Saturday, June 30, 2007

Five Thoughtful Places

I was tagged by Lori Greenberg, aka The Bead Nerd as a Thinking Blog. My task is to steer you to five other blogs that make me think, bestowing them with the title, Thinking Blogger.....

1. Smashing Color. If you have not checked out this great blog by Maggie Maggio yet, get yourself over there right away. Maggie has done a wonderful service for artists in all media with the way she has dissected and reconstructed color. I thought I understood a lot about color until I started reading her blog. Tip: The tutorials start at the beginning posts.

2. Christine Kane. I love Christine's blog. She is a very wise woman with tons of insight into what it means to be a creative professional, or just a person trying to live a life that is true to your heart and spirit. Do yourself a favor, check out her blog. She will be holding one of her creativity workshops in my area....when I am away at a show.....go figure......maybe next time.

3. Polymer Clay Notes. Susan Lumoto may not be your typical Thinking Blog....but she makes my gears churn after a visit to her site. For those of us who are visually oriented, Susan's blog is a feast of inspiration, and thought provoking images. Susan regularly opens my eyes to the wonders being created all over the planet.

4. Woolgathering. I aspire to do what Elizabeth Perry does. Each day, she creates a drawing or painting in her journal, and shares the image on her blog. The most ordinary moments are observed, captured and shared. Isn't this what art is really all about??

5. QuinnCreative. I just found this blog, but I like what I have seen so far. Now she has already received a Thinking Blog award, so chances are this is not so welcome by her....but I think if you are reading my blog you will find some food for thought at her blog. Check it out.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

Thanks Lori!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Another Blog??!!

Yes, I am starting another blog...! It is called Studio Miscellanea. This one is specific to polymer clay, and probably the occasional metal clay post. It will be tips, tricks and ideas I learn in my studio, playing with the clay that I would like to share with others. I don't expect to post as often on that blog, but I like the immediacy of this format. I can put up a tutorial without a lot of fuss and bother. The photography is not always going to be top notch. But it should be enough to get the technique or idea across.

My first post is one on doing a mokume gane variation using scrap clay. It is a great way to recycle those bits of clay from making a cane, or from cane ends, or the bits and pieces left form a project of some sort. The only consideration is if the colors can be combined in a pleasing combination.

I hope you enjoy this new blog, and pick up a few tips and tricks along the way.

Doubt Revisited

The doubt cloud has passed along with the heat and humidity of the last few days. Who knows, maybe the doubt is a by-product of all that heavy air.... But it seemed as if walking the dog had as much to do with it as anything. Fresh air, a little exercise, and the whirlpool of doubt dissapates.

It became clear that none of the things I was trying to decide about had to be decided right now. Shows, if they are worth doing, will continue on. The opportunity will come again next year and the following year. And perhaps then, things will have shifted, or not....either way, I will have a chance to decide again.

One opportunity has changing circumstances which may make participation more viable in the future. So I will reconsider that option in this new light. I could do the show this August, but in doing so I would have to work even harder and longer than it seems that I already do. And I would probably not be able to do things like a mailing prior to the show. Better to wait. Do it when I can plan ahead. When it was a planned choice rather than a reaction to an opportunity.

As I said in the prior post, doubt is inescapable. It is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy. It is our humanity. How we deal with the doubt is what can help us either move forward, or get stuck in an awful, unbearable place. Today feels a lot less stuck and murky than yesterday.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

NIAI Survey on the State of the Craft Market

Head over to Karren Britto's blog, Entwinements. She has a post about a survey being done by NIAI to assess the state of the business of craft. It has a link to their survey. The more working artists who fill it out, the more data they will have, and the more accurate picture they can paint.

The Doubt Trap

I have always had this idea that life contains this point of certainty. When you feel like things are clearer. Where the path is more defined by experience. That when you reach this certain point (still undefined), the decisions facing you become clearer and easier. Wouldn't that be nice?

The reality of life seems to be that the only thing I can be sure of is that doubt will always be along for the ride. I guess in the end it is managing the doubt. Knowing when to listen to those questioning and skeptical voices, and when to ignore them. Right now I seem to be trying to avoid the questions!
Lately I have been recieving invitations to do various shows. On one level it is very flattering...."They like me! They really like me!"......but on the other hand, I am sometimes just another warm body to fill a space and write a check. Quite a few are ones that I know I have no interest in doing, and they go right into the recycle bin. But then there are the ones that make me pause. Ones that I might have said I didn't want to do for one reason or another. And now I feel the need to question that position. The general buzz might be bad, but there are those differing voices from some people I trust.
On the other hand, what if I spend all that money....and the shows I am considering are not cheap ones to do....and all I have done is help the promoter's bottom line, and stretched mine even thinner? This is the risk. Am I up for the risk? And what about doing some advertising? Should I focus my scarce resources there instead?
The craft business is not a vibrant and healthy one right now for artists. Some artists are doing well. But many are struggling. I am getting by. Growing steadily each year, but not well enough that I can act on a whim or impulse.

NPR had a program on the other day about how we are developing two economies. The overall economic statistics are meaningless because they are averaging two diverse pools. Those who are doing well, are doing very, very well. But for the rest of is a struggle. Purchasing a handcrafted item is not something that is being done on impulse or a whim anymore. The cash that was once available for those kinds of purchases now goes in the gas tank or to medical expenses. One theory, put forth during the radio program, was that this greater separation between the haves and the have nots will ultimately hurt the rich as well. Spending by the masses slows down. The investments of the well off will not perform as well. The whole economy gets dragged down.

Trickle down has never been an economic theory I subscribed to. If it was working, the well off would be spending their money at the fine craft shows far more freely than I have witnessed. Instead, the majority of the money seems to be invested so that it can grow more money. The real movement of money for goods and services happens lower down. And this has stagnated, if not slid into reverse.

This whole macro scenario just feeds the doubt on my very micro level. Is doing a show that might be a risk the right thing to do in this climate? But is fear the way I want to run my business? By running away from fear, am I running into debt? You get the picture.....the cyclical whirlpool of doubt has pulled me in.

Generally I am a glass half full kind of person. But when it comes to making some of these investments in my business, I am feeling very unsure. The data is scarce and sketchy. The cost large.

In the meantime, the studio is safe. The creative forces don't seem to be as bothered by the external economic forces. They are a natural phenomenon that just goes on and on. As long as they are fed and nurtured. I have been on a wave of exploration for the last month that has been an incredible joyous ride. This jolt of reality is jarring and unsettling. But if I am to be a working artist, necessary to explore.

I wish I could end this post with some sort of satisfying conclusion. A decision of some sort. But today is not a day for certainty. It is a day of limbo. The best I can offer .....stay tuned. Either I make a decision, or the deadline lapses.

Here are some pictures of what I have been working on for the last few days...I may be full of doubt, but I am having fun in the studio!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Summertime Imbalance

The kids are off from school, and I am trying to find the new balance in my day between work and family. There have been more distractions, and more demands on my time. So what does an at-home artrepreneur do?

These are some of my solutions:

1. My studio is on the main floor of the house. We sacrificed the family room to become my studio. I am at the front of the house, so I can see outside to see what is going on there, and I can see and hear what is happening in the house. "Mom's ears" are vital. They let me know what is going on and when I need to stop what I am doing and investigate. This solution will not work for everyone, but if you can manage it, I highly recommend it.

2. My studio door is never shut. My kids are welcome to come in, sit down, look at what I am working on, or carry on a conversation. I have found that these conversations are much like the conversation you have in a car. I may be busy doing my work while I listen, so my eyes are not focused on whoever is talking. Sometimes it is easier to share things that might otherwise be hard to share under these circumstances. My kids know they can come talk to me about nearly anything, and they do.

3. Be able to work for 15 minutes if that is all you have. I have the luxury of working in a media that can be left for five hours or five days and not need special attention in that time away. It may be much more satisfying to work for five or even ten hours straight without interruptions or distractions. But that is a luxury I do not have. So I have to work with the time I have, in whatever form it comes. And if you can't possibly do your art work in small chunks, there is always some sort of business task that needs to be done. Emails to send. Papers to file. Postcards to address.

4. Books and videos. I am lucky to have two great readers. My youngest is actually a voracious reader. She can consume three or more good size books in a week. Yesterday we hit Borders, and later this week we will be visiting the library. This buys me chunks of time that is worth every penny I spent on those books. We also signed up for the program at Blockbuster this week where you can exchange out videos as often as you would like. We got two videos, and we have already done one trade. I would rather have them watching movies than much of what is on TV.

5. Putting the kids to work. The postcards were addressed this weekend while we were away, but now I need to stamp them and put the stickers with the information about the show on them. The kids love to do this, and I can pay them a minimal sum of money to do this job. It frees me up to do other work, and they are happy to be able to help out and make a few dollars.

6. Don't make deadlines that are too tight. You need as much flexibility as you can possibly get when you have kids. Too tight a deadline, and you may find yourself losing your temper with the kids or husband, and spending late nights trying to make up time. You need as much slack time as you can possibly give yourself.

7. If there is work that can be done sitting in front of the television, sit with the kids while they watch those movies. I have a laptop now, so I can sit and check my email, maybe write a blog, or otherwise get caught up while I am with my family. My drawing/coloring on my work is often done at this time. I may not "watch" television, as much as I listen to it, but being in the same room with everyone is important. A physical presence counts for a lot. And it is a way to keep an eye on what is being watched, or being there if something needs to be talked about.

8. Be flexible. This should be rule number one for any working mom. You need as much flexibility as you possibly can muster. Things will happen. Plans will need to be changed. Going with the flow is the main survival tool.

9. If you can afford it, camp. My kids will spend two or three weeks at day camp this summer. Those will be the weeks that will be the most productive of the summer. More time would be great, but it is not in the budget. The range of costs for camp is huge. And cost is not always an indicator of quality. Check around. Talk with other parents. My daughter's school has a summer camp fair each year around February. It is a chance to learn about some options that we might not have otherwise known about.

10. Don't be unrealistic about housekeeping or meals. Pare down to the essentials. Take out from time to time is acceptable. Trader Joe's is my best friend. Shopping is fast and easy because the choices are not overwhelming. The food is reasonably priced and reasonably healthy, and most of it is easy to prepare. If they are old enough, teach your kids how to put their dishes in the dishwasher. Familiarize them with the workings of the laundry room. The same can be said for spouses. This is the place where most people struggle. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Is it to satisfy someone else? Is it realistic for your life? Balance is the objective here. Give a little in one area, get a little somewhere else.

I work a lot. But I also have the luxury of being home when my kids get off the bus, or when there is no school, or when someone gets sick. I know what makes them tick, and they know they can come talk to me at nearly anytime...just stay away when I am on the phone with a customer! They have learned a lot. Not just about clay....but about what it takes to run a business. They know what Mom does at work. The juggling may be a struggle at times. But how many companies offer benefits like these?

Friday, June 22, 2007


I hate being away from my work. I love what I do that much.

So, being perfectly honest, I am a tiny bit resentful that I will be away for the next few days, inside a dark, cold ice skating rink. I will be doing hair, makeup and dress changes for my two daughters. This weekend is the ISI New England Districts Competition. ISI is the less competitive wing of skating competitions. It is still competitive, but it does not lead to the Olympics. It is more about learning, doing, and having some fun.

My daughters are proficient skaters. They sometimes do very well, and sometimes not. But what I love, is that they do it. They get out there on that ice, in front of judges and onlookers and skate for 2 or 3 minutes, all by themselves. If they fall, they know to get back up and keep going. And they know that judging isn't always "fair". That it is subjective. That a judge my see you minor slip up, and miss another skaters major goof. But they keep skating anyway. As a parent, that is all I ask. And, if they are enjoying themselves. If not, it is time to say adios to the skating world.

My husband skates too. I love that he can share this with the girls. They can talk the language of edges, loops and laybacks. Dads and daughters can not always find the common ground. And my daughters opened this world up to him, and he is having fun learning a new skill.

So this weekend, I have to walk away from the clay. I am bringing some pod components and beads with me in the hopes that I can do a bit of assembly. But the main work I will be doing is addressing postcards for the Guilford Craft Show in July, on the green in Guilford, CT. The list has grown to nearly 250 people from about 160 last year. It does pay to leave out a notebook and pen at a show, and to get addresses from those who make a purchase.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Drawing Pictures

Not all pictures are drawn with pen and paper. Sometimes the visual is created with words. For instance, who is your customer? Not an individual customer. But the typical customer for your work. This is something you should think about and review from time to time. By understanding who your customer is, you can make more intelligent decisions about the best shows for your work, how to promote your work, and help the stores and galleries who represent your work sell it better.

The best way to start filling out this picture is to start asking questions.

Are they young, middle-aged, or older?
Are they male or female?
Is the purchase more often made by an individual or a couple?
Are they buying for themselves or as a gift?
Where do they fit on the economic spectrum?
Are they urban, suburban or rural?
Are they hipsters or traditionalists?
What kinds of magazines do you think they read?
Do they surf the web?
Do they hate cellphones, the internet, and anything tech?
Nature lovers or modernists?

Get the idea? If, like me, you like to people watch, this kind of task can be fun. It is people watching in reverse, sort of. Instead of watching people go by and creating the back story for them, you are building the person from their story first.

What if you have absolutely no idea? Well, it is time to start paying attention. Who is getting excited about your work? Ask them questions. Being chatty with customers or the visitors to your booth can be a great way to gain insight into who your buyers are. As you package a purchase, or process the sale, you can be learning little bits of information about this person and why they are buying from you. Not the inquisition, just some simple open ended questions that might get them talking about themselves and why they are buying your work.

For instance, do they usually come to this show? Is this purchase a gift? You could notice any jewelry they might already be wearing if you sell jewelry. I remember a show I did about two years ago, and there were a lot of people who liked my work who happened to be wearing jewelry made by Lauren Pollano. I happen to be a fan of her work, so I recognized it immediately. I have come to know when someone comes into my booth wearing some sort of "art jewelry" they are a better candidate for a purchase than someone wearing more traditional jewelry. Even if you do not sell jewelry, the jewelry someone is wearing may tell you a lot about that person's style and taste.

These conversations will also reveal what it is about your work that people are responding to. This can help hone your story of your work. Rather than the story from the point of view of the creator, it is the story from the point of view of the observer. Which point of view do you think is more effective for selling your work?

Selling and promoting your work effectively means sometimes you need to take on the role of a detective or journalist. Dispassionately observing and noting. Taking in the information and processing it so that you can draw a picture. The picture of your customer. How much detail can you sketch out?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Yes and You

I was thinking today about two simple words, Yes and No. We learn what they mean and how to say them very early on in life. And we learn that simple words can have a great deal of power. Saying "yes" to a request can bring a smile, while a "no" can bring disappointment. If you love to please, as many women do, we begin to feel very comfortable with yes, and not so at ease with no. It is an easy way to work our way into the favor of others. "Yes." "I can do that." "Sure. I'll help with that." Have kids, and the opportunities to say "yes" multiply dramatically. Not just with your kids, but with school, and activities, and friends. Without much thought, we can "yes" ourselves into exhaustion and oblivion.

Each time we say "yes" to someone else's request, we may well be saying "no" to ourselves. "No" to the time to pursue something important to us. "No" to five minutes to put our feet up, close our eyes and just be. "No" to whatever it is that we might be doing if we hadn't committed ourselves to another's agenda.

Now before I sound all self-centered and selfish, let me say I am all for volunteering time and effort. But, I have also learned to do it with consciousness. Make a choice to help when and where it really matters to you as well as to the person who is asking for your help. Are you bringing something of yourself, and your special talents to what you are giving? Or are you just another body filling in the space?

I am advocating saying "Yes" to yourself. Sometimes that means saying "no" to others. It is hard and scary to do if you are used to saying yes to any and all requests that come your way that you are physically able to do. But all those "yes's" can be exhausting.

You may find yourself working on that "simple, little project" one evening, while the rest of your family watches a video. You may feel the resentment starting to creep up, saying to yourself, "they won't even appreciate this." "Why am I doing this?" This is a clear sign that the word "no" needs way more exercise in your vocabulary. Or you may find yourself with a full calendar, and the constant complaint that you would love to do "whatever" but you just don't have the time. Saying no to the requests that someone else could just as easily do could mean a chance to say "yes" to spending an evening painting, reading, writing, or meeting a friend for an overdue lunch together.

If you are a Yes-aholic, catch yourself the next time you find yourself ready to let that word glide off your lips with such ease. Pause for a second and actually think about what you are agreeing to. Ask yourself a few questions.

Do I want to do this?

Could someone else just as easily do this?

Why am I doing this?

You may still say "yes", but you will have thought about it first. And when you do say "no", you might just see the world does not stop. The special activities do not cease, or if they do, perhaps there just was not enough interest to sustain it.

Say yes to others when you know that you want to do whatever it might be. But embrace the idea of saying yes to youself too. A "yes" to your dreams. A "yes" to your wishes. A "yes" to some time for You. You are worth it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rules to Live By

Sister Corita Kent was the artist behind this famous gas storage tank just outside of Boston. I had seen it many times, but knew nothing about the artist. Turns out she also designed a Love stamp that sold more than 700 million copies. Today, as I wandered through several blogs I came across a post about her and her time as the head of the art department of Immaculate College. She was an printmaker, and the author of several books about creativity and teaching creativity. One out of print book, Learning by Heart is difficult to find, and when available as a used book it is selling at multiples of it's original price. Fortunately, I was able to track down a copy through our library exchange program.

What got me interested in learning more about Sister Corita Kent? Her rules. The rules she had posted in the art studios of Immaculate College.

Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules: by Sister Corita Kent

Rule I

Rule 2

Rule 3

Rule 4

Rule 5

Rule 6

Rule 7

Rule 8

Rule 9

Rule 10


This woman was brilliant! I love these rules. Especially rules 4, 6, 8, and 9. And of course the last line about new rules coming next week. Don't get too comfortable. Things will change, won't they?

I hope you find her wisdom as inspirational as I did. I will be printing these out, and finding a place for them in my studio. Or perhaps copying them into my journal! How's that journal of your's coming?

Friday, June 15, 2007


Where do you find your inspiration? How do you know where your artistic voice comes from? When you are starting to get serious about your creative work, this can be the most difficult thing to figure out. I don't think there is an absolute answer. As we grow, and change, and get exposed to more things in our lives, our voice will change and evolve. It is like looking back at a high school yearbook and seeing how styles and fashions changed. At the time, it worked. But now, it feels out of place and uncomfortable.

One of my favorite tools to try and explore this terrain is journaling. Spending time just writing. Noticing. When I was writing my artist pages (The Artist's Way) each morning, I would often start out noticing the color of the sky. And as my writing drifted here and there, I would notice the sky changing as the early morning light changed. It was a little thing, but for someone who loves color, I could get lost in studying the sky some mornings. Trying to write down what it looked like made me really study it carefully.

As I walk through my yard these days, my eyes are drawn here and there. Noticing all the changes happening faster than I can absorb them. I am particularly drawn to the colors. Noticing combinations of colors, or subtlties of hues. The forms and scents are beautiful, but what draws me the most is the color. One of my favorite shrubs/plants are two hydrangea plants I bought five years ago on Cape Cod. They start out this soft, icy shade of green. Then the petals start to turn blue and violet. But it is as if done in a watercolor painting. I love watching the transistion. The blues get more vivid and the violets start to deepen. By the end of summer they are a sage green and burgundy. It is like watching a magic show in slow motion for me.

So how can you figure out what it is that sings to you? I love doing collage to explore this area. Get a stack of magazines. All sorts. But with plenty of pictures. Then go through the magazines. Turn the pages and scan. If anything draws your attention just a bit more than the rest, tear that page out. If you find your turn the page and then want to go back to see the previous page again, listen to that. Tear that page out. Something pulled you back. You don't want to overthink this. You just want to look, and listen. Listen from your heart and your gut. Your head needs to be as quiet as possible.

Once you have a pile of pictures, try and sort them in some way. See if there are certain trends that are happening. Are there colors, patterns, or images that you see again and again in the torn pages? Or is it words or text? Don't judge, just notice.

Then you can create a journal for yourself with your images. Get one of those simple composition notebooks. The kind with the lined paper, and the black and white blotchy design on the covers. Start covering the front and back covers with your images. A glue stick will work fine. You can continue the collage into the inside covers of the notebook. After you have it covered, get some clear packing tape, and tape over the collage to protect it. Now you have a place to write down some of your thoughts and ideas. Tape pictures of things that inspire you. Draw doodles. Each time you use it, you will see those images that caught your eye over and over again. And it may seep into you in a way that will not even be perceptible right away. But it may work it's way in through your eyes, and back out again through your hands.

We all have things that draw us more than others. But with all the noise in our lives, and all the distractions, we sometimes need to amplify that inner voice. Quiet the external, and listen and focus more closely to what we respond to. And when we start to find it, trust it. Don't start judging it. It is what it is. No matter what the more you trust it and nuture it, the louder and stronger it will become.

Have fun! And be sure to use that beautiful journal when you are done. Here are some pictures of two journals I made some time back.


Inside covers

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Dangerous Line

I find I walk a fine and dangerous line with this blog.

I have not been at this business of craft for all that long. Less than four years selling my work. Yet I am sharing my experiences in a way that could be seen as giving advice. Actually I do give advice or even absolutes from time to time. How can I possibly be in a position to do this? Who do I think I am, anyway?

Part of why I started this blog was from my experiences in meeting with other artists in various settings. I found I was often sharing resources or experiences with others. Some were just starting out. So I could relate to the sense of being overwhelmed with so much to learn. Others had been in business for years, but wanted to know about something in my booth, or who I used to print postcards, or other such things. I was more than happy to share what I knew or had learned along the way.

This blog was a way to broaden that discussion. To share my travels with others in the hopes that they may learn some things as I do. From my mistakes as well as successes.

But, it could be that someone could read it and see it in a different light. For instance, my recent post about booth fees. My story was about what I had experienced with my work, in various settings. But it will not be the same story for everyone. What I hope, is that you the reader, will process this in light of your own situation. You may not even be selling your work. Voyeurs to the process are welcome, but be warned, it may be like making sausage at times! You may not want to really see what goes on behind the scenes!

Feel free to throw out with abandon any and every piece of advice that I offer that you think is wrong for you. If something makes you pause and think, great. Even if you never change your approach, you at least thought about what you were doing and why. And isn't that the most valuable thing we can do from time to time?

And finally, while I may be a neophyte in the business of craft, I am not new to the world of business. And some of what I have learned in other roles has been able to help me in this new arena. That is where I hope I can offer something in my stories and my advice. I am experiencing this through the filter of someone with an MBA and business experience. Not that an MBA is the be all and end all of anything. But, it is information.

Likewise, my observations about the creative process are really observations about my creative process. I share them because I know I struggled for years with this area. It took me a long time to feel freer to explore and trust the process. I hope by sharing my insights, you may be able to reflect upon your own experience.

I heard Roy Blunt, Jr. being interviewed on NPR the other day. He talked about how easy it is to get on our high horse from time to time. And he observed that sometimes what we need is the medium horse. That is where I try to speak from. Learning, but with enough experience to share and perhaps shed a little light. But by no means an expert. More than willing to hear other points of view. So feel free to disagree in the comments if you have a different point of view from what I have expressed. I want to learn from you as well in this trip. I hope you have a window seat.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Welcome to Podlandia!

I have been engaged in discovery for the last few weeks. Exploring the possibilities of Sculpey Ultralight, (thanks to Libby Mills!). Playing with these new pod elements, and figuring out some of the possibilities. I feel as if there is a lot of terrain to be covered still, but so far, I am intriqued.
Part of my inspiration for these pieces comes from all the wonderful pictures of pods and botanical beauty that Susan Lumoto regularly posts at her blog, Polymer Clay Notes. And as I look outside my studio window here in New England in the late spring, I am inspired by all the growth that is happening around me. The clemantis is full of bright white "stars", and the rhodedendren and azalea's have been blooming right by the windows. Peonies, iris, an so much more. The colors and forms are always something that make me pause and notice.

I love that these new "beads", look interesting from many angles. And I love all the facets I have to play to interplay color and pattern. And now I am looking at more possibilities for construction. I have been able to make a few more of my other pod pieces, and continue to be inspired by this new form. I will leave you with a few pictures. I have to run out to a local gallery, Five Crows, in Natick, MA. I will be the featured artist starting Friday, through the 29th. It means my work will be available at a discounted price. I hope to have some of the new work there to see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shows, Booth Fees, and more.....

I did my first show in the Fall of 2004. It was an outdoor show put on by a local service organization. The booth fee for the show was only $75 for a two day show. But it was a mix of the notorious "buy-sell" folks, and those who were showing and selling their own handicraft. It was supposed to be a juried show. I have since heard some refer to these shows as being juried by check.

It was a good show to get my feet wet....literally, it rained most of the weekend. But I also learned about how important it is to learn as much as possible about a show before committing your hard earned money. I came out ahead, but I knew it was not the right environment for my work.

This weekend I did the Art in the Park show put on by the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA. I like this show. It is a local show for me, and the booth fee is a very affordable $150. They attract a good crowd. Good in numbers, and appreciation for handcraft. But there is the risk of rain. It is a one day show, rain or shine. Fortunately for the two years I have done it, the weather has cooperated.

All together, I have done sixteen shows since the fall of 2004. Not a lot by some standards. Some artists do more than that each year. But enough to look back and see what I could learn from the experience. I spent the morning crunching the numbers.

One comment I hear frequently from artists is that a show is "too expensive", based on the booth fee. The worst sales I ever had at a show was one with a $50 booth fee. The show with the greatest sales dollars had the most expensive booth fee. But it also was an expensive show for me to do. Out of town, no great deals for hotels, the end not worth the overall costs.

If you look at the graph below, you will see that the general trend is that as the booth fee increases, so do the sales. I guess you could say it eliminates the riff raff. You have to be serious about your work and your business to pony up $1000 or more to do a show. In business speak this is a barrier to entry. Conversely, the easier it is to do something, the more competition there is. This is where the focus is based on price, first and foremost...think EBay. The more obstacles there are to enter the market, the better the chances are for profitability on the other side. Another barrier to entry into these better shows is the jury.

The smooth curve is the exponential trend line of sales. It is an attempt to smooth out the noise.

With each show it gets easier. I can relax and enjoy it quite a bit more. I am not so frazzled, or overwhelmed by the preparation. This last show I did not have the pre-show panic until about 4 p.m., the day before the show. And recognizing it for what it was made it easier to manage. In the beginning I could work myself into a mass of anxiety for a good week or more before a show. I was always worried about not having enough work or the right, what I have is what I have. And it is more than enough. I have never come close to running out of inventory. I no longer panic about what the sales will be. It doesn't do a thing to help the outcome, and I have learned there are just too many variables beyond my control.

I played with prices a bit at this show. Some older stock that I wanted to get rid of I priced lower than the comparable new work. Guess what? There was no difference in sales. People chose based on what they liked, not the difference in price. They were more likely to get a design in a smaller size if price is an issue than to go for a less expensive but different design.

I am still trying to find the perfect balance. The right shows, the right work, the right prices. The unattainable utopia. Each show teaches me a few more lessons, and moves me a bit closer to where I want to be.

Beyond the dollars and cents though, shows are the best place I know to find out how people react to my work. To see what gets ooh's and aaah's. To see what someone points out to there friends or family. It is market research in the best sense.

I will never love the set up and tear down. But for now, I like that chance to get out of my studio. To meet other artists. To meet the people who admire my work. To see my work through the eyes of others.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Saturday Smiles

This is from a portfolio called Dreams of Flying by Jan Von Hollenben. I just love the idea. Click on the picture to see the rest of the portfolio.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The One Percent Solution

We all face it from time to time. The insurmountable task. The “should” that looks like Mt. Everest. We know we should do it. We may even want to do it. But it just seems like too much to tackle. Maybe it is a goal to exercise, to save money, to make time to create, to file the mountain of paperwork that threatens an avalanche. Whatever it is, we each face our own Everest at times.

My challenge right now is getting fit again. When I last wrote about this topic I was gearing up again. Getting my head ready to take on this insurmountable task. Well, here I am, three months later, and having made very little progress. I have excuses…..don’t we all! But re-read that sentence….”having made very little progress.” Did I say no progress. Nope. I have made some progress.

As I finished my session on the exercise bike this morning I felt good for doing it. But then the judgement started to creep in. “Yeah, but you haven’t exercised since last Wednesday. Who are you kidding?” You know the drill. A minimum of three times per week for at least thirty minutes, right? Ideally five or six hours per week, with a mix of aerobic, strength and flexibility training. I know what is “supposed” to happen. I have been there. But I am not there now. And it would be easy to beat myself up for my failures.

But I didn’t. No. I decided to celebrate the fact that I had exercised at least once a week for two weeks in a row. I decided I needed a new approach to this whole enchilada. No three days per week, or five hours, or whatever. Not yet. All that works great for people who are already in shape. And for those of you who are, congratulate yourself for taking care of yourself. But stay tuned. This is not just for dieters and exercisers. This is for any challenge we face.

Years ago, after I got out of college, and I was struggling to get myself established far from home in my first apartment, I knew I needed to start saving. But how? It seemed like outflows could easily exceed inflows for ever and ever. And they could have. But they didn’t. What did I do? I read an article in a magazine about what I now call the One Percent Solution. I don’t know what they called it, but that is what I am calling it now.

The solution was this. The first month I would save one percent of my income for that month. That was it. No more. Just one percent. Think how easy that sounds. And by doing it, you suddenly feel like you are doing something about that impossible task. The next month, make it two percent. Still sounds manageable doesn’t it? And it was. It was easy. I knew I could do it. And I did. And I continued this pattern for each month till I was putting at least ten percent of my income into savings. Any large, unexpected chunk of money that came my way, I would put into savings, except for ten percent. That was my “wild money”. I could spend it any way I wanted. No need to justify or explain. Just have fun with it. It is amazing how much thought you will put into spending wild money!

Similarly, my husband and I did a mini-triathalon many years ago. I had been working out regularly then, but not feeling very motivated or inspired. My husband was even a little less motivated than me. I was reading an article in American Health magazine (no longer in print) about their Conch-a-thon. It was a triathalon that was being held in the Bahamas in November. This sounds pretty sweet when you live in New England. They mapped out a complete six month training schedule. Start here. Follow the schedule. And end up being ready to complete a triathalon. A Conch-a-Thon is unlike a regular triathalon. No one keeps track of times or places. There is a big clock at the finish line for those who absolutely must know their finishing time. There is a photographer taking pictures as people cross the finish line. But that is what it is about. Getting across that finish line. Accomplishing the goal. No matter how slow or inelegantly. I embraced this philosophy whole-heartedly. I had a secret desire to do a triathalon for years, but was intimidated by the running part. I hated to run. I could swim and bike. But running was a struggle. I looked at the training schedule, and suddenly the unattainable seemed entirely possible.

The first day all we had to do was run or walk for half a mile. That was it. And it started out at only three days per week. The progression was gradual. I never grew to love running, and I found my comfortable limit was four miles. Beyond that I had pain in my hips and knees that stayed with me all day long. But I did run up to six miles in training. Before I started the program I did not think I could do it.

None of these accomplishments were easy. They all had their struggles. But they were easier. I was not asking myself to go from zero to sixty in mere seconds. It was a gentle ease into the process. Making it as painless and doable as possible.
So I now am looking at the one day a week as an accomplishment. Next week two days. That’s it. And I am only asking myself to do fifteen minutes each time. Eventually I will get there. Five days a week for thirty minutes or more a day. But right now, I have to ease into it. I have to be gentle to my body and my psyche.

So what is your Mount Everest?

More time for your art work? How about ten minutes once a week. That is it. Make it so easy you can hardly believe how simple it is to accomplish.

Starting to sell your artwork? Pick one thing to research and understand better. A shop near you. A show to visit, or learn about on-line. Esty. Take the baby step forward to learn a bit more about one thing. One way to begin to move toward your goal.

Whatever the goal, break it down to them most simple, doable step possible. Something that you can slowly build on over time.

Revel in your achievement. Even those itsy bitsy baby steps. They count. They are movement. However glacial. And they are the momentum that will continue your forward movement. I dare you. Give it a try.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Reveal

I teased yesterday. Today, I reveal.

I am calling these "Ultra Pods" for their resemblence to seed pods, and the material they are made up (Sculpey Ultralight).
I must have put these silly things together two dozen ways before I started to figure out where I was going with this. But that is part of the creative process, isn't it? We get an idea, and start exploring it. Roadblocks are inevitable. I can't think of many ideas that went according to plan right from conception.
I could have said, "It didn't work. What was I thinking." But there was something there that intrigued me. I wanted to push it a bit further, and continue to play with it. Using various materials to string them, and multiple arrangements and methods. For me, this is one of the most engaging parts. It is frustrating at times to be sure, but it also is a challenge. A puzzle to be solved. Sometimes I would think I had it worked out, and then I would find out there was a problem with how a piece would lay or hang. A continuous cycling.
Even work that I have been doing for a few years now is cycling and evolving. Tweaking, playing, exploring the what-ifs. On one level it can be frustrating. There is little time to rest and settle. But on another level, it is what keeps me engaged in the work. It is not static. It is alive and vital as the process.
Have you given yourself a play day lately? Maybe it is time? And when you play, do you let yourself go down the dead ends without out recrimination? That is where the discoveries happen, and where the real fun can be sometimes. I have puzzles that are still unsolved. Some may stay that way forever. But others will resurface at another time, when I have learned something new, or seen something that triggers a potential solution for me. But the play is essential. The studio as laboratory. Playing. Experimenting. Learning and discovering.

Monday, June 4, 2007


My daughter's school institute a new program this year. The principal had morning meetings with a small group of parents before school. It was a chance for her to meet informally with everyone, and have a chance for everyone to meet with her. It was a way to find out what was on the mind of the parents.

When I went to my meeting back in the fall I did not really know what to expect. To begin the conversation, she went around the table and had everyone talk about a memory of their elementary school experience. What revealed itself in that process was fascinating. Over and over again someone would talk about that special teacher. That person who saw and encouraged a talent or gift, or nurtured an interest. Someone who saw and encouraged a writer. Someone who nurtured a love for music. Someone who challenged them to do their best.

That special teacher for me was Mrs. Johnson in fourth grade. Mrs. Johnson encouraged my love of drawing. In her class, I loved writing. Somewhere between her class, and later classes I lost my confidence in myself as a writer or an artist. But she saw something in me, and nurtured it. I can't remember any other grade school teacher as clearly as her.

As I sat and listened to each story that morning, and recalled Mrs. Johnson, I could not help but suddenly realize how a teacher who sees us for who we are, and mirrors that back to us, can make a profound difference in our lives. I heard stories of lifes that took a new direction because of a teacher's intervention. Did you have a Mrs. Johnson in your life?

