People, Palaces and Pottery
This year I made it my goal to attend Maker’s Central in Birmingham, England - so I could finally meet a lot of the people who have inspired me to keep going with my small business and fine tuning what I’m doing as a potter. One of the things that had me getting really pumped for the trip was that I was preparing special pieces for several makers who had really been inspiring to me the last year or two. For Maker’s Central I had several makers in mind to gift pieces to. The Red Smith, Al from Al’s Hack Shack, Steve House, Karoline Hinz, and Jessie Uyeda. These folks are all content creators and really great motivators for different aspects of what I’ve been doing creatively as well as personally. I'll give you links to all of their snazzy stuff in the info below as well.
THE RED SMITH
Red was the first creative that I purposefully watched on youtube. If you remember, Ben was the catalyst for our small business and his obsession was with woodworking videos. I had a hard time watching the playlists that Ben regularly watched. The reason was that Ben really was gaining knowledge for his new discipline. I hadn’t found mine yet and found most of the woodworking videos a bit boring. In my quest to find channels that would strike the right chords, there was a suggested watch of The Red Smith. He was the first creator that really caught my attention and I watched with a purpose. I hadn’t ever subscribed to a youtube channel and I immediately subbed to him. There is just something about his work and style that I’d never seen before. He was the first blacksmith I’d seen and even the first leatherworker. These were both very new things in my world view. In my brain the only people who did that type of work currently were bag manufacturers and people that were really into historical towns and festivals. I owe a lot to him taking the time to post his projects or I may never have stuck with the community or being active as an artist. It’s funny how things work. I made a video of the mug that I made for Red.
AL’S HACK SHACK
Later I came across Al – we were a fairly new channel and business and when he came along and introduced himself to the community. His initial video really made things click for me in my head. I adored him from the start. He took a project that for most would be long drawn out and possibly boring video series and turned it into an adventure story. Instead of having a year long showcase of how he built his small shop, lovingly call the Hack Shack, he made it so fun. He kept it to one video and made that his introduction. I am Al, I am silly and fun and I break all of the rules. I immediately sent him a message and was totally on board with his story. He even has one of our hand printed t-shirts from when we were first playing with youtube. The power of story is prevalent in all of the videos that Al puts together and there is so much joy wrapped up in the small packages he delivers.
By way of Al, I found out about Steve. One thing that I hold so precious to knowing Al and Steve, is that I got to see them pretty early and have been privileged to see how much they have grown in that short amount of time. Steve is one of the hosts of my favorite podcast, Fools with Tools. He along with Al and Brett McAfee run the podcast. It’s funny, inspiring, and always has some really great topics to think about while you work in your studio or while you are driving. I spend a good bit of time in my studio throwing and it’s always a delight when I have a new episode to listen to. I started out with podcasts listening to NPR shows and This American Life, but it’s so much more compelling when you can listen to folks who are in the same place as you creatively or vocationally. Steve brings such a sincerity to everything that he does and is very open about his life and journey as a blacksmith. I’ve taken so much from his experience that I really felt I honestly owed him so much more than just a silly mug. He spent the last two years building his career and working toward leaving his day job to be a full-time blacksmith. He was even so generous as to order several mugs from me when I was first starting out selling my works. It is so inspiring when someone is willing to part with their hard earned money to buy something from you – even more so when what they buy from you is chosen as a gift for the people that they love.
Karo as we lovingly call her, is an amazing sculptor based out of her studio in Germany called Berlin Prop Shop. I've really enjoyed getting to know this woman and how she crafts her ginormous set pieces for theater and movies as well as how she creates these wonderful costumes of animals. Her work is really stunning but the value I have gained by her patreon blog is unmeasurable. She has brought us into her studio and journaled about her weekly triumphs and challenges. It is an inside glimpse most of us don't get from following people on instagram. Instagram is often a place to polish photos and showcase a brand or a finished product - but with patreon some creatives like Karo like to give their patrons and inside account of what's going on, they ask for feedback or just give us an idea of what's coming to look out for from them. I love Karo's approach to being very candid with how she is working through unique challenges that a working prop builder would have to get through. It has helped me to start really investigating some of the more challenging things a full time potter might experience as well. It's like an education that I receive every week. She is very open and very kind with her responses with me. It has helped me tremendously to ideate what I would like my studio to be eventually. When I made her mug I was really nervous. She is an amazing sculptor and I don't want to give her something she would be happy to use in her space. So I rigorously researched how to achieve the look that she liked with pieces that she kept around her. So, just like normal, I asked her, 'what is your favorite beverage and what do you drink it out of?' Here is the link to the video on the builds for Karo, Al and Steve's mugs.
Jessie has just been a light since I met her in NYC a few years ago. She is such an approachable person and such a light. I remember thinking when I first met her, ‘OMG self, that’s Jessie Uyeda and I’m actually talking to her. We’re walking around MAKER FAIRE WITH IJESSUP AND SHE GAVE ME A STICKER.’ I don’t fan girl often, but it was a big moment for me. That day I met quite a few of Ben’s “maker heroes” but this was the first time I was meeting someone I was inspired by. She did not disappoint. She was warm and friendly and inquired about our little business; she was interested and so generous. The funny thing about social media is that you get a pretty good idea of people based on the things they share and how they interact with other people. I saw her joke with the folks in private maker facebook groups and saw her offer encouragement to everyone. The biggest thing that struck me about Jess is her willingness to drive across the country on a whim and just take up residency wherever she is needed. I remember at one point thinking, man, I used to be like that. What happened to me? Then I realized, I happened to me – I got comfortable and stopped pushing myself to find adventure. When I saw her do things like travel over 8 hours north to visit with a brand and then stop in to visit Anne of All Trades – I was even more convinced I could travel to England without much of a plan and without a companion. She was a huge influence for me having the confidence to go. Here is the video of how I made her mug.
I have seen palaces. And I’m not talking Royal Palaces, although – when I was in England I did see one of those. I’m talking about the palaces people build for themselves – their workshops, their studios, their libraries, their nooks. Mine is my little pottery studio in my home. My dad's is his garage. Ben's is his woodshop. I saw one such palace in Cleveland right before my big trip across the pond. My friend Ellen came into town for a few days before she attended Spring Make in Cleveland, Ohio. We showed her around our city and she wanted to head to see this crazy bicycle museum that we didn’t even know existed. It’s called Bicycle Heaven and is owned by Craig Morrow. Talk about a palace for anyone enthusiastic about bicycles. This guy has created a space to house his collection, pay homage to the history of the industry and build/repair bikes for customers. Not your typical museum where things are super clean and organized, this is a sculpture in and of itself. Stacks and rows on rows of bikes and parts. Things hanging from the ceilings, collages of cogs and chains and spokes and seats. It’s an impressive sight. This man was paying homage to his passion and his life story all in one. There are photos of him, memorabilia from his life - juxtaposed to movie memorabilia and cycling history. It was unique and inspiring to see the space and to realize that people work there customizing bikes for people with a similar passion to Craig.
