Saturday, December 30, 2006

How much to charge??

There is nothing that puts more fear in the heart of someone starting out selling their work than to begin to figure out what to charge for their work. And it is hard to find good advice. But in the end, that may be because only you can know what you put into the work, and what you want or need to get back financially.

I find that there is no simple answer to the question either. It needs to be approached from many angles. You need to fully assess your costs....labor, materials, packaging, overhead, etc....before you can know how much you need to make. And once you do the math, this will only give you a starting point to establish a wholesale price. This is probably where many beginners go wrong. They will take this wholesale price, and sell their product at a retail show for a wholesale cost. Thngs may seem to be going swimmingly at first. Sales are brisk. But after awhile, they may start to wonder why they are working so hard, but making so little. They may be covering their expenses, but not much more. Or, a shop or gallery approaches them about selling their work, and lo and behold, there is no margin in the current price structure for either the shop or the artist to make any money.

There is a myth that you can't make enough money selling your work wholesale, and that you are better off selling it retail...because you will get a higher price for your work. The reason it is a myth, is that these calculations do not factor in the time and expense associated with selling your work retail. To do a show, you will spend at least a day packing up and organizing for the show. Then you may have to travel several hours or more to the show, and spend several more hours setting up your booth and display. The next day or several days will be spent selling. And then everything needs to be packed up again, brought home, and unpacked and organized again. A three day show may consume close to a week's worth of time out of your studio. Can you pay yourself for this time if you are selling your work at wholesale prices? Or are you assuming you don't "need" to get paid for this time? Retail shows can be a valuable learning ground to assess your work and people's reactions to your work. But you need to price your work appropriately.

Once you have begun to understand the money you "need" to make, it is necessary to look at the market from the other direction and figure out how much people will pay for your work. If pricing is part art and part science, this is the art. Gut feel and intuition are as effective as anything else. Polymer clay artist Elise Winters had an interesting perspective on pricing in an interview with Alison Lee in a Craftcast podcast (September 11, 2006)., Elise talked about how part of her pricing calculation is at what price she is willing to part with a piece. Gallery owner, and former ceramic artist, Nancy Markoe recommends getting together a group of friends, who might be representative of your customers. Ask them for pricing suggestions. Or if you belong to an artist's guild, perhaps you can do an anonymous pricing exercise.

All of these will give you a ballpark idea of what the market might bear for your work. And you can look and see what work that might compare to what your own is selling for. Then you need to look at your costs, and any expected mark-up from wholesale (ranges from 2 x's to 3 x's), and determine if you have a viable product. When in doubt, you might be better off underpricing by a bit if you can manage it. It is easier to move prices up than down. That may seem counter-intuitive. But the craft market is different than Walmart. There is a limited supply of what you produce. If demand exceeds supply, there is not always a way to change the balance other than by increasing the price.

There is no doubt that the hardest decision you will make at first is how much to charge for your work. You will likely agonize over it. With three years into this process, I wish I could say I price my work with confidence. But no. It is always a challenge to find the right balance, and doubt is always around the corner. I would not be surprised if I felt the same in five or ten years time. The only thing that is clearer to me, is just how complex this issue can be.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Anyone familiar with the principles of Buddhism, will be familiar with the term "mindfulness". For those less familiar, what it boils down to is being fully in the present. Surrendering to the moment. Not being caught up in the worries of what has already happened, and what is coming down the path.

So what does this have to do with the world of craft or business? In my approach to creativity, it turns out it is essential. But to be honest, I did not come at this consciously. It snuck up on me. And it was only in reflection that I was able to make this connection.

I used to feel that I had to plan out anything I made to the nth degree. Drawings were completed in my head before pencil touched paper. Sketches were made of ideas I had. Or when I was sewing or knitting something, I had an image in my head of what the finished piece would be. I would carefully follow instructions or patterns. But too often, the end result did not match my expectations. And so I would be disappointed in the finished piece. And, I missed out on much of the joy of the process. My head was fixed on the end product. I was working for the finish line, and not paying enough attention to the journey.

