Kent Epler is the imagination behind The Laughing Boy, and the creator of a collection of immensely popular mixed-media sculptures. ABI caught up with him to talk about his handmade work.
ABI: What is the most exciting thing about being in your unique business?
KE: I have the job of my dreams: I get to create something every day and at the end of the day I can see first-hand what I created. Not something on paper or a concept, but something real. My work is so unusual, green, and whimsical, 90% of which is recycling re-purposed found objects – bits and pieces that have already lived a life.
The process involves pulling pieces from all around me in the studio, editing and redirecting the voice of the piece, enjoying the give and take and waiting to see what happens next. Martinis and a “walk away” can add to the creative process. Then, the gravy is to see the reaction from other people – their connection to the piece, and to me.
AND, I get to travel all over the country, share the work I love, enjoying the gut reaction from the gallery owners, my customers and the community as a whole. This is achieved with both wholesale and retail juried art shows.
ABI: How have you balanced your retail and wholesale shows?
KE: In my two wholesale shows a year, focused on high quality, hand-made art and craft, I get exposure not available from a retail show. It’s an established customer base from the gallery or storefront‘s perspective. The work is utilized as a draw to get people in the store, talking about something they don’t see anywhere else.
The one-of-a-kind work at wholesale prices can pull customers into a store and start that dialogue so important in sales. And once there, they buy (maybe not my work, but someone’s creations). And admittedly, another plus for me in the wholesale business is having the exposure, yet not paying rent while someone else works the store. Speaking from experience, I consider my former gallery, “The Laughing Boy” as my MBA.
ABI: What is your work’s biggest appeal to the wholesale customer?
KE: I do retail shows to test out new work, enjoy the people in the community and return with tested work for wholesale customers. But most of all I love the circus travel life I live-setting up a show and meeting friends, both old and new ones. I am never the guy sitting at the back of the booth, reading a book and wearing sunglasses. I am the carnival barker, putting on a show!
This is an e-mail I received and, truly, why I love this business:
Mr. Epler, My husband and I met you at the Des Moines Art Festival this past Saturday. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed your art. I only wish I could have taken a piece home with me that day. One of my bucket list items is to have one of your brilliant pieces to enjoy. As I told you, on a day when I was very sad you and your wonderful work made me laugh out loud. I love all of them! Thank you for bringing joy into my life this weekend.