Sunday, January 29, 2012

dirty valentine money

Sometimes I wonder if just because I can sell something, if that means it's worth making.  I ran smack  into this recently as I pondered Valentine's Day.  Every year I think about scraping off some of that Valentine market, because it's a huge market.   Did you know that Valentine's Day is one of the major retail holidays, a billion dollar industry?  And I'm not talking 1 or 2 billion, I mean billions and billions. I want some of that action, but my head is usually still spinning from the Christmas holiday, and by the time I remember Valentine's Day, it's already February. Too late.

And I've been okay with missing out, because I'm conflicted about Valentine's Day.  I love the sentiment of Valentine's Day, but it's nothing but a vehicle for selling stuff.  The  idea of taking a moment to recognize the  love in our lives has been buried under a mountain of bad chocolate, half-dead roses, and stuffed bears made out of non-flammable nylon.  How do you make nylon non-flammable? I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure the process has killed a few rivers in China.  That's not Valentine's Day fault, I'm just saying, there are things that should always be able to burn no matter what.

Of course, you can easily say the same thing about Christmas, and I have no compunctions whatsoever about participating in the Christmas sell-a-thon.  So, this year I went ahead and put a bright red heart on a white bird cupcake stand, called it the "lovebird cupcake stand" and put it out there.   I've been feeling totally dirty about it, and I keep asking myself "Why?"  I almost did it as an exercise to see how it would play out, to see if it was worth getting a little dirty for some extra money.

Before I deliver the punch line, here's my little story about my Valentine's Day disillusionment. When I was in my early 20's, my boyfriend at the time brought me a Valentine gift that was totally forced because I made a big deal out of being recognized as the love of his life on this particular day.  The year before, when we were a fresh couple, his Valentine's Day gift was unexpected and spontaneous, showing a real sensitivity and thoughtfulness.   Now, our relationship was on the rocks so this was the perfect way for me to act out and manipulate him into trying to live up to the year before.

Once the deed was done, I felt bad because the gift was merely a symbol of how shitty things were between us. And I realized that had totally bought into the marketing message of Valentine's Day, which is "Show me you love me, buy me something."  From that day on, I may have thrown a few handmade cards around here and there, but I've never really participated in Valentine's Day again.  It just cuts way too close to the heart, and I ain't letting no marketing man get that close to me.

The question I started with was, "If I can sell something, does that mean it's worth making?"  The simple straightforward answer is it depends on how much you want the money.  This Valentine's Day, I wanted the money.  That nasty, dirty, pink and red money.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

land of lost pottery

January is a great time to go through all the stuff you accumulated throughout the year and start throwing it out.  At home, I've been going through closets, my office, the kitchen pantry.  Throwing stuff out, organizing stuff, and giving stuff away.   The studio is also getting attention.  My studio gets cleaned regularly, I can't stand a messy and dusty studio, all it does is give me an excuse to clean instead of work.  The floors get mopped, shelves cleared, things put in order.  But I do have one blind spot, and that's hanging on to random bits of work that I went through the trouble of making and bisquing, and then lose interest in and never got around to glazing.

I think this is a problem that is endemic to many potters.  When I worked for Sandi Dihl, there were pieces of bisqueware that were hanging around when I started working for her, and were still there when I left a few years later.  When I would visit her over the years, the stuff was still there.  In the same place.  It's a lot easier to toss greenware into a bucket of water when it's not working out.  But once you bisque a piece it seems more permanent, therefore harder to let go.

I have to brace myself when it's time to throw out stuff that's collecting dust and taking up room.  I feel so sad when I throw my work away, but after a couple of minutes I get over it and start throwing away anything that's been sitting around for more than a month.  It gets wild, there in the studio.  Nikki was helping me last week while we did some re-arranging and throwing away of the stuff, and she stopped me  from throwing away a few things she thought were worth glazing.

So we put some pieces back on the shelf, and started glazing some right away.  These are images of a few things.  I have to say they are all nice pieces, I'm glad they got glazed up.  I'll be putting them up for sale gradually over the next few weeks in a series of "lost pottery" postings on Etsy, and if you're interested in purchasing you can keep up with new listings on the Facebook page.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

cheap and easy never is

Here's some marketing advice for you, the artist who makes things to sell: dream up an item that is inexpensive and easy to make, then sit back and watch as the money rolls in.

The high-profit-margin-easy-to-make item is the holy grail of anyone who makes things, whether you do it for a living or for extra income.  But I have some sad news for you.  The successful items out there that hit the sweet spot of easy to make and inexpensive to produce typically comes from years of making stuff that is exactly the opposite. Working at cheap and easy as a marketing approach is a waste of time for artists. 

When I first started making a living off of my work back around 2000, I didn't have many pieces that were under $100.  My work was labor intensive and expensive.  So labor intensive and expensive that selling it wholesale was really not possible, though I tried to do it anyway, and quickly burned myself down to the ground try to re-create pieces that were really meant to be one-of-a-kinds.

Slowly, over a period of years, I worked on simplifying my approach to the pieces I made, both to fulfill wholesale goals and to scale back on my 60 hour week.  From design to production method, every item I made was scrutinized and modified to increase my efficiency.  Lots of pieces were dropped from my production line because there was no way to re-create them for a production market, which is about 80% of what I do.  And this brings me to the cupcake stand, which is one of my all-time bestselling items,  is easy to make, and under $50.

At the time I came up with it, around 2008, I was still wholesaling my cake stands, which were selling faster than I could make them.  This always sounds like a good problem to have, until you have it.  As a ceramic artist, it's very stressful.  To take some of the stress off, I had the stand part of the cake stand slipcast so I would only have to throw the plate instead of both the stand and the plate. The slip cast stand looks different from a wheel-thrown one because of the way the mold is made, the top is solid.  Somehow, it looked useful, but as what?

My pal,  Rae Dunn, who is a genius in coming up with hot sellers, says to me, "You should put a bird right in the center."  I was intrigued by her idea, but I couldn't quite figure out what function that item would serve .  After some fooling around I put the bird on the edge, like my larger cake stands, and it occurs to me that this is a cupcake stand, the perfect item for a bakery that I make cake stands for.  I threw a few up on the etsy,  and they sell like hotcakes. They still do.

The lesson is that I just didn't come up with the cupcake stand randomly.  It took about 3 years to get from cake stand to cupcake stand.  The cupcake stand is a distillation of a bigger idea.  So if I were to re-write the marketing advice I started out with--dream up an item that is inexpensive and easy to make, then sit back and watch as the money rolls in-- it would look something like this:

Dream up a lot of items you love to make.  Take your time making them and learn how to make them perfectly.  Sell them for as much money as you possibly can.  As you work on your pieces, think about how you can simplify the best pieces you make.  Maybe, someday, you will come up with something that resonates and lots of people can afford.  Then, watch the money roll in!