Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year in Review

I lay cozy in bed (there has been much coziness here in the past few days) and contemplate the year ending today. "January, you start the year off fine. February, you're my little Valentine. March, I'm gonna march you down the aisle. April, you're my Easter bunny when you smile..." Yes, I wrote all those Neal Sedaka "Calendar Girl" lyrics from memory--while the accompanying scene from "Deadpool" ran though my mind. It's been that kind of year. More so than most, it was a year of endings and beginnings. Part of that may be that I am feeling closer to my mortality than I have in the past, but the rest been hello, good-bye, wash, rinse, repeat. Data.world, the American Made Show, Atlanta, Stone's Throw, the Waldorf School, and McCallum Cinematic Arts Program, to name a few.

I could list the highlights of the year out (blah blah, blah blah), but I decided to end the year with pictures instead. Then I'm getting back to our traditional New Year's Eve of six movies. We each picked two and just came to the end of Jessie's first pick: "Scott Pilgrim vs the World". Next up (in order):

Blade Runner (Dave)
The Hateful Eight (Me)
Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist (Dave)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (J)
Star Trek: First Contact (Me)

Happy End of 2016 everyone. Hope no one else dies...


Friday, December 30, 2016

Timey Wimey

I sit cozy under the lovely English wool blanket I got at Stonehenge last year sipping English Breakfast tea in a Japanese style tea cup I bought from the artist at last year's American Made show, and I cast my gaze to the year to come. As so often happens at this time of the year I reevaluate my activities, routines, pursuits and passions, and I think of how I might tweak them for an even better year. We call this "New Year's Resolutions".

I'm sure someone has drawn a lovely graph with time on the bottom and emotions marching up the left  showing how one goes from euphoric steadfast resoluteness, to anxiety at the thought of trying to live up to this monumental list, to harried just-keeping-up-with-it-all, to guilt at missing one instance of whatever but vowing not to let it bring you down, to complete and utter disgust at the time and energy wasted on resolving to change because you end up worse off than when you started! For me that cycle usually takes January through March.

As I write this post I'm having a bit of déja vu. I suppose it's not surprising that I would have railed at the urge to make (and inevitably fail at) New Year's Resolutions sometime in the last ten years of blogging. But as I don't seem able to keep myself from making them, I'll go on writing and share a couple of ways I am hoping to be more successful this year.

Start Small and Expand. Okay, (many) other (smarter) people have surely thought of this one, but it has never been in my nature to commit to do something at less than 100% so it's a new concept for me. What's not new to me is evaluating my physical state (who doesn't after the extreme gluttony of the holidays?) and deciding I need to make some changes. In the past I would join a gym, sign up for classes, plan to work out 3-5 days a week for 30-60 minutes a day and poop out within the first month. This year I am going to set a goal of working out one day a week for 30 minutes. I can do more if I feel like it once I'm at it, but 30 minutes on the elliptical once a week is enough to meet my initial goal. (I still have an LA Fitness membership that I signed up for over a year ago and haven't used since May.) My hope is that by March instead of doing nothing, I'll at least still be doing one day and maybe even have expanded to two.

Screw the Babylonians. What, who? According to the BBC, the Babylonians are probably responsible for dividing the month into weeks--the one time period not derived from the movement of a celestial body. Apparently Babylonians were all about the number seven (based on the seven heavenly bodies of the sun, mars, the moon, mercury, venus, jupiter, and saturn) and thought rituals--like resolutions--should be performed every seven days. The Japanese and the Chinese thought so too. Well I think seven is a very stressful number. It's very hard to try to squeeze a whole bunch of things into seven days and trying to repeat it is just asking for a nervous breakdown. Making things rituals or routines based on seven days has NEVER worked for me. Instead, my resolutions are mostly going to be project and seasonally driven--not regular and routine.

Project time is a better way to look at time for me. How many days does a project I resolve to do need? Days, unlike weeks, are not arbitrary. They are filled with the rhythms of eating and doing and sleeping, and even with the insomnia I've been having lately I am still physically grounded in the timing of a day as I need a certain number of hours of sleep in one, so I can only accomplish so much other stuff. If I'm smart, I can lay out a year's worth of projects and be happy and feel like I've accomplished them even as I swap one for another and let some go by the wayside.

Don't make too many resolutions. Oh well. I won't succeed at this one as there are always so many things I want to do and the thought of not being able to do them sometime in the next year is unbearable because a year seems so long and the next one so far away. That's my inner child talking. A year used to be so long it was incomprehensible: I couldn't hold the concept of it in my mind. Now I blink and a week is over (what happened to this sacred break week which every year promises a great long space of time to do things and is now over with nothing done?). I sneeze and it's the next month. But in the same way I couldn't grasp the enormity of a year as a child, I can't quite equate the brevity of a year with my adult reality, so instead I resolve to make a list of things I want to accomplish now, to revisit it often throughout the year, and to make changes as appropriate. I resolve to be F-L-E-X-I-B-L-E. Maybe I should have titled this post "Elastigirl"...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Karma

You know how I mentioned Karma the other day? Well she's not just in charge of making sure those who cut you off in traffic get what's coming to them. She's also the when-one-door-closes-another-door-opens chick, and she perks up when you invoke her name.

I got an email this morning that the Master Spinner class I am registered for in Destin in February has been cancelled for lack of interest, i.e., people forking over dough to attend. This hole in my dance card has brought up options which I thought were closed and is making me rethink my continuing education choices for the year. Or, as Dave would say, "I've got a date with Destiny, and she's ordered the lobster." I have the option of attending the same class, at the same time, but in Wisconsin, or I could see if there is still space at the Philly wholesale show also scheduled then. The show is probably full. I just went through a loooong post detailing why doing wholesale shows is not in my best business interest, and yet seeing friends, having a surety of orders for the year (if at a pretty high cost) is beguiling. Wisconsin in February, cold. Philly in February, cold. Wisconsin has SPINNING. Philly has glass friends and income instead of outgo (or at least more income than outgo--I would hope). It's a lot more expensive to fly to Wisconsin. And longer. It's a lot more expensive to stay in Philly.

