Work, Family, and Self – is there enough nurture for them all?

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Everything happens for a reason. There is a reason for this post being written the day after Mothers Day. Not the day before Mother’s Day, not on actual Mothers Day, but the day after.

The day after is a thing for me. When something big and blog-worthy happens, some bloggers rush to their laptops and write a post straight after the event, most will get their act together in advance, actually pre-write the post way before the event, and release it right on time. Not me, I always write the day after, sometimes a couple of days after, sometimes even later than that (cough, sometimes never).

Is this due to a lack of discipline?
Well, its complicated. There are many factors involved in this, but I don’t want to bore you any more than usual, so I’ll simplify things down to one plain fact: I lead a very fractured work life.

What does that mean?
A fractured work life is a life that doesn’t have much flow to it, it stops and starts, and loses it’s train of thought continually. My work week is like a large ice rink, work and non-work commitments are constantly slipping and sliding around, and intersecting each other at the most inconvenient times (much like the thoughts in my head right now). Writing sessions are interrupted by doctor’s appointments, work days are cut short by school concerts, printing jobs are put on hold when a call is made from the school nurse.

Working from home is a big part of the problem. It means that for better or worse, I tend to shoulder a larger proportion of family related duties than my spouse, from homework help and teacher conferences, to sick days and swim classes. In my already truncated work days, I average around two disturbances a day that take me out of my work flow, getting back into it takes a while.

There are days when I get frustrated and wish that I had started my business before I had become a parent. Would things have taken off faster? I’m sure I would have had more time  and energy to put into my ventures.

I’m sure you are finding this all incredibly uplifting. Stay with me!

So, what do I do on days like this, when it feels as if I am running, but not getting anywhere? How do I pull myself out of the rut? Well it can sometimes take a while, but here are some things that I find can help:

  • I get the **** out of my house. Anywhere else with free WiFi, and other humans is a better place to work, trust me.
  • I ignore all the self help advice that is offered by sage twenty somethings living on their parent’s loans, on Bloglovin. Instead, I  write down all my angst to get it out of my system, then forget about analyzing it until I’m in a better mood.
  • I stay away from my TV, read a book instead in the evening (books are my remedy for everything, they offer me escapism that TV just can’t), go to bed early, and then wake up an hour earlier the next day so that I can get an hour to myself to organize my thoughts and feel better.
  • I stay away from my phone, and go and talk to a friend in the flesh. Someone who can put up with my whining without wanting to hit me, and make me see the silver lining in my situation.
  • I tell my nine year old how I’m feeling, and get cuddles from her and the five year old. The best therapy ever.
  • If I have time, I do an hour of yoga. I know it’s counterintuitive to take more valuable time out of my work day, but on tough days this really helps me to think clearly.
  • Finally, I just ride it out, and try to understand that it will pass, just like all the other moments of frustration and self doubt did. Being a bit kinder and more forgiving to myself is something I’m still learning. Things are never going to be perfect, what is perfect anyway?

By the way, there is no way EVERRRR that I would write a blog post on Mothers Day. It’s sacrilegious as far as I’m concerned, I’m too busy completely being a mommy (and therein lies the crux of my problem)! I guess it would be unrealistic to hope for any kind of balance between my home and work life, but I’ll still work on it, and being a mommy is still worth it all.

Happy Day-After-Mothers Day!

 

What Happens When You Are Scared Of Success?

It is gray and gloomy, the rain is coming down in thick sheets outside, and I can’t believe that just two days ago I was frolicking amidst the Azaleas in my garden. What fresh madness is this?

Bad weather aside, I am feeling a little somber anyway today. I really shouldn’t be, I should be happy, excited, elated even, but I’m not.

