Professional Development for Artists and Crafts People Feed

How can I market my work when galleries resist?

John Jensen

Dear ASK Harriete,

I was wondering if you had any guidelines on how to find and approach galleries. I have a hard enough time with people being freaked out by my work (knives) that I want to make sure I'm doing everything else right to help offset the "Knives are not art", or "Knives are weapons" B.S. that I often encounter...

Any tips and techniques on getting galleries to say "Yes"?


John Jensen

Dear John,

You do have the ultimate difficult object to show in galleries . . . and frankly, I am wondering why you want to be in galleries at all.  Knives do have a market but it is usually not in a gallery setting.

Galleries are in the business to show work that they think their customers will buy, otherwise they will go out of business.  They base their decisions on their business experience, as well as their own interests and personal tastes.  If their business grows, they develop a following of like-minded clients that reinforces their earlier decisions on which artists to represent.

John Jensen

If galleries lack interest in showing knives, it is most likely because they think that your work will not appeal to their client base.  This is a business decision and is not a reflection on whether knives are art or craft, etc.

In my next post, I will suggest ways to become more involved in the gallery scene, how to find a gallery, and how to improve your chances that a gallery will choose to show your work. However, I think you have much more potential finding buyers and collectors by using the Internet, in addition to connecting with books and magazines about knives.

Make it easy for knife enthusiasts to find you.  The Internet is fantastic for connecting both makers and buyers of unusual or less common objects.  Since your work is in a distinct niche market, the Internet could serve you well.   Join and use as many online groups as you can find that will show images of your work. This includes Facebook, Flickr, and Crafthaus as examples.  These sites offer a number of specialized groups, especially Flickr. They also list online exhibitions and real world exhibition opportunities as a service to their members . . . or you could sponsor an exhibition yourself.

Look online for knife organizations, knife conferences, knife craft shows, even events that attract knife enthusiasts. I am not familiar with the knife world, but the Internet definitely makes research much easier for anyone interested in niche markets. The point is that you want to be found by people who are more likely to appreciate and buy your knives.  If your potential clients are not the typical gallery clientele, then you need to "show" your work where your audience will find you.   

Nuibiru, 2008,
Cover photo for 500 Knives

John Jensen

Keep going...look online for blogs about knives. If you can't find one, start your own.   With a little bit of effort toward building your online visibility, your audience with grow dramatically. 

I'd also like to bust the myth that a gallery will do all the work of marketing for you.  They will do some, but you can't be a market success unless YOU take charge of marketing your work. 

I noticed that you will have a knife on the cover of 500 Knives.  Great news! Your next step is to look up every one of the knife makers in the book. Look at their websites or find them online. Look where they show their work. Email them, network with them online. Ask them, "Where do you show your work?" Look for shops or stores that sell knives as well. This might be a much better direction than galleries since stores are accustomed to buying merchandise outright, rather than showing work on consignment.

Stay tuned for the next post about connecting with the gallery marketplace.


Get your own name on Facebook now!

Did you know that you can get your own name on Facebook?  Do it now! This is a fast and easy step for creating an identity and visibility for your artwork and your name.

For my original Facebook account, I was assigned some random number as my identity.  Now, my Facebook address is   No longer am I an anonymous number.  Facebook is the LARGEST photo sharing site on the Internet. And it is free. It is also easy to keep your Facebook page completely professional. There are many choices regarding how you share you personal or professional information.  This is a very convenient way to introduce your art or craft to a wide audience.

Choose your "NAME" carefully. Once it is done, there is no changing it.  If you have a common first or last name, use your middle initial or your middle name (like I did).  A second option would be to add a number, but I recommend that you try to make your name more unique with a middle name or middle family name rather than a number.  It just doesn't seem all that unique or memorable to be Adam.Evan523.

To find out how to get your own name on Facebook CLICK here. 

You never know who might be looking for you online; a customer, a curator, or an author doing research for an article.  Get online and increase the visibility for your art in every way you can.


Uploading Images to Social Networking Sites: What size is recommended?

Consuming Identity Chair
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

When it comes to uploading images to Social Networking sites for online viewing, you want to keep a couple of important factors in mind.

  • Image size for optimal online viewing is usually about 1Mb.
  • Some sites impose a size limit.  
  • Check to make sure your  digital images show up properly.
  • Take full advantage of tags and descriptions for each image.

I've found that a file size in the range of one megabyte (1Mb) or less is a practical size for nearly all social networking sites. When you upload an image,  most online 2.0 sites will automatically downsize the  digital image file to fit their template for thumbnail images.  These sites typically retain the larger file so that if anyone clicks on the thumbnail, a larger pop up image will open.   Use these built-in features of 2.0 sites to your advantage.

Not too small!  Small images (for example 100 x 150 pixels) may look fine for quick review as a "thumbnail" for your website, or as the thumbnail on a social networking "page" or "portfolio."  But if a potential buyer clicks on the image for a larger, closer inspection, and the image does not increase in size, it is very disappointing.  Click on the image above to see the difference.

I've also heard of people intentionally uploading small images out of fear that their work may be copied.  Frankly my advice is to "get over it."  Move on.  Keep developing your portfolio with skill and artistic vision amplified by hard work.  A copycat, if one ever occurs, will be found out soon enough.  The recurring benefits of larger, high resolution images far outweigh the small chance of abuse.   

Not too big!  Don't upload an image file that is too large either.  Many people have high speed connections, but very large image files (e.g. 3MB and larger) may take such a long time to render on the viewer's monitor that they stop and go elsewhere. 

Always try a test viewing of your online images as if you were a potential curator or buyer visiting the site.  If it doesn't show up the way you expected, find out why, delete it and re-upload a corrected image file.    

Check here soon for upcoming blogs on tags and descriptions to get the most out of uploaded images. Read the previous blog about image labels.


Use social networking sites for visibiliy

I enjoy surfing around the Internet looking at work by other artists and craftspeople.  However, sometimes when I discover an attractive image or piece of work, if there is no supporting information, I am left disappointed.  It is like the artist didn't care to put any effort in explaining the work.  Lacking some kind of description, or at least a list of materials, forces me to guess or speculate or make up my own assumptions.

Online viewing is different than viewing work in a museum, gallery or craft show. When online, I do not have the option of looking at the real work, walking all the way around, standing far away and then looking close.  An online image is limited by the size and quality of my computer monitor (the 72 dpi of all Internet images) and by the quality of the photographic image posted by the individual artist.  People may even be looking at your work on their mobile phones or PDA's (Personal Digital Assistant). A description included with the work will help them decipher this postage stamp size image. 

