Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Being Discovered

For the most part, we all want to leave a mark. We want an indelible impression on the world that tells all we were here. There would be no graffiti without this urge. No monuments, no bronze plaques on buildings, no children for that matter. We want our face out there in whatever small way and there is no denying it, it feels pretty good. We get a kick out of being recognized, wanted, sought after. Which brings me to the purpose of this post; how I got discovered.

I was sitting in a diner in LA one day when a nice woman came in and offered to buy me a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. No wait that was someone else.

Reset: I started doing this turning thing with my friend Jim in his Alaskan shop before it became jammed with stuff. You know what you have done, Wright, so just suck it up. We were just using firewood on a Shopsmith 5-in-1 tool with old gouges and chisels, and since I had never done this before, I was making a lot of sawdust but nothing useful. Flash forward through Arizona and my own Shopsmith in my brother's garage, New York and a mini-lathe in my other brother's basement, back through Alaska and the first real sales of stuff.

Yep the selling started in Alaska at the Wasilla farmer's market. There we were set up right between the Mexican food stand and the coffee tent. I guess tamale and Mocha-Frappa-lappas are farmed in Alaska but, you try and find green beans, not happening. We were jammed onto two tables under a $29.99 tent for all the world to see. And then the tour bus came. Most people went right past to the embroidered hat lady or the reclaimed wood things guy but we met a nice couple from South Carolina who asked questions about the native Alaskan Birch and where and how the pieces were made and Boom -- first sale of the day with shipping to their home in the mix. Some $400-$600 later we were high fiving and stuffing what was left back into Jim's truck. What was more amazing were the follow-on sales. Jim took boxes of the stuff to a contracting firm in Wasilla where he hosted a bowl party for all the engineers and support staff in the office. Hey it was another couple hundred. And after that, making spoons and honey dippers for a local potter and dropping a couple other bowls off to other folks, the snow came and I was on my way south.

Fast forward to the Mesa Arts and Craft Festivals. An every Saturday event that cost all of $15, had little requirements for presentation and was in the middle of town so there was a bit of a crowd. Remember now this is trip two to Arizona and before I actually started working so it is self-sustaining hobby and some pocket cash. And I did OK there. I averaged about $50 - $100 per week, mostly in bottle stoppers and a small bowl or two but no real doe. Then I got a job, thought about attending ASU for design, and joined some artist guild but, kept my Saturdays open for the MACFEST event. There is a certain loyalty you feel to your first regular gig. I became the poster boy. I was on the pamphlet. I was the weekly constant that broke up the line of "Bead ladies". Oh you know them, the women with glass beads, that sit there stringing their "art" right there in front of you. Funny thing is, in Arizona they make a killing. OK, enough on Bead ladies, though I could right an entire post on that.

So fast forwarding again to Western New York (WNY). Yep I made it home again. Set up shop in my last of other brother's driveways where I parked my RV and started turning his driveway all sorts of colors. Looking for yet another outlet for my work, I started putting in applications to the local art festivals and schleping my lathe, work, shelves, a tent and business license to one craft show per month. Funny thing is, after totaling all the fees against the actual sales, I never made more than exactly $270. And it ain't easy carrying all that crap around.

During my time in NY I had the pleasure of catching up with some old friends, former classmates, people I have not seen for 30 some years. One of whom was my friend Brenda. Now being the show-off that I am I tried to get all the people I knew to come to the shows in WNY and see my work and hang out and just get to know each other again. There is that legacy thing again. So Brenda comes to the Elmwood Avenue Arts Festival, with her husband and her sister and brother-in-law. I am thrilled to see her, meet the hubby and just do some catching up, while showing off my work and laughing about stuff, 'cause you cannot be around Brenda and not laugh. All the while I see the wheels turning in her head about my stuff, presentation, marketing and getting me noticed. There it is again.

Fast forward again to moving to Virginia, living with my long-time friend Susan and setting up in her driveway for the winter. Hey, she invited me. Keeping in touch with Brenda, she tells me about this site the Foundary. OK, she did it via Facebook so she could get a $10 coupon (admit it, you did) and later about a thing called a designer search contest. Well I figure it's a shot in the dark but what the heck. I take some photos, do some editing of other photos I have, do a little write-up about my work and fire it off.

Weeks go by and finally I get this email from the Foundary telling me I made the final three in their designer search contest. Ha! There it is! A glimmer, a flash of color, a fluke. So off I go to fill in the gaps on the phase II of the search contest. Bio, inspiration for my craft essay, finished product essay, why is my stuff unique essay and a video. If it weren't for Susan none of this would have gotten done! She shot the video, edited my bio and other essays, and staged stuff for photos. And away it goes to the Foundary.

Through fate, destiny, chance or what have you I blow out a knee at work. It's sprained, and I am now on the couch with the 14th century torture device strapped to my leg "the immobilizer" and lots of time on my hands to surf the web. Having not heard from the Foundary for some time Susan asks "What have you heard from the Foundary?" Nuthin. But I will search the web to see if there is any movement on the designer search contest. Now don't get bored with the details, this is all important if not riveting stuff. Stay with me. There I was, featured in the designer search contest. In the top three, vying for your votes. And I had not a clue that it had even started the day before she asked. So I start the Facebook Campaign. Prompting for votes, bugging the friends, still pasted to the couch so I got lots of time for this, working the internet room as you would, acting like a real rush chairman.

A week -- a whole week -- of this stuff being on the web. I have all that time to poke and prod and basically annoy the heck out of all my friends and family. And it worked. Thanks to your support I shot to the top of the list taking 2/3 of the votes in the last 48 hours of the contest. (Insert trumpet blast here!) Fame, Fortune, Money for Nuthin, Chicks for Free!

Well as it stands, a whole lot went into this legacy thing.
- Jim introducing me to turning
- People actually buying my stuff
- My brothers letting me use their driveways
- Brenda pointing out the Foundary contest
- Susan doing her level best to teach me how to market myself and my stuff (although she still has a lot of work to do in that aspect)
- Everyone voting for me
- More people buying my stuff

I guess the legacy thing has been achieved. Time to go and sit back and enjoy the fame. And hope there are no returns (of products).

And what is wrong with my maple platter anyway? I just cannot get rid of that thing.
Thanks everyone.


Anne C. said...

After your FB comment about Foundry vs. etsy, I thought "hmmm I think I heard something about Shawn having an etsy storefront. Can't remember if I've seen it. Let's go see..."
And you have no references to it anywhere on your blog or linked to on your FB profile. This is what is called a lack of marketing...

For the love of (your deity here), please at the very least, put a link on your sidebar here.

Beastly said...

Well Anne it does seem I have neglected to put the link here on the Blog, which I visit infrequently myself, but there is a link on my FB Page. Not to harp on it but ETSY is just another avenue and if anyone I know really wanted something of mine I would prefer a direct communication vice using either ETSY or the Foundary. It's more a matter of wanting to save friends money on shipping or fueling the corporate machines.