Monday, January 25, 2010

What It Takes

A recent (and less than complimentary) comment  from someone at a festival made me realize that most attendees have no idea what it takes for an artist to actually *be* at the festival. Which isn't surprising; after all, most of you have never applied to one, have you?  Then you're smarter than me.  :)

Here's what's involved in exhibiting at an art festival:

1. Submitting to the event:

- Filling out the application. Submitting images of your work. "Submitting images" can mean many things: 1. actual photos. 2. slides. 3. a CD of images. 4. online application and images. And you'd better have all of them on hand because each show wants something different.

Oh, and those images? For a competitive medium like jewelry, they need to be top-notch. Which, for most of us, means paying a professional for photos. That can run several hundred dollars (some of the best pros charge about $100 per image; most shows want 3-4 images to review). And even if your images are fabulous, there are so many submissions for so few jewelry spots, that many, many hopefuls will be disappointed every year.

And it's best not to submit to the same show for more than two years with the same images. Juries like to have "new" and "fresh" work to review. And if they see the same shots every year, they can think your work is "stale" and be more inclined to select someone else over you. So you'll have to pay that photographer at least every two years (some people do this every year) for new images.

Plus you have to submit a booth photo. And your booth had better look professional. Or individual. Or creative. Or...all of these things. Or...some of them. Or not. The "booth shot" is often the trickiest part of submitting to a festival. Juries are never clear on what they want from the booth shot, so we artists are left to guess. And hope. :)

- The jury fee. Most of the high end shows are juried. That means an artist will pay typically from $25 - $45 just to be reviewed by the jury. This does not guarantee that they will be accepted into the show. Nope - you pay for the privilege of just being looked at. So if an artist does 20 shows a year, assuming (on the low end) a $25 jury fee for each, that's $500, just for the jury process. Booth fees are a whole other expense.

2. The Waiting.

- After you've submitted, the waiting period begins. Often there is a space of several months between when you've submitted your application and when you will be notified about the event. If you make a living exhibiting at these events, this can be very nerve-wracking. You never know from year to year whether you'll be invited to attend. Which means you can't plan your potential income until you know one way or another. And I do mean potential income...just because you made it over all the hurdles and got yourself accepted, is no guarantee of anything...except that you will now pay, on average, anywhere from $200 to $500 for the privilege of having a space there for the duration of the show.

3. The Acceptance. Or Non-acceptance. Or Limbo - the Wait List.

- So the notification day arrives, and you are ecstatic! You've been accepted! If this is the case, you start planning ASAP. How much inventory do you need to have? Do you want or need to make changes to the booth? If so, what changes?  Do I have enough business cards, packaging, receipts, etc., etc. Of course, as previously mentioned, acceptance to a show by no means guarantees that you will make money at it! The show will bring the shoppers (at least the better ones will, and the weather is good), but it's up to YOU to make sure that your booth invites them in, and that  your product and pricing invites them to purchase.

- Or you've not been accepted. You are disappointed. You try not to take it personally, but sometimes you can't help it. The rejection is especially painful when you have exhibited at a show in the past and then are not invited to exhibit the next time. If you are a sensitive artist type (which, if you weren't, you wouldn't have applied in the first place, right?), you can start to question your validity. One rejection is one thing. A whole slew of them is another issue entirely. The tricky part about being rejected is that you will likely never know WHY. Is it your booth? Your creations? The way they were photographed? Should you quit and get a "regular" job? Should you change what you're designing? Are you still fabulous but there was just too much competition for too few spaces?

- Or you've been Wait Listed. This is a little form of hell devised to keep you bouncing from "I won't get accepted" to "I really, really hope I get accepted" to the show. Being on the wait list, as my husband likes to say, isn't a rejection. And as I like to respond, it isn't an acceptance, either. It means you didn't quite make it, but if something happens to another artist, you might be able to exhibit after all. So you have to hope that you have the opportunity...without hoping that something bad happens to the person who was previously accepted. Tricky balancing act, there.

