Spring Newsletter 2013

 

 

 

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O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail

“Hand-made treasures, locally grown goodness and breath-taking beauty around every bend”

ACVcirclelogo106x106It is official! Shenandoah County named the trail and the press release came out in February. It seems the entire county is now gearing up to launch the trail and show off our artists and agri-artisans within our county.  In April, Shenandoah County tourism folks are planning a local event and are featuring many of the people who have signed up for the trail. Their partnership with the Artisan Center of Virginia is what has made the trail happen They have named the event “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes” and it is set for Sunday, April 21, 2012.  It will be from 12-5 p.m. I am going to be set up for this at Natural Art Garden Center here in Tom’s Brook. The County Chamber has a lovely window display in their window in Woodstock, VA and have some of my work displayed to promote this Spring event.

If you are planning a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, you may use Virginia.org to look up all the artisans and plan a trip to the area for a tour of your choosing. It is easy to do!

  • Simply register with Virginia.org
  • Click on the Trip Planner at the top of the page
  • Then Start a New Trip
  • You can search for Laughing Orange Studio and add that to your trip along with other really cool sites in my area.
  • After you have added some neat things to see in your trip planner, you can assemble an itinerary and print it out with maps and addresses.
  • Then just jump in your car and come and see me!

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old building

Laughing Orange is moving out of the basement!

This winter, I have been working on getting a building on my property transformed into a new workspace to house the studio. My basement has been where I have been working and if you have ever been to my house, you know that the basement has a low ceiling. It does have a cement floor, which is nice, because I can spray out the dust, but I have support poles in my way and have really cramped quarters.

I have a building on my property that we have used for storage for years. It is basically a story and a half and the square footage is not much more than my basement, if even bigger, but I will have one continuous room and can set things up in a more efficient way. AND it has normal ceilings which will make it feel bigger… for a while.

My permits are applied for, my contractor is ready to get to work, I am just waiting for a meeting of the town planning committee to meet so they can give me the final go ahead. At that point the building is getting a new look with metal siding, new windows and doors and a new floor. Budget constraints kept me from getting everything that I wanted but as the business grows, so can my upgrades to my space.

If you use Facebook, “like” Laughing Orange Studio and see the progress as it happens there.

Or stay tuned on this blog for updates as well…

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courier article72

Work in Progress

Laughing Orange was featured in a local tabloid called the Mountain Courier. Rich Follett, a regular writer for them, wrote the story for his regular feature called Work in Progress. I’ve included the text here since the paper is not an online publication:

Work in Progress

Laughing Orange Studio

by Rich Follett

In a pre-interview email, I asked Susie Morgan Wilburn for the address of her home studio. The reply came back promptly, with a bit of additional information: “You can see it from space!” Right from the start, I was aware that this would be no ordinary visit. As it turns out, Laughing Orange STudio is indeed a literal rather than a figurative moniker: the house is bright orange, whimsy fills every corner, and I am reasonably certain that, if afforded access to orbit, one cound indeed see it from space. Susie’s pottery offers a festival of imaginative and playful forms, underpinned with an essential functionality that seems, somehow, like a bonus.

Wilburn had been a ceramics apprentice for two years at Berea College in Kentucky and had been hand building pottery in her home since 1992, firing her pieces in a kiln passed down from a family member. Then, for Christmas 2010, her husband gifted her with a second hand potter’s wheel. She took to the wheel immediately, finding that her remembered skills came back quickly and easily. The Universe provided a final nudge in 2011 when Wilburn was laid off from the job she had held for more than 20 years with a printing firm. Faced with an uncertain future and limited job prospects, Wilburn began to question whether her pottery skills might not only support themselves but also help to support her family. In the fall of 2011, Wilburn was asked to make 25 bowls for the area’s annual Empty Bowl soup supper. With her characteristic whimsical flair, she crafted a small ceramic frog into each of her pieces, to be gradually revealed as the contents were eaten. Her fog bowls were a resounding success; the supply was exhausted very early in the evening and patrons were clamoring for more.

Based on the success of the frog bowls, Wilburn accepted an invitation from the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, (an organization for which she continues to serve as a volunteer) to sell her pottery at a holiday open house. In three hours’ time, Wilburn sold $1,700 worth of her art. The community had given Wilburn her answer and there was no looking back. Laughing Orange Studio was born in 2012, its name taken from the particular color of Sherwin Williams paint that makes the home studio stand out in the Wilburn’s otherwise sedate neighborhood. The inspiration for the cheerful color scheme was taken from a patch of daylilies that bloom in the Wilburn backyard each summer.

From the basement of their gaily painted Toms Brook home, Wilburn spins her potter’s wheel to create playful pottery pieces designed to enchant and to be used daily. Frogs, fish, fossils, fairies, rabbits and botanical design punctuate an endless array of mugs, butter bells, bowls, vases, and other practical household items made wondrous by Wilburn’s deft, clever hands. Wilburn’s vision is in her hands; she does not see pottery pieces in her mind’s eye prior to throwing them, choosing instead to go into “the zone” and giving her hands free rein to shape each pot directly from her subconscious. With every turn of the wheel, Wilburn endeavors to create artful objects that will be used rather than merely displayed–her chorus of ceramic frogs is joyfully chiming “pick me up and use me!”

