CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #3: Curb It!

I’m guessing a lot of people are now thinking, “Why doesn’t she have a yard sale and make some money? Or sell that stuff on Ebay??”

Ebay is not an option right now because it would mean a whole new learning curve. I just don’t have the time for that. (I have too many other projects on my plate with a steep learning curve.) Most of what I’ve moving on is hard to pack, or not worth shipping.

A yard sale is out because I don’t have the big stuff that makes a yard sale a success–furniture, appliances, etc.

I also don’t have the time to spend gathering stuff, tagging it, lugging it out and displaying it on tables (not to mention hauling the tables down from the barn attic), making and putting up signs or paying to run an ad in the paper. I don’t want to sit outside in the hot, hot sun for six hours while people haul away TRASH for $5, yet haggle me over 25 cents for something really nice. (Yes, this happens all the time at yard sales.)

And then the yard sale is over and you still have boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, and a hundred bucks in your pocket for all your troubles.

Most of all, I don’t want to sit on stuff for a week while an auction runs. Or have it languishing in the garage while I gather enough for a yard sale. I want this stuff outta here as soon as I cull it. I don’t want to have second thoughts!!

So here’s another tip on how to just make the stuff go away:

Leave it on the curb.

I learned this years ago while helping with a fund-raising yard sale. The end was nearing, and we still had a lot of crap left over. I asked the woman in charge if she wanted it packed up and hauled anywhere.

“Oh, no!”, she replied. “Just leave it on the tree lawn. It’ll be gone by tomorrow morning!”

I was astonished. But we hauled it to the curbside and left.

Sure enough, when I drove by the next day, 90% of it was gone.

I don’t know who these people are, these yard sale scavengers, nor what they do with all the unbelievably useless stuff that’s usually left over from such events. But bless ’em!

So now when I get tired of keeping track of Freecycle pick-ups (or get discouraged by the no-shows), and it isn’t clothing (which can go to Planet Aid or local thrift shops), and when the thrift shops are full from everybody else unloading their attic junk, I just put stuff out on our tree lawn.

I put out a bunch of items last night, lined up so I could tell from the gaps when things were taken. Within a few hours, everything except a wicker bread basket was gone. (Why did they take a slightly disheveled mauve wicker wall basket from the ’80’s but leave a perfectly good bread basket? Don’t they ever serve bread to company?)

You know what was sweet? I put everything in small boxes so people could just pick it up and carry stuff. But most people just took the stuff and left the boxes behind.

Last night, I left two perfectly good white organizer shelves and they’re still sitting out there today. Uh oh. Has my luck run out?? I just ran out and restacked them so they like like shelves instead of pedestals. I’ll bet they’re gone within the hour.

P.S. Don’t abuse this privilege. If you have stuff out there every day for the summer, your neighbors are bound to complain. Unless they’re the ones doing the picking!

CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #2: Planet Aid!

Another tip for cleaning and purging your home….

Check out Planet Aid!

This organization sets out drop boxes (see photo at their website) to collect used clothing and shoes. The goods are sold to finance aid programs in Africa and Asia.

I have many charities I donate goods to. But I LOVE Planet Aid, because a) there are no hours–just drop boxes; b) they don’t seem fussy about what they get–it doesn’t matter if it’s out of season, and they are never “not accepting donations”; c) you keep good stuff out of landfills and dumps; and d) the proceeds go to programs to helps others.

I was surprised to find Planet Aid drop-off boxes in our small community (25,000). Not that Keene is that small, but from their website, it looks like they only operate in big cities. See how to host a box in your community here.

Sometimes during peak periods (end of college term, etc.) the drop boxes will fill up. You can’t leave your donations then, and that’s a drag. (Anything you leave has to go inside the drop box.) Sometimes the boxes move around and that was a drag til I learned you can call them to find out the nearest location to you.

But the short story is, they make it really, really easy to offload giant garbage bags full of your teen-aged daughter’s clothing, and that’s all I care about right now.

Can you tell that I just found out that, for the last eight years, whenever we told our daughter to clean her room, she simply filled as many garbage bags as she could with her stuff and stashed them upstairs in our attic? (I just found them today….)

Don’t delay. Call them today for a box location near you!

CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #1: Freecycle!

I’ve been cleaning and purging not one, not two, but three attic spaces for the last two weeks.  And nibbling away at my studio stuff. I would clean my studio first, except I have to make room in my barn attic for the stuff I want to store in my studio.

My studio is just too full. Partly from months of being unable to even unpack fully from last year’s shows (my Year of Surgeries and Injuries), partly from a kid moving into her own place (and leaving behind almost as much stuff as she took), partly because we realized we still have unpacked boxes from when we moved to Keene 20 years ago. (Oh, my….) When we moved into this house 8 years ago, it was lightening-fast, and I never got to really purge our stuff. I think we even packed and moved dirty laundry, it was that fast.

I’ve read a lot of books on the market about how to clear stuff out, and they are marginally helpful at best.

“If you haven’t used it in a year…” doesn’t take into account the stuff that can happen in a year. Just because I was too injured to decorate our Christmas tree last year doesn’t mean I should get rid of all my tree ornaments.

“Make four piles to keep, give away, to the garbage” blah blah doesn’t help, because if I could decide that easily, I wouldn’t have three attics full of stuff.

The most inspirational one I ever read was CLUTTER’S LAST STAND by Don Aslett. He gives you compelling reasons why you should move that stuff on.

I was going to say, you can’t go in the same river twice and that rereading such a book never works for me. But then I read all the reviews and I’ve decided I will read it again NOW.

Caveat: As I read the reviews at Amazon. I realized what I loved–and hated–about this book. I love that he shows how destructive clutter can be physically and emotionally. I HATED his derogatory comments about “people of size”, and cats! He is opinionated, thoughtless and ruthless. But what he says about C*L*U*T*T*E*R is gold. So read it with a thick skin and a grain of salt, and take what works for you.

Before I do, let me share another strategy with you.

I’ve got something I want to move on, but for whatever reason I don’t want to just throw it in the trash. Maybe it’s not worth the time and effort to sell it. (Honey, remember the dresser we kept taking to consignment shops and bringing it back home when it didn’t sell?) I don’t want to drive around with it trying to find which thrift shop will take it this week. (Sometimes they’re full, sometimes they won’t take out-of-season items, and sometimes they’re just really picky about what they accept.)

Renting a dumpster is expensive though it’s great for getting rid of a lot of stuff fast. But unless you’re sure everything is pure de junk, it makes it worse when you have to throw away perfectly useful items you spent good money on. Or maybe you don’t have a bunch of people with a full day or two free to go through this process. (In my case, I have to triage the process.)

Even if you throw the item away, you may get charged extra by your garbage company if you leave out too much stuff at a time, or ask them to take big items like furniture and appliances.

What’s the solution?

