Sunday, November 30, 2008

Habits that Help, and Habits that Distract

I have been thinking about habits lately. Over the last four months, I have been building the habit of getting to the gym. After four months of conscious effort, my car now seems to effortlessly drive right past my street, and head for the gym after I drop off my daughter in the morning. Before I am fully thinking about it, I am on my way to the gym.

When I began this struggle to build this habit, I would have to have these conversations with myself...."Don't head home. You need to go straight to the gym. Don't turn down our street.".....It took effort. Effort to get out of my usual habits and build new ones. Now, going to the gym is nearly as effortless as not going once was. And for me, just getting there is the biggest hurdle. Once I am there, I am there to exercise. There are no distractions. I do what I need to do, and I leave feeling better than when I got there. Tired, a little achy, but my head is clear, and maybe some endorphins have kicked into gear.

On the other hand, when I get home, it is easy to get on the computer and "check my e-mail." "Check my e-mail", is really code for; check my e-mail, read a few blogs, check the e-mail, check stats, do a search, check e-mail,.....and down into the hole that can be the internet. An hour or more can pass before I emerge from the internet stupor.

"Who am I, and where have I been? What was I going to do today?"

Maybe the internet doesn't have this effect on you, but I can easily fall down the Internet Rabbit Hole. So, here we have it. In my morning I am finding a habit that is helping me have more energy and feel better overall, and another that is sapping my energy and making me less productive. Distracting me from the work that I really want to do in my day.

It would be easy for me to rationalize this distracting behavior, or even avoiding the healthful behavior. I could skip the exercise, because I am too busy. I just don't have time for it in my schedule. And, I am doing work when I am on the computer. I can tell myself I need to be on the computer.

But these rationalizations don't move me closer to the life I would prefer to be living. I want to be healthier and more fit. That means I need to invest the time into getting to the gym. Time spent on the computer and the internet is something that cannot be avoided, and can help make connections, find out important information, and much more. But it can also leave me less time, energy and focus for the work that is more essential to me as an artist....time in my studio. The rationalization doesn't take into account what my priorities are; what it is that I want to be accomplishing in this life of mine.

The thing about these habits of distraction is that they can be sneaky. They can masquerade as being productive.

  • Do you have to straighten out your studio before you sit down to work?
  • Do you have to make sure the dishes are done and the beds made, etc., before heading for your studio?
  • Do you have to add ten more galleries to your mailing list before you do that mailing?
  • Do you have to write a post for your blog, even though you don't have anything on your mind that you want to say, but you need to write something everyday.

All these things can seem like the right thing to do. This list is by no means comprehensive. But, if you recognize yourself in any way in any of these activities, ask yourself, are those activities helping you be a more productive artist, or are they just making you feel more comfortable, and busy?....and helping you avoid the act of creating?

Let's look at one of the items; cleaning the studio. Perhaps I am trying to rationalize the mess that is my studio....but let's just go down the path a bit further before we question that motivation! I know that some people need to have order before they can begin to sit down to work. I will not question this desire. If a chaotic studio causes too much stress for you to be productive, then you need to honor that desire. But, does the activity of restoring order, give you a sense of accomplishment, without really having done any "work". Does the process of creating order shift your brain to a different place than where your true creativity arises? In the process of trying to create an environment to be creative, are you squelching your creative energy?

But you need that order.

What if,.... you developed the habit of cleaning and re-ordering your studio each day, after you are done creating. Going to that restful place of putting everything in it's place, and cleaning surfaces after the real work is done. Then in the morning, when you go into your studio, you are ready to work. You are not distracted or stressed by the mess.

For me, I find that having a bit of chaos makes it easier for me to go into the studio and get to work. It is less intimidating and scary than the blank canvas of a spotless studio. I can jump right in something that might already be in progress. I like some degree of order so I have room to work, and know where to find things, but the studio where work is always partly done feels more productive to me.

My distraction is that computer. I am not being truly productive by getting on the computer before I get into the studio. I need to shift that energy and time drain to later in the day. After I have exercised, and spent a good chunk of time in the studio.

Finding these sorts of distractions can be difficult. We have to be uncomfortably honest with ourselves, and our priorities. If your art is important to you, you have to make it a priority. If the dishes get done at the end of the day, rather than after each meal, they still get done. And if you are in your studio working, you won't see them! You can go ahead and do that mailing to the list you have, and send out more later as you add to the list.

I find I need to reassess my routine every few months. How am I spending my time? Is it moving me toward what is most important to me, or is it pulling me away? Today, I am glad to say, I stopped myself from heading for the computer after getting home and making my cup of coffee. Instead, I went into the studio, and go some work done, and enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed that same amount of time on the computer.

Do you have any habits that need re-evaluating? What are your priorities, and are your actions supporting them?


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Prison of Your Voice

I know, I know. I have told you how important it is to develop your own, distinctive voice. It is your trademark, and your brand. But,.....I can't help but wonder if all this emphasis on voice can be a prison or a poison to our creative muse.

Let's say you do what everyone says. You come up with something that is "yours"! No one else has anything quite like it out there. And, joy oh joy!!....people like it! They are buying it! Talk about gratification. There is truly joy in the creative process itself. It can be the best drug on earth for anything that ails you. But, when others see your work and "oooh" and "ahhhh!" over it, that is a very heady moment.

And, even artists are human. What happens when we get this wonderful rush of excitement over how much people liked what we did? We want to hold onto it, to preserve it, nurture it, baby it.....do absolutely anything to keep it going. Am I right?

The problem is, this very act is what might kill us as artists. As soon as we try to stay right in that moment of being surrounded by "oohhh's" and "aaahhh's"....better yet, accompanied by hands outstretched with credit cards or cash....as soon as we try to capture that moment, we may have hammered a nail in the coffin for our creativity.

As soon as we say to ourselves, "this is what is working, so I will do more of this," we have begun to build the prison walls. It will not be immediately apparent. Because it will take time for the light to dim, and the crowds to disappear. But, they will. Human nature, it seems, craves a certain degree of novelty. And if we do not continue to create, we risk losing our audience, and that excitement about our work.

Yes, we want, and need, to develop a line, and explore it fully. But, we don't want to kill the creative urge in the process. We must trust that if we had one good idea, there are more where that came from. Doing work to satisfy the market is not what this is about. It is more about letting the reaction of the market guide,....or misguide,...your muse.

What is the creative urge? For me it is the voice that says, "I wonder", or "Hunhh." It is that place where a question pops into my mind. Or a shape or form, or a new surface. This is the place we must nurture and protect. This is the place that needs care and feeding. If instead, we say, "Oh no, I can't do that. This is what my work looks like, what people expect from me....not that." We firmly turn our back, close that door, and put that nose on that grindstone, and grind away. And pretty soon, we will find that the ideas to explore have disappeared.