Knowing I would get the chance to hang out with Ellen again as well as see some of my friends who were in town, I took a quick drive up to Cleveland to visit that following weekend. It was a litmus test for how I would feel about going to England for the same purpose. Part of the excitement was that I was going to go see my friend Tim Cunningham’s workspace and the Cleveland maker palace known as Soul Craft. Tim runs his small business, The Urban Forge out of this location. It’s gritty, dirty, gigantic, open, and found in an industrial part of Cleveland. A giant space that was once home to a manufacturing company (can't remember what though, we'll just say brooms...), there are all types of artists who use the space as their studio. Downstairs you’ll find floating beds, a kitchen, a large swing and even a small room dedicated to Ghostbuster’s enthusiasts. Further through the building you’ll happen into a Motorcycle shop called skidmark garage, focused on uniting new and old gearheads. Upstairs is the Soul Craft space that is dedicated to woodworking, blacksmithing and some additional technologies like 3D printing. Ellen even found a dusty sewing machine in one area. Tim manages blacksmithing classes and hosted an open forge that evening. It was just brilliant. Jess, who I described above, was there along with my friend Ellen as well as Brett. It was so nice to spend some time with them and build confidence about my coming trip to England. Ellen and I had spent some time making Jess’ mug and we were both excited to tell her about it. Ellen was heading with Brett and Jess, after Spring Make, further north to Jimmy’s upstate New York ‘palace’. This is a location I hope to go to some day. On my drive home I thought about what it was going to be like to go to England for the first time and how the nerves I had about going had all but dissipated after my time in Cleveland. I had been really worried I'd go to England and no one would like me or I would feel like a wallflower the whole time. I didn't want to go to England and waste my money and time, but Cleveland really injected confidence into me.
During my last bit of time at home before my trip, I finished up the mugs I would be taking with me, wrapped up my 'maker coins' and got all of my travels sorted. When I made it to England I spent a day in London and did see the Queen’s Buckingham Palace. It was nice and beautiful, but it did very little for me emotionally. Similar to how I feel when I go to capital buildings or you see a manse that was built by people who would never get to enjoy living in the thing that was made. They are beautiful works and full of masterful craftsmanship and can create a bit of awe and wonder for how they were made, but feel a bit empty in comparison to some of the other palace’s I visited during my time. I had a lot more questions about an individual's choice in surrounding themselves with things that were important to them and had a story. But that's just my point of view. As I've gotten older, I'm much more interested in individual stories than that of iconic figures in history. Real people don't have all of their battle wounds polished away for history books.
After London I headed by train to Birmingham for Maker’s Central and then hitched an unexpected ride with my friends Jake Thompson, Andy Birkey and Jamie Page to a landmark called Stonehenge. Although not a palace, it is a marvel in its own right. The fact that a village of people built this ancient calendar and it is still a mystery as to why - is astonishing. For such a feat of engineering that there is no solid record is bewildering. There are plenty of theories and ideas as to what the space was used. Today we have things like Youtube to showcase our stories and tell the steps that it took to complete a project. There is no real reason why anything today couldn’t be catalogued and archived for people in the year 3000. How much have we lost because traditions die and stories fade into myth? Speaking of olden traditions, the next palace I visited was called The Forge. It’s an active blacksmith shop run by a giant of a man named Alex Pole. He is the mentor to my friend Steve House who we were visiting with. As you can imagine, The Forge is dirty with thick coal smoke and loud sounds of hammers ringing. It is a beautiful thing. The Forge is located next to an apple orchard where sheep mingle among the trees. If you ever wanted to feel zapped back in time, visiting a place like this is certainly the key. The village that the forge is located in is in rural England and there are thatched rooves and barely any billboards or signage. It was heaven.
For my husband who is a woodworker he probably would have been in heaven at the next location. It was an old sawmill that is called Yandles. It has been operational since the 1800s and boasts an amazing amount of woods that get imported in as full trees and milled to slabs that are stored in their warehouses. It is quite a sight to see. We spent a day working with lathes in their classroom area and received a tour of the facilities. It’s amazing to see a place like this working to keep these crafts alive for generations after their mill was established. There is a whole section dedicated to wood turning and another area for fabric arts and yarn. The working mill is toward the back of the property and is nestled in beside a giant crane that is no longer in use. I think I overheard our host mention that even though the crane is impressive to look at, their modern day fork lifts can manage more weight than it ever could when it was in operation.
The final experience that I had in England that will have a lasting effect on my life was the chance to tour the Mulchelney Pottery. The thatched roof pottery and gallery were by far an overwhelming cool experience. Tucked away in the most rural space you can imagine, this tiny pottery with a wood fire kiln looked just like it did when it was started 50 years ago. The elder potter who established the space hasn’t been well. So, I wasn’t able to bend his ear, but I did get to meet Mark Melborn who was a student and is now transitioning to be the lead potter as Nick Rees retires. The space was so full of character and everything that you’d want to see from a pottery studio. Pots at all different stages of development, pieces and photos on shelves and tacked to the walls in a seeming Hodge podge of memories. I took it all in the best I could for the brief time we were there. I know all to well that this could be gone in a flash and never have the opportunity to see it again. The pots will last longer than the space they were created in and that seems so sad to me. Just like the story of stone henge some of the works created through-out the region and elsewhere have the same life – created by a person who will only live to see a glimpse of the time the piece will carry on for. Maybe that is what to me seems so interesting about working in materials that will last long beyond us. Stone, Metal, Clay. Pretty profound to think on.
So, there it was, my month in people, palaces and pottery. It was an incredible and informative time that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recreate. I’m glad to have had the time and ability to go and see so many great places. Most importantly I was able to meet the folks that have sustained my creativity and fed into the inspiration. I met so many more people and there are so many more stories to share about my trip. I'll definitely be revisiting little nooks and crannies of my time in England as I build out some more projects and continue the Mugs for Makers series.
In Christmas of 2016 I saw a friend attach an outline of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to one of her christmas mugs and my brain exploded with possibilities. I immediately started researching how I could use this process in the future of my pottery. I love branding, I love graphic design, I love clean crisp lines, and I love vector art. It's been my career for what feels like forever and I absolutely love the idea of customizing my hand made goods by combining that history and love. This 'Rudolph' moment drove me for the next 2 years to develop my technique for adding custom badges to my hand thrown pieces. Early on, I envisioned this as a way to make my pottery feasible for the long term financially.
As I progressed with being able to throw somewhat decent looking pieces I tried to think about how I could stamp or carve custom badges onto the front of my pieces. I tried carving in wood block, but that felt like it was a lot of time and the opportunity for the woodblock to wear and no longer be usable was of high probability. Also, I wanted to easily recreate the wood blocks as needed and adjust or customize them. So, I started researching 3D Printing. Joel Telling (3D Printing Nerd) had a great video on how to simply create 3D extruded cookie cutters from illustrator files, using Adobe Photoshop. These applications were right in my wheelhouse - so I immediately ordered a 3D printer. I ordered the CR-10 from gearbest and it was super easy to set up. I made a video of how easy it was to set up even with a toddler in the room.
Next I found vector artwork of my favorite memorable nerdy icons. From Comic book characters to Video Game characters - I wanted to test my process with things I wouldn't mind keeping for myself. So started the nerd mugs. My goal wasn't to sell these, my goal was to use these as a jumping off point to make custom logo mugs and more intricate pieces. When I did my first successful batch of these, I handed them out to some of my favorite makers. One such maker was Izzy Swan. I had been really enjoying his business ethos and his approach to the community. He was very easy to shoot messages too and really seemed to love that he got one of my early pieces. He's a pretty big guy, and I underestimated how big. When I met him I was surprised and a little embarrassed that his captain america mug looked like a mini mug in his hand. None the less, he was grateful and used my creation. Not long after he issued me a little challenge. That little mug wasn't cutting it and he was looking for a larger version. Thus began the quest to throw larger, make bigger badges, hone my technique and get better at making handles.
Step 1 for me wasn't the badge part since my 3D printer software could scale things up as needed, it was my throwing that needed work. I was pretty decent at throwing 1lb lumps of clay, but for a vessel that needed to be at least 22 oz or larger, I needed to throw larger lumps and taller forms. This took a good bit of practice. So, every batch of mugs I made I threw increasingly larger izzy size mugs. The first one made it to 14 oz, then 16 oz, then 19 oz. I was getting close.
