Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

the rules of wholesale: part 1

Many ceramic artists face the dilemma or whether or not to wholesale. In some ways, it seems that getting your goods into a store is the goal. It's exposure, it's validation. When I did my first ACC wholesale show in Baltimore back in 2001, I couldn't imagine anything more exciting than having a store carry my work. But I didn't have a clue what I was getting myself into. My work back then was incredibly labor intensive and unique. I knew how to throw in a production schedule, but the finishing work was impossible to fit into a production mode without losing my mind from the repetition. But I didn't know this yet. I went to the show, was happy to come home with $5,000 worth of orders, and promptly burned myself down to a tiny little crisp in the following months as I filled the orders. I quickly realized my precious pots, priced to move, weren't going to begin to compensate me for the amount of time I was putting into creating them, nor would they cover my costs at the loony bin where my husband was threatening to send me.

First rule of wholesale: never wholesale anything you can't reproduce quickly and consistently. If you love making your labored artworks, believe me: the joy will be sapped right out of it when you are forced to make them over and over again at the rate of about $3 an hour. Consistency is also very important. If you are making work in a production mode, your studio will get overwhelmed with seconds if you cannot make a consistent product. I'm sorry to call your artwork a product, but if you are wholesaling, that's what it is.

So, where do you start with the fast and the easy when your work is neither? My hang up for a long time is that I did not want to work with molds or any other kind of reproduction method. I thought it zapped the magic out of my work. And there is some truth to that idea; the hand infuses an energy into your work that simply cannot be replicated by anything other than a human. At the same time, your idea also contains magic, and challenging your brain to figure out how to get that idea onto 200 pots in one week-- as opposed to 6 months-- also creates its own magic.

To answer the question for myself I created my Seed & Pod line alongside my more intense Flower line. It was simple to throw, easy to finish. And I loved giving myself something else to work on that reflected a different style. When I jumped back into serious wholesale again in 2006, I only took my Seed & Pod line. Simple, easy. In time the orders jumped over what I could realistically make by hand, and that's where Hector came in. Hector makes molds from all of my the work I want to wholesale. Over the past two years I've even been able to add my best-selling items from the Flower line and have them molded to expand my line and keep it interesting.

So if you are thinking about wholesale, you really have to answer "yes" to these two questions of efficiency and consistency. If you're saying "yeeeees", kind of slowly, or "most of the time", or "I don't mind working 60 hours a week!" then you are not ready for wholesale on a large scale yet. And by large scale I mean 50% or more of your income.

How you get to efficiency and consistency is up to you. I say listen to everyone, and listen to no one. The way I do it works for me, but it's not the answer. I've cobbled together my solution over the years by following only what I am comfortable with. I look at some people's work who want to wholesale and I think, "You make a mold of that bowl, a decal of that design, and you are good to go". But that person may not like decals. Or molds. They may need to come up with a new design that echoes the original idea so they don't feel they have to sacrifice some aspect of originality. Or they may just have to totally burn themselves out to realize molds and decals ain't so bad.

I am going to continue to write on this subject of wholesale, so if there is a particular aspect that you would like to have addressed, please email me or post a comment.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

resolved

Remember back in January when I said I thought making resolutions in the deepest depths of winter was ridiculous, and it should be saved for the first day of spring when one may actually feel motivated to make some changes? Well guess what people? The Vernal Equinox is upon us in two days!

I have several resolutions. The first one is to start posting ceramic websites and blogs of people beside my immediate circle of friends. I've been very non-reciprocal in that area. I recently put a site meter on my blog to monitor how many people actually read this thing, and was surprised to learn how many beautiful fantastic awesome people have me bookmarked, and how many people come to me through other blogs websites. I found some very cool artists whose work I'd never seen before, and I thought I knew everybody. Well, apparently I do not, and god knows what else I'm missing. So if you are a ceramic person, please put your blog and/or website in my comments or email them to me and I will post it.

Second resolution is to start working my retail angle a lot harder. Last week I was all bunged up because I was considering doing the Las Vegas wholesale craft show (a relatively new show on the wholesale circuit) with Rae Dunn and a couple of other people. In the end, we couldn't pull it together and I found I was relieved. Why? Because I hate frickin' wholesale. I've started shipping my spring orders and these collections I send off are so beautiful. I mean really, it makes a momma proud. But I'm sending these babies off for less than half of what I could sell it for out of my studio or on Etsy. And that kinda hurts. Could I sell it all off myself for retail is the question.

