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 does happen, but not too often, 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, 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 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!