I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Hands

I can't believe that it has been 2 months since I posted my last blog!  I won't wonder where the time has gone because I know and I'd like to tell you about it.

It's been about a year and a half since I began the endeavor called NellsBelles.  Last summer I spent an entire season trying to figure out how to operate the laptop, take pictures, create my Etsy site and all that is entailed in that process.  I joined the Hudson Valley Etsy team which revolutionized my experience of Etsy and accelerated the progress of my business.  A big shout out to my girls at HVET and my appreciation for how they have inspired me and energized me to push myself further and faster than I had planned.

So, shows.  Ah, the arts and crafts shows and street fairs.  What a mixed bag and what a mixed blessing.  My first couple were ego boosters, confidence makers and excellent meet and greets.  I made a few sales and connected with retailers, promoters and many advice givers.  There was the invaluable opportunity to interact with potential customers and actually observe how people reacted to my work.  What attracted people and what didn't.  One of the most surprising things that I discovered was that people loved, I mean loved the Victorian Memory Jars which are my favorite thing to do and what I thought people would be the least attracted to.  That was a thrilling discovery and has really allowed me to focus my mosaic work more.  The "Eyes on the Top of Her Head" headbands seem to be popular and there are about a dozen of them for sale at The Craft Lounge in Leonia, New Jersey.  I met the women who own The Craft Lounge at the Ridgewood fair.  They are fantastic and I am enjoying working with them. 

Mostly what I learned about the outdoor shows is that there is a HUGE difference between a genuine art and craft show and all the rest of the events, regardless of how they are billed.  For the most part, street fairs are like carnivals.  It is an opportunity for large groups of people to walk in a crowd, eat crappy food they would probably not eat normally and drop a few dollars on some novelty item they will grow tired of in a few weeks and wonder what ever got into them in the first place.  Then there are true art and craft shows when true talent is on display and discerning people pay good money to own these works of art.  I am aware of some of these genuine articles and I never in a million years thought that they were where my work belonged.  I have always thought of myself as more crafty and less artist.  I have always aspired, hoped to feel I was worthy of "craft artist" or "artisan" but it was not until I left my studio and put myself in public arenas that I was able to clarify my perspective of myself.

For years, I put myself on the line and I mean literally my self on the line as a dancer and an actress.  It was I that was on display.  It was the talent that was expressed in my body, my voice, my appearance that was open to the judgements of whoever was sitting on the other side of the table in the audition room.  I had to look these people, the almighty job holders, in the eyes and present my self for approval and hopefully get the job.  It was a gruelling life.  A life that can rock the confidence and self image of the most confident and egocentric performers.  I had more downs than ups and in the end, I realize I took a brutal beating during that time of my life.

What I do now, I do in private.  I work alone.  No one watches me like they did in acting class or dance class.  I make my mistakes in private.  If it doesn't work out, I throw it away and no one ever knows what a mess I made.  I can work on something until I am happy with it.  I can choose who I show it to for feedback and I can expose the work to the public when I feel confident in what I have created.  And somehow, when someone looks at one of my lamps or a necklace or a memory jar and they are not interested in any way it isn't a problem for me.  It's not me.  It is a product of me but it is not me.  I am enjoying that distance.  I am happy for that freedom.  I am loving what I am doing with myself.

What I learned this summer, during this show season, is that I can be as good as I want.  I can have a vision, I can follow that vision and really can make it happen.  Simple, isn't it.  We have heard it all of our lives.  We tell our kids they can do anything they want.  Yet for me there was always a major detail left out of the message.  We can't do anything we want.  The accent is really on want and I always thought the focus was the anything.  That anything we tried hard at could produce magnificent results.  Not true Grasshopper, not true.  What we really mean is that we can do anything with what we want.  And we have to want it in a passionate way.  The want has to emanate from the pit of our stomachs, from the bottom of our hearts, from that place that tells us what would really make us happy.  That, as so many of us know is the tricky part.  Sorting out what would really make us happy and to have the sense of self to identify it and stick to our guns.

I always knew I wanted to be an artist.  It was all in the busy hands.  It was in sitting next to Grandma, it was in the sketchbooks I lugged around it was in the pull I felt when I looked at a painting in a museum and felt the urge to walk into the picture and become a part of it.  Other people didn't see it.  They saw me being good at other things like being on stage and I followed their opinions into the working world.  I always knew but I couldn't find the strength to say so.  I never thought I was good enough.  I knew I had the desire but I didn't believe there was talent.  I looked to make anything happen with something that just didn't fit like a glove.

Having a kid changed all that.  It was my son that taught me the real relationship between wanting and doing.  He would make proclamations about something he was going to do and I would, in my mind, scream out,"No!  You can't do that!  You're not good enough, the right type, fast enough...".  Yet, I would always go along with what he wanted.  I wanted him to have the chance to try.  And time after time, it was the things that he was passionate about that he worked and worked at and eventually became good at and in some instances acquired  of mastery in.  His passion always gave him the right to do the things he wanted.  Because of his determination and his commitment to who he is my kid has always seemed to have the ability to make anything he really wants, happen.

I've been schooled.  Yes, indeed I have.  Now I go to my studio and I believe.  I believe because I want to.  I believe because I have to.  My passion is in my studio and it comes out of my busy hands.  Happy hands, happy woman.  I feel at home at last.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kaleidoscope Eyes

I have to say, the glow from that first outing has kept its charge for some time now.  I find myself drawing on the experience of being out in public with my work and can feel myself changing.  Its a shape shift into something that has always been there.  Maybe it's a melting.  The melting of a persona that was fabricated over years of my life, applied as a mask to survive, please others, do what I was told, be what I thought I should be.  I have several talents and I have pursued most of them.  Success has rewarded some more than others but when I look back to my childhood my earliest impulses were to make things with my hands. 

I never drew very well.  My eyes didn't translate depth to the flat surface and though my hands were quite capable under well guided circumstances I just didn't draw well.  I longed to be able to sit under a tree with a sketch pad and good lead pencil and just sketch for hours.  I dreamed of what it would be like (still do) to see something in my minds eye and be able to translate that onto a sheet of paper.  But in reality, me, not so much.  And because of that I got it into my head that I wasn't and could never be an artist.  No drawing, no art school.  Never mind that I would spend hours in the art room of my hippie high school in Seattle working with clay, throwing pots on the manual kick wheel with its huge concrete wheel that looked like something out of a grist mill.  Just because I loved helping Don, the art teacher, set the hay on fire to do some Raiku clay firings didn't mean that I could make making things a way of life for myself.  My sense of color was just an additional asset when it came time to decorate my house when I grew up or helped me be a "good dresser".  No, it didn't matter that I loved having dirty hands and swooned over the smell of wet clay or loved the transformation of wax into metal or that even if I couldn't produce a realistic drawing, the sight of a blank sheet of paper gave me butterflies.  Blank, white paper.  Total possibility.  No holds barred.  Freedom.

Instead, I graduated from high school and took off for New York to dance.  I was better than most but I certainly had my limitations.  I lived in that skin for many, many years.  Eked out a living and always felt like a bit of an impostor.  I lived the life in full passion but at the end of the day I never felt like I was in my own club.

Through the years I have always had these spells (as my grandma Matie used to describe them) where I was overcome with the primal need to make something.  I would see a piece of embroidery and would have to run right out and buy a hoop, needles, thread and cloth to make something.  It never really mattered if "it" became something.  It was the doing.  I had to do something with my hands.  Sometimes it was as simple as painting something.  My BFF can tell you that when we shared an apartment in NYC all she had to do was mention changing a paint color and I was out the door to buy paint.  Christmas would come and I would get the urge to crochet and scarves and afghans and hats would abound.  I remember one year, in my deeply New Age period,  my BFF had started knitting and she had some beautiful yarn scraps.  I made little drawstring pouches from the yarn and put bits of sage, crystals, totems and a little scroll describing what each item meant and why I chose those particular things for each loved one.  I crocheted and beaded elaborate bags for tarot cards and rune stones but at some point the limitation of my skills and materials would burn out and my hands would once again be left idol and bored.

By the time my son was born I had reached the end of the line with my limited skills and all I ever got from my little forays into stitchery and house and furniture painting was a feeling of letdown.  It just didn't scratch my itch.  My hands were busy for a while but my heart was left empty.  I wasn't getting anything out of it anymore.  It all looked crappy and crafty and I wanted my hands to have something to take real pride in.

This is where the broken pieces mosaics come in.  I needed a new skill and this one seemed to be one I could teach myself.  It was also a technique that required multiple skills and materials and gave me a sense of multitasking.  I felt like I was doing alot.  The many steps gave me a deep feeling of accomplishment and the extended period of time it took to finish a project satisfied my need to work for something.  And there was room to grow.  Little things like knowing that earthenware tends to crumble a bit when you nip it but china cuts crisply.  Vintage Fire King splinters like the tempered glass that it is and those splinters usually end up in your fingertips (note to self to avoid).  Dishes that have started to discolor and turn brown and crackle are going to break with a dull snap unlike new plates from the damaged shelf at TJMaxx which snap with a bit of a ring.  I have grown to love the experience of being able to look at something, tap it, run my finger on it and know exactly how it is going to behave in my hands.  I recognize the clays and glazes and though I can't tell you the elemental composition of any of it, I know its ways. 

