Alpacas & Art

Yes, you've seen other Alpaca-related blog posts here if you've been a reader for awhile. Here's another one! I'm a little obsessed with these sweet-faced creatures, but it's not just because they're so stinking adorable. They're also part of my art. Literally. 

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Recently, I visited my dad and his wife at their new home in Brandon, VT (it's actually a very old home - built in 1880 - but it's new to them). They recently retired there, and I can see why. It's such a beautiful place! Just down the country road from their horse farm was an unexpected surprise. Maple Creek Farms is home to a few dozen alpacas, which is already enough to get me excited, but then I learned they actually process all of the fiber onsite and have a mini-factory for making roving, batting, and even yarn. All the things I'm interested in! 

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I've been a knitter and felt fiber artist for almost 10 years now, so I know my materials and I work with a variety of tools every single day, but I have never actually seen how fleece is processed before I get my hands on it. I always buy roving and yarn that's completely ready for use - I don't do any cleaning or dying myself, so seeing how the fiber gets from the alpaca's back to a ball of colorful roving in my living room was quite the treat. 

Needless to say, I took about 100 pictures of the baby alpacas, some of which were just a few weeks old, and I stuffed my suitcase full of colorful roving for my return trip. I love seeing how things are made, and truly understanding the process by seeing it for myself, so this whole pit stop was right up my alley. Now I have an even deeper appreciation for the material I use every day. 

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Studio Makeover

It all started with a photography problem.

Every time I wanted to snap a quick photo of a new piece to post on Instagram or list in my Etsy shop, I had to stop packing orders, move whatever I was in the middle of making, and clear off my only worksurface so that I could set up my lights and backdrop. It may not sound like a big deal, but it was a daily source of frustration.

I took a good look around my studio and found other problems with the layout. Not only was the room looking awfully cluttered, the hodge-podge of furniture & storage wasn’t doing anything to make my job easier. It was time for a major makeover!

Within 24 hours of getting fed up with my space, I had mercilessly gone through every corner of my studio, filled 8 trash bags full of junk and donated or relocated about 80% of the furniture.

Out with the old:

1. Oversized corner desk that jutted out into the room

2. Plastic storage drawers that could no longer support the weight of their contents

3. Drafting table from college (that wasn’t great when it came time to hammer)

4. Old 3-drawer nightstand that never opened properly and didn’t store much

5. Bulletin boards that had become a cluttered mess

6. Saddle stool that cut into my legs after only 10 minutes of sitting

7. Desk chair (because I really don’t need to sit down just to print shipping labels)

8. Folding table in front of window that had no surface visible left

9. Old materials stashed in the closet for projects I never did and had no interest in doing now

In with the new:

A. 24”x48” table dedicated to my permanent photography set up, plus prop storage underneath

B. Large worktables that create a continuous standing-height worksurface that’s super sturdy

C. Standing height desk for my computer with dedicated area for shipping supplies and packing orders

D. “Perch” stool, so I can sit and work if I need to (though I prefer to stand)

E. A second set of large flat file drawers for storing leather

F. Convenient wall-mounted shelving for the things I need to access daily

Want to see more? 

Take a tour of my many workspaces, including my new and improved studio:

So why did I have all this random stuff causing problems in my studio? 

When I first started my business in 2009, I wasn’t entirely sure what all I was going to make. I collected all sorts of things, “just in case” I came up with an idea, but eventually found my groove with specific materials and products. Even still, all of these random things I'd been storing for years continued to be stored. I’m embarrassed to say I may be a bit of an unintentional hoarder, but after my recent clean out, I think I’ve taken some major steps to break this habit!   

I parted ways with a lot, but I also rediscovered some pretty cool stuff and that has inspired me to dabble in new materials once again. I've got some new collections in the works thanks to this studio makeover!

Etsy Manufacturing

I’m an American maker, a creative entrepreneur, and as of a few months ago, an Etsy Manufacturer. I’m thrilled to be a part of this marketplace for many reasons. First and foremost, I want to be involved in the vibrant maker community on a local, national, and international level, and Etsy connects us like no other. I’ve been offering laser cutting services for years now, so this new extension of Etsy is a wonderful (and much needed) way to simplify the process of matching up those who need help with those who are able to offer it.

