Monthly Archives: December 2007

LAST DAY OF THE YEAR

I don’t know where the day went. It snowed almost a foot in the night, and I had nowhere to go today. No errands to run, no phone calls to make–nada. I slept late, hung out on our very comfy sofa and read a lot, and suddenly the clock says this last daylight of 2007 is nearly over. (The winter sun sets early in New Hampshire!)

When I checked my e-mail, I found it full of newsletters and worthy thoughts from various motivational gurus. Some of the advice was contradictory, including the ones that said that most advice is contradictory by nature.

A time of reflection, of looking back at the past year’s achievements. Of gathering the lessons gleaned from the failures and setbacks. Taking pause to think about the year’s work ahead.

But I find myself simply wanting to get back to my pretty good book instead.

I’ve been beating myself up the past few years for not having a “grand vision” for my art lately. A business plan for success, if you will. I know the importance of that. I know well that old adage, that you can’t get where you’re going if you don’t know where you want to go.

I’m finding, though, that forcing a dream is just as harmful as not having one at all. Feeling you have to get somewhere means you can’t enjoy whatever particular”where” you find yourself in at the moment.

I’m realizing, too, that even when I had a bunch of big dreams, and worked all hours of the day to achieve them, it wasn’t like I had control over my progress. I simply focused on trying. The constant effort, keeping what worked, discarding what didn’t, and moving resolutely on to try the next thing, was what got me my success.

When I look back, I see that my stabs at organization were always temporary. I could organize enough to achieve a goal, then fell back into my usual muddle of “what should I work on today?” and simply taking care of whatever happened to cross my path.

So why am I feeling so stricken at the thought of not having a game plan for 2008?? Why am I suddenly feeling so inept for getting myself into major organization mode for the new year?
I used to counsel people all the time: If what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change it.

And it has been working for me. I may whine a lot in my blog about the success I haven’t had. But if I am realistic, I’ve already achieved much, much more than I even dreamed of when I first started all this ten years ago. I’ve had a lot of wonderful things happen with my art. It’s only my all-too-human nature, the one that’s never satisfied with what we have, that nags me and pokes me and makes me keep reaching for more. (Thank goodness! I never want to sit on laurels, not for every long anyway.)

How have I achieved all that?

Well, what I’ve always done is muddle along with an odd blend of focus and commitment, and laziness and whimsy. Taking advantage of the opportunities that have crosed my path. Trying not to beat myself up too much at the ones I’ve overlooked or messed up.
Maybe all I have to do in 2008 is let that happen again.

I looked up an entry from my old blog at my old blog Re-do on the to-do list and found this insight I’d quoted from a speaker at a conference:

…..I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see blog CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE entry in April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.

She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)

And I realized that for me, the other part of this equation,beginning with the “YOU, the artist”, is not just art but the entire fabric of my life.

When my kids were little, it was easier to set aside chunks of my life to devote to my art–they were so “in the moment” that any chunk I set aside was fine with them.

Things are different when they are teens. The little chunks they’re ready to share don’t always match up right with my times. I choose to be more flexible with that, to enjoy these last few years of their time at home with us.

Other little moments to spend with people and other living things who are important to me, are also not as regimented and organized. I have an ever-growing sense of being on the other side of 50, a sense of urgency, of not always being able to count on “later” and “another time” and “next week” and “next year”. I tend to spend that extra few minutes, make room for that last-minute engagement, plan happily for that spur-of-the-moment dinner date.

There’s a balance, to be sure, of not giving over my art completely to the passing whims of others. I also resolve not to be so quick to answer my phone. Maybe unplug it completely when I’m in the studio, or at least use the caller ID more diligently. And I will continue to be aware of who is sucking energy out of my life, and who restores it.

There have been times to push and forge ahead. And also times to rest, and regenerate. Times to be strong and brave. And times to simply give in and cry a little. Times to set limits with well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) people. And times to be a forgiving and accepting. Next year will be more of the same, and I see now there is nothing wrong with that. There will times to think deep thoughts in the months ahead. And times to simply play with new ideas and new stories, and see what happens.

As the sun drops even lower in the sky and the shadows lengthen, I feel better that maybe what I’ve been doing all along is simply good enough.

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Filed under action steps, art, life, writing

ON BEING (and NOT being) SIXTEEN

We’re having a little gathering tonight. Not a big bash. God, no. That would entail too much housecleaning, though to hear my teenage son griping, you’d think the little we’re doing is monumental. He is sure that his day has already been insurmountably,inconsolably ruined.

