Monday, December 31, 2007

Resolve to Vote

This is an important year coming up. I am asking you to make a resolution to participate in the election process in the coming year. I will not give you any other advice or opinions about resolutions you can or should make. I will not impose my politics on you....and anyone who knows me, knows I have strong political opinions! But I will ask you to register to vote if you have not done so yet, and then get yourself to the primary or caucus in your state, and exercise your right, and your responsibility, to vote!

Your vote matters. Being informed about the issues, and where the candidates stand on those issues is one of the most important roles you have as a citizen in this country. I know I am being a bit preachy here, but I could not be more sincere in my desire to want each and every one of you who is a citizen of the United States to participate in the election this year. Better yet, if you have some time, work on a campaign. You will learn a lot about the election process being on the other side, and you will be welcomed with open arms. You will learn that your voice can be heard even louder if you are willing to work on a campaign. You will learn about the challenges that a politician faces in the process of getting elected.

This election matters. Your vote matters. I will step off my soapbox for now. But, please, do vote!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Crane Names

The cranes have been named, thanks to the creative inspiration of many of you. Thank you for your submissions. There were many great ideas, so it was difficult to narrow it down to one name for each group of cranes.

The winning names were "Halo" for the first group of cranes, and "Perfect Prism" for the second group. Kitty and Emma, you will each be receiving a crane. Email me your mailing address and I will get your crane sent out to you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


If I was to pick one characteristic that is essential for a successful Artrepreneur, resiliency would be up high on the list. defines Resilience (noun) as;

1.the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after
being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2.ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
We can be bent, compressed, or stretched very close to the limit in all sorts of ways. Illness. Financial setbacks. Creative slumps. Slumps in the economy. Tools or equipment that break down. Problems with customers or suppliers. Too much work. Too little work. Bad shows. Rejection. And on, and on, and on.

Things happen.
This is the one thing I can guarantee. If you choose to be an Artrepreneur the road will have curves and bumps. Some of the ride will be exhiliarating. But some of it will make us wonder why we began the journey. In order to continue the ride, we will have to be resilient. Without this characteristic, it is impossible to accept the inevitable challenges, and do the work necessary to adapt or accomodate.

Accepting what is, and working to do the best you can with that situation is essential. As much as we might desire to do so, we cannot control ever aspect of our lives or our businesses. There are external forces that can come at us with no warning. If we get depressed, outraged, or angry in response, we will not be able to succeed. The essential muscle we need to develop is one of resiliency. The "ability to return to the original form, position", or the "ability to recover" can be what allows one person to succeed and another to flounder, irregardless of their comparable artistic ability.
First, we need to accept we are not fully in control of external forces. We can't control the weather, the economy, or anyone else's behavior. Remember, things will happen.
The one thing we can control is your emotional response to the things that happen. If we take events personally, we will struggle to recover. Our energy will be spent on feeling hurt and injured,......and stuck. We only have so much energy, and the more we spend it fixating on how we were wronged, or how unfair life is, the longer we are going to be spending in that state.
Instead, we need to spend our energy gathering information about what has happened, and what we can do about it. Figuring out our options, and coming up with a plan. This is not something that comes naturally to most people, but if we are lucky we learn it when we are young. It takes practice, and conscious effort for many of us to be able to make this small shift and do what is necessary to adapt rather than react.
Life is not fair. Things will happen. As an artrepreneur, you are even more vulnerable than in most jobs, where you might be working for someone else. Your job is broadly defined, and you are the one who ultimately has to decide how to deal with the things that will come your way. You can be creative and try to come up with solutions. Or you can complain and be upset about how hard it is or how unfair it is. One keeps you stuck, the other will move you towards a new place.
It is only when we are tested that we can figure out how good we are at being resilient. When we get blind sided do we react? And if we do react, are we able to stop the reaction, and move into problem solving mode? Pay attention, and see where you fall on the spectrum. And if you find yourself going into reaction mode, how hard is it for you to move out of that state and to get back on track? Don't ask yourself for perfection. When you find yourself in the middle of a rant, pause. Stop and notice what has happened and shift. Let go of this place and shift to problem solving. Get your creative juices focused on figuring out where to go next, and how to get there.

With practice and time, one day you will wake up and notice something different is going on. The world may be crashing about you. Problems surround you, but you are no longer paralyzed by them. You are doing what you can to work through the situation, so that you can keep moving towards your ultimate goals, whatever they may be.
The other night, I was sick with a cold. I had missed out on a family holiday get together. Our roof had an ice dam and we had leaks in the living room and my daughter's room. My camera appeared to be dying. I still did not recieve that purchase order. And I had cracked a tooth that night on a hard pretzel. Lots of reasons to whine or complain. I did go to bed a bit worried that night about the house. But not in tears or terror. The next morning I got out of bed just like always, ready to hit the ground with much to do. This was when I paused. Here I was surrounded by crappy situations right and left, and I was not in a funk or a panic.

Somewhere along the line, I had learned to accept, and to move. Somehow, I had managed to stop reacting to life. The cold is gone. I had a few needed days of rest. My husband cleared out the ice dam, and we had cleaned up the mess. The tooth is repaired for now, but will need a crown. The purchase order appeared this morning in my e-mail. And I have a new camera. Financially I have taken a few hits, but nothing that we cannot recover from with a little time. Lots of angst could have been wasted over some relatively minor events.
I can't say I never ever complain. But I try not to get stuck in that place. It is wasteful and draining. We all have challenges to face, and obstacles to overcome. And sometimes, it really does just amount to continuing to move forward anyway.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Dogs and Cats Can Work

One of the easiest ways to build a market for your work is to target pet owners. Things with a dog or cat theme have a built in potential market. I have daughter who adores animals. Anything with a dog on it is something that gets her attention. But, like all good things it can be overdone, or done poorly. And not everyone is a sucker for all things dog or cat.
Sometimes, an artist takes a twist on this concept, and comes up with something new and engaging. I have to share the work of one such artist. We had seen his work at a local gallery several times over the last few years. His name is Michael dePierro. My daughter, the animal lover, fell in love with his wall sculptures of dogs and cats. She has wanted one ever since. When we first saw these sculptures, they were of specific breeds, and our dog is a one of a kind....otherwise known as a mutt! I recently saw dePierro's work again on and saw that he was doing custom pet sculptures...dogs, cats, and even horses. I decided this would be the prefect thing to get my daughter as a gift for Christmas.
The first picture is one of the pictures I sent dePierro of our dog. The next picture is of the wall sculpture he created of her. You can just imagine the smile on my daughter's face when she opened the gift!

It was wonderful to support another craftsperson by purchasing his work. But even better, is to have a place like this blog to show many more people a bit of his work. He has taken the idea of making things with dogs and cats, and made something unique and special.
Couldn't you see a variety of dogs and cat wall sculptures in a vet's office, decorating the walls?....and taking orders for them through the vet's office! What better way to have your work seen by your potential customers.
The idea of dogs and cats as a theme in craft work may seem cliche and tired. But, as dePierro has shown us, it is possible to take any idea and make it engaging. People love their pets. And dePierro has captured the spirit of those animals in his sculptures. Talk about making work that has a story....!

I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas found special and unique handcrafted items under your tree. And most of all, I hope that your day was one filled with love, laughter, good food, and good memories. And, if it was a bit more stressful than all that, I hope you found at least one moment of connection with a person, a pet, or nature that reminded you of a blessing in your life. Hold onto that memory, and take it out from time to time to enjoy. Those are the gifts we can give ourselves at any time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Contest: Name that Crane

For the last few years, when I make a crane I start from scratch. I may make a cane that will create 3 or 6 or more cranes, but when that cane was done, so was that design. While there is some creative freedom in this approach, it can also be challenging when I have orders to get out the door. And there is anxiety as I package up an order. Will they like this one? I had a few variations that I could easily reproduce, such as a Skinner blend with a metal leaf crackle finish. But the patterned cranes were the ones that many people love.

