Saturday, April 28, 2007

Think I can't help?

"I see a bar of soap and a knife. So what you going to make out of that?"
Me- "A model".
"Of What?"
"I don't know. What do you want to head for? Something cute? or something useful?"
"Something useful"

OK...Going to create a new design and it has to be useful. So what is useful that's about the size of a bar of soap. How big is that bar? How many do you have? You have 3. Great! We can do all sorts of things with that.

Take 2 of them, wet them and screw them together so that they bond together. Now you have a block.

So how about an incense burner? OK, well you don't want just one incense burner. Right? You want a series. So what kind of theme shall we go by? Cute animals? Houses? Birdhouses? Slot machines? Maybe even varieties of trees? Oh, I've got an idea, how about a computer?

How about a base that looks like a desk top? And maybe a permanent part of the design that looks like either the tower or the monitor and the other is the dome over the incense. Oh, I know....let's do a base that is the top of a desk with the tower on one side that's a permanent part of the foundation and we'll design the monitor separately so that it's the dome that sits over the incense. So first we'll take the one bar of soap and carve it down almost flat.

Not too thin. We need it to be small but strong. Hydrostone is strong enough for an incense burner so I think we'll make it out of that.

So now we'll take a saw and saw those other two bars in half. We'll use one half to form the tower. Carve it down to fit on one half of our base. The other half we'll form the monitor.

You can use an X-acto blade or a small kitchen knife for carving. Maybe even wood carving tools. Whatever you have. Once it's almost done, the shape is all there, you could take a small sponge to smooth it out.

How about I come back later and actually go through exact, step by step, on how to make of mold of it, how to reproduce it and the best to paint and finish the piece so that it's appealing cute and sellable? :)

Designing: There is a world of Creative Ideas Inside You

There is truly a bottomless pit of design, ideas and ability inside your head but you feel you don't have the talent to do anything with it.

Most folks think that way. Countless times, through necessity and just plain hard times, I've discovered things about myself that I never knew were there. I get amazed sometimes.It's inside you, too. You've just never been determined enough.

Sounds like I'm pushing my own product but the fact is that when I learned how to manipulate my world with mold making, I opened up a whole new world inside myself.

Part of my own succcess came through insatiable curiosity. I always had to know, "How did they make that?"I just happened to have a creative grandmother who lived 700 miles away. When asked if I could find a way to replicate an animals jawbone, in miniature, for a project, I wrote to my grandmother. By hand-written letter, she gave me instructions for building a rubber mold out of rubber latex. It was trial and error but I managed.

I spent a childhood, finding and creating things with raw clay. When I discovered the world of poured ceramics, later in life, it only fed the fires of curiosity. Learning the in's and out's of pouring clay was not enough. I looked to those molds in wonderment and that just pushed me further.

When life handed me a raw deal, I weasled my way out by learning, the hard way, how to design for ceramics and make the molds. I managed to eek out a living while staying safely tucked in the underground world of women hiding from the gun of an ex-husband.

The cherished part of that chapter in my life was the discovery of what all I had inside me, hidden even from myself.Nothing would thrill me more than helping others discover this very thing within themselves.

The ideas are there and you don't have to copy. What is in your own head, can be perfectly marketable.What is it that makes you stop and notice? Flowers? Clouds? Old things? Babies? Puppies or kittens?How about a list of things that spark your interest.

Make one of your own. Something like:Carved and polished wood.Polished stones.Scroll work on clocks.Water fountains.NeedlepointSculptured wall hangings. Old cars.Twisted tree roots.Exotic fish.Snakes.Turtles.Whatever happens to be favorites for you, regardless of how simple.Now realize, you're not alone. Others find these things fascinating.

Those others could be your end customers.Let's say you have a thing for turtles. We'll start there. If a formed object, where all could a turtle be and what could a turtle design do? How cute could a turtle be? Dressed up? A girl turtle with long eyelashes?Could the turtle be a mug? A remote holder? A trinket box? A clock? A bird feeder? A sculpured wall hanging? A sugar bowl? A pet feeder?

Use the same creative thoughts for just about anything. I mean, could polished stones be set in clear resin to make a spoon rest?Let's say you have absolutely no money to experiment. Can you get your hands on a bag of earthenware clay for about $4? What kind of molding material could you afford? Plaster or liquid latex is about the cheapest. With liquid latex, you could make molds to pour plaster objects.

