The Facebook post asking about ways to increase sales hit me like a ton of foam peanuts. Soft, but hugely enveloping.
I watched the comment thread develop. Since it was from a delightful, intelligent group of solopreneurial women, it got more observant with each comment.
The discussion explored the rationales of offering small incentives – discounts, freebies, two-fers and the like – to one’s current and especially, prospective buyers, enticing them to buy.
Then it hit me: this is NOT small! It is the crux of nearly every trading decision. It is as ancient as any marketplace. What makes it a Deal?
I first fell into the Add Something Extra camp and not the Mark-It-Down Group. I commented about why I felt so and then thought further about what I really do and wrote:
“Thinking “outloud” here: Sometimes I just spontaneously GIVE something to an admirer who I feel strongly could not buy: a student, a single mom, a kid, a rattle to a traveling shaman, a person who came to my open studio in the final minutes and got the last pit-fired pod pot I wanted to sell out of. I recognize that spirit when it moves me and I just do it. If the Big Idea is to share my work, selling becomes just one way to do that. Finding my Perfect People and selling them what they want has strangely let me love my Slightly Imperfect People in another manner. I still donate pieces to events and causes I believe in, not just because the organization sent me a letter. Oh, and I trade a lot for more art and services! It is not black and white, which selling or not selling necessarily makes it seem. Yes, I need to make a profit, I need to thrive, but my goals stretch in concentric circles and I am at the center of all of them.”
Coincidentally, that same afternoon a collector came by and bought two larger pieces. I felt strongly that he intended to buy at least one piece, but I also extended my “Family and Friends” discount to him with genuine hope he would end up with the two pieces he said he really wanted.
In the evening, still thinking about the marketplace, the deal, giving, discounting, adding lagniappe, I remembered The Seven Laws of Money, by Michael Phillips, a book which has become more understandable to me in the decades since the 1970s when I first read it. The Fifth and Sixth Laws are bookends and below are some of the author’s points that seem to apply:
THE FIFTH LAW—YOU CAN NEVER REALLY GIVE MONEY AWAY
THE SIXTH LAW—YOU CAN NEVER REALLY RECEIVE MONEY AS A GIFT
-Money as a dynamic flow is the essence of The Fifth Law. Money describes a relationship: borrower/lender, buyer/ seller or parent/child. Money flows in certain channels-like electricity through wires. The wires define the relationship, and the flow is what is significant. By looking at money in a larger perspective, even gifts are subject to being part of a two-way flow.
-The giving of money is an emotional not intellectual contract. Money is borrowed, lent or possibly invested. It is never given or received without those concepts implicit in it.
-When you get money, you must follow the Second Law and deliver something for it. A gift of money is really a contract; it’s really a repayable loan, and it requires performance and an accounting of performance that is satisfactory to the giver.
-Money acts as a mirror, because it reflects our values and our perception of the world.
-Money is not the root of all evil; the love of money is the root of all evil. It is this fear of talking about money, because it might reveal our true nature to the world that we continue to remain unconscious.
And here’s my point: it’s all a flow, an interchange in a much bigger level. Make, destroy, don’t give, give, barter, exchange, sell cheap, discount, sell dear: all the same.
-Liz Crain, who intuited this all along, but had forgotten it in all the biz learning she needed to do to become a professional. The circle has come round in satisfying ways and is expanding outward now in profound ones.
A few years ago, I tried my hand at a handful of ceramic spice tins.
It was a premature and unfocussed effort. While those sweet works eventually found homes, in my artist’s heart they were close but not fully realized. They were something I needed to circle round to again.
I could be more patient. I could be more handy with my materials. I could be more.
Happily, just in time for the season of flavors and family, of memories and good smells, may I present my more?
THIS time I got what I wanted: The More from my hands and heart.
I got the Stoned Soul Picnic of spiciness and love!
Here is a realization in every sense. Here is an ending and a beginning. Here is sweet and spicy jubilation!
–Liz Crain, who understands how repetition and working in series feeds the necessary learning to fulfill the original impulse.
