Monday, February 17, 2014

Taking advantage.

I've had a couple of negative experiences in the last few months and thought I might share them here.  I'm not really sure who reads this (feel free to chime in and lets get the conversation going) but if you're an old timer then this is nothing new for you, if you're a hobbyist or an up and comer then maybe this might give you some forewarning for these situations and you can decide how you want to do things. 

I was invited to take part in a group show last fall, it was a good theme and a really good group of potters so I was excited to be a part of it.  The gallery wanted a photo of a piece that would be included in the show for publication/promotion, that's not abnormal or unreasonable at all, done.  A week or two before delivery he sent an email asking us to shoot images of all the work for the website...I was sending about 25 pots, so that seemed like a bit of a task.  I was going to have to haul out the photo setup, get it all dialed in, shoot the images, and get them edited to be uploaded.  Anyone who shoots their own photos can tell you that all that takes about as long as making the pots, which means in a show situation you are doubling the amount of work for less money.  Anyways, I really toiled over this which seems a little ridiculous, but it really frustrated me.  In a 50/50 consignment situation (don't even get me started on the bullshit that is consignment), or really any split situation with a gallery/shop, it is my understanding that you are paying them 50% to cover the marketing and selling of the work.  I definitely feel that shooting images of the work falls into that category.  Back to the story, rather than confront the gallery owner and argue my case I simply decided to play ignorance and just didn't shoot images of the work.  I never heard from him once the work arrived about the images...but the show was a success, I sold a lot of the work so I was happy with that, I still haven't been paid, but lets save that for another post.  Even though this was months ago it's been on my mind a lot.  It just lends further creedence to my belief that the artist-gallery/shop dynamic is seriously flawed.  I had decided to let it go, this situation happens so rarely that it's not worth getting more worked up about. 

Last month I heard from a former student of mine who works for a small museum.  She asked if I would like to sell work in their gift shop, it seemed like an easy opportunity to maybe sell a few pots.  It was consignment but it was with someone I knew so I made the exception.  She told me what type of pieces they wanted and I let her know that I had the work and could send it to them.  The next day she informed me that the director wanted me to send individual photos of each piece with dimensions and descriptions...these aren't big pots we're talking about, a lot of cups and smaller pots.  I opted out of that arrangement because to be honest it just is not worth my time.  I would have to do all the work I have to do to post on etsy, then pay to ship all the pots in hopes that I might get half the price at some point in the future, no way.  I can understand that since they may not have been familiar with my work they would need photos, I keep a stock of photos for just such an occasion.  Also with higher priced work that may be a more reasonable request.  The situation just left me fuming, and as you can perhaps tell by now I am not good at letting go of situations that leave me feeling like I'm getting screwed.

I have the very fortunate luxury of being able to be selective about how and where I sell my pots, I can't dismiss that.  But, I feel that these situations take advantage of us and our need to make an income.  If I weren't in a situation to be selective I would probably let myself be taken advantage of to try and make those few extra bucks, I'd have to!  I inform new accounts that if they are unable to see my work in person I am more than happy to provide them with a visual catalog of what I can do, I'm not sending individual images of every pot.  When I'm offered consignment I politely decline and let them know that I don't do consignment, if they ask why then they may get the short polite answer or the longer scathing answer, it depends on my mood and the kind of operation I think they're running .  There are exceptions of course, taking part in group shows or shows where the gallery is merely a location and/or didn't curate the exhibition.  I do have one consignment account, but he has a proven track record and sells more of my work than most of my wholesale accounts, and he always pays on time.  He has treated me very well so I see no reason to rock the boat. 

So what's the point of all this?  I don't really have one.  I'm just sharing my frustrations and how I choose to approach these situations.  When I was starting out I would jump at any opportunity to get my work out there, but I'm 16 years in and feel that I've paid enough dues to not have to put up with this kind of stuff anymore.  I don't intend for that to sound egotistical, but there has to come a point where you have developed experience and enough of a reputation that you don't need to be put through the ringer to sell some pots at a little shop.  I'm just so frustrated with some of these places asking for a cut and demanding more work from the artist.  I make it, you sell it, end of discussion.  Bring back the guilds! 

Cheers y'all!


Anonymous said...

Coming out of lurking mode to say that I was glad to see a new post from you. I really miss the frequency with which you and Ron used to post. Good luck on getting paid for the consignment.

S. Dean

Unknown said...

I'm still aspiring to become an aspiring potter!... but i won't get myself started on that one! I'm with Judy on missing the regular postings of you and Ron.These blogs are where I'm getting my clay education, being a late starter.
I definitely think a return to the Guilds system is on the cards. It could be the way forward.
That whole consignment deal sounds like one massive ball ache. I think you definitely have the right approach.

cookingwithgas said...

