Open Studio

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur, the end of May was spent preparing for my inaugral participation in this event and the the first two weeks of June were the open studio event itself. It has been hard work but a lot of fun, meeting new people and sharing the magic of felt-making with them.

I confess, I have been thinking of hosting an open studio for several years but had plenty of excuses not to, the main one being that I usually work in my kitchen and dining room, not very practical spaces for hanging / displaying work and not really fair on Mr TB to have strangers milling about while he is trying to relax after a busy week at work.

I did consider using the garage but it isn’t a very pretty space (breeze-block walls) and where would I put all the stuff currently stored in there? Although if I am honest I think most of it should go on Freecycle or to the municipal dump. This year I had a bit of a brainwave, we live in a bungalow and have a guest bedroom at the front of the house, what if I put the guest bed in the garage for a couple of weeks?

The space worked better than I had dared to imagine, the mirrored doors on the wardrobes made the room feel large and airy and there was just enough wall space for most of my ready-to-hang pieces.

It was just large enough to demonstrate felt-making but I was rather ambitious to think I could squeeze up to four students in there for workshops, as it turned out I managed to arrange it so I never had more than one student at a time. As always seems to be the way, in the excitement of completing each case I completely forgot to take photos of their work but since I was teaching 1 to 1, I ended up making a case of my own alongside them, these are what I produced…

I made a short video tour of my “studio”, please come in….

What did I learn from this event?

  • Allow yourself at least couple of weeks to prepare the studio, price your work, tidy the front garden / drive and redecorate / move furniture if necessary.
  • Have a visitor’s book to collect emails so you can stay in touch with your new contacts. The open studio event is an excellent way to meet new people with a shared interest. I was surprised by the number of people who returned with a friend a few days later to show them what they had found.
  • It took me a good hour to put out the signs, blow up balloons etc each morning, don’t under-estimate how long it will take. At least half of my visitors said they were just passing and saw the signs, they are really important!
  • Most people paid by cash (and even had the right change) but I would have lost a couple of sales if I didn’t have a card reader.
  • A friend told me she sells a lot of greeting cards at these events – that was a good tip, I had some professionally printed and it offered visitors the opportunity to support my work even if they did not have a lot of money to spare.

What will I do differently next time?

  • I will bake some of my world famous chocolate brownies as little treats for my guests (if that isn’t incentive to get on a plane to visit me, I don’t know what is! 🙂 ).
  • Be patient, most of my sales came in the last 2 days of the event.
  • If I wasn’t running the event from my home, I would not open on a Wednesday, the footfall on Wednesdays was very low.
  • I will allow longer for the teaching sessions, it always takes longer than you expect doesn’t it?

I hope I have inspired you to take the plunge and participate in your local open studio event, I have met so many wonderful people, from other artists participating in the event, to new and potential clients and some potential teaching opportunities.

I had better get on with moving the bed back into the bedroom, Mr TB is already eyeing the room suspiciously, thinking I have commandeered yet another “wool room”, what he doesn’t realise is that I have felting / textile paraphernalia stashed in EVERY room, but we will keep that to ourselves 😉

Design Trust Workshop

This post is not directly textile related but I hope it will be useful for anyone wanting to market and sell their hand-made work.

Last week I attended a workshop with Patricia van den Akker from the Design Trust. The main focus was on marketing and was a godsend for me, I have read all the articles and often thought, “yes, makes sense, I should do that” but never actually did it! I am a terrible procrastinator and really need someone standing over me to make sure I do the difficult / less fun stuff like writing a business plan (not as boring as it sounds), working out what my brand is and who my customers are.

While I can’t cover the whole workshop in one blog post I hope you will find the following highlights a useful place to start… As Patricia said at the start of her workshop, “this is a workshop, and you will be doing the work!” 🙂

Have you got pen and paper ready? Try to answer each question before you move onto the next. Let’s get started….

What is your business dream?

What does success look like for you? Holidays in the sun every year, time to spend with your children/family, earning a specific salary, winning a design award, having a team of employees etc.

Think about why you chose your craft. Who are your role models? Why do you look up to them, what have they achieved?

What do you want to be known for? What would you like to be said in your eulogy? What is most important to you?

Marketing

This is communicating the value of your product for the purpose of selling. Try not to think of it as advertising, more as a conversation with potential customers and clients.

Marketing has 3 inter-related purposes:

  • increase your profile
  • increase your credibility (trust)
  • brings you clients

Why do you do what you do? Is it just art therapy for you or do you have a wider philosophy you want to share with the world?

Effective marketing requires that you understand your client’s needs when designing your products, what problem are you solving / need are you satisfying for them? What makes you different from your competition?

Who is your ideal client? There may be several different people and it can help to write a profile for each, think about:

  • their age
  • gender
  • who lives with them
  • do they work?
  • hobbies and interests
  • where do they go on holiday?
  • why do they buy your product?