It's easy in these situations (for me at least) to immediately react instead of pausing to take a few moments to ask myself, "Was my initial decision to follow this course well thought out? Do the circumstances that caused me to make it still hold true?" My answers this time are sort of and maybe. Not so helpful. I thought out the Master Spinner program in terms of do I really want to do it, can I afford it both in terms of time and money, and is it scheduled for a good time for me. Those are all still true so I guess it's well thought out--though since all the criteria are pretty much about me and not my family, business, or long-term goals I had to go with "sort of". In terms of the circumstances causing me not to do the Philly wholesale show, all the reasons for not doing shows at all still hold true, but now the change in show management for Philly does make it more attractive to me--as does the post-Christmas bank balance.

My brain hurt and I had to take a break so I called Dee to see what she knew about availability of booth space at the February show. She said she thought there were still booths available, but, having been a good friend and read my previous long business post, she talked me off the ledge by reminding me of all the reasons I didn't want to do it and encouraged me to sit this one out to see how everyone else likes it--and to give the new website and marketing ideas a chance.

So. February. In Wisconsin. Time to source more warm clothes...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Quickie

After yesterday's marathon post, today's will be a quickie. It's also destined to be a quickie as I am waiting on the child so we can run out and do some errands. We said goodbye to our last Montana bunny (actually a baby of our Montana bunnies) on Boxing Day so one of our runs this morning will be to the Austin Animal Center, the largest no-kill animal shelter in the United States housing over 18,000 animals a year, to drop off the multiple enormous bags of rabbit food that I accidentally over-ordered. Then we're off to the antique mall so Jessie can take pictures of cool items and vignettes to use in her art class next semester--it's an over-the-break assignment from her art teacher.

And speaking of art... If I weren't doing enough already, I've signed up to take a 12-week drawing class at The Contemporary Austin. The class is Tuesday mornings from 9:30-12:00 and I'm hoping to learn how to pull the ideas that float around my head out and accurately capture them on paper. I feel like a five year-old when I try to draw, and I get so caught up in the process that I lose the content.

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We're back from an extended trip out which morphed to include picking up the license plates for Dave's car, buying some drawing and book-making supplies at Jerry's Artarama, and drooling over journals at Iona Handcrafted Books. The afternoon wraps up with a viewing of The Wind Rises, Hiyao Miazaki's last film, up in Jessie's room. Vacation is good.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Looking Forward

I sip the Adagio English Breakfast tea (gifted to me by Dave's parents) in a cup I got at last year's (and the last) American Made wholesale show in Washington DC, and I think ahead to next year as a glass artist, a business owner, a beekeeper, a gardener, a spinner, a weaver, a jeweler, a wanna-be potter, a home maker, and someone who is perennially overweight and out of shape. That sentence and the scope it encompasses are so great that my mind boggles. Today it will be enough to contemplate the first two: the glass artist and the business owner. What to do in 2017? How to navigate the changed landscape and the treacherous reefs ahead?

The biggest change for 2017 is that I am now in Austin, and my primary creative partner, Todd, is in Atlanta. Additionally in Atlanta is my studio support network of Dee and Brian. Not-quite-half my studio is also in Atlanta, and the other half is one eighth usable, three eighths a higgledy-piggledy mess, and a smidge unfinished. Another big change is that normally I would be frantically preparing for my big show of the year right now, but I don't have a show scheduled for this year so instead I sip my rapidly-cooling tea and try to figure out how to proceed.

I could just go on a hunt for the apple tv remotes that have gotten lost in the couch cushions and forget all about pesky marketing, materials-sourcing, website development, and balancing the books for 2016. Or I could go clean the kitchen, sweep out the fireplace, put away the gift wrap, do laundry, or curl up with a good book and a hot, fresh, cup of tea and revel in the utter silence of a house without contractors. But no, I am not a quitter or an avoider. I am a head-on reinventor. So how am I going to reinvent and drive my business this year?

Wholesale shows. The original lure of doing wholesale shows was that they would bring in reorders. After 11 years of doing them I can say that I could count the number of spontaneous reorders from galleries in that time on two hands. It's not a spontaneous order from a gallery if I have to contact them and nudge them into placing an order. I don't need the high dollar, physical, and mental energy cost of a wholesale show if I also have to make a nudge. Maybe I am just soured on the whole wholesale show experience. I didn't have success at the Gift Markets either in Atlanta or Dallas (I never tried New York), but maybe it's because I didn't give them enough chance by doing them for several years. Unfortunately they cost too much to keep trying, hoping to build up a clientele from them. I also can't compete in price with the mass-produced imported items which are also offered at those venues.

The alternative to Gift Shows, the Fine American Craft Shows, went through a nasty little war that ended with the dissolution of one (the better one to my mind), and the sale of the other to Emerald Expositions Jewelry Group. There is a third which has one wholesale/retail show, but the wholesale component is reputed to be insignificant to the participating artists. That condition may change however, based on the happenings with the other two shows. Personally, I'm interested to see how the evolution of the one that was sold one turns out (interested like I might be to watch a boa constrictor devour a mouse, or a tarantula wasp parasitize its host). In any case, my gut feeling is that the $6,000+ I would spend to do a wholesale show could be better spent on other things.

Retail shows. Is it time to get back to a balanced mixed of wholesale and retail sales? I have already applied for an 11-day show next December here in Austin that I have wanted to do for over 15 years, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. It's a show that's 41 years old and there are at least two artists still doing it that have done it for 40 years. I couldn't afford to do it if I had to come in from out of state (the main reason I am not doing the One of a Kind Show in Chicago anymore), but now that I live here again it becomes doable. It's a beast though: a marathon show that runs 10 am to 10 pm everyday with live music playing the whole time. Art shows with live music are always a tricky proposition as they can be sensorily overwhelming and extra exhausting depending on the music and how close your booth is to it. I leave myself in the hands of Karma for this one. If I get in or not, I can and will see the silver lining.

But what about more? Should I consider doing more local Austin shows or shows local to where I am at different parts of the year? What shows are even still open for application? Then there's the whole indoor vs. outdoor show thing. It's been a loooong time since I did an outdoor show. I would need to replace the canopy for my Lightdome tent and completely redesign my display fixtures for my current work. And what work would I sell? Mine? Mine with Todd? Mine with Bill (the steel stands)?

