Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Website and Blog


Just wanted to post a note here about the blog "situation." I created this blog with the intention of keeping it updated regularly, which kinda fell by the wayside. However, with the creation of the new, you will see a blog feature built right into the website.

So, I'm keeping this old blog up for now in case anyone wants to read the previous posts, but please head over to the
new blog to stay up to date on current news....which I will be posting regularly, mark my words!

And, hey - let me know what you think of the new site, K?

Thanks much,


Friday, September 3, 2010

From the beginning: The history of Rapt in Maille...

Well folks, it's been a while since my last post. And I thought, to begin again, let's start from the very beginning. So, here's a little history of my venture into jewelry and creating a business...

I went to the University of Illinois in 1991 for Computer Science in the School of Engineering. I know - what was I thinking? In my naïve and simple, young mind, I did at one point envision myself getting dressed up in business gear and working in a cubicle every day. The only reason I can give for why this seemed good to me back then was that I was very shy and I liked the idea of not having a job where I had to interact with too many people. Ha! Silly, silly me.

Anyhow, during my 4th semester, as I hit Physics and my first Computer Science courses (somehow I had made it through Chem and Calc), I was failing for the first time in my life (I had never taken Physics in high school, unlike every other single person in my class). I remember crying in my dorm room, and my roommate said to me - "Hey, I know you like to make jewelry....there's a girl down the hall taking jewelry classes - why don't you do that?"

I have always been creative. It runs in my family. My mom is an artist, my dad played guitar, my sister was a hairdresser, another sister works creatively in I just always gravitated towards making things or building things. I loved art class, I made things from crafts books, I loved building card houses, I made rag-rugs, friendship bracelets, you name it. In high school I started stringing beads and making simple bead earrings, which I brought to college and would give to friends. I had also started working with shaping wire, and I even brought some things I had made to a local consignment store. So when my roommate said those words to me, it was like my ears literally perked up, the sun came out, and the angels sang. Jewelry classes at the U of I? Who knew? I immediately changed my major. I was no longer an engineer - I was an art student.

Even though I was always drawn towards art, I had never voluntarily taken an art class. My high school classes were always geared towards the academics. So once again, I found myself behind everyone else who had previous experience with the subject at hand. Although this time it didn't bother me one bit - because I was loving it. I started my first jewelry class. I took ceramics, sculpture, glass, life drawing, design....most of which I found really challenging. It was really obvious that jewelry was my niche. As with every college program, you have your electives, and your requirements. It's kinda funny on my college transcript that my electives for an art degree include Chemistry 101 and 102, Calculus 1, 2, & 3, etc. (I had to do this to consolidate my time in school). It's too bad my electives for art were taken up by my engineering classes, otherwise I would have loved to take photography.

Anyhow, so here's where the chainmaille comes in: It was required in the jewelry program that we take 2 semesters of Independent Study. For the first semester I picked granulation (which I never really got the hang of). Now, my benchmate had been making some chainmaille, so one day I borrowed a piece of it to study, and ended up teaching myself how to do it by just looking at the weave (European 4-in-1). So I chose to study chainmaille for the second semester of Independent Study. I became so enamored with it, that I continued studying it for my senior thesis. I ended up making a long-sleeved shirt from blackened wire and washers, a long halter top/dress, a gauntlet, and a headpiece. I do have slides of these SOMEWHERE, which I really should digitize, eh? Project to come....

In the meantime, during my last semester in school, I also began working for my old benchmate, who had just graduated and was launching her own line. However, when it was graduation time for me, I did the proverbial packing up of my college days to head home to find a "real job." My sister got me a job working at a newspaper, which lasted a whole 8 months. It had its merits, (I did learn how to use Photoshop - a skill that has proved to be invaluable now), but I was just not happy.

My previous boss (now friend) who I worked for back in Champaign, called me up and proposed that I move back and work for her full time. I jumped at the chance to move back, since I missed it, and my freedom, so I packed up once again. I worked in the jewelry studio during the day, and at night I would come home and work on chainmaille designs of my own. After about a year and a half, my boss decided to move her business up to Chicago, and suggested I move up there to keep working for her, so I did! Big city, here I come...

