Friday, August 31, 2007

Being Nice

Nice gets a bad rap. I remember a friend from college remarking that we use "nice" to describe someone when we can't think of anything better to say. It is somewhat vague and vapid.

Or, is it?

According to a new book that I recently received, The Power of Nice, this is not the case at all. Authors Linda Kaplan Thater and Robin Koval will tell you that being nice has its own rewards. The authors draw on their personal experiences and stories from others, to illustrate why it pays to be nice.
What does it say when one of the top business books of the last few decades has been The Tao of War? When we are adopting the mindset of looking out for ourselves at work so that we can get ahead, or maybe just survive, can we just shift gears to being kind and thoughtful when we are away from the office environment? Based on some of the behavior I see on the highway, or in public places, I doubt it.
Kaplan Thaler and Koval have developed six Power of Nice Principles:
1. Positive impressions are like seeds. According to the authors, smiling and saying hello, laughing at a joke, and similar simple acts, are ways of planting seeds of positive energy. And this positive energy will grow and expand.
2. You never know. Treating everyone you meet with respect and kindness is important. You never know how those simple acts can make a big difference.
3. People change. Who we are today, is not necessarily who we will be in five, ten or twenty years. The power shifts. And if we have spent our time being nice to those in power, and thoughtless to those who can't help us, we may find ourselves in a very uncomfortable situation at a later date. Treating everyone with respect and kindness is never a bad idea.
4. Nice must be automatic. You can't be calculating the potential returns of your act before you act. It must be automatic and authentic. Otherwise the small but powerful opportunities to be nice to another person will be missed.
5. Negative impressions are like germs. Just like germs are invisible, the rude or inconsiderate remark or behavior will create a negative impression which is not immediately apparent, but will contaminate you and those around you.
6. You will know. If you behave badly to another you will know it. You will feel it every time you are in the presence of that person. It will affect your comfort and confidence.
The main premise presented in the book that I completely agree with is that life is not a zero sum game. There is not a limited pot from which we draw. One person's success does not mean my failure. By giving a compliment or help to another person, I do not take away from my own ability to succeed. If anything it is enhanced.
In the spirit of the book, I will give away a copy of the book. I will draw a name from anyone who leaves a "nice" deed or story in the comments. Some act of kindness or generousity that was done without expecting anything in return.
I will start off the stories with one of my own. Last week, when I was in Colorado, I gave a demo on how to fold origami forms with polymer clay. During the week I was making cranes, planning to give them to the other artists at the retreat. But one evening, some of the staff of the facility where we were staying came to visit the workroom. They had done much during the week to make our stay enjoyable. But the enthusiasm and excitement they brought to the workroom that night was wonderful. I decided that I would give the cranes to the staff members instead.
So, on Friday I delivered the cranes to one of the staff members to distribute. She put each crane in a bag, with the story about the cranes in each bag. I love to be able to spread the cranes around. And this little act just felt right.
Later that evening, a middle aged man approached my table, with a crane in hand. He wanted to know if I was Judy Dunn. He looked as if he was ready to shed a few tears. I stood up and gave him a hug. I didn't know his story, but I didn't need to. Clearly the crane had touched him in some special way. He told me a bit of his story, and how much the crane meant to him. And he wanted to buy three cranes for his family members for Christmas. He wanted to make sure the information about the cranes and what they symbolize was with each crane. He wanted to share the meaning of the cranes. Before he left the workroom that night, he decided he needed two more cranes. It was wonderful to get that sale of a few more cranes. But it was even more special to see someone be so touched by a simple little gift. Even if he never came forward, I knew giving those cranes to the staff there was the right thing to do. He just proved it to me.
Your story does not have to be that long, or involve your art or business. It could be that you smiled at the waiter or waitress, and thanked them when they served you. It could be helping your neighbor, or thanking your child for something they did. The small acts can be just as significant.
You have until midnight, next Friday, September 7, to share your nice story and inspire the rest of us. I will draw the name, and notify the winner. They will recieve a nice new copy of the book to read, and perhaps share with someone else.
Have a nice weekend! I look forward to your comments and stories.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Voice and Creation

Last week there was a great deal of discussion about making a technique that you learn from another your own. As might be expected, there really was no clear agreement.

First off, it requires an encyclopediac knowledge of who did what first, which can not always be known. There are always cases of synchronistic creation. Two or more people creating work that has a great deal in common, without one knowing of the other. The whole discussions invites the question, how different does your work have to be to be considered to be your own? If you learn a technique from an artist whose work is well known, there may always be elements of their technique that are recognizable. Is changing a palette enough, or changing the way you are using the technique? Or is it a matter of changing subject matter or form?

This is a discussion that will always draw people in, but will never be one for which there is universal agreement. One person may focus on the similarities, while another will see the differences. The first person who figured out that you could imitate the millefiore techniques of glasswork in polymer clay did not in turn own that technique. The first person who layered a piece of pottery with a different color clay, and then carved out a design did not own that technique. The artists of the Impressionist period had similarities in their technique that were very different than artists that preceded them. Does this mean they copied one another, or were they merely inspired by one another?

