Sunday, March 4, 2012

Handmade Family Past, Present and Future. Part 1

January and February have been crazy busy for Mrs Handmade and I. Ha-ha-ha! We were expecting to have a lull in the beginning of the year to recharge our batteries, restock inventory after the holidays, and develop some new product lines. General Eisenhower once said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,". To further that idea, Field Marchall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke once said' "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy,". That's kind of how our year has begun. So, it's been a year since Amy and I started Handmade Family, and we've come quite a long way! To get back in the swing of things, over the next couple of weeks I'd like to talk a little bit about us, how our first year went, and what our plans are for 2012.

Amy and I met in college, where I was studying studio art and printmaking and she was working towards a degree in early childhood and elementary education. We shared a mutual love of muppets, nature, art, kids and family. It may seem odd, after looking at the television these days that anyone as young as a college kid is already looking to start a family. Of course, I see examples among my friends everyday that prove the T.V. doesn't know what it's talking about, ha-ha-ha! A couple of years later we got married, I took some time off from drawing to build models and craft worlds for games, while Amy finished school and started teaching. All this time was passing, and people kept asking us when we were going to have kids. We all knew that we wanted to, and felt that we'd be good at it. I'd answer that we "Had our stuff together enough to not have them on accident, but not enough yet to have them on purpose." I'm glad we waited while we figured out how to live together before adding the little ones to the mix.

We moved to Amy's hometown of Saint Louis in 2004, and opened a new chapter of our lives. I moved away from building models of things and back towards drawing, working on improving my skills while building a portfolio. It would be nice to get paid for what I do, instead of just doing it as a hobby. At the same time, some friends and I were talking about starting a media/t-shirt company and were calling it Red Herring Design. Ultimately that business fell apart, but the seeds for working for ourselves and doing what we love were planted. One of the really nice things about those early days is that I had a lot of time for experimentation, and was able to try on several different "hats". I started a blog, "Penny Candy and Shady Characters" where I did self portraits in different media and styles, which evolved into an online sketch book and place to share stories about my days. I continued to work on my drawing and design, and took a position as a full time graphic artist at a small local shop. Meanwhile, Amy had begun substitute teaching in the area and eventually accepted a position as a preschool teacher.

They say that perfection is the enemy of completion. If we waited to have everything perfect and settled and safe before we had kids, then it would never happen. Having a family is something that we'd always wanted and planned for, and it was time to make that leap, ready or not. That time waiting for her was spent decorating, thinking about what kind of person she would be, writing stories and of course, making things. After she was born, the stories changed from ones of high adventure and daring do to quiet ones of moments from our days. Something I never expected was the mellowing that comes from caring for little ones and watching them grow. As my skills were developing, I began working as Red Herring Illustration on the side as we prepared to have our second child and I got ready to leave my full time Graphic Design job.

When Olive was born we realized that we couldn't afford for both of us to work full time. I'd been thinking about making the leap to full time freelancing for a long time, and it just made sense for me to be a stay-at-home dad and work nights on design and illustration work. At the same time, Amy had begun sewing again. We'd found that the swaddling blankets available commercially were really too small to wrap a baby older than a couple of weeks old. So she sat down and made some blankets of her own that were cute, comfy, and big. The sewing bug had bitten her by that point, and she made some super-hero capes for her class at school, which were a big hit! She developed the idea into satin, two panel capes with a graphic on the back. More ideas followed and pretty soon she had opened an Etsy shop, with half a dozen unique handmade products.

Our friend Winnie from Alexandra's Jewelry had been trying to get me to apply to be a vendor in Show Me Handmade for years, but I just didn't feel like I had the product to add anything meaningful to their shop. When we talked about it last year though, it seemed like a real possibility and a logical next step. There is a really vibrant Art and Indie-Craft community in St Louis, and it was time that we joined it. Amy and I talked it over, and felt that our lives together, had given us something valuable, and we wanted to share that with others. We could make family oriented illustration and decor items, back to basics toys and games, and of course baby items. Gifts and activities for growing families, and Handmade Family was born. We spent some time getting our basic branding together, went and met the folks at Fusion, and applied to join the coop/shop.

Next week, I really want to talk about our first year as Handmade Family, and share some of the wonderful people and things we've met. I hope you'll join us. Until then, take care and be good!
Your friend,

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