Another risk of closing off to new ideas that might pop up, is that we might become very, very protective of "our" work. When we get to that place of intense ownership, and protection of our work or our expression, we can start to see threats where there are none. People who are copying us. People who are stealing from us. Fear and paranoia are not conducive to creativity. They send us looking over our shoulder and around the corner, when where we really need to be looking is inside. Inside our heads and our hearts. Letting the voice that can't be too still for too long have it's say.

Fear of being copied can be a huge distraction. It drains our energy, and distracts our attention. It keeps us from moving forward. We always have one eye open for that dirty, rotten scoundrel who is ready to rip us off.

What if instead, we say, "Copying happens." Because it does. It is the place where many people begin. It is borne from admiration and enthusiasm, as much as any other place. When an individual copies you, it is unlikely to do much harm. They cannot copy your name, or your maker's mark....the very energy you infuse into each piece in the process of creation. They will most likely get bored and move along, or find their own muse and move along. And that is the essential ingredient for all of us, movement.

Movement is rushing, bubbling, flowing. It may have fits and starts at times, but the general idea is motion. Momentum. Seldom in a straight line. Our creative voice must move. It must stretch it's legs. Peek around the corner, veer off down that path. It is endlessly curious. Sitting still is not what this is about. Building an artistic legacy on one thought, one idea, one expression will not happen. Letting yourself grow as an artist means going with the flow more than discipline. I will explore that in a bit more depth in my next post. But for now, let me know what you think. How does your creativity bubble up? Does it move in fits and starts? Or does all this seem like a foreign language. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving to all my American readers. And, any and all, please feel free to share a thought of thanks for the day, the week, or the year.

I personally, am thankful for the gift of watching my daughters grow up and begin to emerge as two incredibly unique and wonderful people.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Left Turns

Last night I had to drive down to the pediatrician's office to pick up a prescription. Unfortunately, I had to make the drive during rush hour, and now, after darkness. It is about a twenty to twenty-five minute drive, and most of the way is a fairly easy trip. But, there are two left-hand turns, one in each leg of the trip, that are killers.

I hate left-hand turns. The first time I was in a car accident, it was making a left-hand turn. Add rush hour traffic, and trying to cross a busy road, in darkness, and it is even worse. I watched one near accident on the way down to the office, but made that same turn with no trouble.

The trip back was what got me thinking about left hand turns. It was the toughest turn of the trip. Crossing a busy street, with consistently heavy traffic in both directions, and of course, no light. As I was getting near the intersection, I debated with myself. Should I go right instead, and go home a different route? It was only at the last minute that I finally decided to make the left, and go home the usual route.

I sat there watching the flow. Looking right and then left. Trying to find an opening in both directions at the same time. There was a big gap on the right, but cars approaching on the left. At the last moment, the car leading the group on the left turned right, on the the street I was on, and the car behind me hit his horn. "Why hadn't I gone??", the horn screamed at me!

Now I felt under the gun. I missed one opportunity, because of a lack of a signal. When would the next one come, and would I see it in time to act? And, if I didn't, what would the guy behind me do? Clearly, he/she was in a hurry.

With about a minute or two of patience, my window came. It was a tight one that required no hesitation, but it had a bit of breathing space. I made the turn and exhaled as I continued home.

No drama. But it made me think about the process of making decisions and following through with actions in our lives. Are we patiently waiting for that perfect and most comfortable opportunity to present itself, or are we anxious to get across the traffic and moving along to our destination. So anxious in fact that we are willing to take unreasonable risks. It is a spectrum, of course, and on different days we might find ourselves in different places along that spectrum.

The economy slows. Do we decide to park the metaphorical car and not come out again until we are absolutely certain of success in our "turns"/ventures? Or do we behave recklessly. Frantically trying anything and everything, hoping for success? I hope we do neither. I hope we are able to assess what is working and what will need adjustment in order to succeed as we move forward. We do need to move. But we do need to observe the "traffic". This is not the time to run on autopilot. What has always worked, may no longer be a sure thing. What never worked for you in the past, might we worth revisiting, and evaluating. But business and commerce is continuing. Just not necessarily under the same rules as before.

Above all, we do need patience. We do need to make choices based on what is right for us....for the type of driver we are. Just because the guy in the car behind us is beeping his horn....and potentially gesturing wildly (the blessing of the dark is that this could not be seen!), we are the drivers of our business or our vehicle. We have to determine what our goal will be for navigating these rocky roads. We need to adapt, but we can't let someone else's agenda drive us off course.

By the way, did you know that UPS has planned routes so that their drivers make as few left hand turns as possible. Not only is it a safety issue, but apparently it also consumes a lot of fuel to be idling, waiting for that window to turn. So, if you are like me, and will plan routes for your errands so that you have as few left hand turns as possible, then you now can know you are being green in your efforts! And saving money as well. Something we all can celebrate!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sabbatical of Sorts, and Random Observations

I guess you could say I have been on a sabbatical. A break from blogging.

Blogging can be a great way to communicate your thoughts with a larger audience, but...they can also get to be like a nagging child. Pulling at you and wanting your attention. NOW!! Didn't I just write a post? Do I have to write another one again already?

The choice was not necessarily a conscious one, but a necessary one. I needed a break. And I am not sure I am truly back. At least not on a consistent schedule.

The new schedule this year with a new school for my youngest daughter has drastically cut into my time. And the oldest has started piano lessons. I am in the car about 10 hours more per week than last year. Driving a carpool is not time that can be spent doing much more than driving. The school is terrific, so the sacrifice in time is worth it. But, it does take a toll. I now see more clearly just how spoiled I was the last few years with the school bus picking up and dropping off my daughter right in front of the house.

I am getting to the gym at least four days a week. Good for my health. Not so good for my blogging time. I have begun a new strategy to reinforce my motivation to workout, and it seems to be working. I had heard about this technique of using a contract to commit to a goal on the radio, but I had not given it much thought until this fall as I struggled to get to the gym more than twice a week. So far I have seen a definite shift in my commitment, and given the general environment out there right now, I can use the stress reducing benefits of exercise.

The economy has been taking it's toll. I have had various customers behaving badly. Canceling orders. Avoiding phone calls. Sending post-dated checks. Paying late. Or waiting 30 days, and then paying with a credit card....which means I waited thirty days, and I pay fees on the credit card purchase. None of these problems were happening a year ago.

A year ago the beginnings of this downturn were evident. But now, it is in full force. I am concerned about the outlook for the next few months. November and December is when many retail stores make their profit for the year. If people hold back on purchases dramatically, we will likely see many businesses shutting their doors after the first of the year.

