What should I do with this drawing?

A few months ago the Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh commissioned a Sweet Meats installation for their EAT Space gallery.  One of the things they wanted was a life-size drawing of the inside of a meat locker.  The wonderful women of Avedano’s butcher shop let me take some photos inside their meat locker, and I drafted up this 18” x 24” image.

I had to make this image 16 times larger to be life sized, so I placed a roll of paper on the wall, and set up a 4” x 4” grid (I could only fit one half of the drawing on the wall at a time).  The last time I made a big grid to enlarge something I did it the stupid way, and drew the grid lines directly on the paper with a pencil and a ruler.  This time I was smarter and used thread and drafting tape (like masking tape, put peels off paper easier).  It went much faster and I didn’t have to erase anything later.

The big drawing (8’ x 6’, oy) is in Pittsburgh through March, but I inked, scanned, and vectorized the little drawing for printing.  I thought I might turn it into a paint-by-numbers kit, but there aren’t enough color blocked areas and too many lines.  So now I’d like to ask you folks: is this image interesting enough to print as just a line drawing, or does it need some color (or something else) done to it?  I was hoping to have some available at my holiday fairs this year, but I can’t tell if they’re compelling.  Would you want one hanging in your space?  Please be honest, not kind.  Thanks in advance!

Collage Preservation Fail…and Success!

The big sticker mandala is finally sealed and ready and leave the house.  It took literally months trying to find a varnish that would protect against moisture and UV radiation without discoloring the stickers.  I think all the varnishes I tried were reacting with the adhesive somehow, because they made the edges of the stickers look like they were soaked in grease. Ick.


After three failed attempts (on test pieces, of course) I finally found what I was looking for: Liquitex Varnish (acrylic polymer emulsion), which I bought in the matte finish (it also comes in glossy).

The polymer emulsion sealed the collage properly, even holding down some of the sticker edges that had been popping up and it dried totally transparent, while at the same time reducing glare.  It was thin and easy to apply with a soft, wide brush, which didn’t leave any brush marks. Look how nice!

But the best thing about this stuff is that unlike all the other coatings I tried, it’s water soluble, which means I could use it indoors without nasty fumes killing my bird and I could wash out the brush with soapy water, not toxic paint thinner.  This was a huge bonus, since it would have been impossible to seal this piece outdoors without all kinds of debris and particles landing on it.

Long story short, if you need to seal something you made with stickers or other not-very-absorbent materials, try this stuff.  Of course, always try a test first, because it’s impossible to predict how some materials will react.

Small Business Jobs Act Helps Independent Creative Professionals

This is a little late in coming, but I wanted to point all of you towards this fantastic post by The Present Group about Obama’s Small Business Jobs Act. The new law is large and complicated, but Oliver and Eleanor did all the hard work for you and pulled out the sections that are relevant to independent creative professionals.

“There are…some especially exciting things for small companies, artists, and freelancers in the tax cuts area.  Hello health care deduction and total cell phone deduction.”

Only two more months until we close the books on 2010.  Make sure you read this before filing those taxes!

Best. Conference. Ever.

Wow, what a summer!  I took a bunch of trips, made a ton of artwork, and worked on growing my business.  It didn’t leave much time for posting (or resting), but after a whole spring of feeling like I was just spinning my wheels, I finally feel like I accomplished something. Luckily for me, summer is just starting here in San Francisco, so I can still enjoy some warmer weather now that I have a little free time.

The highlight of August was of course the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs in Seattle.  Our inaugural year was  more successful that I ever anticipated and it makes me feel both extremely lucky and extremely proud.  I could not have been more thrilled with the skill of our speakers, or the enthusiasm of our attendees.  I met more wonderful new friends than I can even count.  We also had exceedingly delicious food every day, both at the conference and at our meals and happy hours around Seattle.  It makes me really excited to start working on CCE 2011 in San Francisco.  Here are a few highlights:

Cathie Filian, Emmy-nominated host of Creative Juice on HGTV, gave one of the best talks I’ve ever heard about how to create your own business opportunities rather than sitting around and waiting for them.

Craftsanity Live!Podcasting Session with Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood and Becky Stern

Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood interviewed Megan Reardon of Not Martha during a live CraftSanity podcast.  Then Jennifer and Becky Stern from Craftzine/Make magazine showed attendees how to make podcasts of their own!
Taking It To The Next Level: Lauren Venell, Jenny Hart and Andrea Porter

I got to be part of two amazing panels, “Taking it to the Next Level” with Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching (center) and Andrea Porter of Matthew Porter Art (and fellow organizer!, right), and “Valuing Your Work and Getting Paid for it,” with Lisa Congdon, Becky Stern, and Leanne Winslow of Cake Central.  Every single one of these ladies is so. friggin. smart.

Trophy Cupcakes

Speaking of cake, we had (among other amazing goodies) these ridiculous cupcakes from Trophy cupcakes.  Those flavors are Nutella and Salted Caramel, my friends.  WHAT???!!  Yeah, I had, like, eight.  I also had my first poutine in Seattle (I ate it too quickly to take a photo), which is french fries drenched in gravy and cheese.  Oh my stars.  Yum.  All that weekend was yum.

Attendees At CCE

Isn’t the Hugo House gorgeous?  This is in the “cabaret room”.  I love it when creative events are held in inspiring, colorful spaces, rather than in sterile hotel conference rooms.  I also love it when we have three days without major A/V or tech issues.  What a treat!

Last Chance for a Free CCE Ticket!

The free ticket giveaway on design*sponge ends tomorrow at 8AM for the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs, so if you want a chance to win, act quickly!  The rules are at the bottom of my latest “biz ladies” article, titled “Maintain Confidence in a Competitive Market,” which is all about keeping it together as a creative professional when everyone else in the world seems younger, skinnier and more talented than you.

If you’d like to remove the element of chance altogether, you can get your ticket at the CCE site, which has day passes and full weekend passes available for extremely reasonable prices.

The Big One: Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Mandala

After making a few smaller 6” x 6” sticker mandalas over the holidays last year, the Mrs. Grossman’s Paper Company sent me about 8 pounds of stickers and a commission for a big piece to put in their factory store in Petaluma. Last week I finally completed the sucker (which is two feet across!), but it still needs some finishing touches. I’m missing a couple of stickers in the bottom quadrant that need to be filled in, and then I need to erase the guidelines and varnish everything so it’s protected from dust, moisture and UV. At that point I’ll reshoot it and stick in the portfolio section for good.

In the meantime I’m working on several really exciting plush projects that will be on display at ComicCon at the end of the month. Preview photos next week!

Get Yourself Some Press

When I was starting out, I was told that it would be incredibly difficult to get press.  I read dozens of articles by so-called experts who told me exactly how my press kit needed to be put together. Deviate from their proscription and it’s no press for you!  I spent hour upon hour crafting the perfect kit, then spent hundreds more hours attaching it to personalized, detailed e-mails to writers.  Nowadays people tell you that you need to live on Facebook and Twitter in order to get “seen.”  Well I tried all of those things and do you know how many press mentions my efforts got me?  Exactly none.  Here’s what did work:

Getting the word out locally: I participated in lots of local events, from craft fairs, to holiday parties, to meat-themed magazine launches — anywhere that my target market was likely to hang out.  Know who else hangs out at local events? Local press!  Last month at the Chillin’ SF event I was photographed for SF Weekly. No extra effort required!  The bonus, of course, is that national publications regularly trawl local blogs and papers for hot new stuff to write about, so the more local stuff you’re featured in, the more likely the big guys are to find you.  Just yesterday Thrillist San Francisco contacted me about some TV opportunities in New York and beyond!

Putting up a full press kit on my web site:  At first I followed the advice of the marketing gurus who told me to make a simple and spare press kit.  The idea was not to overwhelm writers with too much information.  And you know what?  I just ended up getting a bunch of harried e-mails from writers who had a deadline in two hours and could only include me in the story if I could get them the info they needed STAT.

Now I have everything up there: high res photos of all my toys in various configurations, my bio, company statement, current price list, a press release, and some fast facts about my business.  It’s linked prominently right at the top of the press page on my web site, so any member of the press can find it in less than 10 seconds.  The whole shebang is 15.5 MB, but this really only takes a minute to download nowadays.  I mean, the New York Times isn’t working on dial-up.  More than once a publication has thanked me for having all of the photos and documentation ready to go, and it made them much more receptive to writing about me again.  And as for having too much “clutter,”  I think if everything is labeled clearly, it’s not cluttered, it’s informative.