Step 2 was perfecting the glaze on the badges. If I dipped the entire vessel, I found that the glaze, if too thick would hide all of the detail in the badge. I tried brushing the glaze on but it was uneven in application and I didn't like the look on the actual mug. Next I tried applying just an underglaze and dipping, but depending on the dipped glaze it wouldn't show the underglaze well. Finally, I started experimenting with wax resist. This seemed to be the ticket for me. Glaze what I wanted to be certain colors, then apply the resist and dip in the final glaze.
Step 3 was to put it all together. As I was learning my process I was doing different works by request and each batch was coming out better and better. I knew by the start of this year, I was ready to make the final Izzy mug. I had enough different techniques under my belt that I thought I could make an epic looking mug. So, Feb 17th I threw the largest mug I've ever thrown and applied a giant handle to it and a giant izzy cartoon. I was so proud and happy. Next would be waiting for it to dry for Bisque and then glazing.
The hardest part about pottery for me is the patience, I'm not able to sit around much and waiting is really difficult. I like to have pieces available to work on at all different stages of the process so I never get too bored or anxious for a next step. It keeps me motivated and keeps me trying new things. So while the final Izzy mug sat and waited, I was already developing my next project. If you are following my instagram you'll see what I've been keeping my mind busy with.
When the Izzy Mug was finally able to be glazed I took my time and planned out what glazes I wanted to use and how. I filmed as I went so I would have a record (in case something went wrong) and then I placed it in the kiln one last time. 28 hours later I was unloading one of the best pieces I'd ever made. Maybe it was all of the anticipation, but I was just so giddy by the result. Today, I received word via an unboxing by Izzy on his instagram that my mug arrived to his address safely - and joyfully. I'm so excited that my year-long project is over and that it was so fruitful in all of the learnings.
This project pushed me to get better at so many techniques and helped me to develop my approach in ways I wasn't expecting. It has made me a much more confident potter, especially in areas I had previously been struggling with. I'm so happy that the challenge lead to this result. I'm so happy Izzy has a mug that fits his hand now.
Bring on the Coffee
I have news. I have big news. I have inspiring, exciting, fun, satisfying, goal achieving news. Just as soon as I set my mind to wanting to move my pottery to the next level, the universe answered my thought with a connection. But wait...let me back it all up to set the stage for you, in case you need a recap or this is your first time here...
The last three years I have been honing my skills as a potter. The first year was as a brand new mother with a brand new baby, I had already invested in tools to start doing pottery but I was struggling to do it. (technically I started in 2013 and gave up) Pottery is hard and you need some help figuring it out, trust me - youtube is amazing, but if you can't get your clay centered you may just need some guidance like me. I was pretty depressed after having Carver, I was struggling and needed something for myself and Ben encouraged me to try to get back to pottery. Fortuitously, a friend of mine (sarah camm) posted that her sister (suzanna) opened her pottery studio called Four Sister's Pottery - so I went to them for guidance and help in getting myself and my clay centered. It was the best decision I could have ever made. Seriously. After taking a couple of lessons from them I was all in. I was obsessed. Clay was my medium in college as a sculpture major, but throwing never interested my chaotic artist brain until I needed it. Oh man, I needed it.
Ben moved my wheel to my old office and I made that my studio. I started buying clay like a hoarder. I wanted to try EVERYTHING. I experimented in that studio like a mad scientist. I slipped and scored and slipped and scored and made some really ugly things - it's embarrassing how ugly. Then suddenly last year it all kind of came together. The analogy is so much like the actual process of centering clay. When you first put your clay on the wheel head it pushes you around, reluctant to get into position. Then suddenly it gets easier to hold and starts to allow you to relax and enjoy the feel of it moving against your hands, no longer fighting you but finally resting in it's place at the center of your wheel. It's like a magic moment where it all just comes into place and that's what last year felt like for me. I finally started having a vision for what I wanted to do. I started setting goals and selling my first few pieces, slowly gaining confidence.
In the spring of this past year I went to my first ceramics conference. It was NCECA and it was again, very fortuitously being held in Pittsburgh where I live. My ceramics professor 'greenie' was there and it was so wonderful to see him. I walked around feeling like I found my tribe and I didn't even have to talk to anyone to know it. I was infatuated with the work and the talks and I was so alive in it. I remember coming home and feeling like I found my path. I loved my work and what I'd been doing in the print industry, but this was so different of a feeling. It was like...wow...people do this for a living and it is a lifestyle. I suddenly had visions of selling our house and moving to the country and digging my own clay out of the earth, and throwing in my barn in the back with my goats and cats and donkeys around me...Ok, ok, I'm getting ahead of myself...so I started setting little goals after that and big ones too, but let's focus on the little ones for now.
I have these friends that own a little gift shop in Pittsburgh. Actually, they have a couple of locations now. I met Monica through my friend Amber, whom I met through my dear friend Lindsay. (I posted about her on my instagram account if you are curious about that part of the journey) Anyway, Monica's partner Kelly and I developed the logo for their shop and I've always loved what they were doing. Amber now works for Monica and Kelly at Love, Pittsburgh. (that's the name of the shop) When Amber would come over to play with clay I would tell her about my dream of some day approaching Monica and Kelly with a pottery product for them to sell. Last year my stuff was coming together and I decided I would set that goal for 2019. I wanted to approach them about it but wasn't convinced I was ready to. So I started posting my pieces on Etsy to see if there was interest. I sold quite a few of them instantly and was gaining confidence to reach out to Monica and Kelly. Little did I realize, Kelly was already interested in one of my products I was developing and reached out to me first. Kind of like a whole RomCom plot, but instead of love it's pottery...anyway...
I met with Monica and Kelly this week and they are so awesome that they are going to take a small order to test the product in their store. I'm so over the moon excited for the opportunity and so overwhelmed by this whole journey. It's like the universe knows I was meant to be a potter. Not only did I have a wonderful meeting with them, I'm also scheduled to meet a couple that own a coffee shop in the west end of town to also provide them with product. My buddy and fellow artist Chris Panza and his wife Noelle set that up for me. This whole this is so fascinating to me I have to pinch myself. I probably seem so crazy to some of you that I love mud this much. Seriously though, let's put some good vibes out the universe about that barn and the donkeys and cats. If that's how this works, I'm totally game.
It's a new year. Welcome to 2019. What does a new year mean to Slap?
For me personally, I get on the goal setting bandwagon. I know, how cliche'. I've been involved in some discussions with other small business owners and creatives that feel the new year is just hype and you should always be setting goals and regrouping on the regular. I concur, it is good practice to be always self evaluating - however - I like to have a hard date to really evaluate what is going on. What works for me is the beginning of tax season. I'm already looking back at last years finances, it's good to align my goals and what I think I'll be spending on and budgeting for at the start of the new year. This is a time for me to assess what worked last year, what fell short, how can we improve and where do we desire to be this year, what are some things we want to accomplish. Again, cliche' but it's good to testify your experience - even if it is just to yourself.
Here are two of our personal 2018 milestones that I think will help to shape 2019:
Ben finally built his work bench - wrapping it up at the start of 2019 and already enjoying the reward of having a clean workshop and space to work. It has inspired him tremendously to have this project completed and he's been busier than I've ever seen him as a result. Too often we get caught up in what everyone else is asking for that it's hard to do some housekeeping or updating. The end of last year was super busy for our pottery portion of our business but slow for the woodworking. This meant Ben could focus on tidying up and doing some much needed work in his shop for his shop. It was a goal that had nagged him for years and the build out is amazing. He used all of his woodworking skills and it is a beautiful testament to his growth as a craftsman.
I made my first teapot at the end of 2018. I know it doesn't sound like much of an achievement but it was a goal that I had set for myself to start trying last year and didn't expect I'd achieve it until later this year. However, my best friend was in town and asked me to try while she was there. So I threw the spout, the body, and the lid. I pulled the handle and then I waited for them to dry a bit. I assembled the pieces and a few weeks later I fired it - and guess what...it pours so nice and is a great 2 cup pot. I'm gifting it to my best friend when I see her next. The reason this was such a huge thing for me is that it required so many steps and everything has to fit well. The positioning of the spout is tricky to get a good pour, the size of the lid has to fit snug in the body so it doesn't fall off when you are pouring. You sometimes need a little bit of a push to do things that you were hesitant to do for lack of confidence.