As a maker of ceramic cans, I have to admit the idea for a Can o’ WhupAss has crossed my mind more than once over the past several years. But, I hesitated. Would it be Too Obvious? Too Crass? Merely Clever?
So, I never went there.
Then, almost inevitably, a canny collector (pun intended) casually asked me if I had ever done that. I admitted to having always wanted to, so she spurred it on, asking me to make not one, but TWO Cans o’ WhupAss for her, my design.
A large part of the meaning of a piece like this comes from the sight gag: a REAL can of *fake* WhupAss, replete with tag lines and slogans! (“Use Full Strength” “Don’t Make Me Open It!”) But it is also a faux metal 100% ceramic can. Hmm, very interesting. Oh, and it really opens and could really contain *something.* It’s part of the dramatic interactive meaning.
And to get it all exactly correct, I needed to ask my canny collector just how SHE spelled WhupAss?
Whoop Ass? WhoopAss? Whoopass? All rejected as “too blue-bloodish” by her reckoning.
Whup Ass-WhupAss-Whupass: all were better suited to the hillbilly connotations. I chose Whup Ass for graphic layout reasons, but was more than happy to get the tonality dialed in.
I made a third can for myself – but someone else already wants that. I am glad I took the time to get it right in form and function. It seems a Can of Whup Ass is somewhat of a household necessity, full of meaning, and I might soon be making more.
-Liz Crain, who often places her Hot Out of the Kiln work on a nearby wooden surface to cool fully and noticed the matching chainsaw when taking the photos. Meaning Galore!
Of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America! With Full Rights and Priviledges!
Yes, I sort of backed-into this membership – and that is another story of internet intrigue and connection – BUT, the better takeaway is that it is proving interesting.
For starters, a LOT of the folks who enjoy my ceramic beer cans were at one time, or still are, serious beer can collectors, so it makes sense to belong to a long-lived organization that reveres them – even if my ceramic versions tend to baffle (One guy says to another “Hey, here’s one that will never rust! ” and his buddy replies, “Yeah, but if you drop it, it’s over.”)
They have a magazine that is rife with imagery and some passionate writing:
Also note that they have an Annual CANvention. Missed it this year in Texas – and just like NCECA, I will wait until it is drop-dead daytrip EASY to attend before signing up. But in the meantime, the pages are full of imagery, interesting and well-written history and LOTS of current chat columns with titles such as “Point of Brew.”
I think these collectors are nearly 180 degrees out from what I do with ceramic beer cans. They seek the un-sullied, near perfect candidate, while I speak to entropy and survival. We DO have an intersection of the inevitable, but just why I am a member of this organization is about an artform, perhaps not the one I create.
Ancora Imparo: “I am still learning” – Michelangelo
Coming up is a local get-together that I will probably attend.
I will go out of most curious curiosity. Out of a reporter’s need to witness and describe and an artist’s need to immerse and synthesize. Who ARE these people? What ambiance is there? Can I connect on any level? All to be seen because all to be experienced.
-Liz Crain, who thinks it’s funny she came to the BCCA because a local chapter member linked to her Etsy Shop with an element of disdainful misunderstanding, which she is on a semi-campaign to gently set to rights.
The kilns have been cold for over a month now. The studio barely opened.
There were life-changing events beyond my creative corner to prepare for and hasten to! They involved traveling to New Hampshire and dressing up. They involved meeting a bunch of folks, new and old, eating occasions aplenty, fascinating new sights, and tears of joy.
And dancing. Lots of dancing!
My older son Roger married his dream girl Cassandra on Lover’s Lane in the White Mountains, amid emerald open spaces, trees just beginning to tinge, mountain views and emotional mists.
I returned charged from the good effects of travel alone, but noticeably juicier and with a certain ratification of the rightness of my life.
-Liz Crain, who plans to run madly off in all directions with this ratification for as long as she can.
