Making every hour count (or how to stop counting)

For a girl who never wears a watch and doesn’t care much for numbers, I’m obsessed with time. When you bill an hourly rate, of course, this is only to be expected—after all, the time = money equation becomes far more self-evident when you know exactly what an hour is worth.

In theory, this focus on time should engender the ability to delegate. If it takes you two hours to do something that you could bill, say, $120 for, but you can pay someone $60 instead to do (regardless of how long it may take them, and assuming that they’ll do it just as well, if you happen to be a control freak like I am), it should make sense to start passing off tasks.

The problem is, when you have a precise idea of how much that extra hour you spent sleeping cost you, you suddenly start to believe that sleep is anthema to your business and well-being. Three years of running a business full time have taught me, finally, that this is just a blatant lie.

Learning from (loving your) mistakes

In the interest of continuing my forays into self-directed and hand-generated projects, I’ve been taking a screenprinting class at the fantastic Roberts Street Social Centre the past few weeks. It’s been fantastic, and I’m so glad I took a class instead of learning it myself—while I do love teaching myself new skills, the setup would have been extensive and it may have been more difficult to find the motivation to “go” to class each week, whereas with a defined class time, I was forced to show up or lose my opportunity. With projects and to-do lists constantly piling up, I may otherwise have abandoned the endeavour for sleep.

The time-crunch, however, meant that I needed to accept imperfections. Now, anyone who knows me knows well that I’m a tiny bit persnickety: I’ll spend half an hour adjusting the kerning of a font until it feels just right, I’ll go back over a design that’s already been client-approved in order to “finesse” the whole thing, and I typically complain that Photoshop won’t zoom to a level any higher than 1600%.  While I really do believe that this is a valuable tendency in a designer (and, in fact, I suspect that most graphic designers are by nature a touch anal-retentive), it’s also a major hindrance in an industry that is so intensely deadline-driven.

Finished thank you cards, each one screenprinted by hand! I'm not happy with the heart design at all--the lines are simultaneously too thick AND too thin. I think I might prefer this redesigned with more of a skull/vine design in the bottom-right corner.

This is why often my self-driven projects are finished late: while client projects are often do-or-die, if the client is myself, I’m often content to let my expected deadline pass me by in favour of producing work that’s closer to “perfect” (it’s never actually perfect, of course.) This is why it took me three months longer than expected to launch my new website, and why my Valentines were barely even printed and ready to go by the fourteenth. Given that it’s easy to sour on your own work after obsessing over it too long, this delay is a dangerous thing. Wait too long, and the whole thing ends up needing to be scrapped and started all over again!

But with the screenprinting class, I had no option (other than flakiness, which I’m giving up as a lifestyle choice as much as possible). So I showed up for my second class with a design that wasn’t perfect, telling myself that it was just a learning project, and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t right. I’m just learning! It’s okay to screw up!

The thing I started to realize as I got into the printing process is this: everything that looks like a fatal error to me is basically invisible to everyone else.  (Not a major revelation, but something I ought to constantly keep in mind, because I never seem to remember it.) The fundamental flaws in the initial design weren’t nearly as glaring or as apparent to others as they were to me.

Then, as I proceeded with the printing process, I realized that I hadn’t been as precise with the first colour “plate” (the red accents) as I would have liked. (In screenprinting, each colour is printed independently of the others, much like a traditional CMYK plate-printing process that I learned about in school, but never actually had a chance to witness.) Accordingly, when I printed the black “plate” on top of the red, the registration often didn’t line up perfectly, and there was an overlap.

Then something funny happened. I could, in theory, have used an acetate sheet to register and measure the placement of every single print to ensure a perfect output on every single print. I thought about it, briefly, and then threw caution utterly to the wind, and just started printing willy-nilly. Prints came out with white where red should be, and red where white should be, and instead of breaking down into tears or tantrums, I carefully put them on the drying rack with the others. Not only was I not upset, but I actually discovered that I rather liked these mis-fit mis-prints! Whoever knew?

And really, where I’m so gung-ho on the handmade process anyway, it’s about time I learned not only to accept, but to embrace my mistakes. (Are you listening, brain? I’m talking to you.) Mistakes are often the most interesting part of a piece of work, and they so often generate new ideas and concepts that might otherwise forever remain undiscovered (gravity, nylon, penicillin, chocolate-covered bacon). And especially when something is handmade, part of its appeal lies in its imperfections: signs of the inherently flawed human touch. So often the aesthetics of error (cracks in pavement, burned-out buildings, rips in a sheet of paper) are more interesting, alive, and vibrant than the sterility of pixel-perfection.

Can you spot the errors? I bet I can find more than you can!

Now, if only I can apply that sort of thinking to everything else I do, I might finally be able get some sleep!

At the market

To Market, To Market: An Experiment in Failure

This year has marked my first venture into “selling stuff”, instead of just “selling myself”. It’s been a little hit-and-miss: my Valentines seemed popular (they were listed on Ooh! Shiny! and in the Etsy blog, and I’ve heard loads of positive feedback), which was immensely exciting, but they didn’t sell like mad. (They didn’t really even sell like slightly-unusual.)

First lesson learned: just because you make something that people like, doesn’t mean that people will actually buy it.

This weekend, at a friend’s suggestion, I booked a booth at a local farmer’s market. For only $60, it seemed like a wildly clever business idea. How could I possibly NOT make a fortune?

Well, not only did I not make a fortune, but I actually didn’t sell a single card, unless you count the one that I traded a bookseller for a tattered copy of The Slang of Sin. There were quite a few people who came by and told me how much they liked them, and one person even asked how much they cost (they were next to a sign that listed prices, but that seems irrelevant).


Chasing the elusive Sandman

The past month, I’ve slept an average of three hours a night, and have worked an average of 90 hours a week.

My Valentine cards took more time to produce & prepare than I’d expected, although I’ve heard so much very encouraging feedback that’s it’s been quite delightful, especially as it’s my first-ever foray into making & selling my own work. (If you’re interested in a card, they’re available on Etsy, or in Halifax at Duly Noted Stationary on Quinpool and Love, Me Boutique on Birmingham. I’ll also be selling them in person this weekend at the Harbourside Market in Dartmouth.)

I’ve been also working on a whole boatload of projects, in between all the inking and painting and panicking. I’ve got a few websites in the works, a logo, and a printed booklet with a short turnaround time, along with all the usual Wicker Emporium work. I’ve been meeting with all sorts of people to discuss new projects, and am working on finishing up some projects that have been dragging their heels for too long.

Outside of that, I just took my first screen printing class last night, and it was rather delightful. Given that my print work is all digital offset printing, I’ve never had an opportunity to apply any of delightful things I learned in school, like trapping and registration and colour plates, all of which now I have a practical use for. I’m getting more and more excited about doing more work by hand, and am hoping the print process will lead to all sorts of exciting new developments and discoveries.

In short, while sleep would be nice, I’m happy to be mad-busy and thrilled about my work again.