Monthly Archives: July 2007

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD

I’m literally watching paint dry today. I’m finishing up the last of my teeny tiny wall hangings, a special series I’m doing for this year’s annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair.

For some reason, booths and booth design is on my mind today. A friend asked me to critique her new booth, which got me thinking about it. I also came across a blog of a new artist who did a major trade show for the first time. A picture of the booth was featured.

It was quickly obvious to me that several things were wrong with both booth layouts. They just didn’t look right. With my friend’s booth, I didn’t want to walk in. It didn’t feel right.

The more I thought about it, these two booth issues–not looking right and not feeling right–are the essence of bad booth design.

So over the next few days, in between my panic attacks and preparations for the Fair, I’ll share insights about what makes a bad booth.

Now, if you want a wonderful treatise on booths and booth design, run don’t walk to Bruce Baker’s website and order his CD on booth design. Actually, I can pretty much guarantee any CD you purchase from Bruce will help you tremendously, whether it’s his booth design CD, his one on selling your artwork, or the one on jury slides. Better yet, get yourself over to one of his seminars at the first opportunity. You will not regret it.
Bruce Baker, Guru of booth design

Another good book to read is Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy

Underhill’s consulting team actually watched people shopping, and discovered what makes them stop shopping.

I’ve learned a lot from Bruce and from Paco. (I’m not really on a first-name basis with Mr. Underhill, just striving for a friendly note here.) I do not intend to channel either of them. I encourage you strongly to invest in their products. Bruce’s CDs are a steal at less than $15 each when you buy all three, and Mr. Underhill’s book is not expensive, either.

My point is that you can start thinking differently about your booth set-up, using what you already know about shopping.

In fact, your first assignment is to go shopping. Yes! Right now! Stop everything and go out and buy something.

Just kidding. I mean the next time you have to go shopping, pay attention to what’s going on.

Hey, where did everybody go?! Get back here!

Pay attention to what compels you to pick something up and think about buying it, and what makes you put it down (besides that whopping price sticker, that is.)

Pay attention to what parts of the store and display you are drawn to, and what drives you away.

Pay attention to how you feel about the salespeople–what they say and do that keeps you shopping, and what makes you want to run out the door.

One thing leaped out at me in the new exhibitor’s comments. The artist said, “Hey, it’s about the work, right? If the work is GREAT, then nobody really cares about your display!”

That’s true….and not true.

It’s true that great work overcomes a lot.

And it’s true we are born to shop.

I think it’s part of our hunter-gatherer heritage. We love to look for the best little tidbits, the juiciest grub, the prettiest pebble, the biggest mammoth. Just substitute “perfectly marbled sirloin steak”, “coolest little pair of earrings” and “sexiest strap-back shoes” and you’ll find we have not come very far from our ancestral roots at all. (“Are you gonna eat that?”)

But I also I think when a buyer has hundreds, if not thousands of artists to choose from, then as they walk the aisles they are automatically looking for reasons to eliminate you from consideration.

They have to. They can’t look at 1,000 different things and choose the best. They have to cull out the things that are obviously not of interest, and only focus on the things that might be.

And somewhere in the middle is a whole bunch of stuff that might be worth considering…maybe…but maybe not….? Anything you do that gets you eliminated in that first few seconds means your wonderful work never made it into the final running.

I do this when I shop. For awhile, I was bored with most jewelry. It all looked alike to me. I’ve only got an hour or so to scout out an entire store. So to save time, I would skip past the entire jewelry section. Hard to believe, but there you are.

If you were a jewelry designer, how would you encourage me to stop?

We all do this as a way to organize the time we have to shop, or to stay in a budget (if only for a few hours!) “I have enough short-sleeved shirts, I’m only looking at dresses today.” Or, “I already have too many dishes, I don’t have room in my cupboards for more.” “I don’t really need any tomatoes today, I don’t care if they’re on sale.”

Our buyers do the same thing. They is us.

Stay tuned as I share some simple, common mistakes people make with their booths. You do it, I do it, we all do it. But we can turn it around.

No bad booth. Just booths that have temporarily lost their way….

