Ginger Kuczowicz: “The simplicity of it is beautiful.”

Ginger Kuczowicz has a mission: crafting all-natural home and skin care products and providing ecological cleaning services to encourage healthier, greener living in Philadelphia.

Kuczowicz owns two different businesses, the first of which is Holistic Home LLC, an ecological cleaning service she started in 2010, and the second is a physical store called Soap Box she opened in 2013. Soap Box sells hand-made, all-natural skin care products and household cleaners. She now has ten employees, and Holistic Home LLC was named The Best of Philly 2014, and​ one of the best by Yelp and Angie’s List, while Soap Box won The Best of Philly 2015.

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Kuczowicz opened Soap Box as an extension of her cleaning business to provide simple, all-natural items. All of the products are handmade in the back of the store. “If you use soap and touch your skin with it 25 times a day, it should be healthy for you,”  Kuczowicz said. “Lotions, skin care, anything you put on your skin. We sell supplies we clean with at the store. We often have clients who say, ‘What can I do to make my home smell like the store?’”

Using vinegar, baking soda and essential oils as some of the foundations for her products, Kuczowicz explained that what she crafts is simple to make, and easily replicated at home. “The simplicity of it is beautiful, in my opinion,” Kuczowicz said “There’s nothing harmful about it.”

Kuczowicz developed a passion for cleaning during her upbringing in Upper Silesia, Poland, the most industrial part of Europe for the 20th century, with coal mining coating houses regularly in soot. “We had to clean from almost the moment we were born,” Kuczowicz said. “Every Saturday, everybody would just clean their houses. The windows had to be cleaned once a month or we couldn’t see through them.”

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She came to the United States in 2000 to be with her partner, who had made the trip the year before to work on his doctorate degree. Having gone to accounting school after high school at age 15, she was already an experienced accountant for the Foundation of Cardiac Surgery Development. When  she arrived in the United States, she continued to work in nonprofit accounting. She found a job with Your Part-Time Controller, a company that specializes in nonprofit accounting. “Every day was a different nonprofit,” Kuczowicz shared. “You become friends with them, because they care about certain causes that are close to your heart, like pets or the elderly. That was a great job too.”

She started cleaning on the side, and when considering the products she wanted to use for her cleaning work, Kuczowicz examined the number of cancer cases in the western world after World War II, and saw a correlation between health and the staggering increase in amount of chemicals that were being used. “The number of cancers has grown drastically,” Kuczowicz explained. “Obviously the chemicals in the cleaners did not help the situation. They were not even necessary. We just have a tendency to overdo cleaning. Simple vinegar can do the job just fine. It’s actually good to be exposed to bacteria, on some level.”

Three years after she started her cleaning business, Kuczowicz quit her accounting job. “It had grown to such a size that I could no longer do both,” Kuczowicz said. “It was just not fair to my employer at the time, or my own business. I couldn’t keep up with the demand on both sides. I had to make a decision. Either close the cleaning business or quit accounting world, which I enjoyed immensely.”

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Her accounting experience has proven invaluable with her businesses, and she encourages anyone considering starting their own business to keep good books. “Books are the most important thing to see how healthy or unhealthy your business is,” Kuczowicz said. “You can have someone do them for you, but understand what they mean. That’s something people have a tendency to run away from because it’s not easy or pleasant to learn, but it’s so crucial I can’t stress it enough.”

She also encouraged potential business owners to have a plan on paper, be aware of the time needed to grow a business, and set time aside every day for self care. “Get ready to be finished with their social life because there’s no such a thing as weekends,” Kuczowicz shared. “There is work around the clock. At a certain point, after a few years, you build a client base and are able to get help.”

Until that point, however, Kuczowicz stressed the long hours. The job is draining,” she said. “It is stressful either way. That will never leave you. I want to add at the same time the importance of taking a break. It is difficult to take a break because the amount of work is staggering, but I think a person should make a point to have thirty minutes or an hour to close the laptop, close your iPhone and do something for yourself.”

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She’s found other challenges as well. “Even though you are driven by your mission to do good things, that mission gets pushed aside by daily necessities of filling out paperwork, on compliance, or taxes, bookkeeping, hiring people,” she shared. “Normal business stuff that you don’t think about going into business. You think that you’re just going to be focusing on the mission – why did you even open the business. There can be only 20 percent of that left when you have all of those other obligations on your back. My desk is never clear. That is a challenge. I would love to have a secretary, but I’m not big enough to have somebody just yet.”

