I’ve been told it’s a little bit mesmerizing…

You have to remember to take a day off.

Because I am self-employed, I rarely work a regular 9-5 week. Last weekend I worked a show all weekend long. I have a class coming up on Saturday and a residency tonight, both outside of “work hours”. It’s easy to basically be working 12 hour days for days in a row and not notice it.

It’s been kind of a crazy week. It’s been raining and my hubby has been sick with a hacking cough and the dogs have been squirrely so I feel like I am a little discombobulated. So yesterday I settled in to work on a project I have, with a deadline fast approaching, and I just couldn’t get motivated. I checked Facebook and ordered supplies and dawdled around and finally just made myself get to work late in the afternoon. But my enthusiasm (and my brain) weren’t really in it.

So then I cut out about 8 pieces for this important project completely, totally, un-fixably wrong. I printed one specially to be cut out a certain way and then blithely cut it in half (wrong). I tore one with the grain only to find that it didn’t tear with the grain but left me with two edges about 2 inches different from one another. I measured something else incorrectly. Welcome to Amateur Hour! Sheesh. When I finally figured it out, there was no other solution but to give up and order the fabric again.

So I left it in a pile on the table and went off to a meeting last night. This morning, I pulled it out and remeasured to make sure it was really as bad as I thought it was and I started over with a rush order of new fabric. I have time to fix it. It’s not an emergency. And there is enough mis-cut fabric for me to make myself a couple of tank dresses if I am clever about cutting it out. It’s all going to work out in the end, but it’s not exactly the way I had it planned.

I posted a comment on Facebook a while back about feeling like I had a day where I was operating at about 50% power and my good friend Marjorie replied with a comment something like “Well, you usually are operating at 150%, so you probably just need some down time.” Smart woman. And she is totally right. I should have listened to my own listlessness yesterday, made a latte and sat on the porch with a good book.

I have a personal rule about never operating a sewing machine after 10pm no matter how “awake” I am feeling. It always ends in too many hours with the seam ripper. I think I need a new rule about listening to my brain when it says “Today is not a work day.” Powering through that feeling didn’t work out so well for me. So this afternoon, before I have to go be an “artist in residence” for a few hours this evening, I am going to make a pot of tea and let my brain reset. I’ll get my work day in; I’m just doing it in pieces.


Speaking of pieces, the paper pieced block shown above I made in about 2005. It’s from a site called Paper Panache and was part of her Mystery Blocks sew along. She gives you the paper pieced pattern and colors but no clues as to the subject of the block. I am not really a quilter, but I think these are great fun for using up scraps and this alarm clock was a favorite one that I created. Her design work is beautiful and they always go together so nicely.

Shepherd’s Harvest Festival this weekend.

I think this is the 7th year I have been at Shepherd’s Harvest Festival with my friends Doreen and Jen. If you have never been to a fiber festival like this, it’s a lot of fun. It is held at a county fairgrounds. We have been snowed on and had 80 degree weather, which is pretty typical for May in MN. It looks like this year might be one of the nice ones. The 4H barns are full of vendors selling yarn, fiber, fiber tools, candles, soap, baskets. There are animals in the barns. You can watch sheep shearing, angora spinning, weaving, and all kinds of demos. There are food trucks. They’ve moved the festival back to Mother’s Day weekend after trying some different dates and we are really happy about that. It makes a great family outing for Mother’s day. I will have all of my zipper bags and punny fiber art geekery. I have BRAND NEW geeky designs debuting at the festival inspired by Dr Who, Firefly, Harry Potter and Settlers of Catan. Doreen, my boothmate, is a handspinner and dyer. She has all kinds of gorgeous yarns and she will probably be doing spinning demos most of the weekend. She has emu feathers that she has been spinning in to new yarns and I can’t wait to see them.

Being an artist is all a side hustle.

I first heard the term “side hustle” at a cocktail party with colleagues. When someone asks what you do for a living and you reply “I’m a full time artist”, every person you talk to pictures something different. Her vision was something like sew dresses all day and sell them to boutiques. (Which is really not what I do at all.) I tried to explain how my job is different every day of the week and I like it that way: I teach, I sell on Etsy, I do shows, I do community projects… And she said “Oh, it’s like teaching is your side hustle.”

