Something for Nothing

“I passed out!” 

I woke up to John’s work boots stomping loudly in the bedroom.  It is like this every time we have a show; John is up all night working on last minute things and making sure we have enough finished items  to make the weekend of work and the booth fee, ranging from $175-$350, with the additional $30-$60 fee that was paid to be juried into the show (something which may or may not lead to being admitted in the first place), worth it.  Unfortunately, working a 40-hour week job, fulfilling our other orders, and staying up all hours of the night for weeks preparing for the show had caught up with him.  He passed out when trying to take a seat for just a moment in his favorite chair.  While I was disappointed that many of our items would not be ready to sell, I was relieved to know that he had a bit of sleep.

Whenever I tell someone what we do, the reaction is fairly uniform.  We are doing what we love, we are literally living our dreams.  When I tell someone that I am a doula and an artist and John is a craftsman and we run a business and we go to shows, it all sounds so exciting.  It is.  I love what we do and I literally often openly tell God that I cannot believe he gave me the life I have.  When I tell someone what we do, I encourage them to live their dreams too, God put dreams and desires in your heart for a reason and you should follow his lead in how to express those things, fear should not be the reason you lay on your death bed saying “what if?”

Something I need to say though, not only for myself but every artist.  We all ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?”

Last year was just a practice round, we agreed.  It was our first year doing any sort of show and we had a lot to learn, and we learned it; we still have a way to go.  We were lucky to find a tent structure that would work for us for only $250, the average price of many of the structures, based on what we hear from other artists, is closer to $1500.  We were lucky with the displays too, a store downtown was closing so we were able to get slat wall for almost nothing and John, being a woodworker, is able to create basically anything we envision.  Of course, anything he creates takes time to design and even more time away from the family to create.  We learned that, according to most of the other artists, the first year you do a show you don’t make much. It takes a year or two to build up a reputation at the show and a good client base. 

Childcare last year was difficult, but this year we had the added complication of a nursing baby, who needed to be brought to me every few hours.  The whole thing is so much work. Not only for us, but for the grandmothers who watch our kids and the friends who help us setup, it is a team effort!

Wild Grace Workshop is a family business.  When we talk to other artists, the same is said for them as well.  Every item you see we are selling is a piece of who we are as a family and it is a piece of John’s soul.  As a family, we don’t have a weekend.  John is lucky enough to be in a job where he works 4, 10 hour shifts.  The other three days of the week he spends in the shop, although Sunday morning we have a bit of time together to go to church.  About 40% of the time, after John is finished already working for 10 hours, he misses dinner with the family to go into the shop. 

This is not taking into consideration the bookkeeping, which I have to do in the small moments I can get when everyone else is in bed, or Airis is at preschool and Sophia is napping.  I walk by the sink full of dishes and the laundry that HAS to be done, to ensure our business taxes are paid and we’ve properly communicated with our clients. 

When John is at home, when he gets a bit of down time, he does research.  He spends hours poring over best practices and new ways to utilize materials.  Rather than watching a favorite show, he watches YouTube, learning how others in his field create. 

So, why? 

Why do we do this to ourselves?  This isn’t just John remember.  I also paint, which is an entirely different commitment of time and energy and money and passion.  Because, we love it.

Why, as I am writing this, do I still love my kids after listening to them scream for the past 2 hours rather than just going to bed.  Just go to sleep already!!!

They’re worth it.  They are a total headache, but I love them so much! They are worth the world.  If someone told me that I just should not be around my children anymore because they are too much work and cause too much stress, I would think they were crazy.  The amount of time an artist puts into their craft is a similar thing.  It is a part of you, it is something you think about all the time, it is more than part of you it is something God has placed in your care and something you have to share with others.  When an artist is not creating, they are missing part of themselves.

 Like I said before, I am so grateful that I can do this.  What I want is to do more of this.  I want this to be all that we do.  I hope that within the next couple of years that additional 40 hours a week John spends at his other job can become 40 hours in the shop.

When we show others what we do, universally it is loved.  People love seeing things made well.  While we can all be confident that we can go to Wal-Mart at any time and find a wallet for under $20 or a notebook on sale for almost nothing, and you can be almost as sure that those things will fall apart almost as soon as you start using them. 

I can’t tell you how many times we hear, “You just don’t see this kind of thing anymore.”  The same can be said for our fellow artists and craftsman. 

The discussions I have with artists at shows are often similar.  After working all year to pour themselves into their items, they wonder if they can continue to do it.  While so many say they desire to support artists, they want to do it without having to pay for it.  Beautiful images can be downloaded easily from the internet.  Why pay for a song when you can hear it for free on Pandora?  People want a wedding photographer for $100, when they may spend 50+ hours on your wedding, between shooting and editing.  People want a musician for an event, but they want them to come for “exposure.”  People want John to create items for them, simply because they will be seen publically. 

The internet has made everything so accessible, which is wonderful, but it has made many lose the understanding of the value of things.

Sunday, while at the show, I spoke to one of the most skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen I have had the pleasure to meet.  He creates jewelry from genuine gold and silver, hand forging the items, melting the metals and pounding them out into beautiful pieces.  His skill has taken years to perfect and his technique is truly a dying art. 

Later that day I heard someone trying to haggle with that same craftsman on the price of a solid silver ring, created by hand, $29 was too much. 

This. Is. Wrong. 

When you see a piece of art, or hear a piece of music, or see a beautiful handmade piece of furniture or jewelry, you are not just seeing or hearing the time and material used to create this single piece. It is about the emotion and creativity, it is the sacrifice and the love.  It is the years of perfecting a skill that went into that single piece which we hope you take and cherish, and keep forever. 

Art is worth it, because artists are worth it. If you are an artist, hear me now, you have value, don’t give your soul away.  If you know an artist, please appreciate them.  So many people complain about the quality of music recently and how painting is not as good as it used to be, furniture is not made like it used to be, etc.  Well, maybe those that are doing things the way you think they should need to see they’re appreciated, because every show we hear another artist declare they finally can’t do it anymore, and that is the saddest sentence I can imagine. 

-Allison