I have written a few lenses on Squidoo. It has been a way for me to encapsulate some of the things I have covered here. One lens is an overview about the business of craft. Another is about craft photography. Squidoo seems better suited to these sorts of "brain dumps"....taking a topic that I want to write about and being able to cover the terrain with as many modules, or pictures as I want or need to explain my point. It doesn't have the continuity of a blog, but sometimes a singular topic is all you want to cover. Some people have used it as a way to help promote their products they are selling on Etsy or eBay.

But, like all sorts of things on the internet, it can be a real time drain. There is a reason that the Facebook Anthem video has gotten as many views as it has....many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the endless number of ways we have to stay in touch with an ever expanding circle of people. We are getting to know more people, but perhaps we know less people as well as we used to before the internet became a life line for many people. There was life before Blogger, and Facebook, and Twitter, and LinkedIn, and e-mail even. Functionality has expanded to the point where we can barely function, let alone breath, in the real world.

For all the ranting, I have had some good news. Some of you may have seen this piece in Art Jewelry magazine recent issue (November 2008). It appeared in their gallery section.


And, I had one of my pieces selected as a finalist in the Niche Awards competition for 2009 in the Polymer Clay category. So far I have learned that Sandra McCaw, Jeff Dever and Lindly Haunani are also finalists. Heady company!!


On top of all that good news, I found out two pieces were accepted into the Progress & Possibilities competition, sponsored by the National Polymer Clay Guild, as finalists. A necklace, and a chess set. Talk about feeling pretty lucky! It really is wonderful to have my work recognized in these ways.



Don't know when I will be back. I hope you will understand if it is a while. And, I hope you find some time to get off the computer, and into the studio, or better yet, out for lunch with a friend. Cell phones turned off. Connecting the old fashioned way.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Insights from Ford and Forlano


Steven Ford and David Forlano have been in business for twenty years now, making objects, and jewelry from polymer clay. Over that time their work has evolved to incorporate metals, and now even the occasional diamond. Their stature in the broader craft world has grown in that time as well, collecting press clippings and awards along the way. This kind of success, it seems to me, comes from a combination of having strong artistic talents and skills, AND, a good business sense. From what I have learned from the answers they gave to my questions, it would seem that is definitely the case. I hope you find the interview thought provoking and inspiring.

Was the business side of being working artists an obstacle, or was it welcomed?

In the beginning much of the creativity and fun of making a business was part of the whole experience. Making work and making the business went hand in hand as we not only made what we wanted to make but we learned what “the market” wanted. Keeping in mind we didn't know the first thing about jewelry or fashion we had to pay attention to what galleries could sell.

What do you wish you had known about running a business when you started?

In the first few years we overlooked filing a business license and paying business privilege taxes. That took some time to recover from as we had to pay interest and penalty on a large tax bill. Our accountant called it “magical thinking”; that is, running a business, but thinking that you’re not.

Was there anything that you resisted doing when you began, and when you finally did do it, you could have kicked yourself for waiting so long?

We resisted using other materials for a while. Many other jewelers recommended we incorporate metals into our work but it took us a while to take that leap. I would not change anything about that.

Do you sell both wholesale and retail? If so, what is the balance? Which do you prefer and why?

We sell both wholesale and retail but recently we are considering limiting our wholesale to just showing at our long-standing galleries. Retail is more satisfying financially and collectors really enjoy that transaction directly with the artist.

Do you sell on-line? If so, how? Have you seen a change in the role the internet plays in your business?

We sell very little online. We have found that one-of-a-kind wearables need to be experienced in person. Most of our online or “over the phone” sales are to people that are familiar with and have our work already. We are taking a closer look at how we may approach online sales in the future.

You have done some things that are “out of the box”. For instance, your booth design breaks all the rules. You have a panel covering most of the front of the booth, with a mannequin out front. What inspired a move like that, and did you have any concerns at first about how it would work? Have you ever seen anyone try to mimic this move?

Yes, our curved walls have shown up now and then in other booth designs. Booth design is a much overlooked part of how one represents their work. Artists will often “decorate” a booth with little attention to what it does to present the actual work. “decoration” can be very distracting and/or confusing. A booth is there to sell the work and not the artist. We are constantly thinking about booth design and pay close attention to public reaction to it. The first time we put work up on curved walls was a bold move that we decided to just plunge into. It was risky and scary and well worth taking that leap of faith. We thought of the outer wall as a kind of store front. Our work is not for everyone, and if someone is too timid to walk into our enclosure, then they may not be our customer. Once inside, buyers were surrounded with our work, standing on a padded carpet, offered a chair if they want one, and the chaos and distractions of the rest of the show was eliminated. “Out of the box” is really at the root of all creativity. Maybe even more so in today’s short attention span of “sound bites”

How much of your design process is influenced by the market? For instance, was the move to incorporate metal into your designs influenced by the market in any way?

Our work became more sculptural as we incorporated metal into work. We also shifted away from mass producing canes and into one of a kind work. The metal also helped us to tone down our color. And the obvious piece to that is that each object requires more work, uses precious metal and is more expensive.

How do you balance the business side of your business with multiple partners? Is one of you more drawn to, or comfortable with the business end?

Steve is better at being the business “front man” and takes more pleasure in handling that aspect of running the business. Every business decision is a complete collaboration.

Do you hire others to take care of aspects of the business for you? If so, how did you find the right people?

Maryanne Petrus-Gilbert does all of our metal work, leaving us to work with what we do best, the clay. Steve and I have always handled all business activities and still do.

What do you do yourself, but wish you could get someone else to do?

I think it would be worth considering someone to handle all shipping, billing etc. But even that is difficult to farm out with custom work going into most of what we ship.

Has the balance of time spent on business functions versus time in the studio shifted over time?

In the early days of our production line, we kept UPS busy. There is much less time these days putting together hundreds of boxes which used to cover every surface in the studio after a wholesale show. Other than that business functions still require the same attention as always.

Did you have anyone who played the role of mentor for you in how to be successful business people?

My father is my role model for successful risk taking in business but even he may have wondered what the heck I was doing in those first few years. Randy Darwall (fiber) and Chris Hentz (metals) also taught us a lot about shows, and business.

Has your business been affected by the downturn in the economy at all? If so, what are you doing differently in response to that?

We have noticed a decline in turnout at craft shows but our sales are not reflected in amounts of people as much as they are the right kind of buyer for our work. Everyone has their version of the right kind of client/collector for them and ours has not yet shown any slow down in purchasing comfort. Still, we are paying close attention to this issue and continually brainstorm on what we may need to do to shift as the economy shifts.

What is the best thing an artist can do to increase their chance of having a successful business?

Pay attention to what people like and what you like. If you are not doing what you like chances are potential collectors will sense that your work will not sustain you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Point of View

Over the nearly two years that I have been writing this blog, I have written from my point of view, and experience. In some areas, that experience is deep, and in other areas, I have barely scratched the surface. I have shared triumphs and disasters, with as much honesty and humility as I can muster.

But, it is only one perspective. One set of experiences. One point of view.

A few weeks back, Cynthia Tinapple posted a link to a video created by Steven Ford and David Forlano about their business; Ford/Forlano. As I watched the video, I was struck with the idea of interviewing them for this blog about some of what they have learned in their twenty years in business together. They have achieved termendous success over that time, and have perspective and knowledge I can only hope to gain.

Well, you are in luck.....they said yes!

I will be posting the interview shortly, and I think you will enjoy it as much as I did. They are thoughtful, and daring. They plan, and they get in over their heads at times. That yin/yang of being in business and being an artist plays itself out well in their answers, as well as those times where business and art intersect in a wonderful synergy.

I hope to continue down this path, interviewing other artists/business people and gaining insight and wisdom from their experiences and knowledge. My hope is that we will all grow and learn by spreading a wider net. Perhaps the conversation will become more lively as more voices are added! I never intended for this to be a monologue....

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sublte Shifts

About a month ago, I began working with a personal trainer. We meet every week or two for about a half an hour. I needed someone to be accountable to in order to make sure I would get myself to the gym on a regular basis. One of the downsides of working at home is that there is that it is too easy to stay home! Getting myself out of the house and to the gym has been a challenge. For three weeks this summer, I made it to the gym about four days a week, in large part because I was out of the house already bringing my daughter to camp each morning. It was easier. But when camp ended, I needed to create something that would motivate me to keep it up long enough to build the exercise habit into my life again. Thus, the personal trainer.

Linda, my trainer, is terrific. One of the things she does each time we meet, and with each exercise I perform, is to monitor my body position. Posture and body position are as important as repetitions and level of exertion. It is important in order to make sure the right muscles are engaged, and to reduce the risk of injury. I find myself throughout the day, at the gym, walking the dog, or just walking down the street, checking in. Knees soft, abdomen tight, pelvis tucked, rib cage lifted, shoulders back, and head up. From knees up to my head, small adjustments as I move my body into proper position.

What I have noticed, as I make these shifts, is that they affect how I look, how I move, and....surprisingly to me, how my knees feel, and my balance. I am left with a sense of discovery. So this is how it feels to be more coordinated or athletic in how you move through the world. As someone who never felt coordinated or athletic in any way, and I still don't,...there is a better sense of what it must be like.

And, it brings me to my point. The power of making subtle shifts. What makes the difference between the work of an artist that knocks your socks off, and someone who has not yet reached that level of mastery? I propose that it is small and subtle things, that cumulatively end up in a place that is refined, balance, and complete, in a way that other work is not.

The master has learned the nuances of the material. How to adjust there pressure just so, to accomplish with ease what they set out to do. That nuanced sensitivity takes time and hands on effort to develop. It does not come with the first time you sit down and do something. It is entirely possible to do most things adequately at first. But to master it, it takes an attention to details and nuances that are not seen by the amateur. It takes an understanding of when and how best to finish a piece. It takes a strong sense of design and balance. An ability to edit.

All these things may happen in almost an unconscious manner with a master of their craft. They are taken into consideration as they move through the process of creation. At one point, they were done with effort and concentration. And there is still effort, but it becomes second nature, and full anticipation of where they are going and what must be done. My goal in the gym is for those positions and movements to become second nature. And in the studio, I continue to learn about how to move my work to a place were it is fully balanced and aligned.

What do you think? Have you seen your work develop in a way that reflects an increased understanding of material, process, design, or finish? Are you integrating that understanding into your approach to design, and material? Does it give you a sense of accomplishment?

If not, maybe it is time for some focus on the essentials in the studio. Where do you need more attention? What are your weaknesses? Do you need someone to help you reach your goals?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Deadline Approaching for ACRE's of Opportunity

Once again, the National Polymer Clay Guild is providing a perfect opportunity for someone who has been considering doing a wholesale show. They will again have a sponsored booth at the ACRE show in Las Vegas in the spring of 2009. Three artists will share the space, display there work, and take orders! Last year three very talented artists took advantage of this opportunity; Meisha Barbee, also a Niche 2008 award winner, Sandra McCaw, whose work has been featured on and in numerous books, and Lindly Haunani, a finalist for the Niche award in 2008, and the co-author of an upcoming book about color. These women happened to have some wonderful credentials, but not one of them had done a wholesale show in the past. They saw this as an opportunity to take that step, while minimizing the financial risk involved.


In addition to being able to avoid the booth fee, the participants recieved mentoring in order to be fully prepared for the show. Meisha said, "Prior to the ACRE show, I didn’t even have a colored business card. Well, now I have a beautiful business card, several postcards, and I designed and printed a full colored brochure and price sheet. I even learned how to send my brochure and pricing information via the Internet.”

Sandra had similar feelings, "it really forced me to get my professional act together and I am looking forward with confidence to the next wholesale show. This mentoring opportunity…truly did give me a hand up and made a seemingly daunting task manageable."

And Lindly felt that their experiences could help guide the next group with more information and data to draw on, helping them to prepare a realistic budget for their expenses. While they did not pay for the booth itself, they still had to provide displays and marketing materials, shipping and travel costs, and other expenses associated with their stay in Las Vegas.

If you work in polymer clay, are a member of the NPCG (or want to be!), and want to do your first wholesale show, be sure to check this opportunity out before the deadline passes. Applications must be submitted prior to September 10th. Applications are accepted on-line through the CaFE system.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How Much Do I Need to Bring?

This was the question I desperately searched in vain to find an answer to as I began to prepare for my first show. When will I know if I have enough work? An artist I met with the other day posed that question to me.

The simple answer, bring as much work as you can. The problem with this answer is that it can lead to frantic late nights, making a few dozen more pairs of earrings, ten new pendants and a couple of bracelets for good measure.

You will always have the wrong inventory, or not enough. Someone will want something in a color that you are sold out of. Or a style that you only made a few of, and they sold better than expected. The reality is, that it is impossible to give an adequate answer to the question. It is fraught with all sorts of complications from the nature of the show, your price points, and maybe even the price of gas that week, or the weather.

Having said that, you can look at it another way. What is your goal in terms of sales for the show? How much do you hope to sell. Since it is rare to sell out every item that you have...it does happen, but not too often,...you could aim to have at least 1.5 to 2 x's the dollar amount of your goal in sales.

How do you set your goal for sales, you ask. How many hours is the show? What is the average sale that you make? What if you made one or two sales per hour? How much would that represent in dollars? Or what are your costs of doing a show, plus your time to do the show, plus a profit? Still stumped? How much can fit in or on your display and not look overly crowded, or overly sparse? Have that much and maybe another 30 to 50% to restock as a minimum.

