Monday, January 28, 2013

Speaking in Tongues

by Jennifer Roberts

No matter what your business, at some point you will likely have to engage a professional to help you with something. Traditionally, this has meant accountants and lawyers for most. In the past ten years, we’ve added design and technical professionals who help us create websites, manage social media, and conduct e-commerce.

But, the jewelry artist and the accountant/lawyer/website designer are often birds of a very different feather. Talking effectively with each other can be a serious challenge. To be your own best advocate, remember that communication flows in two directions and you must be an active participant in any discussion. Some thoughts on both sides of anyconversation:

How the Professional Talks to You

You: This is not the time to profess that you are a hapless artist and could never possibly understand a contract or basic accounting principle. Engage and pay attention. Ask questions when you don’t understand something and ask more questions until you do.

Them: Half of the professional’s job is to complete the task you have hired them to perform; the other half is to help you understand where you are and where you need to go. Phrases like “it’s too complicated, you wouldn’t understand” are huge flaming red flags. So is overuse of acronyms without explanation. Unless you are talking about string theory, there are few concepts that can’t be concisely explained in a sentence or two, even if application of those ideas gets very complicated. If your website designer starts talking at you about PCI compliance and doesn’t bother to answer your puzzled look with a clarification that PCI compliance refers to a set of industry standards for credit card transaction security - move on.

How the You Talk to the Professional

Your participation in any conversation will vary substantially depending on the circumstances. Accountants and lawyers need different information than people who help you market your work or create your packaging. You’d think artists could talk to other artists about just about anything, but start talking about the color scheme for a phone app and many artists clam up.

The conversation I had with our website team is a perfect example. When it came time to create a new site, I started with the Pantone color book and a list of words describing how I wanted using the site to feel. I looked at the results of my first effort and thought “meh.”

So when I went to my first meeting at Pumphouse Creative, I walked in carrying a shoebox. I’ve know the guys at Pumphouse Creative for a long time, so I felt less inhibited than I might have with a new firm. Odd or not, this was the best way I found to show them what I had in mind.

What was in that shoebox? Stuff from my house. Rocks, a paperweight I love for its deep red color, sticks and bamboo, papers, textures, pieces of jewelry. I later asked my friend Mark Roberts about it and he explained, “When you walked in, I couldn’t figure out what you were doing. But when I looked in the box, I knew exactly why you brought it and what you were looking for.” That shoebox and its contents have guided many of our conversations since then, about the site and other projects.

Here’s what Pumphouse Creative had to say about our process and how they approach their work:

"As marketers and designers, our goal is to provide a successful product from every angle. Some clients approach marketing from a business perspective, with a focus on business goals and measurable results. Others may be more interested in the design process, in look and feel, in style and color — the details that make their brand beautiful as well as functional. Both of these approaches are necessary. However, it is rare to find clients, especially in the small business arena, who have taken the time to fully examine these very different views of a project.

"Jennifer's box of rocks, ribbons and doodads was a great way to convey the contrast and texture she was looking for with her website and her brand. Juxtaposed against Jennifer's well articulated vision of the architecture and flow of the site, our job was to pay attention and bring her vision to fruition utilizing our skills. We laid all the items in the shoebox out and tinkered with them as we discussed the design concept for PMC Connection. As a matter of fact, the shoebox was rattling around our office even while we were coding and completing the technical challenge of launching an e-commerce of that size. It was of great benefit to keep in mind the aesthetic of the site, while tackling the technical.

"In the case of PMC Connection, the creative approach has seen clear business results in Google Analytics – site visits up 69% and pages per visit up 497% since the relaunch. We're continuing to add content, to improve site functionality incrementally, and to enrich the visual language of the brand. Of course, we're also continuing to listen, and to ask questions about how we can improve on our current success."

Here's what I take away from all of this. It pays to find the right person for the job and to be sure you can talk to each other. Too many people ignore the second half of that test. Hiring a professional can be an expensive undertaking. But if the lines of communication are open, it can make your business.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Designing Jewelry Using Design Principles

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you look at a piece of jewelry and instantly don’t like it or you love it? Besides having your own personal tastes, there is more going on than you think!

