Laura Sallade: “You need discipline.”

There was never any doubt in Laura Sallade’s mind about becoming an artist.

Eight years after moving to Philadelphia, she’s renting additional space for the studio she’s had for the past six years, she has representation at Seraphin Gallery in  Philadelphia and MasseyLyuben Gallery in NYC, and she’s about to show 34 pieces.

Sallade creates two-dimensional sculptures, using a combination of glass, silver, epoxy, and watercolor to build complex patterns and layered works that are wall hung. She utilizes her sculpture, chemistry, and printmaking knowledge to explore and experiment.

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Sallade’s pieces consist of glass, silver, epoxy, and watercolor.

The foundation of each piece always consists of glass, and Sallade uses her other materials to explore the glass and create patterns. “I’m drawn to patterns because I find them everywhere in nature,” Sallade explained. “I enjoy the feeling of discovery and pursue it on a daily basis, and as the work evolves, it can go through a process of appearing like many different natural formations.”

The complexity of each piece can require help from others, since quick movements for large pieces can be needed as glass is lifted, chemicals poured and sealing conducted. While her largest piece to date was a sculpture created for a Nantucket home, the largest artwork she created for her upcoming show required the help of two friends.

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Sallade’s largest piece, hung in Nantucket. Photo courtesy of Laura Sallade.

Originally intended as a door for the Comcast Center, the piece is one of the 34 works in Sallade’s show at Massey Lyuben in Chelsea, opening on November 16. “I really wanted to make something this size where I didn’t have anyone else telling me what they wanted,” Sallade explained. “I’m really glad I trusted my gut with this piece.”

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Sallade with her upcoming show’s largest piece.

The holes for a doorknob and hinges are still visible through the transformation that Sallade provided. “I love that it was meant to have this other life and it got miscast,” she said.

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Originally meant as a door, the holes meant for hinges and a doorknob are still visible.

Now, it is what Sallade refers to as a vessel of contemplation. “The purpose of these objects is to make a place for contemplation and people can put their thoughts in,” explained Sallade. “For one person, it might be the joy of becoming a parent, while someone else is grieving the loss of someone dear. Art is this space to contain all of these thoughts. I’m glad I got a door. I was able to take something that otherwise would have been thrown out and give it life.”

Even with the beauty that comes with giving discarded pieces new life, there’s challenge in creating. “The difficulty isn’t in the physical putting together of elements,” Sallade explained. “It’s facing your fear of manifesting an expression of yourself. Doing that takes courage. Putting yourself out there to be criticized is the hard part. I think our battles are more invisible than we realize.”

Sallade has fought her own share of battles, working hard over the years. “I like when people are cautious to own the title of ‘artist’ because it shows they revere it,” Sallade said. “Everyone has creativity and I always strive to encourage that in everyone, but to be a fully committed artist you need discipline. To say everyone is an artist is not letting artists have their own space and category and a lot of artists fight to be in that space. I have definitely sacrificed a lot to be here and that serves as motivation because the stakes are higher due to the sacrifices I’ve made.”

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Sallade’s studio space, with elements that will become part of a sculpture.

Sallade’s own journey started in childhood, growing up in the suburbs of Reading, PA. “I didn’t really ever consider anything else as a career,” she explained. “When it was time to go to school, it was, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do.’”

Her parents were supportive, and Sallade found that she really enjoyed building things and working with material. She uses colors, lines, and composition as part of her process, but not the goal. “I make things that look like paintings,” Sallade said. “Everything I make has sculptural content to it. I like the challenge of 2D because it’s figuring out how well I can investigate on a two-dimensional surface. There’s so much much more that goes into my process than applying paint to a surface, so describing these works simply as paintings doesn’t feel quite accurate.”

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She went to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Center City, earning a Certification in Sculpture, and stayed in Philadelphia when her career began even before graduation. Needing a second studio for a large commission, she found her current space with an affordable rent, and recently expanded to a larger studio in the same building. Conveniently near New York City, where most of her sales occur, Sallade has found herself in a good location while building her career and even traveling for inspiration.

She was able to travel throughout Europe for two months on a travel grant and spent time in the south of France earlier this year. “The change that happens is internal and indirect,” Sallade explained. “You go and travel and realize what things fall away and what things remain when out of the context of your normal life.”

While in France, she spent time exploring nature, examining the light. “It’s a really wild spacial experience,” Sallade said. “The mountains are right up against the ocean and it’s really beautiful.”

She decided to paint in nature, bringing her watercolor supplies, where were easy to bring along. When she lost her large brush, she only had a small one to recreate the patterns she found, and she discovered new inspiration in the process. “You walk a couple of meters and everything changes,” Sallade shared. “Five watercolors came out of that experience of what it felt like to be on the mountain.”

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Sallade incorporates patterns into her work, using nature as inspiration.

These days, as her commissions became more consistent, Sallade moved from bartending to driving for supplemental income. She drives for Lyft a few hours in the morning before working a full day at the studio. She usually creates more than 40 hours a week, and having the ability to pick up hours when she needs gives her the freedom to work on her pieces without interruptions. “It’s a little bit of stability and if I need to drop it, no one is harassing me,” she shared.

She’s also able to focus on experimenting more and has found that imagery becomes more beautiful when she gives up control. The pieces that look the most organic are the ones where Sallade allows the work to flow. She can engineer the process to get a certain look, using gestures to build complementary patterns. “If there’s too much control, it’ll look contrived,” Sallade added. “I’ll always try to tweak it a bit. I pay attention. You have to be willing to sacrifice your own plans. You have to make plans. Then you have to let go of them.”

Sallade often shows behind-the-scenes video of her work in the studio on her Instagram, and her website holds more information about her process and representation.

Phil Roberts: “There is no shortcut.”

Phil Roberts likes a challenge. As he’s developing his second wood-based company in five years and his third company in eight years, he’s realized he has selected a big one.

Roberts grew up in Southampton as one of five kids, with a creatively-minded mother, Carol, and an engineering-orientated father, Sid. Spending a lot of time with his grandfathers, a farmer and a carpenter, provided more exposure to skill-based careers. Sid, a software/electrical engineer, encouraged Roberts to pursue engineering. “So I got an art degree,” said Roberts. “It wasn’t a direct rebellion — maybe subconsciously. His work seemed really interesting but also boring. Sitting at a computer didn’t seem like a good option.”

Roberts earned his B.S. Digital Media Arts with an emphasis on cinematography from John Brown University in NW Arkansas. After graduation, he started work as a freelance photographer and videographer. While the travel was fun, the unpredictability of the work took its toll. “I would spend two weeks in St. Louis and then have three weeks with no job,” Roberts said.

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

Looking for a hobby, Roberts began to build custom farm tables in 2012. “I would sell a table, then spend money to buy more equipment, and make another table. It was a slow process,” Roberts shared.

But it was a process that worked. Using sustainably sourced wood to make customizable tables at a good price, Roberts was able to build the business from a one-man show to a ten-man team. He also brought his wife, Melinda, on staff in 2015. “Marketing was easy because it was a product I would want to buy,” explained Roberts. “We built a really good product, sold one table and asked the customer to tell one friend. It was a snowball.”

His digital media experience was also a huge benefit when building the business. “If you have to hire someone for every single process, it’s impossible,” Roberts said. “I grew that company until I realized I wasn’t the best person for the job anymore. I wanted to be designing, not building the company. … Once I realized I was just the email guy, I realized someone else could do this better than me. Someone with business, marketing experience.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

He and Melinda decided to take a step back. In June 2016, they sold most of Emmor Works. A few months later, they traveled across the United States in an old VW van they called Benjy, documenting their journey through their Instagram account, @tires2fires. During their trip, with a stop in Boulder, Colorado, the couple ran into an old friend at a public library makerspace. They toured the location, which included a laser cutter that caught Roberts’ eye. After a brief discussion, they moved on.

