Category Archives: jewelry

OPEN STUDIO

People have been asking for pictures of my last Open Studio, so I published an album today. You can see it here

The next sunny day we have in Keene, NH, I’ll take more pics and add another album.

My next Open Studio is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 6 & 7, 2011, as part of the statewide NH Open Doors event. Hope you can come, and til then….

Enjoy!

Little clown bank.

Dolls

Vintage button jewelry.

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TINY TINY BEADS AND LITTLE LIZARD BRAIN THOUGHTS

Lately I’ve been “shopping my stash” for new design ideas–going through my countless drawers of goodies (beads, findings, wire, chain) to see what inspires me. It’s a concept that’s become popular in home decorating, seeing what’s already on hand that can be repurposed/rearranged/upcycled.

I have some examples today, riffs on an older design. I’m using tiny, tiny hand rolled silver beads culled from strands of Thai hill tribes silver beads. I used these a couple years ago, alternating the silver beads with turquoise chips.

But this week I’m using tiny, tiny, tiny turquoise chips. And teensy tiny pearls. And very, very small faceted crystals of smokey quartz.

How tiny? Well, the pearls are about 2mm. The turquoise chips, about 3mm. I cannot even imagine how the holes are drilled in such tiny beads. (For reference, I’ve put a #2 pencil in one of the photos.)

I thought working with these 4mm pearls would be tough, til I saw these 2mm versions!

My thumbs hurt from picking up such tiny things, and when my eyes began to swim a few minutes ago, I decided to take a break and write instead.

But it’s worth it. Because I love the extreme delicate look of these. And I especially love how the tiniest of my artifacts (stones, otters, birds, bears, horses) look with them.

The weird thing is, sometimes as my brain struggles to wrap itself around this miniscule work, I can feel my thoughts narrow down, too. For example, this is what popped up as I made a little stone for one of these necklaces today.

I realized I’ve always hesitant to show my work in “real time”–as I’m making it, etc. So much of my work has been copied over the years. A “crafter” here in NH actually “borrowed” my popular Sea Stone and Pearl designs a few years ago, to make her own line of jewelry with the same colors, identical components, even a similar-sounding name. She was on my mailing list for awhile, so she either bought some from me or visited my booth the year I introduced them. She now sells them at smaller fairs in the region. Ow. Last year, a customer came in who’d bought a piece from her and raved about her work, saying that I would really enjoy it, because “she does stones, too.” I had to bite my tongue….hard. I see some evidence she is evolving in her designs so that it’s more her own work.

I console myself with the idea that I must be one of her artistic “heroes”. And pray for her to evolve faster….!!!

My lizard brain wants to dwell here, nursing old hurts and grudges. But I try to let go.

After all, I can’t control this. And though it’s painful, I’m trying really, really hard not to give it too much energy anymore.

We are ALL inspired by others. I am. I just try to make sure that, as an idea comes to me from someone else, it gets substantially transformed into something that’s truly mine.

It also happens that different artists work through different ideas from different directions, and innocently converge onto similar territory. That’s happened to me a lot, too. There are, after all, very few truly new things under the sun.

Whatever. It happens. It’s time to move on. And so, in that light, there will more images in my blog from now on.

Who benefits? YOU do! You get to preview my new work for the show. You get to sneak a peek at the less messy parts of my studio.

Hopefully, I benefit, too. I get to spread the joy as I work.

Enjoy!

Older version of silver and turquoise with bird below, newer, more delicate version above!

Elegant neutrals--tiny faceted smokey quartz crystals, old silver, faux lava artifacts with a tiny faux bone accent. Pretty!

Tiny smokey quartz and little tuquoise pearls, with artifacts...

Tiny antique red white heart glass beads, made in Venice and traded around the world. I love how they look with the old silver, my red faux coral artifact and my little ancient horse (with real coral).

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GETTING READY FOR SUNAPEE

I’ve done the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, or “Sunapee” as we Leaguers call it somewhat affectionately, for eleven years now. Twelve, if you count the year I exhibited but didn’t have a booth.

It kinda wrecks summer. Just as school gets out and the weather gets nice and things slow down, just as I’m sitting in a sidewalk cafe enjoying a well-earned margarita, just as I’m wondering what to do with all my free time, I realize….

It’s time to ramp up inventory for the fair.

It’s time to make sure I have enough gift boxes, labels, working booth lights, spare parts and wall hangings for this nine-day show.

It’s time, in short, to PANIC.

I hate the panic. I hate the hot. (I’m actually not wild about summer. I hate bugs and sun.) I hate the realization that I forgot to order more clasps, wire, chain, polymer clay. I hate worrying about everything I have to pull together to make it work.

Fortunately, I love my customers. And I love making my stuff.

I also love the creative energy that wells up in response to my panic. Suddenly, there are simply too many wonderful ideas and new ideas to work on.

Anything to keep from thinking about the more boring tasks, like updating my mailing list. And looking for those boxes. And wondering if I have ALL the parts to my booth this year. And trying to remember where I put the light bulbs I bought last year when I realized I didn’t have enough the day before set-up???

Yes, making otters and stones and earrings and necklaces is much more fun!

I love playing with these new riverstone beads I’ve made….

I love love love the soft water colors of my new handmade riverstone beads

A tin of teeny tiny beads. How tiny? Each round tin is an inch across!


I drag out all my little storage cases of handmade beads, including teeny tiny beads I use as accents.

I love how all my artifacts look gathered together. I tend to make little “arrangements” with them in between projects. But when it’s time to put designs together, it’s better if they’re neatly sorted.

I love how all my artifacts look gathered together--what shall I make with these today?

I love to see all the little animal artifacts gathered into “herds”. Of course, it’s not so fun to pick all the chains apart after!

Animal herds. Horses and fishes and bears, oh my!

So there you have it, a little peek into my studio today. I’ve having a little trouble putting the photos where I want them. So if you’re confused, trust me, it isn’t YOU.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t show you the four foot tall pile of papers waiting to be filed?

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TRUNK SHOW

I’d never done a trunk show before. You know me–that was all the excuse I needed to over-think and over-prepare!

But I think it was a successful event. You can see the photos of my set-up here.

Here are some of the things I considered as I pulled my display together:

1) A trunk show means you bring EVERYTHING.

But it can’t look like everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink, either. I still wanted a cohesive display. So I set out several “series” of jewelry and grouped them accordingly. I had plenty more samples in reserve.

2) It should look different than a craft show booth.

