Liz Kinder sells her pottery through galleries all over the country. She discusses her work, what she’s learned, and her views on retailing.
ABI: How do you publicize your new work throughout the year?
LK: I have not been phenomenal at maintaining my e-mail list after every online inquiry that comes my way and after every event I do. But, because I’ve been making pottery for 25 years, and because my clever website designer set up a way for people to sign up for e-mail updates, I have an extensive e-mail list.
I bought a pretty crude photo tent, so I can take passable images. About 3 times a year I photograph everything in my studio and post onto a “pottery blog.” I send an e-mail to my wholesalers and to Liz Kinder pottery addicts. They contact me about the work they want. It’s a great way for retailers to top up their displays. Normally my turnaround time for orders is 4-6 weeks, but I can get the blog stuff in the mail within a few days. I can test out new work, and I can sell work that has been around for a while. I also might remind people of an upcoming holiday: Mother’s Day or the entire spring/summer wedding season, for example.
ABI: Tell us about your sales in the wedding market.
LK: A number of the galleries who carry my work offer bridal registries, so I’ll make a few full sets for them to show and sell. Obviously those are great customers for me because of the volume of an entire set. I also get contacted by couples wanting to register with me on their own. It’s fun to be a part of someone’s relationship in that way, and it’s amusing to get the calls from the quirky aunts and godmothers wanting to get the perfect gift.
The bridal market can be a little frustrating. The serving pieces all sell way before the place settings. People will ask if they can buy a random serving piece or vase not on the couple’s list rather than buy the less glamorous cups and plates. I’m frugal, and I have a big family in a small living space, so I imagine myself receiving a massive platter I’ll use twice a year instead of the 8 cereal bowls I’ll use every day. It makes me sad.
I have an odd sense of responsibility with regard to the final home of my pottery. If someone comes in to buy a wedding gift, I often I ask, “Did the couple register anywhere?” I hate the response: “Yes, but I would never buy off of a registry!” I picture my poor bowl sitting in the back of the cupboard only seeing the light of day when the gift giver visits the couple. I love my work, but I’m well aware that a minimalist couple who is into white, industrially-made dinnerware might not be into a Lily Pulitzer pink salad bowl.
ABI: You feel that artists shouldn’t have to initially earn a living with their work. Why is this?
LK: In the beginning, depending on sales can have a bad effect on a person’s work. Early in the game an artist isn’t as confident about their work. If a gallery or an individual buys a bunch of one style, the artist might get stuck in a rut of making that same thing rather than allowing his/her work to evolve. A disproportionate significance will go to the taste of someone with money to spend.
I’m pretty confident, but I’ll still catch myself making work or using colors that I “think will sell” rather than what I’m in the mood to do. Creative people need to follow their instincts. There’s a cyclical nature to color trends and fashions. Artists are creating these trends rather than following them. Having your rent and food covered allows you to be open to your instincts.
ABI: Could you describe your experience with running a retail space and what you learned?
LK: I learned to appreciate the people who sell my work for me. I hate it when I hear craftspeople complain about the mark-up retailers put on their work. Insuring a store, paying rent for a store, heating/cooling a store, cleaning a store, and advertising a store are all expensive. Just keeping a body in a store at $10/hour is stressful, and you have to have bags, tissue, credit card access and a bunch of other things I’m forgetting.
On top of all that, store owners deal with people. A lot of us are attracted to making things because it’s a solitary pursuit. Dealing with people’s balking at prices, breaking fragile stuff or wanting to return an object they bought 6 months before is not fun. Making art or craft is also satisfyingly productive whether it sells or not; there is joy in the making. Sitting in a deserted retail space on a Tuesday afternoon in February does not feel productive.