(BTW, remember the jury fee? Well, if you submit for a show and you plan your income around selling at that show, what happens when you are not accepted? No income, of course. So many artists will "double book" (submit for more than one show on the same date), hedging their bets that they will get to show somewhere. So that $500 in jury fees can easily double to $1000 or more. And what happens if you are accepted to two shows at the same time? Well...jury fees are nonrefundable. So you will sacrifice some fees along the way, if you get accepted to two shows and then have to decline one.

4. The Actuality

- The day of the event arrives. The event starts at 10 a.m. You are there by 6 a.m. to set up. Let's not think about what time this means you actually GOT up. Maybe, if you're lucky / have a simple booth / don't have a lot of set up to do / the Universe is on your side that day,  you arrive by 8 a.m...wth all the other people who are exhibiting. Ever tried to manage 400 exhibitors who all have to be set up by 10 a.m.? I am always impressed at whatever magic the show staff works to make this happen. All those vehicles, all those artists trying to get unloaded and fit everything they've brought into a 10' x 10' space! At the same time!

- You're set up and ready for the show to start. It's hot. Or it's cold. Or it's raining. Or it's windy. One of the most difficult things about exhibiting at outside festivals is that the weather can change in an instant.

-Rain is not good because: 1. It often drives the shoppers away. 2. The nicer and more expensive your booth display, the more likely it is not going to mix well with water. 3. It's no fun to be out in the pouring rain in a temporary (and possibly leaking, if it rains hard enough) structure.

- Wind is not good because: 1. It can be devastating, plain and simple. If you work in glass, and a good gust catches your tent or display, you can have thousands of dollars' worth of work (not to mention all the time invested in it) crash to the ground in seconds. Ditto for ceramicists. Even if your creations are less fragile, you still can lose your booth entirely (don't doubt it - anyone who has been on the show circuit for a while has seen, or experienced, an entire tent lifting off the ground and blowing away, or has seen the aftermath of a wind-destroyed tent). Even if none of that happens, the wind can cause such havoc that customers don't want to stick around.

- Heat is not good - though better than wind or rain - because: 1. While warm sunny weather can work to your advantage, if you happen to have been assigned a shadeless spot for your booth, and it's 90+ degrees for 5 straight hours, you are going to be very miserable. Spending several hours in the blazing sun can result in sunburns, heat exhaustion, dehydration. Why not stay inside the tent? Often the tent will get so warm / humid that you can't stand to be in there, even though it's the only shade you have. Not to mention that if you're sweltering inside your  tent, shoppers aren't going to hang around for long.

5. The Moving On

- The show is over. You made your necessary income, or you didn't. Either way, everyone is going home. One thing I haven't mentioned is the physicality of exhibiting at shows. That 10' x 10' tent? It' s not exactly featherweight (otherwise it might blow away in the wind). Those weights on each corner, to help keep it stable? They're 40 pounds each. But they can feel like twice that during load-out. All the tables / cases / signage / display items / walls and wall hangings / floor / the actual creations you's quite a bit to haul around. You possibly are still sore and tired from setting up. You've been on your feet for 10 or more hours for two (or more) days in a row. Now you're taking it all down again. If you're lucky, you can get your vehicle close to your tent to load out. More likely, you'd better bring a hand truck because you don't want to be carrying those heavy loads too far.

- You get home, unload, reorganize, and start the process all over again for the next show. Depending on your schedule (and how many shows have accepted you), that could be next month, next week, or in two days...

So...any of you ready to board the festival train?? Hm. No takers? Can't say I blame you. Just try not to dismiss what we do so easily the next time you see us that you know what it takes to have gotten us there.  :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Somone to Watch Over Me

Do you control your life? Or is it controlled...let's say something greater than yourself? I tend to believe in both. I think we get a great deal of latitude in managing what happens in our own lives, but that a higher power also exerts itself on us. We can choose our mate(s), friends, careers, where we live, how we act...but I believe that if we are choosing poorly, the Universe will nudge us in a more appropriate direction. And I think that if we don't listen, it will nudge us a little harder. Like going from stubbing your toe, to spraining your ankle. And if we still don't pay attention after the small nudges, things will really get messy!