Warren Feld, the Director at Jewelry Design Camp states, “When a viewer interacts with a piece of jewelry worn by someone else, the brain and eye perform two cognitive actions right off the bat. First the brain/eye try to visually inspect the piece from end to end. The brain/eye wants to make a complete circle around the piece. Anything that inhibits, impedes, or distracts the brain/eye from making this complete circle ends up evoking the fear and anxiety response.  If this is the case, the viewer begins to label the jewelry boring or ugly.”

This is why working with design principles and elements is so important when you start designing your jewelry. In fact, this is true with all art including graphics, industrial design, fine art, and architecture. So what are principles and elements? Principles are rules used to organize individual elements into an aesthetic design concept.

Principles of Design Include
  • Balance – the distribution of elements emphasizing a focal point.
  • Rhythm – a progression of how the eye moves throughout the piece.
  • Movement – how the elements relate and lead the viewer’s eye or attention or sometimes in jewelry how the piece moves or drape.
  • Contrast – how the elements relate to lead the viewer’s attention.
  • Harmony – the pleasurable arrangement of elements.
  • Variety – the assortment of elements that give the design interest.
  • Unity – the level of quality with the combined elements.

Elements of Design Include
  • Color – which can create emotions and moods. Red colors are hot while blues are cool. Using colors on the color wheel can create stunning combinations. The color wheel defines color schemes such as primary, analogous, complementary, contrast, monochromatic, split complement, and triadic.
  • Texture – there are two types of texture: physical texture is the texture you can actually feel and tonal texture is the kind of texture you seen in a polished stone.
  • Line – there are three types of lines.
    Linear mark - a drawn or engraved mark.
    Boundary line - is implied by the contrast between the two shapes and relies on the shapes for its subsistence.
    Implied lines – is implied by the direction of smaller lines in the piece.
  • Scale – the scale of shapes create activity and relationships of power between them. Equal size shapes create confusion, the eye jumps from one to the other not knowing where to rest. The eye is drawn to the larger dominant shape when shapes are slightly different sizes. Large shapes overpowering small shapes creates tension. The larger sized shape appears to threaten the smaller shape.
  • Space – the area between and around objects.
  • Shape – areas defined by edges within the piece. It can be geometric or organic. A single shape cannot exist without generating another (negative) shape.
  • Tone – Gradation can add interest and movement to a shape. A gradation from dark to light will cause the eye to move along a shape.
  • Direction – direction of movement that travels one of threes directions: horizontal, vertical, or oblique.
In my next post I will give examples of how these all work together and how you can create demanding designs in your work using principles of design. Not all elements and design principles are used in one creation.

For now, look at this photo and post on this blog what you think the elements are and what design elements are used.

Until next time have fun claying around.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What to do, what to do...

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

In my last post I talked about the big chalkboard sticker I put on the wall of my studio so I wouldn't forget about submissions and other important dates. My fellow Senior Instructor, Janet Alexander, then asked how I found out about the various events I wanted to keep track of. It's pretty basic really. Mostly a matter of paying attention and being in the right place at the right time.

