So yesterday I was working on a project in my studio.

I had our remaining cockatiel riding on my shoulder all day. He has scanty feathers in his crest, and he’s a pearl-faced cockatiel–he’s mostly grey and white, looks a lot like a little parrot.

I’m wearing my aircast on one foot, and my left foot is bare–which means there’s an almost two-inch difference in my legs. So I’m lurching around my studio with a wide swagger.

The doorbell rings. It’s the UPS guy. They never stick around long, so I hurry as fast as I can to the door before he can take off. I swing the door open.

He looks at me and there’s this funny look on his face. I suddenly remember the big air cast, the rolling run, and the bird on my shoulder.

Zoe, who is unsettled and lonely since Bella died, starts shrieking at the UPS guy. Right. In. My. Ear.

With a straight face, I say, “I’m a pirate.” (I resist the urge to add, “arrrrrgh…”)

He says, “Oh.”

I get a little flustered, and actually sign the receipt with my maiden name (which, coincidentally, also has some “U’s” in it.

I say, “Oh, gosh, I goofed up! I signed my maiden name instead of my married name!”

He looks again with a funny look on his face, and says, “What’s your married name?”

“Udell”, I say.

And he says slowly, “Are you sure?”

I hope the next time he comes, I’m in my normal phase.


Bruce Baker has made it smart to be nice.

What do I mean by that?

Well, if you’ve ever hung out with a group of craftspeople who do shows, or participated in an on-line forum discussion about shows, you’ll recognize an all-to-common topic:

The stupid things our customers say.

It’s always a hot topic, and the posts will often outnumber any other thread in the forum. Except, of course, the one on the difference between art and craft. (A word to the wise: Don’t go there!)

It’s true, of course–people will say the oddest things in your booth, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. They may say baffling comments, stometimes verging on the insulting.

I always held back from sharing. Because I have a guilty secret.

First, because people rarely said things I thought were stupid or insulting–just lucky, I guess. Or maybe I it was the quality of shows I was doing. Remember, I quit doing those small retail shows early on.

Second, I myself was fairly new to the craft world. I didn’t know any professional craftspeople when I started out, nor any artists. I figured people weren’t saying anything out of the ordinary, or anything I wouldn’t say under the same circumstances.

In fact, that’s my third point.

I’m one of those stupid customers.

There have been times when I’ve been in an artist’s booth and asked that same “stupid question”–only I knew I didn’t mean it to be stupid, or offensive. I knew I liked the work and honestly wanted to know more about it, or the artist.

I can tell I’ve asked “the stupid question” because I get the heaved sigh, the eyes rolling heavenward, the smart ass retort that makes me feel like an idiot.

My most embarrassing memory is standing awestruck in an artist’s booth at a fancy high-end retail show, just blown away by this guy’s work. I couldn’t tell what it was made of. I didn’t want to touch it–it looked special–and there wasn’t a single sign or card in the entire booth explaining his process or technique. (I guess the art was doing that “speak for itself” thing….)

The artist was standing with his arms folded glaring at us. I said, “These are beautiful! Are they painted tin or wood?”

He glared at me in silence, and then HE TURNED HIS BACK ON ME!

I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d said that had made him so angry. Embarrassed and indignant, I left the booth.

So when those long lists of “stupid comments” come up, I keep quiet. Because obviously, I was one of those “stupid people” they were all making fun of. And I didn’t like it, because something didn’t feel right.

Bruce Baker, bless his heart, has vindicated me.

It’s either on his CD on sales and selling, or I heard it in his last seminar. He explains that whole dynamic of “letting people land” in your booth–they come in, take a look around, and settle in to shop. You give them a minute to catch their breath, greet them quickly, let them know you are available if they need you–and then back off.

You leave them alone. They shop. You remain available but busy, not hovering, not following. Just….available.

Then comes that magic moment when they decide it’s okay for you to talk to them. They will give you a signal. That’s your cue to start talking about the work.

Unfortunately, many, many craftspeople blow this opportunity wide open. They will take this cue and misinterpret it. They will respond with sarcasm, or anger, or indignation.

Because that cue is often “the stupid question.”

Did you see it in my own example? I liked the work enough to stay in the guy’s booth. I looked at everything in there. I finally made up my mind to engage the artist.