I've had it happen many times in my life. It's not always easy to see when it's happening, but it's quite clear when looking back (that hindsight thing is pretty accurate). I've encountered people who seem to have no other purpose in my life than to nudge me one way or the other. Some seem to be aware of their purpose, others not....but I don't believe those encounters are random. I've run into incredibly painful or frustrating (or both) situations that have made me take a huge step back and reconsider nearly everything in my life up to that point, and realize that things need to a big way. Or in several small ways.

One of my more recent toe-stub nudges (that turned into an ankle sprain, and then practically a broken leg!) has been career-oriented. I've been designing jewelry since the early 1990s, moving from bead work to wire, dabbling in PMC, and then a little in metalsmithing...then PMC again, followed by more metalsmithing...but somehow I felt that I couldn't get past the wire work, which comprises most of my current designs. I have had it in my head that metalsmithing was this HUGE mountain, so high that climbing seemed impossible. And forget about reaching the top! That was never going to much as I really thought I wanted to try.

So the Universe stepped in, in two ways. First, it brought me in contact with my friend Delias, who is an extremely talented 'smtih herself. Not only have we become close friends, but her studio is my Learning Annex and she teaches me about so much more than how to make cool stuff with the torch. We've been friends for just over a year now, and I have learned so much - both personally and professionally - during that time.And there is no question about her purpose...Delias doesn't "nudge". She pushes you forward despite yourself, refuses to accept "no" for an answer, and problem solves all roadblocks into oblivion. If you're ever fortunate enough to have her take you under her wing, count your blessings!

Second, my business has struggled over the last 16 -18 months. It's not been horrible , but I was not achieving what I wanted to achieve. The business wasn't growing, and I wasn't enjoying it like I used to. I felt stuck - to old designs, old ideas, old routines. I felt trapped. This didn't happen all at once, of course; it has been more like a series of hurdles that I couldn't seem to get past, disappointments, and frustrations. I didn't know what to do to shake things up, make the appropriate changes. Everything I tried seemed to bounce back in my face.

And then, slowly, the process itself has started taking over. I've become more proficient with the torch, and a bunch of other tools. I've started to "get" why some things will work, and some won't. I've melted some things, made some cool stuff, and become comfortable with the idea that maybe I, too, could really metalsmith one day. And even if I never reached the top, the journey was going to be one hell of a fun path. As this began happening, I almost literally felt the doors opening. Ideas blossoming. Possibilities shining so clearly in the distance, beckoning me to try them. Now I can't wait to get into the studio every morning (and I'm not even set up to solder here yet...but I am doing everything else possible in the meantime!).

I'm nowhere near where I want to be, of course. I still feel like I don't have a ton of fully formed ideas, because I don't truly understand the possibilities of what I can do - and there's a lot I still can't do right now. But I feel like thoughts and plans are rushing into my head, and I can't wait to try them out!

Oddly enough, though I felt so unsure about choosing the fabrication path, I have managed, over the years, to amass nearly everything necessary to do it. The big things - torch/tank, a true studio, a couple of necessary items (pickle pot, firebricks, etc) were missing, but I have had all the other tools at my disposal for some time. I just didn't have the confidence to start the climb. So...was I getting the subtle message from the Universe, and gathering items necessary for my next career journey? I believe I was...and could have considerably shortened the wait time by paying closer attention to the first few nudges.

What's nudging YOU lately...?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BMAC Winter Postcard

This is my newest postcard. It's oversized and hard to miss....which is the point. These are not getting mailed out, but will be at my booth for the winter BMAC next month. They're meant to serve as a visual reminder of Blue Piranha for interested buyers. Not bad, for a pretty inexpensive VistaPrint order.

The necklace shot in the middle was also my image for show advertising, so hopefully I'm laying some groundwork for the buyers to remember me from that. 

What do you think? Feel free to share, good or bad. I can take it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Studio Extras 2 - Feel Goods

This is scrawled on my soldering table. When Brett and I put the table in the studio, we made sure that this was facing front. Both the soldering and design tables are old lab tables from a school, re covered with graffiti. I love the idea that every time I sit down to solder (an activity at which I am not yet consistently "good"), that's what I see.