I’m scared

Last weekend I took part in an indie craft fair run by these guys in Kensington, Maryland. Business was good, very good in fact. The Kensington folk seemed to like me and my products very much, and I sold out of almost everything. I must confess I wasn’t quite expecting that, I still have two more fairs to go this Spring.
Perhaps I should have taken some time to appreciate this little win, but I have always been a bit of a worrier. I hurriedly ordered more shirts and onesies online, and realized that I will need to get a large amount of printing, ironing and sewing done by my next fair on Memorial Day weekend (This is the first time I have needed to make more stock in between shows!).

The Root of my Fear?

I always expected that someday I would reach the point where demand would outstrip supply and I’d need to rethink my production processes, but I never really allowed myself to think about it properly. I think sometimes I’m so scared of making that turning point from tiny kitchen table business to proper label, that I subconsciously sabotage myself.
I have never made much of an effort to contact boutiques and shops, because I’m anxious about whether I could keep up with their demands. I’ve never taken part in trade fairs because, what if someone likes my work and orders a lot of it, and I can’t make enough to keep up with their needs, and I have no proper printing setup…kids will be home soon….what do you mean ‘extra homework?’…there’s not enough time…gah!
See what I mean? Total worrier. I’m sure there are other worriers out there like me. Maybe we could form a support group, Small Business Procrastinators Anonymous, any takers?

Well I guess a much needed turning point is here at last. It’s time to start getting faster, more efficient, and more professional; but where do I start? Do I need to explore new ways to make my shirts? Do I need to find someone to work with me? What do I do first? I’m all questions and no answers. I think I’ll go and drink tea, write a list and start putting my concerns on paper. I’ll be back with some plans soon!

*All mentoring and advice is appreciated, and thank you for joining me on my strangely shaped learning curve.

 

Upcoming Spring Markets

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It’s that time again. The time of year when I start checking my weather app neurotically, line boxes of products up in the family room for everybody to trip over, and prepare my children mentally for the upcoming chaos. Yes, the Spring markets are here!!!
Now, I don’t actually do many markets. I know crafters that are booked solid every weekend through April, May, and June. Good luck to all you fine, dedicated, folk, may the sun shine bright for you, and may your wares sell plentifully. However, my enthusiasm for getting out there and selling products has been tempered by my enthusiasm for spending weekends doing stuff with my kids. When they are older, I will do ALL the shows, right now I’m on a very whittled down schedule. The schedule grows gradually as my kids do, I’m trying to find the right balance. Also, I’m still learning about shows that are out there, next year I want to do Handmade in Arlington for sure!

If you are reading this, and live close enough to the DC metro area to visit a market, do come and say hi! A vendor’s life can be lonely, so it’s good to meet people and make friends at these events. Speaking of which, here are the markets I’m doing this Spring:

  • Gala/Crest Indie Craft Fair -Sunday April 24th 11am-4pm
    Run by the Gala Artisans Store, this runs in conjunction with the Kensington Day of The Book festivities, and has kids’ activities.
  • ViVA Vienna – Sunday May 29th – Monday May 30th 10am-6pm
    Vienna VA’s memorial day festival is a big rollicking ball of fun. Apart from the market,where you can meet yours truly,  there are carnival rides, performances, and it’s all in my hood!
  • Old Town Arts and Crafts Festival – Sunday June 11 9am-6pm
    Run by Volunteer Alexandria and held on the waterfront, a truly beautiful location. The Torpedo Factory Art Studios, and plenty of restaurants and boutiques are nearby.

See you there? I hope so!

Putting Your Business’ Best Face On

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Don’t Instagram, Facebook, and the rest, do a great job of making our lives and jobs seem a heck of a lot more interesting than they actually are?

Instagram is my favorite, it puts sparkles on everything, even my messy, outdated kitchen with scratched up cabinets. It’s the photo equivalent of bright red lipstick, or rainbow sprinkles on a cake. I do make pretty t-shirts, but Instagram makes them look even prettier, and it kind of gives me an unwarranted aura of professionalism. We all want our products, and indeed ourselves, to be shown in the best light possible, especially when we are just starting out.

