I haven’t shared many written updates lately on whats happening with my shop, so here I am, attempting to make myself sit still and write down some thoughts on the last few months, and the next few ahead. I want to document where I am, because I already feel so far from where I was this time last year. Work is moving quickly, and I am making so many decisions I think I’ll soon forget in all of the rush and sometimes (self-created) chaos of small business life. Lately I’ve done a lot of handwringing during the day, and tossing and turning at night, worrying about lumber and cardboard… but mostly cardboard.
A few weekends ago, we wandered into a bookstore in Oakland after a burger and beer in the sun on a Saturday afternoon. Just one beer for each of us, but what a beer it was. The bookstore we happened upon felt like a place paused in time with books stacked waist high and aisles of books from floor to ceiling. I didn’t see a single book that was published after 1990. I bought a Christmas book (see beer in the sun, above) of poetry that has the most beautiful and simple illustrations. I haven’t read it, and to be honest, probably won’t, though I have paged through the charming illustrations several times since bringing the book home. The book was published in 1958, with illustrative prints by Ilonka Karasz. The book inspired me to do a little research, where I learned that Illonka had a career of illustrative design work with work appearing frequently in The New Yorker.
My days have been so focused on specific projects, I feel like its been awhile since I’ve felt inspired by anything outside the norm. Lets blame the daytime drinking to help rouse me from my creative coma! My blinders have been on in an effort to stay focused on these specific projects, but a beer in the sun and a slightly tipsy wander around a different neighborhood certainly helped me take a break a few weeks ago, and let me see things a bit differently. So much of my work and long hours lately have been devoted to things unseen– work behind the scenes on projects that are slow-moving. I’m chipping away at my design studio relaunch, delayed yet again by more pressing deadlines… like the newest Skill Exchange event I’m hoping to announce in the coming days. I spent a little time making a few minor adjustments to this dear neglected blog here, to bring things up to date and feel more in line with my eventual someday studio relaunch. Thanks to neighbors and friendly readers who gently nudge me to keep plodding along here!
The past two months have flown by already. I’ve been wrapping up work on a few recent client projects, as well as some ongoing product development for my shop. I’m just finishing an identity and web project for Midwife Ellie. This project has been a engaging experience– essentially, another affirmation for being self-employed. I’ve been fortunate to find work with clients who are working in fields that are so different from my own, but that I also find so fascinating.
When Ellie first reached out a few months back, I was thrilled to be asked to create a brand new identity for her midwifery practice. Midwifery can have some polarizing reactions and stereotypes for some, and it was an engrossing topic to research and explore as we worked towards developing a modern logo representative of Ellie’s practice and style of care. Midwife Ellie’s new site just launched last week and I’m eagerly waiting to see all the print pieces, currently in the queue at the printers.
Last week I kicked off a creative project of a different nature, working with a local makeup artist, Nikol Elaine on a fun print project launching in the next few weeks. I’ve also begun working on the relaunch of my website, which will be launching at the end of March. For now, I’ve started documenting some recent projects and peeks at current work over on Dribbble.
Last but not least…. NEW RECORD DIVIDER SETS! The shop has had some really welcoming and kind press mentions lately, from The Dieline, Selectism, Mr Cup and Under Consideration. If you’re curious, you can read the rest of the mentions here.
I’ve got a handful of new divider sets that I’ll be adding to the shop over the coming week or two. I’ve focused my work on two main goals for the shop. The first goal has been to design some new sets for collectors who are just starting out, who have under 25 records, or have perhaps pared their collection down to the the essentials. 26 dividers can be overkill for some audiophiles who maybe only collect a few artists, or for those who just don’t have the space to store a large record collection.
These new divider sets are only 6 panels instead of 26, but can easily expand to accommodate a growing collection. The second goal I’ve been whittling away at has been to create a line of record dividers with a lower price point. This has been very tricky, with a significant number of (frustrating) challenges along the way. I don’t want to sacrifice quality (or give in to different/cheaper and less interesting methods of production) but at the same time, I know the original collection is cost prohibitive for some. Production costs are very high, but I’ve finally worked out a solution that will help create more entry options for all kinds of record collectors.