But, as I reminded my husband, to be sixteen is to be in a certain frame of mind that is almost impossible for anyone who isn’t sixteen to understand. I only have glimpses, because I can still sort of remember what it was like to be that age.

We had set out on a walk through our local cemetery, which is very beautiful, with open rolling hills and two streams running through. There is a lonely old chapel sitting on a hilltop and poignant old monuments clustered under old pines. Jon made a sweet little video of a walking tour through this special place a few years ago. Yesterday when we walked there, he showed me the latest in a series of little American flags, stolen from veterans’ grave by squirrels for their nests, this one high in a pine tree near the entrance.

I reminded my husband (who tends to more impatient with Doug than I am, not that I am that patient) what it was like to be sixteen. And pointed out to him that some of those traits are the very same ones that are at the bottom of our own dissatisfaction lately.

Entitlement. Resentment. Being self-absorbed. And unaware of how much negative energy we give off when we’re in that space.

A reader left comments on my blog, and because she said it so beautifully, I direct you to Gail Denton’s comments on my essay RESOLUTIONS. One sentence in particular leaped out at me:
“…Now, here’s the interesting part. I am starting to be grateful for my troubles. What a shock. But they are the things that change me, not my blessings…”

I love that sentence!

We want all the blessings, and none of the troubles. It seems so silly, so childish, so….sixteen. Yet there it is. When we get over ourselves, when we can get past being sixteen, we can feel the deep truth of what Gail says.

It’s not entirely our fault we get stuck thinking this way.

Our brains have been hard-wired over millions of years to prepare us for a very different world than the one we find ourselves in today.

Unless we’re careful, we eat too much at the drop of a hat. Because once food was not always readily available, and we are hard-wired to constantly prepare for once-real threat of starvation.

We are hard-wired to seek the new, the novel and the different. It keeps us curious and eager to try new things and helps us explore and wonder and question and achieve. But it also drives us to buy too many things that only keep us happy for a short while.

We seek security and shelter, which is necessary to survive. But it also means we “play it safe”. It keeps us shut down in what we know, prevents us from taking chances, and closes our minds to new possibilities.

We find it easier to focus on the bad times rather than the good for neurological reasons. We forget the blessings we have, and focus on our lack.

We live in our own heads and find it truly hard to see things from others’ point of view, because….well, that’s where we live: In our heads. If we get glimpse of the world from someone else’s hard-wired little monkey brain from time to time, if we have that insight and can see a bigger picture, a way to forgive, a way love and be joyful in spite of our own issues, aches, agendas, well, that’s a small miracle.

When I first started realizing our built-in programming, this “lizard brain”, this sixteen brain, was so dominant in my thinking, I was discouraged. But then, I realized it helps to understand where some of this is coming from.

And realizing I can choose differently, if only for a few precious moments each day, is empowering.

We can’t completely overcome that programming. But we can take little vacations from it from time to time. Like having some really great friends over tonight. Like walking with my husband on a beautiful day. And realizing we may all be in the same boat, if only because it means I may not be the only one who’s crazy around here.

As we walked, we both noted that part of our discontent has been with all the things we think should be happening for us (because we work so very, very hard for them) and aren’t. “I bet if we stopped and really thought about all the incredible things other people have done for us,” I said, “we’d realize how rich we really are.” And Jon agreed, and immediately mentioned some people who have done huge things for him in his career.

Our son is hugely hampered by being sixteen right now. He really can’t help how he’s feeling and how he chooses to deal with that. Life looks very different to him, and it’s impossible for him to stand outside himself and see what we see. With luck and time, he will grow up and into himself, and he will learn how much choice he really has, and how to exercise it wisely.

And with time, he will learn what we all learn eventually. That many of those “terrible things”, with a little insight or hindsight, aren’t really so terrible. That many of them are blessings in disguise. Or, if they truly are terrible, they are also something we really can get through, with help from loved ones, time, and the kindness of strangers. Oh, and highly-trained professionals and appropriate amounts of alcohol.

And somewhere in the middle, as Gail says, perhaps we can see them as just little opportunities to shape us into better people.

It’s a blessing to not be sixteen anymore. And it’s a blessing to understand that, in a way, we will always a little bit “sixteen”.