Glues and adhesives are the soap and water of my work.  At any given time I have anywhere from 5 to 10 different compounds to stick one thing to another in my studio.  Silicone, construction adhesive, tile mastic, craft glue, goop, E-3000, epoxy -  all do something different from the other.  I read about glues.  I have charts about what makes one thing stick to another.  Glass to clay.  China to wood.  Leather to metal.  Fabric to  fabric.  China to china.  These things are ridiculously important to me.  Grout!  OMG!  A science and an art.  Sanded or not sanded?  I almost never use unsanded anymore because it has less integrity but sometimes the sanded can scratch delicate china so every once in while I have to go no sand.  But that presents additional challenges because if I don't get the right water to concrete ratio, it tends to crack as it dries and it requires constant tending through the drying process.  Often I have to make a slip (runny grout) to fill the cracks and insure the piece is sound.

Color.  Choosing the grout color is, for me, the most challenging part of mosaics.  What will make the work pop.  Do I want it to pop or do I just want the empty spaces to show?  And there's many ways to color grout.  You can buy it premade and I have this nifty sample case with wands of color that I can hold up to a piece, like a color chip and choose a prefab color.  Sometimes those colors aren't quite right so I have to go the custom route.  I can buy concrete tints which are usually  powders and sometimes liquids but they tend to be earthy tones that you would use on a patio or floor.  I use acrylic craft paint sometimes and I can use that two ways - mix the paint into the grout or grout in white and then apply the paint to the whole piece and wipe it clean.  The grout drinks up the paint and wipes off the ceramic.  It creates two completely different looking finishes.

Okay, I'm boring you now.  I'll stop.  Here's my point.  Opening the door to a new skill changed my life.  Taking the leap to learn  how to do something new is a door opener of unforeseen proportions.  That new skill may seem basic and simple at first but it leads  you into a world of seeing things used differently.  Looking beyond the obvious and teaching your eyes, your mind to see and understand in a new context.  It's like looking through a kaleidoscope.  Initially the image is one thing but as you learn to turn the lens you can see the same elements in a million different ways.   You have new eyes and therefore new things to do.  You can change.  You can change what you see, what you do, how you do it, why you do it and how you feel when you are doing it.  You can remind yourself that everything holds new possibilities.  Nothing is static.  Not the things  you use everyday, not the vehicle you take to work everyday, not your home, not your body, not your kids or your friends or you pets, not your Self.   Everything is in constant motion and to live with the illusion that things stay the same, to assume oneself into "this is how I do things" is life numbing.

Learning something new is the most restorative tonic I know.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Coming Out

I bought a tent.  I followed the newspaper sale flyer to Sports Authority and I bought a forest green, 10'x10', true 100 sq/foot area tent, complete with a carrying case on wheels.  It weighs about 20 lbs, is about 4 feet long all packed up and I can pull it behind me more easily than a cheap suitcase thru the airport.  I was also saved the time of ripping off my compadre's cleaver weight system when I spotted 4 weighted feet for less than 100 bucks.  (They look like 5lb barbell weights with notches cut out of them to fit around the legs of the tent)  WooHoo!  $240.00 and I felt like I was half-way to nailing my goal of a craft fair.  A tall, strapping girl who didn't want any of the male employees to think she was a sissy, helped me out to the car and loaded me up (she reminded me of myself).  We shook hands and off I went.  I was becoming an artist out of cyberspace.  The alien had landed.

I got home, propped the boxes up against the garage wall and went into the house.  I immediately went to the laptop and clicked into the application for the Nyack Street Fair in October and typically found the pebble in the road that I would allow myself to trip over for a couple of weeks.  They want pictures of my setup and my tent isn't even out of the box yet.  Shit.

Alright, keep it moving, keep it flowing.  One step at a time.  Break it down.  The main table.  I need to design the main table and take a trial run at the setup and display design.  I had the little tole suitcases I had picked up at my local pharmacy/gift shop for an ultimate markdown price.  I had the large metal daisies designed to hold photos in its cute little curlicue tendrils but I was going to hang jewelry on instead.  I had my beloved Nell, the mannequin I had bought online that looked like a French coquette to model a few key items for me.  And I had loads of table cloths and vintage fabrics to drape for luxury.  I looked around the house for a place to set up the table and begin working.  The kitchen?  Nope.  Between the cooking and eating thing, there were the plants and the dogs and all of my son's cords and papers and Cd's and other garbage that he annoyingly just drops on the kitchen table when he comes in. It didn't feel like the path of least resistance.  Where would all that clutter end up if I take over this space?  Okay.  The Living Room?  No, not the "pretty room"  My studio?  I can't cram one more activity or storage area in that already exploding space.  The garage?  I could park one of the cars on the driveway for a few days.  No, that car would be up and down the driveway so that my son and his bros could play basketball every 10 minutes.  The dining room.  Move that buffet out of the bay window and cram it into a corner of the living room and I'll have a place to work.  Done.

I get the table set up, start bringing things up from the studio and in a day or so I had a table that I could live with.  (Bear in mind, I tend toward neurotic perfectionism so "I can live with it" is a good thing).  The next step was to set up the tent in the driveway and replicate what my tent would look like in a show presentation.  My husband assured me we would make time over the weekend for me to set up and take all the pictures I needed.  A couple of the fairs were not accepting jewelry so I also needed to take some shots with furniture and mosaics only.  Good enough.

Like many places in the world right now, we have been having some freakishly uncomfortable weather here in the beautiful state of New York so I began to track the weather reports for the upcoming weekend.  As we got closer it became clear that Saturday and Sunday were going to bring oppressive humidity, unbreathable air and temperatures hot enough to bake the peach pie on the deck that I was going to make with the farmer's market fruit I had just purchased.  That will be fun.  Dragging all that stuff out to the driveway, dripping sweat and trying not to get into a fight with my husband about how he doesn't know how to zhuzh a tablecloth.  Yep.  That's what I call ideal conditions .  I took solice in the fact that we were not living in the upper parts of Siberia where people who are accustomed to temperatures of -90 degrees are freaking out over the 90 plus temperatures that are causing their potato fields to spontaneously combust!  (Don't anyone panic.  There is no climate change or global warming going on.)

Lucky for us it rained all weekend but I still had no pictures and the clock was ticking on those applications.  Around Wednesday I got a call from the Events Producer for our Suffern Farmers Market asking me if I knew any artists that worked with recycled materials as she was trying to put a last minute event together featuring local artist/recyclers.  My mind raced.  Dare I tell her?  Can I do it?  Am I setting myself up for a disaster.  A nervous breakdown?  Is this another one of my self-sabotage moves to beat the crap out of my confidence by not doing well?  "Well, as a matter of fact, that is exactly what I do", I heard myself say to Alex.  "Really!?  Would you be willing to do it?  I know it's short notice but you'd really be doing me a favor."  "Sure", I said as my stomach tightened and I felt a twinge of migraine grabbing my left temple.  "Yeah, I'll do it".  "Great!  See you at 7:30 on Saturday".  "Okay.  7:30." 

I don't even need to comment on the 7:30 thing.  But I had just said yes to stepping over the line from the private vacuum of cyberspace to the bright, people populated realm of an open market.  This moment felt exactly like the moment I had had last summer as I hit that button on the Etsy site that launched my NellsBells Etsy and put my work on public view.  Now, I was crossing the threshold from how many hits Google calculated I got on any given day to actual face-to-face responses to the "Flights of Fancy" I toil over day in and day out.  I was going to know, for certain, by looking at people, how they really felt about the work that I hold so dear to my heart.  Holy shit.  It was a worse feeling than the first day of school.

Being the engineer's daughter that I am, I packed my stuff in a very organized and calculating manner including how it was placed in the back of the car so that the tent, then the table, then the the cloths came out first so that the set up was done in order of need.  I raced around putting together last minute necessities like signage, order forms and a change bank.  I went to bed that night ready to get up, get dressed and pull out of the driveway.  May I tell you, it was a fitful sleep at best.

When I woke up that morning and opened the back door to let the dogs out I almost dropped to my knees and wept - in gratitude.  It was a crisp, breezy morning with one of those cornflower blue skies that only New York has.  It was about 70 degrees with a cooling breeze that was strong enough to ruffle your skirt but not powerful to blow your tent over.  By golly, it was a perfect day!  Woohoo for me!  I am actually going to enjoy being outside today!

At 7:25am (we live about 2 miles from this market - another plus for a training wheel venture) my husband and I pulled out of the driveway, arrived at the site, parked the car and I was set up and in my soccer-mom chair enjoying a home brewed cup of french press coffee in about 20 minutes.  Honest to god, it was one of the most serene moments of my life.  I felt like I had crossed the Mojave desert and was now lounging by a fresh water stream feeling satisfied at my survival.

