Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hot Glass Happenings....

 

So fifteen months ago I took delivery of an enameling to go on my Paragon Caldera kiln. I was off my feet with a broken ankle at the time so it got dumped in a corner in its box and ignored for an eternity. It's been out of the box for a while but still hasn't been used so this week I decided it was time to christen it. Since all kilns behave differently and because it I haven't done any enameling for well over two year a little test session seemed in order.

So I made myself some copper blanks and gave them a good scrub with an abrasive cleaner to make sure there were no traces of dirt or grease.

 

Then I counter enameled the backs of all the pieces - counter enameling balances out the stress on the enamel to stop it cracking or flaking and makes it stronger.

 

When I apply the enamel I raise the blanks off the bench using skewers which allows me to slip a palette knife underneath and transfer them to a firing trivet without having to touch them.



With curved or domed pieces I apply a holding agent (very dilute wallpaper paste) to stop the enamel sliding off and leave it to dry on top of the kiln.


These could have done with a slightly thicker application but that's what testing is all about,


With that done I moved onto the fun bit and started adding some colour to my pieces...lapiz blue for the bird and a blended red/orange.


Unfortunately, at this point I got engrossed and forgot to keep taking photo's at each stage - oops, sorry! After I fired the blue bird I added a layer of green enamel and used a sgraffito tool to create a wing pattern in the powdered enamel which shows up when the second layer melts,


I really like the abstract effect that came from laying multiple colours and firing together.


To add an  extra dimension I played with some other elements such as frit (crush mixed glass), stringer and pieces of cut glass.


With this piece a darker blue enamel was sieved lightly over the paler base coat and glass squares sat on top. The glass pieces melt more slowly than the enamel and slumps but leaves an interesting raised finish.




Here I used a transparent cinnamon enamel over a hammered blank and added frit and like th eglass pieces, the frit doesn't melt fully leaving a nice texture. I think perhaps the colours I chose were a bit too subtle and a stronger contrast between enamel and frit would have been better.


This last technique takes a bit of practice since it involves melting the glass stringers into the enamel and dragging a sgraffito tool across them while it's still molten and without cooking you hand! Since the door on the enameling collar is quite small I found this harder than in my old kiln with a full size door but a bit of practice will help that.

You can also see from the thick dark edges and the black flecks that this piece has been over-fired a bit. This is not necessarily a problem as it can produce interesting effects and as with ceramic glazes red and orange enamels are more prone to this.


So now I know how the new kiln performs and I've got may hand back in again I'm looking forward to developing this skill more. There are lots of other techniques for using enamel that I'd like to try and I will of course share them with you when I do.





Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Design Dilemma

How do you design?  Do you look to others for approval when you design?  Do you follow trends in design to hopefully make sales?  Are you afraid to just go with your gut?

These questions have been on my mind lately.  To be honest as a beadweaver it is very hard to break the glass ceiling if you are looking to sell what you create.  When creating tutorials they have to be not only easy to follow but they have to also be something the market is looking for.

For example this was a great selling tutorial when the spike beads first came out. Now not so much since the market has been inundated with so many other new beads.

Then there is this tutorial that was a for lack of a better term a total bust. I used a unique technique to create the links but either the picture has not sparked any interest or it is just not what the market wants.  I am going to retake the cover photo with other color options and see if it helps.

It can really change your outlook as a designer.  This made me question each and every new idea I have had in design.  Making me look to others for advise and approval of even the simplest of ideas. As if out of the blue it hit me.  Why?  I love creating.  I love playing with seed beads and artbeads and these questions are making it no fun.  And frankly as I look back I realized some of my favorite and best designs happened when I was just following my instincts.
Taking Jennifer's Nightmare Insomnia bead and incorporating fun components.

Taking a new to me stitch and utilizing Sue's cab with my love of twins.

Tri beads are a new obsession and just let them create their own path to show off Diana's Snowflake.
Blu Mudd Design challenge that just inspired me to play.
 So you know this weekend is our reveal of January Component Stash challenge and I am over the top excited!  I really took this new revelation to the extreme and just went with my gut good and bad (you will not be seeing the bad though) and I am so happy with my designs.  Want a sneak peek?  I thought you would.




