As I start this new adventure, I find it can be good to look back at where I’ve come from. Some people believe everything we’ve done in life leads us right to the specific moment we find ourselves in currently. Sometimes I believe this and other times I can’t wrap my head around it.
How did my decision to get a degree in Speech-Language Pathology lead me to want to teach and run workshops as an artist?
How did I get to this point?
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who like to pretend she was a teacher, a dancer, an actress….
Okay, we’re not going back that far.
Let’s just go back to when I started my business, back in 2003.
In 2003 my studio was being finished and I was making jewelry in a spare bedroom. Yep, jewelry; the place where I think many polymer clay artists begin. Jewelry; because it is pretty popular and usually sells well. I remember going to the local hardware store to pick out cabinets for the studio. The woman in the cabinet department asked me if I made my jewelry (funny that I don’t remember what I was wearing but it caught her eye.) And then she asked me if I sold my jewelry.
Cue that anxious pit in the stomach. Cue the ego.
“Yes” I replied (Inner voice: Are you crazy? You don’t know what you’re doing. Why would she want to buy your jewelry?)
And so it began. My very first customer. I didn’t ask for it to happen this way. Sometimes opportunities fall into your lap whether you want them to or not. Looking back I know I wasn’t planning to sell my jewelry; not right then and there. Someday, maybe, but on this day?
Specific details are a little fuzzy but I remember she bought several pieces over time. And then her job was eliminated and I lost my first customer.
But by this time I had been bitten by the selling bug. Making money? good; working hard to get it? not always so fun.
Selling and a crash
Early on I hosted two open studios. The first one was quite successful. The second one bit the dust. I started exhibiting at small, local shows. I moved away from selling jewelry because my heart wasn’t into it. It was (and still is) a very competitive art category and it seemed like everyone made jewelry. And I don’t like doing what everyone else is doing.
I made switchplate covers, pens and pencils, keychains. I tried my hand at making bowls. Some items would sell moderately well for a period of time and then not so much. It was very easy to get discouraged. Shows ran the gamut from decent to absurd (painted hermit crabs and make your own pixie sticks at “juried” shows?) But when I experienced my first art show where the customers told me they came to find handmade gifts, I learned then the kind of venue I needed to target.
I began to sell my artwork in consignment stores. I started making wine bottle stoppers, business card cases, and perfume pens. Soon these items would become my bread and butter in terms of sales. And then I was turned on to the wholesale market.
Wholesale was a very good venue for me. I acquired gallery customers across the United States, from east coast to west coast and down to the Caribbean. During this period of time the number of consignment stores I worked with grew as well. Cumulatively I had over 60 contacts. Just me, myself, and I.
And I burned out. After a couple years, I was tired, bored, and not so happy. When the economy started to wobble and sales became less certain, I, like many people, started to re-evaluate.
When I took the art doll workshop in 2007 my interest in art was renewed and opened up another side of me. I continued with wholesale and consignment but a shift was happening. 2009 brought the trip to France and my awakening to the fact that I need community; an art community where I can do meaningful work.
Overtime, as I’ve started to shift my intentions, I’ve cut loose those sales venues that no longer fit with where I’m heading. Some were initiated on my part. Some on the part of the gallery or shop. Sometimes there is sadness. Sometimes there is relief. At all times I keep in front of me the direction I’m going. I’m jumping and I hope the net will open.
Right Brain Business
This week I started Jennifer Lee’s Right Brain Business Plan E-course. I was reading our first week’s assignment again last night and had an a-ha moment when I read this sentence:
As a right brain entrepreneur, if your values are not reflected in your work, your work will lack meaning. Are you being authentic in your business? If you’re compromising your values in your work, you’ll feel resentful, upset, burnt out and frustrated. When you’re aligned with your values, you’ll feel fulfilled and energized and that is what people will resonate with most.
Values. Authenticity. Alignment. Not something I necessarily considered in my business. That is about to change.