Friday, April 18, 2014

True to your Art, True to your Business or Both?

MaryAnn Carroll
What is the most important to you as an artist? I think most of us would say that it is that we remain true to ourselves, grow from our experiences and perfect our techniques. I agree.

On the other hand, there is an art of selling. With show times coming up for many or if you sell online, I think you need to ask yourself if there is a balance in what you do?  This has been an ongoing discussion with my husband Bill Perrine and me. He has been a ceramic artist for many, many years, but started to create wood-fired pottery in 2008. At the time, he was not going to "bend" from being the artist that he was. I respected that, but as time went on, I started to give my female perspective on his work. Although beautiful, much of what he created had a masculine feel to it. Don't get me wrong.... I love most of it!

Although, I love what he does and he is incredibly talented, we have had many discussions about who the buyers are.  I travel with him to shows and have my little section set up for jewelry. I have paid lots of attention to how people shop when they walk into your both.

I can assure you (I think I will actually tally it this year) that the majority of your buyers are women. Once again we found ourselves having the same discussion and he came up with a way to stay true to himself while thinking about his buying "audience".

Those are a few examples of what will be going into the wood-fire kiln in a couple of weeks. The beads that will be going in still remain in one big ball of clay sitting on the kitchen table......

So, this is my take on his sales. I know you are dying to know...... "what's my take on my sales?" Well, it is basically the same thing. I have learned that some of my best work often sits because of the price tag. I also learned that I have to learn the art of creating for my audience. I am in a small gallery in Cortland, NY called Cinch Art Space. It is a great little shop filled with art from over 40 vendors.

Being in Cinch has been a learning experience for me. I had to know the community (near SUNY Cortland) and think about who the other buyers are. With that said, I began designing a range of jewelry from simple to complex. When I create simple it allows me to keep the price down. On the flip side of that, I tend to get bored easily, so I have to balance simple and more complex.

There you have it. I would love to know what strategies work for you.

On a completely different note, we have a few other things going on. Staci is offering a fabulous pendant giveaway. You can click HERE to read her post and leave your comment. Please remember to comment on the blog so that you will be counted when drawing a name.

Karen's non-profit organization Rare Species Conservatory Foundation is currently going through some difficult times. If you have a passion for preserving wildlife and our environment, please go to her website to read about their very important mission. You can also get to it by clicking the link on our sidebar. Funding is always needed to keep organizations like hers going.

Lastly, for those of you that might know me through online friendships or "in real life", you probably know that I am a big advocate for political injustice, particularly for those who are in prisons all over the United States for crimes that they did not commit. My passion evolved from one of the worst experiences that changed my life forever. The case involves a loved one and since it is not completely closed (despite the fact that it is now in year 4), I am not going to go into any details, other to say that it was very close to ending up like so many others who did not end up as "fortunate" as we did with wrongful convictions. I know we do not like to believe that the corruption can sometimes be on the side of the "good guys", but it can be and it has been.  I am offering a sale/donation to help Charles Erickson. You might have heard about the case since it has been all over the media. If you would like to learn more about how you can make a purchase while donating at the same time, you can click HERE. There is also a link on our sidebar.

Today, I do not only want to thank-you for supporting artists who create handmade with handmade, but also thank-you for supporting causes that are there to right the wrong.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boot Camp: Fine Finishings Wire Tips Continued

by Staci Louise Smith

Barb did a wonderful post on wire.  If you missed it, you can read up on it here.

She talked about wire gauge.  I thought perhaps I could add a little bit to that, with some tips and tricks I have learned a long the way.

I like to make my necklaces as ONE large focal piece, connect solidly by wire.  This allows me to control how everything hangs and fits together.

see some of the samples below

However, this also posed problems.  First of all, I love adding stick pearls as an accent.  The holes are always too small though, usually 24 g, if I am lucky, 22g.  I found out early on that these thinner wire gauges, even 20, are not strong enough for these sort of necklaces. 

While those smaller gauges work well if you are connecting beads with wire wrapped loops (which allows for movement and won't cause pressure on the wire itself), for a connection that doesn't allow for movement, it will not end up well.