Let me introduce you to FREECYCLE. Freecyle can be a nice intermediary step between driving around town with bags o’ stuff in your car, and simply throwing everything out to the curb on garbage day.

My local chapter of Freecycle is Monadnock Freecycle. Here’s how it works:

I go to my Freecycle group online and post an “offer”. This is a post with the word “OFFER” in the subject line with a short description of the item. (“OFFER: 12 back issues of Bead & Button magazine”)

I can add more details in the actual message: “This is a mixed lot of back issues, in good shape, no torn articles, etc.” I can add any other information, too, such as my general location (“In Keene”) and any conditions for pick-up (“These need to be out of here within a day.”) I’ve been adding, “Please let me know when you could pick these up, as this will help determine who gets these…”

I post the offer to the group. Depending on whether people have opted to receive offers as they come in, or in the form of a daily digest, the takers start to email me.

We arrange for a pick-up time, I give them directions to my house, and voila! Soon the item is gone to a new home where it may finally be put to good use.

Advantages: I don’t have to clean or repair the item before it finds a new home, as long as I accurately describe its condition.

I don’t have to load it up on my car and then drive around for days because I forgot the Salvation Army isn’t open on Sundays, or before 10 a.m., or after 5 p.m.

In fact, sometimes I post, someone answers–and picks it up within the hour.

And sometimes I find out my item has gone to a really good cause, or to a person or family who desperately needed it.

Best of all, a still-usable item has not gone into the landfill.

Disadvantages: The no-shows: The people who swear they are coming by at 9 a.m. Tuesday–and you never hear from them again.

Or someone says they want it, and then they let you know they can’t pick it up for a week. Well, half the fun of clearing stuff out is having it GONE. So when you have to stash it in your mudroom or garage for another week, it can be disappointing.

You need a computer, though you can always use one at a library if you don’t have your own.

You also may not like strange people coming to your house, in which case you can always make different arrangements–leaving it somewhere more public, or delivering it to them, or arrange for times when you are not alone in your house.

Not everything flies out the door. I’m always amazed at what gets taken and what gets ignored. Sometimes you post the stupidest thing and you get six people begging to take it off your hands. Other times a perfectly nice item languishes. You just have to hope the right person sees it at the right time. Some days, the group doesn’t seem too active–your offer gets no response. Other times, it’s really hoppin’, and your items get dibs on them almost as fast as you can post. I’ve learned to simply wait a few days and repost with an item that didn’t go. More than that, it goes to a thrift shop–or the dump.

Oh, and another great feature of Freecycle–you can ask for things, too. I actually asked for–and got–a number of nice baby items for a friend who was expecting: A baby backpack carrier, a bouncy chair, etc. People were happy to pass these on to a new family. A couple years ago, I asked for a used bike for my son, and got two nice ones. Some people get carried away and ask for stuff like cars and houses. Good luck with that!

Anyway, it’s fun, it’s easy, and you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas. Give it a whirl! If your area doesn’t have a Freecycle chapter, maybe you can start one.

Please feel free to share your strategies for moving stuff on to other people, too.

Making Room

So what great insights came from my four questions session yesterday?

Carol and Barb came over for two hours. We had coffee and a quick nosh. (Can’t work on empty stomaches!) We “checked in” briefly to see what everyone was up to.

Then it was time to start.

What did I want to talk about?

I wanted to talk about my vision for my art. Wanting to catch everyone up on where I was coming from, I presented a five-minute summary of the last couple years:

My realizing I still have a vast new audience to present my current body of work to….(validation!)

Me knowing my work will evolve naturally and organically once I can clear space in my studio to get back to work….(relief!)

Me recognizing that writing, though abstract, makes me feel like I’ve done something…and may be distracting me from my actual art production time/energy….(hmmm…at least I see it, though I’m not sure what to do about it.)

Me remembering that last year my first surgery, and first foot injury happened two months before my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair…(manageable, but still putting me off my game.)

and that it was the first fair I’d done in eight years without my daughter Robin assisting me every step of the way…(difficult.)

Me understanding the many negative things that happened to me at last year’s Fair (let’s just say that sometimes, there’s nothing scarier than your fellow craftsmen), and how long I’ve had to deal with the repercussions….(frustration.)

Me realizing my cancer scare began almost immediately after the Fair and lasted through several months of testing and follow-up….(emotionally exhausting.)

Followed by two more surgeries in December…(uh oh.)

Resulting in being housebound, in constant pain, inactive, incurring weight gain and depressed….(it was, well, depressing.)

And me now realizing we have to clear the garage for a new wood boiler, and clean out our house attic so we can insulate before winter….(yikes!)

And I still need to clean out my barn attic so I can begin to clean out my studio….(double yikes!)

There! “So,” I said, “I’m ready to talk about my plans for my art.”

“Not so fast, sweetheart!” exclaimed both my friends in unison. “We can see what the problem is here. And it’s not what you think.”

The problem wasn’t about the art. The problem was making room for it.

They both pointed out that the first step was to get a plan of action for this huge de-cluttering laid out–before I even begin to think about making more art.

They said they understood, because they’ve both struggled with the same issue. And gone through the process, and come out the other side–lightened, encouraged and energized.

And they said they both happened to be very, very good at creating such plans for action.

When they said that, a huge weight lifted from my heart. How perfect that these two people were doing this exercise with me.

I knew they were right. I knew I had to do this. I had no idea how I was going to do it.

It turned out they were going to give me exactly the help I needed.

They guided me through a visioning exercise. I mentally walked through my studio, “creating” the perfect new work environment. I thought about what really needed to be there and what didn’t.

Then we took a quick tour of the two staging areas. With their eyes helping, it was even easier to see what could be “at hand”, and what could go upstairs into the barn attic.

Shelves will keep my current storage containers more accessible, and labeling will help, too.

Teen-aged boys will be forbidden to set up a man-cave in the attic. (If you have teen-aged boys, you know what I’m talking about….)

The list goes on.

Someday, perhaps I’ll be able to section off part of the barn and actually insulate or heat it during the winter, so my office and shipping station can be upstairs, away from my actual workspace. (Email and internet stuff can be a huge distraction!) For now, there’s a lot that can be stored up there for quick grabbing when I need it. A little hassle to run upstairs (especially in winter!), yes, but better than tripping over E*V*E*R*Y*T*H*I*N*G underfoot.

My friends also offered to help.

It was so hard to ask! “Come on, Lu, say it—‘Will you help me?’–four little words! You can do it!” they urged.

I did, and they said yes. (They want pizza, beer and music. I think I can swing that!)

They encouraged me to make a list of other people I could ask for help, too, and how to make it easier for people to do so. (Keep the request to a couple hours, add the music and food.)

They encouraged me to set a deadline (three weeks!) to see how much I could accomplish by then.

They promised to come back for another session to make sure I’m making progress, and not getting bogged down in details.

