Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Experts and Expertise

Expert and expertise. Common words, but....how do we use them or react to them? Let's start with Dictionary.com definitions:

Expert: noun
1. a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular
field; specialist; authority: a language expert.

3. possessing special skill or knowledge; trained by practice; skillful or skilled (often fol. by in or at): an expert driver; to be expert at driving a car.

Expertise: –noun
1. expert skill or knowledge; expertness; know-how: business expertise.
2. a written opinion by an expert, as concerning the authenticity or value of a work of art, manuscript, etc.

Those definitions seem clear enough. But, as with many words, there can be an understory. Some excess baggage. Who decides who the experts are? If you have expertise, are you an expert? And if you are an "expert" are you finished, complete?

There are experts who have had lots of experience or knowledge. They have been recognized by many as an expert in their field. But, again, what does this mean? Does it mean they have learned all there is to know? That all they can do is convey their wisdom to others? That their learning phase is over? There are people who seem to act as if this is true. These are the experts who are the most dangerous, to themselves and to others.

The danger comes from two sources. First, a lack of humility. And secondly, the danger of standing still while the world keeps moving forward. Humility is essential. No matter how much success we acheive, or accolades we receive, if we don't maintain enough humility, we will be closed off from further growth.

I once had a boss who would joke about "atta girl's" and "aw sh$@'s." According to his math, one "aw sh$@" would wipe out ten "atta girl's". And "what have you done lately" is just as important, if not more so, than how many "atta girl's" you have racked up in the past. This is part of how humility gets acted out in life. We enjoy the "atta girl" when it happens, but we also recognize it is ultimately fleeting. We will make mistakes. And those mistakes will cost us to some degree. But it is essential that we keep moving forward, and performing. Doing the best we can. "Atta girl's" have expiration dates.

The label of expert can become synonymous with perfect. But perfect is static. We need to continuing to work to improve, even if we are considered an expert. Because we will never know enough about anything. We will always have room to grow and learn. Discoveries will happen outside our little world. The number of nuances and details are infinite. And by learning, we are open to the expertise of others. We can recognize that others can help us grow and deepen our knowledge. Wearing the mantle of expert can close us off to others.

By admitting we can still learn and grow, we are stronger than if we feel we have reached the pinnacle, having scaled Mt. Expert. Pinnacles have only one way to go....down. I think I would prefer to be continuing to work towards deepening and expanding my knowledge and experience. Let's celebrate and share our mutual expertise. And I for one, tend to be wary around anyone proclaiming to be an expert.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Voting with Dollars

So, the purse fairy gives you $500 or $1000, or even $5000. Any purse your heart desires, is yours to own.

From the time we start carrying a purse, they can become appendages. You don't leave home without it. A purse can also be a way of expressing who you are and what you are about.

Huge sums of money are spent on these bags to carry our keys, our money, our cellphones, odd bits of paper, and on and on. Some aspire to own the same purse sported by the celebrity on the go. Knockoffs of purses abound. There are blogs about purses. No surprise really. The Purse Blog. The slogan..."Shallow Obsessing Strongly Encouraged." Seriously. Check it out. Or how about The Purse Snob. Pictures of celebrities out and about, sporting bags by Louis, Kate, Jimmy, Marc,... In case you do not know who the "it" designers are, they have a list, with the links. For me, there was just nothing that got me excited. Nothing I had to have.

On the other hand, if I could own one of Kathleen Dustin's purses, it would make my heart skip a beat. Or one of the amazing beaded purses by Sherry Serafini. I would be tickled to carry one of these fun Flashbags for everyday. As I browse the internet I see touchable shibori bags by Range of Emotions, or these cool metal mesh purses by Bo's Art.

Here is my concern. If what most people aspire to own is mass produced, but has a corporate created sense of exclusivity, does that diminish the really exclusive and wonderful creations out there? Whether it is handbags, fashion, or a beautiful vase. How as artists, can we overcome the name game? How can we create the same interest in our work that the production items have?

One thing we can do is act from our beliefs. Vote with your dollars. Scrimp and save a bit to buy the piece of jewelry, the handbag, the platter, the simple, but exquisite mug that was made by hand and with attention and care by the artist. When you drink a cup of tea or coffee out of that mug you will feel special. When you continually get stopped as people want to know where you got that great bag, or pendant, you will know you were not the only one who sees the beauty in your purchase. You will also know that it is about more than how much something costs, or having other people know you own an "it" bag.

By voting with our dollars, as much, or as little as we are able, we make a choice to support beauty and art in the world. And that has to be contagious. It sets an example for those around us. Don't leave the trendsetting to the celebrities. Most high fashion begins on the street. With people who have their own innate style. They don't follow the magazines, or want to own something because they want to say they know what is "in". They look inside themselves for inspiration.

Sadly, there is no purse fairy. But our dollars do count. Vote wisely.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Can you think of a more cringe-worthy emotion than shame? For some, the very idea of shame is enough to make the stomach tighten up in a knot. And yet, there can be a touch of admiration in the proclamation that someone is "shameless". It is not the behaviour that brings the admiration, as much as it the bravery that it implies. The courage to act with passion and truth. The courage to fully commit to what you are doing.

Tonight I went to a concert put on by kids from 10 to 15 years old. These kids formed into rock bands over the last week. They came up with names for their bands, designed a logo, composed a song, and performed it in front of a large crowd of family and friends tonight. They ranged from those who were learning their instruments, to those who were already part of a band playing gigs.

In a few of these bands, the kids threw themselves into the performance. I couldn't say I always liked the music they were performing, but I admired the sheer passion with which they perfomed. They were enjoying making music, and it showed. The passion was something of a contagion. You couldn't help but smile and feel some of the joy they were clearly having.