Have you changed the way you design?  Tell me how.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Consignment: Some Do's and Don'ts

Like most of you, I'm a member of a number of online forums that talk about various aspects of creative life, everything from the business side of things to more technical how-to's. One question that crops up often is whether and how to put one's art into brick and mortar shops on consignment. Since I am both an artist and a gallery owner, I thought I'd put together a few tips for anyone who might be considering going this route.


What is consignment?

It's important to understand what the consignment arrangement entails. You retain all ownership of your work, which you temporarily loan to the gallery or shop for them to sell on your behalf. When they sell the piece, they pay you the sale amount, less an agreed-upon consignment fee to cover their operating costs. This arrangement is not the same as wholesale selling, where you are paid up front for your work for a price less than what you would sell it to the general public.

What are consignment fees?

I've heard a lot of people say in online discussions that they think consignment fees are a rip off. I get it: you've worked hard to make something lovely and giving 25%, 40% or even 50% to a shop to sell it for you feels painful. But with so much of the jewelry market having moved to the virtual world in the last few years, it's easy to forget what goes into the traditional sales model, starting with all the overhead. A gallery pays rent and utilities, maintains a website, sends out emails and promotions, pays advertisers, and pays staff, taxes, and insurance. They do that before they have sold a single item, which then incurs credit card fees and packaging costs (even if it's just a small shopping bag). If you were going to sell "in person" (as opposed to online), whether you were selling at a market venue or opening a store of your own, those are all expenses you would incur on your own. Those expenses would, in turn, either increase your per piece price or reduce your overall profit. Either way, they'll cost you something in the form of booth and credit card fees, packaging, displays, transportation to and from, and - potentially - loss from theft.

The Roadhouse Arts Gallery, all decked out for the holidays. Everything you see is consigned to us.
How should I pick a consignment partner?

More than any other thing, I think this is the most important decision. It does you no good to have your inventory (read: dollars) tied up where it will not sell. Here are some of the top questions you should be asking when you're evaluating potential consignment partners.
  1. What is their target market? There is a difference between a fine art gallery, a gift gallery, and a fine craft gallery. I am not saying that one is better than another - but I am saying that they work within different price ranges and target different clientele. Does your work fit the overall "vibe" of the shop? Is the work by other artists of comparable quality to yours? Where do your prices fall in the overall offerings of the shop? For example, if you are a maker of boho chic jewelry, you probably don't want to be in a sleek, modern shop with lots of steel and glass. If your work generally sells for $200 and $300, you don't want to be in a shop where they mostly sell things under $100.
  2. What are you getting for the consignment fee? One of the commenters on a recent forum discussion told a story about a gallery that wanted a 40% consignment fee... and she was responsible for coming in and cleaning her jewelry to make sure it was presentable. Let me be really clear here: any gallery or shop that doesn't attractively merchandise your work and keep it clean for their customers doesn't deserve to have your work. Period. The consignment arrangement is intended to be a win-win for both artist and shop - you are providing quality inventory at no up-front cost to them, in exchange for which they offer you an appealing, professionally managed storefront in which to sell it and access to their customer base. They should also be handling credit card fees, packaging, and displays.
  3. Is there a contract? Never, ever, under any circumstances, do business with a gallery or shop that won't put your agreement in writing. Ever. Make sure you are very clear about what is covered by the consignment fee; how often you can change out your inventory; how loss by fire or theft will be handled; when you will be paid for sales; and who is responsible for paying transportation of the goods to the gallery or shop and back to you. Make sure someone at the gallery signs off on a written inventory of the items you deliver to them, so you have something for your records. Ask how often you can get an updated inventory from them of the things they still have on hand - and then make it a priority to compare that list with the sales you've been paid for so you can catch any losses early in the process.
An early glass display at Roadhouse Arts, featuring work by Lisa Meyer and Gail Stouffer
What if I can't afford to pay a consignment fee?


