Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Taste of Spring

We had a brief respite between thunderstorms. It was long enough to capture this evidence that spring is indeed here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Increase Your Sales: Find Your Artistic Voice

Of course, mastering the techniques of your craft is a necessary step to sales success. But solid technique will only take you so far. How do you differentiate yourself from other sellers who have also spent a good deal of time honing their skills? One way is by finding your artistic voice.

The Tough Love Plea: Be Honest
As you know, I am a member of the Polymer Clay Artists Guild of Etsy. One of the membership benefits is a private forum space where we can offer constructive criticism when someone asks for help.

Recently there was a great thread called "Be Honest"  posted in the Tough Love section of the forum by a well-established clay artist lamenting a drop in her sales. I found the advice that people gave to her so helpful that I would like to share a bit of the thread here while still respecting the privacy of the forum. 

This artist sensed that there may be something keeping her from competing with similar items that can be found at better prices. She asked people to be brutally honest, and in the spirit of learning that is part of this forum, people offered help.

Find your Artistic Voice
Another woman shared a story from her own past where a teacher helped her see that her work was "nicely done and attractive individually, but it had no voice." She added that when artists are starting out they need to be all over the place for a while learning techniques and developing skills, but there needs to be a "turning point" where your artistry develops its own voice.

So how do you find your voice?
Here is a round-up of some of the advice that came out of the discussion. I can't take credit for any of this, but it was too good not to share. Keep in mind, the advice is geared to polymer clay artists, but I'm sure you can find ways to translate it to your own medium.

1. Master Color Theory:
"Play with color. Give yourself an assignment such as for one month, use NOTHING straight from the package. Do some exercises to play with values. If you don't have the color book, get it and grind through some of the exercises and hit Maggie Maggio's web site. Honestly, actually doing the exercises (piano scales, anyone?) will make you very dissatisfied with colors straight from the package and you will find your own niche in terms of color. It will change the way your eye sees color, when you get the value range of lights and darks, it looks more deliberate and it reads better. It's more pleasing."
2. Be Advanced
Don't do the simplest version of a technique. For example, if everyone else is doing a basic cane style, go for the more advanced style.
3. Avoid Scraps
"Resist using scrap materials for new projects UNLESS they are worthy of being used. Clayers often have pieces of scrap patterns that are too nice to throw away, but they may not be the right choice for new piece. 'Close enough' isn't a good artistic choice."
4. Move from Pattern to Design
A piece may have a lot of pattern, but no design. One artist suggested the book  "Design! : A Lively Guide to Design Basics for Artists & Craftspeople" to find inspiration to stretch your work. Design is very difficult to teach via a book but this one, she noted, actually has exercises in composition, color (hue, value, contrast, etc), focal point, etc.
5. Unify your work
"Experimentation is good, but find a way to make your shop look unified. Color and style statements go along way in this department. Having a style or a voice doesn't mean that all your stuff needs to look the same, nor does it mean you will keep repeating a narrow range of "tricks". What is DOES mean is that you will have an artistic home base from which you can then branch out on exploratory adventures, and then touch back there as needed."
6. Create what YOU love.
"A couple years ago I didn't do well anywhere. I got tons of compliments but few sales even though I was trying to design for the markets I was selling in. Well, it got to a point where I realized that I was trying too hard to make things based on what others might like and what sold before and I wasn't enjoying it. So, my new rule is I won't make/put on sale  anything I wouldn't want to wear or own myself. Seems a little backwards but my sales have rocketed since I did that and only then did I start winning awards as well."

"You can't let "what will sell" be your only criteria for deciding what to infuse into your creative process. Your PURPOSE is to make things that are lovely to look at and to satisfy your crave to create. Yes, when you stumble on things that sell well, let those be your bread and butter, your production pieces that fund the habit. But don't waste time trying to guess what people want to buy and what price they will pay. If your work is a lot like everyone elses' it is commoditized and you feel like you need to compete on price. When you find your voice you will have more pricing power."

" I actually don't wear my own jewelry much and it bothers me that I don't.  The ideal me does...feminine, pretty outfits, etc. OK, maybe that's the fantasy I have of myself. The way I see myself in dreams.  I'm actually more of a t-shirt, jeans and boots girl, earthy, country, rustic, simple.  Shouldn't my art that is coming from me exude that a bit?  I think it should.  Maybe my artistic slump is my subconscious telling me to change."

