Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wholesale Shows, Where and Who?

This is the fourth in a series of posts about wholesale craft shows.

Wholesale shows can be regional, or national, or perhaps even international. Shows such as the New York Gift Show will have importers as well as craft artisans from the United States and Canada. The size of the show will impact, to some degree, the numbers of people who come to the show, and how far people will come from to the show. The two big wholesale shows in the world of craft are The Rosen Group Buyer's Market of American Craft (referred to as the Rosen show, or BMAC) in Philadelphia, and The American Craft Council Wholesale Market (ACC) in Baltimore. BMAC occurs in both February and August, and the ACC show is in February. These shows draw buyers from gift shops to top galleries, and from local shops to galleries from across the country.

There are Gift Shows that occur all across the country. Boston, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. George Little is one of better known promoters for these shows. Some of these shows are geared toward specialty retailers, others are for anyone selling gifts. Some have a reputation for lots of importers and very little work in the "fine craft" category. Before doing a show, visit if you can. At the very least, talk to other artists who have done the show to try and find out if it is the right show for you. A great resource for finding out about shows is some of the forums online, such as at the Craft Report website, or American Craft Forum. Like all online groups, the traffic and intensity of conversation can vary over time, and the quality of information can vary. But the archives can be a good resource, and a way to get a range of experiences and opinions.

Who is at wholesale shows? Primarily Vendors and Buyers, naturally. But there are other people who will visit a show. People from various publications will go to a show to see what new things are out there. Being prepared with some press kits to leave in the show office is a good idea. You never know what kind of publicity you might be able to generate by bringing materials to a show. My work was featured in two different publications due to ACRE. and at least 8 or 9 copies of the press kit were picked up at the show. Those articles have led to phone calls and inquiries from shops and galleries.

Next, and last in this series....How??

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wholesale Shows; When?

For this third post, we will take a look at "when". When do you decide that it is time to do a wholesale show?

There is no definitive answer to this question. For each person/business/artist the answer will come at different times and different ways. Some artists will jump right into wholesale from the very start of their business. Others may never take that step. What kinds of questions might you want to ask yourself about whether or not you are ready to take this step?

1. Are you interested in selling wholesale? Are you interested in growing your wholesale business? Do you have some reason that you do not want to sell wholesale? Have you made a list of the pros and cons of selling your work wholesale?

2. Do you have a price structure that can support selling your work wholesale? This may seem to be a no-brainer, but I am serious. Have you priced your work so that you can sell it wholesale and still make a profit? It is not unusual for an artist who is starting out to sell their work at a retail show at wholesale prices. These days, many retailers are looking to mark up the wholesale price by more than 2 times. A mark up of 2.1 times or 2.3 times the wholesale price is not uncommon today. Some retailers, in high rent areas, or catalog companies may be looking to price the work at three times wholesale. Can your work sell at those kinds of prices?

3. Have you developed a distinctive style or look to your work? If you are still trying to figure out where you are going with your work, it is probably too soon to jump into wholesale. I was guilty of this. The only work that I still sell from when I first started selling wholesale just four years ago is my polymer clay cranes. These pins were some of what I was making back when I started out selling wholesale. While they are both inspired by collage, that is where the similarity ends. I had not really worked out line before I jumped in. I don't recommend this approach.

4. Do you have the financial resources to do a show? There is the booth fee, potentially shipping and travel expenses, marketing materials, displays, .... You may feel like you are hemorrhaging cash. You've heard the expression, "you have to spend money to make money." When it comes to doing a wholesale show, you will definitely have to spend some money. Are you ready financially and psychologically?

5. Are you ready? Are you ready to take the risk, and the challenge of doing a show? Are you ready to accept whatever outcome may occur? Just as with a retail show, there are no guarantees that you will have a great show. You may do gangbusters. Or, you may not see the response you expected. You may have more competition than you anticipated. You may have priced yourself out of the market. You may have work that takes time to build an audience. Your display may not have worked. And on and on, and on. Are you ready to go into it knowing the risks, and willing to do an honest assessment of why things worked,.... or perhaps did not.

