Monday, August 30, 2010

Foe ... toes? Photos! I almost forgot what those were!

I would argue that, for people who are trying to make their living as an artist (versus as a business person selling art), the most challenging aspect of business is the marketing. Learning new techniques? No problem! Making things? Check! Taking photos, editing the photos, uploading the photos to Facebook, the blog, and Flickr? Uh ... I ... um ... what are foe-toes?

Saturday I set up a photography area in my studio. This is not the first time I've set up a dedicated photography area (nor the second). I know it's important. I know about diffused light, I know to minimize shadows ... even how to do it (to some degree), I know about full-spectrum light, and I know about the Rule of Thirds. But, when it comes down to it, in the limited amount of time I have to attend to business I'd really just rather be making beads.

Of course, to make more beads I occasionally need to buy new glass. If I want to attend to something called a "business plan", that means I need to occasionally sell something. I am very fortunate to have a couple of retail stores that carry my beads, but as anyone with any investing experience knows, it's good to diversify. So, putting some effort into building online sales is a good idea.

More regular sales = More sustainable purchasing power
More sustainable purchasing power = more potential growth.

Marketing = Good!

Okay. Excellent argument. Yet, why do I still avoid marketing - particularly the photography part of marketing? In the September 2010 issue of Art Jewelry magazine, Marlene Richey wrote her Business Savvy column about "Maker, Manager, Marketer: How to Budget Your Time." As a rule of thumb, she recommended spending 50% of your time making, 25% managing, and 25% marketing. That seemed like a sound ratio to me. My problem is that it seems like when I get to it, I spend way more time than that just with editing the photos, let alone the uploading, etc. I'm not talking about, what I would consider, extensive editing either - a little cropping, a little brightness and contrast adjustment, and save. Maybe I just need an attitude adjustment. Maybe it would go faster then?

All of that is a rather long and round-about introduction to my main point, which is to emphasize the impressiveness of getting my butt in the studio to take some pictures. The motivation was that these focals are a little different than what I have made in the past and was pretty proud of the results. I still need to tweak my setup because the image isn't close enough to get good detail. Nevertheless, I put this collage together so you could see the basic result. Now all I need to do is take some close-up photos, edit the photos, upload to Etsy, measure the bead dimensions, write up a compelling description with the measurements ... but I digress:

Fall Garden lampwork focal bead collage by Julie Bowen

What do you think?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Interesting Follow-up to the Handout Post

I had just put Sawyer to bed and I began straightening up the living room when I saw this bead on the floor.

Golly, that looks just like one of the beads I used in the bracelet I photographed for the Jewelry Making Basics handout revision that I blogged about Wednesday.

I thought to myself, "Golly, that looks just like one of the beads I used in the bracelet I photographed for my Jewelry Making Basics handout revision."

I was a little more confused when I then saw this.

Um ... I did NOT have that many beads left over from that bracelet.

Since the bracelet was meant to be on display at the store I got the beads from the store, not my stash, and only took just enough to do the bracelet. One extra bead mysteriously appearing I could have shrugged off, but three beads? I did not have that many extra beads. I asked myself, "Did you see Sawyer by the table where you put the bracelet?" I ruminated. "ARrrrGh! Yes." So, now I was on a mission. Where are the rest of the beads? Worse - why did it break?

Why did it break? That was the critical question. I just posted a blog about why I was so angry about other people's work being substandard and the bracelet I photographed for the handout THAT I BLOGGED ABOUT broke. BROKE! Shite. Now, more than the rest of the beads, I NEED to find the stringing cable they were on. Where is the rest of the bracelet?

Important aside here: Sawyer is a bright little boy (note to self: thinking that marrying a smart boy with whom to have smart babies ... yeeeeaaaah. Not as wise as originally believed.). This bright little boy likes to play a game called Hide. Hide and Seek? No. Just, "Hide". Finding the beads, then, was a mixed blessing. I was relieved to win this round of Sawyer's game, but was very nervous about examining the find.

I found it! It wasn't a crimp!

I did a prayer of thanks to a blasphemous number of Beings to both find a small pile of beads and the stringing cable together. Most importantly? The clasp was still connected, the crimps and jump rings were still in tact. The stringing cable was cleanly broken in the middle. Culprit? Badly drilled natural stone.

The fact that the bracelet broke is not good, but I was relieved for two reasons. One, the ends were well-finished and not at fault. Two, in the class I did (and do) tell the students about the dangers of natural stones from the fact they are drilled from two directions. The half-drilled holes don't always meet perfectly in the center of the bead, leaving a jagged spot in the middle of the bead's hole. Since I so rarely encounter a serious problem with this I don't routinely ream out my stones. So, when I told my students that, if their bracelets broke, they should look at where the bracelet broke and ream out the offending bead, it was perhaps a tad too optimistic.