After being involved in, or on the periphery of several of these conversations, I had to smile when I read the following quote on Alyson Stanfield's Art Biz blog this morning...
From Elizabeth Murray, who recently passed away:
''Everything has been done a million times. Sometimes you use it and it's yours; another time you do it and it's still theirs.''
I think that is the most clear and succinct summary of this connundrum. On some level we are all tweaking the same ideas that have been done again and again. Yet at the same time, we are trying to bring our own personal interpretation to that repetition.

Last week, I had the good fortune to sit in a demonstration by Leslie Blackford about how to make her nightlights. I also was lucky enough to sit very near her, and be able to look over and watch her pieces evolve. It was like watching a story unfold. Leslie has clearly found her voice. And the enthusiasm her work recieves is in large part, I believe, because of the authenticity of that voice.

During the demo, Leslie spoke about a piece of advice she often gives people when they are trying to create an animal. She tells people to emphasize the feature that is distinctive to that animal. So on an elephant, it might be the ears and trunk, on a rabbit it might be the ears. With this emphasis, it is easier to create a recognizable form.

What if, when we try to adopt a technique, or a subject matter that has been done again and again....what if, we applied that same idea? Emphasis on whatever it is that draws us to it? Could that be the way to move toward our own independent interpretation?

Honestly, I don't know. But I do know it is something worth thinking about. Figuring out what it is about our work we need to emphasize, exaggerate perhaps. Magnifying, amplifying, making more apparent that which we are trying to communicate in our work. Dropping away all that is not part of who we are and what we are trying to say. I'd love to hear what you have to say about all of this. How do you find your way?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why Do We Like Something?

Last week, I sat across from another artist, who had various pieces of her work spread out on a black cloth. It was an eye-catching blend of color and sparkle, and it drew many people over to look and touch.

In this display was an inexpensive wood bracelet she had picked up at a flea market or street fair. It was in shades of blue, and had a simple but elegant design. She bought the piece to imitate in polymer clay, and had several pieces on display that were inspired by this wood bracelet. But each time someone went to pick up a bracelet, it was the blue, wooden one they would reach for. Over, and over, I watched this happen. Why would people be drawn to the inexpensive, wood bracelet, over the handcrafted ones?
I was reminded of this when I read about another artist's attempt to educate her audience at a craft show in the Design Diary blog. Quoting from an e-mail sent to Nicolette Tallmadge, and appearing in her blog:

"......I had placed a laminated sign titled “Buy from American Artisans: Here’s Why” which very simply stated, with easy-to-read bullet points, the reasons why handmade artisan jewelry is preferable to cheap mass-produced junk……During the course of the show, there were maybe seven or eight people who commented that they liked the exhibit and several wanted to buy my exhibit bracelet.
However, to my dismay, at least half a dozen people totally ignored the exhibit’s sign, picked up the cheap junk bracelet (which as part of the exhibit had its original pricetag of $3.99 on it) and wanted to buy it! ....

Two different artists, two different settings...and yet people
are reaching for an inexpensive, mass-produced bracelet, over the handcrafted one.


We could say it was price, but in the case of the artist sitting across from me, the price tag was not present. I do not have a picture of the bracelets in the exhibit by the other artist.

I am going to put myself out on a limb and hazard a guess here. I think that we are drawn to well-executed design. If we look closely we may see that the less expensive piece is made of inferior material, and may not hold up long term. But at a quick glance, we do get a sense of the

In the case of the bracelets across the table, the wood bracelet looked, and felt, lighter than the other pieces. The way the elements tapered, and had a slight curve was visually appealing. By contrast, the other bracelets had elements that were the same width all the way through, giving them a heavier appearance. You can also see the cords the bracelets had been strung with were not yet been finished. While we may want to believe that this detail won't be noticed by others, and we intend to finish it later...., people do notice. And their actions showed this.

Handcrafted in an of itself does not imply quality. Without a good design, execution, and finishing, our potential customers will go for an alternative. The reason people shop at some of the big box stores and purchase the cheap imports is because in many cases they do incorporate good design, and adequate finishing. They may fall apart after a few
wearings, but they do provide immediate gratification with little

If we want people to pay the price we need and want for a handcrafted item, we must give them a good reason to do so. We need to make sure the item is well-executed. We need to make sure that it is well designed. The artist across from me was still working out the design. She did not
have them out to be sold. But I could not help but notice the behavior,
again, and again. When we pick up a piece to study it more closely,
we are saying the piece is interesting to us. We like it.

Putting your work out with a mass produced item is risky. I am not
sure it is a good strategy at a show, even when the intent is to educate. It may invite conflict, or question. I would rather keep any and all competition away from my work at a show. I may wear another artist's work outside of a show, but when I am selling my work, it will be my work I wear.

These observations have taught me to continue to work on refining my designs, and my execution. I want my work to capture the imagination of those who see it. Not to make them compare it to what they can find in other venues. How about you?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Physically Back

I am back from my trip to Colorado. But jet lag, and sleep deprivation have taken their toll. I expect to be moving slowly the next few days. Doing laundry, unpacking, and priortizing. Making a few phone calls. Nothing too overwhelming.
The week was one of exploration. I played with a bit of sculptural work...a chess set! It is not done yet, but is well on it's way to completion. I had fun playing with this, and it came out better than I expected. I also played with repousse and kumihimo.