A few outtakes from a shoot I worked on this week. I’ve been working on a few new products for the record shop, and slowly working out all the details of production and packaging, and of course, cost. Handmade things ain’t cheap, and for me this has been a complicated process of weighing cost and quality and balancing it all with time. Every piece of this project is made by a real person–from the printed labels to the individual panels of wood, to the screen printed boxes. Each set takes between 4-6 hours to make, and I personally hand-finish each and every panel with a fine grit sandpaper. Its an investment on many levels, making me think more and more about all the objects and things in my life that are made by hand. And of course, I’ve been thinking about all the things that aren’t, but could be, or used to be (but could again) and on and on.
I’ve updated the shop’s FAQ page to begin to answer the question, “Why are these products so damn expensive?” Its people and time, my friends, that is the answer.
Over the last year my attempts to maintain this blog have been feeble at best. My blogging enthusiasm has waned over the last two years, and I’m writing less and photographing less. In contrast to the over-documentation of everydamnthing in previous years, perhaps this was natural. In the months of scattered blog posts here, there is a underlining theme: We’re busy, we’ve been stressed, but hey, we want to slow down and relax. Periods of non-blogging in 2013 meant we were either failing or sort of succeeding at that goal to slow down. Lots of inching forwards and falling back. I feel like I’ve lost the desire to blog, but I haven’t lost the desire for a written record of where we’ve been. I do miss the act of writing, but I have a hard time finding the time, or in reality, I’ve had a hard time pushing myself back into the exercise of regular writing.
Where have I been this year?
2013 has been a rewarding and challenging year, both personally and professionally. My design business has doubled this year, for real. I’ve done different kinds of work that have pushed me out of my usual (comfortable) aesthetic. All the most challenging and scary parts of running my own business revolve around figuring out how to do the business-y parts: communicating with clients, setting boundaries, confidently setting rates and schedules (then sticking to them). Also middle of the night worrying about the business: ALL YEAR LONG. Worrying about pending contracts, worrying about upcoming clients, worrying about clients around the corner that I just can’t see yet? yeah, thats what business feels like. Every signed contract feels like a victory, most wrapped projects like a relief. Learning lessons, moving on, doing work, learning… on repeat. Oh, and I designed a line of products and launched an online shop! Almost forgot about that one!
Looking at the past year and seeing this big growth in my business is invigorating, but it is also a reminder that I have more professional goals to work towards. I’ve got a ways to go, but I am going to write this right now so I can look back in a year and remember: I’m proud of my work, and the hard work that went into doubling my business this year.
In early 2013 Skill Exchange started moving in a different direction. At the time it seemed like the natural progression, the right way to build and grow. By spring I realized through some stress and unhappiness that I didn’t like the direction things were headed. My hand felt forced, and it didn’t feel right or fulfilling. In order to correct my course, I had to take a big break from hosting events, so I could slow down and reevaluate. I don’t need to rush Skill Exchange to turn it into something monetized, popular, and just right for everyone. Skill Exchange works because its small and its not for everyone. I know that workshops that are small and genuine are much more fulfilling to produce and to share with others. Skill Exchange will be back to life in early January with a new event at the California Academy of Sciences.
Personally, we’ve had some big ups and downs this year. Friends we love moved away from San Francisco, our work schedules were wildly out of balance, and we had a few health scares. I’ve also been able to take a significant amount of time off to return to Washington for several long stays when my family needed me– which, in case anyone else is considering it, this is another giant bonus point for being your own boss.
We’ve also made a significant decision this year that we want to stay in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future. Yes, that may seem vague, but it somehow feels concrete, after four years of trying to convince our families and friends (and ourselves) that we’re just temporarily living in San Francisco. In the last year I started to feel very uncomfortable living without a plan or schedule for our near future. We’ve got work plans, professional plans, but life plans? Hard to fathom when you’ve bumbled into a life with four cats in a wildly expensive and dreamy city. I am a plan-person for the most part. I like organization, I like knowing where I am going, and I want to know how to get there. Thats a weird contrast to starting my own business, regularly starting big time-consuming side projects and telling your family that you might not come home. 2014 isn’t starting new, or starting over, but moving forward. EEEEEEEE!!!!