I recognize that pricing is a touchy subject, but I'm going to wade in and be as direct as I am able: most makers of high-quality jewelry aren't charging enough for their work. And here's why: because they are undervaluing their time. There are all kinds of formulas out there about how to calculate your pricing, but at a minimum your wholesale price needs to include something for your materials, your time to produce the piece, and profit. Yes, profit. If you sell wholesale - or consignment - you need to be able to make a profit on the wholesale price. How many times have you heard (or said yourself) something like, "I don't care about my time... as long as I make a little something more than the cost of the materials." Two things: your time has value, and profit isn't a dirty word. If a 40% or 50% consignment fee means you won't make any money on your piece, it may mean your pricing is too low.

That said, I recognize this easier said than done. You obviously have to keep the market in mind as you're selling. If you're just starting out and you don't yet have a workflow in place that lets you capitalize on efficiencies or repetitive processes, your pieces will have more time in them - and that will make them more expensive. Focus on creating designs based on techniques you have down cold, so that the cost of your time doesn't skew the end cost of the piece, either on the high side or the low side.

One other comment on pricing: never, ever undercut your consignment pricing. What your pieces sell for at a consignment shop or gallery should be exactly the same price that same piece would sell for online, at a show, or off your bench. Remember that when you sell through a consignment shop, you're saving costs you would pay if you sold it yourself: packaging, credit card fees, postage, listing fees, promotional discounts, etc.

What if things go bad....?

Take a deep breath, keep your cool, and stay professional. Every consignment agreement should have a duration - your things stay with them for 90 or 120 days and then everyone touches base to see if it's working. If the sales aren't what you expected, have a conversation with the owner or manager about what is selling and see where your things line up. Is it a price issue? Style? Quality? These kinds of conversations can be really valuable, because they can be (can be) objective feedback that will make you better in the long run. That said, if the shop isn't keeping up their end of the agreement - the displays aren't being refreshed, your jewelry is dirty or untagged, you aren't getting paid, whatever - pull your stuff.

And... make absolutely sure you're doing your part. Do your pieces reflect your best work? Is it being delivered when and how the shop or gallery has requested? Are you responding promptly to requests for information or more inventory?

* * * * * * *

This is the tip of the iceberg - there are obviously many details I haven't covered here, and honestly... consignment isn't for everyone. I took an unofficial poll of my AJE teammates before writing this post, and they were about evenly divided between happy experiences and horror stories. Remember to never put all your eggs in one basket - the trick to making a living as an artist is to develop and maintain multiple streams of income. Consignment is just one element of a long-term business strategy. Hope this brief summary was helpful!

Until next time -




Monday, January 26, 2015

February COM winners!

During our snow day today, I asked my 13yo son to choose 3 random numbers between 1 & 20 and he came up with 8, 13 & 16.  Those lucky numbers belong to Michelle Mach, Divya N, and Patti Miller!  Congrats! I will be contacting you by email to get your snail mail addresses!  Thanks for playing along.  Can't wait to see what you make!





Sunday, January 25, 2015

Style



We all have opinions about the many styles of art out there, and what we like or don't like in the work of other artists. That doesn't mean we think the work we don't like is necessarily bad, just not to our personal tastes. But what is it about a particular style that we find interesting or appealing, or off-putting? How do we talk about stylistic differences?

What is Style?

According to a quick Wikipedia search, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_(visual_arts)):

"In the visual arts, style is a '...distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories.' or '...any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, way in which an act is performed or an artifact made or ought to be performed and made.' It refers to the visual appearance of a work of art that relates it to other works by the same artist or one from the same period, training, location, 'school', art movement or archaeological culture: 'The notion of style has long been the art historian's principal mode of classifying works of art. By style he selects and shapes the history of art'.

Style is often divided into the general style of a period, country or cultural group, group of artists or art movement, and the individual style of the artist within that group style. Divisions within both types of styles are often made, such as between 'early', 'middle' or 'late'. In some artists, such as Picasso for example, these divisions may be marked and easy to see, in others they are more subtle. Style is seen as usually dynamic, in most periods always changing by a gradual process, though the speed of this varies greatly, between the very slow development in style typical of Prehistoric art or Ancient Egyptian art to the rapid changes in Modern art styles. Style often develops in a series of jumps, with relatively sudden changes followed by periods of slower development."

Without going into the many permutations within each, here are some broad definitions of basic styles...

1. Realism / Naturalism

(Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_(arts)):
"Realism (or naturalism) in the arts is the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements."