As many challenges as she faces, Kuczowicz has found her work to be rewarding as well. “When people tell me that someone no longer suffers from asthma attacks after we’ve done the cleaning or when we come to clean on a regular basis,” she said about the encouraging things she encounters with her work. “When we clean with natural cleaners, there’s nothing that triggers asthma. I love when people ask specifically for green cleaning, because they have small children, animals. A lot of them have the tendency to spend a lot of time on the floor. Dogs lick the floor. It’s fine licking vinegar but not so much Pine Sol. That’s very rewarding when people notice the difference. Not to mention they don’t have to spend the time cleaning. They’re buying time also from us.”

Visit Holistic Home LLC’s website, or Facebook. Follow Soap Box on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or visit the online store.

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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.

Danny Allain: “I’m not the next big guy or anything. It’s just me. I make stuff.”

Danny Allain learned to read using his brothers’ comic books years before he started writing and drawing his own. The youngest of six, with two brothers and three sisters, Allain mainly stayed at home, drawing and playing in the woods of DeQuincy, LA. Comics made it easy to follow the story, even without knowing how to read. “You can know what’s going on,” Allain said. “The green guy is always mad.”

Art talent and interest ran in the family–Allain’s father, Gerald, creates portraits, and Allain’s brothers both draw as well. Allain started drawing all the time, but didn’t attend an art class until he moved away for college. He became a drawing major, and met his wife, Morgan. “She knew a character I was drawing, a dark elf character,” shared Allain. “She was like, ‘Hey, is that Drizzt?’ I was like, ‘F yeah that’s Drizzt.’ I was pretty oblivious to everything in the world. That’s how we met. Or at least that’s how I noticed.”

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They got married and moved next to his parents, who live on 10 acres of land. After college, Allain taught elementary art for seven years, until ultimately deciding that teaching wasn’t for him. “It was a very controlling, micromanaging situation I was in,” Allain explained. “I got out of that and decided I wanted to do art. It was super stressful. I was on blood pressure and anxiety medication. I didn’t have any plans after quitting teaching. I had a mural, then got another one.”

Three years later, Allain is still painting murals, taking commissions, writing and drawing his own comics, making fences with his father and building houses with his brother. “Pretty much whatever I can do, to sustain art, is what I do,” Allain said. “Luckily, I married Morgan, who feels the exact way that I do. We’re hustling to do what we can to do this. I’m not saying I’m making baller money, but I’m making more now than when I was teaching. Teachers don’t make anything. It’s sad. You’ve got to sustain yourself.”

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An artist herself, Morgan has painted several series and manages the Etsy for her own work and for Allain’s. Their four-year-old daughter, Ruby, also recently made over $50 selling her own watercolor bookmarks.

Their family creates together in other ways. Two years ago, Allain started a comic for Ruby. There are two volumes with 90 pages each, and Allain has planned out the third and final volume, which will have a big fight scene. Allain involved Ruby by asking what she wanted in it.

Allain’s father, Gerald, is a troll that was cursed with cuteness and manners. “He’s bright pink and flowers grow off of him and he wears a tutu,” Allain explained.

Allain’s mother appears a witch, the source of Gerald’s curse, and sports a wort on her nose. “She loves it,” Allain said. “She actually has a wort on her nose and I always make fun of her for it.” Morgan is a mermaid. Other family and friends also make appearances. As Allain was planning the last volume, he told Ruby that he was almost done and asked if she had any final requests, and she did: werewolves. Morgan suggested making them weresheep instead.

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The pair has found other creative ways to share their art as well. Allain helped found Southwest Louisiana Art (SWLArt) with friends, and they organize an art market twice a month called LUNArt Sunday Art Market. “Every LUNArt, I do live art and make some weird thing or portrait,” said Allain. “One time I did the bones of a rabbit, and people liked it and bought it.”

Allain created an entire series based on his bones concept, and held his first solo show in May displaying his work. “Actual animal bones are fun to do, because you don’t see what’s in American bison,” shared Allain. “The big hump is their back bone. I thought it was muscle. Some of that is neat to find out. I like doing dragons, griffons, hydra. I did a breakfast set of a chicken, pig and cow.”

Allain plans to continue the series. “I want to do some more predatory scenes,” Allain said. “I have a fox and a mouse, pouncing. I want to do a sabertooth jumping on a mammoth or something. I have a bunch of ideas. I just have to get to the table. The hardest part is just getting to the table. Get to the table, with pencil and paper and the table is clean. After the first line, I’m hooked, and I’ll be there until I’m done. It seems like a chore to draw when I’m not drawing, but when I start, I remember it’s awesome.”