It made me realize that that fearlessness is a real asset when you are trying to do something creative. The very nature of creativity means going someplace that is uncertain, with uncertain outcomes. But when you commit to the adventure, even a disaster can teach more than a cautious approach. Hesitation an mean you are more worried about the audience and the response, than the the process and what you are trying to discover or say. Fear of being shamed is the kiss of death to creativity.

I noticed that the younger kids seemed to be less inhibited than those in that 12 to 14 year old age range. The shame bug had not bitten them yet. They were having fun, and it was fun to watch them. At some point, there seems to be a shift in a lot of the kids. They reach that age when they seem to develop a third eye....and eye that is observing them as they go through the motions. Evaluating whether or not they will be met with approval. And worried that they don't. Worry is not fun to watch. It deadens. It flattens. It mutes any excitement or passion. And who wants to watch muted passion.

A few kids seemed to have a passion that would not let the fear of shame surface. It was too strong. They connected with the music they were playing, and they reveled in the experience.

This all made me think about when I am talking to someone about my work, and the passion takes over. I am on a ride, and my excitement is bubbling over. And the energy seems to be contagious. These moments are not planned or conscious. They just happen. They have led to an order for work that had not even been seen, in this very visual business. They remind me of how much that passion matters.

So, my question for you, do you hold back in your work, or sharing your work because of the fear of shame? Are you watching and judging your actions while you are trying to create? Do you think you can let go, and just throw caution to the wind? Let that passionate artist emerge? This is where the real rewards in life are. Living your life with such honesty and commitment that the fear evaporates. Knowing that no matter what the response is to what you create, you were there. You showed up and gave it your best effort. And that is what really matters.

You know what they say....Be there, or be square!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A New Fold

The origami cranes from polymer clay have been a decided hit, both in sales, awards. It took me nearly three years to commit to them as a part of my product line. Last year I made the commitment, came up with suitable packaging, an insert, and started promoting them. It was the best business decision I ever made,...even if I had to be dragged to that decision!

My resistance came from several places. In part they were different than the rest of my work. Part of me looked at it as a party trick of sorts, and not a lot more. I would sell them at the holidays, but without packaging or information. I was afraid it would take over my life. I would do nothing but fold cranes. And last fall that was largely true. But supply and demand eventually come into play. I raised the price, and things have reached a more manageable level.

At several shows, I have had conversations about the cranes with origami afficianados. They have belonged to Origami USA, a national organization to promote origami. The organization helps to promote exhibits such as the one currently on display at the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, MA. At the Guilford show, I had such a conversation. And this time I went and signed up to become a member of the organization. Poking around on the website led me to play around with a few new designs, first on paper, and then in clay. The one I love is the 8 Point Star. I modified the folds of the design by Michael Shall to fold it from polymer clay. And here is the result....
I think I will be seeing stars in my future......
Michael Shall, by the way, worked as an assistant to Alice Gray at the Museum of Natural History in New York. She was the first to decorate a 25 foot tree at the museum with origami ornaments. She had to enlist the help of other museum workers, scout troops, and members of Origami USA to complete the task, but it has become an annual tradition now. Mr. Shall spread the tradition to the New York offices of Japan Air Lines, and eventually to Britian as well. He helped with the decoration of a 45 foot tree in Eindhoven at a shopping center in 1993. Origami Christmas trees have spread worldwide, and are the best advertisement for paperfolding. Michael Shall died in 1995 at the very young age of 45. But his contributions to building the tradition of the origami Christmas tree will live on.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Permission Slip

Why is it that people with tons of talent do not always reach the success they seem to deserve? On the other hand, some artists who are not quite so amazing, still manage to reach a certain degree of visibility and success. Why is that?

Most of us are not amazingly talented. We try to make the best of whatever gifts we have been given. But, if we do not pay attention to the work involved in getting our work out into the world, then our gifts, no matter how modest, will remain obscure. I am sure you have already figured out that it is not all about talent and ability. The cream does not always rise to the top. Why not? And if the very talented people do not necessarily succeed, what chances do we have??

The world is not static. It is moving at light speed these days. Cream can only reliably rise to the top if everything is very still. We have information coming at us from all different directions today. We can not possibly absorb all that comes our way.

So if you sit quietly, and wait for someone to notice you and your gifts, sad to say, it probably will not happen. No matter how wonderful and talented you are. You have to risk the bumps and bruises and get out there. You have to take chances. You have to stand up and get moving.

I think we sometimes are waiting for permission. Someone to tap us with their wand and say, "Okay, you are ready." Today you are ready to apply to that show you always wanted to be in. Today you are ready to take your work into that gallery that you adore. Today you are ready to run an ad for your work. Today you are ready to enter that contest. By waiting for that day to come we are also waiting for the guarantee of success.

Sorry. It ain't gonna happen. Ask any artist whose work you admire, who has a list of accomplishments you envy. Ask them how many times they have been rejected, turned down, or otherwise dismissed. The list will be longer than the list of enviable accomplishments. The list is probably continuing to grow. The rejections. The mistakes made. The bad shows. It happens to the most wonderful and amazingly talented, and successful, artists out there.

The difference is that the successful ones shrug their shoulders, maybe whine a bit, and then move on. They find the next target and start working towards it. They accept the road is bumpy. But they would rather be on the road, making the journey, than sitting on the side.

So where are you? Are you firmly planted on the side of the road? Are you looking from the side, planning to jump in? Or are you in the mix? Bumped and bruised, but recognizing this is how you learn and grow. This is how your work gets seen by more people. This is how you make connections and contacts that may help you out along the way. If you are willing to take the chance, and get out onto the road, you will go places and see things you never would have been able to before.