As we stood by the top of the barn stairs and talked, I worried about how much shelving and labor would cost.

And then looked up and saw…..a stack of shelves, commercial-quality slotting and brackets I’d bought seven years ago, originally to use in my studio but set aside because I hadn’t needed it.

Here’s the funny thing. If you’d asked me where it was, I would have said I’d given the stuff away already! I’d walked by them a hundred times in the last few years, and yet not seen them.

Yet at the exact moment I realized I needed that stuff, there it was. (Okay, I’m not sure I can find the brackets, but those should be easy to buy again.) (I hope!)

In the end, nothing monumental or too big too handle. Just something that’s easy to do for others, and sometimes so hard to do for ourselves.

Update: I’ve already packed up six boxes of books for a prison library; set out a ton of stuff on our tree lawn which disappeared within hours; posted stuff on Freecycle which was picked up in minutes, and thrown out two bags of trash. I think it’s working!

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #8: Your New Best Friend

Eighth in a series about getting difficult out of your booth at an art fair or craft show.

A reader wrote to ask:

“Any plans to do a post about the customer who, once she’s bought from you, now thinks she’s your friend? I had this happen once, at a 5-day show (where she bought on day 2, and returned on 3 and 4 to talk endlessly). I was as polite as I could be when I wasn’t trying to duck so she wouldn’t see me (!). That mixture of being grateful she’d bought a piece and annoyed that she kept showing up was difficult to juggle.”

Michelle, your wish is granted!

Hmmmm, that’s a good one–the customer who feels they’ve bought your friendship….

As annoying as that was, it sounds like you handled it well. You dealt with her as politely as you could, and disappeared as you were able.

Here are some thoughts to help you decide which course of action feels right for you.

Remember, a small part of our biz is going to be a form of social work. Some people are lonely or have very poor social skills, or they’re lonely because they poor social skills. For them, this IS how they make friends and interact in society. They do things that give them an excuse to talk to people. It can be hugely annoying, but a little patience and compassion can go a along way–if you aren’t busy with other customers, and if you have the patience for it.

This sounds like a person who has trouble respecting the boundaries of others. Your booth is like a little store with a new friend in it, and she wants to come and visit every chance she gets. The bad news is, this person may be oblivious–it will take more than a gentle hint or two to move her on. The good news is, she’s probably used to blunt tactics, because she probably does this all the time.

Sometimes the only way to deal with a boundary issue is to name it and say it. “I’m delighted you like my work so much. I’m honored you’ve supported me by buying a piece. But I really have to focus on making the most of this opportunity to sell my work at this show. It’s been lovely talking to you. But I hope you’ll understand that I need to get back to work here.”

If this speech is too hard, start shorter and brisker: “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I need to run–thanks for stopping by!”

Then run.

If she still keeps showing up, repeat. Be consistent. Friendly but firm. It may take a few turns, because people who are oblivious to the fact that they’re being noodges tend to be oblivious to all but the most blatant management.

Of course, this is hard for people like me who have trouble setting boundaries. Just look on it as good practice.

Another tactic: This is another example of a “free milk” person–they want your interest and friendship. The difference is, they feel they have paid for it, though by now you’re feeling they got the better end of the deal.

You could try offering them something more “free”–like offering to put them on your list for open studio events. That could reassure them that you won’t forget them. (As Bruce Baker quips, “How could I ever forget you??!!”)

If there’s no one in your booth and you are dying slowly, you can always try to interest her in another artist at the show. Pass it off as customer service: “You know, as I listen to you, I realize there’s another artist at the show you’d really love. I think her work is perfect for you. It will really resonate with everything you’ve been through. Let me take you over to her booth and introduce you.”

Do it–and RUN. Then she can have TWO new friends!

Finally, there’s the strategy of pushing this to the limit and using this to your advantage.

It’s drastic. But I’ve found that people who are locked in their heads like this usually make it all about ‘them’. Make it about you.

If there’s no one in your booth, I’d use the opportunity to keep selling to her. Keep circling the conversation back to your work. She might be persuaded to buy another piece.

At the very least, as other people enter your booth, they’ll be able to hear you talk without having to deal with you directly. A lot of people who browse will do just that–listen intently to what you say to another customer as they shop uninterrupted. It’s an effective selling technique.

Be sure to stop occasionally as new people come in and acknowledge them by greeting them. Casually say, “If you have any questions, just let me know” or “If you’d like to try something on, the mirror is right here.” That lets other customers know you’re paying attention.

At the slightest hint someone needs your help, smoothly interrupt the talker to say, “Excuse me just a moment.” and move to assist the other person.

If it’s just you and her, and she won’t buy anything else, then….Talk away to your heart’s content. Just make sure it’s all about you. Sometimes the only way to shoo a bore away is to be a bigger bore.

Did I just say that??!!

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #5: The Design Diva

Fifth in a series about how to get certain people out of your booth at art and craft shows.

This one is going to be odd, but if you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll be nodding your head. (Or holding it in your hands or tearing your hair out.)

It’s a special type of customer. The picky, picky customer. The contessa of custom work.

The Design Diva.

It’s the person who love, love, loves your work, and wants to own a piece. But nothing you have on hand really suits. It has to be a special piece. It has to be custom. It has to be….

Micromanaged to within an inch of its life.

If you aren’t careful, this faux customer will take up tons of your time and energy, designing that special piece–yet you will never close the sale.

Some custom work and special orders are easy. The customer wants this necklace, but in a longer length. Or this wall hanging, but a bit bigger to fit a special niche. Orders like these don’t require a lot of fussing.

Some custom orders are necessarily more involved. You’re going to be making something you’ve never done before–a brand new animal totem, or a piece larger than you ever attempted before. Some customers have never placed a custom order before, or they may not be familiar with you. Or it’s a lot more money than they are used to spending. More attention and hand-holding is necessary.

But there are some custom orders that are almost doomed to fail before they even start. It’s not you. It’s not the project.

It’s the Design Diva.

I’m talking about the faux customer who has you absolutely convinced that you have been commissioned to make a fabulous piece of art for them–who then drives you crazy with all the details they want to be in control of. The process drags on for months, long past the point where you can ever hope to profit from it.

Or they drop off the face of the earth after they leave your booth.

Or they cancel the order when you make your first follow-up call.

This customer actually envisions herself as the creative genius behind the work. She knows exactly how it will look, down to the precise size and shape and color.

You, with your technical skill and tools and materials, are simply the working stiff that will bring this imagined piece into the world.

IF the Design Diva actually ends up buying the work, it would be some solace. But sadly, most of these over-managed orders end up going nowhere.

The worst thing about these people is, they get your engine going about the big sale you are going to make. They can also suck up huge amounts of your time and your energy. You may not be able to take care of other would-be customers in your booth, trying to close this “big sale”.

