Jewelry maker Loretta Lam creates stunning designs in polymer clay. She talks about her evolution as an artist.
ABI: Your background is in working with silver and gold, but you changed to polymer clay. What was the catalyst for that?
LL: Color is my foremost creative interest and pursuit. When working in metals it showed up as experimentation with enameling but I’ve also spent much of my life painting. I was initially drawn to polymer by the color. It is like working with solid paint, direct and immediate. It allows you to blend any palette you choose, which is difficult to accomplish with enamels. And the colors don’t change after curing. You design with color in a very direct way. It’s fabulous!
ABI: How was the internet instrumental in developing your technique?
LL: I found polymer clay in 1999 and at that time there were no classes in my area. There were only a couple of books on the market which were not carried at my local bookstore. But there was a burgeoning community on the Internet. I was able to obtain all the technical information I needed to get started and to connect with others around the country to exchange ideas and information. In the last decade, the virtual polymer community has exploded worldwide, opening the door to influences and experiences we could never have imagined. It’s remarkable.
ABI: You began retailing your jewelry in 2004. How did you develop that business, and how did you begin wholesaling?
LL: After spending some time developing my artistic “voice” and honing the technical skills needed to create a first class product, I had to start learning how to be an entrepreneur. As an art school graduate, I didn’t have a clue what was involved. I took a couple of local marketing seminars and found a craft guild which was pivotal to getting my business off the ground. I quickly moved from small, local shows to large competitive fine craft shows.
But I felt the pull to take my work to a bigger audience. So I signed up for an Arts Business Institute workshop – some of the best money I ever spent on my business. With the information I received that weekend I was able to put together a solid wholesale plan and six months later I was at the “big show”. The Rosen Group connected me to mentors who filled in the gaps, answered all my questions as they came up and have become dear friends. It is a very supportive system.
ABI: How did you find your target audience?
LL: Wendy Rosen’s book “Crafting as a Business” is a fabulous resource. There is a chapter on creating a profile of your target customer/collector. Reading this book early on, I was captivated. I’d never thought of this before. Who was buying my work?
Applying myself to studying my current audience and envisioning my future buyers needs and desires, is one of my most important tasks. Thinking this way translates easily to the wholesale world. It helps identify the type of shop or gallery that will be interested in my work and where it will be successful. It informs all kinds of decisions from marketing, to product line, display and sales techniques.
ABI: Could you talk about your wholesale marketing techniques?
LL: Marketing is scary word for many artists but a necessary part of doing business. I try to practice the old adage, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” It’s time consuming so it’s important to choose impactful marketing activities. Twice a year, I create a glossy newsletter to send to my current galleries. It keeps them informed about new items and colors for the upcoming season. I regularly spend time working on my mailing list, scouring the Internet for new prospects and then send over-sized postcards.
I have both personal and artist Facebook pages where I update my retail show and teaching schedules plus post images of new work on its way to new galleries. And I advertise. In all my marketing tasks, I direct people to my website where wholesale buyers can fill out an interest form and contact me to place an order.