Any time I am faced with making a big change in my business I find I have to look inside myself. Sometimes I make the jump before I am really ready, but I learn and adapt. Or, I sometimes let fear hold me back from taking a step. At times I may want to do something, but just do not have the financial resources to make that move. I usually need some time of thinking, weighing my options, and sleeping on it, before I can come to a decision that feels right for me. I may still have some uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a given anytime you are doing something you have never done before. But, there is the counter balancing cost of hesitating when you know you are ready. Is that something you can comfortably live with? I find that I have more regrets with opportunities missed, than opportunities taken. But we all have to figure out our own comfort level, and do the best and most honest assessment of how ready we truly are. And then, accept our choice as the right one for us. No matter what everyone else chooses. Because in the end, it is our business to run.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Wholesale Shows, Why?

This continues the series of posts about wholesale craft shows....or the sale of craft to the trade.

Why would someone want to do a wholesale show? There are several good reasons. Primary among them is efficiency. Set up a booth with your samples, and you can get exposure to hundreds of buyers from shops and galleries. The larger shows will draw people from across the country, and perhaps beyond.

These buyers will get a chance to see and touch your work. They will be able to discuss issues like your terms, perhaps learn a bit about your story. By going to a wholesale show, the buyers will be able to make a big chunk of their purchasing for year, or at least the next season, in one shot. They may be able to find new artists. Artists who they have not seen and heard about before. There is more comfort in taking on a new artists that you meet in person, than one that you have only seen pictures of their work.
As an artist, you can get anywhere from several weeks to a full year's worth of business at a show. These days, the sold out artist is a rarer phenomenon, but it can happen. Other retailers may take your literature back with them, and place an order with you at a later date. It may take a few years of seeing your work for some retailers to place an order. But each exposure, builds your base of customers, and builds your credibility. The cost of doing a wholesale show may be a bit higher than doing a retail show, especially if you have to travel a long distance, and perhaps ship your work. But, you are likely to sell more work at a wholesale show, and since you are taking orders, every item you produce, is already sold. You are not making inventory that you hope to sell. You make it, you ship it, and you are paid for it. What's not to like about that??

Let's assume the first year you get five new accounts. A few order your minimum, but a few more order significantly more than your minimum. During the course of the year, several of those accounts are likely to place re-orders for your work. And perhaps a few more orders come in from people who did not place an order at the show. The first year, you may only break even, or not even that. But you are building your base.

The next year, several of those accounts from the previous year may place new orders with you at the show. You may get five to ten more new accounts. And ten or twenty new leads, if not more. This is how a wholesale business will typically grow. Slowly and surely. Building off a base. Adding new accounts. Getting re-orders from old accounts. Over the course of several years, you can build a nice foundation of wholesale business.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wholesale Shows, What?

I have written about doing wholesale shows, but, given the opportunity to do the ACRE show with the NPCG, I thought I should write in more detail about the Who, What, Where, When and Why? I am relatively new to doing wholesale, so I cannot proclaim to be an expert. Just someone who has learned a lot in the last few years.

What is a wholesale show? Wholesale shows are open to "the trade". Depending upon the show, and how loose the standards are, wholesale shows can be open to anyone with a resale number, or they may be limited to people with a brick and mortar store, or a catalog. At a wholesale craft show, the people who are coming to the show are generally anyone from gift shops, to fine craft galleries. They are looking for handcrafted work. It may be all they sell, or a small portion of what they sell.

Some retailers will visit local retail craft shows to find artists whose work they think would be appropriate for their store. But not every artists at a retail show wants to wholesale, or is ready to wholesale. So it could be chasing down a blind alley.

At a wholesale craft show they can see hundreds of artists who are already, or want to be selling wholesale. They will have a price list, a catalog of some sort. They will have samples of the work they will wholesale, and they will be ready and able to answer their questions. It is much more efficient for them, and for the artists. They can touch the work, and get a sense for the quality. By talking to the artists, they will be able to get a sense of their professionalism.

What are they looking for? This is partially speculation on my part, and probably not conclusive, but here we go:

1. Work that will sell. Sounds simple, and obvious, but this is the bottom line. They want work that will turn over quickly, returning their investment in their inventory. They want work that will be hard to keep in stock.

2. Something they have not seen before. I remember when I was first starting to get into consignment and wholesale I did a lot of scouting. Visiting stores, and checking out what sorts or work they had and at what kinds of prices. I was trying to see if the store was a good fit for my work. In the process, I would see some work everywhere. I mean everywhere. At first, it was "Oh, look!"....then it was, "Oh, they have her work, too! I love her stuff!". But after about four or five stores, it was more like, "Oh, they have that too? Boy, she is everywhere." The shop and gallery owners don't want you to go into their store and think, "been there, seen that". They want you to be excited by the many things you have never seen anywhere.
This could be new work from an artist they have been working with for a long time. Or it could be work from somebody new. Or a new medium they did not know about....(can you say polymer clay??).... This kind of excitement is more likely to spur someone to part with their hard earned cash than the ordinary and overexposed.