And am I really at a place in my life where I want to start a new course all over again? Let's be honest. To really be successful at weekend retail shows you can't just do one or two a year. That's how you make pocket money, and that pocket money comes at the cost of killing yourself. Unless you're lucky enough to get to set-up the day before the show starts, you get up at the crack of dawn having loaded everything in your vehicle the night before, drive to the show to wait in line to load in and set-up, stressing that you won't be ready when the show starts. After you've lugged everything to your booth location you wrestle with figuring out how to set up the tent, race to put out and price all the work, and then spend 2-3 days smiling and chatting with random strangers interspersed with infrequent potty breaks and cold sandwiches and snacks. At the end of it all is a hurried break-down of the tent--including the requisite pinched fingers--and pack-up of the work, followed by a mad dash to get your car in line for load-out before midnight and the drive home. To make retail shows worthwhile you can't just do one every so often; you would need to do them regularly and often so that you could take advantage of being packed and going straight from one to the next without the need to unpack and repack.

The show warriors, the artists who make a living by doing weekend retail shows, don't do a couple of shows a year, and they don't wing it. They have spent years honing their schedule and streamlining their processes for maximal return and minimal fatigue and cost. They have built a circuit where they are known, and their presence is anticipated by an established customer base every year. Show warriors know before ever arriving at a show where to get in line for load-in and how to make it go more smoothly. They know where their booth is located, how best to set-up their tent at the site, and have equipment to get everything speedily from the vehicle to the site. They also know where to park their vehicle for the day or the show. They know where to stay and where to eat. Routine is the show artist's friend. The rhythm and process that come from repetition make everything go more smoothly and less strenuously to keep fatigue to a minimum. Energy is saved to handle a few new things instead of a continual barrage of them. This familiarity with venue and event extends to the actual flow of the show and break-down, leaving the artist able to move through it without much thought or effort, sparing their attention for unexpected things like bad weather, near-by construction affecting the event, or traffic accidents.

I am not just blowing smoke out of my hat spouting all this stuff about show warriors. I remember building my own routines and rhythms over years of doing the Buyer's Market show in Philadelphia. I now believe that it was the anticipated effort of having to establish new routines that upset so many artists and buyers when the show moved from Philly to DC. It wasn't just that people don't like change, it was the wisdom and foresight that acknowledged how much more the show would cost in terms of energy and effort as we had to learn new processes and create new location-specific routines. In the end, the cost was just too much for the both the artists and the buyers and the show died.

It would take me 2-3 years to suss out which weekend shows worked for me based on revenue, timing, and location. It would take 2-3 years to build up a strong clientele at new shows. I had a reminder of that truth this year when I got two calls from people who had seen my work at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago in previous years who were disappointed not to see me this year. It would probably also take 2-3 years to develop packing, load-in/set-up, sales, and break-down/load-out processes that wouldn't break me. In short, if I wanted to do weekend shows and earn more than just pocket money, I would need to become a show warrior which would mean extended time away from my home and family--or dragging some portion of them along with me... We all give a collective shudder at the prospect. I'm not up for either option. And I'd need a camper or an RV. Dave's not up for any of those options. Glad we could work through that one here and save me the expense of replacing my Lightdome canopy. No weekend art fairs unless I decide to do them with the goal and expectation of pocket money or some other reward.

The Internet. Much has changed in the world of fine craft since the 1980's and early1990's. Before the Internet, people bought art and craft at galleries or art festivals. The perception--and it was mostly true--was that you could buy directly from the artist for half what you'd pay a gallery, and the artist would get all the money with none of it going to the money-grubbing gallery. The last bit was complete codswallop of course, but that's a subject for a different post on the value of galleries to an artist... Although that post might also have a bit more nostalgia than reality in it today too.

Artists communicated new work to their gallery customers with printed catalogs ranging from expensive, glossy, and professionally printed to run-off-at-the-copy-shop and stapled together by hand. They sent postcards and mailed out newsletters detailing new work. Artists who did retail shows kept mailing lists and sent out postcards to the people who bought their work at craft fairs telling them when they'd be back in the area doing another show.

Enter the Internet with Etsy, Wholesalecrafts.com, and a host of others. Welcome to email and websites and newsletter-generating services. Heck, welcome to digital photos instead of prints and slides (remember when applying to exhibit at a show meant sending them slides of your work?!?). Gallery owners--and retail customers--can browse on-line catalogs and watch videos of artists in their studios as they sip coffee. They can read the message, see the brand, catch the excitement all from their couches, and, with a quick click and a tap, they can send credit card numbers winging through the wires to purchase their heart's desire. All that without talking to anyone. There are many artists who have successfully moved (or started) their businesses online, and there is a lot to be said for that model in terms of minimizing physical effort, travel (time away from family), and cost (just saving the money from two $6,000 shows a year is a whole lot of Internet seed money).

I remember sitting around the table with a bunch of artist friends after a long day at the Buyer's Market Show and saying, "Wouldn't it be nice not to have to do set-up, and break-down, and spend all this money?" It looks like now is my chance. So what do I need to do? First thing is to decide wholesale, retail, or both.

Wholesale on-line. I already have a customer base of all the galleries I have worked with over the past 10+ years so I wouldn't need to start from scratch for wholesale marketing. Shipping is also easier with wholesale as it's big orders--not onsey-twosies--so I wouldn't spend as much time on it dollar for dollar. Making the jump from a primarily wholesale business to a wholesale on-line business doesn't seem to need such a big investment of time either.

Retail on-line. While Etsy sounds grand, I don't think it's so easy to take an established wholesale business and turn it into an equally lucrative retail business on Etsy. It takes time, a lot of little sales, and a lot of followers/reviews to build a successful Etsy store--there's just too much competition out there to even be found on their site. So I'd probably do better with my own website and maybe Facebook. An on-line retail presence would also benefit from being paired with a year or so of doing weekend art fairs to get the word out and a market going. As we've already determined that the idea of becoming a show warrior is somewhat unattractive at my current age and place in life, I'd have to have a t-shirt graphically spelling out "I'm too old for this shit" to wear everyday to every show. So it looks like just retailing on-line is a non-starter.

Wholesale and retail on-line. Short and sweet: If I started retailing on-line, that would (rightly so) piss off my wholesale accounts so I could kiss many of them good-bye. Looks like straight wholesale on-line is the way I'll go.