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Filed under action steps, art, choices, inspiration, life, mental attitude, mindfulness

RESOLUTIONS

There’s a character in our lives, my husband’s and mine, who is a tragic figure. We affectionately call him “our Hamlet”. He’s always wistful about life, about what it could be, “if only….” Women get sucked into his sadness, sure they can bring him real happiness. Alas, alack, it’s just not meant to be. They eventually leave with broken hearts, having lost the battle of making him happy.

As time goes on, the charm of this wears thin.

So I challenged my DH this morning.

No. More. Whining.

Neither of us are by nature cheerful, upbeat people. But we’re usually able to put a good spin on stuff. We work hard, we believe in our work, and we have a lot of energy for it.

But something changed. Maybe we just got older. Things got a little harder. It crept up on us. Trying too hard to figure out what our next steps would be in our professions. Trying too hard to figure out why the big breaks were not happening. Trying too hard to force turning points and decisions. And now….

And now, we’re just as bad as our friend.

When did we get to be “that guy”?!

It’s easy to catch others doing it. The trick is catching yourself.

My first inkling I was becoming “that guy” (metaphorically speaking, because I am, of course, not a “guy”) was when I was reciting my latest list of physical ailments and setbacks to my martial arts instructor. I related why I was finding life discouraging right now. I shared my frustrations with my aging, aching body. I was wistful about why the class was so hard.

He nodded sympathetically, and when I paused to catch a breath, he started in about the new mileage reimbursement policy at his place of employment.

It was long and involved. Very, very involved.

I nodded sympathetically, but all I could think about was, “I hurt all over and he’s telling me about how unfair his mileage reimbursement is. What’s up with that?”

Just about the point where my eyes started glazing over, he stopped and said, “And my point is, we all have our stuff. My stuff is important to me, and your stuff is important to you. But when we come to class, we have to focus on class and what we want to accomplish, and what we can accomplish–and leave the rest of that stuff behind.”

Boy, is he sneaky. And smart. It’s the first time someone has said to me, “Hey, cut that out!”

I’m at a point in my my life where the normally good advice of “listening to my body” is a two-edged sword. Because my body is very whiny right now, and not fun to be with. Giving in, however, is no longer an option–not if I want a shot at being healthy and active at age 70, 80 and beyond.

How does this relate to my art? And to this year’s resolution?

Maybe I am a whiner by nature. I can’t choose my nature.

But I don’t have to subject other people to that. I can choose not to.

I hereby resolve to not be “that guy”.

No. More. Whining.

Of course, I whine a lot in my blog, and will continue to do so.

But only to share why it doesn’t get me anywhere. And only to share with you what will get you somewhere. Things like choosing differently. Persevering. Going back to what works and figuring out why. And simply doing the work.

I have some new things to try in 2008.

Step back…

No wholesale shows, for one.

Try something different…

A new venue or two. I’m putting together a local open studio tour for this spring.

Start where I am….

Since the mechanics of making big, big, big wall hangings has proven too intimidating, I’ll focus on smaller ones for awhile–and build up again. I give mself permission to get back to what I know, for now.

Challenge myself….

I have a new challenge for my jewelry. More of my components have to be handmade by me. I resent that, but maybe it’s a good challenge. I’m already at work on it.

Move. MOVE! Even if it hurts, keep moving…

Right now, I can’t even belay, due to complications from surgery, and a hand injury. But it will get better. I’ll be belaying and climbing again soon. Maybe it’s time to walk more, and slip some swimming in there. Everyone around me is suddenly talking about snowshoeing. Maybe I’ll give that a try.

Breathe. Breathe.

I just found a new yoga teacher. I am so bad at yoga. But I’m finding it keeps me in the moment. I’m looking forward to doing more of it in 2008. It makes even something as simple as breathing seem more….profound.

And most important of all…

No. More. Whining.

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Filed under action steps, art, choices, life, martial arts, mental attitude

THERE’S NOBODY ELSE QUITE LIKE YOU

I found a post on a forum I participate in, written by someone who just realized how big her competition is. Discouragement raised its ugly head. What to do?

Everyone in the handcraft industry has competition. We all have to deal with that.

I get discouraged, too. Does the world need yet another jewelry designer? Another fiber artist? More polymer clay widgets? I’m on major pain killers tonight and cannot spell tchochkes. Hey, I did it! But you’re going to have to suffer through my bad sentence structure and wandering points…. No spellcheck for those issues.