In Chicago, I also started working at a bar that my friend hooked me up with. I started by checking ID's at the door (yes, I was a bouncer!), and eventually was taught how to bartend. So for a while, I was juggling the nightlife, my days in the studio, and other nights working on my own designs. My boss would have shows and events out of the studio and would let me set up my own jewelry, and the bar I worked at would let me bring in a jewelry case every once and a while to try and sell stuff. Humble beginnings!

Now, the big turning point was when my boss decided to sell her jewelry at the Bucktown Holiday Show in 1998. She asked me if I wanted to share the space with her, so I took her up on that opportunity. This was my first art fair, ever! At the show, I also met another emerging jewelry designer, Melissa Kolbusz, now of [wired] jewelry. It was also her first show, and she was also sharing a space with her boss - amazing coincidence. We loved each other's work, so we ended up trading and exchanging phone numbers.

I had caught the art fair bug, so I was researching some summer shows. I decided to give Melissa a call. We ended up deciding to join forces and try out some shows while sharing a booth space. Our first show was Northalsted Marketdays in 1999. And boy, did we learn some major lessons that weekend! There was a HUGE storm, including a mini twister, (we came with no weights, but our neighbor suggested at the beginning we go at least buy some gallons of water), everything got soaked - never again bring supplies in cardboard boxes...and we were also robbed at the end of the show. Typical 2-person theft where one distracts and the other walks off with the cash box. No more cash box at shows.

After several years of sharing booth spaces, we grew enough to have our own booths, although we still usually requested to be near each other for company and support ;) We also met a slew of AMAZING artist friends, who are some of the dearest people I know, and continued to gain knowledge of the art fair scene - what works, and what does not work. I finally feel like I'm pretty set with my booth and the whole scenario after 12 years, but I am STILL constantly learning. It has been a pretty big curve.

So now here I am! In my 12th year of doing shows, and my business has been growing steadily. (About 75% of my yearly sales are from art shows. The rest is wholesale and internet sales.) I quit working in the bar/restaurant industry about 2 years ago, and have been able to support myself, buy a condo, save money, and live comfortably. It's been absolutely amazing doing this full time. It is hard work. I am telling you - IT IS HARD. WORK. But it's my career now, and I LOVE IT - and I'm all grown up! Awwww.....

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

1st Annual East Nashville Arts Fest

Now that I'm back home and settling into the groove again, thought it would be a great time for a new blog post. It was a really nice weekend, so I thought it was well-deserving of one.

Some of you may be familiar with Chicago's Bucktown Arts Fest, Bucktown Bazaar, and the Spring and Holiday Shows at Architectural Artifacts. These shows are run with thanks to Maria Mariottini of Grazia Productions. (Note: another new show this year is Crafter's Round-Up). After seeing a need for an open-air art show in the Music City, Maria produced and ran the East Nashville Arts Fest (ENAF) this past weekend (with the help of Dolan Geiman, who designed the poster, and his wife, Ali). East Nashville was the perfect neighborhood. The show was set up near Five Points, among some hip businesses including a coffee shop (Bongo Java), a rocker bar (The Red Door, which Mike claims serves the largest whiskey on the rocks, ever. Shoot, we forgot to test that theory again), vintage clothing stores, (The Hip Zipper), a record store (The Groove), a cool salon (Chop Shop), an art gallery (Art & Invention), and a natural food store ala Trader Joe's called The Turnip Truck.

Did I mention Mike used to live there? Did I mention we met while he was living there? That's another cool story for a future post, perhaps :) So I had visited the city twice and was looking forward to going back. And I was happy to support Maria on her maiden voyage of ENAF.

It was about an 8 hr drive from Chicago, so we left Friday morning and arrived at a friend's house in the evening. I will fully admit I do not travel well (as far as mental and physical stresses - not so much during, but upon initial arrival), so I was quite out of it when we got there. But we were starving, so we had dinner at Eastland Cafe, which was very good.

The next morning we arrived and set up our booth (just on time, as usual) as the heat of the day was building. Temps on Saturday were relatively brutal, peaking in the high 80's with even higher heat indexes. But the sun was out, which is always great for the moods of both the artists and patrons as well. Being a first time show, I knew going in that the crowds would not be out in droves, as is expected with established shows that may have been around for decades. However, Maria, Dolan, and Ali did as much as they could with advertising, so I would say the crowds were good, considering! There were always people on the street, maybe with the exception of the last hour of Sunday, but I contribute that to the final episode of Lost, which I still have to watch tonight, btw :) The people watching was great too - lots of cool tattoos, haircuts, and outfits (cowboy boot envy!), and lots of super cute puppies! Since the neighborhood itself is hip, artistic, and forward-thinking, I believe this show will grow to be a fantastic event! Lots of neighborhood residents were happy to see us, and were appreciative that we were out there showing our work.

