It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. -- Charles Dickens
Every Christmas my Aunt Diane sends me a book, which I then promptly consume along with copious amounts of cookies and tea between now and the new year. For the sake of variety, this year she sent an Amazon gift card.
Too many choices can be overwhelming. I've narrowed my selection to a classic title I've not read. Scrolling through the eye candy of the new Penguin Classics Clothbound editions, I was completely taken by this cover. Not only does it feature a repeat of scarves mid-knit, but this is the only Dickens I've not read and one which Mom frequently quoted. Fate! A must purchase!
Of course, one can't stop with just one book. I've read this classic several times over, but the new cover is too sweet.
The paperback version is equally delicious. I may have to get this edition if only to read the introduction by Jane Smiley, another favorite author.
"Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket."
-- Charles Simic
I'm in love with these embroidered illustrations by illustrator Jillian Tamaki for Penguin Classics. They grace recent releases (fall 2011) of Emma, Black Beauty and The Secret Garden. This last novel was a favorite of my daughter. I appreciate how Jillian shows not the whole door to the garden, just the keyhole.
The series has me thinking of my own favorite novels and how I would go about imagining them illustrated and worked in embroidery. Hmmmm.
Thank you to Chelsea for turning me to Jillian's gorgeous illustrations and handiwork.
"We remember best through stories." -- Pon Angara
The arts providing tools for nonprofit businesses to grow?! As I read about branding and listen to all the balu about social media, I find the need for experience-based marketing to be ever more relevant. I recently caught up with Pon Angara, creative director and principal of Barkada Creative to discuss his launch of Barkada Circle. Barkada Circle provides educational arts-based programs that help participants discover and harness the transformative power of the visual arts, music, theatre and more to spark creativity in telling their organization's stories, stories that fully engage people.
What made you launch Barkada Cicle?
After years of years of working with nonprofits on branding, visual communication and marketing, it became apparent that a critical piece of the message was missing. This lack of message prevents a nonprofit from taking it to next level. I kept thinking, “Your story isn’t compelling. Why should I care? Why should I want to be conncted to this organization?" To effectively help my clients, I realized that I had to help them tell their story.
Isn't a story the same as a mission statement?
No, a mission statement is just a statement of purpose. One statement of why a business exists. That's it. A story goes deeper. It involves the emotions, relating the struggles and successes of a nonprofit, its people and its consituency. It can take many more forms than a statement. It may be told in different mediums - word, image, sound, etc. The key thing is the emotional part. We remember stories because we remember the emotions running through them.
Give me an example.
The mission of Barkada Circle is to give nonprofits a creative forum in order to develop different ways to craft their own stories using techniques in the arts that is usable on their website, in their brochures, etc.
One story of Barkada Circle is in why I launched it. Immersing myself in the activities of a nonprofit organization, I had the opportunity to experience the same struggles they were having in trying to get a compelling message across. Some nonprofits were more successful than others, but the challenges were there nonetheless.
I'm reading a lot these days about the use of storytelling in branding. How is Barkada Circle different?
The Barkada Circle approach differs from the others in that the focus is on a multi-sensory experience using the arts, whether the visual arts, theater, music, writing or cooking. The best way to really embody a story is for the storyteller to engage as many of his/her senses as possible in creating the story, so that telling it engages multiple senses for the listener. This approach was inspired by the book The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine.
Why have your targeted nonprofits for your program?
In my book, they are the ones that deal the most with complex emotions, concepts, ideas, and challenges. They deal heavily with humans, not just products for humans. It’s all about the people. Nonprofits generally have direct impact on issues that affect the quality of life in our communities. It has become my personal choice to share in this mission.
If teaching artists are interested in working with you, what’s the best way to contact you and what will they need in terms of experience?
They have to be skilled in their craft, but also have a personal mission for educating others about it. They need a minimum of 5 years of teaching experience with adults, sharing and demonstrating their passion. I am willing to talk to new artists after June to see what they have to offer. It's best if they read through the website and then leave of comment expressing their interest on the Our Artists page.