Another successful facet of Laughing Orange Studio is the “Fairy Garden” line of art pottery designed for indoor or outdoor use. Fairy houses, fairy furniture, fairy garden ornaments, all are lovingly sculpted and hand painted (no two are alike) by Wilburn to be sold locally and shipped around the world. Lately, she has bee challenged to keep up with a rapidly growing fairy garden clientele in Australia, many of whom are placing custom orders–they can dream it, Wilburn will create it. Laughing Orange Studio has quickly outgrown Wilburn’s basement; in the spring of 2013, she is breaking ground on a project to convert an existing Victorian outbuilding into a backyard studio with increased firing capacity, a separate shipping area and space for demonstrations.

Wilburn credits her success to having ahd a strong community identity and presence prior to launching Laughing Orange Studio. She endeavors to tell stories with her pottery and to have her pottery become part of the stories that those who buy and use her pieces will tell in their own lives. It is a gift that will enrich the community—and the Valley—for generations to come.

Susie Morgan Wilburn is a juried member of the Shenandoah Valley Artisan Trail. Her pottery is available at Natural Art Garden Center in Toms Brook, Shenandoah Valley Artworks in Strasburg, Laughing Orange Studio (3397 Hillcrest Drive, Toms Brook) and online through Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop.laughingorangestudio.com

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1st Annual Holiday Open House was Wonderful!

I want to thank everyone that came to the Holiday Open House. I know this is late but, I really do appreciate everyone coming and sharing my new adventure, having some snacks and getting some Christmas gifts. The weather was beautiful and the weekend was super busy but really lots of fun. THANK YOU ALL!!! I’m looking forward to doing it again next year and showing off my new space.

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Connect with Laughing Orange


Etsy logo

My Etsy shop, Laughing Orange Studio,
is connected to my blog.

facebook
Laughing Orange Studio has a business Facebook presence.
pinterestPinterest, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a great way to bookmark items onto the web for reference or sharing.

googleGoogle + is awesome for the main reason that I can see friends and relatives that are far away. It has a wonderful hangout option that many people can have a conversation all at once.

 

Subscribe to this Newsletter! I am trying to get a newsletter out quarterly just to give an update on new products and my event schedules.

 

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Currently I’m working on:

  • making, making, making lots of new items for the April 21st Spring “Gardens, Galleries and Grapes Event” at Natural Art Garden Center here in Toms Brook and the Blandy Farm Mother’s Day Event in Boyce, VA
  • updating my databases and contact information. If you know of someone that you think would enjoy knowing about me or my work, please share this newsletter and the above sites to find me. Thanks in advance for helping get the word out.
  • Fairy Garden Items are still all the rage and if you haven’t gotten yours started, there are new items for those on Etsy and Lynne Phillips, at  Natural Art Garden Center, is planning some fall workshops to help you build your own. Check out the link here...or contact Lynne at 540-436-3130

Please remember Laughing Orange if you need a wedding or special birthday gift. I love doing special orders and handmade items are always more special than something that has been mass produced.

Happy Spring!

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ACV JURIED artisan LOGOwith orange

Coupons, Gift Cards and Deals

Etsy just sent me an email stating that they would be offering an Etsy Gift Card this year. While I think there are many positives for the handmade site and the movement to get more involved with buying handmade, I don’t really know that this will help MY sales, per se’.

Gift cards will be the perfect present for the Etsy-obsessed shopper in your life, but even more importantly they’ll be a way for us to introduce new buyers to Etsy. Our community of buyers has grown incredibly in the past year, which can be attributed largely to people like you spreading the word and marketing your shops. Gift cards will allow us to be more aggressive in our own marketing efforts by distributing gift cards to partners and creating promotional offers.

If I am reading it correct, someone could purchase an Etsy gift card for someone for a gift for Christmas, then that person goes onto the Etsy site and shops for an item to use the gift card by entering in a code. That would be when Etsy would send me the money for the purchase, if that person shops at Laughing Orange. I am thinking that I will be looking into offering my previous customers a coupon code that they can key in at checkout for a discount on a purchase. This is a way to thank my loyal customers and to bring in money to my shop instead of someone else’s shop. However, I do think growing the handmade movement will help all artists and craftsmen.

I’m trying to think of all the things to get done now before the holidays come around and I am scrambling trying to “make” things rather than have to worry with the online part of my business. One thing that I think will be helpful to add to my Etsy shop will be a “calendar of final purchase date” so that the customer will

Holiday deadlines

know how much time they are going to give me to make their item and still ship it to arrive before Santa comes. I think I am going to do a screen capture of a calendar and where I am allowed to add five photos of the item for sale, add in the calendar with the ship date on it as a reminder to them.

I need to look ahead to when to put the coupon codes into an email to send around to my base of customers so they have plenty of time to use it for the holidays. Having a black friday online might be fun so I would need to plan to have the email blast go out around the first week of November.

I also think that in planning for the holidays it would be fun to “decorate my shop” with some fun holiday images.Maybe the frog that is in the header of the logo will be wearing a Halloween costume, a pilgrim hat and a Santa hat. Want to send me ideas that you might think would be fun to see him wear?

 

In the past when I have received gift cards, I usually either worry that it won’t work when I get to the check out at the store or that I’ll forget that I have it. I am not one of those people that goes to the web and looks for deals before I go out shopping, however, if times get leaner, I may have to start. I have gone looking for coupon codes that I could enter at checkout online. Some work and some don’t. Some want you to give them information which only fills up your inbox with spam. That has been a deterrent in the past for me.

So as we get closer to the holidays and I start building inventory, if there is an item that you are thinking ahead as a gift for a relative or a favorite person in your life. Be sure and get me the information early so that I have plenty of time to get it to you. I’m not a planner either, but I may have to start focusing on a calendar in the future. I suppose Google Calendar is going to be my new friend.

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.

 

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.

music

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.

court house steps

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.

court square

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.