Sunday temps were even higher - at one point my phone weather app said the heat index was over 100! All we could do was keep drinking water, and try to stay cool by popping into nearby businesses for an AC break, which they were very nice about, Bongo Java :) Even the Nashvillians were commenting on the heat...I guess they weren't prepared either!

And speaking of, it seems that Nashville is hanging in there as best it can after the flooding. The water was gone, and we didn't see any visible damage while we were there (although I'm sure there was plenty). We did hear many people discussing their personal experiences with it, and another artist, Becky Quigley, lost everything in the flood and was set up at the show with borrowed equipment, and what little stock she had made or salvaged. I'd post her information, but doesn't seem she has a website. (She does jewelry and leatherwork). She did say she was overwhelmed with support, and she was very cool and in good spirits - go Becky! Hearing all the unfortunate stories does make one feel extremely grateful and humble. I wish Nashville the best!

I did do my part to contribute to Nashville's economy, of course, with my horrible shopping addiction, lol - as well as buying several things from the artists, which I LOVE. Check out my Facebook page to see some items I purchased, as well as a list of artists, below, whose business cards I was sure to pick up.....

So, the end of the show neared, and we packed up without a hitch. The first-time event was a success, and I left happy with the outcome, loving East Nashville. We went back to the hotel, unloaded, and went out for Mexican food - yum! Another high-point of our trip was seeing a picture of the "Margarona" on our menu. Apparently, it's a huge margarita served with an upside-down Corona dumped in it. I loved it so much I had to take a picture, although I wasn't adventurous enough to order one (more like I had no desire to walk around hungover the next day). I also had to ask the waiter how one drinks it, to which he replied that people just mix in the Corona as they drink the margarita....but then he admitted he really didn't know - lol.

Monday was a play-day in Nashville (we had decided to make this trip a mini-work/vacation), so we got up and moved to a fancier hotel for our last night. We spent the day cruising around, shopping, and eating. We visited another hip area, Hillsboro Village, where I got a cool pair of black leggings with fringe down the side - yeah, totally awesome. We also made a point to go back to Jack's BBQ, which is situated downtown in the Hon
ky Tonk tourist-y area, which is super fun to see. Best BBQ sauce, in my opinion (the original, vinegar based one)....we bought a jar to bring home for this summer's grilling :) Then at night, Mike took me out for a fabulously rich and decadent dinner at Park Cafe. Just look at the pics on the website - yummy!

So, as promised, here are just a few artists at the show whose work I enjoyed (excluding the usual Chicago suspects, whom of course I love: Weener Ware, Dolan Geiman, Nancy Deal, and Olive Kraus)

Teresa Petersen - collage
Bryan Cunningham - mixed media
Tiffany Ownbey - papier mache sculpture

Sarah Collier - collage art
Fringe Lore - jewelry
White Cottage Design - sewn crafts (the deer, oh, the deer! - love)

Also - please visit the ENAF Facebook page for more information about the artists, and read other blog posts by exhibiting artists, etc.

See ya next year, East Nashville! Until then, keep on keepin' on.....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dealing with the dreaded "P" word: Prioritizing.

Oh my, oh my, I'm not exactly keeping up on my new year's resolution to keep up with my blog, now, am I? *tisk, tisk* But here I am, so here we go!

Well, the Beckman's Wholesale show in January kept me relatively busy filling orders for the first few months of 2010. Of course, I also tried to fit in some relax-y time (which usually involves a home-cooked meal, wine, and a movie), so things did not go at the stressful pace of the summertime when I'm cranking out stock for the art fairs. However, I tried to keep reminding myself not to get too comfortable, as I had a ton of catching up to do with stock after the end of 2009, plus I have been really jonesing to design new stuff.

So now it's April...I've gotten my stock up to an acceptable, but not exactly ideal level to do a show, but at the beginning of the art fair season I try to have as much extra stock on top of that as I can. Right now, that's not looking too good, but I still have some quality time. I just have to focus. I know when the shows really kick in, my production will naturally go into over-drive, but right now, I'm having a hard time getting to that place in my head.