They didn’t know when they were getting home or what they would do when they did, and the stress of needing to pay bills was starting to build. Melinda had always wanted to return to library science, the field she had left temporarily to join Emmor Works. “She was really good at her job, but she’s great wherever she goes,” Roberts explained. “It was great to have her at Emmor Works.”

When they got home, Melinda found a job as the school librarian at the Maple Shades High School, while Roberts intended to return to Emmor Works, where he planned on designing and building furniture without having to run the team or manage the business side of the company. “In my fantasy land of my mind, I wanted to separate from Emmor Works while designing products for them,” he shared. “That seemed like the best of both worlds. Hopefully, it’s still possible.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

But there were creative differences and mismatched expectations. After several months, Roberts decided instead to combine his love of technical woodworking and design ability into an entirely new company, Art by Philip Roberts. He remembered that laser cutter and the brief conversation they’d had in Colorado, and he decided to invest in his own machine. “I knew I wanted to be in a design-orientated business,” explained Roberts. “and what attracted me to this was the technical and creative aspect. I still get to work with wood.”

Roberts designs his pieces digitally, converts the files into a format the laser can process, and then allows the laser to cut out the pieces. Each art piece consists of 12 layers built from mahogany, and the laser can take up to 9.5 hours to complete all of the layers. The design work itself can take countless hours to plan and execute. And it took some months to figure out. “You hope when it’s all done and you spent hours doing it that it looks okay,” said Roberts.

Roberts sold his first piece in July 2017. “I’d forgotten how much work it took to build a company from scratch,” Roberts shared. “You remember it’s exciting and difficult, but the amount of work is crazy.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

Even before marketing, Roberts invested the time in building his process for building the pieces. “It took a couple months alone to master the actual construction of these complicated pieces,” Roberts explained. “Obviously the designs are essential to the art but if the physical piece in your hands doesn’t feel right, it ruins the experience. Emmor Works was the opposite. I believe we created a great product but it came at the cost of sleepless nights and unmanageable hours. The shop was peddle-to-metal at all times to keep up with orders. If we had slowed down to improve our production design, we could have produced just as much with so much less stress.”

Then there was the difficulty of building trust with his customers. “There is no shortcut,” Roberts said, “and the only way to build a strong reputation is putting in the work to prove that trust and reliability. However, it is amazing what customers will do once that trust is established.”

The beginning of October brought a wave of orders, and the reviews and feedback have been positive. “This was an opportunity to jump in and make it work because I have no choice but to make it work,” Roberts said. “That stress and anxiety is a good motivator.”

Even as the business continues to build, Roberts is hesitant to call himself an artist. To build tables was to make a functional piece of furniture, and now, he is making something completely different. He explained, “It’s a very weird thing to be like, ‘I make art.’ It’s so pretentious, and not something I aspired to do. I’m more comfortable saying I produce home decor.”

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Photo courtesy of Phil Roberts

It’s the respect for the craft that makes Roberts hesitant to define himself as an artist. “I went to school with talented artists,” Roberts added. “I know what talent looks like. I would never put myself in the same caliber as those guys.”

That discomfort is also a draw for Roberts. “You should be doing something uncomfortable every day,” he said. “I enjoy doing it. And I think there’s a place for it. When you’re selling art, you’re selling yourself. If I could sell all day and not tell anyone I’m doing it, that would be great.”

And of course, there’s the challenge. “If you pick a really big challenge, it will entertain you for a long time,” Roberts shared. “I can’t escape now. I’m too far in now. I either have to make it work or bail. The challenge is I’m attracted to challenge. It’s satisfying — you had an idea and now it’s real life. Taking it from your head to real life is really cool. It’s difficult, too. It’s not like I have cold feet, but if I were to look for a ‘real’ job now, I don’t think I’d be an attractive candidate to HR. How does starting three different weird companies convert to finding some desk job? I have no idea so, yeah, we have to make this work.”

As the word gets out and Roberts continues to design, he just wants to improve. “I hope that three months from now I look at what I’m doing now and think it’s terrible,” Roberts said. “As soon as you stop progressing, what’s the point? Why keep doing stuff if you’re not getting better? I feel the things I made that I love the most were things I never sold. It would be great to sell something someday that I absolutely think is the best. I need to develop a style. Seeing other people doing amazing stuff is inspiring but also frightening. Again, good motivation to keep going.”