Really, I think being an artist and being able to do it full time is all side hustle. It’s hard to support yourself by just making things and selling them. Not only do you put in the time to make it, but you have to put in the time to get it in front of people and hope that someone likes it enough to pay you for it. And you have to hope the economy is encouraging people to buy handmade. So you also sell it online, which doesn’t require you to be there standing in a booth all weekend and that helps with some of the overhead. And you teach it. And you write about it. Sometimes I wish I was making it more of the time, but balancing it with all of those other things really works better for me.

I was curious after I had this side hustle conversation with that colleague, so I pulled up my numbers for the past 2 years. 2015 and 2016 were the first two years that I have been my own boss full-time. Many of these things I have been doing part-time for many years along with my regular day job so these are established micro-businesses for me.

These are the percentages of my total income that I can attribute to each of my “jobs”.

Commissions/Digital Items includes things like the items I sell on RedBubble and Spoonflower. I make a commission from each of those designs that sell. That grew a lot in 2016. (It doesn’t even show up in 2015.) Why the growth? I put in the time. I added a lot of new designs, cleaned things up and put some care into my online shops. It made a difference.

In Person Sales includes consignment items I have at shops and art shows that I do, like the American Craft Council, Craft’za, Shepherd’s Harvest etc. I participated in more shows in 2015. I was really busy traveling to teach in 2016 so I couldn’t do as many.

Etsy sales is the things I sell on Etsy, obviously. Same story here: I did a lot of work on my Etsy shop in 2016. I rephotographed a lot of items and gave everything a fresh look and some polish to descriptions. I weeded out some things that weren’t selling and added a few new ones. Since this is a percentage of my total income, what you don’t see is that my total Etsy sales doubled from 2015 to 2016. (My income overall was greater too, so the percentage looks the same.) Seriously. The work to clean up and focus was completely worthwhile and so far 2017 is keeping pace with 2016, which is encouraging.

Teaching was huge for me in 2016. I taught a lot of classes, but I also started to adjust my teaching rates slightly to reflect what I should be paid for the expertise that I have. When I was teaching once in a while for local guilds it was fine to charge a “friends and family” kind of rate, but now that I am traveling and teaching more complex classes, I also need to be able to cover liability insurance, travel and things like that. I am hoping to roll out online classes this year, so I am teaching less in 2017 to have the time to get those up and running.

Misc is my consulting category. I have fees for writing articles & tutorials, web consulting, small graphic design projects.

Grants. I think this category is the least sustainable. I was super fortunate to get a whole bunch of large and small grants over the last two years. They are a lot of work to apply for and usually involve a lot of work for the grant project itself, but they are the thing that makes the big projects happen. I was able to do two huge teaching residencies, mount my first solo exhibition and first public art piece all because of grant funding. I will keep applying, but I know 2017 will be decreased, because I didn’t get one I applied for and I took a break from applying because I didn’t want to have too many overlapping projects. I was making myself a little crazy with so many balls in the air.


I thought these numbers were really interesting. (Did you know that my teaching degree is in math? Does this surprise you?) When I started on this adventure of being my own boss, I gave myself permission to just try stuff. I said yes to nearly everything. I applied for things that I thought would be cool and ones that I thought would be a long shot. I taught at a prestigious craft school and at the neighborhood library. This year I made enough actual profit to be able to contribute to a SEP IRA. But it was a LOT of hustle.

I’m still in the “trying stuff” phase of my business at this point. I am doing some serious thinking about opening a second online shop with all of my clothing & accessory items which I currently only sell at in-person shows. I am working on online classes which has been a goal for much too long. Time to make that one happen. I think my ideal balance would be in thirds: teaching/sales/grants. I don’t want to become a manufacturer where all I do is sew stuff to sell to other people. I like the one-on-one work of teaching people and I already have several more exhibitions dreamed up. That seems like a great balance to me.

If I want to have one message from this post to leave you with, it is actually something that I wish I could tell myself from about 8 years ago. I used to get really discouraged about not having thousands of blog followers and not being a craft-internet-celebrity or the most popular Etsy shop or whatever the success benchmark was. I was sure I couldn’t cut it on my own because I didn’t have the social media following or the giant mailing list. But I realized that doesn’t really matter. It’s about going out there and doing it. I had 11 students at the last class I taught and they could care less about how many Instagram followers I have. The 12 of us got to do nothing but make art for 2 hours together and how often does that happen? I had the privilege of being on the Etsy Sellers Advisory Board last year not because I had 16,000 sales, but because I stepped up and said “I have something valuable to contribute” and they believed me. If you don’t show up/ask/apply, they can’t say yes.

