Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The People You Meet...

A lot of people have asked me if I would stop doing shows given enough galleries carrying my work.  On a rainy cold day in a tent with no potential customers in sight the answer might be yes, but overall I don't think so.  One of the best perks, in my mind, of doing shows is the amazing people you meet.

Some of the coolest people I know are other show artists who I would never have come into contact with if not for the art fair life.  I have spent countless hours next to these like minded souls, and often end up making connections that last.  These artists run the gamut from limestone carving to metal work to jewelry to painting to photography to ceramics to mixed media... the list goes on.  I own pieces by many of them and will continue to collect as I can afford to.

Some of my favorite meals have been the Saturday nights, mid-show.  At one show last year the artist next to me invited me to go with a group and I ended up with a bunch of new friends - and a roommate for one of my shows this year!

Believe it or not the internet has made making show friends even easier.  I participate in multiple artist forums and you yourself interacting with the same people frequently.  You feel like you know them but you have never met them fact to face.  It's a beautiful thing when you will be at the same show as that person and can finally make that connection.

This weekend I start my social shows at 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago.  I have a list of people that I'm looking forward to seeing, some old friends and some new friends that I have been in touch with but have not met.  I can't wait! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Changes for 2014

Closing out 2013

By the end of last years shows I had narrowed my fused work down to a few types:

Framed Landscapes:

Florals (framed and functional):

Auroras (framed and functional):

These groups made a really strong presentation at OOAK, but my sales were not what I was hoping for.  My florals sold fairly well, but the Auroras got a lot of attention and virtually no sales.  I am working on the theory that florals are a good gift, but Auroras are more of a purchase for self, and OOAK is primarily a gift show.  At least I have enough stock to start the new season to test my theory!

Changes for 2014:

New work

Over the winter I have been working on ideas that bring the Floral and Aurora Series together.  Right now these are all framed:

I am also working on some new shapes for wall pieces, larger than before with different proportions.


Dropping old lines

My current plan involves dropping
  • all of the serving pieces except for cheese knives 
  • the Quilt Series
  • the Block Series
I have stock in all 3 and can bring them back if warranted, but sales on the Quilts and Blocks don't warrant the space in my car.  Margins on the serving pieces are low, so the big question is will that booth real estate be more valuable for higher margin items or will my overall sales drop so much that I miss those pieces.

Show Schedule

I'm keeping my top shows from last year, 57th Street, Spring Green, Northbrook, Geneva and Lakeview.  A special thanks to those organizers for wanting me back! I am hoping to go back to Riverssance but the jury is (literally) still out.  I'm also trying to add one show early, one show in August, and possibly one more in the fall.  I am also planning to go back to OOAK.

Without a magic Carnac the Magnificent hat to help me out I am gambling once again.  Stay tuned, I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2 weeks away from One of A Kind, year 2

I'm in full on planning panic mode, and I've realized that this feeds my inner adrenaline junkie.   I have 184 pieces ready to be signed and packed, 35 pieces in the kiln or in progress and another 70 in my plans (30 of that 70 are 5"x5" or smaller, so I can get a lot in the kiln). 

I have spreadsheets tracking the pieces and how much glass I have left to work with, checklists, display stands and frames en route to my house and platform pieces waiting to be assembled to raise up my shelves.

Here is the planned vision for my booth:

Now I am trying to figure out which pieces go on which shelving units, and how to group the framed pieces on the walls.  Last year we were winging it, and I think it took much longer than necessary.  This year I'd like to have a plan so that everything looks organized and polished.

The other lesson from last year that I've been able to make use of so far is to queue up my fusing work differently.  In order to make sure that I can stay caught up at my engineering job as well as in my fusing I have planned differently.  I try to get a weeks worth of pieces cut and queued up during the weekend so that it's just 15-30 minutes a night during the week.  Just enough time to pull the last batch out, clean out the kiln and put the next batch in.  