Visit Phil’s website, Instagram, and Facebook to see what else he is working on and to nab one of his pieces.

Ruby Allain (5): “I’m an artist, too.”

Ruby Allain only turned five at the end of April, but she’s already making her mark as an artist.

“We all hang out together in our one big room and share supplies,” explained her mom, Morgan. “The bookmark thing started because when Danny and I have to cut down paper, there’s usually an inch left over.”

Trying to cut down on waste, they started making the paper ends bookmark size and giving them to Ruby. “I like painting,” Ruby said, who makes 10-20 bookmarks at a time. “I’m an artist, too. My mom and dad are the greatest artists. That’s why I did bookmarks.”

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Ruby started painting two years ago, at age three. It took her about a year to understand how to control the brush, Morgan explained. Ruby went to her first event as an artist over Christmas 2016, then another event more recently, selling about 70 bookmarks all told and making over $50. “I’m gonna sell more though,” Ruby said. “They have different colors and I did them all by myself and pictures, too.”

Painting with watercolor, Ruby likes to add in a variety of colors. “I do every color,” shared Ruby. “I like colors. Blue, pink and yellow and orange and red and green. I like pink. That’s my favorite color.”

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Ruby is also a fan of the comic, “The King’s Lost Ruby”, that Danny draws for her. “It’s about me,” Ruby explained. “I like that my dad did the ogre. That’s my PawPaw. It’s really fun. My MawMaw is a witch – a good witch though.”

And she’s a fan of the Labyrinth artwork Morgan creates. “She does Labyrinth and we have that movie and I like that,” Ruby said. “She loves David Bowie and I do, too.”

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Plus, living in rural DeQuincy, LA, their backyard is perfect for exploring. “Me and my dad go on adventures,” gushed Ruby. “We go on adventures where the treehouse is. We do a lot of fun stuff at my MawMaw and PawPaw’s house. We make maps and I have a sword.”

Asked if she fights monsters with her sword, she said yes– “Zombies, mummies and other nasty things.”

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Ruby gets her love of painting from her parents, Morgan and Danny. Follow Morgan on Facebook, snag a piece of art from Etsy or Society6, see some fun stuff on Tumblr, and catch her on Instagram or Twitter as @theinklinggirl. Danny shares his work on Instagram and sells through Morgan’s Etsy as well.

Jenna Rayesky Floral Studio: “It is possible.”

Building a family trade holds fond memories for Jenna Rayesky, as she and her husband, Steven, grow their event planning and flower arranging business, Jenna Rayesky Floral Studio, in the historic suburbs of Philadelphia.

From an early age, Rayesky worked side-by-side with her mother at her store, Erdon, which began in Medford 25 years ago. “I feel like I learned so much from interacting with adults as a child and being given meaningful work,” said Rayesky.

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Jenna Rayesky putting the finishing touches on an arrangement. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

By the time she graduated high school, Rayesky officially joined the staff but was working in the high-end boutique as young as age 11 on the weekends with her mother. One day, her mother left her in charge while she ran across the street to make a bank deposit. She warned Rayesky not to change the window displays. “I was notorious for changing the window displays,” Rayesky explained. “A coat had come in from a designer in Paris. It was made beautifully, and it was the most expensive coat we’d gotten in at the time. It was $1,000 and it was in the window. A little old lady came in. She had her bag of donuts from the bakery next store.”

Rayesky helped her try the coat on, and she loved it and purchased the coat. Rayesky asked her what she was going to do the rest of the day, and the woman said, “I’m just going to go home and wear this coat and eat my donuts.”

When Rayesky’s mother returned, she saw the coat missing and thought Rayesky was joking when she explained she had sold it. “Everyone wanted to be the one that sold this new expensive coat,” Rayesky explained. “My mom really didn’t shy away from giving me meaningful work and letting me be a part of what typically isn’t a kid’s world. Grown women in their 40s were taking my opinion and letting me pick out things for them.”