 Although I found that my necklaces I wore didn't break, some customers had problems with them. What was happening with the customers was that they would move the focal pieces up and down, adjusting how they lay a little each time.  You know what happens with you bend a wire back and forth and back and forth over time?  Yeah, it breaks.  

So I added heavier wire to secure them.  I started to wrap more wire around it, to prevent it from being able to be moved by the customer.  Still, there were plenty of times I want to use pretty beads with thinner holes.

I found a solution.  It may not work for everyone, depending on what you are doing, but it works for my designs.

What I do is take my take my heavy gauge wire- usally 18g, and make my wire wrapped loop, add my first bead, then, in the place I want the pearl I leave the spot open.  Lay that piece down for now.

 Then I feed my pearl onto the 22g wire leaving plenty of tails on each end.

Now you can lay it where you want it

Wrap the thinner wire around the thicker wire.  You are essentially wrapping the pearl onto the thicker wire

Push it close to the first bead

repeat on the other side

Warp it back around the pearl, and you can even wrap it over the first bead if you want.  wrap tight and tuck your ends in

Now add your next or last bead, and go back around the pearl and first bead with the reaming thick wire.  if the thick wire was on the backside of the pearl, this time make sure it goes across the front


All done

(refer back to the above picture when you get to the end of the post)

Another wire tip, use your fine files!!!  Especially when using thicker gauge wire.  Even if you tuck an end in really good, it may be rough, just because it is so thick.  Use your needle files to gently round the end, so it won't catch or scratch anyone.  

I often run my fingers up and down a piece over and over to try to find snags.

You should also use dead soft wire for wire wrapping.  Many beginners make the mistake (like I did) of buying half or full hard wire, thinking it was stronger.  It will not work smoothly, and will not hold shape well (it forever wants to spring back to form).  Dead soft will actually hold is shape for wire wrapping better, and your hands will thank you too.

I hope that gives you some fresh things to think about where wire is concerned.

AND- since we have not had a giveaway in forever.....I am giving away the pendant shown above.  This is open to US residents only this time.

All you have to do is share this post, either on facebook, your blog, tweet it, pin it, ect.....

Then be sure to leave a comment below, with how you shared, and your email so we can contact you if you win.  A winner will be picked Monday April 21st by random generator.
(do not leave your comment on our facebook page, leave it here so it can be counted)

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Even Though it Looks, Sounds and Walks Like a Duck—it Might Be a Dog

You look at the title of this post and think, “What the heck is she talking about this time?”  Stick with me.
This month’s Boot Camp is about Fine Finishings—the little things that make your work really stand out.  While this is not my Boot Camp post, (that will be on the 28th), the entire topic has me thinking of so many different things we encounter as we progress as designers and artists.  The highs and lows, the mistakes, the successes, and the LEARNING CURVE.
With that in mind, I wanted to touch on a subject that I am personally acquainted with—getting suckered into buying bad beads.  Early in my designing career, I was a gemmy girl. I just LOVED gemstone beads.  Still do, but on a totally different level.  Back then, I was woefully under-educated about gemstones and beads in general, but that didn’t stop me from going to bead shows and dropping a ton of money on what I thought were quality gemstone beads.  One particular example comes to mind that encapsulates the point of this post.  I once (many moons ago) purchased what I was assured was genuine sapphire and ruby beads.  Gorgeous, faceted deep blue and blood-red stones.  I was at a huge commercial bead show held in a local convention center.  Aisle after aisle of sparkly beads and stones.  I was in newbie bead buying Heaven.