As far as having design time, this is crucial and also sometimes very difficult to fit in. Playing around with new ideas takes an artist many, many hours with no guaranteed outcome. So lately I've been struggling I sit down and crank out stock for items I know will sell, set aside the night to try and design new pieces (which may or may not produce a hot item), or work on this wholesale order that needs to go out? Prioritizing is often an artist's biggest struggle because mostly we are a one-person show and the tasks are swirling around in our heads like a tornado. Don't forget we are also managing the bookkeeping, the marketing, social networking, show applications (which is very time consuming and deserves its own post), managing stock of materials, ordering, packing and shipping out orders....and the list goes on and on. Prioritize, Melissa, prioritize. I'm still not sure which direction my jewelry-making will go when I get to work right after I finish this post. But I can tell you, I will be enjoying myself. Not much makes me happier than sitting down with my pliers :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The wholesale show: a totally different animal

My wholesale booth after set-up (minus the coats, bag, and my purse which of course were put away during the show)

It's been 2 days since the end of the 2010 Beckman's Handcrafted Gift Show and I think I'm still trying to regain my energy to work in the office again. I really should have scheduled a day off, but you know - hindsight ;) We set up the booth all day Thursday, then the show ran from Saturday-Tuesday. Long hours, little sleep, recycled air, and fluorescent lighting really makes for an exhausting (but valuable) experience.

It was my 3rd year exhibiting at the January show (they also have a July show that I can't make due to my summer art fair schedule), and my 3rd wholesale show, period. So I'm still kind of a novice, even though I've been in business for over 10 years and dealt with wholesale here and there. Actually doing a wholesale show and diving into that world is a completely different story.

Being a retail show (art fair) veteran, I can really say that the 2 are completely different in many ways (in almost every way, as a matter of fact). For those of you who aren't really familiar with the difference, I'll explain why.

For retail, before the show your goal is to make as much inventory as you can, because you'll be making sales on the spot, and doing volume, point of sale. For wholesale, you just need to make sure you have only one of every style (samples) because store buyers will come and decide which items they want to order for future delivery. You also must display your samples in an "easy to read" fashion, with item numbers and prices easily displayed. Store owners are often in a rush and most of the time won't even want to bother touching anything to see a price or to view things any closer, and you won't have the time to either.

Another big difference is the PACE of the show. Retail shows (if they are good!) are bustling and busy, often there really is no significant amount of time for breaks between sales and customer service - at least not for several hours, so it really can be a constant whirlwind of activity. A lot of time at a wholesale show is spent pacing the floor (but trying not to look like you're pacing the floor, ha ha) waiting for just the right buyer to come into your booth who will like your work, think it will sell well in their store, is the right price-point, etc, and then place an order. There could be hours between orders, and you really have to try and stay awake, focused, and on your game to sell your line to a buyer when they walk in. I personally struggle with this, having grown up as a painfully shy person. Sales are not necessarily my forte, but I'm getting better and better as I learn and my business grows.

Also, you can't let yourself fall into the trap of sitting down for too long and looking disinterested. All successful wholesalers will say to NEVER sit down in your booth. I completely agree and understand the reasoning for this, but I don't always practice it, as much as I try. Sometimes I just gotta take a load off, especially due to my chronic hip/back trouble. But I try not to let that be an excuse too often ;) It can also be discouraging when you're not doing business, or hearing critical feedback from buyers (most aren't shy about telling you what is "wrong" with your work!), but it's something you have to stay positive about.

Another thing I've heard from wholesale veterans - you should never really expect to make a profit or break even the first time you do a new wholesale show. You might not really see success until you have gone back several times. Buyers sometimes need to see you at a show year after year before they decide to take a chance on your product. Establishing a good working relationship with store owners and getting lots of re-orders are your bread and butter. This year, I got 9 re-orders and 3 new accounts. Although I wanted more new accounts, it made me feel great to have so many stores come back to see me. Without them, the show would not have been profitable.

