Tragedy and the Artisan

Every year or two I go through my list of the supplies I need and I research suppliers. Then I make a spreadsheet of each supply and three or more places I can get it, and what it currently costs. Why?
This is my backup plan. You never know when tragedy will strike and *poof* your supplier is closed. Instead of rushing around and looking for a new place to get something, I just open up my handy spreadsheet and head to the places on the list and go from there. True, the prices could have changed a little from my last research, but it will get me through an order or two while I research again what my other options are. There is nothing worse than needing something right away and not having a place to get it quickly.

On the flip side, sometimes there are things so special that there really is just one place to get it. My air freshener blanks are just one of those things. I have tried the three or four places I can get them and have decided on just one. And then tragedy strikes! The artisan that hand makes the paper that I use for my air fresheners has experienced a devastating house fire. Like me she is a small enterprise who works out of her home. Along with loosing her business and her house she has lost family pets too (a miracle, no human loss/injury). I cannot wrap my head around such devastation. I think it hits me hard because I am in the same situation. A fire wouldn't just displace me, but would close my source of income too. It is my ultimate fear.

But from my side as a business owner, through everything that happened there was an abundance of communication. I had just placed and order not a week before the fire stuck. I received a refund, an email, and a phone call explaining what had happened. Consummate professionalism. Amazing. I have tried other air freshener paper manufacturers, and I don't like any of them. There is no backup plan for this product in my lineup. I will make what I have left, and wait for her to rebuild. I will be here waiting to give her my order, my money, to help her rebuild her business one customer at a time. I would rather not offer air fresheners than to offer a product I don't like myself. And until that phone call comes, that she is ready to start again, I will pray for her and her family to find the strength to make it through this. 

Feeding the White Wolf

There is a parable (often attributed to the Cherokee first people, but I don't know how true that is) abut the two wolves that live inside each of us. There is the black wolf that is full of anger and hate, as well as pride and sorrow. There is the white wolf that is kindness and empathy, love and peace. Every minute of every hour of every day these two wolves flight inside for control. Which one will win? The one you feed.

For some people happiness, love, peace, forgiveness, faith and other positive feelings come naturally. For others (like me) these things need to be cultivated, nurtured, practiced, and strengthened. My positiveness is like a muscle, if I just let it go, it will weaken and be tougher and more painful to use in the future. This grey, cold winter has been hard for me to cultivate my positive, to feed my inner white wolf. I don't want to go out in the cold, the ice, the dark and see my friends, or go exercise, or buy fresh healthy foods. I want to sit in my warm, dark, spare room with my TV and my knitting and my tea. Alone for hours, day after day. I tell myself this is something I enjoy (because I do LOVE to knit) but there must be some other things to do too.

It is during this time of year that I make a detailed to do list each day and make myself accomplish it before I can retreat into my craft cave. It keeps the business on track, makes sure I get to the gym, and generally makes me feel like I have accomplished something each day. It keeps the dark at bay. When I do go and sit I try and watch light-hearted and educational things rather than the dark, edgy dramas I am typically drawn to. Those are OK in moderation, but an afternoon binge on a dark drama is ultimately seen in my dreams that night, and that is not a good thing.

So like everyone else during a hard, cold winter I am just itching for spring, to get outside, to enjoy the sunshine. Until then I need to keep up with accentuating the positive, to take care of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

How do you feed your white wolf?


Fragrance Library

Keeping a fragrance library is just one of the little extra things I do. It started because I had a dream that one day I would have a brick and mortar store and that behind my counter would be a fragrance bar, filled with bottles and vials of hundreds if not thousands of different fragrances a customer could choose from and have products made just for them. Of course, years later it seems that my dream of a storefront will most likely never take shape (my life just seems too fluid to tie me down to one location), but I still keep a fragrance library filled with almost 300 vials (and counting) of fragrances and essential oils.

