Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Building A Lighting Rig

Today's post is another photo essay. I got the parts for the new lighting rig/half booth for indoor venues with small spaces.

This is the design from last week. The pipe lengths are approximate. I knew that I might change them when I had a real, live rig in front of me. The only requirements are the 8x4 footprint and the 102 degree angle.

This is the box that arrived in the mail yesterday. These joints are sturdy, versatile, and cheap.

And this is a stack of 10' long 1" conduit waiting to be cut. There's the pipe cutter starting on the first one.

Since I didn't know what height I wanted it to be without seeing it full-scale in person, I put together the 8x4 rail first. It held up full-length pipes so I could get a feel for an appropriate back wall height.

There's no place here with 10' ceilings and level floor to let me build the rig this way so I paid a visit to the retreat center where I lived last year. It was nice to see the folks again and to work on this project in a warm, dry indoor space.

I'm glad I got to experience a full-scale mockup before making crucial cuts. An 8' back wall was waaaay too tall. I went for 7' instead.

Once I had that pipe cut, I put on the 102 degree joint and used duct tape to secure the next joint to the front upright. This let me take a direct measurement instead of needing to trust my geometry.

And then it turned out that a 4' overhang felt like too much. I went with 3' instead, using the scrap from my 7' back verticals.

At this point, my hands were killing me. I've cut lots of copper before, and quite a bit of 3/4" conduit, but 1" is a different beast. It's thick! Each cut took about 10 minutes and a lot of hard work. I decided that I would keep going until I saw the beginning of a blister. (Even my rubberized gloves weren't protecting me all the way.) In the worst case, I'd need to make a few cuts at home later. It was the measuring that needed a level floor and high ceiling.

Well, I got it done with only one small blister appearing at the end of the last cut.

And here are all of the pipes laid out:
2 - overhang sides
4 - side pieces, 2 on each side
2 - back verticals
2 - front verticals
4 - width pieces, 3 on the roof, 1 across the back

Here it is, all set up and ready to decorate! This is a fantastically versatile and durable rig that permanently solves the problem of how to suspend lights in front of the booth. The whole thing cost less than $150, including the canvas sleeves I'll be sewing up this week. If the better lighting helps me sell just one garment, it will have paid for itself.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Poor Memory and Productivity Tools

I have a terrible memory. There I said it!

One of the reasons that I'm so good at weaving is that it requires prolonged and intense focus on minute details, especially the way that I do it. I'm really good at that.

The problem is that this intensity consumes my mind entirely. Lots of things get "put on hold" while I focus. I know that I'm not unique in this. I've got just got a pretty severe version of it.

Years ago I realized that I had a choice: make my life so simple that I can handle it easily or find assistance in tracking a complicated life. I chose the latter. Yeah, I want my life to be simple, but let me tell you that starting a business and a new spiritual community at the same time is anything but simple.

So I turned to productivity methodology and software to help me live a life that's as stress-free and balanced as possible. This post is about what I've been doing and a great tool that I've just discovered.

First up is Evernote. I've written about it before, but it is really saving me from wasted time just about every day. I subscribe to the $5/month plan that lets me store as much as I want. Everything goes in there: articles that touch me, research notes, recipes, show recommendations, and more. Then, whenever I want to refer to that resource again I can just search Evernote, even if I'm not connected to the internet, and even if that webpage is long gone.

Along with Evernote, I use two programs that enhance that experience: AwesomeNote and EgretList.

AwesomeNote lets me access and create some of my notes quickly and easily. I use it like stickies, a scratchpad, or the back of an envelope. And all of these notes become searchable in Evernote. I use it to make notes about color gradations, yarn orders, recipes, and more. And when I'm done with a note, I just delete it from AwesomeNote, knowing that I can always retrieve it again from Evernote if I need it.