My artist-of-the-month display looks a lot like my fine craft booth. It’s a formal display, an in-depth look at my work in a museum-like setting.

But I wanted my trunk show to look like just that–like I’d traveled to the show, bringing a personal collection of items for my customers’ enjoyment. I even asked for a few chairs, so that people could sit and talk as I worked.

3) It should still be obvious what you’re selling.

One of the drawbacks of a totally creative display is, sometimes you can’t tell what people are selling. How many times have you walked by a booth at a show filled with wonderful props and eclectic display–only to wonder what the heck they’re selling??!! (Hint: If people keep trying to buy your display pieces, those display pieces are TOO interesting!)

I got around this by sticking to the vintage suitcases as my only “prop”. The rest of the display featured traditional black steel jewelry display pieces–earring holders, necklace holders, etc.

I also confined my larger, bolder, more elaborate pieces to the suitcase display. The smaller, simpler pieces went on the traditional display fixtures, where they were able to be seen more easily.

People did ask about the suitcases, but they also stuck around longer to enjoy the entire show. Because the pieces were simply “laid out”–not elaborately draped and swagged–the message was still clear: “It’s okay to touch!”

4) Give people a reason to hang out.

At a craft show, there may be thousands of people coming with the intent to see as much as they can. If they like my work and my booth, they enter. Then they are in “my world”.

It can be harder when you’re simply a display in a store. Right next to your table are examples of a dozen other artists’ work!

I decided to do make up some simple necklaces featuring my artifacts and torch work with sterling silver wire. This gave even casual observers an excuse to hang out, watch and ask questions.

5) It’s only your time. Have fun!

To quote Greg Brown, “Time ain’t money when all ya got is time.” (From “Just a Bum”

Yes, my time is valuable, but it wasn’t like I was paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be there at the gallery that day. It was a nice, relaxed opportunity to introduce new people to my work.

So by keeping my expectations low, my presentation skills high, by keeping myself busy even during slow times (but totally available during busy times) I ended up having a great time, acceptable sales and met some amazing new collectors of my work!

Trunk display for my trunk show!

Trunk display for my trunk show!

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TRUNK SHOW IN PETERBOROUGH, NH TODAY!

I’ll be at the Sharon Arts Center in downtown Peterborough today, for my very first trunk show.

All my stuff is packed in….suitcases! I don’t have any real trunks, but I have a wonderful collection of small vintage suitcases. I don’t know why I like them so much. Maybe I want to be able to leave in a hurry.

I think I’m done packing and I think I’ll be there around 11 to set up. For Mother’s Day, I’ll be demonstrating simple wire-working techniques–balling up sterling silver wire to make head pins, wrapping pearls and semi-precious stones, etc. to make simple necklaces for Mom (and nicely priced at under $25 too!)

I’ll also have samples of my artifacts and tons of my animal jewelry. Artfully arranged in….trunks! Er…small suitcases. And examples of books and magazines my work has appeared in.

No, I am not bringing Bunster. Something tells me she would wreak havoc in Peterborough…..

Artist-of-the-Month at SAC

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BUBBLES

I got a lot done in the studio today. I promised two of my galleries I’d restock them after the holiday rush on my work. (Whoo hoo!)

I’m working on a popular new series of jewelry using more organic, simple beads of polymer, accented with freshwater pearls, found objects, wrapped stones, oxidized sterling silver and soft ribbons of leather I cut from recycled leather clothing. It seems to appeal to people who like my aesthetic, but want something more “neutral” than powerful animal totemic work.

I’ve been “in the zone” most of the day, moving easily from one production task to another–drilling pearls, making more polymer pod beads and spacers, cutting leather strips, oxidizing findings, making head pins.

This evening I was dashing around finishing up some stuff so I could relax “later”. The last errand took me across town and back.

On the way back, I thought maybe I could practice being “in the moment”.

So instead of wishing I could hit all the green lights, or cursing the idiot who pulled out in front of me at the rotary, I tried to slow my breathing down. Breath…… In. Pause. Out.

I relaxed and paid attention to what was going on right now.

“I’m driving the car,” I thought. It felt like flying.

My knee ached a little. “My knee hurts,” I thought. But that was a good thing. It meant I’d gone for a long, vigorous walk with our dog Tuck. I remembered playing “monster chasing dog” and “kick the pine cone” and “grab the stick and pull” games.

“I’m driving with my dog in the back seat,” I thought. Tuck chose that moment to stick his head from his seat in the back to rest it gently next to mine in the driver’s seat. Sweet.

“I’m cold,” I thought. The car was still a little chilly, but it was just enough for me to sense it, a good feeling.

“I’m on my way home to my family.” That felt good, too.

“This is a pretty town,” I thought. Keene does have a really nice downtown. This is where our kids grew up. No matter where we end up, it will always hold a special place in our heart.

“It’s a beautiful evening,” I thought.

And then I thought, “I’m driving through a cloud of soap bubbles. And I was.

Someone in an apartment above must have opened a window and blown soap bubbles to drift down to the street below.

It was wonderful. Quite a lovely moment.

Then I saw a very flat, very dead squirrel, and the moment was done.

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CUSTOMER CARE: Repair the Goods, Repair the Relationship

What you do for customer care AFTER the sale is important, too!

A question came up in an online forum the other day. People shared their business policy for repairs.

Nobody likes to hear their work didn’t hold up. My heart always sinks when I get a request from a store or customer to repair a piece. I feel slightly guilty. I take pride in my work and always stress the fact that my work is well-made. In fact, my original studio name was Durable Goods. A broken piece feels like I’ve misled the customer.

It doesn’t help that sometimes the customer is already upset and defensive. “It just broke!” is what I usually hear. Who wants to hear that about our product?? Not me.

It helps to take a deep breath and listen with your heart.

I’ve come to realize a few things about the repair process. First, even expensive, commercially-made jewelry isn’t necessarily impervious to harm. A fine gold chain breaks when a jumping dog snags it, diamonds fall out of their settings and rings drop down the garbage disposal. My jewelry is as well-made as I can make it, but things do wear out, get lost, break down. I don’t need to get defensive if one of my pieces gets broken.

I’ve also come to realize that customers often start out on the offensive because they expect to be given a hard time.

Isn’t that awful?? They love my work, they paid their hard-earned money for it, they wore it every day, it broke, they want to get it fixed so they can wear it some more.

And they think I’m going to be snotty about it. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from other small businesses and vendors when they have issues with a purchase.

The solution is to immediately reassure them that they will be taken care of. And to offer exquisite customer care.

My first response is, “I’m so sorry that happened! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me make it right for you so you can wear it again.”

As soon as they realize I will listen, and sympathize, and then resolve the issue, they calm down. They are relieved and grateful they will be taken care of.

As they describe or show the damage (depending on whether they’ve called or come to my booth at a show), I assess what has to be done. I offer options–repair, replace, restring, etc.

After I’ve assured them the piece can be repaired, then it’s time to gently find out how the damage occurred.

This will give valuable information about whether the damage is their “fault” or mine. This is not to assess blame. It’s to determine whether I need to make changes in my process, or if this is a “teachable moment” for the customer.

Here’s how I think about it:

If I had TONS of repairs, then it might be MY problem.

A lot of repairs indicates I have to review my product and perhaps make adjustments. Maybe I need to look at my construction techniques and ask myself why I was getting so many returns. Is the stringing material durable enough? Was the glue old? (Even epoxies have a shelf life.) When I was just starting out selling jewelry, I thought I could save money by using cheap spring clasps for my necklaces. The clasps didn’t hold up. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of returns for repairs. That was a valuable lesson. I now only work with high-quality components.

If I DON’T have a lot of repairs, then providing free (or at least cheerful) repairs is the best customer service I can give.

Either the customer loved the item enough to wear it often and is disappointed she can’t anymore or she paid a lot for item and didn’t get the usage out of it she expected.

Either way, she has paid me a very high compliment–loving my work, and investing in my work.

Either way, a repair will make her very, very happy, and willing to buy from me again.

A refusal will upset her and you can bet she will let everybody know about it.

So what do I mean by a “teachable moment”?

If I’ve put the customer at ease by reassuring her I will take care of her, and it turns out the damage is not my fault, then there’s an opportunity to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A customer indignantly said the artifact on her necklace “just broke.” I immediately told her I was sorry. I asked her to send it to me immediately, and I would either repair or replace it. I apologized for the inconvenience, and she grew calmer. We talked more. She told me she desperately hoped I could fix it, because she loved the artifact (a horse.) Under gentle questioning, she admitted that when she was nervous, she liked to “flex” a flat artifact pendant I’d made. That “flexing” eventually caused the artifact to break.

Her initial defensive attitude was because she thought I would not help her if she admitted she’d broken it, and she was distraught because she loved it so much.

I made her a new, thicker pendant, jokingly telling her “no more flexing!” Because she loved the original artifact so much, I glued it back together, put a backing layer of polymer on it to strengthen it, and made it into a pin.

When I’m feeling defensive, this is important to keep in mind: An item that breaks with overuse means the item was being worn, and worn a lot. One woman told me she never took off the silk cord necklace she’d bought from me. She even wore it swimming, and showered in it.

It took some doing to convince her that silk cord won’t hold up under that kind of usage. But that was just proof of how much she loved it. And I still restrung her necklace. Free.

Last, when you have wholesale customers and get a customer repair request, remember you are actually dealing with two customers–their customer, and the store owner/buyer/manager. When you show your willingness to stand behind your work, you make it easier for the store to do their work–selling your stuff.

Just my humble opinion, and experience. And of course, there are exceptions.

We’ve all had the occasional customer who simply can’t be satisfied. It happens rarely in face-to-face encounters. It’s more common with online sales if you don’t already have a relationship with the customer. When you feel you’ve gone above and beyond, and the customer is still not happy, it may be worth your while to simply take the item back and refund their money.

And if your materials are very expensive, then of course you may have to charge a reasonable fee for repairs regardless of why they are needed.

But even if you must charge for repairs, these are still ways you can make your customer feel treasured. Listening and taking care of your customers after the sale–offering support and non-judgmental service–is excellent customer service indeed.

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SMALL THOUGHTS @ LARGE

Something useful, something interesting, something funny and something wise. You get to decide which is which.

Instead of a loooooong deep heavy post today, just some little thoughts and things of interest I’ve read in the last day or so….

From the June 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine, Kristin Appenbrink in the “Moneywise” section calculates that the Lewis and Clark Expedition (St. Louis, MO to Oregon, with nine states in between) today would cost about $308 for gas, roundtrip. I wonder if L & C would think that was wonderful or depressing? Of course, traveling by car, they also never would have met Sacajawea, and she was pretty cool.

From the June 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine, “Health News” by Jane Bianchi features little D+Caf Caffeine test strips to see if your restaurant coffee really is decaf. Sort of like a pregnancy test for coffee.

I tried this cool little free tutorial from JewelryLessons.com on how to oxidize sterling silver with an egg. It was the best one I found online, involving the least mess, with great illustrations. Thank you to Sarah and Jen from tae kwon do, who, when I described the method to them last night, pointed out that I might want to recheck the part where you put the egg and jewelry back in the microwave to heat up. Yep, you’re right, I missed the part where the author said to take the jewelry out first.

I’m at that point in life where, when I put on eye shadow, my eyelid skin stays where the brush pushes it. Scary, but funny, too.

And the words that jumped out at me the last week or so were, “Life is too short to lose good friends.”

Enjoy!

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HOW MUCH IS THAT HORSIE/BIRDIE/FISHIE IN THE WINDOW?

Thinking inside and outside the box for a special window display.

It’s that time of year again, Keene’s annual Art Walk. Downtown store owners offer their window space for artists to display their work, for nine days. Area schools bus their students downtown to see the art and meet the artists.

I have a special place in my heart for Art Walk. It was one of the very first venues I displayed my artwork, starting a little over ten years ago.

As an art venue, it really has its little idiosyncracies, though. I remember one year when I took my family downtown to see my display. To my dismay I discovered my host store, a drugstore, lowered its blinds every evening. No one could see my wall hangings after 5 p.m.!

Another year, my host store had no way to hang anything in their windows–and I had wall hangings. I was allowed to use duct tape on the metal frame along the top of the windows. It seemed to work. I spent the better part of the morning running up and down a ladder, hanging each of my wall hangings from fish line that I tied to strips of duct tape, taped along the top of the window. Everything looked great!

Unfortunately, as the afternoon sun poured in the windows, the heat softened the duct tape, it gently sagged under the weight of the fiber pieces, and everything began to sadly droop. It took about 3 days for everything to actually peel off to the floor, so every two days I went in to put up fresh duct tape and rehang the work, until the end of the show.

I begged the organizers not to put me back in that store the next year. They gave it to a painter with easels for display. And I thank the Lord every day for my wonderful ProPanels display. They were not cheap, but they have made my art display issues sooooooo much easier.

Last year I was split between two stores. One was down a flight of steps, below street level. The other was right above, up a flight of steps. No problem, I thought, I’ll actually have twice as much display space.

Til I realized that a store window that’s already eight to ten feet above street level is not a good place to hang a wall hanging that’s six feet long. People could only see the bottom half of it, it was hung so high. I reconfigured my ProPanels, using only the bottom halves. I decided to display only short pieces. And I was consoled by the lovely wine tasting my downstairs host store held for me on opening night. We tasted many, many, many kinds of wine. I love Colline the wine lady!

This year I started out in one store. Yay! Then I found out which store it was. Hmmmmmm…..

There’s not much foot traffic in front of the store–it’s actually on a side street–but there’s tons of car traffic. It’s at a major intersection, and if you drive through Keene, you’re gonna get caught at that light sooner or later. As you wait for the light to change, your eyes wander to look in the handful of stores right there (narrow sidewalk, no parking, so the stores are right there)–and right there is where my work will be!

The store has four large windows, but unfortunately they are paned–about 20 panes per window, about 10″x12″ per pane. (I say “about” because I measured them wrong the first time.) (In fact, I’m beginning to realize how really, really bad I am about measuring things….) Anything big I put behind those panes would simply be chopped up and difficult to “read”.

To make up for it, I was given additional space in another storefront about 50 feet down the block for my wall hangings.

But how to create a cohesive jewelry display in those little sections?

After much thought and countless sleepless nights, I came up with a great solution.

First, I decided to just use two of the windows. That would be better than trying to utilize eighty panes! I also decided the top row or two was really out of sight of most pedestrians, and even most cars. So that narrowed the number of panes to deal with, down to about 24-30.

I rewrote down my “Animal Stories” and broke it out into sections, including a separate section for each animal mentioned. I printed out each section into its own individual sign with a huge-sized font. These could be taped directly onto the glass pane.

I would create little vignettes of jewelry and mini collages, one for each section, and each animal.

I have a large stash of leftover mat board pieces from friends who used to own a framing ship. I cut several colors of mat board into pieces that were a little bigger than the glass panes. They actually sat out about half an inch from the glass, creating a little “shadow box” in each window.

Fortunately, after cutting all the mat board, it occurred to me to actually test one to see it if actually fit in the window. Too big! I hastily trimmed them all again. Thank goodness I thought to do that before completing my display….

I affixed a selection of jewelry on each mat board. For the “artifacts” in the introduction, I laid out a sampling of artifacts. For each animal, I laid out a selection of jewelry, netsuke (small hand held sculptures) or tiny fiber collages featuring that animal.

I agonized about how to attach the jewelry and polymer pieces. I thought I could use fine wire to attach them. I have some nifty black annealed wire, very fine, and that would blend in well. But what about punching tiny holes in the mat board?? I remembered that book artists sometimes hand drill tiny holes for stitching bindings. Maybe I could do that…..?

After trying to hand drill ONE measly little hole, I almost gave up. Then I realized I had that little jeweler’s drill, with a diamond bit I use to enlarge holes in pearls and glass beads. Would that work? YES!!! It took seconds to drill each hole. Yay!!!

I marked where each hole would go to fix each piece, drilled all the holes at once, and wired each item down. It worked beautifully, and went rather quickly (considering.)

I even remembered to make a sign to let people know I had more work on display a couple stores down the street.

Again, I agonized over having to use masking tape to secure everything–I didn’t want scotch tape pulling their paint or fusing to the glass. But it didn’t show up very much, so that was a lot of needless worrying. (Please note that perfectionist tendencies are still very much in the forefront of my brain….)

It took less than an hour to fill up about 25 panes. It looked great! The fine black wire actually looked kinda neat, like an old museum displays. I’d worried that using five different colors of mat board wouldn’t look cohesive, but it gave the display some movement and a little liveliness. (The host store is painted sort of a golden yellow, and my mat boards were medium blue, rust, olive green, aqua and bittersweet orange, so the whole thing had a Van Gogh sunflower-thing going.)

I think it looks so good, I’m thinking about maybe using an old paned glass window someday as a display. It would be really hard to get the jewelry in and out of it, so I wouldn’t use it as an actual selling display. But something about the pieces being right up inside the window, only half an inch or so from the viewer, made it look lovely.

A few things were a teensy bit tippy, and after I finished hanging my wall hangings at the neighboring store, I realized I’d bumped the display when I squeezed past it to get out. But I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that.

The whole experience was an exercise in just doing my best, preparing for as much as I could, and then letting serendipity take over.

I’ll see if dear hubby can get some pics.

And I’m going to try not to hang out on the Central Square this weekend to see if I can catch people oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing over my display!

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Filed under art, craft, display, jewelry, jewelry display, mental attitude, window display

STORIES

I just read a piece on writer Jodi Picoult in the latest issue of Oprah magazine, words that made me drop it and run out here to my ‘puter to write.

You can read the complete introduction here.

In essence, she says book, a work of fiction, does not stand on its own, nor does it tell one “truth”.

There is the writer telling a story, but there is also a reader connecting to it in their own unique way, bringing their own truth to it–their past, their thoughts, their future.

A good story may not make you change, but it will ask you to consider it….

Change a word here and there, and I realize she could be describing any artist.

“It’s my job as a[n] writer/artist/jewelry designer/singer/dancer/painter to tell you a story that’s going to take you away from whatever you’re doing….and make you ask yourself…..”

What?

In Ms. Picoult’s mind, she wants you to question your assumptions about yourself. “Why are my opinions what they are?“, she asks you to ask yourself. Why do you think what you think?

I realize I, too, want my collectors and followers to ask themselves these questions. In fact, the same questions I ask myself when I’m stuck:

Why do I think I can’t be a bigger person, a happier person, a better person?

Why do think I cannot achieve great things?

Why do I think I cannot be the artist/singer/dancer/writer I was meant to be?

What can I offer the world? How can I be the change I want to see it it?

The things I make are proof I can think big, I can be happy, I can be better. I can achieve great things, and I can be the artist I was meant to be.

These little birds, these bulls and bears, these horses and fish, and bones, shells, stones, are what I have to offer. The stories that come to me when I make them, they are the change I want to be.

I may slip-slide away from time to time, but when I come back to this work, I am back to myself–my best self.

When I make my jewelry with animal artifacts, I like to think that each artifact I make is a little totem, an animal spirit that speaks to someone, a certain someone. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched someone search my offerings in my booth, and suddenly exclaim over one particular piece, one special horse or bird or bear. That one!)