Measuring Compliance
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Detailed information will help the viewer to interpret your images. The title, media, and materials give the viewer a better insight about the work. The dimensions give the viewer a clear idea about the size of the work. Some work looks smaller or larger, than in reality. For example, in this sculpture titled Measuring Compliance (left) people often assume it is a "miniature."  In fact it is a life size 3rd grade desk and 3rd grade chair. Without the dimensions, would you assume it's height is 7 inches - or 7 feet?.   Big difference!

It is also a good idea to group your work on these sites by categories that are appropriate to your work. Most sites offer some method to organize your photos. Take time to make these categories interesting.  This way if a person is looking at your albums or sets, you are offering a rich resource of information.

The Internet is your marketing and sales department.  What do people see in your work?  What do you want people to know about your work?  The Internet will speak for you if you simply provide the information along with your images.  Compose at least a brief description and statement.  You can always edit it later.     

Harriete Estel Berman


P.S.  In an earlier post, the following was itemized for your artwork descriptions:

Basic Label Information

  • Artist's name
  • Title of the work
  • Copyright symbol
  • Date of work
  • Media or materials
  • Dimensions (height, width, depth)
  • Helpful other tags (if possible)

Stay tuned for information about using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for maximum visibility.

HELP WANTED with my artist statement!

Dear Harriete,

Fillius_0043 When I decided to become a painter, 14 years ago, I hired an artist consultant to write my artist statement. It was well written and served its purpose over the time I was painting. Now I am working in tin and don't have the cash flow I once had to hire someone for this task (I save any extra $ for the photographer). Could you tell me please, what is your best recommendation for writing one's own artist statement? Any guidelines to follow that you know of? I am at a loss here. Thank you for any suggestions you may have on this topic.

Sincerely, one of your fans,

 Jenny Fillius

Dear Lost for Words,

This is a great question because, other than your work itself, the Artist Statement is your best opportunity to connect with the viewing audience. People rely on the artist statement to gain context and insights about the work.  I love reading a superb statement.  It is also one of my pet peeves when an artist allows a poor statement to be associated with an otherwise good work of art. 

If words are going to represent your work, those words better be good, as good as your artwork.  A personal guideline is that composing the artist statement should take about 5% of the overall time spent to make the piece.   It may sound like a lot of time but remember that your audience may actually spend as much time reading your statement as looking at the work. 

Each series or important piece should have its own specific artist statement.  A good statement focuses on the artwork (not your life history or philosophy).  While working on your piece, start writing down thoughts and bits that you’d like to include in the statement.  Then organize these thoughts into a coherent statement as you finish the piece or immediately after.   It will be more difficult (almost impossible) to remember your inspiration months later when you’re thinking about different work.

The investment of time could really pay off since the artist statement can be used in multiple scenarios including:

  • Grant proposals;
  • Submission to exhibitions;
  • Exhibition proposals;
  • Catalogs produced for an exhibition that includes your work;
  • Submissions to publications such as books, or magazine;
  • Information for lecturers, writers, reviewers or bloggers talking about your work;
  • Statements on your web site;Information to post with your images on social networking sites;

Below are a few suggestions for a better artist statement.  Since writing styles vary considerably, keep in mind that these are only suggestions.   

One final thought, do not confuse your artist statement with your bio. The artist statement should be about your work only, and the inspiration behind it. Make your artist statement as inspiring and interesting as your work.

For more details and additional examples about artist statements check out my blog ASK Harriete at


1. First line needs to convey the most important insight about the piece.  Make the first line good enough to stand alone -- full of information, but not too long.

2.  Use descriptive language.   Explain the source or inspiration of some key details.  Minimize the use of the words “I”, “my” or “me“.

3. Connect with your audience by modifying your statement and writing style.  The artist statement for a coffee table book should be engaging and entertaining. A statement for a grant application should be constructive and insightful. Think about what the audience would like to know. Ultimately you may need more than one version of your statement for each piece.

4. Keep your statement short, specific, and sincere preferably one paragraph or two very short paragraphs. Stay concise!  Avoid repeating the same concept with different words – a common problem in artist statements.

5. Include STRONG CONTENT such as unique features, special techniques, themes, content issues or historical origin of a technique.  Do not mention old work, past exhibitions, or awards in your artist statement.

6. Never say anything negative or complain. Negative statements devalue you and your work. Everyone struggles with finding time to do their work.

7. Never puff up your statement with positive self appraisement. Such comments sound like bragging with no substance. Do not include statements about how you are attempting something. Be confident, either you are “there” or don’t say it.

8. NEVER write “No Statement” in a proposal requesting a statement. You will be immediately disqualified for failure to fulfill the requirements

9. Technicalities - have two or more people proof read your statement.  Ask for constructive criticism and feedback. 

10. Update your Statement. Each time you use the statement, reread it thoroughly as if it were your first time. Is there anything that might make it more relevant to the new audience?

Documents to sell a work of art.

Casey by John van Es

Hi Harriete,

I've painted all my life and I'm now 45 years old.  I recently created my own website and linked it to other portfolio sites to display my work.  I only show a handful of what I've created.  A buyer is interested in two paintings and is asking for papers and documents. What should be given to the buyer?  I never tried to sell before so don't know what to do.    Thanks in advance for your advice. You can  visit my web site if you want.


 John van Es

Dear John,

Thanks for your question and for labeling your images correctly!

The following information should be sent for artwork that you want to sell.

  • A polite and business-like letter thanking the collector for his interest in your work and itemizing the materials enclosed with the letter (below).
  • CD of digital images. These images should be professional guality images at least 8"x 10" at 300 dpi. Read the new Professional Guidelines documents about digital images for more information.  Include a full view and some close up images for each piece.
  • Contact sheet with thumbnail images of the digital images on the C.D. This Contact Sheet is for quick reference. Read Working with Digital Images Effectively for guidance in making your contact sheet. 
  • Resume (1-5 pages with your mailing address since it doesn't appear you are working through a gallery).
  • Artist Statement (about the particular artwork on the C.D.)
  • Description for the artwork on the C.D. including title, copyright symbol, date of work, media (be specific), dimensions (height x width x depth)
  • Photo Credit for the image.
  • Retail Price (label the price as "Retail Price" to avoid confusion with wholesale or artist's price.)

Geronimo by John van Es

If you have exhibited this particular artwork or if it is included in books, then you might want to list the exhibitions or publications that show or have shown the work. Also if you have any postcards or articles from newspapers or magazines that included images of the artworks, that would be very nice, but it is not necessary.