Here are some of the places where I get my information:
1. I'm a member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). I certainly don't consider myself a metalsmith of any kind, although I do use some metalsmithing techniques in my work. But I belong to the organization for a few of reasons.
     a. They have a gorgeous print (or digital if you prefer) magazine that's published five times a year.
     b. They periodically send out email newsletters with information about classes and Calls For Entry.
     c. I feel that the more metal clay users join this prestigious mostly hard metals group, the faster metal
        clay will be a widely accepted form of jewelry making.
     d. They sponsor a conference every year that travels from city to city. In 2013 it will be in Toronto,
          and I'll be attending for the first time! There are already plans for the 2014 conference and calls
          for seminars and talks.
2. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has a page on their website dedicated to calls for entry.
3. Lark Books has changed the name of their website to Lark Crafts and always lists submission
    opportunities. Today they're looking for beads of any kind (can you hear opportunity knocking?),
    clay figures (who says they can't be made of metal clay?), and quilts.
4. Every single time I hear or read about an opportunity (mostly in various FaceBook comments) I write it down. That's how I knew about the Mitsubishi 'Tales of the Heart' competition.
5. I belong to a number of groups on FB and friend as many jewelry makers of all ilks as possible so I can read their wall and perhaps pick up a tip or two.
6. If you know of awards that are given each year like Saul Bell's and Niche Magazine's, search out information on them.
7. Occasionally submissions are by request only. You just have to be friends with the right people at the right time. Geesh! They don't make it easy sometimes. Keep your ears and eyes open, and contact the artist in question yourself if you hear about an opportunity.
8. Google 'jewelry awards competition' or 'jewelry design awards' or variations to see a long list of jewelry related awards.
9. Of course Metal Clay Artist Magazine, Metal Clay Today, and other publishers, retailers, and manufacturers are always having design competitions. Go to their websites for more information.
10. A great way to get started submitting if you're shy about trying for a national award is to send photos of your work to magazines like those mentioned above, Jewelry Artist and Art Jewelry.
11. If you discover that you've missed the deadline for this year's submissions, make a note of the general time frame on your calendar for next year. For instance, the Saul Bell Awards deadline this year was September 14, so I'll make a note at the beginning of summer to check their website for the 2014 dates. That will give me the opportunity to design and make something for the competition and send in my submission it in plenty of time.

For craft shows -  Greg Lawler's Sourcebook 'event weekly' (that isn't really sent out every week) lists craft show's around the country. While googling for information for this post I also came across this blog post. Looks like a site that might have other valuable show information.

For teaching - Bead and Button, Bead Fest, Art and Soul, and other large jewelry making 'conferences' have websites that list deadlines for proposals.

Look in the back of magazines for the ads that promote these various opportunities and make note of them. Be proactive and ask friends and colleagues to help in your search.

edit. Remember that The Art and Design of Metal Clay Jewelry lists submissions on the right side of each calendar page.

If you know of any awards or other submission opportunities that I've missed, please make a comment and I'll edit them into this post for future reference.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hadar's Clays Firing Times Dramatically Reduced!

Great news! Hadar has had a breakthrough that dramatically reduces firing times.
Get the details on her blog.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Three Gifts for the New Year


By Kris A. Kramer

If I could give you three gifts that would most help your PMC business this year, propelling it into the next chapter of success, they would be these.

Find a Business Resource
Keep a PMC-Related Time Log
Maintain Good Records

One -- Find a Business Resource

    When a gallery shop owner offered me information on a program on how to become a market-ready artist, I let go of my ego, took the hint, and enrolled in the program. That program propelled my PMC business at least ten years into a successful future.
    Find yourself a business resource, a program fitting to your PMC passion. Whether it's a book or two, a college course, a program offered by your state's art council, SCORE (a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses), or a group of friends with the same focus - do something to improve yourself entrepreneurially. My program, offered by the Montana Arts Council, was called the Montana Artrepreneur Program (MAP), and I took it at a community college. Students ranged from well-established, two-dimensional artists to recent graduates of the college's metal-smithing program. 
    The course's book was Artrepreneurship: Sustaining the Creative Life written by Dr. Edrienne L. Kittredge (see 1 below), who created, developed, and now directs MAP. A coach conducted monthly classes and met with each of us in our own studio at any time. Equally useful was a weekly meeting with two other artists, set up on our own to keep each other accountable and on track.  
    There are many ways to further your business savvy. A serious internet search turned into an extended and organized project would work. How about inventing an internship, exchanging your time for on-the-job training at a gallery or fine-art retail site? A program fitting one's profession benefits any artist or artisan as well as it might benefit a physician, lawyer, or other professional.

Two -- Keep a PMC-Related Time Log

    In order to run any business, you need data. For example, it is hard to set a price on one of your creations if you don't know hours of production. You can't write a budget if you do not have a history of your spending. So, while you investigating a business program, you can accumulate information that you will need down the road - beginning with a PMC-related time log.
    A log of time you spend on PMC activities includes time in which you create in the studio, order supplies, update your website, reconcile your business checking account, and any activity directly related to your PMC world. Most importantly, track time you spend making one piece, whether it's a one-of-a-kind piece or one of many in a product line. 
    For example, I love to make charms for the currently popular charm bracelets. I will make ten of one kind of charm, tracking my hours. Then I divide the total time by ten to get the hours-of-production for one charm, which I use in determining a price. In an upcoming post, I will tell you some more uses for tracking your time and the benefits of this information.