Back to competition. What do you do when people can buy what you make at the mall?

On one hand, there’s nothing new under the sun.

On the other hand, there’s no one else like YOU in the world!

Your product either has to be unique, or it has to be all about YOU.

By that I mean, it’s just as important to sell YOUR STORY as well as your product.

There will always be jillions of other people/companies selling soap, jewelry, clothing, whatever.

When people choose YOUR product, it’s because they perceive it as better in some way. It’s up to you to tell them why it’s better.

Perhaps because it’s made with loving hands, or because it’s made in smaller batches.  Maybe it’s nicer (how??) or maybe it’s for a good cause.  Maybe there’s a cute or poignant story behind your work.

Tell it.

This is your “hook”. It’s at the heart of your marketing.

I wrote a better article about how to get to this hook here.

Figure out what your “hook” is, believe in your product and believe in yourself.

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Filed under art, business, marketing, telling your story

WHEN I GROW UP

I’ve been doing a little coaching for close friends this year. They’re stuck at a crossroads in their life, or even at a dead end. They have no idea what to do next, or even what they want.

I do a “listening exercise” for them. I learned it from Deborah Kruger, and I’ve written about her workshops before here, here and here.

Here’s a trick I’ve learned. When people are really stuck about what they want to do with their lives, there’s a simple little question that helps unlock the log jam of “shoulda/woulda/coulda”.

“When you were in first grade,” I ask them, “what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Sometimes people swear they can’t remember. Or they laugh it off, because the answer seems so ridiculous.

I just poke at them harder til they come up with something. And they almost always get to a point where they pause, and think, and say, very slowly, “Well, this is really silly, but when I was really young, I really wanted to be a….”

Listen closely to the answer. Because it’s really important.

I’ve never met a kid, a very young kid, who didn’t have some dream of who and what they wanted to be when they grew up. It is the ultimate fantasy, the first dream.

And in it lies the seeds of what you could become today.

Look beneath the “title” of what you wanted to be, and think about why you wanted to do that.

We had those desires when we were young. But we don’t know enough about the world to interpret where those desires could fit in. So we look around and grab a name, an occupation that fits our desires.

Later, when we’re older, we remember the name of the thing. But we forget the feelings, the desires that brought us to that thing. That’s when it starts to seem silly, or unattainable. And that’s when we first let go of our dreams.

For example, lots of boys want to be firemen, or policemen. And obviously, not all of them become one. But that desire to protect and serve, coupled with action and physical activity, may still be part of their dream job. Or keeping people safe. Or solving crimes, or puzzles. Or gosh, maybe something as simple as wearing a uniform.

A desire to be a ballerina may mean you want to be in the limelight and wear fluffy tutus. But it could also mean that you were happiest when you were dancing. Or practicing your craft. Or performing it. Or simply moving. Or maybe it was interpreting the music. Or teaching the other kids a cool move. Maybe it was the pageantry, the costumes, the stage sets.

And it may be time to put some rigorous movement, or music, or coaching, or performance back in your life. (Or go buy a tutu, what the heck? Some dreams are cheap to fulfil.)

I think this exercise is insightful because our desires can be so pure and simple when we are so young. (I don’t mean “pure” in the altruistic sense, I mean in the the undiluted sense.) There is no fear or self-doubt overlaid, no real world sensibility intruding. No one is telling you at age five “You can’t be an artist, you’ll starve to death!”

The trick is to look underneath the job title and think about what intrigued you.

Did you want to make things? Maybe you want to be an artist or craftsperson. Did you love to hammer? A carpenter. Did you like to draw? Illustrator, architect, graphic designer. Break things? Demolition!

If you wanted to be a skater, maybe you wanted to skate. But maybe you just wanted to go fast. Or be outdoors. Or you wanted to feel everything about winter, including a cold crisp wind on your face.

Whatever made your heart sing, try to figure out how to go there again, even for a little while. It may not be your dream job, but it’s a thread you can pick up and follow there.

Me? What did I want to be when I grew up?

An artist, of course! Interestingly, I drew a lot, and I don’t like to draw now. But…I never drew anything I could see. I didn’t want to draw landscapes or houses, for example. I was always drawing imagined images. Especially…animals. I absolutely loved drawing animals. Especially…horses. I yearned for more animals in my life, too, especially horses.