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Filed under art, body of work, booth behavior, booth design, booth display, booth floor, booth layout, booth signs, booth traffic, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, Good booths gone bad, introduction, lighting, marketing, selling, shows

BIG HELP

I subscribe to a really cool artist e-newsletter put out twice weekly by painter Robert Genn. Although it’s geared toward painting, I find good insight that transfers well to any artistic endeavor.

You can view the newsletter and see the article I’m writing about today here:
Artist for Life

If you scroll about halfway down the page, you’ll see my response, called “Motivation must be internally driven”.

We had dinner with friends last night. We got to talking about our almost-adult children and the choices they were making–some good, some questionable. “Why don’t they listen to us? We have such great advice!”

I finally pointed out that they probably shouldn’t take our advice and do what we say. What we see as “stupid choices” or “lack of insight” is simply a young person starting to make their own way through the world.

Sometimes what looks like stubbornness or lack of motivation is their good decision about something, something we don’t have the full story on yet. For example, a friend kept bugging her child about not hanging out with an old friend anymore. She was mortified when she finally learned the reason. The old friend had started drinking heavily. And her child didn’t want to be around that. What looked like ornery teen behavior was actually a very young person struggling to make a good decision on their own.

I’m actually better at keeping this balance with my kids than my friends, sometimes. I talked about my own tendency to jump in and help other people, especially younger folks the past few years who were in a jam. I was really supportive and encouraging. But eventually things ended badly and we went our separate ways.

“Why did you get involved?” my friend asked.

I thought hard about this one.

Maybe it was because I felt there was something special about each of them. They all had energy and talent and inner beauty. They had all hit a major obstacle in their path. And I thought I could help them through it.

“I guess they reminded me of ME at that age,” I explained. “And I kept thinking, ‘If only I’d had someone older and wiser to tell me what was going on, to encourage me to believe in myself, to tell me what’s what, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get to where I am now.”

But it doesn’t work that way, does it?

Just like Robert Genn’s gallery-owner friend, and just like us, when we recognize our true role of parents (or mentor, or gallery owner), it’s not our role to smooth the way or eliminate obstacles. We can’t save them time, or effort, or angst, or sorrow.

I said, “I’ve learned you can’t help someone take shortcuts on their journey through life.”

“Write that down!!” my friend said.

“They either have a fire in their belly to get somewhere–to be a real artist, to travel, to achieve their goals, to get what they want in life–or they don’t.”

“Write that down, too!” my friend said.

So I did.   And I am.

You can’t feed another person’s fire, not for very long anyway. They have to learn to feed it themselves.  Eventually, they may even realize it’s the wrong fire to feed.  Maybe they’re supposed to be doing something else entirely.

Because no one really knows what’s in the heart and soul of another person. Because it’s their life, their journey, their process.

So how can you help someone who “needs” help, without mucking it up for them and you?

You can listen.

You can put things into prospective occasionally. Ask a probing question once in awhile. Let them know you care. And that you believe they will figure it out. Or not. And that that’s okay, too.

And you can listen. (Yes, I know I said that twice. I meant to!)

In hindsight, the minute I stopped listening and started advising, everything in those relationships went south. The minute I started telling my young friends, and my daughter what I thought they should do, I was actually telling them I didn’t believe they could figure it out for themselves.

Okay, reality check. Does this insight really mean I’m going to stop advising people? Nah. I really like telling people what I think they should do.
I’ve learned you can only help people so far, and then they must help themselves.

But I truly believe that my odd, convoluted, meandering path through life is truly what brought me to this place in my art and my life.

And that means I really have to leave others to their own journey to do the same.

P.S. I think that’s why this blog has become so important to me. It’s a way of sharing what I’ve learned, or what I hope to learn, in a way that is not obtrusive or hectoring to other people. You can read it, enjoy it and take away what you will from it.

Or not. It’s your journey. It’s all okay.

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Filed under art, choices, craft, life, life with teenagers, mentoring

BODY OF WORK

What is a body of work, and how to you make one?

One of the most puzzling and hard to answer questions in the craft world is, “What exactly is a “body of work”??”

It’s a little like the definition of pornography. We know it when we see it, but it’s hard to pin down.