The Board of Joy is opposite the flower cork board shown in the Nook post. It's a tiny board, and I've never found another one that size - it fits that wall space like it was made for it. It's a little small for any real functional use, but I sorted through a whole pile of miscellany that I've been keeping, and this was the end result. Items on the board include:

- pictures of my niece and nephew, and one of me with my BFF

- a postcard of NYC, bought on a trip years ago, when the Towers were still standing

- ticket stub from a special concert

- a coaster for Fat Tire Beer (Brett is a Colorado boy, and we both grew up out West...there was much cause for celebration when Fat Tire finally was available East of the Mississippi (just last year!))

- various buttons & pins from over the years

- a football helmet thumbtack I've had since I was little, showing my favorite team

It's not a necessary item, but I want my studio to be a happy place, and these little reminders make me smile as I work. I even made up a Board of Joy for Brett, now hanging in his office. Why not try one for yourself?

And last but certainly not least, a picture I've had since I was a kid. I can't remember where it came from, or how I ended up with it, but it's a tiny drawing of a frog and a unicorn. Underneath is lettered, "Who knows what magic tomorrow may bring". It hangs between the solder table and the Nook, and it's a fabulous reminder to keep looking ahead.

What I love best about this room is that when we moved to Georgia and I started my business, I didn't really have any idea of how things would lay out. Now that I've been designing full time for several years, I knew where I wanted things to be. It was just a question of making everything fit. It's not some glossy magazine design on home offices (in my dreams), but it's suited to how I work, and that's even better. :)

Best Christmas present EVER, and big thanks to B who worked a lot on his "staycation" to help make this happen!!

Studio Extras 1 - Practicalities

Here are a few of the extras that are the icing on the cake for me. They "ain't pretty" but they make the daily work so much easier.

It's hard to see in the big pic, but on the main wall are two "hammer hangers". Similar to the cord roll idea, these keep my much-used hammers close at hand and keep them from taking up drawer space. Brett found these at HD; I'm not sure what the original use would be, but they are designed to go with our shelving unit and they are the perfect size for hanging hammers! (see closeup below)
Just to the right of the brass hammer, is a pair of switches (see closeup below). The one on the left controls my tumbler, so I don't have to crawl around on the floor to plug / unplug it every time I tumble something. Who designed tumblers without an on / off switch, anyway??

The other switch controls the track lighting that is above my computer desk. Both switches were bought at the ubiqutous HD - they're the same kind of f switches some of you may use for Christmas tree lights (which is where Brett stole the idea). They're zip-tied to the "hammer hanger".

As mentioned, they aren't pretty, but they make tasks simpler, and that counts for a lot.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Phase 8: Finally!! And the Bonus Room

Phase 8 isn't really a phase...everything is pretty much done now. But we (and by we, of course I mean Brett!) did hang two wire mesh mail sorters. As you can see, they are already getting plenty of use. The one on the left is for me, and the one on the right is for Brett. I put incoming mail / magazines / catalogs etc. in mine, and once I've gone through it, I do the same for Brett's.This is much better than our old system, which often was me ignoring the mail for weeks on end, because it just sat in a big pile. Now I can't have a big pile, so I am forced to go through it regularly!
And the Bonus Room: a quick shot of the attached bathroom. The mail sorters are hanging on the short wall leading to the bath (would be to the right of this photo). It's little, but it manages to cram in a sink, toilet, and full shower (hidden by the curtain on the right), plus storage shelves (not shown). We redid this bath - it was THE most hideous room in the house, and that's saying a lot - November 2008. Now that I'll be using it regularly for draining tumblers and stuff, it might have made sense to have waited. But I really don't mind - I love this bathroom now. My mom and I ran around for several days, shopping for just the right items, while Dad and Brett did the grunt work...and we were all happy in the end. Plus, who can resist the charm of Rosie, my favorite mirror in the whole world? *wink*

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Phase 7: Computers and More...

To the right of the main wall is my computer station and additional shelving. I'd poked around a bit, on Craigslist and such, looking for the right computer desk, but nothing was quite right enough. Brett found this (brand new) desk - perfect size - at an office supply store for $50 (at the same time he bought me a Snuggie, but that's a story for another time). The new desk is waaaay better than my old configuration, and almost everything I use regularly is close at hand. These shelves mostly hold paperwork and more paperwork. Managing the paper trail is a full time job by itself!