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Allain considers himself a storyteller first, even as he continues to draw and paint. “I love writing little stories–not even writing them out, just thinking them,” admitted Allain. “Comics are an easy way to do all of it. I can draw it, and write it and do all the lettering and inking myself. It’s just one solid metal hoop and that’s just me.”

A few years ago, Allain came up with an original idea about a western bounty hunter, and he had created three issues and was selling them at cons. The comic revolved around an alien crashing in the wild west and strapping an alien band to a cowboy’s arm, which allowed him to communicate with an AI system. Then Allain saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens at the movie theater, which was almost identical. Discouraged, he quit his sci-fi western and decided to write a standard fantasy novel and make it his own. “It was not an original idea by any stretch of the imagination,” said Allain. “It’s fun.”

When Allain’s nephew asked him to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, Allain decided to use the novel, Shadow Wars, as the story line. “There are five of them, 17-19,” Allain described his nephew’s friends. “They’re super preppy and stuff, from nice families. They pull up in their vehicles to my trailer house and we go into the shed and play. They are all about it. They rearrange their work schedules so they can play.”

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Allain also started making figurines and props for the campaign, and now sells D&D starter kits on Etsy. He found that creating the props was a stress reliever, and the guys that participate in the campaign love his work. “They’re the tiniest little hot glue things that they freak out over,” said Allain, who uses hot glue, matchsticks, popsicle sticks and polymer clay. “That’s about it. It’s just how you put it together. It’s a lot of fun.”

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Allain focuses on continuing to create, no matter the medium. “Ninety percent of the stuff I’m making is just art and stuff,” shared Allain. “I’ll make it. If someone buys it, cool. If it’s not a commission, I’m just making it for me. It’s lowbrow. I’m not the next big guy or anything. It’s just me. I make stuff.”



If you’re in Louisiana, catch Danny and Morgan at their next event on June 18, LUNArt Sunday Art Market Luna Live, 11 am – 4 pm.

Danny shares his work on Instagram and sells prints through Morgan’s Etsy store.

This is the seventh in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people who make money creating. Hey! My first newsletter is hitting the web this Wednesday! Click here to sign up and get an awesome newsletter with other profiles, including a brand-new feature not yet posted, and more art and quotes from Danny, and other fun tidbits.

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.

Elizabeth Kinahan Paintings: “A Way We Can Share an Experience”

After a stranger noticed her first cattle painting through her apartment window and bought it immediately, Elizabeth Kinahan, a representational oil painter, has built a livelihood around painting livestock.

Originally from Westfield in north central Jersey, Kinahan’s love of art began when she was five years old. “I’ve been interested in painting and drawing since I was very young,” Kinahan said. “My earliest memory is my grandmother giving me an Alice in Wonderland coloring book. Instead of coloring in the book, I had a blank piece of paper, and I was trying to copy the picture. I did this drawing of the Cheshire Cat maybe 10 times before I came up with one I was so happy with. I think I was five. I still have this thing and I think it says 1986 on it. That’s the earliest memory I have of being interested in drawing. That just never stopped. I always knew art could be the class I could take if I wanted to do something relaxing I knew I could be good at and it wouldn’t be stressful for me. I was a straight C student in gym but art I was good at.”

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As a teenager, Kinahan completed portrait commissions. “They were trying to help me and give me a little money and improve my skills,” Kinahan explained of those who asked her to create. “They were all people who believed in me and wanted to help me out. It made all the difference that there were people who believed I could be an artist and I had a skill that was worth exploring and pursuing. I never really started as much as I just kept going with it. I’ve always loved it. It’s been a source of relaxation and joy and peace and pleasure. It’s an outlet. We all need some sort of outlet and if it’s creative, great. I never thought I could be an artist for a living. I didn’t think it was possible when I was young. As I moved along this path, I realized it’s not only possible but necessary. Historically and culturally, art is important, and if that’s what I get to contribute to this world, I’m good with that. I’m happy with that.”

Even with early talent, interest and encouragement, it took Kinahan a little while to find her path. She completed two years of college as a nutrition major, but couldn’t connect to the college or her choice of study. Kinahan left school for a few years and moved back to New Jersey, where she started working for an airline. “My father said, ‘You just need to get a degree in something. I don’t care. What do you think you can get a degree in?’”

Kinahan chose art, and found a small, all-girls Catholic school, the College of Saint Elizabeth. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 2004. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, getting into that school,” Kinahan shared. “There were seven art majors in my class. It was a very small group. Almost all the classes were taught by Sister Anne. She would teach us how to paint flowers and the chapel. There was not a whole lot of variety. She did teach screen and block printing and ceramics. She was an amazing woman and I learned a lot of techniques from her. When I graduated, I kept going.”