I have heard about a “Certificate of Authentication” from some people, but this seems more like a fluffy promotional sound bite when buying a souvenir plate.  There is no such organization or ''Certificate of Authentication" that is recognized universally. 

You letter could document that you created and own the copyright for the artwork. The information listed above should be all that is necessary to give the collector confidence in the fact that he is buying an original painting directly from the artist.

IF you think that "price discounts" may be raised by the collector, I recommend that you read the Professional Guidelines document Discounts.

After the purchase is complete, you should send a receipt for the purchase along with a "thank you" note.

Good luck with the purchase.


Create an "image description" for every artwork.

When you have selected which images will represent your work, you need to immediately compose an "image description."  The image description is a permanent supplement to your photographic image. Once created your image description can be used over and over in a wide spectrum of opportunities. Copy and paste the description into jury applications and exhibition opportunities and when posting your images on line with Web 2.0 social networking like Facebook, Crafthaus and more! In addition, include it in your own  Inventory Record, Artist Statement, press releases and art/craft newsletters.

Reality Studded with Thorns Hides the Front Door from the Street.tihf
Reality Studded with Thorns Hides the Front Door from the Street Photo Credit: Philip Cohen


Your image description should include the following.

  • Artist's name
  • Title of the work
  • Copyright symbol
  • Date of work
  • Media or materials
  • Dimensions (height, width, depth)

Here is what my image description looks like if it were printed on an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper. CLICK ON THE BOX below to see this example clearly.
Sometimes I will include a very brief description of a unique aspect of a particular piece such as opening,closing or functional aspect not apparent in the photo. CLICK ON THE BOX below to see this nice a clear.


Your image descriptions can develop professional opportunities. Give your superhero images the captions that they need.  Use every opportunity no matter how small or large to give the viewer the information they need to understand and interpret the photos of your work.  

BUNSinOVEN- Bunsoven_back 

Jurors, editors, and curators  always want to select the best  work, but in reality all work submitted is evaluated on the quality and interpretation of the photographic images.  Give the jurors as much insight as you can with an appropriate image description.  

For more information, use the two new documents in the Professional Guidelines to help evaluate your photos. The Guide to Professional Quality Images offers concrete issues to consider in your photos.  Working with Digital Images Effectively will assist you in practical aspects of digital images.

Do not add text to your photos!

Your photos are your best marketing tool.  Unfortunately some artists have stepped over the line and added their name or their business name into the photo. This distracts from the primary purpose of your photo which is to show your art work or craft at its best.  Anything else is a distraction and lends a commercial appearance that is inappropriate for fine art or fine craft.  All other information can be added elsewhere, just not in the photo. (Information for your photos will be covered in the next post.)

Do not add data to your photos.  Do not add your signature, date, object's title, artist's name, company name, business name, watermark or Etsy shop name to your photos.  Keep your photos absolutely clean so that they can be submitted for all sorts of opportunities like books, magazines, local newspapers, gallery promotions, juried shows, exhibitions and on line social networking sites.

When you take photos of your work, create a set of photos that will be suitable for as many opportunities and applications as possible.  And make your work so memorable and unique that everyone recognizes your work even without looking for the artists name. This is your signature!

Stay tuned for additional posts on photographic images and refer to the Professional Guidelines documents:





Your photos are your best marketing tool.

Artists often wonder how they can promote their work more effectively. There are many paths but they all start with having fabulous photographs as your number one marketing tool.  The Professional Guidelines now has two new topics to help you evaluate your photographs and advance your professional development.

The two new Professional Guidelines documents are:

Guide to Professional Quality Images


Working with Digital Images Effectively

Use these two documents to evaluate your photos. Over the next few weeks this blog will offer a series of helpful hints for promoting your work with your photographic images.


Start creating online visibility - with Facebook and Flickr to promote your art and craft

Dear Harriete,

I haven't tried the Internet yet to promote my work. What do you suggest to start with first?


Overwhelmed and Confused

Dear Overwhelmed,

The Web can certainly help your marketing efforts, even for a novice.   Start with the easiest web exposure by joining a couple of social networking sites.  Here is a list of several good ones.

Flickr offers a free image posting service. You can upload images to create a portfolio and then refer people to look through your online portfolio.  Flickr is less about socializing and focuses more on providing an easy to manage portfolio of images. Some "groups" within Flickr have discussion boards, but they don't seem that active. Flickr is NOT a retail venue, in fact, any overt promotion of your work, such as prices or links to retail sites, is strictly forbidden except on your profile page.

It is easy to post images on Flickr. If you don't have Photoshop (or other photo editing software) you can upload rather large images to Flickr directly from your computer or camera.  Flickr will accept large images and resize them to web size images. This is a quick and easy way to make web-ready images. Flickr is free for up to 200 images or 100 MB.  Start with the free stuff.  You can upgrade any time to the fee-based premium options. There is no filter on Flickr, which means anyone and everyone can participate, but you'll be joining a crowd. To give you work on Flickr more visibility, join groups on Flickr, then post more of your work to the groups regularly. You may meet people with similar interests. 

Facebook is a social networking site that is also free and very easy to use.  Posting images is secondary, but you can make posting images of your art or craft work a primary focus for your pages.  You'll gain a lot of visibility with a wide new audience both inside and outside of the arts and crafts world. You'll meet lots of people on Facebook and it helps break the isolation of the studio.  Facebook is the largest photo sharing site on the web. 

Crafthaus is organized specifically for artists and craftspeople.  It is monitored by Brigette Martin and is intended to be a combination of social network and image visibility within a group of like-minded people.  Martin acts as a juror to filter or select who can participate and what images can be posted within the site. A number of on-going discussions and blogs cover art/craft related issues.  It now costs about $20 to be on Crafthaus.

LinkedIn is a social networking site without images but it can be useful to connect with other individuals or possibly your collectors who might have a "professional" profile. It doesn't cost anything other than a bit of your time, and it provides another possibility to connect with colleagues from your past, present and the future. Keep this site completely professional. Skip any reference to your family, children and pets, etc.

Every one of these sites generates visibility for you and your art work or craft. As you become more proficient, make sure to add links on each of your profile pages for every site and your website to interconnect them.  This creates more traffic for your artwork or craft and more name recognition. The Internet is called the "web" and it is up to you to create a web of links and connections to catch attention for you and your work.

A new generation of the web - dubbed "Web 2.0" (pronounced web two point o) - enables sites such as Facebook and Flickr.  For most of us, it means that you don’t need programming skills or special software to participate.  Most 2.0 sites are very egalitarian by their very nature. Just jump right in and get started. After some experimentation it does get a lot easier.  If you get stuck, many people already on-line can help you out. Just post your question and ask for help. 