After having to come up with a reproducible design for the catalog company I began to rethink my whole approach to making cranes. Maybe it would be easier to have several patterns that would be exclusive for one year. The next year, I would have a new set of designs. With that in mind, I have been working on several styles or designs to offer for 2008, and I have come up with a few that I like, and I know I can least in pattern, if not in the exact colorway.

The group of cranes at right are called "I Love You" cranes. They were designed with Valentines' Day in mind. But I will only have this design for 2008. In 2009, there will be a new design with this theme.

The next picture is a group of cranes I call "Carpet Ride". When I am laying out the sheet of clay with the cane slices, I am using the idea of an oriental rug. I spent a year working part time selling rugs at an area furniture store. I loved the colors and patterns, and each night when I came to work, I would look through the rugs, to see the newest patterns and designs. Most rugs have a center field and a border. These cranes use that idea in how they are created. This pattern that will have more variety...depending on the canes I have to work with at the time.
Now, you come in. I have a few other designs that I need some help with naming. The right name can romance the work a bit. A story can be conjured up in just a few well selected words. Problem is, I have a nasty cold right now. My brain is in slow motion. Which can be great for getting tedious tasks done, but not so great for brainstorming. I need your brains and creativity. Two designs are wanting for a name.
Every idea I have come up with falls flat. The top group can be called group 1, and the lower picture, group 2. These are not the only colors that these cranes will come in, but they give you an idea of how the pattern can look in a variety of colorways. Submit your ideas in the comments, and specify which group you are naming. You are welcome to submit as many ideas as you can come up with. You have until next Friday, December 28th, at midnight(EST) to come up with an idea and post it in the comments. If your name is selected, in exchange for your permission to use the
name to promote that line, I will send you a crane in that pattern....hanging or sitting, you choose.

I hope your creative juices are flowing better than mine are right now. I look forward to seeing your ideas! And thank you for your creative energy....I need it right now. :-)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Failure to Communicate

We have so many ways to "reach out and touch someone" these days. Phones, cell phones, internet, e-mail, snail mail, name it, we can do it. But does this easy access to communication actually make it happen? No, not at all. They are just tools of communication, and they still rely on our initiative and action.

I have been surprisingly busy right through this month. Not swamped, but not idle, either. I delivered the fifth order in the last two months to a local shop. I love working with this shop owner. If she needs something or has a question, she picks up the phone, or shoots off and e-mail. And the easy flow of communication has paid off nicely with all the sales she has generated with my work. It never takes more than two contacts by either of us to make something happen.

On the other hand, I am awaiting to hear from another customer about a pending order. I know they want early January delivery, but still no order giving more details about quantities. Will I spend Christmas in my studio,....... or will I have some time to spend with my family while they are off from school and work? I want it to be the later, but the delay in getting information creates anxiety. I have called. I have left messages. I have spoken with people. Still, no order. Just the promise of an order. I am making product for them, but will it be enough?

I am not the best person at communicating, so I am willing to cut some slack to those who also struggle to make that phone call, or get the letter out. But, when I have to call again and again, and I get no response, I end up frustrated by the experience. Good communication means much more than finding the right words. It has to involve action.

I am seeing first hand how valuable clear and open communication is between our accounts and ourselves. There is a delicate balance between regular communication and person's regular check-in could be considered pestering by another. Understanding expectations, and working to keep open communication can make the difference between a good relationship and a disaster.

Do you find you struggle to find a balance in communication with your customers or galleries? Or have you managed to find the balance? And how do you manage the unresponsive?

If I was to pick one area to work on in the coming year, this might just be it. Do you have one thing that needs a little extra attention? Perhaps a goal for the new year. Now is a good time to start thinking about where you want to go and what you want to accomplish in the coming year. Accomplishments do not always have to be about getting a certain number of new accounts, or doing such-and-such a show. Sometimes setting goals to work on things that present an on-going challenge can do more to help our business get stronger than focusing all our energy on the externals. Something to think about in the next few weeks.....

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Time for a Valentine?

I found out about this wonderful opportunity from another artist recently. My friend Martha Munroe, a painter and sculptor, told me about this program held each year, to raise funds to give grants to artists.

The person who began this program is Paul Matisse, and yes, he is related. You can find details at The Artist's Valentine. Artists create valentines from non-perishable items, and send them, along with packaging, and contact information by January 11th. The valentines are displayed and sold. The funds raised in the sale are then distributed as grants.

Every artist who submits valentine(s) is eligible to apply for a grant. After the sale, the artists are asked to submit 8 images. A jury then decides who will receive the grants, and for how much. The grants can be used in what ever way the artist decides to help their work progress. Grants have ranged in value, but have been as high as $2200. They are not need based grants, but based upon the body of work presented to the jury.

So, I am busy creating a few valentines to send off. How about you? Do you think you have a valentine in you that you could submit by the 11th? It is worth a shot. And even if you do not receive a grant in the end, you will know that your efforts went to help another artist. Not such a bad cause to support. Happy Valentine's Day!

You Know you are an Artrepreneur When....

1. What others call "world craft", you call "cheap imports".

2. Your designs take into consideration production and efficiency.

3. You know what a knucklebuster is. (A credit card imprinter, used to manually record credit card sales.)

4. You are on a first name basis with your UPS person, the FedEx person and the people at the post office.

5. You know what keystone means. (Two times the wholesale price.)

6. You know what someone is talking about when they talk about Zapplication. (Zapplication is an on-line application for various shows and competitions.)

7. You have gotten packing your car up for a show down to a science.

8. You know what a CVV2 code is, and why it is important. (The three or four digits found on the back of the credit card. Getting these numbers when you use a knucklebuster can save you about 1/2 of a percent in fees.)

9. When someone asks for "terms" you have an idea of what they are talking about. (Usually means they want Net 30,..... or, delivery of goods and thirty days to pay.)

10. You know the joke about the artist who won the lottery....and you are not sure whether you should laugh or cry. :-)

The joke: An artist wins the lottery. They go to the lottery headquarters to cash in their ticket, and they are asked what they will do with their winnings. Their reply,....."I will probably just keep doing shows till the money runs out."

If you have any more to add to the list, please feel free to put them in the comments.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Topsy Turvy Holidays

I feel like I am suffering from holiday jet lag.

My holiday season began in late July or early August, when I began making work to send out to galleries, or for shows for the holiday season. It became the most intense through October and up until just before Thanksgiving, as I pushed to get as much work out the door as I possibly could.

When I shipped off the last package, I felt a sense of completion. A sigh of relief that I was largely done for this year with my holiday orders. I was able to have a bit of breathing space, even as a few other shipments went out, and one last show was done. I had room to experiment in the studio, and start thinking about where I was going in the next year, and what changes I might want to be making.

This weekend I was going through pictures on my computer looking for a specific photo, and I ran across a picture from a few years ago of my daughters decorating the Christmas tree. It hit me across the forehead with a smack! Christmas! It is coming. Not just in the stores. But here. I had to do something about our Christmas. I was done with the business of Christmas, but now I needed to start planning for and acting on a holiday that was right around the corner. Our tree had to go up. I had to seriously do some shopping, and gift making. Casual conversations with my husband about what to get for someone, or what he could bring to the office party had to come into focus and be acted upon.

