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Interacting with other artists is absolutely essential for you to grow as a creative person.

Several years ago I joined a local quilt guild and from the moment I walked through the doors I knew it was something special.  Over 100 quilters in one room is quite the amazing site.  But as much as I loved the meetings and consider myself an official card carrying “guildy,” I needed an edgier group.

Note:  In a future post I will talk about how I discovered quilting and the differences between traditional quilting and art quilting.

Through this local quilt guild, I joined a smaller group of 30 art quilters and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.  Every time I leave a meeting, I’m revitalized and full of ideas.  And it really doesn’t matter if I’m drawn to a fellow member’s work or not, I learn from each one of these talented women in some way or another.

From that small art quilters group, I joined a group of five women who meet monthly.  Smaller groups are beneficial because they are intimate and you can get more feedback and support on your pieces. It’s also enjoyable to have a relaxed get-together without any agenda items!

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Photo by Quinn Dombrowski. For more information, visit his flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/

This interaction and engagement with others has helped me increase my skill level, hone in my ideas and feel more confident about my work.  Remember, we’re probably not the best in our field whether it be painting or art quilts, writing or making jewelry, fashion design or knitting.  We may be good, very good, but there is always something to be learned from someone else.  I’m a big supporter of joining groups or clubs and I think it stems from my experiences living in New York City.  In an area of 8 million, it’s sometimes hard to meet people.  I joined meetups, book clubs, political clubs, art groups, etc. to connect with others at an individual level.  It can take time to find the right fit but the payoff can be wonderful!

Many of us are a little nervous of meeting new people.  We don’t like rejection typically. Though I support joining groups and meeting other artists, it doesn’t mean I’m the type of person who thrives walking into rooms full of people I don’t know.  That is so not me!  I have self-doubt too but I’m a creative so it goes with the territory.  For instance, I’m starting a class this semester where we will work in groups. This kind of makes me nervous because what if no one wants me in their group?  Of course, this is silly and I’ll end up enjoying the course.

I titled this blog post Interaction and Engagement in the New Year because I want to challenge all creatives out there or at least any creative person who reads this blog, to dip their toes in the water of uncertainty and meet another creative person.  If you’re a painter and are feeling a bit isolated then go to the next gallery opening and talk to other painters.  Of course, there is always that element of competition which many artists possess that might make them seem standoffish.  Well, just stay away from those people!  There are plenty of others who would love to share their experiences as artists. We are out there, believe me!

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Sometime in May, I was talking to a family member, *Albert, on the phone about some African Beads he had inherited.  Albert wanted to know what they were worth because he wanted to sell them at an upcoming garage sale.  I told him I would do some research and get back to him.  Since I work occasionally at a local bead shop, I had access to this type of information.

About a month ago, Albert and another family member, *Bertrand, came for a visit and brought said African Beads.  Albert knew I made jewelry so he asked if I could do something with them and he would pay me for my time and supplies.  I said, “Ok. Whatever.  No problemo” or something to that effect.  We didn’t discuss it further.  That was my mistake.  I should have thought about how much time and money it would cost to do this project but at that time, I didn’t know how big a job it was going to be.

Flash forward to today and hurray, I finally finished the african bead jewelry.  Albert will have 24 items to sell at his garage sale!  When I first started this project, I really had no idea how many beads there were.  Of course, I saw them in bags but it wasn’t until I actually sat down and started making stuff that I realized what I was getting into.

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The 24 items I made with the African Beads

Albert and Bertrand suggested I send pictures as I finished the pieces so we could all agree (or disagree) that I was on the right track.  Well, I never got around to taking pictures, just kept making stuff hoping that they would be happy with the final product.  Also, I went through a creative slump for several days where I couldn’t even make one piece I was satisfied with.

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For my business, Urban Rhythm Designs, I usually choose my own beads for jewelry and fabric for my purses, pillows, and art quilts.  I have yet to have someone provide the beads for me to use in their items…until now.  Although, I like the African Beads that Albert gave me I wouldn’t choose them on my own.  I prefer Kazuri beads from Kenya.

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So before a family member drops a bag of African Beads on you, decide ahead of time how much you will charge to make each item.  For instance, in the necklace above, the materials (not including the african beads) cost about $3.00 (paper beads, wire, toggle, crimp and crimp cover and wire guard).  Add $10-$20 per piece for labor at the minimum and you have a total cost of $16.00 for the necklace.  Another way to look at cost of supplies is to consider the price of a nice toggle to close a bracelet or necklace, which is on average $2.00-$3.00.  Multiply that by 24 pieces and you have a cost of $50 just for toggles!