I need a plan. So how to establish and grow a primarily on-line wholesale business? For my existing customers, I need to engage them electronically, and put new routines and processes into place to keep my work in front of them when they are placing orders and filling holes in inventory. I need to make my work pop for them in images as well as it does in real life. I need to make it easy for them to order, and I need to make it trivial for them to share my work and story with customers looking for special pieces to commission.  Once I have all of this set-up, I need to identify ways of attracting new customers. Regular communication in the form of old-fashioned postcards, e-cards, and new work notices will need to become routine.

I need a place. There are a couple of marketplaces out there for wholesaling fine craft. I tried the one run by IndieMe (formerly Wholesalecrafts.com) for several years but was never able to make the way they designed their site work for me. It was cludgy, extremely time-consuming, and ultimately unattractive. There is another site just starting up called Best in American Made. I will give them a look, but I will not use any third-party marketplace as my primary presentation site--they are too just generic for me and the extra potential buyers are cancelled out by the extra competition. It's time for a new Siyeh Studio website with videos and text providing stories about the pieces and the studio, an on-line store (wholesale login required), an interactive map with locations of galleries that carry my work, and a blog for information about new work and artist in the gallery visits. Enter Wix.

This time I am not going to open the web design application and just start winging it. This time I am going to sit down with some paper and colored pencils and do a layout and an old fashioned table of contents. I'll also have to put on my big girl panties and splash out the bucks for a real on-line store option that will have the work viewable by everyone, but the pricing and ordering options only visible to wholesale accounts.

I need a schedule. All of these new activities that need to become routine need to be scheduled. Some of them I can tackle now, some are predicated upon others which do not exist yet, and some are part one and part the other. Take the website for example. I have images of some work. I have pieces of text that can be reused from previous sites. If I just sit down and start working on it, time will pass and it will probably never be made live. Instead, after I do my initial design, I am going to build a schedule of staged releases leading up to complete go-live so that I keep moving forward, and I have a series of incremental wins.

I need new work. Everything described so far is outside of creating the actual work. I have been very lax at that in the past few years, but luckily Todd is all about creating new work. Since he cannot be tasked with anything electronic, this seems a perfect thing for him to take ownership of in our partnership. I still need to design new glass--not difficult with all the changes in color availability occurring at Bullseye Glass--but he can take my glass pieces and make new work out of them.

I need a sandwich. Well, maybe not a sandwich, but something infinitely more tasty that involves a sort of bread, meat, and condiment-like things. There is one last piece of Dave's phenomenal Beef Wellington (rare beef tenderloin coated in butter-soaked mushroom paste, pâté de foie gras, and prosciutto and wrapped in puff pastry--there are other things in it, but those are the highlights for me) left in the fridge. I think I'll pair it with a Diet Coke (if the family has left me any) and go low-tech and sketch out a website and a plan.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

As Loreena McKennitt sings Emmanuel, and Dave tells me that George Michael has died, the sun sets on another Christmas Day. Now I settle into my comfy chair to post and sip a dram of the Highland Park 12 year old single malt whiskey that Dave generously shared with me from his advent calendar . He is enjoying a dram of the Half-Century Blend Batch 1--a blended Scotch whiskey over 50 years old. I love the flavor of that one but won't be buying a bottle any time soon. I would have thought that Dave would like the Highland Park as it tastes strongly of smokey peat (really strongly), and he has been all about the art of smoking (food, that is) today.

For the food science geek in him we gave him a Polyscience hand-held food smoker and a lot of different flavored wood chips. As he played with it--smoking a Pillsbury orange roll from breakfast--he commented that back-of-the-envelope math said he could smoke over 12,000 scallops with all those wood chips. Geek indeed. As the day went on he contemplated smoking tomatoes, the Beef Wellington he is making for dinner, and bourbon. At least he admitted that smoking champagne would be odd.

Thank you again to my sister-in-law Jan for her annual gift to me of the Isabel Bloom Christmas Angel. I have one for every Christmas Dave and I have been married--22 in all. It was especially wonderful to set them up this year in our new forever home.


The opening of the Christmas presents did not begin early at our house today as Jessie and I were both up till 3:30 am finishing our gifts for Dave and wrapping our presents. Dave got up at 7:00 and wrapped his presents while we snored on. This Christmas marked a change in our family dynamic. It wasn't the first year Jessie made gifts for us, but it was the first year that we were both left in awe both of her artistic talent and her wonderfully quirky style. For her dad she is doing a colored pencil rendition of the cover of Terry Pratchett's book Small Gods--Dave's favorite of his works. She included the following Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in the box with it.


I got to open the first present of the day at the J's insistence. Her wrapping was creative, and the best part of it was the handwritten text in the middle which stated, "It's more me this way, accept it :)". The Ho Ho Ho's covering the unwrapped part of the box were also handwritten. As everyone could have predicted--and she counted on--I cried when I saw her gift. She painted a series of watercolors from Studio Ghibli movies and a watercolor postcard for me. When she asked me which was my favorite it was difficult, but I'm going to have to go with the combination of the postcard based on a bit from Moulin Rouge and the still from My Neighbor Totoro. I can't wait to go out this week and have them all framed. (Well, as soon as she finishes them!)


The chef theme carried on for Dave with a great set of measuring cups from his parents in odd sizes (2/3 c., 3/4 c., 1-1/2 c.) and a monogrammed spatula, and a data.world Chef Sparkle hoodie and set of dishcloths from me.

The creative presentation of the day award at the end of it all went to Jessie for her other gift to her father--a replacement Gundum Calling t-shirt for the one he loved and left in San Antonio earlier in the fall. We were at dinner Friday night and he was bemoaning the loss of the shirt and that it was no longer available and Jessie, with her superior Internet fu, went on-line on her phone and found one for him. I ordered it for her and it won't be here for a week or so, but she photoshopped Gundum onto an image of a flip-phone, printed it out, folded the picture around my phone--onto which she had placed the ringtone for London Calling from the Clash and associated it with her phone number--and wrapped up my phone. When she gave the present to Dave to unwrap she also called my phone from hers so it was playing London Calling as he opened it. That kid has mad showmanship skills.

After opening presents J took a nap, I took a shower, and Dave moved into the second stage of Beef Wellington prep. Then it was off to the movies to see "Sing". We all loved it. I cried. (Do you sense a theme for the day?).