Last January I took glad delivery of Blue Tsuru, my ginormous front-loading L and L Kiln. I think I mentioned it on a webpage I no longer maintain. You might remember. It looked like this:
She was placed, leveled, wired-up and test fired.
Things went wrong.
No one’s fault, really. Shit happens.
And here we have the “18 1/2 minute gap” while things were rectified.
Throughout I continued to make new work, sometimes firing it in my smaller kilns, but building to the first load for this one.
Fast Forward (another tape-derived term) to this month.
We did two successful low and high temp test firings, to everyone’s great relief.
Here’s the first bisque loading, in which I thought would cram her full. Turns out she’s not just ginormous, she rivals the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns
And, since we are paying complete attention to what the electronics, the thermocouples AND the actual temperature is on each shelf, here are the cone-packs from that firing. Not sure why the bottom did not register our heatwork witness cone goal, but too cool, especially for a bisque, is better than too hot. These are problems we can work out!
Turns out Hot Out of the Kiln means more than ever this year.
Liz Crain – who has no words for that moment of opening a kiln after a firing. There is nothing like it. “Christmas” or “Surprise Party” pale horribly in comparison. It is its own moment of grace. A bolt of enlightenment. Every time.
I have no running water in my studio. I like it that way. Being a ceramic handbuilder, I work fairly dryly and clean up often, but, even for me, there comes a time when the water bucket needs changing. And, if you didn’t already know, clay and ceramic materials make serious sedimentary glop.
For over a decade, I have drained my bucket carefully into a sink (usually the kitchen because there isn’t one in the laundry or garage) and taken the slippy gloppity-glop stuff out to the trash and wiped the water bucket out with a rag,
I coveted Gleco Traps and even The Cink , thinking that when the laundry room got reconfigured, I would install one or the other and be relieved of a certain sort of well-founded guilt.
So, yes, it was just a matter of time for the kitchen sink to clog due to my slovenly clay glop-dumping ways, even if I was careful.
I could blame the recurring kitchen sink stoppages on the lame This Old House Plumbing or Too Much Chicken Schmaltz Down the Drain for so only so long.
Turns out, no amount of industrial-grade drain cleaner will move clay glop. No amount of plungering or snaking, either.
It means Going In: the kitchen sink P-trap is removed with amazing swearing by my live-in plumber. It is manually cleaned – with the full smelly reveal of my slovenliness – and replaced, with more swearing, as I vow to be even more careful.
But, no no No NO MORE!
What you see above is the explanatory diagram for a Homemade Clay Glop Trap, lovingly built by that same live-in plumber. Here are a few photos too, now that you can see how it works. And yes, it needs to be manually emptied and cleaned out when either the water collecting pail or the clay glop accumulates, but it is a straightforward job, unrelated to the configuration of the house plumbing.
The side view of the whole set-up
Sort of bird’s-eye view
Opened up Sort of Bird’s Eye View
Close up of Inner Tube Guide into the Collecting Pail
Liz Crain – Who waited entirely too long to make a fairly simple correction to a very real problem. She has heard these called “tolerations” and just realized they are actually a form of denial.
What follows are my lovingly-curated observations from Booth 23 at this year’s annual Association of Clay and Glass Artists Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival.
Making my best artwork and supporting it with improved booth infrastructure, perfect prices and personal stamina is always a challenge. And this year I almost did not make it at all as younger son Max fractured his pelvis and needed surgery to place pins in it only a week before. But he quickly got better, it worked out and make it I did. It was a rewarding weekend in so many ways beyond the satisfying sales figures. I enjoy collecting the stories to share with you, so, as I did last year, here are the Tales of the Festival II.
What changed this year? Instead of driving 55 pre-dawn miles and setting it all up on Saturday like an early morning maniac, I and my loyal support team (family) put up the booth and tables on Friday, ate a fantastic lunch and called it good. We brought the artwork in at a reasonable hour on Saturday morning. This was so much saner than trying to pull off the historically busiest first day sleep-deprived, anxious and achy from all the loading, lugging and locating. It was as fun as camping!