Judy Belcher kindly shared her tools and materials to teach us a bit about repousse. She had recently seen a demonstration, and brought along the supplies to our retreat. Repousse is a form of metal embossing, working with tools on both sides of a sheet of metal to create a three dimensional image. I had a lot of fun with this, and see that it could be a great way to create forms to make molds to use with metal clay, or polymer clay. And the metal forms themselves could be used inset in polymer to create jewelry, or boxes. There is definitely more to explore here.
I learned Kumihimo braiding from Klew. I have always loved to play with fibers, and this was a fun new twist (literally!) on using fiber, for me. I plan to teach my daughter this technique. She loves to knit and crochet, and I think she will take to this quickly and easily. (Postscript: I taught my daughter how to do it yesterday, when this post was originally written. Since then she has made four pieces, and I will be lucky if I can get my hands on the tool again!)

The week was wonderful and overwhelming, and I have much to process. In the meantime, I think I have a load of laundry ready for the dryer.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane....

"My bags are packed. I'm ready to go...." Well, almost! I'm going computer free for the next week. No email. No blogging. Just play!

During the late 1980's and the early 90's, I traveled a fair amount. I had the drill down. Back then, garment bags were de rigeur for the frequent flyer. No need to check your bag. That was for amateurs. Just stuff it in the overhead bin. Well, we all know things have changed in the world of air travel. Now, everyone has one of those rolling black bags. I got one for myself when I headed for Las Vegas for the ACRE show this spring. Not the size that can be brought on board.
As I waited in Baggage Claim for my bag, I watched one black suitcase after another come down onto the carousel. Trying to figure out which bag was mine was a challenge. Ending up with the wrong black bag seemed to be a higher probability than I was comfortable with. Plus, somehow, that black back just seem to be more corporate than I felt now.

So, I did what we are always taught not to do when we are children. I painted my suitcase....or a part of it anyway. Now, when that suitcase comes sliding down onto the carousel, I will know who it belongs to.
My kids are learning to break rules around here. Painting my suitcase. Drawing on shirts. What kind of a parent am I?? I hope one that teaches them there are choices in life, and it is okay to go your own way if that is where your heart is leading you.

Have a great week!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Business News

Do you pay attention to the business news? I am not talking about subscribing to the Wall Street Journal or Business Week. I am talking about being aware of what is happening in the broader world of business. If you don't, you may want to rethink that.


Well, let's take a look at recent news. Recalls of products from China. Pet food. Toothpaste. Kids toys. This last one may be the most essential. Kids toys with magnets that can perforate the intestines if ingested, and toys with lead paint. The average parent is now going to be noticing where a product is made. It will start to matter more than the price. I recently bought a treat for my dog, and noticed it was made in China. The treat waited several days before she got it. I had to check on line to make sure it was safe. Where something is made may start to be important to people again.

This may help stem some of the tide of low priced imports. Or at least bring the prices up a bit as manufacturers in China must change their practices if they want to continue to serve this market. But, if the flow of goods from China sharply drops, it may also send ripples throughout the world. China has invested in US businesses, and other businesses around the world. A severe pull back will have an impact on our economy.

Along those lines, look at the impact on the stock markets around the world because of lending practices here in the United States. Leading mortgage lenders are facing possible banckruptcy. They were lending money to people without adequately checking the person's ability to pay back that loan. Now as the real estate market plummets, people cannot unload that house and move on. Foreclosures are causing money supplies to tighten up. Overseas investors are pulling their money out of the U.S. market.....

Okay, enough with the business jargon....Why should you care?

Because the primary market for craft in the last few years has been the well heeled. What if they start feeling the pinch? The stock market has plunged in the last few years. People can no longer use the equity in their house as an ATM. Craft is truly a non-essential purchase. If you think things have been tough in the last five or six years, it may get worse, if the current trends continue.

The Federal Reserve stepped in today to lower the cost of money, at least temporarily. That will help. But it is important to know what the economic atmosphere is right now. We are entering the time of year when most of us do the majority of our sales in a year. What if the bottom falls out of the economy? Have you stretched yourself too thin?

All this may pass. But, it points out we don't operate in a bubble. We need to see what is going on in the broader world. How more and more people shop on line. How the distribution of wealth has shifted. What is the price of gasoline this week? We need to take in this information. It can impact our businesses. We are running a business after all. We would expect someone who is running any other business to pay attention to these issues. Why would artists/entrepreneurs be any different?

You don't need to be pouring over the business section in the newspaper, ready to quote the latest DJIA at a moments notice. But you should know what the trends are. Keep your antenna out there. It matters.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I was heading out to the post office this afternoon, to mail a stack of postcards before my next show. I will be doing the Lyndhurst Show in Tarrytown, NY mid September, and I am a little late in getting these out...but better late than never, right?