We all go out window shopping, and it’s fine for customers to window shop in our booths. But this goes way, way beyond that.

Why would someone do this to an unsuspecting artist?

The question to ask is, what’s in it for them?

They get to play art patron. They get to be “Lady Bountiful” for a day. They get to have the undivided attention of a talented artist (you), eating out of their hand and hanging on every word about their artistic sensitivities, their lovely collection, their beautiful home.

It’s an exquisitely powerful position for someone to hold. And I suspect that some of these people are shadow artists, themselves.

Here are a few sad stories about Design Divas.

One customer approached me at a show for a three-piece wall hanging project. We worked out the idea. We talked for a long, long, time. I did not collect a deposit. She was so nice! I was thrilled to have such a big order to work on.

After the show, I sent her a design, fabric swatches and a proposal. When I didn’t hear from her, I called. That’s when I found out she’d found another option for that wall space from an artist in the next tent at the show. Thirty feet from my booth, she found a cheaper solution to her decorating dilemma.

She could have doubled back and tell me she’d changed her mind. She could have called. But she didn’t–because she had nothing invested in the process and nothing to lose. If I’d had a deposit, she would at least have called to make sure I didn’t cash the check.

Another buyer at a wholesale show came back to my booth three times to admire my work. He was a very pleasant gentleman, and eager to tell me about his fabulous multi-niched business. He placed a huge order for wall hangings, and wanted to buy a ton of jewelry, too.

But oddly, he could never find his wife to complete the order. After the show, when I called to confirm a ship date, I was told that though he was part-owner of the store, he was not the buyer. It sort of sounded like he did this a lot, too. Apparently, he enjoyed pretending he was. (At least he hadn’t ordered custom work.)

It’s actually a good strategy to get people talking about your work in their home or store.  The thing is, at some point, they have to commit to actually buying your work for it to actually be in their home or store.  Design Divas stretch out the talking, and never really get around to the buying.

Some hints that you are dealing with a design diva.

It’s not really about your art. It’s about their home. You hear more about the room it’s going into than anything else.

It’s not really about your work. It’s about the other stuff they have. You hear more about the other fabulous objets d’art the collector has already acquired than about yours.

It’s not really about you, the artist. It’s about them, the art patron. You hear more about the collector herself than you the artist. And why are they spending so much time talking about themselves, trying to impress you? Real collectors gather as much information about you, the artist, as they can. Because the stories about you are the ones they’re going to be sharing with their friends and guests when they come see your lovely work in the collector’s home.

Your artistic vision isn’t quite…quite. The way you do it isn’t quite good enough. There will be many, many changes and alterations along the way. The shade of rust you pick is a little off. It needs to be a wee bit bigger. Oh, and can you add some stuff over here?

It’s not really up to them. There is a mysterious husband who has to be consulted before anything is final, and he’ll probably say yes, but he never appears or can be contacted at the show. (Trust me, when he is finally found, the answer is always “no”…)

It just takes too long. Long after the order is recorded, the terms are discussed and it’s time for this customer to move on, they’re staying on way too long. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like they know they’ve got a big one on the line–you! And they’re having too much fun to let you go.

How can you protect yourself against these folks? It’s really hard, because they look so much like real customers. But here are some strategies:

Maintain control. For example, if you start to feel like you are simply a seamstress-for-hire instead of an artist, you can refuse to play the game. Put on your artist hat, and have confidence in your skills. “This sounds more like ‘work-for-hire’. Maybe you would be happier with a seamstress who can follow your exact specifications instead. Here’s the name of a good one near you.”

Get the OK from everyone involved. If they start deferring their final purchasing to some other person, stand down. You are either not dealing with the actual decision-maker, or the customer is starting to realize that significant “other” is probably going to say “no”–and that’s going to be embarrassing for everyone concerned. In fact, it’s so embarrassing, they won’t tell you that to your face. They’ll wait til you call for the next payment and tell you it’s all off. Get firm. Don’t go any further until you have the decision-maker in on the buy, too.

Put all your terms for custom/special orders in writing! Have your terms for custom work ready. And if you are not familiar with the customer,or you start getting those odd vibes, stick to your terms like glue. You can always relax your terms as you get buyer compliance.

Make it clear you charge a non-refundable design fee. Some people make it a percentage of the total order amount, others make it a flat fee–$50, $100, depending on how much work you anticipate putting into it.

Decide how many times you are willing to tweak the design to satisfy the customer. (Portrait painters have a hard time with this, especially when they are just starting out and their reputations aren’t “big enough” to command respect.) One or two tweaks should be all that is needed. More than that, accept the fact you will never come up with a design the customer will be happy with. You may want to charge for extra re-designs (beyond one or two) to discourage this.

Decide how much money you need as a deposit. 50% down, 50% at time of completion is an option.

At wholesale shows, many craftspeople simply refuse to take custom orders on new accounts. Changing a bead color here or there is one thing. Creating a whole new design you might not be able to sell anywhere else if the order falls through is another.

And remember…it’s okay to qualify your buyers–even retail buyers! Get references. Ask if they’ve commissioned work from artists before, and check them out. I did this at a new show for a custom order I took from a very nice couple. They actually offered the other artist’s name as a reference, and the artist gave them a rave review. (See how the buyers were trying to reassure me?) Everything went beautifully.Make them step up to the plate. If you feel like everything is sliding away, our first reaction is usually to work frantically harder to close the sale. But I’m learning to step back and think, “I think I need to see a commitment from you. Prove to me how badly you want my work!” Don’t draw up sketches or send swatches until you have money in hand.

Defer the big decision til after the show. This one is tricky, especially if you’re doing a show far from home. But if you’re getting that bad feeling about the whole transaction, and it’s a biggie, better to have it come apart later than to waste another precious minute of booth time. Arrange for the prospective customer to come for a studio visit. Or arrange for you about the project to consult in their home (paid, of course.)

Know when to fold. If you suspect you have a customer who will never be pleased, throw in the towel. Return as much of the deposit/payments as you can (keeping all the work you’ve already produced for them, of course) and refer them to someone else. (Preferably another artist you don’t like.)

Even with all these protections in place, however, all the person has to say is “My husband is a lawyer” (like one customer did) and you know this is a battle you are going to lose. Even if you are right, do you really have the time, the energy, the resources and the money to pursue this?

Truth be told, I still get tripped up by people like this. It’s impossible to close all the loopholes.

But f I can save you from one Design Diva, this column will not have been in vain.

Remember, your audience LOVES your work. They WANT to have it. They would not dream of jerking you around just to make themselves feel more important–because then you would never sell to them again.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #4: He-e-e-ere’s Eeyore!

Fourth in a series of how to get certain people out of your booth at a craft show.

I know all my show buddies are going to laugh themselves to death at this one. Could it be because I tend to do this? oooooh nooooo…..

It’s the person who hangs out in your booth–often another artist–who is sad.