Maybe this creates more short term stress for me, but I think I needed that breathing space of not jumping right into the holiday. I needed to have the closure from the business side of the season before I made the shift to the world around me. I see lights going up as I drive around town. Wreathes. Christmas cards have arrived. I feel completely out of sync with what is going on. But it is time for me to jump onto that moving sidewalk and get engaged in this season.

I must admit I have enjoyed the space it has given me...being out of sync. I have had the frenzy and stress already making and shipping my work. I am not anxious to feel that again. Maybe this topsy turvy holiday is a good thing. It helps to stay out of the fray of excess that can be overwhelming. Whether I am fully decorated or not, the holidays will come. And in the end, I will have gifts to give. But what I have enjoyed the most in the last few weeks is taking a bit more time to relax, and spend time with my family. If I jumped into the holiday craziness right away, I might have missed that.

Artists are already accused of marching to a different drummer. I guess if we have most of our sales at this time of year, we also need to march to a different rhythm. I have heard of artists who celebrate Christmas with their families in July, so they can enjoy it more. I don't think I want to be that far out of sync. But I have recognized that I need a pause.

Are you able to listen to your need for breathing space? To take care of your need to regroup after a prolonged push? Or are you able to jump right in? Perhaps energized by the holiday activity? Or do you just forego all this holiday madness?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Press Kit; Where to Begin?

I have talked about having a press kit in the past, and how helpful they can be to getting publicity for your work and your business. But, I have not gone into detail about how to put one together. There more than one way to approach this, so feel free to apply your creative genius to the concept. I find by the time I get around to putting one together, I have do not have the creative time or energy to go beyond the basics. But don't let that hold you back!

The first step is to gather together copies of any publicity your work has received. This could be articles or announcements in your local paper, or features in national magazines. They all qualify. Sometimes a publication will provide you with a .pdf of an article, which is helpful for reprinting, or they may offer you additional copies of a magazine for a reduced cost.

If you do not yet have any articles about you or your work, don't worry. Your press kit will help that happen eventually, and we all start at zero. But, if you do, it shows that others have deemed what you are doing "newsworthy". When an editor sees that you have numerous articles, it can be a cue to look further.

Head off to Kinko's, Staples, or your nearest copy center, and make copies of the articles, or at least the first page of the articles. For some magazine articles, I have copied a two page spread onto a single page. Smaller articles might be able to be combined onto a single page.

If you happen to be at an office supply store, look around and see what you can find to hold your material for your press kit. You can get jazzy and have custom printed folders. Or you can use a standard, two pocket folder, and perhaps attach a postcard to the front for image. Get several, because you will be sending out more than one.

I put my press clippings, and press releases (future post), into the right hand pocket. I arrange them in chronological order, with the most recent in the front.
In the other pocket I add visuals. Postcard(s). A CD with several high resolution images. The CD should be packaged in such a way that it will not be easily damaged in handling.

Next, I include tear sheets or sell sheets. A sell sheet or tear sheet is a one page flyer that shows images of your work. I have one sheet per collection, or line. It is not necessary to have every style and every colorway of your work shown on the sell sheet. It is a way for someone to get a quick overview of your work. They can be used to announce a new line of work.
The sell sheet should have your logo, and it should have contact information. You can have dimensions of your work under each image. It is primarily focused on visual information. A collection of sell sheets with a separate price sheet can serve as a catalog for prospective wholesale accounts. By the way, I do not include a price sheet in with my press kit. But, you might include the wholesale and/or retail price range somewhere in your kit.
Next, you want to include your Artist Bio and Artist Statement. Recognize that you are not writing a bio or statement that you must live with for the rest of your career. We grow and evolve as artists, business people and human beings, and our Bio and Statement should change over time with us. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have re-written mine.
If you are not comfortable with writing it yourself, get some help. Find a friend who is a good writer, or hire someone. Look on Craig's List or Nothing is impossible.
I put those in behind the sell sheets on the left hand side.
Finally, I insert a business card into the space that is usually found on the left hand pocket. That is it. Nothing too extreme or too difficult. Yes, it takes time. But think of publicity as advertising you could not afford. On that basis, it is time well spent.
In a future post, I will write about press releases, and about where to send your press kit and/or press releases. But this should keep you busy in the meantime.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I Stole a Pair of Kathleen Dustin Earrings

Got your attention, huh? I didn't literally steal them of course. But it felt like it. Family Services of Greater Boston is the organization who puts on the Crafts at the Castle show each year. It is a fantastic show....gorgeous work by extremely talented artists. And like many non-profits who run craft shows, they look to the artists to donate items that they can auction off to generate more income for their organization. Kathleen Dustin donated a pair of earrings to their auction. And I won them in the auction for only $50. These are a pair of her new pod earrings that would normally retail for $150. A steal!

So here is the thing....what are the consequences of these auctions? Beyond some great bargains. Are they really a benefit to the artists or to the organization? If you go and look you will see plenty of beautiful work.....all going for substantial discounts to the retail value of the items. A gorgeous Natalie Blake vase, I wouldn't mind owning, went for under $300, versus a retail price of $425. A lovely necklace of sterling and polymer clay by Mary Filpek and Lou Ann Townsend did not even get a bid. A sublime scarf by Jeung-Hwa, knitted, felted and hand-dyed, went for less than half it's retail price in spite of a bidding war, which I watched from the sidelines, debating whether I should jump in. I could go on,.....a basket from JoAnne Russo, a museum quality piece. NO bids.

What is going on? For one thing, not enough people who might be interested in the work of the artists are aware of the auction, or participating in it. When you have a small pool of people engaged in an auction, prices will not be bid up enough to get to a price that reflects the true value of the work. Add the emergence of the online services that will enter a bid for someone at the last minute....which happened on two items I was watching in this auction,.... and you get less bidding overall. It drives the bargain.

And there is that bargain mentality that people approach an auction with. They want to get a deal. The deal that no one else could get. So they can brag about it over cocktails...or in their blog!

But it seems to me that it is doing a disservice to the artists and to the organizations. What if, instead of auctions, they raffled off the art work? It might increase the participation. A raffle could increase the pool of people who are willing to enter the competition. The show I am doing at the Fitchburg Art Museum this weekend is doing this. They asked each artist to donate an item with a value of approximately $25, and then they are raffling off the work.

Or, Craft Boston sells gift certificates. Each artist can donate a certificate worth $50, $100, or maybe $250 dollars. The show organizers (The Society of Arts and Crafts), then sells the certificates, and the buyers can redeem them with the artist. I had two people vying for the certificate I donated on the first night of the show. It does not diminish the value of the work, the organization gets a better value, and it has better tax implications for the artist.

When we donate a piece of art, we are only allowed to deduct the value of the materials. Our labor is worth nothing in the deduction. Insane. But if we donate a gift certificate, it is more like cash. We can deduct the value of the gift certificate.

But, here is the thing. How many of the people who are getting steals in these auctions can afford to make a substantial donation to the opposed to the artist being able to afford making a donation of their work?? The artists are already paying a fee for the booth space. Artists are more typically living at the economic edge. Should they be the ones who are making the greatest sacrifice to support these non-profits?

It is sometimes argued that the auctions are a way to generate publicity for your work. Exposure to people who could become collectors. If they truly are potential collectors, why do so many things go for so little money?? Aren't collectors usually people who appreciate the work of the artist? And, is this the kind of publicity we need for our work?