Or if you can afford more, there are numerous different kinds of rubber you can use to make a mold to pour resins.Did you know that you can add just about anything to resin to either add texture or stretch the costs? Sand,sawdust,powders of all kinds. You could find a way to grind up old plastic coffee containers to mix with resin. Not only would that turn trash into treasure, it would give color to your projects and stretch the resin cost.

Don't be afraid to experiment.I talk about molds because only through molded obects, can you continuously replicate your original design. Let's face it, not everybody can sell that 'one of a kind' for big bucks.

Most of us have to find a way to reproduce as cheaply as possible, while cutting down on labor time. Why not let your designing time, pay you back over and over?Here's an idea? Come up with cute and decorative ways to tell people 'No Smoking'? That's certainly on everybody's minds today. How about something cute that decorates the dining table, that is actually a pill identity system for those with bad eyesight? Divided small trays with identifying design by feel. Differing number of small buttons or identifying shapes? Spark any ideas?

If you can come up with items that help people to be more independent in their own personal lives, you've come up with a huge seller. Help people to help themselves or give to the market, something they can't resist. It's cute, it's useful, it cuts down on costs in some way, it feels good, they want to share it.

How about a unique toilet paper holder for the bathroom? I designed one that can store 4 rolls and uses no center spindle but nobody's making it. If you want the idea just give me a holler by email.Take what's in your head and find a way to push those hot buttons. After all, you're not designing just for a hobby.

Of course, if you are designing just for a hobby, you don't care if anybody else likes it. Just do it.What I'm getting at is that there is more to you than you think. Pick up a bar of soap and a knife and see what you can make of it.

Judy Sims

Craft Supplies: Don't Always Just Believe the Label

That was the first thing I learned about the crafting world, at the age of 8 or so.
My grandmother was one of those that constantly dabbled in crafts. She had a tiny craft supply shop in southern Texas.
I was "helping" grandmother when she asked me to hand her the mold release. She was pouring plaster into plastic molds. I looked around and couldn't find anything labeled 'mold release'. She finally reached past me and grabbed the Windex.
"Grandmother, that's Windex!" and she replied "don't believe everything you read".

That's the day I learned to look past labels. You see, the windex was a perfect mold dressing for what she was doing but anything labeled 'mold release', cost twice as much. :)

Then some years ago, I was writing and illustrating a crafters newsletter. I was getting all these freebies in the mail so that I could give a review in the newsletter. One day I got a package of heavy thread from the weaving supply. They called it 'warp thread' or 'weft thread', I swear I can't remember now which is which. Anyway, I pulled it out and discovered (by my own experience) it was nothing more than heavy bedspread crochet thread but cost twice as much.

So there you go. When you're looking for ingredients, look past the label to the actual product you need.

I'm right here

If you have an idea, you're not sure how to get it started, you know it shouldn't be hard to produce but not really sure how, don't have much money to mess around with or very little space to work with.........
give a holler here or at the forums
and I'll help to brainstorm. I'm great at brainstorming.

When I had my shop in Albuquerque, I helped many new businesses get a launch just by helping them with a new design or a hint for some little change.

While I was out on the road, driving an 18 wheeler, I spent hundreds of miles off into some new design that had popped into my head. There really seems to be no stopping this head of mine, designing and creating new ideas.

Why am I not doing it myself? Well, the fact is I'm getting too old and while almost convinced to get my hands into it again, speeding tickets ran me into the ground and stopped all my planning into the future by stopping the income. Believe me, I'm pondering. :)

Crafters of America

Talking to the crafters of America, especially.

We have, in recent years, faced a whole new challenge to make a living by our own hands. Reason? China! Well, and Taiwan, Peru, Mexico, etc.

The more advanced we've become, in world trade, the harder it has become to create, on our own, and make a living. Just about anything we can make, the big department stores can have made for half the price. Why? So they can grow fat and sassy off the profits.So where does that leave us? Nobody wants crocheted doilies, they can buy it cheaper at Walmart.

Selling quality is boiled down to a narrow market that can afford such ideas.We have to figure a way to produce a product that is marketable. There's the quandry.So now it's time to sit down and examine your own talents, materials at hand and workshop space. Hard to do when you're poor and just trying to find your way through life. Right?

Sit down with pencil and paper and just start scribbling. The goal is to come up with a unique idea that fits into your abilities.Just start out listing eveything you can do, craft wise. What are the materials you use? How many ways can those same materials be used?

