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Sunday, October 25


You would think those 2 words don't relate, but they do. I have some friends who are really good at the business of art. They are able to do both without neglecting either. I have trouble with both.

Now, here's the thing. If you wander off into the art/craft world with stars in your eyes and visions of sunny festivals and gallery openings with champagne and nights spent counting pots of money you will be sorely disappointed. It rains at festivals. Galleries probably don't want you and if they do, there will be beer. Some days you may make pots of money but often you will make little.

I will admit to often hoping for the best while preparing for less. I'm working on that. But, in the interim, I need to be a business person. I get tired thinking about it. But I made a step that way recently. I'm so proud.

I sell my miniature book pins at the Historical Society Gift Shop. The lovely woman who manages the shop saw one and asked where it came from and she found me and placed an order. It has been a small, steady revenue stream for a couple of years. They were even mentioned last year in an article about Christmas shopping in unexpected places. I was tickled when the reporter quoted the cutesy narrative on the packaging (..perfect for short stories, haiku...)

So, anyway, just before we left on vacation, the manager called me and asked for more pins. I had some made but I whipped up a few more so she would have a selection and went to see her a few days later. On a whim. I grabbed the new miniature book earrings and brought them with me. She selected the pins she wanted and I took a deep breath and asked if she wanted to see the earrings. She did. (this is not easy for me for all sorts of reasons that only my imaginary therapist knows). She looked at them and looked at them and turned them this way and that and said that she wasn't sure they were right for the shop. Ouch. But, OK.

On the way out I was chatting with the woman at the reception area who adores the little books. I showed her the earrings. (Hey, why not, the blow had landed, the damage done. ) She adored them. Hmmm.

Now, in my past life, the one I was living moments before, I would have gathered my little pile of earrings and left, but something shifted and I turned back and told the woman to give 2 pairs of the earrings to Mary. "Tell her to put them out, see if they sell. No charge unless they do. If they don't, I'll pick them up next time."

This is not like me.

She took 2 pair and I started to leave, turned around and gave her one more. Then I went on vacation.

A week ago, an email from the shop. Was I home yet? They needed a dozen book pins.

And 6 pairs of earrings.


Now, granted, anyone with a modicum of business sense is wondering what the big deal is. I'll tell you. Some of us are not blessed with the confidence and guts it takes to be a business person. Some of us like to hide in the attic with piles of paper scraps and pots of glue and glittery bits of ephemera and make stuff. Then we climb down and meekly wait for someone to like what we created. Like it enough to buy it. That was me. Deep inside, I knew what I was supposed to do.I knew I had to climb out of the pajama pants and flannel shirt and into pressed pants and a sweater or something and go out into the world. Marketing. The palms sweat.

Somehow, in the dim, ornate lobby of a museum, that business part of me woke and shifted, yawned and stretched, looked around and said "What the hell are you doing?!?". Then she settled into my psyche and started to infiltrate.

Work smarter, not harder. Sell smarter. Expand horizons. Market.

I could be on to something here.

Sunday, October 18

and then it was Christmas

I'm just adjusting to Fall, to cool weather and bright colors. We left home in the Summer. I packed cropped pants and t-shirts. Came home to frost. There was no easing into the change. And now my first Christmas sale is this week. The head spins.

This week is a small gift show at Fisher Price Headquarters for their employees. Last year the show happened days after a big downsizing. Nobody felt much like buying things. All the talk was about this or that person and how they were escorted out of the building with their sad boxes of accumulated personal things. I hope this one is better. I get to hang out with one of my favorite artists, a woman who works there and runs the gift show. That, alone, makes for a nice day.

Then we start to gear up for the big ones. every 2 weeks or so until mid-December.

I'm trying not to be bummed about not getting my best show this year. I'm choosing to prepare for being called off the wait list. But, just in case, I did add a couple I normally don't do.

There is an up side to having my last show fail so miserably. I don't have to hustle around building inventory for the 1st show. It's all packed up and ready to go. Always look on the bright side, right?

I'm already thinking about next year. Some new ideas and a renewed energy around the application process. I was sloppy last year and it cost me a couple of shows I normally do.

But first, Christmas.

Ho ho ho ...

Wednesday, October 14

why and if and counting blessings

We art carnies have invigorating discussions about the business at every opportunity. Behind our canopies at art shows, at lunch, on email lists, in forums. Blahblahblah, we go on and on, spouting wisdoms, conjecturing, cheering each other on or, on our less honorable days, sniping at someone's work or aesthetic or work ethic.