And like other worthy artistic and professional goals, sometimes the harder you pursue it, the harder it is to achieve.

Simply put, a body of work is a collection of artwork or craft you’ve produced that has a recognizable, personal style. It is immediately identifiable as a specific artist’s work.

As an example, I remember the first time a customer told me she was walking down a city street wearing one of my necklaces. A complete stranger walking by stopped and exclaimed, “You’re wearing a Luann Udell!”

Sometimes we think of certain attributes or materials as delineating our “style.” Think Joanne Russo and her signature porcupine quill baskets: Joanne’s signature style

Except Joanne’s newest body of work has nary a quill to be seen. And yet, when you see it, you know it’s her work: Joanne’s newest baskets

So our style can include our signature touches, yet transcend them too.

Some of my “gimmicks” are the beaver-chewed sticks my fiber work hangs from, my ivory techniques and my little horse artifacts.

Yet my “style” is more than these, too.

It’s the “whole thing”, the gestalt. The layering, the textures, the use of unusual colors. The details…the intricate stitching, the beads. The addition of the polymer artifacts. The presentation, the overall “look” of ancient artifacts. You can see all these elements in my wall hangings.

And, in my case, the story.

Part of my recognizable style is the passion that comes from me “digging” and searching for my artistic self. There’s a unifying story people sense. It’s about how I almost never found the artist in me, how my artistic potential was almost lost to the world–just like the Lascaux cave, the original source of my inspiration.

It’s sharing this “dig” that inspires others, that resonates with them as they look for their own path in life. That narrative thread weaves its way not only through my work, but around it, uniting it and strengthening it into whole cloth.

A dear friend and fellow artist saw my booth at the ACRE-Las Vegas show this spring. She said, “I can’t get over your new booth! It’s beautiful! And your work…. All those exquisite little artifacts, that new soapstone, the new pieces. It looks like….it looks like a miniature museum. It looks like you shouldn’t be touching the work.” She paused. “…but you can!!”

She has known me since my very first wholesale show, she has watched my work grow and evolve, she would know my work anywhere. And yet, it still has the capacity to surprise and delight her.

That is a body of work.

So how do you get one?

I wish I could answer that question easily for you. But it’s not an easy question.

My first words of advice would be: Relax!

And…just do the work.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of time. Spend enough time doing something, a certain number of years making stuff, and your style eventually emerges. Over time, a preference for certain things–certain clays, certain processes–emerges. They may even become “signature”.

Part of it is making the work, over and over, until it comes so naturally and effortlessly (relatively speaking) that there are no conscious style decisions. I don’t mean you aren’t thinking about the details (“Would red work better here? No, definitely the yellow!”) I mean you are unconsciously making those choices in a consistent way that says “me!” Certain ways of putting colors together, certain aesthetics emerge. For example, it’s really hard for me to make “simple” necklaces. For me, the more beads, the better.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make the same thing over and over. I know some artists who dabble in all kinds of styles and media. Yet each one comes through with that artist’s certain identifiable style.

It can be about perfecting your techniques until they are solid. I cringe when I see polymer clay work with smudgy fingerprints, and poorly finished jewelry made with cheap findings and tawdry components.

Yet some artists work with common, ordinary materials–and still create beauty and awe with their works. They have achieved a certain “grace” in the way they work with these components, no matter how simple or organic the “glue” it goes together with. Think Andy Goldsworthy with his deceptively simple “techniques” and ordinary leaves and sticks and mud:
stones
leaves
sticks

But all these aspects emerge and develop naturally, as a result of simply making the work you love, the best work you can make. Consistently.

Once you’ve invested the time and the effort into just making the work, if your signature style has still not emerged, then it’s time to dig deeper.

And here is where taking the energy to write an artist statement can help.

I believe that going through the process of writing an artist statement can help clarify what your art is about. What you are about, as an artist.

And that is what a body of work reflects: What you are about, as an artist.

So if you’re stuck at a point in your artistic career where the dreaded “body of work” seems as elusive as…well, a lucrative body of work–then try going through the exercise of writing or updating your artist statement.

Because sometimes thinking about who you are as an artist, and what you are saying with your work, can be a powerful took in developing that elusive “body of work”.