3. Price points. Shops and galleries generally will carry a range of price points. From the impulse item to the "wow!" gift or reward. Each retailer will tend to focus more on one end of the spectrum or the other, as part of their identity. Are they a gift shop or a gallery? The impulse items are what help cash flow. And when the economy is tight, they focus tends to be on the low end of the spectrum. As our economy divides, and the middle class gets pinched more and more, the mid-range of the price spectrum has suffered greatly. I was not in this business early enough to experience the boom years! But, I have learned that having a range of price points is important.

4. Terms. I will go into this more in another post, but your terms will matter to the retailer. But remember they are your terms. I have heard too many horror stories of artists who let themselves be talked out of, or bullied into not sticking to their terms and living to regret it. If you decide to be flexible with your terms, be sure you are doing it because you want to, and are willing to accept the outcome.

5. Professionalism. This goes to how your work is finished, to the findings your use in jewelry, to the way you present yourself. This is business. They want to know that you can be a good business person as well as a good artist.

Do you need to go to a wholesale show to build a wholesale business? No. Absolutely not. But it is more efficient and can be more effective than many other alternatives. I started out visiting local stores, and slowly building up a base in my area. But I had to be careful that I did not get too many shops too close together. Soon I had to start looking outside my area.

I went to to began to expand my business. It was a great way to get broad exposure for my work, without the risk/expense of doing a wholesale show. It cost money, but it was a fraction of the cost of a wholesale show. But after nearly two years on the site, I knew I had to make the next step to doing a wholesale show. There are a wide range of shows out there. There are specialty shows (ones for certain types of retailers, or for certain geographic areas), and there are gift shows that are open to a wide range of businesses on both ends. There are shows like the Rosen show and the ACC show that are well established, and have a reputation for high quality work, and strictly American made craft. The reason I chose ACRE was because it was being run by, and they had been a great company to work with. And I knew that it would be a good compliment to the exposure I had gotten on their website, and their Buyer's Guide. The right show for you will depend upon your work, your goals, and your budget.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Big Opportunity for Polymer Clay Artrepreneurs

The applications are open for the ACRE’s of Opportunity program sponsored by the National Polymer Clay Guild. This is a chance for members of the guild, who are interested in expanding or jumpstarting, their wholesale business. Three artists will be selected to exhibit in the American Craft Retailers Expo (ACRE), in Las Vegas, April 26 to 28, 2008. The selected artists will share a 10 x 15 ft. booth space, and will be able to take orders for their work from retailers from across the country who will be visiting the show. There will be no cost to the artists for the booth space.
In order to apply, visit CaFE, and submit your application for ACRE’s of Opportunity. You will need to upload five digital images to apply. The information about the image format and size can be found on the CaFE site. The fee for entry is $35. The deadline is October 31, 2007. Notification will be sent out by the end of November. This competition is open only to members of the National Polymer Clay Guild. The work to be exhibited and sold at the show must be made predominantly from polymer clay.
For those artists who are selected, it will be like Willie Wonka, and the Golden Ticket! A golden opportunity to move your business forward, and minimize the risk of doing your first wholesale show. Too bad I don't qualify! Artists who have done a major wholesale show in the past are not eligible to apply for this opportunity. But anyone else, who has had dreams of getting into wholesale, or taking the next step to grow their wholesale business, ....what are you waiting for?? These kinds of opportunities don't come your way every day. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lessons and Adjustments, Part 2

My changes to the booth on day 2 lead to a significant improvement in sales, but still not a great day. So I decided on day three, I had nothing to lose. I had to totally rethink my display and my work.

I had been looking at my work as if it was reflected in a fun house mirror. My perception was distorted. Loretta Lam put it well, "sometimes we fall too much in love with our work." I had been working hard in the previous few weeks, making changes, and new designs. I was excited about the changes and thought I was heading in the right direction. And I still believe that I am. But it takes more than good work to make a show work for you. In today's economy every aspect of presenting and selling your work matters. And I had gotten a lot of things wrong.