Your goal is to gain visibility online that could lead to purchases.  Experiment first with the free sites and learn before spending money on Internet sites that promise visibility for $100 to $200 a year. You can create a lot of visibility without spending much money. Save your money for investing in fantastic professional photography. 

Go ahead, jump in and get your feet wet. IF you don't like it, you can either delete your account or let it lie fallow.

For some expert insight, there will be an entire afternoon focused on websites and Web 2.0 during the Professional Development Seminar on May 20, 2009 (Wednesday afternoon) before the SNAG Conference in Philadelphia. This four hours of information is a real deal for $15 at the door. (Download the Professional Development FLYERThis program is open to anyone. 

Stay tuned for future posts about Web 2.0 and other good stuff that I expect to learn at the Professional Development Seminar (in case you can't come) . Retail 2.0 sites will be listed in an upcoming blog post. 


Harriete Estel Berman

P.S.  I have included the links to many sites in which I participate, but you may not be able to see much unless you sign in.  Hopefully you'll see other examples to give you a feel for the particular site.

Are your images good enough?

Bridgette Martin on Crafthaus recently posted a blog with six tips about photographic images. This is such an important topic for all artists and makers in all media. She should know. Bridgette has established Crafthaus, an arts community social network on line and runs her own "bricks and mortar" gallery Luke and Eloy in Pittsburgh. She looks at images everyday.

Fabulous photographic images have always been important but with the circulation of images on the Internet, and the growing opportunities to have your work published in books and magazines great photographic images have become even more important.

That is why I decided to write a new Professional Guidelines document about Quality Photographic Images. This will be published soon. There is also a new topic KNOWING HOW TO WORK WITH DIGITAL IMAGES which is almost complete. The final topic of this three part series will be bad and good photographic examples with an explanation.

If anyone would like to submit their photos for public evaluation in this 3rd document please send them directly to me as 2" x 2", 300 dpi. Send the images to: bermaid [at] harriete-estel-berman [dot] info. As compensation for allowing me to use your images in this document, I am offering a private critique of the photo and the work if you are interested. This is optional but can be an opportunity to work toward success.

To be successful, all creative individuals need to strive for improvement and "deliberate practice" as described in the book TALENT IS OVERRATED by Geoff Colvin. Are you striving for improvement? Do you show your images to your Critique Group and ask for critique? Are you projecting your images to see if they still look good to a jury? A digital camera does not make you a photographer. Evaluate your images carefully as a key to success.

Staying Motivated and Inspired

Staying inspired and motivated can be difficult for an artist or maker,especially in this slow economy when retail sales are down. Don't let it get you down. When things are slow, you need to refocus your efforts on quality work and refining your inspiration.

I highly recommend reading a book by Twyla Tharp titled, "The Creative Habit". She reveals many of her tricks and techniques for staying focused on her work.  She continuously stresses the importance of practicing her craft all the time..."scratching" (as she calls it) to develop new ideas.

Another suggestion is to  "Quit before you are exhausted". She likes to quit before her creative focus is exhausted, she wants to be able to retain some energy for the next step in the studio.

When my work is going well and I have to quit and walk away, my trick is to write down what I need to do next. I put a note to myself, front and center on my work bench with the next half hour of work laid out for me to do.  When I walk in the next day, feeling cold (there is no heat in my studio) and uninspired, my day's first task is ready to go. This can jump start my day.


How do I submit work to a gallery for view?

This is part two of a four part series by Don Friedlich, Harriete Estel Berman and Andy Cooperman for artists and crafts people about submitting work to galleries and retail establishments. Originally published on Etsy's Storque. CLICK HERE to read the entire series.

After your research to find a gallery appropriate for your work (as described by Don Friedlich in PART 1 ) now it is time to contact the gallery with images of your work.

First look on-line at the gallery’s web site for information on how artists should submit images and material for review. Check the web site thoroughly: often this information is buried deep in the web site since this is not information commonly accessed by the public.

If you don’t see this information on the web site, call or email the gallery directly.  Introduce yourself and ask about their procedures for artist review and application. Don’t be surprised if they say that they aren’t taking on any new artists: the gallery world is limited and selective.

If you are invited to submit material, follow the gallery’s submission guidelines EXACTLY including the number, size and type of images. Some galleries prefer a package sent through the mail; others may prefer email submissions or a link to your web site.

Most importantly, submit only fantastic images. Gallery owners and managers may reasonably assume that the quality of the photographic documentation that you submit is representative of the quality of your work.  While this assumption may not be true, visual images play a critical role and their quality and appearance do influence the gallery’s assessment of your work. 

Do not send images with distractions in the background.  I would suggest a background of white or a graduated grey.  Brightly colored backgrounds are fine for websites (e.g. Etsy) but rarely used in the “gallery world.”  

I took some photos of my own work to illustrate what I mean by low quality photography.
BadIMG_BraceletWThe first image ( left) has a distracting background and a hot spot where the flash is bouncing or sunlight is glaring.

BadIMG_earringsWThe next photo (right) has many problems. The colored background with embroidered beads is distracting. Wrinkled fabric in never a good photo backdrop.The earrings are off to one side with too much empty space within the frame. The images is slightly                                          out of focus.

Here are a few suggestions for top quality images:

•    Avoid an unbalanced image, such as the subject off to one side.
•    Avoid too much empty space in your image – fill the frame.
•    Correct lighting and exposure is essential.
•    Do not use heavily textured fabric or paper, wrinkled or draped material, dramatic or contrived backgrounds such as sunsets, landscapes, pebbles or exotic patterns. 

YOUR IMAGE PACKAGE should look creative and professional.  Unless the gallery specifies differently, include the following in your image package:

•    Cover Letter - stating briefly why your work is appropriate for that particular gallery or retail establishment. If you have visited the gallery, say so in the letter. Make it clear that your decision to approach this particular gallery is based on your research into the work they represent.
•    Resume  - one or two pages
•    Artist Statement - one or two short paragraphs (short, entertaining and relevant about your work). Pique their interest in your work with interesting content, and make it relevant to the gallery and their audience. 
•    Images of your work - burned on a CD or sent by email.
o    Send jpg (for easy viewing) if sending the images by email.
o    Send both jpg and tif 300 dpi (or higher for print quality), if you are sending a CD. 
•    SASE Envelope (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) if you want your materials returned.
•    Image description sheet should include the following information for every image.
o    Title of work
o    Date of work
o    Artist’s name
o    Brief description of materials
o    Dimensions (height x width x depth)
o    Photo Credit of the photographer

Contact Sheet (Page of thumbnail images and key information)   SampleCONTACTsheetHANDOUT
A contact sheet is rarely requested but if you are sending a CD in the mail, I think this adds a lot to your image package. This way the gallery or store can quickly glance at your images without even putting the CD in their computer. This quick and easy access to your images was an advantage that slides offered that has been lost with digital media.