I'm honored to have been working with Pon on this venture since its inception. My workshop for Barkada Circle, The Power of Symbols, looks at the way symbols have inspired change throughout history. It's an amazing experience to work with directors from small and large nonprofits, helping them to better understand and harness the storytelling potential of their organization's visual symbols.
"To open a shop is easy, to keep it open is an art." -- Chinese Proverb
Can you make a living as a crafter on Etsy? Yesterday there was some flurry on Facebook over the broadcast of this story on WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. What struck a real chord with me was a comment left on my FB page by a friend who is an amazing painter. She's found a niche market for her pet portraits, but is completely overwhelmed by the prospect of building a business from them. Where does one even start?!
Research. A business becomes successful with a little planning and that starts with research. Over the years I've read a number of books pertaining specifically to an art career and I've read those that are broader in approach. Hands down my favorite book for artists is How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Caroll Michels. I own three different editions of it, starting with the first edition purchased just after I left college with my BFA. It is full of information on everything from insurance to contracts.
There is also the recent addition to my library of The Artist's Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg. I've written grants, but what I loved is her constant affirmation that many foundations have the mission explicity to provide funding for artists to work. I have this blockheaded guilt complex about accepting grants. Don't ask. I don't understand it either, but according to Gigi, I'm not alone with this thought. I love her clear suggestions for getting organized and staying motivated.
But what Jessica was asking about was the actual process of starting and building a business. She has a service (personalized pet portraits) and a product (paintings and drawings) to sell. For some reason, this topic still isn't taught to artists in many colleges. Why it isn't remains a mystery to me. Some artists are willing to live in a tree house, such as Dale Chihuly when he started Pilchuck, but every artist I know loves to eat. Yes, I will do my art just because I love it, but I'm much happier when I can end the day with a great bowl of pasta, some veggies and a glass of wine. A slice of chocolate cake doesn't hurt either.
Well, a great place to start is The Boss of You: Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run and Maintain Her Own Business by Emira Mears and Lauren Bacon. Written in a tone reminiscent of a good chick flick (sorry fellas), it is full of information. How do you figure out a monthly budget? How do you price your work? Do you want to set yourself up as a sole proprietor, an LLC, an S-corp or a C-corp? I recommend it as a launching pad. I found the exercises helpful even after having owned several businesses. Bonus - Chicago's very own Cinnamon Cooper of Poise, co-founder of the DIY Trunk Show and author of Everything Cast Iron is quoted throughout it. Yeah!
I also recommend reading the Business and Career sections of Chicago Artists' Resource. Read every link. It will take you a day to do, so instead of overwhelming yourself with information, spend an hour every morning (or evening) with your favorite beverage at hand reading and making notes. There are links informing one exactly how to go about legally setting up a business, what to consider and who to turn to for advice. There is even information on how to find and obtain business loans! The blog Up and Running is inspirational while giving the occassional kick in the pants. I also like the newsletter The Daily Worth. It provides concise information on handling your personal finances, an important aspect of preparing to start and maintain a business.
Other books in my library -
I'd Rather Be in the Studio: The Artist's No Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion by Alyson Stanfield
The Artist's Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions by Lynn Basa
The Artist's Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love by Jackie Battenfield
Business and Legal Forms for Fine Artists by Ted Crawford
Graphic Arists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines by the Graphic Artists Guild
Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business by Jay Conrad Levinson (This one helped me a ton with my former yarn store. 11+ years later and I still love it.)
There have been other books I've read over the years, but these are the highlights. I've found golden nuggets of information in each of them.
Most of all, I think the hardest part is not to give up. As I write this blog entry, I'm clocking in 13 hours now at the computer, most of the time spent in correspondance, updating websites, applying to shows / art festivals / competitions, and researching new opportunities. Being self-employed is not for those who like to punch the time and check out for the day.
"You learn something every day if you pay attention." -- Ray LeBlond
I learned a lesson yesterday that took me battling the learning curve with Adobe Illustrator for it finally sink into place. You can't work against your natural grain.
I've been pulling together a series of sketches for my first submission to Vogue Knitting. A dozen sketches were sitting on my studio table, each requiring a schematic. Normally I would draft this out on graph paper, but I decided it was time to have more professional look and submit them drafted on Illustrator. So I spent the last two days struggling to learn the pen tool and how to apply the bezier curve. I had some success, but mostly a host of failures.
By mid-yesterday I was ready to toss my computer across the room, but I persevered. Friends sent advice. The folks of Chicago Craft Mafia offered assistance. But you know what? It wasn't my struggle with the learning curve that was defeating me. I had sketched before swatching. I didn't trust my designs. I had worked backwards for me.
So yes, I am still going to wrestle with the software until I have gained a comfortable mastery with it, but now I know that I must always start with first things first, the feel of the yarn as it works up on my needles.
Here is the above sketch as it was printed in The Joy of Sox. I went through 20 swatch combos before I found the right combination of stitch and yarn.
"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight."
-- Phyllis Diller
Running an art-based business means one is on a persistent learning curve. My professional new year's resolution is to earn my income 100% from my art production by the year's end. With that in mind, I am attending the Craft and Hobby Association's Winter Trade Show where I will have a tabletop booth in the License and Design section, booth number 4939 to be precise. I am so excited and yet, completely flipped out. Perhaps I am over thinking the whole thing, but I've never had to consider the flame retardant quality of my displays. And how do I safely get all my props to LA for the least amount of money? And yes, there is even the question of what to wear. (That one I think I have covered and will share in the near future.)
The great part of this learning curve is that I'm thinking through everything, from business cards to website presence to my bio. I found the above image the other day when looking over the instruction publications featuring my work. I had forgotten that Lark Books republished Jewelry with a Hook in paperback. It features my round bead crocheted pin on the front cover! How cool is that?! Mental note to self, include this cover shot in the new brochure, website overhaul and portfolio.
Another part of this learning curve is the sheer organization of all the information I actually have at my finger tips. I've purchased an iPad to organize my portfolio and neatly display it via a slide show at my booth. I'm skimming files for relevant information from my days as a wholesale jewelry designer and retail yarn shop owner. Friday, I took new art up to Milwaukee to be photographed by Larry for inclusion in my portfolio and booth display.
So, I take a deep breath and smile. I'm having a heck of a great time. Learning curves are just part of the creative process.
I will be sharing more of my thoughts on participating in a trade show with Katie Lime of Moira K. Lime Jewelry at the next Craft Racket, this Tuesday, January 18 from 6-9pm at Beans and Bagels, 1812 W. Montrose, Chicago (near Lillstreet).
I love this installation. It's my house. A tower of books. You probably know it. The house with books in every room. Books on the stairs. Books piled on the kitchen counter. I have books on nearly every genre. I haven't read them all which is why I have so many. I will get to them one day.
A friend once told me he had over 6,000 titles in his collection, mostly on philosophy which makes sense given he teaches the subject. But one day, I walked into the Mother Ship. This antiquarian book dealer had over 50,000 books in his home! I was in awe, especially with the section on fashion and textiles. Since that day, my daughter has ceased complaining about my own stash. I think she's afraid she'll jinx it and we will end up with just as many books in our humble abode.
As a book contains a secret between it's covers, so do secrets lay behind the towering stone,brick steel, and glass facades of our city streets. Rosie Leventon's sculpture "somewhere a door slammed...." explores this concept.
As she writes:
References to archeology and ancient cultures run right through my work, also looking through and behind the surface. I aim to provide a link between the present and contemporary life and the distant past.
Take a peek behind inside, beyond to surface.
The drawing was very sophisticated. I simply asked readers to leave a comment. I gathered the names, wrote them on slips of paper and added them to a kitchen mixing bowl. I closed my eyes and drew a name from the bowl. High tech stuff, I know. Well, with such a busy summer, I forgot to post the winner. Congratulations to Chris Allen-Wickler! If you haven't seen her work, you must.
There's a new needlearts blog on the block. It's from Lark Books, publishers of some great how-to craft books. It's full of fun interviews and free patterns. Check out the pattern for a stitched bike bag! Oh, la, la!
As a project designer for several Lark titles and in honor of this new blog, I'm giving away a copy of the Joy of Sox which features two of my patterns. All you have to do is leave a comment. I will randomly select a winner on July 4th. Bon chance!