The truth is… everyone that works at home has their own truth.
Being an independent artist is not something that you can just wake up one day and decide to do. I didn’t go to bed one night as a poor college student, and wake up the next morning as my own boss that can pay my bills. It is a journey… a road with no speed limit… or pavement.
It always starts with an fleeting idea. For me, it was the day I decided to dread my hair. I was in college at the time studying graphic design, living at my Dad’s house in a new state with my husband and three wienie dogs… which was… well… an adjustment… While I have all the respect, appreciation, and love in the world for my Dad and Stepmom, imagine moving back in with your parents at 30! It was interesting trying to fit all my things and dogs into one room. But, that is a post for another day. Needless to say, without those awesome folks and others, I might not be where I am today.
Back to dreadlocks… Anyway, I decided to dread my hair for convenience more than anything. I had spent much of my time working in salons previously as a licensed nail tech or salon receptionist. Everyone that has worked in a salon before knows that beauty sells. Making your make-up, hair, and clothes perfect for work each day is an absolute must, and needless to say, it got old… REAL OLD. Spending 1-2 hours a day making myself “industry standard” is not my ideal way to spend time nor does it reflect who I am. So, I decided to start living life as myself and not what others expected me to be.
While dreadlocks still require upkeep and maintenance, they are much more natural and easy to care for than your everyday, average, style required hairstyle. YES I WASH MY HAIR. Honestly, the amount of people that think folks don’t wash their dreads just baffle me.
Here is a photo of no-makeup,”new”heather with my baby dreads. They are quite short because I went through a star trek phase… which I would do again if for any reason I ever combed out my dreads. I’ll make a post about my dreadlock journey and progress one of these days.
If you were to ever dread your hair, you would realize that it opens a whole new world of possibilities. Dreadlock accessories are awesome!! Dreads can be adorned with beads, charms, stones, tams, etc. There was only one problem. Ever the perfectionist and obsessor over detail, I couldn’t find any beads that were to my liking. The beads that were out there were too “snaggy” or didn’t suit my style. This is where my idea began.
My own hair… I started making beads for my own dreads out of anything I could find. I used polymer clay, wire, and bone.
I had recently discovered the art of bone carving. Being from a small town in the Ozarks(Arkansas), I thought it was perfectly normal to use one’s garage as a workshop. All the garages at my friend’s and family’s houses while growing up were a treasure trove of half finished projects, tools I had never even heard of, sawdust, car parts, and that all too popular “garage fridge” where the Dads always hid their extra beer stash behind the container of left over fishing worms from the previous Sunday fishing excursion. Thus, I set up shop in my dad’s garage and started carving.
Well… anyone familiar with bone carving knows that dust is prevalent. By the end of any carving session, even your eyelashes are white. With my grandiose ideas of being a professional bone jewelry maker, I had no idea that creating a workshop and spreading dust in a Florida suburban garage is a no no. Sorry Dad! That was my first lesson in gated community living. I can imagine my Stepmom immediately regretted gifting me with that grinder. I would have. HA!
It turns out that competing with Indonesian bone carvers in the American markets are next to impossible anyway. Regardless, I learned a lot from that experience including new tool knowledge and new skills which would later serve me well.
It wasn’t until sometime later while living in Arkansas and helping my mom while she went through treatments for breast cancer that I decided dreadlock beads and accessories could be a sustainable “thing” or hobby. At that time, I was still trying to finish college remotely and had plans to move on to a job in my field, so I never really considered that it would be something I would make a full time living doing.
I was away from Florida for over a year, was apart from my husband, going to college full time, working two jobs plus my mom’s jobs(she had a cleaning business), and was struggling with my self identity. Who was I? What kind of artist was I? What was unique about the things I made that identified me as the maker of that art? All those questions…
One of my jobs was as a security guard at a corn feed storage facility. I worked the night shift. Honestly, if I still lived in Arkansas, I would be working that job today. It was the lowest paid, yet most rewarding job I have ever had. In a world filled with stress, I got to go to work and be by myself for 8 hours. BY MYSELF. I enjoyed my rounds around the grounds, enjoyed keeping the guard shack clean and organized, enjoyed the time I was able to spend on my college work, and ultimately, the time it afforded me to start my Etsy shop. Seeing the sun rise every morning was peaceful and serene in a world filled with chaos and hurt. It allowed me the time to work on self discovery and gave me the drive to be creative again.
Here are some of the photos I took while working there.
Before the business plan, portfolio, brand package, or any of those other “necessary things” that every business must have in order to be a business, there must first be creativity. Anyone can take a shit in a pretty box and sell it… but there are only so many people that can be tricked into buying a box full of shit. That is no way to make a business.
Whatever it is that you choose to sell has to be different… it has to have a purpose, be appealing, and stand out. Sometimes these things are born out of desire, necessity, or boredom. How functional can I make my beads? What types of materials can I use that no one else is using? What can I do to make my designs something that no one has seen before?
I used to sit in that guard shack and practice wrapping wire until my fingers bled. I learned how to use new tools, make stronger designs, and promote my products. While other security guards watched movies to stay awake, I learned new skills and built something out of nothing in one of the most stressful, lonely, chaotic times of my life. Creativity is something that takes practice, brainstorming, a certain amount of talent/skill, and the ability to not judge yourself into failure.
