Marketing Your Art - Maggie Vanderweit

SAQA Seminar (Artist Q&A)

 

Tell us about your background.

I grew up as a maker - sewing, knitting, painting, and anything else I could learn. My parents were very hands-on, talented and practical; they were Dutch immigrants with limited means, so they had to make do with very little. I understood from an early age, especially when I saw my father painting and I designed the clothes my mother made for me, that I could have an idea that could become a physical reality. This is the foundation of a free, creative life and the great gift of my childhood.

Stone Threads Fibre Art officially began in 2000. The true impetus to go into business at that time, after dreaming about it for years, was the shocking accidental death of a lovely woman who had just been to our guild to help judge the show only hours before. I got this dazzling, heartfelt knowing that life is unpredictable and every moment is important, so if I wanted to do something, I should DO IT!

I had already been teaching workshops, so I registered as a business and began selling wall hangings from my booth anywhere I could, starting small and local - art fairs, plowing matches, lobby pop-ups, guild shows, studio tours. I promoted my retreats, classes, and trunk shows. I soon added painted and dyed fabric and other things to my inventory and exhibited, taught, and sold at large international art shows for many years.

I have recently retired after 40 years as a lecturer and teacher, and 20 years of selling at shows. I am focusing on family, friends, volunteering, and my studio practice. Lots of wonderful things lie ahead.

Indigo Party

 

What is your philosophy for success?

My philosophy for years was to say “Yes!” as much as possible. I sold lots of art, books, and painted/dyed fabric at shows and made good money teaching and doing trunk shows over the years too. It was a nice mix.

A lot of my happiest successes are associated with SAQA - becoming a JAM and getting work into global exhibitions is always a thrill!! One of my quilts, Bedolina Threads, won the Excellence in Innovation Prize at the Canadian Quilters’ Association’s National Juried Show. Another, All of Us and Aliens Too, won a recent award at Q=A=Q. Exhibiting in Houston and seeing Love Anyway (my piece about Anne Frank that is in Susanne Miller Jones’ traveling show OURstories) prominently featured in the Houston paper during IQF 2018 was moving. And I loved being on Quilting Arts TV, in the QA magazine, and on the DVDs! But really, the most fun is hanging out with terrific people!

I am also super proud to have one of my chair quilts, Indigo Party, on the cover of the 2019 Houston Market program. It is such an honor to have my theme of welcome and belonging shared in this way.

There are no rules, except for achieving a good balance of interesting work and enough family time. I slowed down gradually.

Light My Fire

 

Why is good communication so key to success?

As a traveling teacher, most gigs were booked easily and came off without a hitch. Email makes correspondence, planning, and working with guilds, conferences, and shops easy. I only ever used contracts if the group wanted one, which was almost never.

An unpleasant situation happened when a group booked me 2 years ahead for a large time and travel commitment and then waffled and tried to barter my rates way down at the last minute. At that point, I walked away. I should have noticed how they avoided firming up the schedule when I wrote them. I think this problem happened because they kept changing the organizers and different people had different agendas. Communication between all of them and I got dodgy. I should have paid more attention earlier on, and I recommend teachers firm up plans right away and stay connected with groups. Pay attention to your “Spidey” senses if something feels off. Of course, this all worked out for the best because what I ended up doing during that time instead was so great!

We Have a Choice

 

What marketing tools do you use?

I got busy early on in my business building a website that highlighted my work, had lots of good photos, and all the information needed to hire me to teach and lecture. A current, user-friendly, easily updated website is a number one priority. I hired a company that hosts and refreshes my site for me, for which I pay a monthly fee.

I have given out or mailed flyers that I made myself for special events, lists of upcoming exhibitions and retreats. I wrote a blog, which was enjoyable for a time, but have let it lapse. I’d rather sew.

My business cards are made by MOO.com. They are my favorite promotional tool. I can do 50 different photos in an order. I have a picture of a detail of my work on the front and my contact info with a headshot on the back. People spend lots of time choosing their favorite and keep them for a long time. The cards really showcase the variety of my work. Advice - learn to take good photos!

Rain at Last

 

How do you use social media?

I love being on Facebook. I post personal and art quilt related photos. I belong to quite a few groups. SAQA has an awesome FB presence! It’s fun to reach out to friends, family, students, fellow artists. Social media has helped many relationships grow.

Instagram is quick, easy, and it pops. Instagrammers should use the multiple pix in one post and avoid sending things out one at a time if they are on the same topic.

How often should you post? It depends. Twice a month? Sometimes I’ll post a few times in one week, but only when (I think!) I have something interesting to share, usually travel pix. Less is more. I pay very serious attention to the quality of my photos and curate and edit them carefully. Avoid boring people with repetitive shots and give as much information as you have time for.

I absolutely will not get involved in any negative online conversations. My aim is simply to uplift, inform, and inspire - I hope - with upcoming events, humor, awe, beauty, playfulness, and joyful connections. Decide why you are there and post accordingly.

The Mystery of Thought

 

Any other pieces of advice?

Follow your heart. If it is calling you, listen. Be you. Do you. Believe in you. Be kind. Join groups of like-minded artists. Keep learning and pushing yourself to tackle things you are afraid of. Get your family on board. When teaching, instruct about techniques and give your students all the responsibility for their own creativity. They are not there to please the instructor. Comment only on the positive. Organize your schedule so there is uninterrupted time for you to make art.

Most importantly, appreciate every moment you have to be at this marvelous leading edge of artistic creation and trust that the rest will follow naturally. The path will open.

 

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