by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

It just absolutely freaks me out when people stop in front of my booth and decide to chit-chat with old friends; this sometimes goes on for 20 minutes or more. They block the booth, and other people just walk by, and I know I am losing customers. This happens constantly! I can't imagine asking them to move it along, so what is the best way to handle this? -Candy Rosenthal, via e-mail

I've noticed this behavior everywhere these days, and I am always shocked by this thoughtlessness. Grocery store aisles, stairways, hallways, and narrow sidewalks are all perfect places for traffic-clogging conversations. Fortunately, chatting groups at these sites are only annoying and don't threaten anyone's business. However, the group in front of your booth is a threat. One approach would be to politely ask the people to move. You might point out that you need people to easily access your booth, and it would be good if they moved out into the middle of the aisle. If you're not comfortable with this, you might break into the conversation and invite them to come in and allow you to show them your work. They will most likely walk on, a positive way to remedy a negative situation.

Avoiding Burnout
I'm a mature craftsperson who has been making fashion jewelry for 25 years. I'm beginning to feel that my ideas are wearing out. Going to the studio feels too much like work. How do I get myself going again? -Martha Safe, via e-mail

This can be a serious problem, especially for the older masters in our field. Let's think of some ways you can use so that burnout doesn't burn you up. I just need to get one thing clear first. You have a business, and running it and going to the studio is work. We just want to enjoy going to work; that's why we chose this career path in the first place.

As with any events in our lives, it's important to learn from the down moments. What's making you feel this way just now? Are you working too hard? Too many hours? Do you need help? Are you worn down by the repetitive nature of your work? Are you finding it difficult to design new pieces for your jewelry line? Are you feeling isolated as a result of the long hours you spend in the studio? Whatever it is, don't run away from it; dive in.

Your creativity is your most important asset; it's important to nurture it and to be able to follow your creative impulses. I think the first thing you need to do is get out of your studio. This could mean taking a class that lets you play; I'd suggest you can do this best by taking a class outside your field. Think about a painting class, a foreign language class, or a cooking class. Whatever you choose, really immerse yourself.

You could also find a way to spend time with other makers, to share ideas, grumble, or talk about the weather and the kids or pets, just to be engaged with other people. This could be an informal coffee or tea date for two. Or, it could be a more formal artist salon with as many folks as you're inclined to include. The salon could have a theme, and the guests come prepared to talk about that topic.

Another idea that I find always works is to commit to an exhibit. The process of thinking through what you want to make and how you'll make it is usually very stimulating; there's nothing like a deadline to get you focused. I realize a craftsperson's production schedule is often driven by financial needs; however, it could be helpful to cut back a bit and allow time to play in your studio, generating ideas that might lead to new designs. You could also consider teaching a class. The process of getting your ideas organized very well may get your creativity going.

Burnout is the most threatening influence on your career, because it goes after your creativity, the most important asset you have. Each of us employs different methods to keep our creativity alive; hopefully, some of the ideas here will help you keep it going.

Inspiring Others
I have been making and selling pottery for many years, and I've done well doing it. I'm one of those people who like to "pay it forward," so I'd like to teach others, especially younger folks, about my craft and how a person can make a rewarding business out of it. How can I go about accomplishing this mission? -Derek Dudley, via e-mail

I really like this question and applaud your intention to give back. As more and more successful and knowledgeable old masters make the commitment to share their knowledge, our field will be stronger. And, in a bigger way, the richer our society will be.

I can think of a number of ways you can accomplish your goal. A small way you can give back would be to bring an apprentice into your studio. In this context, you would have the opportunity to pass your skills on in a controlled relationship with one deeply committed person. This would ensure that the apprentice gets the art skills and the all-too-important business skills needed to run a crafts business.

There are also ways to pay it forward outside your work space. Perhaps there is an art institution in your area where you could teach. It could be a full-fledged craft school, an adult education program, or a college art department. I believe it would be important to include information about the business side of things in these classes, also.

You mention younger folks. As I get older, it becomes clear to me that "younger" is a relative term. If by younger you mean school-aged kids, I urge you to go to the local schools and offer to teach pottery. We live in a time of diminishing funds for art education, and I strongly believe it is our place to pick up the ball on this one. Adults with some artistic background are able to make more informed decisions about many of life's challenges. In addition, an informed individual is much more likely to understand our work and, therefore, to become a customer. So, in the end, you could do well by doing good.

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