I asked him a question. I wanted to meet him, to talk to him. I hoped he’d share some insights about his work with me. Maybe he’d even convince me I had to have one! Maybe there was a really cool one at just the right price that could go home with me….

Instead, he let me know he didn’t even want to look at me anymore, let alone talk to me.

Now maybe he’d heard that same question a thousand times already. Maybe he paints on some rare rain forest wood and was insulted I thought it was cheap tin. Maybe he paints on recycled tin roofs from his boyhood farm and was insulted I thought it was cheap wood. Maybe it was some intricate intaglio process and he was insulted I thought it was paint.

I dunno. But now I’ll never know. And I don’t really care.

Because he missed his opportunity to answer my question (or NOT answer my question, as the case may be) in a way that would have started the sales process.

He could have have sent me off with a painted sculpture, a new balance on my Visa card, and added a new collector to his mailing list. Instead, he left me in a puddle of anger and embarrassment. And I’ve never felt the slightest interest in his work since.

For all I know, I have been the subject of his own “stupid customer” stories.

But I have my revenge. I get to make fun of him today. Here.

So the next time that topic comes up, think twice before getting caught up in that “stupid customer” thing. It doesn’t serve you, and it doesn’t serve your art.

Think hard before asking for a “snappy comeback” for those “stupid questions.” You’re going to feel good for awhile. But your bank account is going to feel lighter.

Me? I have permission from Bruce to be nice.

And I’m gonna use it to the hilt!


Okay, this is totally off-topic of business, craft, art or anything except general life craziness.

I have to write this rambling essay, because my husband said I had to. He said if I overlooked the chance to write a blog with the above title, he would write it himself.

Years ago we had a friend who was a serial pet owner. She would get pets and a year later, decide they were too weird and give them away. We inherited a pair of male cockatiels from her, named, ironically, Bella and Zoe. Which confuses our vets to this day.

Fortunately, we caught on the the “serial” aspect before we also inherited another cat and two very large dogs from her, too.

On top of all the other panics and health alarms going on in my life right now, one of the cockatiels, Bella, fell gravely ill recently. I found him fluffed up and trembling on his perch. I called a local vet who specializes in exotic pets. Just for your information, the word “exotic” in a business name is usually synonymous with “expensive.”

And so began a round of (very) expensive vet visits, on top of the flurry of MRI’s, x-rays and other doctor visits centered around my “lumpy neck” thing.

Bella’s symptoms worsened–paralyzed feet, lack of appetite. More tests were done, with no results. It was awful to see him deteriorate from a saucy, sassy, chirpy bird to a sad, quiet little creature.

Trying to keep all the doctor visits straight became an exercise in futility. I missed two consults with a foot doctor, who was going to find out why one foot hurts so much and why there’s a lump on the Achilles tendon on the other.

The bird doc prescribed a “holistic vitamin supplement” for Bella. They were out of it, but were going to get more in the following Friday. I was supposed to pick it up on my way to riding. But I had to reschedule my missed foot doc appointment, and she scheduled another MRI, this one for my foot, on Friday, so I didn’t go riding. So I didn’t drive by the vet on the way and I didn’t pick up the supplement. Got that?

On Monday I saw the foot doc for a follow-up. That’s when I found my Achilles tendon is compromised and in danger of rupturing. I was fitted immediately for something called a “cam locker”, a sort of air cast for immobilizing my foot. You can see a beautiful version here. Note how well it goes under jeans and normal clothing. (NOT)

It also elevates my right foot about 1.5″, necessitating me wearing a heel shoe on my left foot so I don’t lurch down the street like a seadog.

Temperatures are supposed to be in the 90’s the next few days. I’ll be wearing shorts (yay!), an air cast with a full-calf stocking on my right leg (boo hoo), and a heeled shoe on my left foot (double boo hoo.)

Now, I’d just taken off two months from my last surgery. I’m carrying..uh…a little extra weight. I was anxious about being inactive another month. “Can I ride?”, I asked the foot doc. No. “Can I climb?” No. “Can I walk?” Yes. “Can I swim?” Yes. “Can I do tae kwon do?” No. “Can I do some stuff in tae kwon do? Stretches? Balance work? Forms??” In exasperation, she said, “Whatever you can do while wearing that cast, you can do in tae kwon do.”

