Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I have been preaching about the importance of having the best possible images of your work. It is absolutely essential to market your work effectively. While professional photography is great for the pictures you want to submit for shows or competitions, it is also very expensive. I take most of my own photos. I invested in a tabletop studio several years ago, and it was one of the best investments in my business I could have made. I have raved about it in the past, and I will continue to rave about it to anyone who asks. It has dramatically improved the quality of the pictures I am taking.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
In June of 1997, Mary Schmich published a hypothetical commencement speech in the Chicago Tribune. One she was never asked to deliver, but one full practical and good advice. The column became known as the "Wear Sunscreen Speech" . Since it first appeared, it has spawned numerous parodies, and been made into two different songs. As I visited Lindly Haunani's blog recently, I was reminded of the essay by Ms. Schmich, and came up with my own parody of the original, geared to the working artist/craftsperson.
Ladies and gentlemen of the world of art and craft,
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, stretching would be it. The long-term benefits of stretching have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering career path. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power of your creative spirit. What was I thinking? You will not understand the power and beauty of your creativity until it’s blocked. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of your work and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really were. You are not as bad as you imagine.
Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve a design problem by throwing a tantrum, or scrubbing a toilet. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don't be reckless in other people's critiques. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old press clippings. Throw away your old rejection letters.
Color outside the lines.
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your art. The most interesting artists I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their art. Some of the most interesting 40-year- olds still don't know.
Take good care of your hands. Be kind to your back. You'll miss them when they no longer work.
Maybe you'll prosper, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be famous, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be in a museum, maybe the Ugly Necklace contest is the only one you’ll ever win. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.
Enjoy your creativity. Use it every day, and in every way. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest tool you'll ever own.
Turn up the music and dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your studio space.
Read the tutorials, and then throw them away. Do not read too many books and magazines about your craft. They will only make you feel less than.
Get to know your fellow artists. You never know when they'll be gone from the craft circuit. Be nice to your collectors. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that galleries come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and price point, because the more success you have, the more you need the people who knew you when you started.
Do a show in New York City once, but leave before all your money is gone. Apply to the Smithsonian Show once, but don't plan on getting in. Build an altar instead.
Accept certain inalienable truths. Costs will rise. Prices will fall. Some people will copy. You too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, people bought craft, nobody copied, and everyone adored artists.
Respect the innovators.
Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don't forget to take care of your hands or by the time you're 40 they will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.
But trust me on the stretching.
Finally, I quote Ms. Schmich. In May of 1999 she wrote,
"Occasionally someone asks, in a funereal voice, 'Does it bother you that people are writing parodies of your column?' No way. Because, ladies and gentlemen, if I could offer you one more tip for the future, this would be it:
Write parodies. It's a lot more fun than doing what you're supposed to be doing."
And she's right!
Friday, November 23, 2007
I recently was the administrative person for a competition to select three artists to occupy the booth at the ACRE (American Craft Retailer's Expo) wholesale show, in Las Vegas. This was a competition that was sponsored by the National Polymer Clay Guild. The idea was to allow three artists to share a booth at the show and sell their work. The outcome would be increased exposure of high caliber polymer clay work to buyers, and the opportunity for the selected artists to kick off or grow their wholesale business.
I have entered quite a few shows and competitions over the years. And I been accepted, rejected, and wait listed along the way. After a class with Bruce Baker on jurying into shows, my acceptance rate went up, but rejection is still a frequent companion. I applied to three shows for the spring, and I was rejected by three shows. Granted, most of these shows were a stretch. But even so, there are things I can do to improve the likelihood that the outcome will be different next time.
Being on the other side of the process this time was enlightening. I got a better idea of what worked and what didn't. I saw the challenges some artists faced with the application process. I saw how daunting a task it is for the jurors to go through the process of evaluating the work.
So, what specifically did I learn that can help me do better in my own submissions?
1. Photography matters. Great photos made a difference. Photos that are big enough to meet the entry requirements. Photos that show off the work to best advantage. Photos that come alive. Sometimes a digital photo can have a very flat appearance. A good photo does not have this problem. With few exceptions, there was a direct relationship between the quality of the photos and the final position in the scoring. Great photos can help good work look great. Mediocre photos can detract from great work. If you want to see the gold standard in craft photography, visit the websites of some of the best craft photographers. Robert Diamante, Hap Sakwa, George Post, are just a few. See what you may be up against. Paying for top notch photos may be a worthwhile investment in your business, depending upon the shows and competitions you are entering.