If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll think about this some more.

Here are some essays from my old blog that may help you get started:

Passion in Your Artist Statement

The Artist Statement Revisited

The Artist Bio/Statement–Tips for Making Yours Memorable, Personal–and Quotable

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Filed under art, artist statement, body of work, business, creativity, style

QUICK(ER) WISDOM

Sometimes when I have good advice for people, they sigh and say something like, “You are so wise!”

I’m quick to respond that I’m not. I just learn quickly. And sometimes, not so quickly, but I still learn eventually.

It’s not that I automatically know what to do in any given situation. It’s that I’ve been in that situation before. When it comes around again, I can smell it.

Sometimes it takes me a few months to smell it, and sometimes it just takes a few minutes. “Oh, yeah, I remember this!”

I think a person who is “truly wise” is someone who smells that bad situation out really, really fast. Like, they have it down to ten seconds or less.

The good thing is, you don’t have to make every single mistake out there to learn everything for yourself. You can learn from other people’s mistakes. That’s what fairy tales (“If your name is Snow White and your stepmother is a witch and looking to kill you, don’t accept apples from strange old women”), newspapers (“Dear Ann Landers, I never thought I’d be writing to you, but….”) and this blog (yes, you can find many, many of the mistakes I’ve made here!) are for.

The bad thing is, although you can learn from other people’s mistakes, you will still make plenty of your own. But that’s an important and necessary part of life.

You will eventually learn from them, and hopefully share them with others.

Then they’ll think you’re wise, too.

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CHILD-LIKE VS. CHILD-ISH: Our True Artistic Nature

The friend who gave me the go-ahead to ignore the world for a few hours and make my art, also said a messy studio is not necessarily a bad thing.

The artist self in my is child-like, and revels in the mess. “I don’t have to follow the rules!” the child-artist chortles.

Those items piled up, all slogged home from the junk shop and a yard sale down the street? Potential. It all has potential. The artist self delights in the design potential in every object. It’s powerful stuff, pure creativity at work.

“And look at your actual work spaces. Beads and fabric organized by color, rows of trade beads hanging at the window, clearly-defined work areas–your jewelry area, your sewing area, your polymer area, your office area, your book storage area, your fabric storage area…. There’s a LOT of structure and organization here!”

The chaos was disturbing, my friend agreed. “But I think it’s your artistic child self at battle with other things going on in your life.”

The pragmatic side of me envisions wild folk–the good but crazy artist child self vs. the rigid, thrifty, everything-in-moderation somber, sober adult self–flinging flack at each other like a crazy illustration for a Dr. Seuss book. But I understand what she means.

It’s true that when I’m in the throes of creation, it’s like a frenzy. “I need something red! This big! Round!” I pull trays and drawers, pawing through them until I find just what I need.

“I need water colors! I mean, things the color of water! Big chunky beads of water colors! Now!!” Out come the bead catalogs, or a desperate search on the internet, looking for just the right components.

“This fiber piece needs tiny yellow beads around the horse’s head. No, not that yellow, this yellow!” And when I find embroidery thread that echoes that color, a tiny thrill goes through my heart. There. YES! Oooh. And now to make polymer buttons to go with them!

It’s when visitors come to the studio that it all feels wrong. Especially those who aren’t familiar with my work style, or my work. The ones who imagine a creative process very different from my reality.

“I envision you in a serene place with classical music playing gently through the air as you ‘sew a fine seam’,” sighed one customer. “Small dishes of beads set out neatly on your worktable…”

Try techno with a pounding beat, fabric flung all over the floor, and me swearing when I grab a spool of thread and knock over yet another dish of a jillion tiny beads I’ve dumped together,” I countered. Hmmm, must not have been a customer, because I know they left soon afterward. Another myth destroyed….

But there you have it. The child-like artist at war with the child-ish, disorganized, messy, frenzied lunatic. The unprofessional craftsperson with a disheveled studio. Not a grown-up.

Not a grown-up. Not professional.

Hmmmm.

I realize there’s professional and professional. I do my darndest to do good work, to create quality jewelry and artwork. I strive to do the self-promotion, to build my name and reputation so my collectors can be proud to own a genuine “Luann Udell.” I try to meet deadlines, take care of all the details, keep the paperwork straight and follow the rules.