This year, I started to think more about my business’s image, and how to build a cohesive look for my brand. Up until now, I have been mostly focusing on just getting my products made on time, and not so much on how they are marketed to the public. My clothes labels were often hand made in a hurry (that should be my tag line –Handmade in a Hurry!)and totally inconsistent with the style of my business cards, and other marketing materials. When I sent customers their Etsy orders, I’d wrap them in tissue, stick them in a bubble wrap mailer, and Bob’s your uncle!

I want to be more slick and organized, but right now I can’t afford to go the whole nine yards, hire a graphic designer and give my image a huge overhaul. So, taking tiny baby steps, I discovered a few companies that could help me get started with branding.

  • First stop,  Moo.com, I really like their easy to use design services. I designed me some sweet square shaped business cards, and some stickers, and clothes labels, all with a consistent style and font, using bright glossy Instagram images of my work on them.  I’m also thinking of making a photo book of all my past designs, to use as a mini portfolio, with them.IMG_0741[1]
  • Then I customized a rubber stamp from Paper Source and Three Designing Women, so that I could spend less time slooowly hand writing my address on everything, and to give all my mail a cohesive and professional look.
  •  I put together a wrapping station for mail orders with all these new tools and rolls of bright yellow tissue paper bought in big rolls from DickBlick (yellow is a big obsession right now).IMG_0754[1]
  • Next, I’m going to go back to my textile design roots, to design my own signature repeat prints on fabric using Spoonflower.com. I already make my fabric labels with them, and would love to start using my own  fabric on bags, and as linings on products. It would tie products together nicely, methinks.
  • I have plans to print the same designs onto my paper shopping bags. Super excited about this.

I know all this stuff is just the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. But boy do the sprinkles make that cake look more inviting, and taste better. Pour on those sprinkles, baby! I’ll be back with photos of the fabrics.

Parenting, Working, and Not Working

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I am more thankful than usual that it is a Friday, this week has been nothing but an uphill struggle.

First of all, there was/is the dark, dank weather, the howling wind, and the general feeling that Dementors are floating about in my neighborhood.
Then, seeing as it is Springtime (can you sense my sarcasm?), my nine year old has been sent home twice in one week with red, swollen eyes,a scratchy throat, and the need to ask questions every 30 seconds. Really, Spring? You were supposed to be my favorite season. A season of hope, warmth and optimism. We are done, I’m sticking my tongue out at you.

Also, for some reason, my laptop has gone mysteriously missing (I’m wondering whether to blame the kids or the Dementors). Too many interruptions to my work-flow, bye bye productivity.

 

I could write a post about work-flow, what it is, and how to get back into it; but I have to pick up my kids from the bus stop soon, so that will have to wait until next week. See what I mean? Absolutely no time to achieve a flow.

Instead, here is what I have managed to achieve this week: 

  • I printed, ironed and sewed a  batch of 3-6 months onesies in softer colors, after realizing that I had completely and stupidly forgotten to print that size altogether during my big printing session!
  • I made an inventory spreadsheet, so that I don’t make as many stupid mistakes the next time I print.
  • I ate a lot of chocolate to ward off the Dementors, seeing as I can’t produce a fully formed Patronus charm. In the interests of full disclosure, I also ate Sriracha potato chips, and my five year old’s alphabet cookies, it’s been that sort of week.
  • I worked on my curriculum for the Summer camps, while also researching projects on Pop Art for a local elementary school’s fundraiser night. This led to me getting a bit carried away on Pinterest, and forming fully fledged obsessions with Yayoi Kusama, and medieval jewelry, oh dear.
  • I drew in my sketchbook for two evenings, even though I promised myself to draw every evening. I did, however, convince my five year old to sleep in his own bed every single night. Score!
  • Books: I got half way through Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and a chapter of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, when I should have been sleeping, and listened to two thirds of The Half Blood Prince in my car. Consequently, my mind is a big, hot mess of fantasy and I’ve been having some fairly disturbing nightmares.
  • The nine year old and I discovered nail polish that looks like sprinkles, and devoted way too much time to it.
  • I have been drawing on mugs with Sharpies because it is fun. I’m trying to convince myself that it is research. I would like, at some point in the future, to start putting designs on ceramics, so maybe I wasn’t just frittering away time.
  • I have been playing at graphic designer, and ordered some new business cards, stickers, and tags for the Spring shows.
  • I went to the library to return some books, so I wouldn’t have to pay any fines, and got sucked into a book fair for an hour (I didn’t know about it, I swear!) when I should have been working.
  • I spent an inordinate amount of time applying compresses to the nine year old’s eyes, putting drops in them, listening to her woes and, of course, feeding her woes. Apparently, the best thing for feeding woes, is grilled cheese.