Three -- Maintain Good Records

    An attorney specializing in art law, Bill Frazier (see 2 below), tells of an artist by profession who never sold a single piece of work or made one cent from her art. She traveled to workshops, visited museums, and partook of art-related activities, tallying up legitimate business expenses and deductions. When challenged, the IRS determined her a professional artist, and she was able to continue her activities and deductions.  Profit or not, organized business records will help you decide your tax status, (sole proprietor or LLC, for example), save on taxes, apply for funding, set financial goals, fill out grant applications, and more.
Some important aspects of maintaining good records are these.
   -  If you don't have a business checking account, open one. You will need a business credit card, too, all for the purposes of keeping your business income and expenses separate from your personal ones. 
   - Use a good accounting software like Quicken or QuickBooks to record legitimate business expenses.  Build your accounting software's categories by referring to a tax return form or consult with the person who prepares your tax return. Record your earnings along with the source of the income (direct sale at a show, wholesale order, or retail location). Organize and file your hardcopy receipts.
   - If you have a studio at home, figure out what percent of your total residence square footage that it occupies and designate the same percentage of your household expenses to your PMC business. And for sure, keep track of your mileage associated with your PMC activities. The post office is the most frequent destination in my mileage records.
    - If you have an accountant, talk with them about what other record keeping and organizing steps you should take.
    - Finally, it helps to further legitimize your business with a business license, like Lora Hart put on her chalkboard To-Do list in her January 7th post.

Trust that this isn't just busy work. These important steps will pay off and the puzzle pieces will fit together nicely down the road. And one day, you will look back and be amazed at your PMC achievements, your PMC business, and the amazing feeling of being an artist and an entrepreneur.

1  Dr. Edrienne L. Kittredge's email is if you are interested in this book.

2  Bill Frazier practices in Big Timber, MT and is a regular contributor to the Montana Arts Council's State of the Arts Newsletter.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Setting Up My Studio Part 2

by Janet Alexander
Technical Advisor

The dust is almost settled from the move and my new studio is on its way to being done. I wanted to give you a little more detail about how and why I set it up the way I did.

My workbench
I set up my workbench so that students can stand on the sides and front while I teach. I also plan to install a video monitor so they can see close-ups while I work (someday when I’m rich). It will sit on the counter to the right of my bench.

In the past, I worked on a typical jeweler’s bench. but I found that I like more room and storage drawers than it can offer. So, I placed two kitchen cabinets from the local home improvement store on each side and a 7-foot counter top sits across them. I now have a nice storage area for my tools on both sides of me and plenty of work space.

Jeweler’s benches are tall so that the work is right in front of your face if sitting in a desk chair. With this setup, I don’t strain my neck looking down onto my work. Also, if I choose to solder at my bench, the fumes will go up over my head as opposed to into my face.

I have two different types of chairs, an office chair (which sits low) and a tall stool. When I want to roll out my metal clay I can sit up high on the stool and look down at what I am doing.

Soldering Station
I have several types of torches. My air acetylene torch is sitting on the floor at the end of the counter top. The tank has a chain across it so it cannot fall. Unused tanks have steel caps on them and are also placed safely in the same corner. I have my soldering supplies stored in the drawer under the granite. I had left over granite from my last house that I am using to protect the wood counter top. (It’s a little over-kill, bu it works. A Solderite board will work just fine, too.) Right now, I have my pickle pot sitting under my tools hanging on the wall. I sometimes use Sparex for pickle and the fumes from Sparex will rust my tools on the wall! So, I will most likely opt to use the citric acid based solution (which is also more Earth friendly).

Kiln Area
At this time, I only have one kiln. I placed my kiln away from the student area behind my workbench. This way, no one can lean against a hot kiln or potentially ruin another student's fragile greenware. Keeping the kiln behind me also sends s a subliminal message: Don’t go over here, this is my area. Only people who are invited will venture here.