On my way to the car, I was noticing all the butterflies in our yard. We have an enormous butterfly bush that is in bloom right now, and there are all sorts of butterflies flying around our yard. It is so cool! I decided to take a detour and take a closer look. After a minute or two of watching, I went and got my camera.

Can you see why I had to take a detour in my day, and just stop and watch for a while? What you can't see is the myriad butterflies, flying all over the bush, and over my head. And all the bees, weighing down blooms as they gather nectar. I had been meaning to take pictures of the hydrangea for some time, but....and the coneflowers are in bloom, so I got a picture of them as well.

There was even a hummingbird on the bush.....(tree???), but I couldn't get a picture of it. It moved too fast, and was too far away for the range of my camera. I am not sure what this bug in the picture at left is. It looked like a very small hummingbird, the way it flitted from bloom to bloom, and the way it's wings were going. But, it was much smaller than a hummingbird. I got a few pictures, and it was clear that it was an insect, not a hummingbird......But not one I had seen before. It has this very long probiscus....I think that is what they call it....the long, skinny thing it sticks into the flower to collect nectar.

Take the detour. When you are being pulled to take a few minutes to stop and notice and observe, do it! The rewards were so worth those few extra minutes in the driveway, watching nature do it's thing. I will carry those few minutes with me long beyond this day. And now I have some pictures to share as well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wednesday Whine

You've perhaps heard about the Thursday Thirteen, or the Friday Five on other blogs. Well, I am borrowing the alliteration for the title today....a Wednesday Whine.

Mostly I love what I do. But after spending most of the last few days focused on the tasks I don't like so much, I am going to whine. Feel free to add your ..."I hate that I have to"..whatever the comments. It is not all fun and creativity in the life of an artrepreneur. And today, I am going to whine and complain a bit. Sometimes I just have to get it out of my system!

I hate paperwork! I hate that I have to keep track of receipts, and create and file invoices, and that I have to file sales tax in every state that I do a show in, and they all have different filing schedules....not just different tax rates. I hate the time that it takes, and the sheer drudgery of it. But I am too cheap and too broke to pay someone else to do it. And every few months, the pile gets too big to ignore, and I spend several hours catching up.

I hate packaging and shipping an order. It seems like it should be no big deal. But it always takes way more time than I want to spend on it. Usually there is one or two items that I am missing when I want to send out the order, and so I have to go back to the studio and make those. Then I need to cross check again and make sure I have everything. Find a box. Package everything up so that it is not damaged in transit. Then I need to create an invoice. And make sure I have the information to charge the order to a credit card, or that I have checked their credit references. If not, I have to make one or more phone calls. I also need to include some support material if it is a first order. Find an address label for the box. All these tasks are at different places in the house, meaning trips up and down the stairs, or back and forth from my dining room (shipping room) and the studio (production department), and the office (accounting and billing). Finally, close up the box, and bring it to the post office. Whew. Can you see how such a simple little task becomes a black hole of time?

I hate doing all those tiny little jobs at the end of a project. The things that make a difference to everyone else but me. :-) I warned you I was ready to whine! Stringing cranes so that they can hang. Boxing cranes. Putting earrings on cards, ..... Things that make a piece more presentable and functional.....but my heart is never in them. They are work. Last night I must have strung and boxed about 40 cranes. I would rather just keep making them then do this last little step.....which is no longer a little step when there are this many to do.

I hate that no matter how careful I try to be, it is impossible to put shred in boxes without it ending up all over the floor and the table.

I hate pricing. Not just calculating the price....but actually attaching a price tag to an item so that people know how much it costs. Invariably I am putting price tags on pieces the night before and the morning of a show.

I hate that everytime I need to print out labels for a mailing. It seems like I am having to learn all over again how to do it, every time. It seems like I should have it down by now.

Okay, I feel a little better now that I got that out of my system. So, what are the tasks that drive you up a wall? What do you avoid, till you can avoid it no longer? Whining is for all those little things we are supposed to just do without complaint. But on this Wednesday, the Whining Window is open. Feel free to add your whine to the comment list. I am sure I left a few things off my list.....

Monday, August 13, 2007


Last night my thirteen year-old daughter had a meltdown...pretty normal for a thirteen year-old girl, right? She managed to annoy every single person in our house trying to convince them how important it was that she slept in a certain bed at my mother's house on Cape Cod. She had all sorts of rationale. If my mother sold the house, which she is considering, and she does not sleep in that bed, then she may never have a chance again. She called it first. She never gets to sleep in that bed......and on and on, with the emotional intensity that only adolescence can bear on such a problem.

This morning it occurred to me that her struggle is about attachment. Attachment to a specific outcome. Without that outcome, she will not possibly enjoy herself....and of course we all are mean to not understand!