2. Consistency matters. One of the biggest problems I saw in the work submitted was when an artist would submit three pictures that were of a similar style, and two pictures that did not relate to the first three. Jurors were looking for a story, a point of view, a voice. Inevitably, at least one juror would mark the artist down because of this.
This was a problem I used to have when I would submit work to a show. I figured showing range was important. My thinking was that if I had enough range, something would connect with the jurors, and that would get me in. In my case, it was a reflection of insecurity. In this competition it seemed to nearly guarantee a reduction in score.
Another reason artist's give for doing this is that they want to have work from two or more lines in the show, so they think they should show both, otherwise they can't bring one. This is a partial myth. If you have two, three, or more lines of jewelry, pick one, your strongest of course, and show that. You can still bring the other jewelry to the show.
If, on the other hand, you have work in two categories...jewelry and mixed media, for example, this is a different story. The cardinal sin is to jury into the non-jewelry category, and then bring jewelry. The competition for a jewelry spot is just too great. If you want to bring both, submit two sets of slides, one in each category. If you try to present both in the same set of slides you are doing yourself a disservice.
3. You need to be strong across the board. You need strong design, good use of color, and good finishing. Jurors are looking at all of these issues. Weakness in any one area may take you out of the running.
4. Jurors come with a point of view. We all have an aesthetic sensibility. Some have an educated sense of design, and for others it is based on experience and an intuitive sense. If we appreciate craft, we have certain things we respond to, and other things we don't. Something like color palette may subconsciously affect a juror's response. Or, a person's work may remind them of another artist's work...even though there may be no real connection.
In multiple cases, two jurors would give raves to an artist's work, and the third would pan it. And it was not because one juror was tougher than the rest. Each juror had certain work that did not connect with them for whatever reason, which the other juror's loved. Or, two jurors were not inspired by work that another juror would rave about.
This is something that is out of our control. We are not selecting the jury pool for the shows and competitions we enter. But, we can try to determine the shows and competitions where our work will be most appreciated.
5. Artists tend to procrastinate. Entries tricked in very slowly until the last few days. I understand this. We are often juggling many things, and putting together a show submission is easy to put off. But recognize that procrastinating about entering shows can come at a price. Technical glitches, on either end, may prevent your entry as the deadline looms. Give yourself enough time to figure out how images need to be submitted, formatted, etc. well before the deadline. It will give you time to think about the best images to present, the order, etc. If you have an hour to deadline and you still haven't been able to figure out how to format the images, you are creating needless stress in your life. If you need help with procrastination in your life, Christine Kane had a recent post on how to overcome this problem. Maybe you can pick up a few ideas of how to slay the procrastination beast.
6. Just trying counts for a lot. Making the decision, and following through, is taking yourself seriously. It is believing in your work and your abilities enough to take the chance. Some may say, "Oh, I never really thought I would get in anyway." But, even so, they applied. Some little voice said, "You should do this. You can do this." And they followed through. It takes courage to do that. It means you are saying you want something, and that you are willing to risk being denied the thing that you want. That is not easy. But it is necessary to move from where you are today to where you want to be. You will inevitably make mistakes. We all do. But, you don't have to own the mistakes. You can give yourself a gentle kick in the butt, and say "Boy, I won't make that mistake again." And the next submission will be stronger, and you will perhaps get what you are asking for that time.
Don't be afraid to ask. Don't hold yourself back from what you want to achieve. There are more than enough obstacles in life without building our own roadblocks. You may not get what you are reaching for, but, with the right attitude and spirit, you can end up richer and stronger in so many ways. You may learn something about yourself, and your dreams, that you would not have otherwise known.
I applaud the artist who entered but did not make it into the show. My heart is with you. There was more talent than there were spaces. This is often the case. That is why we need to work to improve every aspect of our entries. Putting our best forward every time, and each time, trying to make it just a bit better.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Yes, you. You come. You read. You comment. You email. You visit me at shows. You sit quietly reflecting. You perhaps disagree. You guide me in new directions. You empathize.
