Monday, July 18, 2011

Why I Craft: RJGOriginals Edition

I hope to start rolling out interviews with some really cool crafters and artists next week. I'll start by writing just a little bit about my own experience with crafting.

I was born into a crafting family. My mother has run a ceramic business longer than I've been alive. When I was an infant, my mother would hold me on her lap while she ran classes in the basement. By the age of 5, I was pouring molds, cleaning greenware, painting bisque, and teaching other children at birthday parties. I actually made my first sale at the age of 4 when my mother sold a glittery dinosaur I had just finished painting to a family at a craft fair. I was hooked.

I wound up splitting my interests very far throughout my public education. I did music, writing, acting, and a slew of sports that never clicked. By high school, I only had time for music, writing, and acting. Crafting fell by the wayside unless I was hard up on cash. Then I'd whip out the paint brushes and get to work on gifts and crafts to sell out of my locker.

What I did really get into in high school was home haunting for Halloween. I did my first theme, a farm, during my junior year. It was a mishmash of scarecrows, pumpkins, and all sorts of other goodies I threw together. The next year, I got more adventurous and did a large papier mache dragon head. My family didn't get the horror connection, so I put a nametag that said "Spike" around his neck and called it a Munsters themed haunt.

I learned papier mache from my middle school's Spanish program. They had us make pinatas every year and no one would work with me. The art teachers hated me because my mother taught art outside of the school. They would make fun of me in class and say that even my mother wouldn't approve of my work. I didn't consider the large papier mache sculptures of buildings, music notes, and animals I was doing by myself as art because I was told I wasn't an artist.

College is when everything finally clicked for me. I did my first expansive haunt in 2006. It was a twisted carnival theme. I repainted a large broken dinner table into a spinning wheel of death and added on leather straps and lots of blood. This was the last time I included so much gore in a haunt. I wasn't scared by it and no one noticed it against the bright colors of the wheel.

The most impressive part of the haunt was the almost 7 foot tall papier mache zombie and balloon cart on the side of the house. He became a huge photo opportunity. He also lead to my compulsive need to build a new haunt every year from the ground up. I begged my parents not to throw away the pieces I made because I would repaint and restructure them to fit a new haunt. They threw them out anyway when they heard I was changing the theme.

This constant trashing of my work did not convince me I was anymore of an artist.

What sold me on it was the next year. I did a living garden theme. This 7+ foot tall papier mache venus fly trap is one of the pieces I'm most proud of. He has a large wooden structure as a base and is bulked out with chicken wire. I then wrapped him a layer of brown packaging paper and papier mached over it. Then came layer after layer of air brushing and dry-brushing. The result was a large piece that stopped traffic for weeks.

Of course my father threw it away. He knew I wouldn't use it the exact same way again and didn't see the value in it. This was after I told him I had a buyer willing to purchase it for $300 and pick it up on November 1. By the time the sun came up, the venus fly trap was chopped to pieces and sitting in five different garbage bags.

This just made me want to make more and more things that he couldn't destroy. This, in turn, led to him sabotaging pieces by removing protective coverings and accidentally breaking them. It didn't matter. I knew my value as an artist and I knew there was an audience for what I did.

I started an Etsy shop and it went nowhere. The few pieces I sold were under-priced and went to customers who thought dropping a ceramic piece when they received it meant I had to make them a new one. I did, however, experiment with vending at horror, science fiction, and fan conventions and did very well. I ditched the Etsy store and went 100% analog.

I recently reopened an online shop for the benefit of my 80 year old grandmother. She was let go from the waitressing job she had for 30 years with no notice and seemed lost. I told her I could start to sell her crochet and painting online. I listed her stuff, then threw in a few of my pieces and my mother's pieces as well. Now we're all in this together, doing our best to get noticed on the over-saturated and poorly developed online marketplace known as Etsy.

So why do I craft? Because I enjoy it. I have fun with what I'm doing and occasionally get some money for it. I get to make all sorts of different pieces, experiment with different techniques, and develop a unique style in a medium that most people view as pretty one dimensional.

I'm still under-pricing myself on some items, but only to create a wider range of budget options. This sucker to the right is $110, but something like the tiny penguin to the left is $5. I'm not losing money on a sale like that.

And that's where I came from and why I craft.

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