EgretList simplifies the work of doing shows by letting me have simple checklists. I don't use it like a todo manager. I only use it in the days around a show to handle four things: To Do Before The Show, To Pack, To Buy On The Way, To Do After The Show. And here's where Evernote magic comes in. When I'm preparing for a show, I go into Evernote, make a copy of the four lists from the last show, uncheck the checkboxes, and sync. Poof! I've got a step-by-step checklist in my pocket to make sure that I do and bring everything I'll need for the show, even if I'm dog-tired and unable to remember my own first name. If I add something new to the process, say a new carpet or a new booth banner, I add them to the lists so that I'll remember those things for the next show.

Next up is Daylite. This is the cream-of-the-crop of project management systems in my opinion. It's far more powerful than how I use it - designed to manage teams of people working on projects together with everyone having access to all of the data all of the time.

I use Daylite for longterm planning. Every show that I've done or considered lands in Daylite with all of the notes about it: referrers, application deadlines, show dates, other vendors that do that show, and every email that I've swapped with the organizers. (Daylite integrates with Apple Mail and automatically copies emails into Daylite, linked with the appropriate records.) To set up my show schedule for the year, I entered application deadlines and show dates for potential shows into four calendars: Tentative, Applied, Accepted, and Standby. The Accepted calendar is automatically synced to a Google calendar that you can see on my WEBSITE

The power of Daylite comes in the connectedness of the data. Every show (Organization) is linked to its organizers and referrers (Contacts) and linked to any year that I did or considered that show (Project). Let's say I'm looking at my list of shows from last year and I want to know if I'm considering a particular show this year. It goes like this:
Shows 2011 -> Jacksonville. Does it have a link to Shows 2012? If not, then open the note entitled "Skip 2012" or "Standby 2012" that I created for each show I was not considering and remind myself why I'm not doing that show. One click and 10 seconds of reading.

I've tried using Daylite for all of my todo list needs, but found that using it is just too much overhead for everyday items. It doesn't have the features that let me slice and dice my todo lists for maximum productivity.

The last piece of the productivity puzzle has just snapped into place for me: OmniFocus.

Before I go into it, I want to talk a little bit about the productivity methodology that I use: David Allen's "Getting Things Done", often abbreviated to GTD. The tagline for his book is "The Art of Stress-Free Productivity".

I think that there is one take-home lesson from the methodology: you must get ALL todo list items out of your head and sorted into contextual lists. The rest of the methodology gives a rigorous set of tools for what to do once they're out of your head.

Todo items take up brain space, add to stress, and rarely come to the front of your mind at the right time. Memory is contextual - you remember that you need tartar sauce when you're making fish, not necessarily when you've stopped at the store to pick up milk on the way home from work. And, while you're there, it's extremely unlikely that you'll also remember things from vastly different parts of your life like picking up a pen refill cartridge (office), grabbing a bottle of fuel injector cleaner (car maintenance), and picking up a birthday card for mom (social reminders). Most people need to make a grocery list to remember all that stuff. The GTD methodology makes grocery lists for every major context in your life.

By creating context-aware lists, you can see at a glance what you could be doing at any given time. Context is more than just location. It can also be things like "Email", while you're dealing with email, "Husband", the next time you see your husband, etc.

GTD is a thorough system that encompasses everything from one-day projects to life goals, helping you to define all of your goals, create actionable items and move those items and their goals toward completion. Like I've said before, "Action is Magic!" Define and perform the actions and the goals take care of themselves.

The piece that I've been missing in my personal productivity is an unobtrusive, full-featured GTD program that runs from the iPod that's always on my belt, with or without an internet connection.

I think I've found it with OmniFocus. Yes, it's expensive, $20 for an iPhone app in a world where most of them are $1. But it's so good that I couldn't justify trudging along with a cheaper and less capable system.

The first feature that caught my attention is the Forecast View. It shows in one glance how many tasks are behind schedule, how many there are today and each day for the next week. It lets me put in a little extra work now if I see a tough day coming up or go to that day and spread some of the non-essential tasks forward a little more. However I choose to handle it, the program gives me the information that I need to take control of the situation and get my work done.

Here's the Home Screen. From here, I can see where the tasks lie.

Flagged items MUST be done today. They are time-sensitive and can't be put off any longer.

The Inbox is special. It's the first place that items land when you just need to get them out of your head. It takes 10 seconds to pull out the device, enter an inbox item and get back to whatever I was doing. At my next review session I open it up and assign a project, context and, if possible, a due date to each one. As you can see from the 12 items in my inbox, I'm still in "dump" mode, getting everything from my head into the inbox without worrying about where it goes.

The Map view is another exciting feature. Some contexts can have an associated location. When items are marked with that context, they will show up on the map.

If I had an iPhone instead of just an iPod, I could set it up to alert me when I entered a location that has outstanding action items. Walk into the grocery store and your whole shopping list pops up automatically. Pretty cool, but not essential.

One important thing to remember is that contexts are separate from projects. The map shows all items from all projects that can be done in a given location. This is a HUGE improvement over the way our brains usually work, where the needs of the most recent or pressing project trump everything else and we forget all the other things that would take little time to do in a given location.

And then there are the projects themselves. OmniFocus supports nested projects, ie. Business:Vendors, Business:Customers, etc. At each level, you can see all items from all projects contained in that level.

The OmniFocus software is so well thought out that it seems magical. No matter what I want to know about my tasks, there is a way to see it with just a couple of clicks. Here are a few examples:

- Give me a sorted list of everything that I need to do in town, whether it's due or not. Click Contexts, Grants Pass, All Available Items. It gives me a list of all locations in Grants Pass, followed by the items that need to be done in each location. It becomes a foolproof list of places to stop and things to do because I sorted my Grants Pass contexts based on my usual driving route. I just march down the list mindlessly doing things and checking them off.
- Let me do or reschedule all past due items. Click Forecast, Past Due. Walk through them, rescheduling or doing them.
- Put inbox items into the appropriate context and project. Click Inbox. Walk through them, assigning context and project with a few clicks each.

So now that I've got the best tool for the job it's time to start using it consistently. I'm just coming out of my Winter malaise so there's a ton of stuff to get caught up on. One of the first sets of tasks on the list is to review David Allen's "Getting Things Done" and refresh my memory of the whole methodology. Thankfully, last time I read it I took notes in Evernote. This time I can review one chapter of my notes a day and reread any sections of the book that I don't remember well. So yes, I've now made a project in OmniFocus to review one chapter a day until it's done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Booth Configuration

After much hemming and hawing, I've decided to invest in another booth expense - a lighting rig. Well, really, it's just a pipe-and-joint frame that will give me a place to attach lights to shine on the front of the booth.

At most of my indoor shows this year, I've lamented that I could not properly light the side of the booth that customers see first - the front. At one show in November and at the next one, the booth size was strange: 8'x4'. This just gives me room to set up my racks, but does not give me any way to suspend lighting, until now...

I decided to go with a classic solution: pipe and joints. This is the way people built booths in the days before popups. It's like a life-size erector set - slide the joints onto the pipe, tighten a little bolt, and you're good to go.

There are several features to this design:
- There is a horizontal lighting bar suspended in front of the booth to let me light the front of my garment racks.
- There is another horizontal above the entrance to let me aim more light toward the back wall.
- There is an adjustable rail set at 7' high on 3 sides. This will let me attach the gridwall for displaying scarves and hanging the mirror.
- There is a frame from which to hang the drapes.

So, even though my space is tiny, It'll have all of the features of a full-sized booth: carpet, drapes, gridwall, lighting, racks and mirror.

One benefit to a modular solution like this is that it's reusable in multiple situations. The show after this is another indoor show, but with a standard 10'x10' booth space. For that show, I'll use the canopy, but reconfigure this pipe setup as a sturdy wrap-around lighting rig. To do that, I'll need two 10' pipes, but no other new parts. I'll zip-tie the front uprights to the canopy, but put no weight stress on the canopy itself. (This is important because the canopy cost twice as much as the lighting rig. I don't want to break it by trying to cantilever lights off of it.)

Since the system I've chosen uses standard 1" electrical conduit that's available from any hardware store, I will be able to design and implement new uses for these parts on the fly if I get to show and find that there's something else that I could use them for.

If you're wondering what software I used to calculate these drawings, it's a little java program that I've been using for years. It's really meant to teach and explore geometry, but it's perfect for this sort of thing once you get used to it. It's called Zirkel or C.a.R., which is an abbreviation for "Compass and Ruler". You can use it in your web browser or download a desktop version HERE. It's completely free and much more powerful than what I'm using it for.

It does something that no other program will do for me - maintain live linkages with the geometry. Any "arbitrary" points are moveable and the rest of the construction will modify itself when they are moved.

For a design like this, I start with two arbitrary points, constrained to be 8' from each other, and a line segment between them. Then I use geometric primitives for everything else - the horizon is perpendicular to that first segment, passing through the lower of the two points. All of the uprights will be perpendicular to the horizon. The locations are determined by using circles to carry distance, etc.

In the end, I can set the distances and angles that I know and then take accurate measurements from the drawing itself for the distances that I don't know. There's no "eyeballing" or "guessing". And when I'm done calculating, I can hide the things that I used for calculation and create a clean finished drawing. Here's what this drawing looks like with the calculation objects visible:

Those little dots and circles across the bottom are really the secret. The 3/4 view is an oblique view, meaning that the heights are accurate and the widths are accurate, but offset from each other to give the illusion of 3D. Those little dots let me move the whole drawing or change how much the planes are offset from each other to create the oblique view. Some of them are constrained to the correct measurements. Once you get the hang of it, there are lots of problems for which this simple program is the easiest and most elegant solution.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How I Make Stripes To Reflect The Natural World

... or "Multidimensional Mathematical Noise In Nature, As Reflected In Woven Thread Ordering"

Caution: Math! Skip to the final image if math is boring to you.

In a previous life I worked in digital special effects. I got into the studios because of the skill I developed as a 3D graphics software developer. In that world, my specialty was the mathematical modeling of natural surface textures like clouds, stone, wood, and dirt.

Back in those days, computer memory was extremely expensive. Capturing and storing high-resolution images and using them to "paint" the surface of digital objects was often cost-prohibitive. What we needed was the ability to create mathematical formulas that could generate natural-looking surfaces without using photographs.

One of the tricks we used was called "fBm noise." fBm means "fractional Brownian motion". It's what you get when you take regular noise (like TV static), scale it to several different sizes, and combine those different-dimensioned noises together.

This is one of the algorithms that's still used to create all kinds of stuff like digital landscapes because of its uncanny ability to mimic nature.

For each of the following images, I've scaled the noise, stretched the last row of pixels so we can visualize the thread pattern, and drawn a graph based on the brightness of each column of pixels.

The thing to notice is how each of the single-dimension images just looks like TV static. The one called 1+8 is made by combining scale 1 and scale 8. There is so much scale difference between the two that they don't blend.

But look at that final image. Doesn't it look like an aerial photo of trees? Or a closeup photo of polar fleece? Maybe a microscope image of mold? The point is that it looks like something more than just static. It looks "natural".

There are two tricks to making it look exactly like a particular item from nature. The first comes in choosing the scales. Doubling is easy, but nature doesn't usually do that. The second is choosing how strongly each layer contributes to the final image.

You might wonder the point of all this. Well, believe it or not, this concept of scales of noise has a large bearing on how I choose the order of the threads in my warp. Right now I'm winding a beam based on exposed, weathered sedimentary rock. When I'm choosing where to place the threads within a section, I'm continually comparing the contrast to the value graph that would come from real stone. I want the color gradients to match what real stone does, between individual threads, between sections, and across the whole beam.

These colors are nothing like the colors of thread that I have, but I'm not looking at the colors. I'm looking at the transitions between the colors. That little graph shows me how fast the colors are changing in various parts of the photograph. If I change my threads with a similar speed, I should get a similar feel in the finished warp. And the multi-dimensional noise stuff helps me to figure out how often and how abruptly I should change the speed.

