I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do You Have a Website?

So, back to the question, "Is it good enough?" "Is is good enough?" is the circular, repeating tape that loops through my brain day in and day out, hour after hour.  Finish a piece for NellsBelles - is it good enough?   Cook a meal - is it good enough?  Give my son advice - is it good enough?  Give a gift - is it good enough?  It is a seemingly never ending cycle, of the questioning of self, that sometimes is enough to drive me to the couch to pull  my little church-lady quilt, up over my head in retreat.   Just what the hell is good enough?

When I began making things, I wondered if they were good enough to display in my own home.  Okay, that delimma didn't last long.  Of course they were good enough for my home - it's my home.  So several of these early creations were brought into the light of day,  carefully edited and not austentatiously placed.  After some positive reactions and a few raves, I started giving things as gifts to people who expressed an admiration for what I was doing.  They were happy and when I would see that other people were displaying my work in their homes it began to strengthen my courage.  I like what I do, but now it seemed, so did other people.  Hummmmmmm.  I continued to develop my craft, trying to make improvements everytime I started something new.  I read books, took classes and put my best foot forward in an effort to really become good at what I was doing. 

What followed was a wave of "you should be selling this stuff".  "No, really.  You should try to get your stuff in some stores".  I heard that alot.  So much so that I began to listen and soon it made sense to try it, if for no other reason but to support my habit.  By selling a few things here and there, I could at least defray the costs of my art supplies.  I started  looking at what I was making and analyzing its commercial value.  I tried to develop an eye for what was hot in the home decor market and translated that into my version of whatever it was.  At the time, Shabby Chic was coming into its all the rageness and busted up china with little flowers and lots of roses on white backgrounds was red hot in the marketplace.

I hooked up with a maven of Shabby Chic in an upscale, new, young money area of New Jersey who had a gigantic operation hawking copious amounts of junk that she had artfully rehabbed (mostly herself) and attractively arranged into very appealing little vingettes.  It was all accessorized with elements of collossal cuteness that she had found at the New York Gift Show and the store was a breathtaking monument to all things Rachael Ashwell and London Flea Market.  She was very taken with what I was doing and I had a very clear vision of my work in her store.  She took a few of my pieces, on consignment while picking through her storage room of auction treasures and stuffing them into my truck.  "Here, take this lamp and this table would look good with rosebud clusters and oh, this tray would look fabulous as a mosaic piece...".  I loaded it up, went home with my potential work and thought, I may be on to something here.  I may actually be good at this and I may actually be able to make some money here.

She began calling me with commissions.  "I'm doing a dining room and I need a centerpiece.  What can you come up with?  Come over and see the boards so you can see the color pallette".  Now, I was not only a craft artist, I was toeing the exhaulted circle of interior design.  I was feeling pretteeee good about myself right about then.  The apex of this experience was when I got a call that a customer had seen one of my pieces in the store and she wanted a coffee table custom made.  The table was a French Provencial piece that was about five feet by three feet and needed structural rehabilitation as well.  My fast talking, make-it-quick-I'm -busy boss needed to know, on the spot, if I was up to the job.  Feeling good about myself and being a never- say- no type of gal anyway, I told her - absolutely!  I hauled the table home in my pickup and set to work on, what would be a personal masterwork.

I did a beautiful job.  It took a shit load of plates to do it but I did it well and have yet to make as much on one item as I did that table.  I felt stoked to take it to the next level and, even though I had no idea what the next level was, I was going there. 

The business at the store was waning.  Small signs at first, but I began to see the operation slowing down and it was becoming apparent that Shabby Chic was less chic than it once was.  Rachael Ashwell had signed a deal with Target and though, good for her, it was not good for the upscale copycat market where I was making my bones.  As there was less and less demand for what I was doing in the hearts and flowers motif I began to look for a different direction and a different venue.