And as I was able to separate from the moment and see what was going on, I could also see how we as artists can fall into this trap of attachment. We get an idea. We start working on it, and it doesn't go as planned. Or it doesn't look the way we hoped it would. We have become so attached to the idea, that we are no longer open to other possibilities. It is good or it is terrible. And if it is terrible, it means we are untalented and foolish. I suppose we could say we are adolescent artists when we fall into this trap. :-)

When I learned to let go of attachment to outcome, my work grew the most, and the ideas flowed more easily. I make crap, just like anyone else. Remember Art & Fear? There is a certain need for volume of production to get to the really good stuff. But not feeling too strongly attached to the bad....or the good... is what helps us be open to the exploratory process that is so critical to creativity. We invest so much of our emotions into each piece of work we create, that sometimes we can't just look at it for what it is.

When we are overly attached to an outcome we can not see that we have permission to veer off of our original path. We do not have to always go the same way. When we hit a roadblock, it is an opportunity. An opportunity to discover something you might never have thought about otherwise.

When we are overly attached, our work can be come stuck. Fixed in place. Immutable. We are not open to exploring new paths that reach out from where we are right now. Do you remember as a kid, how much of play was about "exploring". That is the same excitement and openness we need to bring to our work.

This morning, my daughter seemed to have gained some perspective, and her sister may have also responded to my suggestion that she could have a bit of flexibility. Whatever the reason, the drama of last night has evaporated. The car has been loaded, and they are on their way to the Cape for two weeks. I hope to join them for a day or two, later in the week. And then it will be off to Colorado for a computer, no e-mail.....a real change of scenery. I don't know what to expect, but I am open to the possibilities!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Painting....a room!

I will warn you upfront, this may seem to be a advertisement. But it is my actual experience with a product that was so terrific, I had to share.

Six years ago, we moved into this house, and one of the first rooms we started to re-decorate was my youngest daughters. I was planning a mural for the that actually was going to go all the way around the room. It was going to be an island in one corner, and then extend into the water, and gradually work around to deep underwater, with fish, and coral, etc. This was before I found polymer clay, and my creative energy was going into things like decorating the house, cooking, entertaining.....

But first we had to remove the wallpaper. The wallpaper had been there for over twenty years. And it did not want to come off those walls. It came in bits and pieces. And it appeared to have been put right onto the wallboard, without any paint or primer. It was the worst job I ever had of taking off wallpaper, and I have taken done my share of this kind of work. Eventually the wallpaper was removed, the walls sanded and primed, and I began painting. I got the sky and the water done. But the next step was going to be the artwork. It was going to take time. And time was in short supply. By this time I had found polymer clay. When I had time, her room was impossible to work in. When there was order in her room, I was swamped with, six years have passed, and her room has never been finished.

About a year ago we talked about whether the mural we planned was one she even wanted anymore. She loves reading books about dragons.....Tamar Pierce books, Dragonology, etc. So we decided we would paint the room one color, and then paint a dragon, a very large dragon, on the walls.

We picked the color, and the usual delays intervened.

Then this spring I was invited to a buzz campaign...(I had mentioned Bzzagent once before) try out a new paint from Benjamin Moore called Aura. It was supposed to be a wonder paint. Cover in most cases with one coat. Washable...even in a matte finish. Extremely durable and fade resistant. Fast drying and low odor. Everything you could want in a paint. Knowing I had to paint her room, and the range of colors I was covering...from white to deep dark blue....this sounded like a golden opportunity.

Even with a free gallon of paint, it has taken me this long to finally carve out the time to paint her room.

Yesterday, around midday, we went out to the paint store to pick up the paint. And I have to say this is not a wonder paint, it is a miracle paint. In four hours, we had bought the paint, cleared out space in her room...a bigger job than I expected....taped the trim, painted the room, and cleaned up! Four hours, from leaving the house to done. Unbelievable. What stunned me was being able to cover in one coat the range of color I had on those walls. This paint rocks!
I will warn you it is not cheap...$56 per gallon. But it is worth every penny. It will save you time, and paint. I have nearly a half of a gallon still left. We are going out to buy some to do the trim. And I may well get around to doing a few more rooms now. No paint I have ever used has been as good as this stuff. It truly lives up to the promise.

I still need to work on that dragon....December or January, when things slow down a bit, probably. But in the meantime, her room looks so much nicer, and it was so much easier to do than I ever anticipated. So, if you have a room to paint, seriously consider this paint. It more than delivers. No more product plugs for a while. I promise.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I wrote about the ingredients for growing into a successful artist. And then the ingredients for being a successful artist/entrepreneur. But what I left out of all this is context. And context matters a great deal.

The context is where we are in our lives.

It takes the right time and place as much as anything else to help bring all of this together. I could not do what I am doing without the support and encouragement of my family. If I had to be the sole breadwinner, and raise a family, and then try to fit in being creative too....I don't think I could manage it. If we didn't have healthcare coverage, then we would have to look for other solutions.
We can pay the mortgage. We can pay for a few extras. But there is not much breathing room in our budget. Not like when we had two paychecks and no kids. But we have what we need, and a bit more.

So all the things I talked about have to have the overlay of where you are in your life. How much sacrifice are you willing to make to make room for your art? How critical is it that you make money from your business right away? How much support can you expect from family and friends as you pursue your dream? It is your dream afterall. Not theirs. And they will be impacted by it. These are the hard questions we all have to face at times, and the answers are not always clear, nor are they universal. The answers are found deep inside ourselves, and may take time to work out. And the answer may be, not right now. The desire may be there, but the timing may be wrong. This doesn't mean we have to close the door forever. Just for right now, if need be.

