Thing-A-Day: Knitting

Knitting is one of the most relaxing ways I am able to accomplish making a-thing-a-day.  It’s quietly repetitive, which is very meditative for me.  It’s also relatively stress-free, because as long as you follow the pattern (and the pattern is good), you know exactly what your finished piece will look like before you’ve even started.  The potential for failure or unmet expectations is extremely minimal.

If you like to knit, too, you might enjoy some of these patterns that I have used in the past month (free ravelry membership required for some):

“Owls” sweater by Kate Davies.  Free pattern from Needled.

“Sally” fingerless gloves from Getting Purly With It.  $6 pattern available through Ravelry.  I’m wearing these right now as I type!  The awesome brass lion buttons came from my grandma’s old button box.

Greenleaf Baby Hat by Evelyn Uyemura.  Free pattern on her web site.  This one is going to a newborn in Paris!

Yes, Please: New Papercraft Book

My in-laws gave me an Amazon gift card for my birthday (yeah, they rock).  I planned to spend it on some kind of paper craft book, but everything out there was too specific, or childish, or boring.  Then yesterday A. pointed me towards Papercraft: Design and Art with Paper and I freaked out a little.  Actually, I should say that A. Pointed me toward this post on Daily Icon, which has a lot of amazing images from inside the book.  It’s not due to come out until September 9th, but you can pre-order it from Amazon.

The Six C’s of Branding for Creative Professionals

As a designer, I’ve a done a little branding for other companies, but it is WAY harder to brand yourself.  Though I know all of the steps, it can still feel paralyzing, so I’ve been forcing my husband to take me through them one at a time.  And just in case you don’t have your own branding-savvy spouse hanging over your shoulder, I’d like to help you through them, too.

First of all, let’s talk about branding for a second.  What is it?  A lot of people confuse branding with advertising, or think that branding is just for companies looking to cover up an unsavory reputation with slick graphics, but branding really boils down to one thing: customer/client experience.  Branding involves not only your letterhead and business cards, but your customer service, the quality of your work, your prices, etc.  When someone hires you or buys your work, is their experience fun, inexpensive and easy, or is it sophisticated, detailed and personal?  Your visual branding, (like your logo) exists to give people an idea of what kind of experience to expect from you, so that’s the part of branding I’ll focus on in this post, but it can be difficult to distill a set of abstract concepts and feelings into the color and shape of a few letters.  Luckily, you don’t have to pull it all out of the air or know a lot about design to brand yourself successfully.  Here are the steps to get started:

Step 1: Collect

To begin with, you have to describe the experience of hiring/buying from you.  What adjectives and phrases describe your art or design style? What’s it like to work with you as a professional?  I chose to include words that describe my current portfolio (very kid-oriented) as well as words I hope will describe my future portfolio (more sophisticated and diverse).  Here’s a partial list of what I came up with:  craft, sophisticated, irresistible, inventive, clever, whimsical, reproduction, intricate, clean, intelligent, joyful, original, non-traditional materials, requiring a second/closer look, professional.  There were more, but I’ll spare you.  The point is that this is the brainstorm step, so there’s no limit on the words and phrases you can come up with.

Step 2: Cull

Now that you have your giant list of words, it’s time to put them in order.  Which are the most important feelings to get across?  Is there a particular pairing of words or phrases (like “joyfully elegant”) that is unique to you and your work?  Put those first.  Next, cross out the words that describe every working artist on earth.  Things like “creative,” “original,” and “professional” are useless in visual branding because every creative professional in the world has these qualities.  People wouldn’t hire you if you didn’t.  When you’re done, circle the top 3-5 words or phrases left on your list.  Mine were: craft, sophisticated, irresistible and clever.  My husband also added “contemporary,” to define my style within a period of influence.  Lots of design these days has either a vintage or futuristic look and he thought it was important to distinguish myself from that.

Step 3: Compare

The good news about visual branding is that you don’t have to start from scratch.  You’ll get most of your clues from other companies who already did the work (and paid a pretty penny for it).  Take the first word from your list and come up with 3-5 companies or individuals that espouse it for you.  You can see some of the logo images I collected for various adjectives below.

