Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bead Work

Recently I changed the format of my Etsy shop, so that I can concentrate on making just the pottery beads.  I felt as though I was trying to make too many different types of items, and I would make only one of each.  Every time I pulled up my shop, it looked disjointed and not cohesive at all.  I do plan to make a few pendants, but the beads will be my main focus from now on.

I have to admit, I enjoy making the beads more than anything else.  They are small, but they are still handmade and each one is unique.  I get my clay in 25# blocks, so for each bead I pinch off just a tad, then roll and shape it in my hand.  No two beads could ever be identical, even if I tried.  I try to make the beads in two styles- just smooth and round, and then others with textured patterns.  Every so often I might make a shaped one.  I make them in all sizes and not just round- small or large, square or oblong- my goal is to create an entirely one of a kind bead so that in turn, jewelry artisans can make completely unique pieces.

Although I do use commercial glazes, I have gotten over the idea that somehow I'm less of an artist simply because I'm not mixing up my own glazes from scratch.  Commercial glazes allow me to not only have amazing color choices, but also different finishes like glossy or matte, crackle and even stoneware-like textures.  I would say the hardest part of being a bead artist is getting my name and my shop out there.  I've backed off from paying all the "advertising" fees on Etsy.  I try to keep my prices and shipping down, and the Etsy fees were gobbling up my hopes of having any profits at all.

There are a lot of really great bead groups online, but I'm seeing the same artists over and over again on all of them, and those seem to be the artists that everyone immediately goes to.  I'm also finding there seems to be an almost angry backlash against anyone who is not hand-carving their own stamps and designs.  Some of the groups actually state, if you use commercial rubber stamps to create designs, you can't join the group.  This offends me deeply because first of all, I'm not trying to lie and pass off the design as something I created myself- I state very plainly on my listings that I use rubber stamps and found household items to make the patterns and textures on my beads.  Secondly, just because I take one of my handmade beads and roll it over a rubber stamp from Michaels, does not mean my bead is still "not" handmade and unique!

Art is about creativity, and we all use some sort of tools or devises when creating.  I don't expect the jewelery designer to make each and every component completely from scratch.  Although some do, I would never discount someone who used materials they "bought" from a supplier.  I don't expect a painter to make their own paints, paper, or brushes- some do I'm sure, but most don't and it doesn't take away from the beauty of the art, it doesn't mean the artist is somehow less talented.  Art stores sell supplies and tools for a reason, for people to use!

So for anyone out there who would look down their nose at an artist simply because they did not make the tools that they are using, I just don't know what to say about that.  And my beads can still be an "original" design even if I'm using a store bought stamp to create a pattern.  It's as if they are saying my beads are not as nice or are somehow flawed.  I think my beads are lovely, and I wish I could find a better way to connect with people who can appreciate them and will use them to make gorgeous creations!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Catching Up On Life

Today I'm just going to quickly catch up the blog on what's been happening here with us.  I am way way behind.  I plan to blog more in the future, I really want to keep up!  So here is my world lately.
The April Market Day festival in downtown Newnan was a great success, at least I think it was.  We had a lot of traffic, it was beautiful weather, we made a lot of sales and handed out a lot of business cards.  Plenty of folks said they hoped to see us back again soon.  So I'm happy to say we will be set up again in June, and I'll post more details about both shows very soon.
James got a wonderful promotion at work, and he now reports directly to the corporate office.  In his new role he will continue to do what he does now, but he will travel across the country to all the divisions, helping and offering support wherever needed.  He will take his almost 19-years-experience with the company and share his knowledge with others.  I am so very proud of him!  He starts traveling shortly and is looking forward to it.
I got a new car finally!  Yay!  Although I love my little Saturn SUV, I've had it almost ten years and it was slowly falling apart.  The list of things not working on it was growing daily.  I now have a very cute 2015 black Ford Escape, and I'm loving it.  It's the same size as the Saturn and drives about the same.  James will use the Saturn as his new "work" car since he will just be driving back and forth to the airport every week.
We just booked our newest cruise.  It's well into the future- October of 2016.  We'll have a seven day cruise from New York to Bermuda.  Carnival only offers this cruise once or twice a year, so we had to go ahead and snag it.  Even October of 2016, the cruise was getting close to being sold out!  We've never been to Bermuda.  The ship will be docked there for a few days, so we'll have plenty of time to check it out.  We can't wait!
The Etsy shops are doing well.  Vintage sells well, as always, and we continue to find nice gems at local estate sales and auctions.  I've revamped my other shop, where I was selling all sorts of pottery and jewelry components, to only carrying beads and pendants.  I want to concentrate on one thing right now, and get great at it.  I may consider opening another store for all the other miscellaneous pottery, like my little bowls and decorative tiles.
That's about it.  We are hoping to have a great summer here, getting used to James' new work schedule.  I plan to spend my days really working hard on my beads, rededicating myself to losing weight and exercising, and to stop skipping my weekly yoga classes!