Gem and bead shows can be overwhelming to a newbie....SO MANY THINGS!
I wasn’t very savvy about beads, especially not gemstone beads, and believed what the dealer told me.  The price was so wonderful!  I felt so lucky to have found this amazing vendor willing to make such a great deal on SAPPHIRES AND RUBIES!!!  I dropped a couple hundred bucks (that I could not really afford), but paid far less than I thought I would for GENUINE SAPPHIRES AND RUBIES.  The bead strands were gorgeous, full of color and BIG.  I was so happy and couldn’t wait to get home and play.
I live in South Florida. My studio space at that time was on my enclosed back porch in all its glorious heat and humidity.  You could basically watch the rust form on all my tools, but that is a story for another day.  Anyway, I stashed my new GENUINE SAPPHIRE AND RUBY beads in my stacked Tupperware bead boxes, imagining all the wonderful things I would make with them.
A couple days later, I finally had time to work on jewelry.  Imagine my SURPRISE when I opened the container housing my NEW BEADS and found them clumped and stuck together, with blue and red color staining the inside of the plastic box I stored them in.  I picked them up and the color CAME OFF ON MY HANDS in a sticky mess.  What the..????  Florida heat and humidity revealed what I should have known—the beads were dyed GARBAGE.  I actually had to wash them off in the sink, where most of the color ran off, ending up with pale, milky quartz beads.  I felt like such an idiot.
Excuse the crappy picture...I actually kept a few of these beads
as a reminder. Yes, they still bleed and are sticky, even after
several years.  AND, notice the blue cord (also sticky), full of dye.
The moral of the story is, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Handle the beads you buy.  Look closely at how they are strung.  If the cotton cord the beads are on is the same color as the beads themselves, chances are they are dyed.  Weight also matters.  Real gemstones are heavy, and cool to the touch.  Rub them to make sure no color comes off.  I even carry wet-naps sometimes to wipe on the beads.  Dyed beads can be beautiful and useful, but don’t be fooled into believing what they ARE NOT.  An ethical vendor will tell you exactly what you are looking at and charge accordingly.  If you have the slightest doubt about a bead, DON’T BUY IT.  And, when you find a vendor you trust and like, stick with them!  Commercial bead shows can be wonderful sources for amazing stuff, but also know that many fly-by-night vendors haunt the same spaces.  Ask around and don’t be fooled by low-quality (albeit pretty) stones that are sold for far more than they are worth!!

Now I save my pennies and search for hand-cut, artisan beads for the most part.  If you want to drool all over your keyboard, visit Out of Our Mines.  Gorgeous hand cut cabs and gemstone beads of superior quality.  Someday I will own some of their Peruvian opal beads…sigh.  You don't have to break the bank using only billion dollar beads in your designs.  One focal bead of exceptional quality can make an entire necklace shine.  I hoard favorite beads, like so many of us.  Gary Wilson is my favorite lapidary artist (Google him, he's a bit elusive web-wise, but hits most big bead shows), and he creates breathtaking, unusual beads and cabs.  I've used several of his pendant beads and hoard several more.  I have to get over just keeping them like Gollum and ACTUALLY USE THEM.  My pretties...... 

Gemstone beads from Out of Our Mines...yummy!
A couple of whoppers from Gary Wilson.  Gorgeous ocean jasper
with druzy inclusion, and golden rutilated quartz. 
Another source for good quality, inexpensive beads and cabs is Cool Tools.  I buy all my solder pastes, liver of sulphur, bezel wire, etc. from them, and only recently gave their natural gemstone beads and cabs a try.  I have been pleasantly surprised with the quality!  Especially their Red Creek jasper, a new fav stone of mine.  I made the ring you see here using a Red Creek cab and pink mabe pearl from Cool Tools.  I will be back for more.

Remember, you get what you pay for.  Higher quality beads are more expensive, and worth it.  They will elevate your work, and give you a better appreciation for the artistry of bead making as well as jewelry design.    I always say that life is too short for boring jewelry….same goes for bad beads!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fine Finishings Boot Camp: Test your Product

by Staci Louise Smith

No matter what you purchase, chances are, it went through some sort of testing before it was put on the market.  

I love this picture- the ultimate phone testers, kids!

Why should the arts be any different?

We as artists want to stand out, to be respected.  We ask that people buy handmade, and support small business.  
If we don't offer them a quality product, then why would they want to?

