I’ve been reading a great blog called Make It, written by a paper artist building a craft business. A few days ago she wrote an honest post describing her ambivalence about the wholesale/retail model. While I was intending to write a celebration about reaching a milestone, my mood is left a little more contemplative after absorbing her thoughts.
Segue: My brother, TJ Dawe, sent me these three sketches yesterday from Indianapolis, where he had stopped for a single benefit performance before between a week of shows in Orlando and Victoria. When the shows in Victoria are done, he’ll fly to Montreal where he will resume an east-west cross-country Canadian tour of his latest one-man show.
This year marks TJ’s tenth year performing his productions at Fringe Festivals around the world. For the first few years, he toured full time from April to October, and worked odd jobs in the off-season while writing a new show. For the most part, he writes autobiographical one-man shows, couch surfing while he is on tour, living out of a backpack, trying to find a little bit of quiet time to read in the hub-hub that surrounds the theatre festivals. He would probably characterize himself as an introvert with a propensity for storytelling and performance. Being around people in social settings leaves him drained, and yet he writes, talks and dramatizes his own life full-time.
For the last few years, his tours have been profitable enough that he can afford to rent a furnished apartment during the winter months, giving himself the quiet space he needs to write. He is an avid reader, collecting entire bodies of work, re-reading an author’s work after reading their biographies to gain additional insight.
When TJ was 16, he painted an intricate architectural mural on the ceiling of his bedroom, part Escher, part Mad Magazine with connecting stairways to nowhere and crazy characters popping out of doorways. Lying on his back on a scaffolding, working with pencil, sharpie and acrylic paint, it took six months to complete. The size of the work and low ceilings made it impossible to photograph, but its existence lives large in our collective family memory.
Incidentally, my parents sold that house in ’94 and it has gone through two owners since then. TJ recently visited the house to ask the current owners if he could see his old bedroom. The current owners use it to store their hockey equipment, but the mural is there, intact.
This currente series of drawings was commissioned by Anna McCambridge, the curator of the Visual Fringe at the Orlando Fringe Festival. She heard about his murals, but since he didn’t have any prints of the work, she asked him to create something original. He has done a couple of similar pieces for friends when staying at their houses, but this is the first piece he has done in at least five years. When he started to draw, he wasn’t sure what it meant, but like most artists, he had an idea and went with it.
An old friend saw some of the early sketches and offered his analysis: this is all about passages, methods of conveyance, ways to get from here to there. TJ is at a turning point in his career, partly because he is ready to change his lifestyle, but he isn’t really sure what it is going to look like. The three drawings literally run into each other, and can be viewed in any order. However, the items on the edge or fringe of each page are presented in a different perspective from the connecting piece below (or above).
As I look towards the end of the school year, and the slowing down of my production machine with the return of full-time motherhood, I wonder about my business and the passages that have led me here. What have I made this year? What have I sold? What have I learned? Looking back on what I thought I knew at the beginning, and the leaps I took before I was really ready, I think I have gained a lot. But I’m still challenged by the amount of time it takes outside of production to make the business work: correspondence, documentation, packaging, photography, marketing and planning for events yet to arrive. Pretty soon the applications will go out for the holiday shows while I’m expecting to take the summer off for an extended vacation with my children. How much ground have I gained with Etsy and is it worth keeping my shop open when I can’t attend to it regularly? Do I take stock with me as I travel, or just close everything down?
I have been writing less and less on my blog about my process because of the time involved and my narrow focus on getting things made. Tomorrow, I’m hoping to meet a friend who has agreed to model a large batch of scarves. My photography set-up at home drives me crazy and I’m frankly tired of the overexposed photos in the same corner on my mannequin.
Incidentally, Anna was my 100th sale on Etsy a few days ago. My leaf lariat and a felt box are on their way to Orlando this afternoon, along with a fuschia keychain. Thanks to the wonderful customers who have brought me to this point.