You also have to have different materials and preparations for the wholesale show. When I was packing, I put away my credit card machine, my sales books, bags, packaging materials, etc. You may have people asking to buy your samples at the end of the show (a good way to make some extra cash if you want!), but you really won't be making sales on the spot much for "cash and carry." I had to add to my packing list my 3-part purchase order forms (larger for wholesale, and more information fields for the buyer to fill out), wholesale marketing materials, clipboards (you will need to fill out orders while you are standing), and other small items.

And then of course there are the logistics of the orders, and new terms to learn - wholesale jargon. "Net 30," "keystone," "as ready," etc. You should be prepared with how you will accept payment, and make sure you get that information from the buyer. Will you accept check and pre-paid only? Will you accept credit card, and if so - do you get the number now or call them when the order is ready to ship? Will you accept Net 30 (terms)? Some artists flat out do not accept Net 30 (that means stores have 30 days to pay after receiving the merchandise), and some stores refuse to do anything except Net 30, so this can be a point of contention and business can be lost. You must be smart about accepting Net 30 (it is typical to request credit references) because stores can be notorious for not paying on time, or not paying at all (god forbid). This is when networking with fellow exhibitors can be a great thing - word of mouth about the ease of dealing with certain buyers over others, etc.

And the last big difference is the customer you are dealing with. At retail shows, of course, you are interacting with the general public. You feel more in control, it's easier to feel confident and active (which goes along with the pace of the show), and you may get more praise and positive feedback in general. Dealing with buyers at a wholesale show is more intimidating, especially if you are just starting out and/or if it's not a regular venue for you. Buyers have their livelihoods at stake. What they decide to carry in their store is directly related to their income and their success. Therefore, there's no sugar-coating of opinions or whether they want your work or not, and it can be a much harder sell. And in this regard, the wholesale show is a much more professional atmosphere as well. No cut-off jeans and a t-shirt for your outfit - ahh, how I miss summer! ;)

So I hope that helped describe the world of wholesale - at least as seen from my eyes so far. I hope to keep gaining experience from that side of things, and expanding my exposure. Now it's time to fill the orders and ship them out in the next couple months, and get ready for the summer season!

Please post if you have anything to add to the wholesale experience. Thanks for reading!

~ Melissa

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A resolution of sorts, and reflection.

Well, it's New Year's Eve, 2009, and I thought I'd finally give up on catching up with blogging. What I mean is, my mind keeps telling me that I can't write anything on here until I have time to start where I left off, which was really back in early August after the Minneapolis show. Since then, I'd have to report on Bucktown Arts Fest, Penrod, Starving Artists, Rockford, Lakeview East, St. James Court, and then all the holiday shows. What can I say? Things just got really, really busy, and that's excellent! But I can't just not write ANYTHING because I am not current with my show experiences, etc. Lost opportunities for writing, like my big October photo shoot with Audrey Keller Photography, slipped through the cracks. Ah well, I am still kinda new to this blogosphere, and I guess I have to allow myself some failures.

The good news is, things will slow down a bit here for late winter/spring, (I keep telling myself, anyway), and I might attempt to re-visit some lost opportunities. It just might be good for the soul to get back to reporting on summer during the cold winter months...

So now, as I sit here still in my pj's, I will reflect on 2009, and what a great year it was for
Rapt in Maille. My best out of 11 art fair seasons. Awards won, sales records broken, and lots of new fans. I count myself very, very lucky...and grateful. Thanks to everyone who has supported my work past and present, and I look forward to an even more successful and adventurous 2010....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Autumn: switching gears from summer to holiday show season

Well, the summer '09 art fair season came to a close earlier this month with the St. James Court Art Show in Louisville. It was a great show all around, and a perfect way to end the season.

For the last few weeks I've been scrambling to re-stock for holiday shows and get some wholesale orders done. Still scramblin,' come to think of it....and also had a successful photo shoot of my new pieces, along with my new collection "Woven." I will be getting the edited photos from my photographer, Audrey Keller, in early November, so look for updated products, along with a website overhaul in mid-November - just in time for holiday shopping!

Gotta get back to the grindstone, but I'm also posting an image of my new business card. I just got them in the mail today, and I must say, I'm pleased! I'll have to get used to having a vertical business card, but it was the best way to fit all my information. I really wanted to put links to all my networking pages....whatcha think?

I promise I'll catch up on show reports next month! I've got a big 5-day event coming up next week in Milwaukee - The USM Christmas and Holiday Show. Hope to see all my Milwaukee peeps out to visit this one!