Having professional photos: Okay, so even the photos I took in my bedroom with a cheap point-and-shoot made it onto French national television, but this was a fluke and I was honestly sort of embarrassed to see them on a huge screen. In most cases, if a publication is interested in your business, but they don’t have the time, manpower or money for you to send in samples for photographing, they’ll simply pass you by.  Modern Home is not going to accept those webcam shots you took on the windowsill.  I am not a very good photographer myself, so I spent $300 to hire a friend to take photos for me. It was one of the best investments I ever made.  Here is an example of each:


Special note: more than one magazine has specifically requested a horizontal or vertical photo depending on their page layout.  Make sure that you have versions of your photos in both orientations.

Writing a good press release: to write my press releases, I pretend that I am a newspaper reporter who has come to write a story about my business. I mention things that are truly new and noteworthy (new product! cool gallery show!), or kooky facts about myself or my business (my maiden name means “butcher”!).  I even quote myself, never taking my own words out of context.  This practice keeps me focused on telling a good story, not just passing along facts.  I try to imagine reading the article in a magazine.  I ask myself: is this funny, interesting and engaging, or does it sound like a brochure?

The best press release is one that a writer can literally copy and paste from (and they will).  I try to update my press release every 4 months to keep things current.

Having patience: the first person to contact me about press was a German college life magazine called StuLife.  They were doing an article about Etsy back in 2005 and I was one of the first sellers with weird stuff up there.  The second person to contact me was someone from the OMIGOD NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE.  I was so excited, I told everyone I knew.  Then they cut the article at the last minute.  I was utterly crushed and embarrassed, especially when trying to explain to my loved ones why they had bought the Sunday paper for nothing.  Then the magazine said the article might run in another issue three months later.  It didn’t.  The following year an editor from the New York Times style section contacted me about a “gifts under $100” guide they wanted to use Sweet Meats for.  Again I bought the paper, and again, I was crushed.  This time the article was there, but my toys weren’t in it.  The following week, in a frenzy, the same editor contacted me for vertical high-res photos (see above) and a current price list.  Another guest writer had seen the Sweet Meats and was putting them in his “A Little Bit of Joy” gift guide.  This time, they were there, in full color, one week before Christmas.  I don’t have to tell you what that does for holiday sales.  I could be annoyed that my toys didn’t make it into the magazine that first time around, or be thankful that the staff at NYT kept my toys in mind for feature after feature until they ran almost two years later.

Being available: press deadlines are ridiculously tight, often on the order of hours, so if you can’t be reached in time, you will be S.O.L., my friends.  I was three hours late calling back a producer in L.A. because I forgot to turn my ringer back on after my pilates class.  It cost me the chance to have my toys on Weeds.  That one really hurt.  I love that show.  In order to not miss the boat, make sure that whatever number/e-mail you have listed on your site is within reach at all times.

The bottom line?  Don’t waste your time on cold calls.  Get yourself out there (in real space, not just cyberspace), be prepared, have a little faith, and above all, make life as easy as humanly possible for writers, editors and producers.  That’s how you get press.

Etsy 101 Class at Workshop SF 6/24

On Thursday, 6/24 I will be teaching an Introduction to Etsy workshop from 7-10pm at Workshop SF (corner of Baker and McAllister).  I’ll cover everything you need to know to be a success on Etsy, as well as lots of general business and branding tips.  This is a pretty hands-on and interactive class, where we’ll address issues specific to your business, not a big, boring lecture.  If you’re considering testing out the waters of entrepreneurship on Etsy, this is a great little class to start with.  April’s class was a huge success and sold out completely, so if you’d like to attend, I recommend signing up early.  As of this post, there were only five spots left!

Best Grant Application Ever: Kickstarter

Today I finished a proposal for the CCE to get funding through Kickstarter.  Cross your fingers that they put it up!

For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is one of those ingenious ideas that makes you love the Internet.  Here’s how it works: people post creative project ideas that they need funding for, and Kickstarter members pledge to provide that funding, a few dollars at a time.  Creators provide a full proposal for their project, detailing their plans, expenses and current efforts towards reaching their goal, much like any other grant proposal.  They also include descriptions of various pledge levels, explaining what donors will receive for their contributions — for example, $5 might get you a thank-you postcard and $150 might get you an original song.

Each project has a certain amount of time to reach its pledge goal.  If it does, the pledges are collected and the project goes forward.  If time runs out, the project receives no money at all.  This ensures that applicants are not on the hook to finish projects that are only half-funded, and donors are not on the hook to fund projects that are not fully supported.

Even if you don’t propose a project or pledge to fund one, there are more than a few inspiring ideas to browse at Kickstarter.  One project I found particularly compelling is “1024 bits of you and me,” in which the artist crowdsources ideas for 1024 individual paintings that will be displayed as one giant work in the Artprize competition in Grand Rapids, MI.  It’s like a Thing-A-Day project on steroids.

Right now Kickstarter is still in Beta mode, so you can’t just post a project and start collecting pledges.  Your proposal needs to be sent to the Kickstarter team for approval first.  I’m not sure how I feel about this current set-up.  On the one hand, it means that I don’t have to wade through a bunch of idiotic vanity projects to find the ones that make meaningful contributions.  On the other hand, it means that a very small panel of profit-conscious judges decides which projects are worthy of presenting to the larger community.  What do you think?

Web Hosting for Artists

The Present Group, one of my favorite organizations, recently announced their latest endeavor: Web Hosting that Supports Artists.  “Web hosting is something many of us are paying for anyway,” says co-director Oliver Wise, “we wanted to give people a choice to do something good with those dollars.  Instead of the profits going to a faceless company, we’ll recognize worthy artists and fund artist projects that we collectively choose.”

In addition to your hosting dollars going towards supporting artists, TPG’s hosting makes it easier for artists to put up their own portfolio sites by offering free installation of WordPress or Indexhibit.  They also skip glitchy and spammy webmail portals by powering your email access with Gmail.  Users still get their own email addresses at their domain (like “[email protected]”), but access and management is through Gmail’s secure and familiar interface.  Of course, you can also still check your e-mail through a program like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook if you prefer.

I think the work that these guys do is great, and I signed up for TPG hosting immediately for my new portfolio site.  It’s only $7/month, which is way cheaper than my old GoDaddy account, and MUCH simpler to deal with.  It was super smooth sailing setting everything up and I haven’t had a single question or glitch.  I used the WordPress installation to run my site, and now I can easily add new info without having to muck around in a bunch of code.

Every hosting client gets to nominate artists each granting period within a chosen theme.  We also get to vote on the final grant recipient.  For their first grant, The Present Group is teaming up with the Collective Foundation to create a $1000 travel grant for an artist in the Bay Area.  Investigating the question of why many Bay Area artists choose to leave once their careers really start to take off, Joseph del Pesco, co-founder of The Collective Foundation, theorizes  “if Bay Area artists had support for mobility…they would be more likely to stay.”

Since I have a hosted site, I get to nominate a Bay Area artist who I think would benefit from this $1000 travel grant.  Who do you folks think it should be?  Feel free to post your own nominations in the comments, or even better, sign up for your own artist web site and make sure that grant actually happens.  Only 13 more artists are needed!

And just in case you needed another reason why The Present Group rocks the free world (which you don’t), they’ve already provided free hosting to the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs! It’s just one more way they’re helping artists live the dream of turning their passion into a living.

(Psst! I also heard a rumor that TPG hosting may start offering exclusive free portfolio templates that are simple, gorgeous, and ready to go.  Just add your own text and pictures and voila!  Fully-baked portfolio site.  In the meantime, both WordPress and Inexhibit have free themes to choose from, or you can hire us at Burning House to make you a custom one.)

The Present Group was founded in 2006 by Eleanor and Oliver Wise out of the desire to create affordable and sustainable models for funding artists. In their first three years, their quarterly subscription art service has channeled over $20,000 toward funding artist projects, stipends, and development of critical essays. The Present Group Web Hosting is yet another attempt to create a sustainable revenue stream for artist grants.