The plain-english bottom line is that I need the transitions to be smooth, but not too smooth. There is some "up and down", but not too much. It's mostly an uphill climb. Shades from other sections do appear, but not frequently.

So I'm keeping all that in mind as I wind. As always, fingers crossed!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why Blog?

For me, blogging boils down to one thing: networking. The more people who know what you're doing, the more likely that they will be able to refer you to resources and opportunities that you might never have known about.

If you saw my blog post two days ago, you can see that magic unfolding in the comments. I wrote about how I had made a mistake in one of the images that I submitted to a show through Zapplication. An hour later, someone from Zapp saw my blog post and told me that I could ask the show to mark my application incomplete so that I could swap out that image and resubmit it. I followed their suggestion and a few minutes later my application was resubmitted in perfect order. If I hadn't written that blog post, I would never have known that correcting my application was even an option.

And then they posted a link to my blog post on the Zapp Facebook wall, giving my story even wider exposure.

And this is just the most recent example. I've learned a lot from the comments that people leave on my blog. Blogging has allowed the few of us who weave as a passion or for a living to connect with each other and offer mutual support.

The other side of writing a blog is following other blogs. I currently read 20-30 blogs written by other fiber artists, and every once in a while I have a comment that might mean something to one of them.

And the most amazing part of all this is that weavers seem to be, by and large, living far away from each other. We've got studios in spare rooms, barns and basements all over the place. We don't have the chance to see each other in person very often. And yet, through the magic of the free (as in liberty) and accessible internet, we are able to have a strange sort of community.

It's all pretty magical.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stone Grey Batch Is Started!

At a certain point with every batch of cloth, I have to stop planning and start DOING. Today is that day for the stone grey cloth.

For more painting metaphor: I've spent a lot of time mixing my paints and now it's time to transfer those colors from the palette to the canvas - the threads from the shelf to the loom. And I realized this morning that I'm a little scared. I'm quite comfortable with colors - bold, saturated colors. These generally evoke images of beautiful things: flowers, fruit, gems, tropical fish, autumn leaves, etc.

Once the saturation drop to about 50% I start getting uncomfortable. There are lots of unsavory things with unsaturated colors, and I want none of them to come to mind when looking at my cloth. There are also many beautiful unsaturated things: tree bark, desert plants, animal fur, and stone.

It's that last one that's my inspiration for this batch of cloth. I want it to invoke exposed layers of sedimentary stone lit in the noonday sun. My awareness of the incredible expense of the threads I'm using combined with my awareness of how little spare cash I have and my discomfort of unsaturated shades has me wishing that there was some certainty that the cloth would turn out beautiful.

But there is no certainty. I just have to trust my muse. I'm showing up to do the work. If the muse shows up, the cloth will be stunning. If not, it will be saleable and probably all gone in six months anyhow. No problem.

Friday, January 20, 2012

First Zapplication

In making the leap to the next level of shows, I've jumped through the hoops to get set up with a service called Zapplication. This system is used by many higher-end craft shows to handle the application and jury organizing process.

The idea is pretty simple - you upload your photos to their service and then attach those photos to applications when you submit them. They publish a set of guidelines for photo submissions, and these are what I've used to tailor my photography to the jurors' experience.

On the other end, their software helps the jurors to review the photos for each applicant and score them.

I worked with "my copy editor", one of the guys in the collective who has a gift for words. I finally hit "send" on the application last night.

Then I set out to copy the final photos to my phone to write this blog post. When the iPhone displayed it with a black background, I was horrified to find a mistake in one of the images. It's not huge, but might just be big enough to take points off my application and keep me out of the show. I'm kind of kicking myself for not noticing until it went live. And, I thought I had set up the file to prevent this and I thought I had checked for it before I uploaded it.


See? It's not a big deal. Just a single strip of white pixels along the bottom of one pane of a triptych. But, these images are going be have a black background applied during jurying and probably be projected to fill a wall.