 

Notice what some of these logos have in common.  Though they’re certainly not identical, the logos in the “clever” column all use thick, sans serif fonts, mostly capitals and primary colors.  Some of them also use circles or oval shapes.  The logos in the “irresistible” column, on the other hand, use mostly lowercase letters in addition to candy colors or shiny effects.  They use no frames at all.  The logos in the “sophisticated fun” column again use all caps and mostly sans serif fonts, but the letters are much thinner and there are two which use rectangular frames.

Not shown here are some of the craft logos I collected through Imgspark (you can’t copy them off the page, sadly), which is a fantastic tool for finding inspiring images and creating mood boards online.  Those logos made clever use of graphics to imply their particular craft.  A glass company used layers of transparent colors to imply a stack of colored glass bowls, a sewing studio wrote out their name in stitches, and a paper company used shadows to make part of their logo look like it was peeling off the screen.

Step 4: Combine

Now that you have some design elements to work with, it’s time to combine them in a way that makes sense.  I decided to go with a sans serif font in all capital letters, since that seemed to be the most common direction of the companies I looked at.  But I also wanted my logo to look irresistible and tactile, so I decided to put it in bright colors, and to add just the tiniest bit of shadow to make it look like it was cut out of paper, rather than typed on a computer.  To heighten the effect, I decided to use some peeling edges like I saw in the paper company logo.  See Friday’s post for my latest proof of concept for this.

Step 5: Create

This is the fun part.  Now you get to go to places like myfonts.com and try out your name in hundreds of different typefaces (search for fonts by tag, like “rounded” to narrow it down some).  You can also try out Color Scheme Designer 3 to put together color combinations.  If your logo calls for it, this is also the part where you’ll sketch out an icon (like Chronicle’s eyeglasses).  Once you’ve decided on the general elements, you can still play a lot with specifics (see my page on playing with type layering, for example) so don’t be afraid to try out all kinds of sizes, arrangements and effects.

Step 6: Come Back

When you’ve got something you like, put your design away for a few days.  See if you still like it when you come back to it.  This step is really excruciating for me because it means I can’t move forward with anything else (like my new web site), but it’s also crucial.  Your potential customers will see your logo with fresh eyes so you should, too.  As frustrating as it is to have the editing process drag on, I have never regretted sticking to this step.

To see a photo journal of this process from beginning to end, check out Jon Contino’s post about branding a new software company called Lussumo.  I hope this was helpful to those of you who find self-branding as difficult as I do.  If you have additional tips, please share them in the comments.

All logos in the image above are the property of the companies they represent.  They are reproduced here through fair use for the purpose of education only and should not be duplicated or used for any other purpose.

Lookit: Cash Apron

The Maker Faire was this past weekend (recap to follow) so I made myself a cash apron.  The big metal cash box I had been using at previous fairs was cumbersome to carry and impossible to keep out of sight but within easy reach.  My apron is a little too stiff and a little too square, but it’s functional, was quick to whip up, and didn’t cost me a dime, so I’m satisfied.  I just used remnants of materials I already had in the house.  You can’t really see it, since I sewed on the stripe, but the top pocket it divided into two.  The green “decoration” is Elvis, whose favorite place to stand is on top of whatever I’m working on.

Today I went to the JoAnn Fabrics in Emeryville because they’re having a moving clearance sale and I just made some money.  I was looking forward to finally getting a replacement rotary cutter, since I’ve been waiting to afford one for months.  Most things there are only 20% off and they have lots of restrictions, so it wasn’t really worth it.  For instance, you can only buy whole yard increments of fabric with a two yard minimum and it’s already slim pickings (no more rotary cutters).  At the checkout they wouldn’t let me use my 15% off discount card either so it REALLY wasn’t worth it, but I did finally succumb and buy the pattern for the eyelet dress I’ve been staring at for months.  I realize it’s on a mannequin, which has perfect proportions, but the fit was just so excellent.

Speaking of moving sales, I have noticed recently that a lot of stores are claiming that they are moving, when they are in fact closing branches.  There are signs in the windows telling customers to visit them at their “new” location, which is actually just another location they’ve already had for years.  Is this a new phenomenon designed to maintain brand confidence?