When I got home, I found the order I’d placed three months ago for little steel stands (for my sculptures), was not going to be done in time to finish two orders. In desperation, I asked the metal guy if he could cut down some taller stands so I could finish the orders. He said he could, if I came out immediately.

I was irked. The original order had been lost, then found. Then made up to the wrong specs. I took them anyway, but reordered the size I still needed. When I got the invoice for the mistakes, I found I’d been charged almost 50% more–because “the order was so small” and the set-up charges were high. I was a little irked when I got out there. He knew. He stopped what he was working on to recut my stands immediately.

While he did that, an elderly woman came by for what he was working on. It was a funky handmade woodstove pipe cover he was supposed to be repairing for her. While he cut down my stands, we chatted and she told me about the cover. It looked handmade–uneven, old, rusted, bent. She said it was really old, and had been repaired several times by different people. Our metal guy had already repaired the clips for it last year, and now he was reattaching the old rusted flange.

It looked like the kind of repair job that would drive almost anyone crazy. From her conversation, I didn’t think she had a lot of money, and wasn’t expecting to pay very much for the repair. She was also impatient. She said snippily to me, “He said it would be ready in a hour!”

I wanted to tell her I’d waited three months for my order, but that suddenly felt like tattling.

I felt sorry for the guy. I was just one of a myriad such fussy little orders he said “yes” to, because he wanted to help people with, for not very much money. He obviously found it hard to say no to the jobs he really didn’t have time to take on. It was time, I realized, to either wait to submit work during his slow seasons, or to find someone else who could more easily work with a “small potatoes” client like me. Metal guy was relieved I understood.

I thanked him for the cut-downs and left. I spent the rest of the afternoon finding someone else who could better deal with my little stands. I found someone, and shipped off samples that afternoon.

I remember that I forgot to pick up the miracle holistic vitamins for Bella. I drive out to the expensive–I mean, exotic–vet, and pick it up.

I kept checking in on Bella. He looked the same. I decided to go to tae kwon do that night.

I couldn’t do much. But I did a jillion sit-ups and wall push-ups. I did strength work. I did balance work. I did stretches. I felt good about persevering through yet another injury.

But while I was gone, Bella died.

I felt awful. If I’d known he was that close, I would have stayed with him. I cried a little, wrapped him in a cloth napkin, and found a shoe box to bury him in.

I asked my son to dig yet another hole in the back yard for our latest pet casualty. He said he would.

But he forgot.

I asked him if he could do it before he left for school on Tuesday, and he said he would.

But he forgot again.

So on Tuesday morning, I’m lurching around the house and finding I can barely get up and down stairs with my new clubbed foot. A friend who’s a carpenter was over repairing a door jamb in my studio that was rotted out. He called me out repeatedly to share increasingly disturbing revelations about the extent of the damage. It had permeated the huge timber foundation my studio is built on. It went further back than he thought–he was going to have to replace that entire section. It was worse than he thought–there were carpenter ants. Uh oh…a huge NEST of carpenter ants. He was going to have to spray immediately, even before we could get an exterminator.

As he headed to the hardware store to get deadly poisonous spray for the carpenter ants, I realized our chickens are only a few feet away from where he’ll be spraying. So is my surviving, cockatiel, Zoe. We’d better move them! We set up a temporary cage in our mudroom for the chickens. When Doug got home from school, he and I chase chickens and carry them to the mudroom. I also haul Zoe’s cage out there–all this in the air cast, mind you.

As I rush through the dining room, I see the little shoebox with Bella, still on the table. “Dang!”, I think. Doug still hasn’t dug a hole! I remind him again. He says he’ll do it later.

Jon decides we need to go out to dinner. Doug says he’ll go, but Jon has to finish something first. By the time he’s ready, Doug doesn’t want to go. He says he’s no longer hungry. I find out why later. The large “party size” container of roasted red pepper hummous is gone. So is a new box of party crackers. And an entire loaf of bread. Living with a teen-aged boy is like living with a bear who’s fattening up for hibernation. A lot of food disappears steadily into a very gruff and fuzzy creature who only speaks in grunts and disappears for long bouts of sleep in a dark and smelly cave.