Somewhere along the line, I found I had made a shift. Part of it may have been in my work with polymer clay. The immediacy of the material encourages play. Exploring the possibilities of the material with no specific end goal in mind. Over time, I found that more often than not, I was starting most of my work with only the vaguest notion of where it was going to take me. I might know that I was going to make a vessel, or a necklace. And I might plan out the form or shape. But that was as far as my planning would go. Until that step was complete. Only then would I start to think about what I would be doing next. I no longer follow directions for things. I am forever adding my own twist, or changing something about the way something is done based on my experiences. I trust my own intuition more than in the past.

This step-by-step approach allowed me to better understand the material I was working with. I noticed nuances I might have otherwise missed. And it allowed me to be open to the opportunities or happy accidents that might occur along the way. I was able to work in a way that let me be present to what I was doing right then and there.

It has spilled over into my knitting and other media that I play with from time to time. This spring I made a C3PO costume for my 6'3" husband with no pattern. He was doing a Star Wars routine on ice with my daughters. I should have run in the other direction, but instead, I dove in. And the end result was pretty darn good. I did not get ahead of myself. I trusted my sewing skills, and took each challenge as it came. In the end he had a very cool costume, and I felt better about myself as a sewer. (He made the R2D2 model and the landspeeder by the way. They made quite an impression!)

The biggest changes for me have come with how much more joy I get from what I am doing. Whether it is doing the knitting often do at night to relax, or the clay work in my studio, I am having more fun, and I am happier with the outcome. Even when things go wrong, I don't own the failure in the way I did in the past. Before, I was the failure. Now I can see it in a different light...., the piece didn't work, but maybe I learned something along the way. And it is easier for me to let go of my work and send it out into the world. I own the process, and the finished product is just the result of that. Sometimes I will be so happy with how a piece came out that I want to hold onto it for a bit longer. But ultimately, it feels empty. Not nearly as satisfying as the actual process of creation.

The materials are no longer the enemy. They do not have to be "mastered". Instead I am looking for the connection. Letting a piece show me the way. And getting out of my own way. If all of this sounds a bit too esoteric or philosophical, it probably is. I was the "accidental tourist" on this trip. But it has changed my life as an artist and it has started to spill over into the rest of my life as well. See if you can let go of some aspect of your life that you hold too dearly. Don't expect too much too fast. But someday, you may look around at your life, as I did, and see that the ground beneath you has shifted.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Creative Wellspring

A frequent comment I hear at shows goes something like this, "So many creative people..." or "Where do people come up with all these ideas..." What strikes me the most about these comments is that I used to be someone who thought that way. I would walk around shows and be stunned at the cleverness or creativity of some artists. How could they ever think of that? I was humbled, and in awe. I knew that I was not someone who could be that creative or clever.

But I have come to learn more about that whole process, and to understand that yes, I can be creative, and more importantly, we all can be. And even though my work as an artist/craftsperson depends upon my creativity in part, creativity is not the sole realm of artists. I came to understand better that there are many other outlets for creativity.

Creativity is something like the proverbial muscle. You need to use it to develop it. But you do not necessarily need to apply your creativity to the arts. You can use it as a parent, or at work, or virtually anywhere you have a problem to solve. Creativity is often just problem solving.

When you start to think about it, you may see that you have been using that creative muscle. You just didn't label it as creative, because you were not using art materials, or doing creative writing, or playing a musical instrument. When I began to understand this better, I saw how much creative energy was going into my kid's birthday parties or Halloween costumes. Or how one of my favorite jobs in the corporate world gave me the most creative freedom. I could define the problem to some degree, and how I was going to answer the question. If you have ever asked the question, "what if?", then you have used your creative muscle.

Don't forget to use your judgement along with that. The Darwin Awards books are full of people who were often quite creative, but completely lacking in judgement!

