Monthly Archives: March 2008

HAT DISASTER

It started out innocently enough.

I just wanted to knit a few hats for a friend. And maybe a baby sweater for another friend expecting his first child.

“I’ll surprise her with a hat!” I thought. Then I read in a forum that this can be a bad idea.

I emailed her to ask her if 1) she wanted a hat; 2) if so, please choose from an assortment of online patters I’d found; and 3) what colors she would like.

She emailed back with not only her color and style choices, but she ran out to actually buy a few balls of yarn and sent them to me.

And now the sad tale begins.

I have tons of yarn. I have a barn attic full of yarn. Not only do I have a lot of yarn (did I mention I have a LOT of yarn?), in my search for the appropriate yarns, I found another huge stash of yarn in another attic that’s been there since we moved into this house eight years ago. (I forgot all about it. Hey, that’s where all my brown yarn and mohair yarns went!)

Turns out the best yarns for really comfortable hats are not wool. I have mostly wool yarns. Not only mostly wool yarns, I have very few yarns suitable for soft hats and baby sweaters. In fact–none.

And, although if you’d asked me three months ago what colors of yarn I have, I would have happily exclaimed, “Every color under the sun!”, it turns out I actually have only a warm palette of yarn.

Lots of rust. Tons of turquoise. Many, many soft greens. Gold, pumpkin, orange. Periwinkle blue. Even red. Even a teensy bit of black.

No fuchias. No purples. No bright clear blues or corals.

I’ve also rediscovered why I don’t actually knit that much.

Although I am a competent knitter, and read about knitting voraciously, although I know four different ways to increase stitches, although I conscientiously knit gauge swatch after gauge swatch, although I broke down and bought tons of new knitting needles because I have lost my entire stash in my attic (I hate my attic! It’s too good for storing stuff), although I picked the easiest pattern (a beret–I have knit many berets before) and experimented with dozens of yarns to find the perfect ones….

I actually have a rather profound and pronounced inability to follow directions.

I found all this out this weekend when I spent three straight days knitting what I desperately wanted to be the perfect hat.

And ended up with a giant, floppy, heavy, heather gray-purple hat that is completely unwearable even by me.

And because it’s mostly silk/angora, it won’t even felt down into shape.

And I can’t add elastic to the the cuff/brim (which is way, way too big and loose) because that would be too harsh on tender skin.

Maybe I can make a bag out of it. Or give it to my darlin’ daughter, who looks marvelous in anything she puts on her head. I swear you could give her a pair of underpants underwear to put on her head, and she could pull it off. In fact, I think we tried this once, and she did indeed look good with underwear on her head.

Back to the drawing board.

p.s. Hey! Maybe I could make a bag out of it!

3 Comments

Filed under art, fear of failing, funny, knitting

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #10: Don’t!!

A reader left a question for me on this series:

“Would you discuss one other group of people that one sometimes needs to get out of the booth — the people with kids who think everything in your booth is something neat to play with?
OR the adults who think your booth is a cool place to let the kids handle everything? Especially with sticky, gooey fingers? I’m a spinner/weaver, and trying to figure out how to say nicely, “Only with clean hands, please…” Dirty sticky yarn doesn’t sell well…”

Actually, you don’t need to boot these people out.

Use them!

How you deal with kids signals other potential customers how you will deal with them if they do something stupid. (Accidentally, we hope!)

A little patience, and some little tricks along the way, will go a long way to creating a relaxed atmosphere in your booth.

Use these moments to educate the kids about your work. They’ll either be enchanted, and you can work you sales pitch gently into the talk.

OR they’ll get bored, because now it sounds like school, and they’ll lose interest, moving on to the next exciting booth to manhandle.

Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.

Trust me. One of the most important things I learned from Bruce Baker is that what people overhear you telling another customer is perceived as being the truth. Use this opportunity to tell everyone in your booth about your work. (Er…but not loud enough that people two booths over can hear you….)