Sad ,sad, sad. And they are going to tell you about it. And nothing is going to stop them.

The show isn’t going well. The management is giving them a hard time. They forgot to pack enough light bulbs. They can’t find their favorite sweater. Their feet hurt. Their mother died. Their dog died. You get the idea.

The ones I hate the most have a wistful, sad, breathless little voice to go with the tale of woe.

This is not the person who, in the course of chatting or catching up, simply mentions the ups and downs in their life of the last few months. This is the person who goes on and on and on, without break, without end, without stopping to even inhale, it seems. A never ending tale of woe and grief.

In your booth.

At the show.

Your natural tendency is to try to cheer up this person. Don’t do it! Doesn’t work. Ain’t gonna happen. The person determined to hang out and complain in your booth has had years of practice doing this. It’s how they get what they need from people. You can’t change that in a few minutes.

Look, I whine. You whine. We all do a little whining. Shows are hard. Really, really hard! Set-up is brutal, and sometimes it’s just not a good show.

The thing is, there’s a time and a place for whining. During the show is not the time. And parking yourself in someone else’s booth is not the place. Parking yourself in someone else’s booth while there are customers around is inexcusable.

You, me, our fellow craftspoeple, have paid hundreds–no, thousands–of dollars to be at this show. The last thing I want, after creating an atmosphere of passion and excitement and happiness, is for a Gloomy Gus to take up residence in my booth.

Do you really have time for this? I don’t.

I’ve tried a few different diversions, with some success. If someone tries this during set-up, I let them go on for a few minutes. (Especially if they’re willing to listen to my tale of woe! You know I’m big on reciprocity.)

Then I interrupt with, “I am really sorry you are in such a hard place right now. Unfortunately, I have a small crisis going on here, and I simply have to take care it. Can we meet up later and have a cup of coffee?” (For bigger woes, a bottle of wine.)

This is especially good for someone you’d like to maintain relations with. You acknowledge their pain, but defer it to another time.

A tactic that’s been used effectively on moi goes something like this:

I’m hanging out in a friend’s booth, (never while a customer is there, thank goodness–I have SOME limits!) rambling on about how hard life is for me, when I notice that Bonnie or Mark or Amy is staring at me with huge, round, unblinking eyes and a trembling lower lip. When I wind down, they say in a soothing voice, “There, there, Eeyore!”

I know it’s time to stop. But I think this only works with people you love who are willing to take the hint.

I’m getting better. Sometimes I just catch myself doing it, clap my hands over my mouth, mumble, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” and flee. I try to buy them a beer after the show, too. Lots and lots of beer.

There are other people…oh, let’s just call them noodges! I don’t really care if I maintain relations with them. In fact, they probably aren’t your friend. You are simply a captive audience to them. You know who they are! It gets harder to move them on without getting rude. Still, if there are customers in the booth, it’s worth treating them nicely just so customers don’t see your dark side.

Other than shoo this person out of the booth with promises of calling them after the show (did you see that one coming?), I’m still looking for the perfect one-liner. I’m thinking it might run along these lines: “Listen, here’s the number of my therapist–she’s not cheap, but she’s really good! And she says I have to stop trying to help other people myself, or she’ll take me to court for practicing without a license.”

Oh, how about this one? “Hey, the liquor store just called for you; they want their ‘whine’ back!”

Just kidding on that one. Customers may laugh if you get sarcastic, but no one really feels comfortable with it. They fear that, if they slip up, they’ll be the one to feel your tongue-lashing next.

Seriously, get these people out of your booth before they bring you, and your customers, down, down, down. If they need a hug, give it to ’em. But move them on.

And don’t be one, either.

Okay, so what if the sad person is a customer?

That’s a hard one. But here’s an insight: I treat them like the people who want something for free.

Because, in essence, that is what they want–your time, and your sympathy, during what is a work period for you.

Sometimes, like the free milk people, I give them something.

I keep the names of some self-help books I’ve enjoyed, and jot them down on one of my postcards. I refer them to my blog, if their issue is something I’ve dealt with there. I offer to put them in contact with people who have helped me with similar situations.

And often, I talk about how making my art has helped me. And how some people have actually bought my work to help themselves, as talismans to remind themselves how powerful they really are.

I hope I don’t sound like friends and customers can’t come and talk to me about the big stuff in my booth. Gosh, sometimes we bond so much, we all end up crying! That’s what art does sometimes–opens our hearts up and empties our tears, so something healing and restorative can begin.

But the thing is, in almost every case, these sad people are not really customers.

By that I mean, maybe they are at the show, and they are not artists. They look like shoppers.

But they rarely buy anything, they never bring their friends to buy, they never promote your work in any way. It’s always about them. They are simply looking for an ear, and they are very good at finding captive audiences.

Don’t let them trap you in your booth!

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #1: The “Free Milk” People

We spend so much time and energy trying to get people into our booth at a craft show, it seems totally counter-intuitive to think about how to get someone out.

Sad to say, there are such times–and such people. Sometimes you just have to pull the plug on someone who has overstayed their visit.

The first scenario? “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?”

There are people who wants your work for free–or worse.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I can almost hear you exclaim. “Who goes to a craft show and expects you to give them your work?!”

Actually, it happens a lot.

Artists at a craft show are kind of a captive audience to this kind of person–we can’t escape our booth, and they know it.

How about the budding craftsperson who wants to know everything about what you do? Where you get your ideas? Where you get your supplies? Who you sell to? What shows you do? How you learned your techniques?

How about the person who only wants to know how you make your stuff, so they can make it, too? (Yes, I’ve actually had people sat this to me outright.) This can be someone who sees themselves as “crafty” and thinks it’s okay to “borrow” your ideas, your designs, your color schemes, etc. They may excuse themselves for many reasons: They don’t intend to sell it, they just want to make one for themselves. Or they do intend to sell it, but only in Connecticut, because you don’t do shows in Connecticut anyway, right?

As for requests to give away my work, I’ve actually had people hint I should lower my prices or give them a deal, or even give them a piece , because they like my work but they think it’s too expensive, or they simply can’t afford it.

Some people simply see everyone as a benign and generous source of all kinds of free information because of the altruistic nature of their calling–education, for one. I hate to malign an entire profession because of a few lazy apples but you need to know: There are a few teachers are so caught up in the nobleness of their education thing, they think the rest of us are happy to share our trade secrets so they (the teacher) can use your ideas and techniques for a class project. They will spend a huge amount of time talking to you, having you convinced you have a new major collector on your hand, only to say cheerfully at the end, “Well, this will make a great lesson plan! Do you have any brochures I can take with me?”

Before I caught on to this, I had one teacher, when I gave her a brochure (thinking she was a really interested customer), who actually said, “Oh, what you’ve written about the Lascaux cave is perfect. I don’t have to change a thing! I can just use this whole text in my lesson plan!” I asked her if she were going to attribute that content to me. She was totally confused. With a smile, I said, “Well, all this material is my original content, developed from my research and endless hours of writing and editing. And of course, it’s copyrighted material.” She stammered an unconvincing, “Of course….sure…” and exited the booth.