My children are fed and well (apart from the red, swollen eyes), and I beat them at Just Dance last night (every little victory counts).

Sigh… hello weekend, please try not to bring snow. Next week is a fresh start, with hopefully more flow to it.

2016 Summer Camp Themes (a sneak peek!)

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(memories from past Noctiluna summer camps)

 

This week, I have been holed up at home, researching and writing lesson plans for this year’s summer camp. I have been having an intense and passionate relationship with every art teacher’s muse,  Pinterest (I love you Pinterest, mwah, mwah!), Google and my local library. Next week I shall actually leave my snug little workroom, poke my head out into the sunshine(you had better be there for me, sunshine), and stalk around a few galleries and museums, blinking like a mole that has just pushed it’s way above ground.

All in all it has been a pretty satisfying and productive week. I often complain that I miss teaching at a school, and being in a classroom every day. However, if I ever do go back to teaching at a school, this is what I will miss the most about my current job: Absolute and utter freedom, beautiful and blissful freedom to create my own curriculum, write lessons the way I think they should be written, choose themes and artists without any constrictions, and bring some flexibility to my classes…THIS I like.

And let me just say, I write a pretty sweet curriculum. I like words, and research, and planning, and I’m passionate about art education and kids. Someone should just go ahead and offer me a job as Grand Art Curriculum Champion of the World (does such a job exist?). Not boasting, just putting the word out.:)

Here is a quick stream of consciousness-style preview of some of the things we will explore this year at the Noctiluna Summer Camps.

Typography, graphic design, powerful messages and slogans, Shepard Fairey, Christian Jackson, minimalism, fairytales, illustration, bookmaking, illuminated manuscripts, Gothic lettering, The Gutenberg press, the Book of Kells, Irish folk tales, stencilling, food art, Yayoi Kusama, polka dots and patterns, sticker installations, Sonia Delaunay, textile design, Japanese indigo seascapes, Peter H Reynolds, printmaking with found objects, block printing, murals, public art, impermanent/transient art, Banksy, Ed Roth, graffiti, Parkour, line drawings by Picasso, Fauvism, Pigasso v Matisse (the book), art battles, color theory with OK GO….and the list will go on.

Well, that’s got me all fired up. Can’t wait to teach this year’s camp, better get back to those lesson plans! Happy Friday to my teeny tiny smattering of readers!!!

 

How The Spring/Summer 2016 Collection Was Made

My collection of Noctiluna products for Spring/Summer 2016 now almost fully exists, and here are some photos of them for you to see. Also, being in a caring and sharing kind of mood, I have included a list for you, of the stages that I go through in order to make these lovely things.  Read, gasp, and pray for me. Ha!

Stage 1. I order t-shirts, onesies, bags, cushion covers, and printing inks, and sign up for fairs until my business credit card actually starts whimpering for me to stop.

Stage 2. Preparing screens and washing them in the bath tub, then manically scrubbing the bath tub down so that the kids don’t get turned into day-glo mutants overnight.Then praying that the screens turn out okay, so that I don’t have to start the whole process all over again (it has happened before!).

Stage 3. The shirts arrive and I start squealing excitedly, and organizing them into size and color groups….all over my living room. Everyone in my family hates me a little bit.