I know there are some children who don’t behave well. But I’ve only had a very few incidents where the child was actually destructive or totally disrespectful.

For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:

Keep a “special skein” available behind the counter for kids to touch, maybe even a few samples of roving–something you won’t care about if it gets messed up. Come on, we ALL have those dud projects hanging around somewhere. Now you can put it to perfect use!

I keep a package of baby wipes handy. When a child starts pick something up, I quickly say, “Here, let me help you.”

I ask in a friendly way, “I have a special yarn for kids to touch. Are your hands clean?” They usually get a little settled here. You’re starting to act like a teacher or a parent. They usually nod solemnly. “I say let me feel your hands.” You can tell instantly if a kid’s hands are clean! If they are, give them the sample skeins. If not, hand them a wipe.

I say, “It’s okay to touch my work, as long as you treat it gently and with respect. I’ve worked really really hard to get it to look just right.”

They usually respond with another solemn nod.

Then, depending on the age of the child, I talk a little bit about the horse. I point out all the tiny layers that make it look like ivory. I point out all the little details that make it special. If they are pre-teens or older, I talk about how four teenage boys discovered the first, and most beautiful Ice Age cave art in the world. They are enchanted that someone their age did something so incredible.

Okay, Alta Mira in Spain was discovered first, but no one knew what it really was until after Lascaux.

As I point out each detail, the parents start looking, too. And so do other customers. Everyone starts to really see the work. Sometimes I even see other customers finally reach out to touch a piece they’ve been looking at.

This permission to handle your work with care and with clean hands and under your supervision helps to create an air of respect for your work. The dynamic changes. Instead of “play time!”, you’ve created a teachable moment.

Use this moment to talk about your work with love and pride, and I think you’ll find that most kids will respond to that. And their parents will be grateful.

Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve found over the years that the parents rarely buy anything. You’ve provided that edutainment (education + entertainment) that Bruce Baker talks about so often.

View this as your contribution to fostering appreciation for the arts and crafts for a future generation.

Actually, sometimes parents do buy your work, if the child gets attached to your product and your work isn’t outrageously expensive. They buy it as a souvenir of the experience you’ve provided, or to foster a budding interest in the child. I have had parents buy $50 and $75 items because their child was so fascinated with it. (And sometimes those are the most difficult kids, because their parents do like to indulge their kids.) Don’t be too hard on them. We all know how tough it is to be a good parent, even the best parents have their bad moments.

You can adapt this script to work with other products as well. I keep a couple artifacts behind the counter, or pick up something sturdy like one of my netsuke animal artifacts. It’s neat to have two, because then the child can choose which one to hold, which adds to the fun (and helps capture their interest.) This also helps if there is more than one child, because then everyone can hold one. Fun for all!

If your work is just too delicate or fragile for such handling, have a sample of the materials you use, or one of your tools, or again, a cast-off piece that you don’t care about. You can actually use this approach for adults, too.

Treating children with respect and genuine warmth pays off in other ways, too. A regular customer brought his son in last year. The boy had visited every booth in the fair, looking for that special something to spend his money on. His father said, “When we finished, he didn’t even want to look again–he came right back here to buy this!”

He pointed to a small wall hanging for $350. That boy had saved a lotta money!

I was honored a child would be so enchanted with my work, he would actually buy such a fabulous piece.

And I was doubly glad that I deal with kids the way I do!

Here’s another reason–a BIG one–why you don’t really want to get these people to leave:

Human beings are born yearning to touch things.

Touch is how we explore our world, and we rejoice in the experience.

“Feel how soft this sweater is!” we exclaim as we shop. “No, not this scarf, it’s too scratchy.” “These pears are too firm, but those pears are just right!”

We constantly talk about how things feel: “Oh, this puppy’s fur is so fluffy!” “I love to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and feel the wind in my hair, and play tag with the waves.” “I can’t stand wearing that shirt because the tag is scratchy!” “I love it when my kids hug me.”