 

Using Adobe Capture for Fabric Design

This tutorial comes to you via an email I received. This seemed like the kind of question that would make a great tutorial.

I love the patterns that I’ve created using Adobe Capture and I can see them in my library when I use Photoshop.  What I’m having problems with is making the Adobe Capture patterns into a seamless repeat to upload into Spoonflower. I have been able to upload my image into Spoonflower and it looks good as a swatch, a quarter yard; however, the full yard you can see that the pattern is not seamless.   I can’t find any video or blog info on how to do a step by step to make these beautiful Adobe Capture patterns into fabric.  — Shirley

What’s Capture?

Adobe Capture is an app for your phone or tablet. You can “capture” colorways or patterns in the app using your device’s camera and they are loaded directly into Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator in the Libraries tab. Once they are in the Libraries, you can use them in your Photoshop or Illustrator designs. Here is a great tutorial & description from Adobe for a little more about how Libraries work.

For this tutorial, I am going to talk specifically about the workflow of taking a Pattern that you create in Adobe Capture and how to upload it to Spoonflower to make a fabric design.

Create the pattern

First, you need to create a pattern in Adobe Capture and save it to your Library.

Launch Adobe Capture and make sure you are signed in to your Adobe account. Choose the Patterns tab at the top of the screen. Then tap the + button at the bottom to add a new Pattern.

Use the built in camera to capture an image or you can choose something you have saved to your Camera Roll by tapping the thumbnail in the top right. Along the left side of this screen, you see the different pattern repeat types you can choose. Each one crops out a section of the image and repeats it by mirroring and rotating it. When you have the pattern you like, then save it by tapping the purple button.

Next you will come to the Edit Pattern screen. You can change the angle and some blending on your photo. Once you are happy, tap the Next button at the top right.

Then you will get a Preview screen so you can see what your pattern would look like filling up the whole screen. Cool. Tap Next at the top right.

Finally save it to your Libraries. You can give it a new name and choose the Library you want to save it into in the dropdown. Then tap Save Pattern.

Finding your Pattern in Photoshop

Here’s the cool part. When I open Photoshop, this pattern is going to pop up there automatically. Look for a palette that is called Libraries. It is often not open by default, so you will need to go under the Window menu and find Libraries to open it up.

Within that Libraries palette, scroll down until you see Patterns and there you will see the Pencils pattern I just made. (Sometimes they take a few seconds to pop over there depending on your wifi speed. Be patient.)

So why do we have to go to Photoshop? Can’t we just upload that pattern from Capture somehow? The pattern isn’t actually a file you can upload directly to Spoonflower, although that would be really handy. It only exists in the Pattern palette until we fill a canvas and turn it into a .jpg. Think of it like a knitting pattern. Until you take the pattern and knit a sweater from it, you can’t wear the sweater. Until you apply the Pattern to something, you can’t use it at Spoonflower.

Make a new blank file by choosing File -> New. I made mine 14×14 inches at 72 ppi. I will explain why I chose that size in a minute. Then I click the pattern in the Libraries palette and it will fill the canvas with that pattern.

A Pattern Fill dialogue box will pop up asking what scale you want to fill your canvas. Enter 100% in the scale box and click OK. Why 100%? Because I want to make this the largest it can possibly get. It’s super easy to scale it down in Spoonflower, but I want to save it the biggest I can get it so I have the most options for using it. Now that we’ve filled something with the pattern, we can save this and upload it to Spoonflower.

But first, I want you to take a look at this image. I think, based on Shirley’s email that we saw at the top of the post, this was the step that is tripping her up. If I upload this right now to Spoonflower, it’s not going to be seamless. You are going to see a flaw. If you look at the left and right sides of the image, you can see that they wouldn’t match up. There is a half an image on the right side, but no half image on the left to match it to. Here’s what it would look like if I uploaded it right now.

That’s not the same thing we saw on the Preview screen up above. Why? The repeating pattern tile that Adobe Capture creates is a set size and that size is not 14×14 inches. Photoshop filled the 14 inch canvas exactly as we asked, but to fill it, it used about 2 1/2 repeats by 2 1/2 repeats of our tile. I picked a 14 inch canvas so I could show you this example, but there is a better size to make your canvas.