At that meeting I suddenly knew what I wanted for my daughters. A teacher who could mirror back and celebrate the very best in who they are. Having more than one such teacher in our lives is unlikely. But just one can make a difference.

Play Time

I spent most of the weekend playing. I had lots of work to get done in preparation for a show next weekend, and in anticipation of a photographer coming to take pictures in my studio. Instead I started exploring some ideas that had been playing around in my head.

It was interesting to see the twists and turns an idea takes when it goes from concept to clay. Reality has to be incorporated in unanticipated ways. But it engages me. As much as I knew I had work to be done, the idea of problem solving was more intriguing.

I will give you just a hint right now. I am getting close to working out some designs. But nothing is ready for photography yet. It is different from work I have been doing, yet complimentary to the pod series I started a few months back. I am using the Sculpey Ultralight, after being inspired by a conversation with Libby Mills. And the original kernel of an idea came from a book by Lark Books, The Art of Jewelry: Paper Jewelry by Marthe Le Van.

The bracelet on the cover was the piece that inspired me. I have ended up far, far away from that piece, but I am excited about the direction it is going in. I hope to have pictures later this week.

The Sculpey Ultralight is wild stuff. Libby got me intriqued when she told me how great it was for applying ink, pencil, paint, etc. She compared it to a high quality paper. I knew then that I had to play with this stuff. It is so very light and flexible. It feels a bit foam like. But the weight is fantastic for jewelry, along with it's clay like properties.

I love the book by the way. It is full of some wonderful work, and it gets my gears going about possible ways to translate some of it into polymer clay. When I first started working in polymer clay, each book about polymer clay was full of inspiration and new ideas for playing with clay. Yet right from the beginning, I found I was experimenting with translating ideas from other media to clay.

How do you look at a book? Is it a book of projects or ideas to play with? I enjoy seeing the projects as launching points. The project is an entry inside one person's head to understand how they work. But invariably asking and exploring what could be done from there.
It feels good to have spent time playing and exploring. My muse needed this time. But I do have to get down to the real work at hand very, very soon.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Why Compete?


For some it is a dirty word. It connotes all that is dark in our spirits. But for others, it spurs them on to new heights of performance. Some seem to pass that boat all together....and are not necessarily any worse off for it.

When I worked in marketing, a lot of what I did was looking at the competition. Understanding their product. Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out how to improve our position. It was really all about competition.

Now that I am a craftsperson, I look at the "competition" differently. First off, my competition at a show is every single artist, in every single media who is there. Overwhelming in shear size and scope. We all, on some level, are competing for the dollars of the buyers who come to the show. My competition is not limited to those doing similar work to what I do. It is across the board.

Given that scenario, worrying about what everyone else is doing, within a framework of competition is a complete waste of time. Instead, I try to focus my attention on myself and my work. Is my work the best it can be? What can I do differently to improve it? I listen to the input I receive from others, and process it along the way.

I look at my booth and how my work is presented, and how I talk about my work. Merchandising and sales. Am I doing all I can to make the work shine? Is my booth an inviting space? Am I listening enough to what people are asking me or telling me?

The focus is not on what others are doing, or not doing, so much as it is on what I can do. The beauty of this is that it removes the "dark energy", lol! I can enjoy the work of my fellow artists at a show. I can recommend shows or galleries that might be a good fit for them. I can share information I have learned about selling, merchandising, marketing, etc. without fear or trepidation.

Life is not always a zero sum game. One person's win being another person's loss. Sometimes it is more viral. Sometimes success breeds success, which breeds more success. Celebrating others work and wins does not diminish our own. Likewise, a defensive and competitive attitude can close off the sharing of others.

I enter my work into competitions. Winning is nice. But truth be told, my motivation is more from a marketing perspective. It is exposure. It is credentials. With or without the competition, my work is what it is. And given the creative process it is always in evolution anyway. One piece, at one point in time, with one set of judges, may or may not do well. I make my work because I have to. I enter it in competitions because it may generate some publicity for my work, which will help my business. I don't make work specifically for a competition. I have never, ever, once, sat down and said, "Okay, I need to make a great piece for such and such a competition." That would be the kiss of death to my creative process. It would be too much of an all or nothing mentality for me. Remember Art & Fear. If a deadline is approaching, and I have the time, I will look around at what I have and decide what might be a good piece to enter. Perhaps this would seem as if I am not investing enough into the process of making a piece for a competition. Maybe. But being over invested in a contest just is not who I am.

Competition is not necessarily bad. Nor it is always so great. But in perspective and proportion, it can motivate. Are you driven by competition? Why do you compete? When and where does it feel safe, and when do you want to avoid it?

I have several pieces in competitions that I will learn about later this month. That may seem to have been the motivation for this post. But it wasn't. It was seeing someone whose work I love getting the recognition it deserved, and feeling thrilled to see it happen. Not only do I love her work, but I like her. She is a kind and generous person, with wisdom and humor. Seeing her achieve recognition for her work is exciting. Having kids gives us that experience over and over again. But it does not have to be limited to our relatives.

Celebrate someone else this week. Send them an e-mail or a note to convey your feelings. It will be viral. It will help them feel a little more special for the moment that the sun is shining on them.