Friday, June 7, 2013

Earning crumbs

"What strange prizes these battles bring, these hectic joys, these weary blues."

I had an interesting conversation with Neil this morning. After I woke up at 6 am and gave up on trying to sleep, I googled early morning insomnia. Many studies show a correlation between chronic early morning awakening and depression. I don't feel depressed. I know what depression feels like and this isn't it.

Neil asked me why I make beads, is it something I love or something I do to make money. I countered with the query, isn't it possible to have work that you enjoy doing? To have a job doing something you love while earning a crumb doing it?

I love my work but I don't love the fact that I am filling up boxes and trays with more and more beads while making more. There is certainly satisfaction in making a bead that is aesthetically pleasing to me, but I'm jonesing for the other half of the equation, the validation of knowing that my work is aesthetically pleasing to others.

I've always been an external validation kind of gal. I'e gotten better at self-validation over time. But I'm happiest when I receive strokes from others, whether it be a sale or just a compliment or a share on Facebook.

The past week or so, I've been revisiting Warring States Beads. In my online listings I say this.
Beads of this design are traced back to beads made in ancient China during the Warring States period of history (early 5th century BC).
And from Wikipedia.
In China, glassmaking began around the 5th century BCE during the late Spring and Autumn to early Warring States periods. During the Warring States period ... glass was imported from regions outside of East Asia, such as Mesopotamia. Imported Western ... glass probably inspired the production of the first Chinese glasses. The main group of objects with Western influences are eye beads or dragonfly-eyed beads.
Here are some of my "Chinese eye beads."

I loved these the first time I made them. But as was the case with my first hearts, my first cats my first florals (plunged and raised), my first fish and owls, my first goddess beads, I was certain they'd be universally loved. I expected them to be best sellers. If I were a bead buyer, I would have been drawn to these beads.

True, I am a bead buyer, but I buy beads that are out of my skill set, styles I don't make and probably won't ever make. Once in a while I see a beautiful bead and think, I can make that. If a try or two convinces me that I can't make that, I will buy it from the artist. For instance, I don't do blown boro beads or marbles. I don't make pressed lentils or 3 dimensional roses. I don't do masked etching or paint with enamels on beads or do very elaborate fine stringer work. And sometimes I just want to own an artist's signature style or show support for the beauty they are making.

Back to my Warring States series. They are not simple to make, they take time and I think I execute them well if not brilliantly. And I think I've sold maybe one, at a show, where I was running a sale of buy two focals and get one free. I've had people consider them and tell me they don't like florals. I don't see these as floral in any way, but maybe to those who don't know the rich tradition of this style in the contemporary glass movement, they just look like a bunch of dots. I'm not objective. Plus there are artists who have built an entire revered reputation around dots. Take that, you non-lovers of my Chinese eye bead labors.

I am frustrated with the disconnect between how I see my beads and how the world evidently views them. I'm discouraged by lack of sales and stymied as to what I'm not doing right, whether it be putting my creative finger on the pulse of the art bead buying public, or spinning my marketing and merchandising wheels insufficiently or in the wrong direction.

Neil made some suggestions about studying the market and making what it popular, but I already do that. And if something I made sells, I immediately make more of that something, because if one person liked it enough to buy it, it might be the next big thing.

He also tossed out the idea of taking some more training, i.e., master classes, but I'm ambivalent. I've taken classes from most of the teachers I most admire and while I enjoy them, I'm not sure I'm learning anything new. Everyone has their own way of pulling stringer but at this point I know the way that works for me.

There's another issue with classes, especially if I have to travel and incur airfare and lodging costs on top of tuition. I have no cash flow right now, unless I sell a lot of beads. A LOT of beads. I can't access my retirement savings before Neil retires or they will be taxed at the highest Federal income tax rates. Even though I'm eligible to take distributions without incurring any penalties, Uncle Same still would get to keep 40%-50% of any money I withdraw.

So for now, I'm living on whatever my bead business brings in plus the money I have left from the time I left my company almost two years ago. I'm hoping I can make it last for two to three more years when other income sources will kick in.

But maybe I'll think longer and harder about taking a class in the Houston-Dallas- Austin-San Antonio radius. Or at the other end of the spectrum, I'll splurge real big and go to bead camp where you can take a 5 day class and stay on-site at the beach. That would be an awesome opportunity to bond with other passionate beadmakers and maybe help me empower myself to attend an event such as Bead and Button (which is happening right now) or the Best Bead Show in Tucson or the Glass Art Society conference or Soft Glass Invitational or Beadstock East or West.

So many choices, so little bread.

I better get working on on figuring out how to earn more crumbs.

"Behind my bolt locked door
The eagle and the serpent are at war in me
The serpent fighting for blind desire
The eagle for clarity
What strange prizes these battles bring
These hectic joys these weary blues
Puffed up and strutting when I think I win
Down and shaken when I think I lose
There are rivets up here in this eagle
There are box cars down there on your snake
And we are twins of spirit
No matter which route home we take
Or what we forsake
We're going to come up to the eyes of clarity
And we'll go down to the beads of guile
There is danger and education
In living out such a reckless life style
I touched you on the central plains
It was plane to train my twin
It was just plane shadow to train shadow
But to me it was skin to skin
The spirit talks in spectrums
He talks to mother earth to father sky
Self indulgence to self denial
Man to woman
Scales to feathers
You and I
Eagles in the sky
You and I
Snakes in the grass
You and I
Crawl and fly
You and I"

(Joni Mitchell, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz