Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Back From Sin City

I got back last night from my trip to Las Vegas for the ACRE 2008 wholesale craft show. Once again, I find the preparation, and the show itself has left me worn out. But, with past experience in mind, I planned a bit of down time. It is unlikely that I will do no work. I just can't completely tear myself away, but a slower, gentler schedule, and a few diversions are just what I need right now.

The show was a good one. I was happy with my display, and with the sales I had, and connections I made. A show presents many opportunities beyond the sales of product, and I was able to take advantage of a few of those. I had a few new things to think about, and will share some of those in future posts.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll share a few pictures, and even a video.....

Lindly Haunani, me, Sandra McCaw, and Meisha Barbee in the National Polymer Clay booth. These woman did a fantastic job, coordinating their displays, and preparing themselves for the show. Each one did a terrific job of representing the possibilities of the medium. And it appears they are willing to "pay it forward"....helping the next group of polymer clay artists to take this step.

This is my booth. I was happy with how it worked out. It was easy to ship, and set up, and worked well. My sister-in-law, Linda Ruel Flynn, was there for a few days, and she was a tremendous help to me in the set-up and display. She has been the interim director of the Fiber Art Center in Amherst, MA, as well as the past retail gallery manager. With this experience as a buyer, and in setting up retail displays, she helped me edit down, and tweak the display so that it worked well, and looked good. She ended up helping a few other artists with their displays. The woman has a real talent for seeing the possibilities in the work, and helping people put their best foot forward.

Here you can see a little better view of one of the "tables". I used two EZ pedestals as the base for the tables, and a sheet of masonite, with a "brushed steel" contact paper adhered to the surface, for the top. The earring rack in this display was made from two rails which are used to hang posters, the clips which go inside the rails, ball chain, duct tape, two small slats of wood with some more contact paper, and polymer clay for the bases. I liked how the display worked to show off the earrings, and how the ball chains help the earrings stay in place. I will have to play with this idea a bit more.

Finally, a bit of the fountain show at the Bellagio on the strip....

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tag, Your It

Being tagged as a blogger is a bit different than the childhood game of tag. Then it was more of an aggressive act. But being tagged as a blogger is more of a call out to say, "I read your blog, and I like it." Much better than the feeling I used to get being tagged in the game, as a kid. But now, I have to take on the task of acknowledging other bloggers whose words inspire or amuse. And, sadly, it has taken me a month to pick up the task. So, here goes.

Vickie Hallmark
at Fiber.Art.Glass generously gave this blog a nod. The rules were as follows:

1. Place the name of the person and URL on your blog.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write seven things about yourself.
4. Name seven of your favorite weblogs.
5. Send an email letting those bloggers know they have been tagged.

Seven things about me:

1. I am 6'-1-1/2" tall. I hated it when I was young, and swore I would not have kids....lest I have a daughter who would be so tall. Well, fortunately, I have learned to never say never....and I have two lovely, tall daughters. They have taught me more than they can imagine.

2. I love to garden. This time of year is my favorite. Plants are bursting forth from the ground, and growing fast enough to see the changes from day to day. Color is back after a winter of snow, ice, or brown and grey.

3. I was married on a 60' yacht in Long Island Sound, off the coast of Connecticut on a beautiful August afternoon. It was a beautiful and memorial day for us, and for our guests. And it made it easy to keep the wedding small.

4. I discover more by accident than by intent. It is usually when I am heading in one direction that I will discover something far more interesting. I have learned to be open to those possibilities, because they will regularly appear.

5. I have five brothers and sisters. I was in the middle. Number three. I have a brother who is a year and two days older, and one who is an Irish twin....two weeks shy of year younger than me. I learned much about making compromises from growing up in a large family.

6. I have never traveled to Europe or Asia, yet I find much inspiration in the landscape and art of those parts of the world. I do want to travel more broadly one day, but for now, I am more of a homebody.

7. The best years of my life are still ahead! I guess you could say I am an eternal optimist!

Seven blogs I enjoy:

1. Polymer Clay Daily is a daily must read for me. I love to see what latest treasure Cynthia has uncovered.....and sometimes we are lucky enough to see some of what she has been up to in her own studio.