So, if you read the last two posts, and thought,
"sure, sure....she just doesn't get it. I can't do that right now, not with my life."

I do get it. But sometimes we have to look at the utopian view, and then overlay the reality. But we can still hold onto the dream, no matter how much the current reality may hold us back. Postponing is different than walking away forever. Or slowing down, rather than going full speed ahead. We each need to measure our own pace. But still mindful of where we want to be.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Still More Ingredients

In my last post I described some of the ingredients that are essential to developing fully as an artist. But this blog is called Artrepreneur, isn't it? That means we have a whole other facet of ourselves to work on and develop....the entrepreneurial side. What are some of the essential ingredients for the artist entrepreneur?

1. Separation. Yes, your work is in part about you, and your story. But, the business is about your products. Can you separate yourself from you work to be able to evaluate the viability of the work in the marketplace? We need to be able to make decisions about our work without the emotional attachment.

2. Decisive. Details, details, details. There is no escaping all the details that need to be attended to if you are in business. If you develop a product you think will sell, now the work has just begun. You need to figure out a price? How to package it? What colors or variations do you want to offer? How can you streamline your production? Decisions have to be made about endless details of how you will run your business. And decisions build upon decisions. If you freeze up at the idea of all the decisions and details that you need to attend to, your business will screech to a halt.

3. Problem solver. Inevitably you will be presented with challenges. You don't have a staff with varied expertise to call upon. You have you. You need to be able to be a problem solver. Ready to dig in and learn. Sometimes solving the problem will meaning finding help. But that will be your call.

4. Salesmanship. Can you sell your work and yourself? Can you talk about your work without going into the "Gosh, shucks" mode, looking down and kicking the dirt with your foot. "Oh, it's nothing. I really am not that good." Face it, if you cannot talk with enthusiasm about your work, you cannot sell your work. Being humble is good, but being passionate about your work, and being able to share that passion is helpful if you want to sell your work. Bruce Baker has some excellent classes and CD's about sales if this is a struggle for you.

5. Long-range thinking. If you can't visualize where you want to go, you will not begin to be able to move your business beyond where it is today. My husband has a phrase he is fond of, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you are going to keep getting what you're getting." If you cannot see where you want to go, you cannot start planning how you will get there. What are your goals, and how can you start moving towards those goals?

6. Capital. You will not be able to grow your business, or make it run efficiently, without capital. Capital is your financial investment in the business. Without making the investment into your business you will not be able to grow effectively and efficiently. Capital can help you buy the equipment you need to produce your work, or the booth display to help sell your work. Put your money where your heart is.

7. Stay current. You need to stay current about what is going on in your "industry". What are the trends? How strong is the market for work like yours? What price ranges are selling well? Are there things going on in the world that will impact your business? For instance, the internet, off-shore manufacturing of "craft" items, the flucuations in the price of gas, or the price of silver and gold, environmental issues, etc......all these things may have an impact on your business. Magazines, newspapers, radio, blogs, podcasts, forums, ....can all be used to one extent or another to stay current with your field and the wider world.

8. Organization. There are many deadlines with the business of being an artrepreneur. Deadlines to apply to shows. Deadlines to file sales tax, or income tax. Production schedules to stay on top of. Receipts, invoices, order forms, bank can't run a business without some paperwork. For some, organization comes easily. For others it is a struggle. But there is no leeway when it comes to filing taxes, or deadlines for entry to shows or competitions. Figure out a system that works for you, and use it. There are lots of solutions, but the best one is one you will use. It may even be hiring someone to do it for you.

9. Passion and Persistence. Any successful entrepreneur is passionate about their business, and persistent. They are willing to accept the inevitable challenges, and do their best to work through challenges. They are willing to accept that it takes time to build a business. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, the inevitable demands on your time, energy and financial resources will not be worth it.

10. Support team. It is not a sign of failure to need help from time to time. We may need an informal board of advisors. People who can give us the advice we need at times, or help us think through an issue. Or, we may need to hire help. There are limits to how much time and energy we have. If we hire someone to do the bookkeeping, it may give us more time in the studio. Or if we hire a rep to sell our work, our sales may grow more than enough to compensate for the expense. You can try to do it all yourself, but chances are, you will need some advice or help from time to time.

Overwhelming, isn't it? But, if you love what you are doing, and can't imagine doing anything else, you find a way to make it work. I work too many hours. I am months behind on my paperwork, and I can find very little clear space in my studio. But when something has to get done, it gets done. Just like becoming a better artist, becoming a better business person means continually working to improve. We will never be perfect, but we can keep working at getting better.

Monday, August 6, 2007


I wrote last time about how I was inspired watching the evolution of one artist's work. But success as an artist and business person is multi-faceted. There are many ingredients that are needed to succeed at the top levels. Here is an attempt at coming up with some essentials.