Those fond memories encouraged Rayesky to include her own two children in the business she officially launched with Steven in spring of 2016. “My husband and I want them to see your work can be meaningful and you can enjoy it,” shared Rayesky. “I don’t feel like they have to do what we do, but I want to help them uncover what they enjoy so they can pursue that.”

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Steven Rayesky in a moment of glee. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

After joining the staff at the boutique, Rayesky started working with her own clients, providing personal shopping. Additionally, she utilized the retail space at the store for events that she planned. “It wasn’t totally random that I started doing events,” Rayesky said. “I just love hospitality in general. It’s kind of naturally evolved.”

The seeds for the business began in 2013 when Rayesky and Steven were asked to assist with a friend’s wedding. What started with floral arranging morphed into the other wedding details, and guests noticed. “My husband and I just loved doing the setup and loved working together,” Rayesky shared. “We didn’t think it would go further than that. We just did it for fun.”

Then the phone calls started, either from those who personally attended, or who had heard about the flowers from someone who attended. “‘We were at the wedding and I heard you were the florist. I got your number from the mother of the bride,’” Rayesky said, sharing some of the connections that led to more clients. “I felt like I was underground. People would call and ask, is ‘This the right number?’ Even my voicemail said nothing about the floral studio. We were like, we should probably make this official. Just this year, we launched our website.”

Now with an official website of February, inquiries have been pouring in and the studio is nearly completely booked for the year. “This has been the most insane month of our life,” said Rayesky.

They’ve been working on the business side, streamlining the process as more and more people hear about the studio. Rayesky also appreciates that the business allows her the space to include time for her children. She had stopped working as a stylist in 2013 to stay home with her daughter, and while she and Steven worked on the wedding, their daughter, just a few months old, was with them the entire time. “She was right there along with us in a bouncy seat while we were doing flowers and setting up a table,” shared Rayesky, who now also has a nearly two-year-old son. “I was home with her. We had free time on our hands when our friend asked us if we would help with their wedding. Initially, they asked if we could do the flowers for the wedding and it just morphed into all of the details. Not just the centerpiece but all the other details. I spent so many years dressing people’s wardrobes, picking out their entire wardrobe, that it’s hard for me to not see life through that lens.”

Rayesky found that her work in her mother’s boutique, creating window displays, helped her develop an eye for the details. “It’s hard for me to not see things through a cohesive lens,” she explained. “That’s how it morphed into more than the flowers. I didn’t set out thinking I’ll start working and do this job. It really fit naturally. I was home with our daughter and someone would find me, call me, and I’d be like, ‘Sure I’ll meet you for coffee and talk about your wedding.” We’d take time planning the details and my daughter would be in bed. Then the wedding weekend would come and we’d be super busy. My daughter would hang out with my mom or mother-in-law. My husband would handle the logistics of it. It would be like a date night/date weekend for us. We love working side by side. I love being creative and serving people in that way. All throughout it, my prayer was, I don’t want it to take away from my family. I only wanted to do it if it would add value to my family.”

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Jenna and Steven’s daughter helping before a wedding. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

Even the studio itself is close to home since the couple converted their garage into their working space, and wedding weekends have become dates for Rayesky and Steven. They’ve found that their strengths complement each other, and have been able to build a strong business model. With 75% of floral design requiring busy work, Rayesky handles ordering, designing, and creating the color storyboard board for weddings and events. Steven takes care of the logistics of obtaining and processing the flowers, which requires hours of cutting, hydrating and feeding until Rayesky creates the arrangements.

As their business grows, the duo outsources more, hiring assistants to help with the hours of processing and allowing Rayesky and Steven to handle other tasks. Rayesky has found that being creatively minded does not lend itself naturally to the business side, and they took some time figuring out how to make their business viable. “The first dozen weddings we did, the joke was, how big of a wedding gift do we give this couple?” Rayesky explained. “I would put hundreds of dollars more into the wedding because I wanted it to look beautiful. I didn’t want to think about numbers and margins. I still don’t. That’s been the biggest challenge. I have gotten a lot of wisdom from others on that.”

