by Ronna Sarvas Weltman (Originally published in Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry, Feb/March 2011)
Just about everybody who makes jewelry has thought about selling it. Although one obvious reason for selling jewelry is to make money, that isn't the only reason. Validation that your jewelry is desirable to others is another motivation. For many artists, interacting with buyers is an important part of the experience. Considering your motivations-and how you enjoy spending your time-is an important part of the puzzle you need to ponder before deciding how and where to sell your jewelry.
Facere Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle,WA; photos courtesy of Facere Jewelry Art Gallery.
Selling Your Jewelry in a GalleryKaren Lorene owns Facere Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle. She points out why it is a beneficial career move for an artist to have his or her jewelry marketed in a gallery.
"The biggest reason," she explains, "is we give them exposure. We give them tons of exposure online. In the end, people still want to touch it. A lot of our customers check us out first on our website and then come in with a list of what they want to look at. The other thing we do is we advertise a lot, to an extent that an individual would be hard pressed to do. Our advertising budget is $50,000 to $80,000 a year. Most artists don't have that ability to get the kind of exposure that comes with that advertising."
Acquiring prestige is another reason to sell your work in a gallery. Because Facere is nationally recognized as a high-end venue for art jewelry, it is a public relations asset to sell your jewelry there. "We just published a book and will be publishing another in the spring," says Lorene. "We publish a literary magazine. That opens up a whole audience that would be difficult for an individual without gallery representation. There's a stature that comes with being chosen. There is a lot of great work out there, but the perception might not be as strong if it is not publicly viewed. We try to place work in museum collections and private collections. Whenever we have new work or a special showing, we're in touch with as many major collectors in the country as we can find."
Many artists are shy about marketing their own work, and Lorene is sensitive to that. "The artist's job is to make jewelry," she explains. "Our job is to sell. We're clear about that. That's why we're here. Many artists feel hesitant about talking up their own jewelry. We don't! We take care of hustling in every possible way we can think of."
Earrings by Jan Raven: Argentium sterling silver and 14k gold-filled wire; photo by Larry Sanders.
Selling Your Jewelry at Art and Craft ShowsBut talking up their own jewelry is not uncomfortable for every jewelry maker, and the thrill of connecting with and building relationships with customers can be intensely rewarding-and fun. The first time wire jewelry artist Jan Raven sold jewelry, she set up a tiny table at a folk dance with a small Christmas sale.
"Because people were admiring things I was making and I was making more than I could give away, I decided I'd set up table and sell a few things. It was very informal, low key, low stress, with very little overhead other than making the pieces. I had maybe fifteen items and sold five or six pieces. There were about forty people there. There was great feedback, even from people who didn't buy. I got a lot of positive feedback that they liked what they saw. It was just an affirmation my work was likeable by a wide variety of people. Without that initial positive feedback, I might not have continued on the journey."
Raven spent the next year exploring making new jewelry and new techniques and started investigating venues to sell her work. When she did sign up to sell at a local show, she had no idea what it would be like. "I recruited a few friends to sit with me," she explains. "I didn't know if I could do it myself or if I would be bored, so I asked friends as moral support. I had relatively decent sales considering I didn't know what I was doing. But I got positive feedback and decided to do five or six shows that first year."
Raven gradually discovered she liked being at art shows. "I enjoy talking to people about my background, about how I got into it, and about my work. I've never been an interact-with-the-public type of person, but for some reason at art shows I was very outgoing and enjoyed it thoroughly. And I enjoyed talking to the other artists and my neighbors on either side at shows. I was such a newbie that first year, and my neighbors helped me out whenever they could."
Raven has found that she markets her products by marketing herself. Almost all of her sales are from people who have seen her work previously. They might not purchase it initially, but often they'll buy it later and then become repeat customers. "I think that people who buy individually made items really appreciate getting to know the artist. At art shows people aren't just buying jewelry, they're buying a little piece of me. They find it fascinating."
Bracelet by Lorelei Eurto: brass with polymer clay beads by Pam Wynn; photo by Lorelei Eurto.
Selling Your Jewelry Online: EtsyOnline sites like Etsy provide a venue for selling jewelry directly to customers. Lorelei Eurto is enthusiastic about her experiences selling via the Internet.
"Etsy is more of an addiction than anything else," she explains. "Every day, I spend the first hour of my day listing my newest jewelry from the beading session the night before. It has become so much of a daily routine that it feels almost uncomfortable if I'm not able to. I do a lot of shopping on Etsy. It has become sort of a thrill of the hunt, especially if I can get my hands on the newest art beads and be the first to use them in my designs."
Because Etsy is so easy to use, it is a good option for hobbyists as well as professionals. Eurto thinks it is a great opportunity for anyone starting a jewelry business. "I would highly recommend opening an Etsy store if you are just starting a jewelry business," she explains. "Etsy does everything for you, allows for detailed descriptions, allows you to add appropriate tags for premium searching, allows you to upload five pictures for each piece of jewelry. And with the fairly small commission that they make, it makes it hard to refuse this type of selling. For each listing, I pay twenty cents, and they take three percent of every sale."
Eurto is disciplined about listing regularly and marketing her new listings online. "It is essential to list often on Etsy to get your items viewed on a regular basis. The more you list, the more your items end up at the top of the queue, and when people search the newest listing under jewelry, necklace, bracelet, or earrings, they are seeing your designs at the top of the list. If you can't list once a day, I would recommend at least renewing items, at least one per day. Typically after listing each jewelry item in my shop, I also upload my photos to Flickr, in addition to uploading photos to Facebook and Twitter. Now with easy links on each listing in Etsy, you can 'share' your items on a variety of different online venues, which increases your visibility even more."
Prior to the onset of the computer age, selling in galleries or stores and selling at art and craft shows were the most common options for selling jewelry. The Internet has now ushered in a third option, which is selling online. Each model has its assets and drawbacks. Generally speaking, what works best often has more to do with the artist's personality, preferences, and circumstances than any obvious advantages of one model over another. --RSW