Clearly Abstract: Belle Armoire Feature

I’ve been dabbling and developing abstract painted jewelry for about 2 years now, and my latest version of this simple concept is combining paint, gold leaf, clear acrylic and walnut wood. As with previous versions of the abstract painted line, I’m still making a larger abstract painting (this time on clear acrylic) and cutting it up into unique pieces for the setting, but now I’m adding in gold leaf and making my own settings with laser engraved wood. I’m so thrilled with the direction this collection is taking!

Read all about my process and how this whole series got started in this month’s issue of Belle Armoire Magazine. All items pictured are available at www.onceagainsam.com in the splatter painted jewelry section.

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When Things Fall Into Place Perfectly

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About a year ago, I applied for something big, something that seemed like a long shot: a large-scale gallery exhibition at Greenville Center for Creative Arts. I was thrilled when I got news that my series of 2D needle felted landscape paintings would be part of a group show in June & July of 2019. It seemed like so far off at the time, but now it feels like it’s right around the corner (because it is!).

Tomorrow is February 1st, and it’s the day I have chosen to embark on the #100dayproject in which I’ll create one piece per day for 100 days straight. This will be a continuation of my needle felted wool paintings featuring South Carolina landscapes and other natural things from the region. These 100 pieces will be the body of work exhibited this summer and will be created during the months of February, March, April and the first part of May. I can’t wait to get started tomorrow and I’ll be sharing each piece on social media if you’re intersted in following along.

During my 100 day project time period this spring, I’m excited to share that I’ll be working onsite at Edisto Beach State Park as South Carolina State Parks Artist-In-Residence for one week in April. I had the honor of doing a residency last year through the same program at Poinsett State Park, and it was truly life changing. I’m so lucky to have the chance to do this again at a new location! Expect to see lots of coastal landscapes come out of my brain in April as I take in the beach, the marsh, and all the beauty the lowcountry has to offer.

A gallery exhibition, a challenging 3 month project, and a residency ahead are just the starting point of my exciting news. I was recently awarded a grant by Metropolitan Arts Council to fund this project! This was my first time writing a grant proposal so this was a huge win for me and I’m so thankful to have financial backing for my upcoming series. The cost of creating a large body of work like this is pretty daunting (materials add up quickly and framing is expensive) but I felt so strongly about challenging myself to work daily, work big, and experiment along the way, I’m free to do so now. So thankful for all of these opportunities!

Sometimes things fall into place perfectly. This is definitely one of those times! I’m excited to start this journey and look forward to sharing along the way. Lots to show you between now and June!

Photo curtesy of Eli Warren and TOWN Magazine (shot on location at Poinsett State Park in May of 2018)

Photo curtesy of Eli Warren and TOWN Magazine (shot on location at Poinsett State Park in May of 2018)





2018 - A Year in Review

2018 has been quite a year. I didn’t realize I’d hit so many milestones all at once, but I suppose that’s fitting because it’s my 10th year in business, which in itself is a milestone.

This year was my best year in some respects, but it was also a hard year at times. Some things fell through that I previously counted on, other opportunities found their way to me that were totally unexpected. It all worked out in the end!

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10,000 Etsy Sales:

This major milestone snuck up on me. I remember when I first opened my Etsy shop in 2009 (and started Once Again Sam simultaneously), I obsessed over every sale until I made it to 100 sales, which took about a full year. After that, I stopped worrying about the number and focused more on where I wanted to go with this handmade business. It’s been an incredible journey on Etsy and I hope to see 20,000 sales one day!

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100 Craft Shows:

That’s 100 set ups, 100 teardowns, 200 precise packings / re-packings of the car, thousands of miles on the road, good hotels, bad hotels, perfect weather, horrible weather, early mornings, late nights, and who knows how many hours talking to customers & other vendors. It’s a hard life. I admire people who do festivals full time, but I’ve learned over the last few years that I don’t want to be in a different city every weekend. I have drastically cut back on the number of events I do now, but all of those experiences at various craft shows and art festivals have taught me so much about my product, my customers, and myself.

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Record Sales:

I had a sales goal for the year, and I made it, but just barely. Every month I checked that we were on track to make that goal, and most of the time we were, but not always. I love a good “stretch goal” - something that pushes you to keep going, keep trying, keep making.

Record Number of Wholesale Orders & Stockists:

2018 was the first year I did multiple wholesale trade shows, and it paid off. With Etsy Wholesale closing up mid year, I had to hustle to make up for that loss, and when I look back at the number of wholesale orders from the year that came in solely from tradeshows and contacts made there, it’s easy to see this is a worthwhile investment for my business.

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Largest Commission:

I took on my biggest commission (both in quantity and in size) this year for a local company called Kentwool. I created 75 custom landscapes for them in the spring, then in the fall, I took on my first extra large needle felted landscape commission which was 24” x 36”. That was double the size of my largest piece previously!  I never would have attempted something that big on my own, but now I feel empowered to work at whatever scale I want.

Largest Fiber Art Collection:

In May of 2018, I had the honor of being Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park, and during my time there I created 40 pieces inspired by my surroundings which were then exhibited at Art & Light Gallery. Never before have I created such a large series around a specific location, and I really enjoyed the challenge. I enjoyed it so much I’m doing another residency next year and have an even bigger exhibition opportunity lined up for the summer. That’s all I can share till next year!

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10 Years in Business:

It doesn’t feel like a long time to me, but I have come to realize a lot of Makers and small businesses simply don’t last that long. I’m one of the lucky ones! I think one big factor in why I have lasted this long and made every year better than the last is because I do a variety of things. When I’m sick of needle felting, I bounce back to jewelry. I’m not stuck in a single medium. I also never gave up my day job, and continue to work a few days a week as an Interior Designer, which gets me out of the studio and uses a totally different part of my brain. I’ll admit I don’t have much free time anymore, but I’m doing things I want to do with my time, and that matters far more to me.