I used to always donate items when asked by organizations. I no longer will donate to an auction, unless it is an organization I would happily support otherwise. I will donate a small item for a raffle. I will donate a gift certificate. Or, if the booth fee is high, I may just pass. We can say no. It does not make us a bad person. Just because someone asks, we still need to evaluate if it makes sense for us and our situation. How much does it benefit the organization? How much does it benefit us? And what are the potential risks? This requires careful consideration, and there is no one answer that will fit every situation, or every person.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Cushion or Deficit?

Do you live with a cushion, or a deficit?

I am talking about time. Do you always give yourself a comfortable cushion of time to easily absorb the inevitable shocks, or are you forever running behind the clock?

I used to be one of those people who was always a bit early. I liked the ease that came with that. The space to transition gently from one activity to another. When I was a freshman in college we had "F" tests. Nearly every freshman had to take these tests, on the same day, at the same time,....... on a Friday morning, at 8 a.m. Masses of stressed out, sleep deprived freshman heading to take the test they crammed for all night. Talk about bad karma!

I learned to head out about 15 to 20 minutes early, as well as get to bed a bit early. I could walk to the test before the crowd, and just enjoy the morning. I was well rested. I had my pick of seats. I could give myself time to relax, and maybe even review a bit. Have everything I needed for the test out and ready.

It worked. And I continued into my adult life under the same plan.

But now,..... I find I am one of those people who is always running late. Or that I seldom have any slack built into the schedule to accommodate adjustments. Today my younger daughter missed the bus, for the second day in a row. Most days it is not a big deal. We can walk the dog together, and then I drive her to school, and she gets there in plenty of time. We get to spend a few extra minutes together. But today I had an early appointment with a local gallery. With traffic, I had to allow myself an hour. I had planned it out with no room for error. The error happened.

I debated cancelling the appointment, and rescheduling. I was trying to figure out every possible permutation of how I could cram everything in to the allotted time. It did not look doable.

I decided to persevere. I kept going ahead, as if I was going to be able to make it work, up until the point in time that I knew I had to be leaving. If I was not ready by then, I would call and reschedule. As I drilled holes in the last 6 cranes to make them into ornaments, I had my daughter open up boxes for the cranes, and put the inserts and fill into them. I could then just pop the cranes in the boxes, and close them up. Might as well make her do a bit of work in return for the ride to school! By the time we got to school, I was convinced that it would not work. I was going to have to reschedule. I came home and walked the dog. I got home and saw I was only ten minutes behind schedule....I could do this! I grabbed my work and headed out.

I left ten minutes later than planned, but was there right on spite of traffic! I had created stress for myself agonizing over how this could possibly work. It did work, and we had a quick but productive meeting. She loved the new Shibori work, as well as the pods. She even commented on how the cranes were looking even better than before. I forgot a ziplock bag with some pendants, and the box with pins, but I had more than enough work for her to see. Rushing out the door, feeling anxious about the time, caused the oversight.

I could have more easily accommodated the change in plans, and had everything I needed for the appointment, if I had fully prepared the day before.

I had begun to do that the night before. But I pooped out before I finished the job completely. So I was left drilling and stringing up cranes at the last minute, and leaving some work behind.

Since that appointment, I have begun to clean out the studio. And I now have a calendar set up on the computer with appointments, and reminders. I need the breathing space that order can create. I can easily find myself exploring an idea when I need to be preparing for a gallery visit or a show. I will have to learn to tame in this instinct. Having the discipline to do the "work" first, and then spend time exploring. The new and improved Judy? I wouldn't go that far. But I am recognizing that the lack of a system has cost me time and energy. I can't keep doing what I was doing, with any degree of comfort. A change is in order. A change to more order.

Organization comes more easily to some than others. Having lived on both ends of the spectrum, I have to say, sometimes it can be situational. Many artists are digging out of the chaos in their studios this time of year. The focus was on getting the work done, and dealing with the mess later. In my case, later is here. Let the cleaning begin!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Internal Combustion

The internal combustion engine was a major technological breakthrough. No need to constantly feed the engine with an external source of energy, such as steam from a coal burner. Last night, when I got together with a group of friends, I saw a different version, but just as powerful source of internal combustion.

What motivates you and drives you? Where is your source of energy? Do you need to be constantly fueling up from external sources, or do you have an internal source?

When we look externally for love, affirmation, or direction, it can be a bumpy and difficult ride. It is like the engine with the timing off. Fits and starts. You may be riding along smoothly for awhile, but then, apparently out of nowhere, the car is hesitating, perhaps stalling. Or it may feel like driving around town with the gas gauge on E,....ready to dip below E,.... and not finding an open gas station anywhere. Panic. Anxiety. Frustration.

If the external sources of affirmation of our worth is what we are relying upon, we will be forever looking for others to refill us, make us feel good again, so that we can go out again feeling comfortable and confident. I used to live this way. I was forever looking externally for my cues. The external was always more important than the internal. It is exhausting. And completely unsatisfying. It makes for crappy relationships. And a constant need to be refilled.

Slowly, over time, almost without being aware of how it has changed my way of living, I have learned to look inside first. To figure out what I need, and to take care of my needs. Sounds pretty simple. And it is when we are taking care of the external needs. But, when you get used to looking outside all the time for your cues of what you should do, it is not easy to make that shift to understanding what you really need to make yourself happy. To look inside and see what your heart really wants and needs. And it is not easy to start to say "no" to those things that will only deplete you. If we are not filling our own needs first, we have nothing left to give to others when they need us.

This is what I found amazing about making that difficult transition. The more that I look inside for guidance and to satisfy my needs, far more comes from the outside than I could have dreamed possible. That old saying about how you have to love yourself before others can love you is true. It also applies to our work as artists. If we have to win competitions, get rave reviews for all we do, sell out at shows, etc, etc, etc.....there will never be enough to feed the demand. When we are feeding ourselves inside, and doing the work that comes from our heart, those external sources of admiration are easier to receive, but we won't need to own them. If we try to hold on too tightly to the praise, the notoriety, it will probably slip away, or become tarnished in our tight grip. We will become frozen in time. Afraid to move from that moment in the sun.

None of this is easy. But it is essential to living a rich and full life, as an artist, or otherwise. Our culture of externals is a big challenge to all of this. Face it, few of us will get rich as working artists. But we will have a full and rich life in so many other ways if we give ourselves the gift of doing the work we are meant to do. It is easier to find joy and satisfaction in doing work that gratifies your soul, than in being able to buy a bigger house, a bigger TV, a smaller cell phone, a newer car....whatever. Consuming to fill that void inside never works for long. We will always want more. But we can fill that void by creating beautiful work, and sharing it with the world. And we will do the planet a favor by consuming less of some of those other things anyway!

This season of joy has become a season of externals. The newspaper is full of sales fliers for the latest and greatest electronics, which will all be obsolete in a year. Perhaps by taking the pledge to Buy Handmade that is going around the Internet right now, we will be able to reconnect with our more essential needs. Better yet, make as many gifts as you can. Give a gift of your handwork. Connect with your gifts, and share them with others. Give a few gifts to those who never expect to receive one. It may mean a few less trips to the mall, a few less dollars spent, but a few more hours connecting with your soul and spirit. And it is a chance to play outside your usual sandbox! Play in a different media, experiment with a idea. Have fun, and spread it around a bit! The joy will find you in the process.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cleaning Out the Closet

Maybe you are one of those people who never seem to accumulate too much stuff. You quickly dispose of the old whenever the new arrives. I am more likely to suffer from "stuff creep". I go through periodic purges. Clearing out the accumlated stuff that begins to feel like it is suffocating. It feels great to re-establish order, and to give breathing room to the things that are most important to me.

