I’m happy to be here again with Ann Brauer to pick up where we left off talking about her creative journey and creative business.
In this second part of the interview we’ll be talking about:
- Why Ann chose to build a creative business rather than continue in her trained profession
- Overcoming the pressures of society’s perceptions on starting your own creative business
- How to use fine craft shows to sell art quilts PLUS a list of such craft shows and
- Considerations for choosing which craft show to participate in
Pushing Through Society’s Perceptions Against Creative Business Ownership
CN: Ann earlier in this interview you mentioned that you had a fallback position you could have gone back to. Yet you still made sure your art quilts business worked. There must have been plenty of opportunities for you to fall back on your legal business, especially at the start of your art quilts business. Why didn’t you?
AB: Was it Thomas Wolfe who said you can’t go home again.
I knew that if I were to continue doing legal research I would need to push myself to explore new options. Did I want to teach? Work for a firm? It would require taking more steps and probably moving back to the city.
I found that even though it was difficult living by myself in the country and making quilts, I liked the challenge and so I decided to make it work.
One of the hardest parts though was when getting chided by others that women had worked so hard to get into law schools and I was letting others down by my decision.
Those statements though did spur me to make the best quilts I possibly could to help calm those fears.
CN: Thanks for that honest answer, Ann. I know that a lot of us creatives struggle with society’s perceptions of what is a right or wrong way for us to earn a living. In my interview with Melanie Brummer, she talks at length about how we need to stand up to societal perceptions. Good for you that you were able to make it work for you.
CN: Do you have any regrets for not going back to legal research?
AB: As to regrets–as you may have figured out, I like to make a decision, have a reason for it and then move forward.
I do on occasion let my mind wander to imagine how different my life would be if I had continued as a lawyer but I like my life as it is.
I do on occasion wonder if I made the right decision to continue making smaller works. Would I be treated more seriously if I did not make the potholders and eyeglass cases?
And yet for the first part of my career, I needed to make the smaller items to support myself. After that, I realized I liked having items that were accessible to many people.
I liked the freedom it gave me to shift with the marketplace and I felt an obligation to my customers.
In addition, I like to sew.
Making Time to Focus on Creating and Running a Business
CN: Earlier you mentioned “being focused and stubborn”. Making time to focus on creating as well as running a business is another one of those things a lot of us struggle with. How do you structure your days so you’re able to do both?
AB: Because my studio in Shelburne Falls is open to the public, I do have regular hours. I try to get to the studio an hour early so I can work on various business tasks before I am “open”. I also do some work on the computer in the morning before I leave for work. Some days I will work on more business tasks when I am in between quilts or taking a break.
CN: Do you teach or engage in other activities to make money from your artwork? And if so, what are they? Do you find them as profitable as selling your original work on Etsy?
AB: I support myself by making and selling art quilts and decorative accessories. I use Etsy as my online shop to help with this activity.
I participate in a number of fine craft shows each year. Etsy is a good way for people to follow up when they are in a position to purchase.
I also get some postings from people who would not otherwise find my work. My marketing is a whole.
How to Choose A Craft Show to Participate In
CN: Smart!! I see your marketing strategy is multi-faceted. Which craft shows do you participate in and how often do you do them?
AB: The craft shows I participate in vary every year depending on
- Which ones I get into,
- How frequently I have done a particular craft show,
- The ease of doing the show,
- My schedule and whether I have a good rationale for doing the particular show
- If I feel the promoter does a good job?
- Whether my market there?
- If my customers expect me to be there?
- People I know who are doing the craft show?
- What my friends who have done the craft show before say about it?
A List of Fine Craft Shows
This year I am doing
- The ACC Baltimore Show in February,
- The two Paradise City Marlboro Shows—they are easy to do and not that far from my home
- The Berkshire Craft Show—such a sweet little show with good quality work that I can actually drive home from every night
- The Morristown Craft Show in New Jersey where I do have a large mailing list in an area that I haven’t shown at for a couple of years
- The Memorial Art Gallery Show in Rochester NY—another sweet show with a limited audience that I haven’t shown at for about 10 years and
- The OOAK Holiday Show in Chicago—huge attendance in the center of the city and a market I hope I can build.