I'll blog again very soon!


Monday, February 16, 2015

Lifetime Adventures!

James and I recently got back from our once in a lifetime spectacular vacation.  We had intended to take this trip in 2016 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, but not long ago we received an offer that saved us over half the price of what we would have paid.  So we said, who cares if we take the trip on our 9th anniversary instead!  The only thing is, we had so much fun, we are already talking about going again next year anyhow!

I'm talking about our 15 day cruise to Hawaii.  Yep, in mid-January we flew to Los Angeles and boarded the Carnival Miracle for a two week Pacific adventure.  Since we got such a magnificent deal from the cruise line for our cabin, we upgraded to the big fancy two-room suite at the back of the ship with the wraparound balcony.  How could we not??  We had this same cabin a few years ago on another cruise and we thought, with a total of 9 at sea days for this trip, the huge balcony would indeed be a treat.  And especially on port days because we were able to see humpback whales splashing about at all five ports!

All was not perfect on this trip, only because the person on the plane next to me sneezed and coughed for six hours without once covering up his mouth.  I gave him the stink eye, but unfortunately he was non-English speaking and didn't understand my subtle disapproval.  So, I was sick the entire cruise, and towards the end James caught it as well.  Good thing we had the two-room suite because the last few nights, we were both coughing so much we slept separately just to get a few hours of  peaceful rest.

Even so, I did not let the cold/flu/sinus whatever get in my way of enjoying the Hawaiian islands.  The cruise ship stopped at five different ports on four of the islands, and we had rental cars at each stop.  We've cruised enough that we now know to avoid the outrageously expensive and crowded "ship" excursions.  We've been packed into buses like sardines over the years, and paid out big bucks for it.  Now we simply plot out our days well in advance, and for the price of the rental car- which would equal the price we pay Carnival- we do what we want, go where we want, stop to eat and take photos and buy souvenirs where we want, and for how long we want.  True, many of the places we go are the same places the ship excursions go.  We just prefer to go on our own terms, and not with 50 other people.  Not to mention we were, as always, on the hunt for smashed pennies and were able to add almost 100 of them to our collection on this trip.

And I apologize right away for not punctuating Hawaiian words correctly.  I know most of the cities and islands have apostrophes in them, even Hawaii is supposed to be Hawai'i.

After four at sea days our first stop was Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Yes, I know, I too was confused that "Hawaii" is actually the name of one of the islands.  I have just always used "Hawaii" thinking that covered all the islands, but it doesn't.  So, on Hawaii the island, we traveled south of Hilo to Volcanoes National Park.  Here we stopped to have lunch on the smoking crater rim of Kilauea.  I can't get over the fact that I sat and ate a pizza almost on top of a volcano, it was super cool.  After lunch we drove all the way down to the end of the road, a jaunt the bigger tour buses couldn't manage because it was so narrow and winding.  But it was worth the drive, to see the ocean and this gorgeous Sea Arch, right as the sun was starting to go down- not to mention also running across a little gaggle of the Hawaiian Nene geese.  On the way back we stopped at a lava tube, where we walked through the hardened cave of old lava, surrounded by a lush tropical rain forest.  The last stop was Rainbow Falls, close to town, but worth the extra little drive before we had to turn the car back in and head to the ship.  One interesting thing to note was listening to the local radio and hearing the lava flow alerts.

