When I started my own creative business I knew there was a great deal to learn but I didn’t understand just how varied this could be or the colourful combinations of common threads running through it all. But by bit the journey through each lesson has changed my business, made it viable and 17 years on I’m still making my living from it.
17 Things I’ve Learnt as a Maker
Here are 17 I’m sure any maker could apply to her business:
1. Be in the right frame of mind to make. If you’re not it will show in your work. I now have ways to move myself into a happy state of mind to work with clay by playing music and ways I talk to myself. And if that’s not working then I do something else – there’s always something that needs doing.
2. The weather makes a difference. As I work with clay this is kind of obvious, if it’s really hot then my clay drys out really quickly, if it is cold then the clay can be rather firm. Work with the environment rather than against it.
3. Respect the materials you’re working with. It is no use arguing with clay and trying to force it to do something it doesn’t want to do naturally. This is about working with the properties of the medium of your craft so it gets to do it’s best thing rather than wanting it to be something it isn’t. Personally for me this lesson has been a really important life lesson as well.
4. Play with ideas and go exploring. If I hadn’t been playing with my watercolour paints and exploring what I could do then one of my favourite characters, Lord Tasman of the Gumleaf Order, would not have turned up. And I love him. I think he’s adorable. It’s through play that so many ideas have the opportunity to come to the surface and breathe.
5. Learn from others. I constantly learn from my customers, market and pottery studio family, books and blogs. One example, my friend Angela from Genschi Jewellery is really good with photographing her work and showed me her simple setup, it’s made a huge difference for me.
6. Be active in a supportive creative group. This is really important. It looks after you during the tough patches and celebrates the wins. The knowledge sharing playdate with my friend Angela was really nurturing and supportive for both of us as we traded skills and experience.
7. Procrastinating is often percolating ideas taking their time to brew properly. Ideas and designs, creativity and authenticity takes time to formulate. If you push them too soon then you may only receive half an idea with the rest coming to you later or not at all. Sometimes the procrastinating is about fears and limitations and they need to be recognised and worked through in their own ways so the ideas can flow.
8. Feed your inner creative muse. If you starve your muse then how is she going to have enough energy to come up with new ideas and possibilities? All you have to do is figure out what lights up your inner creativity.
9. Make every day creative by action and what you bring into your life. If creativity, originality, authenticity and the artisan is important to you then live it, surround yourself with it, have it in your daily life from homewares to the fabric you clothe yourself in to the images you decorate the walls with. If you have the sweat shop mass produced fast fashion and homewares, cheaply made ceramics and glassware, disposable lifestyle then that’s what you’ll be living with.
10. Explore other mediums. I started making jewellery with freshwater pearls, crystals and lamp work glass. I then discovered porcelain and explored that. I wanted to paint so I started playing with paints and now my paintings are on my porcelain jewellery. Exploring other mediums like clay, paints, photography, writing and sewing is really good for feeding my inner creative muse and having practical activities to make every day creative.
11. Clay drys hands out so have a good moisturiser. This has also translated itself into wear an apron when making and painting. It makes life easier.
12. Be generous in helping others. I think the creative muses like this a great deal. Whenever I’ve been kind and big hearted with sharing the flow back to me with ideas, inspiration and possibilities has been deeply rewarding.
13. Think three happy thoughts when you’re feeling blue. Like most creative creatures I have my blue patches and I need to have ways of pulling myself through them. Thinking three happy thoughts helps me shift my mood.
14. Plan ahead. Ok, we are all meant to learn this one in life as it makes it a great deal easier, whatever you’re doing. When you’re working in a medium that requires two firings and each piece is handled about 22 times then you need to put brain into gear and plan. I now plan for big shows, having enough stock for market, online and shops – my making lists. I plan for cash flow because I have a seasonal business and at the end of my quiet time I have four big bills every year – making this less horrible is really important.
15. Understand your making process and the costs involved. On average it takes seven weeks for my work to move through the various stages. Yes, I can push through pieces so they are through in two or three weeks but that impacts other making lists and needs to be considered. On top of that is the time and cost of selling my work. There are no short cuts with artisan pieces but there are smart ways of refining the making the process so it is viable.
16. Be sensitive with your pricing. There are a lot of costs to be covered and treasured customers need to feel like your work is value for money as they work really hard to earn their money.
17. Go on adventures and out of your comfort zones. This has been such a big lesson for me. I can easily work too hard for too long, seven day weeks for months on end. My annual trip to the Tasmanian Craft Fair and putting holiday time around it has made the world of difference. Heading off into the wilds of that stunning state, seeing beauty all around me and being part of my creative family down there is like a feast for my soul. Comfort zones are designed for getting out of.