Student Work Area
I have two areas for students to work. The counter to the left of the studio has places for three flex shafts and good lighting. I have installed computer drawers (short height drawers) under each place that hold tools and can acts as catch drawers when needed. There will be a table in the center of the room for more students (Whenever my husband’s desk finds a home.)

Supply Area
This is where I will place tools for students to work with, work examples, and handouts. The dehydrator is also located here. Various tools used in workshops are stored in the bottom cabinets, while books and supplies are stored in the shelves above . 

I have a fire extinguisher located at chest level at each doorway and one next to the soldering station. These should never be blocked. As mentioned before, I am renting this space, so I cannot install a vent. But there are windows on three sides of the room I can open to obtain a cross breeze when needed. I can also place a small box fan on the window sill to help pull fumes outside.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Jump Starting Your Creative Year!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Avisor

It's the end of December and as I almost always do, I'm thinking about the year to come and wondering what it will bring. I'm imagining the creative inspirations that may present themselves, anticipating new opportunities, and considering how I can be proactive by having an open mind, taking chances, and putting my best foot (or fingertip) forward. In short, I'm preparing myself for unforeseen opportunities, renewing and re-imagining my artistic and professional practice, and laying out a game plan for the year.

The media at large is always good at making suggestions on how to start the year off right. There are top ten resolution lists, reports on those who have resolved NOT to make resolutions, and suggestions to choose a word for the year instead of consolidating a catalogue of perceived faults in need of modification. I've stopped making resolutions myself - don't want to set myself up for failure (statistics show that about 80% of people break their resolutions by June - most of them much earlier). Instead I have intentions, which I break down into manageable steps. Never plan to run a marathon if you don't own a pair of athletic shoes. Walk around the block, then around the neighborhood, then up a hill, and then you'll be able to climb the mountain.

This year this is how I intend to get started:

My 1st BAM (Brooch a Month)
Creative Paper Clay, Beads, Oil Pastels, Silk, .925
• Cyberspace is at it again with another personal jewelry making competition - there's nothing to win but satisfaction and no one to compete against except yourself. The EtsyMetal team has conceived the 'Brooch a Week' challenge that starts this week. If you have a Flickr account you can join the group (everyone is welcome to join - you don't have to be a member of the EtsyMetal team), you can post pictures on FB, or you can just keep the challenge a private endeavor. If you don't think you can commit to 52 brooches - modify the rules to suit your own schedule. Perhaps you could make a Brooch a Month?

Why do I like these challenges so much? They ignite my imagination, inspire me to try new jewelry making techniques, and tease me away from familiar, safe, and comfortable default designs. The thought of making 52 sellable brooches is a little daunting (to say nothing of the expense) - so I'm going to take the opportunity to use alternative materials and explore new shapes and styles. Even if they only end up decorating a wall in my studio, I know I'll learn a lot that I may be able to adapt in my regular work.

• I tend to forget some the things I have to do, or could do, or want to do. And then I miss out on opportunities. This morning I put up a huge chalkboard sticker in my studio to keep track of ideas, dates, deadlines, and other "To-Do's". I have a calendar on my wall (the beautiful one by Holly Gage) and one in my computer, and I do manage to put dates in them, but if I'm not diligent in reviewing them - sometimes months in advance - I let opportunities pass by. I'm hoping that seeing important intentions writ large on my wall will help me to keep abreast of things I thought were important enough to record.

Don't you forget about the Tales of the Heart competition sponsored by Mitsubishi Materials with prizes from $500.00 to $1,000.00! The deadline is January 14.

• And I'm going to choose a word for the year that will help focus and support my intentions. Persist. To hold firmly and steadfastly to a purpose, state or undertaking.

I hope to see some of you in the Brooch a Week group, and wish you well in all your endeavors this year. If there are any creative conundrums you face, or New Year's negotiating you'd like help with - just ask. That's what an Artistic Advisor is for. :)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Tips For Using the ClayMill Extruder

Part 1

One of the comments to her first post on the ClayMill says it all, Hadar Jacobson really is one of the most generous artists we know. She shares her first thoughts on the tool she helped us create here.