Having more than these amounts is not problematic, but sometimes having no clue as to how much to make can hold people back from making that step. These answers are not perfect. They are just ways to think about how much work you might need. With experience, you will develop a sense of what is right. But the best way to learn is just that, through experience.

So, ...what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another Reason to Find YOUR Voice

Once again, the issue of voice arises. What makes your work identifiably yours, and belonging to no one else? And why in the world is it such a big deal?

When you first start out, voice is hard to grasp, or develop. Technique takes center stage. But you know you are seeing it when you can look at a picture and immediately identify it as belong to a specific person. Or, your mouth drops open when you see something for the first time, and you gasp. Or you just feel compelled to touch. You can't stop the "oooohhh..." from floating out of your mouth.

Why am I bringing it up again? I was listening to the radio this morning in the car on the way to an appointment. The conversation was about our dependence on oil from other countries, and whether or not we could become energy independent. At one point in the discussion, a light bulb clicked on in my head. The guest on the program spoke about how oil is a commodity like iPod's, flowers, or rice. And people will buy a commodity based on price, availability and convenience.

The question that immediately popped into my head was, "Can craft be a commodity?" And, I am sure you know the answer, "Yes." Without a doubt. I instantly thought of the many, many jewelry artists I have seen making fused dichroic glass. At one time, there was a "wow" factor to it. But now, unless the artist has created a unique way of incorporating the glass into the piece of jewelry, there is no compulsion to buy from one artist versus another, unless it is based on price, convenience, or perhaps personal relationship.

The same can be said of so many other craft objects. If you go to enough craft shows, you will see many of the same things, again and again. But, at that same show, there will be a few artists that pull you in. They are doing something that is different and unique. As I write about this, I can think of several artists right off the top of my head whose work has that flavor. They range from ceramics to sculpture to jewelry. Their work stays in my head because it was so fresh and unique, and their style speaks to me on some level. I have to stop, and look and maybe even buy.

My daughter is beginning to dabble in photography. We have had lots of conversations lately about photographs, and one thing she has said repeatedly, is that a picture of a sunset is not art....unless you are somehow looking at it in a new and fresh way. We were at the New Hampshire Craftsman's Guild Show last week, and she saw some pictures of boats tied up to a dock. Four or five rowboats of various colors. You know the picture, I am sure. She loved it. I preferred the picture of the sole boat, white, tied to a buoy in a mist. Monochromatic, and definitely one with a mood. It was a twist on the boat picture. I pointed it out to her. She loved the one with all the colors. This was in the first tent we visited.

As we walked the show, she started to notice several other photographers with essentially the same picture. That image had become commoditized. Buying one versus another would likely be based more on price than on anything else. She now looked at that picture as just another sunset shot.

Is that why you want someone to buy your work? Because you have the best price on this object. An object that can be found in subtle variations, from multiple sources. I don't. I want them to buy it because the love it. Because if they don't buy it, it will stay in their head. They will wish they had it.

There are times that the commodity item fills the bill nicely. And there are plenty of successful businesses built on making and selling commodity type items. But, if you are going to be in that market, recognize the competition will be fierce, and you will always be squeezed on price. Your creative energy will likely be focused more on cost cutting than on design innovations. If the business side of things is what excites you the most, that might be just the right fit for you. If, on the other hand, it is the art, or creative side that makes you get out of bed in the morning, then avoiding be just another commodity is essential to your success.

We all have a voice. A unique set of experiences and inspirations. How does your work reflect the path of your life? Does it? If it doesn't, then perhaps it is time to spend some play time in the studio. Experimenting. Asking "What if?" When you find it, you will know. It will be singing to you loud and clear, asking, "Where have you been? I've been waiting for you!" And then, the party will really begin!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On a More Positive Note

I received a concerned note from one of the organizers of the Connecticut Guild retreat, after my most recent posts. It struck me over the last few days, how I had a slew of comments to each of these posts. They must have struck a chord with others out there as well. But there is a danger as soon as something is written down, that it is magnified. So little events, that in no way were under the control of the retreat organizers, take on greater significance and impact. The magnifying glass of examination, apparently also blows things up to larger than life impact.

I don't want to now say, "It was nothing." Things happened that made me pause, and made me think. And those are the things I am prone to write about. The process helps me understand life a bit better, and be better prepared the next time around. Most of what I described comes from a place better known, for lack of a better term, as "human nature". Our innate struggles as we bumble through our lives. I personally have found this type of examination and exploration helps me better navigate through them in the future.

I think the title of my last post was provocative, generating some of the response. Using the word "bully" is something of a red flag. But I am not sure how else to describe how simple requests can feel complicated on the other side. Pressured? Maybe. Neither quite describes the nuance of the sensation.

Overall the retreat was terrific, on many, many levels. First and foremost, seeing people I do not see frequently enough. That face-to-face time, whether across a table in the workroom, or wandering around the workroom, at lunch, or on Saturday night, in the lounge,....it all reinforces the sense of community that draws us to attend retreats in the first place. Inspiration. Laughter. Friendship.

I was making cranes for the Crane Project most of the weekend. It was a great opportunity for people to see first hand what I am working on. Saturday night I had a chance to talk to the whole group about the project, and how it all began. The response was fantastic. I gave a few lessons in paper crane folding. Several people volunteered to help with making the little washers that are just above and below each crane on the cables. There will be over 8000 of those little washers! That is a lot of washers! And I received $100 in donations, for the project. Donations that are sorely needed! But the encouragement was the most wonderful thing. That left me with a rich sense of what a wonderful, sharing, and supportive community this truly is. The connections, contacts and experiences that people in that room had were amazing.

I finally made a video I had been planning for about two weeks. As I told everyone at the retreat on Saturday night, I had folded a crane to represent Bobby a few days prior to the retreat. I never knew Bobby personally, but his story played an important role in shifting how I looked at my cranes, and what they could represent. Once again, the production is far from perfect, but I think it conveys his story, and why I feel compelled to take on this major project. I have titled the video Bobby's Crane. I struggled with my video editing software yesterday, so the title is not on the video itself. Things I could do the last time I made a video suddenly seemed impossible! But the message comes through. Hope you like it.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Is It Bullying or Just An Innocent Request?

I found myself in an awkward position several times during the retreat weekend. I had brought some of my new work to show, and sell. It was wonderful to have a group huddled around the work, touching, "oohing", and "aahing". When you have spent months, or longer, working out a new line of work, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing other people appreciating it. And when that appreciation extends into purchases, it doesn't get much better than that. Voting with dollars is the biggest "yes" you can get about your work.