Jon and I go to Subway alone. I bring the leftover half of my sub home to Doug. He eats it immediately. I notice the shoebox with Bella is still on the dining room table. I beg Doug to dig a hole. He says he will.

I remember that I’ve forgotten to attend a good friend’s artist presentation at a local gallery. DANG!!

We do some other household chores, and Doug trundles off to bed. Jon and I settle in to watch TV. Or rather, we settle in to our usual fight about what we’re going to watch on TV. I’m a serious CSI addict. He prefers the unrelenting, unresolved tension of 24. We snipe about each other’s curious drama preferences. Finally, yawning, it’s time to go to bed.

In the dining room, Bella’s shoebox coffin is now suspiciously on the floor, and our two large cats flee with that hunkered down posture that, in cats, denotes a guilty conscience.

The box is still closed, thank goodness! But in the midst of air casts and warped walks, carpenter ants and potentially poisoned chickens, we had left out for grabs the most enticing feathered toy you could ever present to two formerly feral cats.

That they had merely swatted the box around and not actually gotten in and used Bella as the ultimate cat toy, may have indicated their restraint.

Or maybe just how hard it was to get the box open.

But it’s then I exclaim those immortal words:

“Ohmigod! Nobody buried Bella!”

MOVING ON: You Must Watch This!

My husband sent me a link to this most amazing article and video called Moving On by Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal.

It’s about Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor, and his presentation in the “Last Lecture” series there.

It’s good. It’s really, really, really good.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #16: Leave Me Alone!

Today’s essay isn’t actually about booth design (except for the unlocked case thing below.) It’s about booth behavior. But it’s actually just as important–maybe more important–than having the perfect booth set-up.

I’ve often called myself a poster child for Bruce Baker’s CDs on booth design and selling. I’ve learned so much from “the Master”, and still always find something new when I listen to him or his CDs.

He’s made me a keen observer, too. I now pay attention when a sales situation or a booth is annoying me. In turn, I try to ensure I don’t do it to MY customers.

So today I’m sharing a common mistake craftspeople make when customers enter your booth.

Leave them alone!

Quit being so damn friendly, especially when they first come in.
Give them a few minutes to get their bearings and see what you’re about.

And when you do talk, don’t ask them stupid questions.

People know how to shop. Assuming that they don’t is insulting.

A few days ago I drove two hours to Boson to attend a Rings & Things trunk show. This company is one of my personal favorites. They sell beads and jewelry findings, and they are one of my sources for antique trade beads. They aren’t always the least expensive, but their range of products and customer service often makes up for it. And their trunk shows are wonderful! Check out their trunk show schedule to find one near year.

On the way back, I stopped into a promising dealer antique store I’d seen on the way down. I walked in after driving for many hours, through rush hour traffic and without stopping to eat. I was wired, tired and hungry.

But ready to shop!

And was immediately bombarded with joviality and perkiness by the store owner.

The door hadn’t even shut behind me when the pounce happened. I say “pounce” because that’s just what it feels like when sellers start selling the second you appear.


The nice lady in charge asked me how I was enjoying the beautiful day. (I wasn’t. I’d just spent four hours in my car with a cramped leg and two hours inside a hotel convention room shopping.) I murmered, “Fine, thank you.”

She said the store was filled with lovely things I was sure to love. (Please. Let ME be the judge of that.) I said something like, “How nice!”

She said she would be happy to show me anything I liked. She talked on about some other stuff–by that time I was blocking well. I put an attentive face on my focused inattention, something we all learned to do in fourth grade geography class. I kept saying, “Oh, how nice.” “Thank you.” “How nice.”

Now, imagine this little dance.

I’d been looking forward to visiting this shop all day, since I’d seen it passing by that morning. I start to look at something–and the manager tells me something, or asks another question. I have to stop looking and answer her question, or it would feel rude. I’m responding in a neutral voice, clearly indicating I’d rather be shopping. The questions are sort of mundane and predictable, but I feel forced to respond.

I look like a little sideways bobbing doll, turning to look, turning back to answer, taking a step or two away from her each time, hoping I’ll be out of talking range eventually. By the fifth comment/question, I can actually pretend I can’t hear her anymore–and I proceed to shop more attentively.

