Sunday, February 2, 2020

Is saleability important?

As artists we are driven to make work....but what to do with it once it's made?
Like many fiber artists I have a storage unit piled high with work...
of course all the "pretty" ones, like the one sell fairly quickly.
But that leaves everything else...if you can't sell it, do you

store it?
make it into something else?
give it away?
hang it in your own home?
or if all else fails:
destroy it?

Recently I was asked if, when I was a juror for a well known quilt show,  I chose work that I knew would sell.  Well I don't know what the other jurors had in mind, of course, but the saleability of a work was the very last thing in my mind, never even considered it.  And, of course, when we make work (unless we are being VERY commercially minded!) we're not thinking about a sale.  Rather we have in mind making strong and beautiful work, that conveys the message, the idea, the thought, the feeling that inspired us.

As a juror I looked for work that was well designed and composed, was beautiful in how the separate elements were arranged, that attracted my attention - and held it (much harder!)...and which would, I thought, stand the test of time.  To attract attention, work needs to be strong and fresh, intriguing and novel.  To stand the test of time, it needs to be solidly and cleanly and surely put together - both visually and literally.

So no, I didn't consider saleability either of others' work, or of my own when making it....because whether or not something will sell depends to some extent on factors other than the above. and it was those things that were always my goal.
but have a cupboard full of quilts...or even a whole basement!!

What I have noticed, and I have sold quite a lot of work over the years...but there are still about 40 or 50 pieces languishing at the back of the studio!  unobserved and unloved!...
what I have noticed is that commercial places buy work that fits in with their interior designer's a hospital looks for something calming and soothing and optimistic. (yes we do have to overlook some perfect dreadful art that appears in doctor's offices!!! that could drive an artist to madness if viewed for very long!), the library wanted something that was energetic, the community center something that conveyed a sense of place...and so on.

The private buyer buys something that resonates with them in some way.  You can hear this when they tell you why they're buying a piece, the story they see about that piece and how it relates to them.  I remember one very spare piece being sold because the buyer said "it's for my wife, she loves the beach in winter".
A sense of place is a common reason for buying.
Another is the color...a piece was chosen recently because "I love orange and pink together on blue".

Sometimes a memory....
or, the mood or ambience created by the piece.

but that still leaves an awful lot of work to be disposed of!!!
so...tell me your ideas!
because I'm determined to get my pile down to less than ten before I make another quilt!!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading.   and please please comment...I need your answers!!!

PS...if you're still actually making quilts !  consider a modern/improv Mod meets Improv class starts next Friday at
Modern quilts are elegant, and pretty quick to make! especially using free cutting and improv techniques...and facing instead of binding.....  think about it!!!!


Jean Cockburn said...

Interesting topic. I’m in somewhat the same predicament. This past year I have found several community groups having silent auctions or raffle baskets to raise money. By donating my textile art works I help the groups and I launch my art out into the world. And I gave a stack of stuff to my sisters in law. Now, do I feel that I may make some more? Maybe ....

Elsie Montgomery said...

I've another question, but related. Years ago in another life, I did wildlife paintings. I was told that no matter that they were really good, I could not sell them unless I'd made "a name for myself" or was somehow a household word. Is that true in the quilting world? Do quilt artists have to write books, teach classes, etc. etc. before even hoping to sell their work? This really isn't an issue for me since this is not why I quilt, but it is a question I get asked... "Do you sell them?" and have wondered...!

Michelle Eaton said...

I recently moved and had to go through all my quilting stuff. I decided to take all my finished smaller quilt pieces, and went to my local quilt guild and had a sale. I charged very minimal amounts, and said all the money would go to our local food bank. It was a win all around and my friends loved that they had something to remind them of me. Some hung up the pieces in their homes right away and then sent me photos with kind messages and told me what appealed to them in their chosen quilt- much better than any sale:). Then I went home and threw out all the leftovers pieces! For me the joy has always been in the design and making and when the finished pieces are piled up around you, they can stifle this creative spirit.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, I would hate to think you'd stop making quilts until you get to an 'acceptable' backlog. Chasing saleabilty seems an elusive thing, but then I’m not actively trying to sell my work.