I often succeed. Some weeks are better than others, to be sure.

But the child-like artist kicks out sometimes. I keep buying beads even though I have plenty. I keep making new designs even though it’s time to focus on other things for my next show. I keep saying, “What if…?” right up until it’s time to pack the box and get it shipped out.

I skip dinner to make more necklaces. Stay up late to finish the sewing on one more wall hanging. Call up my photographer to beg him to make time to photograph “one more piece” before the show. “One?” he asks. “Not five or six? Or twenty?” (Like the last twelve times I’ve called him….)

Missing deadlines, misfiling paperwork, procrastinating, busting budgets….the grown-up in me groans and shakes her head. “What will become of us??” she mutters.

The child-like self is dancing like a wild thing in the woods.

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Filed under art, choices, creativity, life, mental attitude, organization

HALF OFF (NOT!) Know When, and When Not to Discount Your Work

I was at a party recently where some of the guests knew I was an artist and others didn’t. A lively discussion ensued about the upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair. You can see the new work I’ll be selling at the fair here.

One person, who didn’t realize I was not only an artist but also exhibiting at the fair, exclaimed, “Oh, the real reason we go to the show is to get great ideas and then come home and make it ourselves!”

Fortunately, I’d only had one glass of wine, so I merely replied, “Well, we’re kinda hoping you’ll actually buy something from us, too.” She looked confused, and to her credit, later (when she realized I was an exhibitor) she was a little embarrassed.

I will save for another day my rant about people who think the reason we pay thousands of dollars to do that show is so we can pass on our great ideas to crafters for free. (Buy a book, fercryin’outloud!!)

Another person who had followed my work for years (but never purchased), said she didn’t want to go all the way up to the fair. Could she come to my studio? I told her there was an Open Studio Tour by the League in November, and my studio would be open then.

“I don’t want to wait that long! Can I come sooner?”

I wanted to explain that it was really hard to stop working for an hour or two while a casual looker came and hung out. In reality, I’ve come to realize that most people never really show up anyway. So I just demurred and said that would be fine if she called first.

“Good! I don’t want to pay that store mark-up anyway!” she said.

This is a test. Good reader, what is the correct response to this statement?

1) “Oh, sure, I’ll give you my wholesale pricing!, because you’ve been such a good customer!”

2) “Sure, bring all your friends, too!”

3) “Uh, well, no, but maybe I can give you a little discount.”

4) “Actually, my retail prices are the same whether you buy work from me or from the galleries that carry my work. But you’ll get to see a lot more designs and my new work!”

5) “Hey, how about them Red Sox?!”<

If you answered #4, you are a professional artist behaving like a grown-up.

If you answered #5, you’re probably from New England (but not New York.) If you had said, “How about them hapless Red Sox?” you’re probably from Massachusetts.

What’s wrong with the first three responses?

Choice #1 is wrong on several levels.

First, offering the public wholesale pricing is the fastest way to kill every single relationship with any store/gallery/catalog company you ever deal/hope to deal with. You are totally undercutting their efforts to represent you and sell your work.

And yes, they will find out. It’s a smaller world than you think.

Second, this person isn’t even your customer. Why would you reward someone who refuses to pay your (fairly) priced work at retail?

Third, if you decide to ignore points one and two, and if the person actually buys something, you will have a new “customer” who will now expect to buy from you at wholesale forever.

And they will tell all their friends about it (because we all love a deal, and we all love to tell everybody about our deals.) They will brag about the work they got half-off. They will tell how much they saved.

Soon the people who bought from you at retail (or your stores) will hear about it. They will not like the fact that you undersold your work to someone who simply asked for it. They will feel like idiots for paying full price. Wouldn’t you??

Now you can see that choice #2–encouraging them to bring even more people to buy wholesale–makes the matter worse, faster.

Ditto choice #3. Again, why reward someone who has never bought from you before? Doesn’t it make you mad when your favorite magazine offers great deals to new subscribers? How about rewarding us loyal, repeat subscribers?? Same thing. If you decide to ever offer an incentive, reward the people who already collect your work and/or have supported you early on.