Stage 4. Screen printing takes place on my dining table over a roughly three week period. I get mad if there are any dirty dishes in the sink when I need to clean a screen. Kids who come over for play dates ooh and ahh at the shirts. However, my family properly hate me now.

Stage 5. I iron every single product to fix the inks, while watching every single costume drama ever made in the universe. After a week my right arm feels heavier than my left, and I can’t stop thinking about Mr Darcy. My husband wears slightly crumpled shirts to work (sort of reminds me of Darcy), and the kids have started using words such as countenance, affectation and disposition in their everyday language.

Stage 6. The sewing begins. This is when the most cursing is done during production. Sewing is not something that comes easily to me. I have fantasies of taking my machine out into the yard and attacking it Office Spaces style.This stage is long and painful. Much chocolate is consumed.

Stage 7. The photo session. Oh my god. Why is it always windy when I decide to photograph my collection? Is some kind of cosmic joke being played on me? I struggle through an amateurish day of taking acceptable photos, and then another day  of painstakingly uploading them to Etsy and my website, and trying not to accidentally delete them all.

Stage 8. I finally start clearing my mess up properly, my family starts talking to me again. The Spring fairs beckon,  the weather gets nice, my shirts are packed away into satisfyingly neat piles and I start worrying about why I didn’t make more stuff!

Note: My love for screen printing overcomes all the rest of it, so it’s all good!

Looking for Inspiration?

 

For a long time I have been interested in the idea of inspiration, and how it is referred to in relation to artists and their work processes. Is the idea of the artist struck by inspiration sometimes a  romanticized ideal, invented by art historians to explain a lot of hard work, passion, unusual perspective, and skill? Being an artist is sometimes viewed as a god given talent, but like anything else it is a learnt skill that takes practice and training to get better at. Being able to stay motivated and inspired in a creative profession is the same.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines inspiration as: The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Being hit by inspiration does happen, but not always in the way people think it should. In my experience, inspiration doesn’t often come crashing at me like a bolt of lightning. I wouldn’t really describe it as just a split second ‘aha’ moment. For me, feeling inspired is just the result of a series of actions and events. My big ideas happen after long explorations, or a forced break from my normal routine, or a step outside my comfort zone. My inspiration is often self engineered.

This brings me to a book I found at my local library called Creative Block.  I love this book, and want to share it with others because it gives you a look into the work processes of real artists. It is full of  practical advice and projects that can keep you ticking, and help you reboot during a creative block.

One artist in the book mentioned that when she is stuck, she gets five or six sheets of paper and draws all over them, the way you would doodle over a school  binder, no worries about the outcome, just keep doodling. Then when you are done, sit back and analyse the results, are there any recurring motifs or styles on the pages, what insights can you gain from this?
Another artist mentioned setting yourself automated daily tasks that force you to keep going no matter what. After reading this, I started doing a combination of these two ideas every night, drawing spontaneously in a sketch book after the kids go to bed, sometimes in front of the TV. It has been a really nice experience not having to worry about whether the drawing will turn into anything.  I plan to keep on drawing every night, and take on a few of the other projects from the book that look interesting. I have already started an exploration into drawing with embroidery, that has been strangely satisfying. This has all made me feel stimulated and happy and that in turn has increased my productivity, all good things.

There have been many points during my career, far more than I care to share, when I have thought “What the hell am I doing?”, and when I have experienced a genuine lack of direction or purpose. So far, I have always managed to bounce back from these periods. The word my tutor at art school used most to describe me was ‘tenacious’ (That was in public, god knows what he called me in private.). Anyway, bouncing back matters, bouncing back is an important part of being human. We can’t always feel inspired and motivated, but getting tips for bouncing back is always welcome, thank you Creative Block.

 

The Wonder of it all

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This post is going to consist of very little writing because, well, the pictures say it all really.