I'm also trying to take advantage of bulk cutting.  When I cut a piece and have less than 1/2 a sheet left over (a sheet is roughly 20"x30") I look at that sheet and the standard sizes that I use for bases.  I cut that sheet as efficiently as possible to create those bases and stack them out of the way.  That way, when I go to create the queue for the week a lot of the bases are already cut.

 In the photo above, the pieces on the far left standing on end are the bases that are waiting to be matched and used, the front center are pieces that are fused and waiting for slumping during the week, the back center are cut and waiting to be fused and the far right are pieces that need to be cut and put on the bases.

See, an old dog can learn new tricks.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Taking on even more!

Well folks, I have done it!  I have taken on even more work during the prep for OOAK!  My work is in a gallery!!!!  Yipee!!!  And it is an amazing gallery.  Check it out at

How did this happen?  A Chicago girl's first gallery in Tubac, AZ?  Funny you should ask.  My daughter goes to school in Tucson and when I flew out with her in August I had a few hours to kill.  So I did what any artist would do, I found the biggest collection of artists within an hour drive and went there.  The first (and best) gallery I saw was Art Gallery H.  I talked with Karl (1/2 of the gallery team) for about an hour and just fell in love with this place and the work that they feature.  When he mentioned that they would like to have more glass it became obvious - I should apply to be one of their artists!   I got home and had to deal with a few more shows, and then I had to update my website to be current, and then I had to figure out what next.  Another trip to Tucson on the horizon (Parent Weekend) and I emailed them with some pictures.  They told me to bring a few samples and we made an appointment.  Carrying 8 pieces of art glass in a carry-on was a new experience.  There was so much bubble wrap that I heard a piece pop when I bumped into my own suitcase.  My younger daughter and I drove down to Tubac on Saturday morning to meet with Karl and Audrey.  My hope was that they would look at the pieces, tell me that they like my work and give me an idea of what I should ship to them to get started.  It took less than five minutes for them to decide to keep all 8 pieces for the shop!  I left with an empty suitcase and a huge smile.  I'm so glad I had my daughter as a witness because I just couldn't believe it.  By Monday they had me on their website, and I had an idea of what other pieces they would like to have on hand to fill in when things sell!

So, now with all of my prep for OOAK I want to make about 10 extra pieces to ship to them to round out their collection.  Time to take a deep breath and keep fusing!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Patience, no shortcuts

I'm not a particularly patient person.  I like to see results of my efforts immediately, an odd trait for someone who fuses glass.  Most sessions in my studio end with an 18-70 hour wait (thankfully way more 18 than 70) before I can find out if I created what I wanted to.  The final assembly for many pieces happens in the kiln so my kiln space limits how much work I can do in a studio session. 

This is my big kiln, I also have one smaller kiln that does a single piece at a time

People ask me if I know what I will get when I open the kiln.  When I started fusing that was a very real question.   My results were similar to what I hoped for 80% of the time and 20 % of the time I was surprised, and rarely in a good way.  After 8 years of fusing I can say that I am accurate (instead of similar) probably 95% of the time and when I get surprised it is almost always because I tried a shortcut.

So now I'm on a fusing marathon to get ready for One of a Kind.  Prepping for this show is stressful, I'm always afraid I won't have enough stock, or I will have the wrong stock.  I make spreadsheets to figure out how to maximize my fusing cycles and I plan to work at least a few hours EVERY DAY between now and the show.  44 fusing days until I load the car and it feels way too short.

So what is the most effective way to maximize my kilns?  Patience!  As I loaded the kilns tonight I considered putting one extra piece in.  It would make the fit a little tight, but I am fairly sure that the pieces wouldn't have ended up touching while they fired.  I put the extra piece on the kiln shelf, I started to walk away and I stopped.  If I misjudged this I would be reworking a 15" bowl, an 8" bowl and possibly scraping/refinishing a kiln shelf.  I considered the risk and decided to be patient.

