Friday, August 17, 2012

That Seminar.

 Craft Seminar


Yesterday - I attended the CRAFT AND DESIGN AS A CAREER 2012 SEMINAR run by Craft Victoria.

It was promoted as a "professional development seminar for artists and designers, led by industry experts"... but it turns out that it was not at all what I was expecting...

What did I want?

I wanted to learn stuff.

The craft side of things I already get. I know how to make stuff. It's fun. I love it. I want to make a career of it. But how???

This is the big question...

How does one take that next step. How does one take it from a fun hobby into a career?

I guess what I really wanted was someone to sit down and draw me a map. Someone to say to me: Sharon - HERE is where you are now. THERE is where you want to go. THESE are the steps you need to follow to get there. If you follow these steps, as laid out, in the correct order - then you can have the fun career you so desire!

It turns out that I was not the only poor misguided soul who was hoping for this kind of specific advice. Many others who attended were in the same position as me.

Craft Seminar

I guess the problem is that these steps are not Universal. There is not one clear and set pathway to take you from Point A to Point B. And maybe while I'm at it, I need to work out what exactly Point B is for me! What precisely do I want from a Career in Craft? Hmmmm....

Needless to say - there was no one at the seminar drawing maps for me.

How rude!

There were, however, loads of inspiring speakers. People who are making a career for themselves, doing what they love - be it design, or craft, or something else entirely.

And here's where it gets really wordy. Read on if you're keen...

Beci Orpin is a designer and illustrator who talked about where her career has taken her, the collaborations she has worked on with some fairly major companies, and her experiences with her own clothing lines. Most memorable quote from Beci "I don't know about that stuff. My husband handles the business side of things" when asked about at what point she became financially viable as an artist. I also loved "It was a good thing I met my husband when I did. Otherwise I'd be locked up for tax evasion".

Hello Sandwich (otherwise known as Ebony Bizys) is an Australian craft artist, designer and blogger based in Tokyo. She chatted about her work with Vogue and Vogue Living here in Australia, and her decision to go to Japan instead of taking on the Art Director position here with Vogue Living (she googled "how to make difficult decisions" for advice - gotta love that) Ebony also talked about her experiences writing craft books in Japan, and here desire for a TV role promoting craft. My favourite quote from Ebony... "Follow your heart and the dots will join themselves".

Alexi Freeman is a Melbourne based fashion designer. He talked mostly about his collaboration with choreographer Gideon Obarzanek on costumes for the Australian Ballet. Found it fascinating to hear him describe his lack of motivation for the "bread and butter" work of designing women's clothing... "Oh God, it's nearly Spring - I guess I'd better design another collection" as compared with his passion for the costuming work. He made an interesting point that the day-to-day work that you do might not inspire you, but that's where the collaborations come in - not for the money, but for the inspiration, the fun and the diversity. And they can then help you view your day-to-day work with new perspective.

Patrick Pittman has done a bunch of stuff but focused on his experiences with freelance journalism and his current role as Editor of Dumbo Feather magazine. He encouraged us to "Stick with the stuff that matters to you. Eventually (and it may take time) you will be able to make a career out of it". Also "Don't think about the consequences, just go forth and do it!" And my favourite Patrick quote was "As you get to meet more people that you admire, you realise that they are just as shambolic as you". Shambolic. What a fabulous word! Worth listening to for that alone...

Then came the afternoon session. I don't know whether it was just me winding down after lunch, or just less inspiring speakers, but it wasn't as interesting as the morning session...

Tullia Jack is a Fashion Researcher and Writer. She talked about sustainability in fashion, and the advances in clothing which doesn't require washing. Interesting to hear, but hard to find a direct relevance to a Career in Craft...

Kylie Gusset describes herself as a Yarntrepeuner. To be honest, this was the speaker I was most looking forward to - since I kind of felt that she would have something of fibre-related relevance to share. No. Sadly not. Couldn't have been more wrong. Her session started out with potential. Discussing the difference between a $1 loaf of Cheapy Bread from Coles and an $8 Fancy Pants loaf of exclusive artisan bread... I could see how that relates to craft. You can buy a cheap acrylic beanie from Best and Less for $4... or a hand knitted beanie for $40... Yes. Now tell me how to sell my craft for it's true value.
But she didn't. She told me all about how she proposed to a married man. Showed me a video clip of Casey Stoner riding a motorbike. Another clip promoting Crowdsourced funding. There were a few vague references to Cormo wool production here in Australia. But basically she confused me. And scared me a little. I don't know if she was just having a bad day, or if every day is like that. But she came across as nuttier than a fruit cake. And not in a good way.

Kirsteene Phelan and Angela D'Alton are Australian Community Managers with Etsy. Mostly they were there to promote Etsy as an online venue for selling. But they did talk about the Massive Importance of Good Photographs. You must have "clean, crisp and inviting pictures". Couldn't agree more. Nothing beats an enticing photo. Also something called teamwork. Statistics are that if you are part of a "team" on Etsy, your sales are boosted by 70%. Don't know what an Etsy Team is all about, but it's worth investigating. Their other advice was to check out the Seller Handbook whether you are selling on Etsy or not - apparently there's load of good advice for selling craft in there, regardless of the platform you are using. I haven't read through it yet. But I will...

The day concluded with an open chat session featuring jewellers Susan Cohn, Blanche Tilden, Phoebe Porter, and moderated by Mark Edgoose (Senior Lecturer, RMIT University School of Art). Another confusing session. Not entirely sure is they were there to chat with an audience, or just amongst themselves! One strong point which came out though, was the importance of finding yourself a mentor. Also the need to find your own identity as an artist, which might not be clear in the beginning, but will develop over time...

Are you still with me?

So I did learn something. And I was inspired. Just not in the way I expected to be.

In fact, I probably didn't learn anything NEW... more that I was reminded about some key points.

I was reminded that these people are just PEOPLE. Sometimes we forget that. We look up to those who are successful in what they do, and think of them as Absolute Stars. Almost gods. But they're not. They're people. They're nervous and awkward and nutty, just like the rest of us. They have messy houses and sick kids and slumps, just like the rest of us. They have doubts and dilemmas and fears, just like the rest of us...

I was reminded that CONTACTS are extremely important. We hear that all the time, don't we? It's all about who you know... Well, it is about who you know - but also how you present yourself to them. Each of the speakers made it sound as though things just fell into place for them. But a key component in all of their stories was CONTACTS. It is about who you know. Then you need to make yourself known to them!

I was reminded that the FUN stuff doesn't always pay well. But you need to weigh up the benefits. For example: the pay might be minimal, but the exposure will lead to more work... and that in turn leads to more work... Small decisions matter. Your day-to-day work might not inspire you, but you can look to other sources such as collaborations for diversity, which will in turn bring a renewed energy to the day-to-day stuff.

I was reminded of the importance of MENTORS for guidance and PEERS for mutual support. And TEAMWORK too.

 Craft Seminar

Well, I'm exhausted after that marathon post!

I was kind of hoping to get along to some of the Open Studios this weekend, but don't know whether I can juggle it. If you're in Melbourne you might like to check out this guide for yourself.

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