Let's say you work with wood. You already know you can make furniture and toys but have you considered little things like walking sticks, carved coasters,figurines, wall hangings?While its true that the big stores are looking for that bottom dollar, the interior decorators look for uniqueness, flair, personality.

There are two choices: go very big or go very small. Since most of us are not in a position to open up a factory, I suggest very small. Narrow down your market, if for no other reason than giving yourself time to grow.

Considering that most of us are just that tiny little speck on the world map, we have to learn from the ants. One crumb at a time. Naturally, I'm speaking to those who must start small.Let's say you come up with a unique shape for a wooden candle holder. Take pictures of it with the candle. Drape something blue behind it. Blue accentuates just about anything. Take another picture with it in a setting, like a coffee table or end table.

Imagine a 2' tall wooden candle holder in its natural shape, coating in plastic. Something meant to sit in the foyer or accentuate a fireplace.Take those pictures to the buyer in the furniture store, the owner of a decor shop and offer consignment.After the first few sales, you can approach them for outright wholesale sales, as they already know what price the piece will command.

Once you have a product established with a store, keep right down that same path. In other words, make it your line of expertise.When you find something that works, you don't go flying off into all directions looking for another. You perfect what you've already started and begin building your name through it. Become the author.

Promise nothing. You can give folks exclusives in a certain area, maybe a mile radius or a certain shopping area but that's it. You need room to grow.No matter what, keep this in mind: if the first guy doesn't want it, the next one will.

Don't get discouraged. That will bring you down faster than anything. There is a store out there that will give it a try.Just a note. Styrofoam and crochet just will not make it to a store shelf. Find something else. Wood, wool,clay,metal. And have faith in yourself.

Marketing Crafts

When you first decide you need to build and farm out a market, it dawns on you that you don't really know for sure which direction to go. Florists? Gift shops? Tourism? A specialized line?

If the point is to fill a need, you first need to go shopping. You are headed out to investigate.For goodness sake don't get caught up in that 6 of item #1 for Shop so and so and a dozen of item #2 for Shop what's his name. No. What you are out to do is to narrow down the product line.

See how many shops in your area are interested in one or two particular themes or items.An example: I go tooling around the area, poking my nose into every shop I come across. One is all garden decor with fountains and figurines and plants, etc. Another is all country crafts. Another is Home Decor, with all sorts of weird stuff from all over the world. I wear myself out visiting over a dozen shops.

All the while I'm keeping notes on the shop names, addresses, what they carry, what seems to be their main theme. Did they have lots of stock of one item and only one or two of another? You see, most likely those items they have in abundance, are slow movers while those things they are limited on are probably the steady movers.

That night, I'll study my findings and try to narrow it down to one theme or one subject line. Something like "vintage flower pots" or "salt n peppers with local themes" or maybe even "wild dish designs" or "native American". Don't forget Christian themes, Cross collections, Frog and owl collectors.

Try to get a hook on the local flavors. Not from your experience but from the point of view of the retailer.Check out colors. Some areas of the country seem to wallow in mauve and peach while another part of the country seems to favor turquoise and red. All flavors.

Tomorrow go west instead of east and do the same thing. Now you're ready for some homework.If you already have a collection of molds, study what you have that would fit into the majority of the market you've already witnessed. Boil it down to maybe 5 designs. Something you can play with, change the colors on to fit your market.Prepare samplings of each design, take pictures.

On market day you can take the photos of any large items and actual sample pieces of your small items.Timing is important. Most of the shops you will deal with will be closed on Mondays. Why? Because the weekends are the busiest time and certainly not the time to be closed. So normally a giftshop owner will close either on Mondays or Tuesdays.

Find out which day or days, the shop is closed. You want to be there on the first day of their week. It's normally the slowest day.Above all things, you conduct yourself in the same manner you would if you owned that shop. I never distract the buyer/owner when customers are wandering the shop and certainly not when customers are at the counter. You'll find the shop keepers truly appreciate this.

Don't over dress. If you happen to be in a tourism area, wear what a tourist would wear. These days, blue jeans and a T-shirt, are absolutely acceptable. I found that to dress 'my' part seems truly fit. I was a dusty manufacturer. What could else could I be? For me to put on clean pants and shirt was an amazing sacrifice.