So, let’s look at what went down with The Collectors, the Tribe and the Crazies.
It’s true, I do have Collectors now. Some come to this Festival seeking me out. Some find my other venues throughout the year and buy more there. Some email me with their special ideas. These are the folks who get my work and have the means and space to acquire it. My Dearest. My Perfect People.
The Jet-Lagged Loyalists: Even though they had returned from three weeks in Eastern Europe only a few hours before visiting me, this vocal and enthusiastic couple playfully chastised me for not sending them a postcard this year (Note: NO-ONE got one, what with the Broken Pelvis Incident.) They reminded me about their stellar ideas for robots and gumball machines and took home two big pieces. Loyalty like that cannot be created, only treasured. I love them dearly and promised to be a better communicator!
The New Enthusiasts. I have a thing for typography buzzwords. Some of the “product brands” I invent use a type designer’s vocabulary. It’s nerdy and esoteric. It was great to have an astonished new enthusiast start laughing raucously at it and make a purchase. She brought her husband back on Sunday, whereupon he responded to the Interrobang and Octothorpe TeaCans because he knew immediately what they were referring to! Later they sent me a photo of the pieces they had bought installed on their ornate liquor table (see above!) and requested a Right of First Refusal for a specific piece we all want to see get made. They feel like my new best friends on the playground. “I’m FIVE too!!!!” she exclaims, holding up all fingers on one hand. So lovely.
Facebook Friends in 3D: The ACGA is a wide-spread and growing group, with many artist studios ringing the SF Bay Area, Silicon Valley and the North Bay. A lot of them know each other from way back and get together often. Being both newish to the group and located one mountain range away from the epicenter, here on the Monterey Bay, I know many of them only as Facebook Friends. It was beyond lovely to meet a half dozen in person this weekend. Whether they were in their own booth, visiting mine, or dropping by the Festival to enjoy it all, they – and their work – looked better in person. I was pleasantly surprised at their sweet mannerisms, voices and cadences. The Presence of the Original cannot be overstated.
Booth-a-rama: Social media or no, I now know scores of the artists who show at this Festival. It is special to see them in their traveling habitats with their art. I both traded and bought work from several. I yakked casually, shared confidences, pricing opinions, sold stickers and feedback about how the festival was going. There is a whole ‘nother village backstage of the village! It is good to have the collegial interest and support. No competition, only camaraderie.
THE ADORABLE BUT CRAZY
Of course there are the visitors. SO many visitors! The economy is very obviously picking up. Saturday was packed all day long. Sunday was lively but felt the impact of the World Cup Finals. Another telling change is that 66% of my sales were made with some form of card on my iphone card reader – the rest in cash. Not ONE check was written. A first.
Most visitors are lovely aficionados or willingly along as friends of one. A tiny few just don’t make sense, but they make the best anecdotes! Yes, an undeniable part of Festival Booth Management is suffering gentle fools.
Here is this year’s crop.
Whistling Denture Man The jury is really out on whether this guy was crazy or just being his charming 80-year-old self. He had plenty of time while his lady friend shopped, easily sharing that the thing that was keeping him vital was building his Dream House – an all steel beauty, even the built-in furniture, he was proud to say. I soon realized his soft but whistling speech (which sounded like the beaver in Lady and the Tramp) was probably due to his dentures. Love that. But I really took notes when he said that when he died he wanted his ashes put into an Etch-a-Sketch so his great-grandchildren could play with him.
Wandering Philosopher When the booth is quiet, it’s an art in itself to listen wholeheartedly to someone who feels that my attention is exclusively available for them to expound on their pet theories. And it is an art to be responsive but to not go completely down the rabbit hole with them. I’m better at not being monopolized than I ever have been, but it is SO hard when that person is as unique and interesting as, say, Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie might have been on a random Sunday Art Festival in the Park. This Very Tall Lanky Spirit told tales of his life, his travels, his jobs, his politics, his bons mots, his children, his passions. When time’s up with folks like this, and there are others to greet, I want to practice Kindness. Like Ram Dass said, “We are all walking each other home.” Especially the Wandering Philosophers.