Start looking at your life and seeing where you have been creative in the past. Begin by giving yourself credit where credit is due. I will revisit the topic of creativity on an on-going basis. It is one that fascinates me, and something that can enrich all our lives.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Time for a break

I have been slow to get into the spirit of the season, but I think it is starting to creep up on me. Last night, as I left a Target store, a flurry was passing through. Snow has been absent so far this year, and those first flakes of the season are a bit special. As I walked out into the blowing snow, a little boy, of about 2 or 3, was exclaiming, "It's snowing! Santa's coming! Santa's coming! It's snowing!......" The excitement was so genuine and pure. I could not help but smile. This is one of the things I love about Christmas. Seeing children who have such joy and excitement about it all. The decorations, the songs, the lights, and Santa. Even though we can re-live that excitement, just a bit, with our kids, that is such a short period of time. Before you know it, they are grown up, and it is gone. So recapturing that innocent spirit of a toddler for just a second, outside of a Target store, was just the antidote for Grinchiness that I needed.

Today I ran across the blog of Bluhm studios, . I had fun going through her 20 questions about Christmas. I will share the questions, and my answers here:

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate, cold chocolate, all chocolate
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Wrapped, of course.
3. Colored lights or white on tree/house ? white on house, both on tree.
4. Do you hang mistletoe? No
5. When do you put your decorations up? Two to three weeks before Christmas
6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Excluding dessert?? Who made up these questions??
7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? Coming downstairs and seeing the tree, all lit up and the presents under the tree.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Third grade, at a Girl Scout meeting.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? One
10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Lights (DH), garland (me), ornaments (kids)
11. Snow… love it or dread it? Love to look at freshly fallen snow, or the muffled silence just after it has snowed. The sound snowflakes make sometimes, when they hit the ground. Hate to shovel it or drive in it.
12. Do you know how to ice skate? I leave that to my kids and husband. I make the skating competition outfits.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Drawing kit from my uncle when I was about 10.
14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you? Having an excuse to give gifts.
15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Bouche de Noel.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? The Yankee swap with all the adult family members. The kids can’t wait to be old enough to join in one day.
17. What tops your tree? A gold star with scrolls.
18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving.
19. Favorite Christmas Song? Johnny Mathis, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire..
20. Favorite Flavor of Candy Canes? Peppermint, of course.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Grinchy Christmas

"He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same! "

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of my all time favorite Christmas stories. Every Christmas when I was little, we would read the book, and when my kids were little I would read it to them. Today I found the book in the bottom of a box of Christmas decorations.

Here it is, just a few days before Christmas, and I am still just getting decorations up. My family had dragged out the tree, and all the myriad boxes of decorations, to my great consternation over a week ago. They were more than ready to deck the halls....and I was not.

One of the down sides I have learned about being in this business is that Christmas is not so magical when you are one of the people working madly to make it happen. Since July, I have worked 7 days a week, often for days much longer than I would like to admit, trying to keep up with wholesale orders, and get ready for shows. I am thrilled to be busy, and getting orders. It is nice to see my work appreciated. This is the time of year that most work is sold. the time I finished my last show two weeks ago I was pooped. I was ready to do nothing at all for awhile. Not shift gears into a new sort of frenzy. So for a week I enjoyed the relative calm in my life. The relatively balmy temperatures we have had here in the northeast fed my denial.

But then the tree and assorted decorations came down from the attic, and I could be in denial no longer. Christmas cards were arriving in the mail. Not a single gift had been purchased. Emails were being sent among family members trying to nail down a date and time for our get together.
Christmas was coming! There was nothing I could do! I could not put it off for another day, another hour, or another minute. I was not ready. I am not ready.

But as the Grinch so wisely learned, Christmas would come in spite of the trappings and gifts. A little time on the internet, and I had several gifts. Several conversations with my husband, and we narrowed down what to do for the girls. The tree has been up for over a week. Half the lights went on the blink for a few days. But I managed to repair that without a visit from the Grinch. Christmas will come. I will spend time with my family. Some of it will be fun. Some if it tedious. But mostly it will be very, very good.