Here are two goals for Slap for 2019 - I'm gonna put it in writing so I can revisit this post later:
I want to participate in two vendor events with my work and possibly sell work in a shop.
Ben wants to learn leather working. He was commissioned for a project by a friend that he is excited to do that is start to finish leather work.
Here are the things we will definitely be doing in 2019:
I'm heading to Maker's Central in May and am over the moon excited to see all of my UK pals. I have several pottery projects that are in the works and will be finally finishing my Izzy Swan mega mug. Ben is adding to his portfolio with leather working and will be creating a lot more pieces to come. He also is planning on continuing his wave of shop improvements by building me a slab table! I'm learning how to use Sales Force as a tool for our small business and am hoping to parlay that into a possible new career direction. It's out of my wheelhouse, but I'm so excited to be learning the tools to improve our little small business and hopefully help others along the way.
Cheers to the old year and into the new. Thanks everyone so much for being a part of our little maker journey. If you have any ideas for what we should try this coming year, or tools we can add to our studio, hit us up on insta- facebook- youtube or email us. I'm always looking for ways to grow.
******************* end of communication************** proceeding with personal milestone notes to reflect on
Last year we didn't move any mountains, but we did hit some milestones. For my own therapy I want to walk through some of them:
- Ben made a purple acorn box, his first segmented wood project
- I started my nerd mugs project
- I participated in the Sticker Challenge hosted by Brett and Laura
- My kiln had a melt down
- Ben fixed my kiln for me
- Ben made my valentines day purple heart guitar hanger
- we bought a 3D printer
- We went to our first forge visit with Tim @ the urban forge
- We met some great folks at the Lincoln event in Cleveland and I handed out my nerd mugs
- Ben made gun grips for the first time using stabilized blanks
- I went to NCECA for the first time
- Ben made his tumble-down Garth sign
- We did our first collaboration mug together
- I 3D printed a lot of nerdy things (helmets, dickbutt, sonic screwdrivers, logos, weapons, Groots)
- I made my first pottery sale!
- I tried a new clay body
- Ben made more bandsaw boxes
- We cleaned out the garage to be able to use it as a workshop space
- Ben set up the lathe
- I turned my first bowl
- Ben turned his first tool handle
- Ben made a mallet out of purple heart
- I photographed several weddings
- Jake and I started a podcast called Origin Point
- Ben made a zelda card box
- Ben made an elephant box for Tanda
- We went to Upstate NY and played on a slip and slide and hugged some wonderful people
- I started my Izzy mug project
- Carver saw the ocean for the first time
- We were on Fools With Tools Podcast
- We were spiffed twice on FWT
- Carver threw his first bowl
- Ben and I made a cowboy mug
- I had lots and lots of maker mug commissions
- We had our first blacksmithing experience
- Ben gave his first public speech at his best bud's wedding
- Ben made hand carved wooden scoops
- I threw lots and lots of pots
- Ben made a Desmond sign
- We had our first slap stuff together weekend
- Ben made letters for the craft nook
- I made my first sculpted mug
- Ben made his first lid for one of my pots
- I made a platter and luminaries
- Carver turned 2
- We had a surprise part for Ben's 40th birthday a month late :D
- We had so much fun and we loved it
2018 has been all about putting the work in. We closed in on the end of year with having hit some milestones and overcome some challenges. One takeaway that has been really apparent is that no matter what you plan at the start of a year - life will send you in some interesting directions and your success really depends on how flexible you can be when challenges come up. When we started Slap Stuff Together, we really thought that it was going to focus primarily on woodcraft and photography. My photography business coming out of 2017 had a nice growth and it also felt like that would be continuing to grow in 2018 along side of the woodworking arm. Ben had been solidly increasing his skills, he was gaining more customers, we had anticipated our partnerships to continue the way they had in 2017. However, what we expected and what actually happened are two different things. As important as it is to take a moment and reflect on a personal level, it's even more important take the time to self-evaluate when owning a business.
The first 2018 hurdle came with the break down of our truck. We had invested in a vehicle that would be a good tool for getting wood and projects delivered. However, we put our trust in a shoddy used truck salesman and that truck barely made it through 2017. As soon as we pulled in the driveway we found issues. The gas tank had a hole in the line leading to it. So the sales guy gave us the part to fix it... The panels started falling off in the summer as we realized that they were just held together by putty alone, there was actually no metal left on the wheel wells of the bed. The gas tank was still leaking, the exhaust fell off, and when we went to get it inspected for 2018 we were given the news that it wasn't worth saving. We were duped and I felt terrible. So, the money we had saved and put aside for trips and projects in 2017 for 2018 was now eaten by having to find a reliable vehicle. It was a major blow to my psyche. I knew Ben was pretty upset at the loss of his truck and this kind of soured my perspective of what 2018 would be for us. It was a low point to really start into the year. Then, my photography bookings were a bit non-existent for the first half of the year. The growth I had experienced in 2017 all but stopped in 2018. In some ways, I felt relieved. I was working full time and the previous year had been difficult to manage all of that time investment in that portion of the business. I really had to take pause and determine if the effort was worth it for the photography business. I needed to revisit my strategy. So I happily took on assisting my photography partner instead of hitting the pavement for more photo work. The other ball that dropped is that we had been excited about some of the partnerships that were starting to look promising from 2017. Unfortunately, illnesses and money became an issue for the other parties which waylaid what had been part of our vision. It just really seemed like nothing we had planned was going to work for 2018. It was all kinds of sour grapes early in the year.
We were on a budget so, we couldn't do many if any of the big maker events we had hoped to do. Instead, we decided to hit up meet-ups when they would be within driving distance and if we were going to spend money - we were going to use it on education first. Ben and I took a course with Jesse and Carrie Savage at the Center for Metal Arts in Johnstown, PA. It was so worth the little bit of money we invested to have our first forge experience. Ben loved it so much he's been really wanting to build a forge and has a lot of ideas on what he can add to our shop portfolio. We used our vacation time to head up to Upstate New York to hang with Tony and Mac for their slip and slide party. There we got to recharge our batteries midyear and connect with old friends and new. It was nice to include that into our summer vacation plans. In the fall we opened our house up for our first Slap Stuff Together Weekend which was a nice time. Folks came in to play with clay on and on the lathe and just hang out with each other. We're hoping to really get to know more people in our area that we can find commonality with and can't wait to see what that brings. It was nice to dip our toes in the networking arena a bit more.
For me a surprising thing happened. I think I became a for real potter, not for fakes, for real. It had always something zen for me to do so I wouldn't freak out about life, I'd work in clay from time to time maybe make enough to fire the kiln 2 times a year. Then, Ben made the suggestion that I should start posting my pottery to our slap account more regularly. I had posted a few things in 2017, but nothing major. I was hesitant at first but then started looking into other newbie potters and gained some confidence. This is what Slap is essentially about. Jumping over that fear monster and showing other people what it looks like to try something new and pursue something creative. So, with that I swallowed my fear and did a youtube live video in my studio while I worked. It was GREAT! People asked a lot of questions, I was able to show what I was working on and it really was a lot of fun. I pulled the trigger on an idea I had previously on making custom mugs using 3D printed stamps so we invested in a 3D printer. By midsummer I was sharing my kiln openings and selling my work for the first time and taking on commission work pretty regularly. Not only had this turned into a huge passion this year, but it was actually creating a more sustainable opportunity for us than my photography had ever been. Instead of being away from the house to shoot photos, I was able to create on my time and sell my wares. It was a big turning point for me and was a lemonade moment - no photography - then do something else.