Rayesky realized that when a talent comes naturally, whether floral design, photography or another creative field, there is an intimidation when it comes to setting prices. “I had to overcome that hurdle,” Rayesky explained. “There was a wedding we did two years ago. When all was said and done, we made $3 an hour while working 80 hours. It’s insanity–working on four hours of sleep. We realized that if we’re going to make this a business, the hardest thing is, you don’t want to resent the love of doing something. You want to do something you love, but if the business model doesn’t work for you, then all of a sudden the thing you love becomes something you hate. We had to create a business structure. That part I don’t like. Starting out, I didn’t realize how long I had to sit in front of a computer. No one wanting to get into floral design thinks, ‘I just love crunching numbers.’”

Rayesky discovered that the time and money to make the business run smoothly was worth it. “It’s been hard but it’s so necessary,” she admitted. “We evaluate every few months to see what we can do better–we learn and change what’s draining us.”

She also holds onto the advice she was given when she started the business: outsource as much as possible, and protect your dreams. “This is hard, easier said than done,” said Rayesky. “It was hard for us. It’s so hard. I totally get the shoestring budget for starting your own business.”

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Jenna Rayesky with her handiwork. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

When starting a business in a creative industry, and there are no funds to hire people to write the copy or take care of the finances, it seems impossible to outsource. Rayesky turned to networking, bartering and gleaning from those who had already gone through the process.

She also realized she needed to be careful about sharing her dream. “Don’t just share it with everybody,” she encouraged. “There are not as many people who are creative. There are a lot of people who will say you can’t do something you love, that you’ll be a starving artist. I’ve learned I need to guard these seeds of dreams and not just let anybody hear your dreams. There are going to be so many people who aren’t going to get it. They’re going to discourage it. Try to confide those dreams and hopes with people who have already done it. Be wise with who you share it with. It is possible. We tell our kids, you can be anything you want to be, but when it comes down to it, do we believe it? Find the people who can share those dreams and they won’t crush it.”

Jenna shares her designs on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about the studio by visiting the (recently launched) website.

This is the sixth in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people who make money creating. Contact me to share your story.

Quiet Bear Art: “Trading an Object that Means Joy”

Ken Webb of Quiet Bear Art sort of stumbled into an art career.

Webb started working with steel in high school, working for his wrestling coach in a steel fabricating shop. He wasn’t creating art, but he enjoyed the process of working with steel. “I wasn’t good in school,” Webb explained. “Disinterested. I had no idea of artistic stuff at that time.”

After a few years of steel work, he became a professional iron worker. He would use the scraps leftover from jobs to make some creative pieces. “I’d make something for me, or a family member or a friend,” said Webb. “I was making pretty good money as a steelworker at the time. It was a hobby type deal.”

After ten years, Webb began to realize he couldn’t stay at his job for another 35 years. “It was a decent job, but wasn’t too fulfilling,” he admitted. “It all came together at some point over the period of a few years that I wasn’t content and happy doing the daily grind that I saw people doing of getting up and punching the clock. … I was slowly doing more art as a side hobby and that was the direction I wanted to go. It was pretty difficult leaving a pretty secure job for something I didn’t know how to make a living at.”

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The process of building a viable business took some years. “I did it slowly over time,” shared Webb. “I held onto my job and I did the hobby more and more. I started doing some art shows while I still had a job on the side until I felt secure enough. … It was kind of a scary deal, because for several years, I didn’t do just art. I did art, but I did a lot of more construction type work, such as staircases and gates to make a living. But it supported my art. Slowly over the years, I knocked that out and did more just art. It was kind of a long process.”

Originally born in Arizona and raised in New Mexico, Webb made Silverton, Colo. his home in 2001. Drawn to the small mountain town by an art show organized on the infamous Blair Street, Webb spent a week there before deciding to move to the area permanently. He’d been living in Tucson while traveling for art shows, and he enjoyed being able to play in the mountains. “I was just traveling and doing art shows in the summer,” Webb explained, citing towns such as Sante Fe and Taos for shows where he could display his work. “I just liked Silverton, so I ended up staying.”