Thank you. Your action, big and small, have reinforced my belief in the wonderful community of artists I now reside. Thank you. If I could hug you, I would! Your presence helps to spur me on to explore this life. To share what I have learned, or what I am still learning. Sometimes I have to learn the same lesson over and over again. Each time understanding a bit more.
I am fortunate and thankful to work in two media that have a community of sharing and supportive people. This is a blessing.
I am thankful for my family. They tolerate my endless obsession with my work. The share my excitement, or support me when I struggle. Without them, it would be infinitely more difficult.
I am thankful for each and every person who purchases a piece of my work. Or tells me something about what strikes them in my work. The reflection back is always enlightening.
Thank you all. It has been a good year of growth, both hard and easy. It has been a year of growing friendships and connections. Those bonds are what enrich my life the most.
Reach out to someone in your life today, if you can. Thank them for some act that has made a difference in your life. You will make a difference in theirs by doing so.
And enjoy your Thanksgiving!!
Monday, November 19, 2007
In the next few months, it is a good time to start considering where you want to go, and what you need to do to acheive your goals. Or at least take the next baby step towards accomplishing your goals. This time is invaluable. It helps us see the progress we have already made, and can motivate us to aim for a new target in the coming year.
My last post about the potential ban on phthalates has generated lots of discussion, and more posts. This is a good thing. The more we share our knowledge, experience and insight, the better off we will all be in the end.
This issue goes way beyond polymer clay. PVC's, and phthalates in other materials, are woven into our lives in more ways than we can possibly be aware. My husband related a story to me about issues his company is having with a partner company and their demands that PVC be removed from the product. PVC is incorporated in some small way in nearly every, if not all, the products they produce. Finding an adequate substitute is not simple.
Phthalates are in medical equipment (tubes, fluid bags, etc.). They are in nail polish, the scented candle, and the moisturizer from a company known for being "natural". This should not make us more paranoid. If anything it should give us perspective to realize that if phthalates were as awful as some would like to portray them, then they would have caused lots of problems already.
What if we were to eliminate plastics completely from our lives. Are we going to go back to metal pipes for plumbing, and glass bottles for holding liquids? Do we have the capacity in our system to do that? What about the effects of the added weight of these other materials in transport. Not only will it cost more, but it will consume more energy to move them, adding to global warming.Do you know that one of the benefits of eliminating glass for packaging liquids was not only weight, but safety? Glass breaks more easily that plastic, and it also cuts more easily than plastic. How do we factor people injured by glass bottles into the equation of plastic versus glass?
Nothing sounds more natural and earthy than felted wools, and other natural fibers. But what about the dyes that are used to color them? And how are the dyes disposed? Unless vegetable dyes are being used, with no chemical fixatives, you are working with toxic materials. Concentrated toxins.
Plastic resins used to make jewelry. Phthalates, along with many other toxic chemicals.
Glazes, paints, thinners, enamel powders and more. Toxins galore.
When we look at a ceramic pot, or a beautiful woven scarf, or that fun piece of resin jewelry, the last thing we are thinking about is the materials used to create them, and the potential harm that they pose for the environment.
I am not suggesting we look the other way, and pretend that there is no problem with any of these things. Rather, that we educate and inform ourselves. If you use materials that are potentially hazardous, be responsible in the way you use them, and dispose of any remaining material. If safer alternatives exist that are equally effective, explore those. But don't react to every scare story you are told. And if you hear someone spreading fear that is inappropriate, do your best to educate them. In the age of the internet, misinformation can spread just as rapidly as information.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Nearly every time I do a show, I have someone come up to me and ask me if I know about how dangerous polymer clay is. What is interesting about these encounters is that there is very little fact presented, just fear, and a sense that if I do not take what they are saying seriously, I am being irresponsible. When I mention any studies that have been done to look at the potential risks of working with polymer clay, and show that there is little to no risk, they are dismissed out of hand.
I am going to put on my scientist hat today. In addition to having an MBA, I have a degree in chemistry. I never worked in a lab after graduation, nonetheless, I learned enough about the scientific process to be able to understand the difference between hype and fact. Lately there has been a campaign by several environmental groups, whom I might otherwise support, to ban certain substances, among them, phthalates.
Phthalates are found in polymer clay, in addition to many plastics. They make polymer clay pliable until it is cured. They can be used in plastics to make the end product softer or more flexible. The rationale for banning these chemicals is that they are possibly linked to cancer and endocrine disruptions. This was based upon studies done by injecting large quantities of phthalates just below the skin of a rodent, or having the rodent consume the phthalates directly. The fear was that children chewing on pacifiers, bottle nipples, or some toys might ingest enough phthalates to risk serious health problems. There is nothing that will generate more fear and panic than to suggest that something that an infant is putting in their mouth might cause cancer later in their life.
What about the reality? In order for the children to consume an equivalent amount of phthalates as the rodents were exposed to, all of the phthalates would have to leach out of the product….not probable. And, they would have to chew on the toy or other item for at least 12 hours, continuously, each day. Add to this the fact that the results achieved with mice and rats have never been observed in higher level mammals on a repeatable or reliable basis. These include guinea pigs, and rabbits. And there is no reliable evidence of these outcomes with humans.
All we have is fear, built on possible, not probable outcomes.
The European Union (EU) has banned phthalates. Now the same groups are working to extend the ban to the U.S. A big part of the rationale, …..these products are banned in Europe. If it is banned in Europe it must be bad. Right? We don’t need to look at the science. We just need to know that someone else said it might be dangerous. As Bill Durodie, of Cranfield University in the U.K., aptly explains in a paper from April 2007, titled “Why Did the European Union Ban Phthalates?”, it was more about the potential risk rather than the real risk.
“ research commissioned by the European Union’s own executive branch, the European Commission, had already concluded that the chance of a child exceeding the recommended limits through exposure to such products was ‘so rare that the statistical likelihood cannot be estimated.’
Given those results, why would the ban be implemented? This was a few short years after the BSE or Mad Cow disease scare spread through Europe. The Commission was perhaps feeling more reactive as a result. Better to eliminate a potential health crisis than to face criticism for not acting. This type of behavior, acting on fear rather than fact, is the same type of behavior that has lead to major foreign policy blunders by this country in the last several years.
We are in an environment where our politicians are more likely to be swayed by public fears than by fact. And the media is more likely to be swayed by these fears as well. I have seen blogs , heard radio shows , and too much more that tells me the risk of these products being banned is greater than the real risk the products pose. Again, I go back to the paper by Durodie, from April of 2007.
“….manufacturers, retailers and local authorities were alreadyReactionary behavior, either by the right or the left politically, can have consequences we do not foresee. When Greenpeace campaigns to eliminate PVCs, and no one questions fully the rationale, are we better off? We may be afraid of chemistry because we don’t understand it. But ignorance and fear do not lead to good decisions. Our shower curtains are not going to give us cancer, or destroy our reproductive capacity.
withdrawing such items from sale while admitting, in one significant case at least, that this was largely ‘a marketing decision’.
According to the European Commission’s own rules, application of
the precautionary principle should be ‘proportional’, ‘consistent’ and
‘subject to review’. Yet despite the considerable information and evidence that has emerged since the introduction of the ban, suggesting that most of the initial assumptions were flawed, the restrictions remain in place. This is, in part, because the drive to err towards the side of caution encourages officials to continuously defer to previously obtained worst-case estimates and scenarios,
irrespective of any evidence gathered since.”
The same gallery owner who suggests that it would be good to avoid purchasing a polymer clay necklace because of the risks that phthalates pose, carries jewelry made with resin, enamel, and other "toxic" materials in her gallery. When the customer buys any of these finished products, they are chemically stable and safe, just as a polymer clay necklace would be. But the artists are exposed to potential toxins in the creation of the work. Used intelligently, the risks are manageable with all these materials. There is no real risk to the consumer with any of them. If we want to eliminate risks, let’s do it judiciously, and with consideration of the facts.
It is not easy to stand up in favor of chemicals, especially ones that can hardly be pronounced. Yet, it is not the chemical per se I am standing up for. Rather, it is the idea that we need to look at facts, and not let our emotions overtake our judgement. It is easy to look at chemicals as bad, Greenpeace as good. But the reality is far less black and white, and far less simplistic. There was a time in our countries history when all someone had to do was accuse someone of being a part of the Communist party, and their life was destroyed. Facts were less important than innuendo.