When you introduce yourself, the shop keeper is more impressed with you dressing as who you are. It's more 'mystique'HaWhen you approach the shop, remember this. You are about to meet a new friend. It's not a scary thing at all.Want to hear one of my speeches? "I'm a local manufacturer. Among other things, I do a line of magnets and nightlights. I want to work closer to home where I can get more out of business than paperwork. If you're interested ( as I hand her my printed out page of pictures), I'd love to work with you and get to know you better. It's more fun. (Insinuating that I'm tired of the rat race but without offering any more information) "I like to work in exclusives. Mostly because it keeps my customers happy. And I will swap out shelf weary items. She's hooked.

You see, the game is like this. Who are we? China? Face it. We have the biggest, most powerful competitor our kind has ever had to face. So what do we have to offer, to compete with? Uniqueness, that's what. We are the unique. That product that no immediate competition has. It doesn't hurt to offer exclusives, if you've picked a line that many are interested in. You can always promise not to sell to any competitors within a 5 mile radius, or a 10 mile radius.

It's not going to kill us to make several deliveries on the same day. Make a loop route out of it and grab your groceries on the way.Let's say I'm producing a line of magnets and some are more of a Mexican theme and some a Native American theme while others are country cuties. They're just magnets! What's the big deal. Offer the line of Mexican theme to one shop, a line of Native American to another, and so forth. They pour the same, just different colors. Get it? You can do the same with night lights, with candle burners, vases. Offer exclusives. And offer to swap out for "shelf weary" items. Those are the items that sit there and collect dust, doing the shop owner no good at all. He/She can't get THAT from China.

If your new contact says something like "Let's give these a try. Bring me a dozen and we'll test them out". You be there when you said you'd be there. You bring your best. If you can't separately box, then at least cushion with tissue paper. Look as professional as you can and don't worry about it. Take your bill with you. Most times they will write out a check, there and then. If they don't have the checkbook, for some reason, tell them "that's ok, I'll be in the area tomorrow and will drop by". Hey, you have to get things rolling. Bend over backward. It'll be worth it.

Make it a habit to visit at least one new shop and introduce yourself, every time you go out to deliver. You'll begin to build your base and you'll be on your way. Keep a schedule. If you deliver on Tuesdays, make sure you're pouring Wednesdays, cleaning Thursdays, firing Fridays, that all is ready by Monday.

Some years ago, after a customer totally jilted me on a whole slew of these large pitcher and bowl sets, I put them in the trunk and started out. I dropped into a Nursery, with garden decor and such. I went in and said "Are you the buyer? I've got 30 sets of pitcher and bowl sets, in my car. Would you like to see them? I mean blunt as you can be.The buyer went out with me to the car, picked out 3 sets and paid for them.

Without being cocky about it, you put on an attitude of "I've got something you want. And if you don't, the next guy willI watched a representative of mine in action, one day. Blew my mind. There was a room full of rejects. Pitcher and bowl sets that just weren't right. He walked into this place that was set up in an old gas station on a corner. They dealt in used EVERYTHING. He had loaded up 100 of those sets.

He walked in and said "I've got 100 of our pitcher and bowl set rejects. If you take them today, I'll give em to ya for $11 a set". $11 a set covered my expenses, so it was strictly a bail out. They bought them on the spot. All of them. Evidently, they thought they could make a profit off them. I sure didn't know their business but if they wanted them, I was sure fine with it.That's the game.

Sweet little shop, hoity toity interior decor, swap shop, flee market, you name it. Profit and what they think they can sell. Period.See? It's actually easy. I know that when you first step out, you think you're going to vomit or something. Especially if you're starting this project in the hope of adding to the family income out of necessity. Jump out there.

If you happen to run into some dummy acting like you've invaded their space, just thank them for their time and leave them a card. There are plenty of others.Now at the other end of the stick, is the ones who have the means to get to those shows.

I don't personally like the small county or state craft shows. The idea there is retail sales and very few make their booth rent. It's usually nothing but disappointing.If you have the means to make it to one of the big shows, like Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, etc. Go for it but be ready. This is where you land the wholesale buyers. Truth is, nobody makes a huge landfall from retailing their own products. Wholesale is the answer but in wholesale, we're talking volumes.If you're going for the big market, wholesale, be prepared. Don't bite off more than you can chew.

If you want to hold down, being careful about not going overboard, you can go to the show and collect names and numbers. Talk to each potential buyer to see what they believe the volumes would be. You can be selective.Here's hoping you each one, find your way. That you each one don't make the stupid mistakes I made, along the way.

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About Me

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I'm a grandmother of 1, a ceramist, a ceramic mold maker, a truck driver and writer.

I'm also a webmaster of many and have several blogs.

I help others in designing product, make custom molds and I still do restorations.