Sunday, July 3, 2011

Keeping or Quitting your Day Job

I am curious, regarding the idea of Keeping or Quitting your day job, how EM members refer to their work, and define themselves. Some people refer to themselves as, artists. While others may call themselves a craftsperson, jeweler, dabbler, etc. Some may even prefer no definition.
For some of us a 'day job' is necessary to keep a studio space outside of our homes, maintain supplies, food in our stomaches, etc., etc. Some people that have work (day/night jobs) aside from their creative pursuits often hope or dream of a time when these creative pursuits will be able to take centre stage.

Etsy Metal members share their stories of the work they love, sacrifices made (or not made) in being artists, metalsmiths, makers, etc. This series is about achieving a fundamental sense of fulfillment and purpose, of finding your place in a community of your peers. It's about sharing the truth of what it is to be an artist in the 21st century, in all of its forms. We all walk different paths in the expression of our work, yet we came together through Etsy.

Shannon Conrad is an amazing woman. Anyone that's met Shannon knows how hard she works, and puts her heart dead centre into everything she does. She is an incredible mediator, mentor, friend, and Etsy Metal's Team Leader!!

How do you define yourself? For instance, do you refer to yourself as an Artist, Maker, Silversmith, Metalsmith, Goldsmith, Truck Driver or Jeweler? I am a metalsmith and enamelist.

Would you [do you] describe your work as Art, Craft, Jewelry, or are there different categories dependent upon outlet/venue, mood? I make jewelry. Sometimes it is art, sometimes it is craft, sometimes I don’t know what it is!

Do you have a day job, part time job or is being a metalsmith your full time job? I am an accountant. I am a photographer. I am a marketing executive. I am a secretary and a project manager. I am a customer service representative and a retail sales clerk. I am a maker of things. I am a mother of two. I am a cook and a maid and a chauffeur. I am a referee and a teacher and a nurse. All of these things and more are my “day job”.

What sacrifices have you made (do you feel you’ve made or still make) in order to pursue creating/making your work? I came to all of this in a roundabout way. I didn’t quit my “day job“, it quit me. In 2006, I lost my job due to downsizing. I was a middle-manager at a book distributor and really loved my job. The loss was pretty devastating. To allow me to stay at home with my two children (then 7 years and 18 months old), I started providing childcare for three other families. I was taking an introductory metals class when I lost my job and really loved it. I discovered Etsy in May of that year and decided to try to sell my work. It was tough for a while. There were times when I had as many as 5 kids - ranging in age from 1-11 years old - in my (very small) house. Nap-time and late evenings were the only time I could work. I knew that babysitting other people’s children was not my calling, but metal was. The childcare provided a steady income while I worked on my business. I did whatever it took to build my business to the point that I could quit childcare. In 2008, I was able to do that and focus on my business full time. To be able to do this full-time, I am constantly working on creating things that are quick, easy and sellable. Wholesale is important to my business, so that means always working on my production line. Production work is often boring and repetitive. I have pieces that I have made hundreds of times that I have come to loathe. However, customers like them and they sell well. It is a constant struggle to find a balance between feeding my soul and feeding my family. Another important thing to note is that throughout all of this, my husband worked a full-time job. Without his income, none of this would have been possible. In October of 2010, he was laid off indefinitely. Almost 5 years after losing my job, we are back at square one. I am once again looking for ways to expand my business to support my family.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path knowing what you know now? I would recommend having a strong vision for your business. Know what you want it to “look” like as it matures. If you plan to try wholesale, know that up front. That is a mistake I made. When I was first approached about wholesale, I had no clue what to do. I lost opportunities because I did not have pricing in place that allowed me to wholesale my work. I would also recommend understanding what it takes to run an art-based business. So much of what I spend time on has nothing to do with creating. Know that it takes a lot of hard work and determination to make a business like this work. I don’t have 9-5 hours. I work when I can and when things are busy, that can mean 10-12 hour days. But it also means I can work in my pajamas if I want to.

Is there anything else you would like to share? I have been lucky to have the most wonderfully supportive friends and family. Without their guidance and support, I would never have made this work. A strong support system is so important in our business. I am really passionate about the Etsy Teams program. I belong to several teams, but the two that have had the greatest impact on my life and my business are PDX Etsy and Etsy Metal. PDX Etsy is my local team. I have met so many wonderful and generous people through this team and have made many friends. Etsy Metal is where I go to talk to my “co-workers”. Working alone all day can make you a little stir crazy. It is so nice to know I have a place to go and hook up with people who understand everything I do. Lastly, I think it is important to find a way to give back. Offer advice. Volunteer. Mentor someone who is just starting out. It’s kind of a karma thing. It will come back to you. Starting a business - especially a handmade business - is hard. It is soul-sucking at times. But I think about what I am showing my children through my actions - that you can be successful if you work hard and follow your dreams. That is what makes every bit of it worthwhile. Make sure to check out Shannon's Etsy shop, Rubygirl.Photo of Shannon taken by Norsola Johnson during the RAD show in Seattle.

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