Image by TheSeafarerMost artists share the worry of how to deal with people touching their work. With regards to this issue, there are concerns that are particular to the book artist.
If your book has content, you want to allow people the opportunity to touch, see, and read it. It makes sense that someone would want to do that in order to make an informed decision before making a purchase. As I mentioned in this post, artist consultant Bruce Baker advises that people are 4x more likely to purchase work that they have held in their hands.
So you want to allow handling, but you don’t want your work to get damaged. This is of even greater concern for those who make limited editions or one-of-a-kind pieces. Their work isn’t as replaceable as production work.
Many craft shows have food vendors, which increases the possibility for damage. The oils from one’s hands are also a danger. Delicate papers are easily worn and/or torn.
You may think that the answer is requiring that your customers wear gloves. Unfortunately, your customers can’t have the full experience of your work if they have a barrier between them and your work.
In addition, cotton gloves can abrade the surface of paper. I learned this during a visit to the Special Collections department at the University of Vermont. For this reason, the library decided to discontinue their use of gloves.
In Helen Cole’s 2004 paper, TO [G]LOVE AND TO HOLD: Artists' Books in Australian Libraries, the concern is captured perfectly:
Strategies which are used to preserve the works, such as the use of gloves for holding and handling the books, and the use of protective interleaving to stop inks migrating from page to page, can put up barriers between the reader and the experience of the book as the artist intended. Books by their very nature are more than just visual. They are three dimensional objects with height, depth and length, the materials from which they are made have thickness, weight (or lack of it), texture and smell. We would like to facilitate an experience of the book for all the senses, as close as possible to what the artist intended.So what do you do?
Ask a dozen artists this question and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers.
When I attended a workshop with Julie Chen a few years ago, I learned how she dealt with editions. She said that she kept three pieces from every edition she made. One she kept for herself, one she used for marketing purposes, and the last she gave to her mother “just in case” (a.k.a. Julie’s insurance policy).
Whatever you do, make sure customers are clear on whether or not your work handled. If you prefer to hold one-of-a-kind books when folks want a closer look, use signage to inform people on your policy. A sign saying “Please touch!” can go a long way both in putting customers at ease and in eliminating the inevitable, repetitive questions.
Personally, I have decided to allow people to touch my work. One of the reasons I love making books so much is that I appreciate the interaction it inspires. I know there are risks involved. If I see that there’s an issue of dirty hands, I offer the customer a wet wipe (I keep a canister behind the counter). If someone asks to see one of my one-of-a-kind pieces, I usually offer to hold it for them while I talk about it.
What is your policy on letting people touch your work? I’d love to hear about it! Share your experiences with the B.E.S.T. team by sending me an Email and I'll include them in a follow-up post next week. Be sure to include your name and a link to your Etsy shop.
Many thanks to Hilke for suggesting this week’s topic.