Basically, the art show circuit is like any workplace. You got your over-achievers, your slackers, your newbies, your holier-than thous, the always tardy, the always early. You have levels of achievement and tiers of accomplishment. And labels. Many labels. Crafter. Artist. Artisan. Master. Hack. Granny crafter. Arteeest.

We get to know each other. We tell tales. We gossip. We admire. We support. We whisper. We cheer. We deride. We help or hinder as it suits our purpose. Mostly we care about each other and circle the canopies against rotten promoters, bad juries, "civilians", thieves and those who would show disrespect to any of us. One of the things that warm me the most about this way of life, in all seriousness now, is how tight the community is, how special the friendships.

Which leads me to what my musing is all about today. A friend of ours who is a fine craftsman and very very successful had the audacity to share with a forum just how much money he made at a show and that amount was pretty much more than most of us make. Someone suggested he didn't make everything he sold, but he does. And a discussion ensued about what a person had to do to make that much.

Now, this fella has been in the business for 30 years. He makes a functional craft and he does it really really well, a real craftsman, and he prices things fairly and he is accomplished at his art and at his business. Kudos.

Now, I have been fiddling around with crafty things as long as I can remember. I did my first craft show in a fire hall when I was a young mother in need of Christmas cash. I made some stuffed Christmas trees and little ornaments and made like eighty dollars and I was sooo excited. (of course back then in the stone age you could buy a house for that) I was the person at work schlepping around crafts to buy every holiday. I made things to sell at the corner store. Over the years I learned most of the basic craft techniques and sold them all. What I wanted to learn was silversmithing but never had the time or money. Then I took a break from that and did some writing for money. Entertainment pieces for meetings and conventions. I had a cast and tech and we would perform skits I had written after meeting with the different businesses to ferret out the inside jokes. They loved us. I called my company "Funny Business".

About 15 years ago I realized that if I didn't take an early retirement from my job my soul would die. Truly. I had to finance it because getting out early meant a teeny stipend. I remembered craft shows. I was working with a man who did a lot of them and was pretty successful and he steered me along.

Now this is where I finally get to where I was going.

In deciding what I wanted to craft, I wound up learning to make paper and books. I had no idea if anyone would buy them, but I was in love. I have stopped making paper, but I am still in love with books.

Let us all now ponder just where on the craft show profit chain handmade books fall. Right.

But I love books. I love their heft. I love the way the pages stack so cleanly and then ruffle. I love that people will record their days in them, take them on trips, paste in pictures and ticket stubs. A stack of them in all their colors and styles makes me smile. I have added other things made of paper. I'm not blinded by my affection. But I have made a choice.

My choice is to create a life and a product that fills me up. Why give up a pretty good, benefit-heavy government job if not to move higher, happier? Could I make more money honing a different craft? Undoubtedly. But would I be happy? Maybe. Creative work always soothes me on some level. I just know that I found my little niche. It speaks to me.

Now this may sound very corny, but I'm telling you, you have to seek this. If you do not love what you do it will matter not how much money you make in the long run. I know this now. Yes, I do have to make a certain amount of money to survive. I'm not sitting on a hilltop chanting here. I'm working. A lot.

There are realistic benefits to having a rather obscure craft. You can get better shows sometimes. You are usually the only one there with what you make. People remember you.

That's not why I chose it. Or why it chose me. I'm just glad we found each other.

Tuesday, October 13



That is the sound of being dropped back, rudely, into real life. I have tons of laundry, a house full of dust, an order to finish by tomorrow , 3 or 4 show contracts/apps to return and I've already worked 2 days at the theater. I feel like getting back in the car!

Christmas shows are coming. I'm wait listed on my best one, but the others are all in place and a new one is there to try. A couple of small gift "events" that may or may not turn out to be worth it. And then the silence of Winter. Time for decisions.

Part of me wants to pursue other sales options like more shops and the web. Another part wants to concentrate on bringing my work to a higher level and trying for better and better shows. My experience with a couple of the "cadillac" shows has been a revelation. I want more of those. That circles me back to the quality of my work.

Most of my cohorts are at Letchworth this weekend. I wish we did well there. It is a glorious place. But every time we do it the same thing happens. I sit in my booth and watch thousands of people walk by with decorative items covered in raffia. Or, worst case scenario, black plastic garbage bags. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas decor is big. I don't do that. Last year we had the chain saw guys cranking out hundreds of tacky lawn doodads that sold as fast as they could make them. My stuff just doesn't fit. But every once n a while I sign up anyway.

So many art carnies are bemoaning the economy, but we didn't see that this year. We had horrific storms at almost all our shows and still did a little better than last year. With the tiniest break in the weather, it would have been a banner year. Unless we did Letchworth, of course. :)

I have to figure this all out.