I started by moving the tables further forward. I moved everything onto two tables, and moved them as far forward as I possibly could. Seeing my work from the aisle became much easier.
Next, I began looking at the work I had out. I had a necklace that I loved as a focal point on one table. I loved the play of colors, and the way the pods were spaced out on the necklace. But the colors said spring or summer, not fall. And the weather was turning crisp and cool. While I might wear any color, any time of the year, not everyone else will.
So the necklace went back into stock and another piece that had more fall colors was moved into the prime spot. All the pinks, lavenders, and peaches went under the table, and all the earth tones, greens, silvers and greys came out.
I took a look at my prices, and "sharpened my pencil". All this work made a difference. The last day sales were higher than the first two days combined. It was not a good show overall, but I salvaged what I could from it, and learned some lessons in the process.
And today, I got a call from the manager of the gift shop at the Peabody Essex Museum. I had a customer on Sunday who mentioned she worked there. I had been trying for nearly two months to get in there with my polymer clay origami cranes. They have an origami exhibit there now that runs through till June of 2008. I thought my cranes would be a perfect fit for the gift shop. I just could not reach the gift shop manager.
When I found out that this person worked at the museum, and knew the woman I was trying to reach I was thrilled. I had brought some of my small cranes to give to people as gifts or "thank you's." I generally do not sell this size crane. I gave one to this woman to bring to the gift shop manager. It is packaged the same way as the larger cranes, but is quite a bit smaller. I gave one to my new customer, her sister, and one to her mother, while I was at it!! Why not build a little good will...
Today the gift shop manager called, and we talked for a bit about the cranes. And I got a nice size order. My show was salvaged. The order was for more cranes than I would normally sell at a retail show. Even though I missed some sales by not having cranes at the show, in the end, I was better off with this new account that could result in some great sales in the coming months.
As they say, "It ain't over, till it's over"....but even then, it may not be over!

Monday, September 17, 2007

So Many Lessons, So Little Time

During the weekend I had someone tell me how much she loved my work. She told me she hoped I would sell out all my inventory and go home with a big pile of money......alas, her dream did not come true! This was actually one of the least successful shows I have had in quite a while, at least financially. But sometimes, we learn more when things go wrong than when they are going well. I learned plenty, but ran out of time to implement some of the lessons. But as I adjusted and adapted as the weekend went on, my sales did improve. Perhaps the next show will be more successful at resolving some of the issues I ran into.
Lesson One: People have a hesitation to commit to entering your booth. If you make them cross the imaginary line at the front of the booth to see your work, they are making a commitment. Notice how many jewelers set up with their work right up within a foot or so of the front of the booth space. No need to enter in order to see the work. Visitors can stay in the aisle and see what you have to offer, before they commit.
I had been following the idea that you want to draw people into your booth space, and give them enough room to avoid the "butt brush".....when two people accidently bump. But I am beginning to think that all this space is actually scary to someone who has to move in close to see your work. What if they walk in to your booth, take a look and decide that it is not for they have to find a way to gracefully exit.

The booth on the left is how I set up my booth at the last show I did this summer. There is a 6 foot table across the front, and a six foot table across the back. A four foot table comes forward, from the back table, forming a zig zag type pattern.

This past weekend I decided to move things around. I shifted the table in the front, so that it was along the right hand wall, as you face the booth. And I rotated the other two tables so that the 6 foot table was along the side wall, and the four foot table was along the back wall. In this case, there is only 30" of table that is along the front edge of my booth. As someone approaches my booth from the right hand side of my booth, there are only 30 inches to catch their attention. The work on the other side of the booth was set back a full four feet. There was a mirror hanging in the space at the front on that left hand wall. I do not sell mirrors. Enough people were walking past my booth from the right to the left, that this could make a difference in how many people were actually lured into my booth to see my work. I only gave myself 30 inches out of 120 inches of frontage to catch their attention. Twenty-five percent. And how long is the average stride of most people. Probably in the neighborhood of 30 inches. As they walked past, looking in the other direction, they could completely miss seeing my work. If, in the next few steps they turned their head to see what was in my booth, they probably saw a blank wall with a mirror. They could turn to see what was on those tables that were set back, but that might interrupt the flow of their pace. And where were the blown up pictures? In the back of the booth. Not up front.
A generous and experienced neighbor pointed this out to me on day 2, so with his help, we moved the tables forward a bit, and put some pictures right up by the aisles. Day two was better, but not gangbusters.
On day three I did a major overhaul. I save those details for tomorrow, or the next day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I have a degree in chemistry. Lord only knows why! By the time I left school I knew I was not going to be a chemist. So I ended up working in sales for awhile, until I went on to get my MBA. Business school was infinitely more enjoyable for me than my years as an undergraduate. Yet, as I think about it, there are things I learned studying science that I bring to what I do now.