Next year—who knows although I have already begun considering possibilities.
The Relationship Between Participating in a Craft Show and Your Online Sales
CN: Oh wow, that’s quite a busy craft show schedule!!! With your heavy participation in craft shows and multi-pronged marketing approach, would you say craft shows have been the biggest source of client referrals to your Etsy store?
AB: Actually, according to my statistics my largest source of referrals to my Etsy store is Etsy.
I also get referrals from different social media, my blog, my website and of course craft shows.
When I do a craft show, I do often notice a rise in purchases from that location. I also presume that some of my sales on Etsy are from people who know my name and recognize it on Etsy.
CN: Ann, since you’re getting clients from different places – craft show, social media and other places to your Etsy store, are you photographing the work for your Etsy store yourself or are you using a professional photographer?
AB: I have a professional photographer who takes images of my larger quilts for shows and my website, however, I do take my own pictures of the smaller items using my iPhone.
It can be a bit of a challenge to take 5 images of a piece that convey the essence of the piece and I do have stock shots that I use frequently.
Other people take much more interesting photos of their work and I do sometimes aspire to make my smaller items more part of a tableau.
Setting Up A Craft Show Booth
CN: Ann, from my experience setting up my first outdoor exhibition, I know set up at a craft show forms a major part of the work involved in selling at a craft show. How do you usually set up your booths?
AB: I normally use my booth I purchased from Flourish.com. It consists of 1-inch steel poles with drapes. I then add light fixtures, a rug and the Abstracta stands. This arrangement is sturdy and gives me flexibility regardless of the size of the booth I get. I fit it all in my Honda Odyssey with the middle row of seats removed and the back ones folded down.
CN: Sounds great. Now, could you share your five favorite tools with us? We love to learn and use what other artists are using.
Ann Brauer’s Five Favorite Tools and Resources
- I love my Singer 281-3 Industrial Sewing Machine from 1965 with its Servo motor. I have had this machine since 1983. It has a wonderful table. When I lost my studio as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, my husband was able to pull it out and friends reconditioned it. I design my quilts around my sewing machine. Watch this quick video to see how awesome this sewing machine is.
- I love my studio. It has north and east light, 10-foot ceiling, polished cement floors and allows me to work here and also display my complete quilts.
- My magnetic topped John James thimble is wonderful. When I hand sew it lets me easily pick up my needle.
- My anti-fatigue rubber floor mats in the work area are great. They let me stand as I cut fabric without wearing my feet out on the cement floors.
- My display counter which doubles as my work and cutting service. My studio is not really large which means I have to work very efficiently. The display counter is just the right height without causing my shoulders to ache.
CN: Was there any time in your life when you struggled with making this a career? And what did you do to overcome it?
AB: Supporting myself as an artist is a constant struggle. The market is always changing and it is important to listen to your customers and ask what is happening.
It is always a puzzle. I try to figure out the next step, make a decision that I can rationalize and then try it. Sometimes it fails and then I move on.
One practice that I developed many years ago is to keep moving forward. If I have had a bad craft show, I try to move some of the work in other ways so that I do not feel burdened by too much work that I thought would sell but that I still own.
CN: How does it feel to be able to support yourself doing what you love?
AB: I feel very lucky.
Ann, I so appreciate you for being so open about your business and the mindset and reasoning which led to the decisions you made. It’s been wonderful. Thank you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my interview with Ann Brauer as much as I have. Visit Ann’s website.
Here are the highlights of today’s interview.
Quotes and Takeaways
- Even though it was difficult living by myself in the country and making quilts, I liked the challenge and so I decided to make it work.
- One practice that I developed many years ago is to keep moving forward.
- When I do a craft show, I do often notice a rise in purchases from that location.
- My marketing is a whole.
- I do on occasion let my mind wander to imagine how different my life would be if I had continued as a lawyer but I like my life as it is.
Have you participated in a craft show before? What are your tips for successfully participating in a craft show?
Read more of my textile art business interviews.