It was a poignant day for me--as all Christmas days are. It's a day when I contemplate the state of the world and the people and animals in it, when I wish wish for peace on earth and goodwill towards all, a day when I cherish my family and friends and give thanks for all of them. Sadly this year it's also a time for sensing the fragility of the world and the impending, waiting, breath-held feeling of bad things to come with the new year. But we will be strong, we will rationally, calmly, and with conviction and patience, weather whatever comes. We will support those who need our aid, and we will stand for justice and fairness. Gloria, in excelsis deo. Or, as Dave likes to say, "Gloria, G-L-O-R-I-A, Glo-o-ria!"

Now I listen to Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and prepare to feast on the most magnificent of Roast Beast Feasts: the many-times-aforementioned Beef Wellington. It will be served with a bottle of Roederer champagne and a Seghesio zinfandel, set with beeswax candles, and accompanied by part two of The Hogfather. Boy am I glad we didn't watch it all last night--it would have been 5:00 am before Jessie and I got to bed!

Merry Christmas to my Christian friends, Happy Chanukah to my Jewish friends, Happy Solstice to my Wiccan friends. Be safe, be warm, be loved and love to everyone.



Monday, November 07, 2016

A Life Lived At Warp Speed

Waiting for Jessie to come downstairs so I can take her to school this morning--I have to take the cats to the vet just down the street from her school so I figured I would spare her one way of one day of riding the bus. The cats are already in their transport carrier waiting to go and not happy about any of it. Kaiju is probably going to snub me for the next few days until he gets over his huff. Boy, that cat can sulk!

It's a grey, misty day here in Austin. The roofers have not finished the roof yet, and even though they assured me it was sealed against the rain, I spent a bit of time yesterday putting bowls and towels around the house to catch the drips and cataloguing the water ingress points. *Sigh*.

I am back from a week and a half of travel for family, for ikebana, and for bees. It was all exciting and exhilerating, and my brain is full, but now it's time to get back to the projects I left in progress here at Stone's Throw. But for the moment, I'm going to sit curled up on the sectional with a cup of jasmine rose green tea, listening to my Daily Mix #2 from Spotify (Foreigner, old Doobie Brothers and Boston--to name a few), and writing a regrouping post. It is worthwhile to note that my favorite addition to the house so far is the on-demand water heater on the kitchen sink: Perfect temperature water for tea (adjustable based on tea variety) instantly. It's more than a feeling. ;-)

A week and a half ago I headed to Atlanta for the annual Ichiyo Ikebana of Atlanta Retreat. While I was there I finished up the work for the Junior Associate Master certification. I should get my certificate from the Iemoto in Tokyo in the new year. It was an intense full day and two half days. At the end of it I had done six arrangements and regained both my confidence and my groove.

Now to start teaching in Austin! (Corrected my first post which listed teaching in Atlanta instead of Austin--thanks Bill for the catch!) Jessie is my first student--she has expressed the desire to be the youngest ikebana master on record. This is probably not a good time of the year to begin offering classes with Thanksgiving and Christmas staring many people in the face, but I don't want to wait till next year. Better to start now and give people the idea of gifting lesson packages for Christmas.

First step: a website. Actually my first step was to make sure I have the equipment and the confidence to be able to teach classes: check and check. So this week I begin the website! I own the domains austinichiyo.com, ichiyoaustin.com, and hillcountryikebana.com and the studio name will be some riff on them. Last night I practiced and made an arrangement for Jessie's birthday. The theme of the birthday celebration was Dr. Strange and the colors were red and yellow and I had picked up lilies, tulips and greenery from HEB (local grocery chain) on Friday, but didn't get the arrangement done before going out of town Saturday through yesterday.

Back from the vet, and now I think it's time for a nap...

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Colors of My Life

And now for something completely different... for me anyway. Yesterday was the quarterly visit to have the hair managed--could be cut, could be color, but usually something needs to happen about every three months. This time, on a complete whim as I sat there in the chair, I decided to go for a streak of color--no, make that two streaks. "Should they be the same color? Different colors? Different colors shading into other different colors?", Gabrielle asked. Oh heck, why do a little when you can do a lot, "Different colors shading into other different colors!" So now I have two mermaid hair streaks--or as I prefer to think of them, peacock feathers. They look pretty dramatic in these photos, but really they hide and shyly peek out from under a fall of natural hair (well, it's a natural color for some people...). I sported the new do at the Weaver's and Spinner's Association meeting last night and was surprised to see that every third or fourth person there had peacock hair of some variety. I guess people who deal regularly with textiles just gravitate towards color in fiber--even their own. Of course a less charitable person might say it's something women of a certain age who should know better also do. Come to think of it, I mostly see strong women artists of my age who show their inner beauty with an outer flair (flare?).

It's been awhile since I've posted. Spinzilla is now over--I spun almost three miles (5008 yds) of fiber. That's more than I did last year, but less than I hoped to do this year. I really had it in my head that I had the bandwidth and the stamina to do 5 miles. Snort. Maybe next year during the flying pig migration. The yarn on the left, I plied from previous spinning sessions. In the middle is my super-secret project yarn that I intended to spin for Spinzilla, and to the right (looking much like the yarn in the middle) is the roving (black alpaca and white silk) from which the project yarn was spun.

 Besides completing my Spinzilla project yarn, I also finished my first baby sweater! The picture at right is from right after I finished knitting before I sewed it together, added the buttons, wove in the ends, washed and blocked it so it looks a bit rough. Of course I didn't take a picture of it when it was completely done... But maybe I can get a picture of the adorable Brynn Jacob (who was born just last week!) in it. Jessie was a bit miffed at this project as I still have four baby sweaters on the needles that I started for her and never finished. It was much easier with this one as all I had to do was knit. Had Brynn been my baby, this sweater would also still be on the needles and relegated to the corner of the textile studio.

Today is a very special day for me, it's my wedding anniversary. Twenty one years ago today, after knowing each other for less than six months, Dave Griffith and I were wed. I made my dress (with a lot of hand-sewing help from my mom), Dave made the cake, wrote the vows, and wrote our invitations. The text on the invitation is as true today as it was then, and I can only hope for 2121
more years to come.

Now it's time to get into the studio and get some glass in the kiln. I have much more to write--the promised details on Ichiyo ikebana, the current status of the renovations at Stone's Throw, the progress on the glass studio, the textile studio, and the greenhouse (aka as the wet studio), but there's plenty of time. Next week Becky is coming for a week of sybaritic pleasure (lots of fiber will be involved, some spa time, shopping, a fair bit of wine, laughter, and relaxation--as well as no housework, no cooking, no laundry, and no chauffering!). There might be posting.





Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Mastery

Spinning on the back deck yesterday by one of the new ponds
I mentioned in my last post that I am recommencing my ikebana studies and working towards my Master's certification in the Ichiyo School. Well, as of yesterday, I am also beginning the Master Spinner Program through Olds College in Alberta, Canada. I have wanted to take that program for a few years and not had the bandwidth. Part of the beauty of the move to Austin and re-establishing myself is that I get to also reset my bandwidth. So come mid-February I will be in Orlando for a week immersed in the coursework for the first year of the Master Spinner program.


After the week of in-class work, the rest of the coursework is independent study that will take anywhere from a couple of months to a year to complete. Work is sent back to the college for grading, and consists of spun samples and skeins and writings. The writings are regular college level and require standard formatting and bibliographic references. The program consists of six course levels (typically taking six years to complete) and covers all stages of fiber prep, a wide range of fiber types (specific sheep breeds to cellulose, cotton, silk, nylon, angora, etc.) spinning techniques (woolen, worsted, novelty), dyeing--in short, everything you'd expect to learn in a Master's program. I am so excited!!!!! This February course is a jump-start for me and I *might* even be able to also take level 2 next year while we're in Montana in June: Olds College is just north of us in Alberta and they offer all the courses in the Master's series every June during their Fiber Week.

Plying from both ends
of the same ball of singles yarn
Now on with our regularly scheduled programming: Spinzilla! Yesterday I spent clearing off bobbins (plying the singles on them into yarn and then skeining it). I get to count the plying towards my Spinzilla yardage, just not the spinning... Since this is the first technical spinning post in a while I probably should revisit some terminology. Spinning fiber means twisting it so that it holds together and is stronger than it is untwisted. If you leave the fiber in this state it is called a single and there are things you can do to it to keep it from untwisting. Most commercial yarn you see has been plied which means to twist two or more singles together in the opposite direction from which they were originally spun. Because you twist them in the opposite direction when you ply them together, the twists balance out and the yarn hangs straight--it doesn't come untwisted.

There was one project I had on a bobbin that I couldn't just ply off and that is a gradient yarn I am making from a couple of smooth batts from Lunabudknits. I bought two batts so that I could spin each one following the color gradient and then ply them together the same way. That will give me one long skein that goes from pale lilac through violet to soft dark grey. This isn't the project I wanted to do for Spinzilla, and yet I do want to finish it, and all yardage counts! Last night a few of us from our Spinzilla team got together at Hill Country Weavers and spun for a couple of hours and I finished spinning the first batt and made good progress on the second. I hope to finish it today--though it's already noon and I am still working on Other Things than spinning.

dark brown llama roving and Jig
The main project I had planned for Spinzilla is a blended yarn spun from dark brown llama and black merino sheep wool. The llama roving (roving is fiber which has been washed and then combed or brushed--brushing is called carding and is done with something that looks like a pet brush--so that it all lies in mostly one direction and is ready for easy spinning) is gorgeous, but I want to make a sweater out of it and llama fiber doesn't have any bounce to it like wool does. The bounce comes from the crimp of the fiber and it's what makes a baggy sweater go back into its original shape when you wash it. Llama fiber--at least the fiber I have--is more like silk and will have great drape, but it doesn't have crimp, so it won't have much memory and is likely to bag. That's why I want to blend it with the merino wool which is still a very soft fiber but also has good crimp and will help the sweater hold its shape. The bad news is that I don't know if I have any black merino on hand, and the batch I ordered from Ashland Bay isn't here yet and might not be before Spinzilla is over. The good news is that Austin is surrounded by great fiber stores, and the Happy Ewe in Jonestown has plenty of the exact roving I need. I'll take a road trip this afternoon after I get some more spinning in...




Empty bobbins and plied yarns--
Ready for Spinzilla!

Monday, October 03, 2016

Endings and Beginnings

Another chapter in Atlanta is now ended. Everything is out of our home of 13 years and we are scheduled to close on it, transferring it to the new family who will make it their own, this afternoon. I'd like to say I'm sad because of all the people I have in Atlanta, but I'm not. I'm sad at being away from them but not sad to let that house go and to embrace Stone's Throw more thoroughly. I need to move on.

And I wasn't the only one who needed to move on: The three fish from the pond in our backyard also had to find another home as the contractor doing repairs for the new owners had to drain the pond and leave it empty for several days so he could re-line it. So I bought a cooler, a pump with a couple of aerator stones, and a cigarette lighter adapter to run the pump, and the fish rode in the front seat of the UHaul with me to Austin. Now they have their own little pond on the back deck with some of the plants from the Atlanta pond (which were also going to be displaced by the work there) to shelter them. In fact I had so much fun setting up the pond for them that I set up another one on the other side of the deck seating area and stocked it with six little koi from the water garden store here. The longterm plan is to put a big pond in the front yard next year for fish and water lilies, but for now they are good on the deck.

I was in Atlanta last week and part of the week before to have another glass sale in the studio and for that one I even managed to part with some of my dragon's hoard: sheets of glass for stained glass from Youghiogheny, Kokomo, Fischer, St. Gobain, and even Fremont. I let go two of the unused fiberglass forms and patterns for Tiffany's koi and peony lamps that I had always planned to do, but never set aside the time. It felt good. I met a lovely couple of Makers and she wanted to pick up stained glass after a many-year hiatus. I enjoyed sharing my handpicked sheets from the past 30 years with her, and was even able to part with many of them with just a small twinge of regret. Domenick, who did date nights and taught glassblowing at the studio some years ago, bought the remainder of the hotshop equipment so now it's empty too. Oddly I am more sad writing about these endings now than I was when they happened.

Now I'm home, and today is the first day I've posted since summer ended and my favorite season of the year, fall, began. I love fall! To me it is the season when everything begins. In fall I can work in my garden and plan and plant for spring. Fall is the start of the textile season with spinning, weaving, knitting and crocheting taking the upcoming project stage. After the heat of summer breaks I finally have energy again and a whole season of pent up ideas to get to (I don't have energy for anything in summer and one of these years I'm going to plan it so that all I have to do is swim for exercise and lie around in a hammock the rest of the time and read).