This is about as political as I plan to be in this blog. It is actually more political than I intend. But it is important to me that this freight train of emotional reaction is slowed down. I am likely to get run over by the train, or at least drowned out. But at least I didn’t just sit by and watch it happen. Not many voices are out there trying to say "wait a minute, let's look at the facts". Instead, there is a lot of stirring up of fear and emotion.
Please, before you take a stand on an issue, any issue, inform yourself fully. If someone presents you with a potential problem, do not hesitate to ask questions. Do not take everything you hear or read at face value. Feel free to question my position on this issue as well. Nothing is ever as simple as some people want us to believe.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Business and art are seen by some to be the antithesis of one another. Not just by artists, either. It is hard sometimes for others to recognize us as business people as well as artists. We are passionate about what we do, and what we create. But we may also need, or want, to make a living, just like any other working person. Business and art must intersect if we are to do this for a living. Helping other artists wrap their head around the business side of this equation is something I try to do here.
But my real world also includes kids, a husband and a dog. The kids are a little older now, so it is a bit more manageable,....but sometimes it feels like a three car pile up rather than a your more ordinary collision. The collision of art and business....and life!
Yesterday I was rushing around trying to get three or four orders out the door. I can't make the cranes fast enough right now. One of the orders was sent in by email, so it was easy enough for me to track down and double check quantities, styles, address, etc. No problem. Two others were phoned in. This is where I run into problems. And I know some of you will come up with some helpful solutions like a notebook and pen by the phone, or a white board, or immediately filing the paperwork, and updating my contact and order info when I get these calls. You are absolutely right. I should do those things. I sometimes even try to do those things. But then reality intervenes.
The call comes just after the kids get home from school. They are trying to signal to me, wanting to know if they can have ice cream and potato chips, and I am trying to signal they should go away, I am trying to talk. The signal is of course interpreted to have free rein on anything that is not tied down, or otherwise claimed. Or, Nickelodeon is on the TV in the background and I am trying to signal to them to turn down (or better yet, off!) the TV. I walk away, ...thank goodness for cordless phones....., kids left looking at me like I am losing my mind. Meanwhile, I am trying to take in every word they are telling me, but actually my brain is freaking out trying to remember the name they gave me in those first few seconds of shifting from mom to artrepreneur.
Inevitably there will be a need to write down information....an address, product, dates, etc. But in order to get all this down I would need a piece of paper and something to write with. If anyone goes through my files they will find way too many notes scribbled on the back of my kids homework, a bill, or the comics....whatever I can find in those panicked moments...in crayon, or dry erase marker...or again,....whatever I can find! Pens, pencils, normal writing utensils, enter our house on a regular basis. But somewhere, there is a black hole or vacuum. It may be the same one that absorbs socks. I don't know, but normal writing tools vaporize. Yet I manage, or at least I like to pretend I manage, to sound somewhat coherent, and copy down the information, do a bit of a plug for another product they might want to try, or a style that might work for them, and hang up the phone.
This is when I should do that filing, organizing, etc. But first, I have to pull my kid's head out of the potato chip bag, or turn off the television, and get them focused on doing some homework. If I am lucky, I will at least enter the quantities, and business name for the order onto the computer so I don't lose track of it. Then it is off to take the kids somewhere, or pick them up. No time to file that piece of paper away for easy retrieval. Goes into the "Later" pile.
The piece of paper with all that valuable information now may make a journey throughout the house. How else can I play scavenger hunt when it comes time to ship the order? I will remember seeing it on the dining room table. Nope. Maybe it was in my studio. Nope. Maybe it is still on the ottoman in the living room. Nope. Okay. Panic is beginning to set in. The order needs to go out, and it is now approaching noon. I have two hours to finish packing the order, print the invoice, and get it to the post office. Should be easy. Doesn't feel very easy right now. One more time around the cycle. Dining room. Studio. Living room. Looking paper by paper. Finally cleaning up the area as I go. Must be upstairs in the office. Four piles of paper sit on the desk waiting for filing, sorting, or entry. I am vowing to get organized.