And be forewarned that if you offer a discount, many people will assume that discount is forever. (Human nature at work.)

And because it is human nature to go to shows for inspiration, and to enjoy a bargain, try not to respond harshly to people who speak thoughtlessly thus. Keep your head, don’t take it personally. It is an educational moment. Simply explain why you cannot do that and move on.

Most people will do better when they know better. If not, they aren’t my customer anyway.

Bottom line–you shouldn’t feel like you have to bribe people to buy your work. It should be fairly priced to begin with. Offer discounts when people buy well–when they buy a lot of work. If they spend over $x or buy multiples, offer a discount on one item, or offer a free item. They should get something after they’ve given you something–their hard-earned money for your beautiful work.

Make work you are proud of, and don’t be afraid to be paid for it. Believe your work is worth the price you’ve set. Stand by your prices, and don’t sell your work, your retailers or yourself, short.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, customer care, time management

IT’S WORKING! (Time Management, That Is…)

So how has my experiment with avoiding the computer and phone calls been progressing? I would say very well indeed!

I’ve tried to avoid as many distractions as possible. When I hit my studio first thing in the morning, I sit at my work table, not my computer. When the phone rings, I check to see if it’s a call that has to be answered, or can wait. If I’m not sure, I listen to the message to check. If I’m already doing handwork that’s compatible with listening, I pick up. I’ve tried to limit the calls and get as much information by e-mail as I can.

The results?

I’ve been reworking some small fiber collage fragments, making them into miniature wall hangings. They’re looking good! I even have a stash of very tiny beaver-chewed sticks to hang them with, collected for me by fellow polymer artist Connie Gray.

I’ve been working much more steadily on new jewelry designs. If you check out my new website, you’ll see the colorful new work that’s literally been flowing through my hands.

What I love best about it is that it all came as a natural evolution, starting with that one customer’s special order request for a “black bird” artifact over a year ago. The “bird” part became a new animal motif and the “black” part became a new faux finish technique (soapstone).

As I experimented with the soapstone finish, I remembered that some of my Inuit soapstone carvings were actually greenish in hue–more like steatite than soapstone. I made “green soapstone”. These two different hues in turn led to both of my new colorways: The soft gray-black artifacts complimented by intense coral red, lapis blue and turquoise green (the Mojave series). The slate green artifacts accented with “water” colors–translucent aquas, ice blues, pale sea greens (the Glacier series. You can see my new jewelry with all these luscious new colors.

Again, all natural progressions, following a line of thought and listening to the artifacts themselves. Not some self-imposed “change for the sake of change” thinking, which for ME always leads to artificial places and shallow waters.

Unfortunately, this process has impacted my writing. It’s been harder to write regularly. There’s no angst to work through. Okay, not as much angst. There’s still plenty of emotional drama in my life!

Then I realize it’s just as important to share what’s working. To talk about what’s going well.

In fact, that’s really important–to dwell on the good stuff. We tend to focus on what’s going wrong, and not on what’s going right. It’s our human nature–we’re hardwired to pay attention to bad stuff–but this is one aspect of my nature I’d like some balance restored to!

Now, what about my attempts to restore order and organization to my studio?

Hmmmm….well, let’s just say I’m not in a position to post any photos of my worktable….

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WORD POWER: How Journaling Can Give You Clarity

When I first started out in my biz, I journaled a lot. A LOT. It was one of the tools I learned from my mentor, Deborah Kruger, to get settled into my new artist self. You can see Deborah’s beautiful fiber work and learn about her artist empowerment workshops here.

And Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way</strong, provided other excellent reasons to write daily. Not keyboard or type–WRITE. Cameron stated that something about the slower, more physical act of writing, connects our conscious brains to our unconscious desires and roadblocks more profoundly than typing.

I found this to be true, and wrote religiously.

I began to enjoy more success. My work gained an audience, eventually a national audience. My work appeared in print. I was asked to teach others how to be inspired, how to promote themselves, how to stay true to their artistic self.

I even began to teach others (informally) how to listen to each other, as I’d learned in Deborah’s workshops. I gave my time freely to friends old and new to help them find their own path to art.