Ah, well. What's done is done. I seem to make at least one mistake like this the first time I do anything. It keeps me humble, right?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My First "Failed" Show

Well, it had to happen sometime. Let's hope it's just this once. This last weekend was a bust. I didn't even make back my booth fee, say nothing of the fuel and other expenses.

As always, the first day was slow. This is true at most shows. I take it as a "warm-up" day. There are few customers and the general consensus on the floor is that the next day will be better. And it usually is. Not this time. I sold a couple of small items on the first day and even less the second.

The venue was great, a large indoor hall with lots of light. It was mercury-vapor light which messes with colors, but at least the place didn't look gloomy.

The organizers were organized. They knew exactly where they stood with each vendor, which fees we had paid, and what our needs were. They had everything set up in plenty of time for us to load in and gave us the room we needed to get our work done. They were seen on the floor throughout the show, and never looked stressed or out-of-control.

The customer flow was OK. There weren't "giant crowds", but I don't do well in crowds anyhow. There seemed to be lots of media coverage and plenty of people came out.

But here's the problem - the people who came out were not MY customers. Since I've never done this type of show in this area before, I expected that "Wine Festival" would bring out wealthy connoisseurs who would spend good money on exquisite outerwear that's appropriate for outdoor events like wine tastings and gallery openings. (Remember, I lived for 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where these things, and the patrons for them, are common.)

What I found instead were sports fans. I have learned that green and gold means "Ducks" and that orange and black means "Beavers", and that these are opposing teams. Most items at the show were priced way below my range, and most people were just there for the wine.

My style and price point are not conducive to "hawking" in the aisles. I wait for people to stop and look more closely at my cloth before I approach them. I invite them to touch it, feel it on their shoulders, and tell them a little more about its origins. But the first step is for them to show a little interest. And at this show it was not unusual for an hour or two to pass between people expressing even a passing interest. As they drank their interest seemed to become even more acutely focused on "more wine."

As they say, this show was DEAD - for me, that is. My customers just weren't there. If I was selling something glitzy and less expensive, I might have done better. $10 Swarovski crystal hair ties? Awesome! $20 wineglass holders that hang around your neck? Fantastic. $300 handwoven outerwear? Not at all.

And, on top of it, I became very sick during the first night. It dipped below freezing and I discovered that I had left a few blankets out of my van so I was COLD. I woke up with my head spinning from fever and congestion, but the show must go on! I ran to the grocery store and stocked up on OJ, Emergen-C, and DayQuil. By the end of 10 hours on my feet in this state, I decided that I would not pack up that night. I bundled up in bed, took NyQuil and tried my best to rest.

In the morning it was snowing, but the upside is that most folks had left so I could actually drive my van right up to the booth space and load it. This saved about an hour of schlepping heavy booth parts and got me on the road in the warmest part of the day.

It snowed most of the way home, but thankfully it wasn't sticking. It was a wet, sloppy snow, but it wasn't slippery. My van handles terribly if it's slippery and it would have taken me all day to get home to bed.

We don't keep our house very warm so I called ahead to ask someone to put a heater in my room. I crawled into bed and didn't really perk up for 4 days. Sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever - yep! That pretty much describes it.

Sooooo, I'm not taking it personally. I know that I'll probably need to do a few more duds before I have a clear way to find the shows that my customers frequent. But, yuck, what a terrible-feeling weekend!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Booth Setup Photo Essay

Yeah, I know that a photo essay is a blog writer's cop-out. I'm at the Oregon Wine, Food & Brew Festival in Salem right now. It runs from 4 'til 10 today so I set up early and have just a little time to run errands before the customers arrive.

Here's how the booth came together this morning. I really like the new gridwall arrangement. It makes for a much more spacious booth.

...and I forgot my camera tripod so there may not be a photo taken with the real camera. I'll try it and see what I get.