I also collected things. Anything. Pretty stones, shells, bits of interesting lichen. Ribbons, scraps pretty wrapping paper, pictures cut from magazines. My mother called it “trash”, but it was all treasure to me.

Later, when I had money, I loved scrounging thrift shops and junk stores. My favorite thing to do, hands down, is to browse through a really good antique store/second hand store. (The affordable ones, not the pricey ones!) I love finding odd little treasures, especially the things most people overlook–carpenter’s folding wooden measures, bits of funky jewelry, rusty metal things, game pieces. (I treasure the measuring tape that was wrapped around a steer, with calculations to estimate its weight.)

I loved archeology and fossils. I think I loved the notion of finding something really cool and old, and digging it up. And imagining what life was like when that particular thing was around. My favorite scene in the book Little House on the Prairie is when the girls visit an abandoned Indian campground and find all those glass beads. (Trade beads!!)

You’d think when the current collage/assemblage phase burgeoned, I’d be a happy collage artist. But I’m not. I can’t bear to cut up any of my treasures. Instead, I love arranging them into endless vignettes. And I’m very good at that, too.

Animals…artifacts…ancient treasures…vignettes. Oh, did I mention I wanted to be a writer, too?

Who knew that fifty years ago, the artist I am today was already awake and thriving in that five-year-old’s heart?!

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Filed under art, career, choices, coaching, life

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #24: When “Perfect” Isn’t Good Enough

Sometimes perfecting the best booth you have isn’t good enough. Sometimes having the best booth, period, isn’t good enough.

What I mean by the first statement is, sometimes we get stuck trying to perfect something that isn’t the best solution in the first place.

Take my search for the “perfect track lighting.” I constantly worked, reworked and replaced my track lighting for my booth. I experimented with light bars, cross bars, looked for more reliable systems and flexible lamps.

I finally got to the point where I realized I hate track lighting. It’s just not the best solution for my booth. The last two shows, I didn’t use any track lighting at all–just gooseneck clamp-on halogen lamps. They are easier for me to ship/pack/set-up and have fewer things to go wrong (fewer electronic connections, for one thing!)

Or my search for the “perfect table display”. My very first booth set-ups included those dreaded folding tables I’ve been harping on throughout this series. I experimented with different drapes and decorations. I tried to make them taller. Then bought narrower tables–before realizing I was never going to get them into my little car. And I was never going to get the professional-looking display I needed with them. I invested in Dynamic Display cases, sometimes augmented with Abstracta, and never looked back.

Then there was my search for the “perfect pipe-and-drape walls”. I struggled with various fabric walls–purchased pipe-and-drape, making my own drapes, adding various shades and blinds to make them stiffer and more stable for displaying my wall hangings. The happiest day of my life was the first day I set up my new Propanel walls.

So sometimes you have to persevere to find the right working version of something for you. But sometimes you just have to start over with something totally different.

Then again, sometimes even that perfect booth isn’t enough.

In 2007, I did two wholesale shows with my “perfect booth.” Okay, I know it’s still not perfect in many ways, but it was beautiful and got rave reviews. The display fell away, the work stood out, and was well received.

But I had the right work at the wrong show. Or the wrong work at the right show, if you want to look at it that way. I had de-emphasized my jewelry to promote my fiber work. It didn’t work.

You can have the best booth in the whole world. But if you have not targeted the right market for your work, you will not do well.

If you don’t do a preshow mailing to your audience, they won’t know you’re there.

If your work is high-end, and the show is low- to mid-end, they will not buy.

If your work is contemporary, and the show is country/folk, they will not buy.

If you specialize in Christmas decor and it’s a retail show in spring, you probably will not do well.

If your work is a little pricey and unusual and not a gift product, you may not do well at Christmas shows.

So what’s a craftsperson to do?

Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Get better.

And laugh.

No one said it would be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!

You keep doing it because you believe in your work, and you believe there are people out there who will love it as much as you do.

You try this, you experiment with that, you tweak this and you replace that. You work hard to get into that dream show, that perfect show for your work. And a few years later, you struggle to find the courage to leave that “perfect show” that is no longer the best marketing strategy for your work.

There is no “finish line” you cross where you finally realize you’ve made it. There is no final formula for success.

There is only another exciting challenge ahead of you.

The downside? It can be exhausting.