I see each little critter as a spirit guide, leaving my world, going out into that person’s world. Something that inspires them, supports them, celebrates their spirit. Urges them to dream, to leap, to fly.

For some reason, I see the wall hangings as the crowbar Ms. Picoult refers to, “…that slides under your skin and, with luck, cracks your mind wide open.”

Because I’ve seen that in my booth, too. Someone entering, sometimes in awe, sometimes in idle curiosity, browsing, admiring, looking–and suddenly, a certain wall hanging simply grabs them emotionally, spiritually, and takes them away to another place.

My husband pointed this out to me, how one piece will catch someone’s eye, and they stop. They move in a little closer. And then they do a little head tilt, which means, an artist friend once told me, their creative/emotional/spiritual right brain is whirring feverishly trying to process this wonderful new thing.

I love it when that happens.

Awhile back, a beloved customer asked if she could come to my studio for an hour or so, just to hang out. “I won’t be in the way,” she said. “I just need a little ‘mental vacation’, and all I can think about is your lovely studio.”

Of course I said yes, and she came by and browsed and poked around while I worked.

She then shared a wonderful story with me. She’d attended a conference at a local college, attended by people from all over the world, of every color/tribe/culture you can imagine. “As colorful as New Hampshire gets,” she said wryly. “It was amazing, the power and energy in that place.”

One speaker, a woman, gave a moving speech, and afterward, my friend met her briefly just to say thank you.

They ended up talking for a few moments. Then the woman saw my friend’s necklace–a horse necklace I had made. She reached out and touched the pendant gently and said slowly, “This little fellow is wonder-ful!” With the emphasis on “wonder”, my friend said.

“She knew your work was special,” my friend said. “She knew.” My work crossed every line of distance, culture, color and creed, and spoke the same language of a kindred heart.

I love it when that happens, too.

Stories. We all got ‘em. Good ones, too.

Start spreading them out into the world.

Can you tell I’m getting my mojo back?

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Filed under art, creativity, inspiration, jewelry, telling your story

Jewelry Display #5: Organic Design

By “organic”, I don’t mean your jewelry display has to be crunchy-granola, or even of natural materials. What I mean is, choose display that supports the style of your jewelry. Or choose display that falls away so completely, only your jewelry is noticeable.

Avoid display that overwhelms your jewelry. You’ll know this is happening when people try to buy your display fixtures! They really can’t tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

When this happens, some craftspeople bemoan how stupid their customers are. But that’s not the case.

If your customers really can’t tell, then you have confused them. It’s your job to make the distinction clear, not their job to stand in your booth and wonder if you make and sell earrings, or if you make and sell very cool earring holders.

Avoid display that takes your work down a notch in materials or quality. Display that looks cheap will not reflect well on your hard work and creativity. You can make great display with inexpensive materials , but be sure it looks classy !

Notice when your display materials is working against your story or aesthetic. When I first started out, I used more wood fixtures for display–until people began asking me if I were making my artifacts out of wood.

Now, this is not to denigrate wood carvers, but “wood” does not normally translate into “ancient artifacts”. (Yes, people have been carving wood for ages, but it doesn’t usually last 15,000 except under unusual conditions.

If I wanted people to think I was using fossil ivory or bone or antler, then I needed to eliminate a possible comparison to wood. That’s why I’ll occasionally include deer antlers in my display. Not too much–just enough to suggest animal material rather than plant material. Something that could have endured over thousands of years instead of only hundreds.

“Organic” can actually be “techno”, if that’s your jewelry style, if the display seems like a natural extension of your work. The danger here is going too far with it.

At a major trade show, I saw a new exhibitor with extraordinary handmade cases. Made with ordinary metal hardware combined in a highly creative way, they were absolutely stunning.

They were so stunning that, though people flocked in from the aisles for a closer look, the cases actually overwhelmed her jewelry. Her jewelry was okay, but not nearly as “cutting edge” as her cases. In fact, in comparison to her cases, I was mildly disappointed in her jewelry designs. I don’t think I would have felt this way if her cases hadn’t been so wonderful.

As I looked, I heard her answer another viewer for probably the hundredth time about how she made her cases, and no, the cases were not for sale, and no, she was not taking orders for the cases, she made jewelry.

Of course, if you find yourself in this situation, maybe you could seriously consider a new career in making cases!

The concept of “organic display” is why the typical jewelry store displays like these and these don’t usually work so well with handmade jewelry.

What do they look like? They look like displays you’d see in commercial jewelry stores (where, unless it’s artisan-owned, much of the jewelry is ready-made) and department stores.

They are not usually associated with unusual, handcrafted or unique jewelry. They don’t accentuate what’s wonderful about your work. They just look too ordinary. And yet they can be so obtrusive, they won’t “disappear” and let your work shine.

They’re not totally useless–I like to include a few of these “traditional” pieces in my display, just to mix it up a bit.

You can do the experiment for yourself: The next time you set up your jewelry for your booth, take a few pictures from different angles. Preferably from where a potential customer would walk down the aisle and first see your booth.

If all you see are rows and rows of identical standard units*, ask yourself if this is really the best way for folks to understand what is wonderful about your work.

*(With apologies to the perfectly-nice people who make this jewelry for resale. It probably works for them and their market. But hopefully our market is different.)

Remember, especially when times are hard, people still love to shop. But they also try to avoid temptation. It’s so easy to run through a show and quickly eliminate an ordinary-looking booth by dismissing it as “just another jewelry booth.” I’ve done it.

Let your display stand out enough to pull them in.

But then let your work do the shining.

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #2: Mix It Up!

I found a cool item this weekend at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s a black metal tree for hanging jewelry called (appropriately enough) “Hannah jewelry tree.”

Since this is an item that’s made with jewelry display in mind, it doesn’t take any tweeking to use with your wares. It could work with a lot of different design styles. It could probably be painted if you wanted a different look. Maybe it would even work for displaying ornaments.

It does have drawbacks. It would be a bear to pack if you have “away” shows. (If you intend to do that, hang on the the box and packing materials it comes in.)

It doesn’t hold a ton of pieces, either. That can work to your advantage, though, since most craftspeople, especially jewelry people, usually have too much stuff.

Another reason not to go overboard with this display is that reaching into its branches could be intimidating to your customers. Jewelry, especially fashion jewelry, usually sells better when people can touch it and pick it up to look at it easily. People hesitate to touch displays that look tricky to navigate, or tippy. (No one likes being “the oaf” in a booth….!!)