A better view of the computer desk and shelves. To the right of the desk is another storage container where I keep all the little things, like paper clips, stamps, etc. The numerous white binders on the shelf above the computer table have design information, tech info, business info...all sorts of stuff I reference regularly.

These two boards are just to the right of the computer. Right now they are blank because I want to use them for pricing and pinning up designs to see how they fill out my collections. I'm almost to the point of doing that now, which means that they will be very messy, very quickly!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Phase 6: The Nook and the Solder Station

The table in front of the window is my soldering area. I *think* it's set up the way I want it to be; though it's hard to say since I haven't actually used it yet. I just got my own tank and torch, and I still need ventilation. Now you can see the double windows that I mentioned in the Stage 4 post. Notice how low they have ventilation with the box fan, I'll need some sort of brace to hold it up high enough to have an effect on airflow. That will likely end up being B's last project for this room (and will he ever be happy about that!). I'll post another photo when that's done. On the far right of that table is my flex shaft, and by the front left leg is the newly filled tank. It needs to be chained to the leg still.

To the left in the first photo, you can see what was previously a closet. Not much of one - never had a door (we put up a curtain), and it's only two feet deep (the same depth as all the other closets in our house - yes, we got totally gypped when it came to closet space) - but now it is my mailing / shipping / storage nook.

Above is a close-up of the nook. The closet had one shelf; we added the top shelf for additional storage. The brown desk (which was originally my mother's), fits almost perfectly in that space. the top organizer is a hutch from a computer table that I got at a smokin' price from an office supply store, since I didn't need the whole table.

And finally, one of my little favorite things about this room: the funky flower corkboard. It fits perfectly in this small wall space. This is where wholesale orders will get pinned after the show next month!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Phase 5: Just Hangin' Around

Phase 5 is where it really started to get FUN for me! Well, not the trip to HD to *buy* the shelving, or the mathematics involved in figuring out exactly where to hang the verticals, or the part about trying to hit the nails into the studs...apparently our house is not "standard" in where the studs are placed. We encounter this issue from time to time in each room, but we always forget until the next time, and then Brett gets annoyed...yeah, those parts were just the prelude to what you see here. :)

Once the shelves were finally hung, then I had to figure out how to organize all my crap -- I mean supplies - on them. The center table holds tools and assorted "necessary" stuff for design work. To the left is a storage cabinet with my tumbler on top. Above that (under the shelving) is my cord roll. To the right are two filing cabinets, and above them are my printer, paper punch, and paper cutter. Under the table on the left is a rolling cart which houses my wire and sheet; resting on top of that is my lap pad. To the right under the table is another storage cabinet. On the very left you can just see my stump and the end of the soldering area.

One of my favorite things in the room is my cord roll. I use a fair amount of leather and suede in my designs, and I was really squeezed for storage space in this room. Since I had space under the bottom row of shelving, I decided to store the cord rolls there and not have them taking up valuable drawer / shelf space. This was so simple: a wooden dowel, two cup hooks, some chain, and a couple of thumbtacks in the ends to keep it from falling out of the chain loops.

One of the wonderful things about doing what you love for a living is that you can become so engrossed in it that you totally lose track of time. My clock keeps me on the straight and narrow, though it is not beloved by my husband or my friends. I get it - it's kind of cheesy and dated - but tulips happen to be one of my favorite flowers. And more importantly, it was my grandmother's clock. I don't have much from any of my grandparents, but I like the idea of Grandma's clock keeping time in my studio.

Phase 4: It's Di-vinyl

Phase 4 is "rolling out the carpet". It's not red, and I'm not famous, but I was thrilled all the same. It totally doesn't go with the wall color, but both the floor and the walls were an experiment, and if there's a room in our house where things don't match, I'm okay with this being that room.

That window to the left (it's a double set of windows) is where the ventilation is going to go. Right now that's a box fan; eventually it will be a range hood. As of today (this photo was taken in early December) it's still not set up. But hey, the holidays intervened and I still hadn't even *bought* the torch at that point, so it was a bit further down on the priority list.

By now we're almost to the good stuff!

