Crafting a Business

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This week I am at the sewing machine stitching up little dreams that pop into my head: things I’ve seen on Pinterest or in magazines, with my own twist. Also, I’m filling special orders and replenishing stock. On Monday, I sewed up ten flax and lavender pillows for a friend’s order. On Tuesday, I sewed and filled four more so I’ll have enough to bring with me to the next craft fair. I also spent time ordering supplies and figuring out what boxes I needed to order for products I will sell on Etsy.

Today I finished two pillows with felt lettering on them and cut out lots of muslin triangles and letters in reds and greens to make Christmas buntings. Tomorrow, I hope to add a few more pillows to my stock, and make a few felt mitten garlands.

I’m waiting on one ingredient to arrive so I can make beeswax food wraps. They are a practical, beautiful and fun alternative to plastic wrap. I also have a recipe for a winter balm, a whipped body butter, and more lotion bars that I want to try.  Plus I should finish at least two more paper art canvases to take with me.

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This weekend is a craft bazaar in Ithaca at 1st Assembly of God church on Bostwick Road. I’m looking forward to a busy day, meeting people, answering questions, and hopefully, selling a lot of things I’ve made. At the same time, I’m chomping at the bit to open my Etsy store. This will require several hours devoted to photographing the items, writing up descriptions, measuring and weighing everything.

Tonight, after going to a local craft supply store and shelling out more money for thread, ribbon, and fabric, I started to panic. Suppose nothing comes of this? What if I can’t connect my products with the right people? What if…

As I sat in the car with tears dripping off the end of my nose, Alan spoke words of courage into me. “You’re creative and smart, have lots of good ideas, you have plenty of spunk. You’re figuring it out. I know it’s scary, but you don’t need to get all emotional–it takes time, but you’ll get there.”

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And then he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you want it to be successful?” I nodded, “Of course, I do.” “Then it will. Don’t give up and you’ll get there.” All this could sound like cliche, except I knew he meant what he said and it worked.

“Thanks for talking me down off the ledge,” I said. Then I dried my eyes and we went into Greenstar to get my coffee, kale and oats. Local musician Tenzin Chopak was at the register, which was a definite perk.

Right now, so many little pieces of this business have to be worked out, but I’m determined to do all I need to. Truly, I love a challenge and a year from now I’ll be glad I did everything that seems so difficult right now.

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Day 13: Behind the Scenes

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It’s nearly noon and I’m still in my pajamas. The gym is calling me and I hope I’ll be able to go, or at least do some yoga and Pilates here at home. This morning has been full of preparation and planning. I feel like I’ve been unproductive because I have so much on my To-Do List, but all I’ve done has been necessary.

At breakfast, I sat at the kitchen table and caught up in my Bullet Journal. Honestly, after using it the past year and a half, I feel quite lost when a few days have gone by without me opening it up. It’s a great way for me to connect with all the pieces of my life, to review what I’ve set out to accomplish, my ideas, little incidentals from my days and where I’ve wandered and what I’ve forgotten. I felt very centered when I went through the past few weeks, made a list of upcoming tasks I need to complete and crossed off what I have completed already. That boosted my outlook. If you’d like to learn more about Bullet Journaling, here is a link to The Lazy Genius Collective’s in-depth blog post about it.

I went on to my Morning Pages and let my thoughts scrawl through my three pages.

An then it was time to do social media posts for Alan and me because we have a gig tonight at Ithaca Bakery between 6-8pm. Plus, I updated The Inner Crazy website with some of our upcoming shows and I printed out the song list for tonight.

Does all of this make a difference? I believe so. If I don’t stay current, I’ll lose what ground we’ve gained. I have a goal of two gigs a week eventually. To get there will take many hours of posting, updating, photos, songwriting, recording, and doing it over and over again. I willingly accept the challenge and will work toward my goal.

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What behind the scenes preparation have you worked at this week?

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Day 9: Tulip Bulbs, Dean Koontz and Carrot Cake

After a busy weekend when we play out, Mondays always seem like I’m trying to find all the pieces of me and reassemble myself.

I woke late, went to the gym late and then planted sixty-one tulip bulbs around the gazebo. Yes, that’s a lot and my back can testify.

My sister-in-law sent me a very generous birthday gift of one hundred tulips and fifty daffodils. They arrived Friday.

I’m thrilled when I think of the beauty coming up next Spring, but now is the time to plant them while the ground is wet and the temperature mild. So I planted a little more than a third of them today and will work on planting them the rest of this week.

After I came in and showered, I put a gluten free vegan pizza in the oven for lunch and sat down to finish The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspensethe Dean Koontz book Alan gave me for my birthday.

It wrapped up nicely, but clearly a sequel was on the way. And indeed, The Whispering Room: A Jane Hawk Novel is now available.

