Saturday, March 31, 2012

What I Think About In The Yard

Hi all! Mr Handmade here. Today I was working in the garden, it's past time to start my planting, and I'm still scrambling to get it in a position to grow anything! My yard is on a pretty big slope, so this year I decided to rethink my garden set up and begin terracing it. It's a combination garden and landscape project, really...

The first terrace will have 1 garden bed, and the picnic table that I got for Christmas in it. Basically, this will be our base of operations, and will offer somewhere to sit and rest, or play, or draw during outside time. The second and third terraces will each have two beds in them, and the fourth will be a patio area just below the fire pit. This is my plan, and now that the framing on the bottom terrace is done, all I have to do is move the rest of this bit of yard. Yay!
So here it is from above as of about a month ago. I had the front edge delineated, but most of the rest was looking kind of bleak. It's amazing how much the green changes how it all looks now.

When I'm working by myself, I have a sort of long-running, inner dialogue. My daily life is an ongoing story in my head, that involves me, hobbits, like the illustration at the top of this post by Alan Lee, for the Lord of the Rings...The Millenium Falcon, super soldiers, spies, farming, my daughters as adults...It sounds like an odd mix, but the story evolves as time goes by. Ha-ha-ha!

The reason I bring this up, apart from wanting to talk about digging up my yard, is that I wonder if this is a pretty common thing among bloggers. That constant thought in narrative form sort of lends itself to blogging. I mean, we talk to ourselves anyway, so we may as well let other people have a peek behind the curtains too, right? The funny thing is that I had no sooner begun to think about this than I stumbled upon some examples in blogs that I follow.

First on Fat Mum Slim she talked meeting bloggers in person. She talked about how bloggers like to share, and how they get it. "It" being that spark that happens between like minded people. She also talked about something that I worry about a lot, but in such a positive way. She mentioned that when you meet fellow bloggers all the groundwork has been done. I always feel like it would be odd meeting someone for the first time, and already knowing them like they were an old friend.

The other was on Connie to the Wonnie where she made a great little cartoon illustrating this thought. You should go check it out. :)
And finally I'm leaving you with this picture of young Wyatt showing what Uncle Jeffrey hath wrought. Ha-ha-ha! Until next time, take care and be good!
Your friend,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Daily Life, 100 Themes: 7 Bliss

I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I love my girls dearly, but it's very difficult to set up the perfect train set up with two little girls moving things while you're trying to think. For awhile, this train set was all I could think about, and I was a little surprised at how much fun it was!

I'm transitioning some content from my other blog, you can find the first 6 of the 100 themes here.

Until next time, take care and be good.
Your friend,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Handmade Family: Past, Present and Future. Part 3.

Hi all! Mr Handmade here with Part 3 of Handmade Family's Past, Present and Future. Amy and I have been talking lately about our goals for the coming year. It's important to pay attention to what we're doing now of course, but having something to look forward to and something to work towards is how we will grow. Both as partners and as a business and family.
One of the big goals is to get our website, in working order. Late last year, we started making headway on this front. Deciding what kind of content we were after, and what features we would like to include. The things that ended up being most important were to have an integrated blog, an online storefront, and galleries to show our work. It still needs a lot of work. Mainly, I need to take a ton of pictures and get the galleries set up...speaking of pictures, that leads me to my second goal. Keeping this blog updated with content regularly.

I think I promise myself this every year, but this year I swear it's going to stick! My plan is about trying to keep it simpler and to commit to certain concepts. The first thing is that I am officially letting go of my other blogs, "Penny Candy and Shady Characters", and "Take Care and Be Good". I'm consolidating them into this one so that I won't fall back into the "I feel bad about not updating there, so I won't update here either" trap. Second, on Mondays I will update with a weekly photo roundup of 5 photos from the previous week. I am committing to this, but not to writing anything about the photos. :) On Fridays I will post artwork, either something that I drew during the week or something the kids did. I also plan on reviving the Daily Life Comic Diary. I miss doing it, so will add it to the Friday posts as I can. These two posts will be constant, and both Amy and I will post real articles about projects, events, the community and the handmade lifestyle as we can...hopefully pretty regularly :)

Amy's major goals are to get our inventory tracking under control and to organize what items we have where. Selling in three shops, plus our website, etsy and shows has made keeping track of inventory kind of tricky, but she's been logging everything and it has already become soooo much easier to find where things are, and to know what needs to be made. It's also really helping us to see what our big sellers are. That'll really help us to get ahead of things for the holidays this year.
Finally, we are doing more shows this year. I'm already getting an ear full about the number of shows I have us booked for. We're going to be busy! Related to this is my goal of having new products to offer at shows every quarter. This is probably the most unrealistic of them, because of juggling freelance work and family, not to mention working the shop and shows. We have several ideas for things I'd like to make, and put more inspiration on my pinterest board every day, so we'll see how it goes.

It doesn't look like a whole lot as I look up and scroll through this post, but I have a feeling that I've committed my self to a lot of changes and a lot of work. You know what though? I'm looking forward to it, and that's one of the greatest things about being in this business. I know it's the end of March, but we'd still love to hear some of your goals for the upcoming year! Let us know in the comments, and as always thanks for stopping by!

Until next time, take care and be good.
Your friend,

Monday, March 19, 2012

Handmade Family Past, Present and Future Part II

2011, a year in review.
Hi all! Mr Handmade here, with part two of the Handmade Family past, present and future. I think by all accounts, 2011 was a very good year for us. We're both really excited about how far we've come, and all the super supportive people we've met, and are looking forward to what's next...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Our year started off with the decision to combine our etsy shops, "Abigail Olivia" and "Red Herring Illustration" to start Handmade Family. Our work is not the same but the sensibilities behind it are so they go together just like we do. We felt that this would also give us each a push as individuals to apply to be a single vendor at Fusion together. This was a huge step for us, and we set about defining our handmade branding including a logo, banners, business cards, promo packet and Facebook page...and of course starting this blog. Finally, we invested some of our tax return dollars into fixtures that we felt matched our internal branding for our shop displays and some new tools. Investing in your future can be difficult, because there's no guaranteed return. It's scary, but I'm so glad we did it!

Building up inventory can be daunting, to say the least. Amy spent the next couple of months making new product as I worked on our web presence and some new illustrations. Part of being a part of a co-op is that artists are always joining or leaving to do something new. We love meeting all the new artists and being happy for our friends when they make the next step towards their dreams. Late in the spring, one of our new friends, Jessi, left the shop to start her own store, I Am What I Am On Main Street. It's super cute, and in a great location in downtown Saint Charles by Picasso's coffee shop. Just as we were getting a comfortable amount of stock into Fusion, Jessi asked us to be a featured artist in her shop. What awesome exposure that would be, and it would be a great chance to work with one of our friends again! So it was set that we would be the featured artists for the month of August...and we were scrambling to get enough product to cover our stock at Fusion, our Etsy shop, and I Am What I Am. Whew! Amy did such an awesome job making sure there were plenty of capes and blankets and beanbags, and I managed to get 6 new watercolor paintings. At the end of the month, we'd gotten such a positive response from shoppers (and not bothered Jessi too much) that she asked us to stay on as consigners. YAY!

A lot happened in the fall. Ha-ha-ha! buoyed by our success in shops, we figured it was time to start doing shows...But where to start? Well, I've been going to Archon, a local Science Fiction and Gaming convention, for about 10 years and participated in the art show twice, so this year I got a table in Artists Alley and sold some drawings, postcards and commissioned sketches. It was a lot of fun, and always great talking to people. Meanwhile our friends Melissa and Andrea of Villa Design and Zenbot Baby, decided to kidnap Amy to participate in the Tower Groves Farmers Market. From there we went on to do Artropy, and a couple of vendor fairs at United Services, the preschool where Amy works. Shows are tiring, but so much fun and so worth doing, and I'm glad we made it through the first few in our first year, because now we can build on that experience.

I'd expected things to quiet down after Christmas for a little while (I think everybody did) but here we go, full tilt into the new year. Freelancing has kept me busy, so I haven't had much time to develop new products, but I have managed to squeak a couple of things in. Besides that, I've been writing weekly posts on the Fusion Blog, which is part of why I've been so inconsistent here lately (sorry about that, it's not that I haven't been thinking of you all). I've also been working on our new website, which has an integrated blog, shop and image galleries. We're really excited about it, and looking forward to it being actually finished!

I know I'm forgetting some things, but it has been a great and exciting first year! Thank you all for sharing it with us, and for supporting us! Next week I'll talk a little bit about our plans for the coming year in the final segment of Handmade Family Past, Present, and Future. Until then, take care and be good!
Your friend,

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,