Find it! No time to celebrate. Call in credit card. Print out invoice. Finish packing the box. Oh wait. They wanted a bio. Back upstairs to print it out. Ooops. Laptop now downstairs. Go get the laptop, and bring it upstairs to the printer, and print out a bio. Daughter number one will be home in half an hour. Write a note. Should be home before daughter number two. Rush to the post office, zip over to Staples for ink cartridges, and to send a fax, and it is back home to juggle.
It is crazy. But it is also wonderful. I have never worked under such challenging circumstances, but I am also lucky to be able to work at home. My older daughter has agreed to work a few hours a week for me, on a trial basis. My other daughter wants a piece of the action as well. They get to make a few dollars, I get some help, all the while getting to be there with my kids. They get to see what is involved in running a business. They are as excited as I am when good news comes. They have been living the business with me, my (not so) silent partners.
When I am racing around the house looking for that pink piece of paper that I swear I used to write down that order, I am questioning my sanity. But once the order is shipped, and I go home, and bounce between working and parenting, I know it is working as best as it can, for now. They will grow up, move out and move on. But they will carry with them a little bit of what they learned. I may be able to find pencil and paper more easily then. But, I may miss flipping over the order I just wrote down to see that it was the rough draft of someone's essay. Just because it is hard, doesn't mean it isn't worth it.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
When I started my business selling the work I make from polymer clay, I had a bit of a head start. It was not my first business. I knew some of the basic steps that one needs to take to get a business going. But when I started my first business, I was clueless about much of it. But a friend of a friend, who used to be in the business I was planning to enter, spent some time on the phone with me one afternoon, and explained the many basic steps, saving me days and months of learning.
So how do you begin? Once you have a product, and an idea for how or where you are going to sell your work you need to take care of some details to make your business official.
1. Decide your business structure. Are you going to operate as a sole proprietorship? A corporation? or a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)? Each structure has it's advantages and disadvantages, including cost, ease, and protection from liability. Figure out what works best for your situation. Each state has different requirements for each form of business.
2. Once you decide, on the structure you can, Register with your state to get a tax identification number, or a resale certificate. This obligates you to collect and pay sales taxes, if appropriate, in your state. But it also helps you be able to purchase goods without paying sales tax, and in some cases, have access to wholesale pricing from suppliers. With the internet, this step has gotten easier. Most states have an online application form, and within thirty minutes or so, you are done. To find your state's site, Google your state, and "Department of Revenue".3. Get a business permit or license with your town. This usually involves a small fee as well as filling out some paperwork. But it legally establishes your business. It will also let you know if you have any potential local requirements to meet, or zoning regulations to conform to.
4. Opening a business checking account. This is a step many people put off because they don't want to go to the expense or aggrevation. But it is necessary if you want to accept credit cards (and you do!), and it helps you keep a clear eye on how your business is doing. Call around. Invest some time here. I found a wide range of costs. I ended up at a local credit union, and have a no fee checking account. I have been very happy with the service I receive from them.
5. You do not need to do this right away, but if you are in business today, you need to be able to accept credit cards. Our world runs on plastic. Even McDonald's accepts credit cards. There are many options to explore. I know of several different service providers that various artists use. I use Teamac. I know others who use Propay on Paypal, or Costco, or the bank where they have their checking account. This will take time to explore and understand. Each provider will have a different set of fees. It is not an apples to oranges comparison in many cases. You will likely be expected to pay a monthly fee, a percentage of sale charge, a per charge fee, and perhaps a yearly membership fee. Look into other possible charges. If a customer disputes a charge, will you be charged just for them to investigate the dispute, even if there is no problem in the end? Talk with others who use the service if possible and find out their experiences. See if you are committed to a long term time period, or is it month to month? It is an added expense, but artists will tell you that they see a significant jump in sales when they make the move to accepting credit cards.
6. Figure out how you are going to do your bookkeeping. Starting out from day one with a bookkeeping system in place will save you lots and lots of time in the long run. You will be spending money long before you make money, and you want to keep track of those expenses. There are plenty of accounting and bookkeeping software programs that are available. There is the old fashion ledger book. Determine a system you are going to use, and put it in place right from the beginning. I have been using Quicken to track my business sales, expenses, inventory, etc. I have tried other programs briefly, but I like Quicken, and have used it for so long that it is the easiest for me to use. And in the end it is more important that you use the system, than how many bells and whistles it may have.
