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.

Looking to 2013

basementWith a year under my belt, I am pleased with the ground work that I have put into place for Laughing Orange Studio. It has certainly been a year of things to learn and what to do better in 2013.

In 2012 I learned:

  • how to gauge my inventory
  • how hard to push myself
  • how to pace myself
  • how to do USPS online and how to approximate shipping costs
  • refining my mug design and handles
  • what items I need to take to shows and what not to take
  • that Etsy is not going to make me as much money as I had hoped and it is going to have to be a supplemental source of income and at Christmas I need to think more local
  • to double box my packages to avoid breakages in shipping
  • that this blog is a way to inform everyone what I am doing with a story but can’t dominate the process of making
  • that I am closer to finding my “voice” in the clay but it will take a bit more time
  • that it is okay to only make one of something
  • that my customers need to buy immediately if they want something because someone else will snap it up and it won’t be here next week
  • how to do an Open House
  • how to use a square reader
  • how to shop for the best price on supplies
  • that it is almost impossible to keep the clay from migrating to my upstairs living area and that I really have to take a day a week and clean to avoid having it build up
  • that I need to hang onto receipts for my bookkeeping

old building-4

So, looking ahead to 2013, I am pleased to announce, first off, that I am planning on building a new studio….YAY!!! I go before the planning committee of Tom’s Brook this week and am going to present them with my idea to convert an outbuilding on my property to a studio. My hope is that they will allow me to tear it down and replace it with a new metal building that will be more efficient and will help me to have taller ceilings and more space.

I am also hoping to:

  • do a show locally (within a 200 mile radius) every other month or so
  • build a catalog of work, not just the few items I am making now
  • keep better track of items
  • keep building a local customer base…mailings, another open house, local events
  • add another kiln that is larger
  • work on getting my glazes to better fit the clay body that I am using
  • do some glaze tests
  • show the progress of my year with social media and this blog
  • make a little more money….this should probably be at the top of the list, right?

Thanks to everyone that helped me in this first year. I’m realizing that I am happier now than I have been in years and don’t have to deal with anyone’s rules but my own. Happiness isn’t about money, it is about doing what you love but I realize that I have Herb and all of my friends and supporters helping me to do what I love. I just wish I was a bit younger in starting this new adventure.

 

 

Here’s a Challenge for You…

Claudia and I have been trying to chat on Google + or via cell phone each Thursday morning and yesterday she told me about a book that she was reading called Making Home by Sharon Astyk. Claudia is living the life that we all should be living. By that I mean, she makes things for herself and her family rather  than going out and purchasing those items. Essentially, she is homesteading. Claudia lives in a small city in New Hampshire and up until recently, she and her family had been renting but were able to purchase a home. Still, she and Steve, her husband of over 20 years, are living a life we all should be living. They don’t have a lot of money. Steve is a nurse and brings in the money for the family but Claudia and Steve together add to that by instilling a handmade philosophy that I truly believe we all need to embrace to a certain extent.

So, in having my weekly inspirational chat with Claudia, I looked online for a Kindle version of “Making Home” and it wasn’t available digitally so I looked at other books by this same author, thinking that Claudia and I could share and trade ideas that we each gathered from the other’s book. I purchased Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front [Kindle Edition]. I just started reading it yesterday so I haven’t gotten very far but I like what I am reading so far and I just want to set out a new challenge for you today. Just something to think about as I read and learn about how we, as a nation, can come together to help resolve some of the issues that we are going to face in the future as our fuel consumption takes on a different life for us.

The Challenge: Find a local person that has a skill (that you spend money and fuel on to go and purchase) and become an apprentice to that person to learn that skill. Be it sewing, canning food, gardening, cleaning, growing a food that you can’t buy locally, and share this with the community so that we can release some of our independence on consumerism.

finding my voice, literally…

On Monday of this week, I attended and participated in my first gallery show since college. The show is part of a process that I am going through in order to be juried into the Artisan Center of Virginia. As a way to bring the jurors to the show and allow them the freedom to view the work on their own schedule, the ACV put the show together. The artists in the show consist of those artists that are already considered a “professional artisan” with the ACV and a few of us who are trying to become “professional artisan”.