When we tell children not to touch, we are asking them to go against their very nature. Our very nature. When you see people enter your booth with their hands behind their back, it’s because the temptation to touch is so strong (and they know they “shouldn’t”) they have to physically hold themselves back.

I’m lucky to use a material that’s sturdy and durable. I know not all artists have that luxury. But when I tell people that it’s okay to touch my work, and to feel free to pick up a piece to look more closely, their relief–and joy–are palpable.

It creates an incredible feeling of participation and delight in my booth.

Try to find ways to let people touch something in your booth. Your customers will be happy, your visitors will be charmed, and you will feel better all around.

8 Comments

Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, mental attitude, selling

Do You Want to Get This by Email?

I just put up a link to FeedBlitz, where you can click “Subscribe Me!” and sign up to get my blog articles by e-mail. It’s at the end of the “About Me” text to the right.

It took me three days to figure out how to do this–I will never be writing a how-to book on computer skills!–but you asked for it, and I did it.

Er….someone please tell me if it works?

Oh, and tell all your friends (if you like my blog)!

3 Comments

Filed under announcement

MOVIE LESSONS

Ah, you’re catching on! I find life lessons in everything!

Last night I watched the movie INTO THE WILD despite reservations. I’d read the book about Chris McCandless, a young man who disappears immediately after graduating from college and is later found dead of starvation in the wilds of Alaska.

It’s a good story, and well-written. But I always felt the book underplayed the role of mental illness in the young man’s decisions. He deliberately loses himself in the wilderness, enjoying its beauty and solitude, eschewing “modern” concepts like money, career, home. He strives to forsake all permanent human relationships–until he finally starves to death.

Instead, the book stresses his principled convictions and moral integrity, making a hero of him.

The book did the same, taking a highly sympathetic tone with the character. But it also drew me even further into the life of this conflicted young man. In the end, I was glad I watched it.

The movie is beautifully photographed. And, like the book, it also gives Chris the benefit of the doubt about the rationale behind his decisions.

But it also depicts his endearing personality and how deeply felt his beliefs are. It shows, in his travels, how easily the people he encountered came to care deeply for him. It is poignant in showing the suffering and pain his family went through, not knowing what had happened to him for two years until his body is found.

The movie (based on his journals and interviews with the people who came to know him along the way) concludes a beautiful sentiment.

His experiences (in the movie, anyway) eventually teach him that “Happiness real only when shared” (sic). Too late for him to act on it–he dies before he can escape the wilderness and act on his revelation. But it got me thinking about the implications for other human endeavors, including art and craft.

Some people still feel uncomfortable putting their artwork out into the world. They fear criticism or rejection, or simply refuse to have it judged. They may feel creating for money sullies the process. Or they may feel it won’t sell anyway, so what’s the use of trying? They hold it close, and keep it private and unknown.

When we are locked in this mindset, we forget the ultimate reason d’etre of art…

With art, we forge new possibilities; new connections with, and new ways of looking at, the world. Our work can enrich, inspire, provoke, or tantalize other people with these connections.

We can create the work we love, or just focus on what earns us a living. We can even chose to create it in private, for our own enjoyment, and never go further than that.

But either way, nothing happens, nothing changes–until we put it out into the world.

Happiness–and art–only real when shared.

Find ways to share your work. You can exhibit, and choose not to sell it. You can sell it for any purpose you want. You can teach it or write about it, if you cannot bring yourself to put it out in the open.

But find some way for the world to benefit from your creativity.

If that happens posthumously, well, YOU will miss out on all the fun!

2 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, business, creativity, life

ARTIST AND WRITER

A friend read my blog entitled Is That a Book I See Before Me? and had some powerful comments on my choice of words.

She said (accurately) that I tend to downplay my writing and promote myself as simply an artist who writes about her art. My writing is sound.  So why was I being coy about putting as much energy into it as my art?

