New website and some thoughts on it

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I finally managed to build a brand new website. I built my first one about 4 years ago and kept it for two years. In 2010, I found a new website host with interesting templates and did another refresh. Because of all the behind-the-scenes in 2012, I knew it was time to tackle my website again for 2013. I had contacted some people I know who do websites and received quotes. However, since I had paid out of my pocket for the videos attached to my book’s QR codes, I didn’t feel like I could spend the money on it right now.

I had planned to get my new website up before my book came out early January, but with the CHA and Tucson shows, the time to do this kept getting shoved further and further down my to do list. My next self-imposed deadline was before my Breaking Out of the Mold DVD was released. I had no idea mine would come in February since there are six artists this year with DVDs from Cloth, Paper, Scissors. Yikes! I missed that deadline again.

I was starting to feel some real pressure because I knew the Designer Showcase feature for Belle Armoire Jewelry was coming out for the March 2013 issue. Since I’ve built websites before, I know that starting from scratch with a good template takes me about 2-3 days to do from start to finish. The only way to get it done was to burn the midnight oil. I snuck into my studio 3 nights in a row after my family went to sleep and worked from about 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. creating it. I still had to get up by 6:30 and get the kids ready for school and drive them, so it really did mean giving up sleep to get it done. There are still some small design changes I want to do to it, but it’s 99% complete and I’m happy to have a brand new online facelift. It was very important to me this time around to include a Flash intro because a big part of any redesign is staying current.

The reason I’m writing such a long post on this topic and giving you the background is because I get questions about marketing when I’m out and about at the art retreats and shows. Often, people say they feel dejected because they don’t have the skills or money to get their businesses up and rolling they way they want to or feel they should. Making art is one thing. Everything else that goes into getting your art seen is another. I sincerely believe time and money are as much about an individual’s priorities as they are time and money. It’s not fun eating noodles and scraping together every penny to follow one’s dream, but realizing dreams takes focus. I was pretty darn tired after the third night of staying up late to get my website done, but I really felt like I had no other choice but to follow through. I didn’t want to pay for the quotes I was given — which were exactly in line with the skills and time it takes for anyone good to build a website — and I couldn’t keep letting it slip through the cracks and missing deadlines. My old website was musty and outdated. I couldn’t back off on my other work duties, so I just had to suck it up and get ‘er done.

If you are contemplating building your website, keep in mind a few guidelines that have helped me along the way:

Keep it simple. Tell people exactly what you want them to know. If you make art, say so and please don’t feel like you have to follow any highbrow kind of language if it’s not your thing. If you enjoy writing in flowery language or an esoteric style, then by all means have at it, particularly if your collectors respond in kind. I tend to keep things pretty straight forward, but I think that comes from my type of writing background.

Put pictures of your best work out there. Your website is an advertisement for you. There are approximately 7 billion people on the planet today and lots of them are creatives and creative people tend to think along the same lines. If you are worried about people copying your work because it’s on the internet, realize there are really only two options in today’s technologically-driven world: exposure or anonymity. Please do consider watermarking your images so people are aware that you are aware of U.S. copyright laws.

Present yourself as professionally as you can. If your collage niece or nephew offers to do your website for you because you’re feeling overwhelmed by it, ensure that he or she really has the design and writing skills it takes to put your best face forward. If not, hire someone to do it for you or barter if you can. It is a tax write off for your business. A good website should help bring people and opportunities to you, which should pay for itself in the long run.

Remember that it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. Your first attempts at websites and blogs aren’t always graceful. They’re learning experiences about your business. Each time I’ve done a refresh I’ve honed my skills and learned something. I’m sure that will never change because life changes, technology changes, social media changes and so do we!  My website is still far from perfect, and that’s really OK with me. It’s the very best I can do at this time. I teach my children to always do their best, so that’s my motto.

I hope you find bits and pieces of this advice helpful. If you get a chance, please take a look at my new website.

Here’s wishing you a truly Artful day!

In the Studio

This weekend has been spent in the studio making jewelry to sell next week at Adorn Me, the mixed-media jewelry retreat in Houston, Texas. I finished new samples for my classes.  Proposals for workshops are usually due a year in advance, so try to go in right before I teach and freshen up my work a bit. Since I bought some really wonderful new beads, charms and fibers to work with at the To Bead True Blue show in Tucson, I was itching to get into my studio and play.