Besides, this room with its HORRIBLE mercury-vapor lighting makes it abundantly clear that I must come up with a way to suspend my own lights in the aisle pointing at the front of the racks. You know, that part of the booth that potential customers see first when they're trying to decide if this is something that they are interested in? The spectral profile (or lack thereof) of mercury vapor absolutely destroys the ability to perceive color. My red cloth, for instance, looks like a monochrome brown. This is totally unacceptable to someone who spends all day and night obsessing about the subtleties of color.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guest Blogging About Kickstarter

A little while ago I was approached about writing a guest post for a weaver named Annie MacHale. She donated to my Kickstarter project last year and asked me if I would write about it.

If you'd like to read about what it was like to do a fundraiser through Kickstarter, including the things I would do differently next time, go over to her site and check it out!


And, while I'm at it, I'd like to extend an invitation... If there is an aspect of my weaving business that you'd like to know more about, drop me a line and ask if I'll write about it. If you write a blog yourself, I'd be happy to write that article for you, and link to it from here, just like this post.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Glimpse Of The Muse

After thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert's presentation the other day, I've been more aware of the moments when the muse appears. I had one of those a-ha! moments today while plying thread. Just like with the green beam, I'm struggling with the reality that I don't have as many shades of thread as I'd like.

So today, I thought I'd give something a try, "What does it look like if I ply one tiny denim thread with the lead grey?" I tried it and it was amazing! A deep slate grey.
"I think I'm onto something. What about french meadow with chocolate?" Yes! Another beautiful grey, this time kissed with green.
"Powder blue with bark?" A little powerful, but fantastic in a small dose.

Now, this might just sound like an artist making decisions about color combinations, and it is. But there's something else, too. It's a feeling. As soon as I saw the lead and denim, I was elated! I had been plodding along, showing up to do the work but never with the feeling that this batch of cloth would be up to snuff. Just like with the green beam, I had resigned myself to mediocrity, my hand forced by the threads I have available. And then something magical happened. I didn't buy more thread, I just looked at the thread that I have in a different way and poof! The cloth that I was envisioning went away and was replaced by something much, much better.

And that's where I cease to take the credit. I had envisioned the best thing I could before something else stepped in and made it "inspired."

And this happens over and over in my creative process. There are about 100 hours of work to set up the loom for one batch of cloth. Throughout that time, the muse steps in over and over again. By the time I actually start weaving, it's not my cloth at all.

And, let me just say that even for someone who considers himself experienced with color, unsaturated shades are very difficult to work with. It's so easy to end up with cloth that looks wishy-washy, unintentional, or indistinct. I've got my fingers crossed that none of those things happen with this cloth. The muse has been good to me so far, but I don't want to get cocky and believe that nothing could go wrong.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Filling The Palette

Now that I've decided what color combinations I'm going to use, it's time to ply them up. I'll need 200 cones plied altogether, but today I'm starting with the first 40. That should fill between 4 and 6 sections on the beam while someone else in the group plies up the next 40.

It's like the step in painting where the artist is squeezing colors from the tube and blending them to get just the right shades. It's actually JUST like that. I'm mixing my base thread colors to fill my palette shelf with cones of thread colors before I start applying them to my beam, which is the weaver's version of a blank canvas.

While the cones are filling, I'm able to catch up on some more office work in the background - designing new time sheets and production tracking calendars. These are intended to make sure that we meet our production requirements and keep meeting them. When it's dark outside and the production time is only an hour or two per person per day, it's easy to let it drop for a few days and pretty soon full time work is required to catch back up.

The new calendar lets us easily see our goals for each week, including the work carried over from the previous week. If we somehow get ahead, the new calendar will show that, too.

And the most important part of the new calendar is that anyone in the group can read it. They don't have to hear from me that we're falling behind. They can see it for themselves and easily understand why it's happening. Cause and effect are written on the wall for all to see.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Looking Forward To 2012

At last, only a week into the new year, I'm writing up my general goals for the year. These goals are important because they keep my focus from wandering too far afield. I've got a million things that I want to do with my life, but these are the ways I'm choosing to direct my actions for the coming year. You'll notice that there are many ways that this could be streamlined and cleaned up, but it's good enough for now. I'd rather spend my time meeting the goals than too much time defining them.

