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Published in Columbia Daily Tribune, 15 January 2006

Out of Her Gourd

The first in an ongoing series of how local artists market their work.

Melynda Lotven sometimes struggles to be taken seriously as an artist.  This is the case for most artists as they're trying to get themselves 'established,' but she has an additional hurdle:  her medium.  She paints and sculpts with gourds.

Yes, gourds.  The sort of thing that grows in gardens and is used as decoration at Thanksgiving.

But make no mistake, she's serious about her artwork.  And she's managed to establish herself to a degree most artists would envy.  She's been a member (and now board member) of the Best of Missouri Hands for years, and her ornaments have been included in the Governor's Mansion.  She's done many shows around the country, and late last year was featured on HGTV.  Sometime probably this spring she'll be on the show "Craft Lab" hosted by Jennifer Perkins on the DIY TV network.  Particularly when the holiday season comes, she has a hard time producing enough work to meet the demand of her customers.  She's established.

How did she do it?  The usual mix of hard work, self promotion, and a little luck.  Let's take a look at some of the details.

Starting with local craft shows and festivals, Melynda started to build a client base.  The first such was the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival, naturally enough.  That lead to other events around the state, and then as far afield as Georgia.  For the last few years she has consistently done the "Craftsmen and Music Festival" in Silver Dollar City, thanks to her connection with the Best of Missouri Hands, and the resources it offers.

Like many artists, she decided to have an "Open House" at her home the first weekend of December, when people are looking for gifts and holiday-themed items, and has continued this tradition for years.  For a while Melynda had her work at The Market Place here in Columbia, but recently felt that his wasn't quite the right venue for her.

Building off of contacts at shows and festivals, she established a mailing list of interested clients.  Her website hosts not just images and information, but a regular newsletter and pdf brochure about her work anyone can download.  She maintains the site herself, and it takes a lot of work, but she feels that it is well worth the effort.  As an example, thanks to her website, the folks at the DIY Network contacted her, asking for proposals.  She dropped everything, and came up with project ideas for them to consider.  They accepted.

Self promotion means having confidence in yourself and your work, and being willing to tell people your story.  Any chance Melynda gets to give talks or presentations to interested groups, she takes advantage of it.  TV appearances on such shows as "Pepper & Friends" are a no-brainer.  Through the Best of Missouri Hands she heard about the HGTV opportunity, and pursued it.  She contacted the producers of the show and worked hard to get them interested in her art.

When I asked Melynda what advice she would give to other local artists about promoting/marketing their work, this was her response:

        My advice would be love what you do and always try to do better then you did the day before.  If you wake up everyday loving what you do it will get you through the times when it appears you are going nowhere.  I think it also propels you to try everything in regard to promotion, and push, ask, break through any type of obstacles you may have for yourself.  What is the worst that can happen - someone says no?
        Also, when promoting yourself and being an artist, you are selling a piece of you, so tell your story.  How did you get started?  What makes your work cool and awesome?  You are not only selling a piece of art work you are selling a piece of you, so tell your story.  People love knowing the story behind the work.

Melynda's had successes which not every artist has.  She's had some lucky breaks.  But she's also made some opportunities for herself which wouldn't have existed otherwise, and her advice is solid for any artist at any point in their career.

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