Why was I burying a link from my website to my blog way back in the “About the Artist” section?

Why did I always say “…and I’m also a writer….” instead of “I’m an artist AND a writer”?

When I went back and looked at the text she was looking at, I saw she was absolutely right.

And I realized I have been tentative about pushing my writing forward, yet I say it’s as important to me as my art.

Where did that come from??

There are several issues involved here.

1) In a marriage, usually one spouse takes on a set of tasks, and the other spouse takes on another set of tasks. We may complain that it’s usually gender-based, but it is a valid strategy for an organization (a household) to make. It’s more efficient to have every person good at a few things, rather than everyone sort of okay at a lot of things. Until you lose one person, that is.

In my case, Jon has been earning a living as a writer since he graduated from college. It felt awkward to think I could write, too, or that my writer would be as “excellent” or as “important” as his is. (That didn’t come from him, it came from me, unconsciously.)

In the last few weeks, Jon has made a point of telling me my writing is good–really good. I was surprised how wonderful it felt to hear him say that. A sign to me of how worried I was to be seen as competing with him in his area of competency.

2) It took me years of making art before I could confidently state, “I’m an artist” and feel like it was the truth, not puffery. It’s just taken me a little longer to get there with my writing.

3) I’m aware that my website is all about my work and the mystique I’ve created in my processes and my story. The blog feels more exposed, more exploratory. I always wonder what my customers would feel about me struggling with this issue or that, or complaining about the “difficult people” in my booth, for example.

This led me to the heart of it.

4) Years ago, someone (anonymous, of course) posted that it was a bad business decision to write so honestly about the ups and downs of being an artist, to admit setbacks and disappointments. It made me look unprofessional. An artist is supposed to look like a duck–swimming along, with all the hard paddling work unseen beneath the water.

I would alienate potential customers and galleries with all my whining and struggling.

There was just enough truth in that snarfy comment to let the knife slip sideways between my ribs and into my heart.

So I felt like I had to keep those two worlds separate, at least until I was famous enough to have a coffee table masterpiece of a book dedicated solely to my artwork written about or by me. Then people would want all the stories.

This latest “challenge” was made with love and respect and good insight. It got my dander up just enough to realize I do care passionately about my writing, too, and would be devastated to give it up. I am going to proceed with all the conviction it needs.

It also came with some really great advice on how to proceed, so it was a double gift.

I am blessed with such a wonderful readership, with people who read regularly and offer support and encouragement along the way. Thank you all!

I thank my husband Jon for his instant support when I told him it was time for me to write another book. Thank you, sweetie!

And a special thanks and a hug to Amy Johnson, for your bravery to ask such hard questions of a new friend. I am grateful. Thank you, Amy!

7 Comments

Filed under art, courage, life, mental attitude, mindfulness, writing

ME BUFFY

Okay, last night my husband and I watched the movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We’ve always liked it and think it deserves a better rating than “one star.” Paul Rueben’s (aka Pee-wee Herman) death scene is interminable–and funny! Hillary Swank plays the part of one of Buffy’s obnoxious girlfriends. And I was right–I thought I spotted Ben Affleck in a one second scene, and it was him!

Anyway, I dreamed that night that I was Buffy. (Quit laughing.) I killed vampires right and left. They followed me everywhere–into my house, into the streets, and even into a grocery store. (What was THAT about??)

And my wooden stakes were……(can you guess?)

Pencils. Knitting needles. And artist paintbrushes!

4 Comments

Filed under art, funny, humor, pencils of death, vampires

IS THAT A BOOK I SEE BEFORE ME?

The last few days, I’ve heard loud and clear that it’s time to turn some of my blog essays into a book somehow. I started printing them out so a friend can help edit and sort. WOW!! There are a lot of them! I think almost 500 posts in four years, and it took me a year or so to start publishing regularly. Long ones, too.