Making One Repeat

To make it seamless on Spoonflower, we need to upload one repeat, not 2 1/2 repeats like we made in that example file.

So how do you make it so you have just one repeat? That took me a little sleuthing and I couldn’t find this spec published anywhere so I had to go in to Photoshop and figure it out. (ie Lots of trial and error and zooming in looking at pixels. You can imagine this step.) Disclaimer: I couldn’t find this information actually published anywhere, so this is the results of my experiments. I may be off by a pixel or so but I think this is accurate.

For each of the different repeat styles you can choose in Adobe Capture, it creates a pattern tile that is an exact size. I made the chart (shown above) that tells you what those sizes are. For some of the patterns, the tile is square and for some it is a rectangle. The size you see on the chart represents the size of one repeat at 100% scale.

Making one repeat is pretty straightforward once you know the size. Create a new file by going to File -> New and fill in the size of a single repeat from the chart.

If you don’t remember what repeat style you chose, there isn’t a really good way to tell which is which. A good rule of thumb is that if you can see hexagons in your design anywhere, it was very likely one of the rectangle (1330×772) designs.

Now choose the Pattern by clicking on it from the Libraries palette and set it to fill at 100% scale. Now I have one repeat.

Save this file as a .jpg and upload it to Spoonflower. Choose the basic repeat style. Now the uploaded design at Spoonflower looks just like the Preview we saw on the iPad screen.

The preview we are looking at in the image above is 1 yard of fabric, which means this repeating element is pretty big (almost 7 inches). If you want to scale it down, just click the smaller button under the Design Size section until you like the scale.

I clicked the “smaller” button a bunch of times and this shows a repeat size of about 2.5 inches on a yard of fabric. Perfect!


Thanks, Shirley, for a great question! If you have a question you’d like me to write a tutorial about, just ask! I love getting ideas from you.

An introvert’s guide to surviving an art show

A friend posted a comment on something I wrote on Facebook:

I want to have a booth at a show, but I am nervous that I will not be charming enough. Any tips for being yourself And an introvert and a good salesperson for the crafts you love to make?

That seemed like an awesome thing to think about and share what I do. I am a major introvert. When I say that, I always have students from my classes say “There’s no way you’re an introvert.” but it’s really true. When I am in front of a class, I can turn off the introvert for a while and I enjoy it, but I have a timer and it runs out. I get what I call a “teaching hangover”, especially when I teach in the evenings where I need several hours to unwind and reset before I can sleep or deal with people again. It’s a different feeling than just being tired. I feel prickly and scatterbrained and I crave silence. (It’s a lot like the onset of a migraine now that I think of it.) I need to get that out of my system before I can do anything else. So a class that goes until 9 pm means I will be up until 2 am before I feel like I can relax again. I know that about myself, so I have come with a lot of ways to make it work.

When you’re an introvert, showing your art at a show is pretty much you having to be “on” for 8 or 10 hours straight, which is so hard to do. The reason people come to art shows is because they are interested in handmade items and they are interested in meeting the artists that make them. That means you. My last post was all about how that interaction with the artist can make all the difference in both positive and negative ways. So here are a few ways I deal with being an introvert and surviving a long show day and making sure I am being the best ambassador for my art.

Meet your neighbors

One of the first things I do is try to meet the people that are set up on either side of me. Especially if you are staffing your booth by yourself, it’s nice to feel like you have a couple of friends who are in the same boat. It makes it feel less awkward to borrow a sharpie or masking tape from them and you have someone to eye-roll with when things are slow. Chances are good that everything is going to be crowded (because it always is) and you are going to be encroaching on each other’s space in some way. That’s a lot easier to tolerate from a friend when you are crawling under their table to find your water bottle or their customers are standing in the way of your display and chatting.

Don’t forget fuel

It’s tempting to get a giant latte loaded with sugar and figure that caffeinated energy will carry you through your introvertness. And that works to a point. But around Hour 3 when you are jittery and the sugar has crashed, your ability to cope with crowds of people is toast. It’s going to be loud and you will get thirsty from talking a lot. Water is good. I am not really excited about plain water, so I drink a lot of tea. I have decided that almonds, apples & cheese are pretty much the perfect show snack. Cut everything up into small pieces. Stash it in a container under the table. You don’t want anything that makes your fingers messy and you want to be able to eat it in a couple of bites. You might get a break, but you might not. And I don’t know about you, but if I am hungry, I am even less interested in talking to people and they stress me out more.