2. Craftcast with Alison Lee is a blog and podcast. I have loved her interviews with various artists. She has such a warm style, and consistently gets others to open up and talk about their inspiration or creative style.

3. Susan Lumoto Rose is a fellow polymer clay artist, and web guru extraordinaire....that is the only thing that explains how she can consistently find so many interesting and intriguing tidbits from all over the web, for her blog, Polymer Clay Notes.

4. Janice Abarbanel is a multi-media artist. Metal, bead crochet, and polymer clay are all transformed under her talented hands. She has a great blog as well.

5. I am a Project Runway addict. And thanks to Kim Cavender, I stumbled across Project Rungay, and there has been no turning back. These guys have an addiction deeper than my own, but they bring a whole new dimension that is worth a regular visit.

6. The best place to spend a few hours on the web....TEDtalks. Guaranteed inspiration abounds.

7. One of the people who inspired me to blog is Libby Mills. I still enjoy reading her posts and seeing the latest direction her art is taking. She is a talented woman, and a terrific person.

I hope you all have fun exploring some of these links.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shipping A Booth, and other Weighty Matters

Another obstacle that I had to overcome to move my business forward was figuring out how to ship a booth, or components of it, in order to do a show thousands of miles away. I knew I was ready to do a wholesale show, or as ready as I would ever be, but I was not sure I was ready to tackle shipping my stuff cross country.

When you are driving to a show, if you have a big enough vehicle, you can bring just about whatever you want to set up your booth. If you have to haul your stuff any distance from your car or van to set-up, then you might consider weight and volume, but otherwise, convenience, and having the best display possible is what overrides the weight and volume concerns.

But, if you have to ship, weight and volume translates quickly into cost. The cost of shipping is directly correlated to these two factors. And, at some shows there is also drayage charges. Drayage is a weight based charge that is applied at some facilities for transport of your materials from the loading dock to your booth. Both ways. This can add up fast, if your work and/or are heavy, it can easily add up to thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the ACRE show includes the drayage cost in the booth fee. But, since i will I have to ship my paraphenelia from Massachusetts to Las Vegas, weight matters.

Last year, I partially dodged the issue. I shipped some things, and rented others. But this year, I wanted to cross the line, and rent only the bare minimum. A small table for writing orders, and to stash things under, crossbars, and added padding under the standard carpet that comes with the booth. The padding is an indulgence, but sometimes you just have to take care of yourself, and the visitors to your booth! So my rental charges this year are about a third to a quarter of what I spent last year, and I will have extra electricity.

Part of the money I saved went to purchasing a shipping crate. I was fortunate enough to have purchased two fiber crates, that are often used to ship those pop-up style booths, for a song. But they are limited in what can fit inside them. I used one of them to package up my lights, banners and a few odds and ends. I still needed something to pack my pedestals into. The pedestals are going to be the foundation of my booth. They are 42 inches tall, and 24 inches wide when flat, so I needed a container to accommodate them. In addition, the "table" tops that I will lay across the pedestals are 48 inches long. Knowing these dimensions, I hit the web.

This is what I ended up with. It is hard to tell from the picture, but it has wheels, and a handle built in. Straps are attached to securely close the case. And the lid, telescopes on the base. So it can be 6" high, or 10 inches high, depending upon what and how much you put in the case.

After the cases were packed, I added some plastic strapping cord to secure the crates for their long distance travel.

Each container was less than 150 pounds, which meant I could ship them UPS ground. And I could track on line to see the safe arrival of my containers to their intended destination.

Most shows have an advance warehouse. A place where artists can ship their booth and other materials ahead of time. There is usually a deadline for arrival of your goods so that they can be staged at the appropriate time for transportation to the venue. And if all goes well, when you arrive at your booth, all your containers are sitting there waiting for you. But, you need to plan backwards from that deadline to make sure everything is out the door in time to make the trip.

It is a good idea to print out your shipping labels for the return trip at home and bring them with you. It will make that end of the process go much more smoothly. You also want to make certain to have all the paperwork for the shipment to the venue. You never know....