Day two was Honolulu on the island of Oahu.  This was the most important day for James, because we wanted to take in everything at Pearl Harbor.  And we did.  We got there a little after 10am and stayed there until well after 4pm.  We were able to visit all of the historical sites and most importantly, the USS Arizona Memorial.  We weren't sure we would be able to see the Arizona, as the tickets are free but are given out on a first come basis in the morning.  They only give out a set amount every day.  We were worried by us getting there later in the morning we would miss out, but luckily it was a week day and we were able to get the tickets.  Even if we hadn't, there were still so many other things to see and do there, and we did it all.  We went on the battleship USS Missouri, we went to the aviation museum, and toured the submarine USS Bowfin.  We also got the audio tour (Jamie Lee Curtis!) of all the museums on the grounds.  Before taking a small boat out to the Arizona, we watched a very moving documentary about the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  I was surprised, it made me cry watching the footage, but it was also because of the amazingly talented narration of Stockard Channing.  We were docked in Honolulu until 11pm at night, so after Pearl Harbor we drove into the city for dinner.  We were shocked to find it was as crowded with bumper to bumper traffic and people as downtown Atlanta!  We of course enjoyed Pearl Harbor, but didn't get to see much else of the area, as it was dark by the time we got into the city and all we saw were the red glow of tail lights for several hours.

The third port was Kahului on Maui, another long day (7am to 11pm).  Our busiest day as far as driving around, because we had a lot of stops on our itinerary.  Our first stop was the Maui Tropical Plantation.  We lucked out and got there ahead of any of the tour buses, so had a quiet visit at this gorgeous working farm.  We rode the tram to tour the grounds, saw all the many types of fruits they grow, and even saw a wild mongoose on the prowl!  We also learned the proper native technique for getting the meat out of a coconut, which was worth the price of the tram ride!  At the plantation, they were kind enough to tell us about a lovely little museum not on our list, and we made our way over to the Bailey House where we spent a nice hour with our native tour guide. We had lunch on the water in Maalaea, hoping to go to the aquarium.  But we did not beat the tour buses, and there were a lot of them, and the line to get in was so long we didn't want to wait.  We drove to Lahaina to walk around and do some shopping, and indulged in shaved ice, then stopped back by the aquarium but it was closing time.  A lot of the ship excursions went to the other side of the island, to Hana, but most of the people we talked to said it wasn't worth the incredibly long and dangerously winding drive.

The next day we put in at Lihue on Kauai.  This was my favorite island.  We had a lot of driving to do on this day as well, because the two things we wanted to see were on the opposite sides of the island, with the ship docking in the middle.  First we drove around the south end of the island and stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation.  We walked the grounds to look at the trees and then stocked up on coffee at the visitor center.  Then we made our way to two state parks- Waimea Canyon and Kokee.  Waimea Canyon is aptly named, and the amazing waterfall was probably my favorite stop on the entire trip.  We had lunch in the town of Waimea, then started the long drive to the north side of the island.  Our destination was the Kilauea Point Lighthouse which was, unbeknownst to us, closed that day!  We were only able to get photos from the parking lot above, but it was still a nice drive, and we were able to see more Nene geese toodling about.

The last day was back on Hawaii at Kona, and it was our shortest because of an itinerary change on the ship.  We got to port late, and then because this was a tender port (you don't pull up to a dock but instead take small boats over to the island) it took us several hours to get off the ship.  The Big Island turned out to be James' favorite stop, and I do wish we could have spent more time in Kona.  We went to a few local markets, and had time to head out to another coffee plantation, but that was about it.  We had planned to visit a beautiful historical park and church further up the road, but didn't have time.  We had a late lunch there in town at a nice outdoor restaurant on the water.  As we headed back to the ship, James was eyeballing the big Marriott sitting right there on the beach.

