Jan 9, 2012

A Colorful Journey part four

A Colorful Journey Part Four
By Linda Lover
From the moment of being selected as a designer by the company I felt I would be part of a team with a common goal, to market product. I felt privileged to be part of such an equation, and though it was all new, I was aware that the product was the star of anything we would do. My job was to make it shine by giving it my best. After the first HIA (Hobby Industry Assoc.) show, other shows were now being scheduled through the year and it was the beginning of an entirely new adventure. Designers were gradually being introduced to our product; many were impressed and came on board to list the brushes in their published works.
At one of the first shows the marketing rep suggested that I contact publishers and editors and invite them to our booth. Though I wasn’t sure of the response, I sent out invitations to several for one of the shows that we’d planned to do. I have to admit I felt a bit out of my league contacting professionals on a personal basis, but the response was well received. There I was at the show introducing them to the marketing folks as well as the president of the company. It was an unbelievable moment to think I’d been able to accomplish this on the company’s behalf.

Attending those first shows, I was agog at seeing the well-known artists that I’d admired for so many years. When I had free time, I’d walk the show floor and even worked up enough confidence to introduce myself to Pricilla Hauser and Dorothy Dent, the first two decorative painters whose books I’d painted from. It still seemed like such a far fetched reality that I was among these painters. I was fascinated by everything and everyone I saw.
A first impression can be compared to viewing the decorative painting industry as a huge city, but later I could see it was more like a small neighborhood, a place where just about everyone knew everyone else. Each show began to feel like a reunion as time went on.

It wasn’t very long after joining the company that I was given what I deemed my biggest challenge in painting so far. I was handed the company’s newest product, specialty brushes which were to be top secret until introduction and had a patent pending.
Shapes were a shader, filbert and an angle but the edges looked like they’d been cut with pinking shears. I was intrigued but also baffled by what these brushes were capable of doing. This was truly an innovation in the decorative painting industry and eventually set off a trend as the company came up with more unique brushes and other companies followed with unusual styles of their own.

Up until then deerfoot stipplers, daggers, rakes and fan brushes were considered the less traditional brushes.
It seemed like 6 months that the specialty brushes lay on my painting table. I would glance at them from time to time apparently hoping for some sort of epiphany that would suddenly lead to an amazing discovery. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
I mention 6 months because that’s when I got the call from the marketing rep saying that they were going to introduce them at the next show. Okay, no more waiting for the epiphany; now I had to get to work. But what to do; I had no idea. So I dipped the shader with the unique edge in paint and pulled the brush across paper…instant grass, very easy. Longer strokes…looked like weeds. Tap the brush on edge…little dots…looked like wildflowers. Next I curved the stroke and could see the beginnings of a leaf.

My next study was pressing the brush image, both flush and on side edge and it was instant petals and leaves without much effort. As I used the images singly and in combination, many types of leaves and petals were developing. The brushes were making painting easier for me and simplifying as well. Wood grain, basket weave, water and sky details were beginning to take shape and it seemed ideas were flowing endlessly. I followed through using the filbert and angle with enthusiasm as it was exciting to see all that was possible. I also wondered why I’d left the brushes sitting so long.
In the process of discovering what the new line of brushes could do, it was a personal discovery for me as well. I found being self-taught allowed me to think outside of the box; that there was more to offer decorative painting in addition to traditional stroke work.
One of the shows I recall was NET, New England Traditions, in October 2001, one month after the terrorist attacks. I remember the Detroit airport looking desolate, most shops were closed. I was one of only a handful of people to board a big plane. It certainly presented an eerie feeling. I eventually arrived in Providence to find that some venders and others had canceled due to a fear of flying at that time. Yet, it was a fairly well attended show and the only show where I taught a class showing what the specialty brushes could do.