GreenGirlFairy

I really adore Green Girl Studios and all their whimsical charms. My dear friend, Carol LaValley, was shopping with me and fell in love with a flying pig charm. I spotted these new chubby little potato fairy charms with sweet wings resting above a little rump and just had to have them. I kept the necklace design simple here by focusing on the Cold Enameled Heart bezel, where I used our brand new Iced Enamels in ivory and filled it with ICE Resin, of course, and then made a charm dangle using the fairy. A tiny bit of this gorgeous pink velvet ribbon from Thailand that I discovered at a friend’s booth in Tucson adds the final pop of color. This little wee baby will be up for sale at the Adorn Me expo.

For all you Texans out there, my Bangle Angle class is nearly full, but there are still spots open in my other classes. If you are around next weekend and want to make some jewelry with me, I’d love to see you there!

Here’s wishing you a truly Artful week.

Covergirl…

Belle Armoire Jewelry Cover March/April 2013

Belle Armoire Jewelry Cover March/April 2013

Remember when I said there were A LOT of big things in the works last year that I had to keep quiet about? Well, I finally can tell you the last of the secrets! My work is being featured in Belle Armoire Jewelry as the March/April issue Designer Showcase. The issue — with my necklace from my book Making Metal Jewelry on the cover (!!!) just arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes today and I’ve heard a resounding positive response from soooo many of my artist friends.

To say it’s an incredible honor to have my work featured is, truly, an understatement. I know there are people who will think that it was a natural fit for me because I write a business advice column for this magazine every issue, but the truth of the matter is that being a “regular” with the Stampington publications can actually make the selection process tougher. I liken it to being a mother and not wishing to play favorites to any of your children.

ICE Resin bezel by Jen Cushman in Belle Armoire Jewelry 2013

ICE Resin bezel by Jen Cushman in Belle Armoire Jewelry 2013

The editors go out of their way to judge every piece of art work that comes into the magazine based on some pretty high standards. That’s why I’m always impressed when I meet someone whose been published in Belle Armoire Jewelry because I’ve seen the editors at work during the selection process. It takes a considerable amount of thought and consideration on their part each month.

When Editor Cynthia Levens emailed me to say that she wished to feature me, I jumped up and down in my studio and couldn’t help but have a big smile from ear to ear. Then she told me what I had to do. Not much, just submit 25 pieces of jewelry (!) for photography and then catch up with Ricë Freeman Zachary for her to do the interview. I’ve known Ricë for a few years now, but it’s always nerve wracking to be interviewed, particularly for something as wonderfully big as a Designer Showcase profile.

Belle Armoire Jewelry Jen Cushman profile

Belle Armoire Jewelry Jen Cushman profile

I could not have asked for a better person to interview me. Ricë is a very accomplished mixed-media artist and independent writer/author. She’s been in the trenches teaching and selling her work. She knows when people who are being authentic with her and she can spot from a mile a way when someone is being politically correct..aka saying what they think they’re supposed to say rather than speaking their truth. I love talking to Ricë because she’s real and ensures people respond accordingly. I knew I’d have some tough questions, but that was part of the fun. The article is wonderfully written. After reading it through for the second time, my favorite part is this (page 23):

She (meaning me) turned her focus on the most salient detail of the life she wanted: learning to value her creativity and skills enough to give them the time and space to flourish, and then learning to value the concrete results of the process enough to share them with the world instead of putting them in a drawer.

I know I pulled this out of context, and I do hope you find the time to read the whole article, but every time I read this paragraph that Ricë wrote, I get chills. It’s an incredible thing to feel that someone “got me” and she really, truly understood what I was trying to say as a human being and an artist.

Thank you, Ricë and Cynthia and Christen for your faith in me and my work. This Designer Showcase is a major highlight in my life. Also, as always, my incredible appreciation to Susan Lenart Kazmer for making such gorgeous and high quality hobnail bezels and creating ICE Resin so myself and millions of other artists can explore their creativity.

