Tag Archives: commissions

It’s been a funny sort of stained glass year…

Kinetic Op/Art - a 1.2m wide stained glass commission completed in 2012
Kinetic Op/Art – a 1.2m wide stained glass commission completed in 2012

Do you remember the fab Ronnie Barker sitcom Open all Hours, with Ronnie as G-g-g-granville and David Jason as his downtrodden assistant?
Then you’ll remember how each episode would conclude with Mr Barker standing outside his shop saying ‘It’s been a funny sort of day…’

It seems a bit premature to be reviewing the year with two months to go, but I’ve had several chats with artists lately and it’s made me reflective!

I don’t know about you, but we’ve sold more large pieces this year than in most previous years. Some people have still got money to spend on art, and we seem to have come in to contact with more of them lately.

We know how we’ve met some of them – some of them saw us at craft shows where our combination of demos, work on show and cheeky chat has really worked this year.

We’ve sold more pieces in galleries this year too – big and small. It’s always hard to know how those customers find us, but we can say that when we’ve put larger, higher priced pieces in galleries they’ve sold better than the affordable pieces we used to supply. Change of policy there for 2013 – we just need to make some larger pieces now ‘cos we’ve sold all the others!

And there’s another ‘learning’ from that – we need to make more time to make pieces to sell. In 2013 we’ll pass up on the early-season shows we used to do when the weather was freezing. Instead we’ll be cosy inside making stuff!

We’ve also won more large commissions this year too. Most of these have arisen out of shows we did, in some cases more than a year ago. So we’ll be making the most of the big shows we’ll do next year – more large work, more demos, more proactivity in networking and talking to potential art buyers.

We’ve also had more traffic via our website – especially looking for class places. Pat on the back for me there as I’ve been working on the SEO on our site a lot more this year. Even Panda and Penguin didn’t dent our traffic, which leads me to conclude that people are looking for us specifically. And that seems to be because we’ve also done more demo days and Open Studios this year.

Part of that has also been because we’ve worked more closely with venue owners on promoting our classes – through events like the one Stani Gallery organised early in the year and open days at Rowans Gallery in Brackley and the Herts Craft Collective at Radlett.

We’ve also found that demand for our Cornwall 5-day stained glass workshop has been stronger even than last year.
We’ve had repeat students, new students, and future students all contacting us throughout the year wanting places on classes already full up.

I’m also happy with the email list growth we’ve achieved – more sign-ups but crucially more active sign-ups. A large list of people who never respond is no good to anyone! I set myself the task of recruiting more subscribers and efforts in SEO, making subscription more valuable and in making our newsletters more entertaining is paying off.

And we’ve just come back from this year’s Cornwall workshop. A great class, great students, lovely work with a high percentage of pieces designed by our students, which is one of our objectives with the course. Thanks to all of our students then, for working so hard!

While we think we do a good job we seek feedback wherever we can, for improvement, new ideas to try out, and for ways to give our students more inspiration and stimulus. This year’s session has given both Jenny and me some good ideas which we’ll implement next year.

We also made more work for ourselves in Cornwall in setting up and packing up. We’ve already identified ways we can improve – to keep doing the same thing without considering what other ways there might be is daft I reckon!

So overall, my conclusions are:

  • there are people buying art (and other high-value discretionary purchases) – artists just need to attract and persuade them
  • being seen in public making art and demonstrating is infinitely more compelling than just standing around scratching one’s head
  • if you’re not sure a particular marketing activity is working, it probably aint – either the data is there or it isn’t.
  • people need to see and get close to art, particularly when it’s high in value – selling one-off art from websites is getting harder but a website can do the job of creating the introduction in advance
  • invest time in making work for galleries and they’ll invest more effort in selling it
  • take care of where your new customers are coming from – use your web stats to guide your efforts
  • make sure you keep in touch with your customers and contacts – art is a personal business
  • don’t keep doing things that aren’t working!

I’d like to hear your observations about 2012, and your own personal field of the arts – what are your aspirations or expectations for 2013?
Leave a comment or get in touch!

Happy creating,

P.S. You can see more of the commissions we’ve worked on this year on our Facebook page:

You can see more about the stained glass we create here:



Why do we teach stained glass when we already have enough competition?!

Vitreus Art beginners stained glass Workshop
Vitreus Art beginners stained glass workshop

By now you know we teach stained glass, right? I go on about it often enough!

Well, one of the reasons we teach (aside from wanting to share the craft we’ve become passionate about!) is that we often hear from would-be stained glass artists who’ve gone out and bought tools and glass and materials and then found they just couldn’t make it work.

They cut themselves to shreds, their pieces didn’t fit together, they wasted loads of expensive glass, their soldering was lumpy and ugly, or their fledgling abilities just didn’t develop.

Net result – most of them gave up.

We had the benefit of a day’s class when we were starting. We had no idea what was required, where to begin, what tools were needed – we just knew we wanted to find out if we liked it, and if we might show any early promise!

It could have been so different – Lord knows it’s sometimes a frustrating craft!
However, decent tuition,  access to the right tools,  and the desire to learn from someone clearly very skilled set us off in the right direction.

Starting teaching

Fast-forward 5 years and we’re making commissions,  selling through galleries and teaching. Why?

Coming from marketing and PR backgrounds, we both felt that we were good communicators, and we’d been on a very steep learning curve.  So as we began to field questions from people who wanted to try, or who’d tried and given up, we set up our first class.

Crikey – that was hard work! And the investment – we decided that 6 was a good number of students so we needed 6 sets of tools. And you may already know, a complete set of  tools costs about £150 per person, not including a grinder. And don’t forget the glass – we get through a lot!

We hooked up with a local gallery with spare workshop space (thanks Sally!) and set some dates. Luckily we found enough students (that always seems like the wrong word!) and set off on our journey.

We did a lot of planning, a lot of cost analysis to be sure we knew how long and how many classes it would take to repay the investment in tools and glass. And we sweated over the lesson plan and rehearsed, and tested.

The comments we had back after our early sessions encouraged us to carry on. We now run 13 or more sessions a year, some at an intermediate level now that we have students who are keen to progress to making bolder and more ambitious pieces.

As an example of the type of comment that led us to develop our programme, here’s one from an early student:

2009 hasn’t been the best of years for me but I can truly say that this one day was my real highlight. Your passion for the subject really shone through and your professionalism in guiding us in all the task was amazing. I am delighted with the pieces I made.  I suspect my husband actually thought I’d bought them!

And now that our classes are getting fully booked months in advance, we’ve taken the plunge and set up a 5-day workshop in Cornwall too! We must be mad!

So the message here is – if you’ve struggled to make the glass work for you, if you’ve become frustrated at lack of progress, or you want to find out what stained glass is all about before you jump in, get some tuition – for two reasons:

one – you might save a lot of money on tools if you don’t enjoy it!

two (much more likely!) – starting off with someone to show you the basics and to offer constructive feedback might get you totally hooked, like it did for us!

three – knowing someone in the trade, and being able to ask them how they got started, and what they found hardest at the beginning is great background info and reassurance

I’d love to find out how you got started, or even what made you give up.
We might be able to offer some advice!

I’m considering running a tips and tricks column on our stained glass website, or in our monthly newsletters, or on this blog.
I’d like to know if this would be useful to you – leave a comment and let me know.

Happy creating!