If you watch Tim Gunn's new show, the first thing they do is get in to the closet of their client, and sort out what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away. The same thing happens on the show Clean Sweep. People with rooms that are scarily filled with too much stuff (my studio??) are purged in the same process. This clearing out always comes with some anxiety. The emotional attachments to our stuff can even confound us, as we refuse to let go of that special "whatever", that the rest of the world sees as having little to no value. But this prepares the ground for the transformation. The new and improved. The metaphorical rebirth.

This post is not about cleaning out my least not directly! That will be happening over the next few weeks. What it is about is my work. It is time for me to move out the old, and make room for the new. Over the summer, and into the fall I have had so many new ideas that I have started to explore, and begun to bring out to the market. All the while, I have been carrying on with the work that I have been doing for the last few years.

At first, I could not imagine letting go of the "old". Old is relative, isn't it? But as the new work began to emerge, my interest in doing the other work waned. It seemed to slide to the bottom of the list. I have not made a new vessel in the last several months. I had a jewelry order to fill this fall, and as I made the pieces to fill the order, I realized how infrequently I had been doing this work in the last few months. Between crane orders, I was working on two new lines.

First the pods. I have had so much fun exploring the possibilities of this line. I still have lots of uncovered terrain. For awhile, I would wake up each morning with one or more new ideas churning away in my head. The ideas are still spilling out, just not quite as fast and furious.

Then, late this summer, and into the fall I began working on something that was so loose and undefined, that I questioned whether I was wasting my time whenever I worked on it. But there was something about it that I liked, and so I continued, without any real sense of where it was going. It began with pins, and then beads. I had no idea what I was going to do with the beads, but I liked them. So I made them here and there. Accumulating several hundred of them. In the last few weeks, I have begun to play with those beads, and I can see that there is something there for me to explore.

Back to that closet. The older work is like the clothing in the back of the closet. Taking up space. Worn less often, and with less enthusiasm. It feels crowded. It feels like it is time to clean out the closet. Let go of the old, and usher in the new.

I was up late last night. I had begun to try and put some of the new work on to my website. I was going to just load the pictures onto a page, but not make them accessible yet. But as I looked at all the lines of work on my website, I knew it was time. Time to shed the old, and make way for the new. I am calling my newest work "Shibori". The surface design reminds me of shibori fabric in some ways.

I have more work to do on the website, and developing these new lines. But the old is heading out. It feels good to be moving forward with this new work, and not feeling tied down by the work of the past. Lighter. Freer. And it feels a bit overwhelming to think of all the work I need to do as I move this work out into the world.
I will be doing a show at the Fitchburg Art Museum on the weekend of December 8th and 9th. It is a little show. Inexpensive. I plan to use this as an opportunity to clear out some of the old inventory. Marking things down to make way for the new. The emotional attachment I felt over the summer as I considered this possibility has begun to evaporate. And in it's place is excitement, and lots of possibilities.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

From "Ho-hum" to "Wow!"

I have been preaching about the importance of having the best possible images of your work. It is absolutely essential to market your work effectively. While professional photography is great for the pictures you want to submit for shows or competitions, it is also very expensive. I take most of my own photos. I invested in a tabletop studio several years ago, and it was one of the best investments in my business I could have made. I have raved about it in the past, and I will continue to rave about it to anyone who asks. It has dramatically improved the quality of the pictures I am taking.

This photo was about the best I could do using a plastic bin on it's side, with some halogen lights, and a grey paper backdrop. I think I was using a 1 Megapixel camera at the time, as well. It was okay, but very flat. It could easily put you to sleep.

After I improved the quality of my camera, (6 Megapixels, not great by today's standards), and got a tabletop studio set-up, without any tweaking on the computer, the images were better. This necklace was taken with my Fujifilm camera in my photo cube, with a grey gradient backdrop. No tweaking. This is how it comes off the camera. Much better than before.

But it could be better. I have been using Photoshop Elements to adjust my images for the last few years. It is the basic program, relatively inexpensive, and does most of what I need. You can see what it can do to both of these images, below.

This is doing some very basic things....color correction, cleaning up the dust, adjusting for contrast and brightness, and making a slight adjustment with Unsharp Mask, to remove the flatness that you can get with digital images. All this takes me no more than a few minutes per image now....unless there was a lot of dust on the backdrop! And it is a big improvement.

But, I have been running up against some of the limitations of Photoshop Elements for the last year or so. I have needed a CMYK image a few times, or a RAW file and you can't get that with Elements. And most of the adjustments are "auto", meaning the program is doing the thinking for you. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is not.

Recently I ran across this information on using Curves in Photoshop to make adjustments to the image. There were a few other functions that Elements did not have, that I thought would help my images get just a bit stronger. Yesterday, I took a deep breath, and bought Photoshop. It is not inexpensive, but,...Wow! Look at the same images again, this time edited in Photoshop CS.

The necklace seems to pop off the page, and the bracelet is almost passable. It still is not a very strong picture, but it at least is more interesting visually than the one at the top of the page.

I am not in the league with the professional photographers I mentioned in a recent post, but I am doing better than I was last year, and better still than the year before. And that is what it is about. Doing a bit better. Taking those baby steps.
I do not spend this money easily or without a lot of angst. I have been thinking about making this move for over a year. When I can get these kinds of results for the money I spent....and the time learning about curves!...then it is money and time well spent. I am still learning the ins and outs of Photoshop, and will never claim to be an expert, but with each image, it gets a bit easier and faster.
Here are a few more pics.
Before and after.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunscreen for Artists and Craftspeople

In June of 1997, Mary Schmich published a hypothetical commencement speech in the Chicago Tribune. One she was never asked to deliver, but one full practical and good advice. The column became known as the "Wear Sunscreen Speech" . Since it first appeared, it has spawned numerous parodies, and been made into two different songs. As I visited Lindly Haunani's blog recently, I was reminded of the essay by Ms. Schmich, and came up with my own parody of the original, geared to the working artist/craftsperson.

Ladies and gentlemen of the world of art and craft,


If I could offer you only one tip for the future, stretching would be it. The long-term benefits of stretching have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering career path. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power of your creative spirit. What was I thinking? You will not understand the power and beauty of your creativity until it’s blocked. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of your work and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really were. You are not as bad as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve a design problem by throwing a tantrum, or scrubbing a toilet. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless in other people's critiques. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old press clippings. Throw away your old rejection letters.

Color outside the lines.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your art. The most interesting artists I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their art. Some of the most interesting 40-year- olds still don't know.

Take good care of your hands. Be kind to your back. You'll miss them when they no longer work.

Maybe you'll prosper, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be famous, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be in a museum, maybe the Ugly Necklace contest is the only one you’ll ever win. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your creativity. Use it every day, and in every way. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest tool you'll ever own.

Turn up the music and dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your studio space.

Read the tutorials, and then throw them away. Do not read too many books and magazines about your craft. They will only make you feel less than.

Get to know your fellow artists. You never know when they'll be gone from the craft circuit. Be nice to your collectors. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that galleries come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and price point, because the more success you have, the more you need the people who knew you when you started.

Do a show in New York City once, but leave before all your money is gone. Apply to the Smithsonian Show once, but don't plan on getting in. Build an altar instead.

Accept certain inalienable truths. Costs will rise. Prices will fall. Some people will copy. You too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, people bought craft, nobody copied, and everyone adored artists.

Respect the innovators.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't forget to take care of your hands or by the time you're 40 they will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the stretching.

Finally, I quote Ms. Schmich. In May of 1999 she wrote,

"Occasionally someone asks, in a funereal voice, 'Does it bother you that people are writing parodies of your column?' No way. Because, ladies and gentlemen, if I could offer you one more tip for the future, this would be it:
Write parodies. It's a lot more fun than doing what you're supposed to be doing."