As my patron wound down and eventually went out of business, a friend announced she was opening a home decor store in the hipper part of our county and anything I made would have a welcome retail spot in her store.  I was thrilled to have a place to take my work in a different direction and I was very excited for my friend, who I thought was ballsy to take on such en endeavor (me, maybe, someday??) . I switched gears and transitioned into a French Country sensibility and now I was in constant search for ceramics with sunflowers and chickens on them  to break.  My quest for pink and white turned to yellow and red.  I enjoyed the change.

I did well enough though after a gallant try, my friend didn't do so well.  She closed.  What now?  Should I open my own store?  We had just been slammed by the financial/real estate crisis and were hanging on my our proverbial fingernails.  More financial entanglements, I could not bear.  I probably could not have gotten anyone to give me a lease or a loan. I was at an impass.

I got clients here and there for custom work.  I did okay and enjoyed it well enough.  But everytime I pitched a job or gave someone my card they all asked the same question.  "Do you have a website?"  No, not yet, I would answer, knowing full well that the very thought of it made me want to faint in panic.  I barely checked my email on a regular basis.  I rarely answered my cell phone, for god's sake!  I was as hands-on, low tech as you could be and still get through a day in the 21st century.  I figured I could use the ATM, check out at the grocery store with my debit card, send and receive an email so what else did I need?  Anyway, I knew very little about the computer and hadn't used one  much since I had tried to learn Movie Master to put some of my old screenplays on a floppy disc.  The learning curve was too daunting and I had no funds to pay someone to do it for me. 

So there I was, a fork in the road and a total lack of wherewithall to follow either path.  I had the skills to open a store but was devoid of finanacial resources.  I could start a web business for very little money but I was at an even greater deficit in skills.  I had come to a moment where I needed to change my paradigm and find a new way to be in business.  Whatever that ended up being it was going to take a radical shift in skill sets and even lifestyle.  I would sit down to think about it and get so overwhelmed I would cry.  Oh, hell!  I don't even know if the stuff I make is even worth it!  Why put myself through all this if I don't even know the answer to the cursed question.  Yes, you know.  Is it good enough?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Get a Life

It's one thing to sit in your basement fiddling around with pretty beads or gluing pottery shards to the outside of old terra cotta pots and setting them out in your own home.  Everyone is entitled to a certain "grandma" quotient in their own house.  If you have kids, you can even fib and blame the zanny flower pot on them.  It's a whole other lump of clay to bring whatever you've made, up from the basement and into the light of other people's worlds. 

I spent many years making mosaics and giving them away.  I told myself they were, at the very least, unusual and thoughtful gifts.  No one else had one just like it.  Even if it wasn't their favorite thing in the world, it could be placed in an out of the way area of the garden until nature pummeled it out of existance or put in a cabinet to serve some function.  No one could fault me for not giving them my time and effort.

Shortly after my son was born, my dear friend Alison returned from a trip and gave me a clay cookie mold she had found while wondering shops.  It was an impression of a lacy heart, about 4 inches in diameter.  It came with a booklet with recipes and ideas for other things you could use the mold for, like paper mache impressions or salt dough ornaments.  You could even mold chocolate in it and make a fabulous Valentine.  One day, in a particularly deep state of boredom (the romance of staying home to raise my son was wearing off and the reality of resigning from my life to do so was setting in) I got that cookie mold out and decided to give it a whirl.  "Lightly oil the mold, wipe the mold to remove the oil, then dust lightly with flour".   Done.  I made the dough from their special recipe, chilled it, took it out of the fridge and began to press the dough into the prepared mold.  "Tap the mold lightly on the edge until the dough begins to pull away from the mold."  Tap, tap, tap.  Tap, tap, rap.  Tap, rap, bang.  Bang, bang, bang.  Bang, Bang, Bang!  What the ...  This was not working out.  Back to the directions.  Back to the mold.  "Oil lightly then wipe clean".  Ok, I did that.  I floured it too - looked just like a cake pan does.  Bang, Bang, Bang.  The dough would not come out! 

That evening I offered my family a plate of very dense disks of pleasantly tasting baked dough.

