My 30 x 60" Denver Glass Machinery kiln.
Glass fusing is an unforgiving medium in several areas: First of all, it’s glass! There is a certain amount of understandable skepticism about it's durability. Secondly, most colors don’t fully mature until fired which is kinda like working blindfolded. Thirdly, you can't just erase an error. The piece has to be re-fired which usually means another day in the kiln and you only get three chances before the glass becomes unstable. As an artist, you have only so many choices. You can just wing it and hope for the best and if it isn’t just right…….awww, just tell everyone “It’s an art piece!” Or make up some “art speak” reason to explain it. Right? In how many art shows have you seen this approach?
But at some point, if you’re going to grow and make your living as an artist, you have to begin doing the dreaded 'T' work……..yep, Testing!!!! There is Test Marketing, Stress Testing, Color Testing and just to name a few and many of these apply to other mediums besides glass.
My booth at Countryside Art Fair 2006
Ok, you know your Mom and your family are not the best people to ask and not all of us have the where with all to hire a real focus group. But there are a few low-key ways to test market:
1. STREET FAIRS & ART SHOWS: In this world where everyone gets a blue ribbon, few people will honestly appraise your work. But in the marketplace, clients vote with their wallets. I did a lot of art fairs back in the day, which established me locally as an artist. As exhausting as they were, I learned so much from the direct customer contact. Often they were the best source for new products also. You know you've hit a home run on a product when customers are moved to tears or are fighting over the last one in the display.
2. FACEBOOK: Facebook has provided a community of artists who can give lots of encouragement but probably won't tell you when it's not good.
3. GALLERIES: Many gallery owners, if approached properly, will critique your work for free.
Glass wall art at From Our Hands, Des Moines IA
4. ON-LINE GALLERIES:
On-line sales venues like Fine Art America and Etsy provide customer comments that can be very valuable.
5. ART GROUPS: I belong to a small art group and really trust their input.
Left, frit samples Right, sheet glass samples
When I teach classes, the first part of it is making color test strips made with layers of frit. These are not cute little coasters, they are valuable tools I hope my students will refer to over and over again.
I have an old cigar box full of fired color samples from every color of glass I've ever purchased.
I make color test strip now for almost every new piece I create unless I'm really sure I know the colors.
We’ve had freezers full of glued glass samples and window sills filled with glass glued with different adhesives – all in the name of testing.
Here, we're testing the integrity of stainless cable and crimps to be used to hang glass wall art. The tool box is full of heavy wrenches weighing 47 pounds and was left suspended. It will be used to hang glass wall art weighing about 20 pounds.
Testing takes extra time and patience but it sure beats surprises!
What have you tested lately? I welcome your comments and suggestions for this blog.
I was asked an interesting question at my last teaching gig. One of my students looked me right in the eye and said, "Ok, so what motivates you to be so forthcoming and share so much information with us?" It kinda stopped me dead in my tracks and, as usual, I said the first thing that came to my mind: "When I first started out, galleries and other more successful artists wouldn't give me the time of day. I made up my mind then that if I ever got even a little bit successful, I'd do all I could to help other artists along the way!"
But maybe it goes a lot farther back than that. I was an only child and though I was given most anything I really wanted, I found it lonely. Talking with my cousins a while back, they remembered that I would give away all my toys just so they would stay and play. So, here I am still giving away my toys because I love what I do and want everyone to join in.
Another reason I don't worry about giving away my secrets....... I am easily bored and doing the same thing over and over, year after year is not enough for me. What makes my socks roll up and down is the process. It's the "making" of art.....in whatever medium or style. And, it's the evolution of ideas. This kind of focus turns work into play and I'm hoping if I keep sharing, it will catch on and we'll all play well together and have fun living our dream.
So, here's my latest share. It's part of my "Remembered Spaces" series based on photos taken on a recent trip to the Denver Botanical Gardens. Enjoy, and welcome to the playground!