The people began to arrive.  Mind you, they were there to buy food for the week, not a necklace or a house number.  Yet as people passed they would smile at my little NellsBelles universe.  Many of them stopped in to browse and  they enjoyed the stories I told them of the genesis of the vintage jewelery components of my work and asked me to tell them the stories of the pieces they liked.  Some even recognized the folk art roots of some of my less understood pieces and loved that I was crafting in that tradition (Memento Morie, a Victorian practice of creating death art which includes hair jewelry, death portraits and Victorian Memory Jars which I create.)  The young 20somethings were drawn to the more fun pieces like the Betty Boop bracelet and the Eyes on the Top of Her Head headbands, just as I had anticipated.  The middle aged funksters loved the vintage compositions on the biker chains.  Men liked the daintier vintage pieces and a couple of them bought something for their wives for a "just because" gift.  (Yes, you heard me.  I actually made some sales!)  I got orders for a couple of house numbers, one for a woman who was returning to her home in the Bahamas the next day and was looking for a number for the post at her front gate.

 All in all, I was a chatting, charming fool and for anyone that really knows me, that is no mean feat.  I felt comfortable and in my element.  It was never stressful, I never felt anxious (not even when one of my daisy displays blew over and sent about 5 necklaces skidding across the pavement).  I felt at home.  I felt like myself.  My real self.  It was quite simply, a joyful experience.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time To Connect The Dots

It's time to connect the dots.  Time to draw  cyberspace into physical space.  Giving both ends of the bungee cord the final tugs to bring the seemingly just short hooks together and hold the bundle to the bike.  Here is where I find myself. 

All the while that I have been working away at this lovely little cyber home in my lovely little cyber neighborhood I have had the luxury of not paying much attention to the workaday responsibilities that a new home can bring.  Like moving into a new house.  While choosing paint colors and selecting the perfect pulls for the kitchen cabinets and being thrilled with the newness and shininess of it all, thoughts of what you will do the first time the sink backs up never enter your mind.   Thoughts of whether or not the neighbors will be friendly or if the mailman is efficient are far removed from the fantasy princess world you are blissfully inhabiting as you nest and decorate your beloved abode.  

But then you are satisfied (for now) that your new home is ready for visitors and you'd like to invite people over to celebrate.  You invite some friends and family and those that can, dutifully attend but you realize that the people that you really need to have over are the people you don't know that you want to meet.  Neighbors and new people are the integral element to your new life in your new home and getting strangers to come visit you is not as easy as it was in grandma's day.  Okay, the next door neighbor has a stake in this so they will come.  The people across the street have a bit of an interest in you so they come too.  Yet with the few friends and family, the next door neighbors and the people across the street, there is still plenty of food and drink and the new home looks a little empty without more people.  Where is the rest of the neighborhood?  Did they get the invitation?  Why didn't they come?  Whose going to eat all this food?

And so it is with my little Etsy shoppe.  I've decorated, I've written the invitations and I have laid out the food and drink for all to consume and well, frankly not many of the invitees have shown up.  I know that just sitting and waiting and wishing and hoping are are just that and not a good use of my resources.  I know this is a time for what little salesmanship I have to kick in.  Though I never thought I was particularly good at promoting myself (I'm a killer promoter when it comes to others) if ever there was a time to try harder, it's now.

I started kicking around some of the blogs and websites designed for crafty entrepreneurs like myself.  There's plenty out there.  For starters, Etsy itself publishes a newsletter/blog with advice from other sellers that was helpful to me during the building process.  Now, not so much as I look to expand beyond the Etsy community.  I came across Crafting an MBA,  an amazingly informative and useful site which I go to religiously and Design Sponge, a virtual library of topic driven articles that are textbook-like in the authority and usefulness of their information. 

I also began reading books - Craft, Inc. thorough and full of insight and information including interviews and advice from successful crafters, well, like Jonathan Adler, who if you didn't know, started out as a potter.  Crafty Superstar is a lighter version but well organized and very useful.  Crafting A Business a very pretty, inspiring book which is a collection of personal stories and advice from those successful subjects.  And for all around attitude adjustment and correct focus of ambition there is The Martha Rules from the greatest crafty visionary of all time.  You can say what you will about Martha, love her or hate her, but she is my hero.  She was the first to take baking pies, giving dinner parties, growing her own food and making her own aprons into a domestic and crafting skills empire. 

There are several routes to travel and at the moment I intuitively feel there is one in particular I must take.  The art and craft fairs.  Tis' the season and there are many to participate in.  I made a half-hearted  promise to myself that I would try to do the May Nyack Street Fair  (large, local and well attended) but got hung up on having to have a picture of my booth for the application and because I'd never done a fair before I didn't have those pictures.  Realizing I could set something up in my driveway to photograph, my inner perfectionist got the best of me and while I was intently trying to come up with the displays that would be the be all/end all, well I missed that deadline.  Oh well, there's another one in July.  Late July.  Hot.  Really hot.  I hate hot.  I can almost make myself cry at the thought of sitting in a tent on a 95 degree/80% humidity day trying to look interested, interesting, dripping sweat all over the pretty things I am trying to show an potential buyer.  I can imagine them not wanting me to fasten the necklace on them because I look like I am going to pass out.  Saying thanks anyway as they walk away looking at me looking so pathetically miserable.  There has to be a better time for me to do these things.  Obviously the fall and all those Christmas season fairs.  Those are the ticket for me.

The next Nyack Street Fair is in October.  That's the one.  That is where I will begin.  Then I realize I don't know what that beginning looks like.  I've been to a million street fairs, craft fairs, art and craft fairs - for god sakes, I live in New York.  There are days in the summer that the streets of NYC can look like Marrakesh with fairs and festivals taking up long stretches of main avenues and even entire neighborhoods.  There's a festival in Little Italy that turns several blocks of  NYC into the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore!

Anyway.  When I have attended these events I have gone and focused on what I was supposed to be paying attention to - what the booth was selling.  The merch.  I was not looking at how they were set up and what equipment they needed to look like they belonged there.  So as the season began, I set out on reconnaissance missions to look at the structure not the stuff.  Obviously the tents were my first priority.  Now I have been to some flea market type events with women sitting on chairs with big black umbrellas the only thing between them and the blazing sun and I can tell you I don't blame them for not getting up when potential customers approach their table.  They just want the friggin' day to be over.  When they were packing up their wares before they left home they had dollar signs in their eyes.  By mid-day the perspiration had drenched all of that into a raging headache.

Rule number one.  No umbrellas.  Let's look at the tents.  I walked around several markets taking notes on my Blackberry of the brand names of the frail canopies lined up one after the other.  Many of these things take place on asphalt so there is no staking the tent like you would if you were camping or doing some Hudson Valley celebration for some natural event (the river, strawberries, apples, farms) on grass (which I will no doubt be doing at some point).  So after I had walked around looking up for brand labels, witnessing a couple of near disasters when a little wind kicked up, I began looking down.  Down to see how the real pros were keeping the tent from becoming air born.  There were gallon water bottles tied to the poles, barbell weights taped to the legs,  sandbags - all very functional but wildly unattractive and in some instances a little dangerous to the wandering public that are not really watching where they are going.  I reminded myself that anything that was there had been carried there and I balked at the idea of schlepping this awkward, heavy and unattractive junk along for the ride after spending days, weeks, months designing the best damned craft fair booth going.  I finally found the answer but it is so ingenious I shall not share it here.  Be advised however, I told the clever gal I was going to borrow her invention and I'll leave it at that.  It's that good.

I Googled all the tent brand names when I got home from a particularly long (hot and sweaty) day of scouting.  Talk about sticker shock!  Most of the folks doing this live on this income.  They don't have the luxury of a working executive husband.  This flimsy little tent thing has to be the largest investment any respectable craft artist makes.  Lordy!  And the rules are the rules and I pay for what I need from what I make so I'm on my own with this expense.  Sports Authority is having a sale.  I guess I better get going and see what they've got and how cheap I can get one of these babies.  I've got a deadline to meet.

No doubt I will obsess on the engineering of each frame (I do have the curse of being an engineer's daughter) and will spend way too much time trying to decide white or a color?  White for light but is it best for sun and heat protection?  Color.  I love color!  But will it be too dark?  For another hundred bucks I could order a pink one.  I love my pink!  Who else has a pink canopy?  Are there organizer's rules against pink tents?  Everyone else seems to have white or blue.  Is that because that is what is usually in stock or do they know something I don't know? 

No doubt there are other tricks of the trade out there waiting to stick their foot out and trip me. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Now what?

It 's been nearly a year since this saga of mine began.  In ten long months I have crammed so much information into my well worn middle-aged brain that I wonder if my headaches aren't brought on by swelling from so much additional information inside the small cavity of my skull.

Like Chicken Little, I've bought the laptop, I've learned to use it, I've bought the camera, I've learned to use it, I've set up the web site and learned to use it, I've started the blog and learned to use it.  I've planted the wheat and baked the bread and though it doesn't feel as though the sky is falling, I regret to say, I'm not sure what to do next.  While I spent all those months in the mosh pit of digitalizing my life, I spent little time reflecting on how it all works in the realm of physical life and practical things - like sales.