But, I had not anticipated another side of that appreciation, and it had to do with the environment I was in. I had many requests to show exactly how I make the beads I use in my new Shibori line. How do I get them so uniform in size? How do I do that surface design? On one level it is flattering. They so connect with the work, that they want to make it themselves. But, on the other hand, I am not ready to share just yet. It is what I am selling. My income depends upon this work, and these designs. It is too new to be firmly recognizable as my work. It is less than a year old.

What exactly are the costs of my laying it all out there at a retreat.....doing a demo? First, I will be giving away my "intellectual property". Exactly how I make these beads, in form and surface design, is my intellectual property. Just like companies that make widgets, that knowledge has value. Others may copy what I am doing, but there is no reason for me to hand it to them on a silver platter. Why do you think companies like Apple voraciously defend their patents and copyrights? Their knowledge is too valuable to lose. Right now, I feel protective of the knowledge of how I make these beads.

If I decide I want to share it, it might make more sense for me to teach in a class where I am being paid to teach what I have developed. It is at least acknowledging that the time and creative energy that went into this work is worth something. Whether it is in the form of a DVD that you have made, a book, or a classroom, if you are being compensated, you are acknowledging you are sharing something of worth, as is the recipient.

Sometimes we give stuff away freely and without the need or desire for compensation. I did a demo at the retreat of some designs I came up with a while back, and knew I was never going to use. Sharing it meant someone else, who might connect with the idea more than I did, could run with it. I did it willingly and freely. It felt right.

The problem with the retreat environment, with demos on the schedule every half hour, is that a perception may develop that everyone shares everything they know. Holding back is selfish. Especially to someone who is not aware of the complete landscape of where this medium fits into people's lives. Some play with it as an outlet from their regular job. For others, it is a job. And others float back and forth in the mid-zone.

It is not too hard to politely turn down a request to teach something that you are not ready to share. The challenge I found, was having the request made multiple times by the same person. I think the intention was made without fully grasping the consequences to me, and thus the persistence in asking. I was polite but firm in my resistance to teach this particular technique. I repeatedly said, "I am not ready to let go of this yet. They are new designs."

I found my response became more strained when faced with the same request again and again from a few people. I held my line. But would someone else who was not standing on such firm ground, eventually give in to the request, not able to say "No" just one more time? The recipients of the knowledge shared might walk away pleased with what they have learned, but will they understand the resentment they might have created in the person they dragged the information out of? I am guessing they just don't know what it is like on the other side of the equation, and why there is resistance to sharing.

Just because someone asks, it does not mean you have to share. You share because you want to. I am not saying this from being a cut throat business person. I am saying it from the point of view of being pragmatic. I can make a choice; to share or not to share. It is my choice to make. And the timing is up to me. I may disappoint a few people along the way, but in the end, I would rather do that than carry around the resentment of feeling bullied into sharing something I was not ready to share.

If teaching or writing is the primary source of income for your business as an Artrepreneur, the decision process might be different. You may be interested in demonstrating your teaching abilities to potential students.....giving them a taste of what they might learn from you in a more extensive class. Or you want to practice and refine your teaching skills. These are valid reasons to perhaps share more willingly and openly. But the context of those choices, or an alternative choice are not always recognized by others. Even when we explicitly state our reason.

It never feels good to say "No, I am not going to share this." It feels even worse when you have to say it again and again and again. But worse than that, giving in when you know in your heart, you do not want to, at least not yet. Approach these choices with a conscious awareness of the trade-offs. And whatever your choice, make sure it comes from what you need right now, and not the external volume. Remember the old Gallo wine commercial...."We will sell no wine before it's time." We must not share our designs and techniques, until the time and circumstances feel right. Then we can let it flow as freely as the wine!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Creative Retreat

Each year, for the last few years, I have tried to attend a creative retreat. A chance to get away from the normal routine and immerse myself in a creative environment. I recently returned from the Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild Clay ConneCTions 2008 retreat. It was held over the past weekend, and I had a wonderful time, learning, meeting, re-connecting, and claying. The Connecticut Guild is strong, and does a wonderful job putting together this biennial retreat. The very first retreat I attended was put on by the Connecticut Guild in 2004.

One of the best parts of a retreat is the opportunity to meet, and begin to know, people who you might otherwise not get the opportunity to spend time with. Whether it is the person who is sitting across the table from you, or someone leading a demonstration of a technique, or your neighbor at the breakfast table. There are many opportunities to connect, and get to know more people in the broader community. This retreat was no exception for me. Some acquaintances were renewed or deepened, and others began. Either way, it was one of the most valuable gifts that I take away from any retreat experience.

I had a chance to learn a few new tricks and techniques. One of which I have already played around with, and may incorporate into some new crane patterns for next year. I now am a "licensed operator" of the Polymer Clay Express extruder, and will play around in the coming months with some of the new extrusion dies I purchased at the retreat. I love the openness of Polymer Clay Express to consider adding new dies based on requests from users. This makes for a richer tool base for everyone. I am awaiting the delivery of one of their new clay rollers....NOT a pasta machine!....but one built for the strains of conditioning a stiffer material. Wider, stronger, and better designed. I was told it is expected to be delivered in December. I also purchased a motor for my pasta machine. I have begun to experience tendinitis in my elbow....perhaps from all those cranes I have been making!

Over the last few years, I have begun to witness the downside of retreats. It is not something that is in the control of the organizers, and it is behavior that is not limited to creative retreats. Get enough people together, and you are bound to have a bit of toxic energy infecting the event. Fortunately, it is generally so far under the radar that most people do not see it, nor are they affected directly by it. But, it can have long term consequences that can affect all of us.

The source of most of it, is the source of most toxic stuff that floats around in our lives. Envy, deception, misunderstandings, etc. Most of it can be cut short, and often is. But sometimes, it becomes strong enough to do damage. To hurt the vulnerable. To discourage them from attending these sorts of events in the future.

There are definite "classes" within the creative world, just as any other community. We may talk about how wonderful it is that we all get along, and share, and respect.....but, when people are at different places on various spectrum; from experience, to ambition, to knowledge, "classes" form. I remember when I was at the Synergy conference in Baltimore in February. This was one of the best conferences I had ever attended. The concentration of talent and experience in one place was amazing. But it also could easily bring out the most deep-seated sense of inadequacy in nearly anyone.

I remember walking into the large main room at one point, and noticing a table full of "names"...people of significant profile and accomplishment. My first reaction, was one that I am not proud to admit. Why are they all sitting together, isolating themselves? I reacted from a place of inadequacy. That I was not feeling "good enough" to sit at that table. Then, thank goodness, I stopped right there and realized something deeper was going on. I was looking at this table by looking at the surface accomplishments of this group. In reality, this group of people had known each other for years. They had watched each others struggles and growth, and were there for each other through personal challenges, and triumphs. This is why they were together. They were friends relishing in the opportunity to see one another, and catch up with each other.