I have invested in equipment for my own business Once Again Sam, and I have skills that are beneficial to others, so Etsy Manufacturing is the perfect fit. Over the years, various businesses have found me and hired out prototypes, production of parts and pieces for their own designs, and in some cases, I have made their entire product from start to finish based on their sketches. There are many many ways these partnerships work, and I think the hardest part of the whole process is finding each other to begin with. Not anymore!

Manufacturing can sometimes be a dirty word in the world of handmade. Negative images come to mind, (shady business practices, unhealthy work conditions in factories, the death of old fashioned craftsmanship, etc.), but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are responsible ways to grow your business by increasing production, or developing your inventions, or even just expanding your product offerings, and Etsy Manufacturing is a fantastic new resource. You can search for assistance by location or by the type of production needed. Some of these Etsy Manufacturers are also Etsy sellers, just like me, and some are small businesses that have been in the manufacturing business for decades. Whatever it is you need, I’m certain you can find someone on Etsy Manufacturing who can make it for you.

Here's what I can do: I have two laser cutters in my studio (a 40 watt and a 90 watt Full Spectrum laser cutter). With these machines, I’m am able to make precise cutouts & engravings on wood, acrylic, paper, cardboard, and leather material (just to name a few). I can help with preliminary design, or jump right into production mode if you’re ready to get started. My minimums are approachable, my prices are reasonable, and my turnaround times are speedy (typically only 1 week once material is acquired).

To find out more please visit my Etsy Manufacturing profile: https://www.etsy.com/manufacturing/2196/once-again-sam

I was thrilled to have Etsy Manufacturing sponsor a professional photography session in my studio recently with the talented Angela Cox of Angela Cox Photography. The photos she took help make my Etsy Manufacturing profile more personal, which is exactly what I wanted. When you work with Once Again Sam, you're working directly with me on a personal level, even if we never meet in person. 

Behind the Scenes: Artisphere 2015

Greenville, SC is home to one of the top ranked fine art festivals in the nation, drawing a crowd of over 75,000 people every year. This event showcases top notch art, craftsman demonstrations, and a wide range of performances. Artisphere is a big deal all around. To be a part of it as an artist...well, that’s a HUGE deal.

Nearly 1000 artists applied for 121 spots this year, so it was an honor to be selected. Being my first time exhibiting at Artisphere, I was certain it would be a great opportunity, if only for the exposure, but I truly underestimated things. It was a record breaking show as far as sales go, and to top that off, I won the People’s Choice Award. Thanks again to everyone who voted for me!

Preparing for Artisphere took months of hard work, and by the first week of May, I had more inventory than ever before. Although I’d originally applied for both jewelry and fiber art, I was only accepted for jewelry this time, but it ended up being a good thing. Focusing on jewelry alone stretched me to learn new techniques and expand my collection. I was also secretly glad to get a break from felting - it’s one of those things that’s enjoyable to do, but for the prices I’m able to charge vs. time involved, it’s barely worthwhile. Felting is fun for me, but bad for business.

As with every show, there’s highs and lows. This time, there were extremes of both.

High: winning the People’s Choice Award. It was an unexpected surprise, and we’ll be using the prize money for a nice weekend away for our 10th anniversary in June. I can’t remember the last time I had a day off and I’m really looking forward to it!

Low: pulling up Friday morning and realizing I forgot to rent a tent. I’m an over planner, an over packer, and generally lose sleep over the possibility of forgetting things, so to discover I omitted something pretty darn important, just hours before the festival opened, was a humbling & stressful experience that left me with a 14 hour migraine. Special thanks to the rental place that raced over within the hour and set up a tent, and to Carrie Braun, one of the organizers, for keeping me from bursting into an ugly cry.

As with past shows, I geeked out on stats. Here’s a breakdown of the successful weekend in numbers:


Curious what happens behind the scenes, before the festival officially begins? It goes something like this...

Being a part of a show like Artisphere is an incredible opportunity to meet customers in person and earn a nice lump sum paycheck, but it's also a chance to invest in some pretty amazing original art. At every show we participate in, we allow ourselves to spend up to 10% of sales supporting other artists. It's easy to do, there's so much talent out there! Whether we're from different states or the same town, we're all a part of this creative community. I want to contribute to this very special economy, not just profit from it. If I'm going to be posting #buyhandmade or #shoplocal, I need to put my money where my mouth is, especially in my own community. But really, all of that aside, it's a total delight to buy original art right from the source. I know I'll treasure each and every one of these pieces, not just because they're beautiful, but because I met the person who created it. 

Full list of artists below:

1. Tiny vase by Tara Underwood http://www.taraunderwoodpottery.com/

2. Original painting by Janina Tukarski Ellis http://www.janinaellis.com/

3. “Joyce” Sculpted donkey head by Julie Kradel http://www.fatponystudios.com/

4. Pair of green pots by John Herbon http://johnherbonpottery.com/ 

5. Fox & Rabbit reproduction on canvas by Phillip Singer www.psingerart.com

6. Bunny tile by Julie Kradel http://www.fatponystudios.com/

7. Original painting by Joseph Bradley http://josephbradleystudio.com/

8. Bowl by Amelia Stamps www.ameliastamps.com

9. 2 Mixed media pieces by Michelle Prahler www.planetprahler.com

10. Original woodblock print "Night on the Island" by Kent Ambler www.kentambler.net

11. Sterling silver necklace by Leandra Hill http://www.leandrahillmetalworks.com/

12. Original woodblock print "Psalm 108" by Kreg Yingst www.kregyingst.com

 

Recap: Indie Craft Parade

Last weekend was the 5th annual Indie Craft Parade here in Greenville, SC. This is a top notch festival of all things handmade, and is always my best show year after year. With a record number of attendees this year, nearly 7,000 people, it’s no wonder it was a huge success for all involved.

A lot goes into preparing for a major show like this. I worked all summer making inventory and still felt like I didn’t have enough by the time September rolled in. The week of the show, I mainly focused on tweaking my table setup, and finalized some new additions to my display to ensure my booth would look it’s best and function well for the crowd of shoppers. I always do a mock up prior to this show (that’s what the dining room is for!) and that, plus carefully packing up what is essentially a miniature store, is a several day-long endeavor. The checklist is never ending!

The day before the show, I got an unexpected opportunity to appear on Studio 62 with Jamarcus Gaston to talk about the festival and my handmade business. This was my first time on TV and I was shaking like a leaf, but I’m thankful for the chance to plug this amazing event as well as share my work. Here’s the video clip

Friday September 12th was the day of set up. All the vendors showed up at assigned times to unload, and the anticipation was there from the get go, long before the VIP Gala kicked off that evening. I did a series of live posts throughout the day Friday to give a behind the scenes look at what all goes on before the doors are open. Click here for photos.

To say the show was a success would be a huge understatement. I’m not just talking record sales or attendance. Everything about the event was extremely well organized, widely publicized, and I felt energized even though I was utterly exhausted by the end of it. Below are some of my stats from the weekend, but I’ll just point out, this show is a complete anomaly - I DO NOT sell almost 800 items at every craft show I do!

Not only did I sell a lot, but I bought a lot too. That’s half the fun, right?      Here’s a peek at my Indie Craft Parade loot from some of the most talented regional artists. I could have bought something from just about every vendor. I had a hard time narrowing it down to these awesome items!

Not only did I sell a lot, but I bought a lot too. That’s half the fun, right?  

Here’s a peek at my Indie Craft Parade loot from some of the most talented regional artists. I could have bought something from just about every vendor. I had a hard time narrowing it down to these awesome items!

1. Ring from  January Jewelry   2. Print from  Chris Koelle   3. Felted Flowers from  Muncle Fred Art    4. Brass Earrings from  Olivia de Soria Jewelry   5. Bone Pendant from  Exterra88   6. Turned Walnut Bowl from Turning South  7. Trivet and Feather Ornament from  Crave Studio   8. Owl Print from  Joe Engel   9. Turned Muddlers from  Slab   10. & 11. Paintings from  Candy Pegram   12. Bowl from  Bean & Bailey   13. Tiny Vases from  April Swhingle   14. Porcupine Pendant from  Spectrum Handcrafted   15. 2015 Calendar from Paperform

1. Ring from January Jewelry

2. Print from Chris Koelle

3. Felted Flowers from Muncle Fred Art 

4. Brass Earrings from Olivia de Soria Jewelry

5. Bone Pendant from Exterra88

6. Turned Walnut Bowl from Turning South

7. Trivet and Feather Ornament from Crave Studio

8. Owl Print from Joe Engel

9. Turned Muddlers from Slab

10. & 11. Paintings from Candy Pegram

12. Bowl from Bean & Bailey

13. Tiny Vases from April Swhingle

14. Porcupine Pendant from Spectrum Handcrafted

15. 2015 Calendar from Paperform

Thanks to everyone who made this event so special!

Thanks to everyone who made this event so special!