Make sure that the titles for the images include your last name and the title of the work (or at least part of the title).Example for my images:   BermanH_IDneck.jpg 

Place all your materials in an interesting, colorful, professional envelope styled to be consistent with you work and the gallery. Your key to success is hard work, originality, and persistence.

Good luck.

Harriete Estel Berman

I never make any money, how do you stay motivated year after year?

Dear Harriete,

Lily Necklace by Michelle Pajak-Reynolds

As I prepare my yearly records for my accountant, the expenses vs income $$'s are always lopsided.  While I'm very frugal, I spend WAY more than what comes back. I hope it's not too personal a question to ask, but have your $$'s ever turned out this way as well.  Sometimes I feel like my art habit is pulling too much out of my household income.  While it's really only a small percentage of our total, it's still a several thousand each year. How do you stay motivated year after year?


Worried about negative cash flow

Dear At a Loss,


You've really hit on a couple of fundamental issues.  One, Can I make a living out of my art?  And two, How do I stay motivated?  Many, if not all, artists have been confronted by these issues. 

Let's separate these topics because I think of them as entirely different. In this post I will address the money issue and the importance of using Short Term and Long Term Goals for your professional development and motivation. Then, continue with a few suggestion to stay motivated and inspired about your work.

Personally, I have never made much money from my artwork despite the fact that  I do more every year to generate income.  To make ends meet, I have a part time job (leading exercise) and do silver repair work.  I give lectures, workshops and speak at schools and conferences.  Each year a couple of major pieces do sell and some smaller items sell more often.  The art sales alone are not enough to cover my expenses, sometimes close but not enough.

Harriete and emiko sorting for future use r


Making a living from your art. The reality for most artists and craftspeople is that they need additional sources of income outside of their artwork to pay the rent and support themselves. To put it bluntly, don't give up your day job. 

This may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but making a living from art is not a practical motivator. It is irregular and outside of your control. 

Revenue from my work is not my sole source of motivation. Really it is only a small part of the big picture.

So how can an artist/maker stay motivated? First and most important, you need to decide your Goals for Success,  then break this down into Short Term and Long Term Goals.

Be honest with yourself? Is making a living from your work your most important goal? Then your production methods need to align with this goal along with the type of items you produce.

I am more motivated by making the best, original, innovative work that I can and  finding exhibition opportunities. Displaying my work in great exhibitions, included in books and magazines, and purchased for museum collections are my goals. As an artist, I work at aligning my work methods, and designs toward these goals. 


Seek your validation from you short and long term goals. Examples include:

  • producing one AMAZING piece per year
  • producing smaller or less involved work that costs less
  • having your work published in books and magazines,
  • having your work included in shows,
  • learning how to update your own web site, 
  • developing your Photoshop skills,
  • participating in a show,
  • organizing a show of your fellow artists,
  • making new opportunities for yourself and others (like a Critique Group),
  • generating money,
  • generating sales.

PARTICIPATE IN A Critigue by  Downloading Critique Group Guidelines Final 2011
This is very important. Use the Critique Group to:

  • Stimulate your work,
  • Create deadlines for yourself to get work done for the next Critique Group
  • Give and receive honest feedback. 
  • Meet monthly to motivate each other.
  • Potentially, the group can create group show opportunities. 

Vague and gratuitous compliments serve no purpose here. Be clear and on target. An "I like it" or "that is interesting" is not useful. Be specific about what works visually and what doesn't. Give a detailed interpretation and identify what elements caused or triggered your perception.  Draw on your knowledge of each artist's objectives and target your comments toward their objectives. Are the fabrication techniques aligned with their goals.  Focus on constructive criticism.  Avoid talking about children, dogs, cats, and personal problems.

A link to my Critique Group Guidelines is provided here.  I recommend that a group have between three and ten people to maintain a core group familiar with the work, previous progress and the short and long term goals of each member. 

For me the path to success is to make the best, most interesting, deep, esoteric, off the beaten path, unique,  "_________(fill in the blank here)" in the whole world. It has to reflect your inner core, your passion, your inner being, your singular artistic voice, and a personal vocabulary of fabrication methods that you have developed over time. The more unique, the more unusual the work, the more likely you will reach your goals. Copycat designs will quickly hit the "glass ceiling" of the art and craft world.

Write down the goals for your work, and then study your approach to design and production. Are your work methods, approach to production, promotion, networking, and dedicated focus all aligned like the stars? Are you working in a straight line?  Your goals for your art or craft may be different than mine.

Your goals for your art or craft may be different than mine, the most important thing to realize is the you will never reach your goals if you aren't clear and honest with yourself.

Harriete Estel Berman




How do I promote my work in a slow economy?

I was wondering if you had any ideas about how to get increase visibility and possibly retail purchases with the current economy.    I am exploring ALL of my options.

Dear Exploring ALL your options,
There are many Internet sites that offer visibility of your work for both the arts and crafts community and could expose your work to new audiences.

During these slow times I am investing in "Research and Development" with my work and on-line networking. Recently, I heard an interview on Charlie Rose discuss the approach of the famous CEO of Intel,  Andy Grove. His approach during slow downs in the economy is Research and Development and investing in his company preparing for the upturn in the economy. While his business background does not apply to the arts directly, his attitude is one we can embrace.

A slow down in the economy is not the time to take a vacation or lay around getting extra rest.  We need to experiment in the studio, develop new ideas and designs. Invest your time in an amazing one of a kind or limited production item that you may not have had time to create when you were swamped with orders.

I have been posting multiple images of older work on 2.0  network sites just to show my work to aFlowerWht 72 larger audience that may not have seen it before or may not be familiar with my work. I consider all of the Internet options like Facebook, Flickr, Crafthaus and Etsy as opportunities for exposure for the future.

Now is the time to work on finding new visibility. Enter a few shows or submit your amazing new pieces to a book or magazine. Try networking on Flickr, Facebook, Crafthaus, or start your own blog.  All of these actions can be done for free. Post images on these sites. Let people know about all the great work you've made in the past that they may have never seen. I have met people by networking on line that I have never met at a conference. One more important reason to participate on these sites is that they will link to your web site. 