I haven’t discussed cost with Albert.  I’m waiting to send the bill with the package of jewelry (which I haven’t done yet).  I don’t think he realizes how much it would cost him and I feel like I can’t charge the full amount because we never discussed it prior to me accepting the job.  It was my responsibility to talk about my fees at the beginning.  He is, however, going to make money on these pieces.  His garage sales are events and he is well-known in his neighborhood for being the King of garage sales.  Albert sets up his space like a boutique and his prices are higher than your average sale.

This is a lesson learned for me because if this ever happens again I will state upfront what the cost of supplies will be and the cost of my labor.  I no longer can do this stuff for free. However, I have enjoyed the creative process and it’s one more way to get my name out there.

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*names have been changed to protect the innocent

Happy Birthday Paul Gauguin

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Arearea or Joyfulness, 1892

Paul Gauguin was born 165 years ago today.  French Impressionism is my favorite art movement.  During the 1870s, painters like Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin were breaking away from what was considered traditional art ideals.  Claude Monet’s work Impressionism paved the way for other French artists of the time to use strong vibrant colors and smaller brush strokes suggesting both movement and a feeling of natural light in their works.

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La Vision après le Sermon (La Lutte de Jacob avec l’Ange) or The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel), 1888

Paul Gauguin is a Post French-Impressionist (and all this time I was referring to him as an Impressionist) and although he has never been one of my favorite artists, I still appreciate his unique sense of color.  Gauguin was a major influcence on my favorite painter, Vincent Van Gogh.  In fact, he stayed with Vincent for several months in the little yellow house in Arles in 1888.  Even though they were good friends, they also got in heated discussions, both having very strong opionios about the creative process.  Van Gogh, at one point, pulled a razor on Gauguin.  I think their relationship disolved after that.

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Vincent Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers, 1888

In 1891, Gauguin left France and sailed to the South Seas and it was here that many of his great pieces were produced.  Like his friend, Vincent Van Gogh, Gauguin suffered from depression and was never appreciated during his lifetime.  He passed in 1903.

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Femmes de Tahiti, ou Sur la plage or Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891

If you compare Gauguin’s work to other Impressionists from this period, you see a striking difference (at least I do).  The frenetic brush strokes that you see in a Vincent painting, for example, are absent in a Gauguin painting.  He exaggerates the female figure and his paintings are filled with cultural symbolism.  Gauguin doesn’t follow the correct perspective when he paints (most Impressionists do away with what is considered “correct” Perspective) and his objects almost appear flat, maybe as a way for his subjects to be more prominent.  I’ve been looking at several of his paintings today and they are quite stunning.  I said above that he has never been one of my favorite artists, however, I might change my mind on that.

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Te Faaturuma, 1891

*Note:  I’m no art academic so take what I say with a grain of salt.  Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith-excellent biography and where I got a lot of information about Gauguin. 

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I’m a huge fan of anything Jasper.  My favorite kind is Owyhee which is found near the Owyhee River in Oregon.  I love it because, like many other gemstones, the natural formation on the piece makes it look like a scene or a picture.  In fact, another name for Owyhee Jasper is Picture Jasper.  For a long time, I’ve been referring to Owyhee as Ocean Jasper which it is not.  I also confuse it with Red Creek Jasper.  So much Jasper–so little time!

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The word Jasper can be traced back to the Greek (really, what can’t be traced back to the Greeks?!) and means spotted stone.  Here are some other interesting facts:

1.  Jasper is an opaque rock of fine grained quality
2.  It is a form of chalcedony which is a variety of quartz
3.  It is petrified mud
4.  The organic nature and minerals give it its picture like quality
5.  There are many names for Jasper which can get a little confusing
6.  The Egyptians often wore amulets made of Jasper.

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And for those of us who always want to know the meaning of stones..wearing Jasper can potentially bring about lasting friendships.  It also provides protection to the person wearing it.  This is true because I often wear Jasper and I have yet to be attacked by a bear!

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Owyhee Jasper is affordable, and there are so many colors, shapes and varieties, enough to keep a jewelry designer busy for the rest of her life!  I love pairing it with metals and wire. Do you like Owyhee Jasper?  Do you have another favorite type of Jasper?  What do you like to make with this stone?

