog herding competition. For all the fiber artists in the area, this is like the State Fair. What a great way to spend your weekend! It’s 3 jam packed days of fun, fiber, and fall!

This is going to be my second year at the festival, and I am returning with high hopes. The shoppers were so pleasant last year, and very supportive of my work. The vendors were friendly and fun to talk to. The onsite staff were really great, too! All in all, I’m definitely excited for this weekend (well, as excited as anyone gets about working weekends :P) The show was a huge success for me last year, and I made many great connections as well. I got a lot of feedback about my booth, with the main suggestion being to bring more than just items related to yarn! Sure, the sheep mugs are cute, and the yarn bowls are always a huge hit, but many shoppers made the comment, “oh, we’ll buy anything!” This year, I will have a booth stocked with all the items I make, still including yarn bowls and sheep/alpaca themed pieces 🙂

One thing I did learn last year…I am definitely a “youngster” in the vendor group. By a lot. It can be very hard to be taken seriously as a young vendor, especially in the art world. Many a vendor has commented on my age (like that should matter, right? look at my work please)! And the most common question asked in my booth is, “did you make all this?” But I feel very lucky to be doing what I’m doing at such a young age, since more often than not artists have to work there way up to full time. I am not taking this for granted! But I do want to be taken seriously, because I take what I do very seriously. I work hard, and work often! This is not my hobby, this is my career. The only way to be successful is to take yourself as seriously as you want to be taken by the rest of the world 🙂

 

 

3 Reasons Why My Blog is Worth Your Follow!

Photocred: ©David Reuter, Cup: Sonja Gloria Pottery
Photocred: ©David Reuter, Cup: Sonja Gloria Pottery

Good morning, and happy Friday! I hope you all had a wonderful week, and that you also have a fun-filled weekend ahead of you! In today’s blog entry (my first blog entry!), I’m going to give you 3 great reasons to follow my new blog!

A little backstory: I am a 25 year old full time professional studio potter, living with my husband in Madison, WI. I have a studio in my basement, an awesome puppy pal, and lots of gardens around our lawn! I love the outdoors, I have a very active lifestyle, and I also LOVE good food (thank god I live in Madison).

Today, I am giving you 3 reasons why you should probably start following my blog 🙂

Reason #1 why this blog will be worth your follow: I make functional pottery. That’s right, functional art! Not only is it beautiful, handcrafted artwork, but it’s also usable. Art can be hard to justify spending lots of money on; trust me, I know! But functional art is a whole different category. When you take home pottery from an art fair or local gallery, you are bringing home something beautiful that has had hours of work and heaps of love put into it.  But, you are also bringing home something that you can get enjoyment out of in daily use. I love collecting other artists pottery, and I have a whole mug collection that I get to choose from every morning! When you hold a warm, coffee-filled handmade mug in your hands, you can feel the energy and love that the artist put into it, and there’s no better way to start your day!

Reason #2 why you should continue reading this blog: This blog won’t be just about pottery. Yes, I am a ceramic artist, and yes, I do this full time. But I also have many other interests that will be shared with you through out this blog series. As mentioned earlier, I love to be outside, I enjoy active adventures, and I can never resist a quick play session with my puppy. Gardening is another one of my strong interests, and I preserve and cook a lot of my own food. This blog will give you insight into why so many potters are also foodies (hint: beautiful pottery doesn’t deserve easy-mac dinners)! I’ll show you meals that I choose to serve in specific dishes, and share delicious recipes for eating off your own land.

Reason #3 why this blog is still worth your time: I post pretty pictures 🙂 Yes, so do many bloggers out there, but all the photos I post are either taken by me or my husband. That’s right, we’re photographers as well.  I majored in Photography back at University (and yes, now I do pottery…but that’s a blog post for another time)!  David and I shoot portraits and weddings together. I won’t be using stock photos, and I will always engage the readers with beautiful pictures. Blogs with photos get more views, and I completely understand why! Aren’t you more likely to click on a post with an enticing photograph than one without?

This blog is a work in progress, but I hope you will find it interesting, funny, and that it gives you a better understanding of one artists life in this crazy world 🙂