I also discovered that my blog at RadioUserland is a little tricky to navigate. For example, if you work backwards from my last post, you get to “Big Head”–and the list stops! In reality, two-thirds of my posts are before that essay. You have to go to the very beginning and work your way forward. Even then, it’s best to click on a post, read it, and go back to the original list to continue, or some posts will be dropped along the way. I’m trying to see if that can be fixed.

So a book makes good sense now, especially with those older, less accessible posts. In fact, it’s dawning on me that my slump for the last few years might well be because I’ve devoted so much energy to writing. I even had several regular paid writing gigs. I think when I get the book out, I will return with renewed energy to the fiber work. The jewelry seems to be plugging along nicely throughout, the fiber work takes more focus and concentration.

Unfortunately, it looks like several books. One about the nuts and bolts of the craft biz and a second about the “life lessons” you find in making art. I could do a whole separate book about what my activities (riding, climbing, martial arts) have taught me about making art and one about what my pets have taught me.

Oh, yeah, and one about how my kids and husband occasionally drive me absolutely nuts. Remember the waffle print in the butter?

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions about this project. Anything! (Except that you hate my writing, in which case, you know what to do. Yeah, that lake over there will do. Why are you reading this, anyway?) Suggestions, feedback, notes about your favorite entries, etc.

It would be funny if the universe was trying to tell me all this time to write a book–and I couldn’t hear it!!

21 Comments

Filed under announcement, art, craft, taking chances, writing

BLESSED UNREST

Today I’m posting a link to a video that will take up 5 minutes of you day, but will have you thinking for days.

It’s not new–my husband actually showed this to me months ago, and the speech was given at a conference in 2006. But it came up on my radar again, and I just had to share it with as many people as I can.

Paul Hawken’s speech on his book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming.

How does this fit in with art?

One of my mentors, fiber artist Deborah Kruger told us in a workshop, “The world needs your art to heal.” She made me realize that my work could fill a larger role than simply fulfilling me. It could be something more than just decoration (though work that is functional, beautiful or simply fun and pretty can be healing, too.)

Our work, as a function of creativity, is the very antithesis of hate and destruction and calamity.

Some people’s art may work in more direct ways for “the force for good and healing.” But even “little” work still contributes. And no one can ever know the full effect their efforts have in the world. That’s where faith comes in.

I saw that my work could connect with other people and tell a larger story, perhaps even help them tell their story.

I can see my work somehow fitting in with this “blessed unrest”. The idea seems to resonate with the blessed unrest I’ve felt in my heart for a long time now.

It will be interesting to see where that leads me.

Where could it lead you?

3 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, business, inspiration, life

CHICKEN LESSONS

We’ve had a small flock of chickens for awhile now. We enjoy them immensely, not only for the delicious fresh eggs but because they’re so funny to watch.

A few days ago, though, we saw the worst of all chicken behaviors.

“Pecking order” among birds is not merely unpleasant, it can be deadly. Chickens will mercilessly attack and kill not only a strange bird, but one of their own flock, if they perceive it as sick or wounded. Theories abound about why they do this, and the theories make good sense. But it’s still hard to see in action.

Our little flock had turned on one of their own. They started in on one hen, pecking at her til they drew blood. We took her out of the coop and put her in a large cage in our mudroom.

The “house hen” was happy enough for a few weeks. But my daughter, convinced she was missing her flock, returned her to the coop.

We either put her back in too soon, or she’d become enough of a stranger to the others that her fate was sealed. The next day, Robin found the bloody carcass, minus a few important body parts (like her head).

It was an awful sight, especially to us “chicken newbies”, and Robin was devastated. She declared she wanted nothing more to do with chickens ever again.

We talked about it later. As I shared with her these “chicken lessons”, I realized they can also be good lessons about making and selling your art.

1. Chickens can’t choose. We can.

Chickens are not people. If, in fact, they are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, then we are dealing with instinctive behaviors that have been in place millions of years before humans appeared on this planet. Our own human heritage has evolved to allow us to choose whether to fear and hate “the other”. We can choose to behave differently.

