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.

2015 Holiday Open Studio Tour


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2015 Holiday Open Studio Tour will have 5 Locations


We are so excited this year to have added two potters to our Holiday Open Studio Tour for a total of 5 different locations where you can shop and visit with the artists. Barbarah Robertson and Chickadee’s Artist Gallery and Pottery Shop have agreed to be a part of this annual event and are helping to round out a county wide tour.

bea20ee7f37bc764fccaf24ea114cf56At the northern end of Shenandoah County, Liz Ashe-Hollingsworth with be showing and selling her lovely Earth Spirit Masks. “Magical one of a kind clay sculptures depicting nature spirits, faeries and animals enhanced with found natural objects.” You truly have to see these items in person to see just how awesome they are and the work that goes into these to make them so wonderful and magical.

Then in Strasburg, Barbarah Robertson, a juried artisan with the Artisan Center of Virginia, will be set up in Pot Town OrgaBeeMug1abnics, an O Shenandoah Artisan Trail Site. Barbarah will be showing and selling her functional kitchen and tableware meant for day to day use, as well as a line of whimsical garden & gift items. You can also get a look at the new shop Pot Town Organics, an organic nursery and gar
dening store.  Selling organic gardening supplies, lights, hydropoics, tools and more!  A fun place to visit if you enjoy gardening and food preparation. What a great combo to find handmade and organic items.

rabbit with Thistle-1Laughing Orange Studio is in the middle of the county, in Tom’s Brook where I have a few new items and the usual rabbit items and fairy garden items. I have been working on some cupcake cups, some cookie jars and the trays and mugs that I usually have on hand. A new outhouse design for the fairy garden or a wheel barrow or even a fairy ring might be just the thing for the fairy gardener in your life or on your list.
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Then, as you travel south to Woodstock, you can stop in at Kary Haun Studio where Kary will have her gorgeous porcelain work. Kary’s specialty items are ceramic drip coffee pots, drip tea mugs,
wine cups and more. Her glazes and nature inspired designs add to the elegance of the porcelain and it makes having a cup of coffee or a snack an experience rather than an everyday occurrence. 

11403211_969582256426829_1482607633049800930_nOur southern most site will be the new pottery in New Market called Chickadee’s Artist Gallery and Pottery Shop. Chris and George Jetter are the owners of this lovely Local Artist Gallery and Pottery Shop. The shop offers a wide variety of locally crafted items such as Pottery, Quilts, Blown Glass, Glass beads, Soy Candles, Digital and Film Photography, and much more! All pottery sold from Chickadees is created on site! You can even get a behind the scenes look at the craft of pottery by attending a live demonstration from George himself!

Postcards are going in the mail this week but be sure and mark your calendar if you are only on this newsletter list so that you come to this special event and take home some items for the holiday season to use during your own celebrations or to shop for that special person that is so hard to buy for.

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Be sure to follow the Holiday Open Studio Tour on Facebook because each of the five artists will be posting the progress of the work that we are preparing for this event and you will enjoy watching from there.

 

 

 

Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter’s Empty Bowl Supper

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This annual event will be held on Friday November 20th from 5:30-7:30 at the Central High School Cafeteria, in Woodstock, VA. This will be the fourth year that I have donated bowls. I love doing this because I know that it is for a great cause. Food is something that many of us take for granted and I know that there are plenty of folks out there that aren’t getting enough to eat. The Alliance for Shelter helps many of those who are in need in many ways.

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For the first time this year, you can purchase your tickets on-line by visiting their website at www.allianceforshelter.org and clicking on Empty Bowl Soup Supper.
Tickets can also be purchased at Woodstock Cafe in Woodstock, Sager Real Estate in Strasburg, Edinburg Mill in Edinburg, and Community Store in Basye, or reserve your tickets by calling Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter at 540-459-3212 or 540-459-8395. Tickets are limited to 300, so reserve your tickets early.
Tickets went on sale October 1, 2015.

I have pledged 30 bowls this year. Each bowl will have my signature frogs on them full of their personality, and a little of mine, hopefully!IMG_20151016_153625458

Also this year, I have had help with making my bowls and I would like to give a shout out to Kara Bowman and Ali Carithers and Patricia Wolfe for their help with adding glazes to the bowls, trying their hands at making a few of the frogs and to learning how much goes into making the bowls for the dinner. I love making these and these ladies all understand the importance of doing something for the community. I’d like to thank them for their help and also for the fun we shared doing the bowls.