She was a Peach

While I was away at the To Bead True Blue show in Tucson last week teaching workshops and having meetings related to our company, ICE Resin, I learned my neighbor Shirley Luhtala passed away at 80 (almost 81 in April). It was so non-stop busy at the show, that I didn’t have time to take it in. I got home about 1:30 a.m. on Friday and slept in as best as I could.

Shirley’s Celebration of Life was Saturday afternoon. We did not stay at the gathering long, as the kids came. A funeral home is just not a great place for children to be their normal active selves. We did watch the photo slide show that Courtney had lovingly compiled and paid our respects to her family and friends.

Shirley Luthala in her Rockford Peach outfit.

Shirley Luthala in her Battle Creek Belles outfit. She played for the Racine Belles, which later became Battle Creek Belles and also the Rockford Peaches.

Her death is finally sinking in today, and I really miss my friend and neighbor. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted on my blog and there are many things I want to talk about, but, for today, I really want you all to know a little bit about Shirley.

My husband and I met her the day we bought our cabin in Northern Arizona. It wasn’t a happy meeting because we had a land survey done on the property and found that Shirley’s property line encroached on our land by about 12 feet, even though our cabin was built in the late 50s and her trailer was installed in the 60s. We were advised by an attorney to correct the property issue because, if we didn’t, the county could basically give her what amounted to squatter’s rights.  I was NOT looking forward to telling my new neighbor that she had inadvertently been living on our “new” property for 40 years! Yep, she was hot under the collar and it was downright uncomfortable.

We got through it with a handshake and a promise to be great neighbors. That was all she needed to move forward and forgive. Shirley lived alone and she loved it that way. When we first met her, she had a male friend (she was 70) who spent a lot of time winterizing her roof because Shirley was always worried a big snow storm would cave in her home. Spring came and I never saw the man again. I asked about it once and she told me she never married because “husband’s are just too much work.”

Since I loved to bake to keep the cabin warm and cozy and smelling great, I would invite Shirley over for a treat and a cup of tea. We would sit for an hour or more on the sofa and I would ask her questions about her life. After the third visit, she told me she liked the sweets, but would it be OK if I gave her a beer instead of tea. I almost spit out my tea when she asked.

Shirley Luhtala

I quickly learned Shirley played professional women’s baseball in the All American Girls Baseball League when the men were away at war. I’m not much of a sports person, but the movie A League of Their Own is one of my all-time favorite films. Her playing pro ball was my favorite topic of conversation, though she couldn’t quite understand my infatuation with it. And yes, she said the director did a good job with the movie portraying the sport, the girls and the era. Oh, she hated — and I mean hated — those short skirts. The absolute worst thing to be a serious athlete and have exposed flesh for no decent reason. The men would never have to do anything so ridiculous, she would rant to me when I asked.

Her favorite thing about baseball? This may not be a politically correct answer, but it’s Shirley through and through. The paychecks because baseball allowed her to save enough money to pay for her undergraduate and mater’s degrees, which allowed her to eventually become one of the first female athletic department heads at Mesa Community College. Her second favorite thing about being the first baseman for the Racine Belles and, later, Rockford Peaches; the girls and the teamwork they showed on and off the field as they cared for each other and lived like sisters.

Shirley stayed an inspiration as she aged. She was as fit as a fiddle — cross-country skiing every winter on Mogollon Rim through her 70s– until the last three years of her life. It wasn’t her body that gave out on her, but, sadly, her mind from Alzheimer’s disease. She lived in Phoenix and came to her trailer as often as she could. She kept her property spotless by spending mornings raking up every single wayward pine cone and pine needles, putting them in a giant pile for my husband to burn in our large fire pit. Oh how I despise yard work! Shirley made a deal with me. She raked my pine needles and I baked her cakes and sweet bread and pies. I still feel guilty, but she told me often how she got the best end of the deal. I can still see her sitting on her porch in the summer afternoons, feet up on her railing with a book and a beer and small slice of banana bread or cake that she kept in the freezer and pulled out one piece at a time.

I could go on, but this post is already long enough. All I really need you to know is that Shirley Luhtala was a Peach…an amazing woman, an inspiration to so many female athletes, a tireless advocate for Title IX laws that reformed women’s sports in the 70s, and the best neighbor I’ve ever had.

Sweet dreams, my dear friend. I will never forget you.