The cruise ended with five more at sea days then a very short evening in Ensenada Mexico, where the most exciting thing we saw were the droves of harbor seals playing about everywhere.  The next morning we were back where we started from, in Long Beach California.  The cruise was long, and I admit I was starting to get a bit restless on the sail back from Hawaii.  One benefit of visiting Hawaii on a cruise was being able to visit several of the islands, because other than by air, there is no service between the islands.  A disadvantage would be just getting to spend a few hours at a time at each island, never venturing too far because we had to be back on the ship at a certain time.

But we loved the islands, and ever since we got home we have talked nonstop about going back to Hawaii.  Not on another cruise, but picking one island (hard decision!) and flying there for a week long stay.  Not sure when that trip will be possible, but as much as we enjoyed our visit to the Hawaiian Islands, I'm sure we'll get back there again as soon as we can!


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Ventures

Happy 2015 to everyone!  James and I had a wonderful holiday season with Thanksgiving in Tennessee, Christmas at our home with my parents visiting, and back to Tennessee for the New Year!  We are fortunate that we are "in the middle" of the map and can spend time with both of our families.  As we get ready to go off on our own adventure next week (I'll post photos of Hawaii when we get back), I wanted to take a few minutes to catch the blog up.

Although I'm still on Etsy, sales have not been very steady and frankly, the fees are starting to chip away at any profit I may have made.  When I close up the shop next week for vacation, I may leave it closed for awhile to rethink the types of items I'm selling and the pricing.  Getting noticed on Etsy is almost impossible, there are thousands and thousands of people out there who do the same thing I do.  There are a few who make hundreds of sales a week selling pottery beads and pendants.  I'm lucky if I make one a week.  I admit I've let the store flounder, I haven't listed anything new in a long time but I still have well over 100 items in my shop.  Some items, that I've renewed repeatedly (and paid the fee every time) I've simply taken out of the shop permanently.  Most of those items, I will use now to make my own jewelry.

I've decided to kick off 2015 with a tour around the local craft show markets.  We've got a bunch of them in the area, starting with the monthly market in downtown Newnan.  This market is the first Saturday of every month, from April through December.  It's a small one, centered around the courthouse on the square, set up on the sidewalk.  We've been there a few times, it seems well attended- not sure how many folks are actually "buying" but even on a recent super cold and blustery day, people were out there.  It also seems to me that the vendors who set up this year were the same vendors from the previous year.  Some had pottery, some had jewelry, some had woodworking projects.  (Photos below from Newnan Market Days website.)  The Newnan circuit will be great for me to start off with- it's just for a few hours on Saturdays.  There are several weekend-long festivals that I eventually want to work my way up to, but for right now, one brief afternoon is perfect for testing the waters.  And downtown is only about ten minutes from our house, so even better!

There are plenty of larger shows in the area, and I've been making a list of them- dates, fees, requirements.  The really big shows- the ones that are juried and cost a fortune- I'm going to have to bypass.  These are the ones in the Atlanta area, that are marketed nationally.  I just don't have the inventory or prices to justify paying $500 for a booth!  I will be selling small items for $5 and $10!  As far as what I will be selling: jewelry made with my own pottery beads and pendants, my recycled floor tile jewelry, photo holders from old wood with pottery accents, signs with pottery, and my little pottery dishes.  

I'm also currently working on recycled red clay pots- cleaning them up and glazing designs on them.  The few that I listed on Etsy sold out and I had lots of requests to make more.  And I'm working on recycled tiles, glazing colorful designs on those as well.  I made a few for Etsy, the large clay patio tiles, and sold all of them.  I am now working on the small white bathroom tiles, glazing those to use as coasters.  So I think I will have a nice mix in my products, with "pottery" as the main theme although I don't make the typical bowls and mugs that everyone else does.  I also recently started purchasing the tools to start embossing metal, and have had fun punching letters onto old washers.  I may incorporate that into my jewelry as well.  We even started cutting glass bottles, for James to make lighting with the tops while I have taken the bottoms to turn into tea light candle holders.  If those work out, I may sell those as well.  Even at 50 cents each, what is the alternative- sending the bottles to the recycling center?