Other artists do this to us, too. I know we are all inspired and energized by the creativity of others. And I know there may be nothing truly new under the sun. But when an artist says to you, “I want to change to something easy and quick to do that I can make a lot of money at, and I think I could do what you’re doing. How do you get the horses to look like this?”, your bullshit detector should be going off like a fire alarm in a gunpowder factory.

And if someone steps into your booth with a camera and starts snapping away at your products, you need to find out immediately if they are simply an enthusiastic yet innocent and clueless admirer, or someone swiping your designs.

Before you say, “Surely you exaggerate…?” let me assure that these are all things that have actually happened to me. All the weird questions and statements are that have actually been said to me. These situations tends to happen more at retail shows. At wholesale shows, the buyers are usually pre-qualified. They are there for a purpose, to find products for their store. But this stuff can happen at wholesale shows, too.

What’s going on?

Some people see shows as entertainment or education. They don’t know, or they forget, or they overlook the fact that you have spent a heckuva lot of time, money and energy to be there. As generous as we’d like to be, we must also sell our work so we can afford to keep doing what we’re doing.

We cannot afford to overlook or ignore paying customers at the expense of someone who has no intention of paying for what we have to offer.

There is no right or wrong to all of this. Some people would not be bothered a jot by any of the situations I’ve described, while others would be even less tolerant than I am. It’s totally up to you how much time you want to give to someone, and what your comfort level is. If a show is slow, it’s certainly nice to at least look like you have customers and buyers in your booth.

But if you’ve hit your comfort level, or there are other people, potential paying customers in your booth you need to get to, then it’s time to move these “non-buying” people on.

Now first, how do we identify who is a potential customer who is simply interested in your work, from someone who is looking for the free milk?

And how to we participate in the simple act of sharing our expertise and experiences freely with others, without feeling taken advantage of by those few people that, well, take advantage?

To answer the first question:

People who are really interested in you and your work (and not just what you can do for them) ask you questions–and listen to the answers.

These people are genuinely interested in you and your work (whether or not they are ready, able or willing to buy it just yet.) They want to know more about you and the work.

People who are interested in only what you can do for them, ask questions–and then interrupt to tell you their answers, and their issues, and their work.

Or they argue with everything you say, but those people fall into the “energy vampire” category which we’ll cover later.

Or their questions have everything to do with the “how”, and very little to do with the “why”.

The answer to the second question is, know that you get to decide what you are going to give “free” to people that ask. You get to choose! You can share your time, your expertise, your advice. But it is up to you how much and how detailed.

And most importantly, when you share that. (Hint: After the show!!) (Yes, you are going to hear that over and over today.)

Some things and thoughts that have worked for me:

First, if there is anyone else in your booth who is acting more like a genuine customer, you on your party manners and excuse yourself: “Well, hey, it’s been really nice talking to you, but I have some things I need to get back to.” Move away, greet your other customers, and do your regular booth schtick–offer to answer questions for your new arrivals, adjust your display, keep busy.

If there are no other customers, you can choose how much–or how little–advice/time/information you give away.

For the customer who claims my work is too expensive, I’ll come right out and ask, “What is your budget?” I show them the less expensive work in that range. If I feel they are quibbling, or are being ridiculous (“Five dollars!”) I simply say, “I’m so glad you like my work, but it’s so labor intensive, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I sometimes even move them on to another artist’s booth with work in that price range.

If they insist they want expensive work, I tell them about my extremely cool layaway plan. They will either step up to the plate–cool! A new collector! Or they will realize you know the value of your work and that you’ve priced it fairly–and that you’re not going to be guilt-tripped into offering a discount.

BTW, if you are an artist who does offer discounts, and that works for you, be sure to ask them first what they are willing to pay. Otherwise, you get into this weird game of trying to guess the most they are willing to pay–you offer a discount and they get to say it’s still too high, and it goes downhill from there.. Get them to commit to an offer they will definitely accept first, then work up from there. OR offer them another piece in that price range.

I sometimes feel it’s justified to have people do some work if they want to learn everything I know. Consequently, I keep a few resources memorized to meet such requests.

For people who want to know where I get my supplies, I tell them to check out the advertisers in trade magazines like Bead and Button Magazine. Websites like Glass Attic are encyclopedic resources for videos, books and classes on polymer clay. You could have ready similar resources for your medium.

For people who are farther along than that, I keep a few good wholesale sources memorized to pass on to them. I have several with a range of wholesale requirements and corresponding price breaks, and the artist can figure out which ones suit where they are now in their career.

I keep the contact info for local teachers who teach classes in simple jewelry-making or introduction to polymer clay. If you teach yourself, offer your own workshops. After the show, of course. Put their name on a separate mailing list for classes.

For the people who insist I teach a class on how to make something that’s too personal, or one of my core products, I tell them that. Again, nicely. If they have a professional bone in their body, they’ll understand. If they don’t, I simply act like they do. I say something like, “You know how it is with art, some things are just too personal and totemic to share right away…”

I also refer people to my blog for information on how to get more publicity, how to decide whether to do wholesale shows, how to design a better booth, etc. Why should I stand in a booth at a show I’ve paid hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to be at, and talk at length, when they could simply read my blog?? If they say they don’t have time, well then, I don’t have time, either. If there are blogs out there you find useful, share them with these people.

For artists (especially ones new to wholesale) who want to know where I sell my work, I offer the name of a store or two I think would be a good fit for them. But I might also ask them for the name of a store, museum or other venue they’ve come across in their travels that would be a good fit for me.

If artists want more feedback on a show, say a wholesale show I’ve done, I can often refer them to specific essays I’ve written on my blog. Of course, the best advice I can give is for them to actually visit and walk the show themselves, so they can decide for themselves.

For the teachers looking for lesson plan material, offer to come in and do a project or artist presentation for their class. There is often a little money in the school budget for things like this, or sometimes grants are available from your craft guilds and state arts and crafts organizations. Of course, if you are willing to donate your time, that’s an option, too…after the show.

Last, I tell people I’m happy to talk with them–but not at the show.

I point out that my first goal at the show has to be to earn money so I can continue to make my beautiful work! They can call or e-mail me after the show. I smile, I stay happy, I maintain a positive atmosphere, I am polite–but I am also firm. Sometimes I have to say “after the show” quite a few times… but you’d be surprised how simply pointing this out to people can snap them out of this mindset.

Now, there are many people who do not actually buy my work, and I am happy to spend a lot of time with. But they have “paid” me in other ways–by collecting my work in the past, by introducing my work to others, by providing me with opportunities, speaking engagements, paid teaching gigs, publicity, or just plain ol’ support and encouragement.