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Top Picks for 2018

I go through a ton of content when I’m in the studio. I’m rarely just sitting there working in silence (although on occasion it can be nice). I have absolutely no idea how many hours of audible books, podcasts, movies, or music I’ve consumed over the last year, but I do know what I keep coming back to. Here’s a look at my top picks for 2018.


Albums:

White Noise by Noah Gundersen

A Black Mile to the Surface by Manchester Orchestra

Nothing But Thieves by Nothing But Thieves

Sparrow by Jump Little Children

Loma Vista by Family of the Year


Movies:

A Quiet Place

Captain Fantastic

Bohemian Rhapsody

Leave No Trace

Wish I Was Here

Books:

A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My Heart & Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Get Well Soon: A History of Plagues and the Heroes who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright


Podcasts:

How I Built This with Guy Raz

Etsy Success Podcast

From the Front Porch

Creature Feature

The End of the World with Josh Clark

TV:

The Nineties Miniseries

Handmaid’s Tale

Queer Eye

Downton Abbey

Dark Tourist


100 Craft Shows

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Craft shows & art festivals are important to my business and I meticulously track them. My very first show was Indie Craft Parade in 2011. Doing that show changed everything for me. It's hard to believe I just did my 100th event, but the spreadsheet doesn’t lie.

My craft show spreadsheet turned out to be a great evaluation tool. I track everything - expenses, sales, and the ever so important column “Would I come back?” There were shows when I made a grand total of $80, there were shows when I made a whopping $14,000. Some of these events I only did once (for good reason), but the others I’ve been doing for years and look forward to every time. There were years when shows accounted for nearly half of my total income, which felt awesome at the time, but now that I look back, I realize that may have been a foolish business model.

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The purpose of this post is not to share tips and tricks for successful craft shows (but here’s an older post if you’re interested - scroll to the bottom of the post for 10 tips). Today I want to look at the big picture and share 3 reasons why craft shows have been amazing for my business growth, and issue 3 warnings about relying on them too heavily (because I’m 100% guilty of that).

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3 reasons you should do as many shows as you can (at least in the beginning)

1. You will undoubtedly find your target customer.

Pay attention to who’s buying and if they’re purchasing for themselves or as gifts. Study them, not in a creepy way, but notice how they dress, their life stage, and what else they’ve purchased. This info isn’t always available when you do the majority of your sales online, but it’s literally right there in front of you at a craft show.

2. This is a major marketing opportunity.

Yes, you’ll sell a lot at in-person events, but you’ll also give out tons of business cards. You’ll never hear from most of these people again, but a surprising number will pop back into your life at the holidays or when they’re ready to move forward with that commission they were asking about. Marketing in person can double or triple your craft show sales if you’re patient.

3. Real life feedback.

If you sell online, you don’t know what customers are thinking when they’re browsing. However, in person, you’ll likely hear verbal comments about your prices, sizes, and styles, and you may also notice people asking the same questions, so even though the answers may seem obvious to you, there’s a good chance it’s unclear to your customers. Find a way to communicate these things better and take that knowledge and apply it to your website or adjust your product if necessary.

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3 warnings about leaning too heavily on craft shows (if you want a sustainable business)

1. Shows come and go.

One year, the show is huge and everyone is making a killing. The next year, there’s no sign of the event. And that’s fine. Nobody owes you a craft show. Real people are behind these events, they take an incredible amount of time & money to produce, so sometimes the plug gets pulled. Established shows usually stick around, but even good shows can change their model, dates, or location, and that can make or break the whole event. Don’t count on them always being there or being the same as previous years.

2. Bad things can and will happen.

You could get a terrible booth location, a blizzard or hurricane may blow in, or you could get sick the night before. A few shows require you to apply for multiple categories if you work in different mediums, and they may only accept you for one and not the other, dictating what you can and can’t bring. The show may have an astronomical entry fee for shoppers and hardly anyone attends because of it. Do you really want to tie the vast majority of your livelihood to these things that are completely out of your control?

3. The burnout is real.

If you travel out of state for shows all year long, the exhaustion will eventually catch up with you (unless you’re young or super energetic, in which case - ignore all this). Depending on the type of work you do, all that time on the road away from the studio may mean you fall behind on other orders. As soon as you catch up, you’re back on the road again. It’s a tough cycle if you work alone, and the physical & mental exhaustion can affect other areas of your life. Having experienced this burnout year after year, I’ve gotten extremely picky about how far I’m willing to travel now, and how many shows I’m prepared to do in a season.

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You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket…don’t do it!

If you’re considering trying craft shows, just jump in, even if you’re not 100% ready. You’ll get a lot out of them even if it’s only for a few seasons. In 2013, I decided to sign up for every craft show that came my way. There were some really bad ones, but there were some gems in there too - ones that didn’t sound all that good on paper, or were not yet established, but turned out to be fantastic events that I still enthusiastically participate in years later.

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If you’ve been doing shows awhile and notice you’re planning your year around them and relying on them to make your numbers each quarter (that’s me, up until last year!) please be careful. Consider having some other income streams like online sales, commissions, or wholesale. These may be more steady in the end, which is important when you’re earning a living. If you do this Maker thing long enough, you’ll probably have an off year eventually, and if you put all your eggs in one basket, whether that’s the craft show basket or something else, that might be enough to put you out of business. However, if you’ve diversified your income streams well, a bad year will just be a little dip on your sales bar graph and nothing more.

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