So I have now purchased just about everything I will need to get a booth going.  My parents bought the 10 x 10 white canopy for me for Christmas, which I appreciate.  I think the canopy makes a booth look more professional.  I may just have enough items to set up one table in the beginning, but the canopy completes the illusion that I am a true "business"- ha ha!  In fact one of the larger shows I want to do later on, requires a canopy.  Once I have all the items (some are still on their way), James and I will get everything together and set it up in the driveway to see how it all looks.  I haven't decided on a ground cover or not, although I think a nice 10 x 10 outdoor rug would be pretty.  As well as a tripping hazard, so perhaps that isn't a good idea.  Hhmmm.

From Vistaprint I ordered a large custom banner for the booth (first photo).  It will hang at the front of the canopy.  It hasn't arrived yet, but I'm anxious to see it and it should hopefully get here soon.  I also ordered business cards from Vistaprint (second photo) and they came last week.  Gorgeous colors and very high quality paper, I am super happy with them and will probably restock with the same when I run out.  I've been ordering business cards to go with my Etsy shipments from another company, but with Vistaprint allowing me to customize the card and matching banner with Spider's photo and giving me plenty of space to write out a message, they beat the competition by a mile.  I am hooked on their products!  Of course leaving my Etsy shop address on the business card, I will have to eventually kick that back into high gear as well.

Most of the booths are 10 x 10 spaces, so every time Target put their 6-foot long banquet tables on sale this past year, I bought one.  I now have three of them, so I'm ready to outfit my booth.  I ordered table covers online from a wedding retailer, and they should arrive in the mail soon (second photo).  They are just white, basic as it gets, but they are the exact size to cover the table and all the legs.  In the third photo is a beautiful heavy cotton tablecloth.  I purchased three of them at Target just yesterday.  I love the pattern, it has flowers for spring and summer, but the colors are also great for autumn.  These will go on top of the ugly white table covers, and I plan to keep all my displays a neutral color.  As I said, at the first show in April I may only have enough product to cover one table, but I hope to look at least semi-professional.  I would say so far, just to set up the booth, I've spent about $400.  But, that's pretty much all the big items I will need.  Unless I set up in a hurricane and the entire booth gets destroyed, I think the initial investment of canopy, tables, and everything else should last for a long time.


I'm gathering up other supplies as well, like buying paper bags from our local Uline (no recycled grocery store plastic for my booth!) and tissue paper to wrap items.  I've bought some price tags off eBay- the small kind with string used for jewelry and of course the good old-fashioned round stickers.  For bigger tags, I'm making my own using scrapbook paper and punches.  I also found a very cool punch (below) for turning card stock into instant earring holders.  Can't wait to start using that!  I even got customized labels online to carry my shop name and a "thank you" message that I will put on every bag.  Pretty soon I will have to start thinking about signs for my table.  I don't want to just flop a glazed tile out there, I want to tell the story of how it is recycled, how it came from our local Habitat store, and how I transformed it into something new.

 As soon as we get back from our Hawaii cruise, I have a list of ideas for displays that I will need help from James to make.  He has plenty of power tools in the garage to pretty much cut any kind of wood into any type of display.  I've been getting a lot of inspiration from Pinterest (who hasn't!!) so I've been saving photos on a board.  I'm not very handy with a saw, but I can paint and glue and nail all day long.  My problem is I can "see" a finished product in my mind- I just don't know how to figure out the logistics of actually making it.  That's where a helpful husband comes into play.  And James is super supportive, and now that football is over and baseball/NASCAR hasn't started yet, the next few weekends will be the perfect time for us to be in the garage toiling away.  Oh yeah, with plenty of heaters plugged up!

I will post upcoming shows with times and dates, here and on my Facebook page, so stay tuned.  We've got a few months before the first show, but by spring I will need to hit the ground with both feet firmly planted if I'm going to do this- and do it successfully!