But eventually, like that old adage “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”, I realized that, though I listened and listened and listened, no one was listening to ME.

Part of it is, to listen well, you have to learn how to listen–without comment, without interruption, without telling that person what YOU think they should do.

It takes trust. The listener has to have the speaker’s best interest at heart. (You’d be surprised how many people who love you don’t really necessarily want you to be successful.)

And it takes time–sometimes 2-3 hours to really let someone open up and get to the heart of the matter.

Time is short, we’re all busy, and I’m not much at being a squeaky wheel (except with my husband!) And so I’ve been stuck with my feverish thoughts and frantic scrambling to uncover my own secret longings and artistic “next steps”.

Writing this blog has helped enormously. Sharing what I’ve learned, and musing “out loud” on the things that hold me back and keep me up at night have helped me work out a lot of tangled knots.

But yesterday, once again, I realized how much the journaling helps, too.

One last wholesale order has held me up. It’s a good order, from a great customer. But somehow, everything that could go wrong, has. It was misfiled. I was out of a critical component to finish the order. And the customer is on the west coast, making the coordination of phone calls a little trickier.

In short, the order is late. Really late.

This is so unlike me, it’s worrisome. And as I race to finish the order (and as I wait for Monday to see if they even still want the order, I keep asking myself, “Why did I let this happen??”

I walked downtown with my husband for coffee yesterday morning. Earlier, I’d moved a piece of furniture looking for something and found a brand new, untouched composition book underneath. On impulse, I took it with me. And as Jon stood in line with our order, I snagged an outdoor table and began to write.

I really only had about 10 minutes to write at the coffee shop. I wasn’t even really sure what to write about. But I was consumed with guilt about this order, and I wrote about that.

And a page into it, I realized what was going on.

This order was my last wholesale order.

To clarify, it’s the last order I’m filling from a wholesale show. The last order from an era I call “the wholesale show era”.

The wholesale show era began almost eight years ago. It was a strategy that helped me build my wholesale biz to a national level–fast. It was expensive and exhausting, but also fun and thrilling. For awhile, it worked really, really well.

And now it doesn’t.

If you’ve been reading my blog entries, you know of the shift in my focus and priorities. I’m changing strategies to find different wholesale markets. They don’t seem to be venues that go to the traditional wholesale shows. So somehow, I have to get to them.

I’m going back to rebuild retail markets, too. In fact, last week Jon totally revamped my website which you can see at http://www.luannudell.com

There are some glitches, of course, and more work to be done. Check out the site and feel free to e-mail me your comments. Er…when my e-mail link is put back on the new site….

So some of those major changes are already in place. The process is exciting, and thrilling.

It’s also scary and exhausting. There’s a lot of comfort in doing the same old thing. Even if the same old thing isn’t working any more. I call it this limbo-like place of doing the same thing and expecting different results “Waiting for the buffalo to come back….”

And so the thought of this last wholesale order from my last wholesale show (at least for the next year or so) has been holding me back.

And that’s why everything has gone wrong.

That insight–from ten minutes of writing, a page of verbal rambling–was like sighting a clear path through the clutter of my studio. AHA! So that’s what that’s all about!

Knowing what’s going on helps me see what needs to be done.

I will call the store owner tomorrow with my apologies. I will have peace offerings that hopefully will offset the inconvenience I’ve caused.

And with the power of the written word in hand, I will move on down my new path with a little more confidence.

And relief that, even if no one has time to really, truly listen right now, I can always listen to myself.

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Filed under action steps, art, business, wholesale, writing

MADE IN AMERICA: Use Quality Components in Your Work

I have a friend in the jewelry biz in Providence, RI. When I was starting out in the biz, he was very kind to me.

He reps for one of many U.S. manufacturer of jewelry findings. These companies have been producing jewelry components–clasps, headpins, tie tacks, ear wires, etc.–for many decades.

And they are hurting.

I don’t understand all the issues. The world of commercial fashion jewelry is a mystery to me, though fashion jewelry is about all I ever buy.

Apparently, the minimalist, tiny jewelry of the late 1980’s and 90’s just about did everyone in. Jewelry sales plummeted, and what was sold was pretty small and simple. I’m personally glad that era is gone for awhile!

