What Kind of Artisan Are You?

Before I get into the topic of this post, I’d like to express the thoughts, prayers and well wishes of everyone at the Saponifier for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Please know that we are supporting you as you recover from this devastating storm.


And now, for our blog.


We can usually group ourselves into a type of artisan, at least where our work habits are concerned.  Some of you plan far ahead, writing an annual plan. On January 1st, you begin following the plan you drew up the previous year.  You have each month and week carefully planned, with each day outlined.  Little room is given for spontaneity or procrastination.  Others of you fly by the seat of your pants, however, making what you feel like making when you feel like making it and selling what you’ve got or playing catch up throughout the season until December 25th.  You often spend long hours while the urge strikes to create and produce.


Most of you, I suspect, find yourselves somewhere on the continuum between the ultra-organized and disciplined and the disorganized free spirits.  You may plan out an annual calendar with monthly goals and then at the beginning of each week, choose what you can accomplish that week.  Others of you simply work on your goals throughout the month, getting done what you can.  Or you might just respond to your inventory, making more when it reaches a certain level so that you don’t run out of any particular item.


No matter how you look at it, planning ahead is a sure-fire method for avoiding panic and distress.  The more we plan, the more we are likely to accomplish.  What could possibly be wrong with an outlook like this?  Sometimes, the ultra-planner is unable to see far enough ahead to deal with the reality that life brings and doesn’t respond well to customer demand or other market conditions.  She has difficulty dealing with anything that disrupts her plan and may find herself discouraged about her inability to fulfill the goals she’s set.


Not all of us are built that way however, and some find their creativity is stunted by having to plan and to work by that plan.  Believe it or not, I have observed that the “seat of our pants” kind of approach is often nearly as successful as the plan written on January first and followed as close to the letter as possible.  These free spirits accomplish a great deal while in the mood and what they churn out is their best work.  The downside of that is the example of the pretty cold process Christmas soap that they have the inclination to make on December 10th.  The soap won’t be ready in time, and even with shortcuts, won’t get properly promoted for those crucial and time-sensitive holiday sales.


What’s an artisan to do?  It’s important to look at yourself and decide where you fit on the continuum and how it has affected you.  If you find that you’ve missed opportunities by being inflexible, plan for 2013 to leave yourself a little leeway.  Promise yourself that you will review your goals and readjust your priorities when it makes sense.  On the other hand, if you realize that you’re not accomplishing your goals and instead running after this and that, you know that a planning session is in your future, including a plan for further planning on a regular basis.


Where are you and what can you do to make your “artisan life” better?  We’d love to hear your views.


*Note:  watch your mailbox.  It’s just hours before your copy of the Nov./Dec. issues arrives!  It includes our favorites and the annual Raves for Faves Survey!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier


Vote for American Made Soap!

I have exciting news to share.


One of ours has made it as a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards!  His name is Andrew Fuller, and he is a soapmaker from Des Moines, Iowa.  His business name is Cirmes Tonsorial Parlor (cirmes.com, cirmes.etsy.com).   Andrew entered the contest and has made it all the way to the finalist level.  As a matter of fact, he’s in 2nd place!


Please vote for Andrew as he is representing us as an industry and makes an awesome product, besides.  As he stated yesterday, “Thank you, beauties. This is a REAL FIGHT and I need all of my soapy friends to rally behind me and get the word out. It’s amazing what we can do as a group.”


Here is the link for the contest.  You may vote once each day:  http://americanmade.marthastewart.com/profiles/andrew-fuller-836


Let’s cheer Andrew on and see one of our own win!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne

Artisan Giving

Most of us are gearing up for the holiday season.  We’ve planned our production schedules and are working to get our holiday products ready for the throngs of buyers who demand our wares (in our dreams, anyway).   With all of our planning, sourcing supplies and making product, we might be forgetting something.  Of course, it may already be part of your plans. What is it?  It’s giving.  Giving back can be an enriching experience and something we should all be considering.


The idea of giving or giving back is more prevalent during the holiday season than at any other time for most of us, so it’s a timely subject of discussion, even though it isn’t limited to that small space of time between Thanksgiving and December 26th (for our Boxing Day observers).


Do you give regularly during the holiday season or at some other time?  Do you give of yourself?  Perhaps you make one big annual donation or several smaller donations throughout the year.  Maybe you teach your craft to others or volunteer in some other capacity.


I know that we small business owners are terribly busy and often running on a shoestring budget, so that giving is sometimes the last thing we worry about.  Other times, we are stopped because we don’t know the best way to give, desiring that our gifts be used to their best possible use.  I know I’ve struggled with both.  I donated to a national organization that collects soap and sends it to third world nations, but then I learned that it costs more to collect, prepare, and ship the soap than it would cost to pay someone in the country to make it.  I have not substantiated this, but it made sense.  I decided then, to make my donations more local because it would be the most efficient use of my product.


I’ve read about a few other soapmakers traveling to countries to teach women to make soap and sincerely applaud them for their efforts to bring our craft to people who need it.  Some reach out to people in their own communities, as well.  Others donate money to the favorite charities.


What about you?  Do you agree or disagree with sending donations to national organizations?  How do you make a difference in your community or your world with your craft, whether it be soap, bath and body products or candles?  We’d love to know what you do.


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne

Oil Crazy

In my pre-soaping days, I never dreamed that I would become an oil connoisseur.  And yet, like many soap and bath and body artisans, I have. I love oils!  Trying different kinds in soap and other products and observing how they perform is something I truly enjoy.  I only wish I could try them all.


It’s a good learning experience,  substituting one oil for another and playing with percentages, especially in soap, not only for satisfying my own curiosity, but because  substituting one or more oils for another sometimes becomes necessary.  We see that Possessing  the skills to do so is important to becoming an experienced soap and bath and body artisan.  For instance, when olive oil’s price climbed so high, I learned to make soap without it and found that what I came up with, I liked as much or more than my soaps with olive oil.  Moreover, now that jojoba oil is becoming more difficult to find and prohibitively expensive, I am formulating without it and am finding that I can live without that lovely, liquid wax.  Of course, I will be more than happy to use it again once the price comes down.


Most people wouldn’t understand this thrill that some of us get from testing new oils and in studying the results of swapping out one oil for another, but I have to believe that I am not alone here and that some of  you are shaking your heads up and down in agreement and enthusiasm.  Right?


Tell us whether or not you feel comfortable swapping out oils, what some of your favorite oils are, or which oils you like the most.  I really want to know I’m not the only one!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne

Color My World–or at Least My Soap

Color–one of my favorite topics.


 I find myself drawn to color, which probably explains why I like gardening, flower arranging and soapmaking.  They allow me to enjoy creativity in coloring, whether blending or just enjoying the beautiful hues.  The possibilities in creating color patterns are literally endless and I can admire photo after photo of colorful soaps that my fellow soapmakers have created.  The same is true of candles.  I’m a stickler about the color matching the scent, but I enjoy the many colors and designs in candles.  At the same time, I want to see a lilac scented candle with lots of purple.  Don’t confuse me with something red!


One scent/color combo that I find disconcerting is peppermint.  Have you noticed that it can be red, blue, or green?  How confusing.  Give me something easy like lemon.  The soap or candle will be yellow; but, simple, common peppermint, and I have three choices!  It can really wear on a person trying to decide which color to use in a case like this.


Quite often, a scent doesn’t conjure up an obvious color.  As a matter of fact, I recently made a soap using a sandalwood vanilla fragrance.  What color should it be?  I think it should be a light brown, because sandalwood is a tree and tree trunks are brown.  Also, vanilla beans are brown and the scent will turn the product brown, so I’m just being realistic.  I ended up making it light brown and blue.  Why blue?  I don’t know.  I just liked the blend, and thought it would be appropriate for a unisex soap.  You might say I’m breaking my own rules, and I am.  In my defense, however, I do attempt to offer my customers a variety of colors so that if they’re looking for a soap to match the bathroom or kitchen, I have it and for some reason, I don’t offer much in blue.


Do you feel the same way about color?  Must you color your soap and candles, or is it unimportant to you?  If you use colorants, what are your favorite ones?


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne

Surviving the Summer Show Season

It’s the summer craft show season.


Most of the shows, in the northern part of the US, anyway, are held outdoors.  Merchants set up tents and sell at festivals and other outdoor public events.  With any luck, the crowds are out and about enjoying themselves, and, we  hope, spending their dollars on soap, candles, and bath and body products.


Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  A day or a weekend spent in fun and games collecting said dollars.  Those who have done these shows, however, know the truth.  They spend hours in preparation manufacturing adequate quantity.  They set up their booths, sell for the long hours that the shows often demand, experience fickle crowds, and then take it all down and return home with what is left, all the while with a smile and perky attitude.  This description doesn’t even begin to mention the “good shows gone bad”–rain, wind, mud, extreme heat, even hurricanes and tornadoes, and so on, wreaking havoc on tents, customers, and vendors, alike.  Indeed, the life of a professional crafter who sells at outdoor shows is likely to include tales of surviving (or not) extreme conditions and other adventures of selling on the road.  Those who think it’s an easy way to make money will be quickly taught otherwise, even at their first show.


Not that it’s all bad.  Sometimes crafters hit the jackpot and find their goods selling like the proverbial hotcakes (although I have yet to see hotcakes being sold at all, quickly or otherwise, but I digress).  They meet wonderful people, be it other crafters, show staff or customers.  They glean valuable feedback about their products, and they might even get the opportunity to participate in some of the activity going on around them.  Not the worst way to spend the weekend, indeed.


Do you vend at summer, outdoor shows?  Do you find them to be enjoyable and lucrative, or do you not participate, seeing the shows as too much of a gamble, too much work, or tough on product?


 If you do like them, please leave your best tip for other readers to not only survive the shows, but to thrive at them.


Until next time, stay happy creating bubbles and wax fun.


Beth Byrne

Handcrafted Soap in the Media: Good or Bad?

Have you seen the advertisement on t.v. mentioning “homemade soap?”


The ad portrays two people meeting at a restaurant.  The woman is thinking to herself as she eats a hamburger about how the gentleman isn’t quite how he described himself online.  He then slides a bar of soap toward her that he had made and the announcer says something to the effect that his homemade soap is yet another thing less than desirable about him.  (Thanks to my cyberfriend, Elin Criswell, for pointing this ad out.)


What do you think when you see the ad?  Are you offended that the soap was meant to be a negative activity, as in, “What kind of guy makes soap?”  Or are you tickled to see soap in the mainstream to the point where it’s mentioned in the media?


Personally, I am feeling ambivalent about the commercial.  It’s obvious that the soap is not seen as a high-quality, desirable item or hobby, yet perhaps as they say, “Any publicity is good publicity.”


What about you?  Are you ready to start a letter-writing campaign protesting their characterization of handcrafted soap and therefore, those who make it?  Or are you already planning how you can parlay the publicity into positive marketing for your business?  Let us know how you feel.


Until next time, may each day include lots of bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne

A Mold Obesssion

Some might consider soapmakers a weird bunch, especially when it comes to molds.  


Every container they come across is eyed as a potential mold. Nothing goes into the trash or recycling bin without consideration as to its suitability for soap. Indeed, every trip to the grocery store reveals potential.  Even goods for sale in home improvement stores and hardware stores are  fair game for holding soap. (“Hmm. . . I wonder if that mudding trough would be good for soap?”)  One might say we have a mold obsession.


I was especially guilty of this odd behavior when I was making melt and pour soap.  Every bit of packaging that came into my house, and sometimes even what I scrounged elsewhere, was a treasured mold–soda bottles (the bottoms look like flowers), cupcake packages with those lovely scalloped edges, and juice cans.  You name it, I used it.  Indeed, I tested the limits of packaging, being taught as as only experience can that rigid molds won’t release the soap and some plastic just won’t withstand the heat of hot melt and pour.


Of course, it’s important to remember certain principles before trying out unconventional molds.  When making melt and pour, remember that what goes into the mold must come out, so you need a plan for getting the hardened soap out or you’ll find yourself digging.  Additionally, the mold needs to stand up to the heat of melted soap.  With cold or hot process soap, it’s vital to remember that caustic soap will react to many metals, especially aluminum, so you need to be certain what kind of metal your mold is made of if you’re considering metal.  As with melt and pour, a plastic mold must be able to take the heat, especially if you put your soap in the oven to speed cure.


What unusual molds do you use or have you used?  I think we all have tales to tell about the strange or unique items we’ve used.  I’ve confessed mine, so now it’s your turn.