The amount of intensely focused time I spent learning all of these skills and creating this shiny new universe for my work to live in created an illusion that when I was done, the world of the Internet would just function whenever I turned on the computer.   Like opening the door and walking in.  Like, somehow, the fact that all this information, all these zeros and ones, would plug themselves in and work like the dickens to make me a successful business woman.  If you post it they will come sort of thing.  Now of course, when I step back and think in an organized, one foot in front of the other sort of way I know that setting up shop, whether it is in quaint little fancy-pants village or a virtual co-op, the work has only just begun.  But I guess that because I had to learn sooooooooo many new skills, I fooled myself into thinking that I had done so much more than I really had.  At the end of the day, all I had really done was rent the space, paint the walls, make the signs, stock the store and opened the doors for business.  Unfortunately, I am the only one there most of the time.

It's an interesting paradox, this cyberspace and physical space.  The computer has the ability to organize our ideas in such tight little spaces with such dazzling visuals that it makes us giddy with the notion that we have done way more than we have.  When once I would have had to cut and paste and draw and xerox and erase and bind and staple and tape and go to the printer (not the one in your office, the guy) I can now sit on the couch and conjure like a shaman.  I can do things with keys and mouses (meece?) that give me the impression that I am better than I am.  It looks to me like I have many  more skills and talents than I actually do.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't discount the value of an idea and the computer is like a magic wand the way it makes it all happen before your very eyes.  Yet, if I had not done all this virtually, I would have had to hire a staff or die of exhaustion trying. 

But yea for me and here I sit all by myself wondering what to do next.

In the olden days you would have bought some advertising.  That would have meant that either you had the skills to lay out art boards with computer generated type and hand drawn rapidograph artwork with velum covers to give to the publication for your insert, scaled to the size of the ad you were purchasing or wish that you had a friend that worked at a design studio and would do it for free after the boss had gone home.  And if this sounds like a lot, it was and not cheap at all.  Advertising was a gigantic expense.

Now, I can do my own ads.  Now I can use photos and my logo, do it myself and not have to produce a physical representation of the ad.  And there are a myriad of places to post my ad for not much money.  In fact, the most sensible use of resources is to advertise on the Internet.  Okay!  Cool, simple and I don't even have to leave the house.  This is yet another wonder of the modern age.  The democratization of commerce.  Everyone and anyone can open a business with a little drive, a computer and something to sell.  Brilliant.

I love Facebook.  I say it with no reservations and not a lick of shame.  I love it.  It has opened a whole new world of social interaction and I have met some very interesting people that I would never had met were it not for this innovation.  I have even had the pleasure of meeting, face to face, two fascinating and intellectually stimulating sisters that I had befriended through my dear friend Dinah (who insisted I sign up for this thing a couple of years ago - she didn't know what it was about, really, but let's do it) and during the holidays we all met for lunch.  It was truly a 21st Century moment for me.  I was married pre-Internet so I had never done any online dating (though I had answered a few personal ads in the back of New York Magazine and The Washingtonian - ohmygod) and was not in the mainstream business world so had never developed a virtual relationship with a coworker and then met at a meeting.  This was a defining moment for me. 

Okay, so the reason I bring up Facebook is that it seemed a likely place for me to dip my toes in the water of virtual advertising since it was a community that I was familiar with and a part of.  Yes, I had some reservations about it since I had already been targeted for women my exact age being eligible for a free pair of Uggs and skin care products that were going to make me look ten years younger and remove age spots (are you talking to me?) so why would I want to inflict that on others?  Business is business and everything I read about FB advertising said that the ability to target and the flexibility to only pay for hits made it a no brainer for advertising a small business.  The idea that I would create an ad to appeal to a highly specific crowd with a very narrow commonality to get them to my site to see a particular item in hopes that they would stay and look around and maybe purchase something was a little astonishing.  Yes, hard copy advertising had a targeted approach but it was not like the hairdresser I read about that focused on young women who loved red lipstick and were fans of Lady GaGa.  Holy smokes!  Now that is zeroing right in on just who exactly you think would be interested in the very specific type of hair designs, that you personally think are the bomb (but may have  very limited appeal) and would be interested in sporting your personal fashion sense as all the rage!  The object is to come up with tags (for those of you that don't know, we'll talk later) to attract the buyer that you think is your best clientele.

I'm overwhelmed again.  Now I'm not just looking at demographics like age, sex, financial and marital status but I'm trying to determine if everyone that likes my work also listens to the Ting Tings!  I'm trying to psychoanalyze the keyboard choices of millions of people in order to get a few sales on my little Internet site where I sell my humble wares.  This is out of proportion.  It is mixing the modest with the grandiose.  It is asking me, the artist, to try to figure out the buying habits of  potential customers when  I usually have no idea why I made such thing except that is seemed like a cool idea at the time.  I am not calculated.  I am impulsive, particularly when it comes to what I make.  There are not enough hours in the day for me to address all the ideas that come into my head for every medium I am able to work in - and them some.  I am a bit all over the place sometimes and for me to zero in on my best customer is like trying to determine how someone takes their Starbucks, just by looking at them.  If you study it enough I suppose you could become pretty proficient at it but who wants to drink coffee all day and take notes about what the chick in the trendy outfit is drinking today - and is that what she always orders or is she as hard to pin down as I am?

I'm trying to untangle this.  I believe that things in life are at their best when they are simplest.  I am not adverse to editing and I believe in common denominators.  I don't think that what this means is that there are more determining factors out there than there ever were.  I think that access to the virtual world of others has just highlighted how many different variables there are in one single human being.  We can choose to have the massive amount of information that has been compiled about every single person that has logged onto the Internet overwhelm us and send us to the couch for a nap.  Or we can realize that everyone belongs to a tribe and we recognize our tribe members when we see them and that what is required here is  to rally the call for our tribespeople and bring them together in a place they may recognize.  I am choosing the latter.  Well, that's what I'm doing on my good days when I get enough sleep, wake up on the right side of the bed, make particularly excellent coffee and have the router work the minute I log onto my computer.  Some days though, things don't go as smoothly and the router just won't let me in and  I have to crawl under the desk and unplug 46 tangled wires, count to 30 and then try to reconnect them properly without my glasses.  Those are nap days. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Have Nothing To Say...

My last Facebook post was, "I have nothing to say".  Not a statement I make on a regular basis.  And though I have not posted anything in nearly 2 weeks I have been thinking about this blog and why I feel I have nothing to say.

Nearly a year ago, I made the decision to "go Etsy".  Bought the computer, the camera, went through a studio redo, began the process of learning to function on my computer and took off on the acid trip that is  the parallel universe of cyberspace.  Oddly enough, last night my husband wondered, as I sat at the kitchen table for hours after dinner, what I thought my life would be like without my laptop now. 

Different.  So, so different.

One of the last hurdles on my long list of Things I need to learn on the computer was to set up a bookkeeping system for my business.  I looked at the systems offered online and wondered why I was going to pay a fee for a simple payables/receivables set up and determined that what I already had on my laptop, Excel , was fine for what I needed to do.  Since accounting is not what I live to get out of bed for in the morning, I was able to procrastinate for a very long time on this one.  It was only when we went to the accountant for our taxes and he all but called me an idiot on more than one occasion that I decided I needed to step up and face the numbers. 

Excel is a blank slate.  It is whatever you want it to be.  For those of us that like to be in control and know exactly what the rules and boundaries are, this can be a bit disconcerting.  For me, one of the only redeeming qualities of numbers is their absoluteness.  One and one is two and that's it.  Settled.  No maybe, sorta ofs.  A sum is a sum.  So when I looked at what I believed was going to be a basic spread sheet and saw,  what my numbers guy husband called "endless possibilities",  my brain had a little meltdown.  I didn't want endless possibilities.  I wanted a bookkeeping system.  I wanted a place to record my endless expenses and my piss ant income.  Plain and simple.

I opened Excel and was offered a video tutorial.  That voice,  that always reminds me of the guy that talked us through the educational films of the 60's about duck and cover and other comically useless information we learned in school back then, brightly encouraged me to get started and follow along as he showed me just the basics of what Excel could do for me.  Phantom cursors moved columns around and charts morphed into configurations I would never in a million cyber years need for anything.  Now, I will confess.  I have always had a "thing" for printed charts and graphs.  They appeal to my sense of organization.  There is something comforting for me about being able to break things down, systematically, and reorganize them into a perfect, explainable package.  I also like they way they look.  Neat.  Consistent.  Pretty.  I was being lured into the mystique of Excel.  Okay, hyperbole, but I was not feeling the need for a Xanax and my palms weren't sweating and I was feeling pretty darned good about learning this new program.

I took a deep breath.  I can do this.  I can learn another thing and put it into practice.  No really, Nell, there is room in your brain to learn something else.  We only use a small percentage of our brain power.  So you have plenty of storage space left so press on, MacDuff.  I wanted to get the thing set up and done so badly that I just jumped in. 

It was pretty easy.  I was clickin' and dragin' and highlightin' and totallin' like I knew what the hell I was doin'!  Most importantly to me, I was sitting down to learn something new on the computer and it was not taking me an entire week to have something to show for it.  In a mater of a couple of hours I had a set of books up on the screen with five months of information organized and posted.  It was a remarkable day in the life of me.

But then - there was nothing to say.  I had crossed a threshold.  I had stepped over a line.  I had graduated to something.  I had moved on, forward, up, out.  I hadn't spent a week hissing and cursing and spitting bile out of frustration over a new computer program.  I was even able to ask my husband a few questions without getting so nasty with him that he spent the rest of day wondering why he had married such a lunatic bitch.  I was calm.  I was confident I could learn it and I was not afraid.  I realised I was living in a new neighborhood.

Now let me be very clear.  I'm certainly not fool enough to believe myself some computer wizard that can pull off any computer move you can think of.   I am by no means the Bobby Fischer of laptops.  I have grown comfortable though and I am aware that a major part of my life takes place in cyberspace.  I have relationships online that I don't have in physical space.  I have a store that does not exist in physical space.  I read mail and subscribe to newsletters and blogs that I cannot hold in my hand.  I visit events and seminars and never leave the couch and have political discourse with people I only know online.  I order supplies, do research and now, keep my books online with no paper involved and not even any real money.  My world has become drastically more conceptual.  I suspend belief and accept that things have actually happened even though I am of a generation where everything needed a piece of paper to actually be validated and real.  Back in secretarial school we learned to type in triplicate (for the youngins' that involved putting three pieces of paper with carbon paper in between, rolling the whole stack into the manual typewriter and banging on those keys hard enough to press through to the last sheet in order to have three copies).  Now I think twice about printing because I am more concerned with trees that filling up a file cabinet.

This is a fascinating time for me.  I have the satisfaction of having taught myself a new skill set that I never dreamed I would even be interested in and moving into possibilities I am only just conceiving.  Now, I need to get my mind around how exactly this all translates into action in the world.  I have conceived a new world for myself.  But do I really know how to make it work for me?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Picture Thang

I have always loved the world through a lens.  Under different circumstances I may have taken my interest in photography a little further.  I did, however, take it far enough to accumulate a very good 35mm camera and a decent assortment of lenses.  Travel always meant a carry-on camera bag and several of those film cases to keep the X-rays out of my film.  I was never a crack photographer but I had a working knowledge of film speeds, shutter speeds and f-stops and always enjoyed the special eye of the camera.

Along came digital photography.  Let me first say, that film, as a medium, will always hold a special place in my artist's heart.  The soft, sumptuous warmth of film photography strikes a chord in my brain that not even the great masters of painting can.  And then there's black and white!  Is there anything more striking, more evocative, more illusive than good black and white photography?  Think of the films that were shot in black and white and the emotional tone they set simply by being about shadows - light and dark.  The metaphors abound!  What would Raging Bull be in color?  Could Woody Allen's Manhattan have sung more gloriously to New Yorkers had it been in color?  I think not.  New York is a black and white city.  Paris is a city in color but New York is definitively black and white.

So rhapsodically I carry on about film only to be faced with the digital image.  Okay,  it is a cool thing - in concept.  Certainly, on a practical level, being able to shoot with abandon and not have to think about how much every click of the shutter is costing, is a luxury.  But what does it do for photography?  When every image was bought before it was exposed and paid for in order to view whether or not it was a success, there was more care and discretion exercised before plunging the shutter.  Composition counted and cropping was something that required several more steps after developing in order to have a final image.  With digital, we can shoot with abandon, crop before we print and even tweak the light and exposure, something that before had to be done in a lab.  Very convenient and excessive. 

Alright, I've made my point.  I love film.

I acquired my first digital camera before I went to Paris on a personal, significant birthday, "vision quest".  I went to take a look at my life, have some time alone and bathe myself in the city of light.  I had a basic  knowledge of how the camera worked and looked forward to the freedom of taking as many shots as I wanted.  (I still took my SLR, loaded with B&W film just because I wanted to shoot Notre Dame in light and shadows.)  I must say, I was able to capture somethings with the digital that I never would have with my film camera equipment such as back lit, medieval stained glass and ancient Roman Baths deep underground.  I slowly gave up the film cameras and reluctantly joined the digital age of photography.

So back to Etsy, shall we?  "Upload first image".  My first challenge, which to this day is a little like always reviewing right hand/left hand, is upload and download.  I get stuck on those words all the time and my mind wanders off to endless schematics I have created in my head to map my way through the maze of computer concepts I barely understand.  I wish there were a GPS we could plug into our brains to do the destination calculations for us.  I would be much less tired at the end of the day.

A friend had told me about Picassa, a file sharing program like Flicker (I say that like I know.  It is an assumption I am making so if I am wrong just remember I am still a third grader.)  Before I could "upload my first image" I had to backtrack to Picassa, upoad the images from my camera, import them to my hard disk then go back to Etsy, find my listing in storage and take my first shot at uploading onto my Etsy site.  Like all things computer, it took me several passes but when the deed was done, I was ecstatic.  I felt like I had climbed Mt. Fuji in my sneakers.  It was really cool!  Until I saw the quality of the picture.  It was all yellowish and flat looking.  WTF?  And the focus was mooshy and lacked detail.

After doing some research I realized two things.  First, my little point and shoot was not going to do the trick for these kinds of "commercial" purposes.  Second, the table top I had set up in my studio with clip lights and incandescent bulbs was not the approach to take with the digital.  There I was, all set up with my little photo studio fit for an amature in the 1980's trying to light the medium of the 21st century.  Who knew there was such a chasm between 20 and 21?  All I wanted to do was open a little shop on Etsy to pedal my wares and now I had come up against yet another hitch in the road that required me to give myself another crash course in another high concept operation.  What to do?  Quit?  Not on your life!  I'd made it this far I wasn't going to let a camera stop me now. 

I spent two days on the Internet researching cameras.  Let me explain that for me to even say, let alone do, research on the Internet is totally out of character and yet another indication of how I am changing.  For me, the solution is to go to the store where they sell these things and talk to the people that tell you what you need.  Except, I couldn't think of one single camera shop withing 35 square miles of where I live.  Until about 5 years ago, there was a little camera shop in our town but the last time I saw him he was selling out and going into insurance or something.  The big box stores have people that take out packaging and read it to you, as if  they're reading it to you will have more significance.  I can read, thank you very much.  So onto the Internet I went and found this amazing site where the guy does video demos of the cameras and in that moment I thought the Internet was the most amazing thing ever!  I was talking to the guy in the camera store at my own kitchen table.  I didn't even have to put on shoes or one schmere of lipstick to find out exactly what camera was going to best suit my needs.  Now I could go into Best Buy and tell the person, who knew as much about digital cameras as I did, exactly what I was going to buy.  Success.

This whole camera thing was a turning point for me.  I think because the learning experience was a case of transposition.  With the cameras, I had to take a skill I already had and translate what I already knew into a new language.  I wasn't starting from scratch.  I already had concepts to use as a jumping off point. Going from film to digital was like copying music into another key.  It's still the same music but with a different configuration of notes.  With the computer, I have had to enter a foreign country, learn a completely new language - which sounds like the language I have been using all of my life but is deceptively different.  I have had to take physical skills like typing and use them in an expanded way on a piece of hardware that has a totally different feel and purpose than what I learned on in business school. I have had to revise my concepts of social interaction and adapt to having types of relationships that didn't exist when I was born and growing up.  Perhaps, most significantly, I have had to give up the tactile process of moving information around.  I am the generation of paper.  If it wasn't on paper, it didn't really exist or more importantly, it didn't matter.  Put it on paper.  Sign this paper, Send me the paper copy.  File this paper.  Fax me the paper.  Organize your papers.  The paper made it real.  It, whatever it was, existed because it was on paper. 

Cyberspace challenges us to operate in a world of visualization and though we still live in a tactile world of three dimensional things that we hold, touch and interact with we have to reconceptualize what that means so that everything can be fluidly transposed between the concept and the concrete.  From where I stand, this leaves us with two choices as we move forward in our lives.  We can plant ourselves firmly in the righteousness of our solid, feet planted firmly on the ground, if I can touch it it is real way of living.  Or.  We can encourage ourselves to explore this dual universe and see where it takes us.  We can strengthen our minds by allowing ourselves to step out of the comfy place and see what it's like to slip in and out of either world.  We can, by making the choice, have a relationship with the conceptual on our screens.  It may not be the same relationship we have with something we hold in our hands or someone we kiss on the cheek but it is, in fact, a real relationship.  It's just different.  And by expansion of our beliefs, we can explore what my generation always thought would be actual outer space, right here where we sit, on these screens in our own little comfy spot.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day Revolution

I have a real knack for shopping. I don’t just mean that I can walk into a store and find the real find. I mean I can walk into a place, find what is on sale, identify what is terrific about some pathetic thing that has been passed over for seasons and breathe new life into it. I can spot some oddball object in the junk pile that is the sale table at TJMaxx, pay practically nothing for it and make it become the thing in someone’s home that everyone oooohs and aaaaaahs over. It’s all about time and place and not having a judgement about something coming from the road traveled too long and too far.