The way fashion jewelry is made and marketed has changed drastically, too. Much, much more is imported from overseas, and marked up 3, 4, even more times for resale. It’s hard for small jewelry producers to work with that kind of mark-up in a country where you would hope to at least pay your employees minimum wage and a few benefits.

The hobby jewelry industry has grown exponentially, too. More people than ever are making their own designs, whether for resale at craft shows, wholesale to stores or just for personal use. This is a good thing, actually. Jewelry is BIG again, interesting, collectible. But it also means the actual sales of components are in smaller lots. I buy HUNDREDS of components, not hundreds of thousands. I am pretty small potatoes to the jewelry components industry, and there are thousands more like me.

And the market has become more cost-driven than ever. If components can be made cheaply and quickly overseas and sold here for a fraction of U.S.-made products, people will buy them. As fads and fashion change almost overnight, quick turn around and variety are also the name of the game.

It would seem there is no place for those big ol’ dinosaur American manufacturers of jewelry components anymore.

Unless you care about quality. And choice.

This is not a “buy American!” rant. This is my personal worry about a world that is cost-driven above everything else.

Because ultimately, even if you try to AVOID the cost-driven mindset and buy quality, this “best price” thing can bite you in the butt.

Take a couple of recent headliner examples. It’s turning out that commercial pet food is now mostly made in China, and even if you think you are buying a premium brand for your beloved pet, chances are some shortcuts were made that not only compromised its quality, but perhaps your pet’s health (and life) as well.

It turns out that all those wholesome vitamins and herbal supplements you’ve been taking, because you care about your health and well-being, are probably made in China, too. And many may have the same dangerous quality control issues as uncovered in the recent pet food scandal.

Even though we cared about quality over price, even though we thought we were making good choices, it turns out we actually had NO choice. And very little of the quality we paid a premium for.

My experience with most imported jewelry components has similar threads. The parts look good in the catalogs. Just as nice as American-made products, but soooo much cheaper. What a great buy!

Until you have them in hand and see that they are just not as nicely made.

Or until you go to use them and realize the silver casting is not as well done. I have a whole batch of sterling toggle clasp sets where I have to hand-ream out the silver “sprue”-like stuff clogging the jump rings. It was a fine detail I overlooked until I actually put the parts into production, too late to return them.

Or until you actually sell the items and then have to deal with the returns for faulty parts–clasps that quit working after a few months, or micro-thin silver plating that wears off quickly. THAT was a fun lesson to learn in quality. NOT.

Lately I’ve seen advertisements for gold-filled components that my friend points out simply can’t be MADE in gold-fill. Gold-fill components are a nice-looking and well-priced alternative to gold. Real gold-fill is a kind of sandwich technique, with an actual layer of gold “bread” covering a base metal “filling”. It’s much more durable than gold plating, which is not regulated and so the gold plate can be as thin as a few microns.

But he points out that gold-fill cannot be used in CAST components. Because when the high heat of casting is applied, all the layers melt and blend together. You end up with a discolored glob of gold and base metal, NOT your lovely gold bread sandwich. Components made by casting and cannot possibly be “gold-filled”. They are probably gold-plated at best.

The clasps and findings he showed me are made of cast components.

Are they at least good-quality findings, though probably not gold-filled as advertised? Well, my thinking is, if they are not being truthful about what they are and what the actual gold content is, do I think they are being truthful about their durability?

I’m not a betting girl, but even if I were, that’s not a bet I’d make.

There are overseas components I do trust and use in my work. Sterling silver findings from Israel, Turkey and Italy offer variety and interest, and “work” just as hard as my American-made components. But I’ve learned the hard way to either test first, or ask my friend when it comes to other sources.

And there is a place in the world for cheap or low-quality.  Not every piece of jewelry is meant to last forever, or even more than a season.

What bothers me is, if people continue to choose price purely over quality, then someday, when all the American jewelry components can no longer compete with overseas manufacturers, they will fold up their tents and disappear.

And then we will have NO choice.

It’s up to us. It’s not about “buying American” to show our patriotism or “because we should.”

It’s because it’s the right choice all the way around.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, jewelry