Stained glass artist Christine Alexander presents her work and talks about commissions, referrals and scaling a small business.
ABI: You mostly do commissioned work. What markets do you sell to?
CA: My most successful and preferred practice is creating custom designed projects for individual clients. Mostly these are in residential settings, but I have also done some commercial and ecclesiastical works. I have a degree and experience working in the field of architecture and I particularly enjoy larger installations that have a real impact on their built environment.
Stained glass is an interesting creature in that it is not easily defined – it encompasses aspects of architecture, fine art, and craft in a way that few other artistic pursuits do.
ABI: What is the biggest factor in your gaining commissions?
CA: Locally, the biggest factor for me in acquiring new work is definitely word of mouth – nothing better than a client referral! I also often create a small piece for a client which leads to a larger project or installation for them or a friend.
Although it has not brought me a lot of work directly, I feel that having a website has been very useful in this process. It is there 24/7 for the new potential client to visit and get a feel for me and my work without initially committing. Nationally, I have had some success using sites that market artists and artisans to the public, in particular CustomMade.com. There is a commission to pay to the site and you need to “learn the ropes” at first, but it provides nationwide exposure that I would otherwise not enjoy.
ABI: How are you scaling your business?
CA: I think this is an important concept that I have only recently realized I need to work on. As an artist, I love to be just making stained glass. But I don’t always have a big job on the table. It is challenging but useful to try and find other ways to utilize my designs.
I began by selling my patterns on my website, and am compiling a series of my “mandala” patterns that I hope to publish as a book. I offer custom design services for others which creates income (and a chance to be creative!) without the greater time commitment of fabrication. And I think as artists we always need to reach out to fellow practitioners and network – whenever I can I make sure other artists, firms, suppliers and those in the trade know I am available for joint venture or subcontract work and hope I can call on fellow artists as well.
ABI: How do you blend creativity and customer service in your business?
CA: Well, this is my favorite part of the way I am practicing right now. I sometimes worry, looking at my portfolio, that I don’t have a cohesive “look” as many artists do – I’m not sure you would see my work and say “Oh, that’s an Alexander.”
But I believe focusing on custom commissions is 100% about customer service and it makes each piece unique and widely varying. It all starts with the client’s style and story and where I can go with it. I love that the collaborative creative challenge is a new exploration for us both. The very best projects end with the client saying “It is just exactly what I didn’t know I wanted!”