Jane Hawk, the protagonist, is definitely a badass, but one with a heart of gold. Everything she does is to protect her son, avenge her murdered husband and save the world. No big deal. If you like suspense novels, add this one to your list.

Next up on my fiction list is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: Author’s Preferred Text.

My afternoon was spent sewing felt dolls and birds while watching The Tunnel on Amazon Prime.

And then it was time for carrot cake. Sarah Bakes Gluten Free is a blog filled with delicious gluten free and mostly vegan treats.

I have a friend coming over for lunch tomorrow and wanted a classic dessert to serve her. This recipe will produce a carrot cake you won’t forget. I subbed carrot for the zucchini and added 1/4 almond flour. With vegan buttercream frosting, it’s scrumptious.

What was your Monday like?

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Day 8: Sunday at Bandwagon

Today we performed at Bandwagon Brewery in Interlaken. As it was a Sunday and the Bills were playing, it was a pretty quiet afternoon.

However, four people from Ithaca came out and stayed for two-thirds of the show. They were so supportive and fun and said they’re our new groupies.

Then EJ and her husband came and cheered for us. She was a trip, jumping up and clapping after every song. The high point of the afternoon was that my son and daughter came to hear us play for a few songs. I proudly introduced them to people, thrilled they showed up. Will gave them ginger beer and EJ chatted to them. It felt like a small family affair. And right before close, we had a surprise visit from Jason and Rose Hazlitt.

When we got back home and unpacked the car, we discovered that Judah had the pizzas started. We ate, talked and played Canasta. All in all, it was a happy, satisfying day.

Day 4: To Market, To Market

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This is one post in a series about creative living, but the message I am hearing from many different sources and discovering the truth of is this: being a creative person means being a business and marketing-savvy person as well.

I grew up shying away from selling or soliciting in any shape or form, whether with a church group or at a personal yard sale. I just didn’t want to force my stuff or opinions on anyone, didn’t want to toot my own horn or be pushy in any way. Talking to artist friends of mine, I hear the same story from them. Who wants to brag about one’s work? Who wants to push one’s stuff or try to navigate the frightening areas of business and marketing. I continually heard,” I am no business person.” “I am not good at selling anything.” After believing this to be true for myself most of my life, I now disagree with this self-talk. I think every artistic/creative person owes it to themselves and their work to learn as much as they can about how to market oneself, how to make connections, and how to become a business person.

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What changed my mind? Last summer, I formed an acoustic musical duo with Alan. We call ourselves The Inner Crazy. We made a list of songs and started learning them and practicing. A friend of his booked us for her private party, and his boss hired us to play at her cafe. But after that, what? No one knew about us, what our music was like, if we would work well in their venue, etc. It’s not like we had a manager. We were it!

I began asking people I knew for venue ideas, Alan and I made a list of places, we made some cover demos and began visiting local wineries, breweries and restaurants. We didn’t have a website or a business card at first, just an email address, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and links to our digital demos. If we couldn’t visit places or meet the person in charge of booking, I sent out emails. It made me nervous, both visiting and emailing, but I did it. Alan cold called places as well. I wasn’t courageous enough to do that.

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In most cases, the emails were not helpful. A few places got back to me and said they were booked for the season already or only wanted bands. Most ignored me. A couple actually booked us without meeting us first. Really, the successes were from all the places we went to and met the person in charge. I had to follow up with a “thank you for taking the time to meet us” email and ask if they wanted to book us. Yes, this felt pushy. Some places got back to us months later and said they would book us. In a few cases, I tried again after several months of no response and received a reply.

We are grateful for every gig we’ve had this year. In between gigs, we practiced a lot, learned many new songs, wrote a couple, designed a business card and built a website. We opened a SoundCloud account and kept posting on social media. I started learning the ukulele. I continued to contact places and researched new ones. We had a lengthy list of places we wanted to play at.

We wanted to play at Six Mile Creek Vineyard and were able to play there twice this summer. Treleaven Wines was another place that graciously gave us two bookings. The Trumansburg Farmers Market had us back this August. Bandwagon Brewery opened around the corner and booked us once a month through the end of the year. The Finger Lakes Cider House and Americana Vineyards were both venues Alan has been trying to get a chance to play at since he was doing solo shows. We connected with the folks in charge of both places but didn’t hear back. So we tried again. And both of them booked us and we are thrilled! The Cider House show will be Friday November 10 from 6:15-8:30 and Americana’s will be March 25 in 2018. We play at Bandwagon this Sunday October 8 from 2-5pm.

We have since designed and distributed posters with our names, faces, upcoming shows and contact info in local businesses in Trumansburg and Ovid. I haven’t even done Lodi or Interlaken yet. But we need to create new ones for next month and start passing them out in another week. It’s non-stop.