Hopefully this new attitude actually nets more successful pieces in December.  I'll never know but that's my theory and I'm sticking to it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fall Transition

So I finally made it through the longest outdoor season I've ever taken on.   It started earlier, ended later and had more shows than anything I've done in the past.  I did 9 outdoor shows between early May and late September and traveled for the first time.  So, how did that work for me?

Of the nine shows I participated in I squeaked through without quite losing money on any of them, but there are 3 that I will not be returning to because I just covered my costs.  Two of them were out of town and had the lowest sales all year with the highest travel costs.  The local one was just too lackluster to spend the time and money at again. 

I sold more framed pieces than anything else, and my tie dyes were a hit!  Of course I've refined them a bit since I started making them:

  I like them so much they are the focus of both my new business cares and my updated website!  I've also updated my garden pieces,
the colors really pop now and that is something that I sold out of last year at One of a Kind...  oh wait, it's time to start getting ready for OOAK again!

So that is why this post has "transition" in the title... I'm not so much finished with outdoor, I'm beginning to get ready for OOAK!  I've got my booth assignment, much better than last year!  I'm planning how to handle the displays in this different layout, and I'm fusing like crazy!   If you take out the two quick trips I'm taking before December there 48 fusing days left... sounds like a lot but since many of pieces require 3 trips through the kiln, and each one takes a full day that means I can only product 16 kiln loads of pieces between now and then.  Oh panic!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Deal of the Art

I spend a lot of time interacting with other artists via the internet.  We pass information about good and bad shows, good and bad promoters, good and bad restaurants at shows etc...  And sometimes we get collectively enraged.  Last week one of these artists pointed out a news item that implied a promoter was going to "teach" art patrons how to "negotiate a price" on art.  The number of posts, rants and opinions that was generated in 24 hours was immense.  This is a topic that pretty much every artist agrees on:
Negotiation should not be considered standard practice at an art fair!

The wonderful people who attend art fairs and consider buying the artwork they see should be aware of the following things before they question a price:
  • We pay to apply to be in an art fair (usually $20- $50), and then if we are accepted we pay for our space (typically $200 - 500... but it can be significantly more) 
  • We supply our own tents, displays, labor, transportation, room and board.  So by the time we open up on the first day of the show we are already in the hole, usually $500 - $2000.
  • All of the work we bring to the show is hand made by us!  We have costs sunk into supplies, tools, classes, scrap and most importantly our time. 
  • Our prices are set based on the cost of materials and the amount of time and resources required to create the art.  These are not random prices that we hope you are willing to pay so we can rake in the cash, they are prices that are based on what the value of the work is.
  • We are at the mercy of the weather, the economy and many other things outside of our control (try doing a show in Green Bay during a packers game!).  If there is a storm and we are told to vacate the show for safety reasons we do not get a refund.  
  • Most of the artists you meet do this as their full time profession.  The income generated over these weekends is used to pay mortgages, food bills, doctor bills, tuition bills, utilities....  For many this is the only source of income. 
If you have read my other posts you probably realize that I am in the unusual situation of being a part time artist with a full time job.  I participate in one third to one half  as many shows as most full time artists and I don't travel nearly as far as they do.    Even so  for 2013 I will be doing 12 shows, translating to 27 show days, with 4 hours of setup and 2 hours of teardown per show.  I am travelling for 4 of these shows so that adds 8 travel days.

In my last post I described the math that I use to figure out what it takes to break even and then how the profit is calculated for a single, local show.   Now scale that up and think about what I need to sell to have any profit on the year!  When I set my prices I do charge for labor involved in creating the piece, but not for the time I spend at the shows, so my version of profit is how I pay myself for the time spent driving, setting up, tearing down and selling.

Please understand that I am not writing these posts to host a pity party for what an investment of time and money it is to be an art fair artist.  I am just trying to educate the art fair patrons so that they will value our work appropriately.  I don't do this to get rich, I do this because I love it.