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What's new in various product categories; monthly update.

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Decorative Painting Report

You won't find change in a rut.

by Shea Szachara (August, 2003)

(Note: Shea Szachara is an award winning consultant, educator, and designer who has been involved in decorative painting and crafting for more than twenty years. The author of numerous books and instructional articles, she has traveled internationally as a teacher and consultant. She is the former Director of Creative and Educational Services for a large industry manufacturer. Shea has served on the Education Committees of both HIA and ACCI, numerous Society of Decorative Painters committees, and on the Board of Directors of the Society of Craft Designers. She is currently a member of the Board of Trustees for the Decorative Arts Collection and is Chair of the Teachers Committee of SDP for the 2004 International Conference.)

During the past year I've attended every major decorative painting show across the country -- and they're not what they used to be. But I also have to ask, "What is?" Anyone who's been involved in our industry over the past five to ten years has to be aware of the many changes that have taken place, and one thing is certain: if you're not moving forward, you're standing still. As I see it, many of the decorative painting's designers, teachers, and authors seem to be unaware of this truth. Most realize that the numbers are down in show attendance, new products, and sales in general, and they are repeatedly asking what can be done to bring back the "Glory Days."

The majority can't find any answers because they don't realize that to move forward means that they, too, have to change. However, it seems to me that a handful of decorative artists have figured it out and they are meeting the challenge of change head on.

These are independent retailer/designer/teacher/author/publisher/exhibitor people all rolled into one who seem to have found the secret of success today. And exactly what is it? It's based on the same thing I was told years ago by a very sharp woman who asked me, "Do you want to paint what you like or do you want to paint what sells?" Then she added, "Make up your mind because you can rarely do both." She's now in charge of the entire creative line of a large manufacturer in the gift industry. Does she know what sells? You bet! Is every item something she would choose for her own home? No way.

Cross marketing.

I doubt that we will ever again see decorative painting snowball into the success it once was. Still, it is far from dead, and there are a number of places one can look to see what's working and what's not. No matter the size of a show, pay attention to the booths that are busy with people looking and buying. Cross marketing is everywhere and the successful artists I see have latched onto this concept.

Recently at ACCI I visited the booth of a newcomer to the industry, Catharine Zanoni of Hawthorn Needles & Butterfly Wings. Catherine had no preconceived ideas of how things should be or always have been, and so her small booth was like a ray of sunshine in a vast sea of sameness. Her designs were color-book bright, with portions of the painted designs replicated in fabrics and appliqued on small handmade quilts. The same design element was found once again in a three-dimensional stuffed form. And she had kits or pattern packets for her entire line available for resale. Talk about cross marketing! (The website is www.hnbw.com.)

For the past few years I've watched Ginger Edwards of Ginger Edwards Publications, a long-time decorative painting teacher known for her loose floral canvas style, make a huge change. She's been smart enough to key into the popular trends known as nostalgia, shabby chic, and feminine, combining them together with her soft roses to create a whole new look. How? She's taken old chair legs, spindles and porch posts and turned them into wonderful angels of all sizes. She's still painting her style, but it's much smaller and on a totally different put-together surface.

Besides her roses, the angels she creates have beautifully painted faces with wire halos and wings of rusty tin ribbons. Turned dowels are used for arms and each holds a small heart wreath, miniature birdhouse, or hanging charm attached with more curled wire. Look at the combination of products used! These are a far cry from the flat "tole" painted trays and plaques that were a mainstay years ago. As for cross marketing, this decorative artist's angels are now being reproduced and sold in the gift market.

Paint and scrap.

I am amazed that decorative painters have not entered into the world of scrapbooking. What a phenomenon! Granted the consumer involved with this area is not interested in spending hours painting detailed designs on their pages when they can quickly stamp, cut, or sticker them. But this is where the decorative painting designer/teacher should be looking. Where is the decorative artist who will adapt her/his style to fit the needs of the scrapbooker? Easy and quick painting techniques that create appealing designs can make a memory page even more personal. Think about it: what an opportunity!

Remember, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you're going to keep getting what you've got." Is it time for you to give CHANGE a real hard look?

Final Comment. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to CLN. In future articles I will be telling you about some wonderful programs being offered by SDP and the DAC in their efforts to increase decorative painting awareness. I'll also be reviewing educational and promotional programs of various manufacturers and national chains, as well as ideas from highly successful independents. So, stay tuned.

(Note: Shea is president of Shea Design, a design and marketing consulting firm in Binghamton, NY. Any comments on her column or suggestions for future topics? Email Shea at sszachara@stny.rr.com or Mike Hartnett at mike@clnonline.com.)

To read other articles in this section, click on the specific title in the upper righthand column.



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