May 21, 2012

Had an interesting conversation this weekend at a bead show re the amount of "faux" tibetan silver components for sale on the web from unknowing (and knowing) resellers:

May 7, 2012

The Wannabe Artist:  Running a Small Business
 An Interview with Jen Cushman

Last month I shared steps that artists need to think about when promoting their business.  One of the challenges of being right brained is that logic is not the dominant switch.  Not all artists are right brained, by the way.  And successful ones know that creating a path is important.  One of those is Jen Cushman.  

Cushman is a mixed media artist, well known if you’re a fan of what’s referred to as “Altered Art”--think skeleton key combined with an antique porcelain doll head adorned with horsehair and connected to a weathered construction ruler…on a pendant.  She’s “drawn to the imperfect, the funky, the quirky, the artsy and the authentic, be it people or objects or art.”
Cushman has arrived in the altered art world.  Her book Explore, Create, Resinate: Mixed Media Techniques with ICE Resin® features her art jewelry work and won a national bronze metal in the Independent Book Publishers Association.  She’s the Director of Education and Marketing for ICE Resin with partner Susan Lenart Kazmer, and regularly published in Belle Armoire Jewelry, Jewelry Affaire, Somerset Studios, Somerset Life,  Cloth, Paper, Scissors, WireWork magazine and the Crafts Channel of Lifetime Television’s interactive website. 

HOW did she get here?  I connected with Cushman after reading her recent column in  Belle Armoire Jewelry where she eloquently but pointedly called out someone that “borrowed” and promoted the art workshop she created.  She’s been my hero since, and we recently talked about her journey.
CS:  You are such a talented mixed media artist and have a very unique style.  How did you get started?

JC:  I was a closet artist originally.  I made the decision to be a journalist in high school as I wanted to be like Barbara Walters.  Then came 30 and a growing family, and I felt that I couldn’t do the daily grind at the newspaper.  As a stay at home mom experiencing a major identity crisis, I found a scrapbooking club.  Excited, I brought my supplies to the first gathering:  rubber cement, beige paint and the poly mesh bag from our Thanksgiving turkey, you know, to create texture on the beach theme page I planned to create.

The sound of welcome was deafening:  She wasn’t using the mandatory scrapbook stickers or die cut corners.  And didn’t get invited back to the mommy crop circle.

Fully recovered from her social misstep, Cushman forged ahead as a freelance writer for artist Mary Engelbright’s Home Companion where she produced and penned the, “Paper, Scissors, Art” column for the magazine.  “In 2004, I was writing and met mixed media artists Susan Lenart Kazmer and Michael DeMeng but didn’t dare show them my work until much later.  As artists, we put our heart and soul into what we do.  Back when I was writing for the paper, I simply collected the current news of the day and wrote about it.  I was scared to show work to the people I admire.  With art, it’s only me and my ideas.  I think as artists we’re insecure.  We think we’re not good enough.” 

It took 4 years for Cushman to share her art with Lenart Kazmer and DeMeng.  “They encouraged me, I learned at the feet of the masters and I’m indebted to them.”

CS:  Tell me about how you started your business as an artist.

JC:  The business part.  Artists think we’re different, but we have to be in a business frame of mind.  Whether you’re opening a restaurant or a clothing store, you need business principals.  We cannot just go at it based on our art.

Cushman is very humble when it comes to how she has and continues to build her business.  She’s clearly worked a plan based on values and what’s important to her and her family.  “This is where I’m different, it’s not a blueprint.  I was still working as a journalist.  Susan’s book came out, and she asked me to help market it.  And I did.  She took me to France.  We became business partners.  Her line is well-known and on the shelves at Michaels.  She has arrived.” 

CS:  What about your work?

JC:  For me, it’s very difficult to say, “look at me I’m fabulous.”  Having a network of friends saying it in the background is a great support system.   

And people do think she’s grand.  Full workshops in France with Lenart Kazmer where she teaches others.  A regular cast of followers on her website, the blogs she updates regularly, and articles.  Now when she opens her email opportunities are coming to her.  “In the beginning when I was publishing, I was comfortable.  But I needed to sell myself.  Make art and sell it.  Put a price tag on it?  Will they pay for it?  I started writing for a well known blog and in trade, they let me publish my own work.  From that I was able to network with the editors of the Stampington publications.  Now I write for them.  Always have business cards everywhere you go.  Contacts are everyone.  I believe the universe is about meeting people.” 

CS:  Uh, Jen…Stampington is the queen of art pubs and that’s a pretty huge leap, would you share more about how you did that?

JC:  In 2003 I saw my first mixed media magazine in a store.  I was stunned and just stared at it for long time.  There was ALTERED ART.  I do this.  Lightening bolt moment.  I got to know the people at that magazine and they asked me to write a column.  That was the opportunity, they asked me to write for them.  I was lucky.

Not really.  Cushman knows publishing.  She’s a natural born story teller.  She knows how to make an editor’s life easier. 

CS:  We’re not all writers, Jen. What can we do to get our art out there?

JC:  Contact the publication by email with an idea.  They are always looking for new artists and ideas. You see the same people again and again in magazines.  THEY make the editor’s life easy.

CS:  What if you’re turned down?

JC:  Do not take it personally.  You can’t, it’s not that you’re not good enough.  It means the timing is wrong.  The worse thing people do is to present similar things that appeared in last month’s edition because, “I make that too.”  Offer fresh ideas.  Confidently move forward in the direction of your dream.  Every day do something. Social media.  Studio time.

Cushman is doing just that.  Her second book will be published by North Light later this year and focus on beginner metalsmithing.  “Now I have less time to make art. My thing is all about trying to get people to a better spot, with permission to play.”