I still thought it was interesting enough to snag a couple and do the experiment. Here’s an impromptu shot of a mix of displays to show you how different ones can work together.

I actually saw a variation on this tree recently, at a Marshall’s store. The base was a large, polished “bole” of wood, and the tree was more….tree-ish. More leaves and such. Heavier, too. And more expensive! I think the BB&B version is nicer because it’s simpler and lends itself more to display.

I’ll share more unusual items for jewelry display soon. If you’re the kind of person who likes to “read ahead, you can see the rest of the images in this series at Flickr. How do I know that’s you? Because that’s what I always do!

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #1: Thinking Outside the Box

When it comes to displaying your handcrafted jewelry, you have a lot of choices. There are tons of commercially-made products available to you. The choices can be overwhelming.

They range in price from the incredibly cheap to the ridiculously expensive. (By the way, those inexpensive stands are cute, but not very stable. If you use them, you might want to attach them to a larger base of some kind.)

You can find displays made of white leather, black steel, wood and plastic. You can find display stands with feathers, glitter, sequins and in twelve colors. You can find styles like contemporary, country, funky, whimsical, Victorian, romantic, techno, whatever your little heart desires.

There’s a fine line between displaying your work creatively without overpowering the work. I’ve seen displays so elaborate, it was hard to tell what was being sold–the jewelry or the display.

But simple, repetitive display can be boring. I’ve seen displays so monotonous I didn’t even want to stop to look them. One awful example is a common one: Row upon row of white necklace bust stands lined up in a straight line, every one holding a single necklace, each necklace the exact length and design.

It’s mind-numbing to see these “jewelry soldiers on parade”. And yet it’s possibly the single most common jewelry display I see at craft fairs.

One problem with jewelry is, if you display it on an upright display (like the white necklace busts) so people can see it from the aisles, it’s hard for people to actually look at the work easily. You have to sort of bend over to get it back at eye level.

If you display it at a good viewing level, and laid flat (on velvet pads, for example), it’s easier for people to look at. But it’s hard to catch the attention of people out in the aisle. They may not even be able to tell what you’re selling. (Good over-sized photos/posters of your work on your walls can help overcome this.)

Even if you find the perfect commercial display product, if it’s too popular, your display ends up looking like everyone else’s.

I’d like to show you some ways to mix up your display, using commercial and non-commercial display products. Some weren’t even meant to display jewelry at all.

Excuse the not-ready-for-prime-time photography and set-ups. I just wanted to give you some quick examples of non-traditional display pieces and ways to mix and match components without your display looking all over the map.

This vertical necklace stand by Vilmain is one of my favorite display units. It’s upright, stable and holds several necklaces. It’s relatively flat for easy packing and shipping to shows outside your area. It’s pretty sturdy–no fussy little parts to break off or get bent. The black painted steel is neutral, and allows your jewelry to take center stage. It could work with many different styles, including contemporary, funky, elegant, or whatever-style-you’d-call-my-work. (I’ve been told it’s “post-modern”, which sounds ever-so-cool, but I’m still not sure what that actually means…)

The next image shows my Ancient Bull Pendant necklace on a similar stand. It’s the same material and color as the Vilmain stand, and does a decent job showcasing my bigger, bolder designs.

But this second jewelry stand isn’t a necklace display at all. In fact, it’s something I purchased at T.J. Maxx. It originally held two pieces of shaped glass, which sort of formed a vase. I would take a picture of it in it’s original state, but I’ve ditched the glass already. Hey, I found something very similar here. I just love that Google “image” feature….

I guess they weren’t too popular, because they were marked down to less than $10. A month later, I found the same item at Marshalls’ and they had been marked down, too. I bought about four of them, and use them interspersed with other display pieces.

I’m off to pick up the images for my new Etsy shop. I’ll pick up this thread tomorrow with more tips and examples of how to mix up your jewelry display.

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MY EARS AND YOURS

My main frenzy for clearing out and decluttering has dropped off a little. But the tendency is still there, and I continue to purge in smaller “bites”. (That’s a weird sentence. Sorry.)

A few days ago I attacked my personal jewelry stash on my bedroom dresser. I picked out all the pieces I love and wear, and put them in my collection of vintage 1940′s jewelry boxes. The rest came down to my studio to be cleaned and sold, or stripped for parts.

I came across several pairs of large sterling silver hoop earrings. I absolutely love ‘em, and I had three pairs to prove it.

But I never wear them. As I cleaned the tarnish off, I wondered why?

When I put them on, one look in the mirror reminded me. I’m convinced that my ears lie too close to my head. So when I wear hoops, they stick out and look like a second pair of ears.

I started to put them in the “sell” pile, but stopped.

Every so often I get a few people in my booth or at an open studio tell me they can’t wear a particular style of jewelry because of something odd about their body.

Their neck is too short, their ears are crooked, their shoulders are too big, their neck is too thin. Then they put that piece of jewelry on to prove it to me.

They look beautiful.

I can with perfect honesty say I have never looked at a person wearing jewelry and thought, “Her neck is too short to wear that.” I have never ever noticed that someone’s ears are crooked. (I only notice if their ears are missing…)

I rarely notice if people have big feet or not. I don’t even remember ever looking at someone’s feet–until they say they have big feet, and then, of course, we all look.

The shopper won’t believe me, of course. I might just be trying to sell her something. So I ask other customers. Sure enough, everyone chimes in with positive feedback.

Of course, we’re ALL shaped a little differently. And we’re all beautiful in different ways. I’m always taken aback to hear a woman I think is drop-dead gorgeous complain about her nails, or her ankles, or her eyebrows. My daughter, who exudes health and confidence, told me recently her hair is too thin to wear in braids.

She looks adorable in braids.

I don’t know where this comes from. I don’t know why we do it. I don’t know how to make that critical little voice go away.

But I took a deep breath, and left the hoop earrings in.

If I side-swipe someone with them today, okay, I’ll take them off.

But maybe I’ll buy some more, too. Some really, really BIG ones.

p.s. Oh, I forgot–hoops get in the way when I’m on the phone. I just tried to call someone and the earring hit the “end” button. That’s why I don’t where them at home.

And the latest p.s. I just saw an magazine ad in OPRAH magazine featuring Catherine Zeta Jones (for Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Fragrance) and she’s wearing big hoop earrings and one is sticking straight out! And it accentuates the lovely curve of her neck….