To Fair or Not to Fair

artsandcrafsHow much do I hate selling my handmade goods at Art fairs?  Let me count the ways. When I began this adventure of starting my own business three or so years ago, I didn’t realize how all-encompassing it was going to be and by all-encompassing I mean in the amount of work and discipline it takes 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  My immediate goal was to make as many purses, pieces of jewelry and pillows as I could.  Marketing and building my customer base was the farthest thing from my mind until I did my first art fair during the holiday season in 2011.

Being self-employed in this economy is tough and starting a business might not be the best idea now.  But it’s also tough finding a good paying job that fits both your skill level and value system (believe me, I tried for a year right after after the economy tanked in 2008 which is why I had to leave NYC).  Hence, the decision to create Urban Rhythm Designs.

For the past few years I’ve had the attitude of *if you make it they will come but then I came to the realization that there were a lot of other people making things and hoping they will come to them too.  The homemade art business has flourished in the past several years. People are unemployed and doing anything they can to make a little extra money.  Etsy, which is a site that allows people to sell their handmade goods, has approximately 800,000 sellers.  It makes you wonder how, as an artist or designer, you stand out?

One way to get your business noticed is to participate in artisen fairs, holiday bazaars and farmers’ markets as much as you can.  I was very excited when I signed up for my first Farmers’ Market Craft Holiday Bazaar in 2011.  I thought I would sell out of all my items, obtain a solid customer base, people would fall over each other to own one of my pieces etc.  Well, I fell a little short of that goal.  I sold one purse and a couple pieces of jewelry total during the three different times I did the market.  I admit that part of this was my own fault in that I didn’t have enough product and my displays weren’t that exciting.   In fact, I probably wouldn’t have stopped by my table if I was a potential customer looking to buy some holiday gifts.

I can’t speak for all artists, designers, painters, writers but the items I make are very personal to me.  I pick the fabric for my purses.  I make the patterns.  I combine colors for my necklaces, bracelets and earrings.  I put a little of myself into every piece I make.  If I love the necklace I make than it would make sense that the whole world will love it with me. Not necessarily.  This realization hit me hard.

After this experience, I swore that I wouldn’t do any more fairs.  Ever!  But you want to make money, you want to be a success and if you don’t jump at every opportunity to get your name out there then you must not be giving 100%.  Right?  Also, I should point out that doing these fairs are a lot of work especially if you have to bring your own tables.  Packing up everything, hauling them in and out of your car-you are grateful when a friend can lend a hand.  During the holidays last year, I again signed up for two of the same farmers’ market but I knew this time around it would be different because I had more product, better displays (although still nothing appropriate to show off my purses) and a positive atitude!  I sold nothing at the first one and for the second market, I lowered prices, changed displays, made new signs and shared my winning smile with every person that passed by my table. But I’m definitely not a salesperson.  Although, when I was working for a nonprofit several years ago I had to do a lot of fundraising for my program.  One time I gave quite an awesome presentation to the board of a local well-known corporate business on why they should fund my program. And they did, to the tune of $10,000.  So I can sell stuff when I put my mind and heart into it.  During this time I also did a fair at my health club.  I made $150 during a six hour period selling handbags and jewelry.  I was happy.

We’re almost halfway through 2013.  I’ve done two fairs in the past couple of months. During the quilt show, I was put down a hallway at a senior living complex (to be fair to the organizers, I was late to the party) apart from the other sellers.  At the health club Spring Artisen Fair I was excited that I was table #1 right at the entrance.  However, I eventually realized that I was again apart from all the other sellers.  It didn’t even look like I was part of the group but I did sell some items at both events.  I had my handbags displayed on a tomato cage which I thought looked pretty neat and amazing but no one even glanced at them.  I should point out that at every fair I’ve done, people have admired my jewelry, owl pillows, art quilts and even my purses (if they look at them) but they never buy.

Should we use the art fair as a way to sell our products?  Definitely Yes!  However, I’m not sure if I will ever do another one again.  Ever!  But as you know, I’ve said this before and changed my mind.  Every holiday bazaar or market I participate in, I get a little stronger, a little tougher and a little bit more confident in myself and my business.  It’s still not easy when I don’t sell.  I’ve had to choke back tears while I was at a couple fairs until I packed up and got to my car where I cried my eyes out.

I often think of Vincent Van Gogh whenever I get discouraged with my art and my business (which is often).  I admire him so much.  He was never appreciated during his time.   And yet today, his paintings are worth millions.  What I’m trying to get across is that you never know when your product will sell or who will take to it.  We as artists, as creators, have a need to share our work with others whether it’s a painting, a short story or a handbag. Don’t give up!  Keep on knocking on doors and jump at every opportunity to get your business out there for the public.

*a twist on the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams