The Hare of the Rabbit Podcast

 

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I was interviewed by The Hare of the Rabbit Podcast. I met Jeff and Tina Hittinger at the Virginia Clay Festival a couple of years ago and Jeff contacted me recently about wanting to do a podcast about Tang, my pottery and how the two loves came together. It was a lot of fun to have Jeff and his wife Tina come to my studio and interview me. I learned that they also have rabbits and have a love of anything rabbit as well. So, without further adieu, check out the podcast here…

http://www.hareoftherabbit.com/

Be sure to also like his facebook page, Hare of the Rabbit

Tang and I had a lot of fun. Thank you, Jeff!

Preparing for an Open Studio Tour

ACVtrainetworksign2.161141This past December was my third official Holiday Open Studio Tour with the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail  As we enter a new year, I would like to do a post about how I prepare for the semi-annual events that both the Tourism of Shenandoah County and the Artisans Center of Virginia sponsor  to bring customers to me and other trail sites in our county. This Spring our county will host an annual event called Gardens, Galleries and Grapes. This is coming up and this post should help give a checklist to other trail sites in my county and others about how to get things going.

  • Find Trail Sites that you can partner with. In the past three years, I have partnered with Kary Haun and the two of us have added other artists over the years. The first and second years we had three artists and this past year we had five. We are all clay artists so that is how we chose to plan our event. I am sure that it could also be done with a variety of different mediums and artists but we did ours with ceramic artists.
  • Set the date of the event…. this is sometimes done by the county. The Holiday Open Studio Tour was set by the artists that are participating and has usually been the first weekend in the month of December. Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes, the county Spring event, is set by the Tourism folks in the county.
  • Put together an invitation.  If you have someone in your group that is familiar with building the graphic for the card that will be helpful. Kary and I  worked together, utilizing Photoshop, to assemble a postcard that will get mailed to the individual mailing lists. Our way of getting group consensus was to utilize the Messenger app in Facebook to send the invitation back and forth to the group to get feedback. You may also get a mailing list to the county so that they can mail out your cards, if you don’t want to deal with this yourself.  Then we had ours printed through VistaPrint, a large online printing source that lets you upload the design to them and then they mail you the finished cards. Having an advertising budget is helpful and divide up the advertising between the artists makes it easier to afford. Each artist benefits from the other artists in this aspect. Try and get the mailing out at least 4-6 weeks before the event.
  • Spend some time keeping your mailing list up to date. I try to do this as an ongoing maintenance project but some years it has been a scramble to make sure that I don’t have a list with bad addresses in it which can cost you time and money. I know stamps are inexpensive but if you have several bad addresses and those cards come back, that is money wasted. I always put a return address on my cards for this reason. I don’t want to waste postage year to year.
  • Make sure you have enough inventory or are planning to have plenty of inventory. Make lists, if you have to, so that you know how many items you need to have on hand to allow enough selection for your customers. Because I use a Square reader, it will tell me at the end of the year what the most sellable item was. Usually it is mugs so I make sure that I have plenty of those on hand.
  • Set up, if you haven’t already, a business Facebook account, so that you can post works in process to build interest in the event. We set up a separate business Facebook page just for the event in addition to our individual business pages. This makes for more posting but it also gives the event more eyes. In the end, you will post to the event page, your individual Facebook page and possibly your personal Facebook page too, if you like. Some of us have felt it necessary to not mix our personal pages with our business pages for different reasons.
  • Contact an additional food trail site, to provide you with the snacks for the event. Try to give them plenty of notice… or make special foods yourself and promote those too. Wine from the local vineyards  or apple cider from a local farmer’s market promotes the local sites too. There are many food sites on the trail and part of the deal for them is to provide food when there is an event. These can include trays of cookies, apples, apple cider or finger foods. Last Spring, I chose to make a special shortbread cookie with fresh flowers10996068_787091418049559_1913959248896130799_n decorated on top and it made the event fun to also share a recipe or new food to the customers.
  • Send a newsletter out prior to the event. newsletterI use Mailchimp. I don’t  send enough of these and need to spend more time doing more of this but I love the way that it has some automation and templates to use. Your newsletter can show a featured item, the invitation to those who are not on your mailing list but opt to only get emails from you. Or if your postcard list makes your mailing too expensive, you could try to go paperless and only use email but I like to combine this due to still enjoying the reminder to be placed on someone’s refrigerator. Combining these may still be a good idea.
  • If you blog, do a blog post about the event. This year I blogged our event in such a way that I started at the upper most site and wrote about the stops along the way, all the way to the lower part of the county with a paragraph about each of the artists. This gives each artist a shoutout and also shows your followers that they have options in addition to your place. The ACV also does a blog and used my posting to put on their blog which goes out to travel writers to possibly be picked up and read by people outside our region.
  • Offer a new item each year and promote that item heavily in the newsletter. This year, I offered Christmas Ornaments and salt cellars and Christmas Frog Mug and Saucer sets and promoted these heavily on social media. The ornaments were so popular that I had time before the actual holiday to make another batch. All but one of the Christmas Mug sets sold.
  • Decorate your house or the gallery where the work is displayed and make things pleasing. I have the kind of house that I can set up a flow where the work is viewed first, then the snacks and then the checkout and packaging can happen in my living room but you will want to figure out a way that your customer can move through your space in a logical way to avoid frustration on everyone’s part and unnecessary waiting.
  • Clean your house or studio in preparation of the event. I am not sure how you feel but I just feel better if I have a clean work space to show off when customers come in. I also try and make the house as clean as possible. And when the event is over, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you are done, sort of, for the season, and can get on with your family festivities.
  • Price the work. Go through all the inventory and make sure that all the work is priced. I like to do this ahead of time because I don’t want to have to be in a position to look like I don’t know what to ask for the piece and I don’t want to have to haggle. It just makes it easier and less stressful on everyone if these are in place ahead of time.
  • Figure out your checkout program ahead of time. We use the Square reader and have been very pleased with how this set up works so that it is tied to our bank account for Laughing Orange. You want to familiarize yourself again with any upgrades before the event so that you aren’t spending time with your customer learning a new section of the program and avoid any frustrations there.
  • Add ideas of use of your products. You know your work better than anyone and you can come up with ways that they can see your work in a usable way. I offered ideas of things to pair with the work to create a special gift for someone. Examples: a baby bowl might be paired with a receiving blanket and a pair of socks or a spoon, a large pasta dish with a recipe or the ingredients for the recipe, a mug with a homemade cocoa mix or teas or coffees. I actually printed up little ideas in a nice font and put beside the items to nudge the customer to see that the work could be put with other items to create a more thoughtful gift for someone.
  • Talk to Your Customers…sell the work! making a mug instructionsThis one is huge! Many customers come to my studio or gallery and think that the work is something that is just cranked out like in a factory. I ask if they are interested in actually seeing the studio and then if they do, I explain the entire process to them so that they understand that this isn’t Walmart. Many times I have had customers tell me that my prices are too high and that they can get the same items at Walmart. I usually let them find the door. But, it can also be a learning experience for them if you can help them understand some of the process. One year, I actually put tags on the mugs with the steps involved in making a mug. If the person buying the mug already understands the efforts of a handmade item, the recipient may not so the tag helps to explain the specialty of the gift they just received.
  • Explain the trail as they enter the house or studio This is to help our fellow trail sites. You can be assured that if you partner with me, I am going to promote you too. I realize that my work doesn’t appeal to everyone and that is okay. I also realize that there are some really fine artists in our county that also are working just as hard as I am and need to have the local population to know about them too. I usually give out a trail brochure and then a map and tell them all about the food that I am offering, if it came from a trail site. This is selling our county. This is bringing in economics to our area, which grows our area and adds interest for the future.
  • Offer a giveaway as a way to capture emails. This is optional of course. I had purchased a cookbook during the year in 2015 and kept it back as a gift option for someone in the family. I had forgotten about it and found it when I began getting the space ready for inventory. The idea came to me to offer it as a giveaway but to be sure to let those know that are registering for it that my purpose was to capture their addresses for future events. I scored with a lot of new people for my database and the winner was pleased as punch to get the book in the mail.
  • Offer a discount to returning customers. This is also optional. I have decided to do this for several years now and most people don’t remember it or ask about it but when I say to them, “Hey, you have bought from me before”, it shows them that I remember them, I appreciate their returning for another item and many of them are grateful. Some of them refuse it, or try to because they recognize that it is taking money away that I could make. But, I see it as a way to building a customer base that is loyal about coming back year after year. I offer 10%. It isn’t much but it is a nice way to tell your customer that they are appreciated.
  • Have a special wrapping or package to send the work away in. stickerBecause I am Laughing Orange Studio, I found some very cheap orange, as in the fruit, bags to put the wrapped work in. I also had tags printed from Moo.com that tell the customers  that the bags are reusable and that they are filled with shredded junk mail. This shows the customer that I am trying to be as sustainable to the planet as possible. I could do an entire posting about this. In this age of consumerism, why would you pay for extra packaging unless it could be reused in some way. This year, I also took all the clay bags that had accumulated in the studio, which are very strong plastic, and ran them through my washing machine. I ordered a sticker to put on the bag saying thank you and adding my logo and contact information on them. I was able to reuse the bags and the customer was told about where the bag came from. I actually had a customer come with her own bags this year, which pleased me to no end. I have also had customers bring back the orange bags and the packaging from their previous purchases.
  • Thank your customer and begin to recognize them. This is important. Sometimes I don’t always remember a customer’s name. I am terrible at that. But if you start to recognize your customers, it makes a huge difference. Recently, I had a customer that hadn’t been here since 2013 and I vaguely remember her. But she purchased some nice things and I added her to my database and in the note section added what she purchased. I will use that information to remember her because, many times, I can remember the work better than a name.
  • Remind them of the other trail sites that are open today and let them know of the wonderful offerings that are still out there for the weekend of the event. As I stated earlier, I always promote the other trail sites that I know are having their event on the same weekend as ours or are partnering with us on our event.
  • Offer maps to the other trail sites. This was the first map I created for the three of the artists at our event.This is where ACV and the Tourism for Shenandoah County has been a huge help. They have printed the maps and got them to us so that we have them to give out. In addition to this map, we have printed maps onto the backs of our invitations for the past two years. I think that has been a big help although I feel that it was a bit confusing to the post office and we may decide to redesign that idea somehow for next year. The map shown at the right is the map I created for the first Holiday Open Studio Tour that we did. It is a simple assembly from Google earth placed in approximation to where each artist was located. I had them on hand to give to people when they came  in or when I saw them about to leave.