The scientific method is one of the essential lessons of any study of science or engineering. The scientific method goes something like this. Develop a question, idea or premise, otherwise known as your hypothesis. Set up an experiment, a way to test your hypothesis. In order for the experiment to be the most meaningful it should be absent of bias. Gather and analyze the data. Report the results. Reporting the results is an important part of the method, because an effective experiment results in reproducible results.

Let's say you set up some idea to test, and run your "experiments". What if the results do not come out as expected? The training a scientist recieves means that there is often an evaluation of why this was. And a new hypothesis, and set of experiments, and data gathering begins. Changing one variable. Gathering data about the results of this change.

I find I go through a modified version of this process all the time. Whether it is in my studio, or in my business. I am forever experimenting, trying things out, making adjustments incrementally and evaluating the outcome. What appeals to me about this methodology is that when things don't go as planned it encourages you to revisit and adapt. The experiment failed. I did not fail, personally. But my original idea or concept needs to be modified or adapted to get the results I was looking for.

My new line of work has been a process of continually experimenting, exploring, and adapting as it has evolved. As a business person I am forever testing, evaluating and trying things out.

With this testing and trying things out, it is important to get enough data before you assume something did not work. One run through is never sufficient data collection for a scientist. It is essential to repeat the experiment several times, at least, to get enough information to draw a conclusion.

One mistake I see artists make is with advertising. They may run an ad in a magazine one time. If they do not get results from that one effort, they decide it didn't work, and give up. In order to evaluate if the ad is effective, you really need to run it at least three times. I have made this mistake before, and I have since vowed that unless I have the financial resources to commit to doing this right, I won't run an ad.

At the show this weekend I am evaluating how people are responding to the new line of jewelry. Ooohing and aaahing. Trying things on. One woman commented that she hoped I left the show with no inventory, and just a big pile of money. Sounds good to me! There is a great deal of excitement about the work, but sales yesterday were lackluster.

There could be several explanation for this, so I will continue to gather data. It could be that yesterday's crowd was more conservative in their taste, and liked the work, but did not see themselves wearing it. When I noticed the jewelry coming into my booth yesterday, it was seldom bold or colorful. It could be the economy. I had lots of people talk about not being able to buy things right now. It could be the work is not as wearable as it needs to be. The lengths of some of the earrings came into question a few times. Of course, when solutions were offered, generally people decided that no, they did not want the alternative. It was the long earring that appealed to them. So today I will continue to observe, collect data, and see what happens.

In addition, I am here without my cranes. I have developed a solid base of wholesale accounts for the cranes. I have three orders that need to go out next week. Selling a lot of cranes here, would have made filling those orders next week more challenging. And, more importantly, they might be a distraction. It may be time to make the cranes strictly a wholesale item.

A conversation with Laura Timmins led me to test this out. Laura is a dynamo. I would happily spend a day picking her brain, if I could, about all things sales. She made the observation that by having multiple items in my booth I could be hurting my sales overall. This is the premise. Someone is looking at a pair of earrings. She overhears a conversation I am having about the cranes with another customer. Her attention is now on the cranes, and not the earrings. When the conversation about the cranes ends, she has a disconnect with the earrings and the cranes. The earrings get put down, and she leaves my booth, having learned about cranes, but not buying the earrings she was interested in.

I am already faced with two lines of jewelry in my booth that are quite a bit different. But I juried in with the old line, and so I am obliged to have that work in my booth. And I have my vessels. Throwing the cranes into the mix might just be over the top in terms of attention, and frankly, space. As it is, I find myself talking more about the new work, and resisting be drawn into lengthy discussions about the old work.

This is not an ideal experiment, because I am adding new work at the same time as I am taking the cranes away. I had three people come looking for cranes yesterday. No cranes. Did I make the right decision? I don't know, but I do know it is too early to tell, and I think the idea of focusing has merit.

I don't wear a lab coat. But I guess I am a scientist at heart on another level. Always experimenting. Trying to figure out a better solution. How about you? Have you run any experiments lately? Do you find yourself using a process like this?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What are you trying to accomplish?

I am an NPR junkie. It is on in my studio day and night. So I heard quite a bit of the Petraeus and Crocker show in the last few days. One thing struck me later in the day as I was processing some of what I had heard. One of the Congressman was asking them how will we know if we have accomplished our goals in Iraq? What is it we are trying to accomplish in Iraq? What will victory look like?