Wrapping it up:
This forum conversation fascinated me on so many levels. Even though the advice was for another polymer clay artist, they could have easily been talking to me. I was also impressed that these artists cared enough to share their honest opinions to help each other be more successful. Threads like this one make the $20 annual dues a real steal.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Simple tricks to avoid a typography fail

I saw this product in the store over the weekend. The packaging had me asking "what are 'bum pits' and why would I want to buy them?"  This is a great example of a typography fail.

It is easy in the design process to get caught up in the "shape" of the word and forget that the word actually has meaning. That meaning can be seriously distorted during the design process.

I understand that the company has merged the words "bump" and "it" for the product name. Obviously that was a non-negotiable for the designer. The designer picked a very clever arc layout that mirrored the shape of the product. Unfortunately placing the product name in an arc visually breaks it at the center, right where "bum" meets "pit"

There are lots of ways to provide a visual break in the proper place. Adding a capital "I" would be one option: "BumpIt." This solution is helpful when spelling out a web address in text to make it more readable: for example "" instead of "" which could be read as "wear central pa." 

Here are a few more ideas for breaking up run-on words:

1. Vary the font style

2. Vary the color

3. Vary the size

Notice how the top example in each set emphasizes the word "bump" to make it seem more important than "it." Of course, a designer can execute these techniques with a lot more finesse than I've done here. What other ways have you seen to address this typography fail?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Challenge: Wall Art

My entry in the PCAGOE challenge.

I've mentioned in previous posts how important words are to me. The importance stems from more than the fact that writing is a huge part of my livelihood. Words hold a power for me; a power that grows when the words combine with art.

That is why I chose to play with words for the Polymer Clay Artists Guild of Esty's April Challenge: Wall Art. The only rules were that the entry must be at least 50% polymer clay and must interpret or depict the theme in some way.  

 Here are the amazing entries:

1) Becky of BeckySueCreations created this mixed media plaque with a telemarfusion background.

2) Marie of YoungCreative created this 5x5 inch plaque with the Mokume Gane technique and alcohol ink finishes. Water lily and ohm symbol are hand-sculpted. Feather is stamped.
These are words that represent how I want to live. I have them on slips of paper in my desk drawer as a reminder. I thought polymer would give them more presence in my day

3) Susan of 11BoldStreet This piece started as a "Sutton" slice, inspired by window coverings in colors that I've never tired of. It was mounted on a pearl and black stamped polymer base. The hanger piece is a metal tube, covered in more stamped polymer

4) Els of BeadElz tells us that her creations was made in the workshop with Laurie Mika in France.

5) Lisa of HiGirls
This wall plaque (4"x4") started as something quite literal, and ended up as an abstraction in bright spring colors.

6) Jackie of ThePleasantPheasant
This is a beautifully painted 2-ft. wide x 1-ft. tall canvas (painted by my daughter). On it I placed polymer clay buildings, a brass circle moon, and a copper pipe with yellow plastic cover to serve as a street light. The windows in the pointed building are mirrors, other windows are screened, and there is a Dior buckle that is serving as a building decoration. The gold window on the silver building is a circa-1980 earring that was repurposed for the job.

7) Angela of PolymerClayCreations
My first ever fairy door. It was so fun. I'm going to put this up and hope a good fairy will come bless my house and bring me good fortune.

8) Arlene of AshPaints
This mosaic was created with multiple polymer clay "tiles" which were antiqued, finger painted with acrylic paint, highlighted with mica powders and gold finishing wax, then combined into a beautiful inspirational plaque. It is shown displayed on an eisle but also has a hanger on the back. It is signed and dated by me.

9) Beth of CreateMyWorld
Family Tree Wallhanging: This was an idea I came up with while playing with extruded bits of clay. The tree is made up of extruded flat strips. The branches support 5 separate small frames to frame the family members.

10) Alison of AlisonEKurek
The title of this piece is "Masquerade". It was inspired by a business suit wearing "professional" whose true personality is closer to what he is depicted as, snout, curly tail and all! But then I guess I shouldn't speak badly of farm animals :-)
The figures are hand sculpted out of polymer clay and accented with acrylic paint. They are mounted onto a black suede mat board and framed in a 14" (w) x 11" (h) shadow box frame
Go Vote:
Vote and you could win an amazing polymer clay creation by one of our many talented artist members. Voting is open April 1 through April 7, 2011 at midnight, Eastern U.S. time.
Go here to vote in the PCAGOE monthly challenge!


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