This year has been abundant with gifts for me. I have had such growth as an artist, and as a business person in the last year. I feel I have so much more to learn and do, but I am thrilled to have had so many wonderful people come into my life this year as a result of my work. That has been the most wonderful gift of all. One that can't be wrapped up. But one that will always fit, and will always be treasured.

And best of all, I am blessed with a wonderful family, who support and encourage me, and tolerates me! They are the most valuable treasures in my life. No gift could exceed that in value.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Life lessons

Often when we are stuck in a place, we turn to others for advice and help. Especially those who have more experience or knowledge. This is as true with artists/craftspeople as it is with anyone else. But sometimes people just are not ready or willing to hear what they need to hear.

You can not grow as an artist or as a business person without making mistakes, or learning how to sift through the feedback and figure out the truth. The truth can then guide you to where you need to go. You can keep blinders on, and blame the informer, but you will not be able to be better at what you do when this happens. And when you keep hearing the same thing over and over again, the right response is not, "yeah, but...".

Ignorance may be bliss. But I find knowing you are ignorant can be a blessing. It can be a place to start from that is open to learning. When you think you know all the answers, you may miss out on a chance to learn. I spend at least 15 minutes each day surfing around through various boards and blogs reading and learning. Sometimes what I learn has no immediate value to me. But, eventually, many of those tidbits have become valuable.

But not all sources are equal. There are boards that are focused more on the "self-esteem" of the crowd. Everyone does "amazing" and "beautiful" work. When the rare voice speaks up that has an honest critique, they are immediately squashed. How dare you be so critical? We need to be supportive of one another. This may keep the peace, but it may also keep people from achieving the growth they are capable and deserve.

Some boards are more rough and tumble. Egos get bruised, and the talk can get harsh sometimes. But,....these are often the places where I learn the most. These are the places where the most knowledgeable people are often found.

The same is true off the internet as well. We all want to hear the positives about our work. But, growth only comes with the honest critique. The galleries owners I appreciate the most are those that will be honest with me about my work and whether or not they believe it to be viable in the market. It may hurt when I hear that a new line I am exploring is not working. Or that it is nice, but won't sell. Or that it needs more work before it can be saleable. Or they like this about it, but this other part is a problem.

But these bits of information are actually gems. They need to be carried home carefully and polished. The truth needs to emerge. And we need to re-evaluate our work with this new light. Not all feedback is accurate or valid. Sometimes someone has had a bad day. Sometimes it may be true in one setting, but not in another. Figuring all this out is the hard work. It takes putting your ego aside, looking harshly at your work, and teasing apart what you have learned from your advisor. They may be wrong. But if you hear the same thing again and again....if you do not listen, then you will never move from where you are.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not so Fast, Karma part 2

Yesterday, I thought the apple vessel I had donated to help raise funds for Robin Whittemore's cancer treatment had been sold. Sadly, that is no longer the case. EBay is known for scams, and apparently we were subject to one of them. The buyer had gotten their eBay ID that same day, and chose the "Buy It Now" option. They had no feedback, and no apparent history. But when we tried to bill them, we learned that their ID had been suspended due to unresolved issues with eBay.

So it is back on the block. And I hope we only recieve genuine bids this time around. After doing a little poking around on eBay this afternoon, this is a new "game" on eBay. People set up a new ID, buy lots of things with the Buy It Now option, with no intention of paying....and then the seller is stuck with listing fees for an item that never sold. In some cases it seems, people will swoop in at the last minute and get an item, only to stiff the seller. The usual items that are targeted in these scams are electronics: cell phones, cameras, computers, video games, etc. I guess eBay is getting smarter about stopping this activity earlier. The sad thing is, these people are like the Whack a Mole game. They will just pop up again in a new way.