1. Mastery of your media. This is the beginning. It is the time in the studio practicing your media. Learning the ins and outs of how it behaves. The nuances, the limitations, the possibilities. Amy Crawley recently told me about a book her husband was reading. It was about music. In it, the author proposed that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Ten thousand hours of hands on work. Practice. Struggle, and triumph. This is not to say you cannot begin to sell your work until you reach that magic number, but it is essential for really being in control of the process. More time is spent in flow than in battle with mastery. You will not acheive mastery by limiting your studio time to one afternoon or evening a week.

2. Good design. It is more than being a technical master of the media however. It is also about design. Being able to have a sense of the elements of design, and how to best utilize them in your work. Line. Form. Movement. Pattern. For a writer it might be about the flow and structure of good writing. A musician has melody, lyrics, harmony, etc. How do you bring these elements together to create a cohesive piece?

3. Color mastery. A visual artist needs to understand the ins and outs of color. Whether through study, an intuitive sense, experience, or all of the above, color is an essential ingredient in most visual art. Color gone wrong can do more to ruin an otherwise successful piece.

4. Voice. The magical, elusive voice. What are you saying? What are you trying to express with your art? It doesn't have to be esoteric or deep. It can be simple, straightforward, or whimsical. But it has to come from what makes you tick. What tickles your creative muse?

5. Drive or Passion. The phrase has become trite, but "It's hard work." Success in any field, even one seemingly as enjoyable as the arts, is hard work. Without the passion or drive, many drop by the wayside. You have to want to do it. I used to drag myself out of bed to go to work. Now I am literally propelled out of bed with all the ideas going through my head in the morning that I can't wait to act upon. You do not want to know how many hours a day, or how many days a week work. But I love what I do. I feel fortunate to be able to pursue my passion. And when I share my passion for my work with others, it can be contagious.

6. Willingness to go public. You can not succeed by waiting to be discovered. You need to bring your work out into the light of day if anyone is going to discover it. If you want to hope you become famous after you die when someone discovers the treasure trove of work you left behind, go for it. But there never will be a way to know if that strategy succeeded, will there? It may feel safer, because you do not need to face rejection, or criticism. But it is also absent the thrill of having someone react with enthusiasm to your work. Besides, that approach is for the hope that you will end up in a museum someday, not about creating a successful business as an artist. Leaving a legacy is a nice idea. But building that legacy is more likely when you work on building a public body of work in your lifetime. Waiting for after you die is like the eternal hope of winning the lottery. A longshot at best.

7. Problem solving skills. So you have an idea. An idea that won't go away. It keeps you up at night, or you wake up thinking about it. How do you go from the idea to the reality? By being a problem solver. You are guaranteed to run into obstacles and problems you could not foresee when the idea was just that, an idea. The concrete reality is full of roadblocks to fruition. But, the successful artists is engaged in this process of problem solving. I have had the conversation over and over again with other artists. Sharing how an obstacle was overcome. How they started down one path that didn't seem to work, so they went in another direction. Or maybe it took many tries. But eventually they figured it out. And they will be beaming when they share this moment of triumph. It is partly the mastery, and partly persistence. But also that ability to dissect the problem. Figuring out where things might be going wrong, and figuring a new path around the obstacle.

8. Understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Let's face it. We all have things that come easily to us, and other things we have to work really hard at to succeed. Having the awareness of our strengths and weaknesses means we can play to our strengths, and try to get help with, or work around our weaknesses. The weaknesses will probably not disappear, but with awareness and work, they can be managed. And our assets can grow stronger still.

9. Continual growth. As much as we grow in mastery and as much as our work grows in public acceptance, we can and must continue to grow our work. Stagnation is death in a creative field.

10. Persistence. It is hard. It is frustrating. It can be demoralizing at times. But, you need to persist through the struggles to have success. Any successful artist will tell you about the bad shows they had. Or the failed products. Or the after another. If you cannot persist through these adversities, and accept them as just part of the package, you will not make it. How you react to them....changing, growing, asking for help,..or....outrage, rebellion or seeing it as evidence that you don't have what it takes.....all these reactions will take you down a different path. We choose.

Where do you struggle, and what comes easily for you in your journey as an artist? Just recognize, it is a journey. A journey without a final resting spot so much, as many points of inspiration and growth. And each journey begins by taking a step. Moving forward. Bit by bit. It isn't about being the first to reach a goal. It is about reaching our personal goals when we are ready. And doing the ground work to make it possible.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Perpetual Motion

Yesterday, Amy Crawley and I went up to the New Hampshire Craftsman's Guild Show in Sunapee, NH. There were many of the same artists we see each year, but there was plenty of new work from some of those artists. The one that stuck in my head as we drove away, and was still in my head this morning was the new work by Kathleen Dustin. It is not on her website yet, so unless you can get up to the show, you will have to wait till sometime later this month to see this work. But be prepared to be wowed.

Kathleen Dustin has been one of the leading artist in the medium of polymer clay. And she just amazes me with how she continues to explore and innovate. She is still making purses and jewelry, but none looked the same as what she was making four years ago when I first saw her work in person. There are still purses with woman's faces, but they have a fresh interpretation. And there is so much more.