Chickens can’t choose. It’s not fair to attribute such human notions as “kindness” and “cruelty” to behaviors that keep the species healthy and viable at the expense of the individual.

We, too, are not completely at the mercy of the world when it comes to our art. We may feel that way sometimes! But we actually have tremendous choice.

We can choose what kind of art we make, what quality of work we produce, and who to market it to. We can choose how to promote it and where. We can choose the story we tell people about it.We can choose our own balance of prestige, money and fame, if we are willing to do the work associated with each choice. I could go on, but you get the point.

2. Don’t make it personal.

The chickens didn’t do this to make us miserable. It’s just part of owning chickens. Sometimes bad things will happen. A fox will take one, or they will get sick and die. We can minimize the bad stuff by taking good care of them, but we will still make mistakes. And even if we take perfect care of them, stuff happens.

When it comes to making and selling your art, try to avoid taking setbacks and failures personally. “They” don’t get my art…. “Nobody” likes my work…. “I did that show and it sucked big time! Nobody wanted my work!” Who is “they”?? “Nobody” likes your work?? Is it really just you and “everybody else”? Statements like this are gross generalities. They set you up against the world, they doom you to pessimism and lassitude.

Instead, try to view your marketing and promotional efforts as experiments. You got results that were effective or ineffective in furthering your goals. “I tried that show and didn’t do well. Its audience was not a good fit for my work.” Or even “I may need to invest a few more years at that show to build a good audience for my work.”

3. Only brittle hearts break.

To rephrase: T’is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

When we love something or someone, it stretches our hearts. When that object of our affection is hurt, or hurts us, it feels like our hearts are broken. We feel like never loving again, because it is too painful when things go wrong. I know people who, when their beloved pet dies, swear they will never own another–because it hurts too much to go through that again.

But that pain we feel is is the growth forced on us by experience, by living life to the fullest. The pain I feel when my spouse and I are fighting is excruciating. Yet that is simply a consequence of being a different person than him. Though we love each other, sometimes we just don’t feel the same way about certain things. My children drive me nuts sometimes, and if anything were to happen to them, I would feel like dying. But I never regret for an instant my decision to marry, nor our decision to have children.

The same with our art. Sometimes it seems too hard to get it out there, and the setbacks seem unbearable. Some days we may feel, “What’s the use? I just don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. People don’t care. Why should I keep butting my head against this wall??”

But when I think back to what my life was without my art, I can hardly breathe. As hard as it gets sometimes, it was worse–much, much worse–not being an artist.

I am grateful to have had the chance to make beautiful work that has brought so much joy not only to me, but to others. My life is richer for it.

4. Gain, don’t blame.

It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of determining whose fault it was. But in reality, we were all to blame–and none of us to blame. After all, I could have called a friend to ask their advice about the situation. If I’d really felt it was too soon for the hen to go back to the flock, I could have stood my ground. In fact, some of the anger I felt about the situation was guilt for my part (lack of action)….

But that doesn’t get us anywhere. Hindsight is always so damn obvious. We shoulda, we coulda…. Guilt and dismay keep us locked in the moment. They are only useful if they help us resolve to do better next time.

In the end, it’s not about “What did we do wrong?” It’s about “How could we do better?”
Try not to dwell on the mistakes you’ve made with your art in the past. Instead, look at them as marvelous opportunities not to make that same mistake again.

5. It’s still a good life.

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I realize that even with this unhappy event, our chickens have lived a humane and enjoyable life, compared to the chickens raised commercially for eggs and meat. Our chickens get to run free, eat bugs, enjoy the sunshine and dig to their hearts’ content.  For a chicken, it’s a pretty good life.

So, too, despite the ups and downs of the artist’s life, it’s a life I would choose again, and again, and again. Because this is still my best life so far.