Brand Identity

Have you ever looked at a piece of work and though, “that was made by so-n-so”? Or described something as being “very Warhol”, you have unwittingly absorbed brand identities. If you want your work to be recognisable it helps to think about what make your work look or feel different to other crafts(wo)men in your field. Take a look at the photos in your online shop or create a gallery of your work and try to come up with 5 words to describe your collection. It helps to ask friends an family for their input on this, if you are selling face to face you could even ask your customers which words they would pick.

You might end up with a description like, “Bright, flowery and floaty scarves” or, “calming and expansive textile landscapes”, this is your brand identity.

Try to be consistent with the brand image you present, use the same image and text on website banners, business cards, stationery. Is your website banner / business card image and text consistent the 5 words you came up with from looking at your gallery?

Make a Plan!

What business (and personal) goals do your want to achieve this year? Try to be specific, if it is a salary – how much and by when? What sales would you need to make to take that salary? If it is a holiday, where? how long for? when? If it is to make sales, how many and by when?

Then break your goal down into monthly targets, what needs to happen each month to achieve your goal by the date you set?

Review your targets/goals at least once a month and look for alternative courses of action if you are not on target.

If you have an Etsy shop, read the Etsy Handbook, Patricia recommended 2 hours of reading and 2 hours of action per week, personally I am finding I need to take action as I read each suggestion, and I am spending 2 min reading then 2 hours updating my listings!

Patricia also offered a reality check about how much time we should expect to spend on making vs marketing. As a new designer-maker you should expect your time to be spent:

40% on marketing

40% on making

10% research and professional development

10% admin

Design Trust

There is a ton of really useful information on the Design Trust web site (start in the “free resources” section), I can thoroughly recommend it, but be prepared to stop and answer each question posed, taking notes as you go, before moving onto the next paragraph, you will get much more out of the site if you really engage with it and stop to think about what each question means for you and your business.

These are just my highlights from the workshop, if you get the chance to work with Patricia, take it, she manages to make marketing fun and the face to face interaction makes it less easy to gloss over the harder the questions and only focus on what you are already good at!

Do you have any tips on marketing or selling your work?

 

I feel very conscious that this post is all words and no pictures so here is the finished “Michael” wall hanging, finally framed and ready for sale this week 🙂

Christmas is Upon Us

Apologies to all the “Bar-humbug-ers” trying to take the ostrich in the sand approach until Dec 24th, but Christmas is officially just around the corner… It must be!…The supermarkets are stocked to the rafters with Christmas treats, I have been discussing the logistics of making Christmas stockings with the same group of children who made the autumnal pictures and I attended my first Christmas fair this weekend.

I have 3 more fairs before the end of November and keep running out of stock (granted this is a much better problem to have than having stock that refuses to sell!)

This was my corner of the West Surrey Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyer’s table at the Christmas Fair, it was a fun day out with Elaine and Heather, who you can see in the photo, and I sold the beret and snail hat you can see on the top shelf. The snail hat went to a young lady who I think will actually wear it around town, not just to music festivals which is brilliant, I am so happy he found someone to love him 🙂

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The bathrooms at this site were less than wonderful portacabins, but when I happened to look up I saw this and thought it rather pretty, it reminds me of eco-dyeing:

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Today was spent furiously making scarves and another hat to replace some of the sold stock so I don’t have to turn up to the next few fairs empty-handed. This will be a beret and the scarves I made are busy cooking in the dye pot.

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A few weeks ago I saw an advert for a short millinery course at my local college and on a bit of whim signed up for it, I’m not sure the cut and sew techniques we have been using so far will replace the more contemporary felt-making techniques I normally use but it is interesting to see how some styles are constructed and of course the engineer in me is already trying to work out how to make similar shapes in seamless felt…. 🙂

This is the first hat from that course, I would call this an “Andy Capp cap” after the well known British cartoon but this probably doesn’t translate very well across the Pond, what would you call this style of hat?

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From above

Are you ready for Christmas?

Exciting News!

Yesterday I was offered a sales table at my work’s annual Xmas market / fair. I am so excited, this is the first time I have tried to sell my work face to face, I have been bouncing around like a child on Xmas eve! At first I was worried that I would not have enough items, but looking around I realise I have loads of very saleable felt and willow goods that I have made, it is just that most of them need final details or care labels. I spent most of last night stitching care labels onto toys, scarves and hats so I had about 20 items ready to go.

This morning I sprayed 5 willow sculptures with wood preservative, they will take a few days to dry but are also good to go. This afternoon I have been mounting textile art onto mountboards and canvases and putting the pieces on mountboard into cellophane envelopes, that’s another 20 pieces ready to go. I am amazed by my own nervous energy, there are things that have been sitting in “nearly finished” piles for months that are suddenly finding their way to the finished pile. It is amazingly cathartic to see so many pieces finally complete.

I also found time today to repeat the wet felting of my stags at sunset picture that I have been needle-felting recently, the black is much more black now and repeating the wet felting has removed the fuzziness and tiny holes you get from needle-felting. I just need to decide how to hang it now…

One of the pictures I mounted was the sea hollies wall hanging, I think it looks great mounted on a canvas slightly smaller than the felt, giving the impression that it is floating away from the wall.

And I even managed to finish felting a handbag: