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Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Joy of Metal Clay: A word about firing & my current project

Firing the project that I am currently working on reminded me of some important firing tips. If you remember from last week I am making a pendant made up of two domed squares. I fired this piece (in haste, it was a long day so I wasn't thinking as clearly as I usually).

I placed it in the kiln not really thinking about the best way to support it. I just placed it on a bed of vermiculite and turned on my kiln. This is the result:

The domed pieces collapsed together!

I forgot one of the key instructions I give my students: Think about how GRAVITY will work on you piece!!!! What I mean in this statement is to look at you piece and think about supporting it so that when it is heated that the molecules are sintering it doesn't collapse. I find this hard to explain in writing. But let me try.

For the piece in question the problem is that when it is placed flat in the kiln even though there is some vermiculite on the one side the gravity will still pull and flatten it. If I have placed it upright, as it illustrated below the force of gravity is pulling down on it and the domes don't flatten.

More simply if you think about a simple one sided domed piece. If you put on the shelf with the edjes of the dome on the kiln shelf (think like a turtle) the shelf with act with friction and stop it from collapsing. If you put it the shelf with the edges upward (like a turtle on his back) gravity will pull and it will flatten slightly.

When things go wrong, not all is lost. After yor piece is fired and before you polish it you can often try and shape it back. For the piece in question, I slid a pair of scissors into the edges and rotated them to spread apart the flattened edges. Voila!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Business Chat - Wearing your customer hat

Last week I did a really long craft show. The hours were long, it was stinking hot, it felt like eternity. At the end of the third day people started packing out early, some as many as 2 hours. Knowing that the highway wasn’t going to be fun I stayed until the end. And at the last minute I made a $600 sale. She probably wouldn’t have spent quite as much however 2 people she’d come to see had already left, and one woman refused to sell because she was packing. The customer was looking to spend money and no one was nice to her. I was and she made my day.

Customer service isn’t really that hard. Put on your customer hat and think about how you want to be treated. Then do that. If you don’t feel like it, put on your employee hat and suck it up. This is your job. Do it. How would you feel if you were trying to buy something and the vendor told you she was too busy? In many ways, online customer service is even more important than offline service. Online, your competition is closer, just a click away instead of across the street.

Here’s some tips on customer service.

  1. Put on your customer hat every time you interact with your public. How would you want to be treated? If there is a problem what solution would make you (in your customer hat) happy?

  2. Be positive and pleasant. Some days life just hands you a pile of crap and you feel terrible. This is your problem and no customer wants to hear about it. What they want is a nice smile and happy words. As tough as it is, keep your personal issues out of the sales arena. Sometimes it is better to put emails into draft and re-read them when you’re in a better mood to make sure negative emotions don’t sneak in.

  3. Watch your language, keep it positive. “No” and “I can’t” may be the truth but they leave the customer feeling negative. Try to find an alternative suggestion or word it differently.

  4. Always say thank you. A good rule of thumb is to end every interaction with a thank you. You can’t say "thanks" too often. And mean it. Without your customers you don’t have cash flow. No cash flow, no business. If you are selling online, always send an email letting the customer know when the item has shipped and thanking them.

  5. Don’t rush the customer. Remember, one of the reasons people seek out handmade is because they want a connection with a real live artist. Even if you don’t have all the time in the world, a relaxed tone of voice and patient approach with customers will go a long way to keep customers completely satisfied – even when they don’t get what they want.

  6. If a customer complains take it seriously. Do they have a valid issue or do they just need attention? Either way talk them through it. If they have a valid issue apologize and fix the problem so that it doesn’t happen again. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. If they need attention spend a few minutes. If they become too needy you may have to walk away but the challenge is to turn them around.

  7. Communicate clearly. A lot of customer issues begin when the customer feels like they’ve been mislead. If you are selling online tell the customer everything possible. Make sure your descriptions are complete, colour, size, packaging, shipping details. Leave nothing to their imaginations.
  8. Make sure you have clear shop policies. What forms of payment do you accept? What is your refund policy? Again, leave nothing to chance. When a customer knows exactly what to expect and you deliver exactly that you build up trust.

  9. Keep your promises. If you say you are going to ship the item on Wednesday, ship the item on Wednesday. If you take a custom order and you promise it will be ready in a week, have it ready in a week. If something comes up and you cannot keep your promise let the customer know as soon as possible. Acknowledging and explaining a delay is much better than silence. For online sales make sure your item is as close as possible to the item you listed online.
Remember that each of your customers has friends — and happy customers are the best referrals.

Friday, July 29, 2011

August 1 - Civic Holiday

Just a reminder that our bricks and mortar store will be closed on Monday, August 1st for the holiday. Our trusty computers will be standing by to take your online orders! Have a fun (and safe!) holiday!

Inspiration Friday

Happy Friday all! I'm grudgingly winding up what I hope proved to be a relaxing and much needed vacation. (I write this on the eve of my departure)

I've been paying more attention to texture and patterns recently. Here are a few of my favourites:

Source: via Spirit on Pinterest

Source: via Tracey on Pinterest

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Free Projects from Lark Books

Brought to you by the publishers of the 500 series books. I've just discovered that they have a wonderful selection of free projects from their books.

I particularly love this one by Laura McCabe:

 Get a copy of your instructions here

Here's the link to the full list!

New This Week!

Lucite in the Sky with Diamonds

s29958 Lucite Beads - 30 mm Wake Robin Flower - Purple Dusk (1)

Has the extreme heat got you feeling so hot and sticky that you are seriously considering not wearing jewelry? (The horror!) "I just want something light," you say, "Something nice and light that won't make me feel hot."

Well - this week we have, just for you, a fabulous selection of light and airy lucite flowers and leaves. You can stay inside in the air conditioning and build yourself a glorious garden to wear.

And when I say fabulous selection - I mean - this is our biggest update EVER - with 300 new sizes, shapes and colours!

s29721 Lucite Beads - 31 mm Fluted Trumpet Flower - Purple Dusk (1)So we have Lucite flowers - and we've roughly sorted s29962 Lucite Beads - 30 mm Wake Robin Flower - Frost (1)them by size, like these large Fluted Trumpets or the elegant Wake Robin.

Then we have the itty bitty flowers - like tiny coloured stars scattered s29920 Lucite Beads - 11 mm Carrie Flower - Rose Pink (1)across a meadow of wild flowers.

s29991 Lucite Beads - 17 mm Petunia - Jet (1)s29983 Lucite Beads - 17 mm Ruffled Calla Lily - Bordeaux (1)And then we have the ones in between - medium. And yes - we have them in black, in case the multiple shades of pink are not your cup of tea!

All of which reminds me of the joke about the escaped dwarf psychic convict - police issued an alert for a "small medium, at large."

s29649 Lucite Beads - 28 mm Curved Lanceolate Leaf - Aqua (1)Anyway - if you "beleaf" you want some leaves - we have leaves!

s29674 Lucite Beads - 39 mm Lalique Leaf - Damask Rose (1)Yep - we have large leaves, like these Curved Lanceolate Leaves, and these truly elegant, art deco Lalique Leaves.

s29690 Lucite Beads - 48 mm Hydrangea Leaf - Dusty Rose (1)

Or these sizeable Hydrangea Leaves! Think of the lovely pair of earrings these s29969 Lucite Beads - 15 mm Little Leaf - Miami Coral (1)would make - large, showy, and light enough to wear all evening!

Course, we have small leaves too, to s29669 Lucite Beads - 16 mm Peperonia Leaf - Purple Dusk (1)bundle into masses with the tiny flowers.

And, anything that was neither obviously large or obviously small, must be "medium," right? ;-)

If you want to "leaf" the garden behind - perhaps you would be inspired by a walk on the beach?

s30009 Natural Touch Resin Beads - 15 mm Pebbalinas - Matt Sunflower (5)s30032 Natural Touch Resin Beads - Smaller Funky Chunky Nuggets - Aquatic Green (1)We also have new resin beads from Natural Touch - in some wonderfully random pebble and rock shapes that look enticingly like little treasures of tumbled glass picked up while strolling on the beach. But without the sunburn, sandflies and rotting seaweed. I'm thinking a bunch of stretchy bracelets - so the question is, monochromatic or mix up the colours?

s30016 Natural Touch Resin Beads -  Jellies Mix - Mango Pineapple (10 grams)

Actually - if you are thinking a mix of colours and shapes would be fun and inspiring - check out these random mixes in juicy colour combinations.

s29997 Natural Touch Resin Beads - 22 x 32 mm Flat Kite - Grape Marble (1)

Still resin - but a different look - instead of the tumbled, soft matt look - these beads are glossy and have swirls of white marbled into the colour.

s29996 Natural Touch Resin Beads - Huge Oval - Turquoise Blue (1)

s30030 Natural Touch Resin Beads - 20 mm Puff Coin - Emerald Coast (1)Other interesting resin beads include these big rings - which could be a big link in a necklace, with some beads strung inside, or these puff coins, bracelet anyone?

You can click on a link or a picture above, or start with the Main Page, if you feeling intrepid, (there is a LOT of stuff there), or chunk it down into bite-size portions by checking out the categories: Click on a link and go crazy! Firepolish, Pressed Glass, Swarovski Crystal, Seedbeads, Stone and Pearls, Preciosa Crystal, Metal Beads, Other Cool Beads, Findings, Metal Clay & Supplies or Books, Kits, Tools. Look for the "new" tags!

Or maybe check out all our free, yes, free projects. A new one every week.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pretty Pen

The pen is mightier than the sword - especially if you are using it to write cheques. ;-)

Looking for a thoughtful gift idea for someone that is not so big on jewelry? Those big hole "Pandora"-style beads fit on bead pens! Or, just make one for yourself.

From left to right, a spiral spacer, a girly-pink Swarovski crystal, another spiral spacer, and a dazzling diamond clear Swarovski spacer - cuz they are pretty. A Lion for courage; a rooster for Courage, Flamboyance and, er, "Cockiness"; a rabbit for fertility, and a teddy bear for love and family.

It makes for a pen that is instantly recognizable - making it much less likely for someone to casually walk off with it. And completely justifies you making a big deal about getting it back!

Might even inspire you to sit down and write that novel. Because if a best-selling urban fantasy novel can be written on the back of scraps of paper in spare minutes - surely you can do it too!

You can also customize a pen for a teacher, a mentor, a visiting guest, a friend, a relation. Commemorate a visit, a recovery, a special day or celebration! Pair it with the wooden presentation box.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Joy Metal Clay: What I am working on....

My favorite floating, reversible pendant!

Above is one of my oldest and favorite pieces. I have gone on to make many for friends and family to keep pictures of their loved ones.

My boys, pictured above, have inspired me (read forced) to make a new piece. They have been begging that I change the photo in this piece. Because it is resin (removable yes, but will ruin the pictures) and because I don't want to change to pictures, I am in the process of designing a new photo pendant:

It is a two sided square, which I made by cutting out a square template then used the template to cut two identical squares (except one with an additional square cut for the photo to show through). I placed the moist clay squares into a plastic convex paint tray (for doming). Once dry I lightly sanded the tips of each square so that they are flat and then attached the two pieces by lightly moistening the tips and rubbing the pieces gently until the stick (alternatively you can use paste).

Obviously, I have yet to fire and polish the piece. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Business Chat - Hats!

Oh boy, today we’re doing something fun, we’re putting on hats! When you are one person running your own company you wear SO many hats it’s hard o keep track. There are however 3 primary hats you wear. For every business step you take you need to put on one of these hats.

First and most important is your BOSS hat. Call it whatever you like, Boss, Employer, Head Honcho, Big Cheese or Grand Poobah, this hat means that you are running the show. It is your company therefore you make the decisions. When faced with a choice it is you who has to research the possibilities, weigh out each option and then decide what to do. No one else is in control of your little empire except you.

When I lead my Micro Business workshops I am routinely asked questions such as: “when can I quit my job?”, “which craft shows should I apply to?”, “what should my website look like?”, “should I sell on Etsy or open my own webstore?” and my answer is I don’t know, it’s your decision. There are lots of advice columns available such as this one, free or paid, there are books, websites and coaches. It is up to you to read and research as much as you can so you know all the choices but as the boss the final decision is yours.

Making your own business decisions is especially important in a creative business because we are selling more than just goods. We are selling ourselves and our decisions must be true to us, genuine and sincere. I could give you a blueprint of every step I’ve taken, every decision I’ve made and you could follow it exactly and fail. Why? Because you are not me. You must be comfortable with your choices. You must also make the choices.

Running a small business is hard work - there are a lot of decisions. If you are looking for a business where someone walks you through every step, tells you what logo to use and what your packaging looks like then buy a franchise. If you want something with more challenge than asking, “do you want fries with that?” then put on your BOSS hat and let’s get down to running our little empires.

The second hat is your employee hat. As I write this I’m looking out my window and it’s gorgeous outside. Really, what I want right now is to sit on a patio with a frosty something and stare into space. However if I did that you’d be staring at a blank page. My boss told me that I cannot leave today until this is written (heck she can be harsh).

When you are wearing your boss hat you decide what must be done and then you put on your employee hat and do it. I can make all the decisions in the world but failing to do the work means that my company will fail. If my company fails then I’m going to have to get a job and I’ll be wearing an employee hat for real.

When faced with an unpleasant task (book keeping anyone? cleaning the studio?) it helps to think, “if I had staff I’d make them do this” or “if I was working for someone else they’d make me do this”.
Your third hat is your customer hat. For all your interactions with your customers put yourself in their shoes (ooh, maybe we should buy shoes to match the hat!”) and think “how would I like to be treated”. When designing your online store or your booth think from a customers’ point of view. What sort of refund policy makes you happy when you shop? Do you like free shipping? What extra touches make you feel like a special and valued customer?

Once you decide what you as a customer want then put on your boss hat and see if these choices are reasonable and you can implement them. Come to a decision that is makes both the customer and the boss happy. Now put on your employee hat and make it happen.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Inspiration Friday

I can already visualize this in seedbeads!

How 'bout a netted crystal cuff or necklace?

I'd love to make a set of lampwork beads in these colours.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Extreme Heat Alert

Due to the extreme weather - the lampworking studio is closed for the remainder of today (Thursday) and Happy Hour Torching is cancelled for this evening.

The store is still open and air conditioned. ;-)

Vintaj Design Inspiration

Vintaj @ beadFX

Susan on facebook reminded me about the awesome resources the Vintaj website provides for design inspiration, tips, and techniques to working with their fabulous findings. Enjoy 12 different video demonstrations on a variety of techniques - including embossing on metal.

For a full list of all the various videos, project sheets, and design ideas - Visit the tips and techniques section.

New This Week!

Just Ducky

96911945765-12 Metal Beads - Pandora/Euro Style -  Let me be your Teddy Bear - Antiqued Silver (1)

96911945762-12 Metal Beads - Pandora/Euro Style -  And They Swam All Over the Dam - Antiqued Silver (1)

Metal Ducky, you're the one
You make my jewelry
so much fun
Metal Ducky, I'm awfully fond of yooooou.

Teddy Charm, I love you too
You make me happy
when I am Blue
Teddy Charm, I'm awfully fond of yooooou!

Aren't these "unbearably" cute? These new "big-hole" beads have a super-sized 4 mm hole - which means that you can add them to the Euro-style charm-bracelets. Course - you can go way beyond too - adding them to leather, rattail cord, Silversilk knitted wire cable, and all sorts of other things where the stringing stuff is part of the design - where the medium is part of the message - so to speak!

For instance, check out Rae's inspiration this week - it was inspired by helping someone in the store who was interested in the Euro-style charm bracelets!

s29756 Stone Beads - 12 mm Big Hole Rondelle Donut - Ocean Agate (1)s29760 Freshwater Pearls -  Big Hole Potato Pearl - White Pearl (1)Other items with a big hole this week - although not actually big enough for the Euro-style bracelets - but still - pretty big - are Big Hole Pearls and Stone rondelles. These both have a 2.5 mm hole - still plenty large enough for 2 mm satin rattail, leather or whathaveyou. (As they are spread over different pages, here's a list with links!)

tb11r165c Japanese Seedbeads - 11/0 Toho Seedbeads - Transparent Rainbow RubyAlso big this week - more seedbeads! A significant update of Toho 11/0 seedbeads, 70 new colours and effects!

s30046 Books -  The Art of Resin Jewelry - by Sherri HaabOther new stuff around the site - just look for the "new" tags. Oh, and you should check out this new book by Sherri Haab if you are at all interested in the Ice Resin and the things you can do with it. Not just cabs with images embedded, but full-blown casting and molds and stuff. I just got mine and I am so excited by the possibilities! Woohoo!

You can click on a link or a picture above, or start with the Main Page, if you feeling intrepid, (there is a LOT of stuff there), or chunk it down into bite-size portions by checking out the categories: Click on a link and go crazy! Firepolish, Pressed Glass, Swarovski Crystal, Seedbeads, Stone and Pearls, Preciosa Crystal, Metal Beads, Other Cool Beads, Findings, Metal Clay & Supplies or Books, Kits, Tools. Look for the "new" tags!

Or maybe check out all our free, yes, free projects. A new one every week.