I have been wanting to go to the Renwick gallery ever since it reopened in November to see Wonder. The Renwick and I have a history, it was one of my favorite haunts when I first moved to DC eleven years ago and I feel a bit possessive about it, okay? Every time a friend would tell me about how amazingly wonder-ful (ha ha)  the exhibition was, I would feel a ridiculous little twinge of envy, and a need to sulk and eat chocolate (because basically I am a big baby).
I finally got to see it on Saturday, and despite the heaving crowds, and one massive melt down courtesy of my five year old, it did not disappoint. I can’t even write about it properly because, somehow, I feel that my words couldn’t really do the art justice, and would end up diminishing the work in some way. So here are some images:

My nine year old daughter was so inspired by the work, especially Tara Donovan’s structures made of index cards, that I feel that I have to do a project linked to this at my summer camp. The nine year old wants to recycle and re-purpose everyday objects to make her art so let the grand hoarding begin. Watch out neighborhood – toothpicks, bottle caps, newspapers and drinking straws – I had better start cleaning out the garage to make space!

The Reality Of Working From Home

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I see a lot of articles, blog posts, and movies where well dressed, self employed people work from a beautiful chic cafe; sunlight filtering in through large windows, coffee and pain au chocolat set carefully at an artful angle next to their brand new laptop. I want to know who these people are, how I can achieve this beautiful lifestyle, and also how I can eat pain au chocolat for breakfast everyday without putting huge amounts of weight on. It’s not too much to ask for, is it?

I too am self employed, and yes, this means that I have a decent employer and pretty flexible work hours. It also means that my work seeps into every other aspect of my life, so I have to work from a variety of places. Are these places glamorous? Well, I have on occasion been spotted sporting rather stylish outfits and eating pastries in public, however, more often than not this would be at a Mother’s Day Tea at my son’s school (shortly before I would destroy said outfit with screen printing ink).

My work lifestyle is definitely not glamorous, it is weird and unpredictable, sometimes mundane, and often very fulfilling. This is why I want to share it with you as the antidote to all those perfect work scenarios that we see online.

Here are the places where I do my work.

  1. My Dining Room 
    AKA my studio. This is where I screen print while blasting loud music from my radio so I can ignore marketing phone calls and door to door salespeople during the day. Note: this is why we don’t host a huge amount of dinner parties, and have very cheap dining furniture.
  2. My Kitchen Sink
    An extension of my studio. The place where I wash my brushes, squeegees, and screens (after I wash everything else that was in there first, sigh).
  3. Waiting Rooms
    Where I write the blog posts. I spend a lot of time waiting.
  4. Sitting outside my son’s Tae kwon Do class
    A great place to do mundane stuff that doesn’t require too much focus, ie: ordering materials and designing spreadsheets (five year olds doing Tae Kwon Do is literally the cutest thing ever, I just can’t focus on much else at this time).
  5. The Library
    For Research. Oh who am I kidding, I mostly pretend to research and end up staring at new fiction longingly instead.
  6. At the School Bus stop
    This is always the place I am when very important phone calls reach me. Always.
  7. My Sofa
    Where I draw in my sketch book every evening, a habit that has helped me break out of many creative blocks, and discover much geeky TV. Thank you sofa.
  8. Wholefoods
    A place where parents of prospective students regularly reach out to me (“are you the art camp lady?”). Interviews and enrollment take place over free guacamole and chips samples, and impromptu parent-teacher conferences happen.
  9. Yoga Studio
    The think lab. Okay, I know this is a stretch, but if you think about it, a calm mind helps the big ideas flow later on in the day, so this is part of work, sort of, maybe.
  10. A Variety of Churches and Schools
    Where the camps actually take place. Lack of studio space has meant that I have met almost every pastor and head teacher in town. I’m pretty much famous now, you know.

 

That, my friends, is how working from home is done when you are an artist/designer/teacher/mommy/bottle washer/business woman, who lives in the suburbs and fights off suburban life every day. It’s the warts and all non-Chai Latte truth.

Now get me an assistant, a Rodarte dress, and a pain au chocolate now!!