Ebay has such potential to be a great place to buy and sell. Now it seems to be a place with many cautionary tales. I am not saying I will never use eBay to buy or sell anything. Only that it is a sad commentary on the world that such a marketplace attracts so many looking to con or scam. Especially when one considers the innocent beginnings of eBay....a place for Pez collectors to buy and sell their peices.

You can see what items are listed to sell for Robin by searching "4Robin".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Good Karma

It is always good to see artists that "play nice" together. Sometimes fear, envy, or other issues get in the way, and artists will have a hard time sharing with others. The fear of being copied is huge.

But with polymer clay and metal clay the opposite is usually true. People are very open and sharing with one another about techniques and ideas. I suppose it is because both are very new media. There is so much to be explored still. And one idea feeds another.

The Metal Clay list on Yahoo is one of the most vital and creative groups I know. They have monthly challenges for the group....trying out a new technique or designing around a theme perhaps. We all grow as artists from this process, even if it is just as an observer.

One of the artists on the group had breast cancer quite a few years ago. She was in remission for about 8 years. But now the cancer is back, and in a more aggressive form. She needs a bone marrow transplant. She cannot work because of her compromised immune system, and thus has no health insurance. Instead she is on Medicare, and unless she has a perfect match, they will not pay for the transplant. But without the transplant, her chances of survival are nil. Sadly, this story is one too many of us can understand. Whether personally, or through friends or neighbors.

But here comes the good karma. The Metal Clay list took their creative energies and applied it to this challenge. How can we raise money for Robin so she can get her bone marrow transplant? An auction has been set up on eBay. Donations are being made to her medical fund. None of this may come close to covering her vast expenses, yet it is so wonderful to see how people will come together for someone they know only through an internet connection, and gather their collectionve energies to help.
An auction has been set up on eBay. If you searchfor "4Robin" you will see the items that are currently up for auction. A holiday gift purchase could help Robin come closer to getting the care she needs. You can read more about Robin's story and make a donation at her website

I donated an apple vessel and a crane to the auction. The crane was donated for its symbolism....long life and healing. It seemed a natural fit for the cause, and reflected my hopes for Robin.
The apple vessel was one that I made over a year ago. I had loved the way it came out, and it always got an enthusiastic response at shows....yet it never came close to being sold. I was starting to feel badly about the piece. So I decided to donate it to the auction. Do something positive with it. Well today, the karma shifted. The apple was quickly purchased with the "Buy It Now" option. I now love the piece again. It is bringing Robin a little bit of help, and I feel good that someone fell in love with it enough to buy it up right away. I think I will have to revisit this design...perhaps in some other colors. But now the name will have to be "Robin's Apple" or "Robin's Pear".
So to that purchaser....Thank you! And to Robin....I am sending you thoughts of healing.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Love your work.."

When doing a show, one of the biggest gripes I hear from my neighboring artists is the number of people who come into their booth and gush and "ooh" and "aaah" over their work, and then move along.
This is perfectly rational behavior, of course. It is impossible for someone to purchase work from each and every artist they admire at a show. This is even more true at some of the better shows. I could easily spend many thousands of dollars getting work from my fellow artists....if I had it. And that is the key. Few of us can buy everything we want. And even if we could....where would we put it all?
Yesterday, I went to the Open Studio event in Lowell, MA, where a friend has recently set up a studio space. We were very excited to see her new space. She was right next to a river, and the space was wonderful. After helping her set up, we went off to see the other artist's work.
Soon I found myself in the quandry. I knew both sides. I wanted to just look and enjoy seeing the work of some talented and wonderful artists. But,....each time I left the space, especially if I engaged in conversation, I was torn. Do I compliment them on their work? Or will that only frustrate them, because I am not buying anything? What is the graceful way to exit, and move on?
Well, I have not figured it out. I know first hand the struggle faced by each and every one of these creative people. There are many, many expenses associated with the work they are doing. Most not comprehended by the average consumer. And there is no better vote of confidence than a purchase. But the middle class is feeling a bit lower on the ladder these days. And there are only so many discretionary dollars out there.
But, I do try and buy one thing when I go to the few shows I visit as a consumer each year. One thing to place a vote with the audacious act each and every artist makes when they choose to sell their work. These days, it is often the work of another polymer clay artist whose work I admire, and who has drawn me to the show to begin with. The small purchases I make will not make or break a show for anyone. But it is like voting. Each vote in itself is meaningless. But the act itself is significant. Buying something from the artist. Supporting the world of American Craft, at a time that it desperately needs it.
As to the rest of you talented and wonderful artists I passed by, I am sorry. This time I can't. But don't let that stop you from doing what you need to do. Create. Put it out there. And then go make some more.