It was so cute though, that mold.  I tried again, realizing this wasn't  your ordinary cookie baking session.  This was going to require developing some skill and some patience -  something I was short on in my post partum stupor.  I took my time.  I worked slowly.  I read directions like I had just learned to read, enunciating each word carefully, one-at-a-time.  I tell you, it was one of the most thrilling days of my life, when I had prepped that mold just right and went tap, tap, tap, and that little sucker started to pull away from the clay and with the help of gravity I suddenly had this cookie, the likes of which I had never seen before.  I was sooooooo impressed with myself!  Better still, I felt like I had accomplished something real and I had hopped a learning curve into a better me. 

I started collecting those cookie molds.  Everywhere I went, I looked for those molds.  I amassed quite a grouping of them and had several themes and occaisions I could address with cookies.  When my son entered school, I got this nutty idea to make holiday themed, molded cookies for his class.  I wanted them to be more special though (type A personalities never rest) so I proceeded to teach myself, from the booklet, how to paint "watercolor" cookies.   This required food colorings I had never heard of before.  Not your mama's food coloring that you used for those anemic Easter eggs.  These were hard core, concentrated colorings in a little pot and if you got them on something you didn't mean to get them on, it was tough luck, sister. 

The Kindergarden year was cute but terribly imperfect.  The ill-tempered colors didn't dry very well and the kids went home with rainbow tongues.  I didn't give up.  By the 4th grade, I had pretty well mastered these little jewels and made 28 Victorian Santas, hand painted each and every one, put them in cellophane bags and closed them with a red, french ribbon bow.  I was so proud of them that I placed them in a willow basket and took off like Red Riding Hood to deliver them to the class.  Ok, I'll admit, I was just a little bit pleased with myself.  I felt what I had taught myself and mastered here, was not insignifigant. These, my friends, weren't your ordinary frozen dough sugar cookies with sprinkles!  Oh no!  These were molded, hand-painted little culinary masterpieces!

I was coming out of the school office and heading to the kids' classroom to distribute my little treasures when I ran into a teacher I was fond of.  We greated each other,  kiss, kiss and she looked down at the basket I was carrying over my arm.  What are those, she inquired.  I reigned myself in and as modestly as I could, expained to her about my glorious cookies.  There was a pause as she stared incredulously at my precious goods and then she looked up at me and said, "You need to get a life".

Yes.  I swear to god, that is what she said to me.  Not, "how nice", not "cute".  Nope.  "You need to get a life".

This was not my finest moment.  I didn't know whether to cry or to kick her in the shins.  Really, really hard.  But no.  I did my usual people pleaser shuffle and made a bee line to the classroom as soon as I graciously could.  Now, I am not exaggerating when I tell you this woman didn't just ruin my day.  Oh no!  She ruined my Christmas!  Here I had conquered all these obstacles, taught myself all these skills and produced a French bakery quality cookie and right out of the shute, someone tells me I need to get a life.  This was my bloody life!

After a while I got myself squared away over how Miss Dawn had shattered my world.  Yet what I was left with was the question of why I was so devastated by some snarky comment from a prissy 4th grade teacher.  They were just cookies.  But they weren't.  Not to me.  To me they were a work of art.  They were an accomplishment.  Those cookies represented how I was taking my life as a stay at home mom and allowing her to live side by side with the artist in me that had been cryogenicaly put down until my son left home.  I had gone from Rent to Parenthood, in an instant in my life, and somehow those cookies were the beginning of reconcilliation.  Through the making of that basket of cookies I was beginning to see a new way for me to live.  Somehow, those elementary school baked goods were a sign.  Through those cookies, I recognized that a new way of expressing myself was emerging. 

After a lifetime of dancing and acting and writing it was all coming full circle, back to my childhood, back to my hands.  I didn't need a stage to be who I am.  I was learning to talk to myself with my hands and the conversation was becoming clearer and clearer as I learned more and more skills.

"I could be on to something..."