Ben hit a milestone too. He built his first workbench this year (I'm not considering the lathe-stand a work bench). I'm talking about his beautiful work bench he completed at the end of the year. He took all of his learnings from the last two years and made himself and really nice bench that he will be able to take pride in and work on in his shop. It's something he definitely needed to do and I think proved to him that he was a capable woodworker. He has really come a long way with his craft - not that his first project was junk by any means - he just has really fine tuned it. Also during the year, a lot of his commissions were right in his wheel house. Mostly small keepsake carved pieces. A purple acorn box - a wedding card box themed like Zelda - an Elephant bandsaw box. He has some nice showcase pieces in his portfolio now. Where we had been nervous that losing the truck would make things extremely difficult, it turns out it was a great opportunity for him to think smaller and go for his strengths with his craft.
We also worked on a few collaborative pieces too. I liked them the most out of this year. Our first piece was a face mug I just wanted to make for fun. So, I threw the vessel and then Ben sculpted the face. We made a short video and that landed us a commission for a more elaborate one. It was a cowboy mug that turned out so friggin' cool! We didn't do a video for it, but it got a lot of attention on our Instagram account. Then, I 3D printed a Mjolnir and Ben assembled and painted it. It was a load of fun and we'll definitely be using it for a future project.
One of the most challenging things to realize looking back on this year is that my head was so wrapped up in what I'm used to - I go to work every day and I know what I'm supposed to do, I generally can predict my entire year. Owning a small creative business is not like that at all. You have to evaluate month to month what you are going to do or who you are helping. You have to be flexible, not focus on the speed bumps, use deviations to your advantage and always be innovating. I've never been more stressed out or more proud of us. Thank you to everyone who has helped us this year and let's have a fantastic 2019!
Slippin and A Slidin
In July my family took a little trip to up-state NY. It was a wonderful family trip. Carver was great in the car ride and really seemed to enjoy tent camping. The reason our vacation led us to this particular region of the country was for the annual Slip-N-Slide Party hosted by a really friendly couple and their family, the Rouleau Family.
We packed our car and got on the road heading first to go camping in the finger lakes. We stayed at a camp ground that was once an old airforce base. It was definitely a unique facility and we really enjoyed our stay here. We didn't do too much adventuring. Ben and I were pretty interested in just camping and relaxing at our site. Carver had a really nice time running around the site and playing in the play ground. It's not hard to entertain a toddler. We're going to really enjoy these early years with him as much as possible.
When we packed up camp we headed up to Mac and Tone's for another incredible leg of our journey. We met so many really fantastic people, played in the water, petted some chickens, enjoyed some picnic food and sang with a talented musician from Nashville. There was so much that happened just in the day of the party it's hard to capture everything. It was definitely a special trip that Ben and I will remember for years to come. It really solidified our belief in the maker community and helped us both to come a little more out of our shells. I'm hoping to expand more on this experience in future posts.
I'M A WOODWORKER NOW?!?
Last week I talked a little bit about starting a new hobby or process with the fact that I might have no idea what I am doing and using that as a mantra when I feel stuck or insecure about having to ask for help. This week let's talk about how Ben ordained me as a woodworker after my first bowl turning experience and how I applied previous knowledge of other processes into practice when trying a new skill.
Ben put a lot of time into getting the Lathe functional for us after it sat on the floor in the basement for a seemingly ridiculous period of time - at least for his aggressively ambitious wife here. For our 8 year anniversary, we gifted each other a set of Easy Wood Tools Carbides for our anniversary gift to each other. (How romantic, right?) I had done a good bit of research prior to even putting any wood on the lathe. I read up on what all of the different parts of the lathe were for, how to adjust them and made sure I knew how to hold my tools properly. The first object I practiced on was a piece of pine, just to get the feel for the tools and shake off any fears I might have had about combining a spinning block of wood and sharp tools. Happily I discovered that it's not that far off from trimming pots on the wheel. Same general rules applied; a steady hand, a general plan of the shape, confidence with tool placement and angle, don't press too hard, keep your tool sharp. The pine was not a friendly wood to start out with, so, we took a trip to woodcraft on Sunday and picked up some bowl blanks. Figured Maple to be specific for all of you wood junkies.
I remember when I first started trimming pots on my wheel, my nervousness about messing up my hard earned pot made me overly cautious and actually resulted in me marring my pieces or rushing to try to get to trimming meant I didn't fully recenter my pot on the wheel or the clay was too soft to avoid warping the shape. My steadiness wasn't the greatest and my perception was also a bit off as well. I had a hard time identifying by look and feel how thick my walls were and how much material I could actually remove from my base. It was frustrating at first but like anything the more you do it - the better you are. Eventually, I got much better at tapping my pieces to recenter them on the bat. I gained confidence in my tool placement. I learned what tools to use and how to keep them sharp enough. I learned when in the drying process was the best time to actually trim a piece. Spending the time to learn how to properly trim didn't just enhance my pottery skills, but definitely gave me a better understanding for the mechanics of turning wood on a lathe. This applied knowledge definitely lent itself to a successful first bowl. Similar to trimming pieces, I had to center and recenter due to using a faceplate and not a chuck. This is one area that I can imagine myself trying to do without my previous knowledge and probably getting very frustrated out the gate.
I've become very used to the flanged bowl shape that I decided to turn it on the lathe for my first bowl. I throw basic shaped bowls and not to completely knock them, I find them a bit visually boring and I really was't interested in making a wooden one. I hadn't even thought that it would be that difficult to turn one. It wasn't until I started sharing what the outside looked like that I started getting feedback that maybe I bit off more than I could chew. I didn't feel overly challenged or nervous about the form, I'm comfortable with how it looks and how it should feel, I know where I need to push into the material to move it the way that I need and where I need a more gentle touch to avoid collapsing or breaking the vessel. I hadn't even though that the choice of vessel was really advanced or complex. I realize now though, that shape felt effortless to me because I have spent a lot of time with that form on the wheel. I love the look of the base and the drastic curves, the thin rim allows to showcase a surface plane for glaze or, now, wood grain. The form itself is applied knowledge.
However, not everything came easy. There are a few things that are much different than what I'm used to. Like the fact that the vessel has to be securely attached to the lathe, much more than your lump of clay and you thrown piece. For Pottery, you use water and suction to get your clay to initially attach to your wheel. You use the pressure of your weight to command the piece to center before you start to form your walls. When you are ready to trim you tap the piece to center and then use small amounts of clay to secure it back onto the bat to trim. With the Lathe, I had to use a faceplate and screw it into the face of the blank. It's not perfectly round, so it's not perfectly centered when you do finally mount it to the lathe. It can be a bit intimidating when you have a light lathe and it's rattling and bucking and thowing your sharp tool about. When you turn it over to start hollowing the piece out you have to recenter your bowl and either glue it to a sacrificial base or you have to screw the faceplate into your base. I tried the glue up method first:
I giggle when I'm scared, upset, angry, happy, sad...it's my go to reaction. Valuable lesson learned in the first attempt - always wear proper PPE. After I got my composure back I found shallow screws and hesitantly screwed the faceplate back to the center of the bowl itself. The challenge with this is that unlike pottery, I now had to consider how deep the screws were into the base and try my best not to get too close to hitting them with my tool. The other thing that was a challenge were the leftover screw holes in the mouth of the bowl. I wasn't ready for how much they were going to be grabbing my tool and after my piece came off initially I was a bit gun shy. The other notable difference is that with Pottery, you don't really have anything in your way to position yourself to see inside your piece or any hinderance for applying your tool. If your lathe is short, your tail stock can make things challenging. I found myself getting a bit irritated as I was trying to round over the inside and angle my tool into the belly of the bowl, my elbow or the back of my tool would get caught up on the tail stock. (I think we need a bigger boat.) The other thing that was a bit of a challenge was that if you get tool chatter on a pot, you can just wet a sponge and work out the marks or you can burnish your piece. With wood, you either have to lightly remove the marks with your tool or sand for days. I'm sure as I get better, my tool marks and tear out will be less apparent - but it's definitely a difference.