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Kinahan decided to move west after witnessing the destruction caused by 9/11. She had her sights on Arizona, but her boyfriend at the time suggested Durango, Colo. “The whole drive out across the country, we were friendly bickering about where we were going to move,” Kinahan said.

They decided to pass through Colorado on their way to Arizona 13 years ago, arriving in Durango the day of the Main Avenue Art Festival, a yearly tradition in the small town. “I get teary thinking about this,” Kinahan shared. “It was magical. It was perfect. It was a beautiful day and the sky was bluer than I’ve ever seen. We parked on Third Avenue and walked down. I remember sitting on the curb and I had a beer in one hand and a tamale in the other hand, and a stranger was sitting next to me. They said some generic kind comment. And I immediately knew I was home. I don’t ever want to leave this place. I have felt that way about Durango ever since. … I love it. I have found such kindness and support and wonderful like-minded people. That’s how I ended up here and I’ve never really looked back.”

The relationship didn’t last, but Kinahan has continued to thrive in Durango. She switched to oil painting from acrylic after realizing her acrylics were drying too quickly in the dry climate. She met a successful photographer when she started working for the Art House downtown, who taught her the value of visual art and how to approach other people about that value. “My responsibility as an artist is to think as creatively and outside the box as possible,” she shared. “That skill of visual art is valuable to other people. That is where I struggled the longest–in seeing there is value in painting pictures. He was powerful in teaching me a lot about that. He would say, ‘Let’s walk around town and go into the shops and see what art they have up. If they don’t have art up, we can say, wouldn’t it be nice if you had art on your walls? We’re artists. We can put some art up. And if it sells, we can give you 10-15% of that piece.’ I said, ‘That’s crazy. We can’t do it.’ He said, ‘Nope, let’s go.’ We got our art up all over the place. I ended up falling in love with him and living with him for six years. He opened my eyes to the vast possibilities of life and I’m very grateful to him for that. If you have a dream or vision or goal, you have to just ask for it. Ask people for help, and for their time and their ideas. And people actually want to help other people.”

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Kinahan began to understand the value behind her art and how it connected people. “I view artists as documenters of the current climate,” Kinahan explained. “Wherever they are, throughout time and geography, they are documenting the way it is there–animals, what people wore, documentation of a culture, people and a time that I don’t know if you’ll get from writing. Writing can be fudged later on down the line. Historians can change facts. But no one can take a painting from the 16th century and change the garments that were depicted and tell us, ‘No, they didn’t wear collars like that. This is what they wore.’ It’s a different way of charting the time. We as humans, part of defines us and separates us from the other living creatures on this planet, is art making. I think that’s pretty neat. I don’t know why we’re drawn to do it, but some of us, or most of us, are artists. That doesn’t mean we paint pictures or sculpt marble. But we make meals and want to arrange it beautifully on a plate. Or buy pretty pillows. It’s all art. It’s aesthetics and beauty and we want to add joy to a world that would be mundane and boring without it. Many more of us are artists than people want to admit. Almost all of us are doing something creative like that in our lives. That’s important just to acknowledge.”

She added, “It must be important because we’ve never stopped doing it. We’ve always done it. It’s like joining around the table with people you like for a shared meal. It’s important. Why? I’m not sure I can state all the reasons why. It connects people. It’s a way we can share an experience. With an image, you can share an experience with someone you’ve never met. That’s powerful. And exciting to think about. Art is a language of emotion. A visual way to depict feeling through imagery. That all creates this shared bond when you have an impact on someone through an image you’ve created, there’s a connection that has been made. I think this whole human experience is about making connections with other living things. If art helps us do that with other people, there’s got to be healing in that. We’ve always needed that and we will always need that.”

After switching her medium and realizing the value of her art, Kinahan started painting livestock. She had appreciated animals for as long as she could remember, and she loved being able to see cattle and sheep in pastures and get close enough to take pictures. She was living on Main Street above a coffee shop when she decided to paint three cows. “The painting could be seen from across the street,” shared Kinahan. “There was someone in the restaurant looking at me working on the painting. She actually came up the stairs and knocked on my door, and said, ‘This is really weird, but I can see you’re painting cows.’”

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The woman, visiting from Grand Junction, bought the painting. “I really enjoyed the process of painting those three cows,” Kinahan confessed. “As soon as that sold, I decided to do another one. That one sold and it made me realize there might be a market for this. That wasn’t why I started doing this, but it was really encouraging.”

