Dear Design Doctor
I am a ceramicist and love making large art pieces, but unfortunately they doesn’t sell very well (yet). I am working on my profile. I have approached galleries and hope to show at CAF, but in the meantime I have created a collection of more affordable vessels, bowls and vases, which is doing ok.
But should I now create two different creative brands to avoid confusion? I really don’t want my higher end collectors to see my more commercial range. What would you do?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine March/April 2017 on page 32, where it was called ‘Spinning two plates at once’:
“This is a common dilemma for many craftspeople. The simple answer is that if your client groups, positioning, pricing and materials are similar then it’s best to stick to one creative brand or business. Then you are really able to focus on what you want to be known for, develop your niche and particular talent, and you will understand your ideal clients better, which will make it easier to attract them and sell to them.
But it isn’t always that easy of course!
Like you there might be a (big) difference in ‘purpose’ and price level between your pieces and the type of clients who can afford that.
Other creatives work with very different materials or themes, and their work doesn’t look like it comes from the same person. One of my previous clients creates very socially engaged, large pieces of fine art under her own name, that don’t sell very well. She ‘subsidises’ this part of her work with a range of highly commercial giftware products that sell very well on Not On The High Street. She presents these under a brand name, as she doesn’t want some of her friends to know how commercial she is!
The challenge is that if you want to create and maintain two different types of work and brands you will have double the work!
In fact you would be running two businesses in terms of marketing, maintaining your website and database, attracting traffic, your social media networks etc.
For many creatives running one business is already a juggle, and with two brands that becomes even more complicated. It’s up to you to decide if that’s worth it for you, and if you are able to manage both.
Therefore I would dig a little deeper to really understand why you want to create these two different ranges.
You say it’s about the price level and increased potential of sales.
But is it also about other motivations?
What does having two ranges give you, as opposed to choosing a more focused approach?
Do you want the freedom to create for a broader audience and make lots of different types of pieces, from art pieces to functional work?
Is your default position to sell at the top end and to galleries, as that’s what most graduates consider ‘success’, or is this something that you really want to do?
What do YOU want to create?
What impact do you want your work to have?
Who do YOU really love to create for?
Where do you want to see your work shown in a couple of years’ time? And have you got the marketing skills, confidence, and patience to make it work – whatever option you would go for?
Lots of deep questions there for you to work on to help you make the right decision on the direction of your ceramic career.
It is also possible to simply tweak things a little to make the distinction better:
- Get more selective what work you show to whom and when.
- Show your high end art pieces at shows like CAF, and your lower range at a good craft or ceramics show.
- Present your functional range mainly to shops and galleries, and the higher end to collectors and the top of the market.
- Create a separate ‘shop’ category on your website with prices, and a ‘commissions’ category that explains your process more and ‘price on application’.
Within your collections you can still have a range of price levels, to encourage up-selling and showing diversity:
- Individual ceramics now often are sold in small groups. Your display of smaller and larger pieces, in combination with some “wow pieces” can make all the difference. Really show off your talent and ambition in your work and presentation, to build your profile (and the higher price tag!), to attract clients and to get collectors coming back again and again – both at the lower and at the higher end.
- Also be aware that functional pieces have a lower value than most ‘art’ pieces, and you can play with this notion of “what is art?” and “what is functional?” beautifully in ceramics.
But make sure that you keep a distinction between the two sides of your work as you will end up in the middle of the market, which is a very tough place to be right now. It’s full of struggling ceramicists, who are often too expensive and competing with the High Street on one end, and too lowly priced for serious collectors and the top galleries.
Do your maths (how many ceramics at what price level do you need to sell each year?) and then position yourself correctly.
Whatever direction you choose work out what will work best for you and your clients.
What do YOU want to be known for?
WHO do you want to work for and with?
Choose wisely and with the longer term in mind. Continue to connect with ‘your’ clients with consistent, and the right kind of work and marketing to build your reputation and business, step-by-step.”