Friday, December 8, 2006


Attention Deficit Disorder. I think I have it with my work sometimes. When I am doing a show I love to find some time to walk around and take in some of the work. When you pass some booths, an artist's "look" is crystal clear. The form, the palette, the patterns....they have a consistency that speaks of that artist's voice.

And then I go back to my booth.

I have tried to have some discipline. Yet I feel like that overstuffed purse. Things spilling out all over the place. Over here we have vessels. Then there is the jewelry and it's myriad designs.... Fish, pods, abstract, floral, silver...Oh, and don't forget the cranes. There are so many other ideas I have played with that make guest appearances.....testing the water. Should I stifle this? Or keep it in my studio, not to see the light of day?
Part of it is the media. Polymer clay is just so versatile. There is an endless array of things that can be done with it. And there are few that I don't play with. I love to try and stretch the limits. What else can I do?
It would be "neater" if I was to focus. Go with one thing and really work on that. Be known for a look. But I don't know if I can do that. I also find that what I learn doing one thing, feeds another,.....and another....and another. I have this endless stream of ideas at times that I want to explore.
I sometimes wish I could get inside the head of those more focused artists and see how they process the world differently. Do they edit more? Did they get a great idea and go with that. Focusing their creative energies on exploring that in greater depth? Changing only one variable. Refining. What am I missing by my approach? Or am I missing something?
As much as I spend time worrying about this, to try and change would be to try and be someone else. Someone who thinks and reacts differently. Ideas are forever bubbling up. I need to chase some of those ideas. Play around with them. Who knows where they will go? If I don't continue to play and explore, I will be denying my own creative process. Feeding the beast means listening, and experimenting for me. Sometimes the ideas well up from inside. Other times the external world pulls me to do something. Either way, all I can do with any consistency is get in my studio and get my hands on the clay. 10:23 am pst

Monday, December 4, 2006

Not yet fearless, but....

I have just returned from my show in New York City. And I have one less fear on my list now.
New York was always intimidating to me. The thought of navigating the seemingly confusing chaos of this city sent me running in the past. When I went to New York in the past, it was with someone else, and preferably with them driving..
But this time I was on my own. I was the one who had to find her way around. And when I got into New York on Wednesday night, it was the same night that the tree in Rockerfeller Center was being lit....can you say traffic??
But by the time I reached Manhattan, I was no longer as worried or anxious. I had essentially reached my destination, without getting lost. I knew the rest of the journey might be slow, but I would be able to find my way.
It is silly how many fears can hold us back. Fears of rejection or failure. Fears about safety. Sometimes the fears have some validity. But the thing I have learned is that nearly every fear can be faced with preparation.
Signing up for this show was one that caused me great anxiety. The money. The location. And another new show. How will it go? But, I decided to let go of my fear as I proceeded. Sort of delay my recognition of it, really. And by the time I had to face it, it was too late to back down. I was decieving myself, in order to keep myself from stopping short of what I wanted and needed to do. I had days in the last month when I pondered cancelling participating in the show. Wondering if I was better to just let the money spent go, and run fast in the other direction. But that had other anxieties that were even larger.
In the end, another fear was taken away. My load was lightened. I met some wonderful people. And got to see the magic of New York during the holidays. Now I need to see what is next on my list....