BIG HELP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought hard about this one.

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

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

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

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

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

“Write that down!!” my friend said.

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

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

So I did.   And I am.

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

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

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

You can listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) “Hey, how about them Red Sox?!”<

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

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

What’s wrong with the first three responses?

Choice #1 is wrong on several levels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

CONSIGNMENT REVISITED

When I first started out in with my little art biz, consignment was the name of the game.

For those of you new to selling your work, consignment is when a store carries your work, but you are not paid until after it sells. Sometimes that means the end of the month after the month it sells. Wholesale, on the other hand, means a store pays upfront for your work–sometimes on the spot, before you ship, or within 10 to 30 days of the invoice date.

Most stores like to play it safe with a budding artist. “Leave a few pieces, we’ll see if it sells”, they explain. No risk to either party.

Actually, the very thought that a store would even let me leave my work with them was a thrill. I took my friends into the store and pointed out my work with pride. Look! My work is on their shelves!”

Flush with my first success, I wanted more. And so, like most craftspeople, I sought out more stores to consign with.

Soon the drawbacks of consignment became apparent. At one point, I had thousands of dollars’ worth of product sitting in a dozen stores, with no money in my pocket.

Sometimes the checks would dribble in, but only many weeks after the items actually sold. Worse, the paperwork was horrific. Some stores would send work back and ask for newer work. Often the returned goods were shopworn, or even damaged.

Since the stores didn’t actually have any money invested in my product, sometimes they didn’t put much energy into selling it. Sometimes I’d find my work on the bottom shelf, six inches off the floor. Not exactly the prime real estate spot in the place….

Consignment didn’t look so hot anymore.

As I got more astute about the business side of things, I demanded—and got—wholesale accounts. I wanted my money upfront, and if the items got damaged or stolen from the store, that was no longer my problem.

I became totally committed to wholesale. I did only one retail show a year. The rest of my business was selling directly to stores, catalog companies and galleries. I would actually sneer at consignment. It was only for those newbie artists who didn’t know any better. I maintained only a very few consignment accounts, mostly non-profits who didn’t or couldn’t buy my work outright. And only with the people who were very easy to deal with, and who kept great records.

After almost a decade, though, something funny happened.

As I became better known and my prices rose, I realized my work—especially my fiber work—was getting too pricey for most of the craft stores I marketed to. I could see that I really should move it on to art galleries. Art galleries who now mostly work on a consignment basis. (Gone are the heady days of the 70’s and 80’s when a gallery would buy the complete body of work of an artist outright.)

Something else happened, too. I got tired of filling orders.

I would make samples for a wholesale show. Customers would make their selections and I’d write up their orders. I would go back in the studio and make up work from the orders.

But lately I found myself dragging my feet. I didn’t WANT to make a dozen more of that design. I didn’t WANT to make sure the last bear sculpture I made was exactly the same size and price as the sample they’d ordered. I didn’t WANT to make the same thing in blue.

The last few years were tough on retailers, too. Cash flow was problematic. Even after an order was bought and paid for, and “not my problem” anymore, there was still griping. And pressure to swap out work that was moving slowly.

My costs of getting new work out in front of buyers rose. Printing and mailing a catalog gets expensive and time-consuming. It takes time to keep a website updated, especially if you’re a one-woman operation. I would spend thousands and thousands of dollars to do one wholesale show–and sit in my empty booth looking at empty aisles, wondering where my buyers were.

“You need to follow up after the show–call your stores and touch base with them!” Excellent advice. But why bother doing the show at all if I still have to work each account one at a time??

I hate to say it. But lately, the thought of working with complete freedom in my studio—making just what I want to make that day, in whatever design strikes my fancy, and whatever color choice excites me—is looking more and more appealing.

I could simply make a batch of whatever—jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures—pack it up, ship it out—and make more stuff.

This is actually one of the strengths of consignment: Because the store doesn’t have to tie up money in their inventory, they can experiment with new artists, new designs, or new (usually higher) price points.

If the stock comes back eventually, it can go into stock for my retail shows and open studio events. Since I’m now making more one-of-a-kind designs, this can be a good thing. I’ll have more selections available to my retail customers, not just more blue fish earrings.

I’ve learned that if it doesn’t sell in one store, another may do better with it.

And the thousands of dollars saved by not doing wholesale shows would buy a lot of beautiful new beads and fabrics…. Maybe even a killer magazine ad or two.

Sure enough, I got a call last month from a new gallery. They’d just discovered my work, and they are very, very excited about it. I looked at their website, and it looks good. Really, really good. A good fit, a good location, a beautiful gallery.

And they only do consignment.

I found myself saying, “That’s GREAT!! I’ll just pick out a good assortment and get it out to you.”

“Whatever you can send!” the owner exclaimed.