Needless to say, I lived a lot of my life sport shopping, accumulating lots of things I love and many more that I absolutely never needed. That all changed very painfully and very abruptly a couple of years ago.

Two things happened in quick succession. First, my husband and I got caught in the real estate collapse right about the time we had decided to downsize. We had bought a smaller house with a barn for me to work in (with one of those crafty little bridge loans Washington Mutual was handing out like coupons in the grocery store) while still in possession of the large trophy home we had been living in for the last 10 years. The upshot of that experience was that we never moved into the more modest house because it was easier to sell (at a very large loss, I might add) and we were on the verge of foreclosure on four (yes, you read that right) mortgages. We were drowning in paper obligations we never had any business taking on in the first place.

The second thing that happened was, sometime before Christmas, I was staring at the wooden sign (that I got at some outrageously low price somewhere) that said Simplify. I had bought it for the fireplace mantel at the other house that I now did not live in, and talking to my girlfriend on the phone. In that conversation she said something to me that changed my life forever. The is not hyperbole. It changed my life forever. Here’s what she said.

We were talking about Christmas shopping and of course I was feeling so sorry for myself because I could do absolutely no shopping that year. There was barely money for groceries so Christmas gifts were sooooooooo out of the question. She told me that she was on the escalator in Macy’s and when she arrived on her floor, she stopped for a moment and looked around. And then it hit her - every single thing in the store, including every single thing that was involved in the construction of the building, everything within her sight, would end up in a landfill somewhere, sometime. I urge you to stop for a moment and just think about that. Every dress, every screw, every floor tile, every shoe, every makeup brush every yard of fabric and carpet every rhinestone every watch…would eventually end up as trash in a landfill somewhere on this planet of ours. I can tell you, my mind was blown forever at this thought.

That is when I decided that I would identify every single place, every single day of my life where I could find a way to reuse something instead of buying more. Luckily, my work was primarily broken pieces mosaics at the time, so I already had a reuse, recycle, reinvent mentality about how I was using my materials. Not only was I using old china but I would purchase the chipped stuff on sale tables and friends were bagging up everything they broke and giving it to me. This way of working caused me to begin seeing things in components. A plate that was not really much to look at but had one beautiful rose right smack dab in the middle of the flattest part of the plate was a find. An otherwise white plate with a beautiful gold border around the edge that would make a perfect border around a house number was a keeper. I was developing an eye for salvage.

When I found myself overcome with the urge to make jewelry I ran to Michael’s to stock up on materials. As I stood looking at all the findings, beads, pendants, wire, I was struck by two things. One, these materials were not going to express the vision I had in my head of what this jewelry of mine was going to look like and two, what I saw, more than the materials themselves was all of the packaging. Every single thing came with cellophane, cardboard, staples, tape, wire - all manner of packing materials that would end up in the garbage before I even made my first necklace. The image of the Arthur Kills landfill flashed before me and I no longer had a feel for my new jewelry line.

I was cleaning out a drawer one day and there were several pieces of junk jewelry, you know, those impulse buys from Target or H&M that you wore once and then wondered why on earth you bought it to begin with. I also came across some old grandma pieces that I would never wear but felt terrible tossing out (more landfill pictures). I stared and opened myself up to the possibility in these tidbits. And then I began to see components. If I disassembled the jewelry, there would be clasps, jump rings, beads, chains - all the things I had walked away from at Michael’s were staring me right in the face! I could make the jewelry I was envisioning by disassembling old useless pieces and recomposing them in a new and creative way. Suddenly, everything I laid my eyes on became potential material for all of my work.

I don’t see garbage anymore. Everything I see has the potential to be reinvented. New is what you turn to when you need something really specific and you don’t have time to wait for it to fall into your lap. But now, for me, there is no such thing as junk jewelry. Those box lids of grandma’s crappy leftovers at garage sales are now a box full of supplies for my work. A friend cleaning out her drawers is now an opportunity for me to invite myself over to pick through her garbage before the trash guys get there. My friends are getting used to it too. Just last night, I was with a friend and were taking pictures of our kids who were off to their Junior Prom and she told me she had a bag of old jewelry to give me. My friend who moves a lot because of her husband’s job always has a box of breakage to ship to me once she has unpacked and settled into a new home.

What I know is that, we on this planet have enough. Some of us have too much and some not enough but there is enough stuff for everyone. We as artists can create a revolution now. We can explore the esthetic of recycling and reimagine what is beautiful. We have a power and a responsibility, as artists, to see the world through different more thoughtful eyes. Let’s make our contribution to our planet this earth day by pledging to develop new eyes. Let’s see the treasure not the trash.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easy-peasy etsy!

I find it ironic that I sit by a window with a spectacular view of my wooded property while I navigate my way around the road less traveled via the information highway.  I am mesmerized by brilliantly red-orange cardinals at the bird feeders and amused by the tribes of robins that arrive every spring like an army and organize to build nests for the mothers of their children.  I stare eagerly at my beloved pink dogwood, waiting anxiously for it to burst into bloom.  I watch the ancient, statuesque Norweigan spruce trees curve into the wind as their long sleeves of needles swoope like kites at the beach.  The beautiful Hanoki spruce sits placidly in the garden establilshing itself as the solid Buddha that it is.  I project myself easily out the window to commune with the beauty of nature and imagine the warmth of the soft spring sun warming the top of my head.  The dog barking at the back door, trying to warn a squirrel that he is about to come outside and kick his ass jerks me back to the fact that I am sitting before an LED screen that is impatiently staring and waiting for me to tell it to do something. 

Since I decided that I wanted to show and sell my wares on the internet, I have purchased a fancy laptop, a new digital camera,  set up an etsy site, built a website from a five paged templet,  joined Facebook and maintain a personal and fan page, taught myself to take, load, edit and move pictures around the cybersphere and now check my email daily, sometimes twice a day.  I have acquired a Blackberry and use it for everything including grocery lists and my to-dos for the day.  I have different bells, tones and whistles for calls, emails (business or personal), appointments, texts, Facebook - all distinct signals in a code only I understand.  I have joined business networking sites, set up a paypal account and do my books and banking online now, able to move money and numbers around as easily as dealing cards.  I often venture out of the "neighborhood" and explore shopping sites, blogs, wists and subscribe to various hipster newsletters that keep me abreast of the coolest trends and grooviest finds and can subscribe to those alerts from any major city in the world.  I save favorite websites and bookmark places I can easily do business with and source odd necessities like maniquin heads and vintage jump rings.  All in all, I appear to be a tech savy broad and my teenaged son seems to be the only person in my life that is not particularly impressed with what a big, fat, gigantic, awesome, staggering, mind-bending, mind-altering accomplishment this is for me.

Let me just share with you a chapter from the past, when I first sat down in this placid spot of mine to to begin the journey of setting up the oh-so-simple etsy shop.  Please take note that the "oh-so-simple" part of that sentence would be dripping with bile and sarcasim if I could graphically illustrate it for you here.  I chose etsy because it was pre -structured and all I needed to do was fill in the blanks with my own information.  Easy-peasy!  Really.  No, not if you don't know your upload from you download it isn't.

Step one.  Choose a name for you shop.  Easy.  I already had a business called Special Affects and that was the name I was going to continue to use.  I entered SpecialAffects (no spaces in the names at etsy as they are also web addresses), waited and....taken.  No!  It can't be taken!  Now what?  Think.  I have to use that name.  I've been using it for 3 years.  Let me see who has it.  I did a search and up came a blank page.  You're kidding!  Someone used my name, threw it away and now etsy won't let me use it because someone else touched it!  Now what?  I pulled NellsBelles out of my memory, entered it and...bingo!  NellsBelles is mine for the taking.  Okay.  Made it through the first step.  Now in no time at all, I'll be in business.  Okay.  Next step.

Step two.  Upload your artwork for your banner (esty for sign) which must fit into this exact sized templet.  At this point it didn't manner what size the templet was.  I had no art work and even if I did, I hadn't the slightest idea how to get it onto this page.  I had to refer back to the etsy handbook but wait, I have to minimize this page and open a new page to access the handbook so, let me see, shit!  That closes the page.  Crap.  Now I have to go back and find the page again and damn!  It won't let me because someone has already taken that page but that someone is me and I accidently closed it but I can't figure out how to get it open again but I didn't really close it but...NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

That was the end of work day number 1.

Fortunetly for me, there were people on etsy that were making a busness of creating banners for people and I found this great girl in Maine named Juli to build a banner just the way I wanted it and thank God, she had the patience to load it for me and it didn't cost me and arm and a leg and it was a huge relief and I am forever indebted to her.  I could still be sitting in front of that page, nearly a year later, trying to figure out how to get  the design I had painted on my foyer wall onto my etsy page.  Shout out to Juli Lamb!