No matter what your medium is, you need to test your product.  If you make ceramics for food, you need to test your glazes to ensure they are food safe.  If you do mixed media, you want to make sure your papers, your sealers, and whatever else you use, will stand the test of time and not fade or fall apart down the road.  

And if you make jewelry, testing should be a normal part of your creative process. 

People wear jewelry.  I mean, they WEAR it.  Some people wear it harder then others.  I learned so much the hard way- using too thin of wire, not securing crimps well, or crimping too tight.  I had things returned to me to re-make.  There is nothing worse then that.   Let me say that again, there is nothing worse then someone returning a broken product.   

My point is, that, if you plan to sell your product, make sure you really know and understand your medium.  You should know all about it, whether it be metal or polymer, ceramic or fibers.  You should know what it is made of, how it reacts with other products, and how it wears in the long term.  Knowing all this is a great start, so you know what you should be testing for.

I remember when I learned to solder from a friend.  We painstakingly took time to solder two things together, and  after it was done, she said, "now try to break it".  and I was like, "are you kidding me???"  And she so wisely replied, "do you want it to break for you now so you can fix it right, or break for your customer?"  And she was right.  (solder needs to flow just right or it will break, even if it feels like it has a hold, if it didn't' flow just right, its not a solid bond.  sometimes you don't have a good connection to the metal either...ect)

So I try to break my soldered pieces.  I also yank my crimp beads after I am done (I have a hate hate relationship with them).  I have a long list of things I do, to ensure to the best of my abilities, that things won't come back to me.

When I use patina, I seal and seal and seal and wax my metal.  And I still found out the hard way that it will wear off if worn against suntan lotion.  

With the internet, and so much access to new mediums and information on them, many people are branching out and trying new mediums, and that is wonderful.   

However, if you are trying something new, please educate yourself, before you sell it.  You will be happy you did down the road.  It will help you to make the best quality product you can.  It will help you to know what to test for.
Test things, wear them, test them in the environments that they may encounter.  I will even give other people samples to try out sometimes, just because everyone wears jewelry different, everyone has different body chemistry.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself so you can properly test your product.

1.  How and wear is it worn, and does it work well for that part of the body?  

For example: ankle bracelets, my nemesis.  I found that no matter what I did, a crimped, strung ankle bracelet will not hold up for everybody.  I have never broken one, but it seemed that everyone else did.  So i had to switch to heavy gauge wire and chain, AND make them adjustable so that they can be worn at just the right place on each persons ankle where they won't have stress on them.

Another example: Earrings- are they too light, sometimes if they are too light, they catch in the hair and hang sideways.
  Do they have wild wire frills or things sticking out that will catch in someones hair if it is long or curly?  Are they too heavy and unwearable? 

I could go on and on.  So consider your piece of jewelry, and how it will be worn, and how that will look on a variety of people. 

2.  Does my product need to be sealed?  And if so, what is the best sealer to use for longevity, skin sensitivity, and that will NOT react with my product down the road?

Certain things like, patina metal, and polymer clay (if it is painted or has a surface treatment added), need to be sealed.  In both cases, there are products that are great for this, and products you should never use.  In the case of polymer clay, you should stick with water based products.  Other finishes can eat away at the clay over time.  So it may look good for a week or so, but down the road get gummy.

3.  Can I wear it comfortably?  

This is a big one.  WEAR your jewelry every time you make something.  even if it is only for a few hours.  Wear it, rub your fingers all over it.  Make sure there are no wires sticking up, nothing poking, no rough spots.  Make sure connections are secure, things hang properly.  

These are just a few things you can ask yourself, so you can begin to test your product.  This is YOU that you are selling.  Your art, is a little piece of you.  It is more then vision, it is execution.  It is tangible.  So make it well, make sure it will last, and your business will continue to grow, because people are happy to come back, and buy new jewelry, because they know it is a good investment.

I hope you can learn from some of my fails!  I will be sharing in the weeks to come some little tid bits and tricks I have learned to avoid these kinds of issues in your work!

Is there anything YOU learned the hard way, that you wish you had tested for?  
What would be your best advice for those just starting to sell their work?
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