Did you hear the light bulb clicking on as well. I won't get into the political fray here. Too many other people do that very well. But what I loved about that simple question is the universality of it. If we don't have any idea of where we are going, how will we know when we have gotten there? How will we know what it will look like or feel like?

So, have you asked yourself this question lately....."What am I trying to accomplish?" What will success look like for you? The "for you" part of that sentence is very important. If we are trying to mimic what others have done without questioning if it fits our own needs and desires, it will be hard to put our heart into it. It is easy to get caught up into what we should want. But when we listen to what we really want, and begin to think about how that will look and feel, all sorts of things start happening.

There is a "law of attraction" theory I bump into from time to time on various blogs. I do not know much about it. But I do know this. When I have an idea of what I would like to be doing in my life, opportunities come my way. I don't think it is so much that I attract these opportunities, as I notice them when they present themselves. I think they are always there. Whether or not I pay attention or act upon them is what is different.

Opportunity is patient, and reasonably persistent. It will make another pass, and another, and still another. Waiting for you to pay attention, and to act.

If you are vague in your goals it is harder to know if you have reached them. And it is harder to see the opportunities that are in front of you to help you acheive your goals. "I want to grow my business," is not adequate. By how much? And how? Do you want to do shows? What kind of shows? Do you want to teach? What kind of setting, and what kind of classes? Do you want to grow your sales by 10% or do you want to double your sales? There is a huge gulf between those two goals, and both may be valid, depending where you are right now, and what resources (time, money, etc.) you have to put into it.

A month ago, I was thinking I had left myself with very little on the calendar for the fall. I was wondering how I was going to generate some wholesale business to ompensate. But then things started popping up. Two different Holiday Sales shows at non-profits came seemingly out of no where. A casual conversation with another artist, and the next thing I know I have added a show for October. It seemed a month ago that it was too late to make something like this happen. But happen it did.

So do some dreaming. What will success look like for you? How will you know that you are on the way to your dreams? Where and how will it happen? And be sure to share some of your goals with others. If you hold your dreams too tightly you may not be able to reach them. Invariably, it is through the help of another that we move closer to our goals.

This is not one of those, "been there, done that" kind of questions. Dreams are no more static that clouds in the sky. We need to be sure and check in regularly. How do we feel about where we are going? Is it still working for us? Or is it time to aim for a different star? Or are you just having a bad day? Bad days do happen.

Maybe you could paint a picture of what it will look like. Or write your obituary. This is a classic high school exercise to get kids thinking about what they want to do in their life. What do you want your obituary to say? Or maybe you could write a poem or a song about what it will feel like when you reach your goal. Above all, be open and honest with yourself. The answers are all there if you just pay close attention.

Head Down, Butt in the Studio

If I have been absent from blogging lately it is because I have had my head down, and my butt in the chair the last two weeks. The Lyndhurst show is this weekend, and I have made some modifications to the pod designs I have been working on all summer. I was happy with the designs, but not so happy with the Ultralight clay I was using. There were several things about it that were bothering me, and I decided to rethink using it for these designs.

I am happier with how these new pieces are coming out. I am playing with mica shift, and enjoying the subtle pattern I can get on the surfaces with that. And I am playing with color.

It has been a big push to get enough work together for this show. But I wanted to have enough work to gauge response to these new pieces. And the more I did, the more excited I was about where things were going. I could use another week or two to be as prepared as I would like, but I don't have it. And I always feel like I could use more time as I head for a show. But I have learned to accept that as the norm. I will not be in the studio much today. I need to get pictures taken, and start organizing and preparing to load up the car.

If you are able to get to the Lyndhurst show this weekend I highly recommend it. It looks like the weather will be agreeable, and there will be lots of beautiful work to see,....and buy! Among the polymer clay artists who will be there are Loretta Lam, Louise Fischer Cozzie, and Karin Noyes. And of course there are many, many other very talented artists in a wide range of media. If you stop by, make sure to say, "hi!"

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Being Right, or Doing the Right Thing

We love to be right in this culture. From a very young age we are recognized and rewarded for having the right answer. But wanting to be right can build a trap. It can make us not want to budge from the answer we "know" is right. Even if all evidence is pointing to the fact that maybe we should reconsider. We have an abundance of politicians who suffer from this disease of never, ever being able to move from their original point of view, for fear that it might mean they have to admit they were ever wrong about something.