I arrived a bit late to the reception and the room was full of students of Mary Baldwin College, the school that is hosting the show. The show is called Artisans & Agroecology:The Cultural Connection Between Craft and Rural Life and is in the Hunt Gallery. I wasn’t expecting the room to be full and just expected to mingle around with the artists and whoever might be stopping by. In the back of the room, I hear the ACV director, Sherri Smith talking, explaining to the students how they are important to the ACV as the next generation of artists and craftsmen. Part of the discussion at the conference back in August was how to get the younger generation involved and this was the perfect audience for her to address with this plea.

When Sherri finished and had had all the participating artists to raise their hands so the students could recognize us, a woman asked if the artists would each come forward and tell a little about our work. It was at this moment that I realized I wasn’t sure what I would/should say.

As we worked our way to the front of the room, I had lots of things going through my mind but wanted to be brief. I am very self conscious about my North Carolina accent and that always is in the back of my mind but now I was going to have to say something about why I was there and what I do. Luckily, I didn’t have to go first so I was able to get an idea of how to do this by listening to a couple of artists that went before me.

So, basically, I said, “I am Susie Wilburn and I live in Toms Brook, just north of here. I am not considered a “professional artisan” yet but hopefully after this show that I will be. I have been in the printing industry for the past 26 years and after losing my job, just over a year ago, I have reverted back to my college love and trying to reinvent myself as a potter. I am experimenting with different clays and glazes and forms and am still trying to find my voice”. I didn’t discuss the fossils, frogs, how I come up with my ideas, a philosophy of why I do the images or my processes. I could have discussed the work in more detail but I am see myself as a newbie and don’t really see myself as having much to share. I think I need to rethink that.

I felt that I did okay, but the more I think about it, I am probably going to have to work on this some. I had one of the students approach me, not because of my work, but because she is originally from Strasburg so she want to just bond with someone from home. In talking to her, I realized the impact that I probably could’ve had on the students with my words. She was taking a ceramics class and they had just done pinch pots so I was able to talk craft with her some. For the most part though, I think that the students were there as a requirement and really not interested in me or my work. I didn’t see that many students really approach the artists to pick their brains for inspiration.

I have to also put a plug in here for the school that I went to 30+ years ago. In talking to the student, I was asking her about the art program at Mary Baldwin. When she told me about her ceramics class, I asked if they had a pottery and were they teaching the students how to throw a pot. Basically, it sounded like a very simple class and they didn’t have the extensive program that I came from. In explaining Berea College to this student and listening to my words, I realized just how lucky that I was to have had the experience to have a college that not only provided such diversity but to require that the students work and how inexpensive my four years actually was. I explained Berea’s goal to help the poor students of the Appalachian region attain a college education and that they didn’t charge tuition but only charged for room and board. She then volunteered that Mary Baldwin College costs $34,000 per year. However, the ranking page with US News lists the college tuition costs at $28K. Room and Board is an additional $8K. WHOA! I know that at current rates that Berea is only about $980 tuition per year and the room and board about $6K putting the yearly costs at about $7K.  What is this student really getting for that $34K? Have her parents taken on that debt or is she? If she is going to major in art, how is she going to pay that amount of money back and what kind of program does Mary Baldwin offer to help those students become employed after college to help relieve that debt? This would be a totally new post that involves lots of questions, not answers, I’m afraid.

So, as I go forward and see myself in more situations where I will be asked about my work and my processes, I need to work on this. Many times, I feel like I just do what I do and don’t really think about explaining it to someone else. I need to start thinking about breaking down the process better, thinking more about explaining where my ideas come from, why I use the images that I use and share more about why I love my new life as an artist. Hopefully, a “professional artisan” soon.