That does it, I’m gonna wear my whoppin’ big hoops somewhere tonight!

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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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #20: When to Break the Rules

I’m back from the Westport Creative Arts Festival. It was a beautifully run show, well-managed and supported by the Westport Young Women’s League. They did everything right! Unfortunately, attendance was down, down, down and although I didn’t crash and burn, I did not do well enough to return.

It did give me a chance to see all kinds of booth set-ups, though. I’m here to report that sometimes it’s good to break the rules of good booth design.

One of my favorite booths was Riverstone Jewelry.
It was one that broke several “rules”, to great effect.

The tables were low and deep. There was barely enough room for more than three or four people to browse at a time. There was a lot of work on display.

But it worked.

I’ve been thinking why, and here is my theory:

She created an atmosphere of a true “trunk show”. It felt like she had just returned from a buying trip, set up her well-worn traveling cases in an exotic but peaceful tent in a bazaar, and invited you in to see her new wares.

The backdrops were simple, neutral-colored (sort of beige) but layered–some sort of matchstick blinds over similar-colored material (linen??), very “Thai” or “Bali” looking.

The cases seemed to be old wood cases or boxes, with the jewelry lined up attractively. The items that were laid out in great numbers still worked, too. Bracelets were aligned in rows, but each one was different. Your eye could quickly take in the one or two that jumped out at you, according to your taste. I don’t think they were displayed on black, either, although I now can’t recall the color. More neutral, I think.

And the reason I say “looked” and “seemed” is, all I could really focus on was the jewelry. Everything else was warm and attractive and blended into the theme, then fell away so you only saw the jewelry.

I overheard a little of her sales approach. She told a woman how, in the villages where she buys the components, a shaman consults with you when you are ailing.

Once the source of your ills is determined, special healing amulets are prescribed. You go to a amulet “pharmacy” and purchase the right amulets. The amulets are then made into jewelry for you to wear.

The entire effect was that you were participating in such a healing process. And, as we all feel the need for such care from time to time, it was a compelling notion. People were scouring for just the right piece for healing.

People felt justified in buying more jewelry–”It’s therapeutic!”

And because the experience also felt “exotic” and “traveling to faraway places” and “marketplace”, people seemed to tolerate the crowding better. It was part of the total adventure.

Perfect booth!

So why doesn’t this table set-up work for every booth?

Because here it recreated a specific atmosphere–exotic locale/shaman healing/ancient wisdom/community.

When misused, the recreated atmosphere is “yard sale.”

I also recant (a little) on the booth lighting thing. Sometimes the worst way to light a booth is what works best under the circumstances.

It is really hard to light a booth on 400 watts of electricity! I don’t know how you do it if the fair doesn’t provide any electricity. (There are batteries available for outdoor shows, but most indoor shows don’t allow them.)

My booth was way too dark. Of course, part of my problem is trying to display three different lines that demand three different display modes–2-D (walls), sculptures (shelves/table top) and jewelry (cases).

Under these circumstances, the best-lit booths were indeed the ones that had a rack of track lighting across the top front bar of the booth. Yes, when I turned around, I was blinded by the lights. But if I didn’t have jewelry, too, I would seriously consider doing that just to get enough light into my booth quickly and easily.

The one exception was a guy across from me who had the more-successful light set-up–track lighting on all three sides of his booth, with the track set up about a foot or two away from each wall (my recommended solution.)

But when I counted the lights, I saw he also had at least 9 lamps, and another bar of 4 lamps. Either he was using lower watt lamps or he simply ignored the 400 watt limit. I did find some on-line sources for low watt MR16 halogen bulbs so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I will consider these bulbs the next time I have limited electricity.

So remember, there are many good rules to making a great booth. But some rules are made to be broken.

The trick is to know when and how to break them and why.

p.s. Low voltage does not equal low wattage. Low voltage lamps are not the same as low wattage bulbs.

Some craftspeople (and I used to be one of them) think if we are using low-voltage lighting, we can use twice the number of lamps/bulbs in our booth. “I can buy 400 watts, and have 800 watts’ worth of low-voltage lamps in my booth!” we exclaim happily.

NOT.

A common mistake we make is thinking low-voltage lamps use less energy. They do–but not in how much power you’re drawing. The BULBS use less energy, and last longer–and is safer to work with. That’s why low-voltage light systems are increasingly being used in outdoor residential lighting.

Think of electricity as a stream of water, like a hose, coming in your booth. If the nozzle has a wide-spread setting, the stream/current is wide, the power is diffused. If the setting is narrow, the water comes out harder and more powerfully.

But the amount of water coming through is the same.

To figure out how much wattage you’re using at a show, you still have to add the total wattage of your light bulbs. If you have bought 400 watts of power,the total wattage of your bulbs should not exceed 400.

My electrician tried to explain about dividing the total number of watts into the total number of volts in the system for figuring out the actual “draw” on the system, but he lost me several times along the way. When I repeated the above to him, he said, “Yeah, just stick with that.”

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD#19 Chosing Fewer Choices

Let’s go back over the issue of having too much stuff in our booths. I have two anecdotes that I hope will encourage you to pare down your offerings.

A few years ago, I browsed another jewelry artist’s case. Barbara Sperling does polymer clay canework, which means once she makes a cane design, she can take dozens and dozens of slices from it to make jewelry. (Barbara also happens to be one of the nicest and most professional craftspeople in the industry, so if you see her at a craft fair, BUY HER STUFF!)

I tend to be one of those people who looks for the “perfect one” whenever I have a pile of things to look at. I love to paw through baskets of earrings and piles of bracelets looking for “just the right one.” Oddly, usually I can’t find the one I’m looking for. (More on that below.)

Barbara was a step ahead of a shopper like me.

She had limited the choices in her display severely.

Instead of displaying every single piece she’d made, she’d set up a square panel of black velvet, perhaps 2-4 to a case, with only one or two samples of each design for each jewelry item. For example, in her Great Blue Heron design (my favorite!) she had ONE fancy pendant necklace, ONE simple pendant necklace, TWO pairs of earrings (one large, one small) and a pin.

It was not “sparse”. There was still plenty of jewelry to look at.

But it was focused.

My attention was caught. I zoomed in on the earrings, and I quickly selected a pair.

As I did, two thoughts went through my brain.

1) “Wow! She only has two pairs of heron earrings left. I better snag a pair before she sells them to someone else!!”

2) “I like THIS pair best!”

After I’d paid for my purchase and was on my way back to my booth, I remembered something, and turned back…

Just in time to see Barbara quickly replacing the earrings I’d just bought with another pair!