I am so inspired by this continual spiral of creativity. Her work is not static. There was a definite excitement and energy in her booth. She was excited to share the work and talk about it. Another bonus, as she observed...people will come to realize that they can not wait forever to get the piece they fall in love with. It will not be there forever. As artists and business people, we all need that extra push sometimes, to move someone from loving a piece to buying a piece. Kathleen is not just a very talented artist, she is a savvy business woman.

It made me think about artists who have seemingly built a box for themselves. It is possible to make this kind of innovation difficult or impossible if you start to define your work and your vision too tightly. I have heard people say that if an artist is wandering at all from their vision it reflects an amateurish approach to their art. That desire to play around is the sign of a hobbyist. If you subscribe to this, where is there room to stretch your creative muscle? Where is there room to react to whatever gets your brain churning in one direction or another? Consistency is important to establishing a recognizable look or style. But feeling like you have to stay married to that look or style forever forward, is not going to feed your muse, or fill your bank account. Most people change and grow in their lifetimes. Artists must keep this vitality in their work to keep themselves, and their audience engaged. Otherwise the scenario can play out like this....

"Oooohhh! I love your work. I haven't seen anything like it!" This may or may not be followed by a purchase.

The next year they may bring along a friend and point out your work to them. Talking about how much they like it, noticing details. But it may be more like visiting a museum than a store. Going back to see the exhibit.

After three or four years of this, all but the most die hard fans will likely pass your booth by with just a glance.

Unless, there is new work for them to see.

Our audience wants to connect with our work, but they also want that excitement of what is new. What have you done lately. Creativity is about energy. Designs from five years ago do not inspire or excite. And they do not get purchased.

Now before you panic, this does not mean reinvent yourself every year. Change can be incremental. Pinging from one media to another, or complete shifts in designs too frequently may raise questions about whether or not you have figured out what you want to do or say yet. But don't avoid change either. Craft has an element of fashion to it. Most of us do not change our entire wardrobe every year. But we do like to have a few new pieces. A few things that will invigorate our wardrobe. The few pieces a craft buyer will purchase in a year are likely ones that create that rush of excitement. The piece that stirs up the discussion in their head about how they can rationalize this purchase. Purchases of craft are made as much with emotion as with money.

Another permission slip. You have room to play, to explore, to check out those ideas that have entered your consciousness. Staying with a "look" is not always about maturing as an artist. Sometimes it is the death of the artist. Excite yourself, and see if it doesn't excite your customers as well.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Why Should You Build a Mailing List?

My first venture into entrepreneurship was making custom window treatments. I started this business after my oldest daughter was born. I had never been self-employed before this. I had worked for thirteen years for various corporations, and a small tech start-up. I had done lots of sewing for myself, from about the age of ten, and had done a few projects for friends. I wanted to work, but have the flexibility to work according to my schedule. This seemed to fill the bill.

I put on my marketing hat, and thought about how do I get started? How do I find customers? Looking back at my own experiences, I decided that one of the best times to contact someone, was after they bought a house, when they are thinking about how to transform that house into their home. Each week, our local newspaper posted property transactions. They would list the addresses of houses sold by town, who bought the property, and the sales price. With this information, I could build a list of potential customers.

I put together a letter, a brochure, and a coupon. I built a mailing list using the information from the newspaper, by town, and sales price. Two days after I did my first mailing, I got a call, and she ended up being my first customer. Over time, I was able to get referrals, and do presentations to a newcomer's club. But what consistently brought me business was those mailings.

Now, as a craftsperson, I can describe my typical customer....but she is also the needle in a haystack. There is nothing comparable to that listing in the newspaper of property transactions to identify her. The approach is very different.

This is why I harp on the value of a mailing list. It is as simple as setting out a notebook and pen in your booth for people to add their name. Some artists will only do mailings to people who have bought their work. But what about the other people who loved your work, but did not buy? Don't you want them on your mailing list so that when the opportunity is ripe, they will know where you are? Do you have business cards or postcards out where they can be easily seen and picked up? Some people have a false sense of economy about business cards or postcards. Don't hoard them. Will they be worshiped and framed? Nope. Even if only one in ten or twenty or fifty of those cards is saved, that is okay. What about the ones that get picked up and passed on to the friend who owns a retail outlet, or the friend who would love your work.....Don't you want to make it easy for other people to spread the word about your work? I do. I need all the help I can get!

Of course, it goes without saying, once you build that mailing list, you do need to use it! No excuses here. This is basic care and feeding of your business. Even if your business is strictly online...collect e-mail address, and have a newsletter. You only sell wholesale. That's fine. Keep track of any and all businesses that have sent you inquiries about your work. If you identify a store or gallery that would be a good fit for your work, add them to your list. When you have new work, or you are going to do a wholesale show, do a mailing. At a show, if you give someone a catalog....get a card in exchange.

Off my soapbox...for now anyway. I am sure I will give my mailing list speech again. This is just so essential, and so basic to your success. The only way to avoid it is to pay someone else to update and maintain your list, and do your mailings. But you still need to put that notebook out.