If you are holding back because of fear, it is time to let go and be willing to make a mistake or two. Mistakes happen. All you can do is try. There really are no fatal blunders in this game. No mistakes that cannot be corrected with some work. But there are many lessons that can only be learned by doing. Making the attempt.

So consider your permission slip signed. You can leave the classroom and go on a field trip of sorts. Set a target, and take a shot. Give it a try. I am not guaranteeing success or fame or fortune. But I can guarantee, by sitting quietly and waiting for someone to find you and your work, you will be disappointed. Being discovered is a story for the movies. This is real life we are living. It takes hard work and determination. What is your target set on?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wasting Time....Having Fun :-)

Technically it is wasting time. But in reality, it has been fun. And how many times have I said you have to play to feed those creative muses. I have been working way, way too hard lately, and it was time to play. Do something I didn't have to do, but wanted to do.

Cool, huh??

What is it? It is over 700 3/4" squares of polymer clay cut out of bits and pieces of leftover sheets of clay, from making cranes. I have been collecting them as I make cranes. Cutting them out, and putting them in a bowl. At one point I sorted them. Putting them in zip lock bags. Seperated by the intensity of the color. From dark, to very light. About six gradiations of intensity.

Yesterday I picked up a canvas boards, and started playing. The inspiration came from a post on Susan Lumoto's Polymer Clay Notes. It was about doing photo mosaics. I was intrigued by the idea of using polymer clay squares to create an image. And, years ago I had picked up a book on Watercolor Quilts. The end result, was this piece. I still need to glue all those squares in place. And some more tweaking of some of the pieces will happen. But, I just had to share. Hope you like it, and perhaps get inspired to do one of your own.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How and When to Share??

How much information should you share about your process? Should you share anything about it at all? What are the potential risks? And are their times and places when you can and should avoid answering the how-to questions? I am not sure exactly who I am addressing these thoughts to...artists, or people who want to learn about an artist's process. A post today by Libby Mills touched on this issue, and as I was thinking about the response it has generated I found myself writing....

1. Be aware. It can be frustrating to an artist when someone comes into their booth at a show and asks question after question about the process and technique.....ignoring the fact that potential customers are coming....and perhaps going.....while this conversation is happening. It is expensive to do a show. And most artists will happily talk to any and all visitors about their work and their process. But there is a flow to the sales process. And time spent going into the minutea of a technique is time not spent selling. Meanwhile the person who has buttonholed your attention has no intention of purchasing a thing. There is plenty of downtime at a show, when traffic is slow when time could be more easily spent talking shop and answering questions.

2. It is never as easy as it seems. I have shared many details about how I create my cranes over the years. Even with this information, most people find out it is easier to describe than it is to do. I had one of those people visit my booth at the Guilford show last week. Last year I had explained the process to them. They were grateful that I shared so much information with them. But this year, they were buying a crane. They had tried to make one themselves.....and found out that there is more to it than it seemed at first. Ihave folded somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 cranes now. There is a lot learned in that number. But the first cranes required persistence, belief and desire. Without that, I never would have made it to the current neighborhood.

3. Purchasing is like voting. When you buy another artists work you are in a sense voting for them. Saying I want you to be able to pursue your dream. I like what you do, and I want you to continue to do it. This is true for music, art or books or any other creative endeavor. Sadly, we live in a society that seems to encourage the attempts to avoid paying the creator for their creations. Whether it is music that is shared without the artist getting paid. Or books that are put on websites for people to read without purchasing. Or people copying another artist's designs rather than buying the original. It seems like we think because creative people enjoy their work, that may well be compensation enough. Doing work that you love is rewarding. But there are still bills to be paid. And when you are doing it as a business, a surprisingly large amount of time is spent in the mundane of running a business.

4. If you love to share what you have learned, teach classes. Get paid for sharing some of what you know. Your time and knowledge are worth something. But be aware that once you teach a technique, you will see yourself in many variations in many places. You need to have peace with that, or you should not teach. And if you want to learn more about a technique or process....take a class! Pay to learn that information. Support the creative journey of the artist.

Bottom line. It is fine to ask questions. But don't feel offended if an artist sets limits. And artists, don't be afraid to say no, or not now, not in this setting. The balance between being someone who is generous and sharing, and recognizing that you are in business is a delicate one. Sometimes knowledge is your company's primary asset. It is fine to be protective.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Choosing Which Path

Once upon a time, I would want to make something. But what? I might visit a craft show and absolutely marvel at the creativity I saw. How did these people do this? How did they come up with all these incredible ideas. Why couldn't I get a great idea for something to make? I wasn't creative enough. I could make things, but I had to follow instructions or a kit.

Back then, creativity was sort of like magic. You had the powers, or you didn't. Maybe going to art school helped, but then again I knew plenty of art school graduates working in very ordinary jobs. These people who I saw creating these things I could never conjure up were clearly different than me.

Now that very idea seems crazy to me. I honestly believe we all have a creative voice. The question is, are we giving it any air time, and are we taking it seriously? Our creative voice is like a child's voice. If you tell it to be quiet and just listen to the adult who knows what they are doing it will do just that. It will go sit quietly in the corner, and learn not to speak up for fear of being corrected.

Creative blocks are all about no. About not being good "enough". But just who is defining what is enough, anyway? It is about what is not working. On the other hand, unleashing creativity seems to involve saying yes. Being willing to accept the mistakes and less than successful ideas. It is recognizing that sometimes it is all about throwing enough stuff up there to see what might stick.

Creativity is a life force that each of us possesses. It does not have to apply to art or craft, or music or theatre. It is simply asking the question "what if?" It is when you see something and your brain stops in it's tracks a moment and says, "Huh." It is that pause that makes us rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it. The nudge may come internally. It may come from some little thing that suddenly draws our attention in a new way. It may be a simple question or observation from someone else about what we are doing.

When these moments come there are two possibilities. It is the proverbial fork in the road. The one less traveled, or the tried and true. Do you explore with the uncertainty of whether there is a payoff, or do you go down the same path, no matter how unsatisfying, or unfulfilling it might be, simply because you know the way? Creativity is exploring that unknown. It may end up a complete bust. Time wasted. Or so you think. But to feed the creative wellspring it is important to not be judgemental about the wasted time, materials or whatever else. Judgement is what shuts the door to creativity. As soon as you hear yourself saying, "What was I thinking?" or "I should have known better." you have shut the door.

To feed the creative spirit, you need to let go of the worry about the waste. The exploration is never a waste. Each time you wander down the new path something is learned. Each time you explore you are opening the door to the creative voice. Building its confidence and assurance.

Creativity is hands on. It is not accomplished by sitting and pondering. Waiting for the genius idea to strike. Working each day, my hands and brain have come to know the clay. I find surprises on a regular basis. Color combinations that knock my socks off. Or some little way of manipulating the clay. Each of those discoveries happens by spending time in my studio. And each can send me exploring the possibilities for hours, if not days.

A question from someone at a show, and I find myself still trying to find the answer that will satisfy three days later. The ultimate answer. In the chair, clay in hand. New possibilities literally unfolding.

There are risks. I can't follow instructions for a project anymore. I can't seem to get very far before I am asking, "what if..." You may find yourself as I am now. Buried deep in "too many" ideas. Not enough hours in the day, or days in the week. I don't know about you, but I am willing to live with these outcomes. I am willing to let that persistent voice be heard. It still doesn't speak with a megaphone. I need to be quiet enough to pay attention. Away from the distractions of computers, cell phones, televisions, radios, etc. Just me that creative voice. Persistent. Asking questions. Scary, I know. But look at all the people lining up for the scary rides at amusement parks. Being a bit scared can be a good thing.

The next time you are at the fork, see if you can let yourself explore the new path. Nothing truly bad will happen. And something wonderful just might.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Golden Ticket

If you ever read the book or saw the movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you know what the Golden Ticket is all about. It is a golden opportunity. A chance to do something exceptional. The National Polymer Clay Guild will be issuing three golden tickets of a sort. An opportunity for three polymer clay artists who are members of the national guild to attend the ACRE wholesale crafts show in Las Vegas next spring and sell their work to galleries and shops from the United States and Canada. You can see the announcement on the national website.

Why would a national guild do this? Part of the reason arose from the experience of the national guild president, Judy Belcher. Judy was able to attend the show this past year along with her state artist guild, The Tamarack Foundation. She saw what a step up this opportunity gave her and her business, and she wanted to see the the National Polymer Clay Guild offer the same opportunity for its members.

Wholesalecrafts.com, who puts on the ACRE show, has supported the idea of non-profit arts groups gaining exposure for their organization, and the work of their members. It would be possible to use the booth space as just a showcase of polymer clay work from a range of artists.

The board of the National Polymer Clay Guild decided that having three artists there who could sell their work would do more to gain exposure for the work of polymer clay than a simple exhibit.

So how will the lucky three artists be selected? A jury of three, from outside the polymer clay community, will be selecting the artists who will be handed a golden ticket. The jury includes artists and a gallery manager. The work will be judged on craftsmanship, design, and saleability. The artists who apply must be residents of the United States or Canada, and members of the National guild. They must have some experience selling their work to shops and/or galleries. But they cannot have attended a major wholesale show in the past. This is for someone who is taking a leap forward in the growth of their business. Someone who is ready to take on new wholesale business.

Once the artists are selected, mentors will be available to help them with the preparation for the show. We want these artists to succeed. Their success will be a positive reflection on polymer clay as a craft medium.

So, do you qualify? Will you take this opportunity to increase the exposure of your business to the wholesale market? Are you ready to have your work represent the National Guild? The applications will be available on-line. In the meantime, you will need at least five jury quality images of the type of work you would have at the show.

Why am I announcing this here? Because I have agreed to help make this program happen, with the help of several other members of the National guild. I want to see other artists get an opportunity to move forward with their businesses. To move a step forward as an artrepreneur. I will be there at ACRE 2008. Will you?

Monday, July 16, 2007

So Many Lessons...

In my last post I had a list of things I was going to try to notice or play with at the Guilford show, and see what happened. And then I left you hanging! It has taken me a few days to recover from the show, and to get back in the groove again. But now it is time to report....

1. Mixing it up was a good idea. I had initially set up with my vessels in the front of the booth, and the jewelry on the back table. Cranes were in between. The displays were nice enough, but there was the risk that people may have been missing the jewelry all together as they wandered past my booth. So on Friday morning I shifted things around. I organized by color, and displayed jewelry and vessels together.

I don't know if it had anything to do with the change directly, but my sales the last two days were better than the first. The vessels got people to stop and look at my work. But the jewelry was what they were more likely to buy. Making sure that they saw some of the jewelry up front made it more likely they would come into the booth to see what else I had. And I think the mixed up displays were visually more interesting.

2. Wear your work, if you can. I had a few artists stop by my booth one morning because they saw my earrings and where curious to see more of my work. I sold two necklaces right off my daughter's neck! It is one thing to see the work displayed in a case, on a table, or a bust. It is another to see what it is like on a person. Be a walking advertisement for your work, if possible.

3. If someone seems to be interested in your work, be sure to share something about your work that may not be obvious but will often be critical to people buying the work. We have been trained from the time we were little to not touch. In general this is probably a good idea, but we often need to touch things before we will buy them. And there are somethings we cannot know just from looking.