The upside? It’s good for you! Aimee Lee Ball writes about “THE NEW & IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM” in the January 2008 issue of OPRAH magazine. Research shows that the brain grows more neurons when challenged. By struggling to figure this stuff out, we get smarter, and more competent.

So don’t despair if it all seems like too much sometimes. Remember–this is IQ training for your LIFE.

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Filed under art, booth design, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, life, mental attitude

I CAN’T HEAR YOU

Sometimes the best advice is right under our nose. We just heard it five minutes ago.

But we can’t hear it. Why not?

Because we aren’t ready.

We may think we are. We hound friends, family, peers, complete strangers for advice. “Tell me what to do!” we beg.

But if we aren’t truly ready, if our hearts aren’t open, if we haven’t made room for it, we cannot hear it.

Not all advice is advice we should act on. People have their own agendas, and they don’t always have your best interests at heart. Sometimes you just need to nod your head and murmur, “hmmmm….yes….” and leave it at that.

But sometimes, we are so caught up in our own stuff, we can’t hear the best advice in the world.

Here are two recent examples.

This weekend I did a small local craft show, my first in over ten years. It was a nice little show, artist-friendly, well-managed, decent quality work being sold, in a beautiful setting.

I overheard someone talking to a jewelry person near me. I’d seen her at several other shows recently and was familiar with her work. It’s straight bead stringing, nothing exciting, but competent, pretty work.

The person was asking her if she’d tried displaying her work outside of her small covered case so people could see it. She defended her decision, saying she tried that once, and it didn’t work. She said that some of her work was already out and touchable, but honestly, she couldn’t see people buying more of the pieces that were out.

Now, I’d looked at this woman’s jewelry at two different shows. As I said, it’s pretty. And lord, was it cheap. Ridiculously cheap. So I kept thinking I’d buy a few pieces as gifts.

But I couldn’t.

For one thing, although she didn’t have a ton of stuff, what she had was crammed together in her display. No one piece stood out.

Her display was so crowded, I couldn’t touch the pieces that were out. Everything was arranged nice and straight. But there were so many items they were almost piled on top of each other. I was subconsciously afraid of making a mess if I tried to pick up one piece.

It also wasn’t clear it was okay to pick up piece to look at it more closely.

Last, her personality was….large. She had a big voice. She knew everyone at the show, and talked constantly. That can be a good thing, if you know when to to talk and when to get quiet so people can shop. Sometimes I’m in the mood for “big”. But if I’m not, I walk away.

I ended up walking away again without buying anything.

I think the advice she got was good. I think she would have more sales if the pieces had more “breathing space” around them, if it were easier to touch and actually pick up the pieces.

But she couldn’t hear it.

She probably tells herself after every show that people are simply cheap and won’t buy nice jewelry at any price.

But she’s wrong. I was steadily selling jewelry at three times her prices. I think she could have sold out, at her price points, if she’d made it easier on her customers to actually buy.

(Caveat: As always, this is IMHO. Maybe she didn’t care, or maybe she was perfectly happy with her sales.)

Here’s my second example:

A few months ago, I was ready to test for placement in my new Tae Kwon Do class. I had tons of issues–feeling out of place because the curriculum has changed so much; my age; my injuries and physical condition.

The head teacher encouraged me to test at the level I’d left at twelve years before (green belt.) He said I had at least that skill level, maybe even higher. He knew I could do it. It would be a challenge. But it was something I needed to do for myself.

The closer I got to my test date, however, the more I panicked. I felt my limitations strongly. I was terrified of failing.

I asked to be tested for a belt below that, yellow belt. I was pretty sure I could pass yellow belt with no issue.

He argued that I was selling myself short. Yes, there were physical limitations. But my training was sound, and my techniques were consistent. I would make it, if I worked at it. (A good school only recommends you for a level they feel you are ready for.) Most of all, he kept saying, “You need to do it for ‘Luann'”.

But I couldn’t hear him.

All I could feel was the fear and self-doubt. I felt if I got a belt–any belt–I could settle in and move on.

Although the final decision was theirs, in the end they tested me for yellow belt. I passed with no problem.

But they were right. I should have gone for green belt.

It’s odd, but once the stress of anticipating the test was over, I relaxed. I “fell in” with the class more easily. And it became crystal clear to me what I’d done.

I told my teacher soon after, “I could hear your words. But I couldn’t hear what you were saying. My fear and self-doubt got in the way. I know that now. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you.”

