Blahg, Blahg, Blahg…

I need to blog more. I know that I have heard that if you don’t blog consistently enough that your followers will not come back to read your blog. At only 8 subscribers, I don’t really think I have that many to worry about. Yet. But I would love to have more people to interact with. When I do write on the blog, I post it to my Facebook pages, both personal and the Laughing Orange page. Friends that are in both lists probably tire of seeing the duplication but not all the friends from one page are in both lists. Sorry for the dupes, guys.

Anyway, today, I sat down and thought I would make up a list of as many blog posts as I could possibly think of to write about so that in the future I could just look at my list, pick a topic and start writing. Well, have you tried to do something like this lately? I have to tell you that it is hard.

The 15 that I personally came up with are:

  1. How to photograph your work
  2. How to use clip art in your ceramics or in general
  3. Developing a daily routine
  4. the Packaging Gimmick
  5. Coupon codes and could I create a post in creating a “find the code” in the post to receive a freebie with an order
  6. Where I get my inspirations
  7. Testing glazes
  8. Glaze safety
  9. Social Media
  10. Google + and Hanging out
  11. The Artisan Trail in my county
  12. Local Artisans and Agroartisans
  13. I could feature a local artist
  14. I could feature a local agroartisan
  15. Giveaways, and how important they are

So I Googled “blogging ideas” and found several blogs giving out advice on topics. Most though, don’t really refer to my subject. One however, called Cynthia’s blog, has a list of A Year of Blogging and Journaling Ideas . I think this would be the best approach for me, because it is really generic enough that I could just complete the sentence and go from there. She also has a Facebook page for folks to post the posts they come up with using her year’s worth of topics.

Many times I think that I could do videos of tutorials or just processes that I do to get my final product or craft project. I don’t really know that I could add any more information than is already out on YouTube or some other site without just repeating. Honestly, I don’t really have time for re-doing someone else’s video on techniques.

In the mean time, I do think I’ll look closer at the A Year of Blogging and Journaling Ideas and see what looks appealing to me as a brainstormer of an idea for a new post later in the week. I suppose I could ask my readers or followers if there is something that they would like to have a tutorial of or to get inspired with. Sometimes I think that I am really too close to my situation and don’t really realize the amount of topics that I could really share because I am so immersed. The challenge is being able to simplify a project and help inspire others to want to try it for themselves.

The fun part about the blog is that I can help people through the web that may not live close enough to me to show them in person but can bring them into my studio through their computer into their own space. In some ways though this can be challenging because art can be a hands on experience. But pictures for visual people can make a project easy and fun.

 

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

 

Take Home a Piece of Laughing Orange

Today I feel inspired to go to work because I attended the Artisan Center of Virginia’s Conference this past weekend and have to say that I have so many things on my list of things to do and add to Laughing Orange that I am certainly having to prioritize them all.

First though, I want to give a shout out to the ACV because I am thoroughly convinced that they have their act together better than any organization that I have been involved with for a long time. Sherri Smith, the executive director of the ACV is a “fireball” of energy. She and her board seem to have so many great things going that I am overwhelmed by their excitement about artists and helping artists in our state. I really enjoyed that they take a twofold approach to an artist. First, they seem to understand that an artist can be a different animal and at the same time they understand how politics work and that they need to use the approach with legislature that artists are small businesses that have a serious place at the economic table of our economic situation. Bringing these two things together involves a lot of discussion about how to bring the artisans out of their shells to participate and to also get the funding or support needed from local governments to see them as a viable resource for communities.

When I attended Berea College 30 years ago, Phyllis George, former first lady of KY helped to revive the craft movement and wrote several books to help promote craft in KY and across the US. I know that she saw the need for handmade items to be appreciated, but I also think she saw this as a way for the state of KY to bring in revenue and to help that state’s economy.

I’ve written about this before, but handmade items are not being sought after due to so many of our products being imported in from China and sold here so inexpensively. As a country, we need to put more value on handmade items, if for no other reason than to help bring back the jobs that have been shipped overseas. But more importantly, we need to recognize that mass produced items have no meaning to us. Vanessa Bertozzi, the Director of Community at Etsy was the speaker for our lunch on Saturday at the ACV conference and her talk was about the importance of handmade. She started her talk by asking, “if your house were to catch on fire, what would be the one item that you would take”, (other than other family members). My first thought was my laptop, but as she went around the room and I heard others say things like their old photos, their quilts, their grandmother’s doilies, I realized that I have all my beloved quilts hanging on the stair railings and I don’t know what I would do if something happened to those.  They are irreplaceable. They are extremely special to me. They are handmade!!!

When Sherri Smith came to our county several months ago to give a talk about our county possibly getting an artisan trail, she brought up that we have forgotten how we once had to craft a bucket to carry water, forge our own tools to work in the garden, grow our own foods and put them up for winter, quilt our bed coverings and build our items from our own hands. Even myself, the queen of “I could make that”, heard this and it took me back to a time when these things were commonplace and not mass produced. Today, we go into a Michael’s if we want to make something and they have basically, put all the parts in a package for us and we are assemblers as opposed to artists or craftspeople. We have built a society that assembles kits and thinks of ourselves as being creative. To me, Michaels is a “cheater store” where people can feel a sense of creating.

This brings me to another point that I thought about and was discussed this weekend, which is, the amount of hours that an artist or craftsman will spend on an item only to have to not really be compensated for that quality item in the end. I do this all the time. I will spend countless hours on an item and get really frustrated when the Walmarts of the world take the value of my handmade item down in the eyes of my customers. If our economy is going to improve, if the jobs are going to come back to the US, we need to value our local artists and craftspeople and understand that they may need to ask a higher price than Walmart in order to survive in this new economy.

