DogFest 2017Read More
You want to know what's so great about working with wood? People get rid of it pretty often. Friends in Bodega, CA, invite my family up for a visit a couple times a year, and they just happened to have taken out a sizable Monterey Pine last fall. They had over 5 cords of pine- enough to burn in their 2 wood-burning stoves for the rest of their lives. AND since they love working on their house themselves, they happen to have a table saw set up in the garage at all times- a veritable miracle! Charles had these slabs sawed up in minutes. We barely put a dent in their wood pile, which they would have appreciated, but oh man was I happy today. Maybe I'll just drive back up there and saw up some more! Don't mind me, just gettin' excited about a wood pile! Darling, hand me my power-sander, will you, please?
Oh dear. I think I just made my new favorite design and it took FOREVER. Bella, a black Portuguese Water Dog, was finished and sealed on the road in Denver, Colorado. When I say "on the road," I really mean a long, long, never-ending road of tiny curly burn marks mixed with blood, sweat, and tears. But what a panel. AND I got to meet her in person in Colorado Springs. She's pretty freakin' cute- a bit overweight and the shaggiest/curliest little lady you ever saw. Burning black, curly fur texture onto birch takes twice as long, at least, as other fur textures and shades, but the result is stunning. The contrast, the off-set positioning of the dog, the direct look through shaggy bangs: perfect. I know I need to charge more for these, in time. At this point, after 24 pieces (at least), I feel like I could take it as far as I want and ask for more from clients. Being a full-time teacher with a toddler and a dog of my own, I doubt I will do much more than what's trickling in every month. But it is tempting. The development and evolution of it is peeking through the dog door of my imaginary studio :)
Just finished my 21st piece, and on to 22nd and 23rd after a flight to Denver. Family trips are great: plenty of time together, and plenty of downtime to get more panels done. These on-the-road projects are specifically for clients living in the regions I'm traveling to (talk about full service!)... just kidding, it was a total coincidence. "Panda," an adorable Bull Dog with a bow tie, happens to be a gift given by another old school friend whose family is still near mine. "Pepper" was finally delivered to her loving owner who I grew up with- a surprise Father's Day gift from his wife. And two more on the way! Camo and Bella will be burned and sealed in the Denver area and delivered to my cousin Jenny in Colorado Springs. Can't wait to unveil those two. Camo is a blonde Labradoodle and Bella is a black Portuguese Water Dog, the cutest, curliest fur balls you ever saw!
Here's something new: I got a request for names to be inscribed on the panel of my last project- it's not really my style, but the two dogs were a sweet gift for a 70th birthday of a parent. I couldn't say no! But honestly I kinda felt like it, and the inscription was painful. A little mistake in some fur can be easily disguised, but a little mistake on some cursive looks like crap. I might as well light the thing on fire. So for future orders I'm going to add a $5 fee per letter of the dog's name- I honestly think they look just as cute without the name, but if it's really needed, well, the buyer's going to pay for it.
Another unforeseen question that came up was altering the picture after it was sealed. Not the buyers fault at all- I just need to do a better job of sending peeks at the work via email before delivering- once that thing is sealed, it's sealed for life. I felt terrible. Luckily the buyer left me a message later letting me know she really likes it and just had to look at it awhile to see why I made the lighting the way I did. This is more of a photographic issue: there needs to be a requirement for angle of camera when sending pictures, background details (or rather the necessity for there to be a lack of background details), etc. This will be hard, since someone's absolute favorite photo of their dog might not work for the wood-burning, and that was sort of the point. On reflections of the work, though, the best ones really have been close-ups of the face, or a minimalist head-to-tail with very little in the background. I need to experiment with two dogs in one panel, but it does pose a lot of problems compositionally. Maybe to the point where it has to be a professional photo for me to work with it! Now we're getting crazy.