There are some better things that the Lathe offers that my wheel does not. For instance, the banjo and tool rest are really nice to help steady my hand and my tool. I don't have to just use my physique to steady it. It helps guide it straight as well so my take away is much more even as I glide the tool across the surface. A process improvement with turning is that I can start and finish a bowl in the same day. Pottery is long and arduous in the journey to a finished piece. I love it, but if I were more in need of proof of my days efforts...turning might be a better option.
Future for me with turning looks like this - upgrade to a chuck if I'm going to turn more bowls, I want to get into segmented turning, I want to try my hand at dyes like John Clothier uses. I want to live a dusty life now! I definitely will be following through with combining the mediums together in some way in the near future. I have some sketches and I'm so excited to see where I'll go with it. When looking at things you do, where do the lines blur from one practice/craft/trade to another? Have you benefited from applying one skillset into another?
Heidi Jacobs is the Co-Founder of Slap Stuff Together, a maker's studio. She is also a Project Manager by day and part time professional photographer. If you would like to learn more about SST's adventures as a new start up you can follow them on Instagram or on Facebook. If you would like to learn more about their startup you can drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING
I have been after Ben for almost a year to pull the lathe out of the box so I can try my hand at wood turning. As a potter, I'm finding more and more ways to incorporate some of my other learnings into my process and have been obsessively watching turning videos and thinking about how I can merge the two disciplines to make some really cool pieces. The first obstacle is out of the way - the Lathe is out of the box and on a stand built specifically for it, thanks to the husp. The second thing is out of the way too, carbide tools. After reaching out to the woodworking community for some tips on what to start with and what not to waste my money on, I purchased a set of Easy Wood Tool Carbides, a Rougher and Finisher. (Thanks for the help Jamie Page!) I have a set of old 'spoons' that were my neighbor's growing up. He passed them along to my dad as he didn't have any children to pass them to. My dad passed them onto Ben and I. Not having a sharpening system yet, we went with the carbide tools to get started. Next challenge was that the jenky lathe tightening bolts were not locking the pieces in place. No one needs the tail stock moving on them while they are turning or the banjo sliding the tool rest out of place - DANGER! According to a text I received this morning at 1 AM, it's fixed now! (Look for first turnings on instagram this week hopefully) I'm ready to actually start putting edge to wood and I am so stoked. I've never been shy about trying new things by simply diving into them, I've greatly benefited from YouTube as a resource for when I'm stuck or reaching out to professionals when I am really stuck with technique. However that doesn't mean it's all smooth goings, I have to remind myself sometimes that it's ok if I ask a stupid newbie question or if something is not coming to me naturally. I have no idea what I am doing, is a comfort slogan when I'm frustrated with myself and helps me get over my pride to reach out to the people that do. Recently, a friend of mine posted about sharing her newbie journey via YouTube. She was getting some shade from an individual who thought she had no business showcasing her work on the platform. I wholeheartedly disagree. While documenting her projects and posting them for folks to learn from her/her mistakes, she's found great value in showing what it is like for a layman starting out with renovations. It's inspiring and helps to show other novices it's not that scary to actually make a mistake, you just problem solve through it. That YouTuber is The Carpenter's Daughter. If it weren't for folks like her I probably wouldn't have followed my curiosity into working with clay.
For 5 years I've been learning little by little. I didn't start off with all of the tools or a studio so I used what I had. No wheel meant I hand-built pieces and made pinch pots, when I progressed to the point that I wanted a wheel, I researched how to build one. My dad came down to help me pull the pieces that I would need off of the scroll saw and I mounted it to the frame of my wheel. I improvised things that worked for the time being. For the shaft I bought some rebar, for the rotation system I designed a pulley system, for the bat I used a wooden lazy susan that I JB Welded to a round metal faceplate I scavenged. I cut a plastic tub as my splash pan. I had a wheel worthy of turning small pieces. Any more clay than 1 lb and my motor couldn't take it. Centering was tricky but I was able to make it work.
After throwing with that I upgraded a few years later to a more stable and powerful machine, it's a clay boss pottery wheel and has served me well. From there, I had a goal of just enjoying the development of my pottery skills, I never thought that I would ever sell any work or be confident enough to give lessons. Come 2017 I was being asked by different folks if I could make them custom pieces and that blew me away. This year, I have my own studio space in the house, I have several folks that come over and use my space and I teach them what I have learned in private lessons, and I have sold several pieces from every kiln load this year. I really love where I am right now and am so happy I took the time to invest in the craft. It has spurred so many new avenues in my creative space, from 3D Printing to getting ready to turn wood on the lathe. This pottery journey has been one of the most confidence building endeavors that I have ever taken on. Looking back at all of the things I have tried and enjoyed just makes me so much more excited for what I'm going to do with the lathe, with 3D printing, with Metal Working and so many other things that my mind is racing over!
I just have to remember, none of us know what we are doing when we start out. We all invest time and energy into gaining the tools and knowledge necessary to learn our trades. Although, some parts of the process may come more naturally to others - we all start from a zero point. As much as I love operating from a place where I have no idea what I am doing, it has been nice to start to be the one that knows at least a little bit of what I'm doing with pottery.
Heidi Jacobs is the Co-Founder of Slap Stuff Together, a maker's studio. She is also a Project Manager by day and part time professional photographer. If you would like to learn more about SST's adventures as a new start up you can follow them on Instagram or on Facebook. If you would like to learn more about their startup you can drop them a line at email@example.com
MAKE LIKE NOONE IS WATCHING
It's easy to get discouraged when you feel like you are lost in a sea of other voices. It can get downright depressing when you post a project you have been slaving away on for months to only get 5 reactions from your closest family members. You post into your favorite maker group and 2 people click on it before it's washed away by the swell of other people wanting the group's attention. You get scolded for cross posting in different maker groups because it's annoying... So, how do you keep posting? How do you keep engaging when you feel like you can't get any traction? Here are some things we did recently that are currently helping us out a lot when it comes to motivation and see a little uptick in attention. Plus some silver linings about being a small fish.
TELL YOUR STORY
One way to get past the issue of no one reacting with what you are doing is to do it for yourself and ignore the statistics. Statistical data can be good when you want to evaluate what worked and how to replicate it but spending days looking at flat lined numbers does nothing for your creative spirit. For a time you have to put that to the side. In the beginning the numbers will never be significant enough to read anything in to. In 2016 we had this vision that we could start showcasing some of the things we were working on on social media. About 7 years prior to that I was trying to showcase that stuff in facebook "vlogs" before our wedding. People liked them, and I wish I would have stuck with it because they are really fun to look back on. I hadn't stuck with it because of self doubt. I thought maybe they were boring or stupid or too self serving and eventually I just talked myself out of it. Flash forward to 2016, I wasn't really into the Maker Community like Ben was. He had long been watching the high-speed videos that i found so annoying to listen to. Drills at super sonic pitch speed whistling over the book I was trying to read or the game I was trying to play. Why was that so compelling? What did he enjoy so much about this awful noise. Obviously, it wasn't the noise. It may not have even been the build. It was the story that Jimmy Diresta was telling. If you look at his approach - people don't flock to him for the one off builds usually. No, it's that they love seeing him tell the long story of life as a maker. Think of each of his videos as paragraphs in that novel. Who does he interact with, where does he go, what tips does he employ, how does he come up with ideas, who employs him, why is he building a teepee? If you are recording what you are doing you are creating an archive of your journey and the mindset shouldn't be about the individual builds or even the clicks. That will make it worthwhile even if you never make a cent off of publishing your video novel. You are recording your story, your progress, your style, you are showcasing your voice. Jimmy didn't start out with a huge audience, he had to develop a following and he has shared his history in several different talks. Most of the time he indicates that the story is the most important ingredient. Focusing on story telling - why a build is being done, exposing the challenges with the build and inviting discussion about that has effectively changed something that was so transactional into being about so much more. It's OUR builder's biography. Talk about a motivation changer and a shift in gears.