Could it be??

Is my future in consignment again???

P.S. For more on consignment, see this article from my Radio Userland blogsite from a series I did on getting started on selling to stores:

GETTING STARTED #13 What is Consignment?

PERFECT WORK

It never fails. It’s only six weeks before my big retail show, the annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, and I’m bursting with new jewelry designs.

Every year, this show seems to pull my best work out of me. This year is no exception. I’m stunned at the new ideas that seem to flow out my brain and through my hands. Nothing like a hard deadline to get those brain cells pumpin’!

I sometimes stop in mid-necklace design to rush over to my polymer station, feverishly making new beads that I just “have to have” to complete the look.

I have a billion beads. Yet late Sunday night I pored over one of my favorite bead sources, buying unusual new beads for a new design that’s been floating in my head.

The colors are amazing, too.   It’s like the new soapstone material I invented last year has opened a whole new color palette for my work.  I find myself digging through my bead stash, looking for those red coral beads I thought I’d never use….  I’m using semi-precious stones whose names I can’t even pronounce.  What the heck is variscite??  I thought gaspite was bad…

These designs look even more tribal and eclectic. The beading looks like someone found a handful of beads at an archeological dig and restrung a broken necklace. I know that doesn’t SOUND beautiful, but trust me, it is!

I’m just about ready to call my photographer for an emergency photo session. I want to post a sneak preview of these new creations on my website.

As I finish each piece, I take a minute to pause and admire it. I find myself murmuring, “This one is perfect!”

I caught myself at it this morning, and had to laugh.

Because every year I think I’ve found the perfect design. I can’t imagine how it could be better. I get a little anxious–“How will I ever top this??”–and fret about when I run out of ideas.

And every year, it just gets a little better, and a little more exciting.

Isn’t the creative process funny?

COPING WITH COPYCATS: Getting Past the Fear of Being Copied

It’s ultimately better (for YOU) to get out there and make MORE art than to protect what you’ve got.

An artist on a crafts forum posted about someone finding a protected image file on her website. The person had left a cryptic message on her guest book: “Thanks”.

The artist is in a panic about possible copyright infringement. Will her design be stolen? Manufactured in China? Sold in Target stores across the U.S.??

It’s a real fear for artists today, and I don’t want to make light of it. She received plenty of good advice about dealing with copyright infringement, and what you can do about it. (Precious little, actually.)

But it also brought me back to the times I thought someone was stealing my designs. And what kind of energy that built in me.

Here is my take on it, FWIW:

I know the potential for someone lifting your images is real.

On the other hand, you’ve really worked yourself up over one word someone posted to your guest book.

I do not mean to disrespect your fears or feelings here–we ALL do this! And this incident may indeed be legitimate grounds for concern.

BUT my thoughts will be a little different than those who are giving you sound advice about copyright issues:

Try not to let anxiety and fear drive all your business decisions.

Your best defense against having a design stolen is what’s actually good for you as an artist as well: Keep moving! Keep developing more work, keep your ideas coming, keep your work fresh.

I’ve been there. I’ve found myself in situations where I felt paralyzed, fearful an action would put me in the way of being copied or my designs ripped off.

But when I look back, I realize that all the energy I thought I had to devote to protecting myself, would have better spent simply getting my work out there and making a heckuva lot more of it.

I’m NOT saying roll over and play dead. Sometimes all that’s needed is a cease-and-desist letter from you or your family lawyer to put a little fear into the heart of your copycat.

I’m saying that the energy you put into controlling this possibility could be better spent on your artwork.

In fact, if you “shut down” and try to control all access to your images, and focus on protecting yourself, you will be working against yourself.

In fact, your best defense is to get your work established, recognizable, and GOOD. True, that alone may not get you $$ from the design infringement. But it goes a long way to getting the infringement STOPPED.

We only have so much time, energy and money to spend on the things that are important to us. We read in the news about people who win big lawsuits and huge settlements. It’s easy to think that could be us.

In reality, those “windfalls” involve time, angst, lots of lawyers, and yes, more money. When people say, “Nobody gets rich but the lawyers”, believe them.

In the end, even if you COULD get rich and famous from defending a design, is that what you want?

Or do you want to get rich and famous by getting your work out into the world and seen and enjoyed and bought by as many people as possible?

Hello world!

Welcome to my new blog site!

But my old blog site is still good, too.

For years, I’ve blogged at Radio Userland. It was easy, and I knew how to do it.

I hate making big changes. But I realized my old blog was difficult to search for information.

Nothing’s changed except the location, except I hope it’s easier to find the information you’re looking for here. And maybe I’ll finally learn how to post images, too.

So feel free to check back at my old blog, starting with Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back for years of posts on business skills for artists, and stories about my life as an artist.

And get ready for moi entering the 21st century–at last!