These are some of the basic steps to formally get a business off the ground. They will make running the rest of your business smoother. I know I will get this question, even though I did not address it...."How do I come up with a name for my business?" The best name you have for a business as an artist is your own name. It is the brand you want to establish. It is how people will come to know you. Couldn't be any easier, could it?
I hope this simple overview might help a few of you who have been hesitating making the leap. One more piece of information may mean one less obstacle to moving forward. And with the internet, it is easier and faster than ever before.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Never and Always are dangerous words. There is no wiggle room. And in life we need wiggle room. Room to learn, to adapt, to change our minds a bit if we want. But with absolutes like never and always, there is no room for change.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I have spent a few hours today trying to find out about product liability insurance. A catalog company that wants to carry my cranes, requires this coverage. Product liability insurance covers you again injury or damage caused by your product. Seems a bit silly, given the product, but then again, remember when someone sued McDonalds because they got burned by coffee spilled while they were driving, and holding a cup of coffee between their legs? Reasonableness does not always apply when it comes to these things. I am working on language for a warning label. Isn't this why we become artists, so that we can avoid these kinds of things?? We might want to avoid them, but the reality is, we can't without assuming some risks.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Here is the question I am left with after the Providence show. Why would the same product do well wholesale, and sell as slow as molasses in winter, at a retail show? The wholesale buyers were buying twice their intended amount of work when presented with a pick box, but the buyers at the retail show were collecting business cards and postcards. What is going on?
It could be any number of factors, but after a conversation last week, I am wondering more and more about timing. Perhaps the shopping patterns of the American consumer are changing enough that they no longer go to craft shows to buy. Rather they go to be inspired, and gather information. Often ascertaining whether or not the artist has a website as they collect cards.
Why? I have a theory that perhaps people are not buying in anticipation of a holiday or birthday several months away, as much as they might have in the past. Purchases are limited to an impulse purchase here and there, or the person who does have an occasion to shop for a gift.
The pace of life today is accelerated. We have gotten used to being able to go on line with our fiber optic, wireless connections, spend a few minutes and purchase whatever we might want, and have it shipped to us overnight, or in no more than a few days. We don't even have to leave the comfort of our couch. Why buy today what you can wait and purchase in a month, or two?
Perhaps, the reason that work is selling better through wholesale than retail. The customer knows they can buzz over to that great little shop, that always has something new and unusual, and pick up a gift when they need it.
Maybe, immediacy is a more important factor in the decision process for shoppers now, than it used to be. If I don't need it today, or at least this week, it can wait. Wait and get it locally. Or wait and go to the craft show that is closer in time to when you need something. It seems as if the end of year holiday buying season has gotten more and more compressed over the last few years, when retail sales are reported during those critical weeks.
The craft show is not dead. But it is not a vibrant retail outlet that, at least not in the Northeast. I remember visiting shows where you could hardly walk, the aisles were so crowded. Those same shows have no where near the same numbers of visitors, and more and more of the visitors to a show are walking around without any purchases in hand.
There are other factors to be sure. The price of heating oil has skyrocketed here in New England, and we are entering the heating season. Gas at the fuel pumps is at a very high level. Anyone holding an adjustable rate mortgage is facing large jumps in mortgage costs. And there is the uncertainty that always happens as we approach a major election. Especially when we know that there will be a change in administration, and we are at war. Uncertainty has a way of cramping impulse shopping.
This is strictly some theoretical thinking going on here. Tell me what you think? Do you see your shopping habits changing? Do you see a change in the retail craft marketplace, and if you do, how would you describe it? I am truly interested in your thoughts, so please be sure to add to the comments, and see if we can get a discussion of sorts about this.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
It is my youngest daughter's birthday today. She is 12 years old, and she is a terrific kid. She is a voracious reader. Some of her favorite books are about dragons, or about fantasy. Tarmar Pierce's books, or the Dragonology books. She is currently reading Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.
Friday, November 2, 2007
After my post the other day about the poor showing I had at the Providence show I have had several conversations and emails friends who were a bit concerned my bad news.