There are many times people ask questions about my work, and I am not bothered or annoyed at all.

It’s not the action–it’s the intention. It’s when I feel the expectation that I am to give it away that I feel the burn.

Know when the intention is not serving you. Learn to recognize when the interaction is not balanced. Know that as long as you stay professional and courteous, it’s simply okay to say that enough is enough, and it’s time to move on.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

I was inspired by Donald Clark’s new column in The Crafts Report called “Just Ask”. Donald is a co-owner of Ferrin Gallery in Northampton, MA, and an author and artist in his own right. He gave a few suggestions for getting rid of a “talker” in your booth–the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

The advice was sound, but you could actually write a book about this topic. So I’ll share some suggestions and insights that have worked for me.

This will be in small doses over several days, as my ability to type is compromised. And I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to boot every non-customer out of your booth! Not every transaction is about money, not by a long shot.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. If they aren’t driving other customers out of your booth, they are practically driving you out of your booth.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.

THE BUDDY SYSTEM

Here’s a little trick the next time you find yourself backsliding about any of your “new steps forward.”

Call a friend.

Call someone whose judgment you trust, and ask for help.

I’ve been working on focus. Taking care of myself, not always putting other people first. Preserving my time–studio time, me time, family time. Fun time. (I love fun time!) Not getting pulled off course or away from stuff I need to take care of.

This week I backslid. Big time.

In spite of all my good intentions, I found myself pulled off-course this weekend. I found myself doubly-volunteered, committed to a climbing day out of town, accommodating a last-minute visit from friends, getting a last-minute estimate from a contractor on a frightening foundation issue (aren’t all foundation issues frightening by definition?), determined to go to a memorial service and trying to celebrate my son’s birthday.One commitment overflowed into another another. Times got changed and rearranged, or relayed to me incorrectly. The fragile schedule came tumbling down like a tower of toothpicks. I found myself honoring one commitment after another that didn’t really need me, to the detriment of people who did. I missed out on a day of climbing with friends and my daughter. And by Sunday I was still running behind and dropping balls–with more commitments to go.

Sometimes we just lose track of what the right thing to do is. We get caught up in all the details, the ramifications, the consequences. I even get caught up in the spirit of the moment. I’m one of those people that almost always responds to a good plea for help. “Sure, I can help!” (One of my favorite t-shirts reads, “STOP ME BEFORE I VOLUNTEER AGAIN!!”)

It happens to all of us, especially if we are people who like to be “useful.” (That little phrase about Thomas the Tank Engine, the one where Mr. Conductor always praised him by calling him a “really useful engine”, always got to me.)

That’s when we need another set of eyes to see more clearly.

I called my husband. “Just skip the memorial service,” he advised. “No one will care.” Good advice. Hmmmmm….he’s not exactly a disinterested party, though. He tends to tell me to skip everything.

Who would know the right thing to do?

Finally, I called a friend who always knows the right thing to do. (Or at least she fakes that really, really well.)

When she answered, I said, “I have a moral dilemma I need help with.”

She said, “And you called me??!!

We both laughed. Good! I needed a laugh.

I laid out what was going on. And in five minutes, it was clear where my real priorities lay.

No matter how surly and grumpy my kid is, no matter how much he says he “doesn’t care” what we do for his birthday, he will always remember if we end up doing “not much”.

On the other hand, I am neither expected nor needed at the memorial service. It would be a nice gesture. But my family has to come first.

The fundraisers and volunteer ops? I can’t help it that the same six people always show up–that’s not my problem. I’ve done my bit. I need to find other ways to help the organization that don’t necessarily mean so much time away from home.

My buddy kept me from sinking. My head’s above water again!

Think about your friends, and think about which ones are really good at what kind of decisions.

The next time you find yourself backsliding, give one a buzz.

Oh, and be sure to do that for someone else if they need it, too. It’s always easier to sort through someone else’s stuff, isn’t it?

THE UPSIDE OF DOWN #1 Make One Less Trip

As promised, the first of the life lessons I’m learning from having to wear an aircast for a month. (Two weeks down, two to go!)

I’m allowed to drive.

But it’s gotten so complicated, I don’t want to!

Bear with me here. This gets tedious.

Since my right foot is in an aircast, I’m either running around barefoot all day or wearing one shoe. Since it’s been hot, that’s usually a sandal. And I’m in my shorts. Or in the mornings, when it’s chilly, wearing one sock (because the aircast comes with its own “special” knee high sock.)

If I drive, I have to take the aircast off. That means a) looking for a matching right shoe (which can take hours, because I’m always kicking my shoes on and off all over the house, upstairs, downstairs, in my studio, etc.) and/or b) taking off the knee sock I’m wearing with the aircast and looking for a matching pair of socks. But since I’ve been wearing one sock all day on my left foot, I can’t remember what I did with the other sock. My dresser drawer is now full of single socks….

If I’m going somewhere for any length of time, I have to take the aircast with me and change into it when I get there. Which means switching the normal sock I’ve been wearing on my right foot, for the funny “special” knee sock for the aircast.

The other day, I looked down at the passenger seat in my car. I had two different (single) socks and 3 (single) shoes, some lefts, some rights. (So that’s where they all went….!!)

You can see that the logistics of using my car has become challenging in odd ways.

Which means (ta da! Here’s my point!) it’s just easier not to make so many car trips.

So I’ve cut down on the number of times I jump in my car during the day. I’ve always tried to bunch up my errands, etc. But now I’m doing my best to avoid using my car, because it just takes too much emotional energy.

Consequently I’m getting more efficient with my time.

It reminds me of the the two smaller retail shows I’m doing this season–what will I gain from that?

Doing shows has become a big production for me. I’ve “expanded” to fill the space they given me–two days’ of set-up ends up meaning it takes me two days to set up. I overpack, taking “everything I might need” because it’s just one more thing I can toss into the packing crate.

Well, that’s about to change!

Doing shows that only allow for a few hours’ set-up will be a major shake-down–and that’s a good thing. I need to relearn the difference between what is “nice to have” and what is “essential to have.”

I can only take what I can pack into my car, or strap on top. Robin’s getting nervous–I keep asking her if she likes the wind in her face.

It’s forcing me to split apart my product lines, focusing more on the jewelry and sculpture, and only offering very small wall hangings. (At these shows, the chances that someone will come prepared to drop a couple thousand dollars on a wall hanging are slim.) That, in turn, should force me to find new venues for the fiber work.

At one show, I’m going to focus on lots of items in the under-$100 category. I don’t want to water down my designs–but my finest pieces are headed out next week to the galleries I know can carry the higher-priced stuff.

Cull, focus, simplify. A few good things I’ve learned from having to curtail my life this month.

P.S.  I’ve been walking a lot more, too!  A LOT more….

SELF-HELP BOOK, HEAL THEYSELF!