I have found myself in this quandry recently. I made a decision that I thought was right. It was a public decision. But, other points of view started to pop up here and there. I had to re-think why I made the choice I did. Was it valid? And even it it was valid, was the price of that choice too high?

Being able to re-think your choices, especially public ones, is not easy. But in the end, I am glad that I had the opportunity to do so. Changes will be made in the original plans, and in the end, I believe the outcome will be better.

Part of what made this process easier is trust. Trusting the people I turned to for advice when I decided I needed to re-evaluate my decision. Trusting that in the end people will judge a decision to make some changes to the plans better than a stubborn persistence in being right. It was not an impulsive reaction to comments that were recieved, but a careful, and honest analysis of what the trade-offs of each option might be. Was it more important to hold my ground, because I was "right", or to adapt because there was more information available to me now that shed a new light on my choices?

It is easier in the short term to just hold your ground, and not budge. But life is long. We don't always have all the information, or make all the right choices. It is okay to adapt and adjust. It is essential to adapt and adjust. Being afraid to make a choice and just move forward can be as detrimental as refusing to change your mind once you have made a choice. It is a form of perfectionism that can paralyze people.

Can you make decisions when you have to? And, perhaps more importantly can you reconsider your choices? I think this is what grace is about. Accepting our limitations, and not letting them freeze us in place. I think it is one of those things that becomes easier with age. I hope you can find grace when you need it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dressed for the Show

August and September are chock full of deadlines for spring shows. I don't know if it is a lack of confidence on my part, or the fact that my work continues to evolve, but I seem to change my images I submit each season. All this change has helped me refine the process quite a bit. So I thought I would share a few things I have learned along the way.

The process of choosing the right slides is a bit like putting together an outfit. Trust me. It'll make sense as we go along.

1. Jurors are not impressed by range. Just like you wouldn't throw on a grab bag mix of clothing to show the range of styles in your closet, the jury does not want to see all the many paths you are exploring. A submission of a vessel, two pieces of jewelry in very different styles, a 2D piece, and a sculpture is not going anywhere. It is an easy no for the jury panel. It says, "I haven't figured out what I want to work on yet."

This was one of my early sins. I thought range was good. In the decathalon it is, but when it comes to a jury making choices of who is in and who is out, this is a guaranteed out. If you have to play around in many sandboxes, find a way to segregate the work. You can submit a set of images for jewelry, and another for mixed media perhaps. One line might be wholesale, and another for retail. Make it clear that you know they are different bodies of work. Dress for the occasion. Pick the right work for the category.
2. If the picture is not in focus, big enough, or has some other technical problem, don't use it. You will be judged quickly. And they are looking to say no in many cases. There are many, many submissions in the best shows for a very limited number of spaces. Would you go to a job interview in a suit that didn't fit, or was twenty years out of style? Probably not. Don't let bad photos be the reason you are eliminated.

3. Photoshop will not compensate for bad design, poor execution, etc., etc. The dangers of software to enhance your photos is that we can be deluded into thinking that the tweaking is going to compensate for any other issues we may have with a piece. Sorry, it won't. Instead of spending hours fussing over a picture to make it perfect, spend the time in the studio making your work more finished and refined. Just like the strategically placed pin or scarf will not eliminate the stain, tweaking the photo too much won't change the quality of your work. And what are you going to show when you get into the show? Minor adjustments to the photo is fine. Overhauls are not.

4. Your pictures need to complement one another. You need to go for the "Aaahhh..." This was my struggle today. I wanted to use this picture in my submission. But the other images I was planning to use, were in shades of blue, aqua, green and gold. This necklace stuck out like a sore thumb. I like the piece. But it was distracting. Jarring. Taking it out, and substituting another picture gave my submission a more unified look.
There were some compromises in my final selection, but it was done for the "good of the whole". You need to look at the images you select together, and get a sense of them as a composition. If anything is pulling your attention away from the rest of the work, ask yourself why. This is like the check in the mirror before you head out the door. You are the art editor, reviewing your selections. Looking for color, style, and flow. Bruce Baker is a genius at this, and can explain it more clearly than anyone I know. If you can take one of his classes on slide jurying, go for it. This is that critical.
5. Jurors don't want to see your run of the mill, bread and butter work. They want to see your best. So, you go to a show, and what do you sell. Lots and lots of earrings if you do jewelry. Some pendants. And maybe, if it is a good show, a few "wow", knock your socks off pieces. So do you submit pictures of what you plan to sell the most of, or do you submit pictures of the work that draws people into your booth? You may spend most days in jeans and a t-shirt working in your studio. But when you go on a job interview you dress to make an impression. The images are your job interview. They are your resume. They are doing all the talking for you. So you better pull out all the stops. That was why I wanted to use the necklace in black and white and grey. It was a dramatic piece. But I couldn't make it work with the rest of the images this time. And I did not have enough other images available that would work well with it.
At a fashion show, the designs on the runway get toned down for the consumer market. But the fashion designer builds his or her reputation on what goes down that runway. You are more likely to get into the show by showing your best work.
This was a quick overview of some very important decisions. But I hope some of these ideas will help you as you choose which images to present, and how.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Back to School...Math Lesson