Do you have a web site? I think a web site is an absolute requirement for artists these days. It establishes your credibility and helps people find you or find out more about your work. You could have just one or two pages with information and links to other sites, but a professional web site is a must.  Note, I said, "professional." The web site should match your personal aesthetic and style.  A D.I.Y. web site or a template will look like a cookie cutter impression. Invest in a modest but unique web site style which can develop in the future with additional pages and more information.

Personally, I am working on posting more information on my web site, such as my video and my slide lectures (as PowerPoint presentations). SlideShare is a new site where you can post PowerPoint lectures for free. What a great way to introduce your work to new people.

Pds_logoletterhead The Professional Development Seminar on May 20, 2009 at the next SNAG Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will have an amazing program about websites and 2.0 for the first two hours. The second half of the program is about the future of galleries in the 21st century. Don't miss this valuable information. It only costs $10 if you pre-register. 

Hope this information is helpful and inspiring. Do you have ideas that you would like to add?
Share them with others as a comment -- or email me directly or find me on Facebook.

Harriete Estel Berman

Is Your Studio Interesting?

Have you considered creating interest in your artwork by making your studio interesting?

Drillsabstract72 Your studio can be a "magnet" for extra publicity. The creative space of the artist, crafts person, writer or musician has mythical interest to the lay person. They want to see where the magic happens. It is a very popular myth that being a creative person in any media is "fun" and inspiring.  They want to share in the joy of creativity. 

Your creative studio space can promote your work in a whole new light.  Highlight the persona of the artist. The fact that you make your work by hand, from concept to the finished product distinguishes your work from the mass produced items at the mall.

Fix up your studio. This doesn't mean make it entirely neat, tidy and perfect. I mean give it  "character" and the personality of the artist. Make your studio look like no other place on earth. Display your sources of inspiration; share images from your sketch book or the objects that inspire new ideas and forms. If you have no wall space, hang inspirations from the ceiling, decorate your tables and chairs (even if you found them on the street for free).  Embellish, paint, create.  Make your creative space reflect and express your aesthetic and the artist's voice.

Whenever I am feeling uninspired about my artwork, I take a break and put some time into enhancing my studio space, just adding a little more here or there.  Sometimes it is my "warm-up" to get me working in the studio on more important pieces....and believe me, my studio can be cold since there is no heat.

My recent additions to the studio over the last two years include:

SHELVES2Buying junky games for a few cents at yard sales and resale
shops and using the box for storage. It looks a lot more interesting than plain brown cardboard, don't you think?

LINE of Irons72 My iron collection is always on display. A domestic iron is my hallmark, my maker's mark, so this is a fitting symbol in my studio.  I never pay much, usually only a few dollars at most.To see a larger picture of my iron collection visit my studio on my web site. 

ViseTABLEbetter I have decorated some of the tables in my studio with tin cans. Since tin cans are my raw material this is a natural choice for me. Choose the colors, patterns, media, or materials to decorate your studio that reflect your personal aesthetic. If you work with paper, cover your tables with paper; if you paint, why not paint the tables and chairs?  

There is a recent article in Metalsmith Magazine about my studio. If you don't subscribe to Metalsmith Magazine find a copy at a bookstore, your local library (ask them to buy a subscription), or purchase it online. Though this article is about visiting the studio of artist Harriete Estel Berman, the lesson is to think about how you can make your own space interesting and marketable.

After that, think about what publications might be interested in an article about your studio. There are tons of possibilities from your local newspapers to the newspapers near a store that sells your work. Don't think about just magazines like Metalsmith, that's just one idea.  Think about all the publications that are possibly suitable for the content or images in your work.

Next step, prepare a package of images to send to the magazine or newspaper or blog that fits your work. Write a unique angle about your "creative spaces" or your chosen media. Send the same packet to the gallery or store that sells your work. They can send this information to their local newspaper to boost sales and visibility for your work and the gallery or store.

Artists and craftspeople need to approach developing opportunities for their work as creatively as they think about the objects, paintings, and sculptures they produce. 

Learn to use the creativity of the artist in many ways.

Harriete Estel Berman 

What do I include in a package of images for a publication?

To submit your artwork or craft work to a magazine, newspaper or any publication there are some really important considerations and components to include in your envelope.

The first consideration is to go on-line to see if the publication has any guidelines for submitting materials. Check the web site thoroughly because Submission Guidelines are sometimes buried deep since this is not commonly accessed information.

Follow their Submission Guidelines EXACTLY including the items they request and the size for the digital images. Many times they will actually dictate dimensions for the images (either in inches and/or pixels) and the DPI (dots per inch). Generally, print images are 300 dpi, but some publications are asking for a higher DPI to assure a superior print quality.

Unless they specify differently, include the following in the image package:

  • Cover Letter - stating briefly why your work is relevant to the publication.
  • Resume  - one or two pages
  • Artist Statement - one or two short paragraphs (short, entertaining and relevant to the publication AND your work). Pique their interest in your work with interesting content. 
  • Images of your work - burned on a CD
    • Send both jpg (for easy viewing) and
    • TIFF 300 dpi (or higher) for print quality
  • Image description sheet for each image suitable as a photo caption.
    • Title of work
    • Date of work
    • Brief description of materials
    • Dimensions (height x width x depth)
    • Photo Credit of the photographer
    • Possibly some information about the work
  • Page of thumbnail images and key information (a "Contact Sheet").

BermanContactSheetSAMPLE72 A contact sheet is rarely requested but I think that it adds a lot to your image package.

To the left is a sample Contact Sheet. Each image has a title for the image and a brief description next to it.

Creating this contact sheet of images is very easy in Photoshop.

STEP 1. Put all the images you are burning on the CD in one folder.
STEP 2. Open Photoshop.
STEP 3. CLICK on  FILE,  scroll down.
Step 6. Photoshop will ask you to BROWSE and select the folder where you have the images in your computer for the CONTACT SHEET.
Step 7. Click OK, Photoshop will automatically create the Contact Sheet.

It is a little more time consuming to have information next to all your images (as in the example).

Make sure that the titles for the images include your last name and the title of the work  (or at least part of the title).

Finally, put your materials in an interesting, eye-catching or colorful envelope with a beautifully, handwritten address. Your image package should look creative and professional.



Critique Group Guidelines

Many artists and crafts people wonder how they can stay motivated and focused in their creative efforts despite the distractions that life offers. My best recommendation is to participate or even start a Critique Group. This an excellent way for artists to regularly receive constructive feedback about their work.  I have been in a Critique Group for over 27 years and think the feedback from other artists who understand my artistic objectives is invaluable.

To take advantage of my years of experience with critique groups, I am posting my Critique Group Guidelines (Download Critique Group Guidelines).