I have a lot more to learn. Currently, I have a to-do list that is super long. I need to improve our website and add a “subscribe to get email” feature. I am watching Lynda.com tutorials to learn about graphic design. Tumblr is a platform I haven’t tackled, but should, we need new photographs, some videos on Youtube, new cover demos to send out and a holiday EP recorded. We are also seriously contemplating a combined private art/craft show and Inner Crazy concert at our house for the holidays. This will push us out of our comfort zones again, but could end up being fun and a great way to meet with friends and make money at the same time.

Do you have an arts-related business? Are you in a band? I’d love to read what you’ve learned.

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Day 3: Walking on Sunshine

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One of the ways I fuel personal creativity is by immersing myself in Nature. I am fortunate to live in the middle of farm fields with hills, valleys, lake and sky out every window I look.

This morning I took a truly satisfying walk. I stepped out of the door into the cool sunny embrace of the day. I walked slowly, taking in the cornfields that the farmers have been harvesting, some already bare, some still standing. I saw the lake faraway, reassuring me that something is right in this world. The Amish farms, tidy and exuding industry and old-fashioned wholesomeness, were to my right as I walked down the hill. I could hear a killdeer shouting, crows gossiping and crickets singing a slower, cheerful early fall song. Doug the dog at the small house near the bottom of the hill stood sentinel and simply watched me. I continued carefully on by so as not to work him up. The sun warmed my right ear and my neck, the slight breeze held the edge of a chill. I remembered what my therapist told me last year: to take walks and just observe sight, sound, scent and relax into my surroundings. So I did not hurry and attempted not to think about calories burned or steps walked.

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In the nestle of the hollow, I heard rustling of small fauna within the shelter of the trees and breathed in the sweet scent of decaying leaves. The creek was very low, nearly dry. As I came up the hill on the other side I noticed the hay rounds had been removed. I guess I should’ve snapped a shot of them when I had the opportunity. Maybe next year. After the shade of the wooded area, the sun warmed me considerably and I pulled off my sweatshirt, slinging it around my waist. An Amish buggy approached and a young woman with sunglasses waved as she passed, her black horse carrying her away. The sound of their buggies always causes me a bit of a fright. I guess I expect the grim reaper instead of a good Amish. I chalk it up to my overactive imagination. When I reached the corner where the horses stared at me I turned and headed home.

It was as if by doing an about-face the weather changed personalities. Out of the South a strong wind blew into my face and I walked uphill with dried corn stalks flying at me as the farmers harvested.

Trying not to get bits in my eyes, I squinted against the now glaring sun and kept my mind on home. The romance from earlier had definitely flown. As I passed the lower farmhouse, Doug barked twice to let me know he wasn’t fooled by my lack of interest. At last, I hauled myself into the shade of the driveway and felt an overwhelming sense of love and gratefulness for this house that shelters me from Nature and all her moods. I was definitely ready to be productive with the rest of the day. Indoors, that is.

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Tell me about your walks and what they mean to you. I’d love to hear where you go and what the landscape is like where you live.

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Day 2: Ukulele and Me

The ukulele is a pop thing over the past few years. Since I don’t listen to enough pop to know if one particular song or star launched the current craze, I will just talk about the ones I am aware of. Twenty One Pilots has a cute little ukulele video of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You“, plus they feature ukulele in several of their own songs, like “House of Gold” and “Judge“. Meghan Trainor sang “Better When I’m Dancing” and “Just a Friend to You” and most recently she teamed up with Michael Buble to sing “Someday“. All include ukulele. My favorite is probably the late Brother Iz singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow“. That’s what really decided me on learning to play uke myself.

Last Christmas, Alan surprised me with my very own. I was thrilled but scared at the same time. What if I couldn’t actually play? As I do often when I’m afraid or intimidated, I procrastinated. Anyone else? But by July I knew I needed to open the case and begin learning the chords. I shut my library door not wanting Alan to overhear and laugh at my pathetic attempts at strumming and forming chords. When he did hear me, he was super encouraging and said he couldn’t believe how quickly I was catching on. He found me a few tutorials on youtube and that helped me learn better than simply going through a list of chords. I practiced “Just a Friend to You”, “House of Gold”, “Someday” and it felt great, even with mistakes. Then I decided to use the chords I could play to write a little love song, which we will eventually record and release. And now I’m learning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and getting ready to take on more challenging chords. Being able to strum with Alan is lots of fun. I had to purchase another ukulele with a pickup so that I can plug into our sound system. And now we are getting ready to debut these ukulele songs at our next performances.

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We’ll be at:

Bandwagon Brewery (Interlaken) on Sunday October 8 from 2-5pm and

Ithaca Bakery on Friday October 13 from 6-8pm.

Are you learning to play a new instrument this year? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.

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