The goals:

1. Do better shows. This means doing what I need to improve my photography and copy writing for applications. Then, I need to speed up production so that I have more colors in stock at any given time, and roll out some new garment designs.

2. Set up California and Washington business licenses.

3. Find, apply for, travel to, and sell at good shows in California and Washington.

4. Work with community development specialists to develop the specific vision, foundation, and execution plans for our new community.

5. Help spread my newly acquired business skills into my community through online support forums and a business-focused gathering.

6. Personal money goals: acquire health insurance and start a retirement fund. These are important and long overdue.

7. Personal education goals: keep learning Welsh and choose a musical instrument to learn. Homemade music is an important part of community living to me, and I want to support it by learning to create it myself.

You'll notice that most of my goals aren't very specific. They're very open to interpretation throughout the year. As opportunities arise, I'll compare them to my goals and decide whether this is the time to pursue them. Activities and expenditures that further one of these goals will get bumped higher in priority and those that don't will drop down and probably be skipped altogether.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Action Is Magic

I follow a number of small business and productivity blogs to continue learning as I develop and run my little business in the best way that I can. At this time of year, they are full of advice for how to set goals for the coming year.

I'm noticing a trend in the advice lately: live goal-free. The idea is that you will be more productive and magically end up where you want to be without setting goals. Maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't get this at all. Overall business goals help me to define individual projects and their own goals. Last year, the overall goal to build a lucrative business helped me to set other goals: acquire yarn, create cloth, build a "good-enough" booth, upgrade the booth, find better shows, etc. Without defining these goals, I wouldn't have known how to prioritize my work to create more opportunity for myself. I wouldn't have known to strike up conversations with quality vendors at every show and ask them where *they* think I should sell and how I could improve my display, for instance.

It seems to me that a goal-less lifestyle is a luxury afforded to people who have an established business and can "coast" for a while just doing what has been working. If you have other ideas about this, I'd love to hear them.

At the other end of the spectrum is over-analysis, thinking so hard about every decision that the work never gets done. Yeah, every decision involves the skewing of the risk-benefit equation to favor benefit and reduce risk. Notice that I don't say "maximizing benefit" and "minimizing risk". Keeping the extremes in mind for every decision can quickly lead to insanity:
"What if there's a way to make more money?"
"Maybe bold colors won't sell this year, maybe I should provide mostly neutrals."
"What if 2012 really is the end of the world. I'll have so much yarn left over!"

It's natural and normal to have these thoughts. And then I need to get over them, make the best decisions that I can and DO SOMETHING. Action is magic. The more consistently I am actively pursuing my goals, the more likely that I will get somewhere. And there are enough tiny decisions that even if some of them don't move me in my chosen direction, the overall trajectory is likely to average out in my favor anyhow. Sure, it might take longer than the absolutely shortest path, but it's going to be faster than if I take up my time with thinking and do nothing for fear of making a bad decision.

And there it is. I must have goals in order to pursue them and then I have to just keep on working in whatever seems like the best direction to reach the goals. Tomorrow I'll write about what my goals are for the year. Today, I'm just saying that I have them and they inform my day-to-day actions, which are really the important part.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beginning A New Color Design

It's that time again! With just a few days' weaving left on the last batch of cloth, it's time to use the second loom for the purpose it's meant to serve - a place to design the next batch of cloth.

This is another challenging design because I just don't have the range of colors that I want. I'll have to do like I did with the green and use value juxtaposition and unexpected accent colors to keep the cloth from being too static. Yes, this is a neutral cloth so I don't really want excitement, but I don't want something that's boring to look at, either.

The focus of my design style is depth. The more you look at it, the more details you'll notice. This design is definitely going to be a challenge.

And right now, it's not a design at all. It's a rough idea, some boxes of yarn, and an empty loom.