If you ship your materials by freight, there are a few other things to consider. First, a pallet or other way to be able to move your materials with a fork lift is important. The weight of the pallet, becomes a part of the cost of shipping. If you work from home, and thus would ship from home, you would need to pay extra for the lift truck. This is a truck that has a platform on the back that can raise and lower to move your stuff off the ground and up onto the truck.

You will also need a bill of lading. The form will come from the shipper, but it will list what you have in the crates or cartons. You do not need to go into a great deal of detail. "Trade show booth" could be sufficient.

I will show you more of the lightweight, transportable booth I came up with in a future post. So, stay tuned.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Making Light Work of It

It is finally time for me to finish up the discussion I began about lighting. I began writing about how important it is to have good lighting to show off your work to best advantage. Ambient light is often inadequate, and sometimes off-color.

So, now that you know you want lights, where do you begin?

Clip on lights are an option. Jennifer posted a link to her booth with the clip on lights in the comments of my last post. You can see how she had a light fixture for approximately every three feet or so of wall width. If your work is displayed on the walls or very close to the walls, this may be a great solution. But, what if you work is in the middle of the booth somewhere, and not on a fixture that can easily have a clip on light attached? Then what?

Track lights are probably the most common solution. And they are not that complicated to do.

There are a few basic components:

1. The track(s).
2. The light fixtures which are inserted into the track.
3. Bulbs for the light fixtures.
4. A cord attachment for the track.
5. A crossbar to attach the lights to.
6. Something to hold the track onto the crossbar.
7. A power strip or two.

If you can build something with Legos or Tinkertoys you can put up a track light. It really is that simple.

There are lots of places to find track lighting components. Stores like Home Depot or Lowe's, or on-line stores like USA lights. I ordered tracks from Home Depot on-line recently, and it was easy, and got just what I wanted.

So, what do you need to consider when you start looking at the many options that are out there?

1. Color. Black is a good choice. White electrical components can sometimes yellow over time, and black will tend to "disappear."

2. Rotation. How far can the lights rotate or angle so that you can position them just the way you want? I had lights similar to the ones shown in the USA Lights link above, and I found I could only rotate the lights about 200 degrees, and there was very little ability to adjust the angle of the light. The lights I recently purchased have nearly 360 degree rotation, plus I can adjust the angle of the light.

3. Bulbs. You want to choose lights that have a shielded halogen bulb. This will reduce the fire hazard potential of the lights, and will also reduce any problems you might have with certain venues that are very strict about lights that can be used. Also look at the wattage. Most are 50 or 75 watts. Make sure and purchase a few more than you need. You never know when a bulb might burn out or otherwise fail.

4. Track. How much track? The limitation of how many lights you can put on a track are physical more than electrical. But you also want to spread the lights out over enough space that you can adequately light the whole space. At least two, probably three or four tracks are needed.

5. Plug. Purchasing track lighting means you need to get all the components separately. Some people will wire in the track directly in line, but for a craft show, you want to be able to plug it in. So you need to purchase a plug for the track. You can also purchase elements that will allow you to join tracks, and use one plug for two or three tracks.

Before the show, and preferably not the night before, you want to practice putting together the lights and track,....a dry run. First, unpack the track. You may need to remove an endcap on the track with a screw driver so that you can then insert the connector for the plug. This is usually tightened in place with a screwdriver.

Unpack the light fixtures, and determine how to insert to bulbs. Keep the packaging for the light fixtures. It is a good way to transport them to and from the show. The lights general go on the track with a push and a twist. You will usually get a sense of whether or not it has engaged properly. Put several lights on the track, and then plug in the track to your power strip, and turn on the power.

Did the lights go on? If so cheer and pat yourself on the back. You can do this!!

If not, don't panic. I usually find this means that the light was not properly inserted into the track. Often turning off the power, removing the light or lights that fail to light, and re-inserting them into the track is all it takes to fix the problem. But, I will admit that a few times it has taken several tries before I achieve success.