Incidentally, Pringle’s Chip cans and PVC pipe have become standard molds and don’t count!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne

Summer Musings

In my neck of the woods, summer weather is all but upon us.  No promises, but it’s possible we’ll have no more frosts until October.  The kids are getting antsy in anticipation of being out of school.  Neighbors start talking about their summer vacation plans. We roll out our favorite summer scents.


If you sell or make for yourself special scented items to celebrate summer, what are they?  Some like the fruits of summer–berries of many kinds, melons, tropical mangoes, papayas and pineapples.  Others like summer flowers such as roses, lilies, iris and sunflowers.  Still others think of grass, herbs and other “green” scents.  If that’s not enough, think of the rain and ocean types of fragrances that remind us of a soft summer rain or that camping trip we took  oceanside.  Oh, and don’t forgot other fanciful food scents such as toasted marshmallows, cotton candy and ice cream.


Makes me wonder how many people have bitten into a soap or candle, hoping it was something more tasty!


If not special summer scents, then perhaps you offer products for summer use, such as after-sun lotion or an extra light moisturizer.


Candlemakers, do you find that as temperatures soar, sales drop?  If so, do you notice that offering special summer scents or products appeals to your customers’ summer frame of mind so that you can keep those sales up?


I confess that for myself, lighting a candle seems less inviting on a hot, humid evening than it did on a cold one in January.  Still, for an outdoor evening soiree, I could be convinced to burn a tabletop full of them.


No matter how you look at it, the dog days of summer will soon be calling.  Will you be ready?


Until next time, may you be happily entrenched in bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne



Five Paths to Inspiration

What do you do for inspiration?  Do you ever find yourself bored of making soap or candles or unable to motivate  yourself to make that next batch?


I do hear that comment every now and then, most typically in January and February after the busyness of the holiday season is past.  Many find that they just need a breather so they take a month or two off.  A greater number, especially  those in business, haven’t the luxury of taking time off so they rely on other means of keeping themselves motivated–besides dollar signs, I mean.


What to do?  Below are some suggestions for keeping that creative or productive spark alive:


1.     Read the Saponifier.  Yes, this is a blatant ad reminding you that this publication is a great source of inspiration, both as an artist and as a businessperson.  You can’t go wrong!  You’ll learn techniques, business practices and everything else you need to get you there or to keep your products top-notch.


2.    Birds of a Feather. . . you know, “flock together.”  Meet up with other soaper/chandlers and talk about your craft.  Bring ideas to share.  If it isn’t possible locally, go online.  Many yahoogroups exist for soapers and chandlers.  Facebook now features pages for soapmakers and candlemakers, too.  Follow people in your field on Twitter.  You don’t have to be an island.


3.    Search Your Engines.  Type, “handcrafted soap” or “handcrafted candles” and then check “Images” for endless, glorious photos that are sure to stimulate your creative juices.  Look for websites, YouTube videos or even blogs that inspire you, as well.


4.    Schedule it.  This is the least obvious option, but believe it or not, inspiration is also achieved by working at it.  Most people think inspiration comes to us in sudden bursts from the heavens (picture an ethereal white light and angels singing), but those in occupations where they are self-employed or responsible for their own motivation know otherwise.  You are your own motivator.  Keep a list of types, designs, scents, and so on that you’d like to try.  Even if it’s not part of your everyday line, trying something new is good for you.  It helps you to see your products in a new light and it keeps you creative.    Since you’re already the R&D department of your company, you’d might as well practice it.  If  you know you need something new in your line, schedule far enough ahead that you have plenty of time to practice before you introduce something new.  Forcing yourself, for example, to start planning a Christmas line on December 1st is far too late and is likely to be more stressful than inspirational.


5.  The Golden Rule.  Treat others as you would be treated.  Being an inspiration to others is sure to find its way back to you as personal inspiration, so make a point of sharing some of yourself with others.  Share experiences and results, give a little assistance, be kind.  Without cheating yourself out of what makes your product unique, you can be a help to others.


Doesn’t inspiration seem a little easier now?  What do you do to keep yourself motivated?


Until next time, happy bubbles and wax!


Beth Byrne


« Previous PageNext Page »