She had tons of those heron earrings, all subtly different. She had them stashed away behind the counter, ready to quickly replenish any stock as it sold.

She could have put out dozens of heron earrings, and saved herself the trouble.

But choosing from dozens would have been overwhelmed me. Flooded me. Left me unable to choose.

In fact, for some people, this feeling is so uncomfortable they will not stay in a booth that has too much stuff–especially if it’s a lot of similar stuff.

So our first corollary is:

Choosing from many is hard. Choosing “the best of two or three” is easy.

My second anecdote is simply an observation I’ve made from watching people browse my booth. I especially noticed this when I did a 600 square foot sales/demo booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair three years ago. I had over 30 feet of “aisle footage”, and that’s a long time for people to be walking by your booth.

I had several jewelry and sculpture displays along the walkway, and several places people could enter the booth. (ALWAYS leave plenty of space for people to come in and mill around.) As people strolled by, something would catches their eye.

Intrigued, they’d step up for a closer look. Then they’d come in and start browsing in earnest. Finally, they’d decide they were seriously looking for “their piece.”

Now, some knew what that was. But others had a harder time.

When the people having a harder time were ready for help–when they indicated they LOVED the work, wanted to purchase something, but they couldn’t make up their mind–I’d ask them a very simple question:

“What was the first piece you touched when you came in my booth?”

People, I swear to you….99 times out of 100, that is the piece they end up buying.

One woman protested, “But I literally just put out my hand and touched it. I didn’t really even look at it!”

But in the end, it was still the necklace she chose to buy, after insisting at looking at dozens and dozens of similar pieces.  (I know, because I pulled each and every one of those pieces.)

Here’s my theory:

Our heart knows which item speaks to us.

Sometimes it’s even the first piece that catches our eye. (Our brains are actually super-processors of date. We’re hard-wired to notice the cheetah’s outline amidst the leaves in the forest jungle. We really can pick out that lovely turquoise-accented necklace from a myriad of pale blue ones….)

Our heart gives a little leap and says, “That’s the one!” Our hand goes out to the item, and we touch it (or wish we could, if it’s under glass or signs say “please don’t touch.”)

Then our busy brains kick in. “Wait, there might be something better!” it cajoles. “Let’s go look at everything so we’re sure we’re getting the nicest one!”

Or we agonize about whether it will go with our clothes. Or if it’s too fancy to wear for every day. Or if it’s too different than the kind of thing we usually buy.

We are afraid of making the wrong choice. And so we choose nothing.

That’s when your customer says those dreaded words: “I’ll be back.”

You’ve lost them. Only one in a hundred people will work their way back to you. There’s just too much going on at a good show, too many other wonderful distractions.

Our jobs as sellers is to encourage people to trust their heart. To trust the choice that comes from their unconscious yearnings.

Because that is the choice that will stay with them, and give them the most joy in the years ahead.

I now do this myself when I shop. Sometimes I’m wrong, but not as often as you might think. And it frees me up to do more shopping in more booths, too!

So try acting on this corollary:

You touch it, it owns YOU!

Be gentle, be subtle, and don’t force it.

See if it doesn’t help those indecisive customers get to their happy place faster.

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

STUFF FOR SALE

For the people who e-mailed and posted that they’d like to be able to buy my work on-line, I’m trying something different this year. I’ve never sold on-line so bear with me! (Suggestions and feedback always appreciated. (Nicely worded feedback.)

For right now, just to get started, I’m posting an image of my new Mojave Series Horse Necklaces and taking orders for these.

The photo shows this necklace with my new faux soapstone finish, and my traditional faux ivory finish. You can choose either finish.

Each necklace is one-of-a-kind–no two are exactly alike!

I use an eclectic assortment of semi-precious stones (turquoise, red coral, freshwater pearls, sometimes a bit of lapis lazuli or sodalite, amazonite and fluorite), along with antique trade beads–striped pony beads, tiny transparent glass Venetian beads (these are the small emerald green beads in the photo–they also come in a beautiful red!); small red or turquoise “white hearts” (these are transparent glass with white centers, giving them a more translucent look); red or turquoise padre beads; and whatever else that surfaces on my work table.

Trade beads are glass beads made in Europe for the last 200-300 years. They were traded around the world–Africa, Asia, and more recently, the American West in the 1800′s up to the early 1900′s. They are beautiful and treasured, collected by many people. I love the look of them, worn smooth by the touch of the many hands they’ve passed through in their travels.

I string the beads asymmetrically. It looks like someone gathered up the remains of a broken necklace from an archeological dig, and restrung them, filling in with other beads as they were found.
I finish with sterling silver accent beads and “pot metal” silver or copper spacer beads handmade in Ethiopia.

Each horse is signed by me. Each necklace has my own custom made jewelry tag with my signature on it. No two are exactly alike.

The necklaces are 16″-18″ long, with a small length of chain and a trigger clasp, so they are slightly adjustable in length. The horse pendant is about 1.5″ wide.

The price for this Mojave Series Horse Necklace is $185 plus $5 for USPS Priority Mail shipping.

If you would like a coordinating pair of earrings (with the same semi-precious stones, pearls, beads used in your necklace with sterling silver ear wires), these are normally $36-$42. If you order these together as a set, the total will be $195 and I’ll give you free shipping! You save $16-$22.) Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.

I’m also posting an image of my new Vintage Button Earrings which coordinate very nicely with almost all my jewelry! Something about the antique and vintage beads I use, they all go well with these vintage plastic button earrings. These are $52 plus $2 for USPS first class shipping (unless you’d like Priority Mail, $5.) If you order these earrings WITH the Mojave Series Horse Necklace, they are only $40, and again, free shipping! (You save $14-$17.)

If you would like to order these items, you can either

a) send me a check for the amount (which I will not process until I ship your completed order;

b) call me (603-352-2270) or e-mail me at luannudell at gmail.com (replace “at” with @ and take away spaces) and we’ll make credit card arrangements (your card will not be charged until your order is ready to ship) or

c) you can go to PayPal and send me money. In which case, I’ll feel so guilty about having your money in hand, I will immediately start work on your jewelry!

Right now, I have time to get these made in time for the holidays. It’s going to get a lot crazier around here in the weeks ahead, though–so order early and often!

Oh, and if you would love to get one of these as a gift, pass the hint on to your designated gift provider, have them contact me, and I’ll do the rest. I’m really good at keeping secrets!

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Filed under art, for sale, jewelry

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