Phases 2 & 3: Grunt Work

Phase 2:

Laying the masonite board, which probably was the hardest actual labor of the studio. This went on top of the existing carpet so I would have some support under the vinyl flooring. Being without the right power tools, we had to cut this stuff by hand. Yeah, that's right! We're totally badass...if you don't count the fact that we nearly killed ourselves doing so and had to take the next couple of days off to recover...

This also shows the color of the walls (bland beige) before we painted. It's the same color that's in most of our house - neutral enough, but what you can't see is the details.. This was a terrible paint job - you could see the drywall tape, and who knows what happened in this room from the previous owners - there were holes in the walls and lots of spackle to "prettify" things up. So our next step was...

Phase 3:

Painting. Which took longer than it should have, because we had so much spackling and sanding to do before Brett deemed the walls smooth enough to paint. I kept trying to convince him that this was just a studio, and the walls were going to be covered with shelves and all, but he was having none of it. The man doesn't tackle a job unless he can do it right, and in the end the walls do look a lot better (even though they ARE covered with stuff, as you'll see). The only thing you can't tell from the photos is how much darker this paint is than the original beige. It looks a lot lighter in the pics.

I was very, very impatient at these stages (and the next one). I like to decorate, and I like to design - jewelry. I actively dislike all the work that goes into getting a place ready to do the things I like to do! I thought I acted fairly patient, though Brett will likely tell you otherwise. One of his favorite phrases is, "You have the patience of a flea." I'm not sure exactly how much that really is, but I suspect it's, um...notsomuch. ~wry smile~

A New Year, A New...Studio!

For the second half of last year, I have been going once a week to what I call the Learning Annex - my friend Delias' house, where she is teaching me the ins and outs of fabrication and soldering. A couple of months in, I started to revisit making bangles (which I did during one of my first Spruill classes, long, long ago). I had soldered a few the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, then came home, hammered them, and then needed to anneal them. And...I couldn't! No torch, no way to do anything with them for another whole week. Well, that wouldn't stand. I went up the stairs to chat with my husband.

"Honnnneeeyy", I said, in my sweetest I'myourspecialwifeandloveyouSOmuch voice, "Can we go shopping on Black Friday?". Now, Brett and I have a pact that we NEVER go out on Black Friday. "Uh, NO", he replied. "How about just to Home Depot?", I said (a little greasing the skids; like every man I know, he has an abiding love for the ol' HD). "No one will be there on Friday!". Brett just gave me one of his eyerolling, "are you crazy?!" looks...but I knew he was on board.

So on Black Friday afternoon (we are not morning people), we trundled out to - not *our* Home Depot, 5 minutes from home, but the big one that was 20 minutes away. Why? Because my partner in crime had said that was where we needed to go to get the vinyl for my studio floor. After much fruitless searching, and several phone calls, it turned out that the HD we really needed was another 15 minutes away. So off we went. By now it was about 5 p.m., getting dark, and getting cold. And did I mention that I have carpet in the studio? And that we didn't want (don't ask) to rip it out, but lay the vinyl over it? This required not only vinyl flooring, but also hardboard (masonite) to lay over the carpet but under the vinyl (clear as mud yet?) for stability. 6 p.m. we had the hardboard, the vinyl, tape, glue, and a few other miscellaneous necessities (Home Depot is like Target - you go in for one thing and spend $150 on four things). We were on our way!

Until we got outside to the car. And realized that the vinyl at its longest was 11 feet. And that the five sheets of hardboard wouldn't fit in the car. And of course, we were nowhere near home so we couldn't really wing it. Brett laid the vinyl in at an angle, with one end sticking out the passenger side window. Meaning we would have to drive home with the window down (have I mentioned that it was COLD out? And then we shrink-wrapped (I'm serious) the hardboard to the top of the car. Because of the way the vinyl was lying, I couldn't sit up in the back seat, so had to lay down for the trip home...which started out on the freeway, but we had a lot of wind resistance, so Brett ended up taking surface streets most of the way. Nearly an hour later, we arrived in true hillbilly style!

The vinyl is sticking out the window, and if you look carefully, you can see the masonite boards shrink-wrapped to the top of the vehicle...
And thus ends Phase 1. Don't worry, there's more (much more than I ever imagined) to come...