Be present

The simplest version of this one is “don’t sit down”. It’s tempting to make yourself a home base where you feel comfortable watching people come in to your booth, but you are out of the way. But the problem is that when you sit down, you are tempted to pull out your phone or your knitting or something to keep yourself busy. Then you are looking down and not making eye contact. And then you look busy and someone with a question might not want to interrupt because it looks like you are counting stitches. And we introverts don’t want to be interrupted, so this one just perpetuates itself. A tall stool or chair helps with this, so you can literally sit and not have to be on your feet all day, but you are still at eye level with the people who are shopping and not tempted to hide in your phone. My phone battery is iffy so there is no surfing for me or my Square checkout might not make it through the day. I always wear a bracelet to fidget with even though I would love to have my knitting to fidget with instead. Being present also means not letting yourself get monopolized. I overheard several unhappy comments from customers at my last show because one of my neighbors had a huge bunch of friends in the booth chatting with each other. No one else could get in to look and the artist was completely unaware.

Don’t get trapped

This one is about your booth design. It took me a while to figure out the simple design of “here’s a table with all of my stuff and I stand behind the table” totally makes me feel trapped. I am constantly on display along with my art right in front of all of those people, aka the Introverts Nightmare. I now try to make a booth where I have several places to stand, including out in the aisle. I want to be able to see my things at all times, but I want to be able to move around and not have me or the customer feel like we are watching each other. I think it also helps to wear a nametag so that no matter where I stand people can figure out that I belong to the booth. Some shows really don’t lend themselves to this, but give your design some creative thinking. I have seriously taped out the space with masking tape on my livingroom floor and mocked up the booth before I go.

 

 

Find the story

Ugh. Small talk. Right?

“Let me know if you have any questions.” is a good opening line, but it’s so commonly said that we almost don’t hear it any more. Often the first thing someone says when they walk up to my things is “Pretty fabric” or something like that, so my opening line has become: “Thank you! I design all of these fabrics and have them digitally printed.” At which point they usually look up at me with a confused look on their face (because what I do is unusual) and they ask me a question. “What do you mean digitally printed?” “You designed all of them?” “You can do that?” And now we have a conversation started and it’s the easy conversation. It’s easy to talk about what you do because you love it. You wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. You aren’t selling it at that point, you are sharing your love and enthusiasm for it. And that’s a way more fun conversation than “How much is this?” I also print out a card that talks about what’s unusual about my work and I put it in the display. That’s for the introvert shoppers.

What’s the opening line you can say that invites people to ask you more?

  • Something you can’t tell by looking at it (ie it’s digitally printed)
  • Alternate ways to use it (ie it’s a necktie, but I am a girl and I am wearing one right now)
  • What’s unique about it (ie I use all reclaimed fabrics or recycled silver)

Have a break

Get a friend to come. Leave for 5 minutes and go away from the crowd where you can be “off” for a while. Walk outside or even hide in the bathroom. Anything where you can be anonymous for a couple of minutes will give you a little chance to reset. I rarely have someone stay in the booth with me. There is never enough room and you tend to talk to that person instead of customers. But someone who can drop by for 10 minutes is the best gift you will get all day. It’s always the last thing I think to organize, but it’s so important. Shows will often give free or assistant passes to vendors; this is what you use those for. This person doesn’t need to know how to do anything more than say “The artist stepped away for just a minute and will be back soon.”

Go home and reset

This is important for multi-day shows. I always have invites to go out and grab dinner after a show and I rarely say yes. You need the time in the evening to reset if you are going to do another day at the booth. Have a hot bath, eat something, drink a glass of wine, go to bed early.


I have actually gotten to where there are some art shows that I really enjoy. I know what to expect, I know I will be having the same small talk conversation all day and I still enjoy it. But that’s taken some practice. Your first few shows are going to be exhausting. Making your booth/strategy work for your personality is going to make you feel more confident and even if it feels a little contrived to come up with an “opening line”, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes and it doesn’t feel that way at all.