As I get older, people are starting to say to me, “How did you get so wise?!” Okay, I admit it–I love it when they say that!

But the truth is, wisdom comes with experience. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to learn from the mistakes of others. Mostly, we learn from our own.

Everything you read in my blog is me working out the good stuff from all the bad stuff that happened to me. Sometimes I do it easily, and sometimes it takes me a few days, or weeks, or even years to get there. I’m a work in progress.

But the wisdom is always there, if you are willing to look for it. Even in the sad death of a single little chicken.

4 Comments

Filed under art, business, choices, life, life with chickens, life with pets, pets, selling, taking chances

MORE BUNNY LESSONS

My rabbit Bunster (she looks a lot like this rabbit) pretty much has the run of my studio. Sometimes this is not fun. She chews a lot, for one thing. If I don’t pay enough attention to her, she will even chew my pant leg. All my pant legs have rough spots where she’s nibbled the edges.

But she amuses me with her little bunny romps in the early mornings and evenings, when rabbits are most active, and I love the fact that she always hangs out near me when I’m working or writing.

And the lessons she teaches me are useful, too. I’ve written about some of these lessons before here and here.

Last night she taught me another lesson.

I often run back and forth between the main house and my studio. She hangs out happily in the mudroom in between sometimes. But every time I open my studio door, she runs over as if she wants to come inside.

If I opened the door to let her in, she stops and just sits there.

This always infuriates me. “Come in or go out!” I exclaim. “Make up your mind! It’s cold out here! I can’t leave the door open all day!”

She always ignores me, of course. I think she’s teasing me. Or trying to figure out where I’m eventually going to land, so she can hang out there, too.

Last night, she paused in front of the door, refusing to come in. But when I started to close the door, she reached and and grab the edge with her teeth and start to gnaw. I would open the door. She stopped. I go to shut the door again. She grabs the door again.

This went on and on.

Finally, I scolded, “Come in or stay out–but quit eating the damn door!!”

And then I started laughing.

I’ve been caught in the same dilemmas all season. Rest and recuperate? Get back to work? Start production? Clean the studio? Explore new ideas? Get caught up on the old ones? Chuck it all and move to Hawaii??? I just can’t decide what I should do, what I want to do, what my next step is. Someone tell me what to do!! All I want to do right now is hole up in a warm corner and knit.

As my rabbit twitched her nose at me, I realized it doesn’t matter which way I decide to go. In, out, in. If it’s not right, I can always jump back.

But there’s absolutely no point in sitting in the doorway and chewing the door.

Time to simply DO.

7 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, business, choices, life, life with pets, life with rabbits, taking chances

WHO IS YOUR CUSTOMER?

I subscribe to a newsletter put out by Aletta de Wal, and this month’s issue was a good one. It’s called “Discover Your Audience” and you can read it here. Aletta offers good tips on identifying your target audience.

I recommend this article because I think many of us make this mistake:

We lock ourselves in our studios, making our art. But then we have no idea who it’s for.

In fact, ask most artists who their customer is, and they’ll describe someone very much like themselves.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford my own work. If I didn’t make my own wall hangings, I probably wouldn’t have one. (Well, I do have layaway….)

This may be why some artists underprice their work. They can’t imagine a customer who has a bigger budget than they do. They think, “Well, I wouldn’t/couldn’t pay that much for this item, so I’ll price it lower.” When in fact, they may be underpricing the piece for an audience that could afford it… (Overpricing your work comes from an entirely different mindset. Overpricing occurs when you overvalue your time or overestimate your skill level, your reputation or the uniqueness of your product.)

So who is my customer? I’ll admit, I still sometimes have a hard time visualizing my target customer.

I know some of my customers appreciate fine craft, fiber art and/or art history. I have yet to meet an archaeologist who doesn’t like my work. People who love horses, bears, fish, etc. often like my work because it’s different than other jewelry and art with those animal motifs.

But that’s not very focused.