She found more and more people connecting emotionally with her work. “That’s something I’m finding incredibly fulfilling and exciting,” she shared. “I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything that was so personal and something that my entire heart is truly in, and to find another person who shares that passion and that connection is kind of a benefit of the creative process that I never expected. I’m so touched – it just gives me chills every time a person looks at a painting and looks into the great, big eyes of a dairy cow with these big lashes and I’ve seen people truly moved. It’s so interesting to me and I love it. I just feel like this is an area that I have to pursue. I still paint other things. I love to paint. This is definitely where I’m going and what I’m going to be pursuing.”

As her paintings garnered more attention, she started getting invitations to visit herds or to meet an individual animal. When she first started looking for subjects, Kinahan had to learn how to adjust how she encountered the animals. “It was an interesting change in how I learned to actually physically approach an animal in a pasture so they wouldn’t run away,” she shared. “Sometimes they do, but I’m getting better at it. It was this process I didn’t expect, but as I started painting them more and more and displaying them in places, people would seek me out and say, ‘Oh you’re the one who paints the cows. The cattle lady. My neighbor has this exotic breed of cattle and maybe you want to come out and I’m sure she’d be happy to have you.’ I was super excited about those types of opportunities as they came up, and I would travel anywhere to talk to the person who owns the animals and hear the stories and learn what it’s like to raise cattle, how to approach them.”

Kinahan enjoyed hearing the personal stories shared as well. “I’m always surprised but grateful that the owners–the farmers and ranchers–have an understanding of their individual animals,” Kinahan said. “They’re aware of the different types of personalities that each animal possesses, and they’re just as excited to share that as I am to learn about it.”

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One of her most memorable visits was being introduced to a herd of ancient white park cattle, which was a surprise. She had scoped out the ranch for years, driving by and seeing the various animals that lived on the property. She drove by once a week, hoping the animals were close enough to the road for her to snap some photos. Then she started wondering if the owners noticed her visits. She sent them a letter, with a picture of a painting of one of their animals, explaining what she was doing. “Sometimes to a fault, I’m trying to be polite to other people,” Kinahan shared. “I included at the end, if this feels like an infringement, no worries, that’s just me and I’m not harming anyone and I’m just taking photos and that’s it.”

She got a call from the owner of the ranch immediately. “She said she’d love for me to come out,” Kinahan said. “She told me about the different sheep she has – this flock for wool, this for meat, and this is how the mommas behave.”

Then Kinahan got to meet the cattle. “I didn’t even know that was coming,” she said. “I thought it was just sheep there. She told me so much about the breed, and how it’s an English breed and how it came to America and was lost for decades. It was so interesting.”

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These days, Kinahan continues to paint, chase down animals, go on tours of ranches and farms, and donate to rescue organizations. She is also the co-owner of Studio & on Main Street in Durango, which is coming up on its seventh anniversary. Her partner at the time was a founding member, and she couldn’t fathom living and working together. “I tried to stay out of it for as long as possible, and then I finally realized it would be a really good idea for me to join with this team of artists who were doing progressive things in town and filling a void of some type,” admitted Kinahan. “With the outlandish practices we get to procure on Main Street and the uncensored art we can show. It isn’t anything lewd or terrible. I’ve had difficulty showing a nude painting or anything close to be a nude painting in Durango and I was happy to be a part of a place that would welcome that and not shy away from showing something noncommercial or out of the ordinary. There were a number of reasons I was excited to join the studio. It was an opportunity to show my art on Main Street without having to give 50% of my sales to someone who wasn’t working at all for me. To take home 100% or close to 100% of my sales was amazing and was what enabled to keep me being an artist.”

The studio does take 35% of commission currently, which is the bare minimum Studio & can take and still pay bills. “We really want to give artists as much as possible,” explained Kinahan. “For the first two years, we didn’t take any commission. Then we realized we were spiraling downward financially. We were forking out all the money for the rent, and drinks and food and shows and advertising. We had to start thinking about it. We settled on 35% and it’s been a good balance.”

Kinahan also encourages artists to utilize the internet, which makes it possible to connect directly to clients and collectors. “Most of it is free,” she said. “The most powerful tool an artist has is their email list. We can shoot around the side of galleries now. I’m not trying to talk down galleries. They have their place. Artists don’t always want to deal with self promotion. But if you want to keep more of your revenue, then you have the power to do that now. In the ‘80s, it was really difficult to do that. Now, we can do it. It’s a powerful piece for people to wrap their heads around and when they do, it makes things a lot easier.”

Elizabeth posts her work on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about her by visiting her website. You can see her work at Studio &  in Durango, CO or at Gallery Flux in Ashland, VA.

This is the fifth 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.