Now, maybe I needed to take that easy step to just get to that next level.

But next time, I may just take that leap of faith instead.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft shows, display, fear of failing, martial arts, mental attitude, selling, taking chances

SELLING AT HOLIDAY SHOWS: My Gift Shopping Theory

I have a theory about holiday shows. Feel free to chime in below and comment.

Most craft shows are held just before the holidays. The theory is, everyone is out Christmas shopping.

Of course, as a veteran and consummate shopper, I will share something you probably already know:

Many of those gifts I buy are never gonna be given away. They’re for me!

I’ll find something wonderful and affordable and exclaim, “Oh, these would be perfect for Ruth/Sue/Carol/Mom!” Then I buy five. That fifth one is for me, because it’s perfect for me, too.

If it’s not affordable, I might still buy it anyway, under the guise that it’s still a cool gift for that perfect someone.

And sometimes, those gifts are for me, too.

I used to think I was a pretty selfish shopper, secretly buying all those things that never made it to their intended recipient. (They got a gift, don’t get me wrong. Bear with me here.)

Now I know that if I’m rationalizing my purchases this way, millions are doing it. It’s not about being selfish. It’s about how we justify the purchases we make.

So here’s my theory:

If your work is really new to a customer–you’re new to a show, they aren’t familiar with your work….

and it’s really different/unusual/unique–they like it, but they aren’t sure someone else will…

and it’s “strong”–a bold color, has a “heavy” theme, has a powerful message, is something very personal….

and it’s not seen as highly affordable…

Then it’s hard for someone to justify buying it over the holidays as a gift for someone else.

It’s too obvious to the customer that they really want to buy it for themselves. And that can be a high wall for them to climb over during the holiday season, when so much money has to be spent on gifts for others.

Here’s the pattern I’ve noticed at the few retail shows I’ve done:

Mostly, I noticed people bought for themselves. (The show is in August. Some people claim they’re Christmas shopping, but there’s plenty of leeway for simply buying for themselves, too.)

The next year, they often come in and buy a piece “for a very special friend”.

Then they come back and buy more for themselves, and for many friends! (Or they bring their friends, which is even nicer.)

They agonized over their first gifty-buying decision. “I love your work! And I think my friend would, too. But I’m just not sure….”

The next year, they come back exclaiming, “My wife/friend/daughter LOVED it!  I’m buying more!”

There are several things you can do to overcome this “powerful gift” obstacle.

  • Offer to exchange the piece for another if it does not suit. This only works if you have a catalog, website, or some other way of offering another choice to the end user.
  • Be prepared to reassure them why their friend will love your work. And it isn’t because you think it’s fabulous. One strategy is to ask your customer why she thinks it’s fabulous. Then ask, “Is your friend the kind of person who will love those aspects of my work, too?”
  • If you’re making that connection with the customer in your booth, but they are worried they won’t be able to make that same connection with their friend, then you need to build that story into your product. Story cards/gift enclosure cards, hang tags, care instruction tags are all vehicles for carrying your story when the actual product cannot.
  • I think the key word is “new”. People who love your work may have to get used to seeing it before they feel it would be a great gift for others. I do better at shows where I have tenure, some sort of “repeat presence”.
  • But they shouldn’t see it too often, either! When it’s easily available, then people either a) get used to seeing it and figure they’ll pick up a piece some other time. Or b) everyone who wants one, buys one–and then my market is saturated for a year or so. My work does best in an area when it’s only available a few times a year, OR when there’s a high turnover in the customer base–a tourist area, a high-traffic area, etc.

My last suggestion, of course, would be: Don’t do holiday shows!! Try shows when people can more easily justify buying for themselves.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, craft shows, selling

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #23: Be Different. Please.

I’m going to pick on jewelry booths today, partly because there are so many of them at shows. And because it’s just a good example of what’s wrong with so many of these shows.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are perfectly happy with your work and your shows, don’t read any further. It will just annoy you. If you are having the degree of success you want, don’t change anything! It’s working for you, and you don’t need my opinions on what you’re doing.

But if you feel like you’re struggling and can’t figure out how to get ahead, it may be time for you to hear this:

How much dichroic glass does the world need?

I’ve visited a lot of smaller shows in my area this season. And at every single one, there are at least two, three, sometimes four craftspeople working with dichroic glass jewelry.

Is there anyone who isn’t working in dichroic glass?