I leave you with the view from from the chair I finally sat down in after packing it all up on Sunday. The curb was full of other artists’ cars. We were fully packed, I had done my check-out, and there was nothing to do but wait for a spot to open up. Another artist and her entourage were doing the same. They had wine, but no corkscrew. I had a corkscrew AND cups! She sat in the other folding beach chair and we all spent an absolutely wonderful hour in the slowly emptying park getting cozy and swapping tales. It was as peaceful of an end to a long and fruitful weekend as I could never have imagined.
–Liz Crain, who gets better at the fullness of this Art Festival Life only by living it.
Here’s something wondrously new for me: my first three-artist invitational exhibit. I’m sharing the photos and this post the day it opened.
You’re seeing work from the three of us. The provocative paintings of Courtney Johnson, the charming ceramic and bronze animals of Paula Wenzl Bellacera and, from me, the Amador County Series beer cans and some great new TeaCans.
All will be at the Fine Eye Gallery (in Sutter Creek, CA) “Out of the Woods” Fine Art Series from July 1, 2014 to August 31, 2014.
You are invited to take yourself out to the charming Mother Lode for a visit. I will be going later this month to see it for myself. (Maybe even drop off replacement work!)
The Title Wall: SO Proud!
One more gallery shot.
–Liz Crain, who is proud to return to Amador County as a professional artist, having lived there for 12 years as an earnest and dedicated wannabe.
Kudophobia means Fear of Praise – or even Fear of Glory! I’m not sure it’s an official word, but it’s certainly an Official Fear.
I have a bit of it, at times, being more familiar with my decades-long learning and artistic struggle and less with any sort of praise-worthy attainment.
I sense that most creatives experience something similar, especially when, after the searching, they start to bring forth the work they have imagined from the beginning.
It might go like: I think I am totally NAILING my ideas and STICKING their landing as well, but I am so used to NO-ONE noticing, I am unsure what approval means.
So, it’s awkward.
Or – even awkwarder – when you: Buy a piece. Ask for an interview. Offer a show. Request a commission (But read my thoughts on that. as I am getting wiser.)
Kudophobia, in short, brings out my most flagrant unchecked uncertainty and self-consciousness and in the face of it, I anxiously self-check and awkwardly hide my light under a bushel.
I’m better at NOT doing that than I ever have been, but it is still part of my world. The Devil You Know is a friend of mine.
I am also studying the feeder beliefs to this and I have discovered that at the root of Kudophobia is its Evil Twin: Atelophobia, (which is most definitely a real word.)
Atelophobia = Fear of Not Being Good Enough. AKA: The Imposter Syndrome. The fear of being found to have feet of clay, being only human, being a one hit wonder. Being “Merely Clever.”
Elizabeth Gilbert has at least assuaged this one with her first TED Talk, one I have nearly memorized and have mentioned here before. The cure for Atelophobia – and consequently its Evil Twin Kudophobia – is in knowing that we are NOT geniuses, but rather we HAVE them, at our service.
But only when WE show up and do our parts as well. Check your Ego at the Door! Ole!!!
Whenever I feel the old anxieties I try to remember: my joyful job is to do the work only I can do. What happens afterwards is not in my control or of my doing. Effusive Acclaim or the Suckitude of Being Discounted and Overlooked, even Criticized = Same Irrelevancy Factor. And Same Phobia Fighter.
–Liz Crain, who now wishes to discover the Phobia Fighter for Plutophobia, the fear of wealth.
By now you know this monthly quick post is often NOT about what just came out of the kiln, but instead is about the Latest and Greatest in my square centimeter of the artful fish tank.
Well well well, it’s a new PAGE right here to help folks buy my art called, appropriately, Available Artwork. You can check it out by clicking on the link or in the right sidebar.
I put it together because people often ask me where to buy my work, or what I have in the studio for purchase right now, and I have had no clear and easy way to help them out.