How often do we look at someone who has accomplished something in their artistic career by their resume? How often do we attempt to get to know that person as a person? Are we hoping to get something from being in proximity to them? And if they disappoint us how do we react? Do we translate those disappointments into an assessment of them as a person? And if we do, is it valid?

I have seen people hurt by the thoughtless spreading of nothing more than gossip. What happens when you are on the receiving end of some of this "hot stuff". Gossip that has it's primary value in the name attached to it? When we pick up the ball and spread the dirt, we are complicit in the damage done. We can say we were only passing on what was told to us. We did not start it. But it is feeding the beast.

What if instead, we turned to the source and said "No, thanks." Deflate the balloon a bit. As soon as we hear it, we feel the need to do something with it. Just don't pick it up. Put it down, and walk away.

And if it is about someone you like and respect, explicitly turn it down. What happens when we just pass the dirt along to the target of the gossip, "so that they know"? Hurt. Hurt with no outlet. No way for the issue to be resolved. The best thing is to just walk away. If someone feels more important by knocking down another artist, then you have elevated them by receiving the gossip. Don't do it.

As my profile in the polymer clay world has risen, the gossip value of my name has most likely increased. I try to stay away from the places where the gossip is most prolific. I have built a virtual cocoon of protection around myself. Not that I want to live in the illusion of my perfection, but rather, I don't need to hear idle speculation or gossip about who I am, and why I am doing things. I am deeply familiar with my own inadequacies. When the gossip does filter my way, I am often surprised as much by the content as by the source. Having that chatter in my head does nothing to nurture my creative self. If anything it chips away at it.

As an artist, we have duty to protect ourselves. How can we be creative if we don't? Your real friends will help you see the full you, but in the context of a relationship built on knowledge and understanding. They will help you be a better you. Gossip never does that. So the next time it comes your way, say, "No thanks, I'm on a gossip-free diet. It doesn't agree with me." You'll feel like you just lost ten pounds!

Don't let the possible negatives keep you away from a wonderful nourishing and enriching experience. Don't expect a lot of work to be done. But do plan on laughing, playing, and making a few new friends.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are You Running a Non-Profit?

Back to the issue of pricing.

I recently wrote about how I had to make a dramatic increase in the price of my cranes, and I want to explore a little further one of the traps that caught me, and I think sometimes catches other people in a pricing bind.

Have you ever said something along the lines of, "I want people to be able to afford it."

I have.

When I have talked about the crane pricing with people, who were often encouraging me to raise the price, I would say something along the lines of, "It's just an ornament. How much will people really pay for it? I can't really charge more for it."

Maybe. Maybe not. I had raised the prices incrementally a few times, but never as much as I really should have been.

The question that is being ignored in this type of market focused pricing is, "Can you afford to sell it at that price?" Are you essentially subsidizing your product? And is that really your intent?

When I finally started to look at the grim reality of the time I was putting into the cranes, and how much I was charging, I began to realize I was underwriting people's desires to own a crane, without taking fully into account my time and expenses. I am usually pretty generous, but even I saw the extremes of the situation I had created. I responded to the market demand for more intricate patterns on the surface of the crane, without adequately compensating myself. There was important information that I refused to see. Looking to the market is important, but not all the important information is found there.

Prices are often based on "How much would someone pay for this?" It can be easier than figuring out actual costs. And, it is easier than trying to determine how much our time is worth.

But, is it sometimes translated into, "How much am I comfortable asking someone to pay for this?" "Will people think less of me if I charge too much?"

Some people might. But some might also think less of you for charging too little. Guess what, it doesn't matter. What matters is what you need to earn to make a reasonable wage for your efforts. You are the one with the best information about what that might be. Not the people with all the opinions. They might also think that your hair is too long or too short. Or that you should wear blue more often. People have opinions. It does not mean we have to tie ourselves up in knots trying to satisfy everyone's perceived opinions and needs. We need to take care of ourselves, and respect our time and effort. Setting a fair price...for you, as well as for the market, is where to begin.

What if the product is just too expensive if you make a fair wage?

There are many options at this point. You can stop selling, and decide you want to just make things for the joy of it. You can consider how to make the product for less. What steps or elements can you eliminate? Think about what are the essential elements of your work. Can you focus more on this, and eliminate the extraneous? Can you purchase your materials for less? Exercise your creativity in a new way. Brainstorm about how to make your product affordable and profitable.

Since I have raised the price of the cranes, I have not received any new orders. But it is summer, and it is typically slower. New jewelry orders are more than taking up the slack. In the end, I am fine with whatever happens. I could not afford to continue to wear myself out. I showed one of my accounts the new solid colored cranes this afternoon, and she liked them better than she thought she was going to. She said she will order some of them in the fall.

The joy of doing work you love is quickly erased when you work your fingers raw, and find your bank account is not reflecting your energy expenditure. Making art is doing something wonderful for the world. But, you still need to make a living. Don't lose sight of that essential truth.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Can You Afford NOT to Advertise?

Do you do advertising?

Where, and how often?

Advertising can be a leap of faith. It is often hard to measure the effectiveness of an ad, at least in the short-term. And ads will often need to have repeated exposure to maximize their effect.

I am relying more and more on advertising now that I have focused on wholesale, and have virtually eliminated the retail side of my business. With a disciplined approach, and some effective images, ads can definitely work.

I do most of my advertising through Wholesalecrafts.com. They offer a few options. One is their Buyer's Guide, which is like a catalog of craft artists. It has ads ranging in size from full page to 1/12 of a page. I have run 1/12 , 1/6, 1/3, and soon will be running a full page ad in the Guide. And I have found, size matters, as does repetition. The most recent guide went out a few weeks ago, and I came back from New York with three messages on my machine, and continued to get calls through the week. Not all are placing orders, and the orders placed have been conservative. No surprise there.

But part of what has helped me is that I am sticking with the advertising, in spite of being fully aware of how bad the economy is right now. The last Buyer's Guide was the thinnest I can recall seeing. Especially for that time of year. I had a third of a page ad, and it got noticed. People are asking for information, visiting my page on Wholesalecrafts.com, and placing orders. Three good measures of an ad's effectiveness. With less ads, it is easier to be seen. With pictures that I know work well, it is easier to get a good outcome.

I debated whether I should run another ad in the next issue which will go out in September. I finally decided that I should. People will place orders for the holidays, although they are likely to be smaller and later. And from the sounds of it, fewer artists will be running ads. I was offered the chance to bump up to a full page ad at a terrific price. It was a no-brainer. Yes.