It was a bad show. I am not going to take that back. But all in all, I am continuing a fantastic, and perhaps sometimes, too fast ride. I only started working with....perhaps I should say playing with....polymer clay four and a half years ago. I am still very new at my medium, as well as new at the business of craft. In that very short time, I have received more recognition than perhaps I deserve for my work. But I am loving what I am doing, and no matter how much success or recognition I receive, I have not doubt that I still have much to learn. I like to think I have managed to cram about ten years of experience into the last four years because of the time and energy I have put in the studio, and into growing my business. But in reality, I am still growing, and learning.
This morning I was listening to a Story Corp story on NPR. Story Corp travels around the country, and records the stories of everyday people, told by those people. This morning was a story by Tom Morgan. He shared his heartache at removing the life support equipment from his father. He also shared his life lesson from his father, and that experience......
Asked if he had any regrets, Morgan said he could list a dozen.
"But I always had the theory that if you don't try it, when you go to the grave, you'll say, 'I could have.' When I die, I'm going to go to the grave and say, 'I did. I might not have done it well, but I did it.'"
Hearing that sentiment hit home with me this morning. I have no regrets about the bad shows, the ideas that went no where. I can say I tried. My regrets about any of it are only momentary. Each time I learn. And I would rather try, and perhaps fail, than not even give it a try.
I guess it is a philosophy similar to that expressed by Voltaire. I do not want to let "the perfect be the enemy of the good." If every t has to be crossed, and every i dotted before I try something new, I would have missed so much already. The secret for me is to not hold on too tightly to either the successes or the failures. I accept them. I learn from them. And I get up each day trying to do the best job I can that day.
Each day at a show, good or bad is a new day. Each day in the studio is a new day. Living in the past, good or bad, will only cast a shadow on this moment. The good can create too much pressure to live up to, and the bad can feel overwhelming to overcome. Living right here, right now, in the present, can help me move forward, and make the best decisions for where I am right now.
As a friend pointed out, I am in transition right now, juggling several product lines. That, in and of itself can be a challenge. But I came across this bit of advice on The Big Red & Shiny blog recently, given to an artist who had questions about developing a new line of work;
It is very common for artists to have several “bodies” of work at once. These artists should spread the different styles to different galleries so that they can maximize exposure without having the galleries compete. In other words, if you are painting vertical stripes, sell that work at the “Vertical Stripe” gallery, and sell the figurative work out of the “Figurative” gallery. The dealers shouldn’t mind that you are working with another gallery as long as theAnd that is where I am right now. Developing various markets for my various lines of work, and starting to pare away a few. It sometimes feels like juggling a lot of balls at once. But it beats staying somewhere that doesn't feel like it is working, just because it is familiar.
work is different. Just make sure you can make the distinction with each of your dealers. Are you sure you want to totally abandon your already successful pursuits? Maybe you should work on both bodies until you can develop enough of a following with the new work to leave the old one behind.
I don't want to paint a falsely optimistic picture after having a bad show. But it is not the end of the world either. Part of this artrepreneurship is having resiliency. Getting up. Getting back into the studio. Getting your work out there. And doing the best job you can, each and every day. That is all you can ask of yourself, and the most that anyone can ask of you.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
One year of blogging.
183 published posts. About a half a dozen unpublished.
340 comments. Most comments on a post, 13. Wednesday Whine.
From every comment, I learned a bit more about you, about me, about this business of craft.
First post. 1000 Cranes.
Not just 1000 cranes. But 1000 polymer cranes. An important personal landmark that launched my blog.
Most read post. Head Down, Butt in the Studio.
Thanks to Alison Lee for the inspiration for this title. Apparently this one hit a nerve for many.
Countless new friends and connections.
Lots of personal growth and lessons.
Occasional anxiety about posting.
One more task to fit into the day or week.
A little less housekeeping done!
I am inspired and encouraged by your stories, comments and e-mails. I am forced to think more deeply about my own choices in my business. I am learning every day as I grow my business. I stumble. I get up and try again. I hope that you are doing the same.
A big hug for all of you. Now get back to your studio or your mailing list, or whatever it was you were doing to nurture that business of yours along. If you don't do it, who will?