2. Abstract / Stylized / Primitive

"Abstract Art uses a visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.

Abstraction in early art and many cultures: Much of the art of earlier cultures – signs and marks on pottery, textiles, and inscriptions and paintings on rock – were simple, geometric and linear forms which might have had a symbolic or decorative purpose. It is at this level of visual meaning that abstract art communicates."

Author's Note: I am lumping "stylized" and "primitive" in this category, as forms of abstraction...

Stylized (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_art):
"Stylization and stylized (or 'stylisation' and 'stylised' in British English, respectively) have a more specific meaning, referring to visual depictions that use simplified ways of representing objects or scenes that do not attempt a full, precise and accurate representation of their visual appearance (mimesis or 'realistic'), preferring an attractive or expressive overall depiction. More technically, it has been defined as 'the decorative generalization of figures and objects by means of various conventional techniques, including the simplification of line, form, and relationships of space and color", and observed that 'Stylized art reduces visual perception to constructs of pattern in line, surface elaboration and flattened space'."

Primitive (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primitivism):
"Primitivism is a Western art movement that borrows visual forms from non-Western or prehistoric peoples, such as Paul Gauguin's inclusion of Tahitian motifs in paintings and ceramics. Borrowings from primitive art has been important to the development of modern art."

3. Whimsical / Humorous

I could not find a good definition for this style, so I went for the dictionary... though we all know "whimsical" when we see it.

"whimsical |ˈ(h)wimzikəl
adjectiveplayfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way: a whimsical sense of humor.acting or behaving in a capricious manner: the whimsical arbitrariness of autocracy."
I like to think of "whimsical" as something that makes me smile, laugh, swoon from cuteness, or some other similar reaction. There is an emotive quality to work in this category.

There are other style definitions that one can use, or even, style expressions within the above definitions, such as "Organic", "Curvilinear", and "Rectilinear / Geometric". And quite often, more than one definition may apply to a given work of art, or architecture. For example, an art nouveau building might be described as "abstract / organic, with curvilinear detailing" and it might even have naturalistic characteristics. The range of potential style definitions and areas of potential overlap can go on and on, and can get rather complicated. But let's stick to the above basic categories and do a little old fashioned style analysis.

But first, why bother? Why do we care about style and where a particular work of art fits within our universe of styles? For one, it helps us as artists to understand our own style in the work we create. By seeing our work in the context of other styles, we come to see what is unique (or not) in our own efforts. It helps us to grow and define our own voice. And secondly, it gives us a "handle" to communicate with our fellow artists and the public in general, about our work, the work of others, and cultural / historical contexts. And on a personal level, when we like or don't like something, understanding the language of style provides a means of identifying more specifically, characteristics that cause us to react the way we do.

By way of a brief survey, I'm going to share some examples of bead and component designs. To get our feet wet, let's start with the Feather concept.

Shades of Realism


Laura Mears renders her feathers in a hyper realistic style,
with both elaborate carving and glaze detailing. 
Caroline Dewison's feather is very realistic with delicate carving to bring out the details.
She chose, however, a simple glaze treatment for a slightly more abstract, interpretative style. 
Terri Del Signore, also renders a fairly realistic feather, but with
a primitive stylization that keeps the realism in check.

A More Stylized Take


Rebekah Payne's feathers are both whimsical and stylized.
They also have a distinct primitive quality to them.
Lesley Watt's highly stylized bronze feather, has a strong abstract feel to it, as seen in
how she integrated the heavy textural pattern into a simple, almost geometric shape.
Kylie Parry's feather is a simple primitive design. 

In my own work, I have been playing with stylized primitive treatments of woodland objects and critters. I deliberately strive for a look that hints at - but does not imitate - american indian and other historic primitive styles. Lately, I especially love WOOD. I form and carve clay in a stylized homage to all things tree-born. Wood in jewelry components is a popular trend right now, with many designers using actual  branch and twig elements in their work. While I like this look, as a designer, it is overly realistic for my tastes. My opinion is not surprising, given my penchant for primitive stylization.