The biggest obstacle to the decision is truly psychological. Am I the type of artist who would run a full page ad? In other words, had I crossed some imaginary line in my head that gave me permission to be so bold? No, but I decided I needed to do it anyway. Act as if. The best part is that I had fewer creative limitations. I could design the ad myself. I love doing that sort of thing, and spent too much time this weekend designing and refining my ad.

In addition to the Buyer's Guide I often run a co-op ad in Niche magazine. Niche goes to galleries across the country who purchase handcrafted work. My target market. I get a better price by doing a co-op ad with Wholesalecrafts.com. And I get exposure to the market that would be most interested in buying my work. It has led to some terrific accounts.

How can I afford it? I guess I have come to see I can't afford not to. If I hold back from advertising, I will disappear into the ether. Visibility matters if you want to sell your work. It is about seeing your work as a product, rather than an extension of yourself, and then doing what it takes to make sure that your market sees your work, and knows about it. I have said this before, and I likely will say it again. Marketing your work is a bit like dating. Sitting at home waiting for Prince Charming to come knocking on the door is about as effective as making your work and waiting to be discovered. Might happen. But, probably not. It takes effort. It takes putting yourself out there for others to see. Simply listing your work on Wholesalecrafts.com, Etsy, or Trunkt is not enough.

Sellers on Etsy rely on the Showcase, and Treasuries to be seen. Flickr users will often join many groups where they can post their pictures to increase their exposure. I have come to look at the expense of advertising as the equivalent to the booth fee at a retail show, with less wear and tear on my body and my work. It takes time to build an audience for your work, but given enough patience and time, and yes, money, it is possible.

What do you do to have your work seen?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Origami Convention in New York

Origami USA will hold their 50th annual convention in New York City this weekend, at the Fashion Institute of Technology. On Saturday and Sunday, there will be an exhibit of origami works open to the public. I will have several items in the exhibit. Sadly, I did not take pictures before shipping them off to New York, but, there are several items made from polymer clay, a crane made from felt, held together by needle felting, and a wire mesh flower. If you are in the area, and have the time, pop on over to the exhibit for a look. You will be amazed at what people are folding these days.

I will be in the vendor area on Saturday and Sunday with cranes, happicoats and cicadas. I will also be doing a demonstration of folding polymer clay on Monday morning.

If you come by, be sure to say hello!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Digging a Hole with a Teaspoon

You have heard the expression of a death by a thousand cuts. This idea is similar. Digging a hole with a teaspoon is slow and you don't really see the progress you are making until suddenly you look up one day and wonder, "How did I get here?"

This is a lesson in not doing as I have done. Heed the warnings.

The problem is, you may, like me, not see how bad it is until the hole is much deeper than you intended. I am talking about pricing. Specifically underpricing. The biggest part of the trap for me, was the idea that "people won't pay more than $xx for this." And I let that idea guide my decisions for too long, even while seeing warning signs along the way.

Cranes. Of course. I seem to live and breath cranes. Cranes to sell. Crane to memorialize. And in this case, the intersection of the two was part of what made me wake up. Let me begin by saying I had increased my crane price three times in the last few years. The wholesale price had doubled over that time.

But....and this is a very big but....the product I am selling today is not the same product I was making and selling then. At first the surface design was fairly simple. And they were not sold in any special packaging, But, I added the packaging and informational inserts, and increased the price significantly. Sales took off. I was a happy camper.

Then, I started playing. I started to do more involved canework on the surface of the cranes here and there. And the customers loved it. "Send more of those ones with all the detailed patterns. Everyone loved them!" I would be pleased with the feedback, but also sigh a bit as I realized it would be more work. Soon that was nearly all I was selling. Meanwhile, the price had only gone up by about a dollar, but the labor was about fourfold more. Folding cranes for the Crane Project put into sharp focus for me just how long it was taking me to make these intricately patterned cranes. I saw what I had been trying to ignore.

Initially when I would ship the cranes across country, I could ship to California or Washington state, Priority Mail, for only about $6 or $7. I offered free shipping. I figured I could easily absorb that into the price structure. Last summer though, the Post Office revamped their price structure, and suddenly it was more than double that cost to ship across country. Ouch! This spring, the prices took another big jump. I had added a shipping surcharge to crane orders west of the Mississippi, but it was not going to be enough.

Then, the breakage started. I had shipped for two years with not one crane breaking. Now, changes in clay formulation have presented challenges. I have had to revamp my packaging, adding further costs. Not to mention the credits or re-shipments I had to make each time a broken crane was reported.

Can you feel my pain?

I had no room in my price structure for all of these problems to converge. But converge they did. With six more crane orders still to ship under the old price schedule, I knew I had to take action. It was time to begin to fill in the hole, and the teaspoon was not going to work. It was time to put things back in order quickly.

My prices have nearly doubled for the intricate cranes that everyone wants. If they want to pay the old prices, they will have to purchase the "Elemental cranes". Solid colors, to represent the five "elements", air, water, earth, fire, and metal. In between those prices I have cranes with crackled leaf.

I am now shipping FedEx Ground, at a much better rate. And I seemed to have solved the problem of breakage for now.

The reaction is unclear. But, in the end, I could not continue on the path I had been traveling.

Lessons, summarized:

1. If you add to your product, acknowledge that. It is a different product. Change the price. Rename it if you need to. Not all cranes were created equally, but I was pricing them as if they were. Some of you will be saying, of course. I would never do that. I hope you are right. But sometimes we do things that don't make sense, because they will be "easier".

2. Don't undervalue your labor. I was doing what I hate. I had gotten myself into a place that all I was doing was covering the costs of my materials and overhead, so I could make more cranes. Don't do that. It does not respect you. If you find yourself saying, "people won't pay...." Stop. If half the people will pay the new price, I will have the same dollar business, for half the work. I can definitely live with that. Too many people have also told me stories of raising prices, and losing their "high maintenance" customers. Another potential benefit.

3. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate suppliers. I had gotten comfortable with shipping my work by Priority Mail. I knew the drill. It was convenient. I didn't want to have to research alternatives. But in the end, I have a good service, for a much lower cost. And, my husband has a FedEx center right near where he works. I don't even have to leave home!

4. Things will change. At some point something you depended upon, and thought you knew will change. You will have to figure out a new way of doing things. I tried to avoid dealing with these issues for too long. I wanted them to go away. I did not have time. (Can you hear the two year-old tantrum welling up?) Once I decided on a plan of action, it was actually less stressful than trying to pretend the problem was not there, or that it would go away on it's own accord. It is not easy to own up to it, but I really did not want to have to deal with this. But being in business for yourself, there will be things that you have to do that you do not want to do. Unless you have employees, there is no one to delegate responsibility for these tasks. So buck up, and deal! And remind yourself how much you are happier doing what you are doing now...in spite of these kinds of stresses. And if you are not, then maybe a bigger change is in order......