Half my sales this weekend were with the new work. I think in part it was because when someone was seriously looking at the work I would hand them a pair of the earrings to hold. I wanted them to know how lightweight they were. You could see the surprise on their face. Any concerns about a piece being too big.....thus too heavy, were eliminated. Now they were deciding what to try on.

When people were looking at the cranes I might mention how I had some cranes packaged two together, and how this was because the cranes were a symbol of fidelity. I would add what great gifts they made for anniversaries, showers, etc. That the single cranes were terrific teacher or hostess gifts. You could often see the gears begin to turn as they mentally reviewed who they might need to buy such a gift, and they began moving boxes looking for just the right crane.

4. The other thing that has helped sales of the cranes is packaging. The clear cube boxes offer a terrific presentation of the crane, and they also allow them to be easily wrapped. The insert which tells about the symbolism of the cranes means that the giver can be assured that the recipient knows the story behind the crane. This is often part of the reason a purchase is made. Make it easy for the buyer. Easier to decide. Easier to give as a gift. Easier to explain.

5. What color someone is wearing is a good clue. It doesn't always apply, but nearly always. Even with the vessels, the color they were drawn to was often complimentary to the one they were wearing. This is also why I like to group my work by color. Making a transistion from one color to the next. I mix it up a bit, but in general it makes it easier for people to find the work that would most appeal to them when it is group by color.

6. Be flexible. Be willing to take the extra little step to help someone out to make the sale. I had someone try on several pieces of jewelry, and then purchase a pendant and a pair of earrings. The pod on the pendant was sewn together with red seed beads. On the earrings, they were coppery. She wanted the red beads for the earrings as well. Not a problem. I assured her I could make her a pair with the red beads, and ship those out to her. She wanted them in time for her son's wedding in two weeks. No problem. They would move to the top of the list. Today I made up those pods, and tomorrow I will create the hoops, and get them packaged and mailed. In the meantime, the original pair of earrings sold to a later customer at the show. By offering to make the new pair for the first customer, I was able to sell the pair on display to someone else.

Similarly, I made a new crane to go with one from a pair at the show. And I will convert them to hanging cranes. A necklace will be shortened for someone else. Small things that make the purchaser feel more satisfied with their purchase, and more willing to recommend your work to someone else. Know that you can say no, and sometimes it is the right thing to do. But be willing to make those little accomodations to help complete the sale.

All in all, it was a great show. My sales increased significantly from last year, when I could not have my jewelry there. My daughter had a great time. I met some terrific artists. And I learned a lot. The market continues to be tough. But there are plenty of opportunities to refine your work, and your sales process. There are few laboratories better than a show to work on those things. And maybe, just maybe, going into the show with goals beyond sales will create more opportunities for success.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Show Thoughts

Some random thoughts from the booth:

1. When people are buying jewelry, they will often buy something that goes with what they are wearing. This may be because it is what looks best when they try it on and look in the mirror. It may be a clue about what colors they like. It may be a reflection of the mood they were in that day and the colors they were drawn to. Who knows? I just know that I have seen myself reacting when someone puts something on and it goes perfectly with what they are wearing. It happened at least three times yesterday. I finally took note of this phenomenon yesterday.

2. Stories matter. If people are interested in your work...they linger. They ask questions,...it is a sign that they want to know more. What can you share about your inspiration. What can you tell them about the process....not technical so much as perhaps your creative journey with a design or a piece. It helps people develop an added connection with the work beyond the superficial. This is part of why people by craft from the artist. What are your stories?

3. Size matters. When it comes to jewelry purchases size matters. If you can have a variety of scale and proportions in your designs it will help your sales. A petite woman will seldom be able to wear the very large piece. A scaled down version may have the same impact on her. And visa versa. A teeny piece on a large woman just does not work as well as a larger, bolder design. See if you can present a range of sizes, and still be true to your design sensibilities.....your creative challenge for today! You do not need to stray from your voice and vision. But be aware. One size fits all did not work with panty hose. It won't work with jewelry either.

4. When someone is wearing all gold and gemstone jewelry they are not a good candidate for my work....plastic! Heavens no! LOL! Seriously, if I do not see color in the jewelry they are wearing, they will probably not have much interest in my work.

5. Clay is not always ceramic. The world still does not know much about polymer clay. I had someone tell me my vessels were not clay. They were not heavy enough. They were quite adamant about this. Of course, once I explained more about what polymer clay was, and how once it is cured it is the equivalent of PVC, and with the same properties of strength, flexibility and durability it was definitely NOT something they were interested in. At other shows I have had people absolutely certain my vessels were gourds, or decopage or porcelain. Or that my cranes were made of fabric or leather. Or the designs on the cranes were painted on. For someone who has to be right from the start, learning it is something else may create a shift they cannot accept.

On the other hand, some people love that they are surprised by what media I am using. They are intriqued and want to learn more about it. These are the people I will spend my time talking with. They are interested and interesting. They are open to the world and to learning more. The others will probably feel unsettled in my world and should probably visit a different booth.

6. You never know what tidbits you will learn in the conversations with others. A visitor to my booth yesterday told me of an artist I had never heard of. My work reminded her of his paintings. Here is a Google image link to his work; Hundertwasser. I will definitely be spending some time looking at these images when I get back home.

7. People remember you, and are thrilled if you remember them. They will often give you a hint of the connection. If you are able to pull up any information about that previous encounter from your memory, they will likely feel even more connected to you and your work. Someone who stopped by yesterday had mentioned purchasing a pepper from me last year. I was able to remember which one it was, and describe it a bit. She was thrilled. She stayed longer. Brought her son over to see my work. Mentioned how she has been hinting to family members about getting another piece. I was happy to hear that she was enjoying my work so much, and she was happy to know that I remembered her purchase.