Fall also ushers in Spinzilla, the annual handspinning event that starts today and takes place during American Craft Week to raise awareness of spinning yarn. Spinzilla is a great way to kick off the fall and winter fiber season as it's the perfect time to produce all the yarn needed for a a large project or to finish a spinner's split. Last year I worked on the alpaca roving that I split with Ruthann--the fleeces were from her animals, I spun the yarn and we each took half. This year I am going to make yarn from some Montana llama roving I have been saving and some black merino combed top I have coming from Ashland Bay for a big fall project. More on Spinzilla tomorrow.

Other beginnings this week include starting the Post-Instructor course in Ichiyo Ikebana with Executive Master Elaine Jo. I studied with her for several years in Atlanta but had to give it up for time constraints after I finished the Instructor certification. Now I am picking up again and studying with her remotely to finish my Master certification, and I am also going to start a study group (the precursor to an official class) in Austin for Ichiyo Ikebana. As a special treat, I get to attend the fall Ichiyo retreat south of Atlanta the first of November for three days. Ikebana also gets its own post later this week.

Lest ye think I have set glass on the wayside, fall is also time to work on websites, exhort galleries to order glass art for Christmas, and this year, it's time to finish setting up the glass studio! Last week's items moved from Atlanta included Bettina, the biggest glass kiln, and the rest of the furniture and tools (mostly molds) that I need for my work. I also brought my own stained glass tools--though no sheet glass yet: that's for the final move currently slated for the beginning of December. Yep, for this move I brought everything including the kitchen sink! Dan unhooked the big restaurant sink I had n the kitchen and now I need a plumber here to set it up. Later this afternoon I'll take a break from spinning to ship one order and work on two others.

But now it's time to SPIN! And I think I'll sit myself outside on the deck, by the ponds, and spin there.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Life Should Always Be Wabi Sabi



A quick post then off to a ferocious penultimate day before heading to Atlanta on Wednesday. The house is so still and quiet with all the people gone. I can almost hear the clock ticking from the other room in time with the kitten's softly jingling collar-bell. There may be no other humans here with me, but I am surrounded by all the animals. When I looked down at them I had to spend several minutes trying to get a good pano shot of them with the phone. I had to rule out the kitten right away as she is surveying us all from the top of the cat tower, but everyone else is on the floor surrounding my chair.

The day started with a beautiful sky that will have to be preserved by my imperfect memory as the photo I took, while lovely, doesn't do it justice. It was the latest in a weekend filled with lovely things. On Saturday, the spouse came home with four different kinds of flowers from HEB that he thought I might like to make into an ikebana. It was a lovely coincidence as on Friday I had looked up local ikebana chapters and was crushed to find that not only is there no Ichiyo ikebana in Austin, but the closest organization of any kind is in San Antonio and I can't see making that trip weekly even if they did have weekly activities. It has been a long time since I studied Ichiyo ikebana under Grand Master Elaine Jo in Atlanta, but I do not make any excuses for my first creation in  several years.

I whimsically called it wabi sabi ikebana--beauty in imperfection. But just making it was enough impetus for me to get out my ikebana books and start reviewing the principles of design and form again. While I am in Atlanta later this week and next, I hope to connect with Elaine to discuss other options for me to continue my study.

Oh dear, it's already 11:30. So though I would like to stay and let my fingers muse the day away, it's time to get a couple of kiln loads in and orders packed to ship before it gets too hot!



Friday, September 16, 2016

My FedEx Driver Is Going To Get Spanked

I made another couple of batches of killer smoothie yesterday and indulged to my heart's content (is there a limit to how much kale and spinach you should drink?), and as a result was awake and perky till after midnight. Presumably it wouldn't have such a stimulating effect without the cold brewed coffee. Dave made banana bread last weekend and he made a loaf for me with walnuts instead of chocolate chips--what can I say, I'm a purist. So this morning I sit to post, and as I look at my desk I realize what a wonderful encapsulation of my life it is: the smoothie, the bread, the family photo, the lovely view, the new Siyeh Studio website (in progress, not yet live) and the complete and utter, wanton chaos of the surface. I couldn't be happier. Even fiber is represented by the weaving pattern to the right of the laptop. No, I did not stage this photo. I plopped my breakfast down, opened the laptop (okay, I did switch to the screen with the website open on it instead of the login screen), and took the shot.

The past couple of days I spent solely doing things instead of trying to do them and write about them--it's all about the balance. Today it's Friday, I'm almost completely through the months-long backlog of drudgery on my to-to list, the kilns are cooling so I'm in no rush to fire, and my laurels feel pretty comfie for a bit of indulgent lounging and posting. To put the cherry on top of my morning, I just glanced over my right shoulder and said, "Alexa, set entryway Nest to 74 degrees", and the Amazon Echo Dot on my nightstand replied, "Setting entryway Nest AC to 74 degrees."

The one bit of potential strife looming on my list is a call to FedEx to ask why they keep leaving our packages (one of the ones yesterday weighed 40 lbs) on the street by our mailbox instead of delivering them to the porch. Not safe, bad if it rains (which it has been doing a lot), and inconvenient as dammit as we have to drive up to get the packages instead of just walking for the mail. (We're not talking a fifty-foot driveway here: we have to go the other end of the back 40 to get out mail.)

Next week I'm in Atlanta for what I hope will be the final studio sale and clean-out, but I'm not counting on it. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to make another trip out to load the last of the glass some time later this year. Between the big kiln, the kitchen sink (literally), two pieces of furniture I purchased from friends in the past couple of weeks, the last wire shelving, and the cases and cases of glass, this truck is going to be full to bursting.

Okay, off to Dirty Dog to (finally) bathe Baxter. I don't have the drain catchers to deal with all the fur he sheds, and I also don't have a way to tie him up while he's in the tub to keep him from jumping out. I'm going to take my own shampoo and rubber apron, and I am going to get him sparkly clean! Later today when he's dry, I'll clip his coat and his nails. Thanks Melinda for showing me how to clip him like a pro! Then it's time to do Gallifrey. Forget the tub: I'll just tie him up outside and use the hose...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Transpecos: Do Yourself a Favor and See It

The little cat has decided to help me post this morning. Joy. In all of my focused list-making there has been one thing that consistently failed to get added: Make coffee! I'm going on three days in a row with a craving for bean water, and no bean water to be had. Oh, sure, I could've pulled the drip coffee maker out of the back pantry and brewed some up, but that felt too much like failure, so I'm drinking diet Coke and eating blueberry PopTarts (we are also out of milk so I couldn't have cereal). First thing I did before sitting down to post: Set up the Toddy cold brew coffee maker so I will have coffee tomorrow. It takes 12-24 hours to brew--a difficult concept for an instant-gratification girl like me--but it is hands down the best coffee I've ever had and the concentrate makes a perfect Thai iced coffee.


Ah, lists. I need to get off of them and all the have-to-do's on them soon or I'm going to be finding myself in a "Meh" day again. You'd think at my age I'd know better, but I still see-saw between too much and too little in EVERYTHING. Today I will finish shopping for gifts for the teachers and staff at McCallum to whom I have chosen to be a secret pal this year, and I will deliver them. I will also fire two kiln loads. At long last I will finish our taxes for 2015 (I have never taken so long, and the end of the extension period is October 15). Everything on my list that is NOT one of those things can go hang itself and will be pushed off to another day. I have simply got to do something creative or I'll explode (you would think the kiln loads would count, but no). Of course what's probably going to happen is I'll get hijacked by a bunch of little things, and the three big things will stretch out, and before I know it the day will be over. Gah.

On a happier note, Dave and I went to see Transpecos at the Violet Crown Cinema last night and Greg Kwedar, the Austin area writer/director was there and gave a talk with a Q&A session afterward. I didn't even know it was a special showing when I bought tickets and it was so cool! What I liked most about the movie was the role choice played in it It started with the random flow of daily life, people and events pinging off of each other like atoms in a warm room. Every minute bringing an opportunity to make a decision until one choice is made. That choice cut down the available next choices, and each subsequent choice kept cutting down the characters options. It was like a net tightened around them, pulling them closer and closer into a place where there were no more choices, just one way to go.

The acting was incredible, and the cinematography was breathtaking. Kwedar said the entire movie was filmed in 16 days last June in the Chihuahuan Desert--the largest North  American desert covering over 140,000 square miles in New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. Can you imagine 18-hour days filming in 120 degree weather? I thought the film was superb before I heard his talk, but I was especially impressed with the way they filmed. I talked with him for a few minutes afterward to get tips for Jessie on pursuing her dream of being a Director of Photography. He was very open, sharing, and encouraging. I wish I had known he was going to be there as I would have encouraged her to come with us instead of making it a date night.

Monday, September 12, 2016

They're At the Gate... My Daily Horserace Begins

Never in my wildest dreams--and some of my dreams lately have been pretty wild--did I think that at age 55 I would be looking up best practices for diaper pails on the Interweb. Unfortunately, an incontinent senior cocker spaniel has driven me to it. Welcome to my Monday.

On a happier, less smelly, note: Peyton and Lynne's tutelage last year on continental knitting has finally taken hold! I struggled and struggled with it last year and never quite got it. Last week I picked up the needles for a new project, pulled up the YouTube videos I had bookmarked on continental knitting for a refresher, and it just happened! I am now blissfully, speedily, knitting away on a gift with an upcoming deadline. Who knows? Maybe I'll actually finish this one!

I spent Sunday unpacking fabric and tools into the textile studio and as I was working, I made a vow: From now on, every other project that I work on in each technique must be a UUFO (most people have UFO's or Un-Finished Objects in their stashes. I have Ubiquitous Un-Finished Objects because they're, well, everywhere). So one new knitting project, finish one already on the needles. If I want, I can do two UUFO's in a row, but never two new. Same for crochet.

Today I'm all about the To Do list. I almost got through yesterday's tasks yesterday (for the first time in I-don't-know-how-long--I'm a bit over-scheduled) and I am determined to knock the rest of them out today along with today's. If I make it, there must be celebrating. One thing that might help me make this goal is if I STOP ADDING THINGS TO THE LIST! At some point the new things that pop into my brain need to go on tomorrow's list, or Wednesday's list, or some-day-other-than-today's list. On your marks, get set....

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Mrs. Peacock in the Greenhouse With a Box Cutter

In a surprising twist, the first obscure room in our Clue game of a house that is ready for the depredations of Colonel Mustard is the greenhouse---aka the third studio. All of the boxes of tools and supplies that will eventually live there have not yet been unearthed from the garage, but the furniture is set up, the first round of boxes has been unpacked, the surfaces have been dusted, and (gasp) the floor has been mopped! Planned activities for that space include glass bead making/torchwork, silversmithing, jewelry making, textile dyeing, and soapmaking. It is the best space for all wet crafts as there is a tile floor with a drain in the middle of it, and it has a good deep sink with ample countertops on either side. It's also good for torch work as it is already equipped with an exhaust fan.

Unfortunately the motorized shades for it aren't currently working, nor is the exhaust fan so unless you get in there first thing in the morning and turn on the little AC unit asap, it rapidly gets to over 110 degrees and is unusable for anything but taking a sauna. In the winter it'll probably be a different story, but until I get the electrician to fix the broken systems, I won't be making soap, dyeing roving, or working on the torch!

This weekend is dedicated to yet more unpacking and settling in. As soon as I finish this post I am off to the newly renamed sunroom (it's now the fiber studio :-) to finish unpacking yarn, fabric, tools and books. That room is much more temperate (and pleasant) now that we have had motorized shades installed on the east wall (which is all windows) that block 95% of the UV rays and a significant amount of the heat. The fabric is surprisingly see-through making it enjoyable to be in that room and not too dark even when the shades are all the way down. We are putting the same shades outside the two upstairs rooms (Jessie's bedroom and workroom) to help with the cooling up there, and I will eventually put them on the west side of the fiber studio too to both help with temperature and to protect the textiles from fading.

Another improvement on the cooling front will be the installation of a couple of mini-split AC/heating units in the garage (glass studio). We already have one in the fiber studio and one in the third studio that the original owners of the house put in, and they turn out to be a great, economical, low-impact solution to cooling and heating ductless spaces. Sadly that project will have to wait until the garage doors have been replaced either with glass (my first choice for light and an open feeling to the studio, but more expensive and not really a good fit for the exterior style of the house) or new metal ones that are well-insulated.

Now off to the fiber studio to unpack more STUFF!