A blogpost brought to you by Christiane Knight of Three Ravens Fiber! (Fiberygoodness Artist in Residence)
“She was unstoppable. Not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them” – Beau Taplin
Hello, my friends. Today, I’m going to tell you all about Good Intentions and the Roads that they pave. *grin* The phrase I’ve been using lately is “life is getting in the way.” Not as an excuse, because it just IS, you know? The things need doing, no matter what one’s grander plans are, no matter what one wants to be doing. In my case, life has been getting in the way of progress for my Artist in Residence progress here, and that is incredibly frustrating, because it’s the project I’m most excited about! However, it’s also the project not paying my bills at the moment, so my energy has been going more to those tasks than the ones I’m dreaming about. I have been stealing moments here and there to work diligently, and I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome, but today is not the day I’ll be revealing anything Elemental. Trust me, I am SO sorry about that!
However, since I don’t have a fancy project to show you, I thought I’d share what it’s like to be a full-time fiber artist getting ready for a show – a behind the scenes, real-life talk about what it’s like to be me! I’m also going to explain a little about how I try to balance my time between my responsibilities. It’s a real juggling act! First, let me give you some background about how Three Ravens Studio sustains itself. It’s a one-woman show around here, a small business that’s had highs and lows in success,something I’m brutally honest about. In fact, one thing I insist on is being 100% honest and forthcoming about my business, how I run it, and why I succeed or fail at various things – it’s not only the only way I feel comfortable doing biz, but I think it’s important for other people to hear. I have a lot of folks, especially ones who want to open a small craft or fiber business, ask me questions about how I do what I do. To me, mentoring through sharing these background and operational details is a way to give back to the creative community. It’s easy to look successful even when you’re teetering on the edge of an empty bank account, but knowing what to do to fix it is something else entirely!
My biz is vary small. I bootstrap a lot of what I do. The big money flow happens seasonally, around fiber festivals and craft shows that are fiberarts friendly. I also do teaching throughout the year to bring in more regular income, but the serious cash infusions happen around March, May, September, and December, when I have some regular shows to vend. Everything else I do builds from the sales happening at those shows, and if something happens and I miss one or I don’t get accepted to one, it forces me to get very clever indeed to come up with cash!
The March one happens this weekend, a wonderful local yarn and fiber event called Homespun Yarn Party. [http://homespunyarnparty.blogspot.com] I’ve been lucky enough to be a vendor at this show since 2012. It encompasses independent artisan vendors from the Maryland/Virgina/Washington DC area of the US, and we have knitters, crocheters, weavers, and spinners flock to shop from all over. It’s only an afternoon long, but the sales can be quite intense, so I spend a lot of time preparing to have my table filled with all the interesting things I can create. One thing I really appreciate about this show is that only items handmade by the vendor can be sold, so when you purchase something there, you’re truly meeting the creator and supporting their art.
My table this year is heavy on handspun yarn, as I’m one of the few vendors that offers mostly handspun. I also spent a lot of time creating many many small batts that have been rolled up into neat twists and then tossed randomly into a big basket. I call these Mix’n’Match Battlets and I’ll be selling these by the ounce. I actually do this for some of my more creative and interesting yarns – I’ll make a huge stash of battlets in a variety of colors and textures, put them in a basket, and randomly grab from the basket when I’m spinning a yarn. It makes something unique and always-changing, which keeps me on my creative toes. I’m always looking for new ways to make buying fiber fun and interesting – I sold these for the first time at a show in December, and it seemed to catch the whimsy of shoppers. And to be honest, it’s so much easier for me! I don’t have to label each package, something that takes up incredible amounts of time that I could be using to make pretty things.
Another thing I’m trying out is packaging a bunch of small handspun skiens in coordinating colors together, as a set for weaving or embellishment. I often have small amounts of spindle spun or highly textured yarn, much more than I can use – so this is a test to see if other people get excited by the possibilities in these bundles! All of these also go toward my own projects; sometimes I don’t sell something so I go ahead and use it in my creations. Other times I’ll make “some for the shop/some for me” and split time to be efficient.
A lot of running my business is just this sort of thinking: how can I get people excited about what I’m creating? How can I inspire them? And how can I combine these energies so that they’ll want to support me and use my products to make beautiful things? It takes up a lot of mental energy!
It also makes a GIGANTIC mess in my studio. When I get hard and heavy into show prep, I just make and make until I can’t anymore, and I’ll clean up after the show is over. That gives me a chance to inventory what’s left in my stash, too! I also pack my stock while I make things, as at this point in my vending career [10+ years?] I pretty much know how I like to pack things and what works best where, container-wise.
Above, you can see my carding table, which is also my “staging” table – I’ll pull out all the fiber I am thinking of carding together, and start sorting things into piles before I begin running things through the drum carder to blend. I also have two big three-drawer storage bins underneath the staging table that are filled with Angelina, neps, and other add-ins. There’s a basket of tall
Mason jars filled with silk and viscose to the left of the carder. Out of the camera frame, to the right, is a bunch of bins and baskets that are full of my natural and dyed wools. I usually have them sorted by color, but right now everything is low in stock so it’s a mishmosh of everything. A real mess, like I said! After I get back from the show, I’ll reorganize, reorder and redye, and start prepping for May’s events. If things go well, I’ll make enough money to restock and then some. If they don’t, I’ll make do until I get to the next show.
Here’s my booth from last year’s show, so that you can see how everything came together previously. Every year it’s a little different – this year I think the battlet basket will be front and center, and I have my fiber + crystal jewelry displayed differently this time. It’s constantly evolving, just like my business and how I handle it. Last year I didn’t have the obligation of being an Artist in Residence, but I’d just come back from breaking my leg in a pretty ugly way, and my table suffered because of that. Everything took me so much longer to produce while I was in recovery!
But that’s the thing I learned over time – my business is always in a state of change and flux. It teaches me every day, challenges me every moment. I am not always successful at balancing between work and art, and right now the AIR obligation has suffered for it… but at the same time, when I feel like the biz is flourishing, it helps me to get my head on straight and get creative. It’s much harder to make something from the heart when you’re worried about paying the rent, right? Ironic that the element I’m working on right now for my AIR project is Earth – but I feel very grounded now that my prep’s all done and my show will go smoothly. And now I can get back to the fibery magic of creating something symbolic!
So the realization here is that balance is everything, and balance is HARD. It’s a lesson I learn over and over, and I’m finally starting to feel secure in the ebb and flow that goes along with being crafty for both a living and a lifestyle. What about you, readers? Do you struggle with balance and time when it comes to your creative pursuits? I would love to hear about how you keep equilibrium and stay creative!