You don't need to remember every detail, but if the recognition is there on some level, don't be afraid to mention it if it seems appropriate.

Plans for today: Today I am going to rearrange my booth a bit. Play around with where the vessels and jewelry are placed.....maybe mix them up instead of seperating them. I am also going to see if I can notice more around that first observation of color. Does this carry over into the purchase of a vessel or crane? Perhaps I will recommend a piece for someone more readily now having seen this phenomenon play out again and again.

The booth is a laboratory for observation as much as a place to transact business. I don't get to see these things play out in person when I am in my studio and my work is in a gallery. And the hours at a show can be long. What I learn can help me in the studio. It can help me when I sell my work to a gallery. Become an observer of the process as much as a part of it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I would like to say I am always organized and plan ahead. But that would not be fully honest. I would like to say that the day before a show I am just finishing packing, and don't have any last minute tasks to do. I wish that the morning I need to leave for a show I didn't have a long list of things I still need to do. But that just isn't the way it works around here. I am afraid I live in Procrasti-Nation.
Yesterday was spent trying to finish as many earrings as I could. And drilling and stringing up cranes. Boxing and pricing cranes. Taking a few pictures. It was close to midnight when I went to bed, and I still did not price much of the new jewelry.
I wish I could say that I would learn from these experiences. But if history is any lesson, it is that I will continue to have this need to be in my studio right up till the very last minute. I think it is a need to feel like I have the best possible collection of work with me. As if those last minute pieces are going to make or break the show. Maybe eventually I will tire of the drama that this inflicts on my life, but so far it seems to be a fairly consistent pattern.
What saves me, is that my show things stay packed up and are basically ready to go at any time. I do not unpack the essentials,....duct tape, pens, cable ties, etc. If anything is running low, I restock after a show is over. I have at least one spare light bulb in my plastic container with my lights, power strips and extension cord. When I unload my van after a show, things go away in the same place each time. The first few shows took more focusing on accumulating and organizing all these materials. But now, I can be focused on finishing up work without adding to my stress.
Today was a long day. Packing, loading, driving, unloading and setting up. But I have had my daughter with me, and her upbeat and resilient mood has helped reduce any stress during the day. And her help made the set-up go a bit faster and easier. It also has been nice to have company tonight in the hotel and at dinner.
The new jewelry is still unpriced. But the show doesn't open till noon. Tomorrow is another day. This one has been long enough, and a good night sleep is the best thing the night before a show.
The weather forecast looks good. The heat and humidity should break. If you make it to the show, you can find me in booth K-5. Be sure to say "hi"!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Much Control Do You Need?

An important ingredient of any artrepreneur's business plan is promotion. If you don't get the word out in some way about what you are doing, you reduce your chance of success. How can someone buy that amazing creation of your's, or sign up for your classes, if they don't even know you exist, let alone know about your work??
There are a few basic ways to go about this. One is advertising, another is publicity. The third is creating buzz....the internet is the main hive for buzz these days.....blogs, forums, etc. The differences between the options come down to two main things. Price and control. If you are willing to work a bit, and let go of some of the control, you can get exposure you could not otherwise afford.
This month I have had an abundance of publicity, from a variety of sources. Contests, magazine submission, and articles. Some of it expected, some of it a surprise. I found my inner control freak starting to peek out a bit, before I quickly reminded myself, it was mostly free! Here is a partial run down:
I just received my copy of The Buyer's Guide on Monday, and ...Woohoo!!!....there was a picture of one of my cranes on the cover. It was the same crane that came in third place in the National Polymer Clay Guild Progress and Possibilities 2007 exhibit in the alternative use category. The Buyer's Guide features advertisements from artists who have their work available on Wholesalecrafts.com. It is mailed to artists and galleries across the U.S. and Canada. It is the main place I spend my advertising dollars. I am paying for my ad space, so I can decide which picture I will use, and how big the ad will be. I can't control placement, but this time I had a great spot....centerfold....top, right-hand page. And then the crane on the front. Woohoo!! Thank you Wholesalecrafts!
Last week, the July issue of Mothertown Monthly, a free feature magazine in my area came out. It had a profile of me and my work. A local gallery owner had suggested me for the article to the editor. The first paragraph was one I would love to live up to:
"There are some people who truly love their jobs. Easy to spot, they’re always smiling and eager to talk about their craft. They tackle each new project with a zest that most don’t recognize.
Judy Dunn is one of those people."
As I read further through the article, there were details that were off a bit. But with a start like that, who really cares??? It is the control thing. If you are not writing it, and having final control over every word, then guess what....you have to let it go.
I have never had an article that someone else has written about me or my work, going all the way back to college, that has not had some minor details that I flinch a bit as I read them. In the end, those details really do not matter. They happen with everyone. The only way to make sure that it does not happen is to make sure no one ever writes about you or your work. That is a pretty steep price to pay for control.
Last week I also had a blurb in the Crafts Report Insight section which highlighted polymer clay. (page 67) I was happy that the submission was accepted, and they used the picture and text I sent them.....but I was disappointed by the picture. I was surprised that a magazine focused on such a visual subject matter would have such an itsy bitsy image. It was barely over one inch square. The picture I sent in was more than 1600 by 1400 pixels....not microscopic. Oh well. They spelled my name and contact information correctly. :-) Sometimes that has to be enough! Here is the picture in a larger format....in case you didn't have a magnifying glass....just kidding Crafts Report!

All this publicity I was so fortunate to receive has more to do with taking chances, and submitting work to people, than any talent or success on my part. Doing your best work is important. But getting it out there for others to see matters to your success as well. Whether you want to sell your work, teach classes, write articles....whatever your goals are with your craft, promotion is something that you need to work at, from time to time, if you want to move towards those goals.