But first, have to get those forms in the mail. And crank up the washer. Vacuum some more. Mom got some more government mail she doesn't understand so it's off to Orchard Park to help her decipher it. This is not to put Mom down. I wouldn't understand it, either, if I hadn't worked there for 23 years. I mean, really, would it kill them to send understandable forms?

Was I really away for a month? Doesn't feel like it. I need a vacation.

Saturday, October 10

Home again, home again

The cats keep yelling at me. Demanding to be held, expecting an apology. Other than that, all is as it was.

Since I wasn't able to blog from the road, I'll have to do a montage of sorts. Moments, images.

The puppy was restless for the first day, didn't understand why we never got anywhere, but he settled down. Handled the mountains well, but I think the winding roads in Oregon made him a little fidgety.

The trip West is an unfolding. Lakes to fields to hills to mountains. Cities to towns to hamlets to open fields. Leafy trees to corn fields to sage to rock to evergreens that seem to touch the sky. Coming back East is like coasting down a hill and coming to rest in a cozy bank of color and life. I am tired of it now, but I will be itching to do it all again very soon. The "road" either calls to you or it doesn't. It calls to me.

Our vacation house was perfect. welcoming, cozy, felt like home immediately. We were able to put up various kids and friends for the weekend, have laughing breakfasts together and dinners with wine and pasta and more laughter. I wish I hadn't decided to do the show. It was not a good one for me and it sort of tied everyone we wanted to be with to the back of my booth. We could have had a lot more fun. The first night I was so exhausted, I hobbled upstairs and left a room full of people I wanted to be with. Never again.

My son's coffee shop in Friday Harbor is a delight. He and Cassie are doing such a great job with it. I pray the slow WInter months will not hurt their success. I was really proud of them. I wish we lived in the same place.

Coming home, the road seemed longer. We tried to drive through the night a couple of times, but breaks became whole nights spent curled under a quilt in the soft light of rest area parking lots. Note to self: resist the temptation to drive it straight through. You are too old for Spring Break marathons.

Other than that, I guess it just flashes of memory already. I'll post pictures soon and there will be stories attached. But for now, there is laundry to do, lots of vacuuming, apps due for some Christmas shows. Life slows and idles then revs up.

Vacation is over.

Sunday, October 4

saying goodbye

Well, hell I hate this part. Short on time and money, projects waiting at home, product to create for the coming Christmas shows, a puppy who misses his dog park. It's time to leave for home.

But with all our kids hugging the left coast, where is home, really? It is something to ponder over the long Winter to come.

But this morning, home is a couple thousand miles away and we need to head in that direction. Friday Harbor is treating me to an incredible moonset. I have never seen this before. An enormous full moon lit the house all night and now, with the sun edging its way in, the moon is gently sliding into the sea as I watch. Still full, still bright as day, slowly slowly inching down over the water. It has kept me enthralled all morning.

So, we will hang out at Billy's cafe for a while, having his famous oatmeal for breakfast, our car and dog waiting in the ferry line, the minutes I have with my boy ticking away. I haven't been able to be with him much this time, he is so busy with his new venture. But how wonderful to watch him at work. I am so proud of what he and CAssie have accomplished.

Time to pack the car. The moon is still sliding slowly down. I wonder if there will be a sunrise competing with the sunset on different sides of the house? Anything is possible on a magical morning like this. Well, anything except for a rewind, more time.

Off to the cafe. My throat tightens thinking of it. Leaving them all behind again.

And on we go.

Friday, October 2


A computer to use. Yes, this is an addiction. If I didn't have an iPhone, I'd be in rehab.

The sad thing is that the past 2 weeks of travel and family and funny stuff and touching moments are lost to me, at least in the kind of detail the blog would have provided. Even now, looking back at the past few entries, I have already forgotten about some things-even the aspiring writer desk clerk that made such an impression on me at the time.

I blog for me, as it turns out. Could I write it in a journal? Sure, but for me, this type of free flowing musing moves too quickly to be slowed by a pen. Odd for a book artist, eh? Then again, there is that carefully worded, artful sort of writing that suits the heft and touch of a real book. The kind that sighs for an old fashioned fountain pen.

Anyway, for now, I am sharing quiet time with my son. Watching CNN, typing on the laptops. Russell is the smart one. He is on the deck, soaking in the amazing view over the water, the lights of Victoria, BC just starting to twinkle in the fading light, dark clouds with gold tips floating slow and high.

At some point next week, when I am home and rested I will try to recreate the past few weeks. But I know the way these clouds reflect the sun will be remembered mostly because I wrote it in the blog. It saddens me to think what else I will lose.

I guess I'll just be here now. What a concept. :)