More importantly, is there anyone doing something different with it?

Of the last two to three dozen dichroic glass jewelry booths I’ve visited, I saw one person–ONE–who was doing something a little different. That person had made round beads. And that was only featured in a handful of designs. (Actually, I’m not even sure you can form dichroic glass into round beads. She may have been using purchased beads that just resembled dichroic glass….?)

Dichroic glass is popular because it’s colorful and bright. It’s also chunky and clunky. I have a feeling you can now also buy it at craft stores like Michael’s.

That means you’ve either got to be absolutely brilliant at working with it….

…or it’s time to move on to something else.

Another overused jewelry category is necklaces made with beads anyone can get. The pattern is something like “Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, etc.” Sometimes someone goes out on a limb and uses two Bali bead spacers. Or two different colors of stone beads.

Dichroic glass, semi-precious stone beads, Swarovski crystals, Czech glass beads (or worse, cheap Indian glass beads)… Whatever. These ready-made materials are easily available, and they have saturated the jewelry market. In the end, it’s hard to come up with anything really different, innovative or unusual.

This kind of jewelry-making is called “bead stringing.” And the word “bead stringer” has become an insult among jewelry designers. I couldn’t see why until I started visiting websites and perusing craft fairs again, and browsing on-line handcrafted jewelry sites.

It’s because that’s ALL that’s out there.

I know it’s how we all get started. I know, I know, I know. I did the same thing when I first started out.

But it seems like in the last ten or twelve years since I started, everyone and their sister is now making jewelry. Access to supplies and resources is easier than ever. Anyone can make it–and does, it seems. If a ten-year-old can do it as well as you (and yes, at an Arts Business Institute seminar, I once mentored a ten-year-old who made jewelry almost as well as anything I’ve seen so far) then that says something.

And a ten-year-old may outsell you with the same work, as you’ll see below.

When everybody is doing the same thing, then it becomes all about

a) pricing
b) salesmanship
c) presentation
and d) story.

You can compete with your pricing. But you must understand that when it comes to price, there is no bottom. There are stores importing huge amounts of sterling silver and semi-precious stone jewelry from India, China, Indonesia and you cannot underprice them. I’ve seen sterling silver rings with semi-precious stone cabochons for under $4.00 at gift stores. I’m sure they are not very fine rings. But they looked okay, and if your work’s only competitive edge is price, then your customer will choose that $4 ring over your $12 ring.

You may be happy with your sales at your smaller craft shows offering low prices. But you will not be able to grow your business much past a small local market. You will only attract bargain-hunters. And you will not be able to wholesale to stores and galleries.

Presentation helps! The only booth with semi-precious stone beads and silver jewelry I even paused at had decent presentation and display–coordinated colors in table cloths and drapes, nice banners, beautiful display. And she had slightly more original designs.

But in the end, it was all still so much like everything else out there. And I passed.

Salesmanship helps. Knowing how to act when customers stop to browse will go a long way to closing a sale, and we’ve seen how very simple questions and statements can give your customers the emotional space to do just that.

The last thing that can help set your work apart is story. Being able to share with your audience why you do this is a huge edge. (Please, not because you love it. Frankly, why should I care?? When an artist says, “I just love color!”, I have to bite my tongue to respond with, “So who doesn’t love color??!”)

And here’s where than ten-year-old is going to beat you out. Is there anything cuter than a 10-year-old with the entrepeneurial spirit? If her work is just as good as yours, or even almost as good as yours, I’m going to buy her work to encourage her to follow her dreams. Or make enough money for her to go to summer camp.

Once again: If you are in this to make a little money at Christmas and to have a little fun, then ignore everything I’ve said in this post. As I said, we all have to start somewhere. I’d hate for you to see the kind of work I started with!

But if you have bigger dreams in your heart, then start thinking ahead. Use the money you make from these shows to take classes, to gain more skills, to expand your techniques, to buy better materials and tools.

That’s what I did.

When your season slows, take time to look into your heart and explore what you really want to come of all this hard work and perseverance.

That’s what I did.

Make sure you have a good product that’s different, high quality, that you absolutely love to make.

That’s what I did.

Because when you find your audience, you’re going to be with this product a long, long time.

Make sure it’s something you can live with, something you can be proud of making for years to come.

Make sure it’s the very best you can do. And take every opportunity to make it even better.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft shows, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry, selling