Someone asked me a few weeks ago about how I developed my wholesale. I've been thinking a lot about that question because I want to answer it in an intelligent way that is helpful to people. I'm not going to do that right now other than to say I never wanted to do wholesale, but the retail shows were drying up in the sales department and I needed to do something to keep things going, hence the New York Gift show and Philadelphia Rosen. But if you read those posts you know I never come back all happy and stoked, I come back feeling depressed and used.

So my resolution now is to take that dough I was going to pour into Las Vegas and pour it into my marketing instead. I just uploaded a new website-- check it out-- and I'm going to take out some online ads and push etsy as hard as I can. Now the question is, what is your spring resolution?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

staying sane

People always ask me how I work full-time earning a living as an artist and remain such a happy, healthy, balanced and sane person. Actually, nobody asks me that. But in my world, staying sane is a part-time job, and by that I mean I probably spend 20 hours a week working on not losing my mind.

During the first part of my art career, I worked part-time for other artists and full-time for myself, which meant I was working almost all of the time. Basically, anything that got in between me and my wheel was a major annoyance and something to be dealt with and put aside as quickly as possible. This included eating meals, bathing, time with my husband, and going on vacation. I was always stressed out because, dammit, life kept getting in my way when all I wanted to do was make some fuckin' pots!

I'm not sure when that changed. I think when I was in persistent physical pain from all my labor that I had to seek out a physical therapist to set it all right. Maybe it was around that time that I realized I wasn't taking very good care of myself, and it showed. It was so typical for me to run home at lunch, stuff a burrito down my gullet in like, 4 minutes, and then run back to the studio. At some point I'd be thinking, "Why does my stomach hurt?" I was also tired of being in a constant state of impatience to be in my studio when I was doing things outside my studio, like driving to the bank, a task I would put off until the whole mess was about to melt down. Here I was, living the dream, and always irritable.

This is how I take care of myself now, and I'm putting it out there for everyone to think about what they are doing to take care of themselves. It's not that interesting or magical, but here it is:
1) I stick to a regular routine of work. I'm a morning person, so I get up and go. I don't work evenings and I usually don't work in the studio for more than 6 hours a day.
2) I spend a minimum of 3 hours a week at my gym getting all sweaty, and I spend another one or two hours using their hot tub and steam room. I also go to my yoga studio at least once or twice a week.
3) I take time off regularly to get out of town and I don't waste time feeling guilty about it.
4) I borrow other people's kids instead of having my own (see picture above).
5) I battle impatience and anxiety with breathing exercises and meditation. And when I catch myself talking to myself in a nasty way, I ask myself if I would talk to my best friend that way.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

big brother don't lie

One of my oldest friends in California is JT. I moved in next door to him in Santa Cruz when I was 18 and renting my first apartment. We became fast friends because we had a mutual love for beer, the beach, and bbq pork burritos. JT is one of the few people who I know for sure reads every blog posting I write, and complains when I haven't posted. I went to go visit him last weekend in Santa Cruz and he told me my blog has lately been "really boring!"

JT is like the older brother I wish I had but never did, so when he says something like that he could be messing with my head-- because that's what big brothers like to do-- or he could be telling me the truth. I quickly scanned some recent posts and I admit there is a lot of whining and feeling a bit sorry for myself. I think it's fascinating stuff, but it's possible others are not as entertained. I started to write a post the other day titled, "Collapsing under the weight of 1,000 fucked-up cake plates", but decided to stop myself from continuing the theme after talking to JT. It's possible that even I am getting bored with whining.

Today was the first day in a long time-- I'm talking months-- that I got to make some stuff that was not directly related to my wholesale business. The plan that's been in the works for a while is that Sara will deal with wholesale and I will make Art capital A. And receive visitors into my kingdom while eating bon-bons and getting a shoulder massage. And also, getting fanned with palm fronds by the palace slaves-- I mean interns.

So today I fooled around with my porcelain and here is some of what I made:
I threw away most of what came out today, but at least it wasn't boring!