Now, you can remove each light fixture, with the light bulb in place, and return it to the package I suggested you save.

How is the track attached to a crossbar? There are several options. One is the plastic zip ties that are strong, inexpensive, and relative easy to use. Another is velcro strips....hooks on one side, and fuzz on the other. Easy on and off, and re-usable. You can find them at the big box stores, or office supply stores where they have things to control the mass of wires coming off the computer or home entertainment centers.

Not so bad, huh? I hope if you are considering doing a show, and issues like lighting are holding you back, this little primer will help. It really is doable. After a few shows you will be wondering what all the anxiety was about.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Shining a Light on Things

If you plan to do shows, retail or wholesale, lighting is something that you will have to figure out. It was the also one of the parts of doing shows that scared the heck out of me. Electricity has this affect on me. Watts, volts, head starts spinning. This big dark cloud settles in and I find ten other reasons why I don't want to go there.

But, I did want to go there. I wanted to do shows, specifically juried shows, so I was going to have to figure it out. After several years of doing shows, I think I have finally reached a degree of comfort with this area that had previously seemed elusive. So, let me share what I have learned, and maybe help alleviate any anxieties you may have had around this area, and maybe shorten your learning curve.

Let's start with why. Why do you need lights? Because you want your work to be seen in the best light possible (Pun fully intended!). Without lighting, your work can be almost invisible. I was next to an artist at a small show this past December who had part of her work hung up on panels, with lights illuminating the panels. The rest of the work was sitting out on a table. The ambient light in the room was limited at best. As a result, the work on the table was hard to see. The color, the detail, were all lost in the dim light. It had to have had an affect on her sales. The only work that people were looking at was the work on the panels. It was terrific that she was selling some of this work, but what potential sales did she miss by having half of her work in the dark?

How much light do you need? Let's talk about the 10 ft by 10 ft booth, standard at most juried shows. Some shows will include electricity with your booth fee. Often this is about 300 to 500 watts. It is not enough. Trust me. I have tried to use that much in the past. It is not enough. 1000 watts is a better level of lighting. Most track light fixtures are 50 watts. So this means 20 fixtures. Yes, twenty.

I have finally accepted that this is what I need to do. I have done shows with 300 to 500 watts, and have been perpetually frustrated by my inability to adequately light the work. Some of the work is well lit, and other pieces are sitting in shadow. Not the presentation that I want. If you have dark walls, you definitely will need lots of light. Black walls are popular for colorful work, because it makes the work seem to "Pop!" But it also absorbs a lot of the light in the booth.

What kind of light? Ideally you want to use halogen lights. They have a full spectrum quality. You want the colors of your work to be as true to what they would appear in natural light as possible.

What kinds of fixtures? Track lights are the most common kinds of light used in a craft booth. They give you lots of flexibility as far as placement, and direction. But they have potential pitfalls as well. It is important to be sure that lights are not pointing at your customers faces, blinding them, or that they are not hung too low so that tall visitors to your booth risk scalp burns. Many fire codes also require that the track be at least eight feet off the ground.

On a recent webcast that was available to ACRE show participants, Bruce Baker touched on this topic. One of the booths he showed caught my eye. It had several crossbars in the booth space. One across the front, and then one from front to back, and another from side to side. Lights were arrayed along these central crossbars aimed at the work in the booth. Baker recommends that lights be placed above where the visitors to your booth will stand. If the lights are hung on the front crossbar, pointing into the booth space, as soon as the customers walk into your booth, they will block the path of the light onto your work. And as they turn around to leave the booth, they get a blast of bright light in their eyes. Not a good parting experience.

There are other options of course. Some jewelry cases come with lights. Under shelf lights are great for work that is displayed on nearly any type of shelving. But even with these types of lights, you will want to have some overhead light.

So, where do you begin? There are companies that specialize in tradeshow lighting. Look through Crafts Report, and you will see plenty of advertisements. Or go to the local Home Depot or Lowe's. You will find track, lights, cords, and all the components you need to install your lights.

In my next post I will show you what some of those components look like and how you can hang them, for those of you who are like I was a few years the dark!