And she's right!

Friday, November 23, 2007

View from the Other Side

I recently was the administrative person for a competition to select three artists to occupy the booth at the ACRE (American Craft Retailer's Expo) wholesale show, in Las Vegas. This was a competition that was sponsored by the National Polymer Clay Guild. The idea was to allow three artists to share a booth at the show and sell their work. The outcome would be increased exposure of high caliber polymer clay work to buyers, and the opportunity for the selected artists to kick off or grow their wholesale business.

I have entered quite a few shows and competitions over the years. And I been accepted, rejected, and wait listed along the way. After a class with Bruce Baker on jurying into shows, my acceptance rate went up, but rejection is still a frequent companion. I applied to three shows for the spring, and I was rejected by three shows. Granted, most of these shows were a stretch. But even so, there are things I can do to improve the likelihood that the outcome will be different next time.

Being on the other side of the process this time was enlightening. I got a better idea of what worked and what didn't. I saw the challenges some artists faced with the application process. I saw how daunting a task it is for the jurors to go through the process of evaluating the work.

So, what specifically did I learn that can help me do better in my own submissions?

1. Photography matters. Great photos made a difference. Photos that are big enough to meet the entry requirements. Photos that show off the work to best advantage. Photos that come alive. Sometimes a digital photo can have a very flat appearance. A good photo does not have this problem. With few exceptions, there was a direct relationship between the quality of the photos and the final position in the scoring. Great photos can help good work look great. Mediocre photos can detract from great work. If you want to see the gold standard in craft photography, visit the websites of some of the best craft photographers. Robert Diamante, Hap Sakwa, George Post, are just a few. See what you may be up against. Paying for top notch photos may be a worthwhile investment in your business, depending upon the shows and competitions you are entering.

2. Consistency matters. One of the biggest problems I saw in the work submitted was when an artist would submit three pictures that were of a similar style, and two pictures that did not relate to the first three. Jurors were looking for a story, a point of view, a voice. Inevitably, at least one juror would mark the artist down because of this.

This was a problem I used to have when I would submit work to a show. I figured showing range was important. My thinking was that if I had enough range, something would connect with the jurors, and that would get me in. In my case, it was a reflection of insecurity. In this competition it seemed to nearly guarantee a reduction in score.

Another reason artist's give for doing this is that they want to have work from two or more lines in the show, so they think they should show both, otherwise they can't bring one. This is a partial myth. If you have two, three, or more lines of jewelry, pick one, your strongest of course, and show that. You can still bring the other jewelry to the show.

If, on the other hand, you have work in two and mixed media, for example, this is a different story. The cardinal sin is to jury into the non-jewelry category, and then bring jewelry. The competition for a jewelry spot is just too great. If you want to bring both, submit two sets of slides, one in each category. If you try to present both in the same set of slides you are doing yourself a disservice.

3. You need to be strong across the board. You need strong design, good use of color, and good finishing. Jurors are looking at all of these issues. Weakness in any one area may take you out of the running.

4. Jurors come with a point of view. We all have an aesthetic sensibility. Some have an educated sense of design, and for others it is based on experience and an intuitive sense. If we appreciate craft, we have certain things we respond to, and other things we don't. Something like color palette may subconsciously affect a juror's response. Or, a person's work may remind them of another artist's work...even though there may be no real connection.

In multiple cases, two jurors would give raves to an artist's work, and the third would pan it. And it was not because one juror was tougher than the rest. Each juror had certain work that did not connect with them for whatever reason, which the other juror's loved. Or, two jurors were not inspired by work that another juror would rave about.

This is something that is out of our control. We are not selecting the jury pool for the shows and competitions we enter. But, we can try to determine the shows and competitions where our work will be most appreciated.

5. Artists tend to procrastinate. Entries tricked in very slowly until the last few days. I understand this. We are often juggling many things, and putting together a show submission is easy to put off. But recognize that procrastinating about entering shows can come at a price. Technical glitches, on either end, may prevent your entry as the deadline looms. Give yourself enough time to figure out how images need to be submitted, formatted, etc. well before the deadline. It will give you time to think about the best images to present, the order, etc. If you have an hour to deadline and you still haven't been able to figure out how to format the images, you are creating needless stress in your life. If you need help with procrastination in your life, Christine Kane had a recent post on how to overcome this problem. Maybe you can pick up a few ideas of how to slay the procrastination beast.

6. Just trying counts for a lot. Making the decision, and following through, is taking yourself seriously. It is believing in your work and your abilities enough to take the chance. Some may say, "Oh, I never really thought I would get in anyway." But, even so, they applied. Some little voice said, "You should do this. You can do this." And they followed through. It takes courage to do that. It means you are saying you want something, and that you are willing to risk being denied the thing that you want. That is not easy. But it is necessary to move from where you are today to where you want to be. You will inevitably make mistakes. We all do. But, you don't have to own the mistakes. You can give yourself a gentle kick in the butt, and say "Boy, I won't make that mistake again." And the next submission will be stronger, and you will perhaps get what you are asking for that time.

Don't be afraid to ask. Don't hold yourself back from what you want to achieve. There are more than enough obstacles in life without building our own roadblocks. You may not get what you are reaching for, but, with the right attitude and spirit, you can end up richer and stronger in so many ways. You may learn something about yourself, and your dreams, that you would not have otherwise known.

I applaud the artist who entered but did not make it into the show. My heart is with you. There was more talent than there were spaces. This is often the case. That is why we need to work to improve every aspect of our entries. Putting our best forward every time, and each time, trying to make it just a bit better.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Yes, you. You come. You read. You comment. You email. You visit me at shows. You sit quietly reflecting. You perhaps disagree. You guide me in new directions. You empathize.

Thank you. Your action, big and small, have reinforced my belief in the wonderful community of artists I now reside. Thank you. If I could hug you, I would! Your presence helps to spur me on to explore this life. To share what I have learned, or what I am still learning. Sometimes I have to learn the same lesson over and over again. Each time understanding a bit more.

I am fortunate and thankful to work in two media that have a community of sharing and supportive people. This is a blessing.

I am thankful for my family. They tolerate my endless obsession with my work. The share my excitement, or support me when I struggle. Without them, it would be infinitely more difficult.

I am thankful for each and every person who purchases a piece of my work. Or tells me something about what strikes them in my work. The reflection back is always enlightening.

Thank you all. It has been a good year of growth, both hard and easy. It has been a year of growing friendships and connections. Those bonds are what enrich my life the most.

Reach out to someone in your life today, if you can. Thank them for some act that has made a difference in your life. You will make a difference in theirs by doing so.

And enjoy your Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Risks Are You Willing to Take?

No, I am not talking about chemical risks this time, but personal risk. How much are you willing to step outside of your comfort zone to succeed in your business? It is inevitable if we want to move our business forward from it's current state, we need to take some risks. Discomfort is required.

There was a lot of discussion recently on a forum about a very competitive craft show, and how hard it was to get in. There was some cynicism about the verity of a letter that some received saying they were in the top 25% of entrants. The griping was about the cost of entry, and the near impossibility, or so it seemed, to get into these shows.

Finally, another artist, who has done many of the top shows chimed in. He gave some frank, no nonsense advice, based on his own experience. The piece that stuck with me the most was if you want to move into this top circle it comes down to doing what 97% of the people are unwilling to do. It involves taking some risks. Putting yourself in the position of having to hear some hard advice or opinions. Risking rejection.