If you were brought up like I was, to not draw too much attention to yourself, it is hard to get comfortable with the idea of publicity at first. Just look at it as drawing attention to your work....not you. It is about the business, not about your ego. It is trying to get the advertising you could not otherwise afford, stretching those tight funds.

Accept the so-so publicity, and embrace the "wow!" And be willing to accept that sometimes you get nothing at all from your submissions. It is a bit of a crap shoot. Sometimes you get the perfect storm effect of lots of things happening at once. You cannot control when or if this will happen. The wave will pass, and life will go on as before. But do be sure to save the clippings....they can be used in your press kit!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What If......??

What if I fail? What if I don't sell a single thing? What if people leave my booth snickering and whispering to their friends? What if the gallery owner laughs in my face and asks me why I wasted their time? What if the magazine editor sends back my submission with the comment, what were you thinking??

What if I run out of work? What if I can't keep up with the demand,...I'm only one person!?! What if they accept my proposal, and I have to go and teach that class to all those people I don't know, and what if they don't like me? What if my friends or husband does not like me spending so much time doing my work?

Wow. We sure can create every horrible scenario that could ever possibly happen to us if we take a chance. If we take a single step outside the comfortable zone we already know. Do we really want to dare have all these dreadful things happen? No way, no how. No sirree. I'll stay right here, thank you. I know this terrain. I know my role. I know what to expect. Take a chance, and something terrible might happen.

It might. But more likely it won't. What might happen? You might get into that show you love to visit. You might find your work gets well received, and sells well. The gallery owner might be excited to see some new work, and look forward to the chance to represent your work in their shop. You might just see your name and a picture of your work in a magazine.

Run out of work at a show? Sell every last piece of work you brought with you? First, celebrate. Second, raise your prices....supply and demand. The demand seems to be exceeding supply, so raise the price to temper the demand. Maybe some will now not be able to afford your work. But you don't need to feel badly about that. I can't afford a lot of the work I see at a great show. But I am thrilled to see it, and I hope others can afford it and support the artist's career.

Same scenario if you can't keep up with the demands of galleries and shops. Raise the price. I have raised the price of my cranes three times in the last year. My wholesale price is now what my retail price was a year ago. I sell fewer cranes, but not necessarily less in dollars. And I am not killing myself trying to keep up. I am not getting rich...but I am not working around the clock trying to keep up.

What if you go and teach that class? What if they love you and you get to teach more classes? What if you really love teaching? What if your husband and friends are happy to see you doing work you love, and see that you are happy because of it?

The bad things can and do happen. But not nearly as often, or as dramatically as we might imagine. And guess what, they are not the end of the world when they do happen.

One of the worst things that happens at a show is the catastrophic thinking that goes on among artists on the very first day of the show, maybe halfway through the day. "Where is everyone?" "There is no one here?" "Have you sold anything yet?" The next day, if sales did not meet their first day expectations, it is doom and gloom in the aisles. All I want to say is "Go away, and take your karma with you." You've heard the expression. It ain't over till it's over. The wisdom in the obvious. I have had more not so great days turn around in those last few minutes of the day when some are rushing to leave for the day. Someone comes into my booth in those last few minutes, and the next thing I know I have a great sale. I did not show impatience or frustration with this "stupid customer" who shows up at the last minute. What were they thinking? Well maybe they were enjoying to show. And the show is still open isn't it?

This is not really a glass half full or half empty. It is recognizing that most times life falls somewhere in the middle. Between the most amazing thing that could possibly happen, and the most awful. And most times, it is all well within our reach. But we just have to reach. Take the first step. Try. Without the effort, we will stay where we are. Imagining what might happen, and never finding out what will happen, if.....

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Market Research

The creative process is a funny one isn't it? You never know when inspiration will strike, and sometimes what seems like a great idea may not be all it seems at first. I find the reality check for me comes from either getting a critique from some trusted source(s), and/or having the work at a show to test it out.

Shows are the best way I know to see first hand what people are responding to, or reacting to, in my work. What is drawing people in to look more closely at my work, and what are people actually buying? What colors are selling? What styles are selling? Is any of it selling? Are people avoiding it? Lol!
This last scenario was actually a real life one for me. I had started exploring the idea of pods late last summer. Several iterations have evolved. None of them have had as enthusiastic a response so far as the newest designs. I am showing you the the slow, (sometimes painful) development here as a lesson of sorts. It is that one we learn back in kindergarten, really....if at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again. I knew there was something here that I wanted to work out. I don't know if I have really gotten where I want, or need, it to be. But, after nearly a year of working on this concept, off and on, I have definitely made progress.

The first design was fairly simplistic, and did not really capture the look of a pod. The single bead between the two segments did not really capture the look a pod and seeds that I was going for. And the design was not really effective in how it was strung/constructed.

This pin was the next iteration of the design. The variety of beads/seeds were interesting, but not as successful as I would have liked. The piece was large, and heavy, and making all those different textures on the beads was slow and thus expensive. Not worth the time. Better, but still not working.

I like several things about this next variation of the design better. I liked the more organic shapes. But the pieces were too large for most people to effectively wear. I think they scared people. Not one person wanted to try on any of the necklaces from this iteration, and there were ones that were single pods, and a bit smaller,...the lack of interest was loud and clear,....back to the drawing board.

Finally, I seem to have resolved many of the issues I had with the previous designs. The focus is on the surface finish, the pearls as the beads/seeds works nicely, and the designs have that organic form I was going for. They are thinner than the previous pieces and thus not as heavy. They can be pendants or pins. So far the reactions I have gotten have been largely positive.