The art scene in Silverton hooked Webb initially, but the area and its people also captured him. He’d grown up in the mountains — a different kind of mountains, he clarified — and he enjoyed the outdoors. Then there was the community. “You may not know all the people in Silverton because it’s a transient place, but you know a lot of people,” shared Webb. “You can stay still and get your art all over the world.”

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It took a few years before Webb realized what he had accidentally stumbled into. “I realized that people from everywhere, from all over Europe and anywhere I can think of, have traveled to my shop. That was a complete mistake by me. It wasn’t planned that way. A couple years into it, I realized, ‘Wow, you get people from everywhere here.’”

Silverton has a busy tourist season, with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad transporting up to 200,000 visitors yearly. With tourists and the proximity to Telluride, Durango, and Ouray, Webb stays busy with custom work and commissions. “It’s a good center location without living in LA to have enough clientele to make a living,” said Webb.

He’s found that his pieces connect with his clients. “I don’t have to push it like a used car salesman does,” shared Webb. “People either don’t like it at all, or they fall in love with it and they’re happy to exchange some money for my art. I like that. Most of the people that buy the art I’m selling are really happy. You can see in their eyes that they made a connection with it and there’s no sales involved. They want to purchase it. Those kind of people I connect on a different level with. You’re trading an object that means joy to the person who wants to buy it.”

Webb stays busy by finding inspiration from nature, his fellow artists, and just the challenge of trying something new. “I like to be challenged, but it has to be something new to me. I like to  be challenged creatively, or spiritually. Trying to make something out of steel or copper that I’ve never done before. I like that ongoing challenge. Inspiration comes from all sorts of places.”

He also finds his art to be an important part of spiritual growth. “A big part of that is it can be meditative to go out to my shop and just go with the flow when I’m in a space where I can be so productive in a matter of hours. Other times, I’m disconnected and can’t figure out what I want to do. I’m sure some people write and get that, or exercise and get that, or meditate on a trampoline. Art is my avenue for a spiritual connection.”

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Webb encourages other steelworkers to ask for help and get involved in the blacksmithing end of steel work. There are often state blacksmithing chapters or some sort of metal working group. “You spend a lifetime and still have a lifetime of learning to do,” said Webb. “Ask for help. Ask questions. You’ll run across people who are very very helpful and you’ll run across people who don’t want to help you at all, for whatever reason, maybe fear. But just be consistent. In the blacksmithing community, more times than not, they’re very willing to help if you just ask. Fear kept me from doing that for a long time. I kept trying to figure it out.”

And perhaps even more importantly, Webb suggests finding work that’s enjoyable. “If it’s not fun, it’s not something I want to do,” he said. “I do a lot of art shows, but not nearly as many as I did at one point, because I have my gallery that’s open six months of the year. I see more people trying to make a living out of art, and almost make it into commercial art instead of following their passion. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the avenue for me. I want to do what I enjoy. I’ve run into people who aren’t doing what they enjoy. They hate it, but they’ve turned it into their job and way of making money. It’s too much work for the amount of money you’ll make. Whatever it is, if it’s not fun, do something different, whether that’s a job at IBM or an art career.”

Webb finished a show recently in November, and he has a few smaller shows in December. His next big show is in Tucson, starting January 26, with 18 days reserved to display and sell art. Follow Webb on Facebook or visit his website to see upcoming shows and more art.

This is the fourth in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you or someone you know has a good story.

Henna Blessings: “You Never Know if You Don’t Try”

Molly Arms saw a friend painting henna sixteen years ago, and on a whim, asked if she could try.  “I had seen it a little bit, traveling in India when I was 18, but I hadn’t thought about painting until I saw my friend doing it,” explained Arms. “I asked her if I could try it. She let me try and I really just enjoyed myself.”