Why do I still do this? Part of it is necessity, part of it is just fun. Now that I do many special orders (or fast buys) throughout the year, I find having samples at my fingertips hurries along the process. I rarely have to order samples from a supplier before meeting with a potential customer. I still may have to get some additional samples, but I typically have at least two or three initial ones on hand that a customer can start to sniff right away. If we are lucky, they like something in this first pass, I have enough of it on hand for their order, and I can get started making their product right away. Just Monday I sent out 6 samples to a potential customer and could have sent them at least 7 more variations on their theme. I only sent the 6 I liked best because I thought too many options can be very overwhelming so I decided that if they didn't like any of these I would send them more rather later.

The fun part for me is going through them when I am looking for new scents to make. This keeps me inspired. Typically I dislike using "out of the bottle" fragrances and typically mix my own variations, but this library gives me a starting point. I can open a bottle, decide if I like it, look at the scent description, and see if I can make a version that I like better. Often my fragrances are combinations of one or more "stock" fragrances that I mix together to produce something more complex and interesting than what I can get from suppliers alone.

Where do these samples come from? Typically from suppliers who send along samples of their new additions to their lineup. Sometimes I get just a small vial, sometimes I get enough to make 20 bars of soap. Also when I do a special order (fast buy) I purchase extras. If you ask me for vanilla-pineapple, I may buy 3 or 4 I think suit your desires, but also may get 5 or 6 more to have on hand for the future. Every scent that gets discontinued goes in the library so I have just a little bit for future reference too. I keep a spreadsheet of the fragrance name, vendor, recipe (if it is my concoction), fragrance description, year it was made/obtained, and price at that time. Each year I update this with new samples obtained throughout the previous year, with current discontinued fragrances, and delete those I used up. This way I can look at fragrance or essential oil names, or search the descriptions for key words in order to look for something specific. Then I can go to that particular vendor, be sure they are still making what I am looking for (and the same recipe too) and what their current price is and if that would stay within a budget (mine or the customer's).

So there you have it. A little peek into some of the behind the scenes workings here. Hope you enjoy!


The craftsmanship of a master is different from the elegance of an artist

I was watching a documentary on the history of Sushi and this quote grabbed my attention. It started me thinking about if there is really a difference between craftsmanship and art.

I started doing some research into the history and definition of "craftsman". Aspiring master craftsman would have to go through a series of career steps until they could produce a "masterpiece" and present it to a jury to determine if they were in fact good enough to join the guild and be considered masters. And now while many guilds do not exist as such, many trades still follow this model (think electricians and carpenters).

Florida State University has a "Master Craftsman Studio" that is an auxiliary (functioning in a subsidiary manner) to the College of Visual Arts, Theatre, and Dance (the artists). Here students see a working studio and are exposed to inner business workings including design, estimating, installation, and invoicing. It is meant to "demonstrate to students the confluence of creativity and entrepreneurship".  So here a master is someone who can mange transforming an idea to an item within schedule and budget constraints.

So are artists supposed to be elegant but not good business people. Is that where the concept of "starving artist" comes from? Do we loose some of our artistic nature if we are also can make a living at it? Is that why there is a pervasive belief that artists that become famous must "sell out" to do so?

So does a master craftsman automatically make art? I don't think that is right either. Things can be made beautifully, skillfully, and in a way that will last many lifetimes, but that doesn't mean they have a good visual aesthetic either. The items may last, but that doesn't mean that people will want the items hanging around that long.They can be made on time, and under budget , and the customer can be happy, but that still doesn't make the final piece art. Even if you try and call it art, time will tell the truth.

But looking at is another way I was thinking of "outsider" art and "tramp" art. These are beautiful things made by someone who has little to no formal training. It doesn't make them less of a piece of art, but they most often are not made by a skilled master craftsman.

So yes, I think there is a difference between craftsmanship and art, but the best have elements of both things, and if the artisan can make a living too, what a bonus!