 

Tang, the Laughing Orange Studio mascot…

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Tang continues to make me smile as I work in my studio daily. She can be grumpy somedays, curious most days and sleepy when she gets warm. When you come to the studio to see me or my work, stop in and see how soft she is and how much fun it is to have a rabbit as a pet and inspiration.


LOS at Va Clay FestivalThank you to all that have helped in my
new endeavors, the last 20 or so months of grief and have given encouragement to me, I have a wonderful set of friends and followers and I am grateful to you all,

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ACV Juried Member logo

Don’t Forget to follow Laughing Orange on Facebook
and the Holiday Studio Tour  to see the fun as it is being created.

 

Drawing Challenge Day 18, Frog Bowl

Today, I decided to draw one of my frog bowls. This bowl will be going to the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter’s Empty Bowl Supper here in my county in November. Each year local potters donate their time and talents to help support this shelter by way of an Empty Bowl Supper.  I have a few of the bowls ready and thought I would draw it before it goes to live with someone else.

 

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Frog Bowl

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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.

 

Vintage Woodstock Festival

Laughing Orange Booth

You would think that a Vintage Woodstock Festival in Woodstock, VA would really be about sitting in the grass, smoking weed, in a downpour of rain, listening to Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Joan Biaz and Joe Cocker, but this Vintage Woodstock Festival was all about eating some carnival type foods and listening to a local band called the Worx, which were amazing.

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The weather was unbearably hot and there was a threat of rain. I actually hoped we would get the rain so that it would cool things down some. But we got a sprinkle and a bit of reprieve from some of the humidity, but not much.

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I really enjoyed seeing and meeting with our local residents of Shenandoah County and letting them know that I am here working everyday and if they need a gift or and item for their garden they are more than welcomed to stop in and see me and my work.

I handed out a lot of business cards and did sell a few items, but getting my name out there is a big deal. I think it is also important to do the local festivals so that people start to see that “hand made in America” is a little more expensive than Walmart or Target. I actually had a few conversations to that effect and hopefully educated some people that if you want nice things they are a little bit more costly.

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For the most part though, I think everyone really liked the work and I anticipate to start seeing more and more local traffic here at the house. I was also able to tell people about the upcoming Artisan Trail that we are working on here in Shenandoah County that we are hoping to be activated before the end of the year. This will be another post later but it is really exciting to be a part of this new venture for our county.

Prior to the event, I mailed out about 50 postcards to people that had bought my work, both here in the county and from the DC area. I saw a lot of those people so that marketing strategy is a good one. I think because I took the time to handwrite the cards and put a note on them that I hoped to see them there made a difference too. I am still learning about marketing the business and while social media is great for getting the word out there, there is still the old fashioned post card that will do a good job for you if you take the time to apply the personalization.

The next local event that I am looking into is the Ole Time Festival in Edinburg, VA. I’ll be posting as I get more information on that one but lots of folks last night said that would be a good one for me to do in the fall.

Etsy Unplugged…

Tomorrow is the Vintage Woodstock event that I posted about a couple of days ago and I’ll be packing up my items to take to the town square to set up tomorrow evening. But those same items are still listed in my Etsy shop. At least they are at the moment.

When I do an event, I haven’t figured out what the best approach is to keeping Etsy items listed and taking them live to a show and literally put them in people’s hands. I usually have my new smart phone with me and could easily access the Etsy site right after a piece sells in person and take the listing down. This makes me really nervous because I am at the show and am worried that the items are selling and my not knowing it and then sell the same item in person.

So for now, it seems the easiest solution to this is to deactivate all the items on the Etsy shop, put a message in the top of the opening page and then the day after the show to reactive what hasn’t sold in person. I haven’t had this be a problem yet but I am really worried that it will and with many of my pieces being a one of a kind item, it would really stress me out to try and duplicate something that is in the photo on Etsy. So tomorrow, Laughing Orange on Etsy will be unplugged for a day and then will come back online on Saturday. Thanks for everyone’s patience and in the meantime, I hope I put a lot of things into the local public’s hands and they get to know me better so that they will come in person to pick out items that they would like to purchase.