It is that time of year again. For a long time I felt like September should be when the year began. My whole rhythm was on the school calendar. I am back on it again, with kids, but I don't feel that same sense of new beginnings that I used to.

Fall is time to gear up production. Galleries and shops are placing orders for their holiday inventory. Shows are coming up. (I will be at the Lyndhurst show in Tarrytown, New York from September 14th to 16th). Special holiday sales are lining up their artists. It is time to hunker down and crank out the work. January now seems to offer more time and space for renewal and reflection.

I came back from my trip thinking that was going to dive into production. I knew I had a few orders that had to get out after I got back. And a few catalogs to send. But the trip threw me off my game. My back was seriously out of whack for about a week, and I was jet lagged and exhausted. My studio was in a state of chaos when I left, and the cleaning fairy never showed up to tidy things up.....she always seems to miss my place.....

So Labor Day weekend was one of serious labor for me. I had three orders to crank out. I had some inventory I could draw on, but... One order had slipped my radar until I went hunting for the paperwork for another. Today, I shipped all three orders, and sent out information packages to five shops/galleries. After that I took a well deserved afternoon off. Whew! Tomorrow the kids go back to school and I can get back in the groove. Top of the list, dig out the studio!

One of the advantages to shows, or delivery dates for wholesale orders is that they give me deadlines to focus on tasks that I am prone to put off. I finally put together a product insert for my jewelry, that can also serve as an earring card. It has a paragraph blurb about me and my inspiration on the back/inside. I know these things make a difference and are important to do. But, do I make them a priority? Nope. They keep sliding down the list. Never bumping up to the top of the list. My inserts for the cranes have been an important element to their success. Why do I think I can just skip that step with my jewelry??

There are just so many things to balance. In addition to being creative, and productive, we need to make sure that the business side of things stays up there on the to-do list. I also put together a flyer for the new star ornaments, and a sell sheet for my new jewelry. Both of these went in the packages and the information packets that went out today. It was tough to pull all of this together, but it felt really good to know that I gave those tasks the attention they had been needing.

I can easily lose a day in my studio. Going from production to play and back again. But if I do not do the other work, the business side of things, it all might as well be play. I was reading a newsletter sent out by Paradise City Arts Festivals to artists. In it, they report on sales results for their spring and summer shows. They did an additional analysis of the self-reported data from artists this time. They looked at the correlation of sales with advertising and direct mail efforts by the artist. It was not clear if this was just using the services provided by Paradise City, or if it included seperate marketing efforts by the artist. Either way, the end result was that the average sales were 24% higher for those who did the mailings and/or advertising for the show than for those who did not.

Twenty-four percent. The average sales for their shows are between $5000 and nearly $7000. I did the math. If we assume an average sales of $6000, and that half the artists advertise, and half don't.....

Artist who advertises and promotes their presence at the show: $6642
Artist who skips advertising and promoting presence at show: $5357

The difference: $1285.

Percents are one thing. Dollars are another. Paradise City offers to do a mailing at NO COST for any artist who provides them with the mailing list. They have a website, that can link to the artist's web page....assuming the artist has a website. Artists can also purchase ads in their show guide they mail out prior to their shows.

How much time does it take to send a mailing list in to have someone else do your mailing? If you are keeping up your mailing list, ten minutes tops. Do you have a website? If not, put it on the top of the list, right after updating your mailing list. A website is essential today. You do not need to have a merchant site. Pictures, artist's statement, bio, contact info, and of course images of your work. You do not have to be a programming whiz. You can either hire someone, or use a hosting service that offers a template that you can easily do yourself. You cannot skip these steps. Look what the potential costs are. Are you willing to walk away from nearly $1300 because it is a hassle? I didn't think so.

No wonder I loved math so much. And marketing.