So so happy I started this out by soliciting old old friends: here is a picture of Amelie, a sweet little French bull dog owned by a friend I've known since elementary school. We attended many a slumber party together and were on yearbook "staff" (whatever that means) in middle school- I'll never forget the devotion to X-Files! Such a success of a piece, and so glad I know who she belongs to :)Read More
My friend, I'll call her Natalie, convinced me to offer free delivery for people who live in SF. I was happy to offer it at DogFest- a little nod to the neighbors. Besides, SF is only 7 miles by 7 miles- how bad could it be to drop off an order? I think it added another friendly layer to my booth, too, though some people said later that it was too nice/impractical. Maybe so. But last Sunday I delivered my first custom piece- Max- to a buyer in Bernal Heights. It's a neighborhood my family and I hardly ever go to, and I'm sorry we don't, because we had an awesome evening. I was sighing and acting a bit grumpy on our 15 minute drive down there. We arrived at the buyer's house, and it was a surprise gift. I rang the bell, and the buyer opened the door, huge grin on his face. His partner was right behind him, a bit confused as to what was going on. After a brief greeting, I happily handed over the wrapped-up "Max" and couldn't help but ask to stay and watch the opening of the gift. The buyer's partner was thrilled. Apparently Max is 22 years old and this was a very meaningful and heart-felt gift. I felt so immediately glad that I delivered the piece myself. I got to be part of this very sweet moment between two people who love each other- and it was so powerful it made me want to do it again and again! After shaking hands all around, I left their porch with a big smile on my face. We went out for dinner to celebrate at a very cool spot called Emma's Spaghetti Shack- a hole in the wall family spot with meatballs and Sangria. Perfect night.
Sure, I couldn't see my counter space (which is supposed to be a kitchen table/bar) for most of the week, but wow! What a week! My third sale went through yesterday, which officially put me out of the red. Everything I've spent so far has been paid for, and there are more orders coming in to make nothing but profit. I'm happy to say that my plan worked (which was simply for this to be a small side business and to get back the money I put into it). I'm proud that my prices are fair and accessible to most people- living in a town that is so opposite of that. A few consider my prices frighteningly low- almost slave labor. I don't see it that way. Is this fine art? Is this design? I don't rightly know. I know that making large paintings of dogs with big price tags on them never earned me a penny, never inspired a commission- they hang quietly in a doggy spa in the Marina (moved from the Castro). People like them, from a distance. But there's something friendlier about these little wood panels. They're light. They're monochrome. They're personal. I wish I'd found wood burning sooner, though my world hasn't been very calm til recently. It wouldn't have been the right time anyways: settling in the Bay, heartbreak, chaos, career, roommates, dog, marriage, baby, presenting my teaching practices to the National Board. It's funny, because I am super busy right now. Between teaching some of the toughest kids in this crazy city every day, paying out the nose for daycare, maintaining a marriage, keeping everyone clean, fed, and warm, now burning wood panels at night- my days don't leave much time for putting my feet up. I couldn't do it without my partner, my dude- the calm one. He's Mr. Mom. Give this guy an ironing board so he can make some grilled cheese- I love him, and I love him even more for making this little burst of creativity possible. Maybe it'll turn out to be more than just a little!
For a first-time vendor at Dog Fest (which has been right in my neighborhood for years but I've just never gotten off my ass to get the work together to participate) I feel like I did pretty well. I learned a lot, talking to other vendors and taking notes of what questions potential customers had. What about multiple pets in one portrait? What about long-hair dogs (most of my examples so far are short hair) What about sealing the wood to protect it from dust and warping? Would I consider doing human family portraits (no)? Do I have a laser? ??? Though the 3D printer/laser idea was interesting, I think it takes the human element out of it, which extinguishes the folky charm of these pieces. Well, it's a folky technique that's now translated into intelligent, sophisticated design that people really seemed to like today. I know what my next steps will be, aside from sitting here at nearly midnight after an intense day figuring out this website business. Instagram. Facebook. Email the entire contact list (41 people took the time to write down their email for me!) in... a day? Two days? It's like calling back a potential date: don't want to seem overly desperate or foaming at the mouth for business, but also don't want to lag and lose interest. Oh, and inexpensive cards for next time. Oh, and how the hell am I supposed to figure out what's worth my time? If today's efforts only turn into a handful of projects, what then? I have no idea. Maybe a magic artist mentor will appear out of my burn pen like a genie and tell me the secret answer.