This post was well thought out and very well written. It really hit home to me and I am sure many of us that are make our living off of clay or any craft/art.
I don't understand not paying your artist within 30 days of selling the work. They have taken in the money and it is owed to you. In my mind it is as bad as stealing the work from you. They are asking you not to take your pay check. I was told once by a non-profit that they have to pay their people first. If we are not their people do not ask us to join you on your boat and then toss us overboard when you find out there are too many.
50/50 is crazy-batshit crazy.
The taking pictures of every pot, no, and why?
We need to take back the ability to sell our own work as best we can. It has become increasingly harder and harder to do.
I think you made the right choices.

Linda Starr said...

great post, I think if a gallery or gift shop gets 50% then they should take the photos themselves when they receive the pots. If they want to see examples of the artist's work then they can look at the artists website or blog or etsy or as you said the artist can send them a few photos of examples of the work they do.

John Bauman said...

36 years in, I'm less able to say how I will and will not sell pots. I find myself open to new possibilities -- though I'm still not consigning (I've only done that twice -- one with one of the most reputable galleries in the Great Lakes area that has turned out to be worthwhile, and another that closed while owing me $2K.)

The one constant problem throughout my 36 years has been the inability to create enough work and balance that with marketing.

Somewhere along the line I had to realize the economic ramifications of my lack of genius.

Dennis Allen said...

If you were consigning an antique to a reputable auction house, they would put the catalog together at their expense.It's part of what they are paid for.I seldom consign and if I do , it is with my contract which includes a payment schedule and clearly states that they pay for any pots not returned in saleable condition.I don't get excited at the prospect of stocking someone's store for free while they act like they are doing me a favor.

Ron said...

Hey man, Good post. I agree that asking you to do the photos was crazy. I am still trying to figure out all this stuff but I know when I'm being asked to do too much. I have pots in several galleries that consign. I've done okay with most of them. I get paid on time and it's nice to have some checks rolling in every so often. Sometimes they are only for $30 or so but they add up. Most of my consignment galleries are 60/40.

Yes, we have to take control of our own situation. It will be different for each potter. I'd be most happy selling all of my pots at my Home Sales. Creating our own events, as individuals or as a group, seems a good way to go as well.

I'm gonna plug Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast that features me and Kyle Carpenter, and Michael Kline talking about the way we sell our work. It may be helpful to some of your readers. It's Episode 52

Ron said...

Oops! Episode 51 not 52

Sandy Miller said...

Yes! Great post! I am currently going the same dialog and have decided by the time I crank out the photo stuff I could have had a day in the studio or even better fishing! What do I want to do? Make pots! After 30 years of this pottery business I have decided I just want to make pots. I have decided the trade offs I am willing to put up with but honestly if it detracts very much from what I want to do, I'm out. At the end of my day I will blog about where my pots are sitting, putting a link to your gallery I'll shower and show up for the opening too. I agree the galleries need to EARN their 50% .

Send a letter and invoice to the gallery in situation #1. It's a business. It's not about friendships or buddies, it's a business. Yours and the gallery who owes you for your work. Send an invoice of your original inventory sheet and state payment is due in 15 days. In the letter, list your phone number, saying if there is a problem contact me so we can work through the issue. This takes little time in the day of computers. Just do it to clear the air so everybody knows where they stand.
This year I am off the road as I spent too much time filling out state sales tax information. Six states and each one has a different system. Enough!
Guilds would be great but I'm kind of in outer slobovia.......

Good pots to ya!

Unknown said...

I've only had two consignment situations, mostly because I'm very leery of leaving my pots somewhere without being paid for them. Currently, I have $200 worth of work at a shop that is located two hours from here.. they've had the pieces for over a year and sold two things. I need to go rescue the pots, but I'm just procrastinating on the four hour round trip.

As far as taking photos for a consignment situation, I'd offer to do it, but the percentage would have to change. All of my wholesale account are 70/30.. so maybe if they want you to take photos, tell them that you'll need another 15-20% of sales to do the extra work? They can't expect to get paid for doing nearly nothing.

carole epp said...

Damn it. I never even thought about how much extra time goes into the photography part and that that should be on the gallery end of things. I get so caught up in my desire to have good relationships with galleries that i bend over backwards for them. Sigh. I've had galleries ask for photos of each piece and then not even use them and re shoot them themselves in the end. Such a great conversation to start. Thanks!

Allison Kruskamp said...

When I start to feel bitter about an order/business relationship/etc, I talk myself through the deal from the beginning and I can usually spot the moment I didn't speak up for myself. When I have to resend an invoice I just try to keep the message simple and as direct to my preferred outcome (getting paid) as possible. That sounds easy but, when everything leading up to the bitterness is so open and friendly, it can be tricky to switch gears. But bringing to someone's attention that you haven't been paid isn't being rude or pushy.
I challenge anyone in this situation to write the message that would introduce that unpaid invoice. Then edit it to remove any hint of apology or back-story. Just stick to the facts and keep it simple. Press send. Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and get back to doing what you love.
Thanks for this discussion and the video tip!