So, with all my new sources that I have been introduced to this past weekend and with my items sitting downstairs calling my name I really need to stop here and spend some hours at my craft. If you have any topics that you would like to discuss or have me discuss by way of my new adventures, please send me your comments and suggestions. I want to do more of the blogging and sometimes am hung up on what to write about. If you know that I make something that you are interested in knowing more about, let me know. I won’t promise you a kit from Michael’s but I will certainly help you with steps and processes.

 

Join a Hangout…

Since my son and daughter-in-law have moved to Seattle, we have been doing Google + with them each Sunday evening. It has really helped to heal my heart since they are SO far away. I can’t touch them, but I can see them and I can get a sense of their mood and also share the joy of seeing them smile and be happy together in their new life.

But Google + has a lot to offer in terms of visually sharing of ideas and information too. For instance, my maid of honor of 32 years ago, Claudia Altemus, came for a visit back in May and she had recently purchased an iPad. She is hesitant to use it in many ways even though the potential is there for blogging, reading, emailing and chatting with me online. So I called her one day and talked her through the process of getting the app loaded and within a few minutes she could see me and I could see her. She was SO excited. She showed me her newly planted garden, her wonderful house that there never thought they would be able to own, her kitchen her hubby renovated for her and her sons that I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. (my how they had changed!) So now, we have a date, each Thursday to “visit” online and, being visual people, we have really enjoyed catching up and seeing one another each week. AND it is free! No cell phone minutes are used but, on my phone the data minutes are used.

So this has Herb and I thinking of other ways that Google + could benefit us in our jobs. Herb just finished a river “camp” experience with Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and had the students create a google map and gave each of the kids a digital camera, they photographed their trip down the river and then used those photos to insert into the google map of the Shenandoah River. Another link you might enjoy is this one of a video a kid took from his canoe. He now is thinking of how this could be expanded into using smart phones to have the kids join a hangout, sharing in real time as they go down the river in a hangout. Their parents could join the hangout and watch as they either post photos or share video or tweet them messages as they float. Tweeting, however, would be a separate thing altogether and honestly, I just can’t really understand why people do that one, but for a river trip like this, I totally get it.

From the artistic perspective, I think that I could do critiques live on the web and share discussions with other potters. What made me think of this was that, Claudia and I basically did this with some of my mugs, discussing the handles and what constitutes a good handle. I could also have days that I just do a hangout in the studio and share my throwing of several items or even decorating the forms. It might be boring for some while others might really enjoy spending a day in a pottery environment without the dust.

To get information on how to start a hangout there is a great post here which has saved me from having to look at it and show you a step by step. All the smart phones have this capability and what is cool, is that the cameras on them allow you to both show yourself and then switch to a back camera so that you can show the item you are discussing.

So if you haven’t used this cool web tool yet, check it out. And if you would like to join a hangout or invite me to a hangout because there is something that you would like to see me demonstrate, send me a note and let’s set it up.

 

Do you believe in fairies?

LOS Booth at Blandy Farm

 

On Mother’s Day I did my first official venue as a potter. For those of you who are not familiar with this event, it is held at the State Arboretum, Blandy Farm, in Boyce, VA and is a wonderful way to welcome Spring if you are a gardener. There are all kinds of native plants and annuals and perennials. In addition to planting material there are garden objects (birdhouses made out of beer cans, sculptures, windchimes and chairs), handmade soaps and lotions, and garden tools. I was too busy to get out of my booth to take some shots of the vendors that were there but some of the companies that I could see within my site, I think, gave a good representation of what was there. Companies like, Peony’s Envy, The Bumblebee Studio, Horizons Ltd., EZ Hang Chairs and lots of garden nurseries. I could also see the llamas from Sunset Acres where I was located. In all, there were over 100 vendors.

The biggest draw for my booth was the broken planter fairy garden. It was located at the corner of my tent and we used it to anchor that corner due to it’s heaviness and allow it to stabilize the tent from wind gusts. We were amazed at the way this garden was like a magnet that drew people into the tent. They would ask to take photos of it, they would bring people back to look at it, they would smile and compliment it. At that time, I would invite them into the tent so that they could get all the accessories to go home and make one of their own. Almost instant sale!

Fairy Garden in a Broken Planter

Fairy Garden in a Broken Planter

I had no idea how popular this trend had become until I was picked up by the blog, Backyard Herbal Patch Herbal Blog, who gave me as a source for fairy garden accessories and showed this photo of the planter. I got a Facebook message from a lady from The Succulent Perch telling me that the photo had gone viral and had been shared over 1700 times. This was before the garden fair at Blandy, so I used this in my sales pitch. When folks wanted to take a photo, I would tell them about the number of shares on the web and that they could find the image if they didn’t get a good photo.

Fairy Gardens are trending and I am riding the wave for now. I was told by one lady that they have always been popular in New England. I found this article that says,

Houses are made so that fairies will have a place to be, to visit or even live if they wish.   With fairies in mind, they are created by children and adults alike in hopes that their creation will be enjoyed by the elusive and mysterious beings.   Whether part of a village or a sole dwelling, they are often nestled amongst trees and gardens.

One day, I hope to catch sight of a fairy out of the corner of my eye while I am visiting one of the villages or enjoying a festival.   Perhaps you will, too.

In the meantime, I am enjoying making the items for fairy gardens and am sprinkling lots of fairy dust around in hopes that I can make the fairies more comfortable while putting a smile on the faces of folks that visit my booth. I certainly believe now…