This poor woman! She thought she was being a good salesperson. She thought she was being gracious and welcoming. She thought she was “selling”.

She was actually keeping me from shopping.

I wanted to say, “Look, lady, I’ve been shopping since I was four years old. Over fifty years now! I don’t need your instruction or your encouragement. Just let me look!”

In short: “Leave me alone!”


Now, ironically, ten minutes later, when I’d had a chance to look around and found something in a case, she was so deeply engaged in pleasant conversation with another customer about personal matters, I couldn’t get her attention. I stood patiently, waiting to catch her eye while she ignored me, finally resorting to saying, “Excuse me…..”


And though the case was unlocked, when I finally got her attention, she insisted on opening it herself, and handing me the items–clearly signaling she did not trust me. She actually said,”You tell me what you want to look at and I will hand it to you.”

When I selected several pieces of jewelry to examine, she said brightly, “Well, it’s clear that you love vintage jewelry!” For some, that may have been another conversation opener. To me, as tired as I was, it was another “well, duh!” statement.

Later, I took an item up I knew to be an unmarked McCoy vintage pot. Unasked, she told me firmly that she’d originally thought it was a McCoy, but it wasn’t marked “McCoy”, so it wasn’t–showing me clearly that she was not very knowlegable about McCoy pottery.

So was I going to trust her judgment on another item she assured me was “genuine” something or other, but I suspected was not?


When I went to pay, I pulled out my debit card–and was told that they didn’t accept credit cards or debit cards. (I’m sorry, in this day and age, that smacks of either a business running “under the table” as far as reporting earnings, or someone not very savvy about credit cards and how much they can increase your sales. I understand an emerging craftsperson perhaps not wanting to pay the extra percentage and fees….but a store??!!

Further proof of the of the lack of professionalism was the excuse that it was “impossible to split up the charge among the group dealers with credit cards”–something I know to be untrue, not only because I shop at group stores all the time with my debit card, but also because my daughter works for a group dealer antique shop.


The final indignity was being asked to put my phone number and drivers license number on the check. Myself.

Now, if someone is going to demand my drivers license for ID, then they can look at it to see if the photo matches me, and write down the number themselves to show they checked.

But not looking at it at all, and having me write down the number? Come on! If I were a dishonest person looking to rip you off, wouldn’t I also simply write down an incorrect ID number?

The exercise was pointless and mindless.

So she’s showing she doesn’t trust me, she doesn’t trust me, she doesn’t trust me, while gushing friendliness and “helpfulness”, all the while showing I shouldn’t trust her.

Not good.

Here’s how put-off I was by the whole experience. There was one item I kind of wanted, but it was overpriced. Usually I would ask if the price were “firm”, a nice way to ask if there is a discount or bargaining room.

I didn’t even ask.


At the end of the transaction, she offered me a chance to win a gift certificate that would have paid for the item, if I would sign up for the mailing list.

And I turned it down, because I didn’t want to hear from the store again!

Learn from this.

Let your customers shop.

Don’t ask stupid questions. Or at least limit yourself to only one! Trust me, people come in your booth because they can tell you are selling something. They want to decide if it’s something they’d like to buy. They already know how to look and how to shop.

Be available to help if you’re needed. (Bruce’s “trademark” sentence, “IF I can help you, just let me know” is perfect.)

If you don’t trust your customers, fine. I respect that. But handle that gracefully and discreetly. Don’t make it clear you don’t trust ME. I’d actually prefer a locked case that says they don’t trust anybody, rather than an unlocked case I’m not allowed to touch.

Don’t treat your customers like they’re stupid. It only reflects badly on YOU.

Am I being hard on this poor woman? Probably. After all, I did manage to find a couple of things I liked, and I persevered and actually bought them.

But do you want to put your customers through a gamut like this? Do you want to risk them running out of patience and moving on to another booth, with items just as lovely and enticing as yours?

A booth where they can shop, shop, shop to their heart’s content–and actually buy a lot of stuff?


I submitted a proposal for a public art commission a few months ago. I got really excited about it. It seemed like a perfect fit for my work. I poured my heart into my proposal.

A friend who was familiar with the venue vetted my ideas. She thought it was a good proposal. She warned me, though, the competition for this particular venue would be tough.