I think this is true for any entrepreneur, but perhaps more so for someone in the business of craft. There are many opportunities open to those who step forward and make an effort, go the extra mile. Maybe nothing will come of every effort you make. But if you don't even try, you are guaranteed nothing. And each time you get your work and your name out there, you are building your brand.

Elise Winters shared in a recent interview that she enters the Niche awards every year to gain exposure for her work, and polymer clay in general. The people who are judging this competition are very influential, and the potential exposure from exhibiting your work as a winner or finalist at the Rosen show is invaluable.

The artist who posted on the forum suggested making an appointment with the curator of at least one, preferably several, of the top museums in the world of craft. You may have to call several to find one with the time or inclination. Or visit with a gallery owner who is often a juror at top shows. Pay for their time, or make a donation to the museum. His suggested donation, $500. Before you gasp, recognize what it could mean to get the type of advice you could receive from such a person. He suggested that you ask them to look at several of your images and give you feedback. Ask them what they look for in the jurying process. More good advice, was to leave a packet with some images, artist's statement and bio, and your CV. And dress appropriately for the meeting. This is all about making a positive impression, not just with your work, but with the rest of the package. You are not only getting advice. Your work is getting seen and better known.

Are you willing to go the extra mile? Are you doing what you can to network? Does every person you know, or that your spouse knows, know that you are in business as an artist? I recently went to a reception for alumni of my business school. I came armed with a crane for my former professor, who is now the dean. It was a gift. But it was also about letting someone who is connected to many others know what I was up to in a very real and concrete way.

This summer I joined the Origami Society because of the cross over of my work. Several members had approached me at shows, and I finally investigated it, and joined. It provides me with a wider audience to network with, and to learn about more opportunities that might be a good fit for my work. Recently I emerged from lurkdom briefly on the discussion list, and was received warmly. I am back to lurking, but perhaps I won't stay there quite so long next time.

The business of craft is competitive. It takes stretching yourself, and reaching outside your comfort zone to succeed. It takes getting up and starting again after you get knocked down. It does not mean you have to go after the top, top shows to reach your goals. But, have you set goals for yourself? Have you thought about the steps you need to take to reach those goals?

Not everyone has to, wants to, or can be that 3%. But if you are aiming to reach far with your work, it takes more than time and effort in the studio. How badly do you want it? How far outside your comfort zone are you willing to extend yourself? Do you have the resiliency to pick yourself up after a rejection, and try again? Are you making every effort to be professional in your encounters with others?

In the next few months, it is a good time to start considering where you want to go, and what you need to do to acheive your goals. Or at least take the next baby step towards accomplishing your goals. This time is invaluable. It helps us see the progress we have already made, and can motivate us to aim for a new target in the coming year.

More Thoughts on Phthalate Phobia

My last post about the potential ban on phthalates has generated lots of discussion, and more posts. This is a good thing. The more we share our knowledge, experience and insight, the better off we will all be in the end.

This issue goes way beyond polymer clay. PVC's, and phthalates in other materials, are woven into our lives in more ways than we can possibly be aware. My husband related a story to me about issues his company is having with a partner company and their demands that PVC be removed from the product. PVC is incorporated in some small way in nearly every, if not all, the products they produce. Finding an adequate substitute is not simple.

Phthalates are in medical equipment (tubes, fluid bags, etc.). They are in nail polish, the scented candle, and the moisturizer from a company known for being "natural". This should not make us more paranoid. If anything it should give us perspective to realize that if phthalates were as awful as some would like to portray them, then they would have caused lots of problems already.

What if we were to eliminate plastics completely from our lives. Are we going to go back to metal pipes for plumbing, and glass bottles for holding liquids? Do we have the capacity in our system to do that? What about the effects of the added weight of these other materials in transport. Not only will it cost more, but it will consume more energy to move them, adding to global warming.

Do you know that one of the benefits of eliminating glass for packaging liquids was not only weight, but safety? Glass breaks more easily that plastic, and it also cuts more easily than plastic. How do we factor people injured by glass bottles into the equation of plastic versus glass?

Nothing sounds more natural and earthy than felted wools, and other natural fibers. But what about the dyes that are used to color them? And how are the dyes disposed? Unless vegetable dyes are being used, with no chemical fixatives, you are working with toxic materials. Concentrated toxins.

Plastic resins used to make jewelry. Phthalates, along with many other toxic chemicals.

Glazes, paints, thinners, enamel powders and more. Toxins galore.

When we look at a ceramic pot, or a beautiful woven scarf, or that fun piece of resin jewelry, the last thing we are thinking about is the materials used to create them, and the potential harm that they pose for the environment.

I am not suggesting we look the other way, and pretend that there is no problem with any of these things. Rather, that we educate and inform ourselves. If you use materials that are potentially hazardous, be responsible in the way you use them, and dispose of any remaining material. If safer alternatives exist that are equally effective, explore those. But don't react to every scare story you are told. And if you hear someone spreading fear that is inappropriate, do your best to educate them. In the age of the internet, misinformation can spread just as rapidly as information.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fear and Hysteria in the Studio

Nearly every time I do a show, I have someone come up to me and ask me if I know about how dangerous polymer clay is. What is interesting about these encounters is that there is very little fact presented, just fear, and a sense that if I do not take what they are saying seriously, I am being irresponsible. When I mention any studies that have been done to look at the potential risks of working with polymer clay, and show that there is little to no risk, they are dismissed out of hand.

I am going to put on my scientist hat today. In addition to having an MBA, I have a degree in chemistry. I never worked in a lab after graduation, nonetheless, I learned enough about the scientific process to be able to understand the difference between hype and fact. Lately there has been a campaign by several environmental groups, whom I might otherwise support, to ban certain substances, among them, phthalates.

Phthalates are found in polymer clay, in addition to many plastics. They make polymer clay pliable until it is cured. They can be used in plastics to make the end product softer or more flexible. The rationale for banning these chemicals is that they are possibly linked to cancer and endocrine disruptions. This was based upon studies done by injecting large quantities of phthalates just below the skin of a rodent, or having the rodent consume the phthalates directly. The fear was that children chewing on pacifiers, bottle nipples, or some toys might ingest enough phthalates to risk serious health problems. There is nothing that will generate more fear and panic than to suggest that something that an infant is putting in their mouth might cause cancer later in their life.

What about the reality? In order for the children to consume an equivalent amount of phthalates as the rodents were exposed to, all of the phthalates would have to leach out of the product….not probable. And, they would have to chew on the toy or other item for at least 12 hours, continuously, each day. Add to this the fact that the results achieved with mice and rats have never been observed in higher level mammals on a repeatable or reliable basis. These include guinea pigs, and rabbits. And there is no reliable evidence of these outcomes with humans.

All we have is fear, built on possible, not probable outcomes.

The European Union (EU) has banned phthalates. Now the same groups are working to extend the ban to the U.S. A big part of the rationale, …..these products are banned in Europe. If it is banned in Europe it must be bad. Right? We don’t need to look at the science. We just need to know that someone else said it might be dangerous. As Bill Durodie, of Cranfield University in the U.K., aptly explains in a paper from April 2007, titled “Why Did the European Union Ban Phthalates?”, it was more about the potential risk rather than the real risk.

“ research commissioned by the European Union’s own executive branch, the European Commission, had already concluded that the chance of a child exceeding the recommended limits through exposure to such products was ‘so rare that the statistical likelihood cannot be estimated.’

Given those results, why would the ban be implemented? This was a few short years after the BSE or Mad Cow disease scare spread through Europe. The Commission was perhaps feeling more reactive as a result. Better to eliminate a potential health crisis than to face criticism for not acting. This type of behavior, acting on fear rather than fact, is the same type of behavior that has lead to major foreign policy blunders by this country in the last several years.