(Just for the record, I am uncomfortable with the Buy It Now button, which manages to seem both hard-sell and needy at the same time.)
So this new page is a composite of links to my beloved galleries, to my expanding Online Store (Etsy for now), to my Events Calendar, where you might see me in person, and to a couple of ways to contact me.
But, wait, what’s this other link?
It’s my Artwork Archive Public Page. And it’s the best way yet to enjoy my most recent available work and see the details about each piece – including the retail price.
I don’t know about you, but quite often I want to know the price of something before I let myself fall completely in love with it. You’re probably no different. So both Etsy and this Artwork Archive page lets someone – anyone! – know where it all stands.
Right now the page features a mess of TeaCans, but I expect to add Conetop Beer Cans and Canisters very soon. So it will not look like this screen shot for very long.
I also expect to keep it up to date. That’s important. That is what will make it viable.
Between the new Available Art webpage and the Public Page-Within-That-Page, I hope to have covered a bit of need to be Out There in a new way.
Here’s a sweet small Ikea rolling cart. This gray one was bought – a little dented and scratched, but fully assembled and discounted by 40% – in the AS IS section which is by the checkout at most Ikea stores. It was my second cart and even if I didn’t exactly know how, I knew it would be an asset. It has found a home rolling around among my three kilns holding my stilts and small props and shelves. Sweet indeed!
But I really want to tell you about my first Ikea cart, the powdered turquoise one that we appended.
Let me roll a short photo essay and show you how, with a bit of lumber, canvas and staples, the lil cart became one of my most versatile pieces of studio furniture.
Above is the basic cart. I assembled it myself and it was only a little wonky – which has since settled out: SO proud! I was originally looking for a smallish moveable cart for a sculpture project. I expected to just balance the larger wareboard on top, but my Dear Husband Mark orchestrated the perfect solution. So I guess it is not officially MY hack, it’s his, but I get the daily benefit and approve!
Take a thick piece of plywood and cut to the size you want that’s bigger than the cart. Measure and cut some scrap 2x4s to made a stable center insert for the top shelf. Bevel the ends to fit the rounded corners. The shelf is secured by the 2x4s, but still removable. And if you need to hide something, that top tier still has a secret space!
Optional, but nice: Since my board was long and the sculpture was too, Mark added some 1x4s at each end so the plywood would not tip when removed from the cart and set on the table or floor.
I added a stapled-on canvas top made from some stylish ticking I’ve had since my first ceramics class:
Here’s the cart at work in my studio:
I quite often move it to one side, or even angle it for better access to the glaze closet. It earns its keep. The two bottom shelves hold dish tubs of currently needed tools and molds. I always know where they are. And I forget what is under the plywood in the top tier. Guess I should look soon.
–Liz Crain, who values efficiency, ergonomics and multi-use tools almost as much as planning ahead and finishing before the due date.
Research and Development Department Report (Since the Kilns are Quiet at the Moment)
In my year of stepping away from most festivals and exhibits, which is letting me go deep and often into my studio work, I find myself having time to become plenty curious. Curious about where to take my art-making, curious about how to speak of it, curious about how to represent.
And Completely Curious about places and events I have heard of but never attended where it might fit in. So I have been taking myself out to few of them.
Today’s jaunt was Over the Hill to the venerable Saratoga Rotary Art Show, always a one day event the first Sunday in May.
I have heard other artists speak well of its organization, its attendance, its good sales. I read up about it online, of course, and decided to visit.
It was a lovely spring morning on the west side of the Valley of Heart’s Delight where I grew up (aka Silicon Valley), and I was able to walk the entire event – 200 artists, a dozen food trucks, entertainment stage, kid’s artshow and more – twice before it was starting to get crowded. I knew a few of the ceramic artists there and picked their brains. It was completely good news.
Now I have some pondering to do. Is this something for me and my stuff?
I’m not deciding right now, but it is going on the Seriously Consider List.
Liz Crain – Who loves feeding her imagination with Artist Dates.