Still, I think it is an important lesson. Natural stones can pose a danger to the integrity of your stringing cable. The bracelet in question was on coated 19 strand 0.018 diameter cable. Using a different thickness of wire wouldn't have prevented a break, it just would have happened at a different time. Owning a set of bead reamers is a must if you use drilled beads. If you want to be totally safe, ream out all of your beads. Definitely ream out the beads used in expensive designs. Mostly, just remember that it isn't really a matter of IF a stone will cause a design to break, it's more a matter of WHEN. Be aware.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Motivators for Class Handout Evolutions

I started teaching classes on various jewelry making techniques around five years ago. At first, when I'd make a class handout, the format was different for each class. They generally had the same sections, but they would look different. The Tools & Materials lists might be boxed off or be one column instead of three. The instructions might be listed in paragraphs, they might be listed in bullet points, or they might be in tabular form with photos and commentary underneath.

The first real evolution of my class handouts was redoing everything I had written about two years after I started teaching. When I rewrote them I created a template so that the format of each one was the same: a header with class title at left and contact & copyright information at right, a brief introduction, an image of the class project, tools and materials, safety and preparation, and instructions with images.

Now, five years in, I find that I spend most of my revision time refining the way I explain different points in the handouts. Refining the way I explain things is usually grounded in one of three motivators. One is based on common questions I get from students in the class. A second motivator is simply that I learn more about a topic and, in my own experiences as a continuing student, gain a better understanding of what information a student needs to be in the best position to progress to a more advanced understanding of the technique. The third, and for better or worse - strongest motivator, is seeing the work other people try to sell and judging that the way it was put together left something wanting, and thinking to myself, "Are they kidding?"

Arrogant? Yes. I'm sure that if anyone more experienced looked at my work, I'm sure I do something that would elicit a similar response. So, yes, I do try and take a step back, breathe a little, and ask myself why the particular something makes me upset. I try to think of it as an opportunity to develop my otherwise subjective left-brain creativity in a more objective right-brain analytic way. It seems that the issues that stick with me are choices that are made because someone saw an easy way to do something, saw that it worked, and failed to ask if there was a better way to do it. It's the repeat violations. The people who use a sloppy technique, not just with something organic, but with pearls and crystals, and everything in-between.

This took center stage today as I was preparing to teach my Jewelry Making Basics class. Some of the work I've recently seen, and been disappointed in, made me take a mission. I felt like it was my solemn duty to make sure that whatever crimping or finishing technique they chose to use - even if it wasn't the one I taught and even if it was one I showed as a whatever-you-do-don't-do-this example - they would do because they had thought about it and evaluated it against other possibilities. Additionally, that they would think about said choice in terms of whether it contributed to both the beauty and strength of the finished piece. So, I spent the whole afternoon taking new pictures and added new (shaded and outlined with fancy bold and colored titles) notes boxes to try and convince my students that the following are not okay:
  • pulling the stringing cable tight against the clasp or jump ring
  • leaving the stringing cable at the ends bare
  • attaching the clasp directly to the bracelet
  • just using a pliers to squish the crimp bead
Not just that they weren't okay because I felt like the Queen of the Jewelry Police, but because there were really good reasons not to do them because there were better techniques. See if you agree:

Why do I need to use a Wire Guardian or heavy French Wire?
  • To make sure that your loop is large enough so that the jump ring and clasp aren't putting stress on the crimp tube.
  • To prevent abrasion on the stringing cable (from the part of the bracelet that moves the most).
  • So the ends of your bracelet or necklace look 'finished'.

Note: I know that there is a commercial product known as heavy French wire, but I don't mean that. I am referring to something I make myself using 28g wire wrapped around 18g wire as a mandrel.

Why don't we string the clasp directly onto the crimped loop?
  • A properly chosen jump ring is very secure and gives you the option of changing clasps without restringing the bracelet.
  • Using a jump ring allows more movement when trying to secure the clasp.
  • Using jump rings to attach the clasp to the bracelet reduces stress on the crimp bead holding the bracelet together.

A corollary to the last point: If you attach the clasp directly to the crimped loop, the forces on the clasp go directly to the crimp bead (not so with a jump ring, which can move and redirect the force), and when the crimp bead fails (unlike a jump ring, which additionally has less chance of failing), you lose the whole bracelet and not just the clasp.

Is that totally unreasonable? Because, let me tell you, the jewelry that motivated me to this class handout revision - it still feels like a burr under my saddle!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eight Hundred Dollars: Part II -- Stones

Car repairs are a superb slimming regimine for your bank account. I did some first hand research and proved that conclusively today.

What? You're not shocked or surprised?

I know. That's life. But, as the cliché goes: when life gives you limes, make mojitos. So, I tapped deep into the psyche of my business philosophy and pondered some possibilities and gained a little inspiration watching my little boy greedily enjoying the outdoors. I remembered a design that looked a little something like this:

A representative of my Stones design

I like many things about this design:
  • It represents the heart of my business philosophy. Take something straight from nature and tweak it in a way that helps emphasize its value.