We all have our own battles. You can choose to let your experiences and current situation crush you or improve you. You can also take inspiration and learn from the experiences of others. My mom is an unshakable pillar of inspiration through which I have tapped limitless amounts of creativity.
One of the most valuable things I learned in college was from my film professor Dino J. Gallina. He told us that in order to live as a creative and work in a creative field, you have to take the time to THINK. He said that there was not near enough time in an average work day to just day dream, and that the companies that discourage this endeavor were on a path to self destruction by demanding more physical activity and less mental activity. “Busy work…” he said, “… in today’s corporations, you must always be working. Don’t let them catch you thinking… don’t let them catch you being idle.”
The more I learn and grow as an independent artist, the more I realize this is the absolute spoken truth. Brainstorming and day dreaming is the fuel for creative living. You have to think about your choices, you have to use your imagination… you have to take time with your brain. If you rush through life, you end up with no memory of it, and the busy work you have resigned to doing will be meaningless in the long run.
Thank you Dino.
YOU WILL FAIL. There is one absolute about becoming an independent artist that you must embrace. Failure is a reality and a necessity. If you do not fail, you cannot improve. If you cannot improve, you are as solitary and useless as a piece of plastic debris in the middle of the pacific ocean.
I have failed more times than I can count. I have failed myself, my husband, my family. Hell, I’ve even failed my dogs on more than one occasion. But, I now know what not to do… what doesn’t work…
I’ve tried to make a living selling only paintings, upcycled things, terrariums, bone carvings, wood carvings, furniture, photography etc. I’ve had people tell me I’m useless, I’m crazy, that I need to be realistic, that I am lazy because I don’t work a 9 to 5 job, that I’m not a good wife to my husband because I have my head in the clouds, I have no future because I’m not using my degree in the best way… you name it.
In the end, you have to fail, but you also have to prove that you are not a FAILURE. You have to prove it to YOURSELF.
Making yourself into a money making stable machine is no instant feat. I have been working my ass off for 3 years trying to build make a name for the Heatherfish Brand and have not yet achieved my earnings goal. I’m closer, but quite there. If you are not prepared to be married to your endeavors and make sacrifices, being an independent artist may not be the best choice for you.
I own not a single pair of pants without holes in them or paint on them because I’d rather spend money on new supplies so I can offer new products. I answer emails and messages from international customers at 3 in the morning. Sometimes, I don’t go to bed at all. I drink far too much coffee, and although I have the option of shutting down for any length of time, I choose not to because I have the secret fear that I will loose too much business if I take a week off or go on vacation. There are three different venues I use to sell my items and only one of them has a full inventory because I simply don’t have enough time in the day to add more listings. I don’t have enough time to make products to vend at events even though I am always contacted about it.
Basically… it takes time to develop a business and you will have no time if you are trying to develop a business…lol. If life could only be this simple…
Sometimes, even if you are on the track to accomplishing your goals, it is hard to stay motivated. Sometimes I look at my desk full of wire clippings and debris that are indicative of a 16 hour work day, and I think to myself, “Fuck… this was a stupid idea”.
Seriously… every person, unless you are an alien or something(I have some questions) will at some point become disillusioned with their decisions and feel a serious lack of motivation to continue. In this case, I highly recommend the art of Bonsai. I’m 100% serious.
Something about sitting there, mundanely clipping naughty sprigs and wiring and positioning branches for an hour can really put a kick in your giddy up and give you the boot you need to go back to doing something for your business. Don’t get me wrong though… I absolutely love Bonsai because it gives you time to meditate and think(see above about thinking).
Here is a photo of one of my trees. Sadly, I put it in a new pot recently and it died. I did not know that that pot held water… Blarg. Oh well… It broke all the rules and had horrible reverse taper anyway.
Nope… that didn’t help. I’m still sad about it.
I would take a photo of all my other trees, but I am sitting here telling all three of you about serious things at 4:50 in the morning. It is too dark outside.
In order for you to be a successful artist, you have to embrace a certain amount of change. This is especially true if you sell items that other people are going to display somewhere on their bodies. Trends happen… trends are real.
Right now dreadlocks are popular, but they won’t always be. There needs to be some sort of practical flexibility in your business model that will allow you to grow and develop, to innovate, and to change without shocking the hell out of your followers and customers. If you sell hand forged Harley motorcycle swag, and Harley-Davidson quits manufacturing motorcycles(lawdy, no), you can’t just switch over to making artisan flower arrangements without having to start with a whole new customer base.
Harley swag before, shadow swag now… because that is what your customer base is buying now. I make dread beads now, I might make “braid beads” later… It is the same thing(but, don’t tell…).
At the end of the day, you are successful because you are determined. Without determination, I would not be sitting here writing this ridiculously long post for the three people that actually read my blog, and the one person that might read it all the way through. Maybe one of you three will invest in some of my art.
Now then… I have orders to make before the mail pickup at 9:30. I hope this gives you some brain food.