We are in an environment where our politicians are more likely to be swayed by public fears than by fact. And the media is more likely to be swayed by these fears as well. I have seen blogs , heard radio shows , and too much more that tells me the risk of these products being banned is greater than the real risk the products pose. Again, I go back to the paper by Durodie, from April of 2007.

“….manufacturers, retailers and local authorities were already
withdrawing such items from sale while admitting, in one significant case at least, that this was largely ‘a marketing decision’.

According to the European Commission’s own rules, application of
the precautionary principle should be ‘proportional’, ‘consistent’ and
‘subject to review’. Yet despite the considerable information and evidence that has emerged since the introduction of the ban, suggesting that most of the initial assumptions were flawed, the restrictions remain in place. This is, in part, because the drive to err towards the side of caution encourages officials to continuously defer to previously obtained worst-case estimates and scenarios,
irrespective of any evidence gathered since.”

Reactionary behavior, either by the right or the left politically, can have consequences we do not foresee. When Greenpeace campaigns to eliminate PVCs, and no one questions fully the rationale, are we better off? We may be afraid of chemistry because we don’t understand it. But ignorance and fear do not lead to good decisions. Our shower curtains are not going to give us cancer, or destroy our reproductive capacity.

The same gallery owner who suggests that it would be good to avoid purchasing a polymer clay necklace because of the risks that phthalates pose, carries jewelry made with resin, enamel, and other "toxic" materials in her gallery. When the customer buys any of these finished products, they are chemically stable and safe, just as a polymer clay necklace would be. But the artists are exposed to potential toxins in the creation of the work. Used intelligently, the risks are manageable with all these materials. There is no real risk to the consumer with any of them. If we want to eliminate risks, let’s do it judiciously, and with consideration of the facts.

It is not easy to stand up in favor of chemicals, especially ones that can hardly be pronounced. Yet, it is not the chemical per se I am standing up for. Rather, it is the idea that we need to look at facts, and not let our emotions overtake our judgement. It is easy to look at chemicals as bad, Greenpeace as good. But the reality is far less black and white, and far less simplistic. There was a time in our countries history when all someone had to do was accuse someone of being a part of the Communist party, and their life was destroyed. Facts were less important than innuendo.

This is about as political as I plan to be in this blog. It is actually more political than I intend. But it is important to me that this freight train of emotional reaction is slowed down. I am likely to get run over by the train, or at least drowned out. But at least I didn’t just sit by and watch it happen. Not many voices are out there trying to say "wait a minute, let's look at the facts". Instead, there is a lot of stirring up of fear and emotion.

Please, before you take a stand on an issue, any issue, inform yourself fully. If someone presents you with a potential problem, do not hesitate to ask questions. Do not take everything you hear or read at face value. Feel free to question my position on this issue as well. Nothing is ever as simple as some people want us to believe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Different Title and Theme??

Business and art are seen by some to be the antithesis of one another. Not just by artists, either. It is hard sometimes for others to recognize us as business people as well as artists. We are passionate about what we do, and what we create. But we may also need, or want, to make a living, just like any other working person. Business and art must intersect if we are to do this for a living. Helping other artists wrap their head around the business side of this equation is something I try to do here.

But my real world also includes kids, a husband and a dog. The kids are a little older now, so it is a bit more manageable,....but sometimes it feels like a three car pile up rather than a your more ordinary collision. The collision of art and business....and life!

Yesterday I was rushing around trying to get three or four orders out the door. I can't make the cranes fast enough right now. One of the orders was sent in by email, so it was easy enough for me to track down and double check quantities, styles, address, etc. No problem. Two others were phoned in. This is where I run into problems. And I know some of you will come up with some helpful solutions like a notebook and pen by the phone, or a white board, or immediately filing the paperwork, and updating my contact and order info when I get these calls. You are absolutely right. I should do those things. I sometimes even try to do those things. But then reality intervenes.

The call comes just after the kids get home from school. They are trying to signal to me, wanting to know if they can have ice cream and potato chips, and I am trying to signal they should go away, I am trying to talk. The signal is of course interpreted to have free rein on anything that is not tied down, or otherwise claimed. Or, Nickelodeon is on the TV in the background and I am trying to signal to them to turn down (or better yet, off!) the TV. I walk away, ...thank goodness for cordless phones....., kids left looking at me like I am losing my mind. Meanwhile, I am trying to take in every word they are telling me, but actually my brain is freaking out trying to remember the name they gave me in those first few seconds of shifting from mom to artrepreneur.

Inevitably there will be a need to write down address, product, dates, etc. But in order to get all this down I would need a piece of paper and something to write with. If anyone goes through my files they will find way too many notes scribbled on the back of my kids homework, a bill, or the comics....whatever I can find in those panicked crayon, or dry erase marker...or again,....whatever I can find! Pens, pencils, normal writing utensils, enter our house on a regular basis. But somewhere, there is a black hole or vacuum. It may be the same one that absorbs socks. I don't know, but normal writing tools vaporize. Yet I manage, or at least I like to pretend I manage, to sound somewhat coherent, and copy down the information, do a bit of a plug for another product they might want to try, or a style that might work for them, and hang up the phone.

This is when I should do that filing, organizing, etc. But first, I have to pull my kid's head out of the potato chip bag, or turn off the television, and get them focused on doing some homework. If I am lucky, I will at least enter the quantities, and business name for the order onto the computer so I don't lose track of it. Then it is off to take the kids somewhere, or pick them up. No time to file that piece of paper away for easy retrieval. Goes into the "Later" pile.

The piece of paper with all that valuable information now may make a journey throughout the house. How else can I play scavenger hunt when it comes time to ship the order? I will remember seeing it on the dining room table. Nope. Maybe it was in my studio. Nope. Maybe it is still on the ottoman in the living room. Nope. Okay. Panic is beginning to set in. The order needs to go out, and it is now approaching noon. I have two hours to finish packing the order, print the invoice, and get it to the post office. Should be easy. Doesn't feel very easy right now. One more time around the cycle. Dining room. Studio. Living room. Looking paper by paper. Finally cleaning up the area as I go. Must be upstairs in the office. Four piles of paper sit on the desk waiting for filing, sorting, or entry. I am vowing to get organized.

Find it! No time to celebrate. Call in credit card. Print out invoice. Finish packing the box. Oh wait. They wanted a bio. Back upstairs to print it out. Ooops. Laptop now downstairs. Go get the laptop, and bring it upstairs to the printer, and print out a bio. Daughter number one will be home in half an hour. Write a note. Should be home before daughter number two. Rush to the post office, zip over to Staples for ink cartridges, and to send a fax, and it is back home to juggle.

It is crazy. But it is also wonderful. I have never worked under such challenging circumstances, but I am also lucky to be able to work at home. My older daughter has agreed to work a few hours a week for me, on a trial basis. My other daughter wants a piece of the action as well. They get to make a few dollars, I get some help, all the while getting to be there with my kids. They get to see what is involved in running a business. They are as excited as I am when good news comes. They have been living the business with me, my (not so) silent partners.

When I am racing around the house looking for that pink piece of paper that I swear I used to write down that order, I am questioning my sanity. But once the order is shipped, and I go home, and bounce between working and parenting, I know it is working as best as it can, for now. They will grow up, move out and move on. But they will carry with them a little bit of what they learned. I may be able to find pencil and paper more easily then. But, I may miss flipping over the order I just wrote down to see that it was the rough draft of someone's essay. Just because it is hard, doesn't mean it isn't worth it.