Sure enough, I didn’t get it.

I “lost”.

I’ve been thinking about the process, though. I realize that in many ways, I won. I learned good stuff along the way:

1) It’s good to be ready.

It’s a lot of work to submit a proposal. This one came up fast, too. I found out about it less than a week before the deadline.

Fortunately, I have tons of slides and digital images of my work. I have artist statements ready. I have reprints on hand of my publicity.

I was able to pull my proposal together in a couple of days.

2) I work well with guidelines.

I liked the idea of the commission–enough structure so I didn’t have to start from scratch, enough leeway to come up with an extremely original design. I liked having guidelines I could challenge and stretch ever so slightly, too. My proposal would have asked people to step just outside their normal expectations of an “art quilt”. And it would have encouraged them to think about the national park in a slightly different, more intimate way.

3) I play well with metaphors.

My friend said the metaphors I provided in my proposal–balancing the “big grand feature” of the park with the smaller intimate moments that are just as important to those familiar with the park–was perfect. It’s nice to know I “got” that when I read the project guidelines and thought of ways to connect my work with them.

4) I learned what could give me an edge in future proposals.

(Hint: Especially in areas of limited opportunities for artists, they might prefer to award these proposals to local or regional artists.)

5) I think I’d like to do more.

This had a different “feel” than many other promotional and sales opportunities for my work. I realized I liked everything about it: The potential for “winning” the commission. Having a big chunk of time (and money!) to devote to it. Having to make ONE THING instead of an ongoing body of work (for an exhibit or a gallery, for example.) The start-and-finish aspect. The idea that thousands of people from all over the country–and the world–would see my work.

I realized I’d like to submit more such proposals!

6) The parts that were hard are the places I need more work.

I realized I would need to finally master my new big-format sewing machine in order to create the pieces. So I need to get going on that, if I want to make those bigger works.

7) I found the passion in my work again.

It was challenging but fun to put together the proposal. And I found myself excited by the idea I proposed.

I realized that the notion of my work having a home, BEFORE I even finished it, was exhilarating. It’s been hard finding the right way to market the fiber. So I often feel it’s hard to devote a lot of time to something that may not sell for several years (as opposed to filling orders for jewelry and sculpture, which need to be done NOW.)

Knowing I was working to make a piece for a specific place, a specific purpose, with enough guidelines to get started but enough creative leeway to be interesting, really fit the bill.

It’s funny sometimes, how much you can learn from losing!


I’m finding another benefit to wall climbing.

I’m finding muscles I never new I had. I mean this in two ways.

I’m hurting in places I never knew could hurt.

And I’m stronger than I think in places I never knew were strong.

It turns out women are actually better than men at first when it comes to climbing. We tend not to have as much upper body strength. So we naturally rely on our legs more. We literally get a “leg up” because we aren’t relying on our arms and shoulders to come to our rescue.

The surprising weariness in my hands, fingers and forearms after a climbing session was my first clue that something else was changing. Turns out our hands don’t really get a good workout in daily life. A few climbs gripping the hand holds showed that!

Soon, we tackle walls where upper body is really important–where the wall starts to curve towards you rather than away from you. Suddenly, what you’ve always depended on–your legs, your foot holds–don’t save you. It’s about holding on.

I realize that this is going to be good for me! This is going to help my writing/keyboarding, my Tae Kwon Do, my normally weak shoulders.

It occurs to me that staying in our normal comfort zone–doing the shows we’ve always done, making the designs that always sell, approaching the stores that always want our work–also keeps us from flexing muscles we may need later on.

I’m not saying we should drop everything that works, nor that we need to risk everything, all the time. But the last few years have shown me that things that “go wrong” force me to try something different–with interesting and positive results.

The second thought, being stronger than I thought, is important, too. I realize I may be worrying about my upcoming retail shows–driving myself long distances, setting up a simpler booth in a lot less time, introducing my work to a crowd that knows nothing about it.

But as some of you pointed out in your comments to my “Booth Confession” essay, I’m probably going to do just fine.

So the next time you find yourself in a log jam or a dead end with your art–whether it’s in design, self-promotion, shows, wholesaling, whatever–simply look at it as a wonderful opportunity to cross train.

You, too, may find muscles you never knew you had.