Make it Your Damn Self…if You Can Make it Fast

One of the advantages of being a creative Biz Miss is that you don’t need to turn to corporate America for many of your office supplies. You can make them yourself. Not only do you save money (and the time spent shopping for these things), you can feel proud that you are exercising your creative muscles and putting your unique stamp onto the things you use every day.

diy plannerI first learned the joy of making your own stuff when I couldn’t find the kind of daily planner I wanted after months of shopping. I needed something that was about A5 (half letter) size, showed an entire week per spread, and had the hours of the day written in. A little section for notes would also be good, but I wasn’t going to be that picky. When nothing turned up, I decided to print my own. I bought a little binder and a few hundred pages of blank A5 paper from Kinokuniya and drew up exactly what I wanted in Adobe Illustrator. It only cost me $6 (far less than if I had bought one) and years later I’m still using it because it’s organized exactly the way my brain wants it to be.

car logThis week I made three things: a car log (with sleeve to stick to the dashboard), a spending diary, and a new wallet to keep my business cards and petty cash separate from my personal stuff. The car log and spending diary took only 5-10 minutes each to make, and they were made entirely from items in my recycling bin. The wallet, on the other hand, while also made entirely from leftover materials, took an inordinate amount of time to make — I’d say 8-10 hours. It’s a fairly complex wallet and I’ve never made a wallet before, so I’m proud to have a finished product that looks and functions exactly the way I want it to, but I probably would have been better off buying something like this for a measly $13.

diary coverspending diarywallet openwallet frontwallet back

I’ve already got my next two projects lined up: a cash apron for craft and design fairs to replace my huge and inconvenient lock box, and a large canvas tote for carrying around sales samples (complete with Sweet Meats iron-on logo) so I can finally toss the ratty plastic H&M shopping bag I’ve been using.

For more DIY inspiration, check out some of the posts at “girl on the rocks.” In this one, she reuses (and improves!) security envelopes from the bills she pays online, and in this one she makes her own fiber content stamps for labeling her yarn. I now turn all of my unused bill envelopes inside out, too. Put a little message or image in the clear window and voila! — a perfect gift envelope that’s personal, funky and doesn’t cost a dime.

If you’ve got a nifty office/studio supply project you’d like to show off, link to it in the comments!

Craft Fair for Designers (SF)

If you’ve ever wanted to sell your wares at a craft-fair-type event, but you’re more of a designer than a crafter, this is the fair for you! The Capsule Design Fair is held semi-annually in the Hayes Valley neighborhood in San Francisco, and also sometimes at the 111 Minna gallery downtown. I’m ashamed to say this, but I live in Hayes Valley and have shopped at the Capsule fair for the last couple of years, but I never figured out who ran it or how to join it until now.

capsuleThe 2008 fairs are happening on May 25th and October 19th form 11-6. They are always outdoors, but I’ve never seen it rained out. One of the nice things about the Capsule fair is that is often coincides with the Hayes Valley Merchants’ Block Party, the Linden Street Fair, and other events that make the neighborhood a true destination on that date. Most times I’ve visited the fair, the surrounding residential blocks have also had giant communal yard sales — another draw for passersby.

You can register to be a designer at the Capsule web site (yes, crafters can participate, too). Once you’re approved, you can also reserve your booth right on the site. The fee for the day is $190 (a little steeper than usual) and gets you an 8x 10 booth (a little bigger than usual). I can personally vouch for the great attendance at this fair, and it’s an especially great place to show if you carry goods that typically price you out of the traditional craft market. There are lots of vendors with average price points of $100, for example, but be aware that customers willing to spend that much will want to be able to pay with a credit card.

Resident Tip: arrive really early — by 9am at the latest — to get first pick at the local yard sales and skip the huge line at Blue Bottle Coffee on Linden.

Inexpensive Marketing and Promotion (Part 3)

And even more…

Craft fairs: (Cost: 1-2 days of your time, ~$free-250, depending on fair) Craft fairs are great for a lot of reasons. Firstly, they average about 5% of what it costs to do a trade show. Secondly, you can sell your stuff directly to the public, allowing you to make you some cash while conducting first-hand market research in the process. Thirdly (I didn’t know this until recently), your wares often don’t have to be hand-crafted to be eligible. And fourthly, the press comes to you! Not only do writers for various publications visit craft fairs, they are often sponsored by a magazine like Craft, BUST, or Adorn, and are therefore guaranteed to get coverage.I would never apply for a craft fair that charges a non-refundable application fee because it indicates to me that they are either:

  1. Shady or greedy people who are okay with taking money from people who might not get anything out of the deal whatsoever.
  2. Such terrible businessmen/businesswomen that they need to charge application fees in addition to booth fees just to keep the venture profitable.

Here are some excellent fairs to look into that don’t charge non-refundable fees to apply:

If you do handcraft your wares, you should definitely also have a storefront on Etsy, the biggest online craft marketplace out there.

Check back tomorrow for Inexpensive Marketing and Promotion Part 3!

Why I Decided to Start a Full-Time Business

I’m not an expert on starting a business. I’m exactly the opposite. You will therefore not read the words “you should” very often on this blog. If you’re looking for advice about whether to take the plunge and start your own business, look elsewhere.

I started my own business for a number of reasons:

  1. By Accident or, The History of Sweet Meats: Sweet Meats began as a personal art project. In 2004 I saw a series of Deerhoof videos that show stop-motion animations of the artist Jenny Lew crafting odd plush creations. She made things like a felt videotape with a perfectly snug “cardboard” sleeve. It looked like a lot of fun.I decided I was going to make a ham, a mountain and a pack of cigarettes. I have no idea why I chose those three objects. I only made the ham and the cigarettes and I never finished all of the detailing. Nevertheless, people loved that damned ham. Everyone who came to our house commented on it. One day Andy suggested I make other meats and sell them online. So I did.I never promoted the site to anyone, but eventually, people found it. In July of 2006 so many people found it, in fact, that I turned my poor parents’ farmhouse into a sweatshop for three weeks (I still feel bad about it). Then stores began inquiring about wholesaling and other plush crafters wanted to know where I had them manufactured, so I thought it might be time to take the venture up a notch.

    BUT. I was under contract for another year of teaching Computers and Media Literacy at the K-8 school where I was employed and kind of liked my job, so I ran Sweet Meats as a legitimate side business and tried not to get more orders than I could handle. In 2007, Sweet Meats were set to be featured on CANAL+’s morning show, “La Matinale,” and in an article by Josh Friedland (that never ran in the end) for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. So I saved my money, resigned in April, and started building the business this August.

  2. I don’t have to worry about starving: I’ve got a good savings cushion, a partner who is willing to support the both of us during my first year in business (reciprocity for supporting us while he was in grad school) and family members who are happy to invest or supply interest-free loans simply because they love and trust me. If I didn’t have all three of these safety nets I would have been a bit more hesitant about dropping a full-time salary and benefits for absolutely no income.
  3. I’m terribly insubordinate: This does NOT mean that I don’t work well with people. On the contrary, I work extremely well with others and really enjoy collaboration. It also doesn’t mean that I am bad at following instructions. I know when I am in unfamiliar territory and welcome advice and steps to follow in that case. I am also good at receiving suggestions and honest criticisms when they are indeed honest and optional and not thinly veiled orders. I am very bad at taking orders. Unsolicited, compulsory directions in an area in which I already feel competent leave a bad taste in my mouth. I find them disrespectful and often ignore them. In short, I really need to be my own boss.
  4. I really wanted flexibility: In everything from when I travel to being able to run errands during banking hours. I also tend to have intense “task cravings.” Several times a day I have an overwhelming desire to do a specific type of activity, like organizing and cleaning, collecting materials, writing, researching or bookkeeping. The flexibility to follow my cravings allows me to be motivated and productive in some area almost all day.
  5. Confidence and optimism: This may all come back to bite me in the ass someday, but I honestly believe my long list of brilliant ideas will bring me acclaim and financial stability.
  6. I couldn’t decide what to be when I grow up: I considered architecture and landscape architecture, industrial, graphic and web design, engineering, teaching and a host of other things that could combine my creative/artsy side with my logical/science-y side. I took classes in ALL of these areas and always eventually decided that I didn’t love the field enough to spend all of my time in it. I couldn’t even choose a major in college. I had to make one up that was half music and art and half computer science. All I really ever wanted was the freedom to pursue the multiple projects I always have going on and to have this somehow magically produce money for me to live on. Starting this business is best way I can think of to sort of make this happen.

That’s the long and short of it. So far I love being in business. I haven’t made more than a few hundred dollars since August but I’m constantly learning new things. Each new day is completely different and full of firsts. It’s really fun, exciting and gratifying to see things move forward into the “real world.”