I’m getting better. In fact, at a show, my daughter can often tell who’s going to love my jewelry and who isn’t, though that doesn’t always translate into who will actually buy it. But loving it is the first step, and she has a sense of who that is. These women often come in with beautiful, dramatic jewelry or clothing–not diamonds and gold, but ethnic, handmade, eclectic stuff. Native American work, perhaps.

The year I did the ACC Baltimore fine craft show, I discovered customers who loved Wendy Ellertson’s work also loved mine. What’s the common thread there?

We are also still pleasantly surprised from time to time, and there are other “hooks” to my work that attract people. I find people who are going through transition, gathering courage to enter a new phase in life or taking that next “big step” forward, are often attracted to the stories in my work.

Thinking about the kinds of homes where my fiber wall hangings would look good lead me to believe traditional New England decor may not be a good fit. So obviously I have much more to learn.

Why is it good to know who your customer is?

Because when you promote your work, you need to know what venues also target your audience. When it’s time to buy advertising, send press releases, apply to shows and target galleries, you must determine if their target audience is also your target audience.

For example, one common mistake I see is artists who purchase ad space in magazines that target….other artists! Now, perhaps your target audience is other artists, in which case that’s a good choice. But if it isn’t, check the demographics of the magazine to make sure art collectors and galleries are part of its audience, too. Want to be sure? Call up one of your target galleries, and ask if they read that magazine. If the answer is no, you may want to rethink those ad dollars.

Knowing who your customer is helps focus your marketing efforts.

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Filed under art, business, marketing, self promotion

A SIX-YEAR-OLD CAN DO IT…You Can, Too!

Gulping my coffee this morning, watching the latest storm roll over Keene, New Hampshire, and reading our very own local newspaper, The Keene Sentinel. The Sentinel is noted for being the fifth oldest continuously published newspaper in the U.S..

I’m intrigued by an article in the business section. It’s by Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (Aside: Milwaukee is another cold, cold city. I Googled the latitudes of both cities and found that Milwaukee is at 43.04N and Keene is at 42.933N. Brrrr!)

You can read the entire article here. It’s about a professor of marketing who conducts market research with methods that resemble psychoanalysis.

So what does a marketing research technique that uncovers the real reason “real men” buy power tools have to do with your business in art and craft?

Because the most powerful technique they used was “…a rigorous format that includes repeatedly asking “Why?” like a persistent 6-year-old.”

Does this technique sound familiar?

I’ve never heard of the ZMET technique, though I hope to learn more. I discovered the power of “why” almost eight years ago, at a gallery talk for a juried art show I was in.

I’d never been to one before, and hoped to hear what drove the passions of my fellow exhibitors. I was disappointed to hear a lot of acadamese instead. In my ignorance and eagerness to learn what “real artists” thought, I kept pressing the speakers, asking “why” over and over. To a photographer who used images from a sole Greek island as her subject, I asked, “But why this island? And why this particular point in history?”, she finally revealed her personal and heartfelt inspiration. To a fiber artist who had used unusual materials to construct a coat with an “inside story”, the question revealed what that inside story was–and it was powerful.

It was a hard process, and not appealing to everyone–the newspaper review of the show later referred to me as “the persistent woman in the audience who kept asking ‘why?’” But every single artist came up to me afterwards and thanked me. One said, “You know, at first I was annoyed that you kept asking. But then it all came pouring out…. I never really knew before what drove my work. And now I do.” Another said, “I never realized the power of speaking my own story, my own truth, til you pushed me there. Thank you!”

I have used this technique when teaching artists how to write effective artist statements. I’ve used it in workshops to develop a story hook for press releases. I use it simply talking to people who pique my interest, wanting to find out what makes them tick.

I have never been disappointed by the answers I get to this question.

Who knew that simple question of a six-year-old could teach us so much?

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Filed under art, artist statement, business, inspiration, life, marketing, press release, self promotion, telling your story