cold frame issuu

I happened to notice that this PDF was no longer on my blog. This was created several years ago when I first had read Eliot Coleman’s book and decided that if he could grow vegetables in Maine in the winter that I could do it here in VA. I think that WordPress has upgraded their ability to handle an ISSUU document so I am pleased that it is not just a link anymore. I know that several folks have asked for this document and now I can direct them here.

 

My Apprentice, Kara Bowman

 

Kara

Kara, working on her dad’s Father’s Day gift.

 

For the past several months, I have had a wonderful helper to help with all my fairy garden items. Kara Bowman is 14 and will be a freshman at Strasburg High School this fall. Kara loves history and is an avid Disney fan. She also is a crafter of wonderful duct tape items, wallets, flower pens and tri-fold wallets. She lives with her family in Maurertown, VA and lives on the Shenandoah River. Kara LOVES everything JMU (James Madison University) and hopes to attend school there in 2019 studying as a  physician’s assistant. She just finished a medical camp at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital learning CPR, dissecting a human eyeball, and touring the operating room. You can read more about this camp here. Kara loves getting paid with Dairy Queen blizzards but has been a real asset to helping my fairy garden inventory grow.

In the photo above, Kara is decorating a bowl that we made for her dad for Father’s Day. He is a big Baltimore Orioles fan.


 

I put the above text in my newsletter about Kara but, I want to add a full posting about her in my blog. Kara is a very kind and caring individual and during the past 6 months that I have been dealing with the grief of my son John’s death, she has been a wonderful companion to have and to sit with me in the studio. Kara’s mom, Cathy knew that this would be good for me, and also for Kara, to work with me, as an assistant, of sorts.

Kara is good about doing what I ask of her and is a quick learner and has a good eye for detail. She has really enjoyed doing the butterfly chairs and has looked up wonderful butterflies on her phone to replicate the colors and really enjoyed doing birdbaths. This was her first assignment and was very attentive to the different birds that she could add to the birdbaths. After the birdbaths were done, you could definitely pick out the orioles from the cardinals because she wanted them to look like the real birds.

I have introduced Kara to some new forms of music and movies and she has introduced me to everything Disney…. sometimes a bit too much Disney… but we try to share and enjoy each others tastes.

I would like to personally thank Kara, for being independent enough to be trusted and to know that it is okay to ask for something to eat or drink. I am not sure that she will come away from this experience wanting to pursue a career in ceramics but I hope this has added some depth to her education and the understanding of crafting as a business.

Kara has agreed to help me out with the Empty Bowls this year. I plan on teaching her how to make the frogs so that we can pledge a larger amount of bowls this year. The Alliance for Shelter in Shenandoah County lost a vital piece of their real estate to fire earlier in the Spring and hopefully our bowls that we contribute will help the homeless to have better shelter in the future. Kara has a caring heart and that is an organization that she holds dear so together we will do our part to help others.

This I Believe…

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

There used to be a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition called This I Believe with Jay Allison. I didn’t like that segment because it was full of sappy stories, much like the Family Circle magazine that is now showing up in my mailbox…(Thanks, Martha Stewart for going digital with Whole Living and making a deal that made that happen). These days our beliefs are plastered on everything from our cars to our Facebook pages. Growing up in a christian environment, your beliefs, or non-beliefs, as are mine these days, were kept to yourself and not so readily shared. That said, I DO believe that it is a good thing to help others, to donate and help our community thrive by sharing what we have with those less fortunate or struggling. These days there is a lot of this and it makes me feel good to share when I can.