 

Being Authentic

I’ve been reading a book by a marketing guy Eric Karjaluoto called speak human, Outmarket the Big Guys by Getting Personal and it really ties in with information that I got at the ACV Conference last weekend. One of the workshops I attended was called the The NoBS Guide to Networking led by Sarah Beth Jones, of Nary Ordinary Business Services. Sarah Beth opened her workshop with the word “Authenticity”. I guess I never really put much thought into this concept, but last night I got to a chapter in Eric’s book that really made this term come into focus. For years, in my old job, I seemed to get into trouble for being authentic. The corporate world is one of secrets and professionalism that is truly based on untruths. We were actually asked to sign a document to not reveal secrets. Thing is, in this new world, there are no secrets. With Google, you can find out all that you want to know and some that you don’t want to know. My feeling was that if I was honest with my/their customers, the customer would trust us and trust our knowledge of making their product the best that we could make it. This was something I was reprimanded for on occasion. “Don’t discuss that with the customer”….WHY? I always questioned authority because I didn’t feel the authorities really understood the situation as being real or honest. Keep the customer in the dark.  If the customer did figure something our that we were doing there was a “damage control meeting” where everyone could get their story straight. This is just wrong.

As Eric brought to my attention last night with this…

“I open my personal life to business colleagues and like the idea that they see me as “human” first and “business-person” second. I tell other studio owners our business “secrets” and believe we have more to gain by sharing knowledge than by being secretive and paranoid. The truth is, few of our secrets are that good anyway. I’d bet that few or yours are either.We tell the truth for a few reasons. First of all, our moms told us to. I’m not trying to be funny here; that influence is still hard-wired into us. It’s also easier. We’re  not forced to remember which stories we told to which people. We don’t have to worry about inconsistencies from exaggerating. Aim for transparency and just put it out there. Edit as little as possible and speak as plainly as you can. You might be surprised by the results.”

Social media is changing the way we interact with people. When I first started using Facebook, I would lay in bed at night and try to think of a clever status update. One of my Facebook friends always has a very clever one liner and it is really refreshing to see what he has written. The longer I use FB, I find that I’m not sharing as much as I did when I began using the media. While at the conference I heard comments from folks of my own generation like, “it is TOO personal”. BUT, I think that is why it works. By being yourself and adding good days and bad day comments, others see you as human and they identify with you better. I no longer share what I am having for breakfast but I will share my successes or just check in to let everyone know that I am still alive. But from a business perspective, I think that since Facebook, Pinterest, my blog and my Etsy shop all have the ability for clients, customer, fans or friends to comment on my work, critique my work or praise my work, I can benefit from this interaction.  My business can benefit from this interaction. And I am being real, honest, reliable, genuine, trustworthy and AUTHENTIC.

Sarah Beth Jones’ workshop, “The NoBS Guide to Networking” addressed how to interact with someone that might end up purchasing from you. As a business person, making contacts, I don’t like a pushy sale. I like honesty. I want to build a relationship with someone before I let them know that I am in a business that they might like or want to purchase something from. Our group in the workshop came to the very same conclusion. Building a long term relationship with someone will be better in the long run than only showing up when you want something. This is what Eric refers to in his book about being open and personal with everyone. You feel much better about dealing with someone if you know that they have an interest in you that is other than business. You develop a connection to this person and you have a voice that is heard.

Herb and I love to go to the Woodstock Cafe! Coe and Jean Sherrard are the owners and they have built a wonderful business over the past several years. They do it by knowing their customers. They say hello, recognize if you haven’t been in for a while, ask you how you are, and LISTEN to what you have to say. Because they are friendly, personable and make you welcome into their environment, you want to go back. How many times do you get this service in a Walmart or a Lowe’s or a Rite Aid? We have lost this in our society and it is really a shame.

As I go forward, building new relationships and growing my small business, I have the ability to take each new “fan” as a gift, learning from them as they learn from me. Hopefully, I can develop the kinds of relationships that will make others want to know what I have to offer and how I can help them and that I really do care about their life.