Already an artist who enjoyed painting and drawing, Arms hadn’t tried to show any of her artwork publicly. Henna allowed her to create in low-pressure situations, using a method that connected with others. Six years after first painting henna, she realized she could work festivals herself. Living in California at the time, she started working parties, festivals, weddings, and baby showers with another artist.

The draw to the art form was deeper than something fun for her to try. Arms wasn’t interested in permanent tattoos, and henna provided a way she could wear her art constantly. “In the beginning, it was because I wanted to do henna on myself,” Arms shared. “I didn’t think about a business.”

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Photo by Brooke Schultheis

She also loved the culture henna stems from. Along with her travels to India, Arms knew the cultural expectations that comes with the art. “The way it is in those cultures,” She explained, “when you have henna for your wedding, you don’t have to do any chores while the henna is there. It’s also a really special event to get henna. They really pamper the bride. It’s not like that all the time.”

These days, Arms lives in Durango, Colo., sustaining herself working from May to October with her business, Henna Blessings, which uses 100% organic henna from Rajhastan. “In a different climate, I’d be able to do henna year-round,” she explained. “It makes enough money to live on during that season, which is great.”

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Arms ended up in Durango after the birth of her son. She was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at age 24 when she got pregnant. Her mother had been living in Bayfield, a town next to Durango, for a year at that point. Her son’s father left when the baby was four months old, and eight months later, Arms decided she needed more help. From there, she moved several more times, including back to California when her son was eight and Mexico, before she returned back to Durango about eight years ago. “It’s very lovely there,” Arms said, who is currently in Rhode Island for a month. “It’s very community feeling. It’s small enough but big enough. The college really helps with the concert hall. It’s been good. I like it there.”

When she first moved to Colorado, she started looking for festivals, since there weren’t as many parties as she was used to. Festivals weren’t cheap, costing anywhere from $50 to $1,500 for a booth, and she started with fairs. She worked her way up to the point where she can now make anywhere from $500 to $2,500 in one weekend. She also found that people often look for a henna booth, making the marketing aspect of working a festival quite easy.

She also found henna a way to become a self-employed paid artist. “That’s what really attracted me after a while, being able to be self employed,” admitted Arms. “I’ve been self employed for awhile, but was always a nanny or a private cook. To be able to do something I love, and be an artist and make my own career is really wonderful. I think everyone should go for it when they have something they’re passionate about. You have to keep sending it out. Even if you keep getting rejected, you can’t take no for answer. You have to keep sending it to shows and galleries.”

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She didn’t find henna to be as personal as her painting. “It’s more like doodling,” Arms said. “But with painting, it’s so subjective. A friend of mine is finally starting to sell work. She’s amazing. It’s taken awhile and she’s been entering into different shows. She’s finally having a couple of people buying her work consistently. She’s been really pushing me to do more with painting. The thing is, you never know if you don’t try. A lot of people don’t try because they think it won’t happen. That fear of rejection or failure. Do we really want to be in our sixties and seventies and think, why didn’t I try? You never know what your life will be like.”

There’s also the healing aspect of art that Arms finds comforting. “When I do henna or some other kind of art,” shared Arms, “like knitting or painting or whatever, and I can be having the worst day, but when I start making art, it goes away and it goes into the distance and I feel wonderful from it. It’s very therapeutic.”

Arms is attending Fort Lewis College, earning an art business degree and considering teaching overseas or offering art therapy. She’s been exploring different forms of art through classes that aren’t required for her degree, such as ceramics and printmaking. “When you start exploring the arts, you can find a lot of things you’re good at. A lot of people think they don’t know how to do art because they’re thinking of realism. I like to encourage people to pick up some form of art and not worry if someone else will like it. .. Even if you can’t make money from it, it’s still important. I like to make things and give them as gifts. If you think of all the artists out there in the world, who haven’t gotten their art out there, we’re all missing their contribution to society. They’re really important contributions to society.”

Check out Arms’ website at hennablessings.com and book her for a party if you’re in the Durango area. You can also friend Arms on Facebook to follow her business and see more designs.

This is the third in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.

Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”

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She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”

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MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”

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She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.