We haven't hit the monetization bench marks for YouTube Standards with SST, for a hot minute that was really frustrating. Not because of monetizations or the issues involved with it - it was that they had set bench marks and goals that seemed to dissolve in an instant after we met them. That being said, what we did start to feel discouraged about was seeing that our audience had kind of plateaued. Where were we going wrong? Why were people not finding us? Folks we talk to whom have been around for a while said it just takes time. Keep posting and eventually you'll catch fire. Stick with it has been their mantra. Some folks you see skyrocket in the first month they post, others it takes several years. Ben says it's like catching lightening in a bottle. Bobby Duke took off when he made something universally popular and interesting. Paul Jackman worked at it diligently for several years consistently building great things infused with his humor. Evan and Katelyn have worked hard to cultivate a community around them, they are everywhere at every event I see, they make themselves available. John Malecki and Brad Rodriguez focused on their builds but also created a great podcast resource with amazing branding. Andy Rawls focused on the quiet pursuit of cabinetry. Watching him is like watching an intricate dance. Then he shifted and expanded a bit to bring more content and showcase more of his business. They all pursued different avenues to get to a recognizable place. Whether by accident, ingenuity or by filling a void - each was unique in their approach. One thing that they all had in common is that they kept working. They never stopped and were flexible in what they chose to do. So, our focus has to be on just doing and recording what we love to make and with each other. We will find our voice eventually, it just may take a lot of tossing noodles at a wall to see what sticks before we get to where we want to be.
BE YOURSELF, BE UNIQUE
At first when we started out in social media, we showcased a mask of ourselves. I don't think it's that uncommon to do that. It's probably a protection mechanism. If I'm not me, then when mean comments come up - it won't hurt as bad. People see right through that and click to move on to the next thing. Personality is a big draw. The way we had been approaching our videos is that we didn't talk much through the videos, just stayed matter of fact. A year later we were invited to be a part of an episode of Maker Monday and thought maybe we should just be ourselves, Pittsburgh Jagoffs. The feedback has been good and we have come to realize people enjoy the two of us together and how we play off each other. We'll definitely showcase that more in the future. It's really hard to get over the fear of exposing who you are to an audience. I should have known that from my history of being a song writer, but I'm not always good at connecting the dots.
EXPERIMENT WITH NEW TECHNIQUES/CHALLENGES
Too many dicks on the dance floor is a great song by Flight of the Concords. The men are lamenting that there are just all dudes and no ladies to dance with. The maker community can be very similar in regard to projects (not just gender) If everyone is working on a river table - there is nothing unique being showcased - just a bunch of reproductions of someone else's idea. Sometimes being unique is good and one thing that I personally have been enjoying is that I'm one of the few potters in our section of town. It's been very recent that I shook off the nerves and posted my first pieces to one of our maker groups. Once I started to share what I thought - no one in the group would be interested in - we started getting a lot more engagement. What's common isn't always what's going to get attention. In my day job life, if you are designing packaging for shelf you want it to stand out and be unique, if your cookie packaging looks like every other marketer's approach to selling cookies - the isle is boring and the consumer won't notice yours over another. We're trying to be more mindful of this as well in our arena. Ben is a wood worker like most of the folks we interact with. He was feeling bummed that his work wasn't being noticed in the sea of other wood workers, so, he started doing more unique projects. Odd takes on existing techniques. He made a mug out of a log. He took a traditional lathe bracelet and made it without the use of a lathe. To date, those are some of our top viewed projects. We had to break free of the thought process that if we don't do something the way it's supposed to be done we aren't adding to the narrative, we'll get called out. People are at all different levels of development with their hobbies and their careers. Embracing where we are and letting others share in our achievements as we grow is much more fun than just trying to pretend to know how to do everything. It's even more effective than we could have thought. Even benign posts about learning or failing at something can spur on interaction we never expected and might win us some really great new friends. In fact, people actually wait for when we post our updates and get excited with us when we finally figure a problem out.
Investment in community is the biggest thing we have been realizing is important. The last two posts in my Maker's Notes have been focused on that theme. As your community outreach grows so does your audience. People who share common interests are going to give you the most value for their view because they are going to reach out to you. Don't let it be one sided though - it's not a one way transaction. Don't expect to spam post in a grouping and then not participate when other's post their content, questions or stories. It is important to share, but it's also important to participate actively. Eventually as you grow in your role in the community, folks are going to message you about whayou are doing - YOU WILL MAKE AMAZING CONNECTIONS. They will keep you motivated, uplifted and you will do the same for them. What's even more fun is when you get to connect with them in person. We doubled the size of our community within the first couple of months just by ignoring the numbers and focusing on interacting with people. At the end of the day, it's going to be much more enriching and rewarding to work in that sphere than to just have a bunch of empty subscribers who subscribe to your channel but never like or comment on your videos. If you can't tell, I am really loving our clan right now. One thing that we did to pair down the facebook groups was to focus on the smaller groups we joined and not as much the groups that are 1K+ people strong. The bigger audience of the 1K member groups is a problem because you are much easier to miss because of the way the timelines present your posts. You may post a really fantastic comment or photo and within minutes there are 50 others that have pushed your post to the bottom of the feed. We've found much more value in a more intimate group if we need feedback on our work. We'll post a few things in the major groups and actively participate on other's posts, but we don't focus as much on trying to get a response from our posts in them. It's built our confidence back up having a smaller group to talk with. It's more intimate and the value is so much greater when you get to know people this way.
Our goal is to tell an honest, unique story by pushing ourselves to experience things that may be a bit out of our wheelhouse and sharing with a great group of people. Maybe after a while we'll be invited to a comedy show or two. Until then, we just have to relax and enjoy the build.
Previously in my Maker's Notes I talked a bit about community and why it is the fuel of what we are doing. The best way to grow your community is to participate and participating means meet-ups. For Ben, the idea of interacting with a group of people is not in his sweet spot. He describes his position as having low social needs and has a take it or leave it attitude with going to functions. He'd much rather be in his wood shop than out on the town for a night. When you see him at a networking event or even a family function, he is usually the quiet guy at the table just taking things in. If you can get him going though, he is as charming as the next guy and has the most contagious hearty laugh - but that's only if you can get him to engage. Now, that is in a normal social setting - I've recently come to find out that Ben immediately comes out of his shell when there are a group of makers around and it is delightful. Funnily enough, I've also seen this with a few other of my introverted maker friends.
Earlier this year we decided to drive up to Cleveland after finding out that there was going to be a Lincoln hosted maker meet-up event in the heart of town. Cleveland is about a 3 hour drive for us. So, we got a sitter and made our plans. My initial concern was that it was going to be at a loud bar and we didn't really know anyone on a personal level. Two things that usually shut Ben down. It was only our second maker centric meet-up and I wasn't really sure what to expect. The first was in NYC that I wrote about last week. That was great, but it was a bit chaotic. This one seemed like it was more organized and there were at least a few people that we knew for sure would be there.
We were fortunate enough to visit with Tim Cunningham of The Urban Forge on our way to town. He showed us his set up in his garage and talked to us about how he teaches at another local facility called 'Soul Craft'. He talked to us a little bit about how to set up our own home forge and even offered to come help us if we needed it! It was inspiring to learn how he was incorporating his passion for metal work into his life. He is an amazing teacher and is offering classes to his community on all different types of forging. It's just one way to keep a hobby paid for - learn so you can teach so you can learn.