In doing my google search of some terms for this post I came across an additional article on authenticity that you might also enjoy reading…Dan Erwin’s blog about Career Development

 

Preparing to Rise at the Artisan Center of VA Conference

 

 

This weekend I am going to be attending my first conference as an artist. I have signed up with the Artisan Center of Virginia’s Conference in Roanoke called “Rising Beyond Expectations”. I have been impressed so far with the energy of the Artisan Center’s efforts to help the artists and craftspeople of our state. I think they are realizing that we have a population of craftspeople that can add to the economy and add to the ability to create jobs and products here in the US. The conference is going to offer workshops that I hope to gain some insight as to how to continue to grow my business and market my work.

The artisan trail that our county is implementing in partnership with the Artisan Center and our own tourism department will help both Agri-artisans as well as craft persons to promote their businesses. Many of these workshops will address some of the issues that a artisan will be confronted with to get involved with this new adventure. I am really excited to get this going and to be involved with this county wide project.

 

WORKSHOPS FOR EVERYONE: ….artists, artisans, agri-artisans, entrepreneurs and all who desire to take their endeavors to the next level!

The New Horizon Is A Designer’s World: An engaging Panel Discussion with James Thurman- North Texas University, Alison   Pack- Radford University & Jennifer Anderson- Hollins University.

“There is Art in Marketing” Sandra Tanner, Virginia Tourism Corporation: Marketing plans made easy and lots of great insights and tips for reaching your markets.

“The NoBS Guide to Networking” with Sarah Beth Jones, Nary Ordinary Business Services: Discuss why networking is important, where and when networking happens, and how to find your comfort zone in situations that can sometimes feel daunting.

“Etsy 101” – with Vanessa Bertozzi, Etsy: Learn how to become part of a global market place in a vibrant community of 15 million buyers and creative businesses.

“A Gardener’s Odyssey: From Clay to Food ” with Jim Kvach, Master Gardiner: Find out how one gardener managed to change clay into food where clay is abundant and top soil thin in this informative and upbeat conveyance of lessons learned.

“Entrepreneurs, Artisans and Taxes: Can we all get along?” with Dennis Peltier, EA:  Find out the answers to your burning tax related questions.

“Educating & Inspiring the Next Artisan Generation” with Alison Pack, Radford University: Through the eyes and experiences of students at the Governor’s School as told thru images and narrative in this vibrant discussion of the importance of educating Virginia youth about contemporary craft.

“The Demo – Educating the Public and Customer Service with Fun in Creativity and Affinity” with Judy Ligon, Ligon Art:  Explore the importance of doing a demo as a means to engage public in what you love to do in this hands-on workshop.

“Art As A Business” with Marc Willson, Small Business Development Association: Are you ready to sell your work? Find out how to show your work in ways to make people want to buy it and how to talk and write about it in order to make it more appealing.

“Artisan Trails of Southwest Virginia Viewshed” with Debby Loggins, Round the Mountain: After Creating fifteen artisan trails throughout the 8,624 square miles defined as Southwest Virginia was a challenge three years in the making. What’s next?

“Pricing Your Work” with Neva Bryan, Round the Mountain: Discover why pricing is important, the psychology of pricing and a step-by-step to pricing your products.

“Think It! Ink It! The Craft and Art of Printmaking” with Jennifer Anderson, Hollins University: Join in a conversation on fine art printmaking….the history, types of print and how contemporary artists make art and develop community through printmaking.

“Global, Social, Mobile, Local – How Going Green Doesn’t Mean Going Into the Red” with Helen Nunley, Pretty Good Designs: Going digital and paperless no longer means spending tons of money. Learn about some of the many choices of free or inexpensive solutions from which to choose to help you and your business “go green.”

“The Artisan Mosh Pit”: A special session where you are invited to voice your questions, concerns and suggestions for a facilitated discussion with tourism, economic development, arts and cultural community leaders.