Most of my work has been gifted, but I've sold a few pieces simply because they resonated with someone, as you described.

I have too many unfinished pieces, but playing with fabric keeps me sane. It’s my mediation, even if I’m just pulling colors or playing with dye. I decided to consider unfinished works a learning experience and I use them trying to improve my free motion quilting. And like Jean, I've donated finished pieces to move them along. For me, that lightened the psychic load of 'too much/too many'.

As we all know, quilters seldom get a reasonable amount for their work. I know of several quilters/fiber artists/creatives who’ve had clear-the-backlog sales. They get some cash and their work is moved out into the world. Ultimately, we all just have to do what we can live with, whether that means making and piling things up or setting limits.

You always have interesting 'cogitations'!

Sue said...

This is a really good question. I have not been making quilts for long, and I should say at the outset that I have not been making art quilts for long, and that I have actually sold a few of them,but that I am developing a collection that I find it hard to store in my tiny available space. For the most part, my pieces are small enough to fit on hangers in a clothes closet, but they compete with space there with a few sewing machines, my off-season wardrobe, and a lot of other equipment, batting, and my home office filing cabinet! Too much stuff is the theme for the past few years.

So, solutions? One thing I have started doing is listening carefully to peoples’ comments. When someone says they like a particular piece, I offer iit to them. I have gifted several of my larger pieces to a friend rebuilding her home after a fire, and my two brothers, who appreciated the sentiment and themes of a couple of quilts. However, I have learned not to just give them to people randomly, after giving one to my best friend, because she praised it, and having her give it back as her praise was not meant to imply she wanted it in her own home!

I will be very interested to hear what others say here. My fear is that on my demise, my poor children will be faced with the awful responsibility of getting rid of my oeuvre!

Marianne said...

Nous avons en Suisse une société de recyclage de textile qui récolte habits etc, ils ont des magasins de deuxième main où il customise donc on peut espérer., je mets là mes art quilts en espérant que peut-être quelqu'un sera intéressé et autrement j'en fait le deuil tout simplement et recommence à faire d'autres:)))

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you all for posting....I do appreciate it...and actually have been appears my responses have disappeared into the ether of wifi!
I love your story, Sue, about the friend who gave the gifted quilt back to you! whoa!!! that is difficult. Early on I did a lot of trading, but there were several artist friends with whom I would not want to trade!! and, of course, one or two who didn't want to trade with me....I just try to very casually say...I'm open to trading if you ever see anything you fancy....and then change the subject!!!

Marianne, you are quite right...the recycle shops and thrift stores are good places and the charities or quilt guild events mentioned by Jean and Michelle - these are particularly good for smaller pieces. I have had the experience of strangers coming up to me saying they had bought something they otherwise could not have afforded from such a place. some thrift stores though are completely commercial and I avoid giving to them.

Elsie - while some artists are totally creating to sell....I think that's the minority...for a larger number sales are a by-product of their classes. I remember one very well known and establish quilt artist/teacher who arrived at our local guild with masses of products of all kinds to sell...including a whole slew of "affordable" mini quilts! There are all levels of professional and amateur (i.e. doing it for the love of it) quilters. As there are artists in most mediums.

And dear Anonymous! - like Sue, I don't want my girls to have hundreds of pieces of unwanted art work to get rid of!
I want to reduce my stash of Everything - not just quilts....just a few precious things at the very end....that could probably go into the crypt with me!!!


Stancy Wood said...

Our community dog pound always needs mats for the dogs so they are not sleeping on the cement floor. I've begun cutting up some of my less interesting pieces and making them into mats. I've also been known to make pot holders, tea cozies, placemats, and pillows out of already quilted pieces. Lastly, there's always the local dump!

Kristin said...

I do hope you don't destroy any of your work! One possibility is donating it to a fund raiser or auction for a charitable cause. If there are others you would like to get rid off, perhaps you could barter with them for household or yard work. Lastly, you could donate them to places like Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill/Salvation Army.