Remaking a Maker
May 23, 2017
Recently, the noted jewelry photographer, Hap Sakwa wrote to me with a question about reinventing his future. With his permission, I thought that others may appreciate "listening in" to our conversation....so here it is.
Question from Hap Sakwa:
Along the way, we've met a few times. You may remember me as a jewelry photographer. But, once upon a time, I was a 'maker'. Now I'm a little of both, but more interested in 'making' again and of course the difficult task of selling. I visited your website, as I knew we were kindred spirits - 3D cultural anthropologists.
So, here I am "Ask Harriete". Where does a reinvented artist show his work in a virtual world, where galleries seem to have been replaced by coffee shops? I naively thought I could spring back to life like the flowers in the Carrizo Plain, using my previous resume as a bona fide artist with 'museum credentials' to launch my 3rd incarnation. HA! It's like starting over......... scratch history.
Thanks for looking and any thoughts would be very welcome.
Reply from Harriete:
Of course, I remember you and your work. You always took absolutely superb photos.
Yes, in not too many years, the entire art /craft world has changed, or at least that is my impression.
I can certainly understand the sense of finding so much changed and becoming discouraged. I used to think that I knew the "recipe" for selling my art -- now all the ingredients are different, especially the traditional ingredients for art/craft fairs, wholesale, and high-end retail.
Sadly, fewer and fewer galleries remain, especially those that would say "make the best you can and our job is to sell it". Those days are gone, and I don't want the pressure to make "art for less" or do another theme show for less.
Consequently, I have changed my approach in the last 3-4 years. I focus more on my silver repair business, Berman Fine Silverwork , for revenue. I do not compromise on quality. I do not work cheap. I prefer to keep my business small and manageable so that I can work on my artwork in between.
My artwork has to squeeze in between all my other responsibilities and jobs. That is nothing new but I make and create exactly, I mean exactly, what I want to make. No consideration at all to what will sell. Too much 'stuff" out there in the marketplace is focused on low cost. But it is extremely difficult to compete on price alone when so much is manufactured or even "made by hand" by third world labor. Certainly, for me, it is quite unfulfilling to just produce work that is cheap or not aligned with my values.
I do recommend to follow your heart because you never know what may come your way. For example, I recently felt compelled to prioritize efforts related to my political concerns as a result of the 45 administration. Much to my surprise, this different focus opened new networks and contacts and a couple of publicity coups with great visibility arose. These were great opportunities. Not many artists or makers get to have their work featured on CNN. I am very excited, but it was entirely unexpected. I didn’t know anything would come of it. But as is my habit, I actually had photos of my work in progress and was able to show this work even though it wasn’t complete. Guess the old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." is working.
My secrets for success are not so secret:
- A website dedicated to your artwork is a must.
- A social networking presence is also expected. Yes, at least four or five or more major social networking sites. Mix it up. Experiment. Think of it as brain exercise.
- Interacting within the social network to some extent is necessary -- but constant self-promotion with a "look at this work" is not cool. It has to be more like a "sharing" rather than a request. This may seem like a small difference but that is actually huge in the reception.
- Focus on making work that is at least "good" to "great" first.
- Look for opportunities without any expected outcome.
- Create visibility by providing resources or opportunities for others. You could create some visibility with your new work, by offering “tutorials” on how to photograph work with a cell phone and achieve good results. That is just a suggestion. I'll bet you can think of tons of ideas. Of course, there is no substitute for professional photography, but that has to be when the work is done and ready for the big world.
REPLY from Hap Sakwa:
Hey, Harriete Berman............ thank you so much for a speedy reply and a great and thorough letter........... although, I must add that it was profoundly sad and disappointing. It's like starting over......... scratch history.
There was one piece of advice you offered that really rang my bell........... Do not make work to sell. Make work that is good to great first. The other 'stuff', I'm working on, but it's tedious and uninteresting. I do understand the requirements of the digital age, so I will do what needs to be done. I intended to struggle forward, making what I want and reaching out, trying to find an audience. I'm even doing the spring Open Studio here in Sonoma County. Even if the work doesn't sell.......... I want someone to see it.
I won't keep you but wanted to say thanks for your thoughts and advice.
Obviously not encouraging, but valuable wisdom.
This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.