We filled the chairs and even made room for a few more. The class was sponsored by the company to introduce the brushes, there was no charge and the participants received a very nice binder with product. We had a good turn out at the booth as a result. I’d felt sponsored classes were a great asset but they were not resumed again until around 2009 so that was the only one I did.
Another show that sticks out in my mind is when we had our 3 minutes of television fame. I’d written to several HGTV shows asking if they would be attending HIA and proceeded to describe our product. The one response received was from the Carol Duval show and they were interested in the new brushes. A representative of the show came around to check out the specifics and eventually the camera crew taped a demo and it became one of the clips on Carol’s show. We never did meet Carol though,and by the way, I found I have a terrible voice for tv!
Moving along, the company eventually brought in designers who had worked with another company so our team began to grow. The purpose was to hopefully learn more about the mechanics of the decorative painting industry.
My perspective had only been from personal publishing experience, much like a cottage industry working from home. These designers could offer valuable information on how companies worked with chains having been involved at a somewhat corporate level. Eventually it seemed to me like one of the designers was using the position as a stepping stone to other things. She was often away from the booth.

My objective was to promote product, rather than myself and I continued to do so as it offered plenty of exposure and rewards just as it was. I soon learned that designers have different ideas and approaches and not everyone strives for the same purpose. I enjoyed the camaraderie of teamwork where the focus was the product and how we could generate interest. After all, it’s the product that keeps everyone in business.
I kept my head in my work as I continued to find more to do with the brushes. A lot of time was involved in experimenting and creating, but it had such a fresh excitement to it.
Interest was growing and I was pleased to be a part of it. At each show, people stopped by to see if there was another new brush and what other discoveries had been made. That was one thing I loved about the shows, getting to visit with the people and talk painting. At the time they were learning new things from me, I was also learning from them. Questions they would ask and suggestions they would offer brought insight to what I was doing with the specialty brushes.
In the interim of this phase, I was seeing a few designers who were interested in the brushes publishing with illustrations exactly or very similar to those I’d been demonstrating. As complimentary it was in some ways, the downside was that I’d taken months to create and develop the techniques and applications. What I’d been hoping was that others could create original work by applying my newly discovered techniques. At this point I discussed the possibility of a specialty brush paint book. But the company was reluctant and I wasn’t ready to invest in self publishing after experiencing the situation where I’d only broken even.
So it continued until I saw that some of my illustrations had been published by someone else with a copyright attached to the material. I knew then that I had to get on the ball and began to investigate self-publishing and so I had a book published and introduced in 2003. To my good fortune I had connected with a generous designer who shared her publisher, photographer, and distributor information. All I had to do was put it together and find a way to finance it.

To say it was a huge investment would be an understatement, but the company provided the advertising and about a year and a half later I broke even and eventually doubled my investment. When the first edition sold out, I took a leap of faith to finance a second publication. It was one third of the original cost because they already had the material ready to go. This time it took longer to break even and longer to double the profit.
I could see where this was headed and it was too risky to continue so that was the end of the book when it finally sold out. I even lost out on the last few books I had, as in good faith, I allowed a vender to sell them and pay me later; apparently when he went of business he didn’t feel compelled to honor his commitments.

It was just another one of those lessons. The best thing that came out of my investment in the long haul was that I have a copyright on my techniques and design work from that book. This actually turned out to be extremely beneficial when dealing with subsequent issues along the way.
In January of 2004 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, our youngest son had been deployed to Iraq, and by May my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was the worst year ever and to make a long story short, it was in God’s hands and we took each day as it came.
I called the company and said I might need a year off, but I’d understand if they wanted to terminate my position since they had other designers who could step in. However, they were kind and generous and continued to keep me employed as their in house designer. That was as much of a blessing as a relief as I truly enjoyed working for them. In fact, I was able to attend one more show in Dallas before surgery.
The marketing rep had me show one of the designers how I’d been using the brushes so she could fill in for me.

That same year, I was contacted by a book publisher to work on a combined artist series of paint books for paper, glass and metal. I explained my situation and they still wanted me to do work for them. The deadline was months away and since it was a combined artists series, only a few designs were necessary for each booklet. I welcomed the work as it took my thoughts elsewhere when creating and painting, and believe me I needed that more than ever.

To be continued

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