  • It's simple and focuses on the artistic elements of line, shape, and color.

  • It doesn't take long to make, doesn't cost a lot to make, and can be priced inexpensively.

  • Stones, by their very nature, represent strength and endurance. As such, they are the perfect metaphors for all the personal traits that help people prevail in difficult situations including perserverance and fortitude.

  • In the quiet moments between tending my little Sawyer and working/teaching at Knits & Pearls I'll be feverishly making these, and as I hold each stone as I carefully wrap it, I'll be thinking about the lessons these stones have to teach me. Some stones are weathered, but whole; broken, but they survive; pitted, but strong. Simple? Yes. The best lessons often are.

    Fronts and backs of three pendants in my Stones line.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Eight Hundred Dollars: Part I

    That's an every day experience for some people ...

    image taken from
    What do you have in YOUR wallet?

    ... but not me. Sadly, that number does not refer to the amount of a recent sale or commission, or an exciting contest prize value for my readers, but the amount we will need to pay the mechanic once he rebuilds our main car's air conditioning system, which had caused a short in the idle air valve and stalling in our car; something we discovered on a 120 mile trip to visit Sean's parents on Friday. On the plus side: thank heaven for AAA and not having to pay for the tow.

    So, why post this in a blog dedicated to my business? Because, as some may remember better than I do, the two worlds of business and home often collide, sometimes painfully so. I had been having dreams of a new lampworking glass press or two or taking an advanced jeweler class with a local artist around my birthday. Back on the waiting list they go. Not only will all of my forseeable income be going to pay for this (because much of our savings had already been earmarked for a September East Coast wedding to which we are committed), but I'll have to push out a lot of product and work on a marketing whirlwind to try and make up the balance. Sean makes decent money and takes care of all the normal expenses, but since he's salaried, all of the fun and surprises necessarily fall to me.

    Queue positive thinking.

    My business name, confusing and unpronouncable as it might be, is strongly rooted in my business philosophy: we are all beautiful and valuable the way we are found, the way we are made, but additional meaning can be infused by tweaking the natural. That's what autochthonous evolved means: taking things from the place we find them and doing something with them with the purpose of growth and beauty - both for ourselves as well as for the things which which we adorn ourselves in the effort to evolve our image.

    Today, while watching Sawyer play outside and pondering our options, I remembered an old jewelry design of mine. It's one I developed for a class, a design that embraced my business philosophy in a more direct way than other designs of mine. It's a pretty simple design, fairly easy to make and therefore one that can be produced and sold for a very reasonable price. What is it and where can you buy one? Stay tuned for a few hours ... I think you'll like it.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Did I mention? I got published!

    It's true, my Ocean Waves bracelet was published in Beadwork Magazine's What Our Readers Did (WORD) feature in its June/July 2010 issue. I was extremely excited to see my work in print for the first time.

    If you want to peek at more images of this bracelet, you can to to my Etsy store where I have the bracelet for sale.

    This definitely inspires me to keep working toward getting one (or more) of my designs published as a project in a magazine. In fact, I'm working on an idea for Step by Step Wire, so keep your fingers crossed and eyes peeled! Yay

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    New Bead Series

    I've often wondered what other beadmakers' inspiration was for new bead lines. More often than not, I make individual one-of-a-kind beads, just to practice my lampworking skills and to make whatever felt inspiring at the moment. Sets? I can make sets. Sets are getting much easier. But, a series - where I had the technical ability to carry out the vision - has eluded me until now.

    In a completely unexciting effort to use up the half-used glass rods that were (are) littering my torching workspace I thought, "I'm just going to use these scraps to practice drawing lines." I've previously made beads with graphic lines and liked them, so it was a pretty simple choice. However, since the glass scraps were a mixture of stable and not-so-stable colors (colors that bleed, separate, or sink into other layers) I thought, "let's just let these flow together and see what we get".

    I've done a few beads similar to this in the past and really liked them. With blues on the bottom, greens in the middle, a little brown and gray layer, with a little more blue on top, let gravity work some magic and - voila! Instant landscape. These new beads have the same look, but different colors that make me wonder what the landscape on a distant planet might look like.

    Until I run out of scrap glass, I'll be working on these and exploring the glass: what thickness stringer of particular colors works well (for example, yellow stripes ... not so much - bright and spreads out), how different colors react side-by side, how the base color affects the stripe colors, how heat affects the degree of reaction taking place between the colors, and other new properties of the glass that I haven't noticed yet. Man! Beadmaking is fun!

    P.S. If you are wondering why I might want to practice drawing lines on a bead, take a look at J.C. Herrel or Dora Schubert's beads. Yeah. I'm working on it.