Next week I will be in Guilford, CT for the Craft Expo on the town green. This is going to be an important opportunity for me to test out these new designs, along with the ultralight designs. I have been busy making inventory so that I have a range of designs to present.

Shows are about so much more than just sales. They are opportunities for exposure for your work to potential customers. They are a chance to get a clear picture of your customer. And they are a chance to do a bit of test marketing of new products. Sales are the ultimate goal of course. But don't lose sight of what else can be gained from the experience. After all, you are the production department, sales, market research,.....you get the picture. You need to wear all those hats, and sometimes, more than one at a time!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

More Color

I promised some more idea about color and design that I learned from my time in business doing window treatments. Some of my lessons from that experience have informed my process of design today. Many of these may be familiar, but sometimes we need reminding of those basics...at least I do!

1. Rule of three. When in doubt think three. Three colors in a space, on a piece, or in a garden. A main color, a secondary color and an accent color. This often goes for elements as well as color. An example that immediately comes to mind is this pin that was recently featured on Polymer Clay Daily by Julie Picarello. Three colors, three faces. A wonderful balance.

2. Except for when it is one. Monochromatic schemes are often used in decorating. But in order for it to be successful there does need to be something to create visual and other interest....texture, and an accent color. This Ginko Pin by Donna Kato, is a great example of monochromatic design. There are variations in green, and the striped pattern gives the same effect that texture would in a room. What really gives it some life is the touches of yellow distributed in the leaf. Notice too, the form becomes central when using the monochromatic scheme in a piece. The same striped pattern on a simple square would not be as interesting in a monochromatic form as it is in this curvaceous leaf.

3. Spread it around. One of the biggest errors I saw when I was visiting people's homes was when a secondary or accent color that was not adequately distributed around a room. When this happens, your eye gets stuck in a spot where that color is located. Wow, nice rug! Really nice rug!....as your eyes can't seem to get off that one strong colored element in a room. It may well have complemented other elements in the room, but with out the color showing up in other places in the room, at different levels, and areas of the room, we can find our eye getting fixated in that place. In one case where this happened, a few throw pillows, and a picture on the wall with a matte in the color of the rug was all it took to balance the room.

In Julia Sober's beautiful box shown here, she uses this idea of distribution beautifully. The black, and the vibrant colors are in balance. Your eye does not get stuck in anyone spot. It travels over the piece, again and again. She also balances the form with the repetition of shapes and forms.

4. Symmetry is nice, but asymmetry can be more interesting. Work that is asymmetrical causes us to be more drawn in sometimes. We want to understand what is going on. Done to extreme it can be annoying. But done right, and it is intriguing.
The artist who comes to mind immediately for me is Jeff Dever. He is a master of asymmetry. Notice how he uses a blue cord, to balance out the blue pod. And the red dots on the blue pod are found in the outer pods. Small details that make a big difference. Many artists would have put the blue pod in the center, and then placed an even number of pods on either side, with the size decreasing in a balanced way. But the combination Jeff uses in this piece is one tht is not instantly understood in the same way. It works beautifully, but we instinctively feel the need to study it to better understand it.
Another example of this is Julie's pin above. The divide between the faces, and the stripes is about thirds, rather than half. Visually this a more interesting balance than 50:50.
Look around and see where you can see various examples of any or all of these. Look at your own work for examples of where these things are working, or not....
I hope these rules or guides are as helpful to you as they have been to me.
BTW, Happy 4th of July!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Color School

My true education in color and how to use color as an element of design began when I started a custom window treatment business. This was after my oldest daughter was born, and I wanted to find a way to work at home. I could sew well. I made my own window treatments and I had done it a few times for friends.....and for some reason I thought this qualified me to do this as a business! Sometimes ignorance is the only way we will take that leap!

What I quickly learned when I would go out to meet with potential clients is how many people could not see subtleties in color, or know how to combine various patterns. When I would explain to someone why one fabric worked better than another, my understanding grew through finding the words. I began to read more and take classes (backwards, I know!). And explainations became easier.

What was most valuable to me was the expansion of my color vocabulary. We all have colors we are personally drawn to. When you are making custom work for someone's home, putting aside your preferences to focus on their space is important. By working with so many other color palettes, my color vocabulary grew. I got comfortable with shades and combinations I had never really explored. I would get a fabric sample book and eagerly flip through it the minute it arrived. I loved to take in the color, the pattern, the textures and the finish (matte or shiny).
I will share some of my lessons in another post, but if you sometimes struggle with color combinations, I encourage you to visit a fabric store. Touch as well as look. Fabric satisfies many senses. Do you like geometrics, traditional patterns, florals, or contemporary colors and designs? The beauty of fabric store is you can find all of these, in all sorts of color combinations, in one space. What is drawing you like a magnet? Or what repels?

You may want to buy a few swatches of fabric that intrigue you. You can often get 1/8 yard pieces, which will not cost much. Then you can bring it home and dissect it. What colors are in the piece? What is the scale of the pattern? Is it satiny smooth and shiny, or matte, or full of texture? Some fabrics have one pattern woven into it, and another printed on the surface. If you bring home several pieces, see if there is something about them that connects. Do they work together, or are they all very different?
Think of this as a research project to help understand you a bit better. It is hard to identify what our personal aesthetic is without sometimes stepping outside ourselves a bit and using some tools, like the collaged journals or a visit to the fabric store. The knowledge can only help enhance our work. Over time our tastes will change. Sometimes it is about re-educating ourselves to see where we are now. Sometimes what appeals to us will surprise us. This may reflect that time of transistion.
Have fun! And if you feel inspired, see if you can create something in your media, influenced by your fabric store finds.