The most important component is to engage in rigorous dialog about the work on a regular basis.  Bring work-in-progress for critique so that you have time for a mid-course correction or to resolve an aesthetic issue.

Bringing work to share is only one aspect.  Your opinion, perspectives or thoughts at each meeting is what keeps the group going.  Everyone has something to contribute to the group.

Critique Groups can often recognize a problem, but may or may not be able to offer an answer. With that thought in mind, recognizing a problem is the first step in finding a solution.

Make joining or starting a Critique Group your New Year's resolution to developing your work.

Let me know if the information is helpful.

Resumes - What qualifies for the publicity category?

Dear Harriete,

Red Lush Bracelet by Michelle Pajak-Reynolds

My husband and I are having a debate about publication/press listings on a CV/Resume. The question is this: If your work is in a group show that receives press coverage, but your name and/or piece isn't mentioned in the article, should you still list the article on your CV/resume? I'm not telling who's on which side of this debate, so please be honest, but there is a week's worth of dish duty wagered on your answer....

Resume Quandary                                                       

Dear To List or Not To List,                                             You should only list a review or publicity on your resume if your work is mentioned in the text or if a photograph of your work is published in the review or article.  If you were in the show, of course, you can still list the exhibition under the exhibition category on your resume.

Additional information on your resume about articles and reviews might be useful.  I often suggest that a listing of a review should include the author, publication, volume, date and maybe even whether it included a photo.

Here is an example from my resume:

Cross Gans, Jennifer. (2006, Spring). Scents of Purpose: Artists Interpret the Spice Box. Metalsmith, 54. [text and photos]

Artists and crafts people can increase their chances of being included in a review or article by sending amazing, dazzling, professional quality images to the exhibition sponsor two to three months before the exhibition opens. The sponsor may use your images in the article about the show, just because your images are FANTASTIC!!!

Digital images that you took yourself, probably won't be good enough. You need professional quality images taken by a professional photographer.  Set money aside and invest in top notch photography of your work.  If there is no art or craft photographer in your area, consider the next town or state. SNAG has a list of photographers on their web site which may be helpful.

Hope this information about resumes is helpful.


Top Ten Tips for Success for Artists and Craftspeople from Wayne Robbins

Recently, in the June 2008 The Crafts Report magazine wood carver Wayne Robbins submitted his TOP TEN TIPS for Success for Artists and Crafts People. His suggested list included important suggestions that warrant repeating. It is definitely worth sharing with you. Do you have a tip for success that you would like to suggest?  Add it to the comments and I will get back to you. 


There are no guarantees for success when selling arts and crafts, but there are a few tips I've learned that have helped to sell my wood carvings: 72_3811_2

  • Select a style that is attractive and unique.
  • Research  the subject and become the "resident expert" on you subject.
  • Don't cut corners
  • Show your passion and skill.
  • Network with others!
  • Don't sell yourself short. Never offer discounts.
  • Be visible in the community. Show, demonstrate, and teach.
  • Remember that everyone is a potential customer.
  • Keep impeccable records,
  • Stay relevant and evolve with the market.

Wayne Robbins
Wayne Robbins Woodcarving
Marine Mammals and Birds
First Breath, Beluga Whale and calf, Butternut

Seeking International Exposure

Dear ASK Harriete,

My name is Georgina Heskin and  I am a leading talented visual artist in London, UK. l have had over 37 solo exhibitions 24 group shows. l am looking for advice to place my work on an international level. To view my work, log in the name Georgina Heskin to any search engine on the internet.


Seeking international exposure,

Dear Seeking,

It seems to me that exhibiting your work on an international level adds a layer of complexity and expense that may be a premature leap at this point.

I say this because shipping artwork is very expensive and challenging when crossing national borders. Besides that, the market for your work is not going to be any stronger outside your city, county or country where you already may have a reputation. Your name as an artist goes a long way to making your work more marketable or attractive to an exhibition venue.Heskin_3_b

Travel to the cities or countries where you would like to exhibit your work. Look for galleries or non-profit exhibition space that is appropriate to your work.

Network Go to more conferences, art fairs, etc., to network and meet people. You might also consider entering your work in an international juried show appropriate to your art.

Contact your Government Consider contacting your local or national government. The U.S. government sponsors a fabulous Art in Embassies program placing artwork by American artists in their embassies worldwide. (Maybe other countries have one as well.) While you receive no compensation for allowing your artwork to travel the world, what could be greater exposure for your work? In addition, the Arts in Embassies Program takes care of all the expenses for shipping, insurance, and installation. Your artwork speaks to the world about cultural exchange and understanding. I have had the opportunity for my work to travel to Africa with the U.S. Art in Embassies Program which was a great honor and a very positive experience. Maybe your government might be sponsoring shows and exhibitions in other countries (England and Ireland seem to be very proactive for their artists). Research opportunities for you to submit your work for review to participate in these international opportunities representing your country.

Join Art Organizations Join your local art guild and organizations. What if arts organizations that you belong to put together an exhibition either curated or juried? You could be instrumental in helping put together this show. This would be a lot of work, but it would increase your professional profile, give you tons of valuable exhibition experience behind the scenes and you could meet and work with lots of other artists. The premise would be to find exhibition opportunities for the whole show both locally, nationally and internationally. Most museums or exhibition spaces are much more likely to be interested in a group show with an interesting theme or premise showcasing many artists with diverse perspectives than the work of one particular artist. This approach will help both you and your fellow artists find exhibition opportunities.

Internet The internet is very useful because it has no international borders and you can develop your reputation with a  modest financial expenditure. Why not design a beautiful or interesting website for your work. Have you considered starting a blog and/or a newsletter?  All of these ideas will help establish your work on the web.

In addition post images of your work on the numerous internet sites showcasing artwork, many are free! The art organizations that you belong to should also show images of members work?  Find as many different sites as you can to get your work on the internet.

Finally, work on your mailing list. Volunteer at your local art museum, non-profit or guild. Participate at every level. Read the book: "I'd Rather Be In the Studio: An Artist's No-Excuse to Self-Promotion" by Alyson Stanfield. Alyson offers a whole book of suggestions for getting your artwork out of the studio and into the outside world.

Your local, national and internet reputation is the foundation for your international future as an artist.

Wishing you lots of good luck, along with your hard work,


Harriete Estel Berman

*Painting by Georgina Heskin

A response to the discussion on a blog

I am hesitant to add to the long discussion on a blog about Etsy and 2.0, but here it goes.