As an artist, I get asked to help out causes all the time. And as we draw 2013 to a close, I have been thinking about this notion of being asked to donate my work. I can claim the donation on taxes but I don’t get the retail value. And my bank account doesn’t grow like I would love to see. There is even a Facebook group called Stop Working for Free that I joined to see how other artists deal with pleas for free work.  I have read numerous articles where artists are told not to work for free. I’ve even read articles where people think that artists should expect to work for free and not feel that we are “entitled”. As a young artist, we get told that by doing a freebie for someone will give us exposure and help our careers. I have to say, that as an “older” artist, this has been the case for me locally. I don’t ever expect to be a famous artist but, after losing my job to the internet, and having to fall back onto my  artistic talents, I am happy to say that some local exposure has been helpful to my new career. But at the same time, I still get frustrated when I am asked to give a donation for a cause. Especially if the cause is something that I don’t believe in. For example, I was asked recently, because I do rabbits, to donate a piece of my work to a rabbit rescue…..in CALIFORNIA. Uh, rabbits are food….. and a silent auction to save rabbits from someone that decided they didn’t want them anymore, to me is not a worthy cause for me to donate my long hours to. And to ship it to the opposite coast…..Sorry.

I have several causes that I do donate my art work to. This year I have had five and luckily, haven’t had to turn down a cause because I thought it was silly or something that I can’t support ethically. In my heart, I have to feel that I am truly giving back to the community by giving/donating a piece to someone because, these days, there is little monetary funds for them to ask for. I even cancelled my $5 a month donation to Moveon.org. I do feel that I am maxed out in terms of donations at this time so if you think this is a good time to give me a call, you might want to reconsider that…..just sayin’.

My causes this year have been:

  • Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. This is the organization that I helped brand and spent about 10 years volunteering with them as a river monitor, benthic monitor, webmaster, helping with fundraising and yes, donating my artwork for them to auction off. I even became one of the people that went to other artists and asked them to donate to the cause. This is the organization that I have to thank for the support that they, in turn, have given me and helped to get my name out into the community so that I can do what I am doing now. Thank YOU, FNFSR!
  • Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter. When I decided to become a full time potter, I was asked by Kary Haun to donate to the Alliance’s Empty Bowl Supper. The first year, I think, I donated 24 bowls. Now, you need to know, the Shenandoah Alliance does compensate the potters $6 per bowl to cover the materials but the time spent creating the bowls are given by the individual potters. This will be my third year doing this and I really love this event. The shelter’s mission is to provide help for the homeless. Unlike many cities, where homelessness is very visible, our rural area still has this problem. This shelter gives temporary shelter to these individuals or families so that they are taken care of.
  • Habitat for Humanity. I have always felt that this is a worthy cause, even though it is christian based. How cool is it when a group of local people come together, as a community and build a house for someone that qualifies for it. The homeowner isn’t given the house but has to meet qualifications and be able to repay the loan, just like the rest of us. They are required to give “sweat equity” as their downpayment so this is proof, to me anyway, that I can also give some sweat equity and help them get into their new home, knowing that they are a hard worker too.
  • AIDS Response. This event was to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS and help those persons with their medical needs that might not be available through another source. Since our society is becoming more tolerant of the gay lifestyle, there is still a stigma surrounding it and yet the expense, like many illnesses, add a burden that I believe we, as a community, can help with.
  • Shenandoah’s Response Shelter for Abuse.  Given that I have seen first hand, abuse to women is not something that should be taken lightly. My mother put herself into abusive relationships and had all the symptoms of how women deal with these types of situations. With the economy and funding being cut to these programs, both on a national and local level, I feel this is one that I also have to try and help out.

So, as an artist, who by this time of year, is pretty much done with my donations, I have to say that, donating to a cause is a good thing. If someone approaches me to do free work or discounted work, I am learning that I need to ask for money for the work. I have bills to pay just like everyone else. My art is personal and is for me. It is not something I can do to suit someone else who thinks I need to make what they think will sell best. I need to be the one to make those decisions but I also need to eat.

I also believe that our society needs to think more about where items come from. The mug or bowl that I make isn’t from China. If, for all those years, we had been paying someone like myself, in our own communities or, within a 100 mile radius of our homes, prices for hand made items might not feel so high. I believe that by building communities and trying, (notice, I said, trying) to leave our beliefs out, that we can come together and do a lot of good for ourselves and our planet. I just believe that is the right thing to do. What are your thoughts?

Here are some links for some additional reading on this topic.