I was scrolling through someone else’s blog roll today, out of curiousity. I came across one by an artist who was bemoaning the fact that she never really finishes most of the self-help books she starts. I got the feeling that she felt really bad about it, that it meant there was something wrong with her. That maybe if she actually finished the books, she would be a better person and a better artist.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with her. I think she’s doing exactly the right thing.

Actually, I’m now a sucker for self-help books, too. Didn’t used to be. In fact, for years I deliberately avoided them. I used to work in business environments with lots of other people. Every self-help book that came out followed the same pattern in my workplace.

One person would read it and report back at lunchtime. “It’s amazing! I never knew I had XYZ syndrome, but I’m practically crippled by it! But this book–I’m cured! You should read it, too!”

One by one, everyone would read it, and be amazed that they, too, had XYZ syndrome. They would discuss the book and quote it at length. Everyone would nod and share their personal anecdotes, and their favorite quotes. It became all we’d talk about at lunch.

It was like watching people being converted to a new religion en masse. Or a pandemic at work.

Finally, the thrill would wear off, the interest would wane. Maybe even a little healthy skeptism would seep in. (“Well, I tried that thing the book said, and it didn’t work at all!“)

Finally we’d return to normal topics of conversation–TV shows, boyfriends or marriage, kids, our stupid bosses, etc.–until the next self-help best seller appeared on the horizon. With its same promise of rescuing us from our own lives.

Part of the reason I never read these books was a) this was before Amazon and Half.com, and I couldn’t afford them, and b) they were so badly written and formulaic, I lost interest after the first couple of chapters.

Nowadays, there are so many self-help books out there now, it’s hard to NOT read them. And I have to admit, there are some really good ones out there, including some just for artists. Now that’s tempting!

But I still rarely finish them. Here’s why I think that’s a good thing:

1) A book either “speaks” to you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, why waste precious time finishing it?

2) You sense it might be useful, but you don’t really get it.

You may just not be ready to hear what that particular book has to say. You may find it more informative at another time.

3) Once you get the gist of what it’s about, that’s all you really need to know.

Most self-help books are repetitive and wordy, hammering the author’s point home til there’s no room for any other “diagnosis” for what’s wrong with the world. Many are filled with tons of anecdotes to “prove a point”. (Please remember that many authors are paid by the word. Do you think they will write a concise book?)

I’m so not into finishing books that I’ve actually never read one of my favorites, The Nibble Theory completely all the way through–and it’s less than 75 pages long! (And it’s one of the best ones, too.)

I like to skim enough to get why and how the author arrived at their insight, then skip right on to the consequences and suggestions. Most of the time, simply knowing what you are doing, and why it’s holding you back, are enough for you to consider changing the behavior. Otherwise, you are getting something powerful out of holding onto that behavior, and change isn’t going to be easy.

4) In the end, with a self-help book, it’s always about the book, not about you.

I’m going to pick on The Artist’s Way which is actually a really nice book for artists who have totally “fallen off the path”. It’s beautifully written, personable, encouraging and interesting.

The book is about making space–mentally, spiritually, physically, socially, time-wise–to make your art.

So why does the focus of the book seem to be about the exercises?

There are so many exercises, tasks, and recommended readings in the book, it would probably be 75% smaller if these were removed. If you actually did all the exercises, tasks and recommended readings, it would probably take you about seven years to really finish the book.

I have issues with the damn exercises.

Many of them are excellent. I did a couple while reading the book, and they were helpful. But after doing one or two, I quit. I got the point.

I’ve seen so many people fall into focusing on doing the exercises in the book rather than doing their art, they’ve defeated the whole point of reading the book.

Here are the two main themes I’ve taken away from the book: Create your own support system of people who love the artist in you. And think/write about the things that are holding you back, so you can work your way through them. Those two things have been powerful themes in my life since then, and I am grateful for the book.

You may find something different to take away. My point is, you don’t need to “take away” the entire book.

I can’t think that Julia Cameron really intended for people to spend hours and hours following the tenets of her book at the expense of doing their art.

5) Finally, beware the chocolate with the poison center. Yes, self-help books are fun to read. They promise an instant diagnosis and a quick solution for your problems. But as my friend Lee warned me several years ago in my blog essay Stormy Weather eventually, it all comes down to you. Me. Making the art.

As Lee put it that fateful day, when I told him how good the book ART AND FEAR was: “Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

We don’t have to be brave, or extraordinary. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to “have it all together” or “have it all figured out.”

All we have to do is show up. And do what we’re supposed to do, the best we can, as we can.

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.

IT’S WORKING! (Time Management, That Is…)

So how has my experiment with avoiding the computer and phone calls been progressing? I would say very well indeed!

I’ve tried to avoid as many distractions as possible. When I hit my studio first thing in the morning, I sit at my work table, not my computer. When the phone rings, I check to see if it’s a call that has to be answered, or can wait. If I’m not sure, I listen to the message to check. If I’m already doing handwork that’s compatible with listening, I pick up. I’ve tried to limit the calls and get as much information by e-mail as I can.

The results?

I’ve been reworking some small fiber collage fragments, making them into miniature wall hangings. They’re looking good! I even have a stash of very tiny beaver-chewed sticks to hang them with, collected for me by fellow polymer artist Connie Gray.

I’ve been working much more steadily on new jewelry designs. If you check out my new website, you’ll see the colorful new work that’s literally been flowing through my hands.

What I love best about it is that it all came as a natural evolution, starting with that one customer’s special order request for a “black bird” artifact over a year ago. The “bird” part became a new animal motif and the “black” part became a new faux finish technique (soapstone).

As I experimented with the soapstone finish, I remembered that some of my Inuit soapstone carvings were actually greenish in hue–more like steatite than soapstone. I made “green soapstone”. These two different hues in turn led to both of my new colorways: The soft gray-black artifacts complimented by intense coral red, lapis blue and turquoise green (the Mojave series). The slate green artifacts accented with “water” colors–translucent aquas, ice blues, pale sea greens (the Glacier series. You can see my new jewelry with all these luscious new colors.

Again, all natural progressions, following a line of thought and listening to the artifacts themselves. Not some self-imposed “change for the sake of change” thinking, which for ME always leads to artificial places and shallow waters.

Unfortunately, this process has impacted my writing. It’s been harder to write regularly. There’s no angst to work through. Okay, not as much angst. There’s still plenty of emotional drama in my life!

Then I realize it’s just as important to share what’s working. To talk about what’s going well.

In fact, that’s really important–to dwell on the good stuff. We tend to focus on what’s going wrong, and not on what’s going right. It’s our human nature–we’re hardwired to pay attention to bad stuff–but this is one aspect of my nature I’d like some balance restored to!

Now, what about my attempts to restore order and organization to my studio?

Hmmmm….well, let’s just say I’m not in a position to post any photos of my worktable….