Without choosing sides, I want to support every artist in their creative effort and the profession of arts and crafts. Every exhibition, whether online, in a gallery, non-profit show, museum or indie show offers the good along with the bad. My judgment or measure of what is good or bad may vary for different venues and may differ from any other person’s scale. So what is “good” or “bad” is subjective and unique to each person – and is not the crucial issue of my concern.

I think it is great that Etsy has created an alternative, online exhibition space. My real concern is how can artists think that they are making a living by selling $6 or even $20.earrings. At such low prices, very few people residing in the U.S. can recoup thier full costs to design, fabricate by hand, photograph, post on Etsy, monitor the site, absorb the transaction fees, and then package and mail the work – and have enough left to pay for materials, labor, and overhead expenses such as studio rent, tools, utilities, insurance, meals, housing, clothing, etc.

The low price points attract bargain shoppers – and every shopper loves a bargain – but does this provide a sustainable living income for artists and crafts persons? Do we want to cater to bargain shoppers or to the advancement of art and craft?

It makes me extremely uncomfortable to look at the plethora of stuff on Etsy at what appears to be exceedingly low prices. I shutter to think about the artists and craftspeople trying to make a living. How do they cover the essentials of modern living? Does it cover business insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, or the orthodontist for children?

Etsy serves a broad market. It is a reality that a large number of artists will offer their work at lower and lower prices to make a sale. I know this generates short term cash, but I also believe that this is a spiral downward for any artist who falls into this trap. When too many artists sell work at such low prices, the competition eventually weeds out unsustainable practices. Etsy is not responsible for pricing; Etsy is simply another market.

Therefore, it is the artist’s responsibility to produce and market work that can be sold at prices that will sustain the artist long term – where design, innovation, and features other than low price attract buyers. 

I’d like to encourage everyone in the marketplace to at least ask a reasonable price that includes not only cost of materials and direct labor, but also overhead and a small % for operating profit.

We need to educate our community to act responsibly and to reach new audiences wherever we can. This was the failure of many craft shows, and online marketing efforts.

Education and outreach need to extend beyond the hallowed halls of academia, beautiful magazines for a small audience, and conferences preaching to the choir. Etsy, the Internet, and indie shows reach out to new audiences and draw in new artists and craftspeople. How can the community embrace and support these new channels?

I'd like to propose solutions rather than complaints. I am excited about the new opportunities in a constantly evolving landscape. I would also like to encourage new artists to price their work at realistic values. What if we talked more about the full costs of creating art and craft? What if more people posted better quality work on Etsy at prices that provide artists sustainable income? Would that benefit everyone? Maybe.

There are many ways to change the future, but each of us needs to act responsibly within our community. We can't expect other people to do this for us, We need to do this for ourselves - for each other. 

Co-Op Opportunity - Is this a good option?

Dear ASK Harriete, 

I would be interested in getting your views on co-op situations.  Are they a good option and if so what type of work is best in that environment?


Co-Op Opportunity

Dear Co-Op Opportunity,

A co-op situation should start with evaluation criteria similar to a gallery.

  •  Does my work fit within the price range as other work at this location?
  •  Does the appearance/style of the other work fit or complement my art/craft?
  •  Is the appearance/style of the space consistent with my art/craft?
  •  Is the staff knowledgeable about the work and will they be able to promote my work in a professional manner?
  • Do they have a contract and insurance that will protect my work from loss, damage or their creditors?
  • Do they seem to be financially stable?
    • You don’t want to find out that they can’t pay their rent and close unexpectedly, placing your work in jeopardy.

Professional-guidelines-consignment-contract-300If you can say “yes” to every one of these questions, then read their contract carefully.  While a contract can not fully protect your work, it will give you some idea about their expectations and considerations.  Use the Professional Guidelines Consignment Contract as a checklist for appropriate terms and for issues that should be covered in their contract. Then review the contract with their staff to clarify any questions that you may have. You can find the Professional Guidelines 

If you can’t say “YES” to every one of the previous questions, then decline to show your work at this venue.  It is not worth it. 

Trust your intuition. If the co-op or any other venue seems flaky or unreliable in any way, do NOT participate!  Some co-ops may require that you pay dues to become a member, make a financial contribution to the sponsoring organization, or spend time at the gallery/store.  Are you willing to make this investment with your time and money? The operation of a gallery takes a great deal of time and attention to details. Unless the venue has professional, paid staff with an established reputation, good organization, and a great location, I  am concerned you are courting disaster.

Develop your work. All too often, people are anxious to find a sales outlet for their artwork thinking that selling their artwork establishes its professional quality.  Actually, I think it should be the other way around.  Focus on your work, get critical and constructive feedback from your peers, mentors or critique group and take the time to bring your work to its full artistic fruition. It would be better to invest your time in your work and keep searching for a responsible outlet that will invest their time and resources representing and SELLING your work in a professional manner.

Harriete Estel Berman

Volunteering for the local arts organization

Dear Harriete,

I have volunteered to help organize other volunteers at a local arts organization. The volunteer position was presented to me by the organization as an 8-hour a week obligation.  In reality, the work takes at least 15 hours a week – far longer than I have time for or am willing to give.  How do I back out of my agreement without losing too much face and without burning my bridges with the organization?  They asked me for a commitment of 12 months and I have only given them 3 months so far.


Backed into a corner

Dear  Backed into a Corner,

Looking at the whole situation, either the organization is unaware of the true amount of effort required, or you are doing more than the organization expected to be done.  Your sense of obligation to fulfill your commitment is admirable and doing a great job is paramount. You should fulfill your commitment.

In addition, communicate with the organization leadership about the position’s time commitment or ask them to evaluate the position and clarify what you can eliminate to reduce the time invested in this position. If the organization is willing to do without some tasks that you have performed, then your time commitment can be reduced.  If the organization agrees that more volunteer time than originally estimated is needed, then ask them to help find some help. Ask them to help recruit or assign an assistant or co-volunteer. Another option is to ask if you can find someone to help. In either case, communication and full disclosure is the key.

Prior to your talk with the organization, I would recommend that you itemize how you break down your tasks and the time required and suggestions for dividing the job with an “assistant.”  This may take a little extra effort, but well worth saving your good name.  Try to make your proposal into a win-win situation for everyone, and keep in mind that they may have some time-saving suggestions for you as well. They will appreciate your thoughtful consideration. You might try recruiting an assistant volunteer on your own, but communication with the organization is likely to be the most productive path. Ultimately, doing the job well and fulfilling your commitment for the remainder of a year will preserve your reputation for a lifetime.

PS.  For the rest of us, if asked to volunteer for a position, try talking to the person who previously performed the task for the real amount of effort and time involved and their suggestions.