So with the name claimed, the banner done the next step was to create alot of text.  I am a bit of a type A personality so when I am prompted to describe my shop I immediately launch my mind into mission statements, brand establishment and all manner of thinking not so relevant to the little sapling that is my etsy site.  Least that not deter me, I spent the next week contemplating and drafting, drafting and redrafting chipper chatter to introduce myself to the etsy-sphere and grab a little attention for my basement studio treasures.  I have some ability with the words so this part was not torture and in fact I felt a bit of a wiz hitting a patch for which I felt I had some understanding.  Of course, my spelling is atrocious and having someone who spells like English is her second language edit her own copy is a bit of a farce.  (And don't you know, all the spelling and grammer freaks in my life could not comment on my work until I contacted them to discuss the mess that was my proof reading.)  

The copy was written and posted and my store policies established (for the time being).  I spent several days researching the most cost efficient way to ship everything from a necklace to a 25 inch lamp and could give rounded numbers to shipping costs anywhere in the United States (I have yet to reach beyond our shores to ship outside this country.)  I had composed a little bio hoping to make it more entertaining than something to urge my customers to take me seriously, as if I were practicing medicine.  Okay.  What's next?  "List your first item".  Okay.  Here we go.  I wrote a description, again, trying to be fun and entertaining while attempting be the salesperson I don't believe myself to be.  I gave measurements and suggestions for uses and reccommendations on how or where the piece might look it's best.  Okay.  Not bad for a beginner.  There's a style there.  Yeah.  Kind of like a brand.  A distinct voice is emerging.  I kinda like it.  What's next?  "Upload your first image."

Okay.  Day's over.  Save. Close tab.  Red or white?  Bring on the vino.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

...In Fact, I Will

Everyday is like being in the third grade for me.  I was educated in the American public school system (but for a brief detour into the north woods of Michagan for some private boarding school) in the 3 R's canon and life was presented as a very concrete, matter-of-fact place to function.  NOTHING and I mean nothing, was even hinted  about what was to come.  Acres of gigantic computing machines with hole-punched tape and spinning reels sent men into outer space when I was a kid but there was nothing suggested about a small box of plastic pieces that would sit on top of a desk and send my sanity to the moon.  The computer way of life came on like an amphetamine rush,  just about the time I thought I should be feeling some firm footing in my life.  Like many plebs of my generation, I segregated myself from the computer users because I was an artist and computers were for "regular" people and office workers.  (True enough, I was sent to business school but I learned the fine art of bar keeping by this time and never dreamed that the computer would invade hospitality too!)  It seemed very clear that as long as I could continue to get ribbons for my IBM Selectric I could communicate with the world in a business-like fashion and could leave the desk tops computers to the geeks.  How'd that work out, you may be asking.

I finally relented a few years before my son was born.  My sweet husband let me quit my job in the film industry to stay at home and write screenplays while he put down the guitar and posted billing (on a computer) for a TV company.  My first crack at the computer was a set- up that Denny brought home from work.  It was one of those scary things with the black screen and the flashing amber cursor.  I knocked out two, rather fine, screenplays on that monster and though I never memorized the "F" keys (I'll allow you to imagine what I called those keys in frustration) and always needed a cheat sheet, I felt that I had slipped my way onto the information highway and could travel at my own speed.  Once my son was born I found I could not cope with a new baby and a computer at the same time and so, not so suprisingly, I walked away from the computer...

...for about five years.  In techno, that is light speed travel through several universes.  My son went off to school,  people were constantly asking me if I had email and I decided that I needed to catch up with folks that were concerned with things other than juice boxes and playdates.  I purchased my first Compaq computer and had no idea just how stupid I could feel until I sat down before this chunky white plastic cube and put my fingers on the keyboard.  Let me just say, here and now, that my tolerance for slow is embarassingly low.  And may I remind you that waiting for a home page to materialize in the mid-nineties, particularly when a photograph was involved, was a herikeri mission to those of us with no patience.  I would literally begin to perspire and bounce my knees up and down, sitting in the chair waiting...waiting...waiting...waiting...............

Forget it!!!  This was not a time saver!  This was a time waster and I had no time to waste!  As far as I was concerned, home computers were for people who either had nothing to do or didn't want to do what they had to do.  Done.

We moved to a new house and I was claiming a room of my own.  A place to sit, read, be alone and yes, I was going to try to write again.  A new Compaq was purchased and I was assured the computer had come a long way and it was not going to make me as tense and nervous as the last one had.  I set up an email account, collected a few addressses of people to communicate with and did very little writing.  I did do a little research now and then.  I worked with a friend to put together a fine trip to Italy and utilized WebMD when I thought I could shortcut going to the doctor.  The PTA Presidency gave me opportunity to get on the computer occaisionally but my feeling about the whole thing remained the same - computers were a crashing waste of time.  Give me a phone and a typwriter anyday!

A two year-old Dell was brought home from the office and a much nicer printer was purchased.  Bills were being paid online cutting the amount of time it took me to pay all the debts from our credit riddled lives in half and saved me from having to write my name over and over again until I was sick of myself.  People were becoming annoyed with me as they tried to make plans via email as I waited for phone calls.  "Don't you ever check your email?!?"  Obviously, no.  But I began to take the whole email thing into consideration and realized it was becoming a matter of social etiquette and if I wanted to have a life outside of my home, I should probably get with the program.  I will check my email more that once a week, I will check my email more than once a week...

Something else that was happening was another one of my favorite mediums was taking a powder and being replaced by the digital.  The good old fashioned, film photograph that I had spent so much time and money learning how to do well was gasping it's last breath as the point and shoot digital was bursting into Best Buy.  When my beloved Cannon 35mm broke and it was going to cost me a fortune to repair it, my husband and son presented me with a lovely digital camera for my birthday and I didn't know whether to be grateful or cry.  Yet another one of my life's pleasures that I was going to have to learn how to do - all over again.

Woe, oh woe to me.  Okay.  The cordless phone - a liberation.  Loved it and welcomed it with open arms.  The answering machine - I didn't need an answering service anymore, it was one less bill to pay and even though it put good people out of work, I liked the machine better.  Ditching the correctable typewriter - you know the drill.  But now the glorious, sensuous, malleable endeavor of exposing film to light?  Oh gawd.

So here's how it was adding up for me.  Either I continued to be a middle-aged stick in the mud that looked way too much like my mother telling me my teenaged music was just noise or I just hold my nose and cross the line into the 21st Century and try to enjoy the ride.  I never wanted to ever become my mother, in any sense, and I continue to fancy myself a hip albeit aging  person and so - I crossed.  Stepped right over that big fat timeline with my "yes we can" attitude and looked across the horizon of the future.  Yet like anything with a learning curve, there is a generous amount of time spent in learning pergatory before the fun begins.

I'm waiting. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yes I Can

"What difference does it make?"  That was the answer I finally came up with.  "Is it good enough?" is so subjective that my habitual asking of the question was, ultimately, just an excuse not to begin.  I realized that it was an unanswerable question and a waste of time to keep ruminating over it.  I liked what I was doing.  Someone else clearly liked my work because people were buying it.  People wanted to sell it in their stores.  But most importantly - I like what I do.  If I like it, someone else does too.  That is the answer.

So once an artist gives up the agony and ecstacy, there's reality to contend with.  I had hit this wall before.  I spent the first act of my life in the performing arts.  Auditioning was a daily form of self-esteem abuse for me and I lived on a see-saw of good enough/not good enough.  The first cut "thank you" could send me home in an end-of-the-world funk, while a call back for round two could invoke a starlett sense of grandiosity.  In between was the daily brain chatter about whether or not I was good enough for this profession and whether or not I should toss in the towel and do something drastic-  like work in an office.  I rode this see-saw for two decades.

When I was a child, there was never any doubt about what I wanted to do when I grew up.  When I wasn't going to school, I was taking violin lessions, dance lessons and acting classes.  I had to practice, learn lines and often rehearse for performances.  I was passionate and dedicated and sacrificed much of what was typical of growing up for my art..  Yet, there was a prevailing mentality in my house that I should have "something to fall back on".  Learn to type, was my father's mantra, and I was sent to business school the summer before 7th grade to provide me with the skills to support myself when dancing and acting didn't work out.  It engrained in me that my failure as a performing artist, as dedicated as I was,  was probably predetermined.  Though I was spurred on by defiance what I didn't realize was that "typing" created an ominous back door that permitted me to ask questions of my value that I might not otherwise have pondered had I felt there was no other option but to succeed.  The portal was opened to have self-doubt be a way to quit.

I had enough success at it all to know that I was not a quitter and in fact did some very interesting and satistying work.  I had not however even begun to live up to my talent and in hindsight wish I could have several do overs.  I wished I had locked that door to another world and tossed the key into the Hudson River.