When we got to downtown Cleveland, we valet parked near the restaurant (Rockstar Parking!) I hadn't been to Cleveland other than to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in high school and that was quite a while ago. I really didn't know how close the lake was to downtown. What a cool city. We were a bit early so Ben decided to take me around his old work place. He lit up talking about the antics he would get into with the other security guards at one of the tallest buildings in Cleveland. He showed me some artwork around the building and we toured a few tourist hotspots as well. It was a good start to a pretty decent day out. It also helped to do that and release some nervous energy before we went to the meet-up. When it was close to time we walked back to the location. As soon as we approached the restaurant I saw a familiar face and fellow Pittsburgher, Gib Clark. We were going to be OK. Gib is known as a friendly and relaxed guy who is always up to introduce new folks to the inner circle. Let me tell you - he was the best tour guide we could have asked for that night. We hadn't met him face to face before, just commented on each other's work online. Funny, since we only live like 20 minutes apart. I think he even made several jokes about having to drive 3 hours to meet each other. Anyway, he introduced us to some really great folks who were initially in the front part of the bar waiting for the Lincoln festivities to start. Bob Lee was one of the first folks Gib introduced us to. He is a local Ohio maker with his own woodshop channel on youtube, Bob Lee's Woodshop. Bob does some amazing scroll work and is superbly kind and sweet. Before the gang got there we headed down to the private area in the lower level. This is the first time Ben and I got separated from each other, I'm not sure where he went to so I just stuck with 'Gibby' (as I now know he is lovingly called) and chatted up with a few other folks.
Ben came back to me with a wicked grin on his face. "Heidi, someone just recognized me and introduced themselves. They knew my work and wanted to talk to me about it. I can't believe someone knew who I was!" That person was Trevor Higgins from Dusty Squeak. A really talented guy that we follow on his instagram feed. Trevor doesn't post a lot of photos of himself, so, it's no surprise Ben didn't recognize him immediately. When we were talking with Trevor the Lincoln crew rolled in. Laura Kampf, Brett McAffee, Jimmy Diresta, April Wilkerson, John Malecki, Brad Rodriguez, Izzy Swan, Zach Herberholz and several others were all in town to be trained by Lincoln Electric on welding techniques. The entire event was orchestrated by Lincoln. When they got there, I lost track of Ben again. He was so excited to talk to some of these folks it was something I'd never seen happen before. Ben was being a social butterfly. He was so giddy and engaged with everyone there. I really couldn't believe it. As impressed as I was to see him go, he was even more impressed that one of his creative heroes, Jimmy Diresta was so approachable. Honestly, I had a hard time focusing because I'd never seen Ben like this - EVER - even when we were amongst groups of friends we've known for years.
While Ben took it all in, I started digging into my satchel. I had packed with me some mugs to hand out. The first was for Gib. He snagged the Chewbacca mug. He was so delighted to receive one and immediately started drinking out of it. The reason I wanted to give one to him was because he was just so sincerely encouraging with my pottery any time I would post anything. When you are an artist and are your worst critic, putting wares online for people to view can be absolutely overwhelming and scary. With Gibby, he wants everyone to be successful and is part of the glue of the community. He links people together and shares their passions. It's the people like Gib who buzz around and make sure everyone feel welcomed that make it feel so friendly. In any village you need that type of person. They care for the community in such a unique way. By monitoring the landscape they make sure no one is left out. They touch base with people that have fell silent for a while and try and bring them back to the fold. Not everyone has the compassion or mindset for that type of role, but our boy Gibby is that person. If someone gets sick or needs anything, you bet it's gonna be him leading the charge to make sure that person gets what they need from the community.
The next mug I gave to Brett McAffee. I had just been introduced to his channel through a podcast he is on with one of my favorite people Al from Al's Hack Shack. Their podcast is called Fools with Tools and it is really fun and inspiring. Steve House is the third host in the trifecta. Al and Steve are UK based, while Brett is referred to as Jimmy's little sister. Brett works with Jimmy in New York helping him out with busy work and shop maintenance. Brett has a great take on being a maker and offers some really entertaining build videos on YouTube. His themed approach to his channel is really awesome and it really seems that he has found his creative voice. As for the show, FWT is one of those podcasts that has really relatable hosts who aren't afraid to share their experiences with each other and their listeners. Having watched his channel and listened to the cast, I knew Brett loved video games and was someone I really wanted to work with in the future. So, I brought him a Majora's Mask mug. I chose that mug because he built a full size Link Bow from the game Zelda. The other fools, Al and Steve were a bit jealous - they'll get theirs eventually though, I promise boys. Brett and the boys give voice to the challenges, fun, tom-foolery, and education that we all love about this world.
While I was chatting with Brett, Gib brought up my next favorite maker in the whole world, Izzy Swan. I was so delighted and received the BIGGEST bear hug. It was amazing. He was one of the first major YouTubers to provide feedback to us and opened the door to us realizing that there was a wonderful community available to us. This guy has such an inventors brain and we have loved watching the stuff he has built over the last year. It is inspiring to watch him create a makers space in Michigan and invite other makers to help build it out with him. From the things he builds for his kids to his crazy drill powered ride on contraptions, I'm just blown away by his talent. It was absolutely my turn to be awestruck. IZZY FRIGGIN SWAN GAVE ME A HUG. I gave him a mug. He has been drinking out of it in a few of his insta videos. He even asked for a bigger one, which I'm in the process of engineering. Izzy is the type to open his shop doors to share his knowledge and bring others with him on his journey.
The last mug I gave to Laura Kampf. I've been following her since Ben introduced me to YouTube maker channels last year. She has grown so much as a star in the community. Traveling the globe giving talks about living a maker life. Her story is one that makes me wish I would have been adventurous enough to do in college and right after. She truly went after her dreams with such determination. Her builds are really interesting but the way she films them are so cinematically beautiful, she reeled me in. The way she balances shots and music is amazing and I learn something new ever time I watch one of her videos - aside from just how to make whatever she is making. Even with her growing popularity, she is so down to earth and kind. She doesn't have much time but when you get to meet her, it's like she could just be an old friend from college that you are reconnecting with. She is very genuine and encouraging. It's people like Laura who rise in the community but aren't afraid to bring others with her that make her a pillar.
It was getting late but we were so jazzed up about how fun the evening was going we regrouped around 11 PM thinking of an exit strategy. That would get us home around 1 AM. Did we talk to every one we wanted? We didn't get a whole lot of photos but that's not why we were there. Did we hand out stickers? Did Heidi get enough to drink? Yes, we were set. So, we made the journey back to the burgh. For days it felt like we were glowing. So happy to have spent time with such an amazing crew. So excited for what the future looks like and really looking forward to the next meet-up. By taking a step out of our comfort zone we were once again able to connect with an amazing group of people and grow our network a bit wider. We met so many additional people who are such a daily encouragement when we post anything on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. People like Figments Made, Maker in Training, Prusa Wood Works, Tim Webster, Marielle Brinkman and Lisa Cravens-Brown. We got to share our enthusiasm and thank those folks in our community that are such a blessing to us all. It was well worth the travel time. So, if you or your maker friend are feeling a bit lonely - or you are nervous about going to a posted meet-up - maybe our experience will help you get over those butterflies and go.
Heidi Jacobs is the Co-Founder of Slap Stuff Together, a maker's studio. She is also a Project Manager by day and part time professional photographer. If you would like to learn more about SST's adventures as a new start up you can follow them on Instagram or on Facebook. If you would like to learn more about their startup you can drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Small Business owner and Artist, committed to growing as a maker as well as sharing her and her husband's experience with owning a small maker studio.
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