The Ultimate Realism, REAL Wood Beads


Wood Twig beads by Rich Kibbons
My ceramic leaves overlaid onto a real birch branch slice. As you can see here, I was intrigued by the idea of using actual wood elements in some of my work. But I eventually abandoned
the idea as it seemed a bit too realistic for my tastes.

My Fanciful Take


Assorted "log slices", leaf, tree bark, and other nature elements,
all in a simple primitive style. (Starry Road Studio)
Ceramic twig beads, again, largely a primitive style, though I do verge
on a naturalistic rendering of the bark. (Starry Road Studio)
Ceramic branch with leaf charms; while the branch - like my twigs -
are primitive with shades of realism, the leaves are very abstracted,
with simple broad "strokes" indicating leaf veins. (Starry Road Studio)
On a more whimsical note, a little bird on a log. (Starry Road Studio)
Arrow and wood beads. (Starry Road Studio)

Our Feathered Friends

Another popular subject for expression in beads, are birds and owls. Here are a few examples in a broad range of styles.
Rebekah Payne's Sleepy Owl has both naturalistic and whimsical qualities.
In the latter case, in the playful treatment of the eyelashes.
Laura Mears' treatment of her barn owls, is highly realistic, with a touch of stylization
in the simplified dark line work around the eyes, beak and heart-shaped face.
Linda Landig's little clay bird is adorably primitive and whimsical.
This little owl by Caroline Dewison screams primitive in it's highly
abstracted form, complimented by the rustic glaze.
Jenny Davies-Razor's fierce looking owls are naturalistic
with an expressive, almost whimsical feel. 
These little guys actually made me chuckle. They are Lesley Watt's
Owls with Sweater Vests. Talk about whimsy! And very stylized. 
A bird by Gaea, with strong abstract qualities in the use of
a simple overall shape and a bold painted pattern.

My own owls and birds tend to be abstract and stylized. And, again, I go for a primitive look, with simple shapes and details. In some cases, the shaping is highly stylized, inspired by american indian art of the Pacific North West.

Owls in their tree homes. The owls are simple little shapes (stylized),
while the trees are rendered with a bit more detail, making them more
realistic but still relatively simple and primitive. (Starry Road Studio)
A little woodland bird, primitively rendered in both carving
and glaze treatment, on a tree stump. (Starry Road Studio)
Owls, rendered in a rigorously primitive style, inspired by Pacific
North West american indian art. (Starry Road Studio) 

Design Dilemma

More recently, I've been playing with barn owl ideas. Two takes: one more stylized and simple, the other with a touch of realism in the face details. I'm still not sure where I want to go with this. I'm balking at the latter because it seems antithetical to the style I prefer. But we'll see...

My simple version of a barn owl. I feel more comfortable with the overall style of this, vs....
...this take, with it's very detailed face carving. 
(side view)
 (Starry Road Studio)
So why the dilemma? Well,  though I prefer a simpler treatment, I felt that it does not fully express the amazing pattern of feathers in a barn owl face.... as seen in this photo by Mark Whittaker. This pattern is a key element of what makes the barn owl so spectacular.

"Melanistic" European Dark Breasted Barn Owl - by Mark Whittaker (Twit Twoo)

And yet, in my second take, I feel that the detailing is overdone and inconsistent with the style I tend to prefer working in. I will eventually resolve the issue (probably after glaze testing and seeing how the final result looks), but I share this as an example of how we might step back to examine our own work for style characteristics, to better understand what works or doesn't work. However, to be clear, this is a fluid process. Developing a style is not a matter of artificially shoe-horning one's work into a style not discovered by the creative process itself. Doing that only results in imitation or derivative work that in the end, would probably not be very satisfying.

Next time you look at your own work, think about the style you are working in. Is there a consistent style across your body of work? Is it eclectic, with a variety a styles? Is it evolving? How do you feel about the style(s) you are working in? Have you ever stepped back and said "I don't like this or that", or "wow that really works for me!"

Finally, a point I want to clarify is that style is never static. It is natural and necessary for us as artists to explore new ideas, forms and media, that challenge us to evolve. Even when a signature style emerges out of our work, we still need to experiment and make course adjustments for what feels right. It is always a journey of discovery.

Web: Starry Road Studio
Facebook: Facebook.com/StarryRoadStudio