I moved on to marriage and motherhood and immersed myself in my new world in a near monastic way.   There was no back door and there was no quitting to do something else.  These deeply serious committments became my training ground, for learning to  make it work, no matter the obstacles.  I couldn't get rid of the baby because he was too hard to deal with and though I guess I could have ditched the husband, he was too inextricably tied to my idea of family.  My husband and my son presented me with a reality that forced me to dig deeper than I thought humanly possible and find out that I could do just about anything I set my mind to.  It also opened my eyes to the deep gratification in how we become transformed by that which does not kill us.

And so, the website.  Would I or wouldn't I?  I had no computer skills save the ability to write a letter and have an email account (which I checked about once a month).  There was no money to open a store and there certainly was no money to hire a web designer.  Hell, I didn't even have the hardware to maintain a website!  I had a dinosaur desk top that my husband had brought home from the office and a cell phone that was so old I couldn't even text.  I found myself in what seemed to be an impossible positon and I was trapped in a technological vacuum.  Did I have the guts to join the 21st century, at my age,  in order to do business in a whole new world of cyber commerce?  Face to face, once again, with talent and desire that was threatening  to fizzle away into a shadow of the past, this was looking like one more thing I didn't give my all to.
No fucking way.

Step one.  Buy a computer.  Really?  I have no money.  Sell something.  Borrow from the tax account.  Do something drastic.  No kidding?  What if.....?  No what ifs!  Make a decision and do it!  But I have no comput... Just do it!

I took a thousand dollars from the tax account and after some internet research (which in and of itself was a challenge to my computer skills) I went to Best Buy and bought myself a laptop with enhanced media capabilities (I knew there would be a lot of photography involved with my project).  I forced myself to, one painful step at a time, set the thing up and get it ready to roll.  I knew I would begin my journey with an etsy storefront because I thought it would be easier (true) than a stand alone site and there was a customer base to access (also true but not without self promotion). 

Step one:  Go to etsy and search my company name to see if it is taken.  I had been operating for several years as Special Affects and I entered it into the search and....taken.  Shit!  Now what?  After some mental frenzy I remembered that awhile back I had toyed with the idea of starting a clothing company with my sister-in-law, Beth, and I had played around with some names that would incorporate  both of our first initials.  Nells Belles was on of those names and I had always liked it.  I entered it into the search....available!  etsy requires no spaces in the names and so NellsBelles was born and I really, really liked it.  I was happy, happy, happy. 

Step two:  claim your storefront and behold, the etsy template.  Easy, I thought.  Like filling in the blanks.  (yeah, right.  nothing in computer land is ever that easy).  Oh and it wasn't!  "Insert pre-existing art work or go to our handbook for tips on how to created your own banner (etsy for signage)".  I had no artwork but I boldly went to the handbook and quickly glossed over as I read the "simple steps" to creating your own banner on your computer.  My sadness turned to tears and shortly rage moved in.  Goddammit, I was not going to be defeated!  I had perilously spent money on a computer that put my family at some risk and I could not let my ignorance stop me now.  But there were people on etsy that did these things for you, for a nominal amout of money, so I picked one and sent her an email and described what I was looking for.  She cheerfully wrote me back and asked  if I had any inspiration pictures she could work from.  You mean mail you some pictures?  No, silly, send them as an attachment.  An attachment?  You mean take pictures with my little point and shoot and then send them to you through the internets tubes?  Ah, yeah.  Okay.  Ah, I can do that.  I'll get those right off to you.

I didn't know how.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do You Have a Website?

So, back to the question, "Is it good enough?" "Is is good enough?" is the circular, repeating tape that loops through my brain day in and day out, hour after hour.  Finish a piece for NellsBelles - is it good enough?   Cook a meal - is it good enough?  Give my son advice - is it good enough?  Give a gift - is it good enough?  It is a seemingly never ending cycle, of the questioning of self, that sometimes is enough to drive me to the couch to pull  my little church-lady quilt, up over my head in retreat.   Just what the hell is good enough?

When I began making things, I wondered if they were good enough to display in my own home.  Okay, that delimma didn't last long.  Of course they were good enough for my home - it's my home.  So several of these early creations were brought into the light of day,  carefully edited and not austentatiously placed.  After some positive reactions and a few raves, I started giving things as gifts to people who expressed an admiration for what I was doing.  They were happy and when I would see that other people were displaying my work in their homes it began to strengthen my courage.  I like what I do, but now it seemed, so did other people.  Hummmmmmm.  I continued to develop my craft, trying to make improvements everytime I started something new.  I read books, took classes and put my best foot forward in an effort to really become good at what I was doing. 

What followed was a wave of "you should be selling this stuff".  "No, really.  You should try to get your stuff in some stores".  I heard that alot.  So much so that I began to listen and soon it made sense to try it, if for no other reason but to support my habit.  By selling a few things here and there, I could at least defray the costs of my art supplies.  I started  looking at what I was making and analyzing its commercial value.  I tried to develop an eye for what was hot in the home decor market and translated that into my version of whatever it was.  At the time, Shabby Chic was coming into its all the rageness and busted up china with little flowers and lots of roses on white backgrounds was red hot in the marketplace.

I hooked up with a maven of Shabby Chic in an upscale, new, young money area of New Jersey who had a gigantic operation hawking copious amounts of junk that she had artfully rehabbed (mostly herself) and attractively arranged into very appealing little vingettes.  It was all accessorized with elements of collossal cuteness that she had found at the New York Gift Show and the store was a breathtaking monument to all things Rachael Ashwell and London Flea Market.  She was very taken with what I was doing and I had a very clear vision of my work in her store.  She took a few of my pieces, on consignment while picking through her storage room of auction treasures and stuffing them into my truck.  "Here, take this lamp and this table would look good with rosebud clusters and oh, this tray would look fabulous as a mosaic piece...".  I loaded it up, went home with my potential work and thought, I may be on to something here.  I may actually be good at this and I may actually be able to make some money here.

She began calling me with commissions.  "I'm doing a dining room and I need a centerpiece.  What can you come up with?  Come over and see the boards so you can see the color pallette".  Now, I was not only a craft artist, I was toeing the exhaulted circle of interior design.  I was feeling pretteeee good about myself right about then.  The apex of this experience was when I got a call that a customer had seen one of my pieces in the store and she wanted a coffee table custom made.  The table was a French Provencial piece that was about five feet by three feet and needed structural rehabilitation as well.  My fast talking, make-it-quick-I'm -busy boss needed to know, on the spot, if I was up to the job.  Feeling good about myself and being a never- say- no type of gal anyway, I told her - absolutely!  I hauled the table home in my pickup and set to work on, what would be a personal masterwork.

I did a beautiful job.  It took a shit load of plates to do it but I did it well and have yet to make as much on one item as I did that table.  I felt stoked to take it to the next level and, even though I had no idea what the next level was, I was going there. 

The business at the store was waning.  Small signs at first, but I began to see the operation slowing down and it was becoming apparent that Shabby Chic was less chic than it once was.  Rachael Ashwell had signed a deal with Target and though, good for her, it was not good for the upscale copycat market where I was making my bones.  As there was less and less demand for what I was doing in the hearts and flowers motif I began to look for a different direction and a different venue.

As my patron wound down and eventually went out of business, a friend announced she was opening a home decor store in the hipper part of our county and anything I made would have a welcome retail spot in her store.  I was thrilled to have a place to take my work in a different direction and I was very excited for my friend, who I thought was ballsy to take on such en endeavor (me, maybe, someday??) . I switched gears and transitioned into a French Country sensibility and now I was in constant search for ceramics with sunflowers and chickens on them  to break.  My quest for pink and white turned to yellow and red.  I enjoyed the change.

I did well enough though after a gallant try, my friend didn't do so well.  She closed.  What now?  Should I open my own store?  We had just been slammed by the financial/real estate crisis and were hanging on my our proverbial fingernails.  More financial entanglements, I could not bear.  I probably could not have gotten anyone to give me a lease or a loan. I was at an impass.

I got clients here and there for custom work.  I did okay and enjoyed it well enough.  But everytime I pitched a job or gave someone my card they all asked the same question.  "Do you have a website?"  No, not yet, I would answer, knowing full well that the very thought of it made me want to faint in panic.  I barely checked my email on a regular basis.  I rarely answered my cell phone, for god's sake!  I was as hands-on, low tech as you could be and still get through a day in the 21st century.  I figured I could use the ATM, check out at the grocery store with my debit card, send and receive an email so what else did I need?  Anyway, I knew very little about the computer and hadn't used one  much since I had tried to learn Movie Master to put some of my old screenplays on a floppy disc.  The learning curve was too daunting and I had no funds to pay someone to do it for me. 

So there I was, a fork in the road and a total lack of wherewithall to follow either path.  I had the skills to open a store but was devoid of finanacial resources.  I could start a web business for very little money but I was at an even greater deficit in skills.  I had come to a moment where I needed to change my paradigm and find a new way to be in business.  Whatever that ended up being it was going to take a radical shift in skill sets and even lifestyle.  I would sit down to think about it and get so overwhelmed I